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Sunday, March 24, 2013

Idea Land

Today my 5-year-old drew this picture for me on a white board:
 "They look startled because they're about to be erased," he explained.

My son is normally quite sensitive about anything dealing with finality. Deflated balloons, dead flies on a windowsill, even a withered leaf can bring tears to his eyes. So I was surprised at his matter-of-fact tone.

"Where do you think these characters will go, after they're erased?" I asked gently, bracing myself for the emotions around the corner. "Maybe back to Idea Land? Where they came from?"

Idea Land! Yes! A place where half-formed thoughts and two-dimensional characters could run around dead ends or play jump rope with tangled-up plotlines! Cast off characters -- from different chapters, even from different books -- could all meet up and hang out. Surely that's where these stick figures were going in that car -- and no doubt they'd run into countless abandoned relics from the novel I'm now revising. I let myself drift into this fantasy for a moment. The scenario appealed. Sometimes it's hard to let go. 

My son snapped me out of my reverie. "No," he said. "They get devoured."

"Devoured? By what?"

"By the eraser, of course."

I had just a moment left to snap this picture, and then these guys were gone.

I missed them. But minutes later he'd drawn a better picture.

I wished I could hit my delete button as boldly as he swiped that eraser. Sometimes I cannot simply cut -- I have to retype completely, conjuring everything up again, and not thinking about what I'm lost. I'm always happier with the result. It's the anticipation before the cuts that feels hard.

Do you cling to old ideas -- saving them in a file, printing out scrapped pages? I do this even though I may never look at those files or pages again. I like just knowing they are there. Other writers are more ruthless. 

How do you make peace with cuts when you're revising?

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Monday, March 11, 2013

Celebrating POISON (by Bridget Zinn)

Tomorrow (March 12) is the release date for Poison, a YA novel by Bridget Zinn, one of my fellow Apocalypsies (a group of debut authors from 2012).

Sadly, Bridget isn't here to see her debut novel make its way into the world. She passed away from cancer in May 2011 at the age of 33.

I'm joining other kidlit authors in honoring Bridget and her debut week by spreading the word about Poison -- a funny, romantic, and action-packed fantasy. Her family has also asked writers to blog about their own debut experience or a topic that would have been of interest to Bridget. 

I didn't know Bridget personally, outside of some exchanges on the Apocalypsies discussion forum and email threads. I do remember her upbeat spirit. I remember how she seemed way more focused on books than on cancer. I remember how she found time and energy to respond thoughtfully to group emails -- and even to vote on my author photo when I was agonizing over choices. From what I've read about Bridget since then, that was very typical of her. She was a librarian, a writer, a reader, a champion of books and writers, and totally involved in the kidlit writing community.

Because Bridget was also a librarian, I thought I'd take a moment to rave about librarians and the role they can play in a debut author's journey.

Before my book launch, I always heard so much the importance of cultivating relationships with bookstores and booksellers. That's important too. But bookstores can only host a certain amount of events each month for authors in general and for YA authors in particular. They only have so much shelf space, and your book may not always be prominently displayed, or not for as long as you'd like.

Conversely, if your book gets into a library, it's going to have a long life there. Librarians are eager to get more teens into the library and to host events; many will also permit you to hand-sell your book at such an event or they will work with a local bookstore to make sure that books are for sale.

Here are just some of the amazing things teen librarians have done for me and Tokyo Heist over the past year. They have . . .
  • Distributed bookmarks and talked up my book when visiting local schools
  • Slipped my bookmarks into related books on their shelves, to entice readers to try my book
  • Selected Tokyo Heist as a teen read for a community reading program and arranged for an author talk 
  • Chosen my novel for a parent/teen book club choice and invited me to talk at the book club
  • Advertised my library talks widely, in all kinds of events listings and other local media
  • Made beautiful flyers and posters for my events and plastered them all over towns
  • Invited me to hold writing workshops in their space -- and helped to advertise them widely
  • Reviewed my book on GoodReads and helped to spread the word among other librarians
To honor Bridget, her novel, and librarians, I'll be buying three copies of Poison this week and donating them to libraries.

Curious about Bridget's book? Here's an enticing blurb about Poison, which is getting rave reviews!

Sixteen-year-old Kyra, a highly-skilled potions master, is the only one who knows her kingdom is on the verge of destruction—which means she's the only one who can save it. Faced with no other choice, Kyra decides to do what she does best: poison the kingdom's future ruler, who also happens to be her former best friend.

But, for the first time ever, her poisoned dart…misses.

Now a fugitive instead of a hero, Kyra is caught in a game of hide-and-seek with the king's army and her potioner ex-boyfriend, Hal. At least she's not alone. She's armed with her vital potions, a too-cute pig, and Fred, the charming adventurer she can't stop thinking about. Kyra is determined to get herself a second chance (at murder), but will she be able to find and defeat the princess before Hal and the army find her?

Kyra is not your typical murderer, and she's certainly no damsel-in-distress—she's the lovable and quick-witted hero of this romantic novel that has all the right ingredients to make teen girls swoon.

Want to learn more about Bridget? Check out her website, where you can find her bio, some of her excellent writing tips, and a great video.

Want to help spread the word about Poison and celebrate Bridget's debut week? Here's a list of ways to help. There are all kinds of fun ways to participate in the "Do Something Sweet for Poison" campaign, from blogging to tweeting about #poison this week to participating in the What's Your Poison? writers' discussion online.

Thanks for taking the time to read about Bridget and her book!

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Tuesday, March 5, 2013

On the Clock

Having recently finished a draft of my novel, I thought I'd share my top three tools for getting a draft done:

1. A timer. Specifically, this one:
This is a visual timer made by a company called Time Timer. (I know, kind of a redundant name -- they needed to hire a writer to come up with a better one!) I originally bought this when my son was in preschool; it's the type of clock they used in his classroom to help kids with transitions or to help them comprehend the idea of "just five more minutes." He's since lost interest in it, so it now rests on my desk.

When I'm having trouble getting into a writing session, or feeling uninspired, I set it for 25 minutes. (Or if I'm really stuck, just five! I can do anything for five minutes). Something about seeing all the red -- and seeing the red disappear -- makes me feel "on the clock" and I use my minutes productively. Sometimes I set a goal of a certain word count in a time period. Sometimes my goal is just to keep typing until I no longer see  red. My optimal work sessions run in 25-minute writing bursts followed by a 5-minute rest. (This is a variation on the patented "pomodoro" method of time management).

You really could use any timer, even a stopwatch function on your phone, but I love this clock too because it doesn't tick or make distracting sounds, and a gentle "beepbeep" signals the end of your session. And the constant presence of this oversize clock keeps me on task.

2. Post-it notes! I use them for jotting quick notes. Things to fix in the story that aren't urgent, but are worth addressing later. Research questions to work on later. Page markers as I flip through print-outs of the manuscript. Reminders of my story goal, or a character's objective in a scene -- and I'll place the note right at the edge of my computer screen.

Here's how I sometimes use bigger sticky notes.

Yellow = a setting I'm interested in using.
Blue = a plot development. Something that happens.

I play around with these on my wall when I'm stuck, trying to match plot developments or scenes to interesting settings. This also ensures that characters roam around and don't get stuck talking in the same cafe, or a room in a house.

See the blank yellow one? There's a setting with nothing going on. See the blue one by itself? That's a scene with no setting. Mapping this out in advance helps me to plan my scenes more effectively.

3. Freedom. This is Internet blocking software. I use it in conjunction with my timer clock. I may set the timer on this for anywhere from 30 minutes to two hours, and I use it in conjunction with my desk timer. I could still check email or tweet something from my phone, but I find I tend not to. Once I'm plugged into Freedom, I feel like I've "punched in" for the work session, and I am more focused. It's sad I had to pay ten dollars for this application, when I could simply switch my wireless button to "off," but for me this really works.

For more tips on drafting -- and getting a draft done -- I've posted at Sleuths, Spies and Alibis today: "Drafting, and the Aftermath."

What are your favorite tools for getting a draft done? How do you get to "the end"?

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