Friday, August 30, 2013

Forever YA's Diversity Series

Please stop by Forever Young Adult's Heck YA, Diversity! series. Why?

1.) Authors like Jenny Han, bloggers, and publishers weigh in on diversity in Young Adult fiction--tropes, stats, and inspirational stuff. It's all good!

2.) I have a Guest Post up about YA books set outside the U.S. Come say hi!

Have a great holiday weekend, everybody!

Wednesday, August 28, 2013

What's Up Weds and Final Ready. Set. Write!

What's Up Wednesday! Check Jaime's blog for more deets.
What I've Been Reading
I'm going through Once Upon a Quinceanera: Coming of Age in the USA as research for my current WIP. I was laughing about how 3 out of 4 book references the author made I've read on my own (Reviving Ophelia, The Warrior Woman, The Body Project. So basically, this is the type of book I'd read regardless of the research angle). Also reading Kody Keplinger's Shut Out which surely is on a banned list somewhere given the plot is the football team's girlfriends go on a hook-up strike to force an end to their endless feuds with the soccer team. Keplinger is really great at taking an edgy topic and showing real people behind it, along with consequences, humor, and shedding stereotypes. Go Kody! In the car I'm listening to Meg Cabot's Underworld.  

What I've Been Writing

So, it's the last check in for Ready. Set. Write! And... I wrote next to nothing this week. I might have written last Wednesday... BUT the good news is I wrote 2/3 of a first draft during the summer challenge, and I have this group to thank for the motivation! Thanks everybody. Looking forward to keeping up with you all on Wednesday posts.

What Inspires Me/ What I've Been Up To
Vacations! Just a long weekend, really, but it was so nice to get away to a rented house, hang out with the girls, go shopping, swim in the pool, and cruise the Mississippi. The only drawback is we weren't there long enough!

Girls Weekend!
Mississippi Riverboat
We ate fabulously; the first night we dined at a restaurant featuring local produce and regional wines and drinks. After the riverboat cruise, we started to eat at a diner next door, but one meek voice piped up--Are you sure you all want to eat here? She pointeed out that water was dripping onto the table from an ancient window-mounted A/C unit. I volunteered to tell the waitress we were leaving--we hadn't even gotten water yet, it wasn't like we'd been there long. A few girls felt bad, but why? We walked in, the place smelled kind of musty, and we determined to spend money elsewhere. A good reminder to speak up, especially since the place we found for lunch after that was phenomenal! (Everyone busted out their phones and looked for eateries with high ratings on Yelp, which took us through a curious tour of Dubuque but led to a gem with food we weren't going to find at that diner).
Check out other bloggers' final Ready. Set. Write! linked here. And then tell me how your week went!


Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Mortal Instruments the Movie and Twilight's Inevitable Shadow

Mortal Instruments: City of Bones
So, Mortal Instruments, the movie. Guys, it's not looking good.

Despite the success of Cassandra Clare's book series, that success is not translating into movie sales. Always a bummer to hear when you want YA adaptations to work out, especially so they can continue.

The movie opened at #3 with $9.5 million in sales. Sure, the end of summer the box office numbers tend to be lower, and if this was an indie drama like Tiger Eyes, it might not be so bad. But this movie was HYPED. It was supposedly the next Twilight (though what isn't these days if it's based on teen fiction?).Commercials starting back in spring aired during CW shows like The Vampire Diaries, and I've seen tons of online ads, and heavy promotion about casting news and trailers for the past year. And yet.

Entertainment Weekly may be the outlier here, they gave the movie a B- which is pretty good if you compare how they rate similar blockbusters. But the overall Rotten Tomatoes score (which gathers critical reviews into a "freshness" percentage) is a lowly 12%. That's even lower than when I checked last Friday (17%).  Meaning almost all critics are panning the movie.

Some of the critics' points:

  • Seems like a Twilight wannabe
  • Collecting scraps from other movies
  • Overly long
  • Viewers not familiar with books will be confused
  • Nonsensical

Yikes! So what went wrong? Maybe it was simply the idea of adapting another paranormal teen romance. Or, was it more in the execution? Movie adaptations can get blasted by fans of the source material for not including enough, but to make a book-to-movie work, the plot and characters have to be scaled down. Books delve into more detail and show more nuance than movies can handle (thus complaints about the rushed-seeming 2005 version of Pride & Prejudice vs. the 1995 mini-series which captured everything--a 2-hr movie cannot fit everything from a book).

It sounds like Mortal Instruments suffered from trying to tell and show everything, which might be great for fans of the book, but not so much for the uninitiated who don't have the background of all the characters.

The Twilight comparisons are legit, though not quite fair. Twilight had publishers clamoring for more paranormal teen romance, so I guess we can blame them for the wealth of material. I say blame, but in truth, readers WANTED those books. It's no secret YA fiction would not be what it is today without Twilight's success, no matter how you feel about the franchise. It put a focus on teen fiction that wasn't there before, and now great books like The Maze Runner and The Fault In Our Stars and even decades-old Tiger Eyes are being adapted for film. But Twilight got so huge, that other paranormal romance movies inevitably, and yes unfairly, get the comparison. If it's not different enough, a movie-goer or critic unfamiliar with the nuance of the book is not going to see it as wholly different from That Other Teen Vampire Movie. And Mortal Instruments isn't solely about vampires (though they're in it).

What do you think? Did you see the movie? Have you read the book series? How do filmmaker's miss the mark when adapting books for the screen?

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

What's Up Wednesday, Ready. Set. Write!

What's Up, Wednesday? (Already...)

What I'm Reading

I finished up a round of books--the audio book of Tiger Eyes by Judy Blume, I'm Not Her by Janet Gurtler, which is a Sarah Dessen-style book about a girl who lives in her sister's shadow, and now her sister has cancer, plus Truly, Madly, Deadly, a YA suspense by Hannah Jayne, which I enjoyed for the writing, but I wished had delved deeper in the character's past issues. I saw missed opportunites, but overall a quick read that reminded me of the Christopher Pike thrillers I read as a teenager
I put a book down after 20 pages last night; a book from the New Adult genre that I... I just was not going to make it through. I could forsee myself getting pretty offended by cheap melodrama. I skimmed some Goodreads reviews and they were either ZOMG LOVED THIS! or 1-2 stars What a trainwreck. So now I know where I fall. I love a fun, flirty romance, but the characters have to feel real and not like pawns. OK, I'm done now.
What I'm Writing

If I write more today I can probably close in on 40k words of my new project. Not bad for a month! I'm chugging along, doing my best not to go back and edit (SO HARD). Also, I'm learning from past projects not to keep adding new characters and side plots--I've had to delete stuff mid-thought because I'm veering toward that. Never a shortage of people and ideas to explore, I suppose. I would love to reach 60k by Sept. 1 but that's like a week away. Hm. Maybe early September.
For this week, I want to write for at least one sitting each day through Friday. Sat-Mon is a girls trip (yay!) and I'll resume writing next week Tuesday.
What Inspires Me
Write On Con: the support writers provide for each other, and seeing familiar usernames and excerpts from writers I met over the summer at conferneces or who I know from blogs.
My RWA chapter: a few of us are forming a YA-focused in-person critique group. We are a small number in the group so we've gotta stick together! 
Writers on twitter: a few RWA buddies from the other Chicago chapter started a twitter hashtag for Summer of All The Words (#SoATW) where M-Thurs at 10pm CST you write for an hour and then check in on twitter. Drop in when you can. My problem--I start writing at 10 and can't stop until 12:30. What bedtime?
What Else I've Been Up To
I ate two amazing meals with friends last weekend, one at a new sushi place where the food passes by in an automated conveyor tube (I had a picture but the quality was bad), and a French place that mostly does appetizers like meat and cheese plates and crostini things. Keep in mind I am still counting calories and busting my butt at the gym so I picked the best of the best, tried not to stress about it, and moved on.
Watching last season's Dexter (we are always behind since we're reliant on the DVDs), this season's Breaking Bad, and finishing up all the leftover shows on our DVR from last year--either watching or deleting forever.

Friday, August 16, 2013

Friday Links! Free e-Books and Other Stuff

Happy Friday, everyone! I'm finally sorting through my conference loot--the stuff beyond books, like ebook downloads, business cards, scads and scads of bookmarks. I will have to do a prize pack or something to spread the love.

In the meantime, here are some links to book stuff:

For Readers:

  • Ah, New Adult. Here, The Independent attempts to explain the New Adult genre. If you're curious about this category that hovers between YA and well, everything else, you can download a free e-book sampler (excerpts from full novels) from Between the Covers featuring J. Lynn (Jennifer Armentrout), Cora Carmack, Molly McAdams, Sopher Jordan and more. Many of these authors discount their full-length books (I've seen from $1.99- $3.99), which is partly why New Adult has taken off. Keep your eye out for deals.
I met Erin Knigtley--see, she's sweet!
  • If you like regency romance, the wonderfully sweet Erin Knightley has a free novella up on Smashwords: Ruined by a Rake. You do not have to register with Smashwords to download, I just tried it. And, she has a giveaway on her site!
  • Everybody's on the novella bandwagon, even YA books. Veronica Roth has a short story tied to the Divergent universe, and Lauren Oliver did the same with novellas for Delirium. 
  • Deals: If you haven't yet read John Green's hilarious, sad, beautiful YA novel The Fault In Our Stars, it's discounted to $3.99 for Nook and $3.99 Kindle. Those sales don't last long so go get it!

For Writers:

  • Pitch Madness is coming, hosted by contest-hostess-extraordinaire Brenda Drake. Pitch to pre-selected literary agents. Check her site for details.
  • The Agent's Inbox is another contest going on next week.
  • Nathan Bransford comments on predictable movie storytelling (blamed in a Slate article on go-to screenwriting  book Save the Cat! and its very specific pacing strategies), and how this is an opportunity for writers.
  • And for those in a driveable distance to Chicago area, I have the scoop on Anderson's Books YA Literature Conference on September 28: Gayle Forman (!), Steven Chbosky, Michael Grant, Adam Gidwitz are the featured speakers, and a number of other authors will be there: Rick Yancey, Myra Mcentire, Shannon Messenger, and my agent-mate Christa Desir (who I'd love to meet so hopefully I'm going!). Details are NOT up on Anderson's site, but here's where they will be when posted.
Any news to share? Please do, and say Hi in the comments!

Monday, August 12, 2013

Write On Con Aug 13-14

Just a reminder that tomorrow Write On Con starts, the free online conference for kidlit writers created by kidlit writers.

Many events do not require you to participate live; blog posts, interviews, and videos can be viewed at any time when you get the chance. There are hosted chats and live forum events, so check out the schedule to see what is when: Write On Con program

To register, sign up for the forums--that's it! 

My agent Sarah LaPolla is participating (along with 18 (!) other great agents). They'll be posting articles, possibly chatting in live events, and lurking the forums reading those posted queries and first pages under disguise as Ninja Agents. 

This is a really easy opportunity to connect with other writers and get feedback on your own work. Take some time to post comments to other writer's posted query letters and first pages and you might find some new friends. 

Friday, August 9, 2013

The Ultimate Anti-Hero: How Breaking Bad Keeps Us Rooting for the Bad Guy

Breaking Bad returns Sunday for its final run. Intense and brilliantly crafted, it's one of my favorites, despite sometimes being difficult to watch. Why? Because Breaking Bad features the ultimate anti-hero. The character who does so much bad, and yet we find ourselves rooting for him to win.
Breaking Bad final season promo
In honor of this epic show's last season, I thought I'd break down what makes an anti-hero so compelling, and how writers can use aspects of the anti-hero in their own writing.

(Note: No spoilers here beyond what's shown in the the first episode of the series. All other comments will be general and not plot specific!)

Essential Anti-Hero Traits

Somebody To Root For

Any great main character needs to do something to capture audience loyalty. The title of Blake Snyder's screenwriting book Save the Cat is about just that--show a character saving a cat, or a good deed, and you begin to win that loyalty.

When Breaking Bad's Walter White is diagnosed with late-stage cancer, he knows his meager high school chemistry teacher's salary won't be enough to cover the medical bills. After running across a former student fleeing a drug bust, Walter schemes to use his chemistry skills to make meth, a short-term plan to build cash and secure his family for the future.

Of course it's terrible and illegal. But Walt's cancer is inoperable--he may only have months to live. Also, he gets zero respect in his teaching job, his wife is pregnant, and his relationship to his teenage son is fractured. Walter isn't making meth to pay cash for a sports car, he's doing it out desperation to provide for his family. There is a reason he's turning to illicit drugs--the clock is ticking on his life, he's rotting away at a job that doesn't appreciate him, his family needs him.

  • Characters who "do bad" for noble reasons give viewers and readers a reason to latch on.


Dude, this guy is layered. If Walter were just an average chemistry teacher, maybe that's not so endearing. But Walter once worked on a Nobel prize-winning project and co-founded a tech company with fellow researchers. So he's brilliant, but scraping by in Albuquerque's public school system. His son, Walt Jr., could have been just an angsty teen, but his cerebral palsy is another motivating factor for Walter to risk his life to care for his family. The journey becomes more personal--Walter wants to redeem his past failures. His life is a failure, and the cancer serves as a motivator toward extreme behavior.

A rich backstory doesn't always need to be fully explained--I'm pretty sure we still don't know all the details of Walter's falling out with his research partners. But we see this failure revealed through snippets, and each layer makes Walter's criminal behavior more complex.

  • Create a rich backstory and layer it in throughout scenes, dialogue, as your plot progresses. Relate your character's flaws to their past hurts, and tie this in to their overall character arc and journey. (easy enough, right?)

Secrets and Lies

Walter surely can't tell his wife Skyler he's cooking meth with a former student, so he constructs little lies (which unfold into more elaborate lies) to explain time away from home and where this cash is coming from. While you see Walter struggle with various aspects of the drug trade, he's accumulating cash, paying bills, and starting to set up provisions for his family. The moral consequences of lying to his family are shown pretty clearly, which leads to much nail-biting; do you root for Walt, or against him?

As with writing, a story doesn't go far if every character tells the truth all the time and suffers few flaws. The key here is motivation. Walt is lying to Skyler for a reason. It doesn't make it right, but we side with him because his intentions are noble. It's his actions that are morally questionable.

  • Characters intentionally hiding shades of truth, or spinning the truth to their advantage, especially for a good reason, creates compelling tension and leads to conflict, which every story needs.

Make the Conflict Personal

Walt's meth starts gaining attention in the drug community and with law enforcement--after all, this award-winning chemist isn't going to make a crap product. The head DEA agent on the case happens to be Walt's brother-in-law. What's brilliant about this is it's not Walter's brother, but his wife's brother. Secrets and lies will potentially hurt Skyler more deeply when/if she discovers the truth. Walter evading the DEA might mean no promotion for his brother-in-law (and conversely, if his brother-in-law catches this meth king, then Walter is busted).

Walter's partnership with Jesse is the other greatest source of personal tension on the show. Jesse still refers to his former teacher as Mr. White, and the mentor/mentee relationship plays throughout the series. Walter tries to instill values and education into Jesse at the same time they plot their drug trade. He might not care as much if Jesse was a random guy he had no history with, but given Walter's feelings of failure, he still sees Jesse as a chance to redeem his own personal failures.

  • If the main character's decisions directly affect outcomes of other character's lives, the conflict and stakes intensify.

A few other notable anti-heroes:

Dexter Morgan from Dexter: A serial killer who kills murderers and other serial killers.

Boyd Crowder from Justified: a career criminal with swagger and loyalty to a rather muddled criminal code.

Amy Dunne from the novel Gone Girl: is she a victim or a brilliant mastermind? Or both?

What do you think about anti-heroes? Are they compelling, or do they make you hide beneath blankets because of moral quandary?

Wednesday, August 7, 2013

What's Up Wednesday/ Ready. Set. Write!

What's Up Wednesday is a weekly meme to catch up on writing, reading, what's going on.
Link your post here.

What I'm Reading

Finished up Not My Daughter by Barbara Delinsky on audio book. This is women's fiction at its best, about a group of women coming to terms with their teenage daughter's pregnancy pact. Yeah--whoa! This was my first book by the author and I will definitely read more of her books. If you're a fan of Jodi Picoult, I think you would like her work.

In my attempt to expand to different genres, I'm reading an inspirational historical romance, the 2013 Rita-winner Against the Tide (such a pretty cover!). It's pretty good so far; I whipped through 100 pages Saturday morning.

I always have to have an audio book going, so I picked up Judy Blume's Tiger Eyes, which I've never read. I missed the film this summer, so I'll have to wait for the DVD.

What I'm Writing

Ready. Set. Write! update (click here for details)

So, I'm pretty excited about this. Last week my update was that I wrote 2,000 words to start my new project, and my goal for the next week was to write every day. Something clicked for me and I'm up to... 20,000 words! I managed to write 18k words this week. Yeah!

To accomplish this, I ignored coworkers during my lunch break, stayed late a few days to write to use up some extra time before heading to the gym, and used my work from home days to my advantage where my time is more flexible (no commute, lunch at home). Plus last weekend was my first weekend home since the end of June, so I wanted to be there and not anywhere else (though I saw The Heat and it was super funny and rather crass. Melissa McCarthy is awesome.).

What Inspires Me

You all! My goal to write every day, well it sure helped, and I wouldn't have been as motivated on my own. So thank you! I wouldn't have racked up 20k words if I'd just saved my writing time for the weekend.

Also, I'm back on the WriteOnCon forums chatting with other writers and commenting/critiquing queries and first pages. Next week is the free online conference focused on kidlit (picture book, MG, YA, and this year New Adult (not kidlit but... well, NA is kind of it's own growing thing I suppose)). WriteOnCon helped me out a lot in past years. To think, last August I was tweaking my query, and this year that same book is in publisher's hands! (think good thoughts for me!)

What Else I've Been Up To

A month of traveling and vacations sent me off my routine, and I can feel a few extra pounds which I am not a fan of. So I'm back on the My Fitness Pal app to monitor what I'm eating and how much I'm exercising. I tend to lose interest in tracking all that, but it really helps. I'm especially motivated to add that exercise in (so I can consume more daily calories, duh!). I usually make it to the gym once or twice a week, and this week I'm aiming for 4 days to get back on track. Yesterday I returned to Spinning class, I used to go once a week, but I've changed it up for other classes. It's so hard at first but worth it.

Please leave a comment and let me know how your week's writing, reading, or summer happenings. Don't forget to check the other blogs linked at the What's Up Wednesday post!