Tuesday, February 28, 2012

How Food Can Convey a Character's Mood and Setting

If you're a writer and you've never thought too hard about what your characters eat, perhaps it's time for you to pull up a chair at your protagonist's dinner table. A character's food tells a wealth of information about who she is: the region of the world in which she lives, her time period, her financial status, her personal tastes, her health, her cultural background.

Moreover, how she eats can convey her mood and situation. Imagine a starving little boy in a war-torn world eating one of the tomatoes pictured in the photo above. How would his actions and attitude toward the food differ from those of a confident villain taking a bite in the comfort of his lair? What if a woman in a white wedding dress were approaching the drippy scarlet food? Or an explorer from the ancient frozen tundra who's never seen a tomato before in his life?

In reality, the tomatoes in the photograph were sitting in a bowl on my kitchen table, and my math teacher husband will more than likely be the one chomping into them. If you're writing a scene about a man hurriedly devouring his lunch in a teacher's lounge, the tomatoes will turn into something entirely different than the meal of a starving little boy or a confident villain.

This week at The Lucky 13s, our theme is "Dinner with our characters: What's on the menu in our books?" I'm offering a sneak peek at my protagonist's 1918 life by asking you to have a seat with her in her kitchen. As you'll learn from what's NOT on the menu, life wasn't easy in the fall of that particular year, and what you cooked back then could have saved your very life.

Here's my Lucky 13s post:


Speaking of food and writing, at the end of this week, I'm running a workshop for fifth to eighth graders at a career fair. If you're one of my students signed up for my sessions, keep this post in mind. We'll be using food to learn about sensory writing, and we'll explore different characters' approaches to a piece of seemingly ordinary piece of fruit. Don't come hungry. You may find your stomach growling.

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

My Seven-Year-Old's Cover Design for My Novel

My kids have been speculating what the cover of In the Shadow of Blackbirds will look like, and I've told them it will still be a while before we get to that stage, plus a professional designer will be involved. Not quite satisfied with that response, my seven-year-old son decided to design a cover of his own. I told him I'd share it on this site.

No, he hasn't read the novel (it's YA! He's seven!). He only knows some of the basic plot details. The half circle above the title is the moon, by the way.

My twelve-year-old daughter has an intriguing promotional idea for the book, so this won't be the last of my kids' involvement with the novel. I'm sure it's not always easy having a writer for a parent, especially when Mom's brain drifts away from the real world and wanders into the realm of plotting. Therefore, I'm thrilled to bits that my wonderfully patient offspring are enjoying my publishing adventures with me.

Friday, February 17, 2012

How Much Should Authors Share about Their Books in Advance?

Some writers choose to post long synopses for their novels on their websites before the official cover copy is even written. Some post synopses of their unsold novels. Others are more coy and don't even set up websites or Twitter accounts until a few months before a book's publication.

Where do I stand on the subject of sharing info about a pre-published book?

I'm leaning more on the secretive side. Anything I've revealed about the plot of In the Shadow of Blackbirds primarily comes from the short synopsis in the Publishers Marketplace announcement, and that single-sentence blurb mainly discusses the 1918 setting. On Valentine's Day I revealed there's a love story in the novel, but even then, I tried my best to give elusive, tiny details about what that love story might entail. Unless you've actually read the book, you still don't know my main characters' names, and you won't likely find them out until I release an official synopsis.

Why am I staying so mum? Why have I already turned down two opportunities to interview my main characters on other blogs?

For one thing, I haven't yet received my editorial letter. I don't want to share any information that might not even be true of my characters in the final version of the book. I also haven't yet spoken to my Amulet Books team about the novel's marketing plan.

Another reason is that I personally enjoy it when other authors keep me in suspense and offer breadcrumbs of information that lead up to a book's publication date. When I visit a writer's website and find only a short, intriguing, taunting Publishers Marketplace blurb, I typically follow the author on Twitter right away or sign up for his or her newsletter. I look forward to the gradual revelation of information: the posting of their official synopsis, their cover reveal, other eventual goodies like book trailers.

That being said, it's not easy to keep quiet about a book when you're dying to share it with the world. I can't wait to offer you so much more than a one-sentence blurb and enigmatic hints.

I'm also struggling to keep quiet about my novel-in-progress, tentatively titled The M— (the M part is actually a complete word, but I'm even going to be mysterious about what that initial stands for). I will tell you the following three tidbits about the book:

The M— is another historical YA.
• The book involves paranormal elements.
• There's a Black Swan-style, things-aren't-always-what-they-seem vibe.

On February 28 I'll be blogging at The Lucky 13s, and the subject will be what you'd find on the menu if you ate dinner with my In the Shadow of Blackbirds protagonist (without mentioning her name!). After that, I'm going to refrain from giving any more hints about either book until Amulet Books says an In the Shadow of Blackbirds synopsis is ready to be revealed.

My lips are now sealing shut.

The images on this post are from WWI posters that warned about keeping silent,
although they're referring to war-related issues, not book plots.

Thursday, February 16, 2012

Seduced by the Siren Call of Pinterest

Through fellow members of The Lucky 13s, I learned about Pinterest.com, a new social networking site where you create virtual "pin boards" filled with images from around the web. Because Pinterest is so visual compared to other networking sites, it's probably easier to show you a sample board instead of describing one. Here's a collection of inspirational photos and artwork for In the Shadow of Blackbirds:


Basically, the board is what the novel looks like to me. I've also created an In the Shadow of Blackbirds fashion page to show examples of 1918 clothing, as well as boards for recommended ghost tales and historical reads.

Pinterest is highly entertaining, and if you're an author, it's another great way to let people know about upcoming releases. You attract Twitter-like followers, and people seem to find boards rather quickly.

But... the site is ADDICTIVE. If you're having enough trouble focusing on a project without the siren call of Twitter and Facebook luring you away from your work, don't get started over at Pinterest just yet. Once you've created one board, you'll more than likely feel compelled to create another and another and another...

Now that I've dipped my toes into Pinterest's seductive waters, I'm struggling to resist the temptation to keep returning. My boards are there, people are following them, and I've had my fun, but I know I need to refrain from checking in with the site on a constant basis if I want to get anything else done.

The bottom line: Use the site if you absolutely have the time. Otherwise, skip it.

Are you already on Pinterest? Leave your URL in the comments section so my readers and I can find you. Have questions about the site? Ask away.

My Pinterest profile page: Pinterest.com/catwinters.

ADDENDUM: One more pro and con to mention...

Pro: The boards can be extremely useful for gathering research material in one place. This morning, I was digging up info about 1880s clothing for a book project, and I realized I could pin all the useful images to a board specifically for fashion research. The links to the source material always appear below the images.

Con: The issue of copyright. Because I've been hunting down licensing info for images used in In the Shadow of Blackbirds, I've become especially sensitive to the problem of pirated images. There's some controversy over Pinterest and copyright violation. Here are a few articles that discuss the debate: blog.hubpages.com, greekgeek.hubpages.com, and seanlockephotography.com. Truthfully, the copyright issue has me tempted to pull my boards down.

Any thoughts from artists worried about their images appearing on the site?

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

So...Does IN THE SHADOW OF BLACKBIRDS Involve a Love Story?

Seeing that it's Valentine's Day, I thought I'd address the issue of romance in my upcoming novel, In the Shadow of Blackbirds. If you've read the mini-synopsis released through Publishers Marketplace, you'll know the book is "the story of a teen girl mourning the loss of her first love in 1918 California, where a flu has turned deadlier than a world war, and spirit communication has become a dark and dangerous obsession."

So, does that mean there's a love story in the book? Is it a depressing love story if there's mourning involved? Is it a Hot Boy A versus Hot Boy B type of young adult love story? Is there even any kissing?

Here are the answers...

Is there a love story in the book?

Yes, definitely.

Is it a depressing love story if there's mourning involved?

It's an emotional story, but I wouldn't call it depressing. The book entails a mystery, the paranormal, a Gothic-style romance, war, and a desperate world. My heroine is too preoccupied to weep nonstop. 

Is it a Hot Boy A versus Hot Boy B type of young adult love story?

There's a rivalry of sorts, and the males involved are highly attractive. Yet my protagonist herself wouldn't say there's a love triangle.

Is there even any kissing? 

Yes. Oh yes.

In honor of my characters' challenging romance in the midst of a troubled world, and to celebrate Valentine's Day, here's one of the songs I've been using for In the Shadow of Blackbirds inspiration: Jill Tracy's "Doomsday Serenade."

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

The Soar with Your Dreams Conference

I'm thrilled to be participating in Pacific University's Soar with Your Dreams conference for 5th through 8th graders, Saturday, March 3, 2012. The event will be held in Forest Grove, Oregon, west of Portland, and I'll be presenting two writing workshops.

Registration closes February 29, so students need to sign up soon. I'm the author mentioned in Sessions C and D of the brochure.


This will be the first of hopefully many events where I'll get to speak to and prepare writing activities for young people. If you don't live in the Portland area, or if you don't fall into the grade level requirements of the conference, please check back later in the year for my other upcoming events. I'll update my brand-new events page once I have more info to share.

Friday, February 3, 2012

A Couple of Quick Announcements before I Burrow into My Writing Hole

First of all, the group of YA and kidlit authors I belong to, The Lucky 13s, now has a Facebook page. You can find news about all of our 2013 releases, plus view our shiny, happy faces, at www.facebook.com/TheLucky13s.

Second, I've created a new page on this site that gives info about my monthly newsletter, which I'll be sending out once I have more In the Shadow of Blackbirds info to share. Behind-the-scenes progress is definitely occurring with the book, but all the fun public stuff—cover reveals, the release of the official synopsis and publication date, giveaways, and other events—is yet to come. To ensure you don't miss out on anything, please sign up at www.catwinters.com/p/newsletter.html.

I'm planning to spend the next couple weeks blogging less and writing more. My kids' school district is getting hit hard by budget cut days this year, and it feels like five-day work weeks have become a rare commodity for me. If you need me, I'll be busily working on Dark & Eerie Historical YA Novel #2 before I need to submerge myself in my upcoming In the Shadow of Blackbirds revisions.

If I don't come up for a breather before February 14, Happy Valentine's Day! My husband and I are planning to see The Woman in Black for a dinner and movie date to celebrate. That's what happens when you marry a writer of Gothic fiction: even romantic holidays often get dominated by ghost tales.