Wednesday, 30 March 2011

ANGEL GIVEAWAY WINNER!

Hello, my lovelies!

It's Wednesday again, and I'm going slightly batty over here trying to resist the temptation to peak at/meddle with/completely re-write FF before I have given myself a decent amount of distance. I've ploughed through a few books - one of which I'll be reviewing on Monday - and I've recorded myself singing the blues - which I'll post on Friday. And today I shall be announcing the winner of Angel by L.A. Weatherly.

Goodreads Summary of the book (prepare to drool):

In a world where angels are beyond redemption, Alex thinks he's found one that might deserve mercy. 

Alex is a ruthless assassin - of angels. Forget everything you've heard about them before. Angels are not benign celestial creatures, but fierce stalkers whose irresistible force allows them to feed off humans, draining them of their vitality until there is barely anything left. As far as Alex is concerned, the only good angel is a dead angel...until he meets Willow. 

She may look like a normal teenager but Willow is no ordinary girl. Half-angel, half-human, Willow may hold the key to defeating the evil angels. But as the hunter and the hunted embark on an epic and dangerous journey and Willow learns the dark and terrifying secrets of her past, Alex finds himself drawn to Willow...with devastating consequences. 

Eoin Colfer reinvented the fairy, Stephenie Meyer reinvented the vampire, L.A. Weatherly reinvents the angel! This is a heart-pounding, knuckle-whitening, paranormal romance action-adventure for fans of the "Twilight" series. This is the first in a devastating new trilogy.

Whooo! All right then - drumroll please....

The winner is:

bfree15! 

Congratulations, bfree15! Please contact me as soon as possible and give me your postal address so that I can send your prize to you.

For anyone who is kicking their cat right now - stop that! There are no more Fabulous Author interviews or giveaways scheduled at the moment, but there will be other competitions in the future, I promise. Have an excellent middle-of-the-week and I will see you all (gulp!) on Friday!

Monday, 28 March 2011

THE NEAR WITCH BY VICTORIA SCHWAB

THE BLURB:

"The Near Witch is only an old story told to frighten children.

If the wind calls at night, you must not listen. The wind is lonely, and always looking for company.

And there are no strangers in the town of Near.

These are the truths that Lexi has heard all her life.

But when an actual stranger—a boy who seems to fade like smoke—appears outside her home on the moor at night, she knows that at least one of these sayings is no longer true.

The next night, the children of Near start disappearing from their beds, and the mysterious boy falls under suspicion. Still, he insists on helping Lexi search for them. Something tells her she can trust him.

As the hunt for the children intensifies, so does Lexi’s need to know—about the witch that just might be more than a bedtime story, about the wind that seems to speak through the walls at night, and about the history of this nameless boy.

Part fairy tale, part love story, Victoria Schwab’s debut novel is entirely original yet achingly familiar: a song you heard long ago, a whisper carried by the wind, and a dream you won’t soon forget."

THE REVIEW:

The first thing that everyone will have to agree about THE NEAR WITCH is how extremely well written it is, especially for a debut. Ms Schwab utilizes narrator Lexie's viewpoint on the world she occupies to bring the village of Near and the surrounding moor to startling life. Lexie knows and loves the moor so deeply that her love shines from every page. Near and its moors are the true protagonist of the story.

As soon as you begin to read, the colours and textures of Lexie's world envelop you like falling into a dream of calling birds, muted grey skies, the patter of rain against window panes, the rise and fall of the wind, the smell of moist dirt and baking bread, the feel of rough stone under your palms. As a nature lover and someone who has roamed many moors and visited many small moor towns, I adored them. I wanted to stay on Lexie's moors forever. Not if the Near Witch was there at the same time, mind you. The thrill of sheer, atavistic terror that shivered down my back as she appeared for the first time was priceless to me. It's been a while since something creeped me out quite that thoroughly.

Part of THE NEAR WITCH's hypnotic style is the slow and dreamy rate at which the plot unfolds. I think some people might complain about this (people always complain about non-standard storytelling) but I really appreciated the fact that information is never dumped on the reader. I'm delighted that publishers are willing to buy books like this - books that hark back to Patricia McKillip or Robin McKinley's early books in their depth and subtlety. Everything you need to know to work out the mystery is woven throughout in the form of songs and stories, fragments of lost knowledge which gleam in Lexie's mind like like polished stones, only catching the light at certain moments, as the larger part of her attention is focussed on her own worries and secrets. Again, I loved this - I never wanted to hurry the story along, and I was enchanted by the original folkloric elements of the story.

I also enjoyed the characterisation of the people of Near very much, because it too was low-key and gentle, provided through glimpses - a frightening smile, a comforting frown, a touch that lingered too long or never came. The everyday cruelty and kindness of the people of Near was solid and real, and I saw myself and my neighbours reflected there.

And just as the rest of the story is gentle and muted, so is the development of the romance between Lexie and the stranger, Cole, who arrives in town just as the children of Near begin to disappear from their beds at night. The slow, believable change of Lexie's emotions from mere curiosity and suspicion about the stranger, to caring and sympathy for Cole, and finally to love and acceptance of him with all his quirks and his sorrowful past, is just LOVELY. I'm so sick of reading insta-love stories, honestly - actually seeing someone fall in love is a really refreshing change!

Having said all that, I don't think that THE NEAR WITCH is perfect, and I did have some quibbles with the story. Most of the time Ms Schwab's ear for her non-specific historial period was extremely good - which made it all the more obvious when anachronism crept in. One example was Lexie's often stated desire to 'mess up' her sister's sleek hair. That's not really a phrase that trips easily off an English tongue even today - most people that I know would be far more likely to say 'make a mess of' or 'untidy'. It was also strange to meet with the assumption that a country woman would be expected to wear 'slippers' instead of boots, or would be told off for chopping wood. Those are the sort of things an aristocratic girl might have to worry about, not a hardy, hard-working village girl.

There was a strange sense of isolation about the town of Near. I know part of this was deliberate, but I couldn't help asking myself - where does the wood come from? They're living on a moor with only a few distant stands of trees, so why aren't they burning peat? Lexie's mother bakes bread for the entire village each morning - where does the flour come from, since there's no mention of any of the villagers tending fields of wheat or corn, and no mill (a village of Near's size would be unlikely to have a mill anyway). Where do the tea and coffee come from? The Near villagers react with shock and fear to the presence of a stranger, but SOME strangers must be coming into the village, to bring these supplies, or else some of the villagers are leaving to bring them back (is there a road out of Near?). I know most readers won't notice these details, but I'm a high fantasy writer and these are the sorts of omissions which DO bother me. On the other hand, THE NEAR WITCH is far more of a fairytale than a high fantasy, and in that case there's little point trying to apply high fantasy world-building rules. The sense of self-containment in the little settlement certainly added to the spookiness at certain points, and I can't say that any of this really detracted from my enjoyment of THE NEAR WITCH all that much.

THE NEAR WITCH is an enchanting debut novel from very talented young author. In many ways, reading it felt like experiencing a strange dream that I had long ago and almost forgot. I cannot wait to get my hands on her next book. I've already ordered this one through The Book Depository, as I received an eGalley for review through NetGalley. I want that gorgeous cover for myself. Highly recommended.

Author's Blog
Goodreads Page
Pre-Order Link

Friday, 25 March 2011

CLICHE KILLER

Happy Friday, dear readers! The end of the week has rolled around again and here I am submerged up to my chin in FrostFire, so close to writing The End that I can literally smell it (hmmmm. Grilled cheese). Before I type anything else, I'd like to encourage everyone to head over to the Undercover Reads blog and become a follower or bookmark it. And this is not just because Shadows on the Moon will be on this blog in July and will be getting an Undercover book trailer and promotions of it's own. It's because this blog is really fascinating and an excellent resource for young writers (it's run by the editors of Walker Books!).

So just a quickie workship today, inspired by the lovely Vivienne DaCosta (of Serendipity) and designed to help you do something that all writers want to do: Kill those cliches stone dead (and yes, that's a cliche).

I'm not talking about cliched plots or characters here, because those are a bit of a deeper problem. This workshop is about is cliches at prose level. The first thing to realise about cliches is that they became cliches - over-used, meaningless phrases which a reader's eye skates over - because they WORKED. The first time that someone wrote these phrases: 

It was a white knuckle ride

My heart sank into my stomach/my heart was in my mouth

He had an iron fist in a velvet glove

She was as white as a ghost 

They were dead tired

Beauty is in the eye of the beholder

I had a snowball in Hell's chance/when Hell freezes over

They were SO good, so clear, so apposite, that everyone who read them said: WOW. And promptly stole them for their own writing, or to use in every day conversation. And after ten years, twenty years, fifty years of being used over and over again, these phrases have become basically meaningless.

See - that's the problem with a cliche. It's not just that it isn't original. It's that when a reader sees those words, that is ALL they see. The words. The phrase is so familiar that it no longer evokes an image or a feeling, as it should. It acts as a placeholder for what the writer wants us to know without actually telling us anything interesting or unique about this character or the situation. In most cases, the writer might as well just have written: Joe was scared, or Beth had no chance. Because the cliche is every
bit as flat and obvious.


No matter how beautifully rounded your characters, how stonking your plot or how unique your setting, if you're expressing these things using cliches your reader is likely to be stifling yawns. Language needs to be something that we use to get to a reader's heart, to make him or her gasp with an 'eye-ball kick' where an image or emotion shoots directly into their mind. Cliches are like a foggy mist that obscures everything bright and brilliant about your work. Cliches are when language becomes a barrier to what you really want to say.

When you're drafting, quite often the ideas are coming so fast that you shove a cliche in there just so you can keep going - and that's fine. I have friends who actually put notes in the margins with 'Make this better' or 'Wrong Word' so that they can pick these up in revision. Revision, you see, is the key to eliminating tired, bland phrases from your work.

When you come across a cliched phrase in your work you need to stop and think about WHAT YOU REALLY WANTED TO SAY. This might sound blindingly obvious, but it's not. So Ranjit 'gasped with shock' did he? Really? Is that what you actually want to convey to the reader - that your character reacted to this shock with exactly the same reaction as every other character who had a shock, ever? If something has just jumped out of the shadows at Ranjit, or another character has just confided something horrifying, the reader is smart enough to work out that Ranjit is shocked. Tell them something they don't know.

How is this person reacting to the shock and what does that say about them? Maybe Ranjit was so shocked that he felt as if someone had punched him in the stomach? That's a cliche too, but at least it's a better cliche, one that tells us how Ranjit's shock affected him physically. Strip it back a bit more. What does being punched in the somach really feel like? Are you talking about this character literally staggering back, or maybe you just mean that his stomach cramps up and makes him hunch over? That's a reaction we can all sympathise with.

Having gotten this far, let's strip it back a bit further. What's going on in Ranjit's head, right now? Is he scared-shocked? Appalled shocked? Laughing-shocked? That's going to have a big affect on how he feels.

Maybe Ranjit is shocked because he's heard that his friend is dead. In the instant when this terrible news hits him, Ranjit is so stunned that he feels like he's gone deaf for a moment. That's his brain trying to block out news that he doesn't want to know, that he can't cope with. That's good. That's not nearly as much of a cliche.

So now we know that Ranjit gets a terrible pain in his stomach, that he feels as if his ears had stopped working. He's devastated by what he's learned. That's a powerful moment.

We've gone from:

Ranjit gasped with shock, staring at Sandeep as if he couldn't believe his eyes. (Reader reaction - BOOORING)

To:

Ranjit felt as if his ears had stopped working. A terrible pain cramped through his midsection - he doubled over, struggling for air. It took a moment for him to hear the rest of what Sandeep was saying. He didn't want to hear. (Reader reaction - Um...wow. Poor guy)

By stripping back the meaningless cliche and really thinking about the character, about how he feels, what he's going through, you've shown us a moment of real emotion, one that will move us. One that, for that split-second, makes us think maybe we know just how he feels.

And it's more than that. This description of how Ranjit reacts to learning about his friend's death tells us a lot about Ranjit himself, about who he is. That's every writer's Holy Grail (cliche alert!) - to convey character in every line. Someone who punches a wall when they hear this terrible news would be very different to Ranjit. Someone who passes out would be different. Someone who turns on the bearer of bad news would be different. Someone who walked away before the bearer of bad news could even finish would be different.

The cliche tells us nothing. The good description tells us everything.

Maybe you can't do this for every single cliche in your book. You may have noticed that while the cliche took up one line there, the good piece of description took three lines. There are times when, in order to pick up the pace, you will need to skip the detailed analysis and allow the reader's eye to skate. There are also times when a reaction or an event isn't that important, when you don't need or want to shove the reader straight into the character's place.

But when you're depicting important events, when you're writing key scenes of action or emotion, make an effort to comb through them and catch the cliches. Then kill those suckers so that your characters can live.

Wednesday, 23 March 2011

FABULOUS AUTHORS: L.A. WEATHERLY

Hello, my lovelies, and Happy Wednesday! 
 
Welcome to the final post in my FABULOUS AUTHORS interview series. Today you're going to meet lovely L.A. Weatherly - known to her friends as Lee - and get the chance to win her ZOMGAMAZING paranormal romance, Angel. Cue Goodreads synopsis:
 
In a world where angels are beyond redemption, Alex thinks he's found one that might deserve mercy. 

Alex is a ruthless assassin - of angels. Forget everything you've heard about them before. Angels are not benign celestial creatures, but fierce stalkers whose irresistible force allows them to feed off humans, draining them of their vitality until there is barely anything left. As far as Alex is concerned, the only good angel is a dead angel...until he meets Willow. 

She may look like a normal teenager but Willow is no ordinary girl. Half-angel, half-human, Willow may hold the key to defeating the evil angels. But as the hunter and the hunted embark on an epic and dangerous journey and Willow learns the dark and terrifying secrets of her past, Alex finds himself drawn to Willow...with devastating consequences. 

Eoin Colfer reinvented the fairy, Stephenie Meyer reinvented the vampire, L.A. Weatherly reinvents the angel! This is a heart-pounding, knuckle-whitening, paranormal romance action-adventure for fans of the "Twilight" series. This is the first in a devastating new trilogy.
 
*Pause while you a) fan yourself or b) wipe the drool from your face*
 
Angel has been a super-selling smash hit here in the UK, and is poised to repeat its success in US with Candlewick Press (yes, that's my US publisher too! Fangirl squee!) in May. 
 
The book has been re-titled Angel Burn for US release, and has been given this very different, yet equally beautiful cover for its hardback edition, which I'm completely in love with (the colours! The swirly bits!) and have already pre-ordered, because I'm going to be giving one of you guys my UK paperback version and I can't do without it
 
I know, I know, any excuse to order pretty US hardbacks through the Book Depository.
 
On with the interrogation!
 
First of all - welcome to my blog, Lee! I loved ANGEL to pieces and can't wait to read ANGEL FIRE and find out what happens next (bites nails). We're honoured to have you.

Thank you, I'm honoured to be here! (And I love ANGEL too, so I'm thrilled that you did!) 

Question One: When writing ANGEL who or what was the core of the story for you, the element you loved the most or which was most important?

Great question, and one that I haven't been asked before. It was without question the love story between Alex and Willow: the hunter falling in love with his sworn enemy. I enjoyed the paranormal aspects - they gave the story its drive and action-focus - but I would have had no interest in writing Angel without the romance.

Question Two: You've written over thirty books under different pen names and are an industry veteran. What do you think has changed most about publishing since you stared out, and what should aspiring authors keep in mind?

'Industry veteran' makes me feel very...old. ;) Just so you don't think I'm ridiculously prolific, I should point out that over twenty of those titles are relatively short series fiction (Glitterwings Academy and Pocket Cats), and were written in the space of around two years. Child  X, my first published book, came out back in 2002 - so I've been around for nearly 10 years now. 

I think the main change I've seen in that time is that the market is much, much tougher than it used to be. The bookstores have a lot more power in the industry now, and EPOS means that books don't always get much shelf-time - so even once you're published, it's not necessarily a done deal that your titles will be on the shelves where the public can find them. You really need to get yourself out there and promote the book yourself. I think this is what I'd advise aspiring authors to keep in mind - basically, it's a tough old market, and so if you're going to write for children, you need to do it because you really, really love it. No other reason will be enough to keep you going. (Or will give your stories the spark and passion that you'll need to get published.)

Question Three: What is your writing process like? (ie. Do you type straight onto a laptop or use pen and paper? Where do you normally work? Are you a planner or a pantser?)

My husband leaves for work fairly early, and I always get up when he does so that I can start writing early - around 6.00 am most days, though if I'm alone for any length of time I love to get up at truly ridiculous hours and write in the dead of night. I use pen and paper for notes sometimes (and am quite addicted to buying notebooks!), but never use paper for the actual writing itself, unless the perfect line comes to me and there's no computer to hand - in which case I'm often scribbling on the backs of old envelopes. 

Anyone who follows me on Twitter knows that I've become far too attached to writing in bed recently - what can I say? I feel like the sloth of the world, but there's just something lovely and cosy about writing propped up on a pile of pillows! But usually around mid-day I'll shift myself over to my office, which is a converted spare room. I try to write at least 2K words per day; on good days I go for more. 

I do LOTS of planning, but what I've found with longer novels is that it doesn't mean a thing. When it comes down to it, the characters are going to do what they want, which is as it should be (they wouldn't be real, living characters otherwise) - all I can do is give them a good action structure to do it in. So I guess I'm a mix. Yes, I do plan, but when the characters start glaring at me, I have to listen and let them do it their way!

Question Four: Can you tell us something - any tiny little intriguing detail - about your next novel ANGEL FIRE, which we are all squeeingly eager to read?

First, can I just say that 'squeeingly' is now my new favourite word, and I plan to use it lots. 

I think the main intriguing detail about Angel Fire is that there's a new boy character in it, who I have to say I'm totally in love with. I won't say too much else about him yet - just that Alex might have a teensy bit of competition ahead of him! Angel Fire is probably darker in tone than Angel - the situation with the angels is heating up, and pressure is mounting. The action takes place mostly in Mexico City. (Before you ask, no, I haven't been there - yet! I'll be going later this year to see a lot of the settings for real.)

Question Five: If you had to pick a song to listen to right now, what would it be?

Let's go with a song from the Angel playlist, which was put together by the lovely Anna Howarth at Usborne, and which I absolutely love - it's amazing to have had such a great 'soundtrack' created for the book! How about 'Make Me Wanna Die' by The Pretty Reckless? (If you want to check out the whole playlist, have a look at www.angelfever.com). 

THANK YOU LEE!
 
Now, how tantalizing was that? And *how* excited are you to get hold of a copy of Angel now? Very? Very, very? Very, very, very?

Excellent. Then I shall begin. The giveaway to win a copy of Lee's book has the same rules as the previous FABULOUS AUTHORS giveaways, which I shall now quickly sum up:
  1. Giveaway open internationally.
  2. To enter, spread the word somehow, whether on Facebook, Twitter, your blog, whatever.
  3. Provide a link in the comments.
  4. If you spread the word in more than one place, put each seperate link in a SEPERATE comment for additional entries.
  5. No chatting in the comments this time, please - it messes with the random number generator's mojo.
  6. Giveaway will close next Wednesday and I will pick and announce the winner then.
Ready...steady...GO!

Monday, 21 March 2011

MONDAY ROUND-UP

Hello, and happy Monday! Today I bring you a random round-up of my various deeds and misdeeds over the weekend.
  1. Taylor Swift. Turns out I like some of her stuff. I know. I KNOW, all right? But I was in a restaurant on Saturday and there was this really amazing song playing and I asked the waitress what it was and she said it was Taylor Swift and I totally didn't believe her because - what? This song is good, dude! So I went home, Googled and, OMG! Turns out Taylor Swift can actually sing! And not all of her songs are really annoying and whiny like that stupid Romeo and Juliet song (seriously? 'Daddy says stay away from Juliet'? Eugh). So anyway, I've been listening to this all weekend, and it's awesome. Make of it what you will.
  2. Two hundred followers? Holy Cr*p you guys! I really want to say 'Whoot!' or something but, even though I'm really happy, it won't come out because I'm also terrified. Listen, I'm a performer. All my life, I've been involved in dance and drama groups. I've performed in front of audiences of hundreds of people. I've even read my own poetry out! But the one thing I've never, ever had the nerve to do was sing solo in public. Everytime that I was scheduled to do it I always got so scared that I lost my voice and literally. Could. Not. So...this is pretty big. I think I've said before that it takes me a full day to make a vlog normally - shooting the material, editing it, uploading it. And in this case I've also got to find a blues song (which is hard because I don't really know any - I'm just grateful that I didn't randomy say jazz, 'cos I know even less about that) and make sure I can actually sing it. Give me a little time. You'll get your ritual humiliation, okay? Don't rush me.
  3. Now I can do my 'whoot'. Because I passed the 50% mark in my FrostFire re-write this weekend! WHOOT! This means I've written the vast majority of the new material, which is the slow work. Now I'm going to be going into the actual re-writing, which, while still tough, will hopefully go much faster.
  4. Authors for Japan finished this weekend and raised an incredible £10,962.25 (subject to sums being checked) for the relief efforts in Japan. I'm pretty appalled that the British media seems to have dropped the disaster in Japan from the top news spot now (the suffering of thousands of people who need our help getting tedious or something, Beeb?) but at least I can feel like we did something.
Not bad for a weekend's work, I feel. 

As for this week - you'll probably remember that I promised an interview and giveaway with Fabulous Author Lee Weatherly (we loves her, precious), so you won't want to miss that. Tune in, same bat time, same bat channel, on Wednesday. And now...away, to the Writing Cave! 

Friday, 18 March 2011

RETROFRIDAY - BUILD YOUR VERY OWN CHARACTER

Hello, dear readers, it's Friday again - which means I am dredging out yet another post from the dark, murky depths of my archive for your delight and edification. Enjoy! Today the RetroPost of choice is:

BUILD YOUR VERY OWN CHARACTER

Today, by popular request, I'm going to show you the stages I go through to get to know a character.

Like many writers, I sometimes have this weird feeling that all my characters actually already exist out there in some alternate dimension. It seems that and that I'm not so much inventing them as, through the process of writing about them, gradually tuning in my aerial until I can see/hear clearly who they already are.

And if anyone here is secretly thinking 'Is this the B*tsh*t Crazy Lady thing she was on about before?' - I'm aware that not all writers feel this way. Just take whatever you find useful from my process (and also, Ursula Le Guin and Robin McKinley agree with me, so nyer!).

The problem with the gradual tuning method is that you often get nearly halfway through your book before you really feel that you're inside the character's skin. That can lead to stress early on - getting blocked because things don't feel right but you're not sure why, writing a lot of words that later have to be deleted because you realise your character would never do that. So it's best to try and get to know your imaginary people as well as you can before you actually start writing.

I don't make character collages - writing High Fantasy, I find it difficult to gather images that seem right - but I do like to sketch my characters. And I enjoy filling my notebooks with clippings and cuttings of images that evoke their thoughts or who they are inside. Anything you can do to make yourself feel close to a character is good. Below is my own checklist. 

1. What are they like physically, and how does this affect them?

I've seen character surveys on the internet where they basically expect you to list every freckle on a character's back, and some people find it useful to be specific about this. I don't go that far myself, but I do like to have a think about the way a character is percieved by others and by themselves. Often physical details will be the first thing you describe to your reader about a character, so you need to be aware of:
  • How a reader will react to the traits you pick. I've learned that red hair and green eyes will make many readers brand your character a Mary-Sue automatically, no matter how flawed and complex they are. Bear this sort of knee-jerk reaction in mind.
  • How do other characters within the story react to those traits. For example, if your character is very attractive, are other people kinder to them because of it, or have they often encountered jealousy? If they have a disability, how have they adapted to this, and how do they feel about it - not just on the surface, but deep inside?
  • How have these traits affected the development of the character. If the character has encountered special treatment due to their beauty, does this make them big-headed, or so ashamed that they play down their appearance? If they have suffered abuse or neglect due to a disfigurement or unusual appearance has that made them bitter, or defiant, or forced them to develop a profoundly distant or compassionate attitude?
Quite often your first thoughts about a character's physicality will unconsciously lead you to create a cast of characters who are very like you, or who resemble the characters you have read about and seen on TV and in films. Many writers never question this, which is why, especially in Fantasy and SF, the majority of characters are white, subscribe to traditional gender roles, and don't suffer with any significant disability or disfigurement.

When you realise this, you might feel tempted to add token characters, like a fiesty black, gay or disabled best friend, whose background and experiences don't really have much impact on the story of the main character. Resist this urge. Instead, try to open your mind to the stories of the vast variety of real human experience. Have the courage to imagine a life, a culture, a world utterly different than yours. Allow unique and different perspectives to inform your world and plot. You'll write richer, truer and more interesting stories.

2. Who are they?

These are usually the second details that will come out about a character:
  • Name. Again, be aware of reader reactions - people will instinctively feel differently about an Augustus than they do about a Billy, or even a Jenny vs a Genevieve. Nicknames, or the refusal to accept nicknames, are a good way to show how a person reacts to their own name. I personally own many baby-name books, and use Behind the Name, because I like to pick names according to their meanings. In The Swan Kingdom, everyone's names have hidden meanings - for example, Branwen is the name of a doomed queen in Welsh mythology.
  • Age. This one is self explanatory, I think! For children's and YA you need to make sure that at least the main character is a child or young person, just because publishers will give you a hard time otherwise.
  • Occupation. What they do for a living or with most of their time. The eighteen year old character who left school at thirteen to work at a garage is a different person than the eighteen year old who is doing a degree at a prestigious university is different to the eighteen year old who never went to school at all and herds camels for his father in the desert. I love to incorporate the unique skills and strengths brought about by a character's occupation into their story, and give them a chance to shine.

But of course, who they are is more than these details. Are they impulsive or cautious? Loud or quiet? Vibrant and well-liked or introverted and a little lonely? Kind? Sadistic? Misunderstood? These details aren't as easily established in a book, even once you yourself are sure who the character is. Characters display these traits through their actions and dialogue. You can establish who a character is with a big splashy display on their first appearance, but this can also work against you - if they make a big impression of being a jerk you'll need to work overtime to change readers (as well as the other characters) minds.

People don't always act according to their natural inclinations either. A kind, loving girl could become hardened and ruthless in her quest for revenge - but she will still chose to go about that quest in a different way than a naturally sadistic person (not necessarily a kinder way, just a different way). A naturally quiet person may force themselves to act outgoing to hide their vulnerabilities, but their speech and actions will be different to a naturally outgoing person's speech and actions. They might go to far and risk being called a bully in their quest to seem confident. Again, over the course of a book, it's your job to show readers who the character REALLY is, not just who they seem to be.

3. What do they want?

This is where we start getting down to the real crux of a character, the stuff that will affect the course of the story the most. Your first instinct here might be to state what they want materially. For example, in The Swan Kingdom, you might say 'Alexandra wants her brothers back and to save her Kingdom from her stepmother'. But that's only the most obvious answer, and if you stick to that, you will find it hard to get to know your character really well.

Ask yourself: WHY does my character want this, this particular thing, more than anything else? Why is Alexandra so desperate to find and save her brothers, even if it means horrible pain and sacrifice? That's an easy question - because she loves them and misses them. But why is she so determined to save a Kingdom that was never really hers, even if it means facing her most deadly enemy? Why doesn't she, like the heroine in the original fairytale, leave her past and her father's land behind and dedicate herself only to freeing her brothers? There are a million possibilities as to what desires and instincts might drive your character to make the choices they do, to have the priorities they do. Go deeper. Figure out what drives your character at the core.

For Alexandra, WHO SHE IS - her deep loyalty to her family and her sense of responsibility - drive her on her quest. But underlying those traits is a deeper need: a need to get back what was taken from her. What Alexandra wants more than anything is to go home again. Alexandra wants this enough that she is willing to risk anything to accomplish it, despite her general lack of confidence and the fact that she isn't sure she can ever defeat the evil Zella.

Find out what your character truly wants, deep down, more than anything, and you're well on the way to knowing them.

4. How do they go about getting what they want?

This intersects with all the traits and characteristics you've already laid down - but it takes them further.

Remember, we're talking about what the characters want deep down at the well of their soul. Now, for some people, they might go about getting a takeaway chicken sandwich in exactly the same way as they go about getting their heart's desire. For others though, when faced with achieving or losing something important, they sometimes start to act in ways which go against their normal behaviour and even against their own best interests.

A person who has always seemed easy-going and even a little weak might display an unexpected backbone of steel when faced with losing someone they love. This could be great - or the new stubbornness could endanger their beloved. A cool, calm and collected person could completely go to pieces when she thinks she might be publically humilated. This could cause the character threatening her to rejoice - or feel unexpected pity. Thus, the course of the story would be changed.

Both these reactions would be linked not only to the character's deepest desire - WHAT THEY WANT - but also to their surface traits - WHAT ARE THEY LIKE PHYSICALLY - and their life experiences, instincts, and deepest characteristics - WHO THEY ARE.

How a character goes about getting what they deeply and desperately desire tells the reader - and you - everything about them. If you know that your character is a person with no confidence, who is normally crippled by self-doubt and fear, who is young and not physically very strong but who does have excellent healing skills and wildcraft, and that they will do anything to get home again, working towards that goal with utter dedication and disregard for their own well-being...you suddenly know everything you need to know to tell their story. Plot becomes character, the events of your story revealing new layers to the character with each twist and turn of the story.

And that is how I go about building characters. I ask myself:

1. What are they like physically?
2. Who are they?
3. What do they want?
4. How do they go about getting it?

At the end of that process I still may not know everything is there is know about the character. For example, lately I realised that a character of mind was a complete neat freak - but this didn't come out of the blue. It came from knowing about how his physical appearance affected his childhood, which formed who he is, what he wants and how he goes about getting it. It's amazing how often 'inspiration'
is exactly the same thing as 'working really hard'! 

How do you guys go about building characters?

Wednesday, 16 March 2011

ENTANGLED GIVEAWAY WINNER!

Hello and happy Wednesday dear readers!

First of all, a giant thank you needs to go out to beauteous Vivienne of the Serendipity Blog for making me my very first countdown widget - there it is, in all it's glory, on the right. Whoot! ETA: If anyone would like this widget for their own blog or website, drop me a line with your email in the comments and I'll send it your way. Vivienne also recently interviewed me for her Big Break feature here.

Secondly, Authors for Japan is now live and anyone with spare pennies can bid on a range of supremely cool items - for example, I'm offering a chance to have a character named after you, plus a signed copy of my first book - with all money going to aid for Japan.

Now, faithful blog readers will remember that last week on this day I interviewed the extremely-very-awesome-author-person Cat Clarke and offered to giveaway a copy of her first book, ENTANGLED.

Look, look how pretty! So swirly and bright. I have such a strong urge to dye my hair red when I see this cover. If I turn up in my next vlog with orange hair, you will know who to blame. But enough about me. Here is the Goodreads synopsis of Cat's book.

The same questions whirl round and round in my head:
What does he want from me?
How could I have let this happen?
AM I GOING TO DIE?

17-year-old Grace wakes up in a white room, with a table, pens and paper - and no clue how she got here.

As Grace pours her tangled life onto the page, she is forced to remember everything she's tried to forget. There's falling hopelessly in love with the gorgeous Nat, and the unravelling of her relationship with her best friend Sal. But there's something missing. As hard as she's trying to remember, is there something she just can't see?

Grace must face the most important question of all. Why is she here?

A story of dark secrets, intense friendship and electrifying attraction.


SO. AWESOME.

Now, without further ado...the winner is...

*Drumroll*
KATIE-LYNN! 

Congratulations! Please contact me as soon as possible with your address Katie-Lynn, and I will get your prize - my copy of ENTANGLED, along with a selection of mysterious secret swag - in the post this weekend!

But wait! There's more! For those of you weeping softly into your keyboards (stop that, you'll give yourself an electric shock) there is ANOTHER INTERVIEW AND GIVEAWAY NEXT WEEK!

Oh ambassador, with these interviews I am really spoiling you! (Anyone born after 1989 won't get this, but never mind).

Next Wednesday on The Zoë-Trope I will be asking my nosy questions of writing superstar L.A. Weatherly, author of swoonworthy paranormal romance and action adventure Angel (titled Angel Burn in the U.S. and scheduled for release by Candlewick Press in May). Lee is someone who always has encouraging advice for me on Twitter when I'm feeling a bit depressed about a bad writing day or I just can't get something right, and I'm thrilled to have talked her into gracing my blog. I will also be giving away a copy of her wonderful book Angel

In the meantime, take care!

Monday, 14 March 2011

PRAY FOR JAPAN

I'm not a religious person. I try not to get involved in anyone else's religion either. I try not to impose my beliefs on others. But I'm making an exception right now. Right now we all need to be praying for Japan.

Pray to God, Allah, Buddha, Jehovah, Ra, the Great Mother Goddess or just send positive thoughts if you don't believe in any higher power. Take five minutes to think about what the people of Japan are going through.

Think about the texture of your day-to-day life. The people you see every day - the pretty young woman who lives across the street walking her little dog, the grey-haired old man at the bus-stop, the children you see running to school. The streets you walk down, stepping over the wonky paving stone, taking a short-cut across a bit of grass. The houses you see, the patterns of trees or street lights. Think about the chair you sit in as you eat your breakfast, washing your dishes in your kitchen sink, the view from the window. Think about running your hand over the back of the sofa as you pass it, stopping to stroke the cat, shoving a book haphazardly onto a shelf or leaving a magazine half-read on the coffee table. Think about chosing what coat you'll wear to work that day, putting on your shoes.

Now imagine that you can never ever see, do, live any of that ever again. Imagine that the woman and her dog, and the old man, and the children, are all dead. The bus-stop isn't there anymore, or the houses or trees or street lights - it's just a jagged jumble of smashed wooden beams, tumbled cars, shattered concrete. The grass you walked across every day and the building you were walking towards are both lost forever, destroyed by the wave. The chair you sit in, your dishes, your kitchen sink, the soft material of the sofa, all disappeared, not even shards or scraps left. The view from your window is gone too, the land warped and cracked, covered in feet of mud and wreckage. The coat you chose to wear to work and the shoes - those things are the only possessions you have now. There's no way of knowing where the cat is, but in your heart of hearts you fear she's probably dead.

Everything that was familiar and safe and normal to you is gone.

And that's if you were lucky.

Much has been made of how well prepared, how 'stoic' and 'pragmatic' and 'well-trained' the Japanese are, as if that means things aren't really so bad out there. But no matter how well prepared you are for earthquakes and Tsunamis, how many times your civil defense force has drilled, how carefully you have constructed your buildings, there's just no way a disaster of this magnitude can be anything but that: disastrous.

At the moment they know that at least 10,000 people are missing. Because the Tsunami hit a lot of isolated rural areas, that figure is probably twice or three times as large in reality. Some of those people might have survived. Might. Having seen the footage of cars bobbing and swirling on the surface of the tidal wave like bubbles, having seen the houses crumble up like structures of tissue paper and just disintegrate, I feel as if any survivors are a miracle.

The majority of those missing people will be discovered, dead, in the wreckage. Others will simply have disappeared into the sea. Their families and loved ones will never know what happened to them, never get to say goodbye. They won't even have a final resting place to visit, as the families who lost people in 9/11 do. Worse, some families will have been wiped out completely. There will be no one left even to mourn.

In Japan, and especially in rural areas, some families live within the same houses for generations. They have family shrines where they hang photographs of their parents, grandparents, where they honour the memory of their family. Now those houses are gone. Literally gone. The people who managed to flee in time have only the clothes on their back. They cannot go back and get a suitcase to last them until things go back to normal. Things will never go back to normal.


No, you don't see the people of Japan running in the streets screaming and panicking and making a fuss. That's not who they are. They are working incredibly hard and incredibly well to put things back together. But can you, can any of us, understand how they must feel inside? Maybe because I love Japan, love the culture and art and media of Japan so much - even though I have never been there - I feel closer to this disaster. But I honestly believe this is the worst natural calamity I've ever seen in my life.

After the earthquake in New Zealand I donated money to Shelterbox and to the Red Cross. I donated more than was sensible, and had to watch my budget for a bit. But this time, no matter how much I donate I can't feel better. I need to do something more.

I'm involved in this auction: Authors for Japan. It's not set up yet, but we hope to raise some money. You can like our Facebook Page here. I will give you more information when I have it, and I hope you'll spread the word.

ETA: Authors for Japan is now live and you can see all the lots and get more information here. Many very, very cool items on offer.

If you or your family has any money - a few pounds, a few dollars, whatever - you can donate to these excellent charities:

The Red Cross Japan Appeal

ShelterBox

Oxfam

But most of all, keep praying for Japan. Keep this country of brave, resourceful, resilient people in your thoughts and your heart. They need all the help they can get.

Friday, 11 March 2011

FINAL SHADOWS ON THE MOON COVER!

It's here at last - the absolutely, positively FINAL version of the UK Shadows on the Moon artwork.


And look, look! Red lettering! This is a drama you guys don't even know about. When I was shown the very first version of this cover, the lettering was red. I was really pleased about that, because red is an important colour in the story, and it's a traditionally lucky colour in China and the east as well. However, some people in the marketing department felt that the red give the book more of a historical novel look, rather than fantasy. They switched to pale pink lettering.

I hate to be an awkward author (can't always avoid it, but I don't LIKE it) and I also know that marketing are far more experienced and knowledgeable on how cover art will be recieved than I. So I tried not to make a fuss about this. But I did express my love for the red to my editor and to Sophie, the designer. Time passed. The ARCs came out, and the lettering was pink. I resigned myself.

But I think my crafty editor was scheming in the background. She got Sophie to mock up a version of the new The Swan Kingdom cover with red lettering, and everyone in marketing liked it so much they asked Sophie to do a mock-up of Shadows on the Moon with red as well. And lo, somehow the planets aligned, the continents shifted, and my beloved red was BACK.

I haven't got a finished version of the book yet (I'm hoping to see layout pages, or page proofs, soon, which is the final stage before the book goes to production) but I have been sent some cover flats, which are actual book covers which have not been bound to a manuscript. They are, frankly, breath-taking. The red lettering is a really deep, blood red, and it's foiled, which means it's *sparkly*. Another lovely effect is something called 'spot UV' on the Sakura - the white cherry blossoms on the cover - which is basically a clear glaze that makes them shiny.

Other features include a QR code on the back which owners of smartphones will be able to scan to see the official book trailer Walker Books plan to make. Next to the QR code is the Great Britain Sasakawa Foundation logo. Shadows on the Moon won the Sasakawa Prize before it was even in its final draft, and I'm honoured to see that logo there.


The best thing about the cover, however, is undoubtedly that beautiful face, smiling so sadly and mysteriously around the spine, like a Japanese Mona Lisa. When I was asked what I would like to see on the cover, of course I knew that my suggestions would only ever be that, and that marketing and sales would naturally have a far bigger impact than I. But I begged - BEGGED - that if they use a picture of a girl on the cover, please let her be Japanese. Please let her be young enough to realistically pass for my heroine. And please, please, not wearing Geisha make-up. I'm so sick of seeing books with Asian heroines who are not even Geisha, and yet have a model with a thick coating of traditional Geisha make-up on the cover. This is called exoticising, and I feel it's patronising and wrong.

But despite my fears - and those were realistic fears, given the repeated instances of white-washing and RaceFail in YA - Walker Books came through. They gave this book a cover model who could truly BE my heroine, a cover I can be proud of, a cover that reflects the book in every way. I have been LUCKY with covers, yo, but this cover makes me feel luckiest of all.

In celebration of this my oh-my-God-I-can't-believe-I-got-so-lucky moment, I finished making two book trailers which I had been holding back on until I had the final cover image. Each trailer focuses on a different aspect of the story, and I hope you'll enjoy them. I think they are rather pretty. Feel free to disseminate them far and wide.






Happy Friday everyone!

ETA: I hope that everyone will send their thoughts, hopes and prayers to the people of Japan this weekend. I will be.

Wednesday, 9 March 2011

FABULOUS AUTHORS: CAT CLARKE

Hello and happy Wednesday dear readers!

Today I bring you the long-promised treat of an interview with Cat Clarke, author of debut novel ENTANGLED, a stunning piece of contemporary young adult writing. Stay tuned to the end of the post to find out how you can get your hands on a copy of ENTANGLED. Look at it. You know you want it. By the end of the post you will want it even more.

(Why am I typing the book's title all in CAPS like that? Just because I want to. I think it looks cooler that way).

As long-term readers will know, I generally prefer fantasy and science fiction, or even historical novels. It takes something a bit special to lure me into reading contemporary.

In the case of Cat's book, I admit that I was first attracted by the gorgeous colours on the cover, and by the fact that Cat is an agency buddy of mine, represented by MSCLA. But once I picked ENTANGLED up I was utterly captivated. The story has it all - excellent writing, complex, knotty characterisation and an unexpected plot. I love it when authors can make me empathise with and understand characters who make terrible choices, and Grace, the POV character in ENTANGLED, is one such character (oh, boy, is she!).

Having established just how awesometastic Cat was as a writer, I followed her about on Twitter begging pathetically until she graciously agreed to do an interview. Actually, she was too nice to make me beg. But I totally would have. 

ME: When writing Entangled, who or what was the core of the story for you, the element you loved the most or which was most important?

CAT: For me, the core of ENTANGLED is the idea that sometimes good people do bad things. Nothing is ever as simple as it seems and no one is ALL good or ALL bad. The characters are just people, muddling along, trying to make the best of their lives and making mistakes in the process.

ME: Oooh, good answer! Okay, next - you used to work for a major publisher. Do you think your editing skills and your experience of the publishing industry made it easier to become a writer, or are the skills completely different?

CAT: My job as an editor (now freelance) means I’m used to analyzing text, figuring out what works and what doesn’t, so that definitely helps. I’m able to edit my own writing up to a point, but I still need an editor just as much as every other writer out there.

Working in publishing meant that I had access to lots of good advice about how to get published. I knew which agents I wanted to approach and which publishers would be a good fit for my books. But at times I had too much information – there’s something to be said for blissful ignorance!

ME: What is your writing process like? (ie. Do you type straight onto a laptop or use pen and paper? Where do you normally work? Are you a planner or a pantser?)

CAT: Writing process? Hmm. *strokes chin in pondering manner* I don’t really have one! I write sporadically, despite my best intentions to become a Writing Machine this year. I type straight onto the computer – sometimes desktop, sometimes laptop. And I take a notebook everywhere I go. This is filled with random scribbles and questions like ‘What colour hair does Miss X have?’ and ‘Should Miss X die soon?’

I’m just about to move house so I’m planning my dream work space as we speak. The desk is going to be huge, facing a window. I’m going to get a whiteboard for all those ‘important things I absolutely must not forget’. And I think I might frame a poster of the ENTANGLED cover because it’s so purdy.
Oh, and I’m a pantser, through and through. Go, Team Pantser!

ME: Can you tell us something - any tiny little intriguing detail - about your next novel TORN, which we are all squeeingly eager to read?

CAT: There’s an upsetting scene in TORN that made me nauseous when I was writing it. I came perilously close to throwing up. Every time I read it, I can’t help thinking, ‘This came out of MY brain? REALLY?’

Also, there’s a yummy boy called Jack. He has scruffy hair and is in a band. That’s all you’re getting for now!

ME: If you had to pick a song to listen to right now, what would it be?

CAT: NA NA NA, by My Chemical Romance. In fact, I’m going to go listen to it right now! (N.B. If you choose to listen to this song (and I really think you should), make sure the volume is turned WAAAAY up.

Thanks for having me on your marvellous blog, Zoë!

Thank you for answering all my nosy questions, Cat! 

And now:
THE GIVEAWAY! 

I have in my hands a copy of ENTANGLED which I will send to one lucky reader. That reader will also win assorted pieces of mystery swag (Oooh! Aaaah!). In order to enter the giveaway you must:

1) Spread the word about this giveaway somewhere. Twitter, Facebook, your own blog - it doesn't matter where.

2) Leave a comment on this post with a link to wherever you talked about the giveaway.

If you decide that you want to spread the word in more than one place, that's great - make sure that you leave each link in a different comment on this post. Please don't leave comments unless you ARE entering, as this will muck up the random number generator's work.

The competition is open to everyone, everywhere, for for ONE WEEK. The winner will be picked at random next Wednesday. Good luck everyone!

Monday, 7 March 2011

READER QUESTIONS

Hi everyone! Monday again, and time for some more questions from you, my precious readers.

First question today comes from commentor Elise:

I know the number one piece of advice from any author is "just sit down and write the freakin' thing already!" and I've tried! I write a scene or two and then I realize...my story has no plot. I have three ideas for stories floating around in my head right now, and all of them have 1) a fairly well laid out setting, 2) really in-depth characters, with backstory and development, and 3) little to no actual plotline whatsover... This is obviously not a book anyone who likes reading good books will want to read. I have a few ideas for plotlines, but they all feel kind of forced, and like they don't quite fit with the rest of what I created. Should I pick one of these just so I have something to work with, or is there some key to creating plots that I'm missing?

Well, the problem here seems fairly obvious, Elise. You say you have ideas for three stories, but in actual fact you have three story worlds and three sets of characters - which is great - but no stories to put them in. The story is what happens to your characters after the reader meets them in chapter one, the series of events that allows the reader to get to know them and to move through your invented worlds. The story is, basically, STUFF HAPPENING. That's what you lack.

Not having a plot laid out isn't right at the beginning isn't necessarily a huge problem. Some writers are 'pantsers' which means they write by the seat of their pants and just follow the characters. But you don't seem to be a pantser - if you were you wouldn't keep bumping up against the feeling that you don't know what to do with these people. But you can learn a lesson from the pansters by allowing your characters to tell you their story.

You say you have a lot of knowledge about your characters and their backstory. You say you have a fully fleshed out world. Use this information. Ask yourself - what is the worst that this world could throw at my characters? Or the best? What is the worst that these characters could throw at each other, or the best? What can change between my people? What can go very wrong or very right? How can I break my main character, bring him or her to their lowest moment of sorrow and despair? How can I tranform my main character, and allow him or her to display their deepest and best traits?

It seems as if plotting isn't a very natural thing for you, Elise, so you might want to take some time over this. There's no rush. It's supposed to be *fun*, because you can do anything at this point. Let the elements you already have just roll around together in your head and keep your mind open. What kind of stories do you like to read? Funny? Action-packed? Romantic? Sad? Hopefully once all the possibilities start playing out in your head you will begin to have any idea where you would like to go. A good way to keep track of all the ideas is to brainstorm, like in this image.


At some point your brain will reach saturation point with all these ideas and you will really want to write some of the scenes that have occurred to you. You can do that, or you can try plotting those scenes out, maybe using bullet points, and seeing how they work as a story. Do whatever seems natural to you. Above all, give yourself time. Trying to write a story before it's ready, before it's fully mature in your head, will often result in the problems you've described - so don't be in a hurry!

The next question came via email from Lexie. She asks:

...in my stories/attempted books i always avoid the meticulous doings of a normal person. I always hate writing about someone going to school, or doing chores. I try to keep away from anything normal, in any normal persons life. So, is it okay, if i avoid those things, and write exactly what i want to write? I've never tried it, i always force myself to write normal occurences. But, why do i have to? Also, my friends always read my stories and freak out, because one of the characters might resemble me. IS it okay to have characters based on yourself?

Two questions here. 

First - is it okay to find the normal day-to-day events of normal people's lives boring and avoid them? Heck yes. I do it as much as possible. In most cases, unless there's a point in showing someone ironing their clothes (like that they burn their shirt, which shows they're careless/dreamy, and also makes them late which results in them going to the head teacher's office and accidentally finding out that the head teacher is an alien), you can skip it.

Second - is it okay to have characters that resemble you? Depends. HOW does this person resemble you? Most of my characters (even the evil ones) have *something* in common with me, because I have to understand them in order to write them realistically. Zira/Zahira has my way with words and my occasional ruthlessness. Alexandra has my desire to please people and my love of nature. But neither of them are actually anything like me as a person.

That's the vital distinction here. If a character has fluffy brown hair and freckles like you, 'cos you're sick of reading about tanned blondes, fine. If your character loves playing the piano like you 'cos music's something you're interested in writing about, fine. But if you're writing about someone who actually IS you...who friends of yours recognise as being a fictional version of who YOU are...that's not a great idea. Some writers have managed to create stories this way, usually people who've lived through amazing events and tell a fictionalised version of them (like Gerald Durrell and Roald Dahl). But in general it's going to lead to this character getting unfair treatment from you in the story (who wants to see *themselves* fall in a hole and get covered in cow dung, even if that's what *should* happen?) and probably making everyone who reads it roll their eyes as they figure out that you've shoved yourself into your own story and you're just writing to make yourself look good in it.  This is what is called a Mary-Sue.

Plus, there's such a fascinating variety of people out there in the world that it seems kind of boring to write about people who are just like you, as I say in this previous blog-post. It's limiting, and it won't result in the best stories. My advice is to think a bit more and create a new character who is their own person.

Lexie, you also asked if I would be able to give you feedback on stories that you've written, and I'm mentioning this just as a general reminder: both for reasons of time and legal safety, I cannot read other people's unpublished work. And even if I could, I'm not an editor, I've never critiqued anyone's writing, and I really don't have the necessary skills. I don't want to hurt anyone's feelings, and I hate saying 'no', but I can't change the way the world is. Sorry.

Okay, I hope that's been helpful! Any more questions, email me or get in touch through the comments. 

See you all on Wednesday, when I will be interviewing Fabulous Author Person Cat Clarke and giving away a copy of her book ENTANGLED (oooooh!).

Friday, 4 March 2011

RETROFRIDAY - INSECURITY: I HAZ IT

Hi everyone! Welcome to my very first RetroFriday!  

RetroFriday was inspired by my own love of delving into blog archives, where I've found many treasures. I enjoy it. But I'm aware that others probably don't have the time to work backward through posts from a year ago in order to enjoy my wit and wisdom, and so I decided to do the work for you. A couple of times a month I will dredge the murky depths of The Zoë-Trope Archive in the hopes of finding gold: a post which you probably didn't get to read the first time around, or which you may enjoy re-reading. 

Today, in honour of the YA Mafia - a topic which has been alternately amusing and infuriating writers, agents and publishers all over Twitter (read about it here and here) - and by popular request, I bring you INSECURITY: I HAZ IT, a post written after dragging myself out of a nasty depression and realising that in actual fact? The world was NOT out to get me (shocking, I know).

*****

Just in case the blog title didn't clue you in to what I'm talking about today, here's a lolarious poster I made.


On Friday I was reading the Road Trip posts on YA Highway when I came across this section:
Hannah Moskowitz wrote a thought-provoking post: "Has the internet community changed YA?" Amy Lukavits responded directly with some arguments for both sides. Natalie Whipple and Ally Carter posted on similar topics, both saying you can worry about the online YA community all you want, but in the end, it's the book that matters.
And I realised that this is exactly the stuff that turns me into the B*tSh*t Crazy Lady. Exactly. This. Stuff.

When I submitted The Swan Kingdom to Walker Books they didn't really know what to do with it. But they liked it, and I had all these convincing arguments about how the popularity of Harry Potter, Meg Cabot and Dr Who was paving the way for fantasy aimed at girls and where my book fitted into the market. I talked to them passionately and at length and I think my knowledge of and love for writing really came through because, after some re-writes, they decided to publish it. And somehow...somehow...it did not sink without trace.

I remember promising myself that if I just managed to sell 5,000 copies, I would never ask for anything again, and I can safely say that it surpassed that number long ago. I mean, don't run away with the idea that The Swan Kingdom was a bestseller. Or even a big seller. It wasn't. It sold unexpectedly well, got some good reviews, and my publisher was happy about it. So was I.

Then Daughter of the Flames came out. We sold that to Walker before The Swan Kingdom was even in copy-edits, so it was the same story. And it did okay. Not as well as The Swan Kingdom, but all right. It was a modest success. Again, the publisher was happy with it. So was I.

And then came The Dark Ages. We shall not speak of them in depth. Suffice it to say that during this period of about eighteen months, many not-nice things happened in my life. My house was flooded. My editor turned down my third book. Family members became ill. *I* became ill. And while I kept writing through this, it was to very little effect. I didn't finish anything, and every time that I nearly did, my agent or my publisher didn't like it.

During this period I discovered Teh Interwebz. I don't mean this was the first time I ever surfed the net - I mean it's the first time I was ever captivated by it. And what captivated me was not internet shopping or YouTube, but the corner of the net devoted to YA writing. It was like a whole other world for me, a world where YA writers weren't working all alone in their tiny boxroom in their damp, building-site houses, with a permanent cough (I was later diagnosed as asthmatic) and going days without speaking to anyone but their dog or people who had phoned them at their crappy office job to shout at and verbally abuse them. A world where YA writers were slap in the middle of a community that seemed full of kindred spirits and dear friends. I watched their vlogs, I read their reviews on Goodreads, I laughed at their funny blogs. I told myself that I found their success inspiring and that they helped me to keep positive and keep working.

But that wasn't the whole story.

I didn't want to feel envious of this group of people, but the simple fact was that they all had things I wanted desperately for myself. Not just their success, but their LIVES. So different from mine. So full and rich and FUN. Book tours and writing retreats, twitters, mutual book blurbs, blogs where a dozen people answered each tiny post as if it really mattered. I looked at my life and found it sadly wanting in comparison. I was working a full-time office job where I was miserable and squeezing writing into every other gap there was. I didn't know a single other YA writer well enough to call them a friend and what was more I had no way to change that.

I couldn't go to the conventions where these guys all met and hung out, or share tour dates with them. I live in the UK. Most of them lived in the US or flew there regularly. Besides, their circle was already formed - they knew each other through writing fanfic or being critique partners or because they shared agents. They didn't know me from Adam. The occasional 'LOL' reply to my comment on one of their blogs didn't mean that they knew me or cared about me.

I began to feel like my entire writing career was, basically, pointless. I began looking at The Swan Kingdom and Daughter of the Flames and thinking 'Why did I even bother? No one likes them. No one's ever heard of me. I wrote high fantasy when I should have written urban fantasy/paranormal romance and I didn't promote enough or connect with the right people and I flushed my chance down the toilet. My life is exactly the same now as it would have been if both those books had never been written. I'm the scum at the bottom of the writing barrel. I ought to just. Give. Up'.

See? B*tsh*t Crazy Lady.

Because...what the HELL? Since when does who I know, or whether or not famous-name-writer follows my blog, or if I got to go to BigDealBookExpo have anything to do with the value of my work? Thankfully, at the point where I really felt the lowest, the lightbulb went on. I realised I had gotten totally caught up in this imaginary fantasy world I wanted to be part of and forgotten the important thing - the most important thing in the world - which is:

I'm a writer.

That's what I am, what I've always been, and what I will be until I die. I love stories. I love books. I love crafting imaginary worlds and living within them, I love bringing characters to life and laughing and crying with them. I love words. I love the spaces between words. I love commas and semicolons and fullstops and even the occasional exclamation mark. Exposition, description, dialogue, action; I adore them. And NOTHING and NO ONE can ever take that love, that passion, away from me...except me.

I think the reason this snuck up on me so easily was that I never WANTED to 'fit in' before. I was determinedly, stubbornly, proudly the odd one out at school. Even when I was picked on and bullied at every turn, I continued to be me, refusing to wear the fashionable clothes, talk the 'in' talk or act like one of the popular kids in any way. I carried on reading books in public, putting my hand up in class and getting A's no matter what anyone did to me. That aloneness, that knowledge of who I wanted to be and how I wanted to act got me through a lot of hard times, but it was based on the fact that those people who tried to make me miserable at school weren't worth imitating or fitting in with, and I knew it.

But the authors whose books I love are admirable. They're worthy of my respect. They're not trying to make anyone miserable, they're just living their lives. It turns out I'm vulnerable to that (probably we're ALL vulnerable to it) in just the same way some kids at my school were vulnerable to wanting to be popular.

It's so silly. Bestselling writers? They're not superheroes in the Justice League. They're individuals, like the rest of us. They all have their sorrows and troubles and periods of insecurity and depression. Being one of them wouldn't fix that about me. And yearning to be something I wasn't and can't ever be - a bestselling American urban fantasy author who goes to conventions and flies all over the world having adventures - was making me hurt myself and, more significantly, my writing. And my writing is the Number One Thing in my life that I should always protect and nuture and make time for, because so long that as I do that, I will be happy.

Guys...if any of you are freaking out right now about how you don't fit into a group, about how your whole life or your writing is pointless or how you should do or BE something else than what you are...stop it. Okay? You are so much more special and strong and wonderful than you realise, and even if no one else in the world knows that I DO.

I might never have met you. I might never meet you. But I know that you are wonderful and you don't need to change in any way that doesn't make you happy. You don't need to be anyone but who you are, or dream any dreams but your own. So the next time YOU feel the B*tSh*t Crazy Lady taking you over? Remember that. Preserve and protect the special thing that makes you who you are, no matter what. And be happy.

Wednesday, 2 March 2011

THE IRON WITCH GIVEAWAY WINNER

Last Wednesday on The Zoë-Trope I interviewed the rather awesome author Karen Mahoney (whose blog and website you should really check out) and also offered a giveaway of my copy of her debut novel THE IRON WITCH. Which I know you all want because just look at that cover! *Lusts*

I've been urged to post the result for this giveaway early by certain people who showed signs of actually bursting from the suspense. Which, you know. Euw. Messy. That stuff doesn't just come out with Vanish.

So as soon as I'd finished walking my dog, bathing the mud off my dog, feeding my dog and cats and slurping a large mug of tea to help me recover from the above, I popped over to the random number generator and typed in the stats.

*Drumroll*

The winner is...
MEGHA!

Which I'm delighted about because, frankly, she was one of the ones who I thought might just explode all over the place. No one wants to have to clean that up.

Megha, please email me with your postal address as soon as you can, and I will send The Iron Witch to you, along with a few secret bits of swag. Congratulations. And thanks to everyone who entered for spreading the word.

For all you who are drooping over your keyboards now - never fear! Next week I will be interviewing another fabulous author person - Cat Clarke - here, and doing another giveaway, this time of Cat's stunning 2011 debut novel ENTANGLED. There's everything still to play for!

I'm seriously spoiling you guys. I don't even know what you did to deserve all this. I suppose it's 'cos you're just so darn cute. Anyway, I'll see you on Friday, when I will be dredging the archives for a RetroPost from last year. Take care 'til then!
Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...