Thursday, October 31, 2013

Happy Halloween, and (warning) BOO!

I identify a little too closely with Calvin, yet at the same time, also with Calvin's parents.

Photographs + me don't mesh. 

It would not be an exaggeration to say I hate getting my picture taken. As soon as I see a camera pointed in my direction, I instinctively turn around, put my hand up in front of the lens, or pull a ridiculous face.

To catch me, I can't know you're there... and as my camera-addicted mother & sister would tell you, most of the pictures of me are when I'm eating, drinking, or am in the middle of speaking (I am an expressive talker...), so I tend to look like I am either having a seizure, or am horrendously drunk. Or both. Yeah, definitely both.

As you can imagine, many years of this kind of photographic evidence has done nothing to decrease my aversion to cameras...

SO, a couple weeks ago, I took about 15 self-portraits on my phone, mainly because I was in a super good mood due to the grey, overcast skies and the ankle-deep deposits of crispy maple leaves... 

...and they all sucked.


Either I'm not smiling at all, or have that horribly-contrived-rictus-grin that causes viewers to shudder involuntarily and squeeze their eyes shut on the mistaken belief that it will somehow scrub the memory from their eyeballs/brains.

So, you get this temporary (and possibly more terrifying than any Halloween ghostie or beastie) picture, from when I was frustrated and decided that one last shot would happen before I gave up:


And yes, I am aware I look about 15 years old in this picture... cut me a break, I'm in my running clothes and it was a 100% spontaneous decision to take this. Snapping a self-pic with your phone is difficult enough, but I was also trying to hang onto Eva's leash (who was beazelling around at full speed/strength after herds of squirrels who were taking turns taunting her).

I fully attest that Jericho Beach has been invaded by evil squirrels.

Believe me when I tell you this was the best in the lot... the *second-best* now sits in its temporary residence (with classic-stiffly-no-smile-strained-expression, or, as I like to call it, what-you-get-when-you-ask-me-to-smile-for-a-camera) on my new 'About' page.

Yes, I will attempt to get a better photo at some point.

Yes, I know this was promised months ago...

...and yes, I did give you a warning in the post's title. Feel free to wash your eyes out and call an optician.

Tuesday, October 29, 2013

SIWC 2013 Workshop #6, So You Want to Write a Children's Book

So You Want to Write a Children’s Book (Bruce Hale)
Taking a leap of faith. That’s what you’re doing when you set out to become an author.

Picture Books
Publisher chooses illustrator for picture books
Most picture books have 32 pages, due to publishing constraints of physical paper size, and cost. Story books can be longer (48 pages), but most are 32 pages because of cost. Normally the story text starts on page 3, leaving the pages for publishing info/dedication/etc
Picture books are the weakest area for children’s book, they’ve been in a slump in the last 10 or so years while MG and YA are booming.

Tips for writing Children’s books:
1) Lead with your heart (passion, write a story ‘cause you love it, not ‘cause you think it’ll sell)
How do you find these stories from the heart?
Quick Exercise: write 10 childhood events that provoke emotion.
Other ways: write your dreams, things you notice around you, ask ‘what if?’, write what you know, knowledge both learned or experienced or want to know about, create a Bradburry List of titles, like: ‘The Lake’, ‘The Crickets’, etc

2) It’s not who you know, it’s who and what you know.

You don’t only need to understand the craft, the craft of writing for children, but also publishing knowledge.

There are 28,000 children’s books published in Canada and the USA. That includes everything from picture books, all the way up to YA. BUT, there are so many more submitted... approximately 300,000-500,000 every year.

Types of Books:
Board books: Simple, basic, chewable books designed for toddlers, 16 pages at most. Short/snappy/rhythmic.
Picture books: 32 pages, all about the page-turn. Build suspense on one page, then move onto the next. Target word count is 500 words. Longer/rhyming/flowing sentences with funny/unexpected sounds, internal rhymes and repeated words. Rhyming at the end is not a great idea as they’re harder to edit, hard to sell foreign rights, etc, so you’re limiting the publishing options.
Easy Reader books: Meant for kist just learning to read. Fun, but tricky to write as every tiny parameter is pre-determined and vary depending on publisher, like, they have a character count (including spaces) per line. 250 words-1500 words, depending on what level/complexity.
Chapter books:  10 chapters, 60-ish pages, writing is more complex, but still the occasional picture popping up. ‘The Magic Treehouse’ is a classic series. Grade 1, 2, 3.
Middle Grade books: 8-12 year olds. Fewer pictures (maybe 1 every couple chapters) for low end, to the upper-age end, maybe only 5 or 6 pictures in the entire book. 15,000-30/40,000 words. Issues get more complex, light violence, etc. You can kill, but not violently. (13/14 year max for protagonist)
Young Adult: 13-18, word count 55,000-85,000 words, but there are exceptions on either end. Includes swearing, violence, death, sex, etc.

3) Educate Yourself
Educate yourself on what kind of books the publishers.
Read Publisher’s Weekly Children’s Bookshelf
Take workshops and join critique groups to improve skills, try it out on kids in your target age group (volunteer at local schools/libraries to go in and read)
Research in bookstores (what’s being published now), publisher’s websites, what they’re publishing, promoting, etc.

Learn what works, and what doesn’t
Things that don’t work: adult main character or narrators, someone other than the protagonist saving the day, teaching a moral, reminiscence of your own childhood, inappropriate material
Things that work: using your childhood as a springboard, letting the protagonist use their own brain/skills to solve the problem, the closest you can get to a child’s point of view the better.

Your voice is the best voice
Authors develop their voices through lots and lots of writing. Don’t mimic someone else, it’ll come off as a bad rip-off.

Voice is as individual as a thumbprint
Phraseology, attitude, tone, world view, sentence length, etc

4) Character is King
Make the readers care about the character, then put that character in jeopardy. Give them aspects which are unique that can be both weaknesses and strengths.

Questions actors ask to get into character: 
What does he want?
What externally prevents him getting what he wants?
What inner character traits will get in his way?

Exercise: your two main characters have to change a tire in the rain. write a 1 page monologue from the hero’s POV, Describe your protagonist’s bedroom and closet.

5) Hook Your Reader
This is the magic question that gets the reader asking, what’s going to happen next?
Hook at the beginning for the story, the beginning and end of each chapter.
Examples: humor, surprise, plunging mid-stream into the action, posing a question, foreshadowing
Ex. Charlotte’s Web “Where is Papa going with that axe?”

6) Kid appeal
Something all editors say they want: stories kids will love.

Think about what you loved in stories when you were a kid.

Some ideas:
Kid’s POV
Using accessible language
Having elements of things kids love, like animals, gross things, physical humor, mystery.
Up to grade 4, ‘love’ will make them squirm/bored, but older than that will make them interested.

Keep the kids in your heart, and you will stay in theirs.

SIWC 2013 Workshop #5, Writing Captivating YA

Writing Captivating YA (Janet Gurtler)

John Green, “Looking for Alaska”- uses intelligent words, doesn’t dumb it down
Ned Fazzini (sp?) “It’s Kind of a Funny Story” - amazing boy voice, so authentic

What YA is  (and maybe isn’t)
YALSA defined “young adults” as 12-18 years old. “Young adult fiction books are published specifically for people within that age range. Crossover happens.
YA fiction includes a teen protagonist and deals with issues of interest to teens. Coming of age, etc.
YA Fiction is not a genre; it’s a market that contains numerous genres. How many of is can’t remember what it was like to be a teenager. How many of us still feel it in parts of your life
YA lets YA know they are not alone. Their experiences aren’t abnormal. There are others out there like them and there are lots of options in front of them.
Authentic - Teen readers can smell fake YA voices. Don’t preach. Try not to judge. Trust the intelligence of your readers. Dig into intense emotion. Use things from your life. Steal dialogue from kids in the coffee shop. (the scene in the movie Young Adult). 
Teenagers deal with difficult personal issues every day - real or imagined.
Keep an eye out for authentic language. Poor teen dialogue can kill.

Why YA?
Teens have so many things going on in their lives, so many issues, so many firsts: first crushes, first loves, bodies changing, first time driving, intense friendships, breaking away from parents, making decisions on their own.
The teen years are an exciting time, but also stressful, tense and heartbreaking time. HOPE.
Anything is possible in YA literature, there is truly something for everyone.
Books can be a tool for dealing, or even escaping.
Storytelling is fun.

Defining Voice (Author)
 Voice is the way the story is told.
Voice conjures up vivid, visual settings and invites readers along for the ride. It engages readers. It sets mood for readers and helps to elicit emotions.
Voice is personality on paper. Charisma. When you read a good voice, you know it.
Voice is subjective, no one loves the same voices in the same way.
Voice is about word choice and helps convey tone. Voice encompasses things like style of writing, sentence structure, i.e. - short choppy sentences (Janet Gurtler), or long lush prose (Maggie Steifvater)
Voice is not only WHAT you say but HOW you say it, (a hockey player versus a boy who wants to be a doctor)
Voice makes characters leap off pages and come alive in a reader’s mind.

Voice (Character)
“Voice is the way a character speaks. What they say as well as how they say it” - Ned Vinzinni
How does your character see his world? A 15 year old boy doesn’t have the same reaction to events or the same conversations a 25 year old would. The Characters won’t use the same words or have the same thoughts. Dialogue should be distinct to your character. You have to know them.
Who is yout character going to become?
When we write characters it’s important to try to be authentic to their voices. Characters likely do not share the same morals o the author, or even the same likes/dislikes. Especially when we’re writing about teenagers. Sometimes our characters have to say things or do things we may fully disapprove of. And that’s okay (IF I TELL) An author’s experiences/beliefs might naturally flow into the character and story, but learning to filter or rework them to suit a story or character is part of the conscious process of voice. As writers we need to understand our characters in order to convey their voice.

Character Names:
Character may take on their name traits. Billy vs Tyler (‘Tiffany’ as a bubbly girl name?)
Bad boy names? (sometimes an agent/editor will ask to change if they hate the name)
Names that are overused, or so well known, you shouldn’t use (like Harry - Harry Potter)
Chloe vs Kara (Kya)

Cultivating Character & Author Voice
Listen to your characters. Turn off your moralistic compass. Don’t listen to your mother-in-law, husband, or priest. Not when you’re making stuff up.
Relax. Think of someone you’re completely comfortable with and write to that person.
Read your work out loud, or download a free talking reader. Free Natural Reader - can copy/paste text in and it’ll read it back to you
Try to notice things the same way that your character would notice them. It’s both a conscious and unconscious process.
In I’M NOT HER, Tess is very introverted. To convey this, I tried to view the world the way she would as an artist. When she’s looking at her sister in the hospital bed: “Her cheekbones look more angular and her collarbones jut out from her blue hospital gown. I’d have to use different techniques to sketch her now. Her essence has changes.”
Know what your character is proud of. Know their secret shame.
Eavesdrop. Spy. Stalk. Facebook. Instagram.
Write your story in a way that is comfortable for you. Write from your heart. Yours. Every person in this room has a writing voice.
If it reads like writing, get rid of it. They say, voice can’t be taught, but it can be found. Practice.

Quick exercise to try: pick a main character. What are they carrying with them on the first day of middle school. Both physically (clothes/accessories/etc), or emotionally/psychologically?
What about high-school?

Quick exercise for author voice: think of a color and try to describe that color without using the word. What does it smell and taste like? What does it remind you of?

Ways to Captivate
“Don’t open with unnecessary backstory. Readers don’t need to now everything about a character right away. Readers don’t need all the facts up front. Make them wait. Unravel a secret slowly.” Sara Zarr
Sara Zarr is a master of this ‘slow reveal’.
Give characters strong goals. Give the reader something to root for. Give your characters flaws.
Avoid plot that’s too contrived or coincidental. Put in a strong foundation at the beginning of your book so that whatever turns it credible and rings true. It’s okay to use coincidence to get your character into trouble, but not to get them out of trouble/resolve it.
Show us. As an author, allow yourself to physically and emotionally feel the fear that courses through your body when the bully is coming for you. Put the character there. Where are they, what do they hear, see, smell? What’s their reaction to stress? Hiccups? Laughter? Tears? Turning around and running?

Character pyramid, top to bottom (Negative Traits Thesaurus - Angela Ackerman):
The lie the character believes about themselves: Sam believes she doesn’t deserve to live her life or have hopes/dreams because she caused someone’s death
Core flaws resulting from that lie: antisocial, insecure, repressed, withdrawn
Lesser flaws: dishonest, indecisive, irrational, evasive
Typical behaviors, thoughts, actions & quirks: Sam avoids things that once brought her joy. She’s given up on her dreams, avoids people & friendship. Her thoughts are preoccupied with death and she refuses to eat peanut butter. Sam doesn’t defend herself against mean girls, avoids meaningful relationships with boys and feels undeserving of love or happiness.

List of some things to know about your characters
What does your characters need/want/must have?
What’s stopping him/her from getting it?
What’s the character’s most nautical physical attribute?
What’s this character’s greatest flaw?
What do you know about this character he would never admit?
What music does this character sing when no one else is around?
What is this character’s secret wish?
Describe this character’s most embarrassing moment?
What is the character’s deepest regret?
What is the character’s greatest fear?
What is the character’s greatest hope?
Whom does this character most wish to please and why?
Why is this character angry?
What calms this character down?
List the choices (not circumstances) that led this character to his/her current predicament?
Who depends on this character and why?

Quick exercise: Take one of your secondary characters and imagine what they’re going to be like in the future? Sometimes that helps round them out, in your own mind.

Early in the story, give a moment that makes us sympathize with the protagonist and reveals their good character. This is important for us to invest in the character’s story and also if we’re going to be introduced to a character’s flaws, so we know redemption is possible. (“Save the Cat”, doesn’t literally have to save a cat, but Hunger Games starts with Katniss talking about the ugly cat she wanted to kill, but ‘saved’ because her sister wanted it.)
Start your story in the right place. Hint: probably not a dream sequence. If you’re stuck on where to begin, think about the event that changes the world of the main character. An inciting event. You can either start with this change or start with what the character’s world was like before the event. You can show the old world first, but it should lead up to the change that propels the story into action.
Skip the boring stuff.No one wants to read it.
Don’t list off characteristics or tell the reader everything that’s in the room. Show the reader whenever possible. Don’t tell us how she felt, show. Know more about your characters than you are telling the reader.
Don’t give it away. Give the reader tidbits of information. Make them keep reading to figure out what’s happening. Don’t over explain.
Don’t use lazy techniques like looking in a mirror and having the character describe themselves.
Use subtext. According to author Alicia Rasley, “Subtext is like a gift to the astute reader - an additional layer of meaning implied by the text but not accessible without a bit of thinking. ...Experiences readers aren’t confined to the text - what’s printed on the page - they interact with the text, fully participating with the writer in the making of meaning in the story.” Such reader participation heightens the emotional impact of a story.

SIWC 2013 Workshop #4, Outline vs Freefall

Outline vs Freefall (kc dyer)

Plotting advantages
organized approach
roadmap for where you’re going
can do all your research upfront

Plotting disadvantages
structure can lead to a formulaic result/feeling
Stuck to the schedule, even if you have new/better ideas

Pantsing advantages
always surprising/interesting
can research as you go, and change directions if you find something that contradicts your story

Pantsing disadvantages
keeping track of characters/plot lines
lose track of yourself completely

Scrivener (software) is one tool of many, it has a mindmapping option

Outlines don’t always have to take the same shape/form, they are just a way to organize.
Lists, color, lines/shapes/arrows/diagrams, all the way to spreadsheets. Point form, notes to self, as long as the ideas are charted out.

What’s your system?

1) kc’s basic novel outline:

Workshop exercise:
Complete with your current WIP or a story idea you have simmering...

Working Title:

Is this a literary/general fiction work or more genre-focused?

If genre, which? (feel free to cross-genres!)

Give a three line (max) description of the story:


Character #1 - the protagonist (hero/heroine of the story)
Primary goal:
Most notable personality traits:

Character #2 - the antagonist (main opposition character)
Primary goal:
Most notable personality traits:
Relationship to protagonist:

Character #3 - a major supporting character
Primary goal:
Most notable personality traits:
Relationship to protagonist:

Setting: Where are the principle areas where the story unfolds?
Setting #1
Reason for using this setting:

Setting #2
Reason for using this setting:

What is the main complication of the story (the central problem that must be solved by the main character)?

What are the primary obstacles preventing the main character from achieving his/her goals?

How is the story resolved for the main character (how does it end)?

Summarize, in present-tense narrative, your story idea

2) Mind maps: good for organizing random ideas, goals, research, character planning (also their relationships to each other), chronology/timeline, plot points

3) Six short steps: 
  1. Goal - > what the story’s all about (readers HAVE to care) and the world around the problem, both positive and negative aspects for everyone in that world
  2. Consequences -> if they fail/succeed, what happens, this is important because it allows the reader to care about the goal/consequence. This creates the main dramatic tension in the story.
  3. Needs and prerequisites: as needs are met, readers will feel the protagonist is getting closer to the coal and get excited. Prerequisites are what have to happen before the needs can be met, so it’s the pre-layer.
  4. Forewarning and preconditions: forewarnings are the counterpart to needs, they show the consequences is getting closer (the protagonist will fail). This creates an oscillation where the reader goes through ups & downs. Preconditions are small stumbling blocks in the plot, other characters can be great preconditions, or laws/rules/etc.
  5. Costs: good plots are problems that mean a lot to the characters. If it’s trivial, no one cares. The character must make sacrifices to get the goal. If the cost is steep, the reader will feel the character deserves to win.
  6. Benefits: balances are rewards the character received along the journey to the story goal, can be completely unrelated to the goal, but wouldn’t have been achieve unless the character went on the journey towards their goal.
Now, arrange into a brief synopsis.

SIWC 2013 Workshop #3, Queries that Work

I had my agent pitch session during this workshop, but awesomely enough, left just as the presentation portion ended and she started taking pitches from the audience.

Queries that Work (Adrienne Kerr)

In pitching, harness your enthusiasm, it takes you 50% of the way to the sale. If you aren’t excited about your own work, no one else will be either.
Not enough to know where they work, what they acquire, if you’re pitching, should try to find out what they have acquired recently, what has sold well. Under pressure to repeat good sales like that. Most recent one is a psychological thriller, so another psychological thriller might be a good fit. BUT, that’s not all she represents. Other books will let you guess she’s a sucker for hope & healing stories in Africa.
So, refine your list instead of mass querying. Think of it like interviewing a job. You don’t spend all the time pushing yourself, a significant amount of time is spent figuring out whether it’s a job/company you want to work.
Writers have a tremendous amount of power now, so act like it.

How to research?
Look at the contemporary books on your bookshelf and read the acknowledgments. (IF you don’t read contemporary, you’re missing the biggest trend/etc that people are loving and reacting to right now). Add to your targeted list.
Head to the library and check out authors in your genre who you don’t necessarily like, but are selling well. Add to your targeted list.
Fire up Google and make sure you follow the query guidelines to the letter, and 
I for one would be flattered and appreciate you know my recent sales, which means the author does their research, is thoughtful, etc, -> in other words, a delightful author to work for.

How to find editors?
They are hiding from you! For a long time, editors have been passive, waiting for agents to bring them what’s ‘worthy’ of their attention, but now they are taking a more active role in ferreting out the next big thing. The business is too fast moving now to not pay close attention to everything that’s coming in.

Publishers Marketplace
You can search any deal since 2004? And each comes with a tagline/etc. -> plug in Adrienne’s name and check it out.

Tells you what she’s been selling, but also, there are noticeable missing areas, like she says she accepts sci-fi/fantasy, even though on PM, she hasn’t acquired/sold any. That means she’s unlikely to get excited to get your sci-fi/fantasy novel.

Now that the research is done, time to refine the query/pitching. Here’s some advice:
1) “What if./so what”  -> must be able to sum up the plot-line in 25 words. The ‘so what’ must be in there to show why we should care.
example: What if a cyborg is sent back through time to kill the future savior of the world? - The Terminator
What if a young girl risks her soul to love a vampire boyfriend?
  1. Hollywood style -> compare a couple well known movies/books
  2. Save the Cat method -> sentence or two that includes: irony/humor, paints a compelling picture, genre, killer title
example: A businessman falls in love with a hook er he hired as his date for the evening -> Pretty Woman
  1. read book backs as a reference and adapt them to your purposes.

If you focus too much on plot instead of emotional impact/character, you’ll lose your audience. Answer the question, “Why should we care?”

Now, have elevator pitch, so want to know how they fit in with the genre, so need comparable titles. If you throw in sales numbers for those two books, and everyone will sit up and pay attention. BUT, be subtle and accurate titles, not JK Rowling/Stephen King, etc.
Want to know all writing related things, blogs, Twitter, followers, self-published, (EVERY one should be on Good Reads), are you in writing partner/groups, do you write fanfic, etc. If your job relates to writing in any way, include that.
The more info the editor (and agent) knows, the more information she has to sell your book.

SIWC 2013 Workshop #2, Out of the Mouth of Babes

Out of the Mouths of Babes (KC Dyer, Susin Nielsen, Janet Gurtler, Mandy Hubbard)

Q: How much research in order to find your character’s voices? Do you interact with children/teens?
M: stumbled into writing YA, wrote first project when 23, agent directed her into changing to YA. Some authors go to the mall and listen to teens. If you don’t connect with your teen years, you can’t fake it. Immaturity is a plus.
S: Always written in 1st POV to tap into that voice. Like M said, it’s hard to mimic it if you can’t tap into those teen years, but something about 1st POV lets her tap into that character and that ends up how a lot f the humor comes out because the character isn’t aware anything they are saying/doing is funny, but the reader can see it.
*check out a trilogy called “Alice I think”
J: Really not good at being a teenager, so can really remember those years, still a big part of who she is. Gets to go back/relive those years, and in some ways, make them better. Has a teenage son and nieces, gets to eavesdrop/etc.

Q: Who do you look to for inspiration for clear/accurate voices?
J: “It’s Kind of a Funny Story” -> boy POV, a kid who is mentally ill, and the way it’s written, it’s so honest and really captures the feelings of a teen boy. John Green does an intilectual/older teen voice.
M: Lauren Barnhall (sp?), Lauren Miracle (sp?). As an agent, loves issue books, but have to be really unique (esp. voice), like “Living Dead Girl”.
S: Doesn’t read a lot of YA, nervous that she’ll read something, and a year later think, “Oh, I have a good idea for a story...”, but likes John Green, and in MG, Christopher Paul Curtis “Bud, not Buddy”
KC: “Great and Future King”, “The Outsiders”

Q: Something brought up is writing YA books for the male POV, have any of you written a male POV?
J: “Waiting to Score”, difficult to write, talked to husband & son, males/females think/talk differently, and how boys react viscerally, speak shorter, etc. Enjoyed it, but probably wouldn’t write again.
S: 2/3 YA books have male POV characters, had lots of boys come up and asked, “how do you know what we’re thinking?”. Has sons, that’s part of it, but another part is once you inhabit the character (not football type boys, more quiet/outsiders), it comes.
M: Only written in 3rd POV adult romance (NASCAR romance!), had some on my list. “Boy-boy-boy” are harder in YA, there’s the notion that boys skip over the YA section. Even male authors like John Green really appeals to females. If they are too heavily “male” oriented (like a fantasy with a guy hacking up dragons/etc -> adventure), would be hard because they wouldn’t appeal to female readers as well. Has to appeal to both genres. Passed on a book she loved, but was gritty mob-story, digging graves, etc, no good female characters who the girl readers would/could relate to, and since girls are the biggest demographic, have to consider that.

Audience member: has sons, worked with kids, etc. Loved her stuff when they were younger, but now that they’re older, want edgier, more swearing, etc (newest story is about the hockey culture), wanting more street oriented/violence/etc. Do you get pressure (as an agent) to do this, to ask writers to make their stories edgier?
M: No, first author sold at auction is a Mormon, so very conservative, and sold to an editor/publisher who are totally into gritty/dark/etc. Probably there might be something wrong with your characters where they feel they aren’t ‘authentic’.
S: Maybe you want to make it more MG rather than YA?
AM: Could go in either direction...
S: You answered your own question, stick to the story you want to write. Maybe there’s something in the story that made people think it should be more edgy/etc that you need to look at.
J: It’s hard enough to write an entire novel you want to write, much less write a story you don’t want to write.

Q: What makes something edgy? Let’s talk about swearing/etc. This is always an area of controversy. If you’re writing for YA, chances are the people putting down the $ for those books aren’t the target audience, but parents/librarians/etc.
M: In Middle Grade, there are darker lines drawn in terms of content, some that push those boundaries, but in general, if you don’t need to swear, avoid it. Many publishers have guidelines that say no, so that lowers your agent’s number of choices to submit to. Those gatekeepers (parents/librarians) aren’t the same as for YA. Lots of teens buy their own books. You can do anything you want, just not gratuitous. “Nick and Nora’s Playlist” (?) huge number of f-bombs.
J: Some have swearing, but not gratuitous. Had editor ask for words to be changed to no-swear in the first chapter so librarians/parents sometimes look through the first chapter, but not further. Doesn’t like reading books with too much ‘cause it seems like they’re trying to be cool.
K: “Word Nerd” book is more upper MG/lower YA (for 10-14, MG is normally more 8-12), wasn’t thinking about exact target age group when writing, when it ended up on lists for awards, it started getting pulled from libraries/etc because Ambrose (12) calls his mom a bitch at one point, and it is very much in character (dad is dead, lives with single mom), also talks about gettign spontaneous errections, likes books, but it’s because he’s missing his dad and wishing he was still alive to talk to him. Really surprised to see articles with parents writing about how horrified they were, yet look at all the violent video games, stuff on the internet, etc. What I really hate is authors who write for young people have to feel they have to censor themselves. Wasn’t worried when wrote “Word Nerd”, but then when starting the next book, it was harder.
M: Huge selling point is the Scholastic list, because they have nation-wide book fairs, so the agent will think about whether your book would be pitched for that or not.

Q: Language itself, have you ever created your own language/words for your characters use? “Frindle”, story about a boy who renames his pencil and comes up with his own swear word.
J: “16 Things I thought were True”, has this one quirky character, says really weird things, and when the copy-editor went through it, had a really hard time because she didn’t recognize all the bizarre/crazy things. Got an idea for the character from a quirky/odd girl she met in Seattle with Mandy Hubbard. One thing I thought about in my first book is Facebook, whether to use it, or make up something different. 
S: I used the Obama fist bump

Q: What about slang for your characters? Things like the Obama fist-bump get dated really easily.
M: Don’t want to go to “Clueless” slang, but it’s along the same lines as swearing. Not gratuitous. Pop culture references are trickier, had a reference about Brittany Spears (hot one of the moment)
S: Try to avoid it, but looking back, certainly they sneak in there, like the Obama bump, and Facebooks. Do it more than I realize sometimes.

Q: This is different, being mainly Contemporary authors, how to you keep it relevant, to be read in 10 years?
S: How do you do that in any book? You can’t write to become a classic.
M: “13 Reasons Why” came out in 2008, and the author personally used old tapes, so in that case, you can write something already out of date, so 10 years from now there will still be out of date.
J: I think I put more pop culture in the past than I would now since things change faster and faster.
AM: Have you run across something in a book that struck you as inauthentic, offensive, etc. What drives you crazy, as a reader?
J: If it’s not authentic teen dialogue it drives me bonkers. I’m old, but I think I have an ear for dialogue.
S: A pet peeve of mine in some YA fiction is I get really tired of the very earnest/serious stuff. Some books do it really well, but some it just blah. Some YA fiction the pacing is so far off, or the author has gotten taken over by their research
KC: Diana Gaboldon calls that, “I have done the research and now you’re going to pay
S: I’ve also read issue books where they’re all about the issue and not really about the character.

Q: I’ve had some writers come to the conference and say they have a book with a really important message that has to come across
M: I get this more in MG where it’s all about, “ wrote this book about bullying and this should teach kids about how bad bullying” the lesson should be a bi-product of a good book. In every good book the character grows/changes/learns through the course of the book. Don’t focus on a message.
J: Google Pixar’s 10 rules of storytelling. “Don’t come up with the theme until you’re done the story, then go back and work it in”. If you start with the theme/message, it’s hard not to get preachy.

Q: Are there cliches writers should be avoided, like ‘bullies’?
J: -> recap of former workshop. Cliches are there for a reason, but put your own twist on it and make it fresh.
S: That is a good point. Like, in “Hunger Games”, there is a love triangle, but the world and approach was so different. It’s all about authentic character, and that’s how it’s going to make it.
M: I see too much of bullies. Wish eveyr writer could spend a month reading the slush pile, but even if I didn’t know what the last trend was, I’d be able to guess by what’s in my pile as writers are chasing trends (writing the latest fresh thing thy loves). The market is really looking for Contemporary with a hook, “13 Reasons Why”, Allie Carter (sp?) that kind of thing, and every time I offer one one good one, 4 other agents offer on the same thing, so I know that’s what other agents are looking for to. When you’re telling a story about regular people though, there’s  much stronger focus needed on voice, because that’s what’s going to make it stand out.
KC: Also remember the cyclical nature, like vampires. The nature of publishing is very cyclical, so maybe not today, but one day.

Q: Let’s talk about love. What’s your stance on love?
S: I’m not for it. Okay, since my books are upper MG, the characters have crushes on people, but that’s not the focus of the books, and I think I would find it harder to write a romance, maybe because my relationships in teen years were so pathetic.
J: I always have romance in them, and I always think I’m writing one, but when people read them, it’s actually really not what they’re about. It’s a big part of being a teenager, I wish I had more since the ones that focus strongly sell really well. I think my next book is more romance-y is more than before, but still probably not a ‘romance’. Maybe I just have a dark mind.
KC: Love, especially with teens, is multifaceted
J: “How I lost You” is about best friends and how their relationship falls apart, and it’s my book that’s doing the lest well, I think because there’s not enough love/romance.
M: Anything with kissing is good for me. It’s the romance that sells me every time. Since the day I became an agent, I’ve said, “If you’re writing a YA Romance, I want to see it.” Nice thing about YA is you can have an entire book focus on romance, but the ‘happily ever after’ isn’t necessary. MG is great with the stirrings of first love/crush.

AM: Talking about genre, what is New Adult? Is that a sub-category of YA?
M: To me, they’re a sub-set of adult, mostly published by adult imprints/etc. To me it doesn’t make sense because there’s always been stories with characters in their early 20’s within other genres.
KC: Let’s take it down one level. If you’re writing YA, what is the target audience?
M: 15-18, but there are exceptions like Amy Reed’s debut where the protagonist was 13, but she was getting into drugs/alcohol, so it was heavier content. If the characters are any older than the summer after high-school... then don’t query as YA. Sometimes you just have to pitch as YA or NA and see where you find success.
J: My girl characters are usually 17, in the latest book, had to make 18 because that’s the age they legally have to cross the border (road trip to the USA). Readers don’t read down, they read up, so I’m comfortable with that.
S: I’m most comfortable with 13-14, so yeah, more upper MG.
KC: So, you don’t pick the age of the character
M: I’ve had people pitch and choose an age, but the content is for older or younger when you get down to it

AM: This goes back to the topic of love, going back, how do you make it come across how every kid feels like they are unique in wanting love
J: you mean they want to feel like their want for love is special?
AM: Yes
J: I think as teenagers we often think out feelings are unique, and that’s good because teenagers can relate. What’s your question?
AM: How do you show that the character is unique, not just they think they’re unique.
S: Well, looking at “The Fault in our Stars” has this wonderful doomed relationship, first love, first sex, etc, but that’s not what they story is just about, there’s all this stuff going on around the romance.
J: Your character would think their love is unique
M: That’s where readers connect, because they think, “Oh, other people feel that way too.”

Q: What’s your best advise for a beginning author starting out?
M: Give yourself permission to write crap because crap can be fixed. I have 8 books lined up in my office, so when I’m thinking “This sucks!” with my current MS, I look up and go, “I’ve done this before. “Writing a book is a lot like driving at night. You can only see so far, but you can still get all the way home.”
J: Persistence. You have to be persistent to finish, and then to pursue publishing. one book isn’t the only book you’re ever going to write, especially if you want a career.
S:It’s hard for me to add to what the other two said, but my word is just to write. When you have the lousy days, which I have frequently had when you stare at the page and have no idea where I’m going, and the best thing to do is write anything, even if it’s just a paragraph and I throw it out the next day, often the next day I go back and know how to write better. It’s so much better than staring at the blank page.