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.

Saturday, January 19, 2013

Book Review: Delirium by Lauren Oliver

Title: Delirium
Author: Lauren Oliver
Publisher: HarperTeen
Genre: YA dystopian
Why I read it/how I found it: I got a free copy.

Ninety-five days, and then I’ll be safe.
I wonder whether the procedure will hurt.
I want to get it over with.
It’s hard to be patient.
It’s hard not to be afraid while I’m still uncured, though so far the deliria hasn’t touched me yet.
Still, I worry.
They say that in the old days, love drove people to madness.
The deadliest of all deadly things: It kills you both when you have it and when you don’t.

Why did I wait so long to read this book? I don't know! For some reason it always missed me. I'm glad I found a copy and got to read it. The writing's beautiful, the world-building's strong, the characters feel real. 

I think what both surprised and pleased me most was that while this book is about love and the main plotline certainly focuses on the romantic part, a good deal of the book focuses on other kinds of love. Lena's best friend and her family are just as important to her as Alex, her love interest, and those relationships cause trouble just as the romantic storyline does. It was refreshing to have a heroine with all of these facets of her love that we as people have also.

Other information: First in a trilogy. Optioned for film by Fox. The third book, Requiem will be out in March.  Oliver's website is here.

Thursday, January 10, 2013

Giving the reader some emotion

If it hasn't become obvious to you, I love The Hunger Games. The whole trilogy. Everything. And upon watching the movie for the fourth time or so, something that bothered me finally clicked as to why it did.

In the book, right after Peeta's reaped, Katniss describes in detail how he saved her life by giving her bread and hope. In the movie, there's a brief flash of the two in the rain, but without context of what's actually going on.

Why does this bother me so much? Because in the book, we're given a strong characteristic as to who Peeta is. We see that he's kind and willing to sacrifice for others (his mom beats him because of what he did). Right away, the readers like Peeta, and the situation of the two going into the games gets more complicated.

In the movie, we get none of that. He's just a boy Katniss will have to fight against. Of course, those who read the books know about the bread, but those who haven't don't care. There's no emotion or connection between the two, and it takes a while to see Peeta's goodness come through the movie. And by then, most people will already have their feelings about him sorted.

This made me think of how important it is for us as writers to set up our character's personalities sooner rather than later. We can make the reader love (or hate, depending) the character with even a sentence, and hopefully within a scene. The bland characters, without their good or bad qualities coming through immediately, won't grasp the reader and then they won't care.

Sure, there are characters you can grow to love/hate, but the sooner the connection the reader has to them, the better. The sooner they'll think to themselves One more page, and get sucked in.

What do you do to make a reader instantly have an emotional reaction to your characters?

Tuesday, January 8, 2013

The Uncertain 2013

Sunday night I found myself back in my apartment, back in the snow (*sob*), and back to school for the last time.

It's really strange, because your whole life you go to school. You keep on thinking of all of years and time you have left, and how it seems so impossibly far away. School will never end, it seems.

Now here I am with the last semester of my undergraduate degree and all I can think is wait, already?!

Granted, I'm applying for a master's program, so that's another two years, but still. Even that feels like school's practically over. Plus, I'm so incredibly anxious as to whether or not I'll actually get into a program. So in addition to the looming presence of my current lifestyle ending, I have very little idea of what will be in the future. It's not a feeling I've had before and not one that I particularly care for.

Do you have any recent changes coming up? What's been a big uncertainty in your life?

Saturday, January 5, 2013

Book Review: Red Glove by Holly Black

Title: Red Glove
Author: Holly Black
Publisher: Margaret K. McElderry Books
Genre: YA urban fantasy
Why I read it/how I found it: Sequel to White Cat

**Spoilers for White Cat below**
Curses and cons. Magic and the mob. In Cassel Sharpe's world, they go together. Cassel always thought he was an ordinary guy, until he realized his memories were being manipulated by his brothers. Now he knows the truth — he’s the most powerful curse worker around. A touch of his hand can transform anything — or anyone — into something else.

That was how Lila, the girl he loved, became a white cat. Cassel was tricked into thinking he killed her, when actually he tried to save her. Now that she’s human again, he should be overjoyed. Trouble is, Lila’s been cursed to love him, a little gift from his emotion-worker mom. And if Lila’s love is as phony as Cassel’s made-up memories, then he can’t believe anything she says or does.

When Cassel’s oldest brother is murdered, the Feds recruit Cassel to help make sense of the only clue — crime-scene images of a woman in red gloves. But the mob is after Cassel too — they know how valuable he could be to them. Cassel is going to have to stay one step ahead of both sides just to survive. But where can he turn when he can’t trust anyone — least of all, himself?

Love is a curse and the con is the only answer in a game too dangerous to lose.

I love the magic of this world, how the touch of a hand can produce magic. I love placing it in an urban setting and watching how to incorporate the mobs.

What I found to be a great strength of Red Glove was the hard choices Cassel had to make. He has to face the knowledge of his power and how everyone wants to use him, which made for great conflict. Making the right choice wasn't easy, especially when those offering the right choice were corrupt as well. It refused to be straight-forward. 

This was plotted so well, I didn't see the outcome until it was playing out in front of me. The mystery is great.

My one gripe would be that it started a little slow for me, as at the beginning Cassel's simply finishing up his summer vacation of conning and there isn't much that's important to the plot at this point. But page 50 it goes and I devoured it.

Other information: This is the second in a trilogy. Holly Black's website is here.

Thursday, January 3, 2013

The power of what if

For Christmas I got season 1 of the TV show Once Upon a Time. The first thing I watched was the bonus features, because I love seeing how these things are made. What stuck out to me was how many times the writers of the show said "we wondered what would happen if" or "this path was obvious, so we asked ourselves what if..."

The biggest thing to me is when they were talking about Prince Charming's back story. They knew everyone would expect to know his story--the royal prince with a rich father who would take Snow White away. So they asked "What if that wasn't his story? What if he was actually a pauper?" From this simple realization that  the story would be more interesting with Charming having a different back story, the show has a whole other plot to go into with the conflicts of becoming a prince without having been raised as one.

As I've been plotting my next book, I've asked myself these same questions. What would the audience expect to happen from this? If it's something good--like the heroine winning, then I don't touch it. But who's expected to be the bad guy? The good guy? What cliches are in this genre that I want to avoid? Then from this, asking "what if this happened?" Sometimes it's awful. But sometimes it's good. And I've found that things are a lot less predictable and a lot more interesting.

Do you have any tricks for plotting your story?

Tuesday, January 1, 2013

Best books I read in 2012

I think 2012 was my greatest reading year yet. I read 120 books this year. This post will probably hurt, having to choose some of my favorite, but I chose my top 10 books I read in 2012.

1. Everneath by Brodi Ashton is an amazing paranormal romance based off of the Persephone myth that I devoured. It gave me so many emotions and I absolutely cannot wait for the sequel to come out on the 22nd.

2. The Outsiders by S.E. Hinton. I finally got around to reading this classic, and I loved it! Completely deserving of its title. It's also considered one of the first young adult novels. It's certainly the first classic young adult novel.

3. The Sky is Everywhere by Jandy Nelson is a contemporary novel about Lennie, who's dealing with the death of her sister, a mother who abandoned her, and a new boy in town. I loved the setting and the characters and the depth of this novel. It was absolutely wonderful.

4. Palace of Stone by Shannon Hale. This is a sequel that may just be better than the first. I loved where Miri's journey took her, the politics and personal stakes in this book.

5. The Chosen One by Carol Lynch Williams is a contemporary novel about Kyra, a thirteen-year-old girl in a community that practices polygamy, and is told she's to marry her much older uncle. High stakes and beautiful language with strong characters--this book is a quick recommendation for me.

 6. Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury. I read this along with the nerdfighters and found it worth all of the hoopla around it (which unfortunately I don't always find with classics). So very thought-provoking and amazing.

7. Underland Chronicles by Suzanne Collins. This entire series is amazing--lots of action, strong characters, and moving themes. Recommended in a heartbeat.

8. Endlessly by Kiersten White is the final book in the Paranormalcy trilogy. A perfect ending for Evie and everyone else. Strongly recommend the whole series.

9. Twelfth Night by William Shakespeare. I think the only thing I could recommend more than reading this play is to watch it, especially the version from the 90s. This was my favorite Shakespeare play we read for my class.

10. American-Born Chinese by Gene Luen Yang. This year I was introduced to graphic novels, and I am now a huge fan of them. This Printz-winning book was probably my favorite that I read. Funny and meaningful, this is an amazing piece worthy of its award.

Other favorites from 2012: The Fault in Our Stars by John Green, Rapunzel's Revenge by Shannon and Dean Hale, Wintergirls and Chains by Laurie Halse Anderson, and Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry by Mildred  D. Taylor.

What were some of your favorite books you read in 2012?