Friday, June 29, 2012

Loving other writers...

...but, not in that way... :) I am such a YA writer groupie. I have LOTS of girl crushes on writers I admire. Lots of times, I admire them soley for their writing. Sometimes, though, it's their blogs and Twitter feeds that make me so smitten.

I think the reason is because admiration is such a better quality than jealousy. A lot of them have these great, great blogs/twitter identities/books/panels at conferences/reputations, etc. and that is most certainly what I'd like to have, too.

The writers I like best seem to have a sense of humor similar to mine -- what I like to call "nice sarcastic" and a little self-depricating. Maureen Johnson is a great example of this. Her about/bio page on her website is hilarious and really makes me want to hang out with her. And isn't that what we all want in the end, as authors and as people? To be likeable? I mean, really, who wants to read the books of a total jerk.

I remember when Fiona Apple got really big in the 90s and she was just such a witch about her fame. Ungrateful and nasty. Maybe that was her persona, and I still bought her record. But I wasn't a super-fan. She has a voice that is phenomenal - a pre-cursor to the Amy Winehouses and Adeles. But no one wants to root for someone who insults their audience. So Fiona slipped into oblivion. If you want to be a successful author, oblivion probably isn't idea. Not for singers either.

Anyway, one of my FAVORITE blog posts of all times is this one by Kiersten White. Another author I admire greatly, White has an excellent sense of humor. Both her and Johnson, among others, are great bloggers/tweeters to follow.

For now, I'll keep crushing -- until, of course, I will inevitably end up meeting one of them, sounding like a moron, and blushing beet red. I am SO smooth. ;)

*Disclaimer - this is not meant to be creepy. Does it sound creepy?*

Who are some writers you love?

Thursday, June 28, 2012

The Importance of Craft (and I'm not talkin' cheese food!)

I mentioned craft in yesterday's post and it looks like I'm not alone in my belief and expectations when craft is concerned. Not that I thought I would be. But I think there is a common misconception about YA and MG - a misconception that all books in those genres are formulaic or cookie-cutter. In fact, I can say with complete honesty that I have read far more YA books that are innovative than not. Just like the generation they are about, YA books are cutting edge in all the best ways.

Which brings me to craft. I'm one of those authors with an MFA. I had the good fortune to study with some of the best living American poets. My MFA is actually in poetry and I didn't write a lick of fiction until years after I got my degree.

Why does this matter? Well, we all have our own influences - our personal graduate programs, college-affiliated or not. Some people had an amazing creative writing teacher in high school who encouraged them to contribute to the literary magazine or to try NaNoWriMo. Some people came into writing through the amazing books they read. Maybe they tried writing fan fiction first as a tribute to these books. There are so many avenues that bring us to the place where we pick up the pen/open up MS Word.

But having an MFA in Poetry has influenced me to believe four things about crafting a good book.

1. Every word in every sentence matters.

This one is a blessing and a curse. It's a blessing because, well, every word matters. I read and re-read what I write. I labor over sentences and word choice. I can not tell you the number of times I spent hours, if not days, thinking about one sentence. That's why it's a curse. Getting bogged down with something that small can prevent you from writing, from moving forward. However, don't confuse small with insignificant. Some of my favorite lines from books are perfect because of one or two specific words that make them so memorable and make them resonate.

"I on my part give up the uncertainty of eternal rest and go out into the dark where may be the blackest things that the world or the nether world holds!" Bram Stoker's Dracula

"Prejudices, it is well known, are most difficult to eradicate from the heart whose soil has never been loosened or fertilised by education: they grow there, firm as weeds among stones." Charlotte Bronte, Jane Eyre

"The world of adults feels like a universe that has reached the end of its expansion and is inexorably collapsing back in on itself.” R.A. Nelson, Teach Me

2. The way you use your words to write and communicate creatively are not necessarily the way you use them to write and communicate normally.

This one's interesting. I consider it a rule because, as a teacher, I am forever re-teaching students about what the rules are about writing. Yes, you can use "and" or "but" to begin a sentence. In fact, sometimes you can use a fragment or a run-on to prove your point. But how one communicates creatively is not always appropriate for professional or scholarly writing. I don't just mean this in a "text-speak" way, but also in a diction way.

The word "tongueing" is a really good example. Chuck Palahniuk used this as a verb in Fight Club - something along the lines of "a sore in your mouth that would heal, if only you would stop tongueing it." I butchered that, I'm sure, but I don't have the book with me. Anyway, tongueing is not a word I'd put in a grammar exercise for many reasons - but I'd LOVE to have a reason to write it.

The point -- sometimes you make words do what you want when you're using them creatively.

3. Novels don't have a form. They have a case, the cover, that holds the pages inside. Other than that, the format is fair game.
When I first started my MFA, I believed in the narrative poem and I tolerated the lyric. I was definitely a follower of Whitman, not Dickinson. However, fellow writers and an excellent poet, Mary Ann Samyn, opened my eyes to the use and exploration of white space. What the heck is it there for if not to write in? Some great examples of using the white-space or playing with genre and fictional expectations are:

- Amy Reed's Clean, where she switches in and out of various formats, including a confessional, stream-of-conciousness type of list that splays the whole page

- Ellen Hopkin's books, which use verse of course, but also use different types of verse, different rhyming techniques, and lovely sounds

- Bram Stoker's Dracula yet again, because he so deftly introduces multi-genre writing to the gothic prose era. There are journal entries, medical reports, articles, letters. It's a masterpiece.

- Justine Larbalestier's Liar, which slips in and out of the past and present in a way that makes everything seem relevant and full of momentum.

4. Your craft takes time and time doesn't really end.

It doesn't take thousands of dollars of student loans to figure this one out, but it did for me -- you are only as good as you are. Maya Angelou (and Oprah) say, "When you know better, you do better." I love what my forthcoming book has become -- the influence of my agent and editor have been instrumental in creating a lovely, fun, mysterious, romantic, spicy story. :) However, when I first wrote it -- the first draft and the subsequent drafts -- well, they weren't great. Since then, it's been a couple of years. I've read a lot. I've written more. And my writing is getting better. I hope that kind of improvement never stops.

It's been eight years since I graduated from my MFA program, but it's taken those eight years out of school to turn me into a YA writer. You develop craft over time and through influences. It's not self-made. It doesn't grow on trees. It doesn't strike you, like lightning. Those are inventions or ideas. But, it's those ideas that you flesh out, that you worry at, that you meddle with, that you continue tongueing (YES!) again and again until you've managed to spit them out and turn them into something that matters.

It's not the wheel we're creating here. It's the vehicle.

How about you? Anyone else have craft-related insight or something to add? Comment! :)

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Road Trip Wednesday -- Favorite Books of June

YA Highway, one of my favorite writer blogs EVER, holds a Road Trip Wednesday every week, where they ask fellow authors/bloggers/readers, etc. a book-related question. Today's was, "What was the best book you read in June?"

I have two -- one's a re-read, but I love it so SO much that it deserves a shout out. Liar by Justine Larbalestier, is a masterpiece. Seriously. And I don't say that lightly. I have read it three times now -- the first time because I couldn't put it down, but the second two times were actually craft-related. This book inspires me to write. It inspires me to tell stories that are epic and that matter and that ring true, even when unbelievable. And I'm not even going to tell you about this book -- I don't want to give anything away. Just trust me. It's that good.

The second is Clean by Amy Reed, an author I recently discovered. This book is a lovely demonstration of craft as well. Reed seamlessly moves in and out of different character's conciousness. Clean opens in a teen rehab center for substance abusers. We meet five different characters, all of whom are tormented in their own ways. Through intake forms, questionaires, group sessions, and inner monologues, we discover what makes these addicts tick. And tick they do...some of them like clocks, waiting to get out. Some of them like time bombs, waiting to explode.

I hope you'll check these out -- I know you won't me sorry!

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

What's in a name?

I've started this blog a dozen times. I've spent lots of time designing it. I covet the websites and blogs of other authors -- things that are so professional! So legit and real. If they have the George Clooney of websites, I have the Eric Estrada. Who, don't get me wrong, is totally awesome. He just isn't George Clooney.

I also tried a dozen different names. In the end, I think the most important fact people should know about me is that I am a plethora of contradictions. I eat almost organic everything, then gobble Twizzlers and M&M's. I love other people's dogs, but I don't really like my pets. Yes, I know that sounds terrible. But I'm being honest. I love shows like Dateline on ID, but I hate violence. I am very girly, but am surrounded by boys at home. And, most of all, even though I'm in my 30s, I'm still a teenager at heart. I teach Beowulf and Lord of the Flies and, yes, Animal Farm by day to my teenage students. Then I go home and watch re-runs of Saved by the Bell, Degrassi, and Dawson's Creek.

So, this is my first post. I figured I should address the blog name first. If you've found this blog from my website, then you know I'm a writer. You know I have a book coming out in 2013. You know that I love Young Adult literature, writers, and readers.

I'm jumping into the blogging game a lot later than I should. I admire SO MUCH the writers - particularly the unpublished ones -- who have incredible blogs. There are so many of them. I live on YA Highway. Natalie Whipple, whom I don't know, has an amazing blog, which was amazing long before she got her book deal. Janice Hardy has become a blogger mainstay for me. I'm not name-dropping just to do it -- I just really aspire to be like these people. I hope that my blog can be a resource the way these other blogs are.

So, Welcome! I hope I can keep up with this blogging thing this time, instead of petering out like I so often do. My attention span is quick-burning -- passionate, then waning. But my love for writing doesn't end. In that respect, I think I have a chance at doing this thing forever.