Before I get into today’s thoughts on writing (which are mostly: yay, school’s back in session — I get to write again!), I wanted to share some happy news.
1. Boarder Patrol was selected as one of the Canadian Children’s Book Centre’s “Best Books for Kids & Teens 2011.” Actually, I think I might have mentioned that in an earlier post. But I’m really, really happy about it, so please bear with me.
2. There’s a nice review of the SkinWalker books on the Keen Readers website (scroll down — it’s about the third or fourth from the top).
3. Next month will be my first time teaching a class for fellow writers. Gwynn Scheltema and I are teaming up to do an introductory course in writing for children, through Writescape. I’m getting excited about it.
4. Things are shaping up nicely on my two books due out next spring. I’ve had good feedback from both editors, and I’m about to plunge into revisions. I’ve even seen a sneak preview of one of the covers, but I don’t think I’m allowed to share it yet.
Okay. On with the pending doom. And the bonus picture of Noah Wylie.
My husband and I are science fiction fans. Not very lucky ones, either. Our favourite shows have a nasty history of being cut down in their prime. (Firefly, anyone? And if you haven’t seen Defying Gravity yet, you need to. Just be prepared to have your heart broken when the lovely, long story arc they were setting up for gets truncated after one season.)
So it was with a certain amount of trepidation that I sat down to watch the first episode of Falling Skies with him. The premise: humans struggle to survive on post-alien-invasion Earth. Timeline is now-ish, and the star is Noah Wylie, as a history professor-turned-military advisor. He’s a father of three. Two of his sons are with him, one a risk-seeking soldier, one a child who’s crayon drawings will sucker-punch your soul before the opening credits have even aired. His middle son was captured by the aliens.
And here’s the thing. I don’t want anything bad to happen to these people. I like Noah Wylie’s character. I want his kids to be safe. I want them to stroll into the alien camp and rescue his missing son (and hey, why not the other kids, too?) with nary a shot fired. I want a happy ending for all, but this is television. We all know the nature of dramatic writing; I doubt there are picnics and pancakes ahead.
Conflict means tension, and tension means readers who keep the pages turning. Or, in this case, viewers who tune in for the next episode. So writers must provide conflict. More importantly: they must provide the possibility of conflict, different kinds of it. And then they must deliver. Two different things, both important.
The thing is, the writers of this show have done a great job of making me care about the characters. I want to write them a polite note suggesting that they leave it at that: compelling people in an interesting situation. No need to separate the family further, or kill anybody off. I’m happy, honest! I’ll tune in again.
(Okay, full disclosure: I’d probably tune in to watch Noah Wylie drink coffee and stare into space for an hour. But the fact that he’s playing an interesting character brings a nice legitimacy to the whole thing.)
In this case, the tension comes from the nature of the beast: I know that I’ve signed up to watch a story unfold. I know that when a story about aliens and guns and a post-apocalyptic future unfolds, bad things happen. Hunger Games fans, remember Rue?
The writers and actors did the important part of the job: they made me care. They introduced a high-stakes situation. And now I’m feeling the tension in my belly that comes from knowing that this is a story. The medium itself is enough: it sets up the expectation that bad things will happen. And this doesn’t come from a cliffhanger or a hint of what’s coming or anything like that. This just comes from my knowing that it’s a story, and having expectations around that.
When your reader picks up your book, they’re expecting things to happen. It’s what they signed up for. Leaving aside the obvious fact that you have to deliver on that expectation, you can take a certain satisfaction in knowing that the story-ness of your story is going to do some of the work for you. This ain’t your reader’s first rodeo, baby. They’re going to be imagining endings and possibilities and terrible fates with every turn of the page.
Drop hints. Leave openings. Make the reader care about your characters, and let them wonder. Let them put themselves into that story and start writing it for you, a million different ways. That’s where the knotted-up feeling inside comes from. It’s why Hitchcock liked to leave the bad guys hidden. The more the reader brings to the story, the better.
But here’s the trick: the story you write has to be as good as, or better than, the one the reader wrote in her head.
I want everything to be all sunshine and rainbows for Noah Wylie and his fictional sons, but that’s not what I’m expecting. I’m thinking, first, that the gut-wrenchingest thing I would do as a writer would be to separate them. Put them all in danger, and leave the father wondering what’s happened to his sons. And go from there. I don’t know if that’s how the story will play out or not, but if it doesn’t, it better do something at least as compelling.
Your readers have come to you for a roller coaster ride. They want to laugh and cry. Give them conflict. But first, give them a reason not to want it. Give them a reason to care about these people. They’ll tune in for more.
(And hope to heck that your story doesn’t go the way of Firefly.)
I’m excited about my friend Lena’s upcoming book, Witchlanders! Take a look at her cool new book trailer.
Boarder Patrol one of CCBC’s “Best Books for Kids & Teens 2011”
In other exciting news, I learned last week that Boarder Patrol had been chosen as a Canadian Children’s Book Centre’s “Best Books for Kids & Teens 2011” selection. I’m thrilled that my book was included because so many of my favourite authors are in there, too.
I wanted to do cartwheels. The trauma of the OAC grant is still fresh in my mind, though — my leaps of joy resulted in the premature death of my husband’s desk lamp. I’m working on a more reserved demeanour these days. When you’re clumsy, it really is the best way to go.
New Course in Writing for Children, based in Oshawa
I’m also teaming up with Writescape’s own Gwynn Scheltema to teach an introductory-level course on writing for children, right here in Durham. Gwynn and I have had fun working on this course together. The hard part is going to be fitting it into only six weeks. Course information can be found here.
I’m not wavering from my stance on the Mabel’s Fables courses — if you can get to Toronto, you need to be there. Ted Staunton is a wonderful instructor. We’re all going to miss Peter Carver now that he’s retired from the level two course, but I think it’s going to remain a great writing environment and supportive group for children’s writers under Ted’s guidance. But some of my Durham Region friends find that commute a bit off-putting, so I decided we needed a more local starting point.
Between my kid-lit fanaticism and Gwynn’s teaching expertise and experience, I think we’ve managed to put together something special. I’m looking forward to it, and if you’re a Durham Region writer who wants to learn more about writing for chidren, I hope to see you there.
(And then, of course, I’ll recruit you to Mabel’s and to CANSCAIP and all the rest of it, bwa-ha-ha. Kid-lit is an addictive world. Enjoy it.)
For various reasons, I’m feeling neither clever nor articulate these days. I mean, um, all my clever-articulate-ness is being routed into my writing projects. Yes. That’s it. (Nods sagely. Hides writing projects.)
And so, in lieu of a proper blog post, I offer you buttons that you are welcome to use on your website if you like. Amazon makes their “buy” buttons widely available, but I wanted a matched set, and my web developer husband was kind enough to make some. They’re at the bottom of this post, due to technical issues. (That means I can’t make it look right any other way and I don’t want to bug my husband again.)
My latest book, Wolves at the Gate, has just come out from HIP Books. I haven’t even seen a copy yet. They’re in the mail, apparently. I’ll be updating my Books page as soon as I get a look at the back cover text.
Wolves at the Gate is part of another fantasy series written with Cheryl Rainfield and Deb Ouellet, but this time, the books share the same world but deal with different characters. That means you can read them in any order or combination that you like.
My character, Ren, is a thief who learns over the course of the book that he is a Skinwalker — someone who can choose between two shapes. Ren needs to decide whether learning to use his new skills is worth the risks that come with joining a community. Human or fox, loner or pack member. And he has to decide soon, because the Skinwalkers are planning an attack on the king.
This is a novel for reluctant readers, which means it’s a fast, action-packed read. It’s targeted at readers in about grade five and up, but written at the grade three reading level. Charlie Hnatiuk did the illustrations. I had fun creating Ren’s world, and I hope you’ll enjoy reading about his adventures.
At Last: The Buttons
Here they are! Matching buttons for Amazon, Chapters and others.
Please note the addition of Blue Heron Books, my lovely local bookseller. Shelley is so supportive, she deserves her own button. There’s also a “Find Local Bookseller” button for those of you who don’t live in Durham Region, Ontario.
Our new fantasy series with HIP Books is up on their website! Go have a look! (Scroll down.)
The books aren’t available for sale yet, but this really makes it feel like they’re coming soon!
The Skinwalker books are coming! This is the new hi-low fantasy series from HIP Books that Cheryl Rainfield, Deb Ouellet and I have been working on. Paul Kropp sent us the cover images yesterday. Mine is the one in the middle: Wolves at the Gate.
This series is different from the Dragon Speaker books in that the stories all deal with different characters within the same world. They don’t need to be read in any particular order, and you can read any title as a standalone, although I think the story concepts complement each other well.
The plan is to print the books in April for a May 1 release. I look forward to reading the final versions of Cheryl’s and Deb’s stories–I haven’t seen them yet!
This Saturday I’ll be presenting an hour-long workshop on writing for the hi-low and reluctant reader market. The workshop takes place at the Ajax Convention Centre, after the Writers’ Community of Durham Region monthly breakfast meeting. There are still a few spaces left, although I’m told that 20 people have already registered, so the room is filling up! Yay! You can find more information here.
It’s shaping up really well; I think the people attending will get their money’s worth and then some. (Okay, it’s a $10 workshop, but still. There’s a principle at work here, and I live to overprepare.) The publishers I’ve been in touch with have helped me by providing submission guidelines and “what we need now” hints, so I’ve got lots of great information to share. I’m looking forward to it.
Now to work on the whole ‘voice projection’ thing…
It’s been a busy writing week with lots to report. Hence the utter lack of blog updates. When things are happening, I find it hard to make time to write about it, thus my news here tends to be sadly outdated. Anyone else find that difficult when blogging?
One not-yet-outdated announcement: I’ll be reading from my new book, Boarder Patrol, at the Whitby Health & Wellness Fair. The Writers’ Circle of Durham Region has a booth there. Sue Reynolds and Ruth Walker will be “enthusing about the health benefits of following your heart and your muse” (according to Ruth), and various WCDR members will be reading throughout the day.
Ruth promises a captive audience, as we will be in the room with the snacks. Isn’t that kind of like live-band-in-bar syndrome? The band is fun if that’s what you wanted to hear, but if you’re at the bar to talk to the person beside you, it makes life difficult. I hope it won’t feel that way to the people at the fair. I’ll keep my reading short, just in case.
Also because the longer I’m up there, the more likely my sweaty palms will stain my lovely new ARC (Advance Reading Copy) of Boarder Patrol.
Which brings me to my second topic. My ARC came in the mail last Friday. It is beautiful. It is glorious. Picture available here.
After I spent most of the day jumping around the house and dancing with the book, I could not bear to be parted with it. I carried it, wrapped in its envelope for safe keeping, to my daughter’s piano and swimming lessons (Friday is a busy night). I have no shame; I showed it to the parents of the little girl in my daughter’s class, simply because they were sitting beside me. They were kind. New writers, like new parents, must beg the indulgence of others.
(Incidentally, the book will be available from Orca Sports in early May, and the book launch will be sometime in late May or early June at Blue Heron Books in Uxbridge, which is a beautiful bookstore and well worth visiting. But I’m sure I’ll post about that as it gets closer.)
Wolves at the Gate
I finally finished and submitted the rough draft of my new novel for HIP Books. The working title is Wolves at the Gate. (Actually, the working title here at home is “Foxy’s Big Adventure”, since the book was thus christened by my daughter, but “Wolves at the Gate” seems to be going over better with the over-six demographic.)
I’m about two thousand words over the target word count but in a first draft, I can forgive myself that. It needs to be tightened, but I’ll worry about that after I know I’ve got the story right. This is an unusual way to work; normally a book would be thoroughly critiqued and polished before I ever submitted it to an editor. Come to think of it, that may be why I so seldom submit anything… nothing’s ever quite “done” enough.
In this case the publisher (HIP Books) initiated the project, so he’s been involved from the very beginning. He approved my story concept, then my outline, and I won’t touch my first draft again until I hear his feedback.
I’ve had fun with this story. It’s another mediaeval fantasy, like the Dragon Speaker series. I’m working with Cheryl Rainfield and Debbie Ouellet again, but this time, our books don’t have to be sequential. They just share a world. Not sure how much we’re allowed to reveal yet, so I’d better leave it at that. But yes, wolves are obviously involved, and foxes. And a “big adventure”.
Also this week, I received feedback on my Muskoka Novel Marathon manuscript. My story about a little boy and an alien won in the Juvenile category for the 2009 marathon. Part of the prize is that an editor with a Canadian publishing house agrees to critique it. The novel marathon is a fundraiser for the Muskoka Literacy Council, so it strikes me as extremely generous of the editors and publishers associated with it to volunteer their time.
I was fortunate enough to receive feedback from Kathy Lowinger of Tundra Books, who has volunteered to help the novel marathon in this way for several years in a row. She gave my still-very-rough manuscript a thorough substantive edit and offered detailed (and encouraging!) feedback. She absolutely made my week.
(Well, okay, that and the ARC made my week. Can’t forget the ARC.)
Anyhow. Big week, filled with blog-worthy events. Things should be a little bit quieter now. My next planned blog entry will be about an amazing writing book that I came across recently.
Should you happen to read this before it happens, please wish me luck with the reading tomorrow morning!
My editor, Sarah Harvey at Orca Books, says I’m allowed to share this. I think it’s gorgeous. (I’ve tried to convince friends that it’s really me on the cover, but I don’t think anyone believes me.)
Sarah and I just finished discussing the final changes to the novel. All that’s left now is the proofs–no big changes at that point. The book is scheduled for release in the spring. I’m excited!
I just sent my latest revisions on Boarder Patrol to my editor. She’s been very kind, pointing out ways to improve the story and “talking me down from my tree” (as my husband would say) when I wanted to scrap the beginning and get into a big structural overhaul fairly late in the game.
I’m happy with these changes, and I think they’re all for the better. This will probably be my last set of changes before the proofs, unless there’s something new in this version that needs fixing.
It feels good to have this finished, for now. I need to get back to work on ‘Tyler’s Intergalactic Spy School’, but I’m going to catch up on some administrative things first. The book launch for the Dragon Speaker series is coming up (November 28 at Another Story bookstore), so that will need to be a focus this week, too.
Next planned post: things I learned from judging a short story contest.
I haven’t updated in ages. The past month or two has been crazy-busy, writing-wise.
My revisions on Boarder Patrol were due October 31. There wasn’t that much to change, but some of what needed fixing took some thought. Since the book is under contract, I didn’t feel right working on anything else until I had that work done.
My newest manuscript, Tyler’s Intergalactic Spy School, won the juvenile category in the Muskoka Novel Marathon. I was able to revise it a little before sending it to the level-two judges, Kevin Craig, Anne Millyard and Roy McGregor, for feedback. (Well, Kevin was gracious enough to look at the raw manuscript, but that was due to a scheduling issue.)
The next step will be preparing it to go to a Canadian children’s publisher for January. The publisher is going to give feedback and not necessarily consider the manuscript for publication, but obviously I want to do the best job I can before submitting it. And there’s a lot of work to do before January! Especially around the ending…
My short story, ‘Julia’, was published in On Spec; I finally received my copies just this past week. It’s exciting! I’m especially grateful to the readers who got in touch with me and had very kind things to say about the story. My first reader feedback! 🙂 I won’t mention names, but that first email that appeared in my in-box made my week. Thank you so much!
I learned some great things in Brian Henry’s writing course and at the CANSCAIP conference, Packaging Your Imagination, which I’ll try to share here when things slow down a bit. I’m working on more changes to Boarder Patrol this week, and planning a book launch. The book launch will get its own post.
I’ve also plunged into CANSCAIP and volunteered as the new co-recording secretary. Taking the meeting notes, I’m fine with. Voting on issues feels somewhat less comfortable, given that I have all of two months’ experience as a member. I suppose I can balance out the more established authors and illustrators, or stretch out the bell curve, or something.
Finally, my husband insists on dragging me into the twenty-first century despite my misgivings. I caved and opened a Twitter account. I’m still not sure I’m doing it right, but I’m following some people who have interesting things to say (including said husband, because otherwise he’ll get cranky). Every now and then I pop up with a reply or a link, and I’m learning how to “retweet”. I’m @erinlthomas, because erinthomas was taken.
More later. Back to work.