Let the Games Begin – March is Hunger Games Month – GO Team Katniss!

As a young adult author, I am also a young adult reader. I read it voraciously, actually. One of my favourite books in the past few years was The Hunger Games. For the world of young adult literature, March is a HUGE month. It’s the month that the Hunger Games will come to life!

March 23rd is the date to mark in your calendar, but make no mistake about it–March is Hunger Games month. We’ll be hearing about the movie for the entire month. I’m beginning to wonder if the Star Wars phenomenon will take place with the lead-up to the 23rd and the beginning of the games. Are we going to see tents set up outside of movie theatres across North America? If not, I’m still going to take a leap here and predict that this movie is going to break all box office records previously set. I can already feel the momentum leading up to the 23rd, and it feels almost as though the Hunger Games are real…like they will actually ‘take place’ on the 23rd! Oh, those poor children! Yes, movie goers, blood will be shed. Only one Tribute gets out of the Hunger Games alive. Surely, I have not just dropped a spoiler into this blog post. Surely, every man, woman and child on earth already knows the premise of the Hunger Games.

This is one of those movies that makes you think, ‘Hmmm, I wonder when something like this is really gonna happen?’ I mean, it’s not that far removed from Survivor. Remove humanity from Survivor, and there you have it…THE HUNGER GAMES. Why are they so frickin’ fun, then, if all but one dies?! That’s a bit of the wonder of the trilogy: The Hunger Games, Catching Fire & Mockingjay. It’s a pretty violent Young Adult series, when it comes right down to it. But it’s also sinfully fun! I remember waiting for each book to release, being crazy excited to find out what happens next. Yes, I was hoping for child-bloodshed. God help me, I was praying for it! And young adult author SUZANNE COLLINS did not fail. With each novel in the series, she gave her blood hungry fans more to drool over. And, come on…face it…this series is for everyone. It’s been quite a while since I was a young adult! But I devoured this series with a gusto I haven’t felt since first discovering Roald Dahl as a child and NEEDING to read everything he wrote.

Read the Series!

I have no idea what District I would live in, were this the real life order, but I do know one thing. I would be one of the citizens of Panem who glued themselves to one of the big screens positioned throughout the districts for all to witness the Games. I admit it. See, evil isn’t just the result of BAD people. It is also the result of GOOD people remaining silent. This, I think, is what happened in Panem. It is an evil alternate reality, for sure. But it also seems to me like an evil that could actually come to pass.

At any rate, this not so young adult is ready for the Games to begin. On March 23rd, be at the movie theatre to see the Games begin, or…be square. If you’re not there, you’ll be among the few. This promises to be the biggest blockbuster this side of Harry Potter. No guff!

The Hunger Games official Trailer:

Hunger Games

Write the Story You Need to Write…the Whole Story.

I need to talk about something.

For years, I’ve been suggesting to my writer friends that they write the story the way it demands to be written. But I have been running away from this advice the whole time. So much so that one of my novels was accepted and in edits before I finally got the courage to say to the editor—“Wait! This and this happened because of this!”

The novel in question had several beta readers, it won an award and was heavily workshopped (MSWord is telling me that workshopped is not a word, but what does it know! My novel was neither worshipped nor works hopped.). One editor friend who beta read it even said she felt there was something missing. She said there’s a missing deeper layer. I knew exactly what that missing layer was, but I was trying to escape from my own past. I put one of my characters into a situation I didn’t want to talk about. So, in essence, I was completely leaving the reader out of the picture. I put that character through hell and left out the reason he was in that hell. It was the missing element of my story. That element, if included, would make the story so much stronger.

So, to the one friend who asked the question, “Is there something you’re not telling the reader?” The answer is an emphatic YES. There was something I definitely was not telling the reader. You, friend who probably knows who you are, were right. You will be happy to know that at the eleventh hour I somehow found the courage to say, “STOP THE PRESSES!” I gave my character the background the reader needed to fully understand the impact of his past. I thank the editor who allowed me to write in this change in the manuscript. I thank the friend whose words were ALWAYS eating away at me after she asked that question.

Can I suggest something to writers out there who love sharing what they learn and offering advice to other writers? Please, please…follow the advice you give. If you feel it’s important enough to mention to others, it’s also important enough to mention to yourself.

From this point forward, whatever I write is going to be the ENTIRE story, however difficult the subject matter will be. You can’t count on your readers being in the room with you while they’re reading. My editor recently gave me that piece of advice. Such a solid nugget of advice it is, too! I loved it. It cracked my world open. You can’t write a story and leave out the element you just don’t want to deal with, especially when that element puts all the pieces together for the reader. When the reader is sitting alone in a room reading your work, you don’t want them to feel the need to turn to you and ask, “What am I missing? Is there something you’re not telling me?” Because, dear writer, you are NOT going to be there. Tell the story you need to tell. The whole story. Leave nothing out. The reader knows when something is missing. They know when there is something the writer is just not telling them. GO DEEPER. When you go so deep that it hurts to tell the story, climb past that wall of pain and GO DEEPER STILL.

Use Your Head – Things to Do While Submitting

There is a really quick way for a writer to get rejected. You don’t even have to do anything to guarantee it. In fact, doing nothing will guarantee it. It’s so easy, it should be illegal.

You’re dying to find out how to get rejected, now, aren’t you? What could the road to this quick rejection be?

Okay, I’ll tell you.

DO NOT READ THE SUBMISSION GUIDELINES.

The beauty of this method is it works whether you’re submitting to an agent, a small press, a writing contest, a big three publisher, a literary journal, a magazine or any other print or online media that accepts writing submissions. It’s a foolproof method. They will ALL reject you.

Why would you wish to be rejected, you may ask. I have no frigging idea. BUT I do know that people submit to some or all of these places without reading the submission guidelines. “Submission guidelines? Hmph!” I imagine some people saying, “Those are for people who don’t know how to write!”

If you’re among the group that does not read submission guidelines, keep doing what you’re doing. You’ll get just as many acceptances as you deserve. ZERO. A big fat Nada!

How do I know there are people out there who do not bother to read submission guidelines? Because I’ve been on the receiving end of some real doozies! I was editor for an online literary journal. We received several submissions a day. Every morning, I would go in and peruse the submissions received overnight. For an example, lets say there were 27 submissions received overnight. Without even getting to the actual submitted writing itself, I could easily reject 15 of those submissions just by reading the body of the email. Submission guidelines are posted for a reason. When an editor, contest organizer or agent, etc, has an inbox full of submissions, do you really think they’re going to read work by people who didn’t even have the common decency to read their submission guidelines? I’ll answer that question for you. The answer is NO.

By reading every single word of the submission guidelines, and checking them off as you prepare your submission, you at least stand a fighting chance of having your work considered. Why chop off your legs before the work is even reviewed? Why would someone do that?

Slush piles can be enormous. An easy way for someone to get through their slush pile is to weed out the bad apples. A bad apple, in this case, is someone who doesn’t care. Someone who doesn’t take the time. So, go ahead. Ignore those submission guidelines. You’re just making it easier for the agent, editor, acquisitions person to push your material from the slush pile to the junk pile. And let’s face it, they need all the help they can get getting through that stack.

READ. THE. SUBMISSION. GUIDELINES.AND.FOLLOW. THEM. TO. THE. LETTER. Don’t give them an opportunity to reject you before you even get your foot in the door. You have a responsibility to put your best foot forward.

Listen to Your Words – Things to do While Writing

Did you ever hear the story about Shakespeare and the ‘Wherefore art thou, Romeo?’ line?

Legend has it that the aforementioned line was originally, ‘Where in cripe’s name is that swine, Romeo!?’

But like all good writers, William Shakespeare read his words aloud. Rumour has it he even wore a long blonde wig when he practiced this line for pitch and cadence. I really don’t care about the dressing-as-character bit. I don’t think you have to do that to ‘get into’ character. But you do have to read your words aloud. This is especially important when you’re writing dialogue. Even Shakespeare, who was ahead of his time using words like cripes, knew it just wouldn’t fly in the context of the above mentioned line. It’s cacophonous. By reading this line aloud, over and over again in his dusted blonde wig, Shakespeare came to the conclusion that editing was needed. Having whispered and shouted ‘Where are you, Romeo?’ he knew he still wasn’t quite there. Thank God he stayed with it. Because he did persevere, we have a line that is as popular in modern culture today as it was when the first drag-dressed actor bellowed it out on a stage in an Elizabethan theatre somewhere in jolly old England, or thereabouts.

Do yourself a favour. Pick up your most recent manuscript. Read it out loud from cover to cover (not just the dialogue, but pay particular attention when speaking for your characters). Listen for the awkward sentences, places where you stop because you get tongue-tied. Have a pen nearby. Read the awkward places out loud twice, three times, seven times—as many as it takes for you to chop away at them and get your words to ‘sound’ right. You’ll be amazed with what you discover.

Trust me, reading aloud is different than reading inside your head. Your ears will pick up on things better than the soft cloudy thought-scape of a mind that floats between them.

One healthy hint before I leave you – DO NOT choose to perform this exercise at your favourite Starbucks or Tim Horton’s or Panera Bread or any other place you frequent to write. You will be fitted for a tight, constrictive white coat faster than you can say, ‘Wherefore art thou, Romeo?” This is something you try in the privacy of your own home! Or, if you’re a playwright, try doing it on stage if you can get time alone in the theatre.

As writers, we all have to find THE WAY that works for us. There is no absolute way to do anything. But trying everything once is a great idea. You can find YOUR WAY if you keep an open mind. You may feel a little dorky the first time you try this. But try it, still. I’ve been doing it for some time, now. I find that it has really helped me as an editor of my own work. The ear is almost an unbiased reader. It doesn’t lie. It hears what it hears.

Happy writing! And happy editing! And happy talking to yourself, you freak! (-:

Sebastian’s Poet Nearing the Gate! (Editor Love)

Okay, so I love working with a good editor. I just went through the first round of edits for my soon to be released adult novel, SEBASTIAN’S POET. My editor was so precise and helpful. I just love the way she was able to take a sentence that was a little foggy and rework it until it said exactly what I wanted it to say. It was like she was a clairvoyant, reading my intent and making it reality. I hear writers often complaining about the editing process. Heck, I’ve done it myself. But when you read the notes of the editor and they all help you to see things in a slightly different slant—a more correct slant—it’s such a euphoric feeling. I love that my editor is able to adjust things here and there until the clarity that I was looking for comes through. It’s an amazing experience. I felt giddy as I read some of her suggestions and notations. 

Round two of my edits will be coming my way shortly. I’m really excited about this book. It was a real journey writing SEBASTIAN’S POET. The first draft was written in a 48hr writing marathon. By the end of that marathon, I was peaking on words. I felt like Carlos Castaneda flying on peyote. But it was such a clean high, this high of words. There is NOTHING to describe the feeling of writing a novel in one sitting, without an outline, without an idea of where you’re going to go. I just sat down and wrote. I watched the words appearing on the screen and felt as though I were seeing them for the first time, like they didn’t just travel through my mind, down my arms and through my fingers onto the screen. I wrote faster and faster so that I could find out what would happen next. 

Over the next couple of years (Sebastian’s Poet was written in July, 2007) I worked extremely hard at polishing the manuscript. Once it was accepted for publication by Musa Publishing, I felt like my favourite baby was picked! I’ve written seven or eight novels over the past few years, but this one…the emotional attachment is so great. It was my first marathon novel. I lived and breathed nothing but it for an entire weekend. It was my peyote. When it recently went through the first round of edits, and I saw my editor making all the iffy sentences I thought to be ready actually resonating with more clarity—well, I wanted to dance. It made me that happy. I can’t wait to see the second round of edits.

This is the novel I am most proud of. I am on tenterhooks to see the cover of SEBASTIAN’S POET. So excited! Can’t wait! 

More to come on the release of this novel. Until then, SUMMER ON FIRE, my young adult novel, is still available. (-:

 

My debut novel, Summer on Fire

Charlie Brown’s Teacher – Adults in YA

“WAH WAH WAH, WAH WAH WAH WAH.”

 Anybody who grew up in the 70s and 80s knows exactly what that is. It’s Charlie Brown’s teacher giving him his orders. Or his mother. Or his father. It’s an adult in the cartoon world of Peanuts. That’s what the audience hears. We depend on Charlie to translate the discourse. “What’s that, Mrs. Smith? You want me to translate your words for you.” In other words, only the Peanuts crew can hear what the adults are saying. And the adults are always off-screen. Never does the audience actually see an adult.

Is that the real world?

In Young Adult fiction, adults are sometimes treated with a close proximity of this notthereness of the Peanuts universe. They are to be neither seen nor heard. Either that, or they are brief fleeting moments of cardboard necessity. But every now and then you read a young adult story where the parents are actually well-drawn characters. Giving your minor characters (in YA, this means THE ADULTS/PARENTS) dimension does not mean they take over the show. There has to be a happy medium between that monotonous bass adult mumble of Peanuts and an intrusive adult that no young adult wants to read about.

When writing young adult, remember the story’s perspective is that of the young adult. They still have to deal with their parents on a daily basis. Think of the story as the orbit that surrounds the main character. The adults are going to float in and out of that orbit. They are going to put up roadblocks for the character and they are going to occasionally be of help and service to the character. This truth gives them a role in the story. Just not a main role. What it means is you can’t have them shouting at the characters from off-screen. They will take the stage at some points. Take advantage of this truth and create memorable adult characters…just not characters who only want to be there to tell their own story. The young adult story you’re telling is not going to focus around the parent/adult, but they are emphatically a part of the story.

Find the happy medium. You don’t have to do a lot to create a memorable character who is an honest to God fictionally real 3-dimensional puzzle piece to your story. If you don’t take the time to form even your smallest character into a real person, you run the risk of having pieces of cardboard walk on and off of your story stage. Please don’t do this! It’s painfully noticeable to your reader. Adults have a place in YA. Give it to them.  

Say NO to Stick Figures!