Thursday, May 28, 2009

A Post from BEA

As you read this, I am at BEA. If you're at BEA, too, feel free to come to one of my signings! If you're not sure which one is me, here's what I look like:


:o)

(Actually, if you see a young woman with socks hanging from her ears, or carrying a teapot in lieu of a bag, or some such, that's probably me, too. Nerves make me batty.)

My full BEA schedule is here. Re the signings: on Saturday I'm signing Fire ARCs at Table 17 from 10-11am, and then, after that, I'm doing a Graceling signing at the bookstore Books of Wonder (18 W. 18th St.) with Melissa Marr from 1-3pm.

Also, note that the Bridget Zinn Auction ends at 11pm on Saturday, May 3o and the Graceling book giveaway ends on Monday, June 1.

Happy weekend, everyone!

Monday, May 25, 2009

A Short Post. Sort of.

Graceling is a finalist for the 2009 SIBA Book Awards in the YA category, along with Sarah Dessen's Lock & Key and Trenton Lee Stewart's The Mysterious Benedict Society and the Perilous Journey. It is so nice to be honored by people you admire (indie booksellers!). Thank you so much to the Southern Independent Booksellers Alliance! Go indies!

Speaking of the South, I would like to state for the record that Florida is the only place I've ever lived where I've needed to use sunglasses, a sun visor, a raincoat, rain boots, sunscreen (for the small portion of leg not covered by coat and boots), and a golf umbrella simultaneously. The river is high and the gutters have given up. Is it ever going to stop raining here in north Florida?

In other news, I promised a short post today, but is it cheating if I link you to a long interview? Follow that link to read my Summer Blog Blast Tour interview at Hip Writer Mama and/or to enter a giveaway of ten copies of Graceling. The deadline for the giveaway is Monday, June 1. Check it out -- Vivian asks fun questions, like, "If you found a way to go back to your teen years as one of your characters, who would it be and why?"

Thanks, Vivian, for getting me thinking about how I'd like to be one of Po's brothers. :o)

I'm a bit all over the place these days, what with BEA prep. If you've asked a question on my blog recently, I've added it to my list. And now I'm going to retreat and be overwhelmed in private.

Happy Monday, all!

Thursday, May 21, 2009

FAQs on Writing and Publishing, A.K.A. the Longest Post E.V.E.R.

So, this post answers FAQs about writing and getting published. If those topics don't interest you, I promise that this will be the most boring post ever. Well, okay, even if those topics DO interest you, chances are you'll get bored, because I wrote SO MUCH! I apologize up front for length.

1. When and how did you start writing?
I'm going to give you a sleep-inducing answer, but I have a reason for doing so.

I did critical writing for years, but didn't get serious about creative writing until 2003, when I was nearing the end of my master's degree at Simmons College's Center for the Study of Children's Literature. I took an intro to writing class, then finished my degree with a creative writing independent study, with the marvelous writer and teacher Liza Ketchum as my mentor. With Liza, I began a middle grade contemporary realistic novel. I started working on it in September of 2003 and wrote maybe a third of it during the semester. After graduating, I completed it on my own time. I think I finished it in late spring of 2004 (the whole thing took about 9 months), at which point, I immediately began to write Graceling. I worked on Graceling just about every single day -- it was practically all I did other than my paid work and reading and eating and sleeping -- for about 1.5 years, until finishing the first draft some time around late summer 2005. Then, I immediately began to write a YA contemporary novel that was a sequel to the MG I'd completed before. That took me about 9 months, into late spring 2006, and the minute I finished it, I began to write Fire. By the time I got my deal for Graceling in the fall of 2006, I was already well into Fire. Fire took about 1.5 years, at which point, I immediately began to write Bitterblue. I'm still writing Bitterblue now. Bitterblue is taking longer, partly because I'm doing a lot more things now, but mostly because that's its nature.

I should mention that I also did revisions of the various novels at different points, especially once I got the deals for Graceling and Fire. Graceling alone went through 5 or 6 revisions. I can't remember when the revisions took place, exactly, but they were usually based on feedback from others -- my editor, my agent, and my early readers, who include my sisters and a few friends.

The reason for the detaily, boring answer is that I wanted to get across a few important points. One is that I was a critical writer and student of literature for years before I became a creative writer; I know that years of studying books and pounding out papers helped me once I began writing books of my own. Another is that I took a creative writing class and experienced a mentorship, both of which were enormously helpful. Another is that Graceling was technically my second novel, not my first; my first is on a shelf somewhere, waiting to be resurrected and rewritten. Another is that I gave my manuscripts to trustworthy people for feedback, which was scary, but ultimately helpful. Another is that I wrote for as long as I could every single day, or almost every single day, for years (and still do); I always had hopes of getting published someday, but the actual act of writing was way, way, WAY more important to me.

2. How did you get your "big break" into publishing? Do you have any advice?
This is a weirdly personal question. I find I'm much more comfortable giving details about the things I've failed at than the things I've succeeded at. Is that normal? Well, anyway, I'm going to answer this question in two ways. The first is to tell you some of the specific things I did with an eye to publication. I'm going to list them -- the smart ones, anyway -- just in case they give you some ideas for yourself:
  • I submitted various manuscripts and partial manuscripts to contests. (Examples: a WIP contest with the SCBWI [the Society of Children's Book Writers and Illustrators] and the Ursula Nordstrom Fiction Contest at HarperCollins. [I can't find any current info on the Nordstrom contest. Has it been discontinued?]) I never won any contests, but an editor at a big house did take an interest in one of my manuscripts once (Novel #1, the MG novel I'd started in grad school), sent me an editorial letter, and offered to read my revision. I did a big overhaul based on her suggestions, and can say with confidence that it was much better afterward -- she helped me tons!! In the end, she decided not to acquire it. But it was a confidence builder and it taught me more about the craft... my point here is that entering contests is one way to get the right people reading your work. This is really important, because one of the hardest things when trying to get published is getting your work in front of relevant people. (Plus, who knows, you might win! Did you read Jo Knowles' SBBT interview? She did win a WIP grant from SCBWI, and it helped her land her agent.)
  • I queried a small press that had a list I admired. This gave me querying practice, and I did get some interest in Novel #1, which was encouraging, even if it led to a rejection. The point here is that there are some great small presses out there, and it pays to research them.
  • I joined SCBWI. Their bi-monthly bulletin is full of great info, tips, and news (like, about contests!), and they have local chapters which often organize writing groups and hold conferences. The point here is that joining a relevant writing organization will keep you in the loop.
  • I did things like go to a regional SCBWI conference, where I listened to writers, editors, and agents speak, and where I shelled out a little extra money for professional evaluations of excerpts of my work. The point here is that conferences, especially conferences that provide opportunities for face time with respected professionals in the field, are a way to make connections and, once again, get your work in front of relevant people.
  • When I heard a name, I wrote it down. My big break happened when an agent read Graceling, loved it, and agreed to take me on. She was one of several agents I'd heard people speak well of; in fact, a trustworthy friend of mine knew her and could vouch for her work. It was lucky that my friend recommended her, because I might never have known to look into her otherwise, and I might never have queried her -- and she has turned out to be fabulous! The point of this section is: pay attention, ask trustworthy people for advice and recommendations, and work your connections. What's that? You say you don't have any connections? Well, try getting involved in some of the ways I've mentioned in this post: classes, contests, queries, organizations, conferences. Connections can be made, if you're patient. I know this is true, because I've made them myself (little, introverted me!) and I have watched other people make them.
The other way I'm going to answer this question is to try to stress something I think is really important:

My road to publication involved research, rejections, near misses, and a lot of luck. But the other thing it involved was a LOT of writing. I spent some time working toward getting published, but I spent the vast majority of my time writing. Two of the best ways to get published are to become a better writer and to expand your portfolio, both of which are accomplished by writing. :o)

Maybe my truest point is this: the whole process needs to be about the writing more than it's about the getting published. You need to love to write; you need to want to write whether or not you get published. The fulfillment comes more from the act of writing than from the state of being published. TRUST ME. Don't give writing short shrift in your goal to get published! The writing is what it's all about.

Just my opinion, based on my experience. Other writers who've had different experiences might give vastly different advice (and should feel free to do so in the comments).

I cannot advise you on the publication process beyond what I've done here. However, there's loads of information out there about how to find an agent and/or publisher. Members of the SCBWI and other writing organizations often have resources available to them, and there are free forums online, too. As far as marketplace dictionaries, The Writer's Market is one of the classic tomes, and I've also heard good things about Jeff Herman's Guide. Do your homework and you'll find the info you need to get started.

3. Do you have any writing advice?
Yes, sort of, though I don't think it's going to bowl you over.

IMO, learning to write is something every writer must do on his or her own. You learn to write by writing. You learn your own habits and tendencies by writing. You learn to ignore the voices of self-doubt by writing. To become a better writer, read, read, read, and WRITE WRITE WRITE.

Joining a writing circle or taking a class helps, because you can learn more about yourself by rubbing up against other people, and because feedback -- from the right person or people -- is a necessary part of becoming a better writer. Reading and studying books you love is also critical. But the real work happens by yourself, writing.

One more thing: don't let anyone tell you there's only one way to write. It's okay to write fast and it's okay to write slow. It's okay to write in one big chunk in the middle of the night and it's okay to write in patches throughout the day. It's okay to type on a computer and it's okay to write on waterproof paper upside down in the bath with a space pen. If the way you're doing it isn't working for you, well then, try something different. But no one can tell you how it should be done. Every writer must find his or her own way.

If you find this to be pathetic advice, I recommend three books that helped me a lot early on. They are: Bird by Bird by Anne Lamott; Self-Editing for Fiction Writers by Rennie Browne and Dave King; and Writing Juvenile Stories and Novels by Phyllis A. Whitney. More recently, I've also read and loved Writing Down the Bones by Natalie Goldberg and On Writing by Stephen King.

Have any advice of your own? Feel free to leave it in the comments.

Coming on Monday: A SHORT POST.

Monday, May 18, 2009

"What are your names, please?" asked Wilbur, trembling with joy.

"I'll tell you my name," replied the first little spider, "if you'll tell me why you are trembling."

"I'm trembling with joy," said Wilbur.

"Then my name is Joy," said the first spider.

-from
Charlotte's Web, by E.B. White


Today's post is about my readers. That means you! I would love to know who you are, where you are, where you'd rather be, what you like, what you don't like, or anything else you want to tell me -- especially if you've never commented before! No worries if you've never read my books. Use your real name or a secret code name, whatever you like. No pressure, of course -- no one has to respond. But please do feel free to say hi today. (Even if you've done so before!)

A friendly reminder to anyone reading this post on LiveJournal, Amazon, or anywhere other than my blogspot that I won't see your comments unless you come to my Blog Actual to post them.

And a reminder that the Summer Blog Blast Tour is taking place this week. Check out the schedule here. I'll be interviewed on Friday at Hip Writer Mama, and rumor is, she'll be doing a Graceling giveaway.

Okay, let's get started! I'll go first. I'm Kristin. I'm a writer living in North Florida. I love to put dried cherries, almonds, honey, and soy milk in my oatmeal. I think leaf blowers are a terrible invention. And I think Charlotte's Web is the most perfect book ever written.

Now you go!

Friday, May 15, 2009

Can You Help? An Important Auction

Popping in on a Friday with a special note about an auction you might want to get involved in.

The following is from April Henry’s blog:

Can you help?

Three things happened to Bridget in February:
1. She got an agent for her young adult novel.
2. She got married.
3. She found out she had Stage Four colon cancer.


Bridget Zinn is a librarian and writer in Oregon who's currently in her second round of chemo for Stage Four colon cancer. And in case you haven't noticed, health insurance in the U.S. is a travesty. To help defray her costs, some folks have organized an online auction. Check it out. There's some awesome stuff! Signed books, vacations, manuscript critiques, quilts, jewelry, etc.

Here is the auction blog site, where you can bid on items until May 30.

Here is Bridget's blog.

Have a nice weekend, everyone :o)

Thursday, May 14, 2009

In Which I Blather

A happy addition to my BEA schedule: On Saturday, May 30, from 1-3pm, I'll be signing books with Melissa Marr at Books of Wonder, 18 West 18th Street, New York City.

For today's post I direct you to the podcast of my recent conversation with Deirdre and Maria at the Mount Kisco Library in Mount Kisco, New York. Deirdre and Maria had some great questions about Graceling and YA lit! Here are some of the things we talked about:
  • Katsa's relationship with Raffin
  • the nature of Graces
  • fantasy character names
  • why YA is such a great genre
  • Megan Whalen Turner and why "write faster!", though often meant as a compliment, might not be the most empathetic thing you can say to a writer
  • the anti-marriage thing (which, incidentally, I blogged about once, here)
  • how my characters surprise me as I'm writing
Warning: there are a few Graceling spoilers in the podcast.

Go here to listen. Thanks to Deirdre and Maria!

Monday, May 11, 2009

Notes from a Mission Accomplished

Dutch adult market cover of Graceling ---> click to enlarge --->

Last week I visited the Boston area for a few days. There, I:
  • spent some time with a friend and a small orange furry quadruped person;
  • got to hang out with my sister, secret code name: Apocalyptica, for an evening;
  • made beef stroganoff;
  • baked cookies;
  • wrote 10 pages of a frustrating scene and crossed out 9; and
  • accomplished a very important secret mission.
Then I flew back home to Florida, where the air feels like bathwater. There, I:
  • went for a sunset walk along the river. The sky was dusty blue, the water was the color of an eggplant, and a humongous, nearly full, pale pink moon rose right out of nowhere. I live in such a beautiful place!;
  • curled up on the couch and watched an embarrassing number of Veronica Mars episodes in succession. (My thoughts on Season 2 [SPOILERS!]: It's not as good as Season 1. However, I remain v. fond of Logan and am convinced that if everyone he loved would stop beating him up, betraying him, or dying -- and if he could also go a few months without being framed for murder -- he would stop being a sociopath);
  • worked on an interview for the 2009 Summer Blog Blast Tour; and
  • FINALLY made some progress with the frustrating scene mentioned above. A satisfying end to a week in which one has accomplished a secret mission!
So. What is this secret mission of which I speak?
  • I found my next home! It's exactly the right apartment in my favorite extra-Boston town. I'm happy, not to mention a lot less stressed out. I move in July.
What did you do last week?

:∆)

Thursday, May 7, 2009

Intertextuality

Dutch cover for the YA edition ----> click to enlarge ----->

So, I read Jane Eyre, first published in 1847, before I ever read Daphne DuMaurier's Rebecca (1938) or Mary Stewart's Nine Coaches Waiting (1958). Do you know those two books? Both of them are obviously influenced by Charlotte Brontë's novel; I'd go so far as to call the Stewart book an homage; and it's hard to read either without thinking of Jane. I loved and read and re-read all three of them; and eventually the day came when I couldn't read Jane Eyre without thinking of Rebecca and Nine Coaches Waiting. My appreciation of the novel that was written first began to be influenced by later novels Charlotte Brontë never could have read.

I love that time-travel aspect of intertextuality. Here's another example: Now, when I read Hamlet (c. 1603), I enjoy it even more than I used to, because I'm bringing Tom Stoppard's play Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead (1964-65) along with me. And I can't think of those two plays together without considering the role they play in the book Tam Lin (1991) by Pamela Dean -- which is, itself, a retelling of an old tale. Ah! I just love how everything leans on everything else! Everything's all mixed together in a marvelous mess!

What's the word for this when it happens with music? My musical understanding is unsophisticated, but that doesn't mean that I haven't noticed that John Williams, for example, has done a job on me. I grew up listening to Dvorak's New World Symphony (1893). Then, one day, I noticed that I couldn't listen to it anymore without thinking of light saber duels and/or sharks. Does this happen to you? Well, if it doesn't, it might be about to, once I explain. :o) First, go listen to the 3rd movement of the New World Symphony here. The theme I'm going to point out happens repeatedly throughout the movement, but just to make it as clear as possible for those not familiar with the symphony, pay especially close attention when the clock hits 2:32. Listen to the bit from 2:32 to about 2:41; listen to it a couple of times. Then, go here to watch Darth Maul fighting Obi-Wan and Qui-Gon. Turn the sound up. Listen to the little snippet that starts at 0:13, continues through to 0:23, and then repeats at various moments throughout the entire fight. Hear it?

Then there's the first 15 or so seconds of the 4th movement of the New World Symphony, here, which sound famously like the theme of Jaws, here.

For one more (and vaguer) example, meander to the end of that 4th movement (here's the link again). I don't know about you, but this movement, especially the end, sounds really Star Wars-y to me, particularly the bit starting around 8:16, and ESPECIALLY the part later on which is unfortunately cut off in this video, rendering it useless for our purposes here. (Yes, warning: the last minute of so of the movement is cut off, so, if you love the way the symphony ends, prepare to be annoyed and frustrated.)

(Um. If you're having fun with this, and if you happen to know your E.T.? Check out the last movement of Dvorak's Dumky Trio here. In particular, listen to the teeny clip from 4:02 to 4:07, and again at 7:58. Sound familiar? [Go to 0:13 of the E.T. theme.])

(Okay, this is the sort of thing where you could never stop giving examples, but here's one more that's not John Williams, and that's a very deliberate borrowing. Know the Sting song "Russians" [1985]? And Sergei Prokofiev's music for the movie Lieutenant Kijé [1934]? I grew up knowing the Sting song, and was quite startled the first time I heard the Prokofiev!)

Anyway. I'm all for intertextuality. (And inter-score-uality?) How 'bout you? (And got any more musical clips for me? You'll make my day if you do ^_^)

Monday, May 4, 2009

A Snood FAQ and a Pride and Prejudice Poll

I bet I'm the only YA writer who gets asked frequently, "What's the story behind your snood fixation?"

Well, dear reader, I'll tell you, and by the time I'm done telling you, you're going to wish you never asked.

It all started last August. I was preparing for a School Library Journal photo shoot in which I was to wear medieval garb and wield a sword. I picked out the perfect snood for the occasion. I was so excited about the snood. It was the B.E.S.T. thing I'd ever purchased. But when I tried everything on for my sister, secret code name: Cordelia, SHE TOLD ME THE SNOOD LOOKED STUPID!

As you can imagine, I was devastated. Naturally, I took the story straight to my publicists, Sarah and Barb, because I knew they would understand and shower me with sympathy -- which they did, and more! They embraced the entire snood moment and came up with a new battle cry: SNOOD, BE DAMNED! (Highly satisfying when bellowed.) Over the weeks, the battle cry evolved, until we were also bellowing, OUT, DAMN SNOOD! and, WHAT THE SNOOD?! (As in, "WHAT THE SNOOD IS WRONG WITH PEOPLE WHO DON'T USE THEIR TURN SIGNALS?")

Inevitably, at some point, Barb, Sarah, and I became the Ladies of the Snood. We gave each other secret snood codenames, we embraced our snood identities, we devoted ourselves to snood worship, and since then, life has been completely snoody.

Does that answer your question?

The photos from the tragically snoodless photo shoot, btw, are here.

Switching gears here for a very important poll. Have you read much Jane Austen? Do you get the impression, as I do, that she must have had to bear the company of a lot of unbearable people in her life? I mean, I LOVE her heroes and heroines, but can we just pause a moment to applaud what a master she is at creating annoying people, too? In Persuasion, could anyone be more annoying than Anne's whiney sister Mary? In Northanger Abbey, I positively want to shove John Thorpe out of the carriage and watch the horses trample him. Ugh. Least favorite Jane Austen male ever. In Mansfield Park... well, a lot of people are annoying, including, arguably, Fanny... but Mrs. Norris really takes the cake. In Sense and Sensibility, I guess the prize goes to Lucy Steele, though, of course, Willoughby is no peach -- but at least he's not annoying. Emma. I know some people find Emma herself annoying, but I actually like Emma. The Eltons are annoying!

Finally, there's Pride and Prejudice. Oh, my goodness! The annoying people in P&P are so supremely annoying that they deserve a poll! Please vote! (If you're reading this post somewhere other than my actual site and don't see the full poll below, please click here.)