From the Archive, Nano 2011: Why Writers Should Visit a Large Bookstore at Least Once a Month

Leave a comment

nanowrimo_2016_webbadge_participantIt’s November and that means it’s NANOWRIMO. To celebrate my first Nanowrimo novel, Zero Repeat Forever being on the way to publication by Simon & Schuster I’m revisiting a few posts from that crazy month, November 2011.

(Posted 11/11/19)

I stopped in at Chapters yesterday, on my way back from somewhere. I didn’t buy anything. These days I buy most of my books from a small retailer near my daughter’s swimming lesson. They have a limited selection, especially when it comes to middle grade and YA, but I only buy bestsellers that I’m desperate to read anyway (because I can’t wait to get to the top of the waiting list at the library), and they usually stock those.

Just ONE of my bookshelves

I know you can’t have too many books, but really people, I have too many books. I have books in every room in my house, including the bathroom. So mostly I prefer to borrow books from the library, which of course, everyone should visit at least weekly.

That said, I love to browse in big chain bookstores. The bounty of books inspires me, for one. Sometimes as I write I start to have doubts that my book will find a place I the world. The sheer numbers of books on display at Chapters oddly reassures me. It reminds me there will always be room for another book.

I also love the staff at big chain bookstores. While library staff are mostly college educated, and smaller bookstores are often staffed by the owners, mature business people with a sophisticated love of books, chain bookstore staff are regular people, many of them in their first job. I love that you can even find an actual teenager stocking shelves in the teen section.

Many times I’ve had animated discussions with a young bookstore staff member about the latest bestsellers, or some hidden treasure that no one has heard of. I also love their insight about what customers are drawn to, what is selling and what people are saying.  These bookstores are much busier than smaller retailers, and serve more than just the local neighborhood, so the staff there get a broad sense of the market.

Finally, sometimes the books themselves help me write. Yesterday I opened about a dozen popular teen sci-fi and fantasy titles, just to see how they start. I don’t want to read most of these–I can tell after reading the first few lines–but it helps to see how other authors are doing things these days. And a few of them seemed good enough that I’m going to get them from the library.

I managed to resist buying anything though. I can’t afford another bookshelf. Speaking of bookshelves, check out this awesome YA readers blog One of my fellow NaNo writers is a contributor. They have great reviews of recent and upcoming YA releases.

From the archive, Nano 2011: #YA Saves

Leave a comment

nanowrimo_2016_webbadge_participantIt’s November and that means it’s NANOWRIMO. To celebrate my first Nanowrimo novel, Zero Repeat Forever being on the way to publication by Simon & Schuster I’m revisiting a few posts from that crazy month, November 2011.

(Originally blogged 2011/11/23)

It all started, I think, with a snarky article in the Wall Street Journal, bemoaning the bleak and violent content of Young Adult literature.  The response was, among other things, a Twitter campaign called “#YA Saves”. Thousands of Tweets, hundreds of blogs, and commenters galore rallied to the support of dark YA books.

I posted last year about why I think kids like dystopian books, and I think this answer extends to why kids are drawn to all types of dark, bleak books. Disenfranchisement, let’s call it. But the #YA Saves campaign takes it further than that. The premise of #YA Saves is literally that READING SAVES LIVES and many comments enumerate books that helped a young person get through a difficult time.

So let’s get this straight – books save my life everyday. If it wasn’t for books I would be drooling in a padded room somewhere, unable to stop the constant cacophony of nonsense in my brain. Books sooth me and relax me, and quite literally, drown out the crowds of people vying for attention in my head. What can I tell you?  Growing up, I thought everyone lived like this. Now I know that when someone has a vacant look, they are often just that – vacant, something I can never hope to be. But reading helps. Thus I read almost everyday. I should be able to claim my books back from my health insurance.

When I was a teen, it was the same, and I read widely and often. I loved to read books over and over. A Swiftly Tilting Planet by Madeleine L’Engle was one of my favorites, and one which I frequently read in one sitting. I also loved the Narnia series well into my teens along with other middle grade books I had enjoyed when I was younger. I was an advanced reader though. At some point, possibly in grade six, I remember reading Roots.

Three books stand out as books that powerfully affected my life, beyond just keeping me out of the loony bin. The first, I’m slightly embarrassed to say, was Go Ask Alice. I bought this falsity, hook line and sinker. Rereading again as an adult I had to laugh at some of the preposterous plot points and characters. But I do think the book made me think carefully about using drugs. I used them anyway, don’t get me wrong, but at least I stopped and thought about it.

The second is actually a series, by Lucy Maude Montgomery. No, not Anne of Green Gables, Emily of of New Moon (No, not THAT New Moon!). Compared to the bleak and realistic historical fiction being written today, this series is quite tame. But there was one horrifying (at least to me) scene that I will never forget. You see, Emily is a novelist, and when she finishes her first novel, she tries repeatedly to get it published. I can’t remember all the details of why she does this SPOILER ALERT but at one point she is so discouraged and despondent about her writing that she throws her only manuscript into the fire! Then, blinded with tears, she runs down the stairs and steps on a pair of scissors, which causes her to get nearly fatal blood poisoning.

Well you can imagine the effect this had on me as an aspiring writer. I identified so much with Emily in that scene and was captivated by the Gothic romance of nearly dying of blood poisoning, which was really just an analogy for giving up. Sigh, Emily…

Finally, not a YA book, but one I often recommend to advanced readers over sixteen is The World According to Garp. This is a very dark book, and much of it is taken up with Garp’s childhood and teen years. This book changed my life simply because, like Emily, Garp is a writer. I have read Garp so many times that I quote from it, the way some people quote from the Bible. This is one of my favorites:

If you are careful,’ Garp wrote, ‘if you use good ingredients, and you don’t take any shortcuts, then you can usually cook something very good. Sometimes it is the only worthwhile product you can salvage from a day; what you make to eat. With writing, I find, you can have all the right ingredients, give plenty of time and care, and still get nothing. Also true of love. Cooking, therefore, can keep a person who tries hard sane.
― John IrvingThe World According to Garp

A strange trilogy, I admit, but I was a strange young woman. In the end is doesn’t really matter what I read as a teen, or what any teen reads.  Just that they read something.


From the Archives, Nano 2011:Query Hell(p)

Leave a comment

nanowrimo_2016_webbadge_participantIt’s November and that means it’s NANOWRIMO. To celebrate my first Nanowrimo novel, Zero Repeat Forever being on the way to publication by Simon & Schuster I’m revisiting a few posts from that crazy month, November 2011.

(First posted 11/11/17)

Here’s the deal: I love writing queries.  I’ve also never written (and sent)  a query that didn’t get requests, so I must be doing something right.

I often write queries before my manuscript is even finished. Some writers are scandalized by this, accusing me of putting the cart before the horse. But just because I’ve written the query doesn’t mean I’m going to send my manuscript out into the world unfinished.  For me writing  the  query is a helpful part of the process of developing the plot of my books. Often my process in writing a new manuscript begins with two ingredients essential to a good query – a short synopsis and what we query writers call ‘The hook”. Then I expand the short synopsis into a longer summary or outline – sometimes. Sometimes I just pants it.

Query writing is not rocket science. I often advise writers to start with WHO, does WHAT, WHY, HOW,WHERE with WHOM and WHO tries to stop them, then build their queries from there. But you’d be surprised by the number of queries I see that don’t include these ingredients. I’ve even read queries that don’t mention the protagonist at all.

And this is why query writing should be part of your manuscript writing and editing process.  If you CAN’T answer the above questions in a nicely worded letter, there’s a very good chance there is something seriously wrong with your manuscript. In between first and second draft is a good time to write a query, but I like to write them earlier.

So if you are looking for help writing queries there is a wide range of help available for free right here on the web.

I and many other experienced writers critique queries here. Queryshark tears queries apart hilariously here. Slush Pile Hell teaches what NOT to do here. Query Quagmire does more of the same here.

Don’t forget, QueryShark, Slush Pile Hell and Query Quagmire are all agents or editors so if they sound snarky it’s because they ‘re FRUSTRATED! Just imagine some of the stuff they have to look at. Please, before you send your query, check these sites.

Oh and BTW, if anyone is game to post their query in comments, I’d be glad to tell you what I think.

Late edit. Betsy Lerner, agent/blogger extraordinaire gives some classic “don’ts” in her latest blog post, Top Ten Query Letter First Line Misfires. Read them and weep.

From the Archives, Nano 2011: Rejection Reaction

Leave a comment

It’s November and that means it’s NANOWRIMO. To celebrate my first Nanowrimo novel, Zero Repeat Forever being on the way to publication by Simon & Schuster I’m revisiting a few posts from that crazy month, November 2011.

(first posted 2011/11/22)

Something beautiful happened yesterday on Miss Snark’s First Victim. An author entered one of Miss Starks’ contests and wasn’t chosen as a finalist – was rejected, in other words. The writer, going by anonymous, posted this reply:

This has proven to me that I should give up on writing, though. Not being a sore loser, just opening my eyes to the facts that I don’t stand a chance if I can’t even win a blog contest. Time to move on. 🙂

The response was phenomenal. Dozens of posters replied with encouraging comments along the lines of “don’t give up”. My personal favorite was this one, tough-love, but needed I think:

Everyone on here is so nice and thank goodness for that, I’m a nice person too; however, to Anon (10:53AM), here’s a little tough love: if you’re going to let one competition determine the fate of your writing, then maybe you should leave the profession. Leave, grow a thicker skin, grow a better belief in what you have to say, then come back. You are your biggest believer. If you don’t believe in yourself, no one else ever will. Period.

Ouch. Take that, writer with self doubt.  But this poster (also anonymous) is being firm but fair. The number one quality a successful writer needs is not talent, but COURAGE. And facing rejection with this kind of pessimism is not courage, but EGO. Where is it written that everyone must love your work? Success as a writer is a never-ending search for people to whom your work appeals. It won’t appeal to everyone. Even J.K. Rowling has critics. And yes, she was rejected many times.

I have two files full of rejections, one for screenplays and the other, optimistically labeled “other”. Sometimes I think I might wallpaper the walls of my office with them. You know why? Because they are a reminder that I have the one essential quality that most, yes I said most, writers don’t have, that is the courage to send their work out into the world.

While doing NaNoWriMo (46,033 thank you) I have met many fellow writers who have no intention of trying to sell this NaNo manuscript or anything else.  I get it, they are writing for fun. That’s OK.  But I have also met many writers who tell me, in hushed tones, that they have written two, three, four, five or more books or screenplays that they have NEVER shown ANYONE! And they desperately want to, but they have never had the courage.

Celebrate each rejection, writers. Wear it as a badge of courage. And to that Anonymous writer who was thinking about giving up, just…don’t, OK? You have more courage than thousands, maybe millions of writers all over the world, throughout history. You’re a better writer than Emily Dickinson, for god’s sake. She wrote beautiful poems, but she lacked the courage to share them.

Nanowrimo Books Get Published and Here’s Proof #3

Leave a comment

It’s November and that means it’s NANOWRIMO. To celebrate my first Nanowrimo novel, Zero Repeat Forever being on the way to publication by Simon & Schuster I’m featuring many published or soon-to-be-published Nanowrimo novels over the month of November.

Today’s featured novel is Olivia Bean, Trivia Queen which Donna Gephart wrote during NaNo in 2009.

Here’s what she said about her experience:

When I was behind on coming up with a third book for my publisher, I decided to give NaNoWriMo a try.  Two days before it started, I scribbled ideas, hoping to come up with something I could turn into a novel.  Just before abandoning hope of that happening, I scribbled the words:  “Olivia Bean, Trivia Queen.”  Well, that might be something, I thought.  The next day, I realized Olivia was a trivia whiz who wanted to get on Kids’ Week on Jeopardy!  She also wanted to reunite with her father, who’d left the family to live on another coast with another woman.

I blogged daily about the experience, because there’s nothing like the fear of public humiliation to keep word counts up.

Even though I worked hard each day, I sometimes had a page count of zero.  Some days were thinking days.  Other days were revising days (even though the NaNo folks suggest not revising as you go along).  I’m a rebel like that.

No one was more surprised than I that I was able to complete Olivia Bean, Trivia Queen in only 29 days.  It took a few months to revise.  And it was published by Delacorte Press/Random House Children’s Books with a lovely blurb from Jeopardy! champ, Ken Jennings.

I highly recommend participating in NaNoWriMo and have done it along with my students when I taught creative writing to high school students.  It’s a lot of fun, and the community and cameraderie are a welcome change from writing in isolation.

I wrote a blog post for Writers Helping Writers about what I learned from participating in NaNo.

My newest book is Lily and Dunkin, a story about a big-hearted, nature-loving transgender girl who tries to save a beloved tree and a boy who deals with his bipolar disorder and the move to a new town — Lily’s town — and in order to fit in, Dunkin joins the basketball team, even though those are the very boys who are tormenting Lily.  Lily and Dunkin took a long time to research and nearly a year to write and revise and was totally worth it because of the messages and letters I’ve been receiving about how the book is providing mirrors for some and windows for others to create understanding and empathy.

Donna Gephart is a professional nerd. Her love for libraries and reading have led her to a career as a children’s book author for Penguin Random House.  Her books now reside on the shelves of the library she frequented when she was a child.Donna’s books have won a number of awards, received starred reviews and landed on many state reading lists. 

She’s a popular speaker at schools, book festivals, libraries and conferences, including the S.C.B.W.I. National Conference, the Erma Bombeck Humor Writers’ Workshop, F.A.M.E., the Conference on Children’s Literature and others.

Originally from Philadelphia, Donna now lives in South Florida with her family, including two sweet shelter dogs, Benji and Teddy.

Donna blogged extensively about her Nano experience and also shared what she learned here. More than that, Donna continues to publish great books for kids. Check out her latest novel Lily & Dunkin here.

From the Archives, Nano 2011: Good Things Are Worth Waiting For

Leave a comment

nanowrimo_2016_webbadge_participantIt’s November and that means it’s NANOWRIMO. To celebrate my first Nanowrimo novel, Zero Repeat Forever being on the way to publication by Simon & Schuster I’m revisiting a few posts from that crazy month, November 2011.

(First posted 11/11/29)

Recently I told an editor he would have to wait for my manuscript because, in making some minor changes he suggested, I had discovered a few other issues I wanted to address. This was his response:

“An author who is alert to the need for improvements without prompting by a potential editor of the project is always appealing to work with.”

Nice, right?

I might even go so far as to say that for an agent or editor, this is one of the most attractive qualities in a writer – the ability to be critical and rigorous with one’s own work.  The query-verse is flooded with half baked manuscripts. Too many writers spend too long perfecting a query for a manuscript in the hope that …what? An agent or editor will be so thrilled with the premise that they will want to see the book published, even though it’s deeply flawed? The MANUSCRIPT is what we are selling, people. Not the premise, not the voice, not the character, not even ourselves.

I know many of us have just finished or are about to finish a NaNoWriMo manuscript. For the love of all that is good and great in this world, let’s agree that these manuscripts are going to need considerable editing before they go out into the world.

NANOWRIMO Books get Published and Here’s Proof! #2

1 Comment

It’s November and that means it’s NANOWRIMO. To celebrate my first Nanowrimo novel, Zero Repeat Forever being on the way to publication by Simon & Schuster I’m featuring many published or soon-to-be-published Nanowrimo novels over the month of November.

Today’s featured novel is A Change In Crime, which D.R. Perry wrote during NaNo in 2013.

Here’s a bit about the novel:

In November of 1929, the last autumn leaves started a domino effect in Fall River. At a time when most give thanks, others lurk at society’s fringes, waiting for a shot at revenge. Power. Redemption.

A Mafia hit leaves Leo Riley homeless and at the mercy of Oguina, a powerful monster under an ancient curse. A hunter with skin in this game stalks the streets, playing cat-and-mouse with the creatures he’s sworn to eliminate. The capo di tutti capi with a secret gazes into a moral abyss, threatening to take his men with him if he falls. All struggle to hold on to humanity.

Unlikely allies join forces, fighting for their rights to Fall River’s streets and their very survival. Some will fall, some will rise, but can there ever be a winner when crime and change come to call?

Author D.R. Perry lives in Rhode Island, where all her books are set. Although she’s not a native New Englander, once up north she got so inspired she couldn’t leave. A wild Northern Muse attacked. D.R. used Typing; it was Super Effective.

D.R. writes all kinds of things. Mostly, they have strange and unusual elements. Not strange isotopes or Strontium or anything like that, but creatures who are people or people who are creatures. Beware of the Attack Poetry and rampant puns. Keep off the grass, or the song parodies may bite.

She lives with her husband, daughter, and dog in the Ocean State, which she loves to remind people is not an island and not Long Island. D.R. is well aware that her home state has both of those things, but isn’t defined by them. Maybe she likes it here so much because it reminds her that she’s also more than the sum of her parts.

D.R. hopes you have as much fun reading her books as she did writing them.

You can find out more about D.R., including links to social media and mailing lists, here.

And here is the link to the book on Amazon.

NANOWRIMO Books get Published and Here’s Proof! #1

Leave a comment

It’s November and that means it’s NANOWRIMO. Nanowrimo started as a challenge to write a whole novel (at least 50,000 words) in the month of November and has grown over the years to a large not-for profit organization that benefits students and other aspiring writers all over the world.

I participated in my first Nanowrimo in 2011 and “won” (wrote more than 50,000 words). That novel eventually, many drafts later, became ZERO REPEAT FOREVER which comes out from Simon & Schuster next year! YES! It can happen! To celebrate this happy event I’m going to feature as many published or soon-to-be-published Nanowrimo novels over the month o November. I’ll be highlighting both indie and traditionally published novels and looking at a variety of genres. So buckle up folks. It’s going to be a wild month!

To kick things off I’d like to point you to ALIENATED by Melissa Landers. ALIENATED was Melissa’s 2009 Nanowrimo novel and was published in 2014. It started a very successful series. Melissa’s next series STARFLIGHT was published in 2016.

Here’s a little something about ALIENATED:

Two years ago, the aliens made contact. Now Cara Sweeney is going to be sharing a bathroom with one of them.

Handpicked to host the first-ever L’eihr exchange student, Cara thinks her future is set. Not only does she get a free ride to her dream college, she’ll have inside information about the mysterious L’eihrs that every journalist would kill for. Cara’s blog following is about to skyrocket.

Still, Cara isn’t sure what to think when she meets Aelyx. Humans and L’eihrs have nearly identical DNA, but cold, infuriatingly brilliant Aelyx couldn’t seem more alien. She’s certain about one thing, though: no human boy is this good-looking.

But when Cara’s classmates get swept up by anti-L’eihr paranoia, Midtown High School suddenly isn’t safe anymore. Threatening notes appear in Cara’s locker, and a police officer has to escort her and Aelyx to class.Cara finds support in the last person she expected. She realizes that Aelyx isn’t just her only friend; she’s fallen hard for him. But Aelyx has been hiding the truth about the purpose of his exchange, and its potentially deadly consequences. Soon Cara will be in for the fight of her life—not just for herself and the boy she loves, but for the future of her planet.

About Melissa:

Melissa Landers is a former teacher who left the classroom to pursue other worlds. A proud sci-fi geek, she isn’t afraid to wear her Princess Leia costume in public—just ask her husband and three kids. She lives just outside Cincinnati in the town of Loveland, “Sweetheart of Ohio.”

Melissa has written a blog post for Nanowrimo writers to help them develop their novels. You can read it here.

Thanks Melissa!