The Community That Speaks and Listens

I baked on Monday night. It was a shocking event. When my kids were little, I used to bake a lot, but as life got busy, it slipped off the priority list. But the writer’s group was coming to my house on Tuesday, and I wanted to do something nice.

Why did I make banana bread and apple brown betty (and potato salad, which does not fit in the baking example, but also takes a lot of time)? Because they are my friends. They are are my community. Because sharing food is a ritual bonding that ties one person closer to another.

I wish I could bake for all of you. Because you are my community of people who love reading and writing. Because you are defending the First Amendment and making America a better place. Banana bread for everyone! Thank you!!

As we are at the half-way point in Banned Books Week, I hope you’ll indulge me in a few more links.

Check out the Google map of Banned Books.

The New York Times Papercuts blog looked at the role that Twitter has played in responding to the Republic, MO man’s  attempt to ban Speak. News ran an editorial about the banning. And Andrew Sullivan of The Atlantic mentioned it briefly a few days ago.

Risha Mullins (who endured a horrific banning episode last year in Kentucky) has posted an interview with me about my book TWISTED.

The LA Times weighs in on Banned Books Week. is fast becoming the go-to place for discussion about censorship issues. Take a peek!

Remember how I was running around like a crazy person last week? Here are a few pics from that trip.


This is Marion Lloyd of Marion Lloyd Books, a division of Scholastic UK. She is my new British publisher. What’s that she’s holding? The UK edition of Wintergirls. I believe it goes on sale in January, 2011.




Here is the only picture ever taken of me and my agent, Amy Berkower of Writer’s House. We call her Saint Amy at our house.

(note: I published my first 7 books without an agent, including Speak and Fever 1793!)



In other exciting news, we have a new dog in our life. He appeared most serendipitously and has succeeded in charming all of us, including The Creature With Fangs. More details and pictures tomorrow, I promise.

Monday Madness & Revision Tip #14

My local paper ran an article yesterday about my reaction to the recent book challenges. The photographer who came up here to the Forest got a great shot of the magic window. (For the record, I just turned 48 years old, not 49. Geesh.)

It is rare that the part of my brain that writes for teens has a collision with the part of my brain that writes historical fiction, but the book I’m working on now, FORGE (yes, Virginia, it is the next book after CHAINS…… and you heard correct, it should be out next fall) is causing that to happen more and more. It’s rather fascinating.

Take the quote I stumbled upon yesterday, from the journal of Continental Army Surgeon Albigence Waldo:

"Provisions and Whiskey very scarce. Were Soldiers to have plenty of Food and Rum, I believe they would Storm Tophet."

Monday morning quiz: which one of my YA novels does Dr. Waldo’s quote connect to? (answer is at the end of today’s post)

Revision Tip #14

Ever run into one of those chapters that just won’t jump through the right hoops? You try cutting it out, but that doesn’t work. You change the setting, the dialog, the plot points, and the character focus. You change the color of the sun. Nothing works.

Try this.

Back up three or four chapters. Read them very carefully. Where is the set-up to the action in your Problem Chapter?

What do you mean there is no set-up? Does the action of your Problem Chapter happen like a bolt of lightning? Probably not. It needs to come inevitably from the flow of your story. Something happened earlier to trigger the Problem Chapter. The key to fixing it lies in those earlier chapters.

That is what I spent the weekend doing. Chapter 18 needed to become two chapters. That was the easy part. But Chapter 19 was a big headache. I played a lot of loud music, went back to my primary sources, looked at the want ads again to see if I am qualified for any other job besides being an author, and then studied the earlier chapters.

All I had to do was this:
1. Add some descriptions to the introduction of a few secondary characters in Chapter 11.
2. Pick up on those descriptions for one new paragraph in Chapter 14.
(Those two changes made a bit of dialog in Chapter 17 much richer, btw. Unanticipated bonus!)
3. Now that I had planted the seeds, I could properly craft the set-up in Chapter 18.
4. And, ta-da, write the action that was so sorely needed in Chapter 19!
5. Take the stuff that Chapter 19 sets up and make sure it is dealt with in Chapters 20 – 23.

Does this make sense?

Today I will chase the windmill that calls itself Chapter 24. Wish me luck.

ANSWER TO TODAY’S QUIZ: Dr. Waldo references Tophet in his journal entry, which means the place where children were sacrificed in ancient cultures. It is also the name of the video game that Tyler Miller plays in TWISTED. (Yes, that was deliberate on my part.)

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!

Indiana mother wants to ban TWISTED

Wait, didn’t we do this already?

This time the setting is South Central Junior-Senior High School in Harrison County, IN where a parent is filing the paperwork to have TWISTED removed from the school.

TWISTED was assigned in this parent’s, Ms. Mathis, son’s English class. An alternative book, THE OUTSIDERS, was made available for students whose parents were not comfortable with TWISTED. Ms. Mathis chose THE OUTSIDERS for her son, then started on the path to have TWISTED removed from the school completely.

Here is a quote from Ms. Mathis in today’s The Corydon Democrat, the local paper in her community.

""(Twisted) has a lot of bad language in it and situations in it that I don’t think are appropriate," Mathis said Monday. "If the students are going to watch an R-rated movie, they have to get permission ahead of time from parents … And I think there’s a (double-standard) in saying kids can’t cuss at school, yet they are allowed to read a book with such bad words in it.""

It was very nice to be contacted by the local reporter and given a chance to add my voice to the discussion.

"Anderson said the strong language was required for the character’s situation.

"The scene in which Tyler, the main character, uses the ‘F-word’ is the scene in which he is actively contemplating suicide. I used it at that point — the critical point in the book — because it shows the level of the character’s desperation. People on the verge of killing themselves tend not to edit their vocabulary," Anderson said.

Anderson said it’s easier for parents to allow their children to only read the classics and avoid difficult situations, but to do so is "to condemn our children to ignorance.""

You really should read the entire article. (Note: I disagree with the article’s first paragraph. I still don’t have complete information about the current status of TWISTED in the Kentucky high school.)

I am off for a run now.