Countdown to Debut – plus, 10 more ARCs of Juniper up for grabs!

How did we get here? In less than two months now, Juniper Lemon’s Happiness Index hits bookstores!

I hardly know where to begin, but I think I’ll start with some excitement: Goodreads is giving away 10 advance copies of Juniper! If you’re a Goodreads member, you can enter with the click of a button here (where it says “Enter Giveaway”) through April 27!

Goodreads Giveaway in April

Other pre-release goings on at the moment:

  • Audiobook production is starting! The producer with Listening Library recently reached out to me to let me know the voice actress they had in mind for Juniper. I listened to some samples and I absolutely love her and I cannot WAIT to hear her bring Juniper to life!
  • I have a publicist now. Just assigned from my publisher a couple weeks ago. Figuring out this business a little bit by the seat of my pants, but we already have a local radio interview scheduled??
  • I’m trying out video! A rep at Penguin asked if I’d be willing to film a short video about the book for promo purposes. I have written out a script (it’s meant to be under one minute) and I’m getting excited about actually making it!
  • I’m working on promo efforts independently, too. On the advice of former debuts I am being careful not to spread myself too thin, and am instead concentrating on projects that I find enjoyable and not more time/effort/stress than they’re worth. These include, but are not limited to:
  • Creating a Juniper coloring page/colorable postcard (watch this space!), and
  • Planning a public release celebration to take place, most likely, the weekend after Juniper comes out. Key words so far: scavenger hunt. Raffles (open internationally). ICE CREAM.

Book 2 (unrelated to Juniper) currently hovers somewhere in the background, but I anticipate that may also move to a front burner quickly– and likely in the busy rush of release!

For now, it’s one day, one new step at a time.

Big Book News!!!

Run up the banners! Write it in the skies! Shout your feelings and favorite Hamilton song from the rooftops!!!

Today I am thrilled to announce the sale of my debut novel to Kathy Dawson of Kathy Dawson Books, an imprint at Penguin Random House!

Here’s the official announcement in Publishers Weekly:

JLHI PW Children's Bookshelf announcement

Watch this space – more details to come!

(Update 7/22/2016: Details ARRIVED!)

Projected Revision Stats

Three weeks ago tonight, I received an edit letter outlining all the major (and minor) changes I needed to be thinking about as I revise my YA novel. But what does a traditional track revision look like in terms of work? Well, I’ll give you a hint: it’s more than moving commas around.

AHEM *fetches reading glasses*

long scroll

Here are my projected stats for this revision:

CUTS: 12 scenes, 3-4 threads, ~4 characters (+1 with almost no page time)

COMPLETELY NEW MATERIAL: 10 scenes, 17 other significant* insertions

MAJOR REWRITES: 15 scenes, plus 12 with substantial adjustments

LINE EDITS: *delirious laughter* 80+ tweaks of substance, X more for fine details, & a large, uncounted number of cuts.

*significant = in terms of creative brain power, not necessarily length

 

There will be other changes that are harder to quantify, too. But the bottom line is: I know my book is going to be much stronger after this.

That makes me a happy writer.

 

What’s in an outline?

Every book I’ve written, I outlined. I am a planner by design (ho ho ho), and yet with each subsequent project I feel my planning process evolves: if not in cleanliness, in utility– perhaps because each time around, I better understand what makes a good story, and that allows me to better shape and reshape the whole thing at the skeletal stage.

Since the outline is a sort of growing, changing process itself (and must vary from author to author as much as from one to the next), I thought it’d be fun to share a snapshot of personal stats from my current one.

I first conceived of this idea probably last August, and began work on it more in earnest in October/November. There’s been a lot of stop and go with it between the holidays and another project so it’s hard to say exactly how much time I’ve put into it, but maybe that’s an accurate portrayal, anyway (because life IS stop and go, isn’t it?).

project: M

outline version: 4.0

page count: 31 single-spaced

format: chapter by chapter, bullets into prose

title: I started this project without one and FINALLY FOUND IT LIKE A WEEK AGO YAY

highlight colors: 3

text colors: 6

margin comments: 30

accompanying documents: 5

those documents are:

  • cuts
  • bullets that became fleshed out scenes (well, more fleshed out than the ones I left in)
  • a rambling list of story questions, plot holes, ideas, me talking myself through problems, tracking things, and points for consideration
  • a clean copy of a list central to the story
  • floor plans

placeholders? Yes, but very few at this point

research? Has been done; one minor subject left to

One thing I can say: my outlines are always messy at the start. I think because they are my truest first draft: the place where Editor Julie doesn’t exist, and I am literally just throwing ideas on the page as fast as they come to me.

Incidentally, this may be why even my outlines require drafts.

The Last Day of November

I haven’t posted all this month, so I thought it time for a check-in.

Writing-wise, I’m excited to be developing a new Agent-approved book idea! I can’t tell you much about it yet (gag rule), but I can say the concept’s a rich playing field for the surreal within the contemporary. Already having fun with that. *cackles*

On other artistic fronts, after years of lusting for a high quality camera, I’ve finally, finally, FINALLY purchased a Nikon DSLR. I have experience shooting both film and digital, but I never imagined what a task it would be figuring out the controls in the vessel that combines them! I’m finally starting to get the hang of it though, and mapping features has been a good chance for me to review my photography basics.

Now if only the rain would let off so I could take it out to play more!

Reading: a great many great books. TBR and TBRR (re-read) piles constantly on the rise. Will be posting a Top Reads of 2015 selection soon!

Watching: the second season of The 100 and the third of Parks & Rec. How I ever went this long without the comedic gold of Leslie Knope I’ll never know.

Listening to: Um, kind of falling in love with Panic! At the Disco lately. Since I got a set of Skullcandy, I swear I’ve been listening to Death of a Bachelor on repeat. I haven’t been this excited for an album to drop since AM! Also getting into Melanie Martinez, Halsey, and The Zolas, who I already liked, but keep finding more amazing singles from (Maggie Stiefvater introduces me to some of the best tunes).

Learning: assorted French. Said Nikon/photography. How to bottle the stars.

You?

The Writing Major, Part II: How it DID prepare me for life as an author

Last week I looked back on my university writing major to evaluate the things it didn’t teach me about being an author or trying to write books for a living. This post is the follow-up to highlight the ways my program did prepare me for a career as a novelist.

Author Things my Writing Major Taught Me:

  1. That you need to read seriously if you want to write seriously. Half my writing program was lit classes, and here’s why: If you want to write well, you need to read well. You need to know what great writing looks like and learn from it. And a rounded diet doesn’t hurt, but somewhere in there you should be reading the kinds of things you want to write.
  2. A basic canon of literature and theory including everything from Shakespeare and Aristotle to Emily Dickinson, Raymond Carver, and Jonathan Safran Foer (see: plays, essays, poetry, fiction). I consider this an author thing because exposure to a wide variety of work gives you a broader understanding and palette and can translate to richer, more upmarket fiction (that happy place between literary and genre).
  3. How to critique and be critiqued. Classroom workshops were perfect for learning to give and receive constructive criticism, which is helpful because criticism is vital to revision. My classes helped me see that feedback improved my work, to develop a thicker skin, and also how to filter the useful from the outlier criticisms of a beta-reading team.
  4. That you need outside perspective. Last week, I said my major didn’t teach me to distance myself from my work so I could evaluate it objectively. But it did teach me the importance of getting other people to read it—because while we, the authors, will always be too close to our work and biased to some degree, foreign eyes will not. They will see things we don’t. And a classroom you share with friends (those who are careful of our feelings) as well as strangers (those who will be more direct) is a great place to realize that you don’t just want compliments from readers; you want the kind of comments that will help you make the story better.
  5. To read aloud in order to edit yourself. This was the one trick we learned in my program for gaining some objectivity in our own writing. Not the most practical for long-form (novels), but great for testing passages.
  6. To keep your day job (or at least, not expect to live off your writing anytime soon). Self-explanatory.
  7. The mechanics of good writing. It may have seemed harsh last week to say that my writing major didn’t teach me how to write a compelling story (or anything about writing a book), but that’s because you have to know the materials before you can build the house: the fundamentals. Craft rules like Show, Don’t Tell, pacing, good dialogue, killing the runway, using active voice, sensory detail, nouns and verbs over adjectives, etc. Rules such as these I think make the bulk of education in writing, because they are the elements that can be taught.

In sum, a formal (undergraduate) education in writing is about laying the foundations for becoming a great writer– introducing you to the craft, the tools, how to collaborate/give and receive artistic criticism, the great works that have come before. Where you take those lessons (fiction, journalism, screenwriting, etc.)– and how– is entirely up to you.

What have I missed, fellow writing (or English) majors? Share in the comments below!

The Writing Major, Part I: What it didn’t teach me about being an author

A recent chat with a friend got me thinking: There’s a lot a formal education in writing doesn’t teach you about writing—specifically, about being a novelist. And since the start of many collegiate school years is coming up and aspiring authors will be contemplating majors and minors, I thought it’d be a good time to reflect on my own studies, what they taught me about writing, and what they didn’t.

This will be a two part post, beginning with:

Things my Writing Major Didn’t Teach Me

  1. What makes a compelling story. We always discussed what we read, why it was great literature, terminology. But did I learn what made me care about characters? What made me feel, what pulled me into a narrative, what kept me turning pages? No. These are things I’ve only found through years of personal, recreational reading and writing—things I’m still realizing today. If you’re a writing major aspiring to authordom, I highly recommend a steady diet of personal for-fun reading alongside any scholarly assignments.
  2. High concept. True, high concept (a unique premise that can be pitched in about a line—“boy goes to wizarding school,” “safari-style park of DNA-resurrected dinosaurs,” or “100 delinquents sent to test living conditions on post-apocalyptic earth”) doesn’t apply to every work of fiction. But grasping the term is invaluable in storytelling, as is being able to detail your concept—what your story is about—before you even start writing.
  3. How to write a book. My program offered courses in short stories, plays, poetry, and creative nonfiction—but no “Engw 401: How to Write a Novel.” I actually can’t even remember discussing plot in a story-craft capacity, except once in a Spanish lit class. En Español!
  4. The significance of revision. Oh, we revised—but not nearly enough. The best lessons are the ones I’ve found in my own pursuits since graduating: (1) Final draft = first draft – 10-15% (Stephen King). In other words—CUT A LOT. (2) “Revisions” =/= line edits, stronger wording, moving punctuation around. Revisions mean extreme, sweeping changes to the entire story, with large portions cut and other large portions rewritten. (3) “The first draft of everything is shit,” (Hemingway), but two drafts doesn’t do it, either. Try five or ten or twenty.
  5. That distance (time away) is a necessary part of revision. On a semester schedule, there was naturally not enough time to let our work sit between drafts so we could come back to it with fresh eyes after a month or so. But this is essential to seeing your work, especially novels, objectively: to evaluating what needs to change, and how best to change it.
  6. How to find an agent.
  7. How to write a query letter (to an agent). We did just barely touch on querying literary magazines, but in the book-writing realm that ended up being irrelevant. Why? Because
  8. You do not need publication credits to get an agent. As an aspiring author, I heard time and again that pub credits looked good in your query letter and increased your chances of getting an agent. And there’s probably truth to that. But ultimately, you don’t need credits to land an agent. Your novel is what you’re querying, and your novel is what they’re looking at. So if you want to write books, write books—don’t struggle over short works unnecessarily.
  9. To daydream. To recognize and collect things that interest you, the seeds of ideas; to connect and develop them into larger stories. This is something I’m still figuring out, and while I’m getting better at it, it’s not a skill they can really teach in the classroom.

I imagine this list will grow with time and progress in publishing, but in the interim, what about you? Whether you’ve studied writing formally or not—what lessons have you had to teach or learn for yourself?

Stay tuned for the second half of this post next week: What my writing major DID teach me about being an author!

7 Things I’ve Learned About Coming Up With Ideas

Traditionally, I’ve always entered the brainstorm stage with equal parts dread and thrill: thrill because the slate is clean, the world is wide, I can write anything; dread because the page is blank, and so is my head, oh god, why did I choose writing?*

Between different drafts of projects this year, I’ve spent a lot of time seeking out, trying on, mocking up and tearing down ideas. Emphasis on the tearing down part (There’s a reason that this

ideas 1

is a writer stereotype.).

Fortunately, somewhere between all the desperate searching and lists and freewrites and plotting and summaries and metaphorical and actual crumpling of pages, I’ve managed to learn a few things about brainstorming and developing ideas efficiently. Things like:

1. Don’t wait until you’ve finished writing Project A to begin looking for/developing ideas for Project B. In the three novels I’ve written to date, I’ve always worked very one-project-at-a-time. While I think that’s productive in terms of keeping your head in the right story, it’s also a bit like going cold turkey off exercise or coffee or your favorite TV show whenever you get to a stopping point: suddenly a major part of your routine is gone, and you’re left dizzy and wanting and yes, probably even a bit cranky. You’ll save the stress if you have the core of another project (say, the logline) ready to go before you set the current one down.

2. Keep track of what interests you. Anything in this category has the potential to bleed into the important question, What is a story I’d want to read?, and its faithful companion, the story I want to write. Create a collection, real or virtual, for this express purpose, and if you’re ever in need of a starting point, just open it and play with its contents.

3. From one certainty, the world (Look for ideas in likely places). I’ve talked previously about sparks, the thing entire stories unfold from. While I still believe that sparks cannot be made, I do think we can be smart about where we look for them (see #2). And if we’re willing to mine away in a likely place, working at it even when we can’t see that first edge that glitters, chances are we’ll strike something precious eventually.

4. Think big (picture). Zoom out. When developing ideas into stories, start with overarching elements like concept, plot, conflict. Your spark might be a smaller detail, but the big stuff is fundamental. A good test to see if your story is ready to write (indeed, objectively sound and interesting enough to be worth writing): can you write a compelling synopsis in 100-250 words? How about a logline?

5. Legos, and let go. Here is why I’m suddenly feeling like I’ve learned something in this game: In playing with the bigger pieces first (attaching items that intrigue me to different characters, situations, formats, etc., and experimenting/rearranging them like Legos), I feel I’ve become able to recognize early on ideas that don’t sing: aren’t compelling enough, remind me too much of another story, would work better in another genre, etc. And when I do, I can swiftly set them aside and try something else.

6. There is value in knowing what you DON’T want to write, too. Seriously. Just crossing items off the list of endless possibilities (“not fantasy”; “not romance-based”; “no suicide, no road trip, no manic pixie dream girl”) is grounding and steers you in the right direction (or at least, away from the wrong ones).

7. If you’re focusing on a specific category, do recon. Ideally, you’re well read in that category already. Whether you are or not, one quick way to learn about it and maybe even generate ideas is to make a trip to the bookstore or library and spend time reading jackets. Reading the premises of many different stories in your genre, you’ll get a better understanding of what’s been done before and what hasn’t, what compels you and what doesn’t, not to mention find potential comp titles and additions to your TBR! All of which feeds into your idea pool.

Other things you’ve learned about finding and developing ideas? Share away!

Finally,

*I could not help but notice that part of this sentence formed a haiku:

The page is blank and

so is my head, oh god, why

did I choose writing?

Active Daydreaming: When do your thoughts fly?

So today I was working out– running and listening to music– with a new book idea in the back of my mind. At some point, I started thinking about that book. I started thinking about the main character and who she was and how she behaves and what’s in her past and these scenes, these tiny glimpses of her life just began to reveal themselves to me. I started seeing relationships between things, characters, picturing events. After a while I looked up and was stunned to see 30 minutes was nearly up. I had totally tuned out my music, though my body was still running in time with it. I had been in THE ZONE.

One of my biggest rules for idea development is to spend time in places you can hear yourself think. This invites the mind to wander, to slip into domino thought streams and envision and invent, but I must admit, getting into active daydream mode (where your ideas freely leap from one to the next for any real stretch of time) is something I find much harder to do on command than not. Near impossible to do before a word processor.

The reason I wanted to share today’s experience (other than sheerly marveling that wow, that actually happens sometimes) is that to ask other writers: Do you notice any pattern about when your mind seems to open up the most (e.g., when you do dishes, exercise, read, etc.)? When parts of the story come at you of their own volition? I once read that Stephen King walks for three hours every day, thinking about his books. Maybe there’s something to it.

Ideas: Throwing Out vs. Digging Deep

Ideas are work.

More than once I have started down the path of a story idea and come up against major obstacles. “Ugh, that’s too trope-y,” or “No, that reminds me too much of [other book].” And you know what it’s tempting to do when you hit a big picture snag like that? Write the whole idea off. Because, who wants to waste time developing something problematic at its very foundation?

But here’s the thing.

“Obstacles” can be gotten round. “Problems” can be solved. X has already been done before? Big whoop. What’s new? (Certainly not the grievance that it’s all been done before.) Y is a hackneyed cliché that you’ll eat paste and die before subscribing to? Clichés are as old as time raised your ancestors, but they still managed to invent things. So do we.

My point is this: when you recognize a problem with an idea, that is not just cause for casting the idea away. That is cause for putting the problem under your microscope, studying it, and accepting it as your first creative challenge.

If the core of your idea, if the thing that first sparked it is original and raw and excites you, it is worth breaking rocks for.

What is the spark/heart/core of your idea? The spark is often the first thing about the idea that came to you. It could be a concept, a scene, a phrase, a spoken line. It is the thing from which everything else unfolds. It is the one essential, non-negotiable bone of your story (And here is what has been a recent revelation for me: Especially in the planning stages, most of your story is negotiable). If you can isolate the spark, you can carry it through different permutations until you find the pieces it fits with.

That’s not to say you mightn’t need to put an idea down for a while and let it sit, get some distance and perspective—but if you have your spark, and you can pinpoint your concerns—even the big picture ones—you can creative your way around them. Give them a twist. Come up with something else. Try new pieces on, cast old ones away or rearrange them.

But if the spark of your story grabs you, for fiction’s sake, don’t throw it out!

Dig deeper.