Monday, March 26, 2012

Predicting the Trends in YA for 2012

The blogs are abuzz with chatter post-Bologna 2012 Children's Book Fair from agents and editors alike talking about what the upcoming trends in YA will be. The truth is, it almost seems like it's anyone's guess, which is refreshing, and feels like it evens out the playing field for all. Perhaps there is a sense that today's YA readers are diverse, and not necessarily just young adults, but like young adults, their interests can vary and change. One minute they may want a good sci-fi novel and the next, curl up with a good mystery, and then get swept up in a good romance. Good news all.

If you watch the listings on Publisher's Marketplace as of late, there seems to be a plethora of books still being bought in the paranormal, dystopian and fantasy realms. However, buzz suggests that psychological thrillers and even science fiction are of particular interest, as stated in informative articles like this one from Publisher's Weekly Online. According to William Roberts, who handles foreign rights for The Gernert Company, dystopian has become "the d-word" and paranormal "the p-word." And agent Sarah Davies tweeted from Bologna that people want melty - as in make you melt into a puddle of goo - romances. Great news for people like me who write contemporary humorous romantic YA! Is the door at last cracking open with an interest to revisit this timeless genre??

Agent Kristin Nelson blogged today on her blog "Pub Rants" that she also didn't know what the next trend was, but she heard lots of people on the plane ride over that the next hot trend could be geeks in young adult fiction, which, of course, would be amazing. I mean, hello? My book is called BAND GEEK? Does it get geekier than that? And there's romance! Did I mention the romance?

On the other side of the fence, as an avid reader and lover of YA, I am excited that my reading choices will be broader. And as a writer, it reinforces in me more than ever the importance of writing what I love to read, because trends constantly change, and eventually what I write may have it's moment to be the flavor-of-the-month. Because I write contemporary romantic YA, it's timeless, and there are always teenagers looking to swoon and fall in love, even if it does not involve vampires, werewolves or zombies.

There's never been a more exciting time to write young adult. Even best-selling adult novelists like Phillippa Gregory and Jodi Picoult, to name a few, are diving in, according to USA Today.

So don't give up because you're feeling discouraged that what you write isn't what is "in demand." Right now, everything is wide open, and what is selling, at the end of the day, is quality writing. The stories that make you curl your toes, stay up late and keep turning the pages. A solid story with memorable characters, a strong voice, and a unique take on events stands out regardless of genre. Remember who you are writing for - yourself and your audience - NOT agents and editors. Write the story you want to tell, and believe that the reader will appear.




Saturday, March 17, 2012

Writing Against The Tide

Have you ever gone swimming in the ocean and no matter how hard you paddle, trying to make progress in one direction, the current pushes you in another? Sometimes you need to wait for just that right moment to move forward and make progress in the direction you want to go because if you fight the current, you will exhaust yourself. Life is like that, and therefore it is essential to bring threads of that, always, to our writing.

One of the worst things we can do when writing our stories is have them be static and predictable, where things happen "to" the characters, rather than them being participants in their realities, and they do nothing to resist. Nothing to fight the tide, to stay on their chosen course, to wait for their moment to break free from the current and go forward. Think of your characters like waves in the ocean - powerful forces that are moving forward with intent. The current dictates the direction the waves will take, and the current can rapidly change. This is what adds the depth and meat to our stories - the obstacles, the conflicts, the forks in the road. And those lulls between the waves where the water is calm? The moments where our characters must summon their courage, find their inner strength, plot their course to overcome the current and get what they want. And the ultimate crashing of the waves on the shore? The moment where it all climaxes and comes together in a powerful way.

So essentially, our characters should always be swimming against the tide. That makes for great pacing, edge of your seat excitement and compelling drama. Because anything else is just treading water, really, and that just gets tiring. Nothing happens.

In life, circumstances constantly happen that are beyond our control. Friends move away. Jobs are lost. Parents die. Kids get married and start lives of their own. Relationships end. But rarely do these things happen to us in life that we do not display extreme emotion in the face of such change, and wage some level of fight to resist the change on whatever levels we can, whether it be something physical and tangible or simply denial of the truth of the new reality. Make sure your characters and stories hold this to be so as well, because that's what's real.

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Being On Submission (i.e. Waiting for the Rain)

Do you know that moment just before a big rainstorm, when the clouds are pregnant with rain and you can feel the heaviness in the air, but not a single drop of water has broken free? That anticipation, that knowing, that feeling that something is about to shift and change and suddenly the quiet stillness will give birth to something new? That's what it feels like to be on submission.

I wanted to blog about it because it's an important piece of the writing journey, one every writer certainly aspires to. I am blessed to have found such an amazing agent, and even more blessed that he has a really good eye for knowing what editors might really connect to this story. And so here I am, at the next rest stop, once again waiting, having faith, making prayers, and trying to quell the butterflies that are perpetually dancing in my stomach.

You see, the waiting game does not end when you get an agent. Far from it. Though that process alone can take anywhere from several weeks to several years, once you obtain representation, you may have to perform rewrites before your book gets sent out. And then, if it gets sent out to a few editors and they like it but have a few concerns and are kind enough to detail them, you may have to revise yet again to address those concerns in the hopes that they will be willing to revisit it. This part alone can take months.

Once an editor receives your book, if they like it, generally they have to take it to whomever is above them and win their approval too, and then ultimately, the book would move on to acquisitions, where that team also has to fall in love with it and stand behind it. Again, this process too can take anywhere from weeks to months.

There are far more agents than there are editors, so when you go out on submission you are going to a much smaller pool of people. This is quite daunting, because you only have so many chances for someone to fall in love with your work before you might need to put it aside. The good news is that editors do change houses, so what you are forced to put aside now may indeed be saleable somewhere down the line to fresh eyes, but ideally, we all want to sell our book NOW, right?

So right now I'm sitting here, waiting for the rain. My sky is absolutely pregnant with possibility, and I have no doubt the rain will come. The question is when, and what force will this storm bring? It's an exciting moment to be sitting this close to the threshold of seeing a lifetime dream become reality. There's something magical in soaking up the palpable essence of the moment that potentially divides those two things.

Friday, March 9, 2012

Balancing Eggs (a.k.a. the Art of Keeping it Zen)

Have you ever tried to balance an egg on a spoon while walking? No, not recently? It's quite difficult, actually, because the faster you move, the more that egg wants to wobble and fall off the spoon and go kersplat. Lately, I feel kinda like that egg. Cracked and scrambled.

You see, a writing life is all about the art of keeping in balance. When I am fully immersed in writing, whether it be that I'm facing a deadline or I just have chunks of story that I must download from my brain, other stuff suffers. Dishes build up in the sink. Laundry forms small mountain ranges and I start to hear calls from upstairs like, "Mom, how come I have no clean jeans?" and "Where are all my socks?" To-do lists are formed but nothing gets checked off. Groceries dwindle and meal options become the stuff in the back of the freezer or take-out. And when I shift the focus to straightening up the house so the Board of Health doesn't come a-knockin', the writing suffers. I resent spending the day in my car running errands and scrubbing counters and having whole days, sometimes weeks, away from my writing attending to the minutiae of life. Yes, it all has to get done too, but I always feel like I've wasted my precious writing time when everyone is out of the house on the mundane instead of using it to work. And then, of course, there's family and friends. There's nothing more important than that, and I never want to shortchange anyone there from getting what they need either.

And even when I am writing, there's a fine balance in time management between doing the research I need to do, reading books and watching movies that are similar to what I'm writing, both to see what people are doing well with the idea and to make sure not to duplicate content, and actually writing. On top of that is attending workshops and seminars, which, of course take time away from all of that, and sometimes leave me feeling selfish for stealing 48 hours for myself to hone my craft.

So how do you balance it all? Some days, I can't. But for the most part, I try and create a schedule I can live with. I commit to a writing week of Monday thru Thursday from 8:30-2. I allow myself Friday as my designated day to do errands or meet up with friends or family, or make doctor's appointments, etc. Then I won't feel guilty as I have already written for four days. If I have nothing that needs doing, I will give myself the treat of writing on Friday as well. I commit to stop writing once my kids walk in the door so that I can be fully present for my family from that point on. While my daughter does her evening reading for school, I often curl up on the couch and read along with her and treat that as my reading time. I try and keep weekends as family time whenever possible, but if it plays out that everyone is caught up in their own projects, this is when I will critique other friends' work, do some research, or maybe a little more reading. And if there's ever a day where the words just won't flow, I try and channel it into a research day so at least I feel like I did something in service of my writing.

And some days, that all falls apart. I'm human.

Like anything, unless we keep things in equal measure and moderation, an excess of anything is unhealthy. Tipping the scale in favor of any one of those things means something else will inevitably suffer. Obviously, family is the priority first and foremost, but my family is also incredibly supportive of what I do and knows that sometimes I need to take time away from "our time" to do my work.

Don't beat yourself up if you're having a rough time keeping all the balls in the air. Start by making a list of what you want to achieve, then create a reasonable schedule for yourself to allow time to get a little done each day. A little is better than none, right? And eventually this schedule will become your "routine" and you will find yourself maximizing your productivity. If you feel like your egg is tipping off the spoon, try and see where you are giving more energy. Unless it's family, or unless it's deadline driven, allow yourself to take it down a notch. So turn yourself from a fried egg into a sunny-side up one! Yuk yuk! (Or should I say yolk yolk!) Oh my GOD that was such a bad joke, but I kinda left myself wide open, didn't I?

Okay, go change that load of laundry before you type that next chapter!!


Monday, March 5, 2012

How "Save The Cat" Just Might Revolutionize This Writer Girl's Life

I just came back from a weekend writing workshop with the amazing Jessica Brody learning about a fabulous writing method based on Blake Snyder's screenwriting book "Save The Cat". Jessica offered an insightful, fun weekend showing myself and five other fantastic authors how to apply this easy technique to novels and make foolproof, tight stories that hit the marks every time. It also helped provide a window into understanding why some stories work so incredibly well when you can break them down and analyze them using this method.

"Save The Cat" essentially relies on a 15-beat structure, which means that within the framework of each story, there are certain story elements that must happen at certain times. The page count these points can fall on varies within each story, but it gives the writer a general idea if they are on track with their pacing and including all the necessary ingredients to keep the reader intrigued. Chances are, if your story is missing "something", if you plug it into the beats you will find out not only what it is but where it needs to go. Incredible, right?

Though some might argue that essentially this makes the story feel "formulaic", I would have to disagree. It just follows the rule of thumb that you must have a hero who wants something (a goal), a conflict (a person, place, or thing standing in the her's way of achieving that goal. Very often this can be the hero themselves and their flaws or the lesson they have yet to learn but are not yet willing to accept and see), a moment of truth and a finale, where the hero has accepted his fate/learned his lesson, etc. and has changed from who he was at the beginning of the story, hopefully for the better.

Additionally, we explored the idea of making a "board" and using notecards to represent each scene to help map out the story, and learned to polish our loglines. At the end of the second day, I had my next novel completely plotted out and it's logline written. Now all I need to do is sit down and write it, but I can't imagine it won't be soooooo much easier to do than other things I've written because I completely have a roadmap.

I'll admit it, I do things kind of ass-backwards when it comes to writing. I'm not a planner, or an outliner; I just sit down and start typing. That's why, very often, my work will have multiple drafts, because I can always count on the first being more of a giant stream-of-consciousness, and in the second draft I go through and tighten and tweak, and continue for as many drafts as needed until it feels ready. This much structure is very new to me, and as much as I'm not big on change . . . I love it. I now can't imagine sitting down to write without doing this first. In fact, it doesn't even make sense NOT to! I've eliminated a ton of head scratching and writer's block before I've ever even typed Chapter One, not to mention all the calories saved from cupcakes eaten in frustration.

So writer to writer, I can't recommend enough that you check out this book and see if it helps jumpstart your writing in a different way, and better yet, sign up for a course if one is offered in your area. Nothing can compare to actually sitting with a group of other writers and workshopping something and seeing it all come together. The excitement is contagious.

Have any of you used this method? What are your thoughts on it?

Friday, March 2, 2012

Happy Accidents

So . . .hello there :) It's been a while since my last post, and I apologize. In the middle of my perfect plan to finish up my latest book and drive it straight to the finish line, life did not disappoint in providing me with alternate plans, as it often does.

First, my aunt passed away and I found myself on a plane to NYC with my parents to help take care of her affairs. Then, I came home and shifted gears, diving into a revision of BAND GEEK to address some concerns and plug some holes and make it sparkly and shiny, then keep my fingers, eyes and toes crossed as my amazing agent decided where we should send it, who would be the best fit, and delivered it out into the world. As if this wasn't enough, I was diagnosed with a gastric ulcer from taking Advil and washing it down, on an empty stomach, with more or less an entire pot of coffee. Go figure that that's contra-indicated. Who knew? So now I can't drink coffee or eat pretty much anything I normally eat for the next two months.

Right about now you're probably saying, "Wow. That sucks. I feel for you, but . . . why are you telling me all this?"

I do have a point, actually.

When writing our stories, we often have an idea of what we want that main character's journey to be, but just as in life, we must be open to the idea that life is ever-changing, and one small change can cause a ripple effect that changes up everything. Keep an open mind as you write and constantly look at scenarios and think about how they would play out and affect your story if there were just one minor detail that changed. Will it raise the stakes? Would it give the character more depth? Think of a concept like someone leaving the house to go to work, and they are no sooner down the driveway than they realize they forgot their jacket, and the amount of time it takes to make that happen saves them from being in a major accident. Instead it happens to the car in front of them, and they walk away unscratched. Phew! But what if it was slightly different? They blew it off and decided - forget it, I'm already late, I'll just be cold and deal - and now they ARE in the major accident. Are they injured or do they still walk away mysteriously unscratched? How does this make your story potentially more interesting and three-dimensional? The possibilities are limitless.

Life is about change, some seen and some unforeseen. To be authentic and real in our stories, our characters must experience that as well. Their lives cannot just be linear and one-dimensional, because, frankly, that's kinda boring. It's the unexpected, it's the moments that test one's character, courage, resolve and focus that shape who we are and what we become. If a series of events just happen to your character, you risk predictability and the story being flat. Things should come out of left field just as they do in life, and where the reader can root for the character and become invested in them is how they handle these obstacles that are thrown in the path of their journey.

Every character must have something they want, and there must be obstacles that stand in the way of getting it. This can take the form of a person, or a series of events, but here is where you find your stakes, where you learn what your character is made of, and where the reader starts to cheer your hero on. After something happens that's unexpected, it takes a while to re-hone your focus and get back on track. That's real. Make sure that is reflected in the way your hero handles things too. Life is not like a video game, where you just beat the boss and level up. For every action, there are repercussions, consequences, thoughts and feelings. This is your unique opportunity as a writer to tap into those 'universal truths' and make your character relateable. You may never have had to give up coffee (and it totally bites, trust me!), but you can relate to the idea that giving up something you enjoy, or rely on, whether that be a person or a thing, brings an inherent struggle.

So as frustrating as they are, embrace those happy accidents life delivers to remind you how to keep your writing exciting. Don't keep things predictable - your work will turn into a Hallmark card. Life doesn't always tie up the ends neatly, and what keep your work interesting is when you don't either. Keep the reader, and your character, on the edge of their seat, and see if you make one reality tweak if it brings you closer to your real story. Good luck and happy writing!!