Review: The Liar Society by Lisa and Laura Roecker

The Liar Society came out yesterday! Have you read it? If not, you totally should.
  • Reading level: Young Adult
  • Paperback: 368 pages
  • Publisher: Sourcebooks Fire (March 1, 2011)

Since when do the dead send emails?

Kate Lowry’s best friend Grace died a year ago. So when she gets an email from her, Kate’s more than a little confused.

To: KateLowry@pemberlybrown.edu
From: GraceLee@pemberlybrown.edu
Subject: (no subject)
Kate,
I’m here… sort of.
Find Cameron. He knows.
I shouldn’t be writing.
Don’t tell. They’ll hurt you.

Now Kate has no choice but to prove once and for all that Grace’s death was more than just a tragic accident. She teams up with a couple of knights-in-(not-so)-shining armor-the dangerously hot bad boy, Liam, and her lovestruck neighbor, Seth. But at their elite private school, there are secrets so big people will do anything to protect them-even if it means getting rid of anyone trying to solve a murder…

Liar Society is a fun mystery that will bring you right back to the good old days of teenage sleuthing. And really? Who doesn’t miss the glory days of Nancy Drew and Boxcar Children, am I right? Those kids could solve a mystery.

Okay, so Liar Society‘s Kate might have a bit more of a modern sensibility. And she can totally appreciate a long string of pearls. But the level of fun is still there with a bold sense of adventure to boot.

A few things that really stuck out to me:

1. I love the depiction of Kate’s group of friends falling apart after Grace’s death. It felt realistic and I found Maddie’s character particularly compelling.

2. I adored Kate’s sidekicks, especially Seth who was the quirky conspiracy-theorist, but also Liam who was all kinds of swoon-worthy.

3. I enjoyed the shifting timelines between Last Fall and Present Day. It got me invested in Grace and her semi-creepy relationship.

4. Finally, the private school setting of Pemberly Brown, with its pithy Latin verses and traditions, made me want to attend there, like, after I graduate law school or something. I’ll look into it.

In conclusion, fun read. Fantastic voice. Impressive writing. Y’all should read one of Sourcebook Fire’s latest releases.

Podcast Review: Writing Excuses–Pacing w/ James Dashner

Podcast Reviews: I’ve always listened to the occasional podcast, but after attending a recent talk, I made a resolution to make this a more usual part of my entertainment. Since podcasts still sort of operate on the periphery of most people’s consciousness, I’ve decided to help you out by scouring the internet for the podcast shows that I think you, as readers, writers, and generally thoughtful human beings, should be listening to. I’ll take notes on the show, give you the cliff notes version, and then let you decide if you want to venture over and become a regular listener.

Today, I’m listening to the guys over at Writing Excuses.

Episode: 4.6: Pacing with James Dashner

In this episode, James Dashner, acclaimed YA author of The Maze Runner, helps the Writing Excuses guys discuss techniques and tricks for pacing a novel.

1. Dashner presents structure as the main method to control pacing. He says to end chapters with things that make the reader want to continue to the next chapter. Like a $20 bill, Brandon Sanderson suggests? No. In fact, Dashner? Not so much a fan of the cheap chapter end. He says this is one major way he has matured as an author. For instance, he used to end a chapter by writing, “He opened the door and he gasped!” Chapter done. But now, Dashner will end the chapter by saying, “He opened the door and on the doorstep there was a seeping, wet cardboard box. He stooped to pick it up.”

Dashner calls the first method the “false reveal.” It’s often used in stories that need the string the reader along forever–like LOST. It’s this idea that the character comes upon something really startling that we don’t get to see, but then the episode ends and the next episode starts out at something completely unrelated.

Conversely, Star Wars gives you the reveal. “Luke, I am your father,” says Darth Vader. He doesn’t say, “Luke, I am your…” And your left to wonder, What? No, the reveal should be strong and interesting enough to keep the reader going to the next chapter.

2. Chapter Lengths. Dashner says there are differing opinions of this, especially for YA. One author feels that at the chapter ending a kid has the excuse to close the book. Under this theory, the author should make longer chapters. But Dashner feels that shorter chapters allow the kid to say, “Oh I can read just one more.”

Brandon Sanderson weighs in to say that for what he writes, epic fantasy, he also feels that the long chapters are more appropriate. An epic fantasy is not meant to be torn through. It’s too much to take in at one sitting. As opposed to a shorter book, you might want to make the reader tear through it with the shorter chapters.

3. Dashner’s rules of thumb: Don’t want scenes of dialogue to be too long or paragraphs of description to be too long either. Chapters need to be interspersed with both, creating mini stories that are compelling enough on their own. He’s not a big outliner, but he sits for five minutes or so and thinks how to structure the chapter this way.

4. Howard talks about as a cartoonist how the length is driven by the punchline.

5. Big Reveals. Dashner paces with the “big reveals.” He is currently working on the third book of the Maze Runner trilogy. The 3rd book has two major reveals at the beginning of the book, but he didn’t want to lump them all together. He wanted to create momentum through the first. So he has a hint at the first reveal in the 1st chapter. 1st reveal in the 2nd chapter and 2nd reveal in the 3rd chapter.

6. Sentence/Paragraphs. Pay attention to how much you use one sentence paragraphs so that they maintain impact. Short sentences create a chaotic feel. People love the white space of shorter paragraphs.

7. Space out the bad things that happen; space out the mysteries. Something interesting should continue to happen at a good clip but they should be different sorts of things (mystery v. bad thing).

8. Avoid the “Brandon Avalanche” – too many climaxes of different plot threads at once creating confusion.

9. Example of LOST. Remember, there is a certain power in finishing an episode of LOST and having to wait until the next episode. You have time to think about it, to digest the episode. Often, when you watch DVDs of shows, you can feel a bit…saturated.

10. From thriller writer standpoint, you need to deflate the tension occasionally, but not let out too much of the tension you’ve built.

11. Tagless dialogue – less words, just as much content –need to establish character voices well before this

What’s my verdict? I could have listened to these guys forever. In this episode, they rambled for a bit, which ate into some of their content. Each episode is only 15 minutes, which is delightfully bite-sized and the info is truly valuable.  They stop in the middle to discuss their audiobook choice for the week, but don’t stop listening then because they get back to the discussion within a few minute. “Writing Excuses” 100% makes my regular listening list.

Round Table Chat: Should Young Adult Books Have Ratings?

Recently, I got together with a few great young adult authors to discuss whether it would be desirable for Young Adult books to have ratings. Below is transcript from our chat. Here are the players:

Janet Gurtler (find her new book deal announcement here!)
Shana Silver
Jennifer Hoffman
Me (Chandler)

Feel free to let us know where you come out on the issue in the comments!

Janet: Reading levels vary greatly among kids, for example Grade 4 or 5 kids who can read at high school grade levels. Should these kids have their reading levels monitored? Should there be a suggested age level for Young Adult that is perhaps more graphic in nature? Ratings like movies? So, to start: What are your views on rating YA books for maturity levels? Like should YA books come with warnings?

Shana: My opinion is that anything I’ve read in YA is tamer than anything shown in the 9 PM hour of TV featuring teens, so why censor books?

Janet: So true. And what is it we’re censoring? Language? Violence? Sex?

Shana: There’s violence on Vampire Diaries, promiscuous sex on Gossip Girl…and both of those started as YA series with the books being slightly tamer (at least for books 1 and 2 of both)

Janet: It’s probably harder for you guys, since you don’t have kids and it’s hard to imagine monitoring what they read.

Chandler: I would disagree, regarding the level of tameness–for lack of a better word–in comparison to TV shows. I just think that books have more opportunity to deal with the issues holistically therefore giving more meaning than mere raunchiness.

Continue reading

Top Picks for Plotting Methods That Just Might Work

It’s no secret that I hate to outline. I want to love it. I’d even settle for liking it, but I don’t. I really, really don’t. That said, in my last post I discussed the merits of writing fast. One obvious way to write more quickly is by knowing what comes next. This sounds suspiciously close to outlining to me. So, let’s call it “plotting” instead…you know…so I don’t have an outright prejudice toward it. Plotting. Okay, yeah, I can live with the sound of that.

So in an effort to learn something–a very positive spin on an activity that may just as easily be termed “procrastinate”–I’ve researched a whole heap of ways to come at the plotting problem. Below, I’ve selected the best ones for your writing pleasure. Let me know what you’ve tried. What works. What’s better.

1. Holly Lisle’s Plotting Under Pressure

This has fast written right into the method, so as far as I’m concerned that’s already a win. It’ll only hurt for a second, right? Well, sort of. My heart went into small palpitations when I saw that the meat and potatoes of the Holly Lisle plotting method involved math. You take the number of words you want in your book. So for a typical YA novel, say, 70k. Divide that by the average number of words you’d like per scene, maybe 1,500 words per scene or so. That means you need a little over 46 scenes to make up your book. Now how many main characters do you have? Four maybe? Your viewpoint character(s) will have the most. So maybe you have a hero and a heroine. Give the hero 1/3 of the scenes, the heroine 1/3 and then split the last third between the other sidekick characters. Maybe they are important friends or a key villain. That means hero has 15 scenes, heroine has 15, and the other two characters have 7-8 scenes each. You can disperse the remaining scenes as needed.

Follow up this step by creating the requisite number of scenes on note cards. Stack in character columns. Then later string out into something linear. The bad part is the math. The good part is this totally satisfies my Type A, control freak tendencies because it feels like you are building a book in a very structured way.

2. Lazette Gifford’s Phase System

This description might be a bit hard to grasp without skipping over to Ms. Gifford’s examples. But the idea is that you plot by writing out “key phrases that will bring the next set of lines–the next action–into focus.” So your “phases” will be numbered 1 – whatever…maybe 300 phases for a 60k YA novel.  The “phase” you’ve written as a short phrase may be about 30 words long. It can be a snippet of dialogue, a set of feelings for the character, etc. This will later be translated into a 200 word phase. What I love about this method is the short word count of each phase. 200 words seems pleasantly bite-sized, yes? You could check off a bunch of “phases” per day if needed.

Ms. Gifford boasts writing a 101k book in 10 days after having spend 14 days on creating this type of system. The outline wound up being 14,000 words alone, but apparently greatly reduced that amount of revising needed later on.

3. Lisa Shearin’s Scraps and Snippets Saved

Lisa didn’t really have a name for her method, so I came up with one hopefully a bit more telling than “How I Plot My Book.” I’m including this one (1) because I do really, really like this method but also (2) because it’s a lot less structured than the previous two I mentioned, which is probably appealing for a lot of folks.

Lisa’s method is basically a productive version of hoarding. When writing a book or coming up with ideas for a book she throws nothing away. Snippets of dialogue, unused scenes, random characters. Every idea she jots down and saves them in giant files. She scraps something from a final draft, off to the file it goes. So that way when she gets to the next book, she has hundreds of notes to sift through and pick out what will make the cut for the current project. Armed with a “big picture” of where she’d like to see the book going, she can select those inspired moments that just weren’t right for the last book for the new book.

Bad news: it seems like this method takes some time to develop. You have to start building your inventory of deleted scenes. Also, this seems to work better for sequels or books set in the same world although I suppose you could start a random array of scenes and dialogue that might somehow work generally.

Conspicuously absent from my Top 3 is the Snowflake Method because I just can’t seem to get behind it. I’m sure I’ll add several more to this list in a later post, but that’s what I’ve got for now.

Other helpful gimmicks you might try are Digital Post-It Notes, Plot Boards, and Writing Software.

I Like Even Numbers Better

So I’m officially 24 now. Good riddance to my previous prime number status. But, 24…man…24. I signed with my agent when I was 22!! Yikes! And I had/have aspirations to have a book deal by 25. I guess I better get moving, yes? All this leads me to believe that this must be the year. I mean, I always like to get in under the wire. So, why would I have thought it’d be any different in this context, right? Like how I turned this into a positive? I thought so.

So, while most people do this around New Years I’m going to do it as I move into my personal “next year.” Here’s what I want to accomplish this year:

Things I can control:

-Finish revisions and go back out on submission with SCOUT

-Complete another manuscript, probably my new YA contemporary urged by my lovely law school friends Emily and Kelley

-Apply for more work-for-hire positions

-continue to research other avenues for writing work

-Read at least 50 YA books

-be more intentional with my time, be a better balancer

-update the blog regularly

-Write every single day, no matter how few words

-Try different techniques (outlining v. not, different methods of revising)

Things I can’t control:

-Sell a book (or two)

-have an article published

-attract more readers

So, I’ll keep you updated about how many of these I accomplish. I think it’s very important to differentiate between those things which I can control and those which I can’t. This was a strange past year for me so I’m really looking forward to a brand new lease. Next post I’ll be talking about how I’m working to accomplish one of the tasks on my list!

And for your viewing pleasure, some pics from my b-day!

Guide in Links: Book Packaging and Work-for-Hire

Since I get a lot of questions about this, I thought I’d create a running list of places writers could look for work-for-hire and information on book packaging. I’ve done a lot of trolling for this one, so let me know if it’s helpful. I’m happy to answer any questions on packaging (assuming I know the answer) and would love to hear about any flings failed or not that you all have had with work-for-hire jobs.

Enjoy!

Where to find information on book packaging:

American Book Producers Association

What is Book Packaging? – from the Absolute Write Forum

Terry Whalin Article on Book Packagers

Book Packaging and Work-for-Hire Writing – A short overview and a little history on book packaging by Maya Reynolds

Class on writing for educational publishers

Book Packaging: Under-explored terrain for freelancers – Article by Jenna Glatzer

My Failed Fling with a Book Packager by John Barlow

More on Book Packagers – from Miss Snark

Writing Tips: Packagers – from Highlights

Where to find work:

Chelsea House – award-winning and curriculum-based nonfiction material for the school and library markets, includes books for young adults, middle grade and young readers grades 2-5

Stone Arch Books – middle grade

Delta Publishing – children’s books

Alloy Entertainment - work-for-hire teen fiction and now The Collaborative for original work

Working Partners – popular fiction series for young readers through young adult

Working Partners Two – new for adult fiction (fantasy, thriller, historical and paranormal romance)

Beacon Street Girls

Mirrorstone Books – publisher for young readers of series based on Dungeons and Dragons lore

Parachute Publishing – packager of Mary Kate and Ashley Olsen books, Goosebumps, Seventeen and more

Quirk Packaging and Publishing – Worst Case Scenario books, Pride and Prejudice and Zombies, etc.

Students Across the Seven Seas from Penguin Group – an established series, not exactly sure how to submit to them, but you submit your own concept that would fit into the series, I believe

Bow Publications – nonfiction projects grade 3-12

Tangerine Designs – specializes in preschool titles

Plan B Book Packagers – children’s fiction, nonfiction, graphic novels (not sure how to submit here or how actively this company is operating)

Smart Kids Publishing – send ideas/manuscripts

Note: I’ll continue to  update so please share information in the comments and I’ll incorporate.

Book Review: Ink Exchange

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I read Wicked Lovely this past summer and loved it. I hadn’t been dying to read Ink Exchange, though. No particular reason except that there were other books on my “To Be Read” List calling my name. So I put off reading Melissa Marr’s second book. That is, until I started reading her blog.

Melissa has a fascinating section on her website called “Writing Chatter,” which gives a lot of insight into her writing process, what she thinks about while writing, etc. I checked it out along with some of her blog archives.

No doubt most of y’all have heard of the “sophomore slump.” Authors have years to write their first published book and then they are forced to meet a deadline and, well, sometimes it’s difficult to reproduce the magic of the first book.

Melissa says about writing Ink Exchange, “I spent a lot of time looking at Ink Exchange & being pretty certain that it would fail, that Wicked Lovely was a fluke…”

It wasn’t a fluke. I finished Ink Exchange last night. Mainly because I read on Melissa’s site that it was more the book of her heart than Wicked Lovely and that it was the darker book she had wanted to write. And I loved it.

I thought the actual writing was much better. It’s the same voice and style–very straight forward, no nonsense–but that’s the only style I can picture the subject matter in. What impressed me most were a few of the action/fight sequences. Her imagery is beautiful and pacing spot on. If you’ve read the book or are planning on reading it, look for the scene where Bananach meets Niall in an alley to see what I mean. I’m planning on re-reading this scene several more times before I get into some of the fight scenes for my own book proposal.

Coming in a close second–or maybe tied?–for the element that most impressed me in Ink Exchange is Melissa Marr’s appeal to all five senses. Ink Exchange is a sensual experience in every sense of the word. I rarely see an author focus on taste, smell, and touch to the same degree that he or she draws the reader’s attention to sight and sound.

One thing I did wonder as I read was: Is the author trying to be dark for darkness’s sake?

At times, I found myself trying to decide whether the violence, sex, and drugs were a bit gratuitous. In the end, I decided No. I did my test: Will the story work without that element? Here, the answer was no. I will say, though, that this is not a book for young teens. It’s definitely pushing the envelope for even upper YA. But something came to mind as I worried about the appropriateness of the content for teens. Maybe y’all remember the scandal surrounding Dakota Fanning’s “rape scene” in the recent movie Hound Dog. I am constantly impressed by that girl’s apparent maturity. But when people criticized her mother for allowing her to be in the movie, she responded head on, saying “You have to prepare your children for things that happen in the world. Everything isn’t rosy.”  For me, that seems to sum up Ink Exchange nicely. To those recent critics of YA who seem to think that the category talks down to its readers, hinders them from learning, and is an utter waste of a tree, I might suggest picking up Ink Exchange and then getting back to us.

 

To read my review of Melissa Marr’s first book, Wicked Lovely, set in the same world, click here.