Skip to content

Posts from the ‘Paul Volponi’ Category

Writing Honest Depictions In Your Novels, by Paul Volponi

Writing with complete honesty is one of the hardest things for fledgling authors of teen novels to achieve. They worry about their name being attached to the story – even though it is fiction and it will be the characters doing the action and speaking the dialogue, not them. I’ve heard statements from beginning writers such as – readers will think I support what the characters do and say.

In my opinion, a writer needs to cut loose from anything resembling these feelings. They will only weigh you down and stop your work from evolving. I had to deal with this issue when I wrote several books which touched upon racism and hatred in our society. Black and White, Response, Rooftop, Rikers High, and Crossing Lines are all novels that I’ve written which have characters that espouse ugly ideas and brutal language. But if you try to couch your story and not show the way teens really act, or how they can act, during their worst moments, then your story will probably ring hollow.

When I decided to write Rikers High, a novel about a place in which I worked for six years, honesty came into play in a different way. Just some background: Rikers Island is the biggest jail in the world. There are high schools there for teens who can’t make bail and are awaiting trial in the court system. The novel shows an inmate demographic that is heavily black and Hispanic, because that matches the real demographic of Rikers Island. Incidents in the novel involving students/inmates with their teachers and correction officers are all a reflection of what I had really witnessed while working there. After the novel was published, some teachers and officers I worked with felt they recognized themselves and things that they had done, both good and bad. Needless to say, many were unhappy with my honesty. I lived with the ramifications and never regretted it. That novel accurately reflects six years of what I saw happening on Rikers Island.

I found it really interesting when a writer whom I had never met dedicated a YouTube video to the honesty in Rikers High. That video can be found at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MVmalLRRlKE

So every time you reread your story, there are several basic questions you need to continually ask:

1. Have I passed up on writing any scene that, in my heart, I know should be included in my story?

2. Do my most dramatic scenes fall short of an honest portrayal because I’m worried about what people will think about my views or sensibilities?

3. Does the dialogue I’m using truly represent what real people would say (including curse words) in tense situations?

4. Was I honest with myself and my fiction?

You should always be honest and brave in your writing. That way your fiction will represent real life. There is no higher standard that that.

***

Paul Volponi’s author website: www.paulvolponibooks.com

Paul Volponi’s bio page

***

United States (and beyond)

    

United Kingdom (and beyond)

    

Australia (and beyond)

Rikers HighRooftopBlack and WhiteHurricane Song     Cleopatra ConfessesThe Night She DisappearedCode Name Verity

Writing Teen Novels
www.writingteennovels.com

Using Varied Narrative Styles And Formats In A Novel, by Paul Volponi

Choosing a type of narration is always interesting for a novelist. I usually have my characters tell their story in the first-person. I feel it brings intimacy to a novel. After all, the main character will be able to describe every sensation himself or herself in a very personal, and hopefully moving, way. I think you need a certain comfort level with your story to attempt this. For fledgling teen novel writers, a first-person narration may provide a better shot at publication. Why? Consider this: We are used to telling our own stories to people in conversation. We’ve had a lot of practice at it over the course of our lives. So maybe we are the most naturally polished at first-person narration.

In Rikers High, I have Martin Stokes, a.k.a. Forty (named after his bed number) narrate in the first-person so he can describe the fear and anger of a teen stuck in a school inside the world’s largest jail. When I wrote Black and White, however, the story of two best friends who commit a crime together and experience different legal outcomes, I needed two people to feel things first-hand. So I decided on two first-person narrators telling their story in alternating chapters. Several years later, I wrote The Final Four, which centers on the lives of four basketball players in the NCAA Basketball Tournament. There, four first-person narrators would have been too much, so I needed to establish a new third-person voice for myself. Also, by this time, I had slowly started to experiment with other types of narrative devices, including the interjection of newspaper articles within my novels, along with dialogue scenes written in play format. In relation to this, I decided to write The Final Four as if the reader was not only riding shotgun over our players’ shoulders, but also hearing the game on radio, getting TV updates, seeing player interviews, and reading that day’s newspaper preview articles about a game that was taking place in the moment.

My advice? Don’t be afraid to create your own mixed bag of narration. Don’t ever feel boxed-in. Use your judgment as to whether your narration, no matter which style you choose, might be enhanced by mixing styles of narration. This might provide the reader with a fresh perspective and interesting breaks before going back to the novel’s main format.

***

Paul Volponi’s author website: www.paulvolponibooks.com

Paul Volponi’s bio page

***

United States (and beyond)

    

United Kingdom (and beyond)

    

Australia (and beyond)

Rikers HighRooftopBlack and WhiteHurricane Song     Deadly Little Voices (a Touch Novel) (Touch Novels)The Gypsy Crown (Chain of Charms)Raven Speak

Writing Teen Novels
www.writingteennovels.com

Dealing With The Idea Of Writer’s Block, by Paul Volponi

That’s right. I said the idea of writer’s block. Why the idea of it? Because, in reality, there’s no such thing as writer’s block. Whether you’re producing pages of useful prose or just sitting in front of a computer screen without the correct words coming to you, your brain is working on the novel. It’s probably working on it when you’re asleep, too.

So now that I’ve clearly established for you that I don’t believe in writer’s block, I’ll tell you what I do when my output starts to slow down. First of all, I write everyday, no matter what. Usually, a sitting can last anywhere from 45 minutes to three and a half hours. Some days I work through two sittings. My standard rule is this: When I feel like I’ve gone dry and my thoughts aren’t flowing naturally, I stop. I’m not done by any stretch of the imagination, though. I just walk away for a while. What might I do next? Anything physical, which I believe opens my mind back up to a good flow. I’ll jog, shoot baskets, practice Kung Fu, or just go for a walk with my dog. I can’t remember how many times I’ve been six or seven blocks from home when the ideas started coming again in waves. That’s why I started taking a pen and pad with me, to write on my way back home.

When I go dry, I also like to change writing stations in my house. I move from the basement to the kitchen or from lamplight to natural light, just to spark something inside of me. There’s a McDonald’s I particularly like that has a second floor to it. Sometimes I sit there with a notepad. I think the light and sounds there inspire me. Music is good for me, especially when I’m singing along. I stay away from TV during a dry spell. Ironically, I never ever read to loosen up.

How fast does it come when I’m flowing? Rikers High took me eight months, with absolutely no novel experience behind me. I wrote The Final Four, my longest book, in the shortest amount of time, five months. On the slower side, just the final one-third of Black and White took about seven months.

I don’t like to give in to the notion of writer’s block, because I believe that writers should never give in. There are already too many reasons not to work and not to produce. When those reasons start coming from the writer himself, I consider it a type of self-sabotage that I want no part of. So don’t allow it to grab hold of you. Know that every moment you’re thinking about a story is a productive one on some level. Then discover your own ways to get back to your writing comfort zone.

***

Paul Volponi’s author website: www.paulvolponibooks.com

Paul Volponi’s bio page

***

United States (and beyond)

    

United Kingdom (and beyond)

    

Australia (and beyond)

Rikers HighHurricane SongRooftopBlack and White     Cleopatra ConfessesAngel DustNo Alarms

Writing Teen Novels
www.writingteennovels.com

Using A Notebook To Store Ideas For Novel Writing, by Paul Volponi

I’ve done a lot of work as a sports writer covering thoroughbred horse racing. The great race caller Tom Durkin, who has to paint a picture using the spoken word, often in two minutes or less, keeps a notebook of words and phrases he has either used or is interested in one day using. That inspired me to keep a writer’s notebook as a writer of teen novels. It has been a great help to me. What’s recorded on the pages of my writer’s notebook? Well, almost everything. I have it broken up into sections – potential names for characters, titles for books, phrases or expressions that have made an impact on me, interesting situations I have encountered, plot-lines for books, and of course, miscellaneous trivia to cover a myriad of other things. The notebook helps me to store current thoughts for future use, and stops me from having several hundred scraps of paper floating around my work space. Naturally, this doesn’t have to be a physical book. It could also exist electronically on your computer. But personally, I really do enjoy holding a notebook and thumbing through the pages. Every two weeks or so, I look through it from front to back.

Here’s a glimpse at some of its pages.

Names – Cortez – as a possible first name. The Muscle Hamster – an actual nickname for a short and strong NFL player. Pogo, cool name for someone who shifts positions. Lashley – last name of a pro wrestler, good ring to it, like the imagery. Rosario – good feeling for me, has a feeling of trustworthiness to it, like Kent from King Lear.

Titles – Stop and Frisk – a NYC police procedure. Shadow Tag – an alternative to playing real tag, stepping on a shadow instead of touching. Personal Foul – sports title with some imagery.

Situations – A woman puts her cigarette out on the side of a church and then crosses herself as she passes the church’s front door (actually saw this happen). Boy wearing a Spiderman hat on a city bus has a real fly sitting in the fake web on the hat. Fly sat there for a while. Wanted to swat it to see if it was real or fake (actually saw this as well). A school short of money sells ads at the bottom of its test papers – a pizza ad on a math test (real newspaper article).

I’ll pass on sharing my possible future plot-lines with you. But I think you get the idea about keeping a writer’s notebook and how helpful it can be. I’ve used it to develop the real titles of mine such as Black and White and Rikers High. It gave me character’s names such as Brick (Rikers High) and Noah (Response). And situations like the vending machine break-in used in Hurricane Song. I hope that as a writer you can make good use of a notebook as well.

***

Paul Volponi’s author website: www.paulvolponibooks.com

Paul Volponi’s bio page

***

United States (and beyond)

    

United Kingdom (and beyond)

    

Australia (and beyond)

Black and WhiteRikers HighHurricane SongRooftop     Tarzan: The Greystoke LegacyBlack Storm Comin'Shock Point

Writing Teen Novels
www.writingteennovels.com

Should You Self-Publish Your Book? by Paul Volponi

I’m probably asked over 50 times a year by writers who have met with nothing but frustration when it comes to getting published through traditional avenues, “Should I self-publish?” Well, I don’t really have the answer. Just an opinion. That opinion is, “It all depends.”

Perhaps you are a cook who does many cooking demonstrations over the course of a year in front of a live audience and you have a passion to write a cook book. Maybe your audience has already asked you for one, saying how they’d love to own something like that as a resource. However, no publisher wants to back you in such a project. In that case, not only do I think that self-publishing (actually printing the book yourself without a vanity publishing company) is the way to go, I’d highly recommend it. Why? You already have the audience. Why shouldn’t you make all the profit after printing costs, which can be surprisingly small per book? Also, I presume the book would have a long shelf-life, allowing you to sell that first print-run for years to come.

Now, let’s look at the question from a very different angle. Let’s say you write teen novels or poetry and are wondering about going the self-publishing route. I would be very much against it. For one, you probably don’t have an audience yet. No matter what an unsavory vanity publishing company promises you about promotion (usually sending out postcards for an upcoming release), they won’t find you an audience. Also, librarians and teachers around the country won’t consider buying your book because they won’t know about it. Yes, there are stories about authors who self-published, arranged their own book signings and sold copies out of the trunks of their cars to cultivate an audience. Then, those grassroots sales (along with some very good writing, I presume) got a publisher’s attention, brining them a deal for their next book. I also understand that some lottery tickets bought do win, but trying to become a success story can be a heavy load for a writer to be burdened with.

I think this is the real question for novelists and poets to ask themselves before considering self-publishing: “Why do I want to be published?” If the answer is that you want a personal record of what you have created to be bound for your friends and family, I would never argue against it. If your ultimate goal is to cultivate an audience and draw attention to your good work, then self-publishing is almost certainly not the way to go.

***

Paul Volponi’s author website: www.paulvolponibooks.com

Paul Volponi’s bio page

***

United States (and beyond)

    

United Kingdom (and beyond)

    

Australia (and beyond)

Black and WhiteRikers HighHurricane SongRooftop     Necromancing the StoneCode Name Verity

Writing Teen Novels
www.writingteennovels.com

Handling Novel Writing Deadlines, by Paul Volponi

Chances are that when you land your first book deal, you’ll be sitting on a completed manuscript. You’ll be given a general publication date which will usually be aligned with an industry marker. Common release shedules are Spring, Summer, Fall, and Winter – followed by the year. For example, Summer 2015. That designation will now trigger some deadlines for you to meet as a writer. That’s right: deadlines.

I know, you were probably thinking – Hooray, I’ve finished this novel and it will be published. Well, not so fast. Here’s how these deadlines generally run: After a gap of several weeks, your editor will return a marked-up manuscript. Nowadays, it’s mostly done electronically, to save paper and the cost of mailing. At this point, the editor will point out any potential flaws in the work, including scenes or lines which may be crystal clear to you but not to potential readers. Grooming the work in conjunction with your editor’s notes may be done several times. Hence, several soft deadlines, though each succeeding one may get a little firmer as you progress and edge closer to the publication date. During the editing of my novel Black and White, which features two narrators (best friends Marcus and Eddie) in alternating chapters, we made several passes through the manuscript making sure each voice was clearly distinguishable from the other. Eventually, there will be a hard deadline for a manuscript that is completed in its content.

No, you’re not done yet.

Next the manuscript will go to copy-editing. After a few more weeks, the copy editor will present you with possibly 100 inquiries: spelling, meaning, accurate connections to worldly events, detail consistency and other things you would never have imagined. This will provide you with another deadline (usually a short one) to resolve all of these inquiries.

In my teen novel Rikers High the copy editor had a tough time with authentic jail slang. That slowed the process down a bit and was fairly frustrating.

Writers can feel a lot of pressure to meet these deadlines. I’ve been through this process 11 times with three different publishers, from the world’s biggest to a small one-man operation. It can either move ahead easily or be very daunting, depending on the work, the publisher and what’s going on in your life at the time. I was able to make every deadline for my first 10 novels, including having to face a change of editor mid-stream on my 8th work. It wasn’t until my most recent time through the process that a particular deadline couldn’t be met (here I faced a change of editor and a new person coming in to run the publishing company). So the book was pushed back approximately six months. Having that happen is never a good feeling, especially when you’re busy planning and writing the next novel.

How can you deal with these deadlines? Stay loose, calm and focused. Plan your goals week-by-week, instead of day-by-day, to avoid any low feelings. I also encourage fledgling writers to meet their own personal deadlines while compiling a potential manuscript – deadlines such as, I’ll finish this new chapter in 10 days. I believe the practise really helps. Remember, this is your novel. No one is more qualified to get it successfully nailed down than you.

***

Paul Volponi’s author website: www.paulvolponibooks.com

Paul Volponi’s bio page

***

United States (and beyond)

    

United Kingdom (and beyond)

    

Australia (and beyond)

Black and WhiteRikers HighHurricane SongRooftop     Keeping CornerWinter TownCleopatra Confesses

Writing Teen Novels
www.writingteennovels.com

Dealing With Reviews And Critics Of Your Teen Novels, by Paul Volponi

I normally have two reactions to critics. The first is to put my arm around them after a good review. The second is to tell them how little they truly know about writing and novels after a review with which I am displeased. Do these reviews really matter when it comes to YA literature? Well, they do and they don’t. In general, teen readers don’t listen to reviewers. They pick up books penned by either authors they know, or with titles or covers that grab their attention. I have yet to meet a teen who quotes a NY Times book review in his personal observations about something he has just read. Teens also spread their own opinions about books they like and dislike by word of mouth and on sites such as Goodreads.

Reviews get to be important in the arena of immediate hardcover sales in the early months after publication. How so? When a librarian, whether in a public library or a school setting, first comes across a new author’s work, it will mostly likely be in a publication that reviews YA books. Among the better known publications are Book List, Publishers’ Weekly, VOYA, School Library Journal, and The Bulletin of the Centre for Children’s Books. The librarian will read the review (starred reviews, signifying a book is rated in the top few of that publication’s current issue, garner the most attention) and then decide if that book fits the collection a particular library is building. An average or bad review could dissuade librarians from purchasing your book, even though teen readers might love it. Your publisher will most likely send advance copies to all of the major outlets, to increase the number of opinions that librarians may access.

Even though many teens go to book stores and purchase books, a huge number of teen readers (especially reluctant readers) only view books that their teachers and librarians set before them. It’s sad to say, poor reviews and slow sales can stop a first-time writer from ever getting another chance at publication. Personally, I have seen the very top and the bottom of the ladder. The Final Four received four starred reviews and Black and White three, which helped my novels to gain exposure with librarians and teachers, and to be read in many school settings. But two of my personal favorites received less than stellar reviews. Even though I think they are excellent novels, they are less seen in libraries and less read in classrooms.

Can I give you any advice about shaking off a bad review? Sure. Reviews have absolutely nothing to do with the writing process. Only you do. Just like you wouldn’t be stopped by other negative outside influences from working at your craft, don’t give reviews that kind of weight.

***

Paul Volponi’s author website: www.paulvolponibooks.com

Paul Volponi’s bio page

***

United States (and beyond)

    

United Kingdom (and beyond)

    

Australia (and beyond)

Black and WhiteThe Final FourHurricane SongRikers High     HappyfacePowder Monkey: Adventures of a Young Sailor

Writing Teen Novels
www.writingteennovels.com

Choosing Character Names For Novels, by Paul Volponi

In my house, one of our great joys is the naming of a new pet. We have dogs, cats, and even a bearded dragon. My choices of names usually lose out to those of my wife and daughter (personally, I thought Barkley was a great name for a dog), but there is one place where I get to actually see my name choices come to fruition – in my Young Adult novels.

My inspirations for names come from a variety of places. Some come from students whom I have taught, some come from names I have seen across the back shoulders of sports jerseys, some come to me while listening to other people’s conversations in the street (it’s not that hard with everyone on cell phones these days), and some even arise from classic literature (I named a poker player Huck because the final card in Texas Hold’em is called ‘the River’). I keep a running list of names that I like and may one day want to use in a novel.

I also use a dictionary of names – and no, it’s not cheating. I enjoy hearing the meaning of names in dictionaries, sometimes matching them to a character’s qualities (in Hurricane Song, the preacher is named Culver, which means “dove”). Did you know that Shakespeare coined the name Jessica for a female? Previously, it had only been seen in the masculine form.

Are there any rules for naming characters? Well, obviously not. I do tend to stay away from very common names, such as Jim, John, Jane, and Mary. I also don’t want characters in the same book to have names that are too similar, such as Mr Johnson and Mrs Jones. Sometimes my characters, even really important ones, are simply referred to by their roles, instead of their names. For instance, in Black and White, a prominent character is referred to as Marcus’ mother, rather than by her actual name.

You should feel satisfied with the character names you choose. Don’t settle. I suppose some writers, without a concrete name in mind, can begin to write scenes, perhaps using a dummy name or ***** in its place. To me, that’s counter-productive. The names of your characters can stand for your ideas and represent them in a memorable way to the reading public. I want the main character’s name to have an intimate connection with the character’s development. For example, in Rooftop, the main protagonist is named Clay, because he will be moulded into a man in the pages to come. In Hurricane Song, the protagonist with a long journey ahead of him is named Miles. I can’t say for sure that readers in general pick up on those things. I’ve had a few teens bring those images/names up to me, wanting to discuss their origins. I do feel that they make an impact on a deeper, subconscious level.

***

Paul Volponi’s author website: www.paulvolponibooks.com

Paul Volponi’s bio page

***

United States (and beyond)

    

United Kingdom (and beyond)

    

Australia (and beyond)

Black and WhiteRikers HighRooftopHurricane Song     Deadly Little Voices (a Touch Novel) (Touch Novels)Shock PointTarzan: The Jungle Warrior: Bk. 2

Writing Teen Novels
www.writingteennovels.com

On Joining A Writing Group Or Writing Alone, by Paul Volponi

Over the last 14 years, I’ve written 10 Young Adult novels. I wrote the first one, Rikers High (originally entitled Rikers), without even knowing I could write a novel. Before that, I’d written mostly sports articles. I attempted the novel because HBO was pondering the idea of taking a newspaper article I’d penned on teens attending high school in jail and turning into a movie. I knew they’d change things plenty, running with it in any direction they wished. So I wanted a novel to reflect my actual experiences, with my name on it.

What gave me the glimmer of hope that I could actually write a novel? Well, while I was working on Rikers Island, I was surrounded by other teachers who were aspiring novelists. They would sit in the computer room before and between classes working on their stories. I turned to one of them one day and said something like, “That’s amazing how you guys can write such big stories with all those characters and plot twists.” The guy replied, “If I can write a few good paragraphs a day, it really adds up.”

That was probably the best writing advice I’ve ever received and my only real interaction with a writers’ group. Living in New York City, I casually know several accomplished Young Adult novelists. A few of them meet regularly in a writers’ group, bouncing ideas off of each other and showing pages of their new material. Do I think being part of a similar group could help a fledgling YA novelist? I absolutely do. It’s fantastic to get feedback on your plot-lines, characters, dialogue and key scenes.

How come I don’t do that? Lone wolf syndrome, I guess. I like to work early in the morning, then re-read and rewrite in the afternoon. I work every day without fail. At night, I spend time with my wife and daughter. I prefer not to go out to meet with other writers. I do, however, have several first-readers who look at my early versions of things – usually well before my editor ever sees it. It’s a small readership of people whose opinions I respect.

Obviously, every writer is different. It may be very hard to even find good advice or a supportive group, let alone make meaningful connections with other YA novelists, but I do believe that getting feedback from somewhere can help a writer immensely and should be sought.

***

Paul Volponi’s author website: www.paulvolponibooks.com

Paul Volponi’s bio page

***

United States (and beyond)

    

United Kingdom (and beyond)

    

Australia (and beyond)

Rikers HighResponseThe Final FourRooftop     Hold Me Closer, NecromancerThe Night She DisappearedAugust

Writing Teen Novels
www.writingteennovels.com

Finding A Good Literary Agent For Your Novels, by Paul Volponi

Fledgling Young Adult novelists come up to me all the time and ask, “Hey, I’ve written something great. Can you hook me up with your agent?” I’ve even had a very nice librarian ask me that question, on behalf of her sister-in-law, as she was walking me to the podium to give a talk in her library.

I’m never really annoyed at this stuff. I understand that writers are looking for a way in, and think that I can help them. But there are some huge negatives in leaning on a friend or another writer to get you an agent.

What if my agent doesn’t like your work, but it’s good? What if my agent doesn’t like that particular genre (for making sales)? What if my agent is too busy and doesn’t give it the appropriate time? What if my agent doesn’t even return your email?

In my opinion, providing a single agent name as a contact is clearly a disservice to a beginning writer. Instead, I try to teach new writers techniques to canvass multiple agents. When I was in need of an agent I went to resources such as Writer’s Market and found maybe a dozen agents who represented the kind of manuscript I’d written. I emailed all of them, waiting to see who would respond in a reasonable time, or who would even reply at all. I did that over and over again, until I found an agent with whom I shared some common ground. Of course, we all know that a writer can send out 100 queries and get just a single reply, leading us to want to sign with that one agent.

I’ve had three agents in my writing career. The first two dumped me. I’m sure they found me too annoying in wanting to succeed and always keeping the pressure on them. Neither could sell my first two novels, Black and White (which eventually won a slew of IRA and ALA awards) and Rikers High (a Top 10 ALA winner inspiring non-readers to read, and even achieved a New York Times review).

Then I found the right agent through an email (she was just another name in a book to me) and then a follow up phone call. She read Black and White and said, “I’m sending it out to eight major houses tomorrow. A few of them will probably want it very badly.” She was right. Within a month, I was a professional writer with a two-book deal from Viking/Penguin.

So my best advice is to keep searching yourself for that agent. Understand how to do it. Refine your own personal techniques. It will make you more self-sufficient and ultimately more powerful as a writer. It can be a long haul until you find an agent who works as hard as you do in promoting your ideas. But it is certainly worth the journey.

***

Paul Volponi’s author website: www.paulvolponibooks.com

Paul Volponi’s bio page

***

United States (and beyond)

    

United Kingdom (and beyond)

    

Australia (and beyond)

Black and WhiteRikers HighResponseThe Final Four     Code Name VerityHappyfaceIn Mozart's Shadow: His Sister's Story

Writing Teen Novels
www.writingteennovels.com

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 193 other followers

%d bloggers like this: