Saturday, June 30, 2012

Writing Through Hard Things

I don't know how many of you know but the idea for TRAINWRECK came out of a sexual assault survivors testimonial writing workshop that I participated in. The workshop was amazing but also two of the most difficult days of my life.

Imagine standing in a room full of strangers and telling them about a sexual experience. Now imagine that experience was horrible and painful and nonconsensual. That's what happens to survivors in hospital ERs. It has to be this way. That's the sad fact of rape. If you want to report sexual assault or even see a doctor to make sure you're okay, you will have to tell your story over and over again. If you're lucky, there's a rape victim advocate in the ER with you. But regardless, it's not always the most empowering of experiences. It can be humiliating and difficult and re-traumatizing.

The workshop was meant to be a way of re-appropriating some of that. Telling our stories in our own words. Then writing them down (as poems, as stories, as essays). And the writing that came out of the workshop was gorgeous and raw and real and incredible. But I think every survivor would say that even in that space, where everyone around you is on your side and will listen to you and believe you, it still isn't easy to tell your story.

I am a big proponent of writing as a way of working through things. As a way of healing. I started a journal before anyone even knew what journaling was. But the reality is, writing TRAINWRECK was hard and heartbreaking. People assume it was therapeutic. It wasn't. There was NOTHING therapeutic about writing that book. But, I didn't write it for that. I wrote it so that people could see another side of rape. One that isn't really seen in fiction but is a very real possibility out in the world.

So how do you write through hard things? For me, the only way I could do it was to remember the WHY of it. Why I needed to write it. Why I wanted it out in the world. Why I had to push past things I really wanted to retreat from. Why I wanted to sell the book.

And because SimonPulse bought this book, we're able to do another survivor testimonial writing workshop in Chicago this fall. So something good has come out of something hard. And maybe someone will read my book and think that they're not alone. My belief in the possibility of THAT is sometimes the only way I can continue to re-enter what for me has been a very challenging and emotional story.

Do you ever consider WHY you wanted to write what you did?

Friday, June 29, 2012

Keep writing even when the world's ending...

The title of this post isn't some existential* metaphor. It's literal. I'm talking the Apocalypse, capital 'A'. If you thought writer's block was a %*$&# on a normal day, imagine trying to hit your word count when your a-hole neighbor is running down your street shrieking and engulfed in flame. Sure, he was an a-hole, but that didn't mean you wanted him to be consumed by hellfire/alien plasma rays/ignited zombie gas. It probably didn't mean that.

All writer's know that there's nothing--NOTHING!--more important than adding another few hundred words to their epic-magnum-Opie from Mayberry. These tips will make sure that you meet that goal, even if the planet is cracking down the middle like those delicious Cadbury Eggs with the chocolate shell and gooey creme center (Yeah, you know what I'm talking about, let's smack our lips in unison). Now pay attention:

Tip #1 - Write faster

You know those bursts of inspiration where you pound out 1,000 words in like an hour? Focus on generating more of those moments as you seek water, food, and shelter. If you can write like that for an hour a day, that leaves 23 hours to focus solely on survival. That's Life Math, folks.

 Tip #2 - Consider different media

Nothing poisons the muse like losing your data. Electricity will become scarce, so you may need to go all Shakespeare with the quill and parchment. Unless you're using the latest MacBook Pro, which features Apple's longest lasting battery ever, a Retina Display, and new Thunderbolt Technology. Also, it--huh? Okay, yes, they paid me to say that. So what?! Product placement is everywhere, try watching the CW sometime and tell me you don't see vampires driving Ford Fiestas. Doomsday Bunkers don't build themselves you know!

Tip #3 - Remember your friends

Enlist the help of a buddy to fortify a safe writing space. Maybe someone from your critique group. If you work together you can construct your hideout faster, and gather twice as many rations in a shorter amount of time. Then, when the end comes--and if you're quick--you can lock them out and enjoy double rations. Let's be real, you weren't feeling that critique group anyway, and your book is more important than theirs. Moving on...

Tip #4 - Cute animals help

Film has taught us that cute animals--mostly dogs--don't die in horrific situations. So keep one around. A smart dog can be trained to shuttle sandwiches and other lightweight goods. If you don't have access to a sandwich trained canine, consider recruiting another cute animal. Like a Koala Bear.

I know what you're saying. How in the world can a Koala Bear be more useful than a sandwich trained canine? One word: Hugs.

 In Conclusion (get it?)

You can and will write no matter what. Condition your mind to produce in any situation, even the end of life as we know it, and you will become the writer you were always meant to be...the narcissistic, self-important kind. Or, you can relax and not take this gig too seriously. If you find your manuscript is bogging you down, back away. There's a whole--currently non-apocalyptic--world out there. Enjoy it. The words will come.

Hopefully before the zombies/aliens/vengeful demons...

*I don't really know what 'existential' means, I just throw it out there from time to time to make points seem more profound. It worked, didn't it?

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Lamar "L. R." Giles writes for adults and teens. Penning everything from epic fantasy to noir thrillers, he's never met a genre he didn't like. His debut YA mystery WHISPERTOWN is about a teen in witness protection who investigates his best friend's murder and stumbles on a dark conspiracy that leads back to his own father. It will be published in Summer, 2013 by HarperCollins. He resides in Virginia with his wife and is represented by Jamie Weiss Chilton of the Andrea Brown Literary Agency. Find out more on his website, Facebook, Twitter, and Goodreads.

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Writing After Loss


This week on the Lucky 13s blog we continue our focus on writing through loss, blocks, and other challenges.

News of a book sale—let alone a first book sale--should be cause for jumping up and down, champagne, with possibly some gleeful shouting mixed in, for those so inclined.

Unfortunately, when THE WIG IN THE WINDOW sold, I crawled into bed, stared at the ceiling, and wondered how I’d ever be able to tap back into the silly middle school mindset I’d need to revise my manuscript. I wondered, in fact, if I’d ever be able to write another word, let alone rework what I had.

I wasn’t crippled by fear of failure. I wasn’t stunned by success. The matter was simpler—though far more horrible. Just days before the offer came in, my father had choked to death in front of me and my family while we were out celebrating my husband’s and my 14th wedding anniversary.

We couldn’t save him. The table of nurses next to us couldn’t save him. Our waiter, fresh from a CPR course, couldn’t save him. It turns out that only in dark comedies and sitcoms does the Heimlich work every time, a fact I desperately wish I’d never learned. “It’ll be all right,” I remember reassuring my mom as the first nurse leapt from her table to help us. “Someday this will just be a story we tell.”

It was a story we told. One we had no choice but to tell, starting with twenty times that night alone. To the coroner. To family. To friends. It was, suddenly, my only story. Would there ever be any other?

It didn’t feel like it. I didn’t write for months after my father died. At first I could pretend it was because I didn’t have time. An unexpected death brings with it a startling number of logistics to manage. Memorials to plan. Calls to make. Letters to write. Hours on hold waiting to cancel credit cards. Yet even when the details were all taken care of and there was little more to do but continue to comfort my mom and deal with my own shock and grief, I still couldn’t bring myself to write a word.

I’m not sure when the fog started to lift. It was a gradual process. All I know is that, in the meantime, forcing writing didn’t work. Word count goals, morning pages, and timed writings might loosen up a writer feeling a little fearful or lazy, but they left me feeling guilty and even more empty.  It was only once I let go entirely—and for a good long time—that I started to feel the desire to create again.

Sometimes I curse the lost writing time, especially as other debut authors put their finishing touches on their second books. Then I remember that I’m in this for the long haul. Writing isn’t a race — and sometimes life makes it impossible to slog forward. The trick is being honest about when we’re using life’s challenges as procrastination tools and when we need to be kinder to ourselves.

My editorial letter for WIG arrived six months after my dad died, a good month after my grief had become an excuse for procrastinating. Entering the mindsets of two tween sleuths who think their plastic-surgery-enhanced school counselor might be a fugitive wasn’t easy, exactly, but once I was in the swing of things, what glorious distraction! It felt fantastic to find my inner silliness again — to know, too, that I was bubbling over with many, many other stories to tell.

Speaking of bubbling over, I’m happy to report that I greeted my recent sale of the (unwritten) sequel to WIG with all the champagne and fanfare it deserved. With all the challenges bound to come our way, we have to relish the good times, don’t you think?


Kristen Kittscher's debut mystery THE WIG IN THE WINDOW (Harper Children's 2013) follows the comic misadventures of two tween sleuths who suspect their school counselor is a dangerous fugitive -- and just might be right! A former middle school English teacher, Kristen lives in Pasadena, California, with her husband, Kai. When she's not writing, you'll find her running her after-school tutoring business or taking orders from her hopelessly spoiled pets. You can find her  on TwitterFacebook, or at Sleuths, Spies & Alibis, where she blogs with other YA & MG mystery authors.

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Observing Writer's Block

OK, I admit it. I don’t eat five servings of fruits and veggies every day. I don’t floss every day. And I don’t write every day. Some days, like today, are Doritos and Oreos days. Some days a toothbrush and an extra swish of Listerine are good enough. And some days writing means pondering plot while vacuuming the pool. I’m not going to discuss the days where I ponder vacuuming while eating Doritos and Oreos, sans plot, floss, or actual work of any kind. That’s just too embarrassing.

In my graduate lecture at Vermont College, I discussed how the right and left sides of our brains affect our writing. (You can read an article based on that lecture in Hunger Mountain literary journal here.) I talked about all the reasons why we should write every day. I talked about Robert Olen Butler’s “The Zone,” muscle memory for the right brain, and a lot of other stuff that I really believe and rarely practice.

Yes, writing every day has merit. So does “butt in chair.” But what am I supposed to do when I’m stuck and have nothing to say? If I’m really honest, this happens a lot. Fear holds me back more than anything. Once I write down what it’s in my head, I’m faced with the fact that it’s not as brilliant as I imagined. In their book, Art & Fear: Observations On The Perils (and Rewards) of Artmaking, David Bayles and Ted Orland write, "Vision is always ahead of execution--and so it should be." Knowing this doesn't stop the fear, though, so sometimes it’s easier to avoid writing altogether. I know, I have to write. But I can't. But I have to. But I can't. And the block begins. 



So what do I do when I’m blocked?

1.      I don’t force it. Whenever I force writing, I end up with a bigger mess than when I try to shove green beans into my eight-month-old granddaughter. Believe me, it ain’t pretty. Think Linda Blair from The Exorcist. Violent. Scary. Spittle-infused.

2.      I let it go. I have fun during my hiatus. I listen to music and take walks. I go out with friends and laugh and drink wine. I try to let go of the guilt. This part is hard. I went to Catholic school; it’s engrained in me. But the sooner I forgive myself for slacking, the sooner I can actually get back to work.

3.      I read really good books. Vermont College alumni, The Apocalypsies, and The Luckies add to my to-read list all the time. Well-written stories with heart always rev up my writing mojo. So do really good movies. Story inspires story. 

4.      I do mundane jobs around the house. The act of scrubbing or sweeping is so boring that my mind wanders, usually into my work-in-progress. While I wring out a dish rag, I can twist and untwist plots and get my characters in all sorts of predicaments. I work out the messy details. Looking around my house, I think I should do this more. Much more. 

5.      I start slowly. Once ideas are ripe and ready to go, I only make myself write a few minutes a day. After a few days, I write more and more until I’m on a full sprint. I’m not a slow-and-steady marathon writer. I’m more of a sprint-and-crash writer. Once I’m off and running again, I usually have enough momentum to finish a project. Then I start the process all over again. 



Do you get blocked? Does fear hold you back? What do you do about it?

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K.A. Barson writes YA contemporary and MG historical, both fiction and non-fiction. She graduated from Vermont College of Fine Arts with an MFA in Writing for Children and Young Adults in January 2011 and is repped by Sara Crowe of Harvey Klinger, Inc. Her debut novel, 45 POUNDS, is forthcoming from Viking Children’s Books next summer. Visit her at www.kabarson.com.

Monday, June 25, 2012

Writing Through Grief: One Word at a Time


“It was the best of times; it was the worst of times.”  That brilliant line from Charles Dickens never meant more to me than it did this year.  That’s because I got body-slammed with tragedy at the start of 2012 just as I began what was supposed to be one of the most hard-fought and exciting times of my life.  

You see, I was going to begin crafting a marketing plan for my YA debut Hooked while also putting the finishing touches on the second YA that I was contracted to write for HarlequinTEEN.  It was supposed to be a cool year for me.  But I was an emotional wreck. 

My Dad passed away from a stroke shortly after Christmas.  It was sudden.  We were very close.  And it felt as if someone sliced open my chest and stomped on my heart.  I had been so lucky to have such a wonderful father, and I couldn’t picture a Universe without him.  As if Dad’s death wasn’t tragic enough, my mother’s Alzheimer’s condition took a nose-dive, mostly due to Dad's death I'm certain, and it was like we'd lost both of our parents.  For anyone with a loved one who battles Alzheimer’s, these words will make sense.  If not, count your blessings that you do not know this cruel disease. 

Meanwhile, in between all of The Bad, Reality kept knocking on my door, softly at first and then louder as Spring approached.  I had to get myself back in the game.  But I wasn’t sure if I could.  Some days I wasn’t sure if I even wanted to.  Medical bills, doctors visits, care givers, death certificates,  hospice care, sorting through possessions--none of these are fun activities during the best of times.  Imagine them when your world is broken.

It’s a blessing and a curse that writers get to live inside their heads.  Unfortunately my head had become trick-wired with emotional landmines.  I never knew when one of them would explode, when I’d burst into tears for no reason.  In the car, grocery stores, in front of my laptop--I've cried just about everywhere.  Somehow writing teen stories seemed damned impossible. 

But it turned out that writing saved me.   

My stories began to call to me again, nipping at the back of my mind.  So I started writing a little at a time.  One day I’d manage a paragraph.  The next, I’d pound out 2000 words.  Some of it was actually pretty good; a lot of it was pure crap.  But for that five minutes or hour or afternoon, I began to feel like I was getting my life back.  Slowly, but surely.  One word at a time. 

Times are still tough and will likely remain that way for a while.  The tears still come, usually when I least expect it.  But just like it’s helped me before, writing will get me through the rough times like the loyal and patient friend it’s always been.   

Everyone experiences tragedy at some point in their lives.  Unfortunately it usually comes when we least expect it.  How do you keep going down the road when the going gets rough?




Liz Fichera lives in the American Southwest.  Her young adult debut Hooked is the story of a Native American girl who dares to join her high school’s all boys golf team.  Much angst, hijinks, and kissing ensue.  Hooked releases on January 29, 2013, from HarlequinTEEN, with a cover reveal next month.  Visit http://www.lizfichera.com/ to learn more and connect in all of the usual social media hangouts.

Saturday, June 23, 2012

AN INTERVIEW WITH VERONICA ROTH: “HOW TO WRITE BOOK TWO”











Veronica Roth, NYT bestselling author of Divergent (2011), has released book two of the trilogy, Insurgent (2012). In the midst of release and book-touring chaos, I caught her in a moment of generosity. She kindly agreed to an interview, which should be inspiring and helpful to the Lucky 13s (and anyone else) working on their second book, whether by contract, under option, or with crossed fingers. - Liz Coley
(1) Veronica, you mentioned at your signing in Cincinnati that at times you were concerned about who you’d killed off and who you’d left alive at the end of Divergent. How much of Insurgent’s story arc and/or details were worked out ahead of time as you conceived the trilogy?
Well, I had to construct a book two outline and a considerably less detailed book three summary before I ever got the book contract. So I've had the (VERY) general arc planned out from the very beginning. But for me, the best thing I can do with an outline is figure out how to mentally ditch that outline if necessary. So I try to allow everything the freedom to change as it needs to, which means that I both know what's going to happen and have no freaking idea what's going to happen. Does that make sense? I hope so.
(2) Considering the process of bringing Divergent to publication (final revisions, copy edits, page passes, ARCs, and launch) in conjunction with the process of writing a new novel, how did you divide your energies and schedule? Was there significant overlap in time and attention spent on each book?
I basically bounced back and forth. There are some authors who are able to work on two things simultaneously, but I am not one of them. If I was touring, or editing book one, I couldn't even think about book two. But when I was waiting to get edits back, or not traveling for awhile, I tried to get as much of Insurgent done as possible. It didn't work that well, to be honest. I have trouble flipping the switch on and off so rapidly. I got most of Insurgent done when my book tour was over and I had a long stretch—maybe six months—just to work.
(3) It is said that book and movie trilogies can suffer from The Empire Strikes Back-itis. Having read Insurgent, I can attest that’s not the true in your case. Book two packs as much wallop as book one and keeps the happy reader up all night. What was the easiest thing about writing a second book? What was the hardest?
Well, thank you! (Although, wait, are you suggesting that Empire Strikes Back is a saggy middle movie? Because it's my favorite one! Darth Vader revelations, anyone? No?) The hardest part about writing book two was that reviews for book one were coming out at around the same time, and that created a lot of internal pressure for me to improve on the things I hadn't done well in the first book and also to avoid saggy middle book syndrome and also to create something that was consistent with Divergent yet different enough to stand on its own—piece of cake, right? Holy bananas.
It's hard enough for us, as writers, to ignore that little Inner Editor, but when you start to read reviews, every single one becomes another Inner Editor voice that you have to ignore in order to work. It was very difficult for me to do that. If I can give a little unsolicited advice, I recommend that after you read a few reviews just to get over the excitement of it, do yourself a favor and stop reading them. Trust me—they will find you anyway, so it's not like you'll be completely ignorant about what people are saying. The best thing you can do for yourself is to stop seeking them out early on.
The easiest part of writing book two was that I felt like I had learned a lot from the editing process of book 1—I had learned what I was willing to change and what I was not willing to change, I had a very clear vision for how I wanted the book to be, and I felt confident enough in myself to stand by that vision when I had to. That made revising a lot easier—I was able to take in feedback from my agent and my editor, of course, but also to say “no, that's not how I want it to be” to some things, which I was less willing to do with book one.
(4) Can you give us, the aspirants, a sense of what it is like to have a fan base avidly awaiting your next product? (FYI y’all, the book signing crowd for Insurgent looked to exceed fire code!)
Is there a word that means both “incredible” and “terrifying”? Incredifying? Yes, that sounds about right. The “incredible” part is knowing that there are people out there who actually connected with your work, people to whom the characters feel real and the story, significant. That keeps me motivated on some of my off days. The “terrifying” part is that there are people out there who actually connected with your work—so you better not screw it up the next time around! And that's something that's tricky to deal with. You always know you're going to disappoint something with this plot development or that ending or this character death. You have to just accept that before you even start writing, and I mean really accept it.
(5) So, I have to ask about book three in this book two interview. Having come so far in your tale, is it “writing itself” or is each book unique in its plotting and pacing challenges?
I'm sorry, I just almost choked on my tea at the notion of this book “writing itself.” IF ONLY. Each book is different. The first one, the rough draft almost wrote itself. The second one, I just had to write draft after draft after draft until I found the right one. The third one looks like it might be my first “outline book”—I'm not naturally a plotter, but I've found it so difficult to wrap my head around everything that's going on that an outline seems like it might help. The trick is to stay open with your writing process. Don't just figure out what works for you and stick with it—I mean, certainly do that for as long as it keeps working. But also, remember that “what works for you” will change with every book, or even halfway through whatever book you're working on. The only trick to writing is to do whatever it takes to keep yourself writing, I think.
(6-bonus question) Have you looked beyond book three to your next project?
No, I try to just look at what's right in front of me. I have a few projects in the background that I'm working on just for fun, but who knows if they'll end up being anything? I'll find out when I have time to finish them, I think.
(Lucky 7) Do you have any quirky life or writing superstitions you’d be willing to share with our lucky readers?
Though I am certainly a strange person, my writing life is oddly vanilla, so let me just get all scientific up in here: studies suggest that when a person is confronted with a difficult problem (like a plot hole that you just can't resolve!), he or she will continue to think about it on some level even as she does different things. So if you're struggling with something, put the computer or the pen down and occupy your mind with something else. The answer to your problem may just strike you randomly in the middle of washing your dishes or something. I recently got an intense plot revelation in the middle of a doctor's appointment. Who knew?

Thanks, VERONICA, for sharing your hard earned perspective and wisdom.

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *
Liz Coley writes young adult novels and science fiction/fantasy short stories for anthologies and magazines.
Her novel Pretty Girl-13 from HarperCollins Katherine Tegen Books will be debuting in March, 2013 in the US and abroad. Now available for pre-order on Amazon and Amazon UK.

There are secrets you can't even tell yourself.

For more about Liz and her work, visit lizcoley.com and LCTeen.com or follow her on Twitter at LizColeyBooks.

Friday, June 22, 2012

Finding a good critique group

One of the most common questions I get is: How do you find a good critique partner?

I'm lucky, I have some of the best critique partners in the world. (I'm very biased.) And so let me start by telling you how I found mine. First, I didn't start off searching for a group. I just wanted to find people to connect with in the writing world. I wanted to learn about the industry, chat with other writers, etc. I visited and commented on many different blogs. Soon I found people that I clicked with. I liked what they were writing, I enjoyed their posts and personalities, but most of all, we were at the same stage in our publishing journey. I think that's very important. Most critique groups grow together. My entire group started off as writers with the dream of publication. Now, most of us are well on our way to fulfilling that dream.

I remember very clearly one time reading the acknowledgments in a book. The author thanked several of her critique partners who all happened to be published writers. At the time I thought, well no wonder she's published, all her friends are in the business. (Yes, this was in my, I-am-never-getting-published phase) I laugh now, because I know that, of course, all her friends are in the business, she's a writer, she knows other writers. They had been crit partners for years. She didn't know published writers. They all became published writers together.

Anyway, my point is that friendships, developed naturally, with the right intent, are the people that end up forming your critique group. When you make these connections, the 'helping each other' stage follows. You want to read each others manuscripts, you want to share advice and stories. You want to see each other succeed.

Am I saying not to seek out advice or try to win critiques from published authors? Of course not. Do that too. But the people you're going to care about the most, the ones whose advice is going to become invaluable to you, are the ones who've been with you from the beginning. The ones who got to read your early drafts of your early books. The ones who you grow with.

Now for a shameless plug: My cover is being revealed today over at YA Book Central. Go take a look!

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Kasie West writes YA paranormal and contemporary. She graduated from Fresno State University with a BA degree that has nothing to do with writing. She earned her masters in Junior Mint eating (which is awarded after eating your millionth King Size box....and is now working on her PhD). She loves sappy alternative rock ballads and reading way past her bedtime. She blogs at kasiewest.blogspot.com.

 Her debut novel PIVOT POINT will be out with HarperTeen February 12, 2013




Thursday, June 21, 2012

If you don't want the answer - don't ask the question! AKA Working with Crit Partners.


By: Alex Lidell (www.alexlidell.com)

Recently, a new writer – we’ll call her Laura - came into a walk-in critique group I was at and wanted to share a story she wrote.  It was a beautiful idea, but the execution of the writing was raw.  After sharing a bit of praise, I pointed out a few basics that didn’t work for me in her story.  An inconsistent POV was one, I believe.

Laura was unhappy with me.  Clearly.  I stopped talking.  Perhaps I was a bit to sharp?  Other writers chimed in with similar comments.  Laura grew unhappier by the word.  Finally, she snapped at us that she likes her story just the way it is.

Blink.

The problem was not Laura’s writing or her story.  It is her story after all, and a good one.  The problem is that she had come to a critique group when she should have gone to a support group or an open mic.  In other words:

Don’t ask questions to which to do not want an answer.  – And don’t ask them of people whose answer you do not want.

The day before your manuscript is due to the editor is not the time to ask a crit partner what she thinks of your changes.   Your first draft does not need to go to your copy-editor-in-the-making neighbor.   You don’t need to sound board your ideas for a new fantasy with a romance writer who dislikes magic.

In other words, know what you want and ask for THAT. 

Discuss changes with your crit partner when you still have time to change them. If it’s the day before edits are due and you just need affirmation that you did not destroy your novel, tell your partner you are looking for affirmation, not a crit.  And if she does not know the difference, don’t show the story to her that day.  Take it, instead to that copy-editor-neighbor, to catch some last moment typos.  And once your edits are in, talk to the romance writer about the romantic subplot you are playing around with for your next novel.  Are you getting the pattern?

Knowing what you need is your job.  Just getting a lot of eyes on your WIP is neither helpful to you nor fair to the beta reader. You need to explain what you need from the read and, privately, consider whether this person is capable of giving you that.  If not, skip this reader or give her another task.

My non-writer friends, for example, can tell me when the story feels slow or confusing – they cannot tell me why, and they certainly can’t tell me how to fix it.  Not in a way that’s helpful to me, anyway.  So, I skip the “why” and ask the “where”.  Where did you get confused?  Where did you get bored?  Did you remember who this character was when he re-entered the story?

So, the next time you work with a beta, be specific.  Did you feel this chapter moved the plot forward?  Does this character seem intelligent or annoying?  Could you visualize the setting - what did you see?  And remember, above all…

Don’t ask question to which you don’t want an answer!

Your turn.  Do you agree?  Disagree?  What experiences have YOU had working with Betas?


This post was by:

Alex Lidell
The CADET of TILDOR
Dial (Penguin), Jan 10, 2013
Twitter: @alexlidell
Email: alex@alexlidell.com
Website:  www.alexlidell.com

Sixteen-year-old Renee struggles to keep up with male cadets at a grueling military academy while confronting a friend's forbidden magic and her mentor's shadowy past. 


Wednesday, June 20, 2012

It Takes A Village to Kill Your Darlings


Greetings, gentle readers! Melissa Landers here, and I’m loving this week’s topic of critique partners, because I’ve got the two best CPs in the world. (Not that I’m biased, or anything.) In fact, the three of us make up half the blogging team at Honestly YA: Six Authors, One Love.

From left to right: Carey Corp, Melissa Landers, Lorie Langdon.

I met Carey Corp and Lorie Langdon at an OVRWA meeting nearly two years ago. (By the way, this is one of the reasons I advise writers to join professional groups that meet locally. There’s no substitute for the in-person contacts you’ll make.) I’d heard great things about Carey and Lorie’s co-authored project—a YA reimagining of the legend of Brigadoon—so I introduced myself and begged them to tell me more.

A couple weeks later, we agreed to a manuscript swap—Doon for Alienated—and during the process, we discovered three things:

1. We enjoyed each other’s writing.
2. We enjoyed each other’s company.
3. We worked well together.

And so our critique partnership was born! Lorie and I usually exchange work on a chapter-by-chapter basis, where Carey tends to read the entire manuscript once I’m done. They both have a great eye for detail, and each will spot different issues. They each have VERY different personalities, and I have to give them mad props for being able to co-write.

Lorie’s a gentle soul. If she discovers a rough spot in my chapter, she’ll point it out as delicately as possible, making sure to infuse plenty of praise and smiley faces throughout the pages.

Carey…well, she’s a little more blunt.

I’ll show you what I mean…

Last year I sent them both the opening chapter of my second adult romance. Though I couldn’t see it at the time, my main character was too bitter. (Hey, this is why we need crit partners!) Anyway, note the difference in Lorie and Carey’s reactions:

Lorie sent an email to say, “Bobbi could use a little softening to make her more sympathetic.”

Whereas Carey called me on the phone and proclaimed, “I hate your main character. She’s a bitch, and I don’t want to be in her head.” (LOL!) Then we spent the next half hour brainstorming ways to make Bobbi more likable.

Because of our differences, we complement each other nicely, and I’m so grateful to have these ladies in my life. They’re more than beta readers—they’re advisors, cheerleaders, armchair psychologists, task masters, and friends.

Hooray for awesome crit partners!

Now it’s your turn! Tell me about your CPs or beta readers!


Melissa Landers is the author of ALIENATED, a seriously foreign exchange, coming in 2013 from Disney Hyperion. You can learn more about Melissa on her website, and she’d love for you to add ALIENATED to your Goodreads shelf! Additionally, Melissa writes contemporary romance for adults under the name Macy Beckett.

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Apocalypse Now: An Interview with Trish Doller, Author of SOMETHING LIKE NORMAL


Happy Book Birthday to Trish Doller, author of SOMETHING LIKE NORMAL. I devoured this book in two days and couldn't wait to chat with Trish about how she came to write such a moving and authentic portrait of a young marine.

But first, a quick summary (from GoodReads): When Travis returns home from a stint in Afghanistan, his parents are splitting up, his brother's stolen his girlfriend and his car, and he's haunted by nightmares of his best friend’s death. It's not until Travis runs into Harper, a girl he's had a rocky relationship with since middle school, that life actually starts looking up. And as he and Harper see more of each other, he begins to pick his way through the minefield of family problems and post-traumatic stress to the possibility of a life that might resemble normal again.

Did you know much about PTSD before writing this book, or did you have to do a lot of research?

I was working as a staff reporter for my hometown newspaper back when the war in Iraq began. When the first wave of Marines came home, I was assigned to do a story about a local guy's first Christmas after battle. I went to his mom's house and as I sat across from him in the living room, I was struck by how young he was and how much he'd experienced that his high school friends could never imagine, and that idea stuck in my mind for years afterward.

When I started working on Something Like Normal, Travis was meant to be physically wounded, having lost a leg in an IED blast. But the logistics of getting him from point A to point B in every single scene started feeling really overwhelming. I wanted to tell the story of a damaged boy, but it wasn't until I read a Marine's memoir of his own struggle with PTSD that I realized there was an alternative to physical damage.

My research was pretty extensive. Not only did I do a lot of reading about PTSD, I read books about boot camp and Afghanistan. I studied hours of YouTube videos of Marines deployed to Afghanistan, both in combat and just having fun. I visited a Marine parents forum to see how they cope while their sons are deployed. I downloaded dozens of pictures for reference. And I followed the news of a specific battalion--the 3/6 Marines--who were deployed while I was writing the book. By the time they came home, I was so invested in their welfare, that I literally sobbed--not only for the guys who made it home safely, but for the guys they lost in Afghanistan.

In your acknowledgements you thank a variety of military personnel for their contributions. How did you find them, and how did you get them to open up about their experiences?

I "met" most of the guys in my acknowledgements on a Marine forum called Terminal Lance. I lurked for a long time on the site, reading through the threads, and then finally decided to register. I was honest with them from the start, letting them know that I was not a Marine and that I was writing a book. Most of the guys (and girls) were friendly and when I felt like we were comfortable enough around each other, I got permission from the forum owner to start a thread for my research questions. The guys were quick to answer and they walked me through basic stuff without making me feel stupid.

Then, the coolest thing happened. One of the Marine of the 3/6 joined the forum and started talking about his time in Afghanistan. I asked him if he would be willing to help me color in the details and he agreed. His input helped me make the book richer and deeper, and I feel so lucky to have found him.

Since the book has been finished, I don't spend as much time on the forum as I did. The great part, though, is that I've become friends on facebook with some of them, so we still talk regularly and I'm hoping to see some of them when I have my launch party.

It's tempting, as writers, to include everything we learn or discover in our research, regardless of whether it informs the plot or moves the story forward. How did you decide which information to use and which to discard?

I wish I had a clever answer for this. I think I just kept it in the back of my mind that it wasn't just a book about PTSD or just a book about the Marine Corps or just a book about Afghanistan. Too much of any of those things would have tipped the balance and worked against my goals. So I looked for the bits of information that were most relevant and most interesting. And funny.

The novel flows incredibly well, seamlessly tying together Travis' recent past in Afghanistan and his present story, on leave in Florida. How did you decide where to insert flashbacks to Travis' time in Afghanistan?

This is kind of a difficult question because I don't think I really thought much about it. I tend to write in a linear fashion, so the flashbacks, nightmares, and memories popped up where I thought they should go. I just got lucky that they ended up where they're supposed to be.

The guys' banter feels completely real. Did that come naturally to you, or did you have to work at it?

I sometimes joke that I was probably a guy in another life, but I think it comes naturally to me because I have a son who is just a little older than Travis. Over the years, my son's friends have been regular fixtures at my house, so I've had the chance to listen to them and watch the way they interact with each other. They were not band geeks or sports heroes or honors students, but just regular guys--guys we all know--and I knew I wanted Travis and his friends to be like them.

Did you get any push back from your editor or publisher regarding the language or the sex scenes?

The sex wasn't as much an issue as the language. When I turned over the manuscript to my editor, it was loaded with profanity. It might be a generalization to say that Marines swear a lot, but the ones I met do. So it was really important to me not to lose the authenticity, even though I knew there would be people offended by the profanity. That said, we scaled way back on the language, but not so much that the realism was compromised.

Without giving anything away, I'll mention that the conclusion of the book is satisfying yet doesn't tie up every loose end, which I found very realistic. Was that always the plan, or did it simply happen that way when you reached the end?

I'd love to say I planned it that way, but it wasn't until I was nearing the conclusion that I realized not all the loose ends would be tied. I knew how most of Travis' relationships would play out, but there was one that was still up in the air--and remained that way when the book ended. While I had a couple of early readers say they wished for closure, I wouldn't change it. Both Travis and the other person are still very young, and time has the power to change.

There's a romance at the heart of the book, but the combination of military story, PTSD, male friendships, the complex sibling rivalry, and parental issues gives the story broad appeal. Both genders can find a lot to enjoy. Was that a conscious goal? Did you envision a particular audience, or was the idea to reach as wide of an audience as possible?

I was kind of shooting for a John Green-style audience of both boys and girls. I am in no way comparing myself as a writer to John Green, but I think his books have elements that appeal to everyone--including a little romance--and that's ultimately what I wanted for mine. I think my book might be slightly more romantic, but none of my early male readers (including Marines) complained. So I'm hopeful Something Like Normal will find its way into the hands of anyone who might be interested in reading it, regardless of their gender. Or age. Or military affiliation.

How are you celebrating your release day?

I'm going to Islamorada in the Florida Keys for a few days to drink beer and snorkel on the Hen & Chickens Reef. But not at the same time.

Since we're the Lucky 13s we have to ask: do you have any superstitions or lucky charms?

I'm not one for superstition, but I do have a weird set of rules when it comes to fortune cookies:

1. You can't have a fortune cookie if you don't order a meal.
2. If there is more than one cookie from which to choose, the "first instinct" cookie is the right one.
3. You don't get more than one, but if you want to eat another cookie, only the first fortune counts.

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About Trish:

I've been a writer as long as I've been able to write, but I didn't make a conscious decision to "be" a writer until fairly recently. For that you should probably be thankful. I was born in Germany, grew up in Ohio, went to college at Ohio State University, got married to someone really great, bounced from Maine to Michigan and back to Ohio for awhile. Now I live in Florida with my two mostly grown kids, two dogs, and a pirate. For real. I've worked as a morning radio personality, a newspaper reporter, and spent all my summers in college working at an amusement park. There I gained valuable life skills, including counting money really fast, directing traffic, jumping off a moving train, and making cheese-on-a-stick. Also, I can still welcome you to Frontier Town. Ask me sometime. These days I work as a bookseller at a Very Big Bookstore. And I write.

Where to find Trish:

website
twitter
facebook

Where to buy SOMETHING LIKE NORMAL:

Barnes & Noble
Amazon
IndieBound

This interview was conducted by Lucky13s member Sarah Skilton, whose Contemporary YA novel BRUISED will be released Spring 2013 from Abrams/Amulet Books. The interview is part of an ongoing series of interviews with The Apocalypsies -- YA, MG, and children's book authors debuting in 2012.

Monday, June 18, 2012

How to Make the Most of a Critique

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The most dreaded part of the writing process (at least for me) is when the time comes for me to hand my story over to beta-readers. I get serious stomachaches and panic attacks, mostly because I know I'm handing them seriously flawed, sometimes downright awful stuff, and it's embarrassing to show that to people I'd rather impress. However, it must be done. There simply comes a point in the writing process where you need to seek out criticism in order to take your work to the next level.

Here are five tips to getting the most out of your critiques:  

1.     At least two readers, no more than four. It’s really helpful to get more than one person to look at your work, for both the reason that you want to get both varied and repetitive feedback. The varied feedback will give you lots of ideas to work with, while the repetitive feedback will give you a sure sense of what needs to be changed or developed in your story. Don’t send it to too many readers at once, though. Too much feedback will overwhelm you.

2.     Read through each critique twice. This will help you internalize the patterns of feedback. Not every opinion requires consideration, but take care of those criticisms that are repeated by two or three readers.

3.     Make a revision list. Organization. Growl. It goes against my preferred haphazard process, but when there's that much stuff swirling around in your brain, it behooves us all to become organized. Start with the big things and move down to the small. Set aside line-edits as your very last revision before submission. There’s no point in focusing on the knit-picky until you’re certain the bigger things are in place.

4.     Learn to translate. Sometimes you will come upon some feedback that seems totally off to you. Again, you don’t have to incorporate all feedback, but before you decide to throw some comment by the wayside, look to see if the feedback might be a little red flag for some other problem. 

5.     Keep the story your own. This is probably the most important thing to keep in mind where critiques are concerned. I've heard several agents and editors say that they can tell when a piece of work has been through too many critique groups, because the story has gotten away from the author. They’ve just pieced together everyone’s suggestions, instead of keeping the integrity of their vision and voice. It’s so important to listen to criticism and see how you might improve, but be confident in your own vision and voice. Don’t let outside forces take over!

Finally, don't forget to say thank you to your readers! It can also be really helpful to follow up with questions or discussion about the reader's feedback. Just be careful not to get defensive. That's insulting to the reader's intelligence, not to mention all the hard work they put in to critiquing your story!

Saturday, June 16, 2012

Write or Die

by Mindy McGinnis

In all of the reams and reams of writing advice out there in the world, the one bit of wisdom that is repeated so often I want to put my face in blender is - write everyday.

I've heard a lot of aspiring writers bemoan the fact that they can't possibly write everyday, their lives don't allow for that. Guess what - mine doesn't either. And I don't write everyday. In fact, there have been periods in my life where I didn't write for years at a stretch.

What a lot of people don't realize is that writing takes many forms. Whether you're working on your blog, editing, re-writing, or critiquing for a partner, I still consider that writing. Your brain is still firing up the English language and taking it out for a spin, whether you're fixing old words of your own or helping a friend polish theirs.

Time spent daydreaming is a form of writing for me, or at least I count it as such. If dialogue is spewing out of my head while I mow my five acre yard, I consider it multi-tasking. Jotting it down before I jump into the shower may be the only time I actually put pen to paper, but I'm still writing.

I'd go so far as to say that even reading is a form of writing. I don't feel lazy when I curl up in a chair with a book. I'm still working, looking at what this writer has done right to make this book the next one I picked up - or what they did wrong that makes it the next one I put down.

So aspiring writers, don't feel like you don't have the time to dedicate yourself to jumping onto the writing train because you don't have time to write everyday.

Chances are, you're already doing it.
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Mindy McGinnis is a YA author and librarian. Her debut, NOT A DROP TO DRINK will be available from Katherine Tegen / Harper Collins Fall, 2013. She blogs at Writer, Writer Pants on Fire, and contributes to the group blogs From the Write Angle, Book Pregnant, and Friday the Thirteeners.

Friday, June 15, 2012

Apocalypse Now: An Interview with TOKYO HEIST Author Diana Renn


Congratulations to Diana Renn, whose Japanese art mystery, TOKYO HEIST, arrived in bookstores yesterday. Diana and I both happened to have spent our honeymoons in Japan, and I was thrilled to get an early peek at her book, which was selected for the Summer 2012 Kids' Indie Next List and the Kirkus Reviews New and Notable Books for Teens list!

From Diana's website: When sixteen-year-old Violet agrees to spend the summer with her father, an up-and-coming artist in Seattle, she has no idea what she's walking into. Her father’s newest clients, the Yamada family, are the victims of a high-profile art robbery: van Gogh sketches have been stolen from their home, and, until they can produce the corresponding painting, everyone's lives are in danger -- including Violet's and her father's. Violet's search for the missing van Gogh takes her from the Seattle Art Museum, to the yakuza-infested streets of Tokyo, to a secluded inn in Kyoto. As the mystery thickens, Violet's not sure whom she can trust. But she knows one thing: she has to solve the mystery -- before it's too late.

How did you become interested in Japanese art and culture?

I think I've been a Japanophile since childhood. I grew up in Seattle, which is infused with Japanese culture. I vividly remember learning to sing "Sakura" in grade school for the cherry blossom festival, and reading Japanese folk tales (but don't ask me to sing one line of our state song!) Over the years, Japanese friends and students certainly fueled my interest in learning more about Japanese culture. My interest in Japanese visual art really took root on a trip to Japan, and blossomed later when I volunteered at the Boston Museum of Fine Art. Working in their paper/print conservation department, I got to handle, and view up close, an extraordinary collection of Japanese woodblock prints.

The descriptions of Japan are lovely and vivid. How much time have you spent there? Had you visited the country before writing the book, or did you go as part of your research?
Thank you! My husband and I went to Japan for our honeymoon several years ago, for three weeks. We took trains and tried to see as much as we could. That's the only time I've been there. It wasn't a research trip; I wasn't writing this book at the time. But some experiences and images in Japan became early seeds of this novel. I started writing Tokyo Heist (under a different title) soon after we returned home. I wanted to return to Japan for research, and almost did when my textbook publisher wanted to send me there. But by then I had a baby and the logistics of traveling so far were complex. For research I had to rely on my extensive notes and photographs from the trip, help from Japanese friends, travel guides, movies, YouTube tourist videos, and Japanese art - anything to help me virtually return.

What inspired you to write a mystery set in the art world? Have you ever read or written your own manga?

This is my curse: I love art but I cannot draw or paint. I'm a museum and art gallery junkie. I simply love art; I could look at it all day. I wish I had a shred of art talent or skill. I do have many friends and family members who work in various roles in the art world. And the art world and its potential for mystery have long fascinated me. Writing about art is fun for me because it makes me feel I'm part of the art world and connected to visual art in some way. As for manga, I worked in a comic book shop many years ago, and I did look at some manga then. But that was way back in the 1990s; manga wasn't as widely available in English as it is today. We were always playing anime films in the store, so anime was more in my consciousness. I love Japanese woodblock prints, and when I learned that the roots of manga are in these prints, I became fascinated by that connection. I did read quite a bit of manga while I was writing; I wanted to know my character better and to read what she would read. I also wanted to see if I could borrow some of manga's style, using words as my medium. I love the creative possibilities that manga presents, all the different ways of telling a story. I have never tried creating manga myself, but would love to try writing a manga story. I'd have to hire an illustrator, though!

How did you keep track of all the characters and red herrings? Did you storyboard and/or chart the mystery?

I had no outline when I began the novel. For a long time I actually resisted the idea that I was writing a mystery. My writing group staged an intervention and insisted it was a mystery. Once I embraced that and consciously tried to use some of the genre conventions (suspects, clues, red herrings, reveals), the writing came faster. I kept character "files" and added details to keep track of their back stories and motivations. I have about four fat notebooks filled with longhand notes, and that's where I tried to figure out plot problems as they arose. In later revisions, I storyboarded some action scenes, but given my lack of drawing talent (see answer to #3 above) that wasn't always so helpful! During one extensive revision, I created a color coded calendar on a white board to document the time frame. But I did quite a few drafts before I started going back and trying to impose some sense of logic and order. It took me a long time to learn that mysterious writing, or a mystery atmosphere, is not the same thing as writing as mystery. Mystery demands clarity. At some point the writer has to know what's going on so they can help guide the reader through clues. Embracing the mystery genre really forced me to make hard decisions, organize my thoughts, and sharpen my story.

Did you know how the mystery was going to end when you started writing, or was it a mystery to you, too, that unfolded as you wrote? Did you surprise yourself? (Did the characters surprise you?)

I knew the ending, but how to get there was a mystery for a long time. I wished I'd had a neat outline from the get-go. I revised more times than I can count. I'm not kidding. I have stacks and stacks of manuscript printouts in a closet. Every draft helped me see my way through to the final version. Once I'd figured out a piece of the puzzle, it was exciting to go back and tweak things to help the puzzle piece slide into place. Here's what surprised me most: when I ran into plot problems, often the answers I sought were under my nose - in the characters themselves, or hinted at in previous scenes. Then it was just a matter of bringing them out more. Characters definitely surprised me; several secondary characters wanted bigger roles than I'd given them, and were able to help advance the plot. And there's one character who I kept changing from good guy to bad guy, back and forth, until I finally paid attention to him and figured him out. I was surprised and interested throughout the writing process, so I hope readers will be too.

Tokyo and Kyoto seem to embody the modern vs ancient/traditional aspects of Japan, respectively. Which do you prefer, and was it important to you to show different aspects of the country?

I love both cities; they do have different vibes. I also love how these two cities defy their own stereotypes. Yes, Tokyo is "modern" Japan - yet there is tradition to be found there, in the lush and quiet parks, in the ancient temples amidst the skyscrapers, and in the numerous museums devoted to Edo culture and art. Yes, Kyoto is "traditional" Japan with its countless temples and its cobblestoned streets in the Gion District - and it's quieter -- but it has its share of tall buildings, bright signs, shopping meccas, and other urban delights. It was very important to me to show the different aspects of these particular cities as well the country. I love the dazzling variety to be found in Japan, the mix of ancient and contemporary, as you've pointed out, and the juxtapositions of different neighborhoods. It's why I have Violet in one scene traveling through time in an urban museum, then going outside to all these different districts in Tokyo. I wanted her to be constantly disoriented and fascinated and doing double-takes. This is also a novel about perception, and how things are not always what they seem. Showing the many sides of Japan was one fun way to explore this idea.

The character of Edge doesn't have that many scenes, yet he's such an interesting and important presence throughout the book. How did you go about keeping him at the forefront even though he's mostly away at camp?

I kept Edge -- Violet's BFF and secret crush -- in the forefront because I imagined Violet doing so as she traveled. I sensed that she would always be reserving a little part of her mental energy for Edge, even while she's super busy trying to hunt down art and not get killed by gangsters and save lives and all that. Her thoughts of him are kind of like an app that's always on and quietly working on your phone, in the background, consuming energy. When I thought of Violet mentally carrying Edge with her around Japan, I found places to bring him into the reader's consciousness too. I looked for places where his comments would naturally float back to her, or a time when he'd haunt her dreams. When she travels, she frequently sees things that remind her of him, or has experiences she's dying to share with him, and she's typing him an ongoing email without hitting "send." Haven't we all felt like that at some point, about someone? Tapping into that universal feeling of missing someone also kept Edge present, or, I should say, made his absence more palpable.

Because we're the Lucky 13s, we have to ask: do you have any superstitions or lucky charms?

For as long as I can remember, I have gotten out of bed with my right side touching the floor first, for luck. I actually sleep on the left side of the bed, so this makes for a fairly complicated twisting maneuver, and it has actually landed me on the floor more than once. I have no data to suggest that this superstition of how to start my day on the right foot works. I also compulsively pick up pennies. I have a black cat. The black cat's not really a lucky charm though - she's cost me a fortune in vet bills. Who knows, maybe that's why I compulsively pick up pennies!

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Diana grew up in Seattle and now lives in Boston with her husband and son. She graduated from Hampshire College and earned an M.A. in English and American Literature from Brandeis University. After graduate school, Diana taught ESL, writing, and literature, worked in educational publishing, and authored several ESL textbooks. She also traveled whenever possible, and taught English in South America. In addition to writing for young adults, Diana writes short stories and essays, which have been published in a variety of magazines and literary journals. When she's not writing, Diana enjoys bicycling and taiko drumming. TOKYO HEIST is her first novel.

Where to buy TOKYO HEIST:

IndieBound
Barnes & Noble
Amazon

Where to find Diana:

Website
Twitter
Facebook
GoodReads

This interview was conducted by Lucky13s member Sarah Skilton, whose Contemporary YA novel BRUISED will be released Spring 2013 from Abrams/Amulet Books. The interview is part of an ongoing series of interviews with The Apocalypsies -- YA, MG, and children's book authors debuting in 2012.

Thursday, June 14, 2012

Apocalypse Now: an interview with MY LIFE NEXT DOOR author Huntley Fitzpatrick


Today we welcome Huntley Fitzpatrick, author of the amazing MY LIFE NEXT DOOR, debuting this week! 

About MY LIFE NEXT DOOR

“One thing my mother never knew, and would disapprove of most of all, was that I watched the Garretts.  All the time.”

The Garretts are everything the Reeds are not. Loud, numerous, messy, affectionate. And every day from her balcony perch, seventeen-year-old Samantha Reed wishes she was one of them…until one summer evening Jase Garrett climbs her trellis and changes everything.

As the two fall fiercely in love and stumble through the awkwardness and awesomeness of first romance, Jase’s family makes Samantha one of their own—even as she keeps him a secret from her disapproving mother and critical best friend.

Then the unthinkable happens, and the bottom drops out of Samantha’s world. She’s suddenly faced with an impossible decision. Which perfect family will save her? Or is it time she saved herself?

A debut novel about family, friendship, first romance, and how to be true to one person you love without betraying another.

Welcome, Huntley, and let's dive right in!

With your first book out, what will you do to celebrate?

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Everything about this book feels like a celebration. I get to go to Books of Wonder in New York City and read! I just got an actual hardcover in the mail! My children will see the book in bookstores! All of it astonishes me and gives me pinch-me moments. I’m a lifetime dedicated reader and can list the books that changed my life. It’s astonishing to think that now I might share shelf space with some of them on a bookcase.

MY LIFE NEXT DOOR is an incredible story--part falling-in-love and part finding-yourself. What did you enjoy most about writing the book?

I enjoyed writing a “good boy”. My first few YA attempts featured heroes who were more difficult and angsty—couldn’t commit or had issues that made them harder to make loveable. Writing Jase was just a pure pleasure. Sneakers after heels.  I also had fun with Samantha. I gave her my childhood habit of looking at people from afar and imagining what their lives were like. It was nice to be able to make her part of the story she’d watched from a distance.

Was there anything about it that surprised you?

Aside from the whole getting an agent and an publisher thing? Tim. I’d planned for him to be a rather minor character in the book and he just strolled on in and had other plans (I know, sounds a little schizophrenic, but writers are like that).

What has your journey to publication been like?

Extraordinarily lucky. I think I have the best agent and the best editor on the planet. Both have eagle eyes about what doesn’t work and amazing instincts about what will. MY LIFE NEXT DOOR started out as an entirely different story—changing the book I had in my head was a challenge—and totally worth it.

Do you have a typical writing day, and can you describe it?
It varies from season to season—a little harder in the summer as all the kids are home from school and the pool and the beach beckon me away from a disciplined routine. During the school year I get everyone off to school, then race to the computer and barely look up until I hear the wheeze-sigh of the school bus dropping off.

What’s next for you?

I’m working on my next book, which is set in the same general vicinity of the first, but with a very different hero and heroine. This heroine has not led a charmed life and she and the hero have had a mutual attraction for a while, but something has always gotten in the way ju-ust when they are about to act on it. But not this summer!

And last of all, because we’re a superstitious lot here at the Lucky 13s, we love to find out what other writers’ superstitions and lucky charms are. Do you have any, and if so, what are they?

Maybe too many. I avoid walking under ladders and I get worried when we break a mirror. I KNOW everyone is crazier when the moon is full. That’s not just me, it’s been confirmed to me by both ER nurses and grocery clerks, which is kind of fascinating. Apparently people get sick more often and are more rushed and rude during a full moon. Kind of makes you wonder why. Hmmm. Maybe there’s a story there.
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About Huntley Fitzpatrick

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Huntley was lucky enough to be born to parents who read every kind of written material with interest and enthusiasm, and let her do the same. From the start she searched for books that let her fall in love…with the story and with the boy. 
For most of her childhood she divided her devotion between Almanzo Wilder from The Little House books, C.S. Lewis’ Prince Caspian and Tom in Louisa May Alcott’s An Old Fashioned Girl. Now she writes her own stories of love and discovery while living on the coast of Massachusetts with her six remarkable and eccentric children and encouraging husband.