Did you read CATALYST or PROM?

Theo is putting the finishing touches on the playlist section of my Writerlady website overhaul. We’ve got plenty of songs for the other novels (special thanks to handworn and to John Connolly and his students for all their help). We are a little light on the number of songs suggested for PROM and CATALYST.

And I am on deadline. And after that, I have another book to write. And one of my kids finally comes home on break today.

So I could really use your help.

Any suggestions? What songs tie into the main characters and situations of PROM and CATALYST?

This is what I have so far:

CATALYST
Splintering – Arizona
The Great Escape – We Are Scientists
Under Pressure – Queen
Run, Baby, Run – Sheryl Crow
Runaway – Linkin Park

PROM
Alright – Supergrass
End of the Line – Traveling Wilburys
I Summon You – Spoon
Nowhere and Everywhere – Michelle Lewis
Survivor РDestiny’s Child
Lose Yourself – Eminem
Learn To Fly – Foo Fighters
Prom Theme – Fountains Of Wayne

Teachers! If your students help out with this, I promise a hand-written thank you note!

First catch-update: Indiana PROM contest winner

Still scrambling to get life back in order after the last two months of travel, so bear with me, please.

The whole reason I went to Indiana was to celebrate the writing talent of Chelsey W., a senior at Goshen High School in Goshen, IN. She won the Baker & Taylor PROM contest. As a part of that, I spent a day at her school, speaking about books, life, and really enjoying the company of Chelsey and her mom. Many, many thanks to everybody in Goshen: Chelsey, librarian Theresa Collins, all of the students*, the principal who gave me a Goshen blanket that is wrapped around me as I type this, the kids who came over from the middle school, the OK group – everybody.

*especially Jessica from Delaware who made a point of telling me how much she liked some of the weird things I did to conventional narrative devices in SPEAK and PROM!!! Hi Jess!

I am still waiting for the legal permissions I need to be able to post Chelsey’s submission, and those of the runners-up on the website. Will let you know as soon as that happens.

Other updates to follow through the day!

Indiana pictures!

We have a winner!

Packing one last time tonight! I leave tomorrow for Goshen, IN where I will spend Wednesday speaking at Goshen High School.

Why?

Because that is where the winner of the PROM contest goes to school. I’m still waiting for releases to post the names and writing samples of the winner and runners-up, but I guess it’s OK to tell you the winner goes to Goshen. When I’m done in Indiana, I head for Washington, DC, to BEA, the massive conference for booksellers.

Why?

Because the very nice people at BEA have invited me to give a speech. Wish me luck (taking a look at who else is giving speeches at the same function and you’ll understand.) I won’t be there very long – arrive Thursday, leave Friday, but I am really looking forward to this. It is a fantastic way to end the current travel/speaking “season”. (If you are a bookseller and you see me there, please let me know you read this LJ!!)

Thanks for all the input on the jacket photo. I am bowing to public opinion and choosing Photo #1, but I’m sure Theo will find some use for the others on the website.

BH & Son picked lilacs for me yesterday. Now our house smells like them, and the apple trees down the road are in bloom like young girls in pretty skirts. Life is good.

Writing Question #1

I just wrote a post about how today will be filled with the joys of pulling together my taxes, but I realized it was stupid so I deleted it.

Instead, I’ll dig out one of last month’s writing questions: “How does an idea become a whole story?”

::pause to stare at screen::
::types something:: ::deletes it::
::looks for another question::
::grits teeth and decides to deal with it::

This is a big question. In fact, there have been several books written in response to it. You’ll find a couple here.

Let me try to craft a short answer.

It helps to recognize the limitations of an idea. A watermelon seed in your hand doesn’t do you much good, unless you want to spit it at someone. A watermelon seed planted in well-balanced soil with good drainage at the right time of year, properly watered, weeded, and guarded from bugs and critters, will produce a decent watermelon you can enjoy. Your story idea is that seed – nice to look at, fun to think about. But you need to know going in that turning it into a story or book is going to require Work.

When I have an idea, I first focus on the people related to the idea. PROM, for example. The idea was to explore some issues that surround the ritual of an American prom. I started with the main character, Ashley Hannigan. Decided she would come from a working class family outside Philly, loving, but a little crazy. I spent a couple months thinking about and writing about her character, trying to figure out who she was. When I thought I understood her, I gave her The Big Problem – she hates the prom. Then I complicated it – she is forced to help save it. From there I imagined a series of complications, set-backs, and triumphs.

I don’t want you to think this all just pours out of my brain on to the page. I am not sure how other authors do it, but it tends to be very, very messy for me. Picture a person trying to decorate a room in total darkness. That’s what writing feels like to me a lot of the time. I flail around in confusion and doubt, trying to remember where I put everything. I fall down a lot.

This is why I recommend young writers start with short stories first. Novels can be a real pain – all those people! All that stuff! All those pages! Argh!

When you are writing or revising your story/novel, remember that every scene, every sentence needs to do at least one of two things: either give the reader more information about a character, or move the plot along.

Does that help?

Dare to Read

Well this is something I never saw coming!

PROM was chosen to be part of Elle magazine’s Dare To Read Bookclub. Somehow, this qualifies me as an Elle girl. (I wonder if I can get that on a tee shirt.) Elle is having a contest, too – free books as the prize, so hop over and take a peek! Fellow LJer and cool YA author tanyaleestone is also on the list. Be sure to check out her book: A Bad Boy Can Be Good For A Girl.

In the comments section on the 15th, Anon wrote: You often talk about story arcs in your novels. Would you please define what a story arc is, and discuss how different arcs relate to each other and pull the story along? Is there conventional wisdom for developing and using story arcs?

I will take a crack at it. (If any of you English teacher think I have messed up this definition, let me know.)

A story arc is the storyline… the path of a character as she works her way through the story. She starts the story, stuff happens, she reacts to the stuff that happens, she changes and grows as a result of the stuff that happens, and by the end of the story, she is a more mature and (one hopes) wiser person for having gone through these experiences. The trick in a novel is that you have a number of story arcs – different characters all on their own paths which cross and intertwine with each other. Every scene has to move someone’s arc ahead a little, or there is no point to the scene being in the book. In TWISTED, one of the secondary character’s arc was unclear. He was acting one way in the beginning of the book and a completely different way towards the end, and I hadn’t made clear why the transition happened. Not only was this bad for his character, but it messed up the interactions he had with the other characters in the book. So for the last couple of days, I’ve been studying every scene this guy is in with a microscope. I’ve changed a couple of the scenes. Today, I’m adding in a few more towards the end to better set up a fairly dramatic resolution to his set of issues with the main character.

That, my friends, is what we call revision.

And to answer Max’s question: the historical WIP is on hold until next week while I take a last pass through TWISTED. I occasionally look at the corner of the office where my notes are heaped on the floor and whimper, but I have to finish this project before I’m allowed out to play with the next.