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Posts tagged ‘US Young Adult novelist’

To Outline Or Not To Outline? by Kashmira Sheth

Some writers outline their stories while some don’t. I have listened in awe to some authors talk about how they go about creating a framework for their novel. They know their characters, plot, climax and ending of their stories before they actually start writing their first chapter. For them, making an outline works well because they can see how their characters are going to behave in each situation and how they will come out in the end. With that concrete concept of the story, making chapter outlines works well. It speeds up the writing process and avoids a lot of work that comes with creating the story as you go, including trimming scenes when your characters end up in the wrong places.

Even though this process of outlining seems very scientific and has fewer pitfalls, it may not work for every writer. I know it doesn’t work for me. For writers like me, creating an outline is difficult and time consuming in the first place. Even if we manage to outline our story we might find it impossible to stay within those scenes and chapter summaries. If we waiver from those scenes, we might have to abandon the rest of the outline because changes have a snowballing effect, and the rest of the outline may no longer make sense.

Writers like me do not have chapter outlines or summaries on 5×7 index cards to guide us through our way. As we write, we make wrong turns and put in scenes that add nothing to the plot or character development. In that case, we may have to trim many scenes or even a few chapters and start again. Without a clear idea of where the story is going we might find ourselves in a place we don’t want to be or simply have no clue what happens next. We get stumped. Sometimes, it is frustrating to be in that place. At other times our creativity is challenged and we may find appropriate and even amazing paths out of our predicament.

In this way, once we start writing, we may find that our characters have taken us to unexpected and exciting places. The characters’ journey may bring surprises to us. These are gifts that they didn’t know existed.   If we try to adhere strictly to the outline we might find our creativity stifled because we can’t explore a new situation when it pops up unexpectedly. We might feel we have to mould our characters to behave the way we thought they would before we started writing. Ultimately, we might lose interest in our story and abandon it.

If you are a writer who starts with an idea then nurtures and grows that idea as you write, you may not want to make an outline. On the other hand, you may love the outlining process, and feel that it keeps you in control from the beginning and your goal in sight at all times. There is no one right or wrong way to write.

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Kashmira Sheth’s author website: www.kashmirasheth.com

Kashmira Sheth’s bio page

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Keeping CornerBoys without Names     GenesisTarzan: The Jungle Warrior: Bk. 2A Coalition of LionsI Rode a Horse of Milk White JadeShock Point

Writing Teen Novels
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Talking About My Writing At Conferences, by Stephen Emond (graphic novelist)

It can be really jarring being an author. It seems perfect for a quiet, unassuming shy fellow (that’s me). You sit in a room and type out words; you write stories and create worlds; you can play around, say all the things you think and live the life you want, all from the comfort of your home, maybe with a muffin and a cup of coffee. You create that wonderful book; you get an agent; you get a publisher; your book is released; and you’ve communicated with the whole world and touched so many lives, all from your computer screen.

Then you get the call: “We’ve booked you to speak at a teacher’s conference in Chicago next month, start packing!”

Speak?! Teacher’s conference?! My high school English teachers would spit out their water if they knew I was even writing a book! I have to somehow teach THEM something? Speak???

This thought process loops for weeks, getting louder, with pounding echoes. I write! Not speak! These are two exceptionally different skill sets. People who are great writers and great speakers still amaze me. I imagine if you can speak well, if you’re that social and outgoing, then you wouldn’t be the type to do the actual quiet writing part. That’s the case for myself, at least. I got just such a call. In fact, when I’d written Happyface I had to do a book release party in my hometown, an English teacher’s conference in Chicago, a librarian conference in Pennsylvania and another teacher conference in Texas. I was petrified.

I’d never been one to raise my hand in class, or volunteer to read a passage, or for any reason choose to stand in front of a class. In most of those cases, you’d be expected to talk for a few minutes. Here I was supposed to talk to a quiet room for 20, 30 or 40 minutes!

Imagine, if you will, a montage sequence, set to the music of your choosing. I’m listing every noteworthy event that happened in the creation of the book; thinking about all the conversations I had with my editor; searching desperately for any little nugget of information I can pad out a half hour with; creating any artwork I can to at least divert a few eyes off of me; and getting on a plane, sitting in a hotel room, reading over notes and timing myself.

So much of the anxiety is just getting to ‘the moment’. I guarantee you the five minutes before a speech are always worse than the five minutes after beginning a speech, and the five minutes after a speech can be near-euphoric.

One thing that bridges the ‘speaker’ and the ‘writer’ is that it’s the actual writing you’re speaking about. I never had to recite someone else’s work or talk about something I didn’t care about, and that helps. I can’t say I’m the best speaker, but each time I’ve gotten through it.

Oddly enough, those times end up being the memories I look back on the most at the end of the year. I think to myself, “I’m a WRITER, not a SPEAKER!” I just want to WRITE. At the end of a trip like that, I think back, talking with other authors, speaking about my books, traveling, signing, hearing from people who’ve read my stuff, wrapped up in a whirlwind of activity all centered around not only books but MY books, those things I spent all that time writing. I have to remember, that this is part of being a writer, or the public version of a writer. That’s when I’m in full on glamorous author mode, when being an author seems like a really cool gig. I go home after that and it takes a  few days to adjust. Suddenly everything feels kind of empty and confusing. Why isn’t anyone coordinating my travel, driving me around, ordering me food? Does anyone want me to sign something? I’ve got a pen…

At the end of the day, you write to finish your book and you talk to sell it. It’s creative; it’s a business; it’s a strange, bizarre world being an author, but you do it and you love it.

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Stephen Emond’s author website: www.stephenemond.com

Stephen Emond’s bio page

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Writing Teen Novels
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Embracing E-Books, by Amy Kathleen Ryan

I know, I know. There’s nothing like the feel of a real book in your hands, the aroma of printer’s ink, the crisp crackle of the spine as you open it, and the weight of it on your lap as you curl up with your tea or cocoa or scotch (or absinthe?) and begin the journey. I get it. I like bookstores too. I like libraries. I LOVE books and I own quite a few of them. I buy them out of principle. They represent an ancient technology that will probably never go out of style completely.

Printed books are not the only way to read anymore. Writers need to deal with the fact that the publishing industry is changing, whatever our feelings about it. Bookstores will become fewer and smaller, libraries will be taken over by even more computers, and the overall market will shrink. I weep about it sometimes, but I can’t change it. So instead, I look for ways to accept it, even embrace it.  Here are a few positives about the rise of the e-book that should get writers on board:

You make more royalties. With e-books, a publisher has a much smaller initial outlay, so they can afford to pay you more for each copy sold. Royalties for print books tend to be around 15% or so, but they run about 20% for e-books. That fives percent can make a lot of difference.

A self-published e-book can provide more mileage. When published only in print form, most self-published writers are able to stock their books only with retailers in their immediate geographic area. But any writer can self publish an e-book for relatively little money and offer it through Amazon and other national outlets.

People can buy your book instantly.  Say you’ve written a series such as, oh, I don’t know, the gripping Sky Chasers series, and your reader gets to the end of your riveting first book, titled, for example, Glow. It is eleven o’clock at night and she can’t get to a bookstore or library to keep reading, but wait! What is that on her nightstand beckoning her? Is that a Kindle or a Nook or an iPad with an account that is conveniently hooked up to her credit card? How fortuitous! She can buy Spark right away and keep reading. Lucky her. And lucky me. There is something to be said for the late night impulse buy, a feature that simply doesn’t exist for a book that isn’t available in electronic form.

Fewer trees bite the dust. We all like forests right?

What about piracy? To this I answer: What about libraries? What about used bookstores? What about the two best friends who get together to trade their latest favorite read? You don’t make royalties when people loan your printed book out, or buy it used. That’s a huge drain on your earnings right there. As for pirates, there will always be some wormlike being somewhere trying to get something for nothing. We can’t change the fact that some people are jerks, so why sweat it?

There are other reasons for writers to like the e-book, and I invite you to mention them in the comments section. I own a Kindle myself, and I really like it, especially when I’m traveling. And I honestly do think about how 20% of my money is going right to the author. That’s cool.

So do not fear the e-book. Make the e-book your friend.

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Amy Kathleen Ryan’s author website: www.amykathleenryan.com

Amy Kathleen Ryan’s bio page

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Writing Teen Novels
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Language In Teen Novels, by Diane Lee Wilson

Early in my career I regularly participated in read-and-critique groups. Each of us took a turn reading aloud from one of our own newly completed chapters and then accepted verbal comments from the other aspiring novelists. More than once someone would tell me that my vocabulary was too difficult for my teen audience. It was suggested that I use simpler words.

I bridled at that and still do. I firmly believe that authors of teen novels can use rich, complex language if done in context and with purpose. It is not necessary to “write down” to readers. My goal is to produce the best writing I can, and if a reader is unfamiliar with the occasional word (even though I’ve used it in context) then I expect them to look it up in a dictionary, be it one from a bookshelf or an electronic one on a computer or phone.

Nurturing language has never been more important now that we have the widespread use of electronic communication – texting, tweeting, tagging – where minimal space takes precedence over clarity, a great number of teens are allowing their writing and reading skills to diminish.

A professor of communications at Pennsylvania State University recently warned that rampant texting is exacting “compromises on traditional, cultural writing” abilities of today’s teens. “Routine use of textual adaptations by current and future generations of 13-17-year-olds,” says S. Shyam Sundar, “may serve to create the impression that this is normal and accepted use of the language and rob this age group of a fundamental understanding of standard English grammar.” Teens who took the professor’s grammar test, for example, couldn’t discern the difference between “lose” and “loose” or “accept” and “except”.

At a writing camp held at the University of Central Florida, another professor also bemoaned the negative effect that instant communication is having on writing skills. “Social media takes out all the imaginative threads, descriptions and interesting parts of a language,” said Terry Thaxton. “I find that troubling.”

The argument can be made that language is dynamic, always evolving (or for the cynical, devolving) and that teens are communicating in a language that they understand. Today’s teens will not always be talking among themselves. They will be speaking with future employers, potential partners, perhaps world leaders. They will need to understand the difference between “nonplussed” and “nonchalant”. From “accepting your proposition” to “taking exception to your proposition”. They can begin to master language painlessly and even pleasurably in a well-written novel with a rich vocabulary.

No, teen readers do not have to limit themselves to “serious books” only. Just as there is always room for a little “junk food” in one’s diet, there’s a place for the “summer beach read”, the “guilty pleasure” or the book that “everyone’s talking about”. But these stories will never be as satisfying as time spent with a complex fictional character in a colorfully drawn world.

Tweets and texts are fine – and fun – in day-to-day life. Instant communication can bring us closer as a society. However, language is what defines our society and I urge every writer to access its riches.

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Diane Lee Wilson’s author website: www.dianeleewilson.com

Diane Lee Wilson’s bio page

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How To Tell Good Literary Agents From Bad Literary Agents, by Amy Kathleen Ryan

In my previous post, I discussed why a novelist should have an agent. What follows is a step by step process for how to tell the good agents from the bad.

A good agent doesn’t ask for money up front. Every book and magazine on being a writer will tell you this. Everything agents earn from you comes out of sales of your work. Most agents make about 15% on domestic sales and 20% on international sales. I’ve heard some agents are asking for a bit more but this is the basic guideline. Many good agents will also deduct some expenses from your take home pay, for example any travel, postage and long distance costs that were incurred during the sale of your manuscript. My agent does this and I’m okay with it. If someone asks for a “reading fee” or charges you for their editing services up front, I’d be very wary.

A good agent has a list of recent sales to reputable publishers and is capable of landing a decent advance. Most agents will list their clients on their website and you can check there for recent sales but the best way to determine an agent’s negotiating prowess is to buy an inexpensive subscription to The Literary Marketplace, where almost every sale to a publisher is trumpeted with a little code key for how much money the author landed for his/her manuscript. If an agent has gotten a “Significant Deal” or a “Major Deal” for a client within the last few years, you know this agent is capable of successfully running a bidding war. This doesn’t guarantee a bidding war for your work but at least you’ll know it’s a possibility.

A good agent gets good reviews from their clients. Before signing an agency contract, you can ask for references for your agent. I believe most agents are very willing to have current clients speak with prospective clients. You might want to ask things like how long it takes for the agent returns the author’s phone calls and emails, how long the author had to wait for the agent to submit their first book, and how the author would describe the agent’s communication style. I would caution you not to be too stringent with the way you evaluate these answers. A good agent will have a lot of clients and can get very busy, and might not always return calls/emails as promptly as you might wish. Also, I had to wait about six months for my agent to submit the first book I sold with her but I’ve never had to wait that long since. In other words, sometimes a good agent is worth waiting for. Only you can decide how long you’re willing to spend waiting for your agent to get around to you.

But how do you get an agent in the first place? My next post will answer that question. Stay tuned!

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Amy Kathleen Ryan’s author website: www.amykathleenryan.com

Amy Kathleen Ryan’s bio page

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Writing Teen Novels
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Making Time To Write Your Novel, by Lish McBride

I dislike the phrase “finding time to write”. It implies that this precious time can be just stumbled upon, like maybe one day you might move the couch and find a whole pile of it and think, “There you are, you clever rascals!” Now, I don’t know how busy you are, but I feel like playing hide-and-seek with writing time might not be the best way to go about things.

Most people I know are really busy. If you’re a teenaged writer, you probably have school, homework, sports, drama, choir, chores, a job, friends and so on to juggle. If you’re an adult writer, your list is just as long, though obviously with a few changes. Waiting to stumble upon time just isn’t going to happen and quite frankly I think it sets up a bad habit. If you wait for time to arrive and the muse to strike, you’re never going to finish your novel.

I know what you’re thinking. “But if I just get published, everything will get so much easier. I’ll have so much writing time that people will have to move it just to sit on my couch! I’m going to write a million novels!” (Apparently, I’m obsessed with couches today.) I get this thought process; I really do. I had the same ideas. I’d like to say I’ve never been more wrong but, really, I’m wrong about a lot of things.

When I was trying to write my first novel in graduate school, I kept thinking about how hard it was to juggle school, writing, work and family, and how much easier things would be if someone bought my novel. I had this amazing fantasy of what my writing day would be like. I’d wake up after a great night’s sleep. I’d have breakfast and drink my coffee and ease into the day. Then I’d head to my office where it was quiet and maybe there was a window for me to look out of while having my deep thoughts. (My deep thoughts mostly consist of things like, “What would a pygmy chupacabra look like? How much swearing is too much? Can I work an obscure 80’s reference into the plot?) I would drink tea and write in an oasis of books, notes and tiny post-its.

Man, wouldn’t that be nice? The thing is, I just seem to be getting busier. I have a full time job, as many writers do. Unless you’re independently wealthy or marry someone who is, you will probably have to have one as well. If you’re lucky, it’s not forever. Most of us aren’t lucky. I volunteer once a week at 826 Seattle. I have an eight-year-old, which means school lunches need to be packed, soccer games attended and a lot of driving time in between. That’s already a lot. Then I have writing time and editing time. Plus I do a lot of extra things like blog posts, interviews and manage my social media like Facebook and Twitter. I consider these sorts of things part of the job. I like reaching out through the internet and talking to readers, bloggers and librarians but it does take time. I answer emails – which takes longer than you might think – and talk on the phone a lot. Then there are bookstore, library and school events. Some of these things may not seem like much. It only takes 5-15 minutes to reply to an email, but what if I have thirty emails that I absolutely have to reply to today. It adds up and you end up nickel and diming yourself to death, so to speak.

I’m not even going to get in to my to-read pile.

I don’t have days off; not really. Now, I’m not trying to whine. I choose to volunteer and I can say no to some of these things, and I do. I can’t do everything. So I have to be very careful with my time and choices. I don’t have an office (I live in an apartment) and I certainly don’t get to ease into my day. I do, however, get coffee. So while the quiet office oasis is an ideal, a far-off wispy dream that I am working toward, it is not yet a reality.

What I’m saying, my writing friends, is that you have to take a hard look at your life and prioritize. What must stay? Work pays your bills and feeds your stomach but you have to feed your mind and soul too.  It’s hard to create and write when the tank is dry. You’re not going to stumble across a pile of free time. You have to make it happen.

When I was struggling over my novel/thesis, I was trying to figure out how other writers did it. I remember checking out Kelley Armstrong’s website because she is very prolific and I knew she had kids. She basically stated that you have to schedule time to write. Treat it like an appointment, something that has to happen, like going to the dentist. Give it importance. I still think that it was a wise thing to say.

Don’t fight yourself. Know what will help or hinder you. I often get distracted at home, so I go out. I have regular writing dates with friends. We hold each other accountable. If you can’t afford to do the coffee shop thing, find a free space like a library or a friend’s kitchen table. Sometimes my friend Brenda will organize a writing day where we’ll all bring food and hang out all day and work. It’s great.

I have wonderful family and friends who support and understand what I need to do. Whether that means my partner might take on extra house/kid duties or a friend might babysit so I can get an hour or two of editing done, every little bit helps. It’s hard to make time happen. I know it is. Even if you can only get thirty minutes a week, that time does add up. When you get it, attack it. Fill those few, precious minutes with as many words as you possibly can. In the end, it all comes down to you.

Homework: Think about the times you were successful in getting some writing done. What made those times a success? How can you replicate it? What gets in the way of your success? How can you weed out these things?

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Lish McBride’s author website: www.lishmcbride.com

Lish McBride’s bio page

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On The Inspiration For My Teen Novels, by Laurie Faria Stolarz

People often ask me what inspires me to write.  The answer is that inspiration comes from all over, especially if you’re open to it: stories you hear about, snippets from the news, a really dishy reality TV show, an argument that you overheard at the local coffee shop, fortune cookie messages, dilemmas without answers, a person you encounter at the supermarket, a situation that occurred at the gym…

The point is that ideas are everywhere.  Pick one that gets your creative juices flowing.  Don’t write about a topic because you think it’s popular or timely.  The market is ever-changing: blood-thirsty vampires today, vegan-loving serial killers tomorrow.  Plus when you consider that once your book gets accepted for publication it’s often a year or more before it comes out, who knows what the market will dictate then.

Here’s how inspiration struck for some of my teen novels:

Blue is for Nightmares

The inspiration:  My readers

I was inspired to write my first novel, Blue is for Nightmares, because I wanted to write a book that would have appealed to me as a young person, namely one that had a blending of suspense, romance, drama, and dark humor.  I wasn’t a big reader as a young person, and so I wanted to get reluctant readers excited about reading.  Blue is for Nightmares was the product.

Bleed

The inspiration: A theme that interested me.

I really wanted to explore how the decisions we make everyday – even the smaller ones – can affect others in ways we may never even consider: the decision whether or not to pick up the phone or let the machine get it; the decision of walking to someone’s house versus taking the bus; or of taking a walk by a cemetery rather than at the beach; and how the outcome of those decisions can have a domino effect, affecting other people’s lives… including the lives of people we may not even know.

The book starts out with one girl (Nicole) grappling with the decision of whether or not to betray her best friend (Kelly) by going after her best friend’s boyfriend (Sean) while the best friend is away. We see how the effect of that decision plays out, affecting all the other characters in the book.

Project 17

The inspiration: A news article.

I sold Bleed in a two-book deal with Disney/Hyperion Books for Children.  Time was ticking and I needed an idea for the second book – fast.  One day when I was flipping through a local newspaper, I came upon an article concerning the controversial teardown of one the nation’s first mental institutions, which was considered  to be a historic landmark – one that was also rumored to be haunted.  I imagined a group of teens breaking in to the hospital on the eve of the demolition to film a movie.  The idea inspired me to write my novel Project 17.

The Touch series

The Inspiration: Past success and my love for series books.

Following the success of my Blue is for Nightmares series, in which my main character is plagued, and then empowered, by her premonitions, I wanted to continue working in the supernatural/paranormal genre.  Like in my Nightmares series, I wanted to explore the idea that we all have our own inner senses and intuition, and how with work we can tap into those senses and make them stronger.  I started researching different types of supernatural powers and discovered the power to sense the past or future through touching objects.  The concept fascinated me, so I wanted to bring it out in a character and show how sometimes even the most extraordinary powers can also be a curse.

In my series, Ben, the new boy at school, is rumored to have accidentally killed his ex-girlfriend.  He ends up completely reclusive as a result, getting home-schooled by tutors and not leaving his house.  Flash forward two years and Ben wants a shot at normal life again, despite his powers.  He enrols at a school a few hours from his hometown, where no one knows him or his past.  Then everything goes awry when he accidentally touches Camelia, the main character, and senses that her life is in danger.

My current work-in-progress

The inspiration: A nightmare I had.

I rarely have nightmares but I had one that felt so real and scared me to bits.  I didn’t talk about it for several days afterward.  When I finally felt able to share it, I told someone who immediately said that it needed to be a book.  I agreed and sold it to my editor last year.  I’m currently working on the draft.

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Laurie Faria Stolarz’s author website: www.lauriestolarz.com

Laurie Faria Stolarz’s bio page

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What Is At Stake For The Characters In Your Teen Novel? by Diane Lee Wilson

Within your story, what’s at stake for your protagonist? Are the stakes set high enough and are the risks real enough that your readers will care about what happens? No matter what genre of teen novel you’re writing, the stakes for your protagonist have to amount to life itself. In other words, at some point in your story (preferably about half of the way through) your protagonist has to face a life and death situation in order to overcome it and evolve into a true hero.

For those of you who aren’t writing murder mysteries, this doesn’t have to be a physical death (although teenaged literary heroes such as Harry Potter have embraced death – and, of course, survived it). But the stakes still have to be high enough that, should the protagonist lose, the consequences would be the equivalent of death. Such consequences might be the loss of one’s true love, great public humiliation or a personal failure. In any of these situations the hero might admit, “I’d rather be dead,” and the reader will suffer along. In a wonderful analysis of the craft of story writing called The Writer’s Journey: Mythic Structure for Storytellers and Screenwriters author Christopher Vogler states, “Heroes must die so that they can be reborn. The dramatic movement that audiences enjoy more than any other is death and rebirth.”

I was recently reminded of this need to challenge the protagonist again and again when I watched the Pixar film Finding Nemo. I’m a big fan of Pixar’s unique characters and rich storytelling, and their writers’ ability to pull at your heartstrings. But I’d forgotten what an emotional roller coaster this particular film was and is. In only 100 minutes the little clownfish Nemo and his dad narrowly escape death more than a dozen times: by shark, jellyfish, deep sea angler fish, aquarium water pump, plastic baggie, crab, seagull, underwater mine explosion, strong currents, being flushed down a sink, dropped on a dock, caught in a net and crushed by a net. In addition, there are many crises that feel like imminent death: the ocean’s too big, the destination is too far, I’ve lost my map, my friend has forsaken me. Even with all of these near-fatal scenes, at no point in the story did it feel like the creators were creating artificial dangers; they simply put two heroic characters in one very difficult situation after another and allowed them to use their personal strengths and intense familial love to attempt to reunite – and Finding Nemo is ostensibly a children’s story! Imagine what you can do with a teen’s story.

Nearly every day of a teen’s life is fraught with emotion and crisis. Happiness blooms from the fleeting smile of a member of the opposite sex and tears from an apparent snub. Life is over after a failed test, a broken heart or parental restrictions. The reactions to these events may seem overly dramatic to an adult (and especially to a parent) but to a teen these crises feel like death itself. Understanding what your protagonist most values will allow you to place that thing at risk – even time and time again – and that will make your story intensely interesting to your teen readers.

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Diane Lee Wilson’s author website: www.dianeleewilson.com

Diane Lee Wilson’s bio page

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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.

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

Paul Volponi’s bio page

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The Process Of Writing And Revising My Novels, by Monika Schroder

I like to revise. Truth be told, I prefer revising to writing the first draft. I do not belong to a writers’ critique group, nor do I employ ‘beta readers.’ But every writer needs another pair of eyes to read her manuscript to provide feedback. My husband is always my first reader. As a former high school English teacher he provides me with valuable feedback, and he is honest. I usually give him a first draft when I am about two-thirds into the book. At that stage in the process I like to hear what works and what doesn’t. Also, as I am about to draft the climax and ending of the story it is good to know if the story stands on solid legs.

Once I have finished a full draft it goes through numerous revisions and each of these revisions focuses on a different aspect of the manuscript. In an early stage when I revise for plot I tweak and streamline the events along the story’s arc. I cut scenes or write them more tightly. Another revision focuses on the character development, making sure that I have kept his or her development clear and the character’s traits are consistent throughout the story.

After the larger structural problems are fixed it is time to improve syntax and word choice. Here I also rely on my husband’s keen eye. He combs through the manuscript and notes suggestions for improvement on the margin.

My last book has many characters and many different settings. When describing the interior of a room I placed a chair “under the window” in several scenes. Apparently, whenever I imagined a scene that took place in a room I placed one piece of furniture under the window. The same happened in my description of men’s clothing. Frequently, I dressed them in dark suits causing my husband to write, “too many dark suits!” on the margins of my manuscript.I appreciate my husband’s attention to these details and hope to avoid these repetitions in the future.

Mark Twain said: “When you catch an adjective, kill it. No, I don’t mean utterly, but kill most of them – then the rest will be valuable. They weaken when they are close together. They give strength when they are wide apart. An adjective habit, or a wordy, diffuse, flowery habit, once fastened upon a person, is as hard to get rid of as any other vice.”

I know that I should avoid most adverbs but I really need to cut back on my use of the word “quickly.” I cut it 35 times in my last manuscript and have pledged not to use it again. If Joe walks somewhere or stuffs something in his pocket the reader doesn’t need the speed of the action accelerated by adding ‘quickly.’ It is always better to pick a strong verb and let it express the action precisely and speak for itself.

In the unrevised drafts I also use the adverbs ‘cheerfully’ or ‘disdainfully’ too often. An example: “I don’t think I can do this,” Joe said disdainfully. If Joe says something full of disdain it has to come out directly in his words or the circumstances of the situation. I need to clear up those adverbial taglines, quickly.

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Monika Schroder’s author website: www.monikaschroeder.com

Monika Schroder’s bio page

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