The Internet hosts HEAPS of advice for new writers and new authors. I do not weigh in on those, because publishing is a business where your mileage may vary. I'm doing what works for me!
Today, I have a single piece of advice for new authors: think carefully about your cover art. My publisher and I agreed on the cover for Life Before, and it truly fits the story, but I hadn't realized it would be everywhere. It's on my business cards, all over my website, on posters when I speak at book stores, and on name tags at book events. The cover was perfect for Xander, but I'm not really a dirty Chucks kind of girl.
Next Thursday, we're revealing my new cover. It's beautiful. I'll be buying new business cards and revamping my website as soon as possible!
Photo credits for the above: Mira Thomt, Abra Johnson and Carlos Barradas
You missed it! The YA Scavenger Hunt runs every autumn and spring, so perhaps you'll catch it in April!
Elegantly written and heartfelt, Tell Me Three Things is Julie Buxbaum's YA debut.
Her characters are complex, their histories are heartbreaking, and the weight of their losses anchor the first half the book.
What I most want to say would spoil the book, so instead: read this book. It's lovely.
Barely two years after her mother's death, Jessie relocates to Los Angeles to live with her new stepmother and attend an elite school with her stepbrother. Jessie has no allies until a secretive classmate contacts her online. Her mystery friend becomes her confidante and, eventually, something more. But who is he?
What if the person you need the most is someone you’ve never met?
Everything about Jessie is wrong. At least, that’s what it feels like during her first week of junior year at her new ultra-intimidating prep school in Los Angeles. Just when she’s thinking about hightailing it back to Chicago, she gets an email from a person calling themselves Somebody/Nobody (SN for short), offering to help her navigate the wilds of Wood Valley High School. Is it an elaborate hoax? Or can she rely on SN for some much-needed help?
It’s been barely two years since her mother’s death, and because her father eloped with a woman he met online, Jessie has been forced to move across the country to live with her stepmonster and her pretentious teenage son.
In a leap of faith—or an act of complete desperation—Jessie begins to rely on SN, and SN quickly becomes her lifeline and closest ally. Jessie can’t help wanting to meet SN in person. But are some mysteries better left unsolved?
Starting in mid-November, our calendars and hearts are chockablock full: Thanksgiving, three family birthdays, gingerbread houses, baking, gift choosing and wrapping and giving, advent calendars, endless treats, homemade gifts, projects, school plays, parties, family visits--and that's on top of our normal, weekly activity.
Among all the holiday activities, the Book Angels Program is my favorite.
When we lived in Illinois, we trekked to Anderson's Bookshop every December. Their Book Angel Program invited patrons to buy books for local children in need, and we loved choosing books that other children might love.
When we moved to Seattle, our local bookshop, Secret Garden Books' holiday giving program was defunct. Christy McDanold, the shop owner, and her staff no longer had sufficient time to run the program.
But I did. Last year, we reinstated the program and provided books for 84 children in our community.
This year, three local schools provided children's names and book preferences. (As you might imagine, I keep a spreadsheet!) My girls chose their angels first, and spent a while poring over bookshelves, finding the perfect titles. My parents and sister were in town when I hung the angels, so this was a family affair.
We wrapped our books to display in store, and hung 117 paper angels throughout the shop.
We invited patrons to choose books, and then the magic happened.
People in our neighborhood opened their hearts and wallets to provide books for children in need. Many customers bought multiple books for their chosen children. All told, people gave more than twelve dozen books to local children.
We had piles and piles of books! My dear friend, Kristina Cerise, accepted pizza and beer as payment for helping wrap all those gifts. (Kristina blogs--often hilariously--about motherhood here.)
Nine days before Christmas, I delivered those precious parcels to an elementary school, a middle school, and a K-8.
I wore a Santa hat and blasted Christmas music as I drove around NW Seattle (but was totally calm and hatless inside schools, I swear.) My heart was full to bursting; delivery day was my favorite day of the year.
My family's emphasis on charitable giving and literacy dovetail perfectly in this program. I love helping people in my community, and I love bringing people to books. I hope children enjoy the books they receive. I hope their holidays are a little brighter.
And I hope to do it all again in eleven months.
*Photo credit: Me. It's all me. You can tell, because they're not very artful! I wish I had a photographer's eye.
Okay, procrastinators, you have four days until Christmas. Usually, my spouse shops for Christmas presents the day before we exchange gifts, so I know all about your time crunch. Advanced procrastinators, I'm here to help you with your shopping. (This will mostly help you with your holiday gift buying for people like ME.)
I've included items for your sweetie's brain (books and games), body, heart, soul, and community. Let's go!
The best gifts aren't "things" at all. Feed your recipient's heart and soul with an experience instead.
If you can go all-out, with an unlimited budget, send yourself (and your sweetie, of course,) to Whistler, B.C. for a week. The scenery is breathtaking, the skiing spectacular, and pizza (at Fat Tony's!) is fabulous. Whistler also boasts a fabulous little bookstore, Armchair Books, that has everything you could possibly need for cozy nights in.
If I'm being honest, I have everything I need, and your sweetie might, too. Consider instead making a donation in his or her name to help people aren't as lucky as we are. People in our country and aroudn the world are in constant need of food, water, and shelter. If you don't enjoy research and just want to give, try Heifer International, which is working to eradicate poverty and hunger through sustainable, values-based holistic community development. Or donate to my local food bank in Seattle.
This post first appeared Thursday, September 24th on the Hedgebrook blog at http://www.hedgebrook.org/blog/ Hedgebrook is a rural retreat for women writers on Whidbey Island, Washington. I really wanted to pile some pasta on my laptop and take photos, but my tech support said no.
From Soup to Nuts
In my previous life as a management consultant, we mapped processes “from soup to nuts,”* which is a delicious way to explain my writing process.
Soup: Idea Consommé
My novels begin with a single idea, be it theme, bizarre character trait, or what-if scenario. This simmers for months or years among thousands of other ideas while I write other books and live life.
Amuse-Bouche: Unamused Synopsis
Once a single idea takes hold, I force myself write a two-page synopsis of the manuscript (without, you know, the manuscript.) Writing a synopsis before writing a 90,000-word manuscript helps ensure the story won’t fizzle halfway through. When this course is prepared properly, it makes the rest of the meal go down easy.
First Course: Outline, with an Inspiration Reduction
For the next several courses, I use Scrivener writing software to manage the intricacies of my work. My current manuscript, an adult contemporary novel about a group of women in crisis, includes complicated relationships and a series of flashbacks. Scrivener’s corkboard was instrumental in keeping my thoughts together as I outlined, and gave me a path forward.
Second Course: Blanched First Draft
The first is my most linear draft, written from chapter one straight through to the end. I write at least 1000 words a day, every day, for three or four months. To stay productive, I use brackets for unknown elements: the protagonist’s brother is named [BROTHER] and her favorite pastime is [SOMETHING RARE AND EXCITING]. I research and replace the brackets in my free time outside of writing. This helps me immensely; if I didn’t cage my thoughts between brackets, I would spend whole hours researching popular boy names from the 1970s, or going down a rabbit hole on Wikipedia. This course is rife with gaps, but the major story arc is in place and characters are taking shape.
Third course: 19 Revisions, with Mint Sauce
Each time I revise the full draft, I focus on a single thing (e.g. establishing consistency of character, expunging my writing tics, or sharpening the language). These drafts solidify story arcs, characters, and dialogue. If I’ve done a good job on the second course, this course takes about two months. If I was sloppy, I’ll spend five months here. When I’m satisfied with the tone and characters, and once no brackets remain, I move the document into MS Word so I can share it.
Fourth Course: Family-style Pappardelle
I serve this course to my computer-scientist husband, and three dear friends:
--Dear Reader, a middle school English teacher turned attorney, often provides suggestions over the phone, frequently in real time as she’s reading.
--Super Reader, a YA librarian who has reviewed hundreds of novels for Booklist, sends back her plate—piled with insightful commentary—within a week.
--Alpha Reader, a YA author, takes a month to review the manuscript (usually twice).
My invaluable early readers come to the table with different perspectives, so they offer vastly different suggestions. They have my manuscript for six weeks, during which time I don’t touch it. Instead, I keep a separate list of notes offline.
Fifth course: Sushi for One
After six weeks of the fourth course, I edit the manuscript with fresh eyes. In a single pass, I edit and incorporate my own notes.
Sixth Course: Michele’s Mole with a Thoughtful Garnish
Using brackets for notes and placeholders, I add all four readers’ suggestions into the manuscript. With more than 300 pairs of brackets, the difficulty of this course lies in making decisions: how shall I proceed when the Alpha Reader loathes my Super Reader’s very favorite part? Now editing is less time consuming but requires far more thought. The sixth course is my favorite, because the manuscript changes rapidly into something much better.
Seventh Course: Filet de Récite
While alone in my house, I read the entire manuscript aloud, changing my dialogue and anything else that sounds improperly seasoned.
Eighth Course: Twice-Baked Edits
I repeat courses four through six, with the same early readers plus a few more. Edits are generally swift, and I sweep through the manuscript two or three times. When I make it 83 percent through the manuscript without finding any major issues, I start anticipating dessert.
Proper Dessert: Final Read Pavlova
This is sweet. I spell check for the first and last time, and read through without making any changes.
Nuts: Cashews, Macadamias, and Book Deals
This part is new to me. This winter, I will forward my new manuscript to my agent and hope she knows an editor who’s eager to buy it. The second I hit send, I will open a new Scrivener project for a new amuse-bouche.
* I’ve eaten dinners around the world, and have yet to start with soup and end with nuts.
It's no secret that I base my novel's scenery on places I've been. While on holiday in Ohio, I took two shots for you. They're both key for Life Before, which is out in spring 2016.
Xander Fife lives in my childhood house. I haven't stepped inside since I turned 18, and it's endured many changes in color since then, but here's his house:
You can imagine a rickety wooden bench to the left of the door, right? Xander' bench includes many layers of peeling paint, but is black during his story.
And, of course, his high school. For a long time, the manuscript included a lengthy description of the camel-colored bricks that had darkened with age. Now it says nothing about the school's drab exterior, but I snapped a pic at my school while I was in Ohio. I didn't get to enter--it was August, after all--but this is the door that Xander and his best friend, Jill, enter on their very last day of high school. A tiny part of my brain expected Tucker to be sitting on the radiator just inside the doorway, waiting for his best buddies.
He wasn't. . .but just being at the school made me VERY excited to share this book with the world.
I'm new in Seattle, so I'm wading through the social structure looking for kindred spirits.
This week, when I finished the public draft of my manuscript, I needed to celebrate with someone. I shared the good news with an acquaintance and she was ecstatic.
"Tell me about this book!"
"It's contemporary YA about a guy whose mom is murdered on graduation day."
Her transformation was immediate: blank eyes, fake smile, squared shoulders. "I only read books for grown ups." And then she glanced furtively, as if the book police would arrest her for talking about YA.
I can't befriend a book shamer. I'm not embarrassed of what I write or what I read.* Here's a sample:
That's just one shelf of the 36ish in my house. (I'm not counting the children's shelves.)
I'm not ashamed of the YA or the commercial fiction. I don't need to justicy the Griffen & Sabine trilogy (though really, the letters! The envelopes! I swoon.) I also don't feel compelled to explain the two copies of The Time Traveler's Wife (or the other three copies floating around my house.) Hey, there is American Erotica on the shelf, too. (Also, I hadn't realized how similar the spines are for I Thought My Father Was God and In a Sunburned Country.)
I thought about cropping out the shelf below for aesthetic reasons, but why? It elaborates on the story. Liberating Grammar, written by one of my favorite college professors, is quite good. You probably recognize the Harry Potters (including an English, i.e. Not American version. There's a story behind that one.) What else is down there? More Bill Bryson, The Help, Erich Segal's Love Story. (There's a story behind that, too. Two stories, actually.)
I'm not ashamed of any of that. I didn't remove a single book from that shelf. (In the interest of full disclosure, note that I did remove a chocolate bar from the shelf. When Dove milk chocolate is found in the house, it's a sign. It was delish.)
I'll photograph every shelf in my house if you want. (Hey, that would be fun! Take photos of your closest book shelf and share it!)
Read what you love. Graphic novels ring your chimes? Go for it. You only like 18th century French literature? Bon appetit. Everything by Stephen King and no one else? Go ahead and scare the crap out of yourself again and again.
Being ashamed of what you read is one step removed from lying about who you are. Read what you love. It's the literate equivalent of letting your freak flag fly.
Don't be ashamed of what you loathe, either. I could never get into David Foster Wallace, no matter how hard I tried. Most fantasy is just not for me. Ditto space operas. Most of Shakespeare, even though they might revoke my bachelor's degree for admitting it.
I love lots of different kinds of books. I love adult contemporary. And I love really good science fiction. I love nonfiction. I love reading middle grade books (Is 2008 ready to read The Penderwicks yet?) and I love reading YA.
I love writing YA. In fact, I am happier writing YA than I ever was writing adult contemporary.
We've gone round and round the Internets about books for boys, books for girls, books for grown ups. It's all BS, people.
Books are for readers. Read on.
*I am, however, somewhat ashamed that I haven't organized my books in the eight weeks since we moved in.
I posted once about Kevin Wilson’s The Family Fang. Loved it. Last week, I started reading his short story collection, Tunneling to the Center of the Earth, and I’m apportioning it over a period of weeks.
It’s like really good chocolate*: I could read it in one sitting, but then it would be gone. (In this way, it is not at all like cake. Eat the cake/pie/crumble/mousse/pudding! I’ll make more. I cannot make more Kevin Wilson, sadly.)
I don’t often write about what I’m reading, because that’s not what I do here. But this? This I love.
And I refuse to tell you anything about it. Buy it today. Read it. You will not require dessert.
*In pregnancy, Dove milk chocolate constitutes really good chocolate. Not sure why, but nothing else satisfies me.
I blog rarely, because I'm busy writing books. When I do blog, I focus on writing, friendship, family, and books. Because my family's best nicknames are private, I use their birth years for shorthand: