Monday, May 31, 2010

15 The Scoop from BookExpo America 2010

If you haven't heard about the recent event BookExpo America, you must be living under a rock. BEA has been blowing up in the blogosphere in recent weeks. Our fantastic follower Leah Odze Epstein was in attendance, and generously offered to share her experience at the Children's Book and Author Breakfast. Her copious notes were so fun to read through that we could hardly wait to share them! Not only are there tips on writing and trends, there are some awesome upcoming books included below. If you have attended, or plan to attend a conference, please let us know. We'd love you to guest blog for us!

Notes from the Children’s Book and Author Breakfast:

From Corey Doctorow, author of the YA novel, Little Brother, and the forthcoming, For the Game, co-editor of the site Boing Boing:

--“Being a reader and a writer are the same thing.”
--A writer reads a story or hears a story, then makes the story his/her own to communicate with a reader. (For example, after seeing Star Wars, Doctorow wrote the story out again and again in his own words).
--It’s important to know when to leave kids alone to learn. His teacher let him sit and read Alice in Wonderland for a few days, without bothering him.
--Doctorow started sending out his work at age 16-17. He sold his first story at age 26.
--“Surgeons don’t have surgeon’s block, garbagemen don’t have garbagemen’s block. If you’re a writer, you just write.”
-When an adolescent says she doesn’t like your work, that’s good—it means she wants to talk about it.
--“YA lit is the most serious literature, because it’s written for readers who want to do something, who want to make something, who want to make books part of their identity.”
--Doctorow wanted to write YA lit that would “inspire kids to live as if it were the first day of the world.”

Mitali Perkins, author of many books for children, including Rickshaw Girl and the upcoming Bamboo People:

--The theme of her talk was how books can be mirrors of our own lives, or windows into other worlds. We read both to see ourselves and to see others.
--When she was a child, she read and read, with no adult hand to guide her. The library was her favorite place.
--“If life is a narrative, seventh grade is when the plot thickens.”
--As a child, she read books with all white characters (Little Women, Anne of Green Gables, A Little Princess, Betsy Tacey). She loved those books—they were windows into other worlds--but she also desperately needed stories as mirrors. At home, she lived in “Village Bengal,” but at school, it was “Charlie’s Angels.”
--She started out by writing books about the hyphenated life (i.e. Indian-American)
--Her books are often windows into other worlds (she writes about India and Burma, etc.), but many kids in America have related to her books as mirrors of their own lives (a poor girl in New York area relates to a poor girl in India).

Richard Peck, author of many books for young adults. His upcoming book is called Three Quarters Dead, and he describes it as “Twilight meets Six Feet Under with Botox”:

 --“Nobody but a reader ever became a writer.”
--“Childhood is a jungle, not a garden.”
--In Peck’s book, the crocodile and the walrus are the peer group leaders.
--“The English may have invented childhood, but we Americans invented adolescence.”
--Coming of Age is the great American theme (starting with two boys on a raft, on a river of no return (Huckleberry Finn)).
--“We never write about anyone who can move back home after college.”
--“The young are a huge economic force, snapping whole publishers from off the brink.”
--“It’s a dark time to be young”—they need stories.
--“The only way you can write is by the light of the bridges burning behind you.”
--Seminal book: 1973: The Chocolate War: adults/authority failed the children. That’s the date the balance tipped and power passed from the adults to the children.
--“Real life is too extreme for fiction.” In fiction, there has to be some hope at the end.
--“Nobody ever grows up in a group. People grow up one at a time.”

Each editor on the panel pitched an upcoming book on their list that has generated lots of buzz. Most of the books had fantasy or dystopian elements—witches, dragons, dystopian matchmaking--with one realistic book in the bunch.

Arthur Levine, VP & Editorial Dir., Arthur A. Levine Books (editor of the Harry Potter series, last year he pitched Laini Taylor’s Lips Touch Three Times)
--He pitched Erin Bow’s Plain Kate
--The book uses the language of fantasy to tell a story about growing up
--Bow is a poet from Canada, her language is lyrical
--Reminds Levine of Philip Pullman
--Immediate sympathy for the character: After a girl loses her father, she is subjected to rumors that she’s a witch (she’s not). She makes a deal with a dangerous man (Rumplestiltskin-esque).

Jennifer Weis, Executive Editor, St. Martin’s Press
--She pitched Infinite Days by Rebecca Maisel
--Why does the marketplace need yet another vampire story? Glut of vampire stories, but this one is different. The story felt new, with a unique hook: It’s a vampire story flipped on its head: the vampire chooses humanity, and goes to a boarding school. Will her fellow vampires track her down?
--Sometimes, the audience for a book is broader than you think. She edited PC Cast’s House of Night series. Originally, she imaged audience to be 13-16 year olds, but it turns out the audience is more like 13-25 year olds.

Julie Strauss-Gabel, Associate Director, Dutton
--She pitched Ally Condie’s Matched, a dystopian love story
--Cassie lives in a near-future society where everything is near perfect. Everyone in this society gets the perfect mate for their 17th birthday. Cassie’s best guy friend appears on the matching screen, and she’s certain he’s the one, but then another face flashes up on the screen- a dangerous guy, who she’s strangely drawn to. The society starts to come apart at the seams.

Farrin Jacobs, Executive Editor, Harper Teen
--Pitched Sophie Jordan’s Firelight
--Dragon romance, steamy but without explicit scenes.

Cindy Eagan, Editorial Director, Poppy
--Pitched The Duff by Kody Keplinger
--The Duff is the only completely realistic novel in the bunch that was pitched.
--Kody was 17 when she wrote the book. The MC is the Designated Ugly Fat Friend (DUFF) in a group of beautiful friends. Her feeling is that we are all the “DUFF”, at least that’s how we feel inside.

OTHER Upcoming YA BOOKS of interest from BEA :

--Jennifer Donnelly’s Revolution (Delacorte): From the author of A Northern Light. Donnelly weaves two girls’ stories together: Andi, an angry girl in Brooklyn whose father has left, and whose younger brother has died. She’s about to be expelled from private school when her father takes her to Paris for winter break. There, she finds the journal of Alexandrine Paradis, a girl who lived over two centuries ago.

--The Mockingbirds by Daisy Whitney (Little, Brown): “Some schools have honor codes. Others have handbooks. Themis Academy has the Mockingbirds.” The Mockingbirds is a secret society of students “dedicated to righting the wrongs of the student body. When Alex is date-raped during her junior year, she has two options: stay silent and hope someone helps her, or enlist the Mockingbirds.”

--Delirium by Lauren Oliver (Harper): The latest book from the author of Before I Fall. This story is set in a future society, where scientists have found a cure for love. 17-year-old Lena Haloway looks forward to turning 18 and being “cured”….until five days before her treament, she falls in love.

--The Fat Boy Chronicles by Diane Lang & Michael Buchanan (Sleeping Bear Press): Inspired by a true story and told in first-person journal entries, The Fat Boy Chronicles “reveals to readers the emotionally painful world obese teens experience in a world obsessed with outward beauty.”

Our wonderful guest blogger, Leah Odzen Epstein, recently completed her first middle grade novel, featuring a 7th grader who is the daughter of a recovered alcoholic. She is currently working on a young adult novel, about the continuing adventures of her alter ego, Carolena Gold. Her poems can be found on the website Literary Mama. In her past life, she reviewed books for BookPage and Publisher’s Weekly, among other publications. An excerpt from her adult novel-in-progress, Glen Echo, was a finalist in Glimmer Train’s Family Matters competition. Follow Leah on twitter at @Leaheps. You can also find her blogging at Drinking Diaries.

Friday, May 28, 2010

32 Best Articles This Week for Writers 5/28/2010

  • The Triple T [Mary Demuth] Rachelle Gardner's guest blogger gives us an inspirational mantra.
  • If you haven't already, check out Buffy Andrews' blog The Write Stuff for wonderful quotes!
  • Toni Morrison Talks Motivation [Spkn Wrd via @iainbroome] Great video interview with the famous writer.
  • Keeping a Writing Log [Literary Rambles Tip Tuesday] Great tip to motivate yourself by logging a) date b) chapter c) time spent d) words written e) running total of words in the project.
Craft of Writing:
To Market:
  • Agent Spotlight: Chris Richman [Literary Rambles] The wonderful Casey McCormick continues her invaluable series that collects every bit of information available on an agent and consolidates it for easy reference.
  • Why I Say Yes or No [AgencyGatekeeper] An old post but a great one, including pie charts.
  • Query Recap [BookEnds, LLC] Jessica Faust describes the results of her quest through the slushpile.
  • Theme in a Query Letter [EditTorrent] Unless your theme is very original, this clear post suggests creating a plot summary which supports the theme without resorting to cliches.
  • Elana Johnson, young adult and SF/fantasy writer who also blogs for, for scoring a book deal from Simon Pulse for her novel Control Issues. From PM: Set in a brainwashed society where those gifted with mind control best join the powers that be, but one rebel girl tries to beat them at their own game.
  • Becca Rogers, a YA writer, has landed a spot working for Demand Studios. She will be writing articles for eHow and Livestrong.
  • YA Highway turns 1! Happy bloggiversary!
  • Megan Rebekah for reaching 500 followers on her fabulous blog The Write Stuff!
  • Margaret Duarte for reaching the quarter-finals of the Amazon Breakthrough Novel Award! And what a great prize -- a Publishers Weekly review of the whole novel? Amazing!
Trends, Conferences, & Issues
Twitter & Blogging
Just for Smiles

Other Weekly Round-Ups
Did we miss anything? Anyone? Please leave a comment!

Also, what do you think of the new format for these links? Better with explanations? Or do you prefer just the links?

Happy reading and joyous writing,

Martina & Marissa

Thursday, May 27, 2010

18 Underappreciated YA Poll Results!

You have spoken! The votes are in for our underappreciated YA book list poll. Congratulations to the books that have captured the top spots!

1. The Siren by Kiera Cass @kieracass

  • You must never do anything that might expose our secret. This means that, in general, you cannot form close bonds with humans. You can speak to us, and you can always commune with the Ocean, but you are deadly to humans. You are, essentially, a weapon. A very beautiful weapon. I won't lie to you, it can be a lonely existence, but once you are done, you get to live. All you have to give, for now, is obedience and time. . ."The same speech has been given hundreds of times to hundreds of beautiful girls who enter the sisterhood of sirens. Kahlen has lived by these rules for years now, patiently waiting for the life she can call her own. But when Akinli, a human, enters her world, she can't bring herself to live by the rules anymore. Suddenly the life she's been waiting for doesn't seem nearly as important as the one she's living now. -Courtesy
2. Candor by Pam Bachorz @pambachorz
  • In the model community of Candor, Florida, every teen wants to be like Oscar Banks. The son of the town's founder, Oscar earns straight As, is student-body president, and is in demand for every club and cause. But Oscar has a secret. He knows that parents bring their teens to Candor to make them respectful, compliant–perfect–through subliminal Messages that carefully correct and control their behavior. And Oscar' s built a business sabotaging his father's scheme with Messages of his own, getting his clients out before they're turned. After all, who would ever suspect the perfect Oscar Banks? Then he meets Nia, the girl he can't stand to see changed. Saving Nia means losing her forever. Keeping her in Candor, Oscar risks exposure . . . and more. -Couresy 
There was a multi-way tie for the remaining spots!

The Emerald Tablet (The Forgotten Worlds) by PJ Hoover @pj_hoover
  • Benjamin and his best friend Andy are different from normal. They love being able to read each other's minds and use telekinesis to play tricks on other kids. In fact, they are getting all set to spend their entire summer doing just that when Benjamin's mirror starts talking. Suddenly, Benjamin's looking at eight weeks of summer school someplace which can only be reached by a teleporter inside the ugly picture in his hallway. And that's the most normal thing he does all summer. -Courtesy
Magic Under Glass by Jaclyn Dolamore @jackiedolamore
  • Nimira is a music-hall girl used to dancing for pennies. So when wealthy sorcerer Hollin Parry hires her to sing accompaniment to a mysterious piano-playing automaton, Nimira believes it will be the start of a better life. In Parry's world, long-buried secrets are about to stir. Unsettling rumors begin to swirl about ghosts, a madwoman roaming the halls, and Parry’s involvement in a group of corrupt sorcerers for whom the rules of the living and dead are meant to be broken for greater power. When Nimira discovers the spirit of a dashing fairy gentleman is trapped within the automaton, she is determined to break the curse. But even as the two fall into a love that seems hopeless, breaking the curse becomes a perilous race against time. Because it's not just the future of these star-crossed lovers that's at stake, but the fate of the entire magical world. -Courtesy
How I Live Now by Meg Rosoff @megrosoff
  • This riveting first novel paints a frighteningly realistic picture of a world war breaking out in the 21st century. Told from the point of view of 15-year-old Manhattan native Daisy, the novel follows her arrival and her stay with cousins on a remote farm in England. Soon after Daisy settles into their farmhouse, her Aunt Penn becomes stranded in Oslo and terrorists invade and occupy England. Daisy's candid, intelligent narrative draws readers into her very private world, which appears almost utopian at first with no adult supervision (especially by contrast with her home life with her widowed father and his new wife). The heroine finds herself falling in love with cousin Edmond, and the author credibly creates a world in which social taboos are temporarily erased. When soldiers usurp the farm, they send the girls off separately from the boys, and Daisy becomes determined to keep herself and her youngest cousin, Piper, alive. Like the ripple effects of paranoia and panic in society, the changes within Daisy do not occur all at once, but they have dramatic effects. In the span of a few months, she goes from a self-centered, disgruntled teen to a courageous survivor motivated by love and compassion. How she comes to understand the effects the war has had on others provides the greatest evidence of her growth, as well as her motivation to get through to those who seem lost to war's consequences. Teens may feel that they have experienced a war themselves as they vicariously witness Daisy's worst nightmares. Like the heroine, readers will emerge from the rubble much shaken, a little wiser and with perhaps a greater sense of humanity. -Couresty Publishers Weekly  

Tender Morsels by Margo Lanagan @margolanagan
  • In her extraordinary and often dark first novel, award-winning story writer Lanagan (Red Spikes) creates two worlds: the first a preindustrial village that might have sprung from a Brueghel canvas, a place of victims and victimizers; the second a personal heaven granted to Liga Longfield, who has survived her father's molestations and a gang rape but, with one baby and pregnant again, cannot risk any further pain. As she raises her two daughters, placid Branza and fiery Urdda, she discovers that her universe is permeable: a dwarf or littlee man, in Lanagan's characteristically knotted parlance, slips in and out of her world in search of treasure; and a good-hearted youth also enters, magically transformed into a bear in the process. A less kind man-bear follows, and then a teenage Urdda, avid for a richer life with the vivid people, figures out how to pass through the border, too. Writing in thick, clotted prose that holds the reader to a slow pace, Lanagan explores the savage and the gentlest sides of human nature, and how they coexist. With suggestions of bestiality and sodomy, the novel demands maturity—but the challenging text will attract only an ambitious audience anyway. -Courtesy Publishers Weekly

The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time by Mark Haddon
  • Christopher Boone, the autistic 15-year-old narrator of this revelatory novel, relaxes by groaning and doing math problems in his head, eats red-but not yellow or brown-foods and screams when he is touched. Strange as he may seem, other people are far more of a conundrum to him, for he lacks the intuitive "theory of mind" by which most of us sense what's going on in other people's heads. When his neighbor's poodle is killed and Christopher is falsely accused of the crime, he decides that he will take a page from Sherlock Holmes (one of his favorite characters) and track down the killer. As the mystery leads him to the secrets of his parents' broken marriage and then into an odyssey to find his place in the world, he must fall back on deductive logic to navigate the emotional complexities of a social world that remains a closed book to him. In the hands of first-time novelist Haddon, Christopher is a fascinating case study and, above all, a sympathetic boy: not closed off, as the stereotype would have it, but too open-overwhelmed by sensations, bereft of the filters through which normal people screen their surroundings. Christopher can only make sense of the chaos of stimuli by imposing arbitrary patterns ("4 yellow cars in a row made it a Black Day, which is a day when I don't speak to anyone and sit on my own reading books and don't eat my lunch and Take No Risks"). His literal-minded observations make for a kind of poetic sensibility and a poignant evocation of character. Though Christopher insists, "This will not be a funny book. I cannot tell jokes because I do not understand them," the novel brims with touching, ironic humor. The result is an eye-opening work in a unique and compelling literary voice.
    -Courtesy Publishers Weekly 
The Outsiders by S.E. Hinton
  • According to Ponyboy, there are two kinds of people in the world: greasers and socs. A soc (short for "social") has money, can get away with just about anything, and has an attitude longer than a limousine. A greaser, on the other hand, always lives on the outside and needs to watch his back. Ponyboy is a greaser, and he's always been proud of it, even willing to rumble against a gang of socs for the sake of his fellow greasers--until one terrible night when his friend Johnny kills a soc. The murder gets under Ponyboy's skin, causing his bifurcated world to crumble and teaching him that pain feels the same whether a soc or a greaser. This classic, written by S. E. Hinton when she was 16 years old, is as profound today as it was when it was first published in 1967. -Courtesy

Thank you for your votes and for generating a fabulous list of underappreciated YA!

Happy Reading!
Martina & Marissa

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

15 WOW Wednesday: Barrie Summy with Three Things It Takes to Get Published

Another WOW Wednesday and another wonderful author.... We're lucky to have Barrie Summy guest blogging today, so give her a huge round of cyber applause. For those who don't write for the teen or tween market, Barrie's the author of the fun I So Don't Do mystery series starring thirteen-year-old Sherry Holmes Baldwin and her ghostly mother. And no--that's not a typo. Ghostly. Not ghastly. Her latest book, I So Don't Do Makeup was just released on May 11th with five-star kid reviews.

Read on for her take on what it takes to get published. And don't forget to check out the giveaway at the bottom of the post!

Hello All! It's very fun to be away from my corner of cyberspace and over here blogging about getting published! I'm just going to jump right in. I know you're busy and have other sites to visit, meals to cook, jobs to do and, most importantly, stories to write.

Okay. I have three kinda hokey sayings, but these are the three sayings that keep me going. So, I figured I'd share them with you.

The harder you work, the luckier you get.

Apparently, a South African golfer, Gary Player, came up with this sentence. I had no idea until I googled a couple of minutes ago. Anyway, I love the thought that we have some control over our luck. Especially given that there's a huge element of luck in publishing.

Assume you'll beat the odds.

Agent Kristin Nelson publishes her stats most years. Last year, she received (are you sitting down?) 38,000 queries. Of these, she requested a mere 55 manuscripts. And took on only 6 new clients. Are those numbers disheartening? Uh, definitely. But...assume you'll beat the odds and your full will be requested and you'll wind up one of those six new clients. (Here's the link to Krisin's stats post.)

Leave no stone unturned. (I actually set up this shot in my backyard!)

The following is a true story. One night I'm up late with insomnia. I messing around on the computer, answering email, blog hopping, etc. I stumble across an interestiing bit of info on Kristin Nelson's blog. (Seriously, I read a ton of blogs, so it's weird that I've referenced her twice in this post.) Anyway, Kristin had lunched that noon with Wendy Loggia, Executive Editor at Delacorte Press, Random House. Kristin blogged, "Wendy mentioned that she would love to see a MG or YA mystery (think a modern Joan Lowery Nixon-type author who can reinvent something fresh)." Ack, I thought. That could be my little 13-year-old detective Sherry (short for Sherlock) Baldwin! I immediately cut and pasted and emailed the info to my agent. Guess who bought my tween middle grade mystery series? Now, would my very savvy agent have put Wendy on our submission list? Yes, most likely. But, still, it didn't hurt to turn over the stone. (Here's the link to the actual post I read that late night.)

So, as you sit down at your computer and pull up your current work in progress, repeat after me:

*The harder your work, the luckier you get.*
*Assume you'll beat the odds.*
*Leave no stone unturned.*

Happy Writing to you all!



One Grand Prize winner will receive autographed copies of the three books in the series, I SO DON'T DO MAKEUP, I SO DON'T DO SPOOKY, and I SO DON'T DO MYSTERIES, plus a tote bag and t-shirt! Three lucky runners up will win an autographed copy of I SO DON'T DO MAKEUP and a t-shirt!

To enter, send an email to (note: no apostrophe!) with the subject line "Pick Me!" In the body of the email, include your name and email address (if you're under 13, submit a parent's name and email address). One entry per person and prizes will only be shipped to US or Canadian addresses. Entries must be received by midnight (PDT) on June 30. Winners will be selected in a random drawing on July 1 and notified via email. Check Barrie's website after July 6 for the list of winners!

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

20 Character Worksheet Part 4: Is Your Character Walking & Talking?

If you've been working through the character worksheet and following this series of posts, you now have novel-worthy, essential main characters, that epitomize specific characteristics enough to have legs. Now it's time to get those characters walking, talking, and moving with mannerisms that make them leap off the page. How? By showing your characters instead of telling the reader about them, and that requires knowing what makes them walk and talk differently than other characters.

Talking Body Language Scene by Scene

When you talk to someone face-to-face, your mind processes more than what they say. Subconsciously, you register the way her voice sounds, the way her eyes meet yours, the expression on her face, the way she stands, the gestures she makes, even the distance she likes to keep between her and other people. All of these things together put her words in context and tell you whether to like her, respect her, mistrust her or fear her.

Ideally as you are writing a scene in your work of fiction, you want to be able to visualize that scene. You want your reader to be able to:
  • See the specific location and the furnishings and objects in it, a macro view.
  • Zoom in on one or two unique details, an oddly painted chair, a wall color, a particular painting, a collectible, a micro view. 
  • Connect their visualization of the macro and micro view to a better understanding of one or more of your characters. A specific detail is there because one of your characters put it there or chose the location because of it. What does that say about your character?
Now, as you populate your setting, you have things for your characters to interact with. They don't just stand in empty space and talk to each other. Close your eyes and picture the scene. Play the action in your head like a television scene on fast forward.What else are they doing?
  • What actions do they interrupt as they turn to each other and speak?
  • How do they navigate around the setting?
  • What actions do you see that would tell the story even if you didn't have any dialogue?
Zoom in even further. Focus on each character individually.
  • How does that character stand and move that's different from every other character?
  • How does that make other characters react to her?
  • Does she have a specific gesture she makes frequently? When does she make it? What triggers it?
  • Is she aware she is making that gesture?
  • Does she like the gesture? Does it embarrass her?
  • Do other characters like it? Dislike it?
This is acting 101. As an exercise, try studying several films starring your favorite actor. Pick an actor who doesn't play the same character in every film, and look at the way he stands, the way he walks, all the different things that make him a different person from one film to the next. Some actors are so good, you could see them dressed alike from the back and still identify the character they portray. What did they do to make the character that distinctive?

That's what you need to put in your book. 
Quirks & Mannerisms

The mannerisms section of the character worksheet contains 108 quirks and mannerisms to help you get started. But it's just a jumping off point. Hopefully, by the time you even get to that section, you will know enough about your character to have a clear picture in your head.
  • Is she a confident character who stands with her shoulders back and her head high?
  • Is she a go-getter who leads with her chin?
  • Does she slouch because she lacks confidence or was bullied as a child?
  • Does she have ADHD or too much nervous energy that translates into a constantly jiggling foot.
  • Does she suck her hair because that's more socially acceptable than sucking your thumb?
  • Is she curious and tactile, constantly touching something?
  • Does she hug herself because she's the only person who ever gave her any reassurance?
Speaking Frankly

We all know that dialogue is spoken aloud, right? I take that literally. If I can't read my dialogue out loud and have it sound natural, I'm not doing my job as a writer. But even more than that, every dialogue sequence in the book has to:
  • Identify who is speaking even if I take out the dialogue tags.
  • Move the story forward by changing something: an outcome, an opinion, a relationship.
  • Contain an underlying tension between the characters over and above the main outcome above. One character wants something. Another character wants something else. Who is going to get what they want?
  • Reveal more about each character than we knew before.
Dialogue is critical. To create great dialogue, take a page from a screenplay. The dialogue sings because it has to. In a screenplay, there are no page-long inner musings about what your character is going to do or why he is going to do it. There is only what he says and how he says it. The dialogue is rich with word choices, habits, double meanings, tension, sparkle. That's what you have to strive for.

To get there, think about what verbal habits your character has picked up and what those say about that character.
  • Does she have a specific word she uses frequently?
  • When does she use that word?
  • How does her word choice affect other characters? What does it make others think or feel?
  • What kind of nicknames or terms of endearment does she give to other characters?  What does that say about her?
  • Does she have a specific way of phrasing something?
  • Does she speak fast or slow?
  • How does her mood affect the pace of her speech? The timbre, pitch or tone of her voice?
  • What does her speech say about where she's from? Is that due to pronunciation? To word choice?
The character worksheet contains 64 words, phrases, or potential dialogue habits that can help you jump start your thought process. These are common--often too common to work really well--but they are distinctive enough that if you have one character who uses them, you probably should take time to do a word search to ensure none of your other characters uses them.

Give each of your characters something unique to say. Don't overuse it, but don't miss the opportunity to let your character speak with distinction.

Happy visualizing,


For further reading:

The Character Worksheet Series
Download the Character Worksheet
Gender Differences: Female Body Language
Gender Differences: Male Body Language
Using Body Language to Create Believable Characters
Emotional Body Language
Angela Ackerman's Emotion Thesaurus
Flesh Out Your Writing with Body Language
Pick a Personality: Keirsey Temperaments (including speech patterns)
Pick a Personality Style: People Styles (including speech patterns)
Avoid Creative Dialogue Tag Syndrome
Dialogue Tags vs. Action Leads/Inserts Part 1
Un-Clone Your Characters Using Distinctive Dialogue

What Every BODY is Saying: An Ex-FBI Agent's Guide to Speed-Reading People by Joe Navarro
The Definitive Book of Body Language by Allan and Barbara Pease
Writing Dialogue for Scripts: Effective dialogue for film, tv, radio and stage by Rib Davis
Write Great Dialogue by Gloria Kempton
Speaking of Dialogue by Sammie L. Justesen
Dialogue Tags vs. Action Leads/Inserts Part 2

Monday, May 24, 2010

19 Monday Conference Round-Up: Getting Past the First Reader

 This week's conference round-up comes to us courtesy of Leah Odze Epstein. She's one our fantastic followers, so please give her a warm welcome! If you have attended, or plan to attend a conference, please let us know. We'd love you to guest blog for us!

Getting Past the First ReaderHow Your Manuscript Can Make the Cut was presented on Tuesday, May 18th, as part of the SCBWI Metro New York Professional Series at the Anthroposophical Society in Manhattan. Katherine (Kate) Jacobs, an associate editor at Roaring Brook Press and Grace Elizabeth Kendall, an editorial assistant at Blue Sky Press/Scholastic offered many nuggets of wisdom for authors who want to make their books rise to the top of the submission heap.

If you were to take away only two things from their presentations, they would be:
  1.  Know who you're submitting to and bring a personal touch to your query letter. Be specific when submitting to editors or agents. Do some research—look on the acknowledgments page of books you admire for the editor’s or agent’s name, or Google the author or editor, or even call the publishing house to find out what book a certain editor has published. (EVEN BETTER, though the editors didn’t mention this, the SCBWI has a publication that lists which editors are at which houses, and what books they’ve worked on. See the SCBWI website for details). Know what books they’ve published, and make a connection with the editor or agent by mentioning books they’ve worked on that you’ve admired or that are similar to your book. There’s nothing worse to an agent or editor than feeling like they’re part of a mass mailing. It wastes your time and theirs.
  2.  Spend time distilling your book down to its essence. Write a one-word keynote, like editors do when they pitch a book to their publishing house. Pretend you’re the one selling your book. Study jacket copy for books you like, and write the flap copy for your own book. Think about what books are comparable to yours. You don’t have to say your book is exactly like another book, but there may be elements of your book that are similar e.g., the humor of the Wimpy Kid series, or the honesty of another book). Write a synopsis of your book. All this will be time well-spent when you go to craft your query letters.  

Friday, May 21, 2010

19 Best Articles This Week for Writers 5/21/2010

There are so many generous writers, authors, agents, and editors out there in the blogosphere willing to share their experiences and expertise, it can be hard to keep up with all the information. Check below for our recommendations of great posts put up or brought to our attention this week. We hope you'll find them as helpful as we did. And be sure to return every Friday for the current installment....

What Does It Take to Sell A First Novel Survey
10 Tricks for Getting Inspired to Write
The Magic Notebook
Author Janet Fox on Getting an Agent
Don't Pin Everything on One Book
Three Surprisingly Simple Keys to Success
30 Famous Authors Who Were Repeatedly Rejected
15 Writers on the Toughest Part of Getting Published
Pay No Attention to Shiny Objects
What to Do If You Get Behind on Your Wordcount
17 Authors on the Path to Publication
The Write Time to Write

Craft of Writing:
Random Complications Generator for Your Characters
Seven ways to show character growth
Jody Hedlund on Avoiding Plastic Characters
Making or Breaking Your Characters with Dialogue
My Dialogue Sucks
Un-clone Your Characters with Distinctive Dialogue
How Writers Can Use Maslow's Heirarchy of Needs
Ten Tips on How to Improve Your Writing
20 Questions to Ask Floundering Characters
Character Archetypes: The Hero
Creating Characters that Make Readers Cry
Kick-Butt Action
Show Some Character: Three Steps to a Breakout Story
Writing in Both 3D and 2D
C. Patrick Schulze on Imagery
Five Steps to Building a Believable Character Arc

Editing Your Novel:
Evil Editor's Alphabetizer Tool Link
Typos no big deal? Think again.
Why Cry over Spilt Milk?
Better with Beta Readers
It's All in How You Say It
Why You Must Be Your Own Evil Drill Sergeant
Spring Cleaning Your Mansuscript Part 2 - Staging
6 Fixes for Fiction Writing Weaknesses
What Writers Need
The Art of Revising the Novel
How to Revise When You Don't Know What's Wrong
What Tells You You've Written a Winner (#KidLitChat Transcript)

Tahereh Mafi for winning lunch with Miss Snark & Johanna Volpe & all the other fabulous people who donated and bid in the Do The Write Thing for Nashville fundraiser!
Julie Musil for her article "You Don't Say!" being published on Imagination Cafe!
Robin Mellom on the sale of her debut novel Ditched!
Jan Lewis for advancing in Cynthea Liu's Red Light, Green Light Free-tique
The five gift-basket winners in our Underappreciated YA Novel Survey

To Market:
Ten Things An Agent Thinks When Reading Queries
How to Write a Non-Boring Synopsis
The Five Reasons Your Manuscript Keeps Getting Rejected
Why Your Manuscript Can't Be Okay
Value of the Verbal Pitch
Getting into a Closed House
The Key to Getting Published is the Cover Letter
What If Your Agent Doesn't Like Your Next Book?
Who's Moving Where -- Editorial Staff Changes
Trends in Children's Publishing
10 Agent Tips for Writing a Great Query Letter

Rachel Gardner on the Verbal Pitch
Tips on Pitching at Conferences from Boyd Morrison
Nathan Bransford on Writing a One Sentence Pitch

Twitter & Blogging:
How To Tweet/Blog Like a YA Author
InkyGirl Breaks Down Tweet Chat (older post, but still relevant!)
10 Literati All-Stars You Should Follow on Twitter
Jane Friedman: Should You Use Facebook?

Contests & Critique Opportunities:
Nathan Bransford's 1st Page Critiques on Mondays
The Contest that Imploded Your Brains
Red Light, Green Light Free-tiques
Once Upon a Time in Writer Land Contest
Query Tracker Agent-Judged Contest

Just for Smiles
Breaking Dawn: The Wedding Night
I'm Hot for Your Stereotype: Kristin White on Originality and Taboo (great read!)
A Game and A Fish, Two Actually
The Highs and Lows of Getting Published (hysterical!)
Psychic Storytellers Contest

Dont' forget to vote for the best Underappreciated YA Novels in our survey!

Other Weekly Round-Ups
Don't forget to check Nathan Bransford's blog later this morning for his weekly recap of publishing news and information. Jane Friedman of Writer's Digest also does a wonderful list of best tweets of the previous week, and Alice Pope does a Wednesday Tweet Roundup for the SCBWI Children's Market Blog. Northern Colorado Writers do This Week in the Writing World every Friday, and Jennifer Roland does a Writing Roundup on Fridays.

Did we miss anything? Please leave a comment!

Happy reading and joyous writing,

Martina & Marissa

P.S. Thanks to the following supertweeples for some of the links and information:

Jan Lewis, @InkyElbows, @GrammarGirl, @ElizabethCraig, @JaySubject, @JaneFriedman, @BubbleCow, @CPatrickSchulze, @HUnderdown

Thursday, May 20, 2010

20 Underappreciated YA Contest Results and Poll!

Inspired by Elana Johnson's Spread the Awesome festival, we decided to hold a contest that would help generate a list of underappreciated YA titles. Please vote for your favorites in the sidebar (open until 5/2710) to help us pick the most underappreciate novels and help spread the word!

As promised, we also picked five contributors to win care packages with fabulous YA books and other sources of comfort to help destress from your own writing.

Drum roll please! Congratulations to...

Jemi Fraser
Amy (fairyqueen2098)
Kathleen (kapybara42)
Casey McCormick

Thank you to all who participated! The list of underappreciated YA books nominated is listed below. But don't forget to vote in the sidebar!

Happy Reading,
Martina & Marissa

Willow by Julia Hoban
The Emerald Tablet by P.J. Hoover
The Siren by Kiera Cass
Candor by Pam Bachorz
The Dust of 100 Dogs by A. S. King
Everlost by Neal Shusterman
Magic Under Glass by Jaclyn Dolamore
Audrey, Wait! by Robin Benway
The Underneath by Kathi Appelt
Bleeding Violet by Dia Reeve
How I Live Now by Meg Rosoff ***
The Enemy by Charlie Higson
Unwind by Neal Shusterman
The Blue Girl by Charles De Lint
Beautiful by Amy Reed
The Pricker Boy by Reade Scott Whinnem
Tender Morsels by Margo Lanagan
All Unquiet Things by Anna Jarzab
Immortal by Gillian Shields
Once a Witch by Carolyn MacCullough
Huntress by L.J. Smith
The Only Alien on the Planet by Kirsten D. Randle
Boys That Bite by Mari Mancusi
Vampire Beach by Alex Duval
The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Nighttime by Mark Haddon
Dear Julia by Amy Bronwen Zemser
Ruined by Paula Morris
The Outsiders by S.E. Hinton
A Separate Peace by John Knowles
The Secret to Lying by Todd Mitchell
Beautiful Creatures by Kami Garcia & Margaret Stohl
Spells by Aprilynne Pike
Shadowed Summer by Saundra Mitchell
Memoirs of a Teenage Amnesiac by Gabrielle Zevin
The Gone novels by Michael Grant
The Body Finder by Kimberly Derting
Chloe Doe by Suzanne Phillips
Faery Rebel: Spell Hunter by RJ Anderson
The Tricksters by Margaret Mahy
Owl in Love by Patrice Kindl
Terry and the Pirates by Julian F. Thompson
Rats Saw God by Rob Thomas
Hope Was Here by Joan Bauer
Tell It to Naomi by Daniel Ehrenhaft
Alt Ed by Catherine Adkins
Zigzag by Ellen Wittlinger
The Gentleman Outlaw and Me-- Eli by Mary Downing Hahn
Dragon's Bait by Vivian Vande Velde
Birthmarked by Caragh O'Brien
The Boys of San Joaquin by D. James Smith
Chanters of Tremaris series by Kate Constable

*** This is correct in this list, but I mistyped it in the poll. My apologies to everyone!  Martina

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

19 WOW Wednesday: Lisa Gail Green on the Difference a Year Makes

Another WOW Wednesday, another guest blog from a wonderful writer about how she achieved success. Today's writer blogs over at Paranormal Point of View where she does a great series on Mondays turning other writers into monsters. She also has a formula for success she's willing to share. Read on! And as always, if you have a success, big or small, you'd be willing to share, please let us know!

Do not try to adjust your monitors. I have, in fact, temporarily taken over Adventures in Children’s Publishing. Mwahahaha! Okay, seriously? I’ve been asked to guest blog - to share with you my story and the surprises I’ve had along the way. So here goes…

My name is Lisa Gail Green and I’ve been writing basically my whole life, starting at age seven. I’ve done many different things since then, always with the idea in the back of my mind that one of these days I’d be a writer. The nice thing is that just about anything you do in the “real world” can help prepare you for a career in writing. Case in point? I was an actress. “Bah! Completely frivolous,” you say? No way. I have a handle on character. I get inside my characters’ heads and not coincidentally, tend to favor first person in my manuscripts. It also helps with natural dialogue.

Just under a year ago (don’t shoot me, please) I joined SCBWI. That was probably the best thing I’d ever done. I took advantage of every board, every conference, every workshop, and quite simply every resource I could. I immersed myself and learned the “business” side of things. I learned all about how I’d been sending out horrifyingly embarrassing query letters before my manuscript was ready. I learned all about the “rules” of writing and when it might be okay to break them. But most importantly, I learned that overwhelmingly, the people in this business, whether agents, editors, or other writers, are kind and supportive and absolutely AMAZING.

So, I started querying (for real this time). I joined my beloved critique group. I took Jill Corcoran’s workshop on the subject. I started publishing in online magazines, which raised my self-esteem and gave me something to put in that dreaded bio paragraph. I also started reading like crazy in my genre.

My agent didn’t pull me from the slushpile – though I beg you not to discount it as impossible. I met Rubin Pfeffer of East-West Literary (sorry guys, he only takes clients by referral, though you can hear him speak at this year’s SCBWI LA conference) through a mutual friend. He even said in the email in which he offered me representation that this is “not the typical outcome of introductions of writers to publishers or agents when made by friends.”

The thing was, I had still done what I was supposed to. I polished my manuscripts (by this time I had two plus a WIP), pumped myself up and braved the world announcing that I am a writer (which led me to my connection with Rubin), and approached him in the professional manner I’d taken the time to learn about. I sent a query letter, as I would have to anyone else. He asked me for quite a bit of info after that – info on me, on my books, my characters, comparison books, and marketing. Finally he asked to see my other work.

Then he offered to represent me. I was at my in-laws at the time and I still think they believe me to be completely unhinged. I was hysterical. See, I’d done my homework and I knew exactly who Rubin was (a former senior VP from Simon and Schuster’s children’s division for starters). After I collected myself off the floor, walls, and ceiling, I went right back to researching what to ask, how to handle other queries I’d had out, etc.

I signed up and met with both Rubin and Deborah Warren, the founder of East West. They are both amazing people. I am truly happy with my choice (or maybe I should say happy that he chose me). Through Rubin’s encouragement I joined the blogosphere. That in turn led me to Twitter and joining groups like Verla Kay’s Blueboards, The Enchanted Inkpot, and The Undead Poets Society. All of these actions allowed me to meet even more wonderful people.

Two months after signing with Rubin and after further revisions (you’re never done, my dears) my babies were out in the world, in the hands of editors whom I would never have been able to reach if I’d sent out my own work. So far, I’ve had a couple of very nice rejections and one editor who is going to send me revision notes in exchange for an exclusive on one of my manuscripts (told you you’re never done). So keep your fingers crossed for me!

Basically, I credit a strange combination of luck and willingness to understand how the publishing industry works for getting me this far. If I’m talented too, maybe I’ll even get a book out there! And how cool would that be? But until then, I’m having a blast and finally thrilled to know where I belong.

That’s my story and I’m sticking to it!

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

19 Quirks Are Character Life Support: Character Worksheet Part 3

Making a character true to life while simultaneously making her larger than life is one of the hardest tricks a writer has to pull off. Success requires balancing strengths and weaknesses, and introducing sympathy and lovable, memorable quirks. In the two earlier sections of our Character Worksheet series, I focused on building a novel-worthy character and making her quintessential. In this post, I'm going to describe how to use the worksheet to make the character unique and deeply essential to the action. That requires even deeper characterization and backstory.

The characters that stay with you, those who burrow into your heart and stay forever, not only have strengths and weaknesses, they also have passions, hobbies, and habits you will remember long after you finish reading. And the best characters, the ones that ring the truest, are usually those whose quirks, passions, strengths and weaknesses all work together in a way that drives the plot of the story.

Jane Austen deliciously carried character traits to just beyond extreme, and ensured that those traits directly led to problems. Beautiful Creatures, one of the richest YA novels I've read recently, has a whole cast of wonderfully quirky characters. The superstitions of Amma, the crossword puzzling, pencil-wielding housekeeper, turn out to be pivotal to the MC's survival. Lena's obsessive graffiti habit and the memory necklace that lets her take her childhood with her from place to place make her unique, but the graffiti also serves as a clock that ticks up the tension as you read toward the climax. Uncle Macon does a wonderful Cary Grant gone vampire/incubus, but he's also brilliantly, dangerously self-sacrificing in a way that is pivotal to the story.

Events shouldn't happen to your characters. Your characters must create events. And yes, that's true even in a plot-driven novel.

To Create Essential Characteristics and Characters

Quirks and hobbies make your characters unique. Paddington Bear loves marmelade. Atticus Finch never lets himself be seen without a vest and tie. Traits like this help round out the characters, but you develop a quintessential character by picking one character trait required for the novel and heightening it, making it extreme. Harry Potter is the most famous young wizard. Eeyore is the most depressed donkey ever. Quintessential is about making a character superlative in some way. But all great quintessential characters are also essential.

An essential character is one whose chief characteristic drives the plot, and whose additional characteristics also contribute to the action. This is a layering process. It doesn't happen in one pass. You develop your plot. You build your protagonist and antagonist and figure out what makes them tick. You go back to your plot and figure out how your character's quirks, fears, and goals make them act, react, and oppose each other. How they endear one character to another. Then think about how adding different character traits could heighten the tension or introduce more complications.

Here are some things to ask yourself as you work through the items from the worksheet:
  • What is the character's role in the story? What does she need to do? How does this conflict with her known goals and unconscious desires?
  • What characteristics and special abilities does she have to have to let her to play her role?
  • What characteristics would make filling that role almost impossible?
  • What is her family and childhood baggage? Who is whispering in her head?
  • Is she basically a dark character? How can you make her vulnerable and sympathetic?
  • Is she a happy character at heart? What dark secrets is she hiding? 
  • What were her most spectacular failures, and how can those failure help her succeed or fail to succeed at a crucial moment in the story?
  • What was her most brilliant triumph, and how can it set her up for failure?
  • What mementos and keepsakes does she treasure? How can you make her lose them? How will she react?
  • What are her phobias and favorite places? How can you use them against her?
  • What are her hobbies? How can you make them essential to the plot? What do they teach the character that she couldn't have learned in any other way?
  • What are her favorite foods? How does sharing those with other characters mark progress in the relationship  between them?
  • How does she respond to her environment and face challenges or adversity?
  • What are her personality quirks? Does she lie compulsively? Does she never pass up a dare?
  • What are her pet peeves? Does she hate it when people misuse a particular word? Do people who talk a lot drive her nuts?
  • What are her goals, dreams, and greatest fears? What makes her work? What holds her back?
  • How does she see herself? How do others see her? Does she know there is a disconnect?
  • How does she react to the opposite sex?
  • What are her opposing traits? Does she love to read but hate to be alone? Is she family-oriented but can't stand kids?
Answering these questions may seem like a lot of work, but time getting to know your characters is never wasted. The more time you spend building your characters before you write, the clearer, more consistent, and more essential your characters will be to your story.

Keeping track of everything on a worksheet or in a character bible and consulting that worksheet as you write can cut down on rewrites at the same time it will help you make your characters memorable and timeless. It also serves as a great resource while you're editing.

Happy character building,


Additional information and resources:
Character Worksheet Part 1: Is Your Character Novel-Worthy?
Character Worksheet Part 2 Shrinking Your Characters to Enlarge Them
Download the Character Worksheet
Plot Complications Worksheet
100 Character Quirks You Can Steal from Me
Random Character Quirk Generator
The Phobia List
Quirks and Kinks
Quirky Characters -- A Book List
Breathe Life into Your Characters
Character Driven or Action Driven?
When Characters Show Their Weakness
Secrets of Great Characters from 6 SF Authors
How the Four Elements of Fiction Are Related
Characters Inside
Writing Fiction: Developing Characters
Epiphany in Developing Character and Plot
All Characters Are 3 Dimensional, Right?
5 Secrets about Your Character's Secrets
Creating Memorable Characters
20 Questions to Ask Floundering Characters
Developing Character Traits
9 Traits of Sympathetic Characters
Develop Increased Sympathy for Your Characters
15 Days to Stronger Characters
Next:  Character Worksheet Part Four: Are Your Characters Walking & Talking (Body Language, Manerisms, and Habits of Speech.)