Sunday, January 29, 2012

Reading and Writing YA

On Friday night I had the opportunity to attend a reading that was given by two YA (Young Adult) debut authors. Marissa Meyer (Cinder) and Megan Miranda (Fracture) not only read from their books, but discussed the writing process, and their individual roads to publication. It was enlightening, as well as inspiring. As two of the books I’m working on are YA I was excited to get to attend the reading and hear what they had to say. But as I was leaving the bookstore I reflected on something each woman had said: they both read a lot of YA, almost exclusively. I asked myself: am I reading YA? Or perhaps more to the point, am I reading ENOUGH YA? I headed home and worried about this. Barely through the door, I went online and started Googling YA booklists. One in particular, I think it was the Goodreads list, popped up on my screen and I saw book after book that I have indeed read. In actuality, a fairly large proportion of my reading time has been dedicated to YA novels for the past several years. But over those years, the line between YA and mainstream adult has blurred for me, as I’ve gravitated to what interested me, and time and time again what intrigued me was YA literature. Whew!!

Still, I wasn’t entirely satisfied that I was doing my due diligence as a fledgling YA author. I felt I needed to read more…now. I should interject at this point, that I am currently reading no fewer than nine books. Really not a great idea to add another to the pile. But for some reason audiobooks don’t seem to add to this feeling of being overwhelmed; I can listen to them as I do chores! So I loaded Maggie Stiefvater’s Shiver (The Wolves of Mercy Falls #1) onto my ipod. This is my first Stiefvater book. Last fall at Wordstock I got to hear her speak on the topic of YA writing, and was very impressed by her. I’d been intending to read her work ever since, but, well, that enormous pile of books on my nightstand! And an hour ago I found her blog, and what can I say but WOW! What a talented writer. I’ve only just started Shiver and am already in awe of her writing.

So I was doubly thrilled when I discovered one particular post on her blog. Maggie has graciously put what amounts to a lesson from a master’s class on the craft of writing on her blog. She dissects a rough draft of a chapter from her book The Scorpio Races and shows, step by step, the evolution it went through from rough draft to published chapter. It is a very detailed and educational post. Every Fledgling Writer should check it out.

And it gets even better! She invited several other YA authors to do the same with something they had written, so there are many excellent lessons on rewriting, revising, fleshing out, as well as the dreaded ‘hitting the delete’ key.

Happy Writing!

Monday, January 16, 2012

The Highs and Lows of Writing

            That title should more appropriately read: The highs and lows of a FLEDGLING writer. While I’m sure every writer experiences them, I believe these wild swings are much more common in those of us who are just beginning our writing career. My past three days are an excellent example.

            On Saturday I was thrilled to be able to mark off New Year’s Resolution number 6, when I attended my first meeting of the writers group I’ve been considering joining for the past several months. I was delighted when no lightning bolts struck me because I’m actually a fraud. (Though I did keep one eye to the sky.) Everyone was kind and welcoming. And I loved it! Best of all: I wasn’t the only first time attendee. In fact, when I mentioned my pen name to the friendly woman sitting next to me, also a newbie, she said that she had read my blog! I wanted to ask her how long she’s been living in Russia, since most of my non-family and friend page views seem to come from Russia.(Spammers!) The group felt like a comfortable fit for me, and I look forward to a long association with them. This would be a HIGH.

            Being a three day weekend, I had time to write! I’m especially excited by the progress I’m making on my YA supernatural. While I haven’t written much about it in this space, I think this may be the one that will one day have a chance of being published. It has a strong, inventive storyline, interesting, complex characters, a very clear voice, and is a joy to write. I also made headway on the latest rewrite of The Vampire Gabriel. I had been struggling with the beginning, and with getting the reader straight into the story, and I think I may have solved part of the problem today. This would be a real HIGH.

            I was so excited by the Gabriel rewrite progress that I began wondering if I should go ahead someday in the not too distant future, and submit it to a few of the publishers that accept non-agented manuscripts. So I allowed myself a few minutes of fantasy, pulled out the book on writing query letters, checked the submission guidelines for one publisher, and had a fast, and miserable crash to the depths of LOW. While I was happy that much of the query letter is already written in my head, or on my Vampire Gabriel blog, I had forgotten about the all important paragraph where you detail your past successes, be they previously published books or articles, contests won, etc. I’m a fledgling writer. I have none of these. How do I query without them? This would be a deep, deep LOW.

            But, I’m nothing if not resilient. And my next chore will be learning how to get around that difficult bit of the query process.
            I’m looking forward to moving on to the next HIGH!

Friday, January 6, 2012

Adverbs Revisited

Recently I have been anxiously reading through my manuscripts, looking carefully and thoroughly for dreaded adverbs. Fretfully scanning page after page I have sadly found more than I like to admit. When one of the offensive adverbs is found, I forcefully and soundly hit the delete key. Surely, there are better ways to express myself, than to lean pathetically on weak adverbs. Apparently, using adverbs heavily is a sign of an immature writer.

Oh dear. In truth, not just in parody paragraphs, I do indeed use adverbs. Probably too many.  But then, I am an immature, FLEDGLING writer. As I continue to improve my craft I am trying to weed out some of my bad habits. But adverbs are just so handy.

Last night I was reading the chapter on the evils of adverbs in Roy Peter Clark’s excellent book, Writing Tools: 50 Essential Strategies For Every Writer.  After reprimanding the reader he added a disclaimer: the wealthiest writer in the world today uses adverbs in her highly popular books. Lots of them. Look through any one of those Harry Potter books on your bookshelf, and you will discover J.K. Rowling’s affinity for the dreaded adverb. God bless you Ms. Rowling! I love a good adverb too!

But I’m still going to work to find more direct, and interesting ways to write that “he whispered softly in her ear.” That attribution is a perfect example of why adverbs are usually superfluous. If he whispered something then it was by definition in a soft voice. But when an adverb is used to modify a verb in a new and interesting, and unexpected way, it can be used with impunity. Clark uses the example of “Killing Me Softly”. You don’t expect the word ‘softly’ to be used to describe ‘killing’. So it works, and the adverb has earned its place in that phrase. It would have been overkill (excuse the pun) to say “Killing Me Fiercely” as killing is most usually a fierce act.

So, I continue to hunt for adverbs. However, like those that can be found in a Harry Potter book, a few just may be allowed to stick around.