Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Why My Character Can't Carry Her Phone in Her Pocket

Yesterday I had lunch at one of my favorite pizza restaurants: Portland's Old Town Pizza (which is reputedly haunted!). I sat across from a telephone similar to one my In the Shadow of Blackbirds protagonist uses in the novel's 1918 setting:

I took the picture to demonstrate why you won't catch my heroine texting her friends or searching for her phone in her pocket. She and her classmates would never get in trouble for bringing phones to school, because that would entail ripping large wooden boxes off walls or sneaking in candlestick telephones that are far from being wireless.

One of the advantages of writing historical fiction set in the fairly recent past—as opposed to say the Middle Agesis that I often stumble upon items like this phone in everyday places, and I can explore how these contraptions look and feel. Here's another historical device that appears in the novel...found in my good friend's Victorian home she's renting:

Although it looks like elevator controls, it's actually a push-button light switch from the late 1800s. My characters wouldn't be flipping on light switches like we do in modern homes, so I always need to make sure I phrase things the right way when writing scenes involving the technology of the day.

I'm still not sharing the names of these characters who are talking into giant, boxy wall telephones and pushing light-switch buttons. You'll need to wait until I post the official synopsis before learning more about this WWI-era protagonist of mine and the ghost in her life. For now, I'll just leave these little breadcrumbs of information about the novel's historical world. The bigger and better revelations are yet to come...

Monday, May 21, 2012

My Number One Tip for Revising a Novel

Over at The Lucky 13s today I'm sharing a revision tip that proved to be crucial for my In the Shadow of Blackbirds edits. I'm also sharing the book's fluctuating word count, which dramatically rose and fell as I cut scenes/characters from the story and added new material.

I always think of book edits as a complicated jigsaw puzzle: you have to figure out which pieces fit where and what parts don't belong before you end up with your final, satisfying picture.

Here's my post:


Friday, May 11, 2012

The Editorial Letter Stage... and How I Immersed Myself in the WWI Era While Revising

On March 23, 2012, my brilliant editor, Maggie Lehrman of Amulet Books/Abrams, sent me a seven-page letter detailing her suggestions for In the Shadow of Blackbirds. I was on vacation at the time, which was probably for the best. I tend to want to jump directly into revisions once I receive them, but a long car ride between northern Washington and Portland, Oregon, helped me process the changes and let ideas marinate.

Fast forward to May 8, 2012. My manuscript and I came to an agreement that we had spent enough time together during the past six-plus weeks. I was starting to fuss over minor word choices, which will be tackled during the next stage of revisions anyway. My major changes to characters, plot, and setting were done, and it was time to see what Maggie thought of the revisions. I sent her the book that afternoon.

I don't know yet what she thinks, but I can say I survived the editorial letter stage! It certainly wasn't the first major edit for this book, but it was the first time I revised the manuscript knowing the novel will actually be heading into the world for others to experience and judge. I honestly had a blast digging further into my characters' lives and expanding my fictional world, and I can't wait to share the book.

Here are some of the ways I immersed myself in my 1918 setting while I worked:

1. I Devoured WWI-Inspired Entertainment.
Just ask my husband, the nighttime TV viewing in my household turned a little WWI-centric during the past weeks. We started watching Season One of the 1920s-set HBO series Boardwalk Empire on DVD, and I was thrilled to discover that WWI veterans play key roles in the plot. Young gangster Jimmy Darmody (Michael Pitt) turns to the dark side after fighting in the trenches of France, and lost soul Richard Harrow (John Huston) suffers severe facial injuries that cause him to come home from war wearing a chilling mask. I loved the plot points involving these two damaged anti-heroes.

Also on TV during my revisions: the BBC adaptation of Sebastian Faulks's Birdsong. More life in the trenches for my husband and me.

 2. I Read Katherine Anne Porter's "Pale Horse, Pale Rider."
Not only did I pull out all my WWI nonfiction books during my edits, but I checked out a copy of Katherine Anne Porter's "Pale Horse, Pale Rider" from my local library. During my research of the 1918 Spanish influenza pandemic, Porter's name always came up as a famous sufferer of the deadly, life-altering illness that gripped the world in the fall of that year. "Pale Horse, Pale Rider" is an emotional, fictionalized account of Porter's experiences during the flu and the war, and I'm so glad I finally read her haunting passages.

3. I Repeatedly Listened to a 1960s Folk Song.
What? 1960s? Yes, I fast-forwarded several decades past my characters' time period for musical inspiration. In January of this year, I shared my In the Shadow of Blackbirds playlist over at The Lucky 13s, and one of the songs I discussed was Donovan's "Catch the Wind" from 1965. The lyrics perfectly epitomize my two main characters' struggle to be together while enduring the darkness of a troubled world. Each day after I'd drop off my kids at school before diving back into revisions, I'd play "Catch the Wind" in my car to get into the right mindset for deepening my characters' emotional connection.

Here's a taste of the song:

I also researched additional images from 1918 that I hadn't yet explored, but I'm not going to share any of those. Yet. In the Shadow of Blackbirds is slated to include early-twentieth-century photographs and artwork, so you'll just have to wait until the book debuts before seeing my pictorial inspiration.

On May 30 I'll offer tips for revising a novel over at The Lucky 13s.

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

My Dear Teen Me Guest Post & Other Exciting News

I'm thrilled to be a guest today over at Dear Teen Me, a website where authors write letters to their teen selves. I've written a message to the fourteen-year-old version of me, when I had just moved to a new city and still hadn't recovered from my middle school-era insecurities and often-crippling shyness.

If you're arriving here from Dear Teen Me, welcome! Please make yourself at home. I have links to my Twitter, Facebook, and Goodreads accounts all over the place, as well as info about my newsletter, which I'll be launching this summer when I have more In the Shadow of Blackbirds tidbits to share. 

In other news, I'm ecstatic to announce that I finished the first round of revisions for In the Shadow of Blackbirds! I just sent the book back to my amazing editor, Maggie Lehrman, yesterday afternoon. The next stage will be line edits, where Maggie goes through each page more thoroughly instead of concentrating solely on the bigger issues like character relationships and setting. I'll write an in-depth post about how I made it through the editorial letter stage later this week, and on May 30 I'll offer some revision tips over at The Lucky 13s.

More news: I'll be launching a website with other debut kidlit authors in the near future. If you're a fan of historical fiction, you'll want to check back for more info on that particular endeavor.

Speaking of historical fiction, Veronica Rossi, author of Under the Never Sky, will be moderating Let's Chat! Historical Settings in YA Fiction, this Saturday, May 12th, at 9PM EST. Here's the info from The Apocalypsies website:  

We’ll be featuring J. Anderson Coats and Katherine Longshore, authors of THE WICKED AND THE JUST and GILT, respectively, with guest appearances by Jessica Spotswood, author of BORN WICKED, Jay Kristoff, author of the upcoming STORMDANCER, Genn Albin, author of CREWEL, Suzanne Lazear, author of INNOCENT DARKNESS, and more!

That's all the news for now. I'll be back soon with tales from the revision cave.