Friday, November 30, 2012

A Guide to Securing the Perfect Writing Spot



I always find it interesting to learn where writers actually do their writing. There are the usual suspects—coffee shops, group writing spaces, home offices, local parks—most of which I’ve used at one point or another. (There’s one coffee shop in particular where I should probably be paying rent by now.) But there are also the not-so-traditional spots. For me, these are the gold mine. I find that writing in unorthodox venues helps stir up more inspiration than if I were sitting at my desk. So I’ve devised this handy, four-question quiz to help you secure a bizarre writing spot of your very own! But BEWARE: strange looks may result.

1. If you could have any caffeinated beverage in the world, what would it be?
For me this is the vanilla chai latte—the sugary, powdery kind, not the healthy tea kind. I find that, first thing in the morning, the best place for me to write is anywhere that serves my vanilla chai. It motivates me to get out of the house, and the rush of sugar and caffeine jump-starts my brain. So if mornings are your writing time, I recommend developing a desperate craving for your favorite beverage and then hunting it down, no matter where it takes you. It might be a coffee shop; it might be a bagel shop; it might even be 30th Street Train Station in Philadelphia. (Their chai is top-notch.) Don’t be afraid to go back for seconds, either. On some mornings, one chai is just not enough.

2. Do you enjoy a nice, hot shower?
It’s true: I’ve been known to write in the shower. And not just in condensation on the door, either. There are actual products meant for this! I use this one: AquaNotes. Apparently, it’s a known fact (or at least a hypothesized fact) that steam and hot water help jog your brain. There is a slight health risk attached to this, however. If you get really caught up in what you’re writing, you might eventually step out of the shower to discover you’ve turned into a prune. But sometimes a little sacrifice is worth it. As the AquaNotes brand says: No more great ideas down the drain!

3. What’s your favorite activity?
I love to walk. My mom doesn’t have her license, so I grew up walking everywhere. Now, I live in New York City, where everyone walks everywhere. But it wasn’t until recently that I discovered I could do two of my favorite things at the same time: walk AND write. That’s right: I write on the notepad app on my phone while strolling around my neighborhood. There are definitely downsides. You might step in a pile of something unappealing. (Done it.) You could nearly get tangled up in a dog walker’s swarm of leashes. (Done it.)  And you will definitely get annoyed looks from people who think you’re a frantic text messager. (ALL THE TIME.) But who cares? I get so much more done when I’m writing and walking—and I get to go on great, long walks.  
(Note: I would not recommend this if your favorite activity is bike riding. Or horseback riding. Or motorcycle riding. Any kind of riding, in fact.)

4. How do you commute?
I get some of my best writing done on public transportation. Subway, train, bus, plane, you name it. I find it’s the perfect time to write. You’re stuck there, for one, with nothing to do and a desperate need to distract yourself from the strange smell lifting off that discarded sandwich on the floor… I’m constantly getting sections of chapters written on the subway or the train. It makes me wonder how I ever survived without the notepad app on my phone.

Hopefully this quiz has given you an idea for your perfect, bizarre writing spot—one that will earn you plenty of strange looks of your own. Don’t worry: soon enough, you won’t even notice them.


 
Jacqueline Green's debut YA novel, TRUTH OR DARE, is the first in a thriller series. It comes out in May of 2013 from Little, Brown. She also has a middle grade novel, THE DARING ESCAPE OF THE MISFIT MENAGERIE, under the name Jacqueline Resnick, which comes out on December 6th (six days!!!). You can learn more at www.jacquelinewrites.com, or follow her on twitter at @jacqwrites.



Thursday, November 29, 2012

How to ignore the Type-A Timeline (i.e. Making writing less of a goal and more of a life)

(I've come back and revised this post -- I apologize for the original format! For some reason, my laptop really doesn't like Blogger. :) )

When I was sixteen, I had a filing cabinet. It was a squat, two-drawer model in an ugly greying-chocolate color. I spray painted it with something meant to make it look like granite, but it actually made it look more like driveway gravel. No matter. The drawers worked. I had files of mementos and poems I’d written, brochures and pictures from trips. Unlike today’s files of “2011 Taxes” and “Kelly-Medical”, my files were named things like “Far Behind – A play about AIDS” or “Sophomore Year Poems.” I’d been writing forever, but high school was when I made it a job.

I’ve been this way – the kind of person who organizes everything, the kind of person who makes lists and tics the boxes – for almost two decades. It’s what I know. Often times, it serves me well. In my teaching life, I’ve managed to figure out the system that works for me in terms of grading and preparation. I’m able to create meaningful lessons and I’m able to keep up with a fairly accelerated pace of grading, all the while not taking home work on the weekends more than once or twice a semester.

It’s also a method that I use more loosely in my home life by following recipes and making grocery lists or lists of chores to get done. With these lists, though, I’m much more lax than I am in my professional life. If I find something at the grocery store that isn’t on the list, I might buy it just because I want it. If I don’t get all my chores done in one day, or even all my grading done in one afternoon, then it rolls on over to the next day – or even longer.

I’m also a list-maker in terms of my writing, both in terms of the act of creation and composition as well as the mile-markers I see as evidence of my success. I work better with a deadline. I like having an end in sight. And, for the most part, this has worked for me. When I was writing my first book, I wanted to be done in a month. I was. I then moved on to working on finding an agent. Within six months, I had representation. But, after that – well, my goal setting hasn’t really served me well. I mean, I still do it – it’s so ingrained in my psyche that it’s just who I am and how I function.

However, I’ve had to come to a few conclusions about the way I work and write and how to negotiate that with publishing:

1. Publishing’s timeline and my timeline are very, very different.

2. Unlike me, publishing doesn’t get impatient.

3. Unlike me, publishing isn’t holding its breath until it gets an email from my agent, editor, or anyone remotely related to my writing career.

4. Publishing doesn’t really care about me.

Which is not to say that my agent or editor or publishing house do not care about me – I have concrete proof to the contrary, in fact. My agent, Hannah, and editor at Walker, Mary Kate, are my biggest cheerleaders, next to my mom, my husband, and my four year old son. But none of those people, no matter how much they love me or how much they want me to succeed, can change the way publishing works. It works how it works, which is to say SLOWLY.

I’ve always felt in control of my own destiny and I’ve never understood people who don’t subscribe to that theory. Only you can change your life. Only you can make things happen. And that is true – to an extent. But when it comes to being a writer, sometimes it’s just out of your hands. In fact, anything that isn’t the actual writing itself is mostly likely controlled by another source or person. Which makes goal setting in the publishing world – at least in terms of time frame – a lot like setting up a unicorn farm: possible, exciting, but not necessarily gratifying or real.

Many people would consider my timeline in terms of publishing fairly short. I wrote my first MS in October/November of 2008 and my first book (a different MS) is being published this spring. That’s about 4 ½ years from concept to actualization and, in publishing, that’s not a long time at all. I should be grateful. I AM grateful. But there are days when I’m waiting for word on something or times when I just want to write all day long (i.e. wish I could quit my job and sit in a cabin, subsidized by my lucrative and fictional writing career.)

Those times make me frustrated. I still have goals in terms of writing. My one, ultimate goal, is to get to a point over the next five years where I can teach part time (half the year) and spend the other half writing. Putting a five year timeline on that feels like an eternity, but I know better than I did four years ago. I know that my goals can’t be self-actualized when it comes to actual money, and unfortunately, my family needs that to live. I don’t want to be rich – I just want to make enough money that splitting my salary in half wouldn’t force us to foreclose on our house.

So, now what? What do I do instead? What goals do I set?

I was reading one of my favorite Barbara Kingsolver books, Animal , Vegetable, Miracle, the other day and she mentioned the time she found a shortcut driving home. She was so impressed with her own accomplishment and the fact that she saved 37 minutes of driving, but her grandfather was less than thrilled. “Congratulations,” he said, “you’ve just spent 15 minutes telling the story of your amazing shortcut. What are you going to do with the other 22?”

The idea of this stopped me up short. The time I have now, the time I’m theoretically twiddling my thumbs and banging my head against the wall waiting for the world to make my dreams come true, is best spent in two ways – loving more and writing more. I’m spending the time with my family to make up for the future weekends and evenings when they won’t get more than a “hello” from me. I’m canning and cooking like mad so that the homemade meals I’m making now will be remembered on the days of Chinese takeout. I’m hiking with my son. I’m eating on the deck with my husband. I’m spending lots of afternoons in my parents’ backyard. I can do this right now. I need to appreciate that. I’ll be able to do it later, too, but right now I don’t have to feel guilty about shirking any kind of responsibility.

As for writing more – well, I’m doing that, too. But, I’m actually doing more of what I like to call research, which is reading. I’m reading so much – YA, of course, but lots of cooking books and nonfiction. I’m learning more about things that interest me. I’m spending quiet moments thinking about my process before I actually move forward with hands to the keyboard. I’m taking my time. It’s something I’ve never done before, a skill I had to teach myself.

***


Kelly Fiore's debut, Taste Test, about a teen cooking competition and the drama that ensues, is forthcoming in Spring 2013 from Walker Books for Young Readers/Bloomsbury USA. You can catch up with Kelly at www.kellyfiorewrites.com or on Twitter at @kellyannfiore.

Music gives me a RUSH

Sometimes, I hear a song and it makes me think of a character or a story. For example, every time I hear  Fefe Dobson's Stutterin, I think of Patch from Becca Fitzpatrick's Hush, Hush. And while I don't usually write to music, songs that play while I'm driving or working out or hanging with friends often sow seeds of inspiration in my thoughts. And some songs just make me think of the characters I've created, their trials and tribulations, their joys and successes.

In RUSH (coming June 11, 2013 from Katherine Tegen Books) 16 year old Miki Jones just wants to be normal but she finds out she's anything but when her alien DNA sees her pulled into a game where she must hunt aliens or be hunted by them. So, here's a list of songs that make me think of RUSH (I chose 13 'cause we're on the Lucky 13 blog):

"E.T." by Katy Perry feat. Kanye West
"Crazy For You" by Adele because of the first love element.
"Uprising" by Muse
"Midnight City" by M83 because it's a great song to run to and Miki's a runner.
"Home" by Phillip Phillips
"The Pretender" by The Foo Fighters because it's bad ass and it screams action (and there's tons of action in this book!)
"How To Be A Heartbreaker" by Marina and the Diamonds because it deals with trust and love and it just rocks.
"Haunted" by Kelly Clarkson because it deals with issues of abandonment and it's a little on the dark side.
"All I Wanted" by Paramore
"We Found Love" by Rihanna
"Lightning" by The Wanted
"Hurts Like Heaven" by Coldplay because of the lyrics, "you use your heart as a weapon."

 And I'll leave you with a little Pitbull ("Back in Time") because it's about aliens and time shifts and because it's hella fun to listen to.


So what about you? What songs give you a RUSH and what books/characters do you associate them with?


 Eve Silver lives with her gamer husband and sons, sometimes in Canada, but often in worlds she dreams up. She loves kayaking and sunshine, dogs and desserts, and books, lots and lots of books. Watch for the first book in Eve’s new teen series, THE GAME: RUSH, coming from Katherine Tegen Books, June 2013. She also writes books for adults.

Connect with Eve through her website, blog, twitter, tumbler, facebook, goodreads or pinterest.

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Giving Your Book a Soundtrack


Whether we’re writers or readers, the addition of music to a story can hugely impact our experience of it. Movies really demonstrate this, with music adding an unforgettable element to deepen the emotional punch of the action and dialogue on screen.

Compiling the Soundtrack for MAID OF SECRETS proved to be an intriguing challenge. The story is about a wry, resourceful thief forced to join an elite group of spies in Queen Elizabeth’s court – to solve a murder, save the crown, and resist the most dangerous temptation of all… falling in love. But the book is set in Sixteenth Century England, and just for the record, that time period is NOT given to super fun music.

I already knew the girls had a bit of a rocker/punk vibe—much more A KNIGHT’S TALE than CAMELOT. Even my super basic ‘book video’ is backed by a tune that wouldn’t make it to the Queen’s concert hall.

So instead of a true soundtrack, I’ve gathered a series of songs that speak to some element of each of my spy girls and a few other key friends. I include them below – and then want to know… what’s YOUR soundtrack to your favorite book… whether you wrote it or read it?

Playlist: MAID OF SECRETS

THE THIEF:


Meg Fellowes, the heroine of MAID OF SECRETS, has been living a role her whole life… first as a thief, then as an unofficial actress for her traveling acting troupe, and now as a spy to the Queen. But who is Meg really?

THE FOREIGNER:

Rafe's song: Way Cool Jr. - Ratt

Meg gets some unexpected (and unwanted) help from a mysterious Spanish spy, Count Rafe de Martine. Rafe is the original bad boy, and definitely not someone you can trust… which is why we’re throwing him back to the Hair Band rockers of the 80s to find his song.


THE SPY GIRLS:

Beatrice's song: Material Girl - Madonna

This one will also take you way (way) back to the 80s, but no one captures Beatrice’s confidence and style like Madonna. As the darling of the Queen’s court, Beatrice knows everyone’s secrets. But there’s also a secret of her own that she’s desperate to hide.

Anna's song: Firework - Katy Perry

Anna is the smartest girl in the room—even when she doesn’t want to be. Lost in her world of intricate puzzles and mysteries to solve, she sometimes feels on the outside looking in when it comes to being a part of a group. Her inner light, however, is just beginning to shine.


The youngest spy, Sophia is rumored to have the Sight… only her powers haven’t manifested yet. Despite that, she’s already up to her ears in danger that lurks just beyond the shadows.


Jane hasn’t had it easy. As the assassin of the spy group, she’s seen her share of tragedy, beginning with a deadly attack on her village that haunts her still. Now she must fight the demons in her memory… even as she defends the Queen.

THE QUEEN:

Queen Elizabeth's song: Super Girl - Hillary Duff

Speaking of the Queen: in MAID OF SECRETS we find an Elizabeth I who’s just come to power… at only 25 years old. With half the kingdom praising her and half wanting her dead, it’s going to take a Super Girl to stay on top.

So once again, what about you?? What’s your fav read’s Soundtrack?

Jennifer McGowan has been writing fiction since well before she knew any better. A past Romance Writers of America Golden Heart winner and 2011 Golden Heart finalist, Jenn is represented by agent extraordinaire Alexandra Machinist, of Janklow & Nesbit.

Jenn's debut novel, MAID OF SECRETS, will be published by Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers on May 7, 2013. You can find Jenn online and on twitter.

Monday, November 26, 2012

Creating a Playlist for Your Novel

This week on The Lucky13's we're talking about playlists. I'm a big fan of playlists. I use them while writing my first draft for all my books. I think they help create a mood and atmosphere for my books.

Why playlists can be helpful:

1. Pulls you into your 'world' right away. This is especially helpful if you are like me and you have short blocks of writing times. I stick my headphones in and push play. Instantly I'm in the zone and my 'world' which my music helps create for me.
2. Blocks out noise (especially helpful if you have kids or you're writing during your lunch break).
3. Ensures you have a consistent sound for your book every time you write. This is critical if you are working on multiple projects at a time. A different playlist for each project is a must.
4. Helps create a mood for your book.
5. Brainstorming. I play mine while I jog. It's an ideal way to brainstorm, because exercise stimulates the mind. I get my best plot ideas while I run.
6. Music inspires.

How to choose your playlist:

When I picked my playlist for GILDED, I wanted to incorporate Asian sounds along with music that I could write fight scenes to since there were a lot of fight scenes in the book. So I had a wide variety of sounds and songs.

For my recent work-in-progress, I needed songs with an ethereal/fantasy sound since the book has fantasy elements. I ended up writing that book completely to the soundtrack of Avatar. (Love that movie!)

Where to get your music:

I use iTunes and I have a mini iPod that I lug with me everywhere: driving (plugged into the stereo of course), jogging, coffee shop, park bench, classroom, couch, floor, library. Yeah, pretty much everywhere.

I'm planning on adding GILDED's playlist to my website. This way when my reader's read GILDED, they can click on that soundtrack and be in that same 'zone' I was when I wrote the story. I love the idea that I can have that connections with the people who read my books.


Christina Farley's debut YA, GILDED, releases fall 2013 by Amazon Children's (formally Marshall Cavendish). She is represented by Jeff Ourvan of the Jennifer Lyons Literary Agency, LLC. She blogs and vlogs about writing and traveling, and is often found procrastinating on Twitter.

Photo by Abby Liga

Friday, November 23, 2012

The VERY first novel I ever wrote. In my dad's tax ledger.

Today I'll be giving you guys a very special reading from the VERY first "novel" I ever wrote (*ahem* the term is used very loosely.) So go ahead and give it a watch!




Note: Some of the images (actually most of them) got blurred because of the camera's focus setting. I've included them below.


A very holy wolf.


White Wolf + Gray Wolf = true love!

Dr. Vgosten and the power which can do ANYTHING!

White Wolf gazing upon the (rather pink) city of China.

Like I said in the video, if you want to hear more about White Wolf's Evetchers (ie. books 2 and 3 and 4, etc), comment below and let me know!

-

When she’s not writing and drifting around the globe, Ryan Graudin enjoys hunting through thrift stores and taking pictures of her native Charleston, SC. Her novel ALL THAT GLOWS, the story of a Faery who falls in love with the prince she’s forced to guard, is due out with HarperTeen in 2013. You can learn about all of these things and more at http://ryangraudin.blogspot.com. You can also follow her on Twitter at @ryangraudin

Thursday, November 22, 2012

Dinos and Jungles and Bear Traps, Oh My!

I started my first novel in the summer holidays after I turned 13. Up until that point, I hadn't even entertained the idea of being a writer. I was going to be a cartoonist, or a professional oboe player (yep, I played the oboe, and no, I wasn't very good at it). But that summer, everything changed. My family and I went to the cinema to see a film called Jurassic Park. Afterwards, I couldn't stop thinking about it – about this abandoned island crawling with velociraptors and T-Rexes and brontosaurs; about the theme park buildings slowly being reclaimed by jungle. I started to describe it to myself inside my head, until it became so real I could almost taste the humid air, feel the tropical rain dripping on my face and hear the distant roars of the creatures that had claimed the wreckage of the theme park as their own. I even started to write it down – something I'd never done before, although I was always making up stories inside my head.

Then, during that same holiday, I read the book, and found the scene right near the end – not shown in the film – where the Costa Rican government destroy the island. I was devastated. My abandoned, dinosaur-inhabited island didn't – couldn't – exist. I stopped reading the book, tore the handful of pages I'd written out of my notebook, and tried, not very successfully, to forget about it. 

My original copy of JP, quite literally read to pieces

But then I had a conversation with my grandfather about the book which made me realise that I should have kept reading. Because right before that scene where the island gets bombed, one of the characters notes (spoiler alert #1) that some of the dinosaurs are acting like they're trying to migrate. And right after that scene, at the very end of the book (spoiler alert #2), there's a mention of some activity by an unidentified species of animal on the Costa Rican mainland that follows a pattern very like that of a migration… I spent the rest of the summer holidays thinking, wondering, and reading and re-reading Jurassic Park, and when school started again, I bought a new notebook and started writing. And carried on writing, whenever and wherever I could. I got huge chunks of writing done in maths lessons, with my notebook hidden under my work – which probably explains why I'm so bad at maths now. 

Who needs maths anyway?

The term 'fan fiction' didn't exist back then, but that was basically what my novel was. Title-less to this day, it followed the story of a policeman, Carl, who was sent into the Costa Rican rainforest to look for the migrating dinosaurs with a few of the characters from the original book. The plot was… interesting. And dramatic. Oh, boy, was it dramatic. By page 43, there had been two dino attacks, a suicide, an explosion and a jeep crash. By page 115, a dream-death, a near-drowning, an earthquake and a landslip. But all that was merely a rehearsal for the ending. Ladies and gentlemen, I give you the climactic scene…

It was only after Carl had been trying to find the others for another ten minutes that he realised he didn't recognise his surroundings.
He was lost.
And it was nearly dark.
Now he was in a little clearing. There was a lot of leaf litter, and a stake at the edge. Several, in fact. They appeared to be in some kind of square formation. Unthinkingly, he stepped forward to get a closer look. The ground gave way beneath him with surprising suddeness (sic). Carl gave a cry of horror. The fall seemed to go on forever.
He hit the ground so hard that it knocked the wind out of him. He lay doubled up, gasping for air, eyes screwed up in pain. When he'd caught his breath, Carl rolled onto his back. He'd fallen into some kind of huge pit. The walls were twelve feet high.
He was trapped…

Yes. Unable to think how else to end my novel, I had my main character fall into a bear trap. Don't worry, though; he not only got rescued, but engaged. And almost 20 years later, I'm still writing thrillers, with endings that are just as dramatic, but hopefully more believable.

Start as you mean to go on, I say…

Emma Pass grew up at an environmental studies centre near London, went to art school in Cornwall and now lives in the north-east Midlands with her artist husband and The Hound.

Emma is represented by Carolyn Whitaker at London Independent Books and her YA dystopian thriller ACID is out from Random House Children's Books on 25th April 2013. You can find her blog here, check out her website here and catch her procrastinating on Twitter here.

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

The Book That Wasn't



This week our suggested blog topic was to write about the first novel we wrote. Hee, hee, where do I even begin? It was called Under the Waterfall and it was about a girl whose recently deceased mother was from a parallel land you could only access....you guessed it, under the waterfall located in the woods in the girl's backyard. The concept wasn't all that bad, it was more the way that I approached it that was. Maybe it would just work best to make a list. We'll call it...

The Top Five Reasons Why That Novel Was Never Going To Get Published:

1. It was a bad mash up of every YA book I ever loved. There was a broody boy a la Twilight, a fanciful world a la Harry Potter, and a bit of the wolf a la Shiver thrown in for good measure. I had no idea why I had them in there, at least not one that I could actually justify. I was just chucking stuff in and stirring the pot hoping that whatever came out would somehow magically transform itself into a bookish meal and not some gucky mush that smelled of Bertie Bot's vomit flavored beans and wet fur.

2.  I started it all wrong. I basically hit every single cliche. Main character begins the story en route to where the story actually takes off, so the first twenty pages are just ramblings about leaving her house and traveling down the highway while rolling her eyes at her new evil step mom and overly nice dad. SNORE.

3. I was all wrapped up in sounding fancy. I was trying to be literary, my dear ladies and gentleman. I was throwing in every big word, fancy metaphor, and abstract character musing that I could. Not that that's truly literary mind you, it's more what I THOUGHT was literary at the time.

4. Okay this one is really embarrassing. I had lyrics to a James Taylor (yeah, if you aren't at least thirty something you won't even know who this is, you'll have to Google) in chapter one--like a whole stanza. Because what teenager doesn't want to read about some old song by some really old dude that was a big hit in like the seventies or something--when the book isn't even a period piece. OMG.

5. There were pretty much no stakes. I mean I had no idea what my main character wanted, how she should grow and change by the end. And looking back, I'm pretty sure I was newbie enough not to know that I even needed those things. I basically decided to write a novel and just sat down and started writing scenes. AND instead of letting it go, I wrote and rewrote if for YEARS.

So I guess what I'm trying to say is that that first book wasn't very good. It lacked a lot of things, but even after I realized this, it's still pretty dear to my heart. That novel was my college, my MFA. I learned what not to do and eventually what to do by going through the process of writing it and sending it out. I learned how to finish a book length manuscript and even more importantly that I could indeed finish one. That book showed me just how hard writing can be, but also how rewarding. I figured out that despite all of the stuff I had to learn, the ways in which I needed to grow, I LOVED everything about the process of writing. Practical or not, it became a part of me that I'll never let go of now. So really, the book that wasn't had to happen before I could ever hope to write THE BOOK THAT WILL BE.

Amy Christine Parker's book, THE SILO, realeases with Random House Children's Fall of 2013 and follows a teenage girl named Lyla who has been living in a religious cult after the disappearance of her sister. While her parents are hopelessly under the sway of the group’s leader, Pioneer, Lyla is drawn into a dangerous situation when she begins to question Pioneer’s prophecy about the impending apocalypse. You can find her on her website, on her blog, and/or follow her on Twitter. She would absolutely love it if you added THE SILO on your to read list on Goodreads here.

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Let Sleeping Wolves Lie


This week's blog topic is The First Novel You Wrote.  I signed up knowing that this topic could go one of two ways for me, but not really knowing which one I'd pick. See, depending on your point of view, the first novel I wrote could either be (a) the novel-length first-person adaptation (I hadn't yet discovered the term "fanfiction") of The Scarlet Pimpernel, which I wrote in high school and never really edited, or (b) the original novel that I wrote shortly after starting my literary agency job, edited like crazy, tried and failed to get an agent with, and ultimately abandoned.  I chose the second one.

From where I am now, with a book coming out in four months from a publisher I truly love, it's easy for me to say I'm glad that first novel of mine never got published. At the time, however, it was killing me that nobody wanted to sign it/me.  Agents of the world, are you crazy?  What do you mean you don't want a YA urban fantasy* about a girl with Special Snowflake magical powers** and also werewolves***?

* This is, for the record, not actually a genre.
** I can see you yawning. That's just rude.
*** I wrote this when the YA market was already oversaturated, not before.

To be fair, the book also contained a lot of things I'm still proud of, like a system of magic regulated (supposedly) by government laws.  Like a cure for werewolves that, naturally, goes horribly wrong. And like the little wolf cub who turns into a boy under the full moon.

But aside from those few ideas, the book doesn't actually read as terribly original – and there's a reason for that.  It was basically a collection of my literary turn-ons, given different names and woven together into a new story.  I liked secretive teachers with mysterious pasts.  I liked teenagers who succeeded where authority figures fail.  I liked it when other people's backstories came back to bite the main character in the ass.  I liked… well, okay, I liked any of the themes and archetypes found in Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban, which I was kind of obsessed with at the time.

Thing was, you could tell.  My book, The Spellcaster’s Wolf, didn’t read like an original story so much as a meditation on themes from a story by someone else.  At least, that’s how it seems to me when I look back on it now.  I doubt the reactions of the agents who rejected me were that specific.  (Well, except for one, but we won’t name names.)  Mostly, I imagine they just felt that this had all been done before.  And they were right.  It had.

That was an important thing to realize, and I’m very grateful to the agents who told me everything from “I’d love this if it weren’t about werewolves” to “I got a few chapters in and just… kinda lost interest.”  Those things made me think in the right direction.  I needed to write about something new (or at least something significantly less trendy than werewolves, because I had nothing new to say about them), and I needed a story conducive to momentum.

I tried editing The Spellcaster’s Wolf for momentum, but the story was already at the point where it didn’t want to change much.  And I was getting bored with trying to make it change.  So when a new idea occurred to me (“Genies + kissing = ???”), I set the werewolves aside, figuring I’d come back to them if the genie thing didn’t pan out.

The genie thing panned out.

When I’m done writing my genie-centric trilogy, it won’t be The Spellcaster’s Wolf that I work on next.  It was nice to know I could always come back to that story if I needed to, but I don’t need to anymore.  The werewolves were a training exercise – my own personal MFA program, if you will.  Except without the student loans and the high standards and the… never mind, it was nothing at all like an MFA program.


Lindsay Ribar is a literary agent by day, a writer by night, and a concert junkie 24/7.  Her first novel, The Art of Wishing (Dial Books, March 2013) is about making wishes, making music, and making out.  She thinks you should read it.

Monday, November 19, 2012

MEANWHILE…MIDDLE GRADE: Giving Thanks for Recent Middle Grade Novels


Welcome to Meanwhile…Middle Grade! November is a time for reflection and thanksgiving. To celebrate we are sharing some of our favorite recently released middle grade novels. Other than being MG novels, our criteria was simple: Books that were published in 2011 or 2012, and that weren’t debut novels. (Don’t get us wrong, we love the 2012 MG Apocs books and their authors. Check back in late December to see just how much!)

Middle Grade Books Lucky 13 MG Authors Are Thankful They Read:

DUMPLING DAYS by Grace Lin is a great fish-out-of-water story, a tale of a girl named Pacy Lin's first trip to Taiwan. The writing is wonderful, as are Lin's line drawings, which let readers see what Pacy is seeing during her month-long family adventure. – Elisabeth Dahl lives with her husband and son in Baltimore, Maryland, where she writes for both children and adults. All her life, people have asked whether she’s related to Roald Dahl. Sadly, she’s not, but she’s looking forward to being his shelf neighbor, at least. Elisabeth Dahl, Genie Wishes (Amulet Books, April 1, 2013)

I loved and am thankful for Rebecca Stead’s LIAR & SPY (Wendy Lamb Books, 2012). She created an unforgettable character in Georges, who seeks solace from his confusing life with Safer and his warm, loving family. The book highlights the importance of friends and family when life is uncertain. Nothing turns out to be quite what it seems at the beginning, and Stead’s writing always shines. A perfect, funny, endearing MG read! – Claire M. Caterer’s debut novel is The Key & the Flame, a fantasy for middle-grade readers coming from Margaret K. McElderry Books on April 2, 2013. Connect with Claire at www.cmcaterer.com, Facebook, and on Twitter.

My absolute favorite debut MG book this year is THE PECULIAR by Stefan Bachmann. The faery-steampunk version of my native England is true to voice and humor as the story veers between laugh-out-loud delightful and gasp-out-loud alarming, with adorable characters. I love books that remind me of "home", and the sheer genius of Bachmann's writing (at 16! 17! I'm gobsmacked) is a joy to read. Kit Grindstaff, Brit song writer living in PA, USA. Her debut, The Flame in the Mist, coming April 9th from Delacorte, is available for preorder. Find her on her website, Facebook, Goodreads, and Twitter.



My favorite middle grade of 2012 is definitely ONE DOG AND HIS BOY by Eva Ibbotson. It’s the charming story of a kid who desperately wants a pet and his clueless parents give him a rental dog. This book is funny and touching and has an almost Roald Dahl sense of whimsy. Sadly this is Ibbotson’s final book. She’ll be missed. – Hi I’m Barbara Brauner and my writing partner James Iver Mattson and I have the middle grade book The Glitter Trap (Book 1 of the Oh My Godmother series) coming out in May 2013.

My favorite [non-apoc] middle grade book of 2012 was THE ONE AND ONLY IVAN by Katherine Applegate. This is one of those books that breaks your heart right open, and then, when it puts the pieces back together, you find that your heart is bigger, more courageous, and more hopeful than it was to begin with. – Melanie Crowder teaches and writes in the foothills of the Rocky Mountains. Her debut middle grade novel, PARCHED (Harcourt Children's Books, June 2013) is available for preorder now!

This year I am grateful for the book WONDER by R.J. Palacio. This is a beautiful, powerful story about 11-year-old August Pullman, who was born with severe facial deformities and has been kept from public school until the 5th grade. The writing style is simple and straightforward, rotating between August, his sister, and a couple of each of their friends. August pulled me right in and though his story was incredibly sad at times, it was overall a triumphant story that made me want to be a better, kinder person. If everyone read this book, the world would be a better place. Aren't we all hoping for world peace? Go read it! – Liesl Shurtliff is the author of RUMP:THE TRUE STORY OF RUMPELSTILTSKIN coming April 9, 2013 from Knopf. You can find her at her blog or Facebook or Twitter


LIAR & SPY is the 2012 middle grade book I'm most grateful for -- and I came to it by way of the Luckies. Alison Cherry (RED) and Lindsay Ribar (THE ART OF WISHING) and I were standing around B.E.A. like dateless prom attendees, and we unexpectedly got swept into a line of folks meeting Rebecca Stead. She was so lovely, and when I later read LIAR & SPY in one teary sitting, I felt thankful to have met the author of such a true-talking tale of friendship, deception, and children named Candy. – Tim Federle, BETTER NATE THAN EVER (Simon & Schuster BFYR, February 5, 2013).




This year I liked SPY SCHOOL by Stuart Gibbs. Though it has its goofy side (ninjas!), this book about a 12-year-old who gets recruited by the CIA Spy Academy has real menace and excitement. We all know that middle school can kill you – and that’s exactly what main character Ben Ripley finds out as he tries uncover the identity of the Academy’s double agent. Good stuff! – James Mattson co-wrote "Oh My Godmother: The Glitter Trap" with writing partner Barbara Brauner; it will be published by Disney-Hyperion in May, 2013. A Stanford graduate, he now lives in the Los Angeles area with his wacky polydactyl cat, Fred.





What recent Middle Grade Novel are you grateful for this thanksgiving season?

 _________________________________________________________

Tamera Will Wissinger started reading middle-grade novels when she was in grade school. She fell in love and never stopped reading them. Her middle grade novel: GONE FISHING: A Novel In Verse arrives March 5, 2013 from Houghton Mifflin Books for Children. Online you can find her on her  Website, Goodreads, Twitter, or Facebook.