Saturday, November 28, 2015

0 Kate McGovern, author of RULES FOR 50/50 CHANCES, on learning how to structure a book

We're thrilled to have Kate McGovern with us to share more about her debut novel RULES FOR 50/50 CHANCES.

Kate, what was your inspiration for writing RULES FOR 50/50 CHANCES?

I came across a news article in 2007 about a young woman who was wrestling with the same decision as Rose--should she get tested for Huntington's or not. Her family didn't want her to take the test. Ultimately she did get tested, and learned that she had the mutation. I was really moved by the way she articulated how that knowledge affected her life choices, her aspirations for her future. It stuck with me, and almost six years later I started writing RULES.

How long did you work on RULES FOR 50/50 CHANCES?

I started writing the draft in 2012, but I only wrote the very first page, and then I put it down for a year. When I picked it back up, I wrote the first draft in about 6 months. I revised for a few months after that, and then signed with my agent. We sold the book about 14 months after I started writing it in earnest. But like I said, I'd been percolating on the subject matter for almost six years before I even wrote down a word.

Friday, November 27, 2015

1 Joshua David Bellin on Unreliable Narrators, Recycling Characters, and Mashup Pitches

We're thrilled to welcome author Joshua David Bellin to the blog today as our monthly Ask a Pub Pro! Joshua is here to answer your questions on what exactly is an unreliable narrator and how to craft one, how to creatively recycle character types, and the pros and cons of using Book X meets Book Y in pitches. He's also giving away a signed copy of his recent release, SURVIVAL COLONY 9, with the winner also to receive a copy of the sequel, SCAVENGER OF SOULS, when it comes out next year. Be sure to check it out below!

If you have a question you'd like to have answered by an upcoming publishing professional, send it to AYAPLit AT and put Ask a Pub Pro Question in the subject line.

Ask a Pub Pro: on Unreliable Narrators, Recycling Characters, and Mashup Pitches by Joshua David Bellin

Hi readers! I’m thrilled to be here on Adventures in YA Publishing to answer some of your questions. Enjoy, and at the end of the post, check out the cool giveaway I’m offering!

1. I keep seeing agents and editors ask for unreliable narrators. I know a bit about what this is but am not real clear. Can you explain what an unreliable narrator is and why they are so popular?

Unreliable narrators come in all forms, but the basic idea is that they’re narrators the reader can’t fully trust. This might be because the narrator lacks important information: for example, the narrator might be suffering from memory loss. Or the narrator might be a young child whose perceptions of the world are immature. The narrator might have a mental illness that leads her/him to misrepresent reality. And so on.

Wednesday, November 25, 2015

1 Asking Better Questions by Eric Lindstrom

Eric Lindstrom worked in the interactive entertainment industry before writing his debut novel, Not If I See You First (Coming Dec 1), gaining a unique insight of storytelling from the gaming industry. Today, he's on the blog talking about how asking the right questions can make your story come to life. 

Asking Better Questions by Eric Lindstrom

The fourth doctor of the TV series Doctor Who was my childhood hero. (He still is, but that’s a different story.) In an episode I watched as a teen, he said, “Answers are easy – it’s asking the right questions which is hard.” It was my first exposure to this idea, and it stuck with me.

Over time this perspective became a very useful tool. When I get stuck and can’t find an answer, stepping back and examining my questions often leads to a solution. This process proves itself useful in many different ways, but here I’ll focus on a key example.

Starting out as a writer, I sometimes found myself blocked, wondering, “What should happen next?” I came to understand (over years, not one Saturday afternoon) how that was the wrong question. Tornados happen. Wildebeest migrations happen. But the vast majority of events in a story don’t just happen. Characters make them happen. “What happens next?” is appropriate for the reader to ask, not the writer.

Tuesday, November 24, 2015

5 The Sparkling Appeal of Twilight: An Essay on Being Different, Being Transformed, and Being Connected -- A Guest Post by Jes Simmons

During a panel I did recently at the Virginia Children's Book Festival on Fairy Tales and Gothic Novels, I mentioned what an important role Twilight had played in my daughter's life and therefore in my own writing career. I expressed my opinion that people often miss the true genius and importance of the novel. Someone in the audience agreed with me, and came up to have me sign Compulsion afterwards, and thus I had the very great pleasure of meeting Jes Simons, who lectures at Longwood University and teaches Twilight to her freshman students. We had a long chat about both books, and about the very special perspective that she has on Twilight as a reader and a teacher. Long before we were done, I knew I had to ask her to write about her experiences. I'm honored to be able to share that with you today!

The Sparkling Appeal of Twilight 

An Essay on Being Different, Being Transformed, and Being Connected

A Guest Post by Jes Simmons

Early in Twilight Bella Swan admits, “I didn’t relate well to people my age.  Maybe the truth was that I didn’t relate to people, period” (Meyer 11).  Many of us gave a collective “Yes” to this because Bella was voicing our innermost secrets and fears. Suddenly we could breathe easier because Stephenie Meyer gave us a relatable and reliable narrator who, like us, didn’t fit in and never truly felt at ease in the world.  And when Bella later speculated, “Maybe there was a glitch in my brain” (11), she completely had us on her side.  Bella is one of us, an awkward and out-of-step outsider who just wants to find a place to fit in and be accepted.  She finds this with the Cullen family (and with us).
The appeal of Twilight to me is not the love story of a precocious and self-sacrificing 17-year-old girl who falls in love with a strikingly handsome vampire who will always look 17.  Nor is it the action-packed vampire chase and fight that propel the book to its conclusion.  What draws me to Twilight is a unique connection with Bella and the Cullen family that comes from being a reader who literally is different from most other people, a reader who doesn’t fit in with peers or the dominant culture.  Twilight “sings” to me as a male-to-female transsexual who finds affinity with both Bella and the octet of vampires in the Cullen family.

Bring Different

Like Bella in school, I was acutely aware of how different I was from my classmates, both in body and mind. Despite growing up in sunny Phoenix, Arizona, Bella’s skin wouldn’t tan.  Out of step with her peers, Bella stumbled and tripped where others easily walked. Growing up as a gender dysphoric boy, I was painfully aware of behaving and looking more effeminate than masculine.  A group of girls in seventh grade used to follow me down the hall, commenting loudly on how I carried my books and walked like a girl (and their words prophetically caused me to stumble).  They even called me “Alice.”  (Ironically, I now love being a “Team Alice” Twihard!).

Monday, November 23, 2015

14 New Release Giveaway and Author Interviews for 11/23-11/29

As we begin the last full week of November, it's getting harder and harder to believe the end of 2015 is almost here. To all our American readers: we hope you have a wonderful Thanksgiving. To all those doing NaNoWriMo: you're so close! However many words you've written, we're so proud of you. And to those looking for something new to read: we bring you this week's new release giveaway.

Happy Reading!
Lindsey, Martina, Sam, Jocelyn, Erin, Lisa, Shelly, Susan, Elizabeth, Kristin, Sandra and Anisaa

Sunday, November 22, 2015

1 Best of AYAP: Scenes & Pacing

Pacing is one of the trickiest elements of writing. A somewhat elusive concept, and one difficult to get right, it can be easy to notice that pacing feels 'off,' but difficult to know how to fix it. Similarly, when plotting a novel, it can be difficult to find that perfect balance of scenes that pushes the story forward.

Many of the posts below approach pacing and scenes from an objective standpoint, pulling the concepts apart and assigning concrete ways that troubleshooting or plotting can be approached. Whether you're approaching pacing and scene choice from the plotting or revising side of the writer's desk, there's a wealth of information collected in the posts below.

Saturday, November 21, 2015

3 Christopher Pike, author of STRANGE GIRL, on hard work being the key to getting published

We are honored to have Christopher Pike join us to share more about his latest novel STRANGE GIRL.

Christopher, what was your inspiration for writing STRANGE GIRL?

If you read the dedication of Strange Girl, it says: “For Abir, who told me to write this book.” Abir is my girlfriend. We’ve been together 15 years, and she is without a doubt the love of my life. Naturally, by this time, I never write a book without talking to Abir about it. Well last March, 2014, we were talking late one night about what I should write next and Abir said I should write a love story. And I said, “A love story about what?” That was when Abir gave me perhaps the best advice when she said -- “That’s the key. You don’t want to know what it’s about. Find out as you write it. Just have a boy meet a mysterious girl at the beginning of the school year and go from there.”

At first I dismissed the idea. I’m rather proud of how cleverly I plot my stories and Abir was basically telling me to drop all my cleverness and just feel my way along. Just put myself in the shoes of the main character, Fred, and write what he felt.

And that was what I did. That’s how Aja, the heroine of Strange Girl, was created, totally out of thin air.

Friday, November 20, 2015

1 1st 5 Pages Workshop Opens January 2nd!

I am sad to say that our 1st 5 Pages November Workshop has come to an end. We had such a great group of talented and enthusiastic writers! And wow – did they revise! A big thanks to our wonderful guest mentors, author Jenn Thorne and agent Kirsten Carleton! They both provided terrific comments and suggestions. And as always, thank you to all of our fabulous permanent mentors! Martina Boone, the workshop founder and a permanent mentor, had her second book in the HEIRS OF WATSON ISLAND trilogy released. As her critique partner, I can tell you that PERSUASION is fabulous!

Since December is a busy month and our mentors are struggling with deadlines, we have decided to take a hiatus for this month. We will re-open the workshop in January, on Saturday January 2nd. We'll take the first five Middle Grade, Young Adult, or New Adult entries that meet all guidelines and formatting requirements. Click here to get the rules. I will post when it opens and closes on Adventures in YA Publishing and on twitter (@etcashman), with the hashtag #1st5pages.

We usually fill up in under a minute, so get those pages!


0 Feminist Storytelling by Elizabeth Hall Magill

You are all in for a real treat today. Elizabeth Hall Magill is here to share a very thoughtful post on how to craft a story with a genuine feminist perspective, which for Elizabeth means getting into the very heart of a character, unvarnished by societal assumptions. I especially loved her point on the rich space between the narrator and character -- the bold there is mine. Welcome Elizabeth!

How to Craft a Story with a Feminist Perspective: A Craft of Writing Post by Elizabeth Hall Magill

Feminist Storytelling

A couple of years ago, I had the good fortune to meet Sherman Alexie, author of The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian, when he won Longwood University’s John Dos Passos prize. Mr. Alexie offered to read the first chapter of my novel, which I was about to revise. I knew my revision would be a feminist one—it would include an awareness of class, race, and gender privilege that reflected my recent work—but I wasn’t sure what shape it would take. Mr. Alexie gave me the perfect place to begin, a line on the sixth page of my manuscript: Seth didn’t hate his father’s money—he just hated his father.

I would never have thought to begin with that line. But when I considered it, I realized the line framed the story perfectly—the novel is about a group of UVA students struggling with loss, grief, and growth. A story that unravels from a fulcrum of white, upper-middle-class privilege. To begin with a line that acknowledges that privilege meant I was off and running with my feminist revision.

But why a feminist revision? And what does that mean, in a practical sense?

In the four years since I’d written the novel, I’d gone from believing the word feminist was tainted with disdain for men and condemnation for women to understanding that it held freedom. Feminist writing taught me why motherhood was harder than it had to be and why I never felt pretty enough. It exposed my own assumptions to me—assumptions I made because I was white and middle-class and hadn’t had to think beyond front-page headlines. It allowed me to find sisters I thought I’d never have and release cultural baggage that weighed me down.

I needed to bring this awakening to my fiction—I needed more characters in my book, from more backgrounds. I needed to cut through the assumptions I’d made unconsciously. I needed my protagonist—a young woman named for a goddess—to fully understand the meaning of self-ownership, and claim it. I needed to help my readers see what I’d seen.

But how to do all that and remain true to good storytelling? No one likes to read a book that feels like a treatise. And many people have unexamined assumptions as a result of living in a patriarchy, just like I did. Exposing these assumptions can be a real-turn off, and painful to boot. Sure, literature is supposed to make us face pain, as well as entertain us and make us think. But how to do that in a story, and let the story lead?

The key is tucked into the space between narrator and character.

In nonfiction, the words are always and only mine. But in fiction, the words sometimes come from the mouths of people who are nothing like me—people who are, and must be, completely separate from me. Regardless of the story’s point of view, the writer is shaping it, making choices about what, where, when, how, and why.

In this space between narrator and character, the writer can show the reader characters and events from a perspective that the characters don’t have. This is the perfect place to play with ways to bring a feminist consciousness to the story. And I’ve found a few strategies that work well:

Expose Assumptions

A patriarchy is full of assumptions about people—poor people are lazy, no one group of people is more privileged than another, and all women experience sexism in the same way, to name a few. These assumptions are a form of bias, shaping our perceptions of each other on an unconscious level.

By allowing characters to be fully themselves within the context of their daily lives—a bisexual woman after a breakup, a black teenage boy out for a walk—you can expose the harmful assumptions of patriarchy. The feminist term for living daily life while dealing with whatever patriarchy sends your way is lived experience. And fiction is great at depicting lived experience.

You can also allow a character to demonstrate an assumption and then counter it directly, either through the character’s growth or through other characters. Alexie does this at several points in The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian—Junior is constantly realizing what assumptions he’s made about the white kids at his new school, and exposing the ones they’ve made about him.

Play Against Stereotype

Stereotypes are an insidious form of bias, and they’re prevalent in our media. Stereotypes reinforce the assumptions of patriarchy—the dumb blonde, the asexual Asian man and the compliant Asian woman, the hypersexual angry black woman and the stoic black housekeeper—our culture has a ton of them, and they all negatively impact the people they claim to portray. So play against them—create characters that don’t fit into their stereotypical boxes.

The writers for the movie Big Hero 6 have this one down-pat: each of the main characters plays against stereotype while poking fun at it. You can play against stereotype in subtle ways, and with minor characters, as well: in my revision, I needed a surgeon, and she became a black woman rather than the usual older white man. Another character has shown up, a male theater major—maybe he’ll be straight, or bi. Maybe someone will think he’s gay, and he’ll have fun with the assumption.

Teach, Don’t Preach

This is just another way of saying show, don’t tell. Your readers don’t want a feminist lecture—they want a story with a heartbeat. So give them one. One of my favorite ways to teach feminist consciousness is by showing female desire.

The sexual perspective—in movies, in advertisements, in books, in short stories, in poems—is overwhelmingly heterosexual and male. So mix it up—make a woman’s heart beat fast as she is near someone she’s attracted to. Describe the gut-wrenching lust, the biceps or breasts, the gorgeous eyes, the sunlight on hair. Let desire be human, and centered in the female.

I’ve done this in my own work, describing my protagonist’s reaction when she meets her future boyfriend. And I love the way Martina Boone portrays female desire in Compulsion—our experience of Eight is firmly rooted in Barrie’s physical reactions. When we see feminist principles—the female gaze, and female self-love and self-ownership—in action, they become normalized.

This is the beauty of feminist fiction: it exposes us to ourselves while telling us a story we can’t put down. It gives us—all of us—back to ourselves. And it does so not by lecturing, but by using the space between narrator and character—a space that, like everything about storytelling, is part logic and part magic.

About the Author:

Elizabeth Hall Magill has been blogging about feminist issues at Yo Mama since 2011–posts have been featured on BlogHer (Spotlight BlogHer) and Miss Representation’s Sexy or Sexism campaign. Her essay "Jesus and Sophia" appears in the anthology Whatever Works, edited by Trista Hendren and Pat Daly, and her work has appeared in Role Reboot and on the news site .Mic.

In addition to revising her novel and writing short fiction, Elizabeth is currently researching and writing a nonfiction book entitled American Sexism: Questions and Answers. You can find her blog on Facebook or follow her on Twitter: @LizHallMagill.

-- posted by Susan Sipal, @HP4Writers