Crit’ing someone else’s work

November 24th 2013

I just finished critiquing my CP’s fantastic historical fantasy novel and I don’t know who to be more proud of — Leandra for writing a very clever and heart-racing piece of spec fic, or me for using my child-induced-mush-brain for pointing out some slight characterization flaws and inconsistencies. No…definitely Leandra. She did write a splendid work of fiction and she’s a mom too and she works full-time. I give her all the credit in the world. In fact, I give chocolate and teddy bears to anyone who writes a novel while trying to balance work and family and life. Because damn, this writing shit is hard. Especially when your brain only functions on six hours of interrupted sleep and a meager cup of coffee.

It truly is an honor to critique another author’s work. Not only does that author trust you enough to read their baby, but they actively seek your opinion. Admittedly, sometimes I don’t think I am the nicest CP. My comments probably come across as harsh, especially when I’m saying things like, “Nah-uh. No way. Take this out” or “delete. delete. delete.” But Leandra was a great sport and a true talent and I am very much in awe of her.

I also channeled a lot of my Red Adept editor when making notes. I found myself writing things like, “unpack this.” (Thanks, Kris!) And I kept pushing for more emotional digging. How does everyone feel?

The glory of being a CP is that you automatically write better yourself. It’s really hard to make mistakes you’ve pointed out to others.┬áSo anyone who wants to be a serious writer, please find yourself a good writing buddy and read and comment on their work. Doing so is crucial to the quality of your own work.


The accidental sleuth

November 12th 2013

Lately, I’ve been on a hunt for YA historical mysteries and coming up….well, sort of empty-handed. After reading The Caged Graves by Dianne K. Salerni, a suspenseful YA historical mystery about a girl uncovering the reason her mother’s grave is encased in a cage, I’ve been wanting more books like it, but I’m struggling. I’m sort of fussy, I guess. The reason I loved The Caged Graves so much was because it mixed my favorite elements of a good mystery — an unusual premise (caged graves?!), a headstrong heroine, third-person POV, forensic science, and an accidental sleuth.

There is something about a protagonist stumbling upon a mystery, a character completely unprepared for what’s ahead of him/her, that I find to be so compelling. I love mysteries, but I’ve never enjoyed the detective story. I don’t have a penchant for a character whose job is to solve crimes for a living. I am much more interested in the protagonist (usually women because they are often underestimated, especially in historical contexts) who tries to puzzle out the mystery because of her proximity to the crime or because a resolution to the crime is important to her own well-being.

Some of the books I’ve read recently are: A Spy in the House by Y.S. Lee — a YA historical mystery set in 1850s London with a strong female protagonist and a devilishly handsome romantic lead; The Ruby in the Smoke by Philip Pullman — a YA historical mystery set in Victorian London featuring multiple POVs and truly wicked villains; and A Place of Confinement by Anna Dean — an adult historical mystery set in 1807 England with a spinster-in-the-making protagonist whose role as companion to her crabby aunt allows her to investigate a woman’s disappearance. Aside from A Spy in the House, these books have accidental sleuths — women who get thrown into a mystery and who must use their smarts to solve a mystery for their own benefit whether it’s to save their own skin or the life of someone they love.

The book I am editing now for my publisher is a mystery and, depending on your opinion of the 1990s, could be considered historical. It’s also, at its core, a romance. I also have two WIPs in the queue that are mysteries. One is set in the 1950s and the other is set in present-day — both with historical elements and all with accidental sleuths.

So, can anyone recommend some excellent historical mysteries (preferably YA) with accidental sleuths and a giant wedge of romance?


KidLit Blog Tour — my turn!

October 21st 2013

Leandra Wallace, my lovely crit partner and friend, asked me to participate in a fun KidLit blog tour. Being the type of writer to never turn down an opportunity to talk about myself or my writing, I said, “Hell, yeah.”

So here goes….

What are you working on right now?
My work-in-progress is a YA historical mystery set in 1955. Here’s the sentence: When her soon-to-be stepfather is murdered, a 17-year-old Argentine immigrant sets out to uncover the killer only to discover the man she loved like a father was an imposter. No title yet. I’m using the Snowflake Method to plan the novel and I’m in the scene-building stage.
How does this differ from other works in its genre?
There isn’t a wealth of YA historical mysteries (I’ve been trying to read all the ones I can find) and this one employs a cast of interesting characters, many of them immigrants with a unique perspective on American culture in the 1950s, and all with a motive for murder.
The 1950s were a unique period in history — this decade was the birth of the teenager. Their parents, who had suffered during the Depression and World War II, offered their teens a better life with more freedom. Teens had cars, money and time to socialize. Teens went to drive-ins, diners and sock hops. Rock n Roll emerged. But there was also racism, antisemitism, blatant homophobia and McCarthyism. Teens were having fun, but there were many people who didn’t feel safe to be themselves. And that’s incredibly poignant and powerful, especially for a YA novel.
Why do you write what you do?
I am a former YA librarian and I am crazy passionate about YA literature. I also have a degree in history and I have a fascination with the past. I’m also a sucker for a good mystery to solve.
How does your writing process work?
For my first novel (which will be published by Red Adept Publishing next year), I didn’t outline enough and wound up revising a trillion times. For my WIP, I decided to use the Snowflake Method to outline and it’s been a lifesaver. This method works well for me because it starts off with the big picture idea (the sentence) and funnels everything down until I develop a scene list.
Screen shot 2013-10-20 at 9.43.26 AMMost importantly, the method makes me focus on characterization. I find that in developing my characters, I gain insight into my plot and mystery. I suppose the downside is I’m not writing immediately. It takes me a long time to plan the book, but perhaps then I won’t be revising a million times later. Also, having a scene list makes writing incredibly efficient. My daily word count skyrockets.
Any departing words of wisdom for other authors?
My best advice for beginning writers is to read up on craft. You don’t need a MFA, but you do need to have a strong foundation in the elements of fiction. And then read and write and have other people read what you wrote. Also, have a plan. I know some authors write without an outline, but know how your story is going to begin and end. And when you stop writing for the day, stop in the middle of a scene so you can easily pick it up back up the next day.
Make sure to check out these YA authors’ blogs next week when they post about their WIPs and writing processes. It’s always cool to see how other writers write.

Warwick Children’s Book Festival

September 29th 2013

Today, I attended the Warwick Children’s Book Festival in Warwick, NY with some friends and my two kids. And even though the festival is called the Children’s Book Festival, I might leave my kids home next time. It’s hard to fawn over authors and illustrators when your kids are whining about going outside to the school playground. (I’m sure the highlight for my toddler was getting a foam play cookie from author, Ame Dyckman, who picture book Boy + Bot was a big hit at bedtime tonight.)

Benefiting the Albert Wisner Public Library, the book festival feels like a logistic feat. There are fifty children’s book authors and illustrators who sit at tables in the school gym with stacks of pristine hardcovers and paperbacks and Sharpie markers. Some of the authors had fun swag like foam turtle stickers and temporary tattoos (my 3-year-old’s favorite thing ever. My husband cringes whenever he asks if they can be permanent.) My ‘B’ boys had 3 picture books signed for them which we read tonight — all fabulous reads — all with bright and MOMA-worthy illustrations. This included Artie Bennett’s The Butt Book. (Side note: I overhead him give an interview about his book, Poopendous. That man is the boss of poop puns. Just sayin.’)

The highlights for me were meeting Susan Beth Pfeffer (again!) and having her sign The Shade of the Moon, the final book in the Life As We Knew It series. She is a lovely woman and a YA legend. I also met Kimberly Sabatini, author of Touching the Surface, who was super encouraging. A mother of three boys, she didn’t start writing until she was in her late 30s. Sometimes, at 34, I feel too old to begin a writing career. But it’s authors like Kim who make me realize that I can have a publishing career if I want it badly enough. (And I do!) Lastly, I met K.L. Going who took a few minutes to empathize with me about raising a preschooler and writing. She said she isn’t as prolific as she used to be because she has a four-year-old at home. She also gave a really interesting presentation about writing and publishing YA — unfortunately, my toddler wanted to stand on the chairs and babble really loudly and we had to go.

As a writer just getting her feet wet and a mom barely managing to stay awake past 9pm, it’s encouraging beyond measure to hear other YA authors talk to me about balancing motherhood and writing. Because most days I feel like I can’t balance laundry and dishes, let alone raising kids and writing. So I truly appreciate these fine authors for taking the time to talk to me about their work and lives. I’m feeling super encouraged. And perhaps, one day, I can attend the Warwick Children’s Book Festival as an invited author. But again…I am totally leaving my kids at home.



August 30th 2013

I was born in 1979, which when you put it that way, sounds about as long ago as 1879 — that’s how disconnected I sometimes feel from today’s youth. Especially when I was watching MTV’s Video Music Awards last Sunday night. Admittedly, I only tuned in so I could savor some nostalgia via NSYNC. I kid you not, I was squealing like a 10-year-old when I heard Bye, Bye, Bye.

While I listen to Pop music plenty on Radio Disney (oh yes cuz I got kids y’all) and Z100, I still had no idea who some of these music stars were (I did know Selena Gomez — thanks Radio Disney!). The woman interviewing Austin Mahone looked old enough to be his mother.

But before that, I felt my youth ebb away like the rolling tide when Miley Cyrus jumped on stage. I found myself cringing and thinking of her mother. Not to mention, I had to look up the word, twerking. As much as I love the song, Blurred Lines, I won’t be able to listen to that song without thinking of Ms. Cyrus backing that ass up to 36-year-old, Robin Thicke. Miley got a lot of smack for that performance. She’s 20 and where else, but the VMAs, can you push the limits like that? Still, if you read the transcript between my friend and I over Facebook chat, you’d think we sounded a bunch of old biddies. Cuz we did.

In the 1990s when I was a teenager, watching the VMAs was a big event. I waited all summer to see my favorite bands (Green Day, Smashing Pumpkins, Oasis, Tori Amos and yes…Britney) get on that MTV stage. I got chills watching Billy Corgan perform Tonight, Tonight in 1996. The black suit, the orchestra, his bald head — it was all so magical. I’m watching it now on YouTube and I still get goosebumps. It’s one of the greatest performances of my youth.

Sometimes I worry this disconnect I feel with today’s teens will affect my work. After all, I write YA and I want my work to make authentic connections with teens. But can I if I wrinkle my nose at the TV like my mother?

But then I think about it some more. I’m feeling a disconnect with today’s pop culture, not today’s teens. After all, I still get excited watching my favorite bands perform. My heart beats wildly. I sing loud. I may not get Miley, but I do remember what it feels like to get excited over new music and to intertwine my identity with that of my favorite singers. (I did stitch ‘Green Day’ with green embroidery thread into the front pocket of my Jansport.)

As a writer, the important thing for me to do is tap into my nostalgia and remember my adolescence as a way to bridge the gap between 1979 and….wait hold up, today’s 13-year-olds were born in 2000? Damn.

No, wait. I got this. *turns up the volume on Tori Amos*