B’day & New YALSA award & Rev Tip #10 (setting)

(Excuse me, family business first) HAPPY BIRTHDAY, JESSICA!!

(Thank you.)

The nominees for the 2010 YALSA Award for Excellence in Nonfiction for Young Adults have been named and I am really excited for two friends, Deborah Heiligman (Charles and Emma) and Tanya Lee Stone (Almost Astronauts) whose books both made the list.Huzzah!

Revision Tip #10

I need to clarify yesterday’s tip.

A Facebook Friend wrote in to say my advice contradicted what Barry Lyga wrote on his blog.

(I’ll wait while you hop over to Barry’s page and see what he wrote.)

(Really, it’s OK. I just made tea. The fire is warm. Go on! Shoo!)


(Are you back yet?)

Barry and I agree more than we disagree. We are both striving for the balance between tight writing and clear writing. Neither one of us wants you to waste words and page space on dialog or description that don’t move the story forward.

But I see opportunity to use what he calls "blocking" as a way to move the story forward. It’s all in the details. There is no point to just throwing in descriptions of actions simply to avoid a page of dialog that bounces back and forth between two people. (For the record, my first drafts are often page after page of dialog.) The key is to find THE EXACT RIGHT ACTIONS that will help your characters show what’s going on inside them in addition to telling.

This is where choosing the right setting for a scene helps.

I’ll give you an example from CATALYST. There is an emotionally loaded scene in which the main character, 18-year-old Kate, is talking to her younger brother. The two of them have just come from a funeral for a small child who was a neighbor. The brother is pestering Kate for details about their mother’s funeral, which happened when he was an infant.

In the scene, Kate is cleaning the kitchen. (Their father is the minister, they live next to the church, the congregation gathered at their house after the funeral for a meal.) She is wiping clean, sanitizing, scrubbing, putting things into boxes, sweeping up – all actions that really show what she is trying very hard to do with the memories and feelings about the death of her mother. In the climax of the scene, she puts the last container of food in the refrigerator and slams the door so hard that family photos and the drawings by the dead child all fall off the door of the fridge.

That dialog could have been set in many different places, but I deliberately chose the kitchen because of the opportunities it gave me to create subtext for Kate. Putting action into dialog sequences ensures you don’t have talking heads on the page, and it allows you to give the reader more information than just the dialog alone, if you are wise about your choice of action and setting.

Does this make sense?

Questions? Thoughts?

Revision Tip #5 & love from Missouri

This one might seem obvious on the surface, but writers are very good at rationalizing and can come up with all kinds of logical-sounding reasons why they should ignore it.

Three words.

What. Happens. Next.

Stories are supposed to flow like a river, not remain still while your character treads water neck-deep in a pool of exposition. One of the fun things about revising is figuring out how to make the story move forward while slipping in those little bits of backstory that contribute to the reader’s understanding of the character.

For me this often winds up being a pacing issue.

Yesterday I was working on a chapter that had three scenes in it. Scene #1 transitioned from the previous chapter. Scene #2 was rather lengthy, but interesting, I thought, even though the main character was mostly observing the action around him, and that action (while based on fascinating historical evidence) only had a little to do with the larger Story of my character. Scene #3 was short short, because I blathered on so long in Scene #2.

The first option was to break off Scene #3 into its own chapter. I tried that, but it didn’t work. The chapter that was weighed down with Scene #2 was a big snore. I tried cutting out Scene #2 completely. Nope, that didn’t work either – the reader and character need to see what happens in it.

Just before I went to bed I figured out how to fix it. I’m going to trim back Scene #2 and add one element that has an emotional connection to my character. That will make the first half of this chapter move swiftly (I hope) and build the tension leading up to Scene #3. In that last scene, I’ll have the room to craft both the external and internal conflicts, and lay the groundwork for the transition to the next chapter.

Does that make any sense? Neil Gaiman mentioned this concept in a more elegant style (sigh) on his blog yesterday. (Scroll down to his response to the first reader’s question.)

Emily wrote asking when I was going to publish a book about the writing process.

Answer: As soon as my publisher asks me to. That’s why all these revision tips are wrapped up in fifty layers of copyright protection and guarded by my dog. (But if you are a teacher, feel free to use them in your classroom.)

In other news. TWISTED is a nominee for the Missouri Gateway Reader’s Award (along with two other books that Superintendent Daniel Freeman of Montgomery County School District in KY feels are not suitable in his high school: DEADLINE, by Chris Crutcher, and UNWIND, by Neal Shusterman). The Gateway Award is aimed at high school readers.

Missouri extended even more love my way by nominating CHAINS to Truman Award list (sorry, don’t have a link yet). This one is for middle school/junior high readers.

Thank you, Missouri!

Bookstore Events and Book Awards, Oh My!!!

Since Laurie is running around like a Mad Woman, and being true to her inner Mad Woman in the Forest, I thought I would share, once again, her bookstore schedule for this weekend! Yes, it is time for her to travel to Philly for NCTE (no, she is NOT packed yet!). Besides the wonderful conference, she is scheduled to appear tomorrow (Friday) night at a Public Event at Doylestown Bookshop from 7PM until 9PM!! Can you be there? If you are in the area, please stop in and say hello! She would LOVE to see all her friends!

On Saturday, Laurie will be doing conference book signings and an Author Blog Panel: Please see her post here.

On Sunday, Laurie will be at an author breakfast with Sarah Dessen held at Chester County Book & Music Company beginning at 9AM until 12PM. If you plan on attending, please RSVP to their Children’s Department. Come on, admit it, you always wanted to know what Laurie has for breakfast, check it out!!!

Also on Sunday, Laurie will be one author out of NINE at a super event at Children’s Book World from 1PM until 3PM. The event is called “A Novel Idea”, a Teen Event/Benefit for Philadelphia Free Library’s Summer Reading Program. Philadelphia Free Library is faced with the possibility of NOT having it’s book budget restored next year, so Children’s Book World has teamed up with them to raise money for books! Go here, and scroll down to read more on the event. Seeing your favorite author and helping a local library, two great reasons to stop in to Children’s Book World.

We received some awesome book award news in the Forest recently: WINTERGIRLS and CHAINS were both named to the 2010 Tayshas High School Reading List in Texas!! We send a TEXAS sized Thank You to the Tayshas Committee and the teachers and librarians of Texas!! ::Whoop, Whoop::

Believe me, Laurie would absolutely L O V E to see You at her events. Just tell her the Queen sent you! Ta Ta….

Marvelous Monday!

This is how to start the week off with a smile: CHAINS has been nominated to the longlist of the Carnegie Medal!  What is the Carnegie Medal, you ask? It is the top award for children’s novels in England, sort of a combination of the Newbery and the National Book Awards. I am completely blown away by this – honored, stunned and very, very happy.

  British hardcover                                British paperback

I had a blast at the American Association of School Librarians conference this weekend. I signed thousands of books, met countless friendly and passionate librarians and gave a speech. Thank you to everyone who made my conference so much fun.

Half a ballroom of librarians. (The other half of the room was filled, too!)

Many people asked me to post my speech online. We will be doing that soon. Here are a couple of snippets that people responded to the most. Permission is granted to reproduce, with proper acknowledgments, of course.

I talked about the recent censorship challenges my books have faced and then said this:

"I believe that every time a library budget is cut, every time a librarian’s hours are cut –  or the position is eliminated completely –  it is another form of censorship. It is stealing from children and interfering with their education.

Taking books out of libraries and taking librarians out of libraries are just like ripping the roof off of a school. And maybe that’s how we need to describe it, in the dire, stark terms of reality. You can’t run a school that doesn’t have a roof. You can’t run a school without librarians and libraries.

Book people – like you and me – tend to be a little uncomfortable with conflict. We value discussion, we respect other opinions. We avoid fights.

 When I was kid, I was not allowed to start fights. If I did, I knew that I’d be in a whole lot more trouble when I got home than I could ever be at school.But my mother – she of the hats and gloves and ugly purses –  told me that if anybody ever hit me first, I was allowed to punch back as hard as I could.

“Don’t you ever start a fight,” Mother said.  “But if somebody picks a fight with you, by God, you finish it.”

The people who do not value books or librarians have picked a fight with me. That was a mistake.

They are ripping the roof off our libraries, off our schools. They are exposing our children to ignorance and condemning them to poverty. When they rip the roof off of libraries, they weaken our country."


[I’m cutting out a little from this section]


"Those of us who truly, deeply care about the health and happiness of kids and teenagers have a sacred obligation to help them along their path to adulthood. We are charged to create and to find the very best books for these children.


To hand a book to a child or a gawky adolescent is to rescue her from the unforgiving isolation of illiteracy and transport her to the joyful and rewarding kingdom of an open mind. 


I cannot think of a job more difficult or more important than yours. Reading is not a subject matter. It is a survival tool, the  requirement of modern living.  Libraries are not luxuries. Libraries are the lifeblood of our schools and the foundation of our culture."

I hope my words might help, a little.

One last conference note. The other banquet  speaker was Charles R. Smith Jr. Do you know his work? Have you heard him speak? If not, go out RIGHT NOW and pick up some of his books. Then arrange to have him visit your school – he is the best speaker I have seen in a very long time.

Charles and I sitting on chairs that look like thrones…. it was approaching midnight and we had just finished signing a kajillion books and so we look a bit tired. But how can you turn down the chance to be photographed in a chair that looks like a throne?

When great things happen to great writers who are also my friends


The National Book Award Finalists have been announced. The finalists in the Young People’s Literature category are:

Deborah Heiligman, Charles and Emma: The Darwins’ Leap of Faith
(Henry Holt)
Phillip Hoose, Claudette Colvin: Twice Toward Justice
(Farrar, Straus and Giroux)
David Small, Stitches (W. W. Norton & Co.)
Laini Taylor, Lips Touch: Three Times (Arthur A. Levine Books/Scholastic)
Rita Williams-Garcia, Jumped (HarperTeen/HarperCollins)

I am super, super excited about this list for a bunch of reasons.

First, Deb Heiligman is one of my oldest and dearest friends and I am so happy about the attention CHARLES AND EMMA has received I am in tears, when I am not dancing. YAY DEB!!!!!!!!!!!

Second, it’s about time Rita Williams-Garcia got some more attention for her work!

Third, I think it is wonderful to have three non-fiction books on this list!

I do have a question. Was David Small’s book (which I bought and LOVE) published as children’s literature or was it published as an adult title by Norton? Why do I care? Because if it was David’s intent to have this book seen as an adult title (which I certainly think it qualifies as) I wonder if this award might narrow the market, or make booksellers and librarians think it should only be shelved in the children’s section.

Personally, I think it is an excellent example of a cross-over title. Do you think it matters if it is an adult book crossing into the children’s market or a children’s book crossing into the adult section?

What do you think of this list?