Tuesday, September 28, 2010

A book recommendation for writers. . . and readers

I keep forgetting to recommend a book I received for my birthday: Scout, Atticus, & Boo: A Celebration of Fifty Years of To Kill a Mockingbird by Mary McDonagh Murphy.  If you enjoy Harper's Lee's fifty-year-old classic, I think you'll find Murphy's tribute to be an entertaining look behind the scenes of the novel's creation, the making of the 1962 movie, and the life of a private American talent who called it quits on the publicity machine and never published another title.

The bulk of the book consists of essays written by people as diverse as Oprah Winfrey, Mary Badham (Scout from the movie), James Patterson, and Harper Lee's 98-year-old sister (who still works at the Lee family's law office!).  While the essays themselves don't always consist of exemplary writing, they offer lovely nuggets of wisdom about how to write an outstanding novel that will stand the test of time.  Some of the essayists describe the cleverness of To Kill a Mockingbird's opening paragraph.  At least two authors cite one of my favorite paragraphs as being a model use of sensory writing (it's the paragraph that describes the ladies as being "like soft teacakes with frostings of sweat and sweet talcum").  Others discuss characterization and the bravery of tackling taboo subjects.

Scout, Atticus, & Boo is also a tribute to the art of writing a stand-alone novel, which is becoming a rarity in today's era of sequels and series.  I personally feel there's a great deal to be said about an author who's able to tie up all her loose ends within the pages of one book.  It's not always easy, but it's something to be admired.

As a writer, what I found most inspiring was the story behind Lee's original, contracted version of To Kill a Mockingbird, which was a far cry from the completed novel we see today.  Editor Tay Hohoff said of the first version, "There were dangling threads of a plot, there was a lack of unity."  It took two years of Lee rewriting the book before Mockingbird became publishable.  As I'm tearing into my own manuscript and rewriting major scenes, I keep thinking of the story behind To Kill a Mockingbird and reminding myself that revisions can be well worth the time and effort.  Even celebrated authors don't get it right the first time.

Saturday, September 25, 2010

Celebrating with Christopher Walken and Edgar Allan Poe

Poe's Raven Crow Art Large Zippered Canvas Tote BagInspiration hit me as I was ridding the house of sick-kid germs today.

In my last post I mentioned I was rethinking my title, Blackbirds, because my latest critique partner said the blackbirds references are too subtle. While the vacuum was humming this morning, the gears in my head were spinning, and I figured out a beautifully creepy way of incorporating my theme of dark birds into a crucial part of the plot. I can't reveal my idea yet, but I'm doing a happy little dance as I type (well, not really, but I'm dancing on the inside). I love it when inspiration strikes me like that!

In celebration, here's a clip of Christopher Walken reading Poe's "The Raven":

Thursday, September 23, 2010

How my novel, my websites, and I will be spending our autumn

I received suggestions from another critique partner (thanks, Kim!), and now I'm back to revisions for the rest of the calendar year. I feel like this stage resembles the challenges of assembling a jigsaw puzzle: scenes that I thought belonged in one place turn out fitting better in another, pieces of the story that I didn't even know existed show up, and some characters fit better when I view them another way.

I'll primarily be tackling character adjustments with my edits.  I worked on my ghost over the summer after he wasn't quite working right, and I think I've strengthened him as a character, but other folks now need some tweaking.  However, as daunting as the revision process seems when first starting out, I always find a tremendous sense of satisfaction when everything falls into place.

I've been debating altering my working title (Blackbirds), because it's currently too subtle.  I have another, longer one in mind, although my agent mentioned that sticking to one-word titles seems to be the preference of editors of young adult fiction.  What I think I'll do is increase the significance of blackbirds in the novel to keep my original title as a running candidate and see how I feel once I'm ready to submit.

BanishedIn addition to hunkering down with revisions, I'm busy interviewing guests over at Suburban Vampire. This week I chatted with novelist Denise Verrico and Vampire Mob creator Joe Wilson. In the coming weeks, I'll be hosting Jasper Kent, Marta Acosta, David Michael Slater, Jonathan Maberry, Janice Gable Bashman, and Sophie Littlefield, the latter of whom shares my literary agent, Barbara Poelle (and Sophie happens to be making her debut in young adult fiction with a novel called Banished in October!).  I'm also hosting several giveaways.  Definitely visit.

Friday, September 17, 2010

Their right: its time we had better spelling and gramar

The "Readings" section of my local newspaper just featured two guys who must share the same copy editing side of my brain: Jeff Deck and Benjamin Herson, authors of The Great Typo Hunt: Two Friends Changing the World, One Correction at a Time.  I know not everyone in the world bristles at the improper use of an apostrophe or the wrong spelling of a word, but for a person who majored in English, briefly taught high schoolers, worked as a copy editor and proofreader, writes for a living, and was born under the sign of Virgo (we're perfectionists!), typos grate on my nerves like nails on a chalkboard.  We all make slips now and then--no one is perfect.  But when you hang up a sign for your business or send a note home to your students, a quick check of the old apostrophes would keep people like me from wanting to whip out our red correcting pens.

If you're also a person who believes in the "Typo Eradication Advancement League," definitely check out Deck and Herson's book and their website, http://greattypohunt.com, especially their Join the Hunt page.

And, yes, the title of this post was misspelled on purpose. If you find other typos, feel free to let me know immediately.

Sunday, September 12, 2010

The R.I.P. reading challenge

I blogged about the R.eaders I.mbibing P.eril Challenge (otherwise known as the R.I.P Challenge) at Suburban Vampire last week, but I figured I'd cross-post the news over here for visitors interested in reading books and/or short stories that involve "suitably scary, eerie, mysterious gothic fare."

From stainlesssteeldroppings.com:
Though the weather outside ain’t frightful, this type of reading makes September and October delightful. I know that as I have gathered together books for this, the fifth annual R.eaders I.mbibing P.eril Challenge, I have felt that chill up my spine and an anticipation that was hard to put on hold until now.

There are two simple goals for the R.eaders I.mbibing P.eril V Challenge:

1. Have fun reading.
2. Share that fun with others.

R.I.P. officially runs from September 1st through October 31st.


Wednesday, September 8, 2010

My manuscript and I have left the honeymoon stage

I'm almost ready to let Blackbirds head off to my next critique partner this weekend. I recently realized the book and I have reached a new stage in our life together. Even as recently as July, we were still in the honeymoon phase: I loved it unconditionally, we were inseparable, and I didn't feel a burning urge to change anything about it.

One critique partner and two months later, my viewpoint is different. We're now in the "paper anniversary" stage of our author/book marriage: I still love it dearly, I'm happy to be struggling financially with it, I'd never dream of abandoning it, but I've been living so closely with it that I'm now able to see some of the warts and pet peeves I didn't realize were there. Moreover, other people are alerting me to some of those warts and pet peeves and other faults that weren't so noticeable during the honeymoon.

But--as with every healthy bond--my relationship with my book is becoming far more rewarding because of the time I'm putting into it. I've been wrestling with some problem scenes and character weaknesses, polishing up sentences, and sealing up plot holes.  In some ways, this stage is better than the honeymoon because it's richer, more satisfying.

While my next critique partner reads Blackbirds, I'll be copy editing her novel, so I may not be posting updates much this month.  I'll be lovingly packing up my book and sending it out the virtual door for a mini-vacation.

Absence makes the heart grow fonder, even with a manuscript.    

Thursday, September 2, 2010

More proof that YA books get the best covers

I've said it before, and I'll say it again--YA cover designers create gorgeous works of art.  My favorite YA cover of the month is the one for Cassandra Clare's Clockwork Angel.  Not only are the images beautiful and intriguing, but the design--and the publication of the book in general--further fuels my hope that editors will be willing to look at more manuscripts set in the past.

The setting of Clockwork Angel, the first book in The Infernal Devices series, is a supernatural, steampunk version of 1878 London.  To further get a feel for Clare's world, head over to the very cool website for the series: http://www.theinfernaldevices.com. I can't wait to pick up a copy of the book.

Keep buying supernatural historicals, editors!

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

My new JacketFlap site

An author in my local chapter of The Society of Children's Book Writers & Illustrators urged writers to start a JacketFlap site, saying editors live on it. I checked it out and found it really easy (and free) to start an account, so today I've launched www.jacketflap.com/catwinters.

My blog's feed now appears over there, plus I just uploaded some pictures from the setting of Blackbirds--which I've been meaning to do here.  Writers/booksellers/publishers/designers/teachers: It wouldn't hurt to start an account to connect with others in the publishing field.  Readers: It's another place to check out authors you haven't yet discovered.