Tuesday, March 10, 2015

42 The Secret to Unlocking the Heart of Your Writing and Your Book -- A Takeaway from the NoVaTEEN Book Festival

I was enormously privileged this weekend to be a featured author at the NoVaTEEN Book Festival. As almost the newbiest author there--Compulsion has only been out a handful of months--I was blown by the wonderful readers who came, by the volunteers and the INCREDIBLE organizers who did a brilliant job putting it all together, and then I was floored all over again by the intelligence, wit, and kindness of the authors with whom I did my panels. These women are humbling, but what really comes through when you listen to them speak is their passion. Passion for writing, for reading, for their stories, for their readers, and for something more--the core idea--that fuels their work.

Left to right: Melissa Marr, Martina Boone, Maggie Hall, Rachel Hawkins, Marie Rutkoski

For quite a few, that passion--at least within their current projects--seemed to center around empowering young women, or exploring the different ways in which power is taken away from women through fiction. That idea of empowerment is, for me, the reason that I wrote the books, and the reason that I wanted to write for teens in the first place. I write for the girl I was, for my daughter, and for the incredible woman my daughter is becoming.

That core translated into my trilogy in several key ways. It gave me:

  • Readers I picture as I write. At the beginning, I didn't spend a lot of time thinking about the girls who might read the book. That would have seemed too daunting or presumptuous, and now that I've met my readers it is both more terrifying and wonderful. But picturing three specific young women to whom I wanted the story to speak fueled me from the first page and fuels me every day. 
Nichol, a beautiful teen reader wearing Barrie's necklace at
NoVaTeen Book Fest! (One of my favorite moments of the day!)

  • A main character with passion. I love stories where the main character kicks butt and uses her sword or a gun to plow through the opposition. Even more, though, I love the stories where the the mc uses her brain to accomplish her goals, and yet those stories can feel intimidating too. My daughter has a learning disability and a no gun or sword. (Although she did recently ask for a machete for Christmas because she'll be spending the summer in the jungle of Madagascar, but that's another story.)  She doesn't realize how smart she really is. That's why I wanted to create a main character who isn't brilliant or strong or particularly anything special. Even the one very small magic that she was born with seems very ordinary to her and more of a nuisance than anything special.

    Like most teens, Barrie doubts herself. She doesn't see the raw material she has to work with. She begins the books having lived a very sheltered life, and she's constantly balancing the need to exert her own individuality and claim some power for herself against the need to be loved and accepted. As it does for many girls, this leads her to make mistakes, but that's okay. Mistakes are how we grow. Barrie hands up for herself, she fights for what she thinks is right. She may be wrong sometimes, we all are. But if something is important to her, she doesn't let anyone tell her otherwise. That passion is a kind of strength of its own, the best kind of strength.
     
  • A framework for the story. There are many different themes embodied within Compulsion. Because this is only the first book of a trilogy, many are only iceberg tips for what is coming, but there's the longing for friends, for sisters, for family who understands you and loves you unconditionally. There's the love of self versus the love of a boy, and the hope of being loved for yourself instead of for something you reflect. There's the sense of isolation girls can feel sometimes, being put in their places or their boxes by the men in their lives, or by society, or by their perceptions of how they look. There's also the question of gender identity, what makes a woman a "woman" or a man a "man"? As the series progress, these themes blend into more of the historical context as Barrie digs deeper into the mythology and history of her family and the island and comes face to face with her own misconceptions about love and gender and race and family and the history that she learned in school versus history viewed through the lens of the different people and families who lived it. 
As I had the enormous pleasure of chatting with Melissa Marr, Kristen Simmons, Rachel Hawkins, Maggie Hall, and Marie Rutkowski on the three panels I did with them, and then listening to other panels during the day, the thing that struck me over and over was the many different ways that who they were and what was important to the authors connected them to readers through their stories. That passion was contagious, it transmitted to me as the authors spoke, and it electrified the audience. Having read their books, I can say that it also translates to the written page.

Left to right: Kristen Simmons, Martina Boone, Melissa Marr

If there's a magic formula to writing a book that resonates with readers, I think it must be passion. But that passion has to be there in multiple ways. At minimum, the author must have:
  • Passion for the concept of the story -- the "pitch" that makes the story unique from the millions already out there.
  • Passion for the characters who live within the story.
  • Passion for the lessons and choices the characters have to make.
  • Passion for the readers who are going to be taking that story and those characters to heart.
  • Passion for the core of the story, the kernel of "truth" or the thing in the execution that you would never, ever, ever change even if it meant walking away from the book deal.
Do you find all those things in the books you write? The books you love as a reader?

Ready for a giveaway?

How about a copy of Jodi Meadow's THE ORPHAN QUEEN? You know you want this one, right? 






42 comments:

  1. Characters and their uniqueness!

    thank you so very much :)

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    1. A girl after my own heart. Thanks for stopping by!

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  2. Sounds cool! On my tbr list!

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  3. Being able to put myself in the characters shoes. When a book makes it easy for me to do that, it's the best. Thanks for the chance!

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    1. That's a great point. It would actually make a great post. I may need to do one on ways to make that happen.

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  4. I love the empowerment issue! I love writing (and reading) strong female characters too, especially those that aren't inherently powerful (or so they think). Sounds like you had an incredible time at the book festival; I hope someday to meet you at one, Martina!

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    1. I would love that -- and I hope it happens soon! Your launch will be here before you know it! XO

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  5. is this international? for me are the characters and the world and of course the romance

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    1. This one's US only. It says in the Rafflecopter -- but check back. Most of the time they are International. : ) And I'm with you on the romance, the world and the characters!

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  6. Eep my picture is on Adventures in YA Publishing--I can die happy! Had such a lovely time at the book festival and loved meeting you!

    I totally agree, perfectly said! Passion drives the book world. Books offer a connection between the author, the readers, the characters, and the truth. They're so much more than just words on a page. Inspiring!

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    1. Loved meeting you, Nicol! It was such a wonderful event, and you were a highlight for me XO

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  7. The Orphan Queen has such a gorgeous cover. Very enticing. Thanks for the chance to win.

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    1. Isn't it phenomenal? And I love that Jodi wore a cape to her book launch event today.

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  8. I LOVE hearing your experiences!! It makes me dream of my own someday!!

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    1. I'm proof that it can happen. And I love being able to pave the way. At the very least, I'm learning by trial and error what everyone SHOULDN'T do. LOL!

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  9. I love when I can really get into the characters lives

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    1. Me too. I want to be able to experience something new when I read, to think about things I wouldn't normally think about.

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  10. the writing and characters

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  11. I really love it when I can connect with the characters. When I get what they're going through, and how they feel. It makes me feel like there is someone else out there that gets what I'm going through.

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    1. That's how I am. It's that one spark of connection, and it helps if I get it early. The one point where the character says or thinks or does something that makes me "get" her and then unlocks the rest of the character for me.

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  12. Characters that I either love or love to hate and a compelling story with a little mystery are what make a great story for me.

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    1. LOL! Yeah, I understand the love to hate part. I actually adore both reading and writing villains. So much fun.

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  13. A connection with the plot, the characters, their journey and wanting to reread it again.

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    1. I love it when I find a book I want to reread. That's like finding gold.

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  14. I love when books don't shy away from doing the unpredictable, and not necessarily having the most likeable characters

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    1. THat's a great point. Likeable characters don't always do the most interesting things.

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  15. My relation and /or connection the characters. Maybe not so much my relationship with them but how well i can grasp them. I am totes character driven hence my love for Barrie. She is awesome yet flawed as well.
    <3 Britt

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    1. LOL. Oh, so flawed! Sending you hugs, Britt! Thanks. And yes, I think that creating characters who are genuinely flawed is one of the hardest parts of the process. It's easy to come up with flaws that feel "safe" or cliche, flaws that we accept because they're really thinly veiled strengths. It's scary as hell creating a character who isn't going to be everyone's cup of tea, but I love reading those kind of characters so much, and those end up being the books I read over and over.

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  16. Great writing and a cute romance!

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  17. When the book breaks my heart and stitches it back together.

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  18. A book with a great plot and relatable/interesting mc. And I also appreciate it when the author includes an lgbt character to the story.

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  19. Being able to connect with a character is what makes me love a book so much.

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  20. The characters and connecting with them and their story!

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  21. Finding a paragraph or quote that puts into words what I couldn't.

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  22. What makes me passionate is the combination and utilization of all incorporated elements used in the book in the first place. If the stuff doesn't flow, it's a no go. If the stuff connects, it's one of the best! :D

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  23. I am most passionate about a book I love when the writing makes the character come alive and I think of them in a more realistic realm.

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  24. Parneet @ The Enchanted BookApril 4, 2015 at 2:58 PM

    I think what makes me passionate about a book is the quality writing, and the characters. And if these two things are combined, then the book becomes a favourite.

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