Monday, May 28, 2012

Got What You Know? Or What You Don't?

Her hand and wrist had scars on them in four different places - two in lines like railroad tracks running from wrist to palm and two smaller ones on the slope of her index finger. She carried her Rodriquez board under her arm, the manga eyes on the bottom bloodshot.

Four boys stood in front of her the wind rifling their t-shirts making their thin bodies appear skeletal.

What happens next?

How much do you have to know about an activity to be able to write about it? I struggle with this as a writer as I'm working on a story now that I have no direct experience with - one about a soldier in a war that happened over ninety years in the past.

Don't get me wrong, I believe in the power of research and the ability of a writer to use research to nail the details of an activity or an event, but the ability to give these same things life is another story all together.

There's the old writer's maxim, write what you know, staring me in the face. I'm just staring back at it and wondering at the butterflies fluttering in my stomach. Can I do it? Insecurity is not my friend. I close my eyes and shut the voice of no-you-can't up and push it away. How else can you deal with that confidence crusher? Push it away and push forward on your story. Don't look up from your page. Don't look behind you to see if it's waiting there for another chance to lay you out because it is.

Some writer's tools are not computer-based, or book-based, or even touchable. Some of the most powerful tools are sitting inside our heads.

Tell us what happens to the girl with the board and maybe give us some insight into where she got her scars. Or take us somewhere and someplace else, whether you've been there or not. And do it all in another 100 words or less. Winners posted on the 8th.

- Joe

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

got inspiration?

In the season of graduation ceremonies, I've been hearing a lot of buzz about Neil Gaiman's Commencement Speech at The University of The Arts.

Just watched it and thought it was the perfect thing for got teen fiction's Wednesday inspiration.

May you all follow your dreams and make good art!


Monday, May 21, 2012

got writing?

And for today we'll ask "got reading?"

Many writers find certain books and manuals that are helpful to them as they navigate the writing process.

When I was at Duke for undergrad, I studied playwriting with David Ball, author of Backwards and Forwards. I still refer back to this book because although it was written with plays in mind, much of what David Ball talks about is relevant to novels.

Someone recently recommended Cheryl Klein's Second Sight: An Editor's Talks on Writing Revising and Publishing Books for Children and Young Adults. I've never had the opportunity to hear Cheryl speak, but reading these speeches enables me to feel like I'm in the room with her.

Another book I like is Darcy Pattinson's Novel: Metamorphasis. Darcy Pattinson runs novel revision retreats and I had a book I was writing that was very mediocre. I didn't want to give up on it. I was unable to attend Darcy's retreat, but bought this book to see if I could repair my novel.

My critique partner, Jill Arabas, recommended Hooked: write fiction that grabs readers at page one and never lets them go by Les Edgerton. It changed the way I looked at first line and the start of my novels.

Many writers love Ann Lamott's Bird by Bird. I have to admit, I own it and it's on my TBR pile, but I haven't gotten to it yet.

Sometimes when I'm in a rut, I'll seek a recommendation for a writing book. They're not a solution to every problem, but sometimes they are the nudge I need to restart my creative juices.

What writing books do you recommend?


I'll add The Writer's Journey to the list. (I have an earlier edition.) Christopher Vogler explores the relationship of mythology and story telling. He distills John Campbell's The Hero's Journey and makes it accessible to writers who are struggling along with their main characters.

After I've written a draft or when I'm having trouble moving forward, paging though The Writer's Journey usually sheds light on what's lacking structurally and inspires me to make repairs and get back on track again.

I had the good fortune of hearing Cheryl Klein speak at an SCBWI Metro NY Professional Series event about the revision process and she was wonderful. If you visit her website you can also check out her insightful blog. So far, I've heard only good things about "Second Sight." I'll have to add it to my shopping cart, soon.   ~~Karen

Friday, May 18, 2012

got writing skills?

Here's our unanimous top pick for May 7th's writing prompt. This is a very evocative piece and we loved the way S.E.R. worked in "I'll Have Another," the two other horses names, plus the hat! (If you're just tuning in folks, you might want to scroll back to May 7th.) Well done!

So it is again time to don my Union rags. The piece of all pieces, the beacon upon my head; it is nothing more than the simple one. The obstructive feather bound to get in my way some day or another threatens me. I must take notice of this when I draw my bow, or I fear the feather will leave the nest and the weave of my life’s own will go with it. I wear this hat still, even after what it has brought me. Prospective will see me without the hat and rid my life of all I know and love, and that is what I fear. Yes, the fear is only fear itself, but how would you define fear without ever facing it until now? I live in the shadow taking darkness as my only ally. Born an assassin of wind, never to fall in love again; no one would want any of that unrightfully spilled blood near their hands. Especially if that blood was spilled by the one you love most. I only divulge in revenge, or what seems right at the time. I am known only as an outcast or dealer of death. But what many seem to forget is that I am still only human. I still have a heart. I still long for love. So the brim of this man’s hat I vowed to keep safe is stained with all I once loved. Him. If this life were returnable… Please. I’ll have another.

By S.E.R

Thanks for all the entries! Have a great weekend!


Wednesday, May 16, 2012

got inspiration?

"There are two kinds of beginnings in fiction: the sentence that gets you started and the true opening sentence, which may not find you till you are well into the work. " 
Nancy Willard

I love the notion that your work finds you. The opening sentence and main character of A Closer Look found me after I'd written 80 pages of a middle grade novel about girls who would donate their hair. I plotted that the main character of the MG novel would come upon a girl sitting on the beach having a quiet discussion with her mother. The girl was awaiting her first prosthetic wig. She was wearing a hat and was constantly adjusting it, obviously worried that it would fly away in the sea breeze and expose her bald scalp. And that's when it struck me that the girl on the beach, Cassie's story was the one I needed to tell. So I scrapped those 80 pages, started researching and started all over again.

So patient with your stories and characters because they may be the guides who lead you to the opening sentence of the real story you are destined to write.

The opening sentence to A Closer Look:

"It was New Year's Eve, but I didn't care how I looked--jeans and a sweatshirt, hair in a ponytail--done deal."


Saturday, May 12, 2012

Got Jung?

“Everything that irritates us about others can lead us to an understanding of ourselves.”

-Carl Jung

I was watching a new show called Common Law last night, and this quote appeared on the screen. It’s another example of how inspiration and insight can be found anywhere. You just have to be open to it.

This quote immediately struck me, as something true always does. I’m fascinated by the human heart and mind, and why we behave in certain ways. My writing hinges on my study of mankind: not in an outwardly Freudian lesson way, but more in a “look what happened because we behaved so atrociously” Romeo & Juliet kind of way. Take a good look at Shakespeare if you want examples of fine writing. Shakespeare writes the truth about people, not by lecturing but by showing.

People say they’re struck by my stories in a deep way, and that’s because I’m telling the truth. I’m illustrating a piece of our commonality, how we’re struggling to come to terms with some question we all have inside. My plot is just one turn down countless roads I could’ve taken. I have to laugh when people struggle with plot, because if you’re telling the truth, the plot is incidental. The plot is a given. (I laugh not at the floundering writer, but in sympathy, because I did that very thing when I was attempting to write Saved by the Music – before my subconscious showed me how to let go of my worries.)

I’m not going to write a long essay analyzing what this Jung quote means to me and how it inspires my writing, because that’s not the point. The point is: What does it do for you?  If it makes you take pause and think about people, it may be fodder for a story you’ll start sometime (when is also incidental.)

If the quote does nothing for you, that’s fine. Prepare yourself for that thing that does inspire you. Be willing to embrace it when it comes.

Happy pondering,

Thursday, May 10, 2012

Got Winners? Bloodspell, Sunlight and Mystery

Our winner of the Amalie Howard give-away - a double-header: a signed copy of her kickass badass novel, Bloodspell, and a sterling silver Bloodspell triquetra charm is... Eli Yanti! 

And the winner of the Sunlight and Mystery writing prompt is: Charles DeMoss (aka: Charlesthereader). Charles had two very different takes on the prompt and we liked them both so much we decided to show you both. Great work, Charles.

The Prompt:

The sunlight made me shade my eyes. I couldn't see the man in front of me, only his outline.

"Who are you?" I asked.

I heard something click and took a step back. A bead of sweat dropped down my back. The heat was baking me.

"Please, who are you?" I asked again.

With a flourish he pulled back his cloak and stepped to the side so that I could see him.

"I am... "

(Take One)

“I am Death, your Death to be precise.”

I burst out laughing. “Hey, that’s a good one, man. But who are you, really?”

“I already told you, I am your Death, as in a personification of the moment you stop living, the moment when all the lights go out forever. Need I go on?” He smiled condescendingly.

At that point, I knew I needed to get away from there. This guy was obviously crazy, who knew what he might do. I ran to the highway to flag down a passing vehicle.

“And in 5… 4… 3…”

Tires squealed, and then everything ended.

(Take Two)
“I am your imaginary friend!”

“Dude, I’m 17, I don’t need an imaginary friend.”

“Not according to your file. See here: Petey Jones, Age 4, Tormen… Wait, you said you were 17?”

“Do I look like a 4 year old to you?”

“So you’re not Petey Jones?” At this point, the man was starting to freak out.

"Obviously not.”

“Oh, gods above and below, not again! They said that if I messed up one more time I would lose my job! What am I going to do? I need to find him now! Bye!”

He faded away, leaving me wondering what happened.

That's all for this week folks. See you on Monday with more Got Teen Fiction.
- Joe

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

Nobody Knows Anything - Got Inspiration?

A struggling tree in the desert Stock Photo - 8179082
William Goldman in his book Adventures in the Screen Trade, has wonderful words of caution for all writers, whether you write for the stage, screen, or the ever more elusive hardcover book:

"Nobody knows anything."

In this wonderful book on writing, he says again and again, "Nobody knows anything," until it is a mantra that you will have imprinted, etched, and coded in your brain. What does it mean? For me when someone says, "You can't write a book over 300 pages and get it published." Or, "Nobody reads the quotes at the beginning of a chapter so don't put them in." Or, "The only way to write is by outlining." Or, "The most creative way to write is to write without any constraints and not knowing what will come next." Or, "You have to have an agent." Or, "Nobody is publishing coming-of-age stories anymore." Or, "Nobody will buy a book on quilting (move over How to Make an American Quilt book and movie)." There are many many more maxims of writing that will come across your path but, as William Goldman says, "Nobody knows anything." People guess at what will sell. They guess at what will break out and what will collapse and it's usually based on past experience. Never a bad thing unless you try to apply it to all cases in the future.

It's kind of like people who have been in drug treatment. (okay okay, just go with me here) When you ask them, "What kind of treatment would you recommend I go into (because, say, you need treatment)?" they tell you to go into the kind of treatment that worked for them. People who have been in AA say AA is the best. People who have been in a therapeutic community say 24-hour round-the-clock, keep-me-busy-all-the-time and do-group-to-death is the best. The problem is you are not them. I don't know what treatment will be best for someone unless I've done a complete and thorough assessment of their illness.

The same thing works for writing.

What will work for you?

Should you use an outline? If it helps then use it. If it doesn't then don't.

Should you get an agent first? It's usually a good idea but I know people who have published without one. Its harder but if you know people and have contacts...

If your book is over 300 pages and that's the right length for your book, then keep searching for a publisher until you find one that believes in your work. Is it possible you won't find one? Sure, but there's no even money bets on publishing. They're all long shots. You just keep the faith and keep entering the starting gate for the next race. Perseverance, faith, and support can pull you through.

I know.

I queried over 70 agents before I got my first one.

My novel is over 300 pages long.

And it was published.
- Joe

Remember. "Nobody knows anything," unless it applies to you.

Sunday, May 6, 2012

got writing?

First, a quick shout out to the awesome 6th, 7th & 8th graders of Sea Girt Elementary. It was so great to meet you and I can't wait to hear your reactions to reading A Closer Look! Now for today's prompt. 

I'LL HAVE ANOTHER thundered down the race track edging out the lead horse, BODEMEISTER during the last seconds of the race to win the Kentucky Derby this passed Saturday. I've always enjoyed the pageantry of the day, the humongous, often outrageous, artistic hats 

and especially the interesting names of the majestic horses that race.

The 2012 Kentucky Derby horses were: 

Daddy Long Legs
Take Charge Indy
Union Rags
Rousing Sermon
Creative Clause
Daddy Nose Best
Went The Day Well
El Padrino
Done Talking
I'll Have Another

Write a short piece up to 250 words using at least 2 of the horse's names as part of the story. And you must include I'll have another in some way. And if you're really up for a challenge, include a description of a hat. 

We'll take submissions until May 16th and post the best on May 18th.


Friday, May 4, 2012

Got Inspiration (& tardiness?)

Hi everyone,

Sorry, my inspiration for you is two days late. I guess I was caught up in my own inpsiration.

So I guess that's what I want to pass on to you: Don't let inspiration pass you by.

People always ask me, "Where do you get your ideas?"

The truth is, they get me. They are everywhere, in everything I experience. And they are there for everyone who choses to see them.

Embrace your inspirations, and let them embrace you. It is a hard thing to be a writer, but one thing we have is unlimited access to creativity. Everything you experience is a potential component for a story. Write it down, save it for later. I experienced something that became the basis of my novel SAVED BY THE MUSIC years before I had a clue what it was. But it was there, documented  in my computer when I realized I needed it.

A tree, a cat, a dumpster, a pothole....

A person you meet on line buying coffee at 7-11...

The scent of fresh grass....Your allergic reaction...

It is all inspiration if you just accept it.

Take the time to write things down.

Everything has beauty, but not everyone sees it. - Confucius

The beauty is in your words.