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)