Brand New Writerlady Dot Com

:: trumpet fanfare plays and cymbals crash::

Web God Theo Black has finished the major website overhaul at my website,!

All Hail The Theo!
All Hail The Theo!
All Hail The Theo!

Yes, there are nit-picky things to clean up, and yes, there are still a few things to be added, including a page to tell you how to get signed copies of my books, but we’re getting there. If you get stuck in the branches of the tree (still a glitch there) use the words at the bottom of the page to navigate.

Be sure to check out the shiny new, veeeeeeeeeery long Frequently Asked Questions section, which is found in the Junk Drawer. (Many of the questions were posed by people on my blog: thanks for the help.)

What do you think of this new version of the site?
What do you like?
Anything not working for you?
What’s missing?

Mail about the realities of writing

Yes, Theo is in the process of posting my new website, and yes, we know that not all features are working yet. Thank you very much to everyone who has written to let us know pages that seem to be empty and the broken links. Consider the current version very much Beta. It will be polished and shiny soon.

Katarina, an 8th grader from NJ, mailed the following questions. I’m on deadline again, so the answers will be pithy.

When did you realize that you wanted to become a writer specifically for young adults?
I haven’t decided that yet. I just try to write good stories.

How do you deal with frustration/writer’s block?
I run.

Are there any specific classes that I should take in high school/college?
Keyboarding. I suggest you don’t major in creative writing, either, but take some of the classes if the professor has a good reputation with the other students.

Is this a job that includes more failure or success?
Ha! Buckets of failure, tasty tablespoons of success.

How long does it usually take to get “started,” i.e. find a reputable publisher and editor
Ten years.

How long, on average, does it take for you to write a book including the editing/publishing process?
Two to three years from the beginning of a project until it lands in a bookstore.

What precautions can I take so I don’t fall for publishing scams?
Never pay cash to anyone who claims to be an agent. Learn the difference between vanity presses and trade presses. Your librarian will help you find books that explain the difference.

Should I have a good knowledge of other styles/genres of writing?
Write what is in your heart.

How can I learn to deal with bad reviews and critics?
Smashing your hand in a car door once a week helps. If you don’t have a car, use a hammer. Bad reviews hurt.

When I am just starting out, is the compensation good enough, or is it hard to make a living?
Learn how to waitress so you’ll always be able to eat. Be nice to your parents in case you need to live in their basement until your big break comes.

And a very nice note from Danica, who writes:

Ms. Halse-Anderson,
I’ve got to let you know how much I truly loved “Speak.” I first read
the novel as part of an Adolescent Literature class, and I enjoyed it
so much that I thought I needed to find a way to work with the novel
on a deeper level. I’ve decided to use it as part of my senior thesis
on reader-response and adolescent literature.

You’ve managed to take a subject like rape and address it in a way
that’s approachable for adolescent readers– the treatment of the
subject is not too intense or explicit, but still clearly demonstrates
the emotional pain of rape. It seems that rape is too often treated
lightly (somehow– something I will never quite understand), and your
book is a wonderful approach to the benefits of speaking out about
sexual trauma.

Thank you, I look forward to reading more from you!

Thank you very much, Danica. That is exactly the inspiration I needed to go back to my revision!

Readers ask writing and life questions

As promised, today I am going to answer the questions that Sherry sent into my MySpace account. They are rather timely.

What keeps you motivated to write?
Writing keeps me healthy and sane. When I am working on a story, I channel the dark, sad, confused, angry bits of me into something constructive and healing. I always feel better after a day of writing. I also love the challenge of solving the puzzle of how to create a story.

I know writing is a long process but when i can’t get the right inspiration i need to finish part of the story it stresses me out.
I totally hear you. I feel the same way sometimes. When you run out of inspiration, it’s usually means you don’t understand your character and the conflicts she’s facing. Brainstorm ten things that could happen next that would complicate her life, and then brainstorm ten things that would make her life easier. Somewhere in there, you’ll find a key to the next scene you have to write.

As an author do you think its best to plan the stories plot and whats gonna happen in the whole book ahead of time or do you think its best to just go with the flow and go wherever the story leads you?
It depends on the book and it depends on how quickly you want to finish it. With my historical novels, I have to outline carefully because the character’s journey has to take place within real historical events. With my YA novels, like TWISTED and SPEAK, I am more flexible. In the early drafts, I write whatever weirdness pops in my head. In later drafts, I sort through the chaos and try to give it structure and a sense of flow. But what works for me might not work for you. Everyone has their own process, as my editor Sharyn always says.

Do you ever set goals for youself as to when you’re gonna finish writing certain parts of the book?
All the time. And I never, ever reach the goal on time because I am a hopeless optimist and I always forget to schedule in sleeping at night. But I keep doing it. Goals are helpful. Making time to write every day helps even more.

And any other advise you could give me for writing a book would be very helpful please!
Turn off the television. Read every night before you go to sleep. Write for fun. Never, ever criticize yourself during a first draft. Do not pressure yourself by saying “I have to get this published by the time I am 20 (or 30, or 40, etc.) Write the story in your heart.

Great questions, Sherry. Thanks!

This came in from a 15-year-old girl in the Philippines.

… I’m a high school sophomore at an all-girls school in the Philippines.

I just wanted to say that I find Twisted and Speak really amazing books. I can’t fully say how amazing they are. If it weren’t for a book sale, I probably would not have heard of you, or any of your books, for that matter. I mean, I live here in the Philippines, and the bookstores here have limited copies of your books, mostly the ones for younger children. It took me a long time to find Twisted, and I still haven’t seen Catalyst or your other novels. Anyway, I wanted to thank you, too, for writing the way you do. I get to empathize with the characters, even though I haven’t been in any situation they’re in. That’s really something. I get inspired. I write too, but usually in non-fiction, and I write for our school paper. Also, I checked out your website, and saw the playlist for Twisted. It was so weird that those songs are on my iPod. I’m sorry if I was rambling, but I just had to say it. That’s all.

All love for the Philippines!! ::glowing::

I also got an email from a guy, a junior, who read TWISTED. It was a very emotional note, with details about how his life paralleled Tyler Miller’s. I don’t feel comfortable sharing the whole thing, but there were a couple of lines that are universal:

“i picked your book up in the library yesterday and read the first couple of pages and for some reason i couldn’t put it down. i consistently got yelled at today and even got a detention for reading during class. so i get home and i finally finish it and I’m just like “wow”. this IS the best book i have ever read. hands down…. i just want to be myself, and be liked at the same time, but its like that’s impossible. its either be myself and be hated on, or be fake and get worshiped, life sucks and its taken me this long to realize, that shit just isn’t going to change, and your book made me realize this…. it feels like I’m supposed to do something epic to let everyone know that I’m done putting up with people’s “fakeness”. like i want to go outside and scream as loud as i can for as long as i can….

I think he’s right. Our culture, especially in high school, doesn’t give kids much room to express the real person they feel inside. They feel under so much pressure to conform and it’s hard to understand and it damages their souls. (The next time you see an angry teenager, please remember this and be kind.)

This is why we write, friends, and this is why we read. To connect with other people. To feel alive. To stumble towards the answers.

I love my job.

How to hold a Teen Book festival

Step One – contact Stephanie Squicciarini at the Fairport, NY Public Library. She combines the best qualities of a librarian: passion for books, compassion for readers, energy, eye for detail, and the ability to dream big. Steph is a red-headed visionary in a hot green Beetle. Plus, she’s lots of fun.

It took Stephanie and her committee 16 months to plan for the day. The plan was simple: convince local business to sponsor a day-long festival so that teens from the greater Rochester could hear from their favorite authors for free. They did it. They brought 11 authors to town: me, Terry Davis, Alex Flinn, Brent Hartinger, Mary Beth Miller, Alex Sanchez, Terry Trueman (who I swear was my older brother in another life), Vivian Vande Velde (who has one of the coolest names in the world) , Ellen Wittlinger, Chris Yambar and Amy Kim Ganter. We spent all day Saturday talking to the hundreds and hundreds and hundreds of kids, parents, and teachers who turned out.

That’s right, folks. HUNDREDS of teenagers spent an entire sunny Saturday hanging out with authors. Why? Because teenagers love to read books that are interesting.

Image and video hosting by TinyPic Authors lounging in the lobby. Or maybe, lurking in the lobby.

Image and video hosting by TinyPic I knew it was going to be a good day when the limos showed up.

When we pulled up to the Fairport HS where the festivities were held, a mob of volunteers were waiting, screaming and taking pictures. I kept looking around wondering when the rock stars were showing up. Oh, wait – we were the rock stars! Imagine a world in which authors and literature were honored and adored the way celebrities are today. This would be a much better world than the one we live in. First off, authors don’t expose their flesh the way many rock stars do. This, my friends, is a good thing. Second, we don’t exactly have scandalous private lives. (Diet Mountain Dew is the beverage of choice, we go to bed early, and our idea of a wild and crazy time is blowing fifty bucks in a used book store.) Third, literacy rates would skyrocket. If you dream it, it will happen. Just ask Stephanie S.

Image and video hosting by TinyPic Brent had the best line of the day in the limo: “What if it turns out we’ve been hijacked and this is really a reality TV show.”

Reality TV with YA authors. The mind boggles.

A million, bazillion hugs and thank yous to all the amazing people who came out (that means YOU, Kate, and YOU, Tierney); the volunteers who dedicated the last year to this, the parents who drove their kids, the students who kept me on track and introduced me, the musicians who played, the teens who danced, the business who donated, the janitors who had the hard jobs, the teachers who cared enough to join us, and the mother of the most beautiful baby I’ve seen in a long time, and who was generous enough to let me hold the baby. The child’s name is Blessing and she was, indeed.

I’ll close with the funniest fan mail I’ve gotten in a while. Unintentionally funny, to be sure.

Reader whose name I am protecting for obvious reasons writes: Hey, i was wondering what the complete and detailed setting was for this book. Well I really hope that you can help me out. By the way, Fever 1793 is by far one of the best historical fiction novels I have ever read and believe my I read a lot. It actually made History seem exciting! Well please write back with my question answered. Thank You very much for your time, i appreciate it.

Gentle reader, I suspect you did not exactly read the book. You might want to try that technique. It works.

Caroline writes: …What are your hobbies? What do you like to do in your spare time when you’re not writing a book. Do you have any pets? What do you like best about being an author? I would love to know if you could ever come to my school and give a speech. i know you live far away from Maryland but take it into consideration. My school gets out on June 9 so you probably won’t be able to but that’s okay.

One of this year’s goals is to get my work load under control so I can have hobbies again. I would like to garden and run and ski and maybe quilt and knit. I would like to travel, but that has to wait a couple years. We have one dog named Keziah. My favorite part of being an author is when I actually get to write, which doesn’t happen as often as you might think. Sorry, but I won’t be able to make it to your school. But thanks for writing and have a great summer!