Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Lisa Schroeder's top 10 things to do if you want to write a novel

10. You already know this, but it’s worth repeating --- read, read, read. Read books in the same genre as the one you want to write, and while you read, think about what makes the character(s) come alive, what makes the pacing work, what are the major and minor plot points, etc. Every time you read a book, you are learning something about writing, even if you don’t realize it. Reading is NOT wasted time. If only we could say the same about cupcake baking.

9. I also think it can be helpful to read some books on craft. Most teens who write to me seem surprised that you can get books at the book store or the library about writing a novel. Here are just a few that I’ve found helpful:


SAVE THE CAT by Blake Snyder (a screenwriting book, but I find it immensely helpful)

8. Before you start writing, try to get the premise of your novel into a short paragraph. If you can get it down to one sentence, even better. Yes, I do realize this is not at all easy. Too bad, says the evil author with a sly grin. This exercise helps you to cement in your mind what your book is really about. A couple of examples of descriptions I came up with in the early days of writing these novels.

The Bridge from Me to You (forthcoming w/ Scholastic, 7/29/14): In this small town story of learning to follow your heart, newcomer Lauren meets star football player Colby and, despite the obstacles in their way, help each other through a tense few months.

I Heart You, You Haunt Me (Simon Pulse, 2008): Fifteen-year-old Ava is heartbroken over the death of her boyfriend, Jackson. But it isn’t long after his funeral when she discovers while he may be dead, he definitely isn’t gone. 

7. It can be very helpful to have a road map of some kind so you know where you’re going in your story. You don’t have to do an outline, necessarily, as I realize outlining a novel can seem like an arduous task. But without some kind of road map, you are likely to get lost. Some people enjoy this - venturing out with no plan and figuring it out as you go. The longer I do this, however, the more I see the real benefit to having *something* to help you as you go.

You might find a 9-step plotting tool helpful, which you can read about here. Or maybe you decide to write a one-page synopsis. Or perhaps you use note cards and jot down your plot points in a more casual way. There are lots of options here - play around and find something that works for you. 

6. Your main character will be the heart of your story, so get to know him/her before you start writing. Write down what you know about your MC --- likes, dislikes, fears, background information that might be useful but won’t make it into the story. Think about how your past has made you the person you are today. This will be true of your characters as well. Some authors like to interview their main character, or fill out a character sheet, which you can find by doing an internet search.

5. Eventually, you must begin. You must start writing. This is the hardest part for many. The fear of doing it wrong wins out, and so nothing is done at all. Here is the most important thing to remember --- write the story for YOURSELF. Don’t think about anyone else. Write the story because YOU want to know what happens. No one else is reading at this point. This draft is for your eyes only. 

4. Don’t be afraid to play around in those early pages with voice, tense, format, etc. Pretend you are in a sandbox and you’re trying to figure out what you want to do. This is your book. There is no right or wrong way to write it. When it feels right, you’ll know!

3. Some pages will flow like water and others will only come with a lot of sweat and tears. That’s how it is. Writing a book is not easy. If it were, everyone would be doing it. The best thing you can do is make a goal to write something every day. 100 words, 500 words, 1,000 words --- it doesn’t matter. But set a goal and stick to it. This goal makes you open the document and dive back in, and that’s half the battle!

2. When you get stuck, and you will get stuck, backtrack and see if you took a wrong turn somewhere. As you write, there are places you make choices --- either this happens or that happens. Sometimes you write your character into a corner. It’s okay! Pages might have to be deleted, and yes it’s a little sad, but if it’s the best thing for your story, you have to do it. One step forward, two steps back is better than no steps at all! Another reason you might get stuck is because you have no idea what happens next. If you haven't done any plotting up to this point, now might be the time. 

Finally, remember this --- a first draft is NOT going to be perfect. I know, it's so unfair. But it will be far, far, FAR from perfect. It’s a draft. It’s you getting the bones of the story down on paper. Give yourself permission to write badly. Just write. Almost every book on your bookshelf started as a badly written first draft. Keep writing and try to enjoy the process. When the draft is done, you will have to revise. A lot. No one said this was going to be easy, right?

Saturday, April 19, 2014

Some poetry by Sara Teasdale

I stumbled across Sara Teasdale's poetry when I was writing Falling for You. I needed a poet that Ella, the elderly woman Rae meets and befriends, admired, and it had to be one that had work in the public domain, so we wouldn't have to deal with permissions and all of that messy stuff, because I wanted to put pieces of a couple of poems in my book. What a gem I discovered.

Sara Teasdale's poetry is so lovely. Although many of her poems can be found on the internet, I ended up buying myself a book of her poetry, FLAME AND SHADOW, published in 1928. It is in really good condition, considering it's over eighty years old, and I now consider it one of my greatest treasures. I simply adore this book.

I think everyone should have at least one poetry book they love on their shelves. There is something so comforting, to me at least, about reading poetry. This morning, I've been feeling anxious about some things. But I went to my shelf, picked up this book, and started reading. And her words just washed it all away. She writes of pain, of death, of joy, of love. It's all there, and suddenly, I have a friend who understands whatever I'm feeling at the moment. What a gift.


In the silver light after a storm,
Under dripping boughs of bright new green,
I take the low path to hear the meadowlarks
Alone and high-hearted as if I were queen.

What have I to fear in life or death
Who have known three things: the kiss in the night,
The white flying joy when a song is born,
And meadowlarks whistling in silver light.


Supper comes at five o'clock,
At six, the evening star,
My lover comes at eight o'clock --
But eight o'clock is far.

How could I bear my pain all day
Unless I watched to see
The clock-hands laboring to bring
Eight o'clock to me.


Day, you have bruised and beaten me,
As rain beats down and the bright, proud sea,
Beaten my body, bruised my soul,
Left me nothing lovely or whole --
Yet I have wrested a gift from you,
Day that dies in dusky blue:

For suddenly over the factories
I saw a moon in the cloudy seas --
A wisp of beauty all alone
In a world as hard and gray as stone --
Oh who could be bitter and want to die
When a maiden moon wakes up in the sky?


Into my heart's treasury
I slipped a coin
That time cannot take
Nor a thief purloin, --
Oh better than the minting
Of a gold-crowned king
Is the safe-kept memory
of a lovely thing.

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Thoughts from a scared, white author on diversity in Kid Lit

There have been many discussions on social media lately around diversity.

I think THIS POST by Kelly Jensen is a great one to read if you want to get caught up in what's been happening. And it's this post that caused me to open up my blog and write something about the topic, because I've been thinking about it a lot lately, but have said very little.

I will start with an admission: as a white female, I feel most comfortable writing about white females. Early in my career, this was not an area I wanted to "stretch myself" as I set off trying to make a career for myself writing books for kids and teens. Mostly because writing a good, publishable novel is hard, and I didn't feel like I was ready to risk one more thing I might get wrong. I was still worrying about whether I knew how to get the plot right, the pacing right, the setting right, etc. etc.

There are a lot of things to get right, you know? I'm not saying this made my decisions good ones or "right" - I'm just telling you how I came to the decisions I did about the kinds of characters I wrote. I mean, if I'm honest, even writing white males scares me, and most of my books have at least one of those in there as well. I constantly question myself - is this how boys talk? Think? Act? I live with three of them, and still, they often feel like aliens to me (no offense, male humans).

However, once I had a half a dozen novels under my belt, I knew it was time to get really uncomfortable.

When I agreed to write a series for Scholastic about four girls who meet at summer camp, I knew this was the perfect opportunity to go where I had never gone before.

And so, I did. The CHARMED LIFE series features four girls - Caitlin, Mia, Libby and Hannah. In the first two chapters of the first book, the four girls meet and find the charm bracelet that they believe to be lucky. But then, from there, we follow Caitlin and her family home to Connecticut. The second book features Mia in southern California, the third book, Libby, who is from England, and the fourth book, Hannah from Tennessee.

Four girls. Here was my opportunity to let non-white kids find themselves within the pages of a book.

So Caitlin in book #1 is African American and Mia in book #2 is Latina.

I'm not gonna lie, I was scared I'd get something wrong. Actually, I'm still scared, since the books aren't out yet. With Mia, especially, I had to do some extra work to make sure I got the short Spanish phrases correct that her mother uses at home. I had to think long and hard about her heritage, where did her mom come from, where did her dad come from, etc. etc. Before I sent the draft off to my editor, a very kind Spanish teacher at a local private school helped me, and I'm extremely grateful for that assistance. That's the thing though - there is lots of help out there, we just have to seek it out. Yes, it's work, but in the end, worth it, I think.

But even more than any of that, I was afraid of being stereotypical without realizing it. Afraid someone would take issue with something I wrote and call me racist. Still, I didn't back down, and did the best I could, because ultimately, I believe diversity in fiction is something we all need to work on. And I truly believe trying is better than not trying. If I got something wrong, and I most likely did, I will learn from my mistakes and work hard to do better in the future.

I love THIS POST that Sarah Ockler wrote about white authors writing diverse characters a couple of years ago. In it she writes, "Why is diversity in fiction important? Because diversity in life is important. And when we exclude—intentionally or otherwise—characters of color from our work, we do send a billboard message to readers. We tell them that people of color aren’t there, aren’t important, aren’t worthy of our stories." 

The last thing I want to do is send the message to some of my readers that they aren't important. I mean, come on - just the thought breaks my heart. Want a picture of what our readers look like? Here's one a Missouri teacher tweeted to me back in January.

Spend a moment, and take this in. You know I have, again and again.

Recently, I participated in a PJ reading night at a local elementary school. I took along IT'S RAINING CUPCAKES and the first CHARMED LIFE book. This school has a very diverse population. And let me tell you something - I will never forget how many of the kid's eyes lit up when I showed them the cover of CAITLIN'S LUCKY CHARM before I read a couple of pages. After I finished reading, some of them even came over to look at the cover close up. To touch it. It was almost like they couldn't believe what they were seeing. (Mad props, by the way, to Scholastic for doing a photo shoot for these books and doing their best to find models that fit the characters I created).

I wanted to write this post because I know there are lots of white authors out there like me who are afraid. As Sarah Ockler said in her post - "Race is a sticky thing." But I love what she said following a short discussion about that. "We all need to take a collective drink of Let’s Get The Hell Over Ourselves (and chase it down with a swig of We’re All Human, Remember?).

Yes, yes, yes. *empties my glass*

Change happens when we each do what we can. Authors, agents, editors, cover designers, sales reps, festival organizers, etc. It's not up to authors alone. Still, a big part of it is what we choose to do with the stories we write.

I think the most important thing to remember is: it's okay to be afraid. Do it anyway.

“Courage is not the absence of fear but rather the judgement that something is more important than fear; The brave may not live forever but the cautious do not live at all.” ~ Meg Cabot, The Princess Diaries

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

My favorite verse novel

We are halfway through National Poetry month. Have you been checking in on the progressive poem?

Today it's over at Tamera Will Wissinger's blog. I still have a while before it's my turn, but I'm getting a wee bit nervous. I love what they've done so far, I have to say.

Anyway, today I thought I'd share my all-time favorite verse novel. Most of you know I have four young adult verse novels published. In July, a new one hits the shelves, though it's half in verse and half in prose, so does that bring me up to four-and-a-half? I'm not sure...

Again and again, I've picked up this book, Reaching for Sun by Tracie Vaughn Zimmer, to inspire me as I'm writing verse. Tracie has such a beautiful way with words. This book inspires me to reach (in a poetic sort of way) when I'm writing.

It's recommended for kids ages 10 and up, and I feel like many of my middle school readers would like this one. Honestly, I feel like there's a little something for everyone here. It was the winner of the Schneider Family Book Award in 2008.

From goodreads:

"Josie Wyatt knows what it means to be different. Her family's small farmhouse seems to shrink each time another mansion grows up behind it. She lives with her career-obsessed mom and opinionated Gran, but has never known her father. Then there's her cerebral palsy: even if Josie wants to forget that she was born with a disability, her mom can't seem to let it go. Yet when a strange new boy--Jordan--moves into one of the houses nearby, he seems oblivious to all the things that make Josie different. Before long, Josie finds herself reaching out for something she's never really known: a friend… and possibly more. Interlinked free verse poems tell the beautiful, heartfelt story of a girl, a family farm reduced to a garden, and a year of unforgettable growth."

A few of my favorite passages:

"Crickets sing their lullabies
to us,
and before dawn stretches
her arms into a new day
sleep tucks me in."

"Granny braced by the screen door,
fists on her wide hips,
surveying the sky,
daring the rain to

mist her face
with each gust.
Gran always says,
'This tantrum can't last --
but we Wyatt women will."

"I find Jordan stretched out
in the hammock.
Last summer, I tried it once;
tangled for hours,
frightened and helpless,
like a spider's dinner."

Do you have a favorite verse novel? Would love to hear about it! And I hope if you love verse novels, you'll check out this little gem. 

Saturday, April 12, 2014

My trip to Texas and the TLA conference

On Monday I woke up very early. As in, 3:00 am early, in order to catch a 6 a.m. flight to Dallas, Texas. I made it to Dallas just fine, it was the trip to San Antonio from there that got totally messed up and caused me to miss the bookseller event that night, with about 100 independent booksellers in attendance. It was SO disappointing. I could have been stuck at the Austin airport for hours and hours, if not for the kindness of a stranger, so thanks Steve from Omaha for at least getting me out of the airport!

After that frustrating snafu, however, things went well.

The weather was beautiful and I spent most of Tuesday morning walking along the Riverwalk.

Tuesday afternoon I did a panel with Ed. Tech Specialist Michelle Leggett and Librarian Seantele Forman. We talked about connecting students and authors via Skype and I think it went really, really well. Here we are before the talk.

Afterwards, we found a lovely spot along the river and had cool drinks and chips with guacamole. Mmmmm.... I even wore my new cowboy hat.

That evening, I signed Advanced Review Copies of The Bridge from Me to You. During our session, I had mentioned that this book was perfect for Texas, since I call it my small town, big sky, football is king book. I told them I had to do something with all of that love for "Friday Night Lights" that's in my heart. While I signed books, I had quite a few tell me once I mentioned "Friday Night Lights," they just had to come and get my book.

Y'all, clearly, these are my people!!!

I signed alongside Jennifer Ziegler who has an adorable-looking middle grade novel coming out next month (5/27) called Revenge of the Flower Girls. We had a line of enthusiastic librarians and they were all so nice and so many of them said really kind things about me and my books.

As a mid-list author, I think it's easy to feel like there aren't a lot of people who know who you are. These kind, excited librarians reminded me that there are people who know who I am, and to some kids, my books *do* matter. Their comments meant so much to me, and this kindness is one of the main reasons I love the Texas Librarian Conference. They are a great, great group of people.

So here I am in the Scholastic booth, talking and signing:

Here's a picture I snagged off twitter. Author Jennifer Ziegler is on the left, and Sandra Carswell, a librarian who has had me Skype with her school, is between us. It was fun to meet Sandra in person.

Tuesday night, the Scholastic group took us out to dinner along with some fantastic librarians we got to meet and chat with. We went to a place called Biga on the Banks, and the food was SO GOOD. I took a picture of my dessert (because, you know me, it's all about the dessert) but alas, instagram is down and I can't get to it.

On Wednesday, I had an uneventful flight home, thank goodness!!

All in all, a great trip. Thank you, Texas librarians, for being so awesome. Let me tell you something - y'all know how to make an author feel special.

Hope to see you again real soon.

Thursday, April 10, 2014

Signing event this Sunday, April 13th

I am back from the Texas Library Association and have some fun pictures and stories to share, but I keep forgetting to mention an event that is coming up SOON and want to make sure I tell y'all about it before it's too late. Do you like how I used y'all there? Obviously, Texas wore off on me.

So anyway - local peeps:

Kim Derting and I will be at the Bridgeport Barnes and Noble in Tualatin, Oregon from 3:00 to 5:00 on Sunday, April 13th. We're there supporting a book fair for Sherwood Middle School, but anyone can come by and see us to buy books and have them signed. I got a B&N coupon in my inbox today that is good through Sunday, so check yours and come and spend it!!

Friday, April 4, 2014

Some poetry by Emily Dickinson

I’m Nobody! Who are you?
Are you — Nobody — Too?
Then there’s a pair of us!
Don’t tell! They’d banish us — you know!

How dreary — to be — Somebody!
How public — like a Frog —
To tell one’s name — the livelong June —
To an admiring Bog!
(c. 1861) 

A word is dead
When it is said,
Some say.

I say it just
Begins to live
That day.
(c. 1872)

To see her is a Picture --
To hear her is a Tune --
To know her an Intemperance
As innocent as June --
To know her not -- Affliction --
To own her for a Friend
A warmth as near as if the Sun
Were shining in your Hand.
(c. 1883)

To see the Summer Sky
Is Poetry, though never in a book it lie --
True Poems flee --
(c. 1879)

Have a great weekend!