Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Opportunity is knocking...let me introduce you.

If I were to take a poll on what aspect of blogging most writers find most valuable, I have a hunch that the answer would lean overwhelmingly toward one answer: making connections. I've written about this in the past, and I was touched to see in comments how many writers, like me, valued the internet for the chance to become less isolated in an isolated vocation—to meet other writers, to share stories and ideas, to learn from each other, to find friends, to be a neighbor to someone even across the globe.

I'd like to introduce you today to Paula McLaughlin, a blogging friend of mine who also happens to be more of a literal neighbor to me: she lives only a few towns away in our lovely Connecticut, and our initial connection at a local SCBWI meeting has been strengthened by participating in an online critique group together, by having the chance to read multiple manuscripts by each other, and of course by keeping up by reading each other's blogs.

Paula has a brilliant idea to create even more chances to connect with fellow writers; she's launching a new blog feature, called “Writer Spotlight.” And guess who her first spotlight is going to be on? You guessed it... I'm already squinting with those bright lights in my eyes. :)

Now, listen carefully—this is where opportunity's knock comes in for you.

Paula wants to interview YOU—“you” meaning any serious, un-contracted YA or MG writer with a completed manuscript ready to submit (and I know there's a lot of you who read this blog). She wants you to have a chance to share a little bit of yourself and your writing with the world. If you'd like to have the spotlight shine on you for a bright moment of glory and infinite possibility, stop on over to Paula's blog to find out more.

In the meantime, meet Paula! She agreed to jumpstart this project by letting me interview her—in fact she agreed without even knowing the type of questions I was going to ask, which says something for her spunk... I can't wait for you to get to know each other—I know you have so much in common! :)

Q: Tell us a little about yourself; besides "writer", what are 5 words to describe you?

A: Mom, Wife, Only-child, Tree-lover, Coffe-a-holic (Starbucks Mocha to be specific)

Q: Tell us a little about one of your books; title, word count, and the color of your main character's eyes. :)

A: I am currently seeking representation for my 70,000 word YA paranormal thriller, UNTIL DEATH.

As for the eyes: Emma (my female main character) is drawn to the intensity of Jake's (the male main character) glass-green eyes and the way light crackles out from behind them.

Q: Could you share with us one of your favorite lines or paragraphs from your manuscript—or perhaps the first few lines or paragraphs?

A: I'm not sure I could pick one favorite line, but here is how UNTIL DEATH opens:

Jake -

Death is my shadow, my shade, my ever present twilight. It’s a starless sky crushed into a cloud of black shards that breathe and swarm and barb at my skin. Death weaves between my pores and clings like smoke. For me—there is no escape.

I roll my shoulders in an attempt to shake free from my shroud. The woman at the gas pump beside me says hello and looks up at the moonless sky. “Another storm's coming.” She rubs her hands together to keep warm.

“Yeah,” I mutter, careful to keep my head down. The lady has no clue how true her words are. I return the nozzle to the pump and head inside to pay.

C'mon, I think. Not her, she has a kid in the back. I know my plea is freaking pointless but I can't help but hope--maybe this time will be different.

Q: If your book had a soundtrack, what would be the first song?

A: This is a great question because I do have a different playlist depending on what I'm working on. I find it helps to get me into the right frame of mind. For UNTIL DEATH the first song in the sound track would be Breathe in Breathe Out, by Mat Kearney. I think I've listened to this song a gazillion times. I love the rawness in Mat's voice. Plus the lyrics are so fitting. Here are a few of my favorite lines:

If everyone.. goes away
I will stay
We push and pull,
and I fall down sometimes
I'm not letting go,
you hold the other line

Hold on hold tight
Make it through another night
Everyday there comes the sun with the dawn"

Q: When you were your main character's age, what did you plan on being "when you grew up"?

A: I wanted to be in the fashion world, maybe a designer, which if you saw what I wear now is laughable—or even what I wore then! Over-sized sweater, jeans, and comfy socks are my attire of choice these days. But interestingly one of the secondary characters in Until Death designs some pretty in your face clothes that I would never wear (then or now), but Emma, the main character, does because she's that good of a friend. :)

Q: If you had to spend the rest of your life on a desert island, what literary character would you take with you?

A: That's a tough one. My first thought would be Ron Weasley because I think he's funny and humor goes a long way. But Robinson Crusoe would be cool too, I'd love to live in a tree house.

Q: Who is your favorite literary-character crush? (Except you can't have Gilbert Blythe, because I have already claimed him. :)

A: Hmm, I'd say either Archer Cross from the Hex Hall novels because he knows how to kick-butt and I love his sarcasm. But I also LOVE-LOVE Peeta from the Hunger Games. Can I choose both?
(Note from Faith: I suppose having crushes on two fictional characters doesn't count as polygamy... Besides, I think Peeta got used to someone having ambivalent feelings about him--poor guy. :)
Thank you so much, Paula, for this interview, and for interviewing me and your spectacular plan to help us all connect!
Everyone, go over to her blog now, before the spots all fill up. :)

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Ah, voice! (also, randomly, my 100th post!)

Voice... I suppose it always has been, and always is, and forever will be the one element of great writing that is most desired as well as most appreciated. It's a little like Aunt Jamesina (or at any rate, L. M. Montgomery through her) says of gumption in Anne of the Island: “Anyone who has gumption knows what it is, and anyone who hasn't can never know what it is. So there is no need of defining it.”
But as hard as it is to define, I believe it is something that can be learned...we weren't born knowing how to write, and even though it came “naturally” to some of us, I think in this case we give our genes a little too much credit. How many writers with natural voice didn't read hundreds, if not thousands of books as a kid? Or—and I think this may be even more important—how many weren't read to, often? In my experience, it's a rare few.

But even if voice is a struggle for you, it's not too late to develop the ear you need for it. I think the best way to do this is to read aloud and to hear stories read aloud well. It's nice and easy for those of us with children—I've been enchanted by Laura Ingalls Wilder's unforgettable voice for the past couple months as I've read Little House in the Big Woods and Little House on the Prairie to my daughter—but even for those of you without such willing victims, it's worth putting the time and effort into. Volunteer at your library and read to your neighbors; read to your boyfriend/girlfriend, husband or wife; just read aloud to yourself if you have to, and stare blankly at your apartment/dorm neighbors when they ask you who you were talking to. ;)
Here, in no particular order, are some books that you'll be grateful for having experienced with your ears as well as with your eyes:

Little House in the Big Woods, by Laura Ingalls Wilder

Peter Pan, by J. M. Barrie

Christina Katerina and the Box, by Patricia Lee Gauch

Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone, by J. K. Rowling (well, the whole series, but especially the first)

The Jungle Book, by Rudyard Kipling

The Graveyard Book, by Neil Gaiman

The Betsy-Tacy series, by Maud Hart Lovelace

Millions, by Frank Cottrell Boyce

Grimms' Fairy Tales (“Sleeping Beauty” is one of my particular favorites, writing-wise)

Drum City, by Thea Guidone

A Year Down Yonder, by Richard Peck (actually, his short sentences make him rather difficult to read aloud, but the voice is so crystal clear and unique that it's worth it)

Because of Winn-Dixie, by Kate DiCamillo

I Capture the Castle, by Dodie Smith (This is an adult book, but appropriate for teens. Or make your husband sit through it. ;)

The Secret Garden, by Frances Hodgson Burnett

Where the Mountain Meets the Moon, by Grace Lin

The Night Fairy, by Laura Amy Schlitz

I hope you find something here to inspire you on your quest for priceless voice! :) Good luck, and happy reading, writing, and listening!

(Note: Many of the above titles are available as audiobooks, which is a great way to experience stories, when done well. I particularly recommend Peter Pan and Harry Potter, read by Jim Dale, and The Graveyard Book, read by the author.)

Sunday, March 13, 2011

New-random-bery facts ;)

So my recent Newbery “Moon” theory has led me into a bunch of really fun time wasting—er, research. First of all, the moon theory itself is debunked: only 4 winners and honors contain that word. (Besides the three mentioned in my last post, there's 1971's Sing Down the Moon, by Scott O'Dell.) Besides, well, “The,” of course, the most commonly found title word is “Story,” but I don't think that really counts, either. So the real winner is “Mountain/Mount” with a whopping 9 titles: 2009's Where the Mountain Meets the Moon (Grace Lin was just doubly lucky); 1987's Volcano: The Eruption and Healing of Mount St. Helens; 1960's My Side of the Mountain; 1953's The Bears on Hemlock Mountain; 1949's Daughter of the Mountains; 1944's Mountain Born; 1940's Runner of the Mountain Tops; 1932's Waterless Mountain; 1931's Mountains are Free –and then you have the close Secret of the Andes (which stole the 1953 medal away from Charlotte's Web...I'm telling you—it was the title. :) and several “Hills” thrown in, too. Apparently a rough landscape a winning title makes.

Some others crop up from time to time: witch, king, inn, star, summer, winter, courage, golden, tree, river, lake, island, sword...

Okay, I suppose I've wasted enough time here. I have no idea what it will be about, but I think my next title is: The King of Moon Mountain. :)

Thursday, March 10, 2011

A Tale of Many Moons

I have this theory about Newbery winners/honorees.... Okay, I have a couple theories and they're both pretty ridiculous. The first one is that if you have “Elizabeth” in your name, you're more likely to win. (I can't remember the stats now, but there are more winners with that name than any other.)

The second is that you're more likely to win if you have “Moon” in your title.

The latter theory was developed on-the-run over the past few weeks. I've been having a month of particularly excellent reading, centered around three books: Walk Two Moons, by Sharon Creech; Where the Mountain Meets the Moon, by Grace Lin; and Moon over Manifest, by Clare Vanderpool. Oddly enough, I chose these books only because I wanted to immerse myself in the best of middle grade fiction, and only later realized that they all had “moon” in their title...but it makes you think, huh? :)

Joking aside, this really has been a season of incredible reading. I'll presume that most of you have read the first two titles (you'd better), but how many of you have had the chance to read Moon over Manifest, this year's Newbery medalist? I finished it this morning, and I'm still caught up in the glow of discovering an amazing book for the first time.
You have to read it.

Because I'm a “list person”, allow me to word my praise in the way it's running through my mind:

1. Characters. So well developed, so real. And I mean every character—even the “minor ones”...but by the end of the story, you feel that there are no minor ones, that every single person who crosses a page is intrinsic to the heart of the story.

2. Plot. Clare Vanderpool did this amazing thing where she completely dissolved the line between character book and plot book and managed to have both, in a completely satisfying way. To those of you who mentioned a few weeks ago that you're still looking for good books for young boys, give this to them. Yes, even though the first main character you see is a girl. I promise you they will love the thrills and the action, the suspense...and the cons. What boy doesn't love a good con?

3. The Power of Story. This theme keeps popping up in my life (in all three Moon books, for example), and it is one that is very meaningful to me. Here, it is masterfully presented.

4. Connectedness. I've realized, over the past few years, that this is the one element that will make me fall head over heels for a story, more than any other one thing. I think that this is what fiction is all about...showing the way people are all connected, the way events are all connected, the way past and present and future are connected.

So those are just the big things. Somehow, the nice little details like how great the prose is managed to slip into my subconscious—every word is perfectly chosen, which is probably why I hardly noticed them as I sped along in the story. The setting is 4-dimensional—and you math people will have to concede on this one, because it really does cross the line of time. All the little and big themes are interwoven flawlessly. Every action is believable; every emotion is believable.

Sigh... I love when the big committees get it SO right.