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Writing Tidbits (and an early New Year’s Resolution) November 18, 2008

Posted by LHK in Atlanta, writing craft.
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Regarding NaNoWriMo, I think it’s all or nothing for me. As in, I throw all of my writing energy and time into it, to the detriment of all of my other projects, or I work on the other projects and let NaNo languish. I’ve chosen the latter.

***

Saturday was the monthly meeting of Atlanta Writers Club. I wasn’t able to stay for all three presentations, but I did catch the first two. First up, Doug Crandell returned to AWC to do a one-hour workshop on the craft of the short story. I appreciated that he hammered home the point that, yes, short stories must have plots — literary fiction included. He usually starts his story with a character, or even with just a single character trait. Then he discovers who or what is the character’s opposing force. The story grows from there. He said he used to write a lot of stories with guns in them; everybody laughed at this, but I’m sure it was uncomfortably true for some of us. Myself included.

Here’s my problematic method of crafting a short story:

1. Find character. Done. Oftentimes, this comes down to “insert an already-created character” (one of my own, I mean. Don’t mistake me for a fanfiction writer).
2. Come up with nebulous idea of the philosophical conflict guiding the story.
3. Recognize that there need to be actual events and settings to prop up said philosophical conflict.
4. Start writing anyway.
5. Write 4000 words based on the character and the philosophical concept.
6. Delete 2000 of the 4000 words.
7. Reach the place where the end of the story should naturally be. From here, there are two options:
8a. Quit writing story and never come back to it.
8b. Throw in a random murder, a suicide, a car accident, an armed robbery, or a dead relative who’s been messing with the protagonist’s mind.

I don’t really aspire to have my name all over the lit journal world or to be in Best American Short Stories (it surprises me to be able to state this sincerely; I tend to be the ambitious type, but I seem to have mellowed a bit lately, or at least channeled all outlying ambition into my YA novels). I’d just like to be able to write a short story that actually is a story, rather than a collection of haphazardly-arranged scenes. And while I figured out long ago that novels with true plot and structure don’t just burst from head to page (unless you’re William Faulkner on his As I Lay Dying bourbon bender, or — and I say this begrudgingly — Stephenie Meyer and her vampire dream), I’ve churned out a lot of literary crap under the delusion that short stories can emerge fully-formed in a single sitting.

So here’s an early New Year’s Resolution: I’m going to unearth all the short story writing advice I’ve internalized over years of how-to-write books and workshops and a whole boatload of fantastic short stories themselves. (One of my favorite online destinations for short fiction is StorySouth, by the way.) I’m going to try to write a short fiction piece with the goal of creating something that is unmistakably a story.

***

Joshua Corin, author of a rather hilarious sounding novel called Nuclear Winter Wonderland, spoke next. He covered the differences and similarities among playwriting, screenwriting, and novel-writing. (Quick primer: in playwriting, dialogue is the focus; in screenwriting, images are the focus; in novel-writing, narrative voice is the focus.) And he’d probably agree with my plan to have a plan for my next short story. At one point, he said, “Even if you don’t know where you are, know where you’re going.” Yes. Also, he stated that just because you have an idea for a novel, story, screenplay, or play, it doesn’t mean it’s time to sit down and start drafting it out. I agree — my ideas need a lot of time to attach themselves to character details and bits of dialogue and description before they’re ready to be put to paper. I feel uncomfortable sitting down to start on something unless I have one or two of those gotta-fit-these-in lines or phrases lying in wait in my head.

I left the meeting feeling inspired to go home and write… something. I wasn’t sure what. I’ve got plenty on my to-do list.

Plus, you know what’s nice? I am actually acquainted with a handful of people at Atlanta Writers Club, so during monthly meetings I actually manage to chat with people rather than just sit with my arms crossed and silently grump about how no one ever talks to me. With every passing year I grow just a little teeny tiny bit beyond the personality I cultivated so well in high school.

***

If you’re even slightly a fan of children’s or YA literature, you should check out the Winter Blog Blast Tour that’s being hosted by Chasing Ray and other fine kidlit-related websites.

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Just the latest “why don’t I live in New York City?” moment November 17, 2008

Posted by LHK in Uncategorized.
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A British theater company has adapted Virginia Woolf’s The Waves (one of my favorite novels!) into a multimedia stage play.

The Waves is a series of stream-of-consciousness monologues by six different characters. I maintain that the best way to experience the novel is to read the whole darned thing out loud, as I did several years ago. (To be fair, I was marooned in my apartment in Japan at the time, recovering from a running injury. I had nothing but time and headspace to fill.) As the review of this production notes, one might expect a stage play of The Waves to be little more than six different readers dramaticizing the monologues, with moody music played in between. But this one goes far beyond that, and I am jealous jealous jealous of anyone who gets to see it:

While one performer reads from the script, others are occupied in rendering the sights and sounds described in the play’s interior monologues. And surely no ensemble in New York is as multifarious as this one, which works with drill-team precision. Each member appears equally at home in the roles of narrator, silent-movie actor, camera operator, sound-effects maker and on-the-spot dresser and set decorator.

Homemade devices like a bowl filled with water, a fragment of lace or a leafy branch are used to frame faces and body parts, which are then projected in simulcast video to suggest a child peering through foliage, a boy peeking through a window or a terrified girl staring into a puddle. (The performers put on only bits of period costumes — a sleeve or a collar, say — depending on how much is included in the camera frame.) At the same time other performers are shuffling their shoes on stones, perhaps, or flapping sheets or running a finger around the edge of a partly filled glass.

It’s only playing in New York through Saturday. I haven’t checked, but I’d bet you a lot of money that this production ain’t makin’ it to Atlanta.

(I do get to see John Hodgman speak tonight, though. You know, the PC guy from the Mac commercials?)

Book Review: Catalyst, by Laurie Halse Anderson November 14, 2008

Posted by LHK in book reviews.
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Catalyst paperback cover

Catalyst paperback cover. I have this one, and it's signed now!

When she’s “Good Kate,” Kate Malone dutifully attends track practice, makes straight A’s, gets a thrill out of ironing the clean laundry, and smiles through her minister father’s sermons. When she’s “Bad Kate,” though, she goes out on midnight runs, or lusts after her boyfriend, or resents the responsibilities she has to take for her asthmatic brother. Catalyst explores the clash between Kate’s two sides while chronicling the last few months of her senior year in high school.

Her breaking point is finding out that her dream school, MIT — which is, in fact, the only school to which she applied — has rejected her. And that her classmates in AP Chemistry were betting against her acceptance. Ouch. Worse, the combination of a fire at the Litches’ house down the street and Kate’s father’s generosity means that Kate’s grade-school nemesis, Teri Litch, is now taking up residence in the Malone house. And more specifically, in Kate’s bedroom. A tragic accident derails Kate’s future plans even further, and alters her focus and her mindset.

When I heard Laurie Halse Anderson speak the other night (which rocked! which means photos and more discussion of said event are to come!), she talked about how Catalyst was meant to (subtly) underline the phenomenon of first-world teens being so bloody straight-lined toward one path of success — that is, the path of taking all AP classes, getting at least X score on your SATs, going to a prestigious college, and eventually getting a job that makes you a lot of money. She mentioned visiting a school in Michigan where the afternoon announcements featured a list of the most recent college acceptances for graduating seniors. Imagine the pressure. But Ms. Anderson wasn’t sitting in an AP class at the time she heard the daily college announcements; rather, she was in a vocational class where the usual troublemakers and (perceived) underachievers had been sent. One of the girls in the class, briefing Ms. Anderson on the social structure of the school, said, “They don’t mention us on the announcements. They don’t care about us.” This girl was part of the inspiration for Teri Litch.

Another cover (the hardback, maybe?). I like this one better.

Another cover (the hardback, maybe?). I like this one better.

Kate’s character trajectory in Catalyst is predictable, though comfortingly so. If you read the first few pages, you’ll see there’s little else for her to do but come closer down to Earth. And it is a relief when she does, although the journey is difficult.

One of my favorite things about Laurie Halse Anderson’s books are the seemingly mundane details of teenage life that become sneakily revelatory when put in just the right spot. I loved Kate’s experience of getting her first pair of contact lenses and realizing just how many things she wasn’t able to see before. (This happened to me, too. I was thirteen, and I had no idea that I should have been able to see individual blades of grass in the yard when I looked out my bedroom window.) I love Kate’s annoyance and fear at having to merge onto the highway. I love how the school is so overcrowded that seniors have to take lunch period so early in the morning that doughnuts and coffee are served.

A good book. I’d say I liked it better than Twisted, but not as much as Speak. And remember how I was worried that my own novel mirrored Catalyst in some annoyingly coincidental ways? Well, it’s not as bad as I thought, though I think I’ll need to make sure Mitchell is a soccer player instead of a distance runner. And reading Catalyst made me rethink Mitchell’s quest to go to Harvard. A-revising we will go.

***

I think my “currently reading” box is way outdated, or at least not complete. Right now I’m reading Gary D. Schmidt’s The Wednesday Wars, which is don’t-want-it-to-end-but-can’t-stop-reading-it fantastic.

November Frustrations November 9, 2008

Posted by LHK in Uncategorized.
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Last week, blogging literary agent Jonathan Lyons dared to ask what his readers thought of NaNoWriMo. A lot of vitriol resulted. Man, who knew? The poor, defenseless month of November shrunk away in defeat.

I didn’t want to sully the comment box there with my long-winded, wishy-washy sorta-opinion on NaNoWriMo.The concept of the event is so simple that for years it seemed like it was above criticism. In my mind, in a way, it still is. Fast-drafting is a perfectly normal way for writers – professional or not – to pound out the first draft of a story. Writing between 1500 and 2000 words a day is fairly normal output for most habitual writers. And few people expect to be able to go from idea to polished novel within the span of thirty days. I think most NaNo-novelists are realistic about what the quality of their output will be, and I doubt that NaNo has been solely responsible for the uptick in the amount of dreck in agents’ and editors’ slush piles over the years. Probably the personal computer and the relative accessibility of the publishing industry through the Internet have been the major culprits where the problem of bad novels escaping into the world is concerned.

Of course, one could also argue that a mass writing event can only be as good as its participants. And if said mass writing event is offered to the general denizens of the Internet, you’ll attract a lot of people who have a passing interest in writing, or who like the idea of the 50K challenge, but who do not habitually read and who do not study the craft of writing, and the discussions on the forums tend to be a reflection of this. Questions often fall along the lines of “Has anyone ever written a novel in present-tense?” or “Is it possible to have more than one narrator in a novel?” and it seems like the few people in the “Literary Fiction” subforum who were actually writing literary fiction have been scared off by the masses of newbies who have unwittingly redefined literary fiction as “manuscripts in which plot has been replaced by Livejournalesque rambling.”

And, yeah, I haven’t followed my own advice to stay away from the general forums. It’s just my instinct to jump to the defense of first-person point-of-view or writing a novel in present tense every time I see those techniques maligned. I swear I’m trying to quit.

***

Speaking of NaNoWriMo, I doubt I’m going to hit the 50K this year. This afternoon I wrote about 600 words to bring me up to a little over 7000 total, but that’ll probably be as far as I go with it today. I’ve just got too many other things on my plate to worry about scrambling through a first draft of Rob’s Day Out! And by the way, Rob’s Day Out! has not been a terribly interesting novel so far. I suppose I should have had something more than the title in mind when I began it. Also, the idea that the entire story is going to take place in twenty-four hours was another brilliant way to set up a creative roadblock for myself. So far, the one amusing thing that happened (Rob follows a truck towing a trailer full of llamas, and eventually winds up surrounded by said llamas in the parking lot of a McDonald’s off I-85 in north Georgia) was born from a suggestion made by my writing pal Erin. Rob escaped from the llamas before 7 AM, thus leaving me with many, many more hours of his day out (!) to fill up. And with what? I’m not sure.

Maybe if nothing else, I’ve at least learned that Rob worked best as a supporting character in my stories. He’s a more action-oriented character than any of my other main characters have been, and it’s difficult for me to write about characters like that. Rob is low on personal demons, self-doubt, and paranoia. If there are going to be enough conflicts in his life to fill a novel, they have to come from external rather than internal sources. And where’s the fun in that?

***

Also, three points of excitement!

1. I’m typing this on my brand-new MacBook Pro. It’s so light! And bright! And widescreened!

2. After 3.5 years of being a blonde, I am back to being a brunette. And a darker one than before, for that matter. One day soon I’ll share some photographic evidence.

3. I’m going to hear Laurie Halse Anderson speak tomorrow night!

Weekly Bookstore Jamboree – Week 5: Anatomy of a Write-In November 2, 2008

Posted by LHK in Uncategorized.
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There's a dead cat in my current novel. This book's title sometimes haunts me.

Bookstores visited: Borders on Cobb Parkway in Smyrna
What I bought: a chai latte
What other people bought: I didn’t get to observe the checkout area, but I did get to see a lot of other people buying coffee. And by “coffee,” I mean, of course, French vanilla lattes and mochas and cappuccinos and such.

What I looked at: Mostly, I was there for a NaNoWriMo meet-and-greet / unofficial write-in, rather than to look at books. What’s a write-in, you ask? Basically, it’s a NaNoWriMo-invented event wherein a bunch of crazed novelists gather at a particular spot and write fiction in the presence of each other’s tacit support. Occasionally, there’s a word war: everyone tries to write as many words as they can within, say, fifteen minutes. Since this meet-up took place before NaNoWriMo began, no one was doing a frantic first draft, so there was no cause for a word war. I worked (slowly) on a strange flash fiction piece about a dead dentist, as well as a YA short story called “The Understated Unraveling of Mercedes Moreno.”

We did grab a few books from the writing reference section: the obligatory copies of the NaNoWriMo handbook No Plot? No Problem, as well as Robert McKee’s Story and Blake Snyder’s Save The Cat! I mentioned both of those in my last post, didn’t I? They’re about screenwriting, but more specifically, they’re about the plot backbones of stories that work. I generally suck at creating good, working plot backbones. Even in the case of “The Understated Unraveling of Mercedes Moreno,” I’ve got three central characters, an opening conflict, and a foggy idea of the story’s goal. As usual, the characters have come to me fully-formed (which isn’t hard, as I’ve been writing about Mercedes, her sister, and the other people in her life for years and years), but the direction in which the story will go has yet to be determined.

That’s my usual operating mode for writing fiction: the characters come first, and then either a theme or a conflict will emerge. How I go about dramatizing that theme or conflict is dealt with eventually. I’m not ashamed of this method, although it does make for slow going in terms of finishing anything. I think it’s also why I took an unintended break from fiction writing for a long time in college and into my early twenties — when I was younger, I felt it was okay to play around on the page with characters and undramatic situations (e.g., I once wrote an entire “story” composed of scenes of different characters waking up. How did one character’s typical morning differ from another character’s typical morning? I found it fascinating). Years later, I decided I didn’t want to write such aimless fiction anymore, but when I realized I didn’t know how to take my fiction from aimless to, uh, aimful, I just quit. I switched my focus to writing for my website, and didn’t look back for many years.

How I got back to fiction, and how I braved the territory of real plots for the first time, is a post for another day.

For reference about plotting, though, Save The Cat! author (and fellow WordPress user) Blake Snyder has a recent blog post about finding the “spine” of your story.

What other people looked at: A lot of people come to Borders on Sunday morning to sit in the coffee shop area and read magazines. Who knew? Others were doing work on their laptops. Someone was reading The Story of Edgar Sawtelle.

Bookstore notes:

The Cobb Parkway Borders is a very strange place: if you take the first right into the maze of shopping center, as I did, you wind up on the bottom floor of a parking garage, with no way to drive up to the second floor. It looked like a good place to get one’s car broken into. Some bits of glass near the stairway were strong evidence for this theory. I parked anyway, figuring there were enough other people trickling in to divert any thieves’ attention from my wee Nissan. I took the stairs to the Borders entrance, where shoppers are greeted with a bin of bargain books and a tall escalator. Everything else – the non-bargain books, the coffee shop, the checkout – is on the second floor. Like the shopping center as a whole, the second floor is a maze. I gave up looking for the YA section. The coffee shop area is pretty great, though, and it includes an expansive patio.

Tips for NaNoWriMo October 29, 2008

Posted by LHK in NaNoWriMo, writing craft.
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(In case this is your first time on the Internet, “NaNoWriMo” is “National Novel Writing Month.”)

Every year, NaNoWriMo happens. And while I generally meet the 50,000-word goal for my annual NaNo project, I never fail to get behind on my writing, to get frustrated with myself for not having enough ideas in mind by the middle of the month, and to get mildly violent with inanimate objects for the amount of bad writing advice that gets tossed around on the NaNo forums. If you’re a cranky NaNoWriMo veteran like me, you might want to get on the right track for a saner November before the month actually begins. Here are some tips.

Avoid the general forums.

Do you really need to be the seventy-eighth person to weigh in as to where you got your novel’s title, or who you wish could play your main character (excuse me, your “MC”) in the never-to-appear film version of your novel? Do you really need to chime in on a game of Movie Quote Bingo or tell the world which song you’re listening to right now? What, exactly, do you hope to accomplish by doing this, especially when the likely result will involve all of the high school freshmen on the forums talking around you concerning their shared love of Vampire Weekend or Tokio Hotel? The song you are listening to right now is “The Ol’ Beggars Bush,” by Flogging Molly, or maybe Stephen Sondheim’s “Every Day A Little Death,” and you’re trying to tell people that your favorite novel is Catch-22 or Infinite Jest or The Long Dark Tea-Time of the Soul… and no one will acknowledge you. This is not your fault. Do not keep feeding the meter. Move away. Subscribe to just a few forums — your genre forum, your regional forum. Stick to those. Interact and make friends there.

Let people make mistakes. This includes you.xkcd

A bit of an offshoot from “avoid the general forums”: you can’t help everyone. At some point, you might even give up on trying to help anyone. Because if someone posts a topic concerning the use of multiple first-person narrators, and you’re like, “Yeah, you should go for it. It doesn’t always work, but you should challenge yourself,” you’ll soon be drowned out by the sixteen other respondents who contend that first-person point-of-view is “experimental” and “not done very often,” and who encourage the original poster to write in third-person limited, past tense (because “that’s just how stories were traditionally written”).

Stop punching the wall.

You can’t save anyone from bad writing, or from using fanfiction-inspired terminology, or from spending the month of November writing 50,000 words about the Gryffindor kids meeting up with the entire cast of characters of Nick and Norah’s Infinite Playlist, or from starting a new forum thread that’s written entirely in txtspeak (and which is, ironically, about how the poster wants to be able to expand her writing style so that she can reach the 50K. Here’s a hint: you don’t do it by writing “idk” all the time).

But you can use NaNoWriMo to try out a different point-of-view or genre, or to finally do that present-tense rewrite of the draft that just didn’t sound right in past tense, or take the supporting character from last year’s novel and see what he has to say for himself. Me, I’m mostly going to spend November doing the revisions on The Center of Gravity so I can get that blasted thing sent out, but if I’m able to do a NaNo novel, I’m definitely going to be doing a weird one. I’d originally planned on writing a YA short story cycle about my character Mercedes. It’s been rattling around in my head for a while. But then, when I was driving to work the other day (actually, sitting in the turn lane and waiting for traffic to pass), I suddenly wanted, more than anything, to write an adventure-caper about Rob Howington, one of the supporting characters from The Center of Gravity. And I wanted to call it Rob’s Day Out! With the exclamation point! I don’t know what it’s going to be about! Or where Rob will go on his Day Out! But I’m sure! It will! Be! Fun!

(Image from XKCD, of course.)

Learn how to do a 5,000-word day.

This can be done, even by slowpokes like me. I usually find myself needing an extra-high-word-count day somewhere around the end of the third week of November. Maybe there were a few days that I wasn’t able to write at all, and several more on which I only wrote 500 or 1,000 words. Rather than wind up with a 7,000-word deficit on November 29, it’s better to get yourself out of the hole as much as possible around November 21 or 22.

I try to do a 5,000-word day in sets of 500. And, yes, you really will need the whole day for this, not just a few hours after work. You’ll need to sit down soon after you get up and do that first set of 500 words. Set the tone for the rest of the day. Get 2,000 words down before lunch. Take a walk after lunch, and then come back to hit 3,500 or 4,000 before dinnertime. Cruise on in to the 5,000-word mark around 8 or 9 PM. By then, you’ll have earned dessert, a stiff drink, a Netflix movie, or another 1,000 words before bed.

What I did last year was grab some scrap paper and write out every single hundred-word multiple between my current word count and my goal word count. 38,100… 38,200… 38,300… and on and on. I’m the type of person who really likes to check things off lists. I tacked the list above my desk and kept myself sitting there, writing, until I could scratch off those first 5 numbers. My writing sessions tend to start out slow, crest to a quicker pace, and then begin to drop again. At the height of my productivity in a Crazy-High Word Count Day, I could get to the point where I’d write 600 or 700 words before I would look up, check the word count tool, and then scratch off the numbers I’d passed through.

Plot. A lot.

I’ve never done this; maybe one day I will. You’ll need a screenwriting book for this one: either Blake Snyder’s Save The Cat! or Robert McKee’s Story. Both of these books are far more organized than all the organization I have had in my entire life. Snyder’s book in particular lays out the individual “beats” that make up a basic movie plotline. This can be pretty easily applied to a novel. In Story, McKee goes into great detail about the usage and placement of the inciting incident, the first and second act climaxes, the weaving-in of backstory, and other useful things. If you follow these books seriously, you can have a reliable roadmap for your novel before NaNoWriMo even begins. Considering how many drafts I did of my novel before realizing that the inciting incident and the climax don’t work well together, I sometimes have regrets about not attempting a Save The Cat!-style plot map before now.

Weekly Bookstore Jamboree – Week 4: John Green Mania October 26, 2008

Posted by LHK in Uncategorized.
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The guest of honor caught me snapping a photo from above.

Bookstores visited: Little Shop of Stories in Decatur
What I bought: Nothing, but Adam bought a couple of John Green paperbacks we didn’t own
What other people bought: Lots and lots of John Green books. Paper Towns, mostly, but Let It Snow (the recent novel he co-authored with Maureen Johnson and Lauren Myracle) was also a popular choice.

What I looked at: Adam, who got to the bookstore super early and was milling around the second-story loft when I arrived (“Look up!” he called to me as I walked through the front door). John Green, who spent some time trying to connect to wireless Internet so he could webcast his presentation. He eventually had to give up on the wireless, and he started the book signing early. Well, as Adam and I were the only ones in the loft’s signing area at the time, we unnecessarily rushed John Green’s table and got a few moments to chat with him while he signed our books. Then, my pal M. arrived with a bunch of John Green books in tow. While he signed away, he asked her to call his editor to report the news about the canceled webcast. I watched, openmouthed, as M. used John Green’s iPhone to call the very esteemed senior editor at Dutton Children’s Publishing.

When she came back to her seat, I was like, “M.! Do you have any idea who you just talked to?” I tend to fangirl about YA editors and agents just about as much as I fangirl about YA authors. It’s a problem. It’s probably good that I was first in line at the signing table and not third, because nobody at Dutton Children’s Publishing needed to hear my squeeing over John Green’s iPhone.

Also, I had to observe the crowd. We were not quite the oldest people there. Some of the younger girls had brought their parents, and I noticed a couple of fellow SCBWI’ers sitting near me. Everyone else was pretty much highschool-age, though, and many of them had brought DV cams and were taping the whole thing.

Adam models some books, as well as his delightfully non-partisan "Everyone Poops" t-shirt.

Adam models some books, as well as his fantastic t-shirt.

What other people looked at: I should mention, though, that Adam and I were very much the weirdos of the crowd that eventually gathered in the loft at Little Shop of Stories. Adam with his delightfully non-partisan “Everyone Poops” t-shirt (isn’t he modeling it nicely?), and me with my knee-high-booted work ensemble, and our distinct lack of a camcorder. When the high school girls had their moms take photos of those of us sitting in the first few rows of seats in the loft, I felt kind of strange scooting in and smiling for the camera. They had such a sense of community, and we were clearly the outsiders.

(This is not to say that the crowd was not perfectly nice, though. I caught the girl behind me saying to her seat-neighbor, “Are you here by yourself? I don’t want you to be lonely. It’s hard to come to book signings by yourself.” And everyone else was swapping YouTube usernames and e-mail addresses and proposing future Nerdfighter meetups.)

Anyway, then Mr. Green himself took the stage. He read “the infamous page 23” from Paper Towns. (I connected page 23 with its subject matter immediately. I could have jumped up and said “BLACK SANTAS!” but I wisely stayed quiet and in my seat.) Then he spoke a bit about the themes in the novel and how he’d been exploring those same themes throughout his professional life – namely, ideas about human perception and how we filter our hypotheses about others through our own experiences. Also, he spoke about how he learned to tell stories by sitting on his roommate’s old couch and listening to other people tell stories and trying hard not to bore his friends by telling his own.

Then he took a bunch of questions. I can never come up with good questions to ask at author events or conferences until five hours after the event is over. Anyway, I asked John Green when Will Grayson, Will Grayson, his co-authored book with David Levithan, was coming out. Scintillating, I know. He said he didn’t know; probably sometime next year. Other people had much better questions than mine.

Bookstore (and author) notes:

If you don’t follow young adult literature, then you were probably heretoforth unaware of the existence of one John Green. That’s okay – nearly everyone I know pleads ignorance regarding the author of Looking For Alaska, An Abundance of Katherines, and Paper Towns. But if you do follow young adult literature, then you’re entirely familiar with the fan cult surrounding the Green brothers, John and Hank, and their video blog and their gigantic Nerdfighters community.

Regarding the bookstore, I realized I needed to spend a lot more time at Little Shop of Stories. And I will! Laurie Halse Anderson is paying a visit there early next month.

A Busy, Nervous Day October 25, 2008

Posted by LHK in writing craft.
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The Actual, Real New York Editor’s business card came in the mail the other day. I wasn’t going to believe it was truly coming to me until I had it in my hand. Well, now I’ve had it in my hand, and now it’s tacked to my bulletin board, which is just to the right of my writing desk, which you can see in the photo there. I’ve been working hard today, mostly making notes on my Luminotes wiki rather than actually diving into the manuscript and making changes there. Right now, the thought of going into the manuscript and doing anything other than minor line-editing makes me hyperventilate a little. And, you know, I don’t think there’s anything pathological about that. There’s no sense in starting to make any sort of big, plot-level changes until I’m entirely sure how they’re going to impact the rest of the manuscript. Everything is so frustratingly fragile at this point — knock out one piece and you wind up invalidating three other plot points.

Hence the glass of red wine, I guess.

In the center of my writing desk sits Old Blue, my Toshiba Satellite laptop. Old Blue has survived five separate novels, about two dozen short stories, six drafts of one novel, several rough plane rides, and a generalized addiction to the Internet. Old Blue has been with me since 2003. Old Blue still bears the scars of my circa-2003 habit of eating grapefruit while reading cnn.com and nytimes.com. Sticky little spots and smears that predate YouTube, but that now sit right on that area where the screen appears when you’re tired of writing and you start watching Stephen Sondheim-related videos at 2 in the morning. Old Blue has survived a lot of that. Don’t tell Old Blue, but he or she is about to have a nice rest. My new MacBook Pro is going to be arriving soon.

The two books to the left of Old Blue are a couple of useful thorns in my side. On the bottom is Self-Editing for Fiction Writers, by Renni Browne and Dave King, a book I like to thumb through every week or so, whether I’m working on a first draft or a seventh draft. It reminds me of those little things to try to avoid at any stage on a piece of writing – overdescription, poor rhythm, inappropriate pacing. My old boss gave me the book about a year and a half ago, and it’s taken a beating in the time that it’s been in my presence. The book on top of Self-Editing is Laurie Halse Anderson’s Catalyst, which I may have to sit down and read in full tonight. I’ve been paging through it for about a week now, and I know the general plot of it. I also know that it has some glaring similarities to my own novel. For instance, a character named Mitchell who’s about a graduate from high school with a perfect attendance record. And another character (the narrator, Kate) with a religious single parent and a senior-year schedule full of AP science classes and a habit of going running when things get tough.

Yeah.

Mitchell Waterson is the main character and narrator of my novel. He takes AP Physics and is a “good slow runner” on the cross-country team. His widowed mother is a Southern Baptist (and a bit of a kleptomaniac).  He’s never missed a day of school. And while I firmly believe that a good novel is “all in the execution,” and while I can see that my novel is stylistically different from Laurie Halse Anderson’s, and while the crux of the plot is entirely different from what happens in Catalyst, I can definitely make things easier on myself by excising some of these character similarities before the novel is seen by people who know other YA novels inside and out.

Just more revisions to add to the list.

Time to break for dinner. I’ll update again with my John Green (!!!) photos and thoughts either later today or tomorrow.

The List O’ Happiness October 21, 2008

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All items to be expounded upon later. But for now:

1. The Center of Gravity won first place in the middle grade and YA novels contest at the SCBWI conference!

2. An editor at a major YA imprint judged the contest. The whole thing was done anonymously, so she has no idea whether a nerdy girl, an old man, or a monkey with a typewriter wrote a novel called The Center of Gravity, but apparently she attached her business card to her comments on my work, and the contest coordinator is mailing it to me.

2a. (This item is an orphan from The List O’ Major Freakouts.) So now I need to get the full, polished manuscript ready to send to her. You may recall that I walked away frustrated from what I’d intended to be the final draft of the novel. Yeah. I need to get back to that, get my character arc in place, and come up with a way to end the whole thing that doesn’t leave my characters furious with me.

3. I think I comported myself fairly well at the conference. Only one or two babbly outbursts, and perhaps two or three conversations that went on too long and devolved into uncomfortable hmms and head-bobbing. Probably having M. there was good for me, as she’s the type to walk up to anyone she sees and say, “Hi! Who are you? What do you write?” I wound up meeting some local folks who are around the same point I’m at on my novel, including the other girl who was bestowed with The Business Card. I hope it’ll work out for us to get together.

Just in case you ever needed proof that I'm a dork. ("You look kind of crazed." -- Adam)

Just in case you ever needed proof that I'm a dork. (Adam: "Uh, you look kind of crazed.")

4. Tonight was the ever-important day known as JOHN GREEN (briefly!) Visits Atlanta Day. Hurrah! He wasn’t able to broadcast the show via webcam to New York as he’d hoped, and he had to rush out just after 7 to make his flight to Melbourne, Florida, but he was able to give a short talk, read a few pages from Paper Towns (including the hilarious description of Radar’s parents’ collection of 1200 Black Santas), take a bunch of questions, and sign books. Who was first in the signing line? Yep, that weirdo pictured on the right.

Conference checklist October 17, 2008

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This afternoon, my friend M. and I are heading out to Birmingham, Alabama for SCBWI Southern Breeze’s fall conference. Will my first chapter from The Center of Gravity place in the writing contest? Will I meet my critique partner soulmate? Will I get more than ten seconds of face time with any of the visiting editors? We shall see. What I do know is that a couple weeks ago I had a vision of attending this conference in a purple dress, and after a couple of fruitless shopping trips, I did finally manage to procure a purple (I mean, “eggplant”) dress earlier this week. The dress I tried on after it nearly got stuck on me. I had the first two minutes of an anxiety attack in the dressing room as I contemplated grabbing a pair of scissors and slicing the dress off.

But never fear. I’m a survivor. A good pull over the elbow freed me from the dress (which was ugly, to tell you the truth. I was drawn in by the woodland-creature-print that adorned it. I don’t have a squirrel-print dress, do you?). So at least I’m 100% sartorially prepared for this conference, if only about 70% mentally prepared.

See ya later. Updates on Sunday or Monday.