Monthly Archives: September 2016

Do you NaNo?

INaNoWriMo crest. know lots of writers who swear by NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month). It’s a great motivator as thousands of people around the globe all pledge to write 50,000 words in a month. Plenty of published novels — some even New York Times bestsellers — started out as NaNoWriMo projects.

I’ve only done NaNoWriMo once before. Usually November is a busy month for me, and last year, when I had a NaNo project in mind I didn’t want to wait until November, so I fast-drafted during the end of September and October. But I’ve always loved the sense of community NaNoWriMo creates, and for the last three years I’ve signed my library up to be an official Come Write In location. This year, I’m encouraging my teens to do the Young Writers Program (and seeing if I can convince their English teachers to offer participants extra credit). It feels wrong to encourage so many others to do something I won’t do myself.

So this year I’m doing NaNoWriMo again. I have no idea what I’m going to write, but I have a month to figure it out. And this way, when my young writers stress about word counts or sagging middles, I’ll be in the trenches with them. We can fight our way out together.

Do you participate in NaNoWriMo?


Light, delightful reads

With my first round of book talks coming up, and a major revision underway, my stress level is a little high. When that happens, I like to pick up what I think of as “lighter” books, ones that don’t get too deep or too dark. Don’t get me wrong; I adore dark books, books that make me think, books that haunt me. And the books I’m going to share do handle some deeper topics, but the overall tone and voice are light. All of these books made me laugh out loud multiple times, and had me fall in love with the main characters.

The Great Greene Heist.The Great Greene Heist by Varian Johnson

I read this delightful MG novel in a day, and it’s one I plan to book talk at the middle schools. Jackson Greene is a reformed middle school con artist who gets drawn back into the business when he learns the principal has rigged student council elections so Jackson’s former best friend will lose.

Simon vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda by Becky Albertalli

If you’ve been following this blog, you know this is one of my favorite books of 2015. I read it at another point when I was really stressed and had just come off a string of really dark books, and Simon’s hilarious voice and adorable romance with Blue were exactly what I needed.

The False Prince.The False Prince by Jennifer A. Nielsen

Sage is one of my favorite narrators. When I started reading this book, I planned to read for a half hour or so, but Sage’s voice hooked me so well that by the end of the second paragraph I knew I was going to finish the book that day. He’s the perfect mix of snark and wit. The only other narrator I’ve encountered that I like this much is Baz from Rainbow Rowell’s Carry On. (Seriously, I will listen to either of these characters tell a story about making oatmeal, because it would be that hilarious.)

What are some lighter books you’ve enjoyed recently? Any older favorites you’d recommend?

On promoting “mature” YA

T rating.As I prepare for my first round of book talks at local schools, I’m finding one of the hardest parts is choosing which books to promote. I want to choose diverse books, books where a character’s race/background isn’t central to the plot and books where it is, books from a variety of genres. I want to throw in a few graphic novels, both to highlight awesome stories and to affirm that, yes, reading comics counts as reading. I also, of course, want to choose age-appropriate titles.

But as I try to choose books that the conservative parents in my community will approve, I also want to pick books teens will want to read and think about and discuss. Because here’s the thing: parents may not want their kids to read about sex or drugs or abuse, but these things exists. For some teens, drugs and/or abuse are their reality — either they personally struggle with these issues, or they have a relative or friend who does. Some are having sex, others are wishing they were having sex, and still others are choosing not to have sex. But nearly every teen will come into contact with “mature” issues in some way. And they will have questions.

Books that tackle mature topics are a safe place for teens to find answers to their questions. Readers can vicariously explore what it’s like to take certain risks, to drink or do drugs or have sex. They can walk in the shoes of someone who’s being bullied or victimized, and learn how to make sure sex — when they decide to have it — is safe and consensual. They can develop empathy for the addict they’ve always looked down upon. They can experiment with characters on the page and learn from the characters’ mistakes, instead of making their own.

Teens will have questions. Books provide answers. I respect that some parents may not find “mature” books appropriate for their teens, but I want the teens who need these books to know about them. I want those teens to know that it’s okay to have questions, and that having those questions does not make them any lesser than their peers who aren’t asking the same questions. (I could dedicate several posts to why I find the label “clean” read problematic.)

I haven’t made any final decisions, but I’m leaning toward presenting a book with a short, positive sex scene in the high schools and another one that explores rape culture to juniors and seniors. Because these things exist, and teens are going to talk about them. I’d rather provide a safe space for them to do so than pretend these issues don’t exist, or don’t affect teens.

Have you book talked any “mature” books to older teens? What was the reaction?

Does your novel’s tension boom, or fizzle?

Mountain.Confession: I have a really hard time writing endings. I’m a discovery writer, and sometimes I write myself into corners and have to back out and re-write. It took me three books to realize that, for me, this problem comes from a failure to write a good climax. I’ll build all this tension, set up an epic confrontation, and then … not write that confrontation. In an early draft, I had a critique partner point out to me that the main character was unconscious for the last half of the final battle.

I don’t know why I do this, but now that I know I do it, I work really hard to get that battle on the page. As I near the last third of a draft, I ask myself, what’s the worst thing that could happen to this character? What would make it worse? Am I showing all of that?

Once I’ve raised the stakes and made things as difficult as possible for the main character(s), it’s time for them to rally. The protagonist must face the antagonist. They must defeat the villain (or not, if that’s the story I’m writing) on their own. They can have help from friends, but the deciding moment should come down to the protagonist using what they’ve learned throughout the book to defeat the antagonist. Often, this is how your character arc blends with your plot arc — the character has changed, and so is able to do what they need to do, and couldn’t do at the start of the book, to win now. (Or if you’re going for something darker, they’ve either changed the wrong way or they haven’t changed, and they fail.)

What scenes do you struggle with? How do you raise the tension throughout your novel?