Monday, March 18, 2013

Book Updates: Invisibility & Vitro

Two books to talk about:

1. I finished reading Invisibility by Andrea Cremer and David Levithan, and I loved it. It's the story of a boy who's been invisible his entire life, and what happens when he meets the only person--a girl his own age--who is able to see him. The moment I heard what the book was about, I knew I had to read it, and was lucky enough to snag an ARC. Guys--it rocked! It was sweet, surprising, intense, and triumphant--a fast-moving read with fresh, likable characters and two distinct voices (the story is told alternatively through Stephen's and Elizabeth's perspectives). The pub date for this book is May 7--I know, I know, absolute ages!! But you should totally pre-order it because it is worth it. In fact, to justify my own pre-order of the hardcover, I'm giving away the ARC below--so be sure to drop your name in the hat if you want an early peek! 

2. I finally got to reveal the title and synopsis of my next book!! It's called Vitro and it's coming out early winter 2014. It's not a sequel to Origin but it is set in the same universe, so you'll see one familiar character from Origin. Haven't revealed the cover yet (but I've been sitting on it since last summer so I'm really dying to share--all that to come!). Anyway, you can read the synopsis and add it to your to-read list here!

Contest ends March 26. Winner will be contact by email and will have 14 days to respond or your prize will be forfeited. US and Canada only, please!

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Thursday, March 14, 2013

On Inspiration: How To Find Your Story

This post is adapted from the presentation I give when I speak at schools. I added this topic to my presentation after I started receiving a good many emails from students telling me they wanted to write a story, but had trouble coming up with an idea that was fresh and interesting.

If you're a writer just starting out, that can be really tough. I know it was for me. It took me years to separate my ideas from the books I read, to move into a place where my inspiration became original and personal, instead of just me recycling the stories and characters I read about. This isn't a bad thing--this imitation of other writers. It's how we learn, and I believe most writers start off that way.

For example, my first novel (which I wrote at age 13, when I was in the height of this story-stealing phase) actually started out as fan fiction of the Redwall series by Brian Jacques. When I realized I couldn't really a call a story my own when I was basically copying another writer's world, I changed the species of my characters from squirrels to humans, and thought that in doing so I had broken free into new original territory. I hadn't. In fact, when I thrust that poorly written and decidedly horrid manuscript onto some of my friends after I'd finished it, begging them for feedback, more than one handed it back saying, "You know, you write a lot like Brian Jacques. Ever hear of him?" Palm to the face. Palm. To. The. Face. Apparently, changing the species of my cast wasn't enough to qualify me for  true originality. But I would learn.

So anyway, all this to say, I've come a long way from that sad, beloved first novel in terms of ideas and inspiration and finding my own unique voice. If you're a young or newly developing writer, here are some ways you can begin to do that too, and places where you might draw your inspiration. Then, armed like Benjamin Franklin out to catch a lightning bolt, you can set out to catch your story.

Four Places Where Inspiration Might Strike

What interests you?

It's pretty basic, but it's so important. You have to love your story material. You have to be passionate not only about the characters and the plot, but about the world, the settings, the props, the activities. 

I sometimes miss this as I'm writing. For example, I need my character (oh, let's call her Kate) to have a little more backstory to her. I want her to play some sport at school, perhaps. My natural inclination is to  make my characters different from me (I don't know why) so I'd likely assign her to something like basketball or lacrosse, two sports about which I know nothing. Now, I could take the time to learn, to research these things--and that's good. That's fine. You can totally do that. Writing should stretch you and bring you to new places, learning new information. But if I stop and just think for a minute, I'll realize that making Kate a soccer player will be a much stronger move. I'm a soccer player. I adore soccer. I'm one of those scream-at-the-television kind of soccer fans. So when I plop Kate down on the soccer pitch, I suddenly feel more passionate about her character, because I can relate to her passion for The Beautiful Game. I learn things about her I didn't know before--that she's highly competitive, that maybe she loses her head a bit in the heat of the game, that she's fiercely loyal to her teammates. And I know these things because when I think about soccer, I feel them myself or have known teammates who were like this. When I think about lacrosse or basketball, I feel nothing. Blah. Whatever. 

By simply going in the direction of what interests me, I find so much more emotion, experience, and passion to draw from as I write, whether it's something as small as adding another hobby to my character's repertoire or coming up with a completely new, big story idea.

I mean, look how passionate soccer players are. Awesome.

The Magic Question

I borrow this phrase from the theatre, though I think it might originally come from psychology or something. Whatever. Anyway, it's simply this: 

"What if _________?" 

I love this. It's so open, so filled with possibility. What if the world weren't actually made of rock and dirt, but it's actually some giant sleeping creature that starts to wake up? What if when you take a photograph you're actually creating a new alternate reality that begins inside that picture? What if my long-lost grandmother suddenly appeared and told me I was the princess of a tiny, wealthy kingdom in Europe? Oh, wait... You get the idea. 

The key is to hold nothing back. Let it all spill out--the silly ideas, the impossible ideas, the ideas that will never go anywhere. This can be done as a kind of exercise in creativity. You have to be willing to sound a bit ridiculous, a little crazy. But there are no truly bad ideas or stupid ideas--they're just ideas. They're not even stories yet. But they could be--somewhere in the dozens and dozens of What if? questions you pour out, there just might be a golden ticket to story inspiration.

What terrifies you?

What's your greatest fear? What's that one subject you always avoid because it makes your blood turn cold and your chest constrict and your skin crawl? Is it the dark? It is spiders? Is it the thought of being alone in a strange place? 

Use your fears to bring real tension to your story. If you write about something you are afraid of, it will be much easier and more organic to translate that fear into your writing. 

For example, one of my fears is death, and especially of losing someone I love. This is a fear I drew on in writing ORIGIN; it's a topic Pia contemplates to some depth. I relate to her through her fear of losing her loved ones more than anything else, because I understand it. 

Building real, personal fears into your story not only makes it relatable to you, but probably to a lot of your readers as well. I'd say most of our fears are pretty commonly held by the majority of people--death, darkness, loneliness, etc. Fear makes your characters human. It makes them vulnerable, gives them that all-important Achilles heel. Once you know their deepest fear, you can exploit it--twist the knife in the heart, so to speak. Pry into their fear and force them to face it in a dramatic way.

*Zephyrance - don't wake me up. / / CC BY-ND

History, Science, Art

The world is burning with untold stories. As writers, our primary concern is seeking out those stories and telling them. Sometimes inspiration doesn't necessarily begin with us, as in the previous points. Sometimes, it comes from outside--from a painting, a poem, a news story, a stranger sitting on a park bench. 

Mary Oliver said, "I think our duty as writers begins not with our own feelings, but with the power of observing." Exposing yourself to art, to history, science, nature, whatever, can be a great way to find a story. The key here is to always be alert.

Keep the Magic Question always in your pocket. No, scratch that. Don't keep it in your pocket--wear it like a pair of glasses, through which you're always seeing the story stuff of the world. Look at history this way--What if Abraham Lincoln were really a vampire slayer? Look at science. What if, ten years from now, invisibility technology becomes viable? And art. One of my favorites! (Hence my massive Pinterest collection). Photography, painting, sculptures, gosh--did you know they've got whole museums packed with the stuff? Good art not only comes from good inspiration--it's also becomes inspiring to others. And there's bookoos of it out there, so you've got no excuse, really, to not be inspired--especially if, like the good little writer you are, you're wearing your MQ glasses.

Tuesday, March 5, 2013

Mini-Lesson: How To Be An Author

1. READ. Read everything. In your genre, outside your genre, fiction, non-fiction, classics, short stories, poetry, magazines, journals, history, science, the bottoms of tissue boxes and the back of your shampoo bottle. This is how you acquire new words and new ideas. This is how you know what's been done before and what works. This is how you learn what good writing is (or isn't, as the case may be). Lose yourself in libraries. Find new sections in the bookstore. Fall in love with books and reading and words and stories. Like this little guy:

2.WRITE. Write every day. Prose, poetry, diary, blogs, it all counts, and it's all important. Write badly. Write without using any punctuation marks. Use words you've never used before. Get funky with your thesaurus. You have to find your voice, your writing identity, your unique literary thumbprint. Explore with words and challenge yourself in impossible ways. Do NaNoWriMo. Join online writing guilds. Go to conferences and take classes. Write for yourself and for others and above all else, for gosh sakes, don't stop and don't give up. And if at all possible, write on a steampunk typewriter computer like this one, because COOL:

3. LIVE. (this especially to all you introverts like me!) Don't let your only experience of the world be vicarious. Go outside, meet new people, go to strange places, eat weird foods, do crazy and daring things. Go outside your comfort zone. Challenge yourself. Have adventures. The most important thing you will bring to your writing is your own personality, experiences, and emotions. Don't borrow all of that from books, moves, TV, etc. Get out and find your own!

4. BE QUIRKY. Be yourself! (see #3)

5. GET INVOLVED. Find other writers, either in person or online, and especially ones who are at the same stage as you are. Share your frustrations, your triumphs, your risks, and your failures. Connect with other writers because then you will know that you are not alone and that success is possible. When you have a bad day, when you're paper mache-ing bowls out of your rejection letters and you hate every word you ever put on paper, these are the people who will listen to you, hurt with you, encourage you, then pick you up off the floor, dust you off, and push you back in line. To write is to be intensely vulnerable. It's you pasting the tenderest parts of your identity to the wall and then letting any passing stranger chuck a tomato at them. You're going to need a wingman or two. You're going to need to know that you are not alone and that you are strong enough to take a few hits. Surround yourself with the ones who make you stronger. Surround yourself with the honest ones, the kind ones, the ones you'll be there for just as they are there for you.

Be like the Doctor. Always take a companion. Hugs take two--even virtual ones!