Christmas Memories & Revision Tip #18

Sometimes people forget that I wrote PROM because it is not exactly a depressing book. In fact, it’s pretty funny, if I do say so myself. (If I had dread, depression and death in all of my books, I would not be a healthy person!)

So it is with great joy that I announce that PROM has been nominated to the 2010 Popular Paperbacks List, in the "Change Your World or Live to Regret It" category!!

School Library Journal has posted their annual collection of Christmas Memories written by children’s authors and illustrators. This year’s essays were written by me, my buddy Deb Heiligman, Barbara McClintock, Lauren Myracle, and our National Ambassador for Young People’s Literature, Jon Scieszka. Enjoy!

Revision Tip #18

Are you stuck?

Have you tried all my plotting tips and dialog wisdom and adverb scorn and still you are stuck?

Try this.

1. Make yourself some comfort food.

2. Put on music that relaxes you.

3. Snuggle up in a warm, cozy place with a pen and a pad of paper.

4. Write a letter to your main character. Tell her everything that is worrying you about the story in general.

5. Pause to eat a bit. Make some tea or hot chocolate.

6. Pick up pen and paper again. Tell your character why you are specifically worried about her. Ask her what is going on in her life, in her relationships that you don’t understand. Ask her advice about how to help her move forward.

7. Write down what she tells you.

8. If you can’t hear her voice, then it is time to put that manuscript away for a while and work on a different story. But I am pretty sure you will hear the voice, so be chill and write.

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?

KY controversy update & Revision Tip #1

Welcome to December! We woke up to a snow-covered forest and it is still coming down!

The Lexington Herald-Leader wrote an article about the book banning in Montgomery County High School in Mount Sterling, KY, where the superintendent appears to be breaking district policy by refusing to return the books (Twisted, Deadline by Chris Crutcher, Lessons from a Dead Girl by Jo Knowles, The Rapture of Canaan by Sheri Reynolds, What My Mother Doesn’t Know by Sonya Sones, What My Girlfriend Doesn’t Know by Sonya Sones, and Unwind, by Neal Shusterman) to the classroom after the books were approved by the district’s Review Committee.

The superintendent says that he does not believe these books belong in the classroom.

(From the article) "I wrote the teachers over a month ago and said, ‘show me why the books should be in the curriculum and we’ll reconsider that decision,"’ he said. "I’m certainly not the world’s final authority on what ought to be in a college curriculum. But so far I haven’t heard a word from anybody about why we should use these books."

That’s not exactly true. I have a copy of a five-page letter written to Dr. Freeman by one of the top experts in the field about the use of contemporary literature in high school classrooms. The letter explains exactly why those books have a place in his classrooms, citing state standards, research that validates their use, and the district’s own vision statement.

What do you think? Share your opinions with Dr. Freeman ( or on the newspaper’s website, in the Comments that accompany the article. Remember: it is possible to have strong opinions and be polite at the same time.

Congrats on everyone who participated in NaNoWriMo last month. Even if you didn’t hit the 50,000 word mark, you wrote something which is way better than nothing. I’m deep in revisions for my next novel, so I’ll be posting my own revision tips this month for any of you guys who are interested.

Revision Tip #1
When you finish a first draft, don’t look at it for at least a week. Clean up your desk and catch up on your reading. Do some journaling about what you thought the story was at the beginning of the the draft and how it changed when you were writing. Make a list of those pesky little thoughts that are bugging you about places where your characters might not be consistent, or major plot issues. Do this without rereading your pages! Trust me on this one.

PS – A couple of you wondered what was on the back of the shirts we wore for the Turkey Trot 5K. It was a list of all of our names and the tag line, "The family that runs together eats more pie!"

Turkey Stuffed & NaNoWriMo idea

Did you have a great Thanksgiving? We sure did. Three-quarters of our brood made it to dinner and the missing offspring beamed in for a long Skype visit before we ate. About half of the family made it to the annual Turkey Trot 5K we ran in.

Of course we wore our cool custom shirts.

Check out the back.

For the record, we all finished the race.

How is NaNoWriMo working out for everyone? Today is the last day for it – did you meet your goals? What was harder than you thought? What was easier?

If all went well, you should have a bulky draft on your hands. Now it’s time for the fun part: revision!!!

Want me to post revision tips in December? What do you need help with?

WFMAD Day 18 – Ready For Big Changes

I am going to spend the morning moving my niece into her apartment. I have figured out that there is some kind of natural law that requires relatives to move only on one of the five hottest days of the year. Natural laws are a bitch.

You can stay near a fan and clickety-click on all these links I found for you.

If you blog about YA books or write them or read them (or any combination) you want to read Persnickety Snark’s Guide to YA Blogging. Nice work, Adele!

Bitch Magazine has a great interview with Sara Zarr.

PLEASE participate and spread the word to teachers about NCTE’s National Day on Writing!


Today’s advice: "The worst enemy to creativity is self-doubt." Sylvia Plath 


Today’s prompt: Part One: Write three quick lists, of five items each. Give a very detailed description – as specific as possible – for each item.

List 1 = five colors
List 2 = five sounds
List 3 = five textures

When you are finished with your lists, scroll down for Part Two…..

and be grateful you aren’t carrying boxes inthis heat…

think of me when you are sipping lemonade……….

or sangria…………..

almost there……….

Part 2 – Study your lists and come up with a bunch of different combinations, using one element from each list. One of these combination is going to strike a chord inside you. You might feel it in your gut or your throat. Freewrite for fifteen minutes on the combination.