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Friday, August 27, 2010

Writing Challenge, Parisian Edition, My Turn!

Okay so it might be a little silly but I had a ton of fun working on this! Enjoy...

We hadn’t seen each other since Paris, almost two years ago, but she still looked exactly the same: the same way of wrinkling her nose, as though constantly smelling something distasteful. The same haughty look in her eyes. The same black, sleek fur coat. The same habit of twitching her whiskers when she was lying.
“Mirabella,” I barked, as she came sauntering into the room, tail swishing. Normally I have a good bark, low and loud. I may be a mutt—pound born and bred, thankyouverymuch—but I got the pipes of a champion. That’s one of the reasons Tom and Carol picked me out from the clink. Tom’s a retired cop, spent most of his career busting dealers and pimps on the strip. He’s made a lot of enemies in his time. But when I say her name, it comes out like a Maltese’s pipsqueak.
“Bruce,” she purrs, making it sound my name has about a thousand u’s.
I can’t say I was happy to see her. I can’t say I wasn’t happy, either. One thing I can say: I never expected to see the lap-cat of Portia Derbish, heiress of the Derbish Burger Chain, sniffing around a dump like the Bayside View Condos in Boca Raton, Florida. Only view we’ve got is a parking lot and a cracked above-ground pool, plus the old broads in the building who like to set out their lawn chairs and suntan topless, even though their skin’s already the color of old shoe leather. The handbag-hags, Tom calls them: beat up as an old purse.

Thursday, August 26, 2010

Writing Challenge--Parisian Edition--Your Responses!

From Kate of I Just Want To Sit Here And Read:

They hadn’t seen each other since Paris, almost two years ago.
Francois gripped his coat tighter around him. He looked down. His fingernails were turning blue again. Great, he thought. He scanned the bridge, looking for her. I wonder if she looks any different.
The sky was turning an ominous grey color and Francois gave himself another ten minutes and then he was out of there. On the south end of the bridge, he finally spotted her.
“Clarice,” he breathed.
Clarice was the typical Frenchwoma, dressed head to toe in black. Her heel clicks echoed across the bridge and deep into Francois’ heart. Her eyes never left his. A hint of a smile played on her lips, making him grin goofily. He stepped toward her, insistent on closing the distance between them as soon as possible. Clarice reached behind her and appeared to scratch her back before returning her hand to the front and reaching for his.
Francois saw that Clarice’s eyes were rimmed with red. He lifted her into a hug, wishing that he could dry those tears forever. “Clarice, it has been too-,” he started to say.
A ringing in his ears escalated to a full pounding. He looked around at the empty bridge then back at Clarice. “What-” he said. Clarice backed away as Francois fell to his knees clutching his stomach. He pulled back his hand to see red, sticky liquid pouring from his body. He looked up at the sobbing Clarice, and managed a tiny smirk. He saw the glint of metal as she returned the weapon to its resting place behind her jacket. At last he managed to whisper, “Touche.”

Love, love, love. I love how Kate tells a complete story, and I love how she subverts our expectations of what is going to happen when Clarice and Francois meet. And the fact that she manages to actually "touche" in a literal sense? Hilarious.

From William White, proofreader extraordinaire, of William White Books:

We hadn’t seen each other since Paris almost two years ago. I had hoped I would never see her again. It had only been one night but in the hundreds of long nights since I found myself unable to erase her from my memory.
I had been in Paris during a layover flight from Cyprus on my way back to the United States. In those days I flew the pond quite often. I planned upon visiting my old friend Nicoli and enjoying several bottles from his families’ impressive vineyard. Unfortunately Nicoli had been called away suddenly to attend the funeral of the Ukrainian Prime Minister, killed in a train crash two days before. With no one else to call upon that evening I took up residence in the airport’s ‘Salon Exutive’ and resigned myself to an evening alone watching television at the hotel. It was during my second cocktail that a fellow traveler, a somewhat inebriated Irishman, engaged me with pictures of his rather large family. While the man was enlightening me as to his reasons for naming all the male children after long dead Irish saints I happened to look up from the photos and see her.
As she walked into my life.

One of the great things about this piece, other than the elegance of the prose, is the way it immediately engages the attention by offering a full, well-rounded sense of world and character: the protagonist is a traveler, someone who rubs elbows with the high and mighty; it seems as though we are stepping into a narrative that is already fully imagined and realized.

From Lizzy Douitsis, "Shoebox Memories"

Covered in dust and hidden from sight under my bed was a shoebox of old things I could neither bring myself to look at nor force myself to throw out, things from my past. An old faded candle, a small braided basket, a wilted blue flower, these weren’t just things. These were memories, memories that caused a sharp ache in my heart whenever I thought of them, which is why I kept them shut away. Out of sight out of mind is what my mother liked to say. But she was wrong. I couldn’t escape them.
A steaming, home cooked meal set on the small round table by the window with the moonshine seeping through the dark night, and the candle, burning bright and orange on the centerpiece reflecting the light of his deep, dark eyes; eyes that always sent shivers down my spine; eyes that I could have stared into forever. Curled up together on his living room couch by the flickering light of the TV, a gentle hum in the background, all focus intent on the small braided basket we were making, that he was showing me how to make. A basket to put my car keys in when I got home because I was always losing them. Lying down in a field in a mess of green grass and tangles of rainbow coloured flowers, staring up at the sky and making pictures in the clouds, whispering that we would never be apart, him pressing a soft blue flower into my hand and telling me that my eyes were the exact same color, except prettier.
Things, memories, shoeboxes, my heart beat faster as tears pooled in my eyes. We hadn’t seen each other since Paris, almost two year ago. If I could have stuffed that memory into the shoebox I would have, but I couldn’t. I only wished I could forget. Waking up in the middle of the night listening to him breathing beside me, gallivanting through the streets, hand in hand, lying on the hood of his car and staring up at the stars, seeing all the sights of Paris, we acted like a pair of silly tourists who had no clue what they were doing but having a great time doing it. Those were the best times of my life. And then there was the last memory, the one that changed everything one bleak August night. Screaming, crying, fighting, everything exploding and falling, and coming undone, feeling like my life was shattering in front of my very eyes, and there was nothing I could do about it, the night I lost Julian forever. I thought my heart would stop.
And now I was going to see him again, and I didn’t know what to think because until now I had kept all of our memories hidden away in a shoebox, pretending that they didn’t exist, that they had never happened at all. But my efforts to erase the past were useless because I still thought of him every time I saw a candle, or a basket, or a flower. Julian was alive in my memory, just as alive now as he was the summer we spent together two years ago. And I still felt the exact same way. A shoebox could never contain my feelings. Because despite everything that had happened, despite everything that had gone wrong, despite even the scattered remains of my broken heart, I was still in love with Julian Johnson.

I love this piece because Lizzy riffed on the prompt--she did not actually begin with the sentence "We had not seen each other since...", but she allowed it to inform and shape the rest of the piece. Also, Lizzy and I suffer from the same tendency toward getting carried away by our writing and doubling our intended word count! I feel you, L.

From Zoe MacDonald, "Two Years Later"

We hadn’t seen each other since Paris, almost two years ago now, even though it seems like a lifetime. In two years, so much had happened and neither of us were the scared teenagers that lived in the small back road apartment with five other high school sophomores. When we were fifteen, the city was the only place either of us wanted to be, with its sparkling lights and cobblestone streets. Then we turned sixteen and more important things came along and we were back home in our respective countries.
Now we were eighteen, and wiser and had moved on.
Then I saw his face, through the crowd. Out of the hundreds of people on a train platform in Toronto, he was the only face I saw.
After two years, he looked completely different but at the same time, just like the boy I had once loved.
His hair wasn’t in pencil thin dreads, instead fell into curls at the back of his neck. He was no longer trying to be a hippy, so instead of the army pants with flowers and peace signs or torn baby blue jeans, he was wearing a pair of dark pegged skinny jeans and a v-neck t-shirt. His eyes were still the same blue that took my breath away. Even from across the platform I could tell that.
That’s when he met my eyes.
“Caroline,” he said and smiled, making his way over to me.
“Hey Free,” I said softly, looking at the ground, unable to look him in his eyes. “How are you?”
“I’m good,” he said then looked down to my empty hand. “Where’s Henry?”
I bit my lip and held back tears debating whether or not to tell him the truth.

There are two things that really struck me about this submission: 1. That Zoe accurately captured a phenomena I have always noticed when I am in love with somebody--that no matter where you are, in how crowded an environment, you can always seem to locate the person you are in love with immediately. It's passion radar! I love, too, how she named her character Free; it's so unusual, it makes you want to know more about him.

From Paige:

We hadn't seen each other since our trip to Paris, and that was almost two years ago. He stayed away from me, as I stayed away from him. Our trip was fantastic, and that was the way that we wanted to keep it. We broke it off on the plane home from our trip, just so that that would be the last memory we had with each other... keeping it light and airy. My name is Amber Daniels, and his name was Stephen Reimann and he was the love of my life. It sounds weird I know, but we were still very passionately in love when we left Paris when we broke it off in the airplane. You see, Stephen had a brain tumor. Just a few short days after we got back home from our trip to Paris, he died in his parents house as peacefully as possible. I've heard the last words on his lips were my name and Paris.
It brings tears to my eyes to remember it, but as cliché as it is... we will always have Paris. It was his last love-filled, romantic weeks on earth... and it was the best time I've ever had. We didn't talk about his tumor, we didn't talk about sadness or cry in front of each other... we were just happily in each others company. We told each other things that we never wanted anyone to know, because we wanted to know about each other inside and out before he left me. I didn't want him to leave me here alone, but I knew he had no choice. We laughed until we gasped for air and our sides ached, we cuddled until we fell asleep, and we talked until we were hoarse. I love you Stephen Reimann, and you'd better be waiting with flowers at the Pearly gates for me.

Paige did something here for which I have absolutely no talent--she wrote a "short short"! (A very short short story; typically, between 100-500 words). Her submission has a full arc and actually tells the complete story of a relationship!

From Stephanie Sanders:

"Hello my love." Came a horribly familiar voice.
I slowly turned around and there he was. My worst nightmare. The last time I saw him he was covered in my blood.
My knees felt week and I didn't know if I had the strength to keep them steady. He smiled that same dark smile that he had the day he tried to kill me.
I thought I had escaped, I thought it was over. As he reached for my hand, I knew it would be soon.
"We haven’t seen each other since Paris, almost two years ago. I‘ve missed you," he said as our hands met. I felt a tingle run up my arm as he touched me. I couldn’t speak, couldn’t move, everything that I had worked for to get past the memory of him was gone.
All there was in the world was him and his hand upon mine.
I couldn’t bring myself to run or to scream. I was lost in his murderous eyes. He led me to the ally behind the coffee shop, and still I did nothing. I was tired of running, tired of the nightmares, tired of what my life had become. I looked into his eyes and I knew this was it. My fight was over. I was over.

Ooooh, LOVE IT!! So scary--I'm dying to know what happens next, and I love the way Steph inserted the prompt in dialogue and went in a completely unexpected direction.

Tuesday, August 24, 2010


It was pointed out to me by the eagle-eyed William White that my last post contained a GROSS GRAMMATICAL ERROR (gross both in the sense of HUGE and, for grammar-freaks like myself, disgusting) in its title.


Obviously, this should read "...Paris EDITION," since I have no interest whatsoever in performing mathematical calculations while in France!

I am taking this incident of public humiliation to assert an important point about writing: always, always, always proofread your work. Then have someone else proofread it. This is especially important when you're submitting a novel to agents/editors for the first time. Your work will be read and reviewed by some underpaid, under-slept editorial assistant who has no doubt been out drinking in a bar until 2 a.m. and then had a bad fight with her boyfriend first thing in the morning about why he has drunk all the coffee (not that I speak from personal experience or anything...). The EA is LOOKING for a reason to put down your book, and throw it in the reject pile. Do not give her that reason in the form of a silly grammatical or spelling error.

I'll certainly be looking over my posts a little more closely from now on...!

Monday, August 23, 2010

Monday Writing Challenge, Parisian Addition

Happy Monday, people! Bojour, mes amis!
This is a very special week for me; I’m in France, with one of my best friends, the fabulous Elizabeth Miles, who recently sold a YA paranormal horror trilogy to Simon Pulse (check my interview with her here). We’re both happily ensconced in Paris, buried under mounds of paper and books, and plugging away at our respective projects.
I’ve always loved writing in Paris. It’s kind of a cliché but you know what? It’s a cliché for good reason. Paris is so old and beautiful, and so steeped in literary tradition, that it just breathes with good stories. Plus, they pretty much invented the whole scribbling-away-in-cafes thing, so a lot of American coffee houses owe a debt of gratitude to the good old Francais.
Check out the pic below (snapped five seconds ago on my good old cell phone), of E and I parked at our lovely dining room table, typing away. Great way to start the day...

So E-beth and I are feeling totally inspired by Paris, and we want YOU to be inspired, too. Today’s writing assignment is to work from the following prompt to generate a 200-300 word novel or story opening. The prompt is:
“We hadn’t seen each other since Paris, almost two years ago.”
Now obviously the we suggests two people—or more than two people—and because Paris is the city of love, some of you might want to take your story in a romantic direction. But I encourage you also to think outside the box: to parents, siblings, ex-best-friends, support groups, travel groups, whatever!
As always, send your responses to my gmail account, and I'll be completing the assignment too!

Until then...a bientot, escargots!

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Line Editing Is Your Friend

Yesterday I talked generally about the importance of line editing; today I'll show you how to put that philosophy into practice.

The following excerpt comes from 16-year-old Molly Ronan, who was cool enough to participate in a recent writing challenge of mine (the assignment was to generate a character description):

Running From Home.
By Molly Ronan

He kept his head down low. His eyes watched his feet covered in old sneakers move one at a time. When a car drove by he was able to the see the rips in them from the years of use. He knew that soon he would be able to see his toe peaking out. His face was hidden from any wandering eyes by the hood attached to his sweatshirt. Originally the sweatshirt had been a navy blue but now Jason wasn't sure what color to call it. He never took the sweatshirt off; that would risk not having it to put back on again. There were plenty of people who didn't care what color the sweatshirt was as long as it was on their back and kept them warm. Underneath his hood his blonde hair was knotted down his neck. If Jason ever took his hood off his uncut and uncombed platinum blonde hair would become like a neon sign to the cars on the road. Jason didn’t want to be seen, he didn’t want to be noticed.
Jason knew where he was going. The strangers in the cars driving by didn't. That was the way he wanted it to be. No one would even want to know where he was going because he didn't want to go there himself. He was going though, one step at a time on the side of the road he had walked down too many times before. The only thing that kept him going straight was the white line on the side of the road. As long as he kept walking on that line he would be fine until he had to cross the road. Somehow he knew when you crossed the road you were supposed to look both ways but no one had never told him that. No one had ever told him that he wasn't supposed to walk by himself in the middle of night either.
A car zoomed by and then the night air was quiet. Jason paused where he was. He had walked far enough. He raised his head just high enough to see the old run down shop across the street. He thought he could hear another car coming. He ran across the street anyways. He ran with the stride of someone who could become a track star with training, perseverance, and dedication. Jason didn't have any of that. Someone had taken all of that away from him. Funny how it was the same person who gave him life.
He reached the other side of the road just as a large silver SUV drove by. A teenage girl, around Jason's age, looked out the window from the passenger seat at the boy running across the street. She couldn't see his face, only the hood and the shape his clothes made over his body. Her mother kept driving and soon the boy was just a fleeting memory. If Jason could he would have jumped into the backseat of that car and he never would have came back to the old shop with cardboard for windows. The place he was heading towards. The place where his dad was waiting for him. The place he called home.

When I first read Molly's submission, I thought a couple of things: 1. That Molly was a talented writer, and adept at generating intriguing characters and circumstances, and 2. That due to some occasional repetition/redundancy, the suspense and intrigue was being somewhat obscured by certain stylistic choices. It was nothing that a few minor and edits couldn't remedy, however. Here's what I did to Molly's piece (I tried to show the editing marks but was not able to upload them to blogspot--you will just have to compare the two excerpts yourself!):

He kept his head down, and his eyes on his feet, and his beaten-up sneakers. Soon his toes would be peeking out from the leather.
His face was hidden by his hood. Originally his sweatshirt had been navy blue but now Jason wasn't sure what color to call it. Underneath the hood, his blonde hair was knotted down his neck. If Jason ever removed the hood, his uncut and uncombed platinum blonde hair would be a neon sign to the cars on the road. Jason didn’t want to be seen. He didn’t want to be noticed.
The only thing that kept Jason going straight was the white line on the side of the road; as long as he followed it, he would be fine.
A car zoomed by and then the night air was quiet. Jason paused. He had walked far enough. He raised his head. Across the street was his destination: an old, seemingly abandoned shop. He looked from left to right. Somehow he knew when you crossed the road you were supposed to look both ways, even though no one had never told him that. But no one had ever told him that he wasn't supposed to walk by himself in the middle of night, either.
He thought he could hear a car coming, but ran across the street anyways. He ran well, with the stride of someone who might have-with the right training, perseverance, and dedication—become a track star. But Jason didn't have any of those things. Someone had taken all of that away from him. Funny how it was the same person who had given him life.
He reached the other side of the road just as a large silver SUV drove by. If Jason could have, he would have jumped into the backseat of that car and he never would have come back to the old shop with cardboard for windows. The place where his dad was waiting for him. The place he called home.

The edits aren't major, though I've shaved about 200 words from what was originally a 500 + word intro. Please note that I've mostly addressed redundancies and phrases that are unnecessary ("Jason paused where he was" becomes "Jason paused"; "He kept his head down low" becomes "He kept his head down.") it is quicker, tighter, and smoother now; the story moves us forward so quickly there is simply no time to stop reading, to grow bored or wonder, do I want to turn the page? And ultimately, that is a tremendous goal of the writer: we must keep the reader moving forward, and turning the pages.

Thanks, Molly, for writing such a great piece, and also for letting me use you as a literary guinea pig!

Tomorrow I'll post some questions you might ask yourself as you edit, to help you identify phrases or words that might be trimmed.

Writing Workshop: Let's Talk About Edits, Baby

Two weeks ago I challenged my blog readers to write a character description; one of the submissions came from the talented and lovely sixteen-year-old Molly Ronan, who kindly agreed to let me feature her piece in my latest Writing Workshop post. Tomorrow I'll pull the curtain back on the line-editing process, but before we dig into the nitty-gritty, let's talk generally about the importance of editing.

Look, editing is necessary, and it pays to get good at it. A piece of writing that is sloppy, disconnected, and boring in first draft can, through the magic of editing, become tight, fast-paced, and completely cohesive (trust me--I've been an editor for years and have seen it happen more than once). And for aspiring writers, learning how to edit yourself--to get rid of all of the useless connector words, unnecessary adjectives, and overly complex phrasing--can mean the difference between getting snapped up by an agent/editor and getting heaped in to the REJECT pile.

What I'm trying to say is: editing your work isn't like forgetting to ice the cake. It's like forgetting to put the d&&n thing in the oven and bake it; all you're left with is a bunch of soggy and formless ingredients. Editing is what gives books shape and structure, what ensures that people are going to want to bite.

One more metaphor before we continue. In first draft, you as the writer are exploring and discovering the fictional landscape yourself; in other words, you don't really know your way around yet. It's like if you were driving around a foreign city, trying to find a Dunkin Donuts. You make a left, and then a left, and then a few rights, and eventually you come to a big ol' D & D, just before your caffeine-fiending had you so desperate you were ready to kill someone. And then, lo and behold, you realize that if you'd just taken Congress Street the whole way, you would have had a straight shot to your coffee fix.

The next time you give someone directions to the D & D, then, will you direct them the convoluted way, sending them around the myriad twists and turns you originally took? Or will you just give them the clearest, simplest route? My bet is the latter, unless you want some scalding java in the face.

Writing is the same way. Just because initially it takes you a long time to get from Point A to Point B doesn't mean--in fact, it shouldn't mean--your readers will have to walk the winding path with you.

Tomorrow we'll move on to specifics; I'll work with Molly's paragraphs from an editor's perspective, showing you how some careful trimming can make a solid (albeit long-winded) introduction shorter, tighter, and completely compelling.

Sunday, August 15, 2010

Je suis desolee...

Hi all...

Sorry for the looong blogging delay. I was moving (yay!) and unpacking (boo), and then packing (boo) and headed to Paris (yay!). Now I am safely ensconced in the land of baguette, brie, and of course, stale cigarette smoke, and feeling generally inspired by the land of expatriate writers like Hemingway, Gertrude Stein, and F. Scott Fitzgerald. Okay, okay, so I'm not a literary genius, but that doesn't mean that bumming around in French cafes and scribbling away in my Moleskine notebooks doesn't make me feel like one!

I have a lot of cool writing workshops planned this week so make sure to check back...in the meantime, I'm sending love and bisous from Paris. (That's me and my sis, by the way. Don't we look French??? Umbrellas and all....)

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

A Very Special Feature: Daisy Whitney Comes to Visit!!

I had the privilege of meeting debut novelist Daisy Whitney (whose book THE MOCKINGBIRDS will be released in November--preorder it here!) in California earlier this year. Ms. Whitney is smart, gorgeous, fierce--and, as this interview proves--just the kind of brave and kick-ass female I like to know and emulate. She was gracious enough to agree to an interview with me...Check it out, below, and find out why I have such a girl crush on her!

1. Hi, Daisy! Tell us a little something about yourself.

I have five pairs of blue shoes, which represents only 10% of my shoe collection, a number that seems both terribly excessive and wholly insufficient; I prefer movies that have kissing scenes and talking animals in them, though not interspecies kissing; I have an obscene tolerance for caffeine and am confident I could go toe to toe with anyone in a caffeine consumption contest; and I love my family, my friends, my dog, reading, writing and adverbs.

2. When did you start writing? Have you always wanted to write a novel?

I’ve been a reporter for print, TV and the Web for the last 15 years so have been writing on deadline pretty much since graduating from college. But for the longest time, I adamantly maintained that I was the ONLY journalist who had no interest in writing the Great American Novel. Then I started reading chick lit in 2004 and eventually I said, “I want to write this too.” I wrote chick lit first (unpubbed) before writing The Mockingbirds, my first young adult novel.

3. Do you have a routine when you write? Is there anything you must have with you?

Ideally, copious amount of green tea and my beloved Mac! I write every day, usually in the evenings after my kids go to bed, but I also seize any extra time in my schedule to write so I write on airplanes, while waiting in the doctor’s office, on the ferry, I have even written in the back of a cab and while parked in my car while waiting for my son’s school to let out for the day. I truly believe that if you want something badly you have to make time for it and that time is always there to be found.

4. Was the title of The Mockingbirds an intentional reference/shout-out to To Kill A Mockingbird? If so, can you explain?

Absolutely! The teenagers who form the Mockingbirds - a secret society of students who have created their own underground justice system to right the wrongs of their peers — take the name from To Kill a Mockingbird because it’s the canonical story of justice and doing the right thing. That book has so much to say about making hard decisions and standing up for what’s right in the face of so much opposition.

5. The beginning of the book is so gripping, and it deals realistically with an unfortunately prevalent issue. How did you decide to write a book about date rape? Was it a conscious decision, in other words?

Writing about date rape was a very deliberate decision because I was date raped my freshman year of college. It’s twenty years later and I am very much healed, but the experience is still a profound one. I successfully pressed charges in my university’s disciplinary system and that experience of standing up and speaking out contributed greatly to my own ability to move forward. But speaking out is very challenging and that’s why I wanted to show that speaking up for yourself can occur in many different ways. The prevalence of date rape is astounding too. According to RAINN (Rape, Abuse and Incest National Network), 1 in 6 women will be a victim of sexual assault during her lifetime and girls ages 16-19 are 4 times more likely than the general population to be victims of rape, attempted rape, or sexual assault. Also, half of the reported date rapes occur among teenagers, according to the California Coalition Against Sexual Assault. BUT, while adults want to believe a teen would come to them for help, teens are more likely to turn to a peer. According to a study conducted by The Northern Westchester Shelter, with Pace Women’s Justice Center, about 83% of 10th graders said they would sooner turn to a friend for help with dating abuse than a teacher, counselor, parent or other caring adult.

6. Talk a little about the cover process. Were you involved at all?

Ah, the myth that authors have any say over their covers! My editor showed me cover comps throughout the process and I was able to give feedback on the elements I liked. The final cover design features a blue and yellow bird and the blue matches all my blue shoes! Hurrah!

7. What are you working on now?

I am ABOUT to turn in book 2 in The Mockingbirds! Whew! It’s been a thrilling and exhausting writing experience and I hope the storyline will continue to challenge readers’ assumptions about how teenagers can become the kind of people who take a stand for right and wrong. Once I turn that in I am going to return to revising a standalone novel I hope to sell next that takes place in Manhattan and is very edgy, sexy, romantic and mysterious!

8. What's your favorite part of writing? Your least favorite?

My least favorite part is when I re-read the dreck of the first draft that I actually at one point thought was good. I call it the “lie of the first draft.” We writers always think our first drafts are fabulous, but they are not. That gets me to my favorite part — the revising. I love ripping the book apart and stitching it back together in a much better way as it comes alive under editorial vision and guidance.

9. Tell us something random, now!

I read US magazine cover to cover each week and learned in a recent feature how to pose better for pictures! Hands on waist, elbows back a bit, stand slightly angled to the side. Best skinny shot!

EVERYONE MAKE SURE TO CHECK OUT THE MOCKINGBIRDS WHEN IT COMES OUT!! (And btw--that is the best way to get a skinny shot!)

Thursday, August 5, 2010

Tuesday Writing Challenge: Your Responses!

Okay all...so thanks so much for your responses to this week's writing challenge! I really love reading your work. I hope you're finding this kind of fun--at the very least, I think the writing prompts are a good way to jump back into work after the weekend. :)

This week is all about character and character description. Below, I've posted four excellent (and very different) character descriptions I received.

From Stephanie Sanders:

Alexander Devine was no ordinary bookstore clerk, when he walked up and down the aisles he had the grace of the wind and the posture of a Greek statue. As he walked passed me he slightly tilled his head in a modern day bow, flashing his bright teeth. His dark eyes sparkled and in contrast to his very light skin, made them look sinister. With all his grace and charm on the outside, I wondered what those eyes were hiding on the inside

What I really like about Stephanie's description is that she contrasts our expectation of what a bookstore clerk should be with the actual characteristics of this bookstore clerk--in other words, she uses and then subverts the reader's expectations. This is a great technique for making a reader feel engaged with the material.

From Kate (of I Just Want To Sit Here And Read!)
Jake Johnson was 5’8 and thin, almost sickly. He was self-conscious of the bones protruding from his skin. His skin was a pale white and there were severe shadows under his eyes. He pulled his hand through his thinning dark hair, or whatever was left of it from his non-forgiving genetics. He looked down at his hand and shook off random strands. His shirt was white but stained with coffee and chocolate from his breakfast. He hadn’t had time to change before work and cursed himself for the lack of attention to hygiene. After a long day sitting in a cubicle, answering ridiculous phone calls from whiny customers, he just wanted to get his deli meat. He stood in line, four people deep, itching for the opportunity to order and get the hell out of there. His foot tapped with anticipation as the woman in front of him needed to order for the whole neighborhood, it seemed. When it was his chance he raced to the counter and tripped over his worn shoes. He looked down and cursed at his non-functioning feet. He gave his order quickly and looked around the market, wishing for a way out. He just needed to get his lunch meat and a few other necessities then he would be out of there and home. Home sweet home. Where he can relax and shake off the horrible day that just occurred. Drink himself into oblivion and pray for the next to be better.

I love Kate's use of detail here, in particular the fact that Jake is waiting impatiently for deli meats after work. There are many other indications in this paragraph that he is kind of lonely, and pathetic, but in some ways she doesn't even need them--all we need to know is that he is waiting to get lunch meat for dinner, and we KNOW that!

From Elizabeth D:

Leon Benson was tall and lanky, with dark brown hair that stuck up in an untidy, yet endearing fashion. The girls at Sunnyvale high sometimes whispered that he could be cute, if it wasn’t for the fact that he hunched when he walked, and despite his brilliant blue eyes, he always looked at the ground when he talked. That is, on the rare occasion that he talked at all. His parents were divorced and his clothes were always ripped and baggy, one size too large. But Leon had a good heart. Rumour had it that the criss-crossed scar on his left shoulder was from when he jumped in front of a motorbike to save a kid he didn’t even know, and once, after a freshman failed her algebra exam and was crying outside in the hallway, Leon sat down next to her, and soon they were both smiling and laughing. Laughing wasn’t something that Leon did often. But I heard him once, years ago. And I’ve been trying to get his attention ever since.

This is a great example of description that makes us feel something. In some ways, we don't even need the phrase "But Leon had a good heart." You could strike it out entirely, and the reader would still be left feeling that Leon was kind of dorky, potentially pitiable, but ultimately a wonderful person. And I love the last three lines. it makes you want to read on and see if she DOES get his attention, doesn't it?

From Nichola Hughes:
Derek was a gambling man. Every move he made told you so. His portly frame hovered at the edge of the checkout queue in the store- not in line, and not out of it. His flat cap was pulled down over his wrinkled brow and he hunched his broad shoulders so as not to catch the eye of any other shopper. He rubbed his weathered palms together nervously and shuffled his battered sneakers waiting for his chance to cut in line. The customer at the checkout finished paying and Derek chanced his luck, darting in front of the next woman in the queue and flashing the cashier his bright blue eyes and a wide, but gruesome (and mainly toothless) grin.
“A ticket for tomorrow’s lotto,” he chirped before she had chance to protest, “and if you could give me the right numbers, that would be great”.
The queue behind tutted in annoyance and he turned his head to the woman he’d cut in front of, scrunching the right side of his rosy face into a cheeky wink. He paid the cashier and shuffled off, at a remarkably slower pace than that he’d used when jumping the queue, calling back over his shoulder “All I have to do now is come back tomorrow and pick up my winnings!”

One of the great things about Nichola's description is that she INTERWEAVES description and action. Often, new writers fall into a trap of the "checkerboard" model: description followed by action, followed by more description, followed by more action. But Nichola moves the story forward as she is describing her protagonist.

Thanks, all, for participating! Stay tuned for the next challenge...


Tuesday, August 3, 2010

Tuesday Writing Challenge!

Hey all--

I had so much fun with my recent Monday Writing Challenge, I've decided to host another one! This week will be all about character development on my blog. We've all read novels that unfortunately feature characters about as flat as a New York thin crust pizza; later on in the week, I'll be posting about what makes a character believable and "round."

But first--your challenge! Pick a stranger--this could be someone you see in the library, at the pool, on the street, or in the grocery store--and write a 250-word description about who he/she is, where he/she is headed, and what he/she wants. All of this information should be threaded together along with a physical description that will evoke the character's personality.

That's right:I said evoke the character's personality...not evoke the character's physicality.

You might be asking, at this point--but Lauren, whatever do you mean? Isn't physical description all ABOUT what the character looks like?

The answer, surprisingly, is no. Good physical description tells us more about a character's MORAL and PSYCHOLOGICAL qualities. This might be surprising, but consider the following examples:

1. Casey Bellweather was 5'9" tall, and had shoulder-length blond hair that she wore parted in the middle. She had even white teeth, a dimple in her left cheek, and she weighed 135 lbs. She was wearing wedge heels, shorts, and a collared t-shirt.

Even though it's super specific--and you might be able to picture Casey--you don't know anything of actual value about her.

Now consider this:

2. Casey Bellweather was model tall, and still insisted on breezing through the hall in wedge heels that added an extra two inches to her outrageously long legs, and made her look like a ship sailing high above the dingy swells of the Thomspon High School halls. Her hair was forever parted perfectly and exactly down the middle, even after field hockey practice when the rest of us looked like we'd just been attacked by a leaf-blower. Whenever she was late to class, or flaked on an assignment,all she had to do was flash her perfect white teeth, and that little dimple in her left cheek, and Boom! She was forgiven.

Okay, so it's a little longer, but what do you now know about Casey? Casey is that kind of girl. The one we all love to hate. And even better than the fact you now know more about her--I've made you feel something! Because don't you kind of despise Casey now??

Last example:

3. Casey Bellweather had been 5'9" since the age of 11, and despite the fact that she had recently started wearing heels--the scuffed up wedges were the latest example--you could tell she'd never really gotten used to it. She wore her hair parted exactly down the middle, every day, like a little kid, so it hung like a curtain around her face; and she had developed a habit of scrunching herself into her seat as soon as she arrived in class, as though she was trying to make herself as small as possible. She hardly ever smiled, and when she did she covered her mouth with her hand, even though she had nice, even teeth and a dimple in her left cheek.

Casey just became someone very different, right? And again, more importantly, you feel something different for her?

The whole point is, it's not about the details, but about what details you choose to highlight, and how you choose to describe them, in relation to the overall whole. Remember--people only care about physical description in so far as it reveals something about a character's PERSONALITY.

With that in mind, sally merrily forth on your challenge! I'll post up your submissions in a few days...


Content by Lauren Oliver - Copyright 2011. Blog designed by Ella Press Studio - 2011.

Author Photo by Jonathan Alpeyrie - Copyright 2010. Original Font Idea by Erin Fitzsimmons - 2010.