Friday, May 27, 2011

Your Truth Isn’t Necessarily Someone Else’s Truth

So getting straight to it, let me ask you, what’s the biggest challenge you face as a writer? Is it coming up with the hook? Is it finding a distinct voice? Is it figuring out who your main character really is – what they want most, what they fear most?

I discovered my arch-nemesis a long time ago, and I’m still having problems overcoming it: It was learning that my truth is not necessarily someone else’s truth.

I thought that because I believed something, everyone else would understand where I was coming from.
For instance, I once wrote a story with negligent, somewhat-mean parents.  Someone else read my book and said, “Miranda, I just can’t believe anyone’s parents would treat them that way!”

And I just didn’t get that. I feel like I see stories about neglectful parents in the news every day. Then I started thinking about where my reader comes from: A good stable home and a solid upbringing.

The truth is, not everybody comes from the same place, so everyone’s “reality” is different.

So how do you bring readers in so they “buy” your story?

This is where setting and background are crucial. If you want your readers to believe your main character’s circumstances, you must show a complete picture.  

Let’s look at Harry Potter. From the very first page, J.K. Rowling made it very clear that Mr. and Mrs. Dursley are quite conservative and set in their ways. Mr. Dursley is described as wearing “his most boring tie.” His main concern in life is a shipment of drills. Young people who dress funny get on Mr. Dursley’s nerves. We also find out that Mr. Dursley doesn’t like his wife’s family – because they are wizards.

Even if they weren’t wizards and were punk rockers, Mr. Dursley would dislike the Potters.
Based on this set-up, the reader should “buy” how the Dursleys treat Harry after he gets left on their doorstep. As he grows up, they make him live in the cupboard under the stairs and make him wear hand-me-down clothes.

When you’re writing, how do you work to “show” your main character’s circumstances?

As a reader, what sorts of details help you to “buy” the story?   

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

I Got Nothing

So, here's a little bit of boy band awesomeness.

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Book Recommendation: Bleeding Violet

The Set-Up: 
Love can be a dangerous thing....
Hanna simply wants to be loved. With a head plagued by hallucinations, a medicine cabinet full of pills, and a closet stuffed with frilly, violet dresses, Hanna's tired of being the outcast, the weird girl, the freak. So she runs away to Portero, Texas in search of a new home.
But Portero is a stranger town than Hanna expects. As she tries to make a place for herself, she discovers dark secrets that would terrify any normal soul. Good thing for Hanna, she's far from normal. As this crazy girl meets an even crazier town, only two things are certain: Anything can happen and no one is safe.

My Take: 

I loved this book.  Seriously. I. Loved. This. Book.  This is one of those books that I picked up and wondered “Why the hell didn’t I get this sooner?”  Hanna is such a fun character, and even though she‘s bipolar her mental illness isn’t really what defines her.  Neither does being biracial.*  She has so much going on, and her self-confidence leaps off of the page.  Even though she’s thrown into a completely strange situation she goes along with it, convinced that she can make the grimmest of situations work.  She’s optimistic without coming off as a Pollyanna, and that’s really nice to see.
I usually have one or two things that I take issue with, but the only thing that even gave me pause was Hanna’s attitude towards sex.   It gave me pause not because I had a problem with it, but because it isn’t very often that YA features a character who’s sexually active and not because she has some sort of problem she’s trying to escape.  Hanna is as matter of fact about sex as she is everything else, so the romantic scenes in the book quickly become more matter-of-fact than scandalous. 
I also loved that the romance in the book was so realistic, yet satisfying.  Wyatt is a bit of a jerk sometimes (like most guys), and despite his jerky tendencies he was still a decent romantic lead.  I’ve gotten spoiled with reading YA, I tend to expect some sort of romance at some point, but the romance between Wyatt and Hanna was satisfying without feeling forced or unnatural.
The town of Portero was hands down my favorite part of the entire book.  I look forward to reading more books set there, and meeting more of the residents.  While I was reading all I could think was “What kind of insane person would willingly live in such a place?” I look forward to finding out. J
I guess I should give a warning here that the book has some pretty graphic bits.  Nothing that I found offensive, but I have a pretty high tolerance for gore.  But this book is probably not something you would want to give younger readers.  The violence is probably on par with the Hunger Games, but with the addition of sex I think some Amazon reviewers were a bit more scandalized than they would’ve been if the two hadn't coexisted.  However, I think books should be about pushing boundaries, and I love how Bleeding Violet does that while telling an intriguing story.
So if you like your YA on the older side with a bit of the dark, this is definitely a book you should check out.
*I was pretty annoyed that one Amazon reviewer complained that “Hanna herself is biracial, but comes across as a generic white girl, who just a bit on the slutty side.” So, she should act all conflicted because she comes from two different cultures? Or should she be a little ghetto, but still dig tea parties?  Pffft. This is why no one should take Amazon reviews too seriously, but more about that later.

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

It’s Not You, It’s Me (Okay, It’s Mostly You)

So the other day, I picked up a book beloved and lauded by many on the interwebs as being the next best thing since egg salad on whole wheat (Yum!).  After five pages in I set the book aside and went to get a snack.  After twenty pages I opted to watch the People’s Court I’d DVR’d instead.  By page fifty I decided to move on to something else, since it was either that or rip the book apart because the characters were so frustrating and unlikeable.
And then the guilt set in.
There is something very difficult about hating a book that everyone else loves.  It’s a little like telling a room full of vegetarians that you really love bacon.  You find your self hemming and hawing, and when friends press you about whether you liked a book or not you shrug, give a half smile, and murmur “It was okay.”
WHY?!?  Why are we so afraid to say “I hated that book with the burning fury of a thousand suns going supernova?”  Instead, we demure and make excuses, and pretend to be glad when a friend gives us the next book in the series for our birthday. Yay.
Look, it’s okay to not like books.  Just like egg salad on whole wheat, not everyone is going to like every book.  It’s not your fault or the book’s fault (okay, sometimes it’s the book’s fault, but that’s a subject for a different post).  If you didn’t like egg salad you would say, “Ah, no thanks, I don’t really care for it.”  We should be able to express our dislike of books the same way, without being afraid to express our opinion but also not becoming that loud mouth jerk that slams the book, either.  Surely there has to be some happy medium.
So feel free to tell me you don’t like egg salad on wheat, just do it with some tact.  It’s cool.  More for me.

Monday, May 9, 2011

Review: DRY SOULS by Denise Getson

There are a billion dystopians out there right now.  And a lot of them are based on ecological premeses.  But it's been a while since I read one so compelling as debut author Denise Getson's DRY SOULS.

DRY SOULS follows Kira, a teen girl who can hardly remember her mom, and has grown up at an all-girls orphanage.  She's never quite fit in with the other girls, and when she finds a flower -- something no one has seen in years, since the water is too tightly regulated to support purely aesthetic plantlife -- Kira is compelled to protect it.  It feels like her safe place, her one thing that she has in the world.  And it could have been the key to friendship, with a girl named Mary.  Together they water the flower by saving their rations -- it's their secret.  But on the day that Kira discovers she can conjure water on her own, Mary freaks out, tells the headmistress, and is on the outs again. 

So Kira strikes out on her own, as a traveler, with little direction except to maybe go to the town of her birth, Slag, in an area once known as the Great Lakes Region.  Meeting up with fellow runaway J.D., things seem to be going okay, and Kira is feeling good about her choice to leave the orphanage.  Little does she know, the goverment -- the Territories -- is out to find her.  They know about her power, and have no interest in her filling the lakes and rivers and bringing water to the people.  The Territories have managed to keep control over the population by keeping control over the water, and to them, Kira is an enormous threat. 

Part adventure, part coming-of-age, and completely unputdownable, DRY SOULS is an elegantly written addition to the dystopian genre.  One that presents its stark future with an element of hope, with relateable characters, and without the pretense of a forced romance.  And, at just under 200 pages, it makes a great pick for reluctant teen readers.  Make sure you go to your local library or bookstore and ask for DRY SOULS, stat!

And, fyi, DRY SOULS is with the small press CBAY books.  So if you can't find it right away, make sure to special order it!  Gotta love the small presses, y'all!

Friday, May 6, 2011

Think Your First Draft Sucks Major and You Should Just Quit? Don’t! Why Revising Does a World of Good

Every time I start a first draft of something new, I want to cry. I moan to myself, “Oh my writing sucks! Why am I even doing this?! I suckkkkkkkkkk……….”

But then I remember that my best work happens when I revise (especially after draft #85 or so), so it’s important to just get the first draft down, and deal with cleaning it up later.

I just recently finished up copyedits on SCORE and pretty soon my book will be off to the printers so ARCs can be made. Woo!  As I was doing my final readthru, I started wondering how much this book has changed since I first started writing it back in 2009.

And boy has it changed! Wow, the first draft was choppy and didn’t flow and had no personality. Now, I think it’s much better.

So, without further ado, I present the first page of my very very very first draft of SCORE, before I ever even had a plot! But before you read the crappy version, read the first page as it is now. Enjoy!


I once read that football was invented so people wouldn’t notice summer ending. But I couldn’t wait for summer vacation to end. I couldn’t wait for football. Football, dominator of fall—football, love of my life.

“Blue forty-two! Blue forty-two! Red seventeen!” I yell.

The cue is red seventeen. JJ hikes me the ball. The defense is blitzing. JJ slams into a freshman safety, knocking him to the ground. The rest of my offensive line destroys the defense. Nice. The field’s wide open, but my wide receiver isn’t where he’s supposed to be.

“What the hell, Higgins?” I mutter to myself.

Dancing on my tiptoes, I scan the end zone and find Sam Henry instead, and hurl the ball. It flies through the air, a perfect spiral, heading right where I wanted it to go. He catches the ball, spikes it, and does this really stupid dance. Henry looks like a freaking ballerina. With his thin frame and girly blond hair, he actually could be the star of the New York Ballet.

I’m gonna give him hell for his dance.

This is my senior year at Hundred Oaks High, and I’m captain, so I’m allowed to keep my players in line. Even though he’s my best friend, Henry has always been a showoff. His antics get us penalties.
Through the speaker in my helmet, I hear Coach Miller say, “Nice throw. This is your year, Woods. You’re going to lead us to the state championship. I can feel it…Hit the showers.” What the coach actually means? I know you’re not going to blow it in the final seconds of the championship game like you did last year.

And he’s right. I can’t.

The University of Alabama called last week—on the first day of school—to tell me a recruiter is coming to watch me play on Friday night. And then a very fancy-looking letter arrived, inviting me to visit campus in September. An official visit. If they like what they see, they’ll sign me in February.

I can’t screw this season up.

I pull my helmet off and grab a bottle of Gatorade and my playbook. Most of the guys are already goofing off and heading over to watch cheerleading practice across the field, but I ignore them and look up into the stands.

I spot Mom sitting with Carter’s dad, a former NFL player. My dad isn’t here, of course. Asshole.

Lots of parents come to watch our practices because football is the big thing to do around here. Here being Franklin, Tennessee, home of the Hundred Oaks Red Raiders, eight-time state champions.
Mom always comes to practice—she’s been supporting me ever since Pop Warner youth football days, but sometimes she worries I’ll get hurt, even though the worst thing that’s ever happened was a concussion. Sophomore year, when JJ took a breather, the coach brought in this idiot to play center, the idiot didn’t cover me, and I got slammed hard. Otherwise, I’m a rock. No knee problems, no broken limbs.

Dad never comes to my practices and rarely comes to games. People think it’s because he’s busy, because he’s Donovan Woods, the starting quarterback for the Tennessee Titans. But the truth is he doesn’t want me playing football. Why wouldn’t a famous quarterback want his kid to follow in the family footsteps? Well, he does. He loves that my brother Mike, a junior in college, plays for the University of Tennessee and led his team to a win at the Sugar Bowl last year. So what the hell is Dad’s problem with my playing ball?

I’m a girl.


“Blue forty-two!  Blue forty-two!  Red seventeen!”
The cue is red seventeen.  The center, my best friend JJ, hikes the ball to me.  I catch it effortlessly.  The defense is blitzing.  JJ slams into a freshman safety, knocking him to the ground.  Nice.  The field’s wide open, like an ocean.  Dancing on my tiptoes, I scan the end zone and locate Sam Henry, a wide receiver, and hurl the ball.  I watch it fly through the air, a perfect spiral, heading right where I intended it to go.  He catches the ball, spikes it and does this really stupid dance.  Henry looks like a frickin’ ballerina.  With his thin frame and girly blonde hair, he actually could be the star of the New York Ballet.  I’m gonna give him hell for his dance later.  This is my senior year at Hundred Oaks High, and I’m captain, so I’m allowed to keep my players in line.  Henry has always been a showoff; his shenanigans get us penalties.   
Through the speaker in my helmet, I hear Coach Miller say, “Nice throw.  This is your year, Woods.  You’re going to lead us to the state championship.  I can feel it.  Take five.” 
The coach means: I know you’re not going to blow it in the final seconds of the championship game like you did last year.  And he’s right.  I’m not. 
I grin, pull off my helmet and walk to grab some Gatorade.  Most of the guys are goofing off, watching cheerleading practice going on across the field.  But I ignore them and look up into the stands.  I spot my mom talking to JJ’s dad.  My dad isn’t here, of course.  Lots of parents come to watch our practices because football is the only thing to do around here.  Here being Franklin, Tennessee, next door to the middle of nowhere.  If you think hanging out at practice is lame, forget movies - games are typical Friday night dates for couples. 
My mom always comes to practice.  I think she supports me, but I’m not sure.  Maybe she’s just overprotective and doesn’t want me to get hurt, but I’ve been playing football since Pop Warner days, since I was seven, and the worst thing that’s ever happened was a concussion.  Sophomore year, when JJ took a breather, the coach brought in this idiot to play center.  The idiot didn’t cover me and I got slammed hard.  Otherwise, I’m a rock.  No knee problems to speak of, no broken limbs.  
My dad never comes to my practices, and rarely comes to games.  People think it’s because he’s busy, because he’s Donovan Woods, the starting quarterback for the Tennessee Titans.  But the truth is he doesn’t want me playing football.  You might wonder why a famous quarterback wouldn’t want his kid to follow in the family footsteps and play the great All-American sport.  But he does.  He loves that my brother, Mike, a junior in college, plays for the University of Tennessee, and led his team to win at the Sugar Bowl last year.  So what the hell is my dad’s problem, you ask?
I’m a girl.

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

This Post Is Not A Post

I had every intention of writing a long, thoughtful post today, I really did. But the stomach flu had other plans. So here I sit, silver barf bowl balanced on shaky knees, saying hello, briefly, and would like to provide you, dear Readers, with the following Updates.

1. I read I AM J by Cris Beam and it was wonderful. I shall have more to say about it in the near future, but in any case I am glad that we're seeing more books featuring sexual minorities in major roles, and am looking forward to seeing those books included in curricula and library lists and various awards. Because these voices matter.

2. Have continued my own personal quest to read every Diana Wynne-Jones book ever written. And while her books are like food to my hungry imagination, I've found the process heartbreaking and piteous sad. I do miss that woman - though I never met her. I miss the idea that maybe one day I would. And I miss her.

3. Am teaching currently. Fiction. Fourth grade. And it is marvelous. Seriously, these kids are amazing.

4. We had an issue recently with my Middle School aged daughter, and her consequence was to cut her off from the internet for five days. Five Long Days. Apparently I'm the meanest mother alive. Honestly, from the way she was carrying on, you'd think I was killing her. And then I got to thinking about it. Social media requires a certain level of consistent use before a person's profile - one's electronic personhood - begins to diminish. When we are cut off from online conversations, do we become electronically dead? Did I temporarily kill my daughter, as far as her online use is concerned.

Well, if that's true, then I'm killing all of my computers and cutting the entire family off (ruining your life MY EYE, I said to her) and really, I don't think that we've reached the point at which electronic interconnectedness is equal to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.


It would make a cool book. And an interesting story. And I think someone around here should write it. (not me, though. I already have too many projects in the works.)

All right. Feeling crummy. Back to bed. More next week, folks!

Monday, May 2, 2011

Lois Duncan Winners!

Hey everyone!  Today I just wanted to announce the winners of the Lois Duncan books!

Each winner will receive a set of THREE Lois Duncan YA thrillers, courtesy of Little, Brown Books for Young Readers.

1. Maggie Desmond-O'Brien
2. Darsa Morrow
3. The Book Groupie

Looking forward to hearing what you all think!  I'll be contacting y'all shortly to get mailing addresses.  Congratulations, and thanks again to Little, Brown!