Friday, April 29, 2011

Sneak Peek!

Well, I've missed a couple of blog posts this week and today's post is going up a little later than usual. However, since I'm doing the final touches on the book, I think I have a good excuse. Today's post is going to be a little sneak peek of Magic High, which will be released in June. Enjoy!

Shuffle. Shuffle shuffle. Nudge. Resist urge to shove. No, no Tabetha. You can’t put a hex on them just ‘cause they cut in front of you. Not even if they do keep looking at you like you’re the jerk.
Assemblies suck. Trying to get through the overcrowded halls to get to the stupid assembly sucks more.
My friend shoved her way through the crowd toward me, knocking kids against the wall so she could have a better path. Her brown braids swished behind her, smartly smacking people in the face if they tried to fight back. I watched Eleanor with a smile. No one would dare mess with her when she was wearing braids. And in a few minutes she would be walking beside me, helping me to get through the crowd faster too. What else were friends for?
Elle!” I called to her over the noise.
Tab!” Eleanor waved. “Hey! Can you believe this crowd? You’d think someone would have thought of a better way to herd us from our classes to the auditorium.”
Of course everyone glared at her when she spoke since she was being super loud, but I was used to it. I felt particularly pleased to be Eleanor’s best friend on braid days. It meant we would always get the best table at lunch. And it meant there was even less chance of people paying attention to me, which was just how I liked it.

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Should YA stories have swear words?

I've had my novel edited by several different types of people. All of them are adults and all of them swear on occasion. However the responses about swearing in my novel varied greatly depending on the reader. Some thought that it would sound more natural if there was more swearing, while some thought that it should be taken out completely.

My thought is that it all depends on the overall tone of the book. There are plenty of YA novels that are full of swear words, from the characters saying something as simple as “oh my God!” to the scary “f-word.” I don't think that writing should be limited. Children swear. They may not swear around their parents or teachers, but they swear. I know I did. I remember having a conversation with my best friend in grade two about how “I need to stop fucking swearing so much.” I may not have known what they meant, but I through words around. As a result, I see no problem with children saying things like that now. It's only words. Unless they are directing them toward someone in a bullying manner, then they should feel free to express themselves however they like.

You've probably guessed that I have decided to add more swearwords or at least keep the ones I have. Well, you'd be wrong. When it was mentioned to me that I should take out the few words I had in this novel which were basically along the likes of “crap” and “oh my God” I realised I really didn't need them to convey the story and they weren't helping with the tone of the book. Having those types of words can cause a barrier for the readers, often coming from parents and librarians. I want my story to be as accessible as possible. If I felt that the words were necessary for the tone of the book, I would fight to keep them in. As it is I'm happy with the decision I'm making.

What are you're feelings about swearing in literature?

Monday, April 25, 2011

Aren't you afraid of people stealing your ideas?

I've known a number of writers who are terrified to talk about their stories because they believed that someone would steal their idea. But to be honest, that isn't very likely. Everyone has ideas. Not very many people are out actively trying to steal new ones. I'm not saying it's impossible, it's just not likely to happen.

The idea for a book is the easiest part. Some ideas are better or more exciting than others, but it's only an idea. It's not until it's been executed that there's any real value to it. Now if you start posting entire books online, there is a chance they will be stolen. Not usually by someone looking to claim it as their own and make money off of it, though that has been known to happen, but more likely by people wanting to read something for free. Although I don't think people are as likely to download a stolen book as compared to music, it does happen.

Although I don't think someone is going to steal my ideas, I don't tend to talk about my stories while I'm writing them. An idea that I thought was great might end up sounding dumb when I try and talk about it with someone. This isn't necessarily anything to do with the merit of the idea, but more to do with my confidence in it and how well it's developed. There are a lot of reasons not to write a book, having talked about it too soon doesn't need to be one of them. Besides, so much can change during the writing process. The part of a story that I talk about one day might be completely gone by the next.

Idea's do get stolen, that's a fact of life. However, it's really unlikely that it will happen to the average writer. More likely it would happen to really popular authors who can turn their ideas into best selling novels as opposed to unknowns such as myself. Generally I talk about my stories as much as I feel comfortable, and usually only to real life friends. It's more likely they will get bored of my obsession rather then steal the idea.

Friday, April 22, 2011

What do you do when you finish edits?

I finished the big edits of Magic High today. All that's left is a final copy edit. While I wait for more wonderful family members to do that for me, it's time for a bit of a break. I'm going to spend the weekend recharging my energy. I'll do some reading, maybe work on some other project, but most of all I won't spend time worrying about Magic High.

Just like a painting or any work of art, you could edit a novel for ever and never be completely satisfied with it. The trick is to know when to stop and let it be. For this story, the time is now. Now I get to move on to the fun and daunting task of marketting.

But for now I'm going to enjoy the small break I'm giving my brain. Good thing I finished in time for the Doctor Who marathon that's on for Easter.

Thursday, April 21, 2011

Are you doing a book trailer?

Today I had a very exciting meeting with a friend about doing a book trailer for Magic High. Although we're still in the very early stages of the process, I figured I'd share a bit about what kind of steps I have to go through in order for this to become a reality.

The first thing I really needed to think about was what kind of a trailer I wanted. There are two major types that are popular right now. I could have chosen to go the animated or the filmed route. Animated is very popular now for several reason, not the least of which is it doesn't require a lot of film experience to create. Anyone who has Flash or a similar program on their computer can create a workable trailer. Generally they focus on the book cover and some sort of short written description that flashes across the screen in an appealing manner.

Another route is to create a short film. This is a little more like something you'd see for a movie and it includes real people acting as characters from the book. This style can be a bit more exciting, but if it's done poorly, it can be much worse than an animated trailer. Since I'm always up for a challenge (and luckily my wonderful friend is as well) I chose to go with this route.

So what has been the process so far? Well, I've written a script, we've done some story boarding, my friend has done some scene breakdowns, and now it's time to move on to finding locations and actors. This is not something that can be done in a day, and it really helps that I have a friend who is a videographer or else I would have no idea where to even begin.

Have I mentioned how awesome my friends are? Because they are pretty awesome.

Although today we only our first face to face meeting, I'm already really pumped for how awesome this is going to turn out. No pressure though. I'll definitely be posting more on the process of this project as it unfolds.

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

How do you make interesting characters?

Yesterday a group of friends and I spent some time creating characters for an RPG that we're going to play. (Yeah, we are cool.) Part of the process was to decided on the characters merits and flaws. The best part was that we had to make the two even out. A character couldn't be too amazing or too flawed.

When I first started writing, I had a number of comments that my main character seemed a lot like a “Mary Sue,” or too perfect. What were her fears? Did she have a dark past? Was her internal personality the same as her external? No real person is perfect in every way, and characters in a story need to feel real.

While I tend to give my characters too many merits, some writers do the opposite. They give their characters too many flaws without the merits to balance them out. This can be just as bad as having a Mary Sue. If there's no good to your character, then the reader won't feel like they can connect with them, which can be a reason for someone to put down the book. I know I personally don't want to read about characters I don't like.

Of course, like every rule for writing, balancing out the flaws and merits in a character is not something that has to be done for every book. However, if you choose to write a character that has way more of one then the other, you had better come up with a good reason as to why. “I just felt like it” won't be enough to have most readers convinced.

Monday, April 18, 2011

Don't let the balls drop.

I got this advice from my writing professor this year, and I think it's an important concept to keep in mind for any story. Okay, so he didn't put it quite like that (thank god, or I would have spent the rest of the meeting giggling like a 10 year old) but that's more or less the gist of it.

“The balls” refer to juggling balls which are constantly moving through the air. As soon as you stop paying attention to one ball for too long, it will fall onto the ground and the whole trick will be ruined. The same goes for a writer who is constantly juggling plot points. Everything a character does in the story counts. So if you have them meet someone in chapter two, that character had better come back again later in the story. If you drop that ball, then the story will end up looking like a great big mess.

Often when I'm trying to think of what could happen next in my stories, I end up throwing my characters into new situations that have barely been hinted at. What I should be doing is developing the plots and characters that I already have introduced. A good example of me dropping the balls in a story is with my comic Never. The story got away from me and a number of characters started popping into the comic when I should have been more concerned about developing what I had already built.

Generally this is something that can be fixed through planning and outlining. Since I'm more of a fly by the seat of my pants kind of girl, this tends to be the most difficult step of writing for me. However, I've said it before, and I'll say it again, writing is hard work, and you have to suffer through the parts that you find hard in order to enjoy the rest of the process. In the end, that suffering will make the story a whole lot better.

Thursday, April 14, 2011

How do you stay interested in a story?

Wow, is it that late already? Today was very exciting for me because I got back edits for the full manuscript of Magic High! This brings my energy up for this project, even though I probably wont be able to work on the changes for a couple of days.

And that brings me to today's topic. I've been working on this book for a long time. Some writers take most of their lives to finish a book, and others take only a few weeks. I guess that puts me somewhere in the middle. The trick is to finish a book with the same amount of excitement that you have starting out. If you get bored, you'll probably feel that the readers will get bored too, so what's the point of continuing on? This may be true, but often it wouldn't take much to rework the story to make it exciting again. Knowing when to give up on an idea and when to slog on is a skill that all writers have to develop.

One trick that I use to keep myself interested in a story is to talk about it with someone. Even if they don't care as much as I'd like them to, just saying things out loud often gets me thinking about it in a new way. Rereading my favorite bit of the story can also help reinvigorate my interest. Sometimes this doesn't work and I end up hating my favorite scene, but hopefully I'll read it and think, wow! Did I really write that?

Often times it's just a matter of sitting down and working on the story again after a bit of an absence for me to rekindle that first love. Sometimes I find myself putting off working on a story for whatever reason. However, once I force myself to sit down and do the work, I usually have a lot of fun.

Tell me, what do you do to keep yourself interested in a project?

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

How do you deal with writers block?

Very poorly, apparently. Right now I’m working on a chapter that really doesn’t want to come out. I have no idea what the characters would say or do, and they aren’t helping me by giving any hints. Often when I am struggling with a scene or chapter, the problem isn’t that I have writers block, it’s that I’m trying to write the wrong scene. Although I might believe that this is what needs to happen next, the best thing for the story and my sanity might be to rethink what’s happening and try going with a different scenario.

The best thing for me to do is step back from what I’m writing and go for a walk. Often when I’m walking I have internal conversations with my characters. That may make me a little crazy, but I never claimed to be otherwise. Anyway, these conversations could take place during the scene that I’m trying to write or during some other part of the book. Maybe it has nothing to do with the story at all, but having these conversations really helps me get to know my characters, and that makes them easier to write.

Another thing I do when I feel I can’t work on a story any longer is to work on something else. There’s a reason why I have four comics on the go, when I can’t come up with an idea for one, I move on to another. I don’t tend to work the same way with writing. If I did, I’d probably never get anything finished. However, I do often have other ideas for books in my mind that I can play with for a bit while I try to get back into the groove of writing my main story.

Sometimes the only thing that can be done is to just struggle through the block. Writing isn’t easy, though sometimes I have myself fooled. It’s work, and sometimes that work is hard. I just have to worry about getting that next chapter done, or that next page, or paragraph or sentence, whatever it takes to keep moving. It doesn’t need to be good it just needs to get done. Good comes with rewrites.

Time for me to follow my own advise.

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Which would you choose, drawing or writing?

I ask myself this question a lot. Because I do both, I find that I can't spend the time dedicated to either one that I would like. I'm sure that if I could chose just one to work on, I would get a lot more done and develop at a much faster pace. However, any time I decide to focus on either writing or drawing, I find myself really wanting to work on the other.

The thing that draws me to writing is that I can fall into the process in a way that I have never been able to with drawing. On a good day, when I sit down with my laptop, I stop seeing words and sentence structures, and instead see the story unfolding.

Drawing can be very involving as well, but I find I get easily irritated with myself if the outcome doesn't turn out how I expected. Perhaps the difference is that with a drawing, I don't want to have to redraw it in order to have it turn out how I expect. With writing, rewrites are an accepted part of the process. It may be a little sad or disappointing to have to rewrite an entire chapter, or three-quarters of a book, but I'm confident that it will come out better in the end. I don't have that confidence with drawing. Part of it might be that mistakes are immediately seen in a drawing while in writing, mistakes can be harder to find unless you know exactly what to look for.

If I could only ever do one again, I would choose writing. For now. Ask again tomorrow and I might say the opposite.

Monday, April 11, 2011

Do you plan on doing a book launch?

Marketing is a big topic which I will probably revisit at a later date. However, since I spent a good deal of time discussing this issue with my mother and Deirdre Kessler yesterday, both of whom have released books of their own, I decided to touch on some of what we talked about.

The biggest thing that we discussed was the book launch party. Since this book won't be available in a large number of stores, I haven't given a whole lot of thought about doing a big book release. However, since there is a very helpful and encouraging arts community in this province, I think that having one is a good decision.

There are a few things that I'm going to have to spend some time figuring out before the event. One is the date. I need to have enough time between now and the event so that I can insure the books will arrive. I also need to make it a day when people will be available to go. Since my story is for young adults, I don't want to have a release in the middle of a school day since I hope that some students will be interested in going.The date is also important since I need to be able to promote the event. My mother and Deirdre suggested that I start sending out information about the launch at least a month before it happens. I don't want that information to be wrong. I also want the information to be printed before the release happens, which is particularly difficult with papers that only print once a month.

I must also decide on a location for the release. A lot of places were suggested to me, including the library, local book stores, and schools, all of which would allow me to have the event for no additional cost. Since I'll be footing the bill, the less expensive option is always best for me. However, if I was willing to spend some money, there are a lot of options available, all in privately owned buildings.

Despite the fact that I plan on advertising the event as much as I can through newspapers, posters and more, I can't help but feel nervous about the launch. What if no one comes? But I suppose the only thing I can do is advertise it and hope for the best. Time to cross my fingers.

Friday, April 8, 2011

How do you deal with editors comments?

First off, when people are generous enough to edit my work, I am extremely thankful. No one is a perfect writer, and I know my work has gotten better because of suggestions. But one thing I always have to remind myself of is that edits take time. While I might be willing to edit my work in a day, everyone else seems to have this crazy thing called a life. They have more important things to do than work on a book by someone else. I have to remember this, take a breath, sit back and worry about something else since I can't force people to work faster. At least not if I ever want them to help me again.

Once I get the suggestions back, my initial reaction to most comments is probably going to be one of two things. How could I have missed that? or I refuse to make that change! The how could I miss that thought is pretty easy to deal with. Just make a note and do the change. It's the other state of mind that's problematic. What I try to do, which is really hard and sometimes impossible, is to detach myself from the story. Pretend it's not mine anymore. If I was reading the book for the first time, and people made the comments that they are making now, would I agree? Sometimes the answer is no. But oftentimes it's yes. I might not want to hear it because it means a lot more work, or it's my favorite part of the book and it needs to be eliminated.

I had a scene in Magic High with Tab and Eric which I loved. However as I started to make changes to the story, it no longer fit with the tone. But I still loved the scene, so I kept it in. When it was pointed out to me by one of my editors that it really wasn't working, I ignored the comment. I loved the scene way too much to delete it. During the submission process, I had a publisher pass on the story, and one of the reasons she gave me was that same scene. By not getting rid of it, I had made my story weaker, giving people a reason to put the book down. That scene has since been eliminated.

I'd love to say that I've learned my lesson and I will always take the advise of my wonderful editors, but I know that there will be times when I just wont be able to make the cut. The trick is to see when edits need to be made and when they are a personal preference of the editor.

Thursday, April 7, 2011

The Self Publishing Checklist

As the release date comes closer for Magic High (sometime in May if all goes well) I figure it's time to do up a basic checklist. Since I've never done this before, I'm sure I've missed a few steps, but that's alright. This is a learning experience for me, and hopefully others can learn from my mistakes as well.

  • Write book
  • Edit book
  • Find at least two people to read and edit book
  • Design cover
  • Design interior
  • Build website
  • Start blog
  • Make Facebook fan page
  • Create book trailer
  • Get ISBN for both print and electronic versions
  • Figure out copyright legalities
  • Figure out taxes for items sold in US as a Canadian
  • Have proof copy printed
  • Make e-version available
  • Print paper version
  • Sell book
  • Rejoice
  • Repeat

Note that the writing section of this process is a tiny portion of what needs to be done. No wonder most writers prefer the traditional route of finding an agent and publisher.

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Why fantasy?

When I was young, it was completely uncool to read, especially in my class. Of course that meant that I would read all of the time. In grade seven we had a reading wheel that we had to complete during the year. It forced everyone to read twelve books in a variety of genres. After completely three wheels along with every single book by Tamora Pierce available at the time (they didn't count since they were all the same genre), I began to understand what kind of story I liked.

Alanna from the Lioness Quartet is one of my favourite characters to this day. She's strong physically and emotionally, aware of her own weaknesses, and just so damn cool. Ever since reading Tamora's books, I've expected every fantasy to be as fun and engaging with an amazing female main character. Authors such as Patricia C. Wrede and Gail Carson Levine helped fuel that expectation.

But then I discovered that fantasy was actually a male dominated genre. Where were all the girls? And why did the ones included always feel off somehow? Since I've gotten older, the success of Harry Potter, and more recently Twilight, caused fantasy to take over the bookshelves. There are plenty of great fantasies available for both guys and girls, though I still find it difficult to get exactly what I'm looking for in the adult section.

I've considered writing in a different genre because of the tough market of YA fantasy, but every time I've tried, it's never felt right. For me, it's not about what will sell, it's the story that really matters. And the stories in me tend to lean toward fantasy. However, unlike the high fantasy that I loved in my youth, I've migrated toward urban fantasy.

The question that drives me is what would I do with magic?

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

What's your writing process?

Since I touched on this a bit yesterday, I might as well spend some time going over exactly how I write.

When I wrote my very first, very bad, novel at the age of 12, I did it from start to finish all in one go. It was hand written in green ink, which my generous and encouraging mother typed up for me. Many years and numerous false starts later, I managed to complete my next novel. This time the process was entirely different. I would write each individual scene as I thought of them, often from a paragraph to five pages long. They might happen anywhere in the story, and some of them might not end up working at all. When I had all of the main scenes written, I put it together, fleshing out the spaces in between. This process included a wall covered in cue cards with lines drawn between to keep things straight. It was pretty fun, but in the end I felt the plot suffered due to my lack of direction.

For the last two novels, including Magic High, I went back to my original process of starting at the beginning and working my way through the entire story until I reached the end. After finishing, I would rewrite huge chunks of the book, fixing any major problems before going back over the story for the fine tuning. Editing is the most time consuming part of the writing process for me. That's when I am forced to deal with plot holes, ever changing characters and other problems that I'd been ignoring. It took me a month to write Magic High. It's taken me three years to edit it to a point where I feel confident in calling it complete.

My current work in progress is a mash up of all the techniques that I've used for writing. Generally I'm focused on writing the story from start to finish, but often I end up hand writing a scene that will come much later in the story. Occasionally I'll still use a green pen, but more often than not, I'll just use whatever happens to be close by. Now if only I could figure out a way to use the wall of cue cards again. That was a work of art.

Monday, April 4, 2011

How do you have time to write?

When I tell people that I write novels, the usual response is "I want to do that someday. When I have time." I always smile and feel a bit sad for them. That novel, which is probably a really great idea, is likely never going to get written. The thing is, no one has time to write. Between your day job--and every author but the few millionaires out there have a day job--family, kids, friends, house work, etc. there is just not enough time in the day to write.

So how do I manage to do it? Well, you see I have this stop watch with the magical ability to replay time and... no wait. That's from Harry Potter. I guess I just make the time. Writing is very important to me, and so it's not a difficult decision for me to do it instead of something else. Usually that something else ends up being cleaning. My place is a mess. Really, you have no idea. Unless you've been in my house and then you have some idea.

Being able to find the time is what separates those who want to write with those that do. It's something that you have to figure out on your own. Maybe you work best at a certain time of day and for a couple of hours each day you lock yourself in a room and work your butt off. Or maybe you work in fifteen minute clumps broken up throughout a very busy schedule. For me it's somewhere in between. I try not to limit myself to only being able to work under one condition. That becomes very limiting and can stifle my creativity. For example, I like to writing on the computer, but I always bring paper and pencil with me anywhere I go and often end up writing a scene or idea in between classes or on a break from work. I could take my laptop with me, but I find writing on paper is sometimes a nice change and can help me look at the story in a new way.

For me, the question isn't when do I have time to write, since I always seem to find the time. Instead, it's when do I have time to do anything else?

Friday, April 1, 2011

Why Young Adult(YA)?

I was once told in a writing group that it was time to move on from high school and start writing grown up fiction. I smiled politely and said nothing, though I had a few choice words in mind. Write for adults? Where's the fun in that? YA stories are full of all the things that make adult book's good, such as a great plot and interesting characters. The difference is, YA stories are usually stuffed full of energy and shoved into a much smaller package. They are generally 50,000-70,000 words as opposed to the 70,000-150,000 words of adult fiction (or more if you are certain fantasy writers).

Of course, it's also just a personal preference. There are a lot of writers who want and need to go into a lot of details about the history of the world where the story is based, or explanations of what exactly that tree looks like. That's what their story is about, the details. Or perhaps they want the extra word count to create an extremely complicated plot with numerous characters. For them that works. I'm not one of those people. I like stories that get to the point and fast.

YA also has such a fun voice. Teenagers are complicated creatures who are going through a huge turning point in their life. They practically build their own language to deal with everything they are going through. Although I would have no interest in becoming a teenager again, I definitely think it's an exciting time, for good or bad. And that leads to some great fiction.

So why do I write young adult stories? Because that's what I read. That's what I love. And that's what comes out when I write.