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.

Why is inspiration so tricky?

Today’s mail takes us to Arizona.

Lauren writes: I am a student at Aprende Middle School and in Ms. Angelea Herrera’s 8th grade advanced language arts class. We are currently working on a research paper and the main theme is to pick an author we’ve read and enjoyed. I personally chose you and your books because I’ve read all of the young adult books and enjoyed every single one.

While doing research I found a lot of information about your books and why you wrote them, but I haven’t found any information telling my why you wanted to write and what your inspriation was to not only write but to also write in the young adult series.

Thank you for your time.

Say “Hi” to Ms. Herrera for me, Lauren. I was at your school a couple years ago and I loved it.

The concept of inspiration is one that I struggle with. Students (and teachers) seem to think that there is one way to answer the question. It should be simple, it should flow off the tongue. “How long does it take you to write a book?” “A year or two.” “And where do you get your inspiration?”

It stops me cold every time.

Inspiration is a complicated thing. My books usually start in character. Melinda in SPEAK, Ashley in PROM, etc., etc., I see and hear them in my imagination before I understand what their problems are or have much of a clue about plot. Let’s use Ashley as an example. I knew that I wanted to write about a kid in a working class family. But I didn’t want the stereotypical working class family (I hate that), where all of the tragedies come out of the fact that sometimes money is tight. I wanted a fun, loving, wonderful family, with an 18 year old daughter who had no clue about what she was going to do after high school. If there was any inspiration for the book, it was the teens who come from that family situation who complained to me that they were tired of reading about middle and upper class suburban kids. So – they were my inspiration.

But, no, not exactly. Where did the idea for the prom come in? The crazy grandmother? The skeezy boyfriend? The plot twists at the pizza place, the math teacher, the dress? It is really hard to pin all of that stuff down. To be honest, I don’t think I want to. Most of writing is hard work; ten hours a day at a desk trying to tell a good story. Inspiration feels like magic to me. It’s the secret ingredient of writing. I don’t want to know where the magic comes from. I just trust it will be there when I need it.

Bruce Coville used to say there was a secret store at the mall where authors bought their inspiration. Maybe I should just use that line.

And why do I write for teenagers? Because they are interesting and I like them.

Hannah writes: I am a student from Evergreen High School located in Northwest Ohio.In school we have to pick a favorite book and i picked yours ,Prom. We have to answer some questions on our author and one of the questions is ,Is your author still writting? If yes ,what is she currently working on? So all I need to know if your still writing books and if you are then I would like to know what it is called.Thanks for your time and write back soon please.

And Julie writes: I was wondering if you had any new books coming out soon.

I’m working on it. I’m still puzzling about how to fix one arc problem in this revision. Assuming I can fix it this week, the new book will be out next spring.

You guys want to know the title of the new book? I can’t remember if I told you yet.

Trying to be organized

I had a couple of trusted friends as well as my editor read the draft of my WIP and the comments are finally in. They pretty much verified what I knew: two of the minor characters act inconsistently at the end of the story and it is getting in the way of the arc of the main character. That was the bad news. The good news was that they were more enthusiastic than I thought they’d be about the rest of the book.

I have to leave for a conference a week from Thursday. Between now and then I have some family responsibilities and a few work things, but my Big Goal is to finish this revision and mail it off. I think I’ll still be posting here, but I probably won’t be responding to comments as much as I usually do.

I thought all weekend about the whole idea of a forum where you guys could talk about my books. It seems that the only way to do it is with a moderator, and I cannot afford to hire someone to do that now. Sigh. So we’ll put that in the good idea file and pull it out from time to time to see if we can deal with it yet.

Because of the workload here, I am behind on my plans to unveil the contest I promised. I hope you can forgive me on that one, too.

Are any of you interested in wallpapers or buddy icons? Theo designed a beautiful SPEAK movie wallpaper (scroll down). If you want, I’ll ask him to design more based on my book covers.

Last but not least, check out the a gamer comic by Jared, who – along with being a good comic artist – is smart enough to be dating my daughter, Stephanie.

Anybody familiar with Los Angeles?

I’ll be in the LA area at the end of March visiting schools. I’ll also be doing a presentation to the public at the Cerritos Library, the evening of March 24th.

Two of the schools had to cancel, so I am left with a hole in the schedule. I wish I could use it for sightseeing, but we all know I have a Deadline Dragon’s claws firmly implanted in my neck, and all free time until the fall must be spent writing.

I am looking for a safe, clean, affordable (yeah, I know, that’s the kicker) hotel or B&B to stay in that is between Palos Verdes and Cerritos. Can anyone recommend a place?

And now, more mail. This first note is rather enthusiastic.

Brittany writes: Hey! My name is Brittany! I’m 13 years old! I just recently read your book Fever 1793. I shared it with my grandmother. We both just loved it! She is an RN and she explanined a lot of stuff in your book! Fever 1793 is the first book of yours that I’ve read, but now that I’ve read it. I want to also read your book Speak. Well I just thought I would email you, if you can please email me back! My email is (removed) or (removed) is fine too! Well if I don’t get an email back its okay because I know you’re really busy! Hope you write lots more GREAT books!
Sincerely, Brittany and grandmother Sondra!

Major props to grandmother Sondra for sharing books. Thanks, Brittany!!!!!!

Emily writes; Hello! I read your book, Fever 1793. It was a wonderful book and I love the style you write with. I think it would be a great movie to make. You should seriously consider having it made into a movie. I would love to be a part of it. I am just like Matilda.

I am always surprised at how many people think that authors control the process that turns books into movies. We don’t. The movie people do. I agree – I think Fever would be a slam dunk movie… and Philly has exactly the resources needed to pull it off. If you know any movie people, please tell them about this book.

Tuyen writes: … I am currently a student in the seventh grade at Indian Valley Middle school. I am sending you this email on the behalf of my reading class where we are doing author study. I chose you because your type of writing has grabbed my attention.
I read in an interview that you wrote when the world turns on you and I felt the same way, but wanted to know why you didn’t just write poems but chose to write books which took a longer time to write. Also in another part of the article I read that your character’s behavior comes from feelings of your own and I wanted to ask you why do you chose to put your problems into the world of your character’s.
Words become short so I’ll end my email saying that I really did enjoy a lot of your books, especially “Fever 1973” and “Speak”.
P.S. You are a great writer so continue what you do best
P.P.S Thanks for reading

I do write poetry, but it is private. Well, so far it’s been private. Poetry is the form I turn to when I am depressed or afraid. I’ve thought about writing a novel in verse (who hasn’t at this point?) but I am not sure I have the skill to pull it off. Putting my problems into the life of a character helps me look at the problem from a new point of view and helps me learn about myself.

Kayla writes: I loved your book speak it was hard to listen to in class because when the book cursed everyone would laugh like they never heard a curse word when the cuss everyday. Well i thought i would let you know i loved the book. Cant wait until we read the next one if we do.

Cuss words are funny. I must write an essay about them someday… after I slay the Deadline Dragon

Caitlyn (age 11) writes: I have read all of your books even though u haven’t made any more books I still appreciate that u wrote all of those books and everyone is wonderful they inspire me to be a writer .

Lisa writes: HEY LAURIE…I’M LISA AND IM IN THE SEVENTH GRADE I LIVE IN CHICAGO. IM READING PROM RIGHT NOW AND I THINK IT IS VERY GOOD. OUR TEACHER ORDERED SPEAK AS A CLASS NOVEL ANDD I CANT WAIT TO READ IT. NICE TALKIN TO U BYE BYE

Nice talking to you, too!

doing the responsible author thing

We wound up with a little snow. I am trying to be grateful for it and not throw a tantrum.

Must. Deal. With. Mail.

Anna writes: Dear Ms. Anderson, I am in sixth grade and am doing an author study on you. For my study I am requried to write a biography on you. I would like to answer my questions so I could get some first hand details.Why did you write the novels Speak and Prom(i.e.Insprations, family, etc.)? How would you describe your self as a child? What was one of your biggest accomplishments(as a child or now)? What was your dream job as a child? What is your favorite part of your job? What is it like being Quaker? What books did you or still do enjoy reading? What do you think your writing style is? I’m sorry if some of the question seem nosey and I hope you answer me back!

And people wonder why it takes me so long to write the next book. OK, here goes, Anna.

1. I write each book because I have a vision of a character who interests me. I guess you could say that I am very nosy and I want to know what makes that character tick.
2. Me as kid: Quiet and sturdy.
3. Biggest accomplishment? Raising my children.
4. Dream job as a kid? Stewardess on an airplane or a doctor.
5. Fav aspect of my job: Writing books with the phone turned off.
6. I like being a Quaker, but it is a big challenge sometimes because I don’t agree with everything my church stands for. I’m working on it.
7. I like reading history and fantasy.
8. I’d like to think my style is effective.

One more, because it’s long:

Melanie writes: I am a seventh grader at Indian Valley Middle School. The reason I am writing to you today is because in my Reading class, we did an author study and you were the author of my choice. I definitely admire your writing and have a desire to at least publish a book someday, which is a reason why I chose you as my author for the author study.
            As you read this letter you will find that I really did my homework on you. As I researched your web sites, I found that in your interview with YA Books Central on August 2005 you answered that if you could have anybody ask you a question it would be, if you were not an author what would you be and you said you would answer back a lumberjack. If you were answering a lumberjack in a funny way what would you really be if you were not an author and why?
            On a web site of yours, you said that as you solemnly sent your daughter to first grade your promised you would write a book and get it published in five years and you did so in four years. Does this mean that any of your books could relate to your daughters or your life as a small child?
            Because I find that many authors relate to their own lives in books they write. I also found that you were a foreign exchange student on a milk farm in Denmark. Was this chance a very exciting thing for you since you loved learning about different foreign languages?
            After reading your book “Speak 1793” I found Mattie to be a similar kind of person as my self so a question I had for you is if you could be any character in any of your books would you be Mattie and why?
            If this letter is answered I would like to thank you for your time and ask you for an autographed photo if that is not too much to ask?

My knees are getting a little too creaky to be a lumberjack, but if I had to stop working as an author tomorrow, I’d think about doing landscaping during the summer and maybe being a history teacher during the school year, although I’d have to go back to college and get another degree to be able to do this. I have never based a book on any of my children, but some of their little quirks pop up in a few of them. I adored my time in Denmark and wish I could visit there again. And learning foreign languages is a blast. I feel very close to Mattie. And sorry, I don’t have any photos I can autograph and send to you.

Molly E. writes: We have an assignment in school. The assignment is to find a freechoice book and read it. Of course. There’s a catch. The book has to have an award. I look through the books on the shelves and pick out Speak. I like the cover. People tell me all the time not to judge a book by it’s cover. I can’t help it.
Well, the project isn’t due for a while. My teachers have not even set a date for when we have to be finished reading. I started your book on Saturday. I finished your book on Saturday. It was probably around one in the morning when I finished. I guess I couldn’t stop reading.
That book is probably the best book I’ve ever read. I can’t really explain the feeling, it’s just.. I love the way it was written, the characters, everything. So maybe I haven’t been raped. Maybe I didn’t bust up a school end-of-summer party, Still I feel like I can relate to Melinda.
Well I guess I can say I was nervous about writing this email. Yeah, but it needed to be done. I’ve never really written to an author before; you’re the first. So, basically, thanks for writing that book. I honestly appreciate it. Email me any time if you want. About anything. I doubt you’ll have
time. But you can.

Thank you, Molly. You just rocked my world.