Thursday, June 20, 2013

Made-up movies/actors/TV shows for books?

When I sit down to read a book set in contemporary times, whether it be an actual contemporary novel or a paranormal/light fantasy set within our real world, I expect to get the real world.
Maybe I'm alone in this, but whenever I get reading and then the story brings in actors or entertainment which I know doesn't exist, I get pulled out of the reading. Like, yanked. Because suddenly it's not my world anymore. It's something else and I don't know where it is. It doesn't feel genuine.
But characters watch stuff and like actors and read books. So what to do?
These are the things I've found I've liked:

  • If the actor/actress/famous person is an integral part of the story (like Airhead by Meg Cabot or The Actor and the Housewife by Shannon Hale) then I don't get as knotted up about it, because clearly they can't use real people.
  • The Fault in Our Stars has a book (An Imperial Affliction) and a band (The Hectic Glow) that John Green made up. But while reading it, they seemed to be obscure, and not huge and part of general pop culture. You can't know every book and band in existence, so I read it as if they existed, and in fact looked them up to see if they were real while I was reading. Obscurity in the novel grounds it into the real world.
  • Using old TV shows/movies/bands. If an MC's favorite movie is The Wizard of Oz or The Sound of Music, or her father is watching re-runs of Seinfeld then that is something readers will forever know. I know there's pressure to not "date" a book, and these classics will make it not dated.
  • Using things that are modern, but will be around for a long time. I read The Outsiders, which was written in the 60s, and it mentions the Beatles and Elvis Presley. Update that to today, and you might mention Coldplay, Lady Gaga, Taylor Swift, people who won't be one-hit wonders and specifically date your book (like The Jonas Brothers would). These artists will mark a decade or so with their music. And honestly, with the speed of technology, books set in the real world will be dated a few years after their release anyway. It's okay to mark a book as one written in the 2010s like The Outsiders did with the 60s. If your book makes it that far, people will love it anyway. The key is to not have The Jonas Brothers roll in for a concert, so that people in 2013 would say, "Wow, this is so from 2008!" Specific--bad. General--good. 
How do you feel about made-up titles and people in books? How do you get around the debacle of making your book dated with pop culture?

Thursday, June 13, 2013

My two weeks as an intern at a publishing company

For the past two weeks I've been interning at Cedar Fort Publishing, and it's been really cool to see what goes on with the people who bring us books to read. My job so far has mostly consisted of reading through the slush pile and writing rejection letters (that part's oftentimes a pretty big bummer, but it has to be done).

Here are some things I've learned so far:

  • I really want to like what I read. I get these big fat manuscripts, and I know the author has put a lot of time and effort into it, so I really want to like it.
  • However, I more often than not don't.
  • Some reasons why the manuscript doesn't work for me: it's poorly written, there wouldn't be a market for it, it's not right for our company, or it just doesn't interest me.
  • I usually know by page 30 (at most) whether or not I'll send it up to the editor to look through.
  • I've started working on the slush from December. It can take a long time for someone to even look at your manuscript! Patience is key.
So, really, this is everything agents and publishers have said and I now can say from personal experience I agree with. Seriously--know as much as you can about the market, the agency/publisher you're submitting to, hone your craft, and be patient!

Tuesday, May 7, 2013

Minor Characters that readers love

I've been thinking a lot about minor characters. Readers rarely get into their heads (unless they're talking to an MC, and even then things might be edited) and yet I've always felt like the books I've LOVED rather than liked  in part have been because of minor characters I cared about as much as the major players. Some of these include Harry Potter, the Hunger Games, Pride and Prejudice (Jane Austen in general), and many others.

So I've asked myself, what makes their minor characters so lovable? This may not be THE answer, but it's my answer. And that is their personalities are so strong, they compete with those of the MC.

Let's look at Harry Potter, which has a huge cast of minor characters. SPOILERS.

Who cried when Fred died? (everyone's hand should be up now!) Why was his death so sad? Because whenever he graced the page, he made us laugh. His goofy behavior came through with one line of dialogue, and we saw how brave he was as he fought in the battle.

What about Dobby? That funny little elf had his own way of speaking, an earnestness and desire to help that he became endearing to the reader, and his death also brought many, many tears from the readers who over 6 books loved him.

Tonks? Her quick replies, confidence in herself, loyalty, and bravery jumped out on each page (well, except the 6th book when she was mopey, but at that point, we cared about why she was so sad!).

With minor characters, they need a ZING to their personalities. You don't have a whole book dedicated to their arc, you have a few conversations with the MC. Make the reader love them because of their vibrant and apparent personalities.

Thursday, May 2, 2013

Update on me

Hey everyone! School and things were crazy, but I hope to get back in the swing of things.

So last post I let you guys know that I got into BYU's MFA program, and I was waiting to hear back from Vermont College of Fine Arts. Well, I also got into VCFA, which meant I had a really hard decision to make. In the end, though, I decided to go with BYU.

Now I'll be teaching freshman writing in the fall (eep!) and staying at one of the prime locations for writers--especially children's writers. So far, I have no regrets about choosing BYU, and think that the next two years will be incredible.

Also! Pictures! I graduated last Friday with my BA in English.

 With the proud parents.

Now I'm home and waiting to hear back from an internship, and continuing writing.

How's everyone else been doing?

Tuesday, March 5, 2013

Some big news!

As I've mentioned on the blog before, I'm applying to schools to get my MFA in Creative Writing. And yesterday, for a class where we use computers a lot, I had to get into my email to get the link to a blog. I opened up my email and saw that I had an email from BYU graduate studies informing me "a decision has been made on your application."

I was too scared to open in it class, in case I made any noises of joy or pain. Since turning in my application in January, I haven't felt too great about getting in. My GRE scores were so-so, did that research paper really meet the requirements for a grad student, and I hadn't taken a class they had suggested I take. I spent the hour in class preparing myself for a rejection. It was fine. I had other schools I was applying to, this one rejection wouldn't mean I wouldn't get in to any MFA program.

I wasn't sure if I wanted to open up the email before I got home (which would be around 4:45, and my class ended at noon) or if I wanted to take the chance and feel horrible all day about it. I went into the break room  at my work and decided I'd just look and have a crappy rest of the day.

I pulled out my laptop, got onto my email, and followed the email's link to the school's system. I logged in and found the letter, which said they were "pleased to inform you that you have been accepted..."

I had to read that line three times before I understood that "pleased" and "accepted" meant that I had gotten in. I could get an MFA. I was in it. Yes, silly, I know, but I'd so convinced myself I wouldn't be getting in that I had to make sure my grasp on the English language was strong enough to make sure this wasn't any sort of miscommunication.

BYU has a lot of great advantages. While not a degree in Creative Writing for Young People, it's still open to YA and has a fantastic program. I'll be able to teach freshman writing, and I've loved living in Utah where there are so many writers and readers, with the Provo library just a twenty minute walk, where a lot of awesome authors come to speak.

I still have to hear back from Vermont College of Fine Arts, which has an amazing program for writing for young people, and with its low-residency format, I'd be able to live in San Diego again--free from snow and cold and bipolar weather!

So IF I get accepted to VCFA, then I'll have a decision to make. But right now I'm just glad that I have a definite option for this upcoming fall.

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Read more non-fiction

It's really important to read as a writer. That's one of the first things you learn (and as a serious writer, probably had some initiative to do anyway).

But often we focus on our genre, or at least fiction. We might read a book on the craft of writing.

May I just suggest reading more non-fiction? And not just for research. To learn about new things and nothing more (of course if you get something for a novel out of it--great! But not going into it for something is the key).

I've been reading more non-fiction lately. Not as much as fiction, but a lot more than before. Some of them are Shipwrecked at the Bottom of the World by Jennifer Armstrong, Charles and Emma: The Darwins' Leap of Faith by Deborah Heiligman, Hole in My Life by Jack Gantos, 7 Habits for Highly Effective Teens by Sean Covey, and I'm currently reading Mistakes Were Made (But Not By Me) by Carol Tavris and Elliot Aronson.

The first three are great because they tell real stories about real people. I mean, how great is that? The characters are already three-dimensional because they're real, and the plot never has holes, because this stuff actually happened. The last two are great for helping you with your own life, and give you a bit of edge into character psychology.

I've found in my college experience that learning more real-life facts has inspired me in my writing. Several things I've learned in my coursework from the general education classes has helped me in developing my own stories through themes, characters, and even titles.

We can't always be in school (and thank goodness, it's exhausting and costs a fortune!) but we can always be self-educating, which often comes through these non-fiction reads.

How much do you read of non-fiction? Have an opinion of it?

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

New hair!

On Saturday my hair went from this:

To this:

Twelve inches of it gone and sent off to Wigs for Kids. I love my short hair! It's so much easier to manage and I've never had it this short before, so it's quite an adventure for me.