Monday, August 18, 2014

Revision 101: Quotes and Links to Help You On Your Way

Revision requires an author to see her work with new eyes. Here are some quotes and links I used in my revision class last spring. I hope they point you in the right direction with your own work:

Quotes from Novel Metamorphosis:

Revision: What is the most dramatic way to tell this story?

“Revisions are the messy route toward powerful stories. ...I never tell someone how to revise their story. Instead, I ask you to look at your story in different ways, apply various strategies of revisions, and tell your story, your way. You are in control and will make all the decisions yourself.”

“Competence is a hard-won prize that only comes with lots of study and practice.”

Quotes from Second Sight:

“When you’re writing that first draft, don’t worry about following the rules. Instead, tell yourself the story you’ve always wanted to hear, the story you’ve never read anywhere else, the one that scares you with the pleasure of writing it. Treasure the joy of the work, because it is hard work, but when you can find that just-right word, that perfect plot twist -- there are fewer greater pleasures.”

“Editors work forward from the manuscript to make its truth all it can be...paying attention to details that add up to an overall result.”

“Good prose repeats words in close proximity to each other only by strategy or design, not by accident or sloppiness.”

“I test every sentence against the question ‘What purpose doest this serve?’”

“An editor’s greatest joy is a writer who can recognize his own weaknesses and respond with an intelligent revision.”

“For a writer, an artist, making a choice gives you something to work with. You make a choice, get the words on the page, see if it feels right. If it doesn’t, you edit it or go back and make a different decision. The hardest thing is getting past the fear of making a choice at all.”

Saul Bellow: “The main reason for rewriting is not to achieve a smooth surface, but to discover the inner truth of your characters.”

“As you’re sitting down to write, you need to ask yourself: Am I writing a specific story that could only happen to this character in this world, in this time? What am I trying to say with this story? What do I want my readers to think when they put my book down?”

“What questions or mysteries does your first line raise?”

“Just because you put it first doesn’t mean that your current opening section is the real beginning.”

“Be a curator, not a camera...Believe it or not, most beginning writers will transcribe, as if they were a video camera...Another big mistake is focusing on transition scenes because you think you need to show how a character gets from one place to another.”


Novelists: You Are Gifted and Talented :: Darcy Pattison
WFMAD The Bones of the Writing Process, Parts 1 and 2 :: Laurie Halse Anderson
23 Essential Quotes from Ernest Hemingway About Writing :: The Write Practice
WFMAD (Write Fifteen Minutes a Day) Revision Roadmap #18 :: Laurie Halse Anderson
WFMAD Temper Tantrums and Do Overs :: Laurie Halse Anderson
I don’t want an honest critique :: Darcy Pattison
WFMAD Getting Feedback on Your Story :: Laurie Halse Anderson
WFMAD Belonging to a Critique Group Without Murdering Anyone :: Laurie Halse Anderson
Balancing Thoughts, Description, Dialogue, and Action :: Between the Lines: Edits and Everything Else
Novel Revision Charts: 2 Tools for Smart Re-Thinking of Your Story :: Darcy Pattison

What quotes, techniques, or tips have you found helpful when it comes to revision?

Friday, August 15, 2014

Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children

I have to admit that I am a pretty picky reader when it comes to fiction. Mostly, I read realistic fiction but when survival and remote locations are involved I can be coaxed into giving a wider-range of stories a try.

So, when a friend’s sixteen year-old daughter recommended Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children by Ransom Riggs, I gave it try.

From the back cover:

A mysterious island. An abandoned orphanage. And a strange collection of very curious photographs. It all waits to be discovered in Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children, an unforgettable novel that mixes fiction and photography in a thrilling reading experience. As our story opens, a horrific family tragedy sets sixteen-year-old Jacob journeying to a remote island off the coast of Wales, where he discovers the crumbling ruins of Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children. As Jacob explores its abandoned bedrooms and hallways, it becomes clear that the children who once lived here—one of whom was his own grandfather—were more than just peculiar. They may have been dangerous. They may have been quarantined on a desolate island for good reason. And somehow—impossible though it seems—they may still be alive.

In short, this book really operates outside of the box, using authentic, vintage photographs that the author has collected at flea markets to help drive and shape the story and the characters.

I liked the book so much that now I’m almost finished reading the sequel, Hollow City, and it is just as good as the first book.

Please note that these books are not classified as middle grade novels. Really, in my opinion, they defy classification in a good way. The plot is twisty and page-turning, and the photos included match the well-developed, unique characters the author has created. In terms of choosing these books for a middle grade audience, I would say upper middle grade would be as young as I would go, and then it would depend on how individual readers react to potentially scary stories. I’m curious what others think who have read one or both of these books in terms of recommending them for specific age groups, something I’m not an expert at. If you have thoughts, please leave them below.

I totally recommend these books both for a great read and for a fresh look at story-telling technique.

To top it off, the movie of the first book is due out in 2015.

Thanks for stopping by.

Wednesday, August 13, 2014


Words on the page give the reader a map. Pictures leave an impression- and artist’s impression- that become part of the book experience. Fabulous artwork can bring great things to a story. Art can have a life of its own in a book. Those two things can sometimes have very different effects on the reader.

Mary Grace Corpus and Jason Wiliford were the artists who did the illustrations in The Young Inventors Guild books. (Jason Wiliford did the chapter head sketches for The Atomic Weight of Secrets… and Mary Grace did the chapter head illustrations, as well as the blueprints for the inventions, in The Ravens of Solemano...) Each sketch has so much power, hinting at what will come in the pages ahead. The blueprints are crafted beautifully and offer a living schematic, something that only adds to whatever images are already dancing in the heads of readers.

Sometimes, though, the art breaks the spell and interferes. Sometimes, the artwork and the story are out of sync. We’ve all read books that are vastly different from whatever the illustrator (who clearly did not read the book manuscript) provided.

In Egypt, the artwork for locally produced kids’ books is due for an overhaul. Retro is one thing. Out-of-date design is another. Some of the art used in children’s books hasn’t changed for decades and was never attended to seriously. It feels like there may be only one or two working illustrators in the country and they learned their craft in the 50s.  Many modern booksellers are in pursuit of some fresh and fabulous local art- of which there is plenty!

We Project Mayhem authors are lucky to have really wonderful artwork in our books. It’s a great thing to have a publisher who pays attention to art and offers us some control when it co

Monday, August 11, 2014

This counts as "writing", right?, by: Marissa Burt
I can end this post right here, yes? I think all writers have to resonate with this on some level, because writing requires self-motivation from a group of people who are often easily distracted by imaginary worlds, let alone all the interesting things right there in front of us.  While there is something to be said for sitting down and eking the words out through sheer force of will, I'm beginning to let go of the drivenness that says every writing-moment must equal words on a page.

Matt's earlier post about being okay with not writing every day was spot on, and I'm going to springboard off that and say that sometimes things that have absolutely nothing to do with writing are useful for building creativity. No, this is not a weak attempt to justify my ridiculous fondness for Candy Crush, but I do think mindless indulgences - whether it's frittering away a few minutes online or daydreaming out the window - do something for our creativity.

It's like how I stop to do a few stretches after I've been hunched over my laptop for an hour. My body needs a break and a reset. Why do I begrudge my mind the same?

So I'm learning to factor wasting time into my writing time. If I have a whole four hours to write, I've come to accept that about 30% of that will evaporate into research rabbit-trails and a quick visit to facebook and another trip to the pantry.

All that being said the ability to focus in and really get lost in the world varies with the stage of the manuscript. I squander writing time frivolously during the first draft, but as I reach the end of the manuscript, I find it difficult to even stop for lunch, and if a brilliant plot twist strikes, all bets are off.

What about you? What do you do to reset your creativity? And 'fess up, Mayhemers, what are your secret time-wasting indulgences?

Friday, August 8, 2014

Karen Rivers & FINDING RUBY STARLING - Interview & Giveaway

UPDATE: THE WINNER OF THE GIVEAWAY IS TARA! Thanks everyone for commenting and I really encourage you all to check out Karen's marvelous MG books! 

I recently requested a book off NetGalley based mainly on the cover and the premise of “The Parent Trap meets the digital age”, but I hadn’t heard of the book or author and had no idea what to expect. FINDING RUBY STARLING by Karen Rivers delighted me so much I ended up tracking down the fantastic author to answer a few of my questions, and one very lucky blog commenter will win a signed copy of FINDING RUBY STARLING and a copy of its companion novel THE ENCYCLOPEDIA OF ME.

Here’s the description of FINDING RUBY STARLING:

When Ruth Quayle used a special app to search for pictures of herself online, she found dozens of images of "Ruth Quayle" -- and one of "Ruby Starling." When Ruby Starling gets a message from a Ruth Quayle proclaiming them to be long-lost twin sisters, she doesn't know what to do with it -- until another message arrives the day after, and another one. It could be a crazy stalker ... but she and this Ruth do share a birthday, and a very distinctive ear....

Ruth is an extroverted American girl. Ruby is a shy English one. As they investigate the truth of their birth and the circumstances of their separation, they also share lives full of friends, family, and possible romances -- and they realize they each may be the sister the other never knew she needed.

Written entirely in e-mails, letters, Tumblr entries, and movie scripts, FINDING RUBY STARLING is the funny and poignant companion to Karen Rivers's THE ENCYCLOPEDIA OF ME.

Karen was awesome enough to answer a few of my questions. 

FINDING RUBY STARLING is a companion novel to THE ENCYCLOPEDIA OF ME. Since I haven't read THE ENCYCLOPEDIA yet, I can definitely attest that RUBY STARLING stands alone, though now I can't wait to read THE ENCYCLOPEDIA. How did the companion novel come about? Did you have Ruth's story in mind when you were writing THE ENCYCLOPEDIA?

I did not have Ruth's story in mind, but I've long been a fan of "series" books that aren't series. Taking a look into some of the background characters is just a whole lot of fun. I found Ruth fascinating and my editor and I had talked about her quite a bit. She was quite fully realized, even though she wasn't in the book much. I just really wanted to go further with her.  (And also with Freddie Blue Anderson, who will hopefully be the next girl from Cortez to get her own book.) 

FINDING RUBY STARLING is written almost entirely in emails (with the occasional claymation video script and Tumblr poem thrown in). I was concerned as the story went on that we might not get the full weight of the climax, as filtered through emails. As it turned out, I shouldn't have worried (if my sobbing was any indication). How did you decide whose perspective certain scenes should come through? Was it a struggle to hit the right emotional tones in pivotal scenes, given the structural limitations you'd given yourself?

I honestly didn't think of it that way, about who should have the perspective. It just happened naturally. I wrote the book in the order that you are reading it in, when it felt like Ruth's/Ruby's "turn", then I just pivoted and went with it. Some of the scenes were harder than others. The ones that come to mind are the letters from Ruby's mum and from her Nan. Those ones had a LOT of editing. It was hard to go there without going either too far, or not far enough. My instinct was to pull back, but luckily my editor, Cheryl Klein, is smarter than me and convinced me to just put it all out there.   

You write super convincingly as both British and American -- and you are Canadian, right? Have you spent time in the UK, or do you have British relatives? (Amazeog is my new favorite word, by the way.) How did you decide to make Ruby British?

I am Canadian, which makes me a bit half and half. We have a lot of American influences obviously, and I live in a part of Canada that is frequently described (cringingly) as a Little Bit of Olde England. I have many British relatives and a smaller subset of Canadian relatives with a strong penchant for all things British. And I grew up reading British boarding school books and still love reading British books. Originally I started writing this book with a British friend, Kate LeVann. She was going to be the British voice and I was going to be the American, but that hit the skids relatively early in the process and I decided to just run with it, knowing that clever editors would pick up all my glaringly non-British mistakes. I think both characters are suitably over the top with their nationalities such that they come off as being so incredibly different, it's part of what makes the book fun. I have never had so much fun writing two characters, that's for sure.

You write adult fiction, YA, and MG! Any more MG projects in the works right now?

I am writing Freddie Blue Anderson's story, which will be middle grade and will (hopefully) delve into the subject of mental illness in children, as well as touch on things like how society instills a terrible vanity into pre-teens and how sometimes that can be very difficult for them to manage.  And bullying. And toxic friendships that can sometimes be very difficult to dodge. Also, there are auditions and acting; friendship and loss. It doesn't sound that cheery when I describe it like that, but much like ENCYCLOPEDIA OF ME and FINDING RUBY STARLING, I think it has a lot of moments of humour all huddled around a much bigger, more serious issue. I also just sold two YA novels to Farrar Strauss Giroux and I'm really excited to see what happens with them. One is called GREAT WHITE ME, and the other is titled HOW TO SAY YOU'RE SORRY TO THE DEAD.   My pet project right now is an adult literary mystery, although that is not really the right descriptor either as it's not so much a mystery as it is an examination of life in the 21st century, wherein it's not as uncommon as it certainly should be for someone to, say, shoot up a school full of children.   It's a look at tragedy in the Pinterest world, let's say. I don't really know for certain where it's going, but there are beaches and long grasses and fireflies (or the search for them). I feel like when I'm asked to describe it, all I see are the sand dunes and crashing waves, so there you have it. I'm loving the experience of writing it, so far. Fundamentally, I don't find there is much difference in writing for teens or tweens or adults, it comes down to the age of the protagonist and then, obviously, the way they see the world through their experience. I feel very lucky to be doing any of it, I couldn't have made up a better job for myself.

Thank you so much, Karen! I can’t wait to read THE ENCYLOPEDIA OF ME and am thrilled there is another companion novel coming!

Project Mayhem readers, one lovely commenter will be chosen to receive a copy of THE ENCYLOPEDIA OF ME and a signed copy of FINDING RUBY STARLING. (Be sure to give us a way to contact you in your comment.) These are really fantastic gems to add to any MG collection! I hope you love them as much as I did!

You can find more about Karen at her website, and on Twitter.

Did you ever imagine a long-lost twin when you were growing up?