Characters to Connect With

I had a conversation with an agent last week that led to some recommendations for YA books that do an excellent job of showing the main character's emotional life, their inner motivations and desires. I thought I'd share the titles for the benefit of other writers struggling to find this balance (I think I'm always afraid of going too far and making everything overdramatic, and err on the side of not showing enough). Here are some books that got it right:

Chains by Laurie Halse Anderson (this one was also used as an example of voice in Eve Adler's workshop at our local SCBWI Spring Spirit Conference)

The Maze Runner by James Dashner

The Evolution of Calpurnia Tate by Jacqueline Kelly

My own recommendations would be the Flavia De Luce mysteries by Alan Bradley:

Any other recommendations?

Blue Mountain Arts Poetry Contest

From their website:
"SPS Studios Eighteenth Biannual Poetry Card Contest
Deadline: June 30, 2011
1st prize: $300 * 2nd prize: $150 * 3rd prize: $50

In addition, the winning poems will be displayed on our website

Poetry Contest Guidelines:

Poems can be rhyming or non-rhyming, although we find that non-rhyming poetry reads better.

We suggest that you write about real emotions and feelings and that you have some special person or occasion in mind as you write.

Poems are judged on the basis of originality and uniqueness.

English-language entries only, please.

Enter as often as you like!"

I found this contest through WOW! Women on Writing's blog and stopped to think about it. I have never written for greeting cards before, but I have bought a few Blue Mountain Arts cards and they are not the usual bland pap. I've even saved some that I've received because I liked the poem and/or artwork, in spite of the fact that I usually don't keep cards more than a few weeks after the occasion.

But the rules are pretty simple (you retain rights) and there's no entry fee, so if you're inspired to submit some poetry for this, go for it! I have one in mind already . . . Even if you don't want to enter, there are some nice past winners.

Road Trip Wednesday: Chocolate Covered Edition

Road Trip Wednesday is a "Blog Carnival," where YA Highway's contributors and followers post a weekly writing- or reading-related question and answer it on their blogs. You can hop from destination to destination and get everybody's unique take on the topic.

This week's topic: How do you reward yourself when you meet your writing goals? Answer for big goals (i.e. I will buy a Lear jet when I get published) and/or small goals (I eat an entire pint of Ben and Jerry's in one sitting when I finish each chapter).

I think my rewards for goals large and small all involve chocolate--just bigger and better forms of chocolate for escalating goals!

But seriously, back in the naive days when I was close to finishing my first draft of Spirits from the Vasty Deep, my husband and I decided that when I sold my book (which we thought was about 3 months tops) we would use part (snort! part!) of the advance to go to some of the places mentioned in the book: Spain, Jamaica, Antigua, New England. We haven't yet been put in the position to decide if that's still what we want to do.

For smaller goals, I often reward myself with some reading or TV watching. I have difficulty reading fiction while I'm drafting new writing or deep in revisions (the other book's style creeps in, or I'm in editor mode and too critical to enjoy it), so if I've hit my writing goal during the week I might splurge by reading a novel over the weekend. Or celebrate with an anticipated TV show, like Dr. Who, a Britcom, True Blood, or Castle. While eating chocolate.

Today, I came down from an Interesting Phone Call with a peanut-butter chocolate-chip Lara Bar and an episode of Psych. I'll be good and have blueberries and pecans for dessert later.

Please Welcome Karen Sandler to the World of YA!

Today we welcome author Karen Sandler, whose debut YA novel, TANKBORN, is coming September 2011 from Tu Books, an imprint of Lee & Low. Karen has several published romance novels under her belt, and has now turned her hand to young adult fiction.

There's a great synopsis of TANKBORN on her website, but here's a little blurb about her book to get us started:
When best friends Kayla and Mishalla, genetically engineered slaves on the planet Loka, develop friendships with higher-status boys, they discover a shocking, evil plot that leads them all to begin to question the strict caste system of their world.

ARJ: Tell me a little about the world building you did for Tankborn: how the society and classes relate to each other, how roles are assigned, and so on. Were there any specific, real-world events that prompted you to write on these themes?

KS: Back in the ‘70s, in my first job (I worked on the Space Shuttle project), I worked with a man from India who became a good friend. He shared stories about Indian society and the caste system, and my fascination for that culture embedded itself in the back of my mind for years. Later, in the mid-‘80s, I became intrigued by genetic engineering, back when the concept was nothing more than science fiction. I first came up with the idea of genetically engineered slaves when I took a class on writing movie scripts and wrote a screenplay called Icer. A few years ago, I started thinking about how I could use some of the ideas from Icer to write a young adult book. Somehow, those two fascinations, for the Indian caste system and for genetic engineering, dovetailed in TANKBORN.

The world-building came about in stages. I’d created the “castes” in TANKBORN without fully fleshing out how that stratified society came to be. Later, during the editing process, my editor, Stacy Whitman, pushed me to develop a more integral understanding of my own world. In the process, I set up the history, politics, and religion on Loka, as well as its geography and flora and fauna.

ARJ:Prior to Tankborn, you wrote and published several romances. Did your romance writing skills translate directly, or were there some aspects of writing that you discovered are unique to the YA genre?

I strongly feel that writing romance (particularly the category or series romances I wrote)is an excellent training ground for developing good characterization skills. The stories are very character-driven, and internal conflicts are key to a satisfying romance read. I love science fiction, but it’s sometimes a disappointment when depth of characterization is given short shrift in an SF story. That is one of the most gratifying aspects of great YA—stellar characterization.

Knowing how to build a romantic relationship in a novel was also a helpful skill while writing TANKBORN. The romance element can be an effective way to connect emotionally with the YA reader (although not all readers of YA appreciate romance in their stories).

I did struggle with the language, the word choice while writing my first YA. After a while, I just wrote, getting into the characters’ heads and writing them accordingly. I also read widely in YA. I have a lot of catching up to do.

ARJ: You did not have the typical road to finding an agent--please tell us a little about that, and why it worked so well for you. Are there lessons that other writers trying to break into the YA market can take from your experience?

KS: Hmm. I’m not sure what was atypical about my search. I probably had a bit of a leg up having already been published and having been previously represented. I’d only left my previous agent because although her agency was just getting into YA, my agent didn’t feel she could represent SF.

But I did what most people do—I sent out a raft-load of query letters. For the most part, I used Agent Query to find potential agents. First, I used their search feature to find agents who represented SF/F and YA. Next, I went to those agents’ websites for further information. Although Agent Query was a great resource, sometimes what was in their database didn’t match what was on the actual website. Accurate information is a must in an agent search.

If after checking the agency website it still seemed like TANKBORN was a good fit, I’d follow their requirements to the letter. That is, if they wanted just a query by mail, that’s what I sent (luckily most want e-mail queries). If they wanted pages too, I sent what they requested.

I kept track of my submissions in a Word table. As a former software engineer, I love tables and keeping things orderly. For a sample of the table that Karen used to keep track of her agent submissions, go to her website and use the contact form to contact her.

I sent out queries to 28 agencies. Of those 28, all but two passed. Some of those were agents who never got back to me one way or another. I sent my first query in mid-October 2009 and got two offers for representation in late February 2010, so the whole process took four months. That seems fairly quick to me.

ARJ: What do you read for pleasure? And do you have any favorite YA authors and books you'd like to mention?

KS: As I mentioned above, I’ve been reading a ton of YA and middle grade books to “catch up.” For instance, I just finished HUNGER GAMES a week or so ago (which was fantastic). I’ve really enjoyed the UGLIES series and think Scott Westerfeld is a rock star. I also loved MATCHED by Ally Condie (my only disappointment was that the next book doesn’t come out until November!). MOCKINGBIRD by Kathryn Erskine was wonderful, as was RULES by Cynthia Lord (I heard Cynthia speak at an SCBWI conference and she had me in tears). On the non-YA front, ROOM by Emma Donoghue was just incredible (actually, I can imagine YA readers loving this) and THE HELP by Kathryn Stockett is an absolute must-read.

As far as classics are concerned, I have read and re-read the EARTHSEA TRILOGY by Ursula K. Le Guin so many times those books are falling apart. Same with Anne McCaffery’s early dragon books.

ARJ: What are you working on next? Do you see yourself writing more YA and possibly breaking into other genres as well?

KS: For the moment, I’m committed to YA. I recently completed a proposal for a sequel to TANKBORN that my editor is considering. I’m also working on an entirely unrelated book in what I envision as the first in a new series. It’s what I’d call apocalyptic horror.

Thanks so much for the interview, Karen, and I can't wait to see what else you have in store for the YA market!


In my recent interview on Pitch University, the final question and answer were:

Q. What skill is next on your list to learn?

Angelica: Learning to balance my everyday demands and my writing time. And social media time. And laundry time. And time with my husband. I'll let you know if any of those happen.

Since that interview, it has seeped into my brain that this balance would not happen on its own. So I'm changing a few things in order to give me more actual writing time.

Firstly, I've been pretty faithful about posting on this blog 2-3 times a week, and I want to be able to continue to do that. But much of my blogging time is spent searching for contests and researching other topics to blog about. So I'm going to be trying some new things like interviews with authors (the first one will be next Monday, May 16, with debut-YA author Karen Sandler) and some updates on what I'm reading.

Also, my posts have not been on specific days, but in the future I'm shooting for always posting on Mondays, and then another post on Wednesday or Thursday. I wanted some flexibility in there so that I can take advantage of YA Highway's Road Trip Wednesday topics that strike my fancy.

I also decided to take a hiatus from my critique group meetings for a while. This was a really hard decision to make--I learn so much from being a part of this group, and I hope I offer good insights in return. But the fact of it is that Tu and Thurs are my only entire writing days (not split up by errands and appointments) and our meetings occur every other Thursday. So I had to ask myself, "Which is the more productive way to spend that time: writing, or talking about writing?"

The writing won out. I will still offer them feedback on their pages through email, but I'll have that precious chunk of time back. And my husband will get to see me outside of my office occasionally, which will be a plus for him. And once I have my full draft finished of Crow's Rest, I'll be back to darken their door.

What about you? Do you have any secrets to balancing your writing life and, well, a life?

Teaser from Crow's Rest

Haven't done a teaser in a long time, but since I'm working on revisions for Crow's Rest, I thought I'd offer up a tiny sample with bonus photo. It takes place in the historic cemetery where Avery's uncle is the caretaker:

Even as a kid, I'd never really been creeped out by the graves, or the thought of death for that matter. Maybe because so many of the old-fashioned monuments had tranquil faces: lambs on the graves of little children, angels and cherubs on pillars, the ones I'd called "ladystones" that were statues of classical-looking women.

I took a seat on the cracked slab beneath one ladystone. Her upward-rolled eyes were supposed to direct your own gaze Heavenward, and if that was too subtle for you, she held her hand with the index finger pointing straight up. But the finger was close enough to her face that it looked like she'd just sniffed it and was offering it to you, saying, "Does this smell like Doritos?" I'd captioned it in photos as "Smell My Finger".

Meet Me in Crow's Rest

I've been busy catching up on some things today, which means I got very little done on Crow's Rest, my WIP. I felt like I needed to devote a little time to it, so I knocked out this cover with one of my photos (with a filter applied in Photoshop) and some fun Gothic text:

An historic cemetery figures big into the plot of Crow's Rest, and it gives me an excuse to prowl around them and take pictures. At this graveyard last weekend, there were lots of crows, but they were messing with me and refused to stay perched on a tombstone whenever I raised my camera. Isn't that just like them?

Of course, writers don't always have control over their covers. But what elements do you consider "essential" to represent your book, if you could have complete control?

First, the winners, because that's the fun part! In no particular order, generated these winners:

Marie! Who said she would like Fat Vampire for the Kindle!

Rachel! Who also wants Fat Vampire on the Kindle (and who Facebook tells me has a birthday this month, so happy birthday too!)

Angie! Who says she wants Soulless, but neglected to say which format--no worries, I'll be emailing you all to get all the addresses, and I guess that gives you time to change your mind if any of you had "entrant's remorse".

And don't forget that items for auction on Help Write Now will go up today, and bidding is open for three days! I've heard rumors of outstanding critiques, wonderful books, and a UNICORN on offer--can't wait to see that one!

My item is here and it's already gotten a few bids, whew! I was afraid it was going to look minscule next to all the big items.

The organizers of Help Write Now say it so much better than I could! From their site:

"Over the past two weeks, record-breaking storms have killed over 300 people and destroyed countless homes, neighborhoods, and towns. Tornadoes tore across the south, fires raged across Texas and Oklahoma, and flooding continues to affect communities all over the country. The writing community has rallied before to raise funds for many worthwhile causes, and we're hoping you'll show your support for the areas affected by one of the worst weeks in national weather history."

I wanted to donate an item, but had trouble thinking of an item of value. So I started combing my bookshelves, looking for something collectible that might generate some bids. I decided on:

This is an early edition of Charles de Lint's first novel, The Harp of the Grey Rose. It's a trade paperback, illustrated edition from Starblaze. Very good condition, with the only mark being an embossed "library of" on the first page (visible near my thumb on the interior shot). Charles de Lint is the acknowledged master of urban fantasy, so if you'd like to get your hands on this, watch the Help Write Now site and place your bid!

P.S. If you're looking for my Blogiversary Contest, which closes May 2 at 9 PM Pacific, you must comment here to enter.