Thursday, June 30, 2011

YA Contemp Month- ORCHARDS (SIGNED!!!)

The winner of Ally Carter's Heist Society

as selected by

is #1...


Congrats Sidrah! It's in the mail...

Today, I’m especially excited to welcome Holly Thompson to Points of Claire-ification. Holly is the author of several books, most recently ORCHARDS, and the Regional Advisor for SCBWI Tokyo. Thanks for joining us Holly.

Thanks so much for having me during YA Contemp Month.

From the beautiful cover art and the name, it’s not hard to tell that the book has something to do with mikan- Japanese mandarin oranges. Can you give us a quick synopsis?

Kanako Goldberg, a half Japanese and half Jewish-American from New York, is sent to her grandparents’ mikan farm in Shizuoka after the suicide of a classmate. In Japan she attends school part-time and helps in the orchards, all the while, addressing Ruth, the classmate who died. Kana is confused and resentful, but gradually as she works in the groves and as she becomes more immersed in village life, she comes to a deeper understanding of Ruth and of her own bicultural identity. But then news from home sends Kana reeling into orbit all over again.

I was really happy to read a book where Japan so seamlessly integrated, without necessarily being the focus of the story. How did you go about gathering the information you needed on the setting?

I actually was apprenticed to a mikan farmer for 18 months as research for an adult novel about an American woman who marries into a mikan growing family. I learned everything I could about mikan cultivation, and for a while I lived in the village with my young daughter so that I could more fully immerse myself into village society. I have thousands of photographs and pages and pages of research notes. Midway through my work on the farm, the farmer’s American-born niece visited, and briefly seeing her there, somewhat out of her element, sparked ideas for Orchards.

What tips can you offer for writing multicultural YA novels?

I think that multiculturalism has to be a part of who the author is for an author to be successful at writing multicultural characters. The author needs to have a deep understanding of the cultures portrayed--even if the main characters have only a shallow understanding of those cultures. Research and experience are essential, and not just surface research and a brief visit to another country. Dig deep and learn far more than will ever be used in your book.

I think it’s also important to keep in mind that so many teens cross cultures now—through relatives and friends, living outside the country where they were born or have citizenship, accompanying parents overseas, and as children of migrant laborers. There are so many stories to be told.

ORCHARDS is a verse novel. What made you choose this medium? What are some of the challenges of verse and how does it compare to using prose?

Orchards started out in verse. The voice was too intense and too lyrical for me to fit into prose. With verse the aim is to distill scenes into those few key brush strokes that will convey the action and emotion effectively. Dialogue is difficult to do in verse, but verse is a great vehicle for teen voices and roller coaster emotions. I love playing with the white space on the page, having more control over the pacing through stanzas and page breaks, and working with rhythm and different poetic elements. The challenge is to make the verse elements seem invisible and organic so that the scene arcs and overall story arc are at the forefront.

What’s your writing process like? Are you a pantser? Plotter? Somewhere in between?

I do a lot of plotting in my head and make charts and tables. I do plenty of research including character studies. Some of this I do before starting the manuscript, but often I start the story because of a voice and character, then research and plot along the way. It’s a mixture of planning and then chasing after the characters.

Please tell us about your publication journey. How did you meet up with your agent, Jamie Weiss Chilton?

As I was pushing to complete my first draft of Orchards, I decided to apply for the Nevada SCBWI Mentor Program. Although I attend all of the SCBWI Tokyo events, living in Japan I don’t have as much opportunity to meet agents and editors, take courses in writing, or work with mentors, so I thought a six-month low-residency type program would be perfect for me. Nevada was not the most convenient location for me, but it was exactly the program I needed and presented me with excellent opportunities. On the opening conference weekend, I was able to confer with my mentor Esther Hershenhorn, meet Jamie, give a public reading, have the first page of Orchards critiqued by Jamie, and attend a key session on revision. By the end of that program, I had an agent and a polished manuscript, and soon afterward, Orchards was accepted for publication by Delacorte/Random House in a two-book deal.

In between being a university lecturer, having a family, organizing SCBWI events, and having a life, how do you even find the time to write?

Well, the reality is that some days I don’t write. Some days are just for family or work or soaking up life in Japan or wherever I am—those days feed my writing, ultimately. Other days I can immerse myself completely in my writing. I don’t have as many days with long stretches of time for sustained writing focus as I’d like, but I am always thinking writing—drafting in my head or doing a few moments of editing or jotting notes—even on my busy days.

Many of my readers are aspiring writers. Any advice for those of us still in the trenches?

Realize that the learning curve is steep and endless, and that we are all still in the trenches even after we are published! Read constantly and write steadily. Attend writing conferences, join critique groups, and join writing networks like SCBWI. Learn from other writers. Get on twitter and participate in chats like #kidlitchat and #yalitchat. Follow agent and editor blogs. Set deadlines for yourself. Submit stories to magazines. Challenge yourself with different voices and genres and styles. And get out and plunge yourself into life and the world around you so that you’ll have stores of material and can write your own unique stories that no one else can possibly tell.

Thanks Holly! Wow! So many pearls of wisdom.

Tell me your favourite Japanese/multicultural story.
Enter by Wednesday 11.59 pm EST
Entries open to all, internationally.


Since this SIGNED copy of ORCHARDS is physically coming from me, this week's winner gets an added bonus!

Kitkat special flavour: Zunda!!! (Specialty Kitkats are available- I think- only in Japan.) Zunda is made from Edamame, a type of bean, and is a Specialty KitKat flavour from Sendai, Miyagi.

Good luck everyone!

Sadly, this is the last week of YA Contemp Month, but giveaways continue every week, and will still be open to non-followers the first Thursday of every month. I hope you'll join me next week for another awesome interview and giveaway.

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Do you believe in ghosts?

Recently, I read an article somewhere (possibly on Writers' Digest) about ghostwriting. It got me to thinking about whether or not I would.


In short, ghostwriting is writing, then giving someone else the byline for your work. Some ghost-writers are recognised as co-authors. Some are not recognised at all, and legally bound not to tell anyone they had any contact with the book.


Ghostwriting is most common in non-fiction. Justin Bieber doesn't have the time (and probably not the skills) to write his auto-biography, so if he chose to produce one, he'd probably pay a ghostwriter to do it for him.

Another area that popular for ghostwriting is series, especially the children's series where a book is produced every few months. There is no way 1 writer could turn out a book every 2 months. And if there was, it could not make it through the editorial process that quickly.

You'll also sometimes see ghostwritten where an author has died mid-book or mid-series.

There are a few things you need to become a ghostwriter.

A portfolio- You have to prove you can write before you even start the job.

Writing skills- More so than writing under your own name, you need to be on top of spelling and grammar. If you have to turn in the work to the client before an agent/editor and you've mispelled 3 words on the first page, he's not going to be thrilled.

Flexibility- Since you're writing to a client's specification, you need to able to adjust yourself to their demands.

Research skills: In non-fiction, especially memoir, ghostwriting will involve listening to the client, and trying to get them to tell you the best parts of their story. You may also be called upon to supplement what your client says with information you have to look up yourself.

Ability to meet deadlines: Theoretically, you should already be cultivating this as a writer. It's even more important when you ghostwrite, because it's not your name on the line.

- Ghostwriting pays more steadily (and more, in general) than being a mid-list author. Generally, however, it pays a flat fee.

- Ghostwriting is good practice. Ghostwriters write fairly consistently, so if they're ever inspired to use their own name, they've already put in a lot of work.

- Ghostwriters don't come up with their own ideas. If you have issues coming up with or evaluating ideas, writing someone else's story can take away the pressure.

- If you don't care about the fame and the name, and just want to know your book is out there.

While I would love to be employed to write a book in one of my favourite series, I'm not sure I could ghostwrite. I don't want to lose my creative freedom, and even though I'm not in it for the fame, I can't imagine my name not being attached to my book.

Would you ghostwrite?

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Talent plus Skill


a special natural ability or aptitude: a talent for drawing.

the ability, coming from one's knowledge, practice, aptitude, etc., to do something well: Carpentry was one of his many skills.

The essential difference between a talent and a skill is whether it comes naturally or whether you built it from scratch. Some people will argue that arts are talents and sciences are skill. But I beg to differ.

Some people can instinctively hear a song, pick up an instrument they've never played, poke/strum/bang out a few notes, and then they're playing like Alicia Keys. Others practice an instrument forever and play beautifully, but are never able to play by ear or compose. People in the first instance have a talent for music, people in the second instance have a particular instrument as a skill.

The same thing happens on the flip side. Science is often a skill, with hours, days, years, of filling your brain with knowledge. But inventors and cutting-edge researchers need an innate ability to see and understand connections. You know the type: that dude in your Physics class who'd just read a theory in the book, and get it. That's not skill, that's talent.


In my very, very, very humble opinion, every writer has talent- whether they've published 9,000 epics or they're writing their first sentence. Writers all have a natural curiosity- a yearning to answer what if? This curiosity facilitates an ability to naturally see possibilities. Through this, writers can become philosophers, or combine the concrete and the imagined.

Want scientific proof? On the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator (an indicator based on inborn preferences), the N (intuitive) represents only about 30% of the US population, while it's counterpart S (sensing) makes up about 70%. That's apparent from the fact that the majority of society tends to be quite happy with facts and concrete stuff. Intuitives prefer theories, abstracts, and getting creative. Yet, even though the N's are a tiny minority, the overwhelming majority of actors, writers, and other creatives are iNtuitive. Creatives are therefore, almost by definition, people who have always been able to see possibilities.

Other talents that a writer may have:
A knack for the right words.
A knack for telling stories.
An understanding of grammar.

And on the technical elements side, a writer may be talented when it comes to:
Story structure


The pros of having writing talent are obvious.

Things come easy to you.
You work faster.
You don't have to correct as much.

Cons are a little harder to think of, but they certainly exist.

Relying on talent robs you of opportunity to improve. Talent can and should be honed.
The temptation to lean towards the elements you're good at, and ignore the ones that don't come easily.


Writing is not just about talent. There are many non-creative skills that writers need to develop. Writers need to work on discipline- dragging themselves to the keyboard when [insert anything other than writing here]. Writers need to stay organised- not neccessarily with colour-coded charts (so not happening), but they need to develop a system for their work. More and more, writers need to be professional- not that we didn't always, but everything is so much more public now, and one unprofessional mishap, could mean the death (or maiming) of a career. These are not necessarily talents that many writers are born with, but they are definitely skills to cultivate.

There are also creative skills that writers need to work on. As I said, I believe the only universal talent of writers is the way they see the world. Apart from that, some writers have certain talents, and others have different ones.

For example, I'm told I'm great at voice and good at character. But all the things under the "possible talents" list are required for writers. For me, that means that if they're not talents, I need to develop them as skills. Noone's ever said it, but I know I suck at plot. So it's something I have to work at, and study.


Skills have their perks too!

Work on a skill long enough and it can become second nature. Noone's born with a talent for walking. (Granted, some of us (points at self), still fall over for no particular reason.)
A well-developed skill can look better than an un-honed talent. We all know someone with a natural affinity for something, who ended up going nowhere. Talent isn't the only factor.

But of course there is a downside.

You can work on a skill forever, it will never look as good as a well-honed talent. I could go to a million vocal lessons, I will never be able to move in Mariah/Beyonce/Madonna/Rihanna's circles.


People are always going on about Talent vs. Skill. I think that's the wrong equation. A year ago, I wrote a formula for success, and I still stand by it.

Success = Talent + Effort + Luck

I'm substituting "skill" for effort, because really most of the stuff you work on are skills, to arrive at a new and improved formula:

Success = Talent + Skill + Luck

(The inclusion of luck might be a tad depressing, but think of it this way. If success is a constant, then the bigger the value of talent and skill, the less luck is involved.)

It's not a matter of talent vs skill. Since no writer is an island, it's all about talent plus skill!

I've seen arguments for and against whether you can teach writing. My position? You can teach skills, you can't teach talent. If your plot is derivative, you can be taught how to fix that (or so I pray-lol). If your characters are flat, there are lessons for that. There are even workshops out there that help you find and cultivate your voice.

The more talents on the "possibles" list you possess, the easier the writing road is likely to be for you (unless you fall into the trap of ignoring your weak areas). But if you really want to be a writer, you can learn all of those things. It will be a long and difficult road, but I believe it can be done.

The only that absolutely can't be taught is the writer's way of looking at the world. Believe me, I've tried time and again to explain the way I see things to people. Some don't undertand how 1 + 1 would make 11. Some can't can't see why it should. But if you're actively trying to be a writer (for any reason other than the million dollar checks and the fame - snicker) then you've probably already got a writer's mind.

Also check out this awesome vid by an awesome actor. There's a bit in there on talent and skill, but it's just generally motivational, especially for creatives.

Monday, June 27, 2011

The New US Demographic

This weekend Yahoo! (and several other more news-y news providers) announced that white babies were no longer the majority. For the first time in recorded US history they've slipped below 50% of babies under 2.

In addition:

Twelve states and the District of Columbia now have white populations below 50 percent among children under age 5 — Hawaii, California, New Mexico, Texas, Arizona, Nevada, Florida, Maryland, Georgia, New Jersey, New York and Mississippi. That's up from six states and the District of Columbia in 2000.

There are so many implications here, especially for those states listed above. And these implications will affect the big picture, but also my field: entertainment.

According to the 2010 Census, the second largest racial group was Black /African American alone at 12.6%. Hispanics don't feature on the list because Hispanic is a culture and is made up of more than one race. People identifying as Hispanic represent 16.3% of the US population. Traditionally, these have been the two groups that have gotten the most flack in the US although, with recent terrorist concerns, the Middle Easterners have probably taken over that title.

But even worse than the victimisation of minorities is that they are often ignored. Victimisation, often more horrific in nature, gets the lion's share of media attention, and I don't mean to belittle anyone's experiences at the hand of law enforcement or even regular citizens. But victimisation is less frequent. Huge incidents are often once in a lifetime events. And routine incidents- like being stopped by the police for "driving while Black"- might happen once a month or even once a week.

On the other hand, the resources available to minority communities (especially those on the lower end of the economic scale) are drastically lacking. When your schools, hospitals, etc suck; when the police don't come when you call; when politicians don't take you into account in their policies, that affects your life all day every day.

The new minority-majority (a collection of minorities being larger than 50%) under 2 is going to mean improvement in systems, starting from the ones that affect you earliest in life.

The Yahoo! article pointed out the implications in hospitals. You can imagine that there will need to be more Spanish-speaking doctors available, and better pre- and post-natal options for minorities.

In a few years, this will need to translate into better schools in minority communities. More minorities will have to move towards a higher education path- which may mean more need for financial aid and scholarship. Eventually it will mean more minority positions in different spheres of the job force.

If the US continues to ignore minorities, and the minority birthrates continue to increase as compared to white birthrates, it will have economic implications and the US will create an artificial "aging population."

Living in Japan, I'm very familiar with the aging population. One of the major causes of death in the recent earthquake/tsunami combo was the fact that in many of the Northern towns almost half the population is over 60.

Apart from natural disaster issues, an aging population means you have fewer people (working age) supporting more senior citizens. So Japan has taxes out the wazoo. The UN Population Division found in 2000 that Japan would have to increase the retirement age to 77 or admit 1 million immigrants a year to support the aging population. As a Visa-status worker here, and knowing that the citizenship process involves crazy stuff like immigration officials checking the contents of your fridge (wish I was making that up), I can see which one of those will change.

If the US doesn't arm the minority children with the tools to be productive citizens then they will find themselves in the same situation in about 40 years. And Japan is a country where people are always determined to do things for the greater good. Raised taxes and increasing retirement ages aren't going to fly in the US.


Minorities are already seriously under-represented in entertainment. Way less than 12%/16% of YA books feature Black/Hispanic MC's, and I feel like it's even worse in adult books- especially outside the urban sub-category. Then there's a controversy every other minute about a misrepresentation on a cover where a White person portrays someone who's clearly Black/Hispanic/Asian/Polynesian in the book.

In the book-to-movie realm, Hollywood prefers to spray paint a white actor, than to hire the actor the book describes. Remember seeing an orange Jake Gyllenhal in Prince of Persia? And recently there's the blonde Katniss.

Let's not even get started on Avatar: The Last Airbender. The Water Benders are clearly based on the Inuit, native people of Artic Canada. The Earth Kingdom is an amalgam of East Asia with Chinese and Korean clothing, some Mongolian influences and a city that looks very much like the Forbidden City. The Air Nomads strike me as Buddhist monks of Southeast/East Asia. And the war-mongering archipelago of volcanic islands known as the Fire Nation is the most outrageously obvious to me: Japan. I was amazed that this wonderfully multi-cultural show came out of America. In my opinion, it's the best anime-style show ever done outside Japan.

Then it became a movie. And all of these wonderfully indigenous peoples in what's essentially a re-telling of the early history of the world (sans Europe) were reduced to a single ethnic major character. Dev Patel, of Indian descent, (Slumdog Millionaire) played Fire Lord Zucco. It kind of sucked that they managed to get an Indian in the show, and cast him as the "Japanese".

What will the shift in ethnicities mean for entertainment? Will minorities be more represented on the big screen and the page as a result of being more represented in society? Will the "United Colors of Benetton" become a more common feature of real life and a more plausible feature of fiction? Will minority audiences continue to see movies and buy books where they've been written out, whitewashed, dismissed? Will book and movie producers continue their chicken-and-egg argument? (People don't buy books with minority characters on the front so we don't make them. You don't make them, so how do you really know if people buy them?) Will the US, the major hub of world entertainment finally start representing a little more of the world? (From unofficial sources the largest race in the world is Asian at 40%) Will stories with minority MCs finally just be stories instead of "minority stories"? How will changes manifest in the adult novel world vs children books?

I know that's a lot to chew on, but you tell me what you think. It's Monday and this is what is on my mind.

Friday, June 24, 2011

Aqua Timez Raibu Ibento (Live Event)!!!

I just got in from a concert with my favourite Japanese band. I am floating about a mile above ground right now. If your not a J-pop/anime fanatic, feel free to scroll through past song vids down to the goods and my "Japanese Concert Etiquette" vid.

Let me just say, it was a little weird when the organisers came out at the start and said:
"Please look around for your closest designated exit. In case of earthquake proceed calmly towards said exit..."

But I forgot about that as soon as Aqua Timez took the stage.
Yes, all there pictures look like Gap ads.

If you watch anime, you might remember them singing the BLEACH Opening 6: ALONES

They also sing BLEACH Opening 9: VELONICA, but that wasn't as popular and they didn't perform it tonight.

And they sing the ending them of the first BLEACH movie: SEN NO YORU WO KOETE (A Thousand Night Pass)

And of course, they started 2011 out with NARUTO SHIPPUUDEN Ending 16: MAYONAKA NO ORCHESTRA (Midnight Orchestra). They ended tonight with this song.

"A little spoon is enough to share out happiness." I don't know where they come up with these lines.

Weirdly, I did not discover the band through anime. When I came to Japan in 2008, their song NIJI (Rainbow) was ridiculously popular and used to play on the PA at JHS during lunch. I remembered it because I could recognise the word "daijoubu" which means "all right". After I could understand the words, I thought it was the sweetest song ever. It's meant to be cheering someone up.
"It's all right I'm here
It's all right I'm not going anywhere....
It's all right, look up in the sky
It's all right, look at the 7-colour bridge"

One of my fave songs in the world.

Of course, it wouldn't be a raibu without the goozu (goods).

Insert a coin in a gumball-like machine and see what you get. I got a Starbucks spoof pin featuring the drummer Tasshi.

Then I bought this keitai (cellphone) strap. Carpe diem 2011 Tour. I also bought a shirt. It's in my Japanese Concert Etiquette Vid. I love the motto: A small happiness is better, because I can bring it right to you! :)

Here it is on my phone- along with Ace from One Piece, Naruto, and the famous clock tour in Sapporo, Hokkaido, Japan. My cell phone pretty much sums up my life.

Ever wondered what are the rules at a Japanese concert? I'll enlighten you.

Thursday, June 23, 2011

YA Contemp Month: Heist Society

It's YA Contemp Month which means another YA Contemporary giveaway her on Points of Claire-ification.

But first, last week's winner...

*Trumpet fanfare*

Abby Stevens!

Congrats Abby!

Today's giveaway is Heist Society by Ally Carter.

I read this book over a year ago, so why did I decide to give it away now?

1. UNCOMMON CRIMINALS, the sequel to HEIST SOCIETY came out on Tuesday.
2. When people think contemporary, they often think average, daily life, but thrillers, horrors, crime, etc, are also contemporary.

From the GOODREADS summary:

When Katarina Bishop was three, her parents took her to the case it. For her seventh birthday, Katarina and her Uncle Eddie traveled to steal the crown jewels. When Kat turned fifteen, she planned a con of her own—scamming her way into the best boarding school in the country, determined to leave the family business behind. Unfortunately, leaving "the life" for a normal life proves harder than she'd expected.

Soon, Kat's friend and former co-conspirator, Hale, appears out of nowhere to bring her back into the world she tried so hard to escape. But he has good reason: a powerful mobster's art collection has been stolen, and he wants it returned. Only a master thief could have pulled this job, and Kat’s father isn’t just on the suspect list, he is the list. Caught between Interpol and a far more deadly enemy, Kat’s dad needs her help.

This book is GOSSIP GIRL meets OCEAN'S 11. There's a high society vibe of inclusivity, plus the fast pace of the traditional heist story. The premise makes sense. Kat has given up the life, but then her Dad's in trouble.

I love the way the book is set out in days to go. It adds a certain urgency to the plot. I love the writing style. Carter has a hypothetical way of describing what's going on.

"He did not see the boys hold their breath as they waited to hear him say, "Well... alright."

"If you lived in 1921, and if you had more money than time, and if you were a woman, there were a few acceptable ways in which you were allowed to spend your time."

"Any other student might have flinched in that bright spot-light, but from the moment Katarina Bishop set foot on the Colgan campus, she'd been something of an enigma."

"The guards might have seen the boy throw his arm around the girl's neck and hold a camera out in front of them, snapping pictures. They might have noticed how the couple paced from one end of the waill to the next. They didn't, of course."

I loved this style. I thought it captured the vibe perfectly. By constantly showing what might have happened, you are constantly reminded that things could be different. And if they were different, it could be trouble for Kat and her crew.

The characters rock. This team could steal from you so stealthily you wouldn't even notice you're missing something. And with the exception of the butler- yes the butler, they're not even old enough to drink.

And then there's W.W. Hale the Fifth. The mysterious billionaire. Please catch me if I swoon.

To enter, answer in the comments: What's your favourite heist story? (I'm an Ocean's 11 girl myself.)
Contest is open internationally.
Contest closes at 11.59 pm EST on Wednesday, June 29.

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

What went wrong

Thanks for all the encouragement on my Epic Fail. I've decided to deconstruct what really happened with MS4 Rest In Peace, to help me grow from the experience.

So here are some of the things I struggled with:

All my work thus far has been YA or non-fiction. I like humourous women's fiction, with a bit of a moral behind it, so I leave myself open to some day writing adult fiction. Even so, I know that when I write an adult novel, it's not going to take itself very seriously. The MC is going to be a bit of a wildflier, Disney Princess, traveloholic. Ditto for the plot. Expect something not quite "realistic". Because that's what my adult life is life. As an adult I've worked on a submarine, lived in Japan, been in the military, etc.

MS4RIP was about the earthquake and my first foray into adult fiction. I made it an adult novel because it happened to me as an adult. But the subject matter was so serious, I felt like it was eating my soul. Even as I write this, there's another aftershock. A small one, maybe a 4.3 or so. And I'm ignoring it; I don't turn on the tv, I no longer look at the newspaper, I don't open the attachments from the Embassy anymore. Because dealing with the reality of the situation is hard. If I am eventually to tackle this topic, I'm going to need another angle to take a bit of the edge off.

I've always been a pantser. With every draft I write, I get a little more organised. Still, when I start I have a fair knowledge of the characters and setting, where the story starts, often how it ends, and nothing more.

MS4RIP was based on my experiences with the earthquake. I didn't want to write a memoir because I don't read memoir, and because I'm not the best with details. So I made up a cast and inserted them into what happened.

So I knew the plot. I knew every ounce of what happened. There was going to be stuff that I injected for conflict's sake later on, but the beginning was all a historical fact. And it bored the life out of me to write it.

Characters are one of my strengths. I like psychology and I love theorising about people. According to critiquers, it comes out well on the page.

I made up the characters in MS4RIP on a whim. They weren't well defined, since they were essentially stand-ins for real ppl. I didn't want to give them the same personalities as the originals, and I didn't bother to make up new personalities for them, so they just didn't have ANY personalities at all. Characters with no personality? Bad, bad, bad idea.

I think voice is the strongest facet of my writing. It's also the one I get the most compliments on. That's not to say I'm good. It's just better than the other parts. lol.

But with a plot that bored me, flat characters, and in a genre I'm not too fussy about, my voice choked up. Occasionally there'd be a sentence that sparkled like a merpire, but most of it just wasn't up to scratch.

1. If I'm going to venture into adult novels, it can't be with a heavy topic.
2. I am still not a plotter. Knowing every detail SUX DUX!
3. I'm a character writer. I can't write a novel without characters that I'm bewitchedly in love with.
4. If I don't love the story (despite the soundness of the plot) and the characters, then the voice won't come.

Thanks for listening.

Tale Spin

No, I'm not talking about the AWESOME!!! 90's Disney cartoon featuring characters from the Jungle Book.

Man, I loved that show :)

I'm talking about spinning tales.

They say that every story's been told. But we're still telling stories. Not the same stories. We're taking old tales, and giving them a new spin. With that in mind, it's an avenue that we can use to get ideas.

In the last 10 or 20 years, there've beena whole stack of fairy tale remakes. Make Cinderella a strong-minded, outspoken girl and you get Ella, Enchanted or Ever After. Switch the Capulets and Montagues out for Hispanic and White street gangs, and you've got West Side Story.

Did you watch Robin Hood: Men in Tights? Okay, so it was a comedy, but the point is that by taking a classic and putting it in a different genre, you earn a whole new group of fans. Transpose a tale into Sci-Fi, Fantasy, Western, Thriller, Horror, etc, and you've got a whole new story.

Cinderella's been re-done a million times, and if you're going to remake this particular classic you need to come original. One solution to avoid the competition is to base your story on a lesser known tale. Rick Riordan's THE RED PYRAMID is based on Egyptian Gods, and Karsten Knight's upcoming WILDEFIRE is based on Polynesian deities. These stories and characters) are obscure enough that you could probably recreate them exactly as they were originally, and noone would even object.

On the same note, there are stories you could easily pull from other cultures. Mainstream Western culture has heard certain American and European stories a million times. Growing up in the Caribbean, and living in Japan, I have access to different monsters, mythological beings, paranormal occurences. Stories which everyone knows here in Japan, can be obscure in the West, and if I were more of a fantasy writer, I'd probably use them a lot.

Fairy Tale retellings will often switch something up fairly drastically. Part of this is because the audience doesn't want the same old story. Another part is because things the were fine back in the day, would totally not fly now.

For example, one of the most common tropes is girl power. Traditionally, the female fairy tale roles were rather passive: Sleeping Beauty just slept, Snow White waited to be rescued, Cinderella essentially gave up and if the Prince hadn't come looking she'd have died of consumption while taking care of her step-sisters' kids. These days you've got the outspoken Ella of ELLA, ENCHANTED and Danielle of EVER AFTER and FIONA, the I-will-kick-your-butt-from-here-to-Zombieland in Shrek.

You could also flip the story. In the original Princess and the Frog, the Princess kisses the frog and he turns back into a Prince. In Disney's version they both end up frogs.

And there are tons of other ways you can flip the plots or characters.

You don't need to use a whole story. As in Disney's Tale Spin and Rick Riordan's Percy Jackson series, you can populate your new story with old characters. Say Cinderella's all happily installed in the palace, and then a talking fish tells her that Prince Charming got kidnapped.

A note of caution: If you're going to go this route, then you'll probably need to use characters who've gone out of copyright. Copyright is not on an idea, but it's representation. So all the paragraphs in Twilight are copyrighted, but if you completely rewrote it with the competing love interests being a mummy and a zombie, besides being hilarious, it would probably be completely legal. If you took up Edward, Jacob and Bella, gave them all the same names, traits and characteristics, and sent them off to pull off a diamond heist, that would be bad ju-ju.
Start with something familiar and add a twist. Here's an example:

Everyone's fairly familiar with Greek and Roman Gods. And most people know they are mirrors of one another. But what if the Roman and Greek Gods decided to duke it out for control of the world?

(Part of me is kind of tempted to right this book...)

Do you use threads from existing stories to build your own? How do you take an old story, and make your mark on it?

Monday, June 20, 2011

Epic Fail

I've quit working on my latest MS. For the last few weeks I've been struggling with it, and I feel like it was draining the life out of me faster than I care to think.

In writing (and in life) we feel like we're not allowed to quit. Generally that's a good way to feel and it keeps us pressing on when the going gets tough. But sometimes, the best thing for all parties involved is to quit. Here are few considerations to help you decide when it's best to just drop the ball.

Most things in life don't come easy. And it's expected that there will be some emotional hardship. But if you're not prone to depression and you wake up every morning calculating the speed the freight train passes through town and one which part of the tracks it's the fastest, then maybe you need to re-evaluate.

Some people can do anything with an external motivator. For example, lots of people work in jobs the hate for the stability or the money or a way to support the dream. I'm not motivated to do any thing or be anywhere I don't want to be.

If you're like me, you may need to take a step back when it stops being enjoyable or if it no longer fits like a glove.

We have to make sacrifices for the things that are worth it. Sometimes you would rather be hanging out than going to work, sleeping than going to early morning college classes, out at a movie than practising whatever it is you do that needs practising. But the end result is worth the sacrifice. And if that's no longer true for an extended period, maybe it's time to move on.

In thinking about whether or not to continue on a path, you might convince yourself that giving up means you have gained nothing. I think of this as the "certification mentality". With educational programs, you receive your certificate only after you have completed all the requirements. But if you complete 61 of 64 credits of a degree, you receive nothing. Does that mean you are no better off than before you started?

If you feel like you can no longer continue on a certain path, you still get to keep all the lessons you've learned up to that point. In addition, you learn things THROUGH quitting. You might learn your limits, what you really can't stand, how much you can put up with, what you're bad at, who you become under pressure, etc. All of these may be seen as negative things, but knowing them can help you avoid them in the future, and save you from putting yourself back into situations you may need to withdraw from.

Every man is an island. (Yes, I know that's not the way it's supposed to go.) Other people can support or advise you, but YOU are the one who has to live your life. Your family and friends may mean well, and sometimes their support is enough (think Steven King's wife and Carrie), but sometimes it isn't.

It's easy to watch other people deal with similar problems and think, they're getting through it, I should be able to. I believe everyone has their kryptonite. They've got things that would through them off their game too. Don't judge yourself by your parent's, siblings', spouse's, bff's standards. Think about you.

It's Monday. That's what's on my mind.

How about you? When do you know it's time to quit?

PS. I'm also failing Socnoc, by extension. I don't think I've even written 10,000 words this month.

PPS. I think at some point I'll do a detailed analysis of all that I've learned from this project in the near future.

Friday, June 17, 2011

Chinese concert

Every once in a while, my town will bring some group to the Wa Wa Wa Domu- our community centre- and take kids from all 9 schools to see them.

Last week, we had one such opportunity with an ensemble made up native Asian instruments. I was thrilled. I kept thinking it was the coolest thing ever. The kids were mostly bored. I guess while it's "Oooo, look at the cool Chinese and Mongolese intruments!" for me, it's "Man, the stupid town always making me sit through these boring things" for them. Perception is a helluva thing.

Here's a quick introduction of the instruments:

The Niko. (Chinese: erhu. Western: Chinese Violin. )
Since "ni" means two in Japanese, I'm tempted to believe that "ko" means strings. Looking it up, it seems to refer to the Barbarian tribes from the outskirts of China. As the name suggests, it has two strings. It's a relative of the violin, and is played with a bow. Unlike a violin the soft part of the bow passes on the INSIDE of the strings. The strings are between the stick part and the soft part of the bow!

It has a high-pitched sound and can't make low notes. by pinching the bow at the very base of the strings, it makes a sound like a chirping bird. There's a hole at the back for the sound to come out.

The lady on the left is playing the niko. She's one of those crazy musicians who has all these off-the-wall facial expressions and tosses her head around so much you swear it will come off.

2. The biwa. (Chinese: pipa. Western: Chinese Lute.)
The guy on the right is playing the biwa. It has 4 strings and a gazillion frets- the little pieces of wood that run perpendicular to the strings. Both the way the biwa is played and the way it sounds are more similar to the harp than the guitar, in my opinion. As you can see, it's held upright.

3. The batoukin. (Mongolian: Morin Khuur.)

This instrument is designated one of the Masterpieces of the Oral and Intangible Heritage of Humanity. It looks like it has only 2 strings, but it's really a bunch of strings that look like one- up to 140 strings.

It's deeper than the niko and sounds somewhat like a violin, but not as mournful. It's a Mongolian instrument, and the imstrumentalist was also Mongolian. Batoukin means "horse head lute".

The guy with the biwa asked the kids to become "国際人" (Kokusaijin). It means "citizen of the world." I was so happy, because Japan can be very isolated sometimes. Here's the full ensemble. From left to right: The Japanese pianist, the Chinese niko player, the Chinese biwa player,and the Monogolian batoukin player.

The Mongolian dude looked up in his intro and said the building reminded him of home. There's a giant dome on top of the centre- that's why they call it the "Domu". He said the one's at home were skylights though. Then lo and behold, they opened the roof! I've been here three years and I've never know the roof could open. They must just never bother.

Thursday, June 16, 2011

YA Contemp Month: Ten Things I Hate About Me

Welcome back for another edition of the YA Contemporary Month giveaways. I'm your host Claaaaaaiiire Daw-awn!


First congratulations to the winner of last week's giveaway

of The Lipstick Laws by Amy Holder...


Bee, email me at muchlanguage (at) gmail (dot) com with a full name and address, and I'll mail it right off to you.


From Goodreads:
"At school I'm Aussie-blonde Jamie -- one of the crowd. At home I'm Muslim Jamilah -- driven mad by my Stone Age dad. I should win an Oscar for my acting skills. But I can't keep it up for much longer..."

In honour of the concept I thought I'd give you Ten Things I LOVED about this book.

1. Finally a multiculturally YA that doesn't make me want to strangle myself with a United Colors of Benneton flag.

2. Jamie/Jamila. :S

3. Teen views of tensions between Muslims and whites.

4. Sydney, Australia.

5. Mustafa, the rapping Aussie Lebanese-Muslim teen.

6. Even though it's totally not a love triangle, waiting to see if she picks Timothy or John.

7. Jamilah's Dad. You get him, but you still ache for her.

8. The way how the issue is so obviously important but still totally irrelevant. (Not a lot of books do that without getting preachy, and I'll admit this one had a few borderline moments.)

9. Shereen, Jamilah's political activist sister.

10. Jamilah's piping hot and steamy big brother, Bilal. *Grins*

Answer this question in the comments to enter: Were there racial tensions at your high school? (or neighbourhood/workplace/etc)
Open internationally and to anyone.
Open until Wednesday, June 22, 1159 pm EST.

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Not for publication

No matter who you are, there's no way that everything you write will be publishable. There are lots of reasons:

Maybe you don't yet have the skill level
Maybe this particular story just isn't working
Maybe someone else just published something that's too similar
Maybe there's nothing wrong with the story, but there's no market

Et cetera and so forth

But I don't think everything we write needs to be publishable.

1. Hone your talents,sharpen your skills

I hear the argument all the time about whether writing can be taught. My opinion: it can and it can't.

Skills are teachable. You can teach grammar and punctuation and even a certain amount of eloquence. You can't teach talent. Talent is a natural ability that gives one an advantage over others for no visible reason. It's why I could practice every waking hour and never run as fast as Usain Bolt, or sing as high as Mariah Carey.

But talent needs to be honed. For a writer, that means writing. You can spend forever researching, reading craft books, learning grammar, reading fiction in and out of your genre, but your writing only gets better when you write.

The beauty of honing your talents is that your skills come along for the ride. All the things you've learnt will benefit from being practised and eventually become second nature.

2. Experimentation

If you decide beforehand that you may not aim for publication, then you may find yourself writing with a certain freedom.

Yes, yes, I know they say not to worry on the first draft and just write. But some (=most or probably all) of us worry from the get-go about sale-ability. If you don't think you'll publish a project, that's the perfect time to try out all those things you've wondered about: 1st/2nd/3rd person points of view, present tense writing, a topic that's been calling you.

3. Lessons learned

You learn from every book you write. You learn what works and what doesn't. You learn what you like and what you don't. You learn what you do well and what you need to work on. And you find your voice.

I've never queried. I've never even completed a second draft. (Shame! As soon as I finish the life-draining novel I'm working on right now, I'm headed into Rewrite Land with a previous MS.) But I've learned what not to do with every novel. How to unsuccesfully intertwine plots. How insanely boring it is to just follow a character around while he does nothing. How monotonous it is when characters use the same gestures every 12 lines. How not to make the last line of your novel, "You will pay!" (Man, I wish it was a lie. See why I never talk about MS2? lol)

But I've also learned a stack of great things. I'm good at voice and character. My plots are nonexistent or derivative. I have to work on setting, since I don't naturally notice visual details. I need to think more about how to build worlds that aren't familiar to the audience (Barbados and Japan). I've learned the art of ending a chapter with an uncontrived cliffhanger (although the same doesn't apply to the end of novels. Poor MS2.)

When all is said and done, every novel that you don't publish isn't wasted. Every book you don't publish makes the ones you do, better.

Thanks for the comments on yesterday's voice post. It's something I think about a lot. According to my critiquers I nail it, and I know lots of people have trouble with it. (Don't worry, what I gain in voice, I lose miserably in plot.) And the more I tried to define it, the more I just kept thinking it's like explaining why you love someone or something. No amount of technicalities can cover it. Which is why explanatory posts on voice often end up sounding like "it just IS", and why in the end, I decided to use poetry, a medium often as elusive as the topic.

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Voice is...

Voice is
That je ne sais quoi
That makes you love
Your friends,
They way they
Do that thing that makes you
They way they

Voice is
That je ne sais quoi
That makes you love
Your favourite food
The way it’s not always the same
But it’s never different
The way you’re not sure
what you’ll get
But always know
What to expect
The way it means
The whole world to you
But something else
To Someone else

Voice is
That je ne sais quoi
That makes you love
A fashion
A pair of pants
A skirt
A shirt
The way that
A piece of cloth
And a length of thread
Can give you power
Put a sway
In your hips
And a smile
On your lips

Voice is
That je ne sais quoi
That makes you love
Your favourite book
They way a turn of phrase
Sticks in your head
Like a child who puts his hand in the cookie jar
And can’t get it out
Finding humour
Where there is none
And where there is nothing but
Colours, lives, worlds
In a single word

Voice is...



Monday, June 13, 2011

Bookaholics Anonymous

Hi, my name is Claire and I'm a Bookaholic.

(Hi Claire!)

It's been 2 days since my last purchase...

I had a trip to Tokyo this weekend. It was SCBWI Tokyo's Writers Night and it was also my first time out of Iwate since the earthquake. Not a moment too soon. I needed to get out.

I took the night bus down, which meant getting into Shinjuku (a ward of Tokyo) at 7 am, when check-in isn't til 3. I dropped my bags off at the hotel and then wandered around in search of something to do. I ended up at 3D Pirate's of the Caribbean (in Japanese- lol) and KFC, because in Japanese fast food restaurants and cafe's you can sit all day so long as you bought something.

Unfortunately, the cinema is right in front of Kinokuniya- the largest bookstore chain in Japan. Before I go on, you have to understand that Kinokuniya is one of two bookstores (the other is Maruzen) that stock a decent size English section. Junkyudo, the chain bookstore in my capital has one bookcase of English novels, and most of them are either classics or books recently converted into movies.

Every time I'm in Tokyo or Sapporo or Sendai, I find myself at Kinokuniya or Maruzen. The 8-story Kinokuniya in Shinjuku has half a floor of English novels. (Swoon!)

When I go to a bookstore, I have to make deals with myself before I enter.

Only 4 books this time Claire.
Only spending 50 bucks.
Only 20 minutes.

But the biggest factor these days is usually that I will have to lug whatever I buy from Shinjuku to Ueno on the loop line, into Hard Rock cafe while I eat my steak (yes, I have steak at Hard Rock everytime I leave Tokyo), then onto the Shinkansen to Ninohe, then onto IGR (aka Dinkville express). That's a lot of lugging. And it results in me not buying more than a few books.

On Saturday, I managed to limit myself to 5 items- 4 books and a box set of 3 of Ally Carter's Gallagher Girls series. I get to the counter and pay for my books, hand over my Kinokuniya point card and then this conversation happens.

Store Clerk: Will you take them with you?
Claire: Huh?
SC: Do you want to take the books with you?
Claire: What do you mean?
SC: Well, we can mail them anywhere in Japan.
Claire: What???? Sure!

I mentally do a happy dance while I write my address in kanji. I don't have to lug the books back with me! Woohoo! It takes all my willpower not to a have a Herbal Essences moment.

And then the fullness of the realisation hits me. The only thing that really limits me is the ability to lug the books about. And that's no longer a problem. My July/August business trip to Tokyo is going to turn into a book buying trip. So is the October trip to Kobe for the Japan Writers Conference. Darn you, Kinokuniya, for being the biggest book store chain in Japan and having 56 stores around the country.


Bad juju.

Meh, all's well that ends in books.

Any more bookaholics out there?

It's Monday, that's what's on my mind.

(PS, yes I am aware that I own a Kindle and therefore do not need ot freak out at English books in bookstores. But since when has being rational had anything to do with addiction?)

Thursday, June 9, 2011

YA Contemporary Month: The Lipstick Laws

So last week's winner

of The Secret Year



Guess you'll get to read that boy narrative after all. Email me your address and I'll get that sent to you.

Today's Contemporary YA giveaway is The Lipstick Laws by Amy Holder.

Amy's been kind enough to join us today. Hi Amy. Welcome to Talk Back Thursdays and thank you for agreeing to have a chat with us.

Thanks so much for having me! I love your blog!

Wow! I'm blushing.
Tell us, Amy, where did you get the idea for The Lipstick Laws?

The idea for The Lipstick Laws started with the main character, April. I knew I wanted to write a fun story about the ups and downs of high school, and April’s quirky, self-deprecating, teen angst voice is the first part of the story that came to me. The whole plot evolved while free-writing in her voice and putting her character into what-if scenarios.

The book is very “Mean Girls”, a genre that if not done well, tends to lean into very stereotypical portrayals. How did you keep from crossing the line?

I don’t necessarily think that I avoided stereotypical portrayals within the story. In fact, I purposely played off of stereotypes at times to create some of the humor and over-the-top situations in the book. However, I tried to make the characters well-rounded and three-dimensional by giving them backstories, real teen insecurities, and quirky personalities to bring more depth and interest to their characters and the story. My intention was to push the envelope on playing with stereotypes for entertainment purposes while avoiding the cliché that can be a result of stereotypical portrayals. I hope I achieved that.

Yes, the book is full of insecurities. April, for example is a bra-stuffer. Why did you choose this as her issue? (I’ve never had that particular problem, but I think that most –if not all- teenage girls have something they’re wildly insecure about.)

To be honest, I’ve never had that problem either… and I think that’s part of what inspired me to pick that insecurity for April. It was an insecurity that didn’t hit too close to home for me so I could write about it very candidly without crying into a pillow. It’s also something I think many girls and women can relate to, even if it’s not something they’re dealing with directly.

We all have things that we don’t like about ourselves. Since dealing with insecurities is usually a big part of adolescence, I wanted to give April a relatively common female body image hang-up. I had a very good friend in high school who lamented over her flat chest frequently, so I secretly borrowed that quirk from her (but if I want to stay alive, I will forever keep her name anonymous). The bra-stuffing was just a natural way for April to conceal her insecurity… and it allowed me to add a lot of boobicle cubicle humor to the plot.

Tell us a bit about your publication journey. How did you match up with Sarah Davies?
My path to publication was extremely unconventional! I did things a little backwards… I got published first and found my agent after that. I had every intention of querying agents after writing the manuscript draft of The Lipstick Laws. However, around that same time I happened to make a networking connection at HMH who was willing to pass my manuscript on (and avoid the dreaded slush pile). I delayed querying agents to submit the manuscript directly to the publisher on a whim with my fingers crossed; never imagining anything would come from it. I was surprised and ecstatic when I found out a few weeks later that Houghton Mifflin Harcourt wanted to publish it! I’m still so grateful to say that The Lipstick Laws was never rejected!

As far as how I matched up with Sarah Davies, once I received adaptation interest from a Hollywood producer, I knew I was out of my league and that I needed to find an agent who knows the business and could help guide my career ASAP. I did a lot of research before querying agents and was very impressed with Sarah! She’s been working in the publishing field for 20+ years, she has fabulous international connections, her clients speak very highly of her, and she’s a great person with a fantastic sense of humor (which is very important to me). After she read some of my work, we hit it off on the phone and I was thrilled to accept representation from her. Sarah also introduced me to my film agent, Jerry Kalajian (who is amazing as well)! I feel very lucky to have both of them in my corner.

Speaking of Hollywood, congrats on The Lipstick Laws recently being optioned! Can't wait to see it on screen!

Many of my readers are aspiring writers. Any advice for those of us still in the trenches?

My tips are to practice your writing craft daily, read the genre you want to write, study the publishing market, never give up, and network your tail off (the more people you know in the industry, the better your chances will be to avoid the slush pile). I also think it’s important to be careful not to stifle your own writing by comparing it to other writers’ successes or failures. Always avoid a creative comparison coma by celebrating the uniqueness of your individual writing style and journey.

Thanks for joining us today, Amy. Good luck with The Lipstick Laws!

Thanks again for having me here!! Good luck with your own writing journey!


To win, answer this: April was a bra-stuffer, what was/is your biggest insecurity in your teen years?
Contest open internationally to followers and non-followers.
Ends Wednesday at 11.59pm EST

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

A Pantsers Plot!

Today, I'm trying my hand at Road Trip Wednesday, a Blog carnival you can find every week at YA Highway.

The question: are you a plotter or a pantser?

I answered thsi question back in January. Here's a reprint of that post.


When I was little I wanted to be a scientist.

At some point, reality kicked in and I realised that I hate details and would probably discover the cure for cancer, only to find I hadn't taken note of any of the ingredients.

I did not always want to be a writer. I guess I would have to say that writing kind of followed me around and hit me upside the head until I took notice of it. I mean I was always a reader. I read so much that my primary school teachers would send me on errands to watch me walk and read. And then I started writing poetry when I was bored in classes, which was 97.498% of the time. And then I was introduced to nanowrimo. And lo and behold, the aspiring novelist was born.

Nano introduced me to the online writing community- all of you fabulous semi-imaginary friends- without whom I probably would still be writing "Roses are red" rhymes. And nano also introduced me to the concept of pantsing versus plotting.

That was back in 2008. 2 years and 2 months ago. And while that doesn't seem like that long a time, I feel like I've accrued a lot of knowledge since then. And I can't help but feel a bit misled by the plot vs pants dichotomy. Like its a mysnomer. Or a myth. Or a flat out prevarication. (That's a big word for lie. I was reading Socrates today. In Spanish. lol.)

Because the term 'pants' implies that you know nothing about the novel until pen hits paper (or fingers hit keyboard). And the term 'plot' implies that every twist and turn has been sketched out.

And I kind of wonder if those writers exist.

See, I'm a pantser. I never really have a clue where exactly my plot is going.


There are things I know beforehand. I always know my characters really well. And even though I may not know the end of the story, certain scenes are as vivid as if I lived them myself. And with each novel (I just finished my 3rd first draft) I find that I know more before I start to write.

I've heard the same thing happens to plotters too. Somewhere along the line, a character reveals something that shocks the socks off the author. Or the plot twists in an unforeseen way. Or the arch-nemesis refuses to lay down and die quietly. And most times, it seeems, the book is a better book for it.

I say all that to say this:

Don't feel like you have to belong to one camp or the other. It's not like pregnancy or death. (I mean have you ever met someone who was a little pregnant or a little dead?) You can be mostly pantser and still lay out your characters. Or brainstorm your plot points. Or make a scene list. And if you're mostly plotter, you don't have to follow the Yellow Brick Road all the way home, if suddenly a Scarecrow appears in the field. It's okay to take a detour. Or 6.

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

It's the Network!

(Suddenly I wonder if I can be sued for random use of slogans on my blog. Lawyers? Just in case: I've borrowed slogans from Verizon.)

Writing is about networking. This is not a recent thing. Writers have been finding one another and working together before literature was an industry.


Seeking out and associating with other members of the publishing industry helps you grow as a writer and can even help your career.

1. Industry.

Publishing- especially in the US, and probably moreso in the UK- is still very much a face to face everybody knows everybody industry. You wouldn't expect that a middle manager at one of 6 major companies in any other industry would know a middle manager at any of the other companies. But you'd might be surprised if an editor who'd been in publishing for a while didn't know editors at every one of the "Big 6" publishers. Just like Hollywood, knowing the right people can mean a foot in the door.
(Also, like Hollywood, pissing off the wrong people can mean, "You'll never work in this town again!" Always be professional!)

2. Critiques.

Even if your friends and family are capable of telling you about your baby objectively (and you are capable of hearing it), they just don't have the experience. You need other writers (or even very well-read readers) to give you technical specifics on problems and possible fixes.

3. Support.

Loved ones mean well, but sometimes you need a friend who knows. A friend who understands that there are days when everything that comes out is crap, and days when you just don't feel like for no reason at all. A friend who knows the sting of rejection and how almost really doesn't count. Someone who's had the same pain.

4. Identity.

Let's face it- writers are strange people. We throw off the "typical societal yoke" - things like 9 to 5's and objective professions where x is always good and y is always bad. We prefer instead to work through the nights when everyone else sleeps and be at the mercies of readers' whims.

In the "real world", many writers have to tone it down (at least I do), so that the general populus doesn't run away screaming that we're stark raving mad. But hanging out with other writers means you can be just as off-the-wall as you feel like. Let the good times roll!


So where do you find these editors, agents and writers to be friends with?

1. Attend industry events.

Yes, it can be expensive to go to a conference, but they are worth it. It's the best chance you have of meeting large numbers of editors and agents. (Of course this coming from someone who hasn't managed to attend a writer's event outside Tokyo- the first time I tried, I lost my passport; the next time, Japan had it's biggest earthquake ever.) If you really (really, really) can't go to conferences, try to attend smaller literary events in your area. They've each got an advantage. At large conferences, you'll get to meet more industry professionals. At a small event, you'll have more face time.

2. Join a literary collective.

If you're a young adult writer, subscribe to SCBWI. If you write romance, there's RWA. Any writer may benefit from a Writers' Market or Publishers' Marketplace subscription. ETC. Many of these have websites and forums (fora) where you can meet others. If you can't afford the members' fees, stop by the website and see when they have events in your area. They all have services they provide to non-members.

3. Online forum.

These days you don't have to be near anything or anybody to be a writer- case in point, the city that provides the most visits to my blog every month is in Pakistan! (Hi there, my beloved Pakistani readers!) For YA, there's YALitchat. For general writers there's WD, and Absolute Write.

4. The blogosphere.

Find and follow one writer/agent/editor blog. Comment a lot. Click on links to other blogs. Follow them. Comment some more.

I make most of my writing contacts on blogs. I do interviews fairly often. Most of these are not cold contacts. The interviewees knew me from stalking-er- following their blogs.

Thanks to the bloggosphere I've interviewed a slew of amazing people all around the world. I also met the members of my critique group through blogging. And of course the most fabulous of all, I met YOU! Yes, you, staring at the screen. (lol- that's so Sesame Street, but I couldn't resist.)


1. Agents.

Most educated writers still choose to have an agent. If you're not going to perform all the functions these superheroes do, then you'll need one too.

You'll want to meet agents represent your genre and niche. Read the acknowledgements sections of your favourite books, and look out for those agents at conferences and on the web.

2. Editors.

Consider these guys the Blackwell's of literature. They can tell you what's hot and what's not. Also, they are a step closer to final product than agents, so you can pick up more scoops from them than from a hijacked ice cream truck.

Once again the best place to meet them is at a conference. You can also find many editors online tweeting or blogging. (Aside: When I watched the YA Buzz panel from BEA, I was shocked to realise that I knew some of the editors' other projects from the moment I heard their names! Little unagented me has dream editors. How weird is that?)

3. Writers.

You'll want to meet lots of other writers, but you may especially want to meet writers who:

-have been at it longer than you have (to guide you)
-are on the same level as you (to learn alongside)
-are just starting out (writing is one of those weird fields where helping others helps you)
-write the same genre (they'll understand the conventions and restrictions)
-are extremely strong in an individual component of writing (having a friend who's really good at plot, one who's really good at character, and one who's really good at setting, etc. can help you develop each of these areas.)

4. Readers

Bloggy bud, Tawna, has beta readers who are not writers, only voracious readers. This can help you not get caught up in technicalities and move towards a sense of how well readers react to your work.

Not many people seem to have betas who are not writers, so that choice is up to you. Readers are easiest to find on the bloggosphere or on sites like Goodreads.

Connections are everything in literature. How well-connected are you?

Can you hear me now?

Monday, June 6, 2011

Something to measure by

I worked 3 of the 4 weekends in May. I don't mind though. It was Sports and that's one of the most fun days in the school year.

The first weekend was Sports at Chuugakkou (Junior High School). One of the final events is an all year relay. They make every kid in the year (including Special Ed. but not including the nurse room kids) run in this gigantic relay. The smallest year at my Chuu is 76 kids, so the relays last a while.

We were halfway through the second year's relay (13-14 yr olds) and a teacher walked over and asked me "Who's leading?" The runners were at exact opposite sides of the track. I told her which team was up.

Moments later a kid ran by and the 3rd years who were next to me, in preparation for their own relay, exclaimed, "Hayai!" He's fast. Well he was pumping, that's for sure.

I learned two lessons in that race.

1. Sometimes it's hard to tell which way is good.

One team was half a lap ahead of the other- a really good thing- but at a glance either could have been winning. In our subjective lives and the work we do, which way is up? It should be obvious but it's not.

2. You can't really qualify without comparing.

That kid that ran past when everyone said "Hayai," who's to say he was actually fast? There was noone anywhere near him. His arms and legs were going, but what's to say he was covering any ground. I could pump my arms like pistons and Usain Bolt would still lap me 3 times over 100m.

Fast only exists because of a relative normal and a relative slow. We can't know hoe good things are in a vaccum. You need to compare your work to something. Read lots in your genre. See what's strong in someone else's work, that might not be so strong in your own. Re-read old MSs that make you cringe. See how far you've come.

How do you know when you're ahead? What do you measure by?

It's Monday. That's what's on my mind.

Friday, June 3, 2011

Walk this way

As I walking to school on Wednesday, a car drove past me and stopped. A kid from my main elementary school got out. He crossed the road and went to stand with another kid. I've seen them and a few others walk to school together. All the kids do it here. And since they're all wearing the same track pants, and the really little ones have flourescent yellow caps and bookbag covers, and they walk in a line, I've taken to calling them the ducklings.

I see ducklings every day. There are two groups that walk from that area. And a couple more that come from down the hill. And then there are the groups I see when I go out to tiny school. But I'd always thought the kids walked to school because they had to. Because they're Moms or Dads weren't available to take them.

And seeing that kid get dropped off at a meeting point (and then watching his Dad turn in the direction of the school (a 2 minute drive), I realised that walking to school is probably not optional.

As you move up school years, your position in the duckling line changes. There's always a 6th grader in front, then the kids are organised from first grade up and there's always a 6th grader at the back. So walking to school is a part of your school day and a part of your 6th grade responsibilities as the school sempai.

Another thing this really drove home for me was the universality of the entire process. Your Dad could be the mayor. Or the Head of the Town Council. Or a restauranteur. Or a janitor. It doesn't matter. Everybody walks to school.

That's not the only time that everybody has to do something. Everyone has to take part in the Sports Day. (At home we had Sports too, but only the athletes participated.) Everyone has to take part in souji- the daily cleaning of the school. Everyone does something for the Bunkasai- School Culture festival.

And that in essence is the difference between Japan and the West.

For us, life is about leaving your mark, having a claim to fame, making yourself the best you can be, getting the best job you can.

In Japan, life is about being a part of something. You're a part of your family. A part of your elementary, middle, high school. A part of your school club. A part of your university. A part of the company you work for. A part of Japan.

You can even see it in the way you say your name. Group first, then last name, then first name. Star Wars no Watanabe Ken. From most important to least.

And you don't further yourself. You further your group. Your sempai (elders). Your sensei(teachers).

And it all starts with a line of ducklings learning to walk this way.

Thursday, June 2, 2011

YA Contemporary Month: The Secret Year

Congrats to the winner of last's week's giveaway:


It's in the mail. :) (Or at least it will be as soon as Amazon wakes up. It's about 6 am in that part of the world. lol)

It's YA Contemporary Month (thanks to The Contemps). Every Thursday this month, there will be a YA contemporary book up for grabs. It's international and open to anyone! Good luck!

Today's offering: THE SECRET YEAR by Jennifer Hubbard.

From Goodreads:
Take Romeo and Juliet. Add The Outsiders. Mix thoroughly.

Colt and Julia were secretly together for an entire year, and no one—not even Julia's boyfriend— knew. They had nothing in common, with Julia in her country club world on Black Mountain and Colt from down on the flats, but it never mattered. Until Julia dies in a car accident, and Colt learns the price of secrecy. He can't mourn Julia openly, and he's tormented that he might have played a part in her death. When Julia's journal ends up in his hands, Colt relives their year together at the same time that he's desperately trying to forget her. But how do you get over someone who was never yours in the first place?

I'm embarrassed to admit that this book has been sitting in my bookshelf since it came out. I've picked it up and put it back down several times, because I didn't want to read another sad book about death. I only picked it up last night because of this contest. And then I practically inhaled the book. I'd forgotten the meaning of "page-turner". In fact, this book is so gripping that I took it to class last night and my colleague got thoroughly absorbed in it. In the middle of class!

The summary does a good job of summarising the novel,so I'm just going to share a few points.

5 (not-so) Secrets about THE SECRET YEAR.

1. A boy narrates. WIN!

2. Sex. But not gratuitous. Or vilified. Or glorified. Just another fact of life.

3. It's more about the person who died, than the death itself.

4. Class distinctions.

5. It's about love. All types.

To enter:
Tell us in the comments, did you ever have a secret from the whole world? How did you handle it? (Don't worry, you don't have to tell us the secret!)
Open to everyone, internationally.
Entries close Wednesday at 11.59 pm EST.

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Intertwined Plots

Hi lovelies!

If you've been trying to comment on the last couple days posts unsuccessfully, it's because Blogger's been having a conniption. I've temporarily solved the problem, by changing to a Pop-up comment box instead of an embedded one.

And speaking of Blogger and conniptions, anyone else have issues with their Twitter buttons on their blogs?

Today, I'm going to feature intertwined plots.
To my mind, a story has intertwined plots when two or more plots:

are of equal/similar importance or take up equal/similar space in the story

are not entirely independent but drive one another
Plots are of equal/similar importance or take up equal/similar space

A couple years back, ensemble casts (large casts with no 'main' character) came back into style. You can see ensemble casts in tv shows like FRIENDS and in movies like LOVE ACTUALLY, VALENTINE'S DAY and CRASH. Since each character has his/her own life, issues, triumphs, etc, ensemble casts almost automatically give rise to intertwined plots.

Take the movie VALENTINE'S DAY- 19 characters show us what love us in their own different way. Every couple/character has a similar chunk of time in the spotlight. We don't spend half hour with the teen sweethearts and five minutes with the old, married couple.

On the flip, plots may not take up a similar amount of space or time, but are just as important. A few weeks ago I gave away a copy of THE SUMMER BEFORE BOYS. One of my favourite things was the intertwined plot. The "main" plot focuses on how a boy changes the relationship between two best friends. But there are also interwoven chapters about war, and women in war, because Julia's mother is in Iraq. Even though it's not the focus of the story, you can bet that this is every bit as important to Julia as what is going on in the here and now.

The same is true of the movie INCEPTION. It's an action movie and the majority of time is spent in the action plot, building a dream sequence that the team can infiltrate and acheive their goal. But even though it doesn't take centre-stage, Cobb's personal plot - he wants to get home to his children- is just as important.

Plots are not entirely independent but drive one another.

This is the case in CRASH. At first the characters are all seperate and distinct, and so are their individual plot lines, but eventually one character's actions lead to consequences for another character, and the effect keeps rolling towards disaster.

How intertwined plots differ from subplots

A subplot is a secondary or tertiary plot which doesn't (usually) have a major effect on the main plot. In TWILIGHT, it doesn't really matter whether Jessica dates Mike, Eric or Ben, Bella wil remain bewitched by Edward.

A subplot doesn't take up much time/space and happens largely in the background.

A subplot (usually) doesn't drive the main plot.

How does it work?

There is one main thing an intertwined plot needs: a point of connection.

In all of the cases I can think of this point of connection is one of two things: a character or a concept.

In SUMMER BEFORE BOYS Julia has two major things going on in her life. She meets a boy and her mother is in Iraq with the National Guard. These two things are both huge for Julia- she's never noticed a boy before, and there exists a real possibility that she may never say her mother again.

Intertwined plots linked around a concept seem to be more common in film and tv- maybe because of the large number of characters.

CRASH focuses on racism.
LOVE ACTUALLY and VALENTINE'S DAY both focus on love.
FRIENDS (surprise, surprise) focuses on friendship.

What they offer

Intertwined plots go deep.

Plots built around a concept offer a chance to see that concept from many points of view. In CRASH we see different ways in which people can be affected by racism: affluent black people, black people with power over white people, latino people, white people who want to do the right thing, middle Eastern people... An author/screenwriter could have zeroed in on anyone of these tales for a single portrait of what racism means. The difference between a single story and an intertwined plot based on a concept is like the difference between a lecture and a panel discussion.

Plots built around a character offer a chance to get deeper into that character. Characters, like real people, have a lot going on. Writers choose which parts of a character's life they will show to the audience. The advantage of the main-plot/sub-plot structure is that the audience gets more connected to a single issue.But issues don't line themselves up to happen one at a time. Life doesn't wait til you've finished struggle with your female issues to throw race issues at you. For this reason intertwined plots centred on a character can feel more real.

Why do intertwined plots work?

Clearly, I love me a good intertwined plot. But why? More to love.

In the stories built around a concept, you get to see five or ten points of view for the price (and effort) of one. And because there's so much going on, you get to picks the parts you love/agree with, and if there are parts that don't float your boat, they don't take up enough of the pie to make you walk away from the story as a whole. There's more chance that there will be a character who you strongly identify with or can understand. Added bonus: you learn from the characters you don't identify as well with until it's time for your faves to show up again.

In stories built around a character, you can feel lukewarm about one plot, and be pulled in by the other. Or your feelings about one may cause you to be more interested in the other.

Why they fail

I think that intertwined plots are very difficult to do well. This comes partly from one horrible and one passable attempt at writing them. And partly from seeing the result of an almost well-done intertwined plot.

When the focus is on concept, there are multiple main characters. Each of those characters has to be 3-D. They each need lives, problems, aspirations. If it's easy to fail with 3 or 4 secondary characters, it must be a million times easier to fail with 10 main characters.

When the focus is on character, there lies a danger in not developing one (or more)of the plots as well.

In either case, if the point of connection seems too tenuous, then it will feel like the story just runs in a bunch of different directions.

Take VALENTINE'S DAY, the biggest all-star cast in recent history that I can think of, and yet it didn't do that well. It's a movie about Valentine's Day, but the characters had very little connection to one another. So it ended up being like a guy standing outside a grocery store asking random people to tell him about love.

Anyone else out there totally beswotted with intertwined plots?