Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Guilt and Book Shopping

Me: Confession time.

Aurelia: Let’s hear it.

Me: I have not been blogging because I have been reading.

Aurelia: I noticed.

Me: The entire Maximum Ride series.

Aurelia: I noticed that too.

Me: And also because I have been immersing myself in the three levels of Christmas time book shopping.

Aurelia: I wasn’t aware there were three levels.

Me: Of course there are. First there’s the pre-Christmas book shopping, i.e. buying books while one is supposed to be shopping for someone else (nasty habit—also irresistible). This year I bought Forged in Fire by Ann Turnbull, The Eunuch’s Heir by Elaine Isaak, Dating Ophelia by Lisa Fieder, and A Sweet Disorder by Jacqueline Kolosov (though I’m afraid UPS has lost this one because it STILL hasn’t arrived).

Aurelia: Poor you.

Me: Umm . . .

Aurelia: And the second level of Christmas book shopping?

Me: That would be gift card shopping!

Aurelia: You sound a little too excited about this.

Me: Impossible.

Aurelia: Go ahead. Reel them off. I can tell you’re dying to.

Me: That Certain Spark by Cathy Marie Hake, A Tailor-Made Bride by Karen Witemeyer, At the House of the Magician, By Royal Command, and The Betrayal by Mary Hooper, and Cast in Chaos by Michelle Sagara.

Aurelia: And that wasn’t enough for you?

Me: Well, some books weren’t in the bookstore and I had to re-order something from Amazon anyway .

Aurelia: So . . .

Me: So I also purchased A Time to Dance by Karen Stickler Dean and Spyglass and Inside Out by Maria V. Snyder.

Aurelia: Why do I have a feeling I haven’t heard everything yet.

Me: Maybe because I ordered some books from the library?

Aurelia: Of course.

Me: Nobody’s Princess by Esther Friesner, Found by Margaret Peterson Haddix, Envy by Anna Godbersen . . .

Aurelia: And . . .

Me: Once a Witch by Carolyn McCullough.

Aurelia: Guilt is just pointless right now; isn’t it?

Me: Yep.

So readers, what are your holiday books?

Sunday, December 19, 2010

The Prologue Conundrum

As a reader, I dislike prologues.

I know. I know what you’re thinking. If you’ve read Aurelia and Academy 7, you’re thinking, You hypocrite!

Bear with me. We’ll get to that.

As I was saying, prologues build tension, get you wrapped up in the story, and then leave you hanging. Ahhh!

(Now as a writer, that’s not really not a bad thing. Is it?)

I have to admit, as a reader, that I can’t really think of a single book in which I’ve stopped reading directly after the prologue.

Because—you know—sooner or later, whatever left you hanging is going to have to come back into play, right?

At least, I hope so.

Though sometimes one wonders . . .

On to the writer’s perspective. There are a number of excellent reasons to have a prologue.

Reason 1: Begin with the action.

This is one of those little pieces of advice you learn at writing conferences. And in How-to-Sell-Your-First-Novel-books. And when you take your novel to a critique group, or pay to have it critiqued.

It is also one of those things you can ignore.

Unless you hear it, as Aurelia and I did, several times. In which case you might want to pay attention.

You see, most chapters build. They build and build and build toward the climax, then drop you off the cliff. At least they do if you are raised to believe, as I was, that Mark Twain was the ultimate story-teller.

But at the beginning of a book, this is a problem because the reader doesn’t have a cliffhanger yet to push him or her through the build-up.

So . . . think of the prologue as the final scene in a chapter. The climax, without the build-up.

Makes sense, doesn’t it?

FYI, this is exactly what happened with Aurelia. The Prologue was always there. It just used to be at the end of chapter one.

Until it moved to become “The Prologue.”

Reason 2: Prologues are short.

I always had this image of Aerin, from Academy 7, lost, flying in space, and getting rescued.

It made sense to put the scene into the beginning of the book. Since, you know, it’s kind of cool.

The problem was there was nothing cool about what happened immediately after Aerin was rescued. She’s in a total state of panic and won’t say anything for at least a month. There was this other scene that I cut—because it was boring and didn’t go anywhere and required two characters I really didn’t need. And well, when you cut half a first chapter, you’re left with . . .

A "Prologue."

Reason 3: The Prologue is in someone else’s head.

The beginning of the book I’m writing now starts out in the head of a secondary character. There are reasons for this which I can’t avoid. Nor do I want my readers to fall under the impression that this character has been granted story-teller status. He hasn’t. He’s just volunteered to provide a different perspective.

For “The Prologue.”

And finally . . .

Reason 4: The Prologue simply happens before the rest of the book.

Salvation is about a school year. Senior year—to be exact. It starts off on the first day of school and works its way through Senior Skip Day at the end.

Except this one short scene in August.

You guessed it, “The Prologue.”

So . . . as a reader, I don’t care much for prologues.

As an author, I kind of ADORE them.

Saturday, December 11, 2010


Dane swears.

I don’t. I don’t swear. Seriously. Maybe once in a hundred and fifty days. Rarely enough that people tend to make a huge deal about it if I do. So it was no surprise to me that there was no swearing in Aurelia. Actually, Robert made the attempt—he really didn’t like watching Gregory beat up the colt, but even that one comment didn’t make it through my critique group. So there is literally no swearing in Aurelia. Remember me mentioning how polite and helpful Robert is?

Dane is not.

I said, “You know, Dane, maybe you shouldn’t swear.”

And he said—

Well, if you’ve read Academy 7, you have a pretty good idea of what he said.

I find it interesting how many people comment about the swearing or lack of swearing or relative lightness of swearing within books as if it is the choice of the author. Or the editor for that matter.

This is not my experience.

I find that swearing is almost exclusively the choice of the character.

Salva and Beth both swear. Generally lightly and just in their heads.

I could give excuses to explain this. Such as the observation that real teenagers growing up in less than affluent neighborhoods and less than affluent high schools tend to swear, but the truth is, this is just the way Salva and Beth talk. Or think.

And really they are extremely well-spoken—class acts—especially in comparison to Pepe, whom you haven’t met yet.

And whom Beth can’t stand.

And who I admit to having had reservations about until Salva explained his best friend to me.

But censoring Pepe is like asking him to shut up.

It doesn’t work.

So . . . I’m apologizing to you all for this now.

Because, truthfully, it’s a whole lot easier than trying to have the discussion with a hundred and ninety pound linebacker.

Though goodness knows I’ll make the attempt if my editor asks for it. In which case, you can expect to see me back here for a report on how that undoubtedly painful conversation with Pepe went.

Saturday, December 4, 2010


Beth, one of the main characters in Salvation, has a tendency to be right. A lot.

She and I have been discussing the concept of inadequacy this week. Actually she’s been trying to discuss it with me, and I’ve been ignoring her until now, but here’s the gist.

She feels quite inadequate quite a lot, and I don’t want that particular trait to get in the way of anyone’s appreciation of her so I edited out one of her lines (thoughts really) in my last draft of Salvation before I sent it off to my editor.

Beth says this isn’t OK.

“All right,” I say. “I can put it back in (It’s only one line. I seriously doubt my editor will mind), but are you sure you want your readers to know exactly how inadequate you feel in that scene? They might misunderstand and view you as weak.”

She rolls her eyes. And then she points out to me that I’m totally underestimating the beauty of inadequacy.

“What?” I say.

“Don’t play dumb with me,” she replies. “You know there’s something wonderful about feeling inadequate.”

And she’s right.

I’ve been studying art today. Great art. Ladder to the Moon by Georgia O’Keefe, The Railroad by Edouard Manet, The Great Wave off Kanagawa by Katsushika Hokusai, and on and on and on.

Don’t worry if you don’t recognize any of these. I wouldn’t have when I started my current art history class.

But here’s the thing.

They’re all amazing. In completely different ways. In ways I couldn’t even really see when I first looked at them. Which makes me feel inadequate.

The same as the scene in the Hunger Games in which District 11 sends Katniss the bread. Until that point in the story, I was still a little uncertain about the book. Because it was hugely popular, and I don’t usually love hugely popular books. But that scene (frankly any scene that makes me cry) just blew me out of the water. This small, tiny moment in the midst of rushing intensity.
As a reader, I felt moved. As an author, totally inadequate.

And two weeks ago I saw the movie, In the Time of the Butterflies, about the Mirabal Sisters and their fight against corruption in the Dominican Republic. Based on the book by Julia Alvarez. I’ve read two novels by Alvarez, both about exile, but the immediacy of this story and the joy—the constant depiction of joy within a film so deeply embedded in tragedy—was breathtaking. I . . . am . . . in awe.

And I LOVE this feeling.

Because really, it’s amazing that art can make us feel at all. That you can be sitting there on your couch, or reading by your lamp, or eating popcorn in a movie theater and react so powerfully to something that isn’t even “there.”

So yes, I have to admit, Beth is right.

There’s something truly wonderful about feeling inadequate.

Wednesday, December 1, 2010


Dec. 1, 2010

My first deadline for Salvation. Which Salva, Beth, and I met! Talk to you all this weekend.

(who adores snow days, especially when they come right before deadlines)

Monday, November 22, 2010

Thanksgiving Top Ten

As an author I have tremendous number of “Thank you’s” to pass out this year . . .

1. To my mother for making chicken & dumplings, pumpkin bread, and lemon meringue pie. And leaving them all with me last Thanksgiving so that I would not be too broken-hearted about spending the holiday alone (with the exception of some spectacular furries) as I madly endeavored to meet my Dec. 1st deadline for Exile.

2. To Robert & Aurelia for detaching themselves from the Asyan Forest, climbing the Gate (despite Aurelia’s fear of heights), crossing the frontier, traversing the desert, and arriving at Darzai all of 24 hours before said terrifying deadline.

3. To my editor, Angelle, for miraculously reading all of the first draft of Exile in about 12 days and returning it ready for revision before the start of Christmas Break.

4. To my Dad for answering umpteen million questions about highly important literary factoids such as . . . “How exactly does one change the oil in a car?”

5. And to my sister for answering similar such questions about medically relevant literary factoids like “What color does someone’s skin turn after they’ve had a central line?”

6. To my cat, Dance, for informing me that she much prefers when I spend the entire summer attached to my couch typing away than when I disappear for days on end having exciting adventures to which she is not privy.

7. To the internet for permitting me to find a plethora of facts about highly non-academic subjects, such as different types of flavored lemonade.

8. To whatever amazing person realized that I was an Oregon author (even though I do not live anywhere near Portland—the social hub of various writing groups—or near any hubs of any writing groups whatsoever) and nominated Academy 7 for the Spirit of Oregon Award.

9. To Beth for helping convince Salva to do what he didn’t want to do (even though she and I now realize he was completely justified in his reluctance).

10. And to Salva. For going home anyway.

Monday, November 15, 2010

Do Princesses Get a Bad Rap?

Me: Do you think princesses tend to get a bad rap?

Aurelia: A what?

Me: My friend and I were talking about the color pink and how, at a certain age, pink tends to become “uncool” because it’s associated with little girls. And well, considering the whole “Disney Princess” phenomenon (i.e. girls walking around in miniature Disney princess costumes until they generally no longer fit in the ones sold off the shelf, do you think princesses face the same anti-little-girl backlash as, say, the color pink?

Aurelia: I’m not a fan of pink.

Me: OK, but that wasn’t exactly my question.

Aurelia: And I think some princesses deserve a backlash.

Me: Again, not my question.

Aurelia: Also a lot of Disney princesses rock!


Aurelia: The littlest mermaid doesn’t let anything intimidate her.

Me: True.

Aurelia: And Belle is very intelligent.

Me: She is.

Aurelia: And I’m rather fond of Jasmine. She knows Aladdin is being an idiot, and she—

Me: OK, I think we’re getting off track here.

Aurelia: No, actually I think I’m agreeing with you. Because you’re talking about marketing, and it’s silly to market fairy tales and strong heroines (princesses or not—Mulan is quite as awesome as Jasmine) to only little girls. Look at the villains in these stories: the evil queen in Snow White, Maleficent in Sleeping Beauty, Ursula/the sea witch in The Little Mermaid. These are some of the creepiest, most insane examples of cruelty in film. Or literature, for that matter. Any character who can defeat them is clearly more than a token in a McDonald’s happy meal.

Me: I agree.

Aurelia: I said you did.

Me: And you agree that people do have a tendency to underestimate princesses?

Aurelia: Well, yes. It’s no big achievement to be a princess, but it is rather an accomplishment to survive being one without—say—winding up with your head spiked on London Bridge.

Me: Not very appealing.

Aurelia: No.

Sunday, November 7, 2010

The Idiotic English Language

The inspiration for this post comes from two personal experiences. First, the nightmarish adventure of trying to teach students how to correctly punctuate dialogue. They often do quite well, but . . .

How many times must one repeat “No, the punctuation comes before the final quotes!?”

Or “You need a comma to introduce the quote.”

Or “You can’t have a period in the middle of a sentence.”

Or “It is OK to have an exclamation point in the middle of a sentence.”

Or “Just because the quote is an exclamation doesn’t mean you need an exclamation point at the end of the sentence.”


You get the picture.

Meanwhile, this week, I am reading Girl in the Arena by Lisa Haines.

Which has no quotation marks in any of the dialogue.

Nope, not one set!

Each quote is started off with a dash. And that’s it.

What a concept! Do you know how much easier it would be to teach writing dialogue with this system? As a reader, it was distracting at first, since I wasn’t used to it.

But after half the book, I’m fine.

As a teacher, I am in awe. Absolutely, one hundred percent in favor of simple.

While we’re at it, let’s “simplify” a few of the other time-sucking annoyances within the English language.

I hereby announce that there should only be one spelling of "there.”

Think of all the hours which could be saved from a. teaching the difference, b. reteaching the difference, and c. fixing the errors for people who can’t catch themselves even though they know the difference between there, their, and

And let’s make up our mind about its and it’s; to, too, and two; and threw and

Even more valuable, how about a whole different way to spell the words though, through, and

To quote the sovereign of the English language:

“When to the sessions of sweet silent thought
I summon up remembrance of things past,
I sigh the lack of many a thing I sought
And with old woes new wail my dear time’s waste."

Any language beautiful enough to create that is surely powerful enough to withstand a few small simplifications. So . . . what would you like to change?

Monday, November 1, 2010


Me: Umm . . . Aurelia?

Aurelia: Yes?

Me: It was report card weekend.

Aurelia: I know. It's OK.

Me: It is?

Aurelia: Yes, because your technical web designer, Dawn (aka DMS Graphics), has been working hard to update your website,
http://www.anneosterlund.com/, with a brand new "Fun Fluff" page, new reviews for Academy 7, a new Publishing & Submissions Tips page via your Writing Friends and Resources page, and an updated faq page.

Me: Dawn is awesome!

Aurelia: Yes, she is. As is Maria, your artistic webdesigner.

Me: Maria, is awesome times two.

Aurelia: I particularly like the picture she chose to go next to the question about writers' block on the new faq page.

Me: That was my idea!

Aurelia: So . . . I will forgive you for your failure to blog. This weekend.

Me: Thank you.

Aurelia: But I will not be hearing next Monday about how this was "Conference Weekend." Right?

Me: Umm . . . right.

Sunday, October 24, 2010

On the Graveyard of Good Ideas

This week I had a Whitworth Spotlight article posted online about winning the Spirit of Oregon Award for Academy 7. Awesome, really, but I thought you’d probably rather hear Aerin and Dane's reaction to the award than mine. So I took the idea to Aerin and Dane. And, well, sometimes good ideas don’t work out. This was how the conversation went.

Aerin: He says, “No.”

Me: Really, why not?

(Aurelia enters.)
Aurelia: Haven’t you noticed? He never pulls his weight around here!

Me: Aurelia, this was a conversation between Aerin and me.

Aurelia: You’re both going to let him get away with this, aren’t you?

Me: Aurelia, this is NOT your book.

Aurelia: Fine! (She exits.)

Aerin: They’re too much alike.

Me: I’ve noticed.

Aerin: Anyway, he says he doesn’t do interviews.

Me: But it’s not really press.

Aerin: He says if Aurelia wants to run this blog, that’s fine with him, but we’ll have to do it without him.

Me: And what did you say to that?

Aerin: I said I wasn’t talking in public all by myself.

Me: You’re saying no interview.

She shakes her head.

Me: But don’t you think people would rather hear from you than me?

Aerin: I think they’d rather hear from him.

Me: And he thinks . . . ?

Aerin: He says . . .

Dane: No!

So, I guess I’ll just have to send you all over to the Whitworth Spotlight article instead. http://news.whitworth.edu/2010/10/whitworth-education-alumna-wins-oregon.html

Saturday, October 16, 2010

The VOICE and the Laundromat

We’ve all heard it. The VOICE.

As authors, we’re writing our way through a big dramatic climax somewhere around chapter 21, and there’s this voice calling from a short little scene back in chapter four, saying “You’re going to have to fix this . . .”

And sometimes it's the dumbest thing!

Maybe Aurelia forgot to pack her bag correctly on the trip.

Or someone stole Robert’s sword, and I forgot to give it back to him. (Yes, I did this. Robert was fine with it, but apparently the VOICE was not).

Or someone has to cry in such and such scene, even though your editor doesn’t think so.

Or some bird was friggin’ the wrong color.

Or I failed to take Salva to the Laundromat.

Yes, this was the noisy complaint all the way through my second draft of Salvation.

How could I have failed to take him to the Laundromat?

Turned out Salva didn’t want to go. (I know you’re in shock—but really, what 17-year-old boy wants to spend his Tuesday evening doing homework at the Laundromat?).

But apparently this was necessary.

The VOICE must be heeded.

The “Laundromat scene” is really dinky—maybe three pages. I tried to write it in the Laundromat earlier, and it just wasn’t working (turns out this was due to a misinterpretation of the role of a certain friendship bracelet), so I gave up and let Salva study at home. In his kitchen.

Seemed to go fine when I wrote it.

But oh no, the VOICE didn’t think so.

Continued to pester me. For—count them—152 more pages. And through the whole moral dilemma of whether it would be better to turn this in early or go through a full third draft. “You need to take Salva to the Laundromat,” said the Voice.

“It’s not important,” I said.

“Yes, it is,” said the Voice.

“My editor will never know the difference,” I said.

You will,” said the Voice.


So here I am. Literally about ten writing days left before my ultimate deadline. Fixing the Laundromat scene.

Which by the way, I like better now. For NO DISCERNABLE REASON.

Except the VOICE is happy.

Sunday, October 10, 2010

Crazy Weekend

Am afraid I don't have time to write a regular blog post this weekend. In the past two days, I managed to achieve the following:

Follow fellow author Rosanne Parry's directions to her house without getting lost, then follow her car to Lake Oswego High School, which is covered in scaffolding a la Academy 7.

Accept the Spirit of Oregon Award from the Oregon Council of Teachers of English for the best YA book of the year by an Oregon author for Academy 7. All my characters were very supportive of Aerin and Dane!

Meet fellow author, Laini Taylor, who has brilliant pink hair & was tremendous fun to talk to.

Teach an Author's Toolbox workshop at the OCTE Conference for other teachers (very brave people to attend early on a Friday which they could have taken off from work).

Follow my friend Maria's car to the Cedar Hills location of Powell's (in which I purchased the first Maximum Ride book and The Girl in the Arena (for me), and two illustrated classics for my classroom.

Meet fellow author, Sydney Salter, who was very sweet, and present a dialogue workshop with her for young writers at Powell's.

Purchase gas so that my car would not die in the middle of the city.

Miss the freeway entrance (this was the beginning of the end).

Find the address on Google & my printed Wordstock information for the Ace Hotel, but no Ace Hotel. Ask directions to the Ace Hotel, and head downtown where I attempted to find parking in the dark twice, finally ran out of time to attend the Wordstock author reception, managed to find my location on a map, and returned to Rosanne's.

Had a lovely breakfast of hot chocolate & cheese blintzes at Marcos's in Multnomah.

Survived I-5 gridlock in the rain to get lost on my way to find parking by the convention center. Again, managed to read the map & found my way back to a parking lot.

Arrived at Wordstock, and after again searching on a map, managed to find the "main" staircase with the author reception desk at the bottom. Wandered around looking lost but talked to some college students getting a masters in publishing by running Ooligan Press (very cool). Met my fellow panel members, Patrick Ness, L.K. Madigan, and Conrad Wesselhoeft. Moderated my first author panel in front of a quite large crowd! And gave an interview for three freshman girls who must have an awesome English teacher.

Managed to take the wrong turn trying to get back on I-84. Went around the block, made it onto the freeway and survived the drive all the way back to Eastern Oregon.

Where two dogs, one gray kitty, my family, and one very LONELY Dance kitty were waiting for me.

(who also finished her LAST revision of Exile, revised a paltry ten pages of Salvation, and is now going to read chapter 8 of Mockingjay)

Sunday, October 3, 2010

Author Spotlight: Tamora Pierce

Me: Let’s talk about Tamora Pierce.

Aurelia: The name sounds vaguely familiar.

Me: Tamora Pierce!

Aurelia: Oh, you mean your favorite author.

Me: Of course, she’s my favorite.

Aurelia: Why?

Me: Because of Alanna, who disguises herself as a boy in order to train to become a knight! And faces all kinds of dilemmas—including accepting herself: her strengths, her gift, and her weaknesses. Alanna’s quartet, The Song of the Lioness, comes first in Tamora Pierce’s books about the land of Tortall.

After Alanna, there is Daine—a girl with the ability to shoot a bow, overcome her past, and talk to animals: magical, nonmagical, and immortal. Daine’s quartet, The Immortals, comes second.

Following Daine is Kel (from the Protector of the Small quartet)—the first girl in the Land of Tortall to train legally to become a knight.

And then Alianne (in Trickster’s Choice and Trickster’s Queen)—who doesn’t want to become a warrior at all, but a spy.

And finally, in Pierce’s current Tortall books, there is Beka (the Beka Cooper Trilogy) who is battling her way through the streets in the early Tortall police force.

In addition to this, Tamora Pierce has written a WHOLE other series, which I also love, but which merit an entirely separate entry in my blog.

Aurelia: And why is she your favorite author again?

Me: Because she writes about strong heroines!

Aurelia: Of this, I approve.

Sunday, September 26, 2010

The Glory of Stubborn Characters

Salva, I have decided, is as stubborn as Aurelia, in his own way. This is, of course, rather inconvenient at times.

But it is also, I think, imperative.

You see stubborn characters defy logic.

“So what if 99.8% of the manuscripts authors submit never get published,” they say. “This is not going to happen with mine!” And “Who cares what that reviewer thinks? If I was really one-dimensional, would I have given you such a hard time figuring out why I was refusing to do what you asked me to do?” And “Honestly, the toxic skeptics are wrong! This is my story. I’m telling you it’s important.”

Thank goodness for stubborn characters. If it weren’t for them, how would one manage? How would authors ever find the time to sit down and write?

When there are so many more pressing tasks—like grading papers or mowing the lawn or washing dishes.

If it weren’t for our characters’ demands, would we ever agonize our way through synopsis and outlines--not to mention query and cover letters?

Would we ever dare to tell the truth? Or something new? Or something that appears to be familiar, but isn’t at all because our characters have wreaked havoc on the stereotype?

How would authors ever live out their dreams?

If they didn’t have someone insisting, “Wake up! It’s time! It’s my day! If you dare roll over and close your eyes, I’ll clobber you with a scene involving three hundred versions of the same pronoun.”

“All right, all right!” you say. “I’m up. And I’ll tell your story.”

Saturday, September 18, 2010

Top 10 Reasons an Author Should Have a Cat

10. When the author is in the middle of a writing epiphany, she can be meowed at as a reminder of the far more significant necessity of providing dinner.

9. When the author is tormented by a particularly complex writing problem, said cat can fail to come home on time, therefore making her human very nervous and unable to resolve any writing problems whatsoever.

8. When the author is trying to avoid extra distractions, she can be compelled to defurr the keyboard.

7. When the author is finally about to complete a draft at 3:00 a.m., said cat can sit directly in front of the computer screen, making the completion of the draft impossible.

6. When the author is trying to meet a scary deadline, she can have a paw with thinly veiled claws tap her on the head repeatedly and inform her that she is taking her work too seriously.

5. When the author must read the same page aloud forty times before it is perfect, said cat can sit tolerantly beside her without griping.

4. When the author has an epiphany in the middle of the night, turns on the light bulb, and begins scribbling, said cat can provide support by yawning, closing her eyes, and continuing to sleep.

3. When the author is forced to write a long cold scene set in the midst of space, said cat can curl up on her feet as a perfect foot-warmer.

2. When the author’s noisy, opinionated, and stubborn main characters refuse to speak to her, said cat remains close and reminds her that she is never alone.

1. When the author finds out spectacular writing news, said cat allows her human to scoop her up and celebrate!

Sunday, September 12, 2010

The Magic Answer

Aurelia: You haven’t blogged this week.

Me: I know. I know. What would you like me to blog about?

Aurelia: What have you been doing?

Me: Cleaning my house. It was a disaster.

Aurelia: You did not start cleaning until today.

Me: Sigh. True. I was also writing story ideas.

Aurelia: That sounds fun. Let’s talk about those.

Me: It’s a tad early to—

Aurelia: Then let’s talk about how you get ideas. People always want to know that.

Me: Ummm, it’s always different.

Aurelia: For example?

Me: Well, you introduced yourself by griping about an itching ankle.

Aurelia: It was driving me crazy.

Me: And Aerin was standing in that compartment on the spaceship, removing her headband and contemplating whether she could wash away her past as easily as she had scrubbed the dirt from her bare feet.

Aurelia: That scene is posted on the excerpt page of your website: http://www.anneosterlund.com/.

Me: Mmhm.

Aurelia: And Salva?

Me: Oh, he was checking out the pretty girl on the church steps.

Aurelia: You mean Pepe was checking her out.

Me: You’ve been talking to a biased source.

Aurelia: Ha! OK, so these new ideas you were writing this weekend. Where did they all come from?

Me: Alexandra was hiding under the steps during a barbecue. Anna was walking in the powdery dust while collecting water from the spring. Ecaterina was peering down a cliff and thinking about hurling a clay pitcher over the edge.

Aurelia: She sounds interesting.

Me: And Miranda. Well—the idea for Miranda’s story comes out of three months of directing twelve-year-olds in a play.

Aurelia: That cannot be worth it.

Me: You asked.

Aurelia: I suppose I did. So . . . what you’re really saying is there is no magical way to come up with ideas.

Me: The best way is to sit down with a pad of paper and start writing.

Aurelia: But that’s so BORING!

Me: That’s why I’m the author, and you’re not.

Aurelia: Point taken.

Saturday, September 4, 2010

Brainstorming (aka Why One Should Listen to One's Main Character)

Me: Hola, Salva.

Salva: Hi.

Me: It’s good to hear from you.

Salva: You know perfectly well why you haven’t been hearing from me.

Me: Yes, well, our followers don’t. So . . . let’s not mention that OK.

Salva: I’m not stupid.

Me: No, but maybe a bit defensive.

Salva: Maybe.

Me: Look, I need your help.

Salva: You should probably ask Beth.

Me: I’m asking you.

Salva: (sigh) All right. ¿QuĂ© es?

Me: I'm moderating a panel for Wordstock in the first week of October, and I’m supposed to create the questions. It’s a panel on writing realistic young adult fiction.

Salva: Uh-huh.

Me: And I need some assistance coming up with questions.

Salva: You’re sure you don’t want to ask Beth?

Me: I’m asking you.

Salva: OK. So there’s your standard: “Why did you choose to write a contemporary novel?”

Me: Because you told me I had to.

Salva: I thought we were brainstorming questions, not answers.

Me: Right.

Salva: And what are the challenges of writing contemporary fiction?

Me: You mean like your refusing to go home.

Salva: Yes. Like that. And you can’t blame me; can you?

Me: I suppose not.

Salva: And what is the best thing about writing realistic fiction?

Me: Hmm.

Salva: You’re thinking we should ask Beth for help.

Me: Yeah, sort of.

Salva: Beth?

Beth: You should ask “How do the challenges of writing contemporary fiction differ from the challenges of writing other genres such as fantasy, historical fiction, or sci-fi?” and “How do you balance the need to create a real world while remaining within the fictional realm?” and “Do you think the impact of a contemporary novel is more immediate than that of other genres because of the immediacy of the time period?” and “What are your favorite contemporary novels by other YA authors?” and “What drew you toward writing contemporary fiction in the first place?”

Me: Gracias, Beth.

Beth: You’re welcome.

Salva: (grinning) You see?

Me: OK, you were right.

Salva: Claro.

Me: So, readers, any other ideas?

Saturday, August 28, 2010

The Kiss

This is a SPOILER! Do NOT read it if you have not read Aurelia.

There is no kiss on p. 241 of Aurelia.

This is not because yours truly felt like torturing her readers. Or because it didn’t occur to her that her readers might expect a kiss. Or because the people at Penguin did not want one.

They did.

Aurelia refused to discuss it. She said quite clearly that kissing was Robert’s job, and if I wanted to have this discussion, I could have it with him. Normally, this would be good news because Robert is much more cooperative than Aurelia, by which I mean, more polite, more willing to listen, and more willing to bend for the good of a story.

He and I discussed the issue. In the car. At 5:30 a.m. one morning.

“Robert,” I said, “you know I wouldn’t ask you to do this if I didn’t have to. I already sent in a more romantic version of this scene, and the people at Penguin still think the readers won’t be satisfied. And I am a brand new author, who has never had anything published in her life, not even in a school newspaper. So . . . is there any way we could compromise here?”

He pointed out all the things I already knew. That at this point in the book, both he and Aurelia have suffered great trauma. That he is, in fact, horrified at what he has done. And that this story is not over yet. Not even close. “I’ve been gone for four years,” he said, “and only back a week. I don’t think this relationship is ready for the kind of commitment Penguin is talking about.”

“But you want to kiss Aurelia,” I said. “I mean, you wanted to kiss her all the way through the book.”

“I did kiss her,” he said. “And she didn’t kiss me back.”

“Yes, well she was surprised. You can’t blame her for that. And you can’t deny that you still want to kiss her.”

“No. But I can’t kiss her on p. 241.”

“Are you sure? You know she’s going to be royally ticked off with you right at the beginning of Exile. This could help head things off.”

“Nothing is going to head that off.”

“What happened to the gambler? I mean, Robert, you showed up here knowing perfectly well she was a princess, and you were prepared to take that risk.”

“To save her.”

“Yes. But more than that. I mean you walked right across that ballroom on your first night here, in front of everyone, and asked her to dance. That wasn’t exactly necessary in order to save her life.”

“I’m not that person anymore,” he said. “I’m not the person who walks across a ballroom without taking into account the consequences. I gambled. And I lost. And I won’t do that again.”

So . . . there is no kiss on p. 241.

But there is a sequel.

Saturday, August 21, 2010

Smashing Sequels

Me: Let’s talk sequels.

Aurelia: Excellent topic!

Me: I think sequels are exceptionally hard to please people with because the reader can never recreate the amazement they had when they ran across a great first book.

Aurelia: Well, aren’t you negative.

Me: Maybe, but you know, when you love a first book, you always imagine how you want the rest to go. And it’s so hard for a sequel to live up to that!

Aurelia: Then you aren’t imagining right. Because the characters have their own lives. It’s your job to learn about them. Not to change the way their stories work.

Me: Mmhm.

Aurelia: I mean, just because you want Ophelia to marry Hamlet doesn’t mean that would make the story better.

Me: I suppose not.

Aurelia: Besides, there are tons of great sequels.

Me: For example?

Aurelia: All three of the later Blossom Culp books. Because she is such a better narrator than Alexander.

Me: I would agree with that.

Aurelia: And In the Hand of the Goddess. You never reread Alanna, the First Adventure without also rereading
In the Hand of the Goddess.

Me: True.

Aurelia: And all the later books in the Tomorrow, When the War Began series by John Marsden. Admit it, you thought the first one was kind of slow.

Me: Shh! We’re being polite. Though it’s true. After the first, those books exploded. You really can’t sleep when you’re in the middle of one. So what do you think is important in a sequel?

Aurelia: Besides me?

Me: We weren’t talking about yours in particular.

Aurelia: Well, I think the action should come out of the first book. That it shouldn’t be an entirely separate story, like the episode of a bad sitcom.

Me: I agree.

Aurelia: And I think the characters should grow. I don’t like those series where no one seems to change because someone is hoping the books will keep on going forever.

Me: I agree with that too. Though I admit, I read a lot of those books when I was in grade school.

Aurelia: I’m so glad you got past the Sweet Valley Twins stage.

Me: Yes, well you aren’t exactly Elizabeth or Jessica.


Me: Aurelia?

Aurelia: I will not dignify that with an answer.

Me: O-kaaaay.

Aurelia: I also don’t like a whole lot of repetition. I mean . . . I always read the first book. I don’t need to read it all again at the beginning of a sequel. A little review is fine but some authors go on and on and . . .

Me: Hmm. I don’t know anyone who goes on and on.

Aurelia: Funny.

OK readers, so what do you think? What are your favorite sequels. And why?

Thursday, August 19, 2010

5 Star Review

Me: Hi, Aurelia.

Aurelia: Good to see you’re still living.

Me: My foot hurts. It must be three million miles between everything and the sixth grade wing.

Aurelia: So what do you want to talk about today?

Me: I want to review one of my all time favorite books that no one’s ever heard of.

Aurelia: OK, let’s hear it.

Witch of the Glens by Sally Watson

Kelpie is a sixteen-year-old thief. And a gypsy lass with the second sight. She cares nothing for the rumors of war now sweeping the Scottish Highlands, for she is far more interested in her own outrageous dreams—of becoming a real witch and defeating Mina and Bogle, the two people who stole her as a wee bairn and raised her with their own set of brutal morals.

But when Kelpie is ordered by her guardians to spy in the house of Glenfern (a place rife with the dangers of sweet wee Marie; the skeptical questions of the twins, Ronald and Donald; the open friendship of Eithne; the confounding trust of handsome Ian; and the even more baffling tongue of the wretchedly annoying Alex), Kelpie learns that sometimes dreams change. Sometimes what you know is right . . . isn’t. And sometimes war is unavoidable.

This is one of my favorite books ever! I’ve read it at least a dozen times.

IMO Witch of the Glens is the perfect blend of adventure, history, romance. And a sharp-tongued, quick-witted heroine.

Set in 1644, rather than the later and more commonly portrayed Bonnie Prince Charlie period, this book is the reason I always wanted to travel to Scotland. And finally did. For years, you couldn’t buy Witch of the Glens, unless you could afford $800.00 to purchase it from a rare book dealer online. But it is available for a regular cost now through Image Cascade Publishing at the following site:
www.ImageCascade.com. And possibly through Amazon. Or you may be lucky enough to find it at your local library, as I first discovered it, or through interlibrary loan.

Aurelia: How quick-witted is she?

Me: Not quite as quick-witted as you.

Aurelia: All right then. I think I’ll read it.

Monday, August 16, 2010

Reading Addict

Check out my most recent interview on Amber's Reading Addict blog http://addicted2reading4evr.blogspot.com/2010/08/author-chat-anne-osterlund.html (yes, another beautiful blog, far more spectacular looking than mine, LOL! I suppose I should ask my web designer if she can fix this, but she's a wee bit busy now updating my website and school visit brochures.

Toughest question ever! Describe your novels in 7 words or less.

(whom Aurelia should be very proud of right now)

Sunday, August 15, 2010

A Conversation with Aurelia (and Robert)

Me: We need to talk.

Aurelia: You know I’m always willing to talk.

Me: School starts tomorrow.

Aurelia: No it doesn’t. It doesn’t start for two more weeks.

Me: The kids don’t start until then. Teachers start earlier.

Aurelia: Teachers don’t start until Monday a week from now.

Me: Officially. But you know what teachers do that week? Attend meetings. District meetings. Staff meetings. Family meetings. There is no way I can be adequately prepared for school if I wait until next week. So this means I will not be able to blog as—

Aurelia: You certainly will!

Me: No, really, I—

Aurelia: My story is far more important than meetings!

Me: Yes, of course, but I—

Aurelia: Robert!

Me: Would you just—

Aurelia: (to Robert) Did you hear what she just said? She’s going to claim she can’t blog anymore.

Me: That’s not what I—

Aurelia: Yes, it is, that’s what you—

Robert: Aurelia.

Aurelia: What?

Robert: Let’s listen.

Aurelia: (sigh) Fine.

Me: I was going to say that I’m not going to be able to blog as often as I have been doing.

Aurelia: Oh.

Me: Seeing as I will be busy teaching lots of children important things like how to value great stories.

Aurelia: That seems fair.

Me: But I promise to blog at least once a week.

Aurelia: ONCE a week?! You have three day weekends!

Me: The children have three day weekends. I often have only—

Aurelia: And then you have two day weekends.

Me: Yes, but the priority on those weekends must be helping Salva and Beth finish their story.

Aurelia: (sigh) Yes, of course, but once a week. Robert, do you think once a week is adequate considering everything we went through on that expedition?!

Robert: I think Aurelia has a point.

Me: I said at least once a week. Of course I’ll try to do better. And if any of you have something pressing to say, you know I won’t have any choice but to listen.

Aurelia: True.

Me: So . . . we’re OK then?

Robert: Are we going to get some of those chocolate chip cookies you made in preparation for those family meetings?

Me: Of course.

Robert: Well, then it sounds fair to me.

Me: Aurelia?

Aurelia: You’re going to try to do better than once a week?

Me: Yes.

Aurelia: And you pledge to write at least once a week.

Me: I will not break that promise without discussing it with you first.

Aurelia: That sounds like hedging.

Me: It’s being honest. You value honesty.

Aurelia: (sigh) Very well. But Robert and I want to go to the awards ceremony to cheer on Aerin and Dane.

Me: Absolutely.

Aurelia: OK then. Moving on . . .

Saturday, August 14, 2010


Guess what? Aerin, Dane, and I just learned that Academy 7, won the Oregon Spirit Book Award. Selected by the Oregon Council of Teachers of English.

We are thrilled! Our very first award!

All my characters are excited.


(who also miraculously finished her second draft of chapter 21 today despite the "sewing moment" yesterday. It's amazing how much faster a chapter goes when it's down to six pages. Beth and I are both relieved to have this one out of the way--for now, of course).

P.S. And guess when the awards ceremony is going to be held? Yep. The same weekend as Wordstock and my writing workshop at Powell's. Not to mention the Sirens: Women in Fantasy Literature Conference (you will not believe who is going to be there this year--how I wish I could go), The SCBWI-Oregon Fall Retreat, and yet another Oregon Book Awards ceremony. Yikes!

Friday, August 13, 2010

A Sewing Moment: For Authors

I abhor sewing. This is not a temporary little hatred due to ignorance. This is an educated passionate hatred based on nine years of 4-H clothing projects: i.e. three thousand hours of ripping, stitching, and ripping again, all to complete a product which never fit, never looked the way it did on the pattern cover, and generally, was never worn.

After nine years of being a good little committed clothing member, I effectively learned one vital lesson which every author should know.

And which, regrettably, I had to use today.

You see, today I rewrote chapter 21 of Salvation.

I expected to rewrite it.

My process for a second draft generally runs like this.

Day 1: Make decisions and plan out how the chapter from the first draft will change. Type up the changes. And print.

Day 2: Rewrite the whole draft. And make it sound good. Print.

Day 3: Count and cut three or more syllable words and adverbs. Print. Revise. Print. Revise. Print. Revise. Start throwing out pages that no longer scream “You need to revise!” Print. Revise. Print. And celebrate.

Back to today.

I was on Day 2.

Problem. It doesn’t sound good. I rewrote the whole blooming thing, and it still doesn’t sound good. Beth and I hate the first six pages of this chapter. She sits. She mopes. She does nothing.

In the planning stage, it looked fine. Theoretically, all kinds of things happen in these six pages. In reality, not so much.

After Day 1, I did what every respectable, well-behaved clothing member would do. I ripped and stitched—put in transitions, clarified the timeline, and dug more deeply into Beth’s head (really not a very pleasant place to be right now).

And after all this, I have come to grips with the reality that these six pages are the writing equivalent of a “sewing moment.”

When you rip out an entire six pages. And rewrite them all entirely by hand. And you still hate the scene. Cut the scene.

Because when you abhor something, it really is OK to quit.

This is the lesson I learned from 4-H sewing.


It's 1:29 a.m. I have spent the whole day ordering library books about Egypt for my sixth graders, hemming the various too-long pairs of pants I managed to walk on all last year, and baking a double batch of chocolate chip cookies. Believe it or not, all of these are school/teaching related.

In addition to this, I signed up to moderate a panel on YA realistic fiction (Salva and Beth are thrilled!) at Wordstock in Portland at 12:00 p.m. on Saturday, October 9th.

I e-mailed two jpegs and a workshop description for the Young Writers Workshop I'm teaching on dialogue at the Cedar Hills location of Powell's Books, also on Oct. 9th but at 4:30pm (What is with writing events and the second weekend in October?).

And I finished reading Catching Fire.

I also went for a walk, packed/drove/unpacked the car, and watched the finale of So You Think You Can Dance.

I completed one measly page of the second draft of chapter 21 of Salvation.


Tomorrow I shall be writing!

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

When "Happily Ever After" Fails

Let’s talk endings. (I promise I won’t give anything away). Endings are tough. Don’t let anyone lie to you. They are.

A perfect ending, which I do not claim to have written, must deal with the main dilemma in the book. It should provide closure and resolution, but not too much closer and resolution. Are you confused yet? Don’t worry. It gets worse.

Because for the ending of a novel, there are actually a multitude of endings. There should be an ending for the action, an ending for the main characters, an ending for the other characters (every friggin’ character), an ending for the romance, an ending for the theme, and an ending for the emotional arc of the story.

As I said, endings are tough.

Which brings us to Academy 7.

My first draft was complete. I had spent a year and two summers writing the second one. It was almost finished. Until the last chapter.

At which point, nothing happened.

No progress.

I tried. I turned that chapter into three chapters. I introduced weaponry. I allowed a one on one face off against Yvonne (Yvonne really didn’t merit a one on one face off). I added. I cut. I blamed Dr. Livinski for talking too much. Nothing worked.

Finally I decided the book was finished. I had done my best. I was going to send it off to my critique group members and let the thing rest.

Having made this momentous decision, I went to take a shower. The water was warm; the shampoo smelled like strawberries, and I was finally free! When I remembered something: how the opening sentence of a book should encompass the entire story. I loved my opening sentence. “Aerin tried to ignore the bloodstain on the control panel of the fugitive.”

Really, it’s an awesome sentence.

And then suddenly I knew.

There I was with the water pouring down around me. And I knew that Aerin had to visit the fountain one more time.

So when “happily ever after fails,” I recommend a shower, with strawberry shampoo.

Tuesday, August 10, 2010


There comes a time.
In the life of every human being who crosses my path.
When they must learn about my cats.

For many of you, this is that time.

Roll call, please.

Dance: AKA Her Royal Highness is the toughest cat on the block. There are those who have misinterpreted her gorgeous appearance and beautiful white coat as signs of innocence. These are the same people whose own special kitties are terrified of her. Dance has a penchant for cornering tomcats under the house, knocking over garbage cans when no one is looking, and waking up her human in the middle of the night. She is magnificent.

Billy is the gray kitty who lives at Mom and Dad’s and professes their house as his territory. He enjoys pestering Dance, romping all night when she comes to visit, and terrorizing mice by trapping them in his own personal gladiator arena: the bathtub.

Cinder is the king of the outside. He has survived various brushes with danger and never crosses an open space without looking both ways. His hideouts included the rafters of the shop, the cab of the wheat truck, and occasionally the very risky chicken house. Cinder has never met a screen window he could not break.

Courage, Brave, Milkshake, Soda, Rise, and the as yet unnamed gray kitties in the barn spend their days zipping under floorboards, scaling walls, and romping on thin wooden rafters high above the reach of even the most determined cat person.

AKA yours truly.

What’s your roll call?

Monday, August 9, 2010

Exile Cover!

Ta dah! Here is the cover photo for Exile. Hope you love it as much as I do! Robert and Aurelia asked me to share with you a single paragraph from Exile so you can truly appreciate the amazing job Michael Frost and Theresa Evangelista did with this picture.

Red-orange-violet fire defined Aurelia’s first view of the frontier. Not a polite, watered-down shade, but a drastic wildness flaming the upper echelons of the sky—a sky unlike any she had ever seen. No boundaries, or barriers, nothing to slice apart the spectacular curve of the vision. Not even the faintest wisp of a cloud. Only the ferocious brilliance of color over the landscape.

Copyright@2011 by Anne Osterlund. Used by permission of Speak, a division of Penguin Young Readers Group, a member of Penguin Group (USA) Inc. All rights reserved.

Cover photo © Michael Frost, 2010, and Shutterstock.com
Cover design by Theresa Evangelista

Saturday, August 7, 2010

Why Aurelia Loves Writing Conferences

Five years ago, Aurelia brought yours truly to a writing conference. She was excited. I was terrified. And broke.

But she had said I had to come.

I had paid and signed up to talk to two editors and an agent; hence the terror.

Aurelia thought all this was kind of premature, but she knew I had to practice, so she let me do it. I had also carefully printed three copies of Aurelia’s book and packed them in my bag.

She thought this was just silly, but she kept her mouth shut. She wanted me to go to the conference.

On the morning of the first day, she dragged me to a class on grammar. I felt this was unnecessary as I had taken Advanced Grammar, Punctuation, and Usage in college. I was very proud of myself for knowing how to use dashes, colons, and semi-colons. FYI, five years later, after working with copyeditors, I am now quite clueless about semi-colons.

The teacher at the writing conference began talking about the difference between en dashes and em dashes. I had no clue there were two kinds of dashes! The teacher then said that one must always, always, always begin a sentence with a capital letter. My second chapter started with a lower case letter! (FYI, in this case, the teacher was wrong. The second sentence in the second chapter of Aurelia still begins with ellipses and a lower case letter). I decided there was no way I could show anyone my manuscripts yet. Aurelia thought this was wise. She allowed me to leave the grammar class. And go to something more fun.

We went to Children’s Literature. Where I learned that young adult books are not chapter books. Who knew? I also learned that Aurelia was the wrong age. Clearly, she felt this was a vital detail. Though it caused a serious problem with the plot line, one that was quite a debacle. And which freaked me out.

Aurelia thought this was good. She knew I would figure it out, eventually.

She then held my hand while we went to all the scary pitch sessions with REAL editors and a REAL agent. It turned out they were all REAL people. And they all said I could mail Aurelia’s book to them. This made me feel much better.

Of course by this time, I had also realized I had a lot of revising to do. Which made Aurelia feel better.

So she took me to the BEST class. How to Write a Page Turner by Marc Acito. Where I learned all kinds of cool stuff! And Marc Acito turned out to be the motivational speaker at lunch. And made all the people in the audience raise their hands and say out loud that they were writers. Which is SO important. And I did!

Then Aurelia took me home, where I thought about that HUGE debacle I had discovered in the Children’s Literature class. And thought about it. And thought about it. And OMG! finally figured out who the real villain in the story was.

Which made Aurelia very proud of herself.

So she signed me up for another conference.

Friday, August 6, 2010

Yum! An Author's Adventure

I am spending my weekend at a writing conference.

What is a writing conference you may ask?

Excellent question.

A writing conference is . . .

Chocolate cookies with white chocolate chips. (They served these at 3:00 p.m. today).

A place where you get to meet hundreds of other people who aren’t afraid to say, “Hey! I write YA paranormal fiction or sci-fi suspense thrillers or graphic novels. What do you write?”

A place where you get to say “I don’t know anything about how to get published, and I’m dying to learn!”

A place where you can meet incredible authors like Tamora Pierce and Sherwood Smith and Kristin Cashore.

Where you can learn to write a YA romance or a psychological thriller or a dystopian fantasy.

And where you can find out whether your character is slightly, or moderately, or totally insane.

A writing conference is . . .

A place where can you ask those extremely pressing questions like: “Do I need a capital letter at the beginning of a sentence that starts with ellipses? Or can I put swear words in a middle-grade novel? Or what the heck is a middle-grade novel?”

A place where you can meet editors and agents and sell your book.

Where you can have authors and editors read your stuff and give you real feedback, one on one.

Where you can walk around the waterfalls in an Oregon State Park or spend the morning chatting at a fireside on Whidbey Island or have a massage at a resort in Vail, Colorado.

Where you can meet tons of other people who read and love and write books. What could be better?

And did I mention the chocolate cookies with white chocolate chips?

Thursday, August 5, 2010

The Emergence of a Villain

Yvonne is a villain in Academy 7.

If you’ve read the book, you’re thinking. Duh. That’s like, obvious, from her first appearance.

Not so much.

You see, here’s the problem with villains. They lie.

Yvonne introduced herself as a main character—she and Paul both, actually. But Yvonne was more persistent. At the time, I must have been reading the Circle of Magic books by Tamora Pierce because I remember thinking it was OK to have four main characters.

Dane didn’t think so. Aerin didn’t either, but she was too polite to say so. Yvonne very clearly stated that she was of vital importance.

Never listen to the villain.

But how do you know not to listen to him or her when you don’t know he or she is the villain? Ah, the conundrum.

About halfway through the book, Aerin and Dane headed off for Chivalry. And Yvonne made her big move—trying to drag the whole story off on some random tangent of her own. It didn’t belong, had no relevance, and was totally unnecessary.

So I cut it.

She pouted. She sulked. And she shut up. Disappeared completely from the rest of the first draft.

Which was a great thing. I got to the end of the book, realized I’d totally scrapped her, and thought. Yay! I get to cut her.

Again, not so much.

I did my best. I reclaimed all the action she’d stolen from Dane in the center of the book (no wonder he didn’t like her). In fact, working one’s way backward through the book, I cut anything and everything she did. Until Aerin’s arrival.

Where Yvonne refused to leave. Absolutely refused to go.


OK, so now what? Why won’t she leave? I don’t like her. Dane doesn’t like her.

"I don’t like her either," Aerin whispers.

Duh! Yvonne is the villain!

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Surprise! I'm Dead.

So, you’re whipping through your first draft. Your main characters are doing what you want them to do and saying what you want them to say. The action is flowing. And you’re coming up toward your big scenes. When you notice that someone is failing to talk.

We’ll call this character “A” for the sake of this discussion.

Now the truth is you noticed this a while ago, but you ignored it.

“A” isn’t a major character and doesn’t mean much to you. Though “A” does mean a lot to your main character.

At this point, you finally pause long enough before your big dramatic battle on the cliff scene in order to spare a moment of your time. Just to think to yourself: Really, “A” ought to be saying something. I wonder why he or she is not –

And then it hits you. “A” is dead.

Frigging dead.

You’re on page 160, and you have failed to realize that this character is already dead.

What’s the big deal? You may be thinking. This character doesn’t talk anyway. Just cut him or her.

Well obviously, BUT . . .

Remember how I said “A” means a lot to one of your main characters.

And now “A” is dead. Is this going to affect your main character?

Y . . . E. . . S.

How long has “A” been dead? Clearly throughout the entire book.

So how long has this been affecting your main character?

Throughout the ENTIRE book.


So . . . what are you going to do about it?

Well, you’re going to sleep on it. Maybe if you’re lucky, this epiphany is just a temporary one, and by morning you’ll be over it.

Then you’re going to continue your first draft, from right where you stopped. If “A” continues to be dead throughout the rest of this draft of the book, you’ll know this is serious.

And then you’re going to begin your second draft.

And you’re going to explore the impact upon your main character of “A” being dead. In chapter one.

And if you’re fortunate, extremely fortunate, you’re going to find out that “A” is FAR more powerful dead. And that this lovely little surprise you had no desire to have is already right there in your story. Just waiting for you to realize it.

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

A Passion for Bugs

MY characters have been talking a lot. So today I thought I’d introduce you to what I love about someone else’s characters. Deeanne Gist. I’m currently entrenched in one of her six historical novels, A Bride in the Bargain, and wishing I could be reading it right now! She is definitely one of my new favorite authors.

Here’s why. Her characters always have some wonderful quirky love or passion. Which pulls me to them.

I’m only beginning to learn about Anna (a Mercer bride in 1860’s Seattle), but I have a suspicion she is extraordinarily fond of seashells.

Then there’s Rachel, in The Measure of a Lady, just your average young pioneer woman in early San Francisco--who loves collecting and cataloguing bugs!

And Constance, from A Bride Most Begrudging, a tobacco bride in the Virginia Colony—who has a passion for creating mathematical story problems (about spiders crawling around the cabin & such).

And Essie, from Courting Trouble and Deep Into Trouble, a rich young woman in turn of the century Texas, who adores bicycling! And doesn’t give a hang if she shows her ankles.

Deeanne Gist writes romantic Christian historical fiction, but her characters are universal. Yet, so very much only themselves.

Beth totally approves .

Monday, August 2, 2010

Beware the Trauma!

You may be wondering why Aerin, the main character in my most recently published book, Academy 7, hasn’t said anything. This is because getting Aerin to talk is like pulling teeth. (You should ask Dane. He knows).

People talk to Aerin. And she thinks back.

Working with a traumatized character can be tough. I didn’t know about this when I started Academy 7.

As a reader, I love the dramatic scenes. Go ahead! Drop your characters off the side of a castle. Stick them in the middle of a raging forest fire. Kill off both their parents and their best friend.

But as an author, if you put your main character through serious trauma, you have to deal with it. For the REST OF THE BOOK. Or the series, as Robert can attest. This isn’t like a nice little physical wound that can go away after a month. Or if you fast forward in time. (Very nice of Dane to let me do that).

Trauma doesn’t go away. At least not easily. And once your character is seriously traumatized, everything is traumatized. The stairs. The hall. The scrap of paper with the password to your dorm room on it. Here’s an example from Academy 7 to show you what I’m talking about.

Aerin was alone. She slowly crossed the room, then wound her way up the tight staircase to the third floor, and entered a stark hallway spotted with rows of closed doors. Nothing else moved in the hall, not a voice or a breeze or a scrap of paper. Her throat constricted, and she had an image of herself walking unknowingly to execution.

There. She stopped at a door identical to the others except for the number 307 etched in the chipped paint. With trembling fingers, she opened the envelope in her hand and shook out a slick piece of paper. The numbers written on it blurred before her, but she blinked to clear her vision and forced her hand not to shake as she punched the code into the keypad. The door screeched its way open.

I mean, really, an untraumatized character could walk down a hallway and push a few buttons without making a big deal about it. NOT Aerin.

But you stick this girl in a fight. Surround her with twenty hulking guys and a grenade. And she could lay them all flat in about sixty seconds.

Which is SO totally worth it.


Yesterday was a 3:00 a.m. day. As in I was up until 3:00 a.m. finishing the second draft of the climax for Salvation (Salva & Beth are OK with this, especially as it was Aurelia's fault since I received my first ARCs for Exile and stayed up until 5:00 a.m. the night before reading one).

Blogging, however, did not happen. Or walking. Or paying bills. Or lawn-mowing. Yeah, yeah, you don't care.

But as recompense, I have a treat for this morning. Christine posted my most recent interview on her blogsite, Reading on the Dark Side, so I am sending you all over there!

And for those of you wanting the summary for Salvation (so that you can actually have a clue what I've been blogging about), the summary is hidden, somewhere in the middle of that lovely interview. Enjoy!

Christine's Interview:

(who will someday have to learn how to make her blog look as spectacular as Christine's, but for now is going to go help Beth deal with a phone call.

Saturday, July 31, 2010

Blueberry Lemonade (The Taste of Research)

Beth, one of the main characters in Salvation, the book I am writing now, likes blueberry lemonade. I learned this yesterday. Discovery is one of the things I love the most about writing. Every day, every revision, there are discoveries.

I didn’t know there was such a thing as blueberry lemonade. But here was the problem. Beth said that plain lemonade was too ordinary. She is not ordinary.

And she couldn’t have strawberry lemonade because she was going to have strawberry shortcake. And you don’t want to reuse the word strawberry too many times on a page. Not only would it be repetitive, but it’s a three-syllable word, which can be an issue when writing YA. I mean, you want to make your three-syllable words count.

So at this point, I knew I had to do some research. There were raspberries, but this would be two red berries in the same scene, and Beth and I both felt that that was inadequate. We had already determined that this was a very colorful scene.

So I tried searching “flavored lemonade” on Google images. This resulted in all kinds of weird things. Ginger lemonade. Beth is definitely not stuffy enough for ginger. She is all for vintage, but not uptight old-fashioned. And there was tarragon-flavored lemonade. What the heck is tarragon? Neither Beth nor I have any desire to find out. And pomegranate? We don’t think so. And lavender? That is just a little too soap-like for Beth.

So we returned to the berries. And blueberries are blue. Beth is a fan of bubble-gum ice cream, also blue. And we agreed that while we couldn’t get away with repeating the word strawberry, the repetition of the second half of the word wouldn’ t be bad. After all, once we introduce the lemonade as blueberry, we don’t have to again. Because the reader will know.

Plus, Beth is rather fond of blueberry lemonade.

Friday, July 30, 2010


Well, it is 11:26 p.m., and obviously I don't have time to blog today. But I do have news.

Salva went home! It wasn't pretty. And it required a great deal of help from Beth, as well as a little divine intervention, but he made it.


Thursday, July 29, 2010

Chocolate Chip Mint Cheesecake Pt. 2 (AKA The List)

While we are at Powell’s, we should make The List.

The List is plausibly the most enjoyable part about book shopping.

It’s a bit like picking Barbies. When I was little, my sister, friends, and I would take all our Barbie stuff—all our Barbie stuff—throw it onto a bed, and pick. One item at a time, from the huge Barbie pool down to the ugliest hand-knitted Barbie sweater. Ostensibly with the idea that the stuff we chose was what we were going to use when we began to play. Picking took at least an hour, and often by the time we were done, we’d decide we would have more fun picking again, rather than actually playing.

The List is like picking Barbies because there’s no commitment. But plenty of inspiration for the future. You just write down all the books that make you think Hey! That would be cool. Next time. Because, of course you can’t afford to buy out the store.

Now it’s no small thing for a book at a bookstore to make my list. I am an author. I spend hours online searching and writing down book titles in my blue notebook. So when I take a trip to a bookstore and find a book that’s not already in the notebook, that’s impressive.

Here we go:

The Fool’s Girl by Celia Rees—I have seen this online, but I had not read the summary before or written it down. And it’s based on Shakespeare! So it goes on the list.

The Education of Bet by Lauren Baratz-Logsted—Another one I’d see online and was absolutely thrilled to a. read the summary and b. find out it’s a skinny book. Which means I might even get through it during the school year.

A Voice of Her Own: Becoming Emily Dickinson by Barbara Dana—This is an honest to goodness find, and I’m pretty excited about it. Because Emily Dickinson is an enigma. And anyone who can write like her deserves a YA novel. So I’m going to dig this up. Eventually. And for now, it’s on the list.

Rogue’s Home, the second book in the Knight and the Rogue Series by Hillari Bell. To be fair, Rogue’s Home was not available at Powell’s, at least not on the day I was there, but I found the title listed on the back of another book so I wrote it down.

Player’s Ruse by Hillari Bell. The third book in the Knight and Rogue series. Isn’t it lovely when there are more books in a series than you had realized?

That Perfect Someone by Johanna Lindsey—because sadly, I am a sucker for the Mallory Novels.

And finally . . .

Purple Heart by Patricia McCormick. How is I had not seen this? Not anywhere. But if you have not read Cut by Patricia McCormick, or her second book, Sold, then you are missing out. Her books are memorable. I will definitely be reading this one.

And that’s the list!

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Chocolate Chip Mint Cheesecake

Let’s take a trip.

If you have never been to Powell’s Bookstore on Burnside in Portland, the best way I can describe it for you is to compare it to chocolate chip mint cheesecake. Absolutely out of this world.

Powell’s is a block. A complete city block. And on top of that, it has at least three stories. Filled with new and used books.

Within this incredible structure lies The Rose Room. This is heaven on earth for fans of young adult literature. At least 7 rows. Seven high, long rows of young adult books. And that does not count the ones on sale. Or the ones in the Pacific Northwest section. Or the ones in the educational section. Or—you get the point.

The problem with going to bookstores as an author is that you feel like you ought to work. So on my most recent trip, I went to Powell’s with three goals in mind. The first two were utter failures. You don’t want to hear about them. The third goal was to find absolutely wonderful books. TO READ.

Ding, ding, ding! Success!

So here’s what I bought:

Catching Fire--because I am weak and cannot wait until it is out in paperback.

Hunger Games--because I checked it out of the library and, of course, now I need to own it.

The Letter Writer--because a. It is by Ann Rinaldi, b. I can’t get it from the library, and c. I read the first page and was hooked. Her characters have wonderful voice.

Climbing the Stairs by Padma Venkatraman--because it is about India, and I love books set in other cultures. And it has romance. And it is in paperback. I am really looking forward to this one.

And finally—dum da dum dum dummm.

Because it’s based on a fairy tale. And the heroine doesn’t want the prince (Aurelia and I have a special fondness for princesses who don’t want to marry the prince). And someone on Goodreads recommended it to me. And the cover is absolutely gorgeous. And Mercedes Lackey wrote The Changeling Sea. I bought The Sleeping Beauty.

Ah, now that is definitely as good as cheesecake.

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Disobedient Characters

Salva does not want to go home. Salva (aka Salvador) is the main character in the book I am working on now, Salvation, and he does not want to go home. Which is where I need him to go. For various reasons. But . . . did I mention he does not want to go?

Apparently this is not a unique phenomenon. When I had the opportunity of hearing Tamora Pierce speak at the Sirens: Women in Fantasy Literature Conference last fall, she talked about how Evy refused to go to the palace. Somewhere about thirteen chapters later, Evy finally went.

So what do authors do when a character refuses to go where we need them to go?

There are several approaches.

First, there is listening. Nine times out of ten, I would say that listening is successful. Once you find out why your character has issues, you can usually find your way around them.

This did not work with Salva.

Next there is detouring. Detouring usually involves more effort. It requires an extra scene or an extra chapter or two in order to help the character get whatever issues he or she has out of the way.

This also has not worked with Salva. He needs to go home. So he can be yelled at. And he doesn’t want to.

Sometimes there is bowing to your characters’ wishes. “OK,” you say to them. “We won’t go there. We’ll go here instead.” And they cheer up and follow blithely along and you zip them back into your plotline via a circuitous route.

This also will not work with Salva. It is imperative that he go home.

Which brings me to the last option. You tell the character to suck it up and just go where you want them to go.

Ninety-nine percent of the time, this will not work. I’m not sure it would ever work with Aurelia. But Salva is being a coward, and Beth and I agree that he should just go home.

So we’re sending him.

Monday, July 26, 2010

To Blog or Not to Blog

Aurelia thinks I need to begin a blog. A real one. If you aren’t acquainted with Aurelia, you should know she is the main character in two of my books, thus far. She was raised to be a crown princess, and no doubt, this is partly responsible for the fact that she is A. stubborn, B. opinionated, and C. very LOUD. I find her rather difficult to ignore. This is how our conversation went.

Aurelia: You need to begin a blog.
Me: What?
Aurelia: Don’t be obtuse. My next book is coming out in April, and you want it to be successful, don’t you?
Me: Of course. But I don’t have time to blog. Why don’t you do it?
Aurelia: I’m busy rescuing a country. You are NOT that busy.
Me: I teach school. I had 29 students last year. I wake up at 4:50 a.m. and don’t get home until around six. Every day I have off from teaching, I write. You know that.
Aurelia: You’re whining.
Me: Aerin and Dane did not insist I blog.
Aurelia: They want you to write one too.
Me: Great. And exactly what am I supposed to blog about? I can’t blog about what I’m writing today. That would give away the story. And I can’t blog about school. That would infringe on my students’ privacy.
Aurelia: Duh. You’re an author. Blog about books.
Me: OK, well, I admit I could talk forever about books.
Aurelia: That’s what I thought. And you can blog about writing. Just don’t give anything away.
Me: You say this because I’m not writing one of your stories right now.
Aurelia: Salva and Beth want you to blog too.
Me: OK, OK, I will try to blog.
Aurelia: Good. Glad that’s settled. Moving on . . .