Friday, December 12, 2008

I'm Outta Here But Not Leaving You Empty-Handed!

At long last, I am off for vacation! Ahhh, beaches, warm breezes, two toddlers running, okay, it might not be quite as relaxing as I'm imagining, but I'm going to try my damndest to chill out for the next week or so. Which means I won't be posting on the blog, barring any breaking news. But in the meantime, I'm leaving you with a fabu interview I did with my friend, Eileen Cook, whose blog is all sorts of hilarious and whose new YA book, What Would Emma Do, is a perfect last-minute gift purchase for any and all who qualify as teen-readers (this can include their parents, who have been known to devour YA books with the best of 'em).

Here's a synopsis, and then Eileen answers some questions. I particularly love her answer to #2 because this is exactly what I've been saying here on Ask Allison!

Thou shalt not kiss thy best friend’s boyfriend…again….

There is no greater sin than kissing you best friend’s boyfriend. So when Emma breaks that golden rule, she knows she’s messed up big-time. Especially since she lives in the smallest town ever, where everyone knows everything about everyone else….and especially because she maybe kinda wants to do it again. Now her best friend isn’t speaking to her, her best guy friend is making things totally weird, and Emma is running full speed toward certain social disaster. This is so not the way senior year was supposed to go.

Time to pray for a minor miracle. Or maybe, just maybe, it’s time for Emma to stop trying to please everyone around her, and figure out what she wants for herself.

1. Was there a difference in the writing process between YA and adult? Did you like one better than the other?
My agent was the one who suggested that I try writing a YA. She felt that my voice would work well in that genre. I was unsure. It had been a long time since I was YA, and I wasn't sure if I had a story in me. I hunkered down with a large stack of popular YA books and what I discovered is that while the setting and the age of the characters is different the conflicts are very similar to adult novels. Plus, at long last I had a place to focus all my teenage angst. While I can't say that I enjoy one more than another- I do enjoy the high stakes that are inherent in any YA. Everything seems to matter so much more at that age and anything seems possible. You love more than anyone has ever loved. You hate with a passion never felt before. It was a lot of fun to jump into that character mindset.

2. This is your second book…any big lightbulb moments of learning that made this one easier to write than Unpredictable?
The largest surprise I had after Unpredictable came out was that the world kept spinning on its axis just as it had before. I had dreamed about being published for so long I was certain that somehow things would be radically different. No parades, no trumpets, no phone call from Oprah. Imagine my dismay. The silver lining was the realization that publishing isn't magic. It's a business. Others may have already realized this, but for me this was a lightbulb moment. This took the pressure off writing the second book as I approached it like a job. I set goals and timeline and was off to the races.

3. What are you working on now?
I’m working on another YA, which is currently called Black and White. (Stay tuned the title may change.) It's a story of revenge, classic movies, friendship, and love. I’m having a lot of fun coming up with all sorts of nefarious plots for the revenge part. Turns out I have a very evil side. Who knew?

4. Is there somebody who convinced you that you have what it takes to be an author? If so, who?
Both of my parents are big readers. Weekly trips to the library were a part of our family routine and we’d come home with stacks of books. I’ve loved books and reading as long as I can remember. As soon as I understood that there people who got to make those stories up I knew that I wanted to do that. My parents saved an English homework assignment I did in second grade where the teacher wrote at the bottom “Someday I’m sure you will be an author!” When my first book came out my dad hunted down this teacher. She was over 90 years old and lived in a nursing home. We went out to visit her and my parents were hoping for a big meaningful moment- but she spent the whole time talking about her bunions.

5. What's your work environment like? Any rituals, totems, or must haves?
I love my office, but I write about half of the time there and the other half of the time wherever my laptop and I end up. When I’m stuck I tend to write better in public like a coffee shop or the library. If I am really stuck then I write by hand. I think I’ve convinced myself that if I’m touching the paper I must be closer to the story. I am aware that this is completely illogical- but it works for me so I go with it.

6. What do you do when you're not writing?
I like to knit and love the feel and color of yarn. I’ve bought enough that there could be a world wide sheep shortage and I would have enough stockpiled to last me the rest of my life. I’m a lazy knitter- I don’t like to do complicated things- thus I make a lot of socks and scarves.

7. Would you like to close with a writing tip?
Read- read a lot. You can learn so much about writing this way. Read books you like and books you hate. Break them down to see what works and what doesn’t. Underline or highlight passages/dialog you really like (assuming that this isn’t a library book). It isn’t about trying to write like someone else, it is about discovering the process of what makes a story work.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Why the Glass is Still Half-Full

So today, I'm over at Writer Unboxed talking about why I don't think that the gloom and doom of both the industry and the economy are entirely bad news for publishing. In fact, I think a few positives can come out of it. Warning: I know that not everyone is going to like what I have to say, and I'm open to healthy debate. No problems. :)

Check it out here:

Tuesday, December 09, 2008

The Beginning is a Very Good Place to Start

My friend is slowly dipping her toe into fiction, after years in journalism, and posed the question: where do you start - at the beginning or do you jot down scenes and fill in the blanks as you go. Here is my answer to her, and I'd love to hear your answers as well!

I just saw this, and thanks again for picking up my book! As for me, I do start at the very beginning. (Though I know have Julie Andrews singing in my head!) I do this for a couple of reasons: 1) the first chapter of the book is maybe the most important, in terms of letting readers know everything they need to know about your lead character, and I've found, for me, that picking the exact precise moment of where to start the book helps set the stage for the rest of it. For example, and this might really clarify what I'm talking about: in the very first draft of The Department, I had 99 OTHER PAGES before the first page that you read now. Yikes! I had all of these scenes leading up to Natalie discovering the lump and getting her diagnosis, etc, but guess what? It turned out that all of these were unnecessary, and that I could take various ideas from those 99 pages and weave them into what is now the first chapter: BAM - there's a paragraph about the discovery of the lump, BAM, there's a paragraph about what a loser her boyfriend is, BAM, there a nugget about her job, etc. So once I realized how critical that first chapter was (and again, I've learned so much from writing that book!) in terms of stage setting, I tend to really focus on it a lot when I'm writing a book. A reader should immediately be brought into the action, and for me, to start elsewhere - another scene or whatever - might not ensure this immediacy because you'd have to work backwards in your writing (and thinking). If that makes sense. But again, this is just what works for me.

Another reason that I start at the beginning is the fact that I DO let my character speak to me. Which, until you've really been possessed by fiction, sounds incredibly hokey and eye-rolling-worthy. But I let them take me where they want to go - I don't create a master outline or an overall plan - and if I started with a difference scene, it tamper with the organic nature of my writing. Wow, does that sound ridiculous! What I mean is that my characters wander down their own path, and if I placed them in a scene smack dab in the middle of the path without knowing exactly what led them there, it might lack some sort of realistic cohesion. I think this is probably similar to what Stephen King does too (not that I'm comparing myself to him!), in that I have a general premise/situation, some lead characters, and then I go, go, go. (Note to AA readers: the Stephen King comment here was in reference to someone else's mention of him on the forum and what he states in his book, On Writing.)

So what say you readers? How do you tackle those first few steps of a new book?

Monday, December 08, 2008

'Tis the Season

Is anyone else finding is nearly impossible to get things done during this time of year? I have a major celeb profile due this week, and it is all I can do to crack open the document and eke out a few lousy sentences. It didn't used to be this way: in fact, I remember in years past, that December and early January were some of my busiest times (surprisingly), and maybe I just didn't have time to procrastinate, but wow, am I struggling to get off the bench these days.

I was thinking about this - my lack of motivation on this particular piece, which, incidentally, I should be loving, so it's not anything about this specific piece that has my ass dragging - and how I can jumpstart myself, when it occurred to me that this was an excellent topic for this blog. Because, it dawned on me, there is a very big difference between feeling unmotivated and thus not writing, and really and truly being blocked and thus not writing. I guess the end result is the same: a blank page, but the root of the problem can be very different.

I've found that in the past, when I've lacked motivation to tackle an article, it's often because I don't have enough information to really dive into. I need to fully and completely saturate myself with every possible angle on the subject before I am 100% confident in my writing. Which doesn't mean that I always DO this, it just means that I can definitely tell the difference in the ease with which the words flow if I am overprepared in my knowledge of my subject matter. The same holds true for this celeb piece. I was really stuck as to how to start it. I'd mentally drafted several intros, but I knew I could do better. Finally, after pouring over some past interviews of this celeb and rereading my own transcripts a few times, it came to me last night in the middle of the night. Aha! Yes! Now I'm psyched to sit down and write this baby because I know it will ring true. My preparation made that happen.

Now, alternatively, I think a lot of us get stuck with fiction, and get stuck in a way that little can be done to get us out of it. In these instances, sometimes I try to write anyway, but that's often just really depressing because the words and pages just suck. In these instances, sometimes, I step away from the work for a bit...I never stop thinking about it, but yeah, I give myself a chance to breath, to consider new angles and new obstacles for my characters, and almost inevitably, I work through my block. Of course, there's certainly something to be said for just keeping at it: fiction is a muscle that needs to be flexed, and often times, the more you flex it, the stronger it becomes...but not always. Sometimes, you just end up straining something.

So...this season, if you're finding yourself wholly unmotivated, maybe consider the cause. Are you inadequately prepared to write knowledgeably on the subject or are you just plain stuck? And if you've found yourself in my position, please do share your tips on breaking out of it? (Online shopping is certainly a good one!) :)