Friday, September 28, 2012

Wrap Up: I Miss Boston Edition

This picture of a very lovely tree in New England was taken at the start of my senior year of college, 5 years and six days ago, which, more than anything, just makes me feel OLD. But the second thing it makes me feel is a deep longing to return to Boston. Boston just does fall right. Cider in every store, window displays full of big, bright, warm sweaters, and the leaves, people, the leaves!

I know it's all trickery, designed to keep New Englanders happy and complacent and saying things like "This really is the greatest place to live! Why don't more people move out here?" before, you know, this happens. But every year, I fall for it...

Let's get to this week's posts!:

J.K. Rowling's first book since Harry Potter, The Casual Vacancy, hit bookstores this week, which meant the usually-private author has been doing a swath of interviews. Here are some of my favorites, from The Guardian, The New Yorker, and the BBC.

K.M. Weiland talks about endings and beginnings and how to structure your story so that they connect with each other. She also discusses the pros and cons of multiple POVs.

Flavorwire counts down the 10 scariest ghosts in literature 

From Galleycat, publishers Carolrhoda Books and Poisoned Pen Press are seeking YA manuscripts. They also take a closer look at Google's outreach to writers and readers

At PubCrawl, Susan Dennard talks about micro and macro in Show-don't-Tell

From Tor, little known facts about The Princess Bride on its 25th anniversary 

Next week kicks off Banned Book Week! The bloggers at YA Confidential post a discussion about banning books, why it happens, and what authors (and readers) can do about it

One more thing

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

The Trouble with Trilogies

Out of the 37 38 YA books I’ve read this year, 25 have been a part of series*. Of those 25, 24 are trilogies and the last one is a trilogy with a prequel (the Maze Runner stories).

Let me throw out some more of my reading stats:
-          16 books were first in the series
-          5 were second
-          3 were third
-          1 was a prequel

Notice anything there?**

Trilogies (and series) are popular in YA. The biggest YA books—Twilight, The Hunger Games, Divergent, Harry Potter—are all series, and unlike middle grade series, which tend to tell similar, unconnected stories, these YA series typically tell one large story over several books.

But there’s a sense that readers and editors are growing tired of trilogies (you could make a writers conference drinking game every time someone says “trilogy fatigue”), and, the more of these things that I read, the more I start seeing similar problems and pitfalls.

I actually enjoy trilogies, at least the way they’re meant to be, with three individual stories that push forward some bigger narrative. But that is incredibly tricky to pull off. Too contained a story and there’s not a huge impetus to pick up the next one; too many loose ends and the story is incomplete and unsatisfying.

Trilogies also need to be well planned and thought out. Although it’s natural that characters and storylines might deviate from the original idea, big swings in characters from one book to the next are frustrating to the reader. These changes imply that the author didn’t fully understand the character and had to abruptly alter them to fit their purposes in the next book (which also implies they didn’t know what the next book would bring). Even if these big changes were supposedly planned, readers can feel tricked or cheated, and this threatens reader trust.

Then you get to the Lost problem of trilogies: tantalizing clues with no resolution. Not to get in a huge Lost debate, but I call bullshit on the series creators’ claim that they planned the whole thing out. A loose plan? Sure. But the problem with Lost is that by saying that, and promising to answer all the questions, they established a huge trust with their audience. But ultimately, they left a lot of loose ends and a lot of the cool, mysterious junk that seemed to have a purpose turned out to be just a distraction. They broke that trust, and people are (still) pissed. There’s a lesson there, which is to know where you’re going and where you’re taking the reader. If you ask the reader to invest a lot of thought into something, they will, but there has to be payoff or the next time you need the reader to care, they will wonder why they should bother (I’m looking at you, damn perspicacious loris).

As a relatively new writer, I’ve decided that I’m not ready to write a trilogy yet. Trilogies seem easy—you can leave unanswered questions! you have three books to figure out your story!—but they require so much planning and forethought to get right. Trilogies need to be mapped out from the beginning, at least loosely, but for new writers, that much detail can be daunting.

There are practical considerations as well. New writers who spend years laboring over their first book must then turn around a similar second book in a much shorter amount of time—and the writing and story can suffer. A trilogy is a big time investment as well, several years at least, and should reader interest not be strong (or your own interest wane), you’re essentially stuck.

And for new writers, still getting a sense of what and how they write, the consistency necessary within a trilogy can be limiting. Beginning writers should be trying as many different styles and genres as possible, pushing themselves to find what they write best, but a trilogy forces them inside a single genre. Even eliminating the genre problem, new writers will see their prose and style develop the more they write, and it can be difficult and hobbling to stylistically match earlier work.

Finally, the reader in me celebrates standalone novels. After so many “To be continued”s, there is something incredibly satisfying in reading a full, complete story. And while some of the most commercially popular books are series, some of the most critically popular are standalones: I’m talking The Fault in Our Stars, Where Things Come Back, Inside out and Back Again, Between Shades of Gray. Standalones have their own issues, of course, and they’re poorly suited to the kinds of stories that have filled bookshelves lately (dystopian epics). But I’m happy to see more readers and editors asking for the kinds of stories—contemporary issues, historical fiction, realistic fiction—that demands a more contained story.

What do you think? As a reader, are you also getting frustrated with trilogies? If you're a writer, do you write series or standalones?

*I didn’t include companion novels, like Lola and the Boy Next Door and Bitterblue
**Arguably, the stats don’t completely represent my interest in series, because a lot of the first-series books I read haven’t published their second or third books, or I haven’t gotten around to reading them yet. But I can say with absolute certainty that I won’t continue on with at least 6 of the 16, just due to interest, and only 3 of them have me really excited.

Monday, September 24, 2012

Writing Spaces: Fit for a Hobbit

I'm a bit late for Tolkien Day, but I would be remiss if I didn't do something to mark the occasion. Last year, I featured J.R.R. Tolkien's own desk and office, so this year, in honor of The Hobbit* hitting theaters, I decided to spotlight those jolly, food-loving, underground-dwelling souls, the hobbits.

We only get a brief glimpse of Frodo's desk in The Lord of the Rings movies,
but it's easy to see that it's comfy, warm, and well-lit, with a great writing desk and a cozy fireplace.
Otherwise known as: every writer's dream office.

Here's another look at Frodo/Bilbo's desk, along with the book that supposedly grew into The Lord of the Rings. As expected, cluttered with doodles, bits of detritus, and (probably) hobbit-style Post It notes

These offices are so lovely that it's not at all surprising to me that people would want to replicate them. Like this office, which belongs to (I'm not kidding) Jane Fonda. Jane purposely built this hobbit-style window for her office when she redecorated her ranch.

And for the diehard hobbit fan, there's this home, built by architects Archer and Buchanan for a fan in Wales.

Of course, there is no greater fan than the man who brought The Lord of the Rings to life: Peter Jackson. Every time I see him relaxing in the world he's built, a look of such peacefulness and satisfaction comes over him, only to be quickly replaced by the realization that this is a set and not, actually, real life. Makes me want to give him a hug and dig him a hobbit hole of his own...

*I'm most looking forward to seeing Thranduil, Legolas's dwarf-racist party dad

Friday, September 21, 2012

Wrap Up: Slipper Season Edition

Well. It's the last day of summer (side note: when did it get to be September 21?), and while I would have liked to celebrate with a cute sun dress and flip flops, a glance outside my window shows that Chicago has decided to celebrate with cold breezes and some light rain. So, in lieu of flip flops, I'm wearing my wonderful LL Bean slippers.

Not to shill for LL Bean or anything, but they are pretty much actually the greatest slippers ever. They are so wonderful that every person in my family owns their own pair (we finally convinced the husband last Christmas). They are wonderful and will likely stay on my feet for the next eight-ten months.

Let's check out this week's blogs! This was a big week in publishing behind-the-scenes:

Carolee Dean looks at the making of the book trailer for her new novel, Forget Me Not

Stacey Wallace Benefiel talks about how she created her own audiobook for her novel, Glimpse

From Suzie Townsend, Disney*Hyperion breaks down the process of designing the cover for Dan Krokos' False Memory. They're also holding an open contest for a cover redesign!

Elsewhere on the blogs, Susan Dennard has a lovely essay on the people who inspired her to read

I want pretty much all of these: fourteen redesigned pens and pencils

Write horror? Amy Lukavics points out some tips and common pitfalls when it comes to the killer ending

Lee & Low Books, a childrens book publisher that specializes in diversity, is offering a new award for nonpublished authors of color. In addition to a $1000 grant, the winning author will be given a publication contract. Deadline for manuscripts is October 30, and for more information, check out their website

Lit agent Kathleen Ortiz explains foreign rights, how writers (and agents) sell them and what they mean

Rachelle Gardner discusses the name change from "traditional publishers" to "full-service publishers" in the wake of the self-pub boom
From Galleycat, a new website called Docutoss allows you to post your novel, essay, screenplay, whatever and get comments, advice, and edits from visitors

Vanessa Di Gregorio puts together a list of upcoming book-to-movie adaptations (The Hobbit!!!)

J.R. Parsons writes over at Rachelle Gardner's blog about how to learn from, but not mimic, classic authors

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Between Books or, What I Hate the Most

Right now I am “between books,” meaning I have one manuscript that is off in beta-reader-land but I haven’t yet started my next project.

I hate this.

I know that it’s a necessary part of writing, this gap of time between books, and it’s good to have your brain relax and take in ideas and make the intellectual shift from one project to the next.

But I still hate it.

Usually I get to my desk with a defined To Do list: chapters to write, endings to tweak, edits to include. Right now my To Do list says “Think about next project.” Ugh.

Unlike my last in-between phase, I actually have an idea for my next project. And it’s fun and it’s exciting and I’m really looking forward to it. But I have always enjoyed being in the middle of things rather than starting. I love the slog, the patient and methodical work. The beginning? When I have to actually, like, make decisions about things? Not so much.

So, it’s frustrating. There have been a lot of let’s bake a pie! days. Or, that manicure style looks cool days. Or, you know, I haven’t watched Game of Thrones in a while days. But I can only do stuff like that for a few hours before I go crazy, and there is nothing worse than the husband coming home and asking how my day was and me just shrugging :/.

I know that once I get all my edits,* I can move my current project along and really focus on the next one. I know once I start on the next one, momentum will take over and I’ll be back to writing all day and feeling happy as a clam. I know that this in-between period will slowly but surely get less frustrating and less draining and then I won’t have to worry about it again for another eight months, give or take.

But, damn. Until that happens? I hate this.

*Dear wonderful beta readers: if you read this, please know it is not a passive-aggressive plea to edit faster but my neurosis manifesting itself in an unhealthy way. Take your time!

Monday, September 17, 2012

Cybils Love

I am beYOND thrilled to announce that I'll be judging YA Fiction for the Cybils this year! Last year, I enjoyed following the Cybils discussions (and oohing and aahing over the winners, of course), and I'm incredibly humbled (also: minorly terrified) to be a part of things this year.

This means I'll be reading more, talking more about books, and may very well have a nervous breakdown come judging time (wheeee!).

You can check out my fellow judges here, and keep reading the Cybils blog for more info on nominating your favorites!

Writing Spaces: Presidents Do it Best

A few weeks ago the husband and I were in Charlottesville with family when we decided to take a day and check out beautiful Monticello, otherwise known as the home of our esteemed third president, Thomas Jefferson.

It was, as advertised, quite beautiful, and I enjoyed walking through the house and learning all about the little, practical inventions Jefferson had installed (like a weather vane that could display which way the wind was blowing in three different rooms of the house or a special wine elevator from the cellar to the dining room).

But when we checked out Jefferson's office, I heard a gasp.

"That's what I want my desk to look like!" It was the husband, speaking with the kind of rapture usually reserved for tween girls.

"A foot rest!" he said, clearly impressed. "Leather seat? Woah, are those candles stuck to the armrests?!"

We stayed behind for so long, him oooohing and aaaahing, me making sure he didn't hop the divider and plant his butt right in American history, that the tour guide actually had to come back to find and hustle us on to the next room.

But it didn't matter. The husband was in love.

To be fair, it's a pretty nice office, and, like the rest of the house, nicely personalized with some of Jefferson's inventions, including this very cool portable sloped lap desk (this one's a replica from Woodbender).

Or his fancy copying machine, which would automatically copy whatever he was writing onto a separate sheet of paper (he saved copies of all his letters).

But despite the husband's wondering if we could get a desk like Jefferson's into our little apartment (not unless Ikea breaks out their "presidential line"), I figured pictures would be the closest he'd get to experiencing Jefferson's office.

So guess who was super excited to go down to the children's exhibit and discover a life-size replica of The Desk?

Yeah, that's right. He was so thrilled! He pretty much sat down and didn't move for the next ten minutes, continually muttering "This is so awesome..." while our three-year-old nephew asked if he could sit down in Jefferson's chair. "One sec, buddy!"

He was extremely disappointed, however, that the replica replicator machine failed to work as advertised.

But man, he loved that desk.

Please note, this was after we had already spent all day at the museum but before the husband and his brother discovered a giant pile of wooden blocks at the kids activity table and decided to build a miniature version of Monticello. While the eight-month-old snoozed in my sister-in-laws arms and the three-year-old asked over and over if we could leave, the two of them stacked those blocks with the intensity and flair of Le Corbusier.

My favorite moment of the day:
Kids Museum Curator, wandering over to check them out: Oh wow, that's really nice.
Husband: It's supposed to be Monticello!
Curator (with patience): Yes, it looks very accurate! (long, long pause) So... Did either of you come here with kids?

Last weekend, out of the blue, the husband said, "Are you going to do a post about Thomas Jefferson's office? You should do a post about Thomas Jefferson's office!"

Here you go.

I guess I know what I'm getting him for Christmas...

Friday, September 14, 2012

Wrap Up: Ready for Fall

Ooooh, fall. How I missed you! A few weeks ago the husband and I were with family in Virginia when we stumbled on this wonderful apple farm at the top of one of the biggest mountains in Charlottesville. The sign made pretty good on its promises: lots of apples, lots of cider (in donuts! in slushies!), and lots to look at, scenically.

Crisp air, apple cider, pink cheeks...sigh...

After the summer hiatus, I'm ready to jump back into the weekly blog wrap up! For you new visitors, every Friday I post a list of the funniest, best, most interesting blog posts I discovered over the past week. If there's anything you found that I missed, I'd love for you to share in the comments!

Julie Eshbaugh at Pub Crawl gives some tips and tricks on how to chart your story's rising action to see clearly where parts in your manuscript might need to slow down or speed up. Leigh Bardugo discusses how authors use music to inspire or set the pace of their novels (for me, it was basically the Decemberists, always, over and over and over). And Jay Kristoff gives his perspective on the challenges and perks of working with two editors at once.

Mediabistro's Galleycat blog had some wonderful posts this week. My favorites were the list of librarian rules for reading from 1937 and the top-fifteen most-nostalgia-inducing books (warning: you may be tempted to camp out in the children's section of the library after reading).

HarperCollins' science fiction and fantasy imprint, Harper Voyager, will accept unsolicited manuscripts from October 1 to October 14

Over at Cupid's Literary Connection, there's a fun contest/auction going on. 100 writers have submitted their queries and the top forty will be open to agent requests. It's worth checking out just for the sheer number of different (and great) queries! Also, until midnight tonight, Cupid is running an auction with prizes including query critiques and phone calls with top agents--looks amazing!

Scott Westerfeld republished an essay (from 2010) about the appeal of dystopias for teens (who, when you think about it, live in a world where they often can't eat, wear, or do what they want)

Publishers Weekly's PWxyz blog lists 9 unpublished manuscripts from famous authors

Just a whole lot of ugh: agent Pam van Hylckama was allegedly attacked by a disgruntled writer who she rejected. I don't know what's worse, this or that agents regularly get hate mail and death threats just for doing their job

Starting with a great post by Hilary T. Smith on the intimacy and appeal of bookshelves, the folks at YA Highway shared photos of their bookshelves, with some more great reader photos in the comments

Janet Reid brings you the perils of pride (and following your boss's example)

Divergent fans rejoice! Veronica Roth updates us on the long-awaited, much-anticipated Divergent movie