Sunday, December 19, 2010

On Plot

Young Writer Writes:

I’m in eighth grade, and I’m supposed to write a 50,000-word novel for English class, and I’m having trouble coming up with a plot. Do you have any advice?

Dear Young Writer: Whoa, the bar’s been raised since I was your age.  I had to write four-paragraph persuasive essays. Of course, sticking to four paras isn’t easy for a fantasy writer.

Well, you know I’m not going to hand you a plot line, because writing is difficult enough without having to write somebody else’s story. But I will give you some advice.

1.     Writers get ideas from their own experiences. We are all constantly collecting experiences that can be used in story. There are lots and lots of writing prompts out there that can stimulate story.
2.     Many writers are stopped by the notion that they have to have everything figured out before they begin. If you’ve read my Plungers vs. Plotters post, you know that I don’t outline ahead or time, though I do have a rather loose framework. The writing process spawns story.
3.     If you do your work with character, plot comes naturally. Every story starts with a character, her desires, and the obstacles in the way. That’s where conflict comes from. If you do your work with character up front, plot will follow. Your job as a writer will be easier.
4.     Once you have a character and her desires and obstacles, think how you can make matters worse. At the opening of the Harry Potter novels, Harry’s biggest problem is those nasty Dursleys. But soon, more and more problems are piling on.  Fantasy is especially good for that. Not only does Buffy the Vampire Slayer have to navigate the minefield of high school, she’s living on the Hellmouth.
5.     While writing a first draft, stay open to serendipity, to new ideas, even if you do outline ahead of time. As you write, connections and complications will surface that you didn’t anticipate. Don’t be afraid to go with them, and clean up after. That’s why writing in the computer age is so much easier than, say, woodworking. It’s a lot easier to undo and redo.
6.     I’ve said this before, but I’ll say it again—the first draft is where you lay the framework of plot. In order to do that, turn off the editor in your head. I have writer friends who will put a note in the middle of a chapter—WRITE AN AWESOME DESCRIPTION HERE or SHOW HOW NASTY TABITHA IS or GET THEM BACK TO SCHOOL SOMEHOW. Don’t lose momentum by figuring out every detail.
7.     Hopefully, these guidelines will help you finish a first draft. But understand that a first draft is just a start. Just because you’re done doesn’t mean you’re done. Learn to love revision.

Friday, December 10, 2010

Road Warrior Redux

Some long-time readers may remember my post about spending the night in what I called the American Airlines Holiday Inn (a baggage cart in LaGuardia Airport.)
This week, I flew to New York City for a memorial service for literary agent Ralph Vicinanza. When I booked my flight, a direct flight to NYC would have cost $750. A flight that connected through Philadelphia cost $250.
Not a difficult decision, based on cost, but, still, I hesitated. I knew if I booked a connecting flight to the east coast in December, I would live to regret it. But I did it anyway.
            When I flew out of Cleveland, it was snowing like crazy, the local phenomenon we call “lake effect.” After serious de-icing, the plane still took off almost on time. We know to expect snow in December in Cleveland.
All went well until the return trip. I was at (you guessed it) LaGuardia Airport, this time flying U.S. Airlines. Mind you, there was no bad weather at LaGuardia, or in Philadelphia, where I was headed for my connection. But there were delays and cancellations all over the flight board. 
       How You Know You're Not Gonna Fly
First, we had no plane. So they switched me to a flight that had a plane. Then  we sat on the runway forever because of air traffic, making us late enough to endanger my connection. As we deplaned in Philadelphia, they handed us boarding passes for rebooked flights the next morning—just in case we missed the flight to Cleveland.
That should have been a clue. Still, three of us heading for Cleveland raced to take the shuttle bus to the next terminal. We arrived at our gate all in a lather, only to find the gate deserted. Our plane had just left.
Together with another passenger named Sue, I headed for the US Air service center, hoping we could still get out that night on another airline. The genial man at the service counter said, “Oh, no, all the airlines stop flying at the same time. There’s no more flights tonight.”
“Well, then,” I said, not looking forward to another night on the floor, “Could you put us up for the night? I mean, this isn’t our fault.”
“Depends on the reason for the delay,” he said, clicking through screens on the computer. “Nope,” he said, shaking his head mournfully. “The delay was due to air traffic. We don’t pay for air traffic delays.”
I don’t get that. If there’s too many planes in the air at once, the airlines put them there. They schedule so tightly at hubs on the east coast that any minor perturbation throws the schedule into a tailspin. Figuratively speaking.
Just as he got done explaining this, Sue began to cry. She had children to get to school the next morning, she didn’t know who was going to be able to pick her up at the airport, and, clearly, she didn’t want to spend one more minute in Philadelphia.
I could totally relate. I cry when I’m angry and frustrated, too.
As Sue went to get a tissue, the supervisor at the next terminal asked, looking worried, “Is she going to be all right?”
“I don’t know,” I said, shaking my head. “We just met.” My expression said, She looks awfully fragile to me.
The supervisor turned to the clerk. “Give them a voucher,” she said abruptly.
“What?” he said. “But…”
“Give them a voucher,” she repeated, turning back to her screen.
And so it was that I stayed in the U.S. Airlines Ramada Inn. And slept in a bed.
Thank you, Sue. And thanks to that supervisor.

Saturday, December 4, 2010

So You Want to Find A Publisher

Young Writer Writes: I would like to try to get my books published eventually and so was wondering does it cost anything to publish a book? Do you need to get your own editor or does the company provide one?

Young Writer,

Cool that you're making plans for publication. The very first thing to do is to make sure your manuscript is as strong as it possibly can be. Many writers (including me, at the beginning) tend to rush to the business of publication before their manuscripts are really ready. Many writers write several novels before they write one that is ready for publication.
Most successful writers revise numerous times and also submit their work for critique so that other readers can read it and offer suggestions. Those readers will usually be other writers. 
You’ll find posts on finding critique partners here.
You may find a number of other posts on my blog helpful, including this one called "What to Do with That Diamond in the Rough." 
To read all my writing-related posts, go to my LiveJournal and use the tag, Young Writer Q&A. You'll find my writing-related posts here.
On my website, follow this link
and read all of the documents on there, including Getting Started in Writing, which has many links to useful information. 
In my opinion, anyone who is seeking to publish a novel will benefit from having representation from a literary agent. A literary agent sells your work to publishers and collects a commission of 15% for domestic sales and 20% for overseas sales. Many publishers—my own included—accept submissions only from literary agents. Without an agent, you will be shut off from the largest publishers.
Finding an agent isn’t easy, though. I have a number of posts on my website relating to finding an agent.
To answer your question, a commercial or traditional publisher does not charge to publish your book and will provide an editor for you. A commercial publisher is one who makes money through selling your books through an established distribution network. Remember--money flows from the publisher to the writer and not the other way around. 
Some people are choosing to self-publish these days; in that case you pay the cost of publishing your book. There are many new ways to self-publish, including digital editions that do not cost much to make available online.
However, because anybody can self-publish a book, many of the books published are of very poor quality. Even if your book is great, it can be difficult for readers to find it. While there are notable exceptions, most self-published books never sell more than a few hundred copies, mostly to family and friends.
There are a few situations in which self-publishing makes sense, e.g. in some non-fiction categories, or where you have a "platform" or opportunity to promote your books.
For example, let's say you travel the country teaching seminars on making money in publishing. You might self-publish a handbook and sell it at your seminars. Otherwise, I still think it's best to pursue commercial or traditional publishing, especially for fiction. 

Monday, November 29, 2010

A New Setting

We’ve been house-hunting these past few months. If you ask us why, we’ll tell you it’s because our sons have graduated high school and we don’t need to stay in the same school district. We’ll tell you that our needs have changed. In truth, it’s a combination of a desire to try something new, a fear of waiting too long, and the fact that our last move was more than twenty years ago. Apparently it takes that long for the trauma to fade.
Still, we lack the stamina to move far away. It requires too much decision-making, too much risk-taking, and besides, I like the Midwest--most of the time. I understand it.
Moving across the river seems doable.
We’ve kept it kind of quiet. Those we’ve told have responded with variations on amused skepticism and frank disbelief. I mean, we’re living in a perfectly adequate house. I come from people who stay put unless they’re run out of town.
“If you move, where will I play tennis?” my son asks—the 25-year-old who lives four states away. These days he plays at our neighborhood courts once or twice a year. But I understand. This is his childhood home—the only home he remembers. This is where his story began.
House-hunting is like having this obsessive part-time job that you know is going to cost you money. I discover that my husband and I have absolutely nothing in common when it comes to what we want in a house.  We make dual (dueling?) lists of essential features, knowing that no one house will ever meet this long list of demands.
Not a house we can afford, anyway.
We begin with a budget, but soon we’re saying things like, “For only $50,000 more, we could buy that house with the media room.” Even though we know we’ll never set foot in it. Once we’ve made the mistake of looking at homes that are out of our price range, the houses we can actually afford begin to look a little cramped, a little plain, a little frayed around the edges.  
Our old home is like a comfortable pair of shoes—well broken-in. We never noticed its genteel decline—we were participants, after all. The decorating may not be au courant, but it is of our own choosing. In the homes we’re looking at, we see that the cabinets are dated, the carpet is stained, and the counters are topped with Formica instead of granite. Or, if we don’t see it, our realtor points it out. “At this price point, I expect hardwood and granite,” she says.
Sometimes, I walk into a house, and feel like an intruder. I cannot see myself living there, no matter how fancy it is. Or maybe because of how fancy it is. I don’t want to feel insignificant in my own house, like I have to dress up to get out of bed.
Other homes immediately capture my heart. I imagine looking out at the world through those windows. I envision carrying my coffee onto that screened porch and flopping into the swing. I see gardens where the grass grows now. I spin madly around that kitchen, preparing supper on Christmas Eve.
I begin to write stories.
A few weeks ago, we walked into a house in the historic district of a small town. It was more money than we wanted to pay. It lacked many of the features we were looking for—the spacious workshop, the sunroom, the acres of privacy, the attached garage. Other houses were snugged in on either side.
And yet, I was smitten. That house spoke to me. It had a large, fenced in backyard—I could see flower gardens against that fence—hollyhocks and gladioli and hydrangeas. It had a beautiful kitchen, a lovely side porch and a finished third floor, which I loved, despite the sloping walls. There was a large office with windows on two sides, and it was walking distance to the library, the bookstore, the ice cream shop, and the waterfall in the park downtown.
And in the second floor hallway, there was a sign on the wall—Home is where your story begins.
We bought the house. And so, our story goes forward from there.                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                               

Sunday, November 7, 2010

Why I Write Fantasy Fiction

Why I Write Fantasy Fiction

I don’t know which is worse in the eyes of some readers and writers of SERIOUS BOOKS—writing fantasy fiction, or writing for teens. In the tone of voice an adult might use when admiring a two-year-old’s childish drawing, they say, “Keep at it, and maybe one day you’ll get to write a real book.”
I’ve previously discussed being dissed as a writer of fantasy fiction by the literati. I’ve also explained why I write for teens.
Truth be told, writers don’t need to seek out more opportunities for humiliation—our lives are humbling enough as is. So why write fantasy?

1.  The easy answer is that fantasy sells, and has been selling for years, especially to young readers. On a recent New York Times bestseller list (October 1, 2010) eight of ten bestselling chapter books and five of ten bestselling series books were fantasy novels of one kind or another. Fantasy these days is such a broad genre that there’s room for a broad range of readers and writers.
That said, I think it’s a mistake to follow trends. Writing a novel is difficult enough if you like what you’re writing. I think readers can tell when you’re just going through the motions. So, keep an eye on the market but write from the heart. Not every genre suits me, but fantasy does. Therefore I write it. That’s not to say I always will.
2.  Fantasy expands options when it comes to plot and conflict. The element of magic is one more weapon in the writer’s arsenal. Not only is Buffy the Vampire Slayer forced to navigate the social minefield of high school—but there’s a hell-hole under the cafeteria.
In The Demon King, Han Alister is an orphaned  streetgang leader who’s being hunted for murders he didn’t commit. Also, he’s carrying a magical amulet that could destroy him.
Princess Raisa ana’Marianna stands to inherit a political snakepit of a queendom from her mother the queen—if she can manage to hold off a rebellion of powerful wizards desperate to regain power.
In The Warrior Heir, Jack Swift is a high school student whose girlfriend just broke up with him. The principal hates him and he’s worried he won’t make the soccer team. Also, two powerful wizard houses are hunting him, meaning to play him in a deadly magical tournament.  
Alternative worlds expand options as well. The Seven Realms series takes place in a quasi-medieval world. In medieval times, sixteen-year-olds were adults, for all intents and purposes. And so, as a writer, I can put my teenage characters into dire and dangerous situations; I can shovel heavy responsibility onto their shoulders and send them out on the road without worrying about Children’s Protective Services.
3. Fantasy provides a forum in which to explore Big Ideas in a safe place. I don’t mean safe for the characters—I mean safe for the reader. Long ago and/or far away provides a certain distance.  It’s clearly a created world, even if I manage to entice the reader into it.
In the Queendom of the Fells, I can address environmental and gender issues without the distractions of contemporary politics. I can explore revisionist history without pointing any fingers. I can put the conflict between good and evil into stark relief in an ecumenical way.
            Fantasy can free the reader of pre-conceived notions, expectations, and biases and allow them to experience a different sensibility—new ways of looking at the world.
4. All fiction provides escape from real life, if only briefly. The reader chooses the escape that suits him or her best. A gritty contemporary novel may not offer escape from a gritty contemporary world.             Fantasy does.
5. Finally, and perhaps most important, fantasy is fun. In a world that seems bent on the destruction of pleasure reading, fantasy satisfies.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

The Exiled Queen a New York Times Bestseller!

The Exiled Queen has entered its second week on the New York Times bestseller list at #6 in Children's Chapter Books after a debut at #4!

On-Sale Date for The Gray Wolf Throne
The tentative release date for The Gray Wolf Throne is September 20, 2011. Mark your calendars!

World Fantasy Convention Author Signing Event
Barnes & Noble OSU Campus Bookstore
Sat, Oct 30th, 11am - 1pm
1598 N. High Street
SE Corner of High & 11th
Columbus, Ohio 43201
p 614-247-2000
Come visit with me and dozens of other fantasy authors!

Sunday, October 10, 2010

Love Amid Chaos

I'm guest blogging over at NovelNovice.

While touring last year for the release of The Demon King, I participated in a signing in Oceanside, CA with the awesome Alyson Noel. There was, shall we say, a preponderance of paranormal romance fans.
We each did a brief reading. I chose a scene in which the former streetlord Han Alister is attacked by a rival gang. During the Q&A, one reader raised her hand and asked me, “Is there any…ah…romance in your books?”
Oh, yes. Romance. Had I thought it through, I would have chosen a love scene.
The Seven Realms quartet is, at its heart, a story of love and betrayal, played out against a backdrop of civil war, political intrigue, and magical disasters.
Princess Raisa ana’Marianna descends from the Gray Wolf Line, a dynasty of queens known for making poor choices in love. Raisa’s ancestor, Queen Hanalea, was ensnared by the wizard, Alger Waterlow, now known as the Demon King. Hanalea was forced to kill Waterlow when he nearly destroyed the world. That’s what you call a bad ending to a relationship.
A thousand years later, Raisa herself is the mixed-blood product of a troubled political marriage. Although she knows that she’s unlikely to marry for love, she can’t help hoping for it. In the meantime, she intends to find love where she can—whether with the Demonai warrior, Reid Nightwalker, or with her best friend, Amon Byrne, a corporal in her guard. She even steals away to be with the darkly handsome wizard Micah Bayar–although, these days, queens are forbidden to fraternize with wizards.
Raisa knows she’s playing with fire, but she’s also inherited Hanalea’s headstrong ways.
Han Alister is a former streetgang leader who is trying to leave the life. It isn’t easy. As a streetlord, he was feared and respected throughout the Ragmarket and Southbridge slums. He could take his pick of girlies—and he did, knowing he had little chance of growing old.
Now that Han’s gone straight, his family is close to starvation, and the Queen’s Guard is hunting him for murders he didn’t commit. The only thing of value he has is something he cannot sell—the silver cuffs he’s worn all his life and can’t get off. His mother says he’s demon-cursed, and sometimes he thinks she’s right.
When Raisa ventures into the Southbridge slum in disguise, chance brings her and Han together. They’re instantly attracted to each other, despite the social barriers and secrets between them. But they soon find out that there’s a price to be paid for a relationship built on a lie.
When writing about love triangles (quadrangles?) I want the reader to experience the jealousy, desire, angst and indecision right along with the viewpoint characters. And so each oppositional character has to be as real, as layered, as complex as possible. There are no black-and-white decisions, no easy choices to be made. Each character is imprisoned by history.
Born into a family of ruthless wizards, Micah Bayar has few scruples about doing whatever it takes to get what he wants. But, in his way, he loves Raisa, and just when you think he is despicable, he will surprise you.
Amon Byrne has inherited a family tradition of honor and duty that takes  precedence over his own desires–sometimes to Raisa’s dismay. Still, he is one of the few people Raisa can trust at the treacherous Gray Wolf court.
Han Alister has been running the streets of Fellsmarch since he was a lytling. Despite his violent reputation, he adheres to a code of honor as robust as Amon’s. He’s always been the one to walk away from relationships—but now he’s finding  that it isn’t always so easy.
Raisa is flawed, impulsive, a little spoiled to begin with. But she has the makings of a strong queen—if she lives long enough. Her ancestor, Queen Hanalea, sends Raisa a message—choose love. But just now that doesn’t seem possible.
Those are the players, and this is the stage. Since The Demon King was published, I’ve heard from Team Han, Team Amon, and even a few Team Micahs. And that’s just the way I want it.

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Why I Write for Teens 2

Today I'm guest-blogging over at Forever Young, a YA Lit Blog.

Reading was never more important to me than it was in my early teens—it bailed me out of real life at a time when I badly needed it. That’s when I began writing novels, too. I guess they were romances—the characters were based on me and my best friends. In my stories, we always got the cute guy. Which was great, because, in real life, no cute guy was even noticing me.

Through college and after, I continued to write fiction off and on, though I rarely finished anything. I began publishing nonfiction after my sons were born—mostly personal essays and feature articles for newspapers and magazines. As a mother who already had two full time jobs, it was easier to finish shorter pieces.

But, when my sons reached their teens, I wanted to write something they would enjoy reading. All three of us were fantasy fans, and so I returned to fiction, and began to write The Warrior Heir.

Mind you, I had no training for writing fiction, other than a lifetime of reading. I hadn’t had all that much practice, either. I had some skills—I’d done a stint as an advertising copy editor, I was a flaming fast typist (also courtesy of that advertising job) and had good spelling and grammar. And I had teenagers living right in my house.

Set in a small college town in Ohio, The Warrior Heir is about a high school student who discovers he is the last of a race of a magical warriors. He is being hunted by wizards who mean to play him in the Game, a magical tournament to the death. 

After four years of revisions, studying craft, and writing three more novels (The Wizard Heir, and the first two books of a mammoth high fantasy trilogy for adults) I found an agent. She shopped The Warrior Heir to publishers of adult and teen fiction, and it sold as YA. Followed by The Wizard Heir and The Dragon Heir, which became best-sellers.

Then I had a decision to make. What would I do next? And I found I wanted to write more books for teens.

There are no more passionate readers in the world than teens. I should know—I get the emails. After a main character died in The Dragon Heir, I received a deluge of emails from readers, including one from a boy that said: EPIC FAIL, CHIMA.

I don’t condescend to teens—they get enough of that in real life. I try to tell them the truth—to the best of my ability. In wartime, it’s not just the bad guys who get killed.

It’s not easy writing for teens—but it’s not easy being a teen, either. Anyone who thinks it is should not be writing for that audience. My now twenty-something sons laugh at me because I am largely ignorant of popular culture. But the emotional truth of adolescence—that’s what drenches me when I walk into a school and see those rows of metal lockers and smell that gym-floor sweat and hear the morning announcements. When I walk into a cafeteria, I can’t help but wonder if anyone will let me sit with them. I remember the visceral pain of unrequited love.

My Seven Realms cycle is set in the world I created for my adult fantasy trilogy. I chose two pivotal characters and went back to when they were sixteen—to when they transformed themselves into the adults they would become.

Book cover of "The Demon King"Raisa ana’Marianna is the princess heir of the queendom of the Fells, the mixed blood product of a troubled marriage between Queen Marianna and Lord Averill Lightfoot Demonai, Patriarch of a clan of upland warriors. She’s just spent two years with her father’s people in the mountains, hunting and working the famous clan markets. Now she’s back at court, rebelling against the constraints of that life.

Han Alister is a thief and streetgang leader who is trying to leave that life. He has a magical legacy, as evidenced by the silver wristcuffs he’s worn since birth. His mother believes that he’s demon-cursed, and there are times that he believes it, too.

All of my books are about transformation—that is the job of adolescence.

I frequently hear from young writers, and I make it a priority to answer their questions. I often post on writing topics on my blogs, and offer tools, tips, and links for them on my website.  

Book cover of "The Exiled Queen"I see my teen self in my teen readers. I don’t want to relive my teen years, and yet—visiting isn’t so bad. 

The Demon King is now available in paperback, and The Exiled Queen released September 28. There will be four books in the Seven Realms series, followed by two more Heir books.

Excerpts from each of my books are available on my website, Help for writers can be found under Tips for Writers, including a document called, “Getting Started in Writing for Teens.”

Monday, October 4, 2010

Upcoming Exiled Queen Tour Events

Author Presentations and Signing

Monday, October 4, 2010, 7 p.m.
Booktenders’ Secret Garden
42 E. State St.
Doylestown, PA

Tuesday, October 5, 2010, 7 p.m.
Barnes & Noble
210 Commerce Blvd
Fairless Hills, PA 19030

Wednesday, October 6, 6:30 p.m.
Clinton Bookshop
33 Main St.
Clinton, NJ 08809

Thursday, October 7, 2010, 6-8 p.m.
Books of Wonder
18 W. 18th St.
New York, NY 10011
With Sarah Beth Durst and Yvonne Woon

Hope to see you there!

Saturday, October 2, 2010

The Art of the Crossover

Today, I'm guest blogging over at The Cozy Reader.

When I was a teen, YA lit was in its infancy, and so it was adult books that I devoured—everything from the original James Bond novels to my mother’s historical fiction. And fantasy—lots of fantasy, including Mary Stewart’s Arthurian novels, David Eddings’s high fantasy, Marion Zimmer Bradley’s Mists of Avalon, Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings trilogy, and Mercedes Lackey’s novels. 
Fantasy is a natural crossover. Mainstream fantasy often involves coming-of-age stories, so it’s not uncommon for adult fantasy to have adolescent viewpoint characters. It’s a time of life when transformations occur and latent powers manifest.
These days, we’re seeing more and more adults turn back to the teen shelves to find compelling fiction of all genres, but especially fantasy and science fiction.
Recent examples of crossover books include J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter series, Stephenie Meyer’s Twilight, Kristin Cashore’s Graceling and Fire, and Suzanne Collins’s Hunger Games trilogy.
Those of us who write YA fantasy have our feet firmly planted in two different worlds—those of teen lit and mainstream (adult) fantasy. When you walk that borderline, you can end up pleasing both audiences, and so produce a highly-successful crossover that appeals to all ages. Or pleasing neither, and then your book ends up on the bargain table.
Mainstream fantasy fans are sophisticated readers familiar with standard fantasy tropes and archetypes and dismissive of stories that tread over familiar ground. They are usually willing to embrace high fantasy with its complicated names, magical terms, and detailed world-building.
Teen readers, on the other hand, might be enchanted with a classic fantasy story, well told. But they quickly lose interest if overwhelmed with excessive fantasy jargon and dense architecture. So it is a challenge to write fantasy that is both appealing to adult readers and accessible to YA readers in general.
My Heir Chronicles series (The Warrior Heir, The Wizard Heir, The Dragon Heir) is contemporary fantasy set in the magical Midwestern world of Ohio. I always intended it to be YA fiction, but my agent thought it might be attractive to adult imprints as well, so she shopped it to both. Some YA publishers said it seemed more suited for adults, and some adult publishers recommended that we try YA imprints. Eventually, two YA publishers made offers, and it sold as YA to Hyperion.
That was the best thing that could have happened. The Heir series has been a best-seller with teens, but has managed to attract adult readers as well.
My new Seven Realms series (The Demon King, The Exiled Queen) is high fantasy. It’s set in a quasi-medieval world I created for The Star-Marked Warder, an unpublished adult fantasy trilogy. For my YA series, I took two pivotal SMW characters back to when they were sixteen years old. Although I intended it for teens, the series is being published as YA fiction in the U.S., and as adult fiction in several countries overseas.
I don’t know that you can set out to write a crossover novel—you write the best story you can and then let the readers decide. Fortunately, a book that is respectful of teens as readers will often appeal to adults.
Here are some strategies that may help a book cross over:
·      Create layered, realistic, engaging characters. Although YA books will always focus on young characters, crossover books feature characters that resonate with all ages.
·      Get beyond high school. I don’t mean that your story can’t be set in a high school, or feature characters of high school age—but it should involve larger themes and a broader scope than who’s going to ask me to the prom or am I going to make the soccer team. Most adults have no desire to go back there.
·      Consider historical fiction. Period pieces can work well as crossovers. Extended adolescence is a modern phenomenon. In the past, teens were expected to function as adults—they were often out on their own, earning their own living, drinking in taverns and getting into the kinds of complicated situations and scrapes that appeal to adults and teens alike.  YA authors can often get away with more in a period piece—nobody worries so much about teens who grow up fast.
·      Consider voice. Voice relates to character and scope. A strictly YA voice tends to be very immediate, narrow and self-conscious; a crossover voice has a broader  perspective—it is more inclusive of the past, present and future.
·      Tell the truth, and never, never, never condescend. Neither adults nor teens want to read a book that has been “dumbed down” in any way.
·      Don’t try to teach anybody a lesson. If a reader takes away a lesson from your story, then fine, but story comes first.
·      Lobby for a cover with broad appeal. Adults don’t want to carry around a book that outs them as a reader of YA fiction.
The good news is that much of what appeals to teen readers appeals to adult readers as well—characters that they can relate to, tight, clean, accessible  writing and a fast-paced plot. In other words, a good story well-told.

Friday, October 1, 2010

What Is It About Thieves?

Today, I'm guest posting over at Carrie's YA Bookshelf.

The viewpoint characters in my Seven Realms series are archetypes of fantasy fiction.

Raisa ana’Marianna is the princess heir of the queendom of the Fells, the mixed blood product of a troubled marriage between Queen Marianna and Averill Lightfoot Demonai, patriarch of a clan of upland warriors.

Han Alister is a thief and streetgang leader who is trying to go straight. He has a magical legacy, as evidenced by the silver wristcuffs he’s worn since birth. His mother believes that he’s demon-cursed, and there are times that he believes it, too.

A princess and a thief. Why do these fantasy tropes surface over and over again?

The fascination with princesses is understandable, I suppose. They are glamorous and rich and get to dress up and go to parties. Depending on the princess and the story, they may be powerful or not. And, like it or not, princesses are a whole industry these days.

Thieves, on the other hand, live on the down-low. Yet they are often depicted as heroes or, at least, sympathetic characters in mythology, history, film, and literature—from Dickens’s Artful Dodger to the Robin Hood legends, from the French poet-thief Francois Villon to Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid.

Thieves in mythology include tricksters such as Loki in Norse mythology and Coyote in Native American stories. One of my favorite thieves in contemporary fantasy fiction is Eugenides, the hero of Megan Whalen Turner’s Queen’s Thief series. He fools everyone--the reader included—but he has a claim to respectability, at least, since he’s the queen’s official thief.

One of my favorite characters in Tamora Pierce’s Circle of Magic series is a talented thief named Briar, and her Beka Cooper series features the dangerously attractive thief-lord Rasto. Thieves are even a character class in role-playing games such as Dungeons and Dragons.

In real life, thieves often steal from the poor, because they have ready access to them. Literary thieves steal from the rich and undeserving. I suppose it seems like rough justice to us (especially if they turn around and give to the poor.) In stories, thieves often steal for a noble purpose—to feed a starving family, or to support a rebellion against a tyrant.

Thievery creates conflict—and conflict drives story. As The Demon King opens, Han Alister takes an amulet from Micah Bayar, the High Wizard’s son. That precipitates a whole cascade of disasters that ripples through the entire series.

Nobody wants to read about a marginally-successful, no-account thief. So literary thieves are charming, charismatic, and very, very good at what they do. The archetypical thief follows an honor code of sorts. Even if they reform, they continue to use their thief skills to do good.

Thieves appeal to the rogue in all of us, because they live by their wits, often making fools of their more powerful adversaries. They give hope to the small and unbuff like me. They can get into forbidden places, ferret out secrets, and take risks that we wouldn’t take ourselves. Perhaps we all have a streak of larceny in us. We’re all rule-breakers at heart.

Writer T.N. Tobias discusses the pros and cons of using archetypes in fiction. To go beyond archetype, he suggests that you build the character from the inside out, developing aspects of character such as motivation, purpose, methods, and self-reflection in order to make them rich and believable.

Characters that are layered, flawed, and unpredictable, characters who transform themselves, characters who break the rules—those characters will win us over, archetypes or not.

Why do archetypes exist in fantasy? Because they work so well in story.

Thursday, September 30, 2010

On Theme

Today I'm guesting over on Fantasy and Sci-Fi-Lovin' Girl's Blog here.

On Theme

From the inbox:

Hello, I’m doing a book report on your book. Can you tell me the theme of The Demon King? Also if you could give me a list of your major and minor characters, the major conflict and its resolution, it would help me out a lot. –Signed, Desperate in Des Moines

Ah, theme. Why not go straight to the author when you’re on deadline? Didn’t you ever want to raise your hand in English class during the discussion of The Lord of the Flies, and say, “Well, actually, I emailed William Golding last night, and Golding said he didn’t make Jack red-headed as a symbol of anarchy. Jack was modeled after this obnoxious red-headed kid he knew growing up.”
My usual answer to theme questions is that readers and writers are partners in story, and that every reader has a different take-away based on his personal history and beliefs. So, I say, decide for yourself what the theme is, but be ready to defend it.
Kids hate this. 
(see the rest here. )

Monday, September 27, 2010

Fear of Fantasy

Today I'm visiting the Sci Fi Guy on my Exiled Queen blogtour. Wander over there to see how to make fantasy accessible to non-fantasy readers.  

Saturday, September 25, 2010

On Violence in Teen Books

Bestselling author and lit diva Cynthia Leitich Smith is hosting me over on her blog, Cynsations. Check out my guest post on Violence in Teen Books.

Friday, September 24, 2010

Come Visit Me On My Q&A Page on Goodreads!

I'm hosting a Featured Author discussion on Goodreads from October 11-17. The group is set up now, though, and you can join any time. There I'll answer questions, reveal secrets, and basically discuss both the Heir Chronicles and The Seven Realms. So if there's anything you've ever wanted to ask me, here's your chance!

I'll be "on duty" from October 11-17, but will be stopping in when I can before then.



                  Q&A with Cinda Williams Chima       

        Q&A with Cinda Williams Chima        8 members
        Join New York Times bestselling author Cinda Williams Chima as she discusses her new novel The Exile...



Books we've read


                                      The Warrior Heir
                The Warrior Heir

                by Cinda Williams Chima




                                      The Wizard Heir
                The Wizard Heir

                by Cinda Williams Chima




View this group on Goodreads »




Tuesday, September 21, 2010

The Exiled Queen Author Tour (update)--New York City 10/7/10

Hello, everyone! I added an event to my book tour list!

I'll be at Books of Wonder on October 7th from 5 to 7 p.m. Hope to see some of you there!

View The Exiled Queen Book Tour Fall, 2010 in a larger map

To see the entire tour on a larger map, click here.

Thursday, September 16, 2010

The Secret Lives of Fantasy Writers

Many people think of the lives of writers as glamorous and exciting, flitting from book launch to movie premiere, and traveling to exotic locales for research purposes. We work in our pajamas, while the afternoons away in coffee houses, and hang with A-list folks like bookstore owners, teachers, and librarians.
Maybe you think that’s the reason that your favorite author hasn’t finished the sequel you’ve been dying to read.
Real or not real?
I’m here to tell you that authors work very, very hard. Yes, they do. In the interest of setting the record straight, I thought I would share some of the ways we fantasy authors spend our time.

Keeping up to date on the literature in our chosen genre.

Conducting dangerous field research into the habits of magical creatures.

 Sometimes we interview magically-gifted individuals

Or consult experts in period weaponry

torture devices

and medieval prisons.
(Don’t let that brilliant smile fool you—it was terrifying.)

Sure, from time to time we may stay a few days in a castle,
 but do note that we’re hard at work interviewing the staff to gather real-life stories and authentic gossip, what we novelists call “color.”

We often seek mentorship from other authors, hoping their success might rub off on us.

And engage in secret writerly rituals
like obsessively checking our Amazon ratings and setting fire to books that are more popular than ours.

After all of that effort, sometimes an intervention is necessary. This usually involves festive beverages.

All in all, it's an arduous life!

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

The Exiled Queen Author Tour

Wow!! Can you believe it? The Demon King just released in paperback and The Exiled Queen release is only weeks away. Did you think this day would ever come? (I didn't.)

We are working on plans for my tour for the release of The Exiled Queen, and I've been working on a tour map to post on my website and blogs. The book will launch at The Learned Owl in Hudson, OH on September 28, 2010, and after that I'll be in Minneapolis, St. Louis, Cincinnati, Pennsylvania, Michigan, Illinois, Texas, and Orlando, what with one thing and another. I hope I'm coming somewhere near you!

View The Exiled Queen Book Tour Fall, 2010 in a larger map

Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Fear of Handrails

I’ve noticed something disturbing as I criss-cross the continent—people seem to have developed a widespread, persistent fear of handrails.
For example, I am in Acadia National Park and we are descending a steep stairway to Thunder Hole, where the ocean crashes into a narrow passageway, spewing high into the air.
Seems like a place where handrails would be a good idea, right?
I observe a young girl reaching for the handrail to steady herself.
“Don’t touch that!” her mother bellows, grabbing her daughter’s arm and yanking it out of danger.
Days later, in Quebec City, we are climbing the long staircase from the Rue du Petit Champlain to Haute Ville—a staircase aptly named Escalier Casse-Cou, or the Breakneck Stairs. Again, a child innocently takes hold of the handrail, and her mother scolds her, whipping out a container of antibacterial foam and smearing it all over her daughter’s hands.
We’ve gone beyond aggressive handwashing and anti-bacterial dispensers on every street corner. These days we’re air-kissing the handrail.
Having been a recent victim of Norovirus, I totally appreciate the dangers in touching contaminated surfaces. But in a risky world, we have to prioritize. I can’t help but wonder if we’ll have an epidemic of people falling to their deaths over cliffs and down staircases and escalators. 
I recently climbed the Beehive in Acadia, clinging for dear life onto those iron handholds bolted into the rock. Believe me, I wasn’t worrying about whether I might develop symptoms tomorrow. I was worried that I wouldn’t see tomorrow. 
More important than fear of handrails? Fear of falling.
             My opinion—handrails are our friends. With handwashing to follow.

Thursday, August 26, 2010

The Exiled Queen Awarded Kirkus Star!

Kirkus says, “Duty, love, expedience and revenge fuel the labyrinthine intrigues of this second entry in an epic fantasy series…Riveting.”

Translation News

French Translation: Le Roi Demon

The Seven Realms Quartet
French and Polish Translations
For the Francophones among you, a French translation of The Demon King (Le Roi Démon) is scheduled for release in November by Castelmore, a new YA imprint of Bragelonne. You’ll find more information on that here.

Galeria will release the Seven Realms series in Polish translation.

The Heir Chronicles
Dutch, Indonesian, Turkish, and Polish Translations
Having already bought the Seven Realms series, Luitingh has purchased rights to a Dutch translation of the Heir Chronicles.
Matahati will offer an Indonesian translation, Pegasus will publish in Turkey, and Galeria in Poland.

There’ll be more news to come on The Exiled Queen release and author tour.