Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Why YA? (Or: kick a snob in the shins**)

Why YA? That is the question. Not, why do I write for young people, but why does anyone? Let me put it another way: any book that is good and complex should, regardless of the age of the protagonist, be considered “adult.” Anything *good enough* for grown-ups to enjoy should be shelved where they can find it without shaming themselves by going to the “ghetto” that is the YA section.

What’s with this attitude? I must say, though I know it’s out there, I’m not exposed to it much. I mean, I don’t talk to people much. Faeries, yes. Goblins, yes. Actual people -- strangers, more to the point -- not so much. But I just happened upon this Locus review by Gary K. Wolfe of the new Margo Lanagan novel Tender Morsels (which I can’t wait to read, and oh, don’t read his review, because it is spoily as all get-out -- since when should a book review be a synopsis?), and though he’s not damning of YA, there’s something stinky-offensive in his tone--

"So even though YA remains one of those dumb categories named for its alleged audience rather than its characteristics (like men's adventure or chick lit). . ."

--and it got me thinking about this brand of prejudice. So, why YA?

Gary K. Wolfe seems to be suggesting that Tender Morsels is good, so why not just call it a really-for-true grown-up book for readers who matter? You hear this sort of thing about The Book Thief too, and other titles that happen to be brilliant books with young protagonists. Why, indeed, are these books just for children and teens? (Greedy little monsters!)

Well, of course, they’re not. They’re for readers of good books. But it offends the snobs that they’re published by “juvenile” publishers, packaged with youth-friendly covers, and shelved -- the horror -- in a special section for -- gasp!! -- the young.

Snobs, I don’t get you, and here’s what I have to say:


Because readers are not born. They are created by good books. Young people are a valid audience whose interests should be considered, in the writing of books that will turn them into Readers. Let’s not plunk kids into an adult section to forage through the body of world literature. How about we give them books -- good ones -- about characters they can relate to, and then make it easy for them to find them?

Oh, wait. That is what we do.

So, that’s why YA. And the suggestion that the rare *good* YA books should get to be elsewhere, like they’re, I don’t know, Soviet-era circus performers given the once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to tour the US and maybe defect, it’s offensive. Good YA books are not rare. While I would not say all the books in the YA section are good, neither are all the books in the adult section.

How about you grown-ups stroll yourselves on over to that YA ghetto and have a look. I bet no one will smirk at you or question your IQ, and if they do you can tell them you’re shopping for your niece. Because her television is broken.

You will discover a world of books: fun books, serious books, books with kissing, books with death, books with basketball, and mermaids, and rockstars, and zoologists, and monkeys, and weird fruit, and magic. Just go look.

I challenge you, if you have never done this (though I’m guessing most readers here do not fall prey to this prejudice): go to the YA section of your local library or bookstore and check out or buy three books. Don’t just grab them. Select carefully, and give them a real chance.

You might find that they are wonderful.

And if they are wonderful, does that mean they shouldn’t be here, where kids can easily find them without having to sift through the Clive Cusslers and Rosamunde Pilchers? No. I think they’re right where they ought to be.

Should The Book Thief have been published as a *grown-up book*? Well, that would mean that fewer young people would read it. Does the fact that it’s published as *juvenile* mean that fewer adults will read it? Probably so, but what’s more important? Would you rather have the kids have to search harder for important books they will love, or the grown-ups?


So, enough of this “ghetto” mentality. Young people aren’t cretins, and books written for them aren’t stupid. There is no shame in reading them, and there is certainly no shame in writing them.

I think one of the most important things we can do as writers is create lifelong readers, and that is something writers of *grown-up books* don’t do. We do that, my colleagues and I (though I have only just begun), and in that way, we are really important, not just to the young readers, but to the *grown-up writers* who rely on us to pass readers up the ladder to them. I mean, it’s because twenty years ago a girl read A Wrinkle in Time that she is now reading. . . uh, Eifelheim. You know?


Not that that’s why we do it -- not to roll out some red carpet toward those grown-up books -- but because of the joy of reading itself, and writing, of course, which I happen to think is at its greatest most unashamed mind-opening glory in youth fiction.

So there.

And, Gary K. Wolfe, what's so awful about The Lord of the Flies and Ender's Game, etcetera being regarded as YA? I've read them and they just are, whatever their authors' intentions might have been at the time of writing. They are lucky to get this huge, voracious audience; they should embrace it, not "mutter." Where would Lord of the Flies be without its young readers? Fall on your knees, William Golding (even if you are dead) and thank your stars for the young.


**When I say "kick a snob in the shins," I am not referring to Gary K. Wolfe. He really doesn't say anything all that bad. It's just. . . that tone.

Monday, July 28, 2008


God I'm tired of talking about Silksinger. I feel like this is my blog for the past year: "Blab blab blab Silksinger blab blab. Blab? Blab Silksinger blab blab blab."

And yet, here I am for more blabbing, though I think it will be short, because I am tired, not only tired of hearing myself talk about Silksinger, but tired of being awake.

Spent the whole day today revising one chapter. Wrote a new scene to do a better job of introducing the villain -- giving him "an entrance." This was at the request of my editor. I'm all for a strong entrance, and he's right. My villain had one, but it was fairly late in the book, when the main character finally lays eyes on him. But early on, when the reader first *meets* him, it wasn't very dramatic. So that's what I've been working on. It oughtn't have taken all day, but it did. I think it's because my mind is just weary. I had hoped, after that month of not leaving the house while I worked feverishly on draft 2, that I wouldn't have to create any wholly new scenes for draft 3. But here I am, doing just that. Yesterday I did another one. And I'm tired.

I like revisions. I do. At first, sitting down with a cleanly printed manuscript with the job of taking something that has been written already and making it better, well, it's so exciting. But towards the end of the process, it can begin to feel a little like. . . Purgatory. I mean, I can honestly envision this as Purgatory -- Purgatory is a kind of library (but I think the shelves would all be filled with boring books, or maybe accounting ledgers, or something sucky like that), and you have to sit in a study carrel for all eternity endlessly rewriting the same book. Wouldn't that be awful? I've never read The Divine Comedy -- was there anything about revisions in Dante's Purgatory?

(That notion just reminded me of something silly my first illustration teacher in art school said on the first day of class. I don't recall the context, just that he had us imagine that we got to live an entire second lifetime, but we had to spend it watching a video of our first lifetime! Would you do that? If, at the end of your long life, a bureaucratic angel were to come to you with a clipboard and give you the choice to a) die, or b) spend the next 82 years watching an endless video of the life you just lived. . . what would you choose? My first thought was no, I don't want to spend 82** years watching a video, but then, it would be cool to see your whole life all over again, all the forgotten stuff, the good and the bad. It would get boring too, especially days like today, where I'd have to watch me spend eleventy hours writing three pages, with much sighing and slouching and petting of the dog.)

(P.S. to last paragraph -- that was the same day I met Jim.)

Anyway, my tired mind is hijacking this supposedly short post with rambles about the afterlife. What I meant to say was just a little bit about the mechanics of tackling this draft. When I got the manuscript back from my editor, I laid it open and went through it page by page, reading along, taking the sort of *easy* suggestions that can be changed on the page and don't require a ton of rethinking. I tried to cut unnecessary words and passages, too, and more importantly: I made notes on index cards of the *not-easy* changes that still needed to be made -- rewriting scenes, clarifying important things, etcetera. Those index cards above are only some of them. Those don't include the ones I've already done and crossed off. Yeesh, man. It is nice shifting the *accomplished* ones into the other stack.

Anyway, that's how that's going. Good, but tiring. Mind feels like honey left too long in the crock.

Sleep. Wake up. Revise. Repeat.

**82 years chosen at random. I plan to live longer than that. Like Sapphire, I plan to live 150 years and learn to fly before I get to the end.

Saturday, July 26, 2008

the wonders of paint

One of the things on my summer to-do list, squeezed in between drafts 2 and 3 of Silksinger, was to fix up my writing room porch and realize some of its cuteness potential. Well, I haven't gotten far. Draft 3 sprung upon me when I had done no more than paint the little table and chairs. But, that is not nothing. Not quite nothing. Almost nothing, in the scheme of what needs to be done to our porches.

Still, I marvel once more at the power of a coat of paint to turn old furniture into new furniture (which I lauded over two years ago this post about how much I love nesting). See, look:

Instant cute new table! I love the sky blue paint, and it's a good thing I love it, because I doltishly bought an entire gallon of it, and it's practically still full. So now the question is: what else can I paint sky blue? The car? (Sweetie, how about it?) Hm, maybe just the other old patio table which needs sprucing up.

Who else loves picking out colors from the paint store? As for the painting and sanding, it's a bit on the work side of things, but when you sit down for a living, as I do, it's not so bad to do something a little bit workish now and then.

Speaking of sitting down for a living, Maureen Johnson has a very funny post up right now about the ups and downs of majoring in creative writing, in which she gives her author bio as: "Maureen studied writing, and then she studied more writing, and now she is writing. She spends most of her time sitting down.” Check out the post to read her fantasy author bio; it's awesome.

Oh! Last night was "movie night" -- which means watching movies projected outside on our friends' porch, and the choice was one of my favorite movies: Strictly Ballroom. I hadn't seen it in maybe four or five years, and I have to say I love it more than ever. Love it. Here's the final dance scene:
I [heart] Youtube. Looking for the above led me to this charming montage of movie kisses:

Happy weekend, all!

Thursday, July 24, 2008

Help! The Italics Thieves are here!

Sigh. Sigh. It's not that I don't think you can figure out on your own which words to emphasize while you're reading, it's just that I like italics. (Yes, Amber, just like Emily Byrd Starr!) I overuse them. I confess. I just like them. (Okay, that one was just to make a point.) So, in my latest Silksinger editorial letter, my editor points out that I have italicized over 400 word. 400 out of 95,000ish, that's like 1/237th of the book! (I like to picture him with a scotch on the rocks in one of those fat crystal glasses, going through my manuscript page by page, tallying italics. I hope it was some sneaky computer function that did it, and not him!) He recommended I de-italicize the entire (ha!) manuscript, then only put them in where I really need them. I didn't do that, because I am chicken, but I am (you see! It's a sickness!) de-italicizing like wildfire. Really I am. I am.

Okay, enough of that. It's nice to be at the stage of worrying about such menial things as italics, rather than, you know, considering cutting half the book and rewriting it. Not that I don't still have some big issues to tackle and some scenes to rewrite, but overall, third draft = less insane than 2nd draft, and much more pleasant. Yay!

It's at times like this that we discover our irritating habits as writers. I have gotten some great feedback from my first readers, and I have a few manuscripts piled beside me, all marked up with comments, words circled and underlined and slashed out. And it has become clear to me that the word "suddenly" needs to be stripped from my vocabulary. (Thanks, Steph, for being the "suddenly" police!) Also offenders: "extremely" and "immediately." There are very few times in good writing that modifiers like "extremely" are necessary. Also, I am finding in my manuscript that often times things "seem to be" when they should just "be." It is wishy-washy to seem. "Very" gets a little out of hand too, especially when used like this: "he could feel the very air peel aside at the touch of his blade."

And how about habitual characterizations? This is tricky. You know, writers, how we fall back on describing certain details about our characters, especially when they are reacting to something? If I had that nifty function on my computer, I would count how many times my characters' eyes narrow with suspicion or go wide with surprise. Eek! And the blushing. And the anxious chewing of the lip. You know of what I speak, writers?

Then there are the fall-back verbs, especially speech modifiers. My crows, they croak their lines, and they squawk. The Djinn have a tendency to hiss. Lots of things hiss, come to think of it, it's an awesome word, but I do overuse it. "Said," is a champion of a word, folks, it's an invisible word. Have you noticed this? You can use "said" 8,000 times in your book. It can be 1/11th of your book, and you'll scarcely notice (okay, so I exaggerate, but you know). In Silksinger I had a fun problem: my main character is named Whisper, because she, um, whispers. But how many times can I use the word "whisper"? And of course, never ever can I say "Whisper whispered." So I had to get creative, as her voice is a crucial plot element (you know, Silksinger).

Anyway, it's fun and eye-opening, getting this sort of feedback at this stage. Thank you to my editor, and huge, huge thanks to Steph for being not only the best-ever smiley-face and heart drawer, but for mercilessly slashing useless words.

I will never slash enough words to satisfy my editor. He has asked me to cut an additional 7000 words from this manuscript (while simultaneously adding many many things -- don't ask how I hope to accomplish this; I don't). My trusty calculator tells me that I only have to cut 28 words per page. That's all. No sweat! I think I'll just cut the first 28 words from each page. That'll be easiest. Haw haw! (Oh, and can you see how I am learning my lesson about italics? Ah, but this is an italics-friendly zone. I promise that by the time Silksinger reaches you, there will be nowhere near 400 words in italics!)

Any of you writers have any particular quirks you want to share? What are your word weaknesses?

Lastly, a few fun notes about having sent out Silksinger to "first readers." I have never done this before, by the way. I have never even been in a critique group -- only my husband, best friend, and family have read my early drafts. But I'm really, really glad I sent it out, because the responses a) cheered me up and inspired me, and b) pointed out some really important things! So, thank you to Jim, Alexandra, Steph, Amber, Lexi, Heather, Nerd Goddess, Frida, Daanon, Chary, and Owen. You are all made of awesomeness. May the universe reward you with cupcakes until the day comes that I can reward you myself with cupcakes (or, in Daanon's case, voodoo donuts!)

Yesterday I got a phone call from my favorite 10-year-old boy, Owen. He is the boy who swooned at my feet at Wordstock last year, which will be a high-point of my writing life for as long as I live. And he kind of looks like Talon, without the facial tattoos, by the way. And his father runs a literary festival, and his mother owns a chocolate shop. Ladies, if you were ten years old, who would be your boyfriend? Owen! So, he told me his current thoughts on the book, and about how his rock band just wrote a protest song about the environment. (love)

And I got a very endearing email today from Enna Isilee, who is friends with Nerd Goddess (they are in a critique group of two), asking very nicely (and persuasively) if she might read Nerd Goddess's copy of Silksinger draft 2. Nerd Goddess (how wonderful is that name?) is apparently taking to heart my note that readers can let their friends read the manuscript, but only if they then kill them. Nerd Goddess, it's okay. You don't have to kill Enna Isilee. I would feel really, really bad about that. (By the way, these two are Shannon Hale fans, so you know they're awesome. A writer can dream about having the devoted fan following of the lovely and so-talented Shannon Hale.)

So, thanks again to all reader! I go forth fortified to finish the third draft, with far fewer "suddenlys" and a fatwa against italics!

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Kidlitosphere Conference '08

If you are a writer of children's books and you want to learn how to connect with other writers, reviewers, librarians, and booklovers online, if you want to build an online community before your book is published and learn how to spread the word about it, or if you just love children's books and blogging and want to meet like-minded souls, come to the Kidlitosphere Conference '08!

It's September 27 in Portland, Oregon and will be really fun (as well as informative). Last year, the lovely Robin Brande kicked off the first one on a whim -- she just wanted to meet face-to-face all the awesome booklovers she'd gotten to know online. So we all convened in Chicago and it was a blast. This year, the city being Portland, the organization has fallen to Jone Rush McCulloch and myself. We've booked a great hotel for the event, and have plans for a friday night Powell's Books spree too, followed by dinner and fun -- the conference and official dinner to follow on Saturday.

Many attendees will be book reviewers, many will be authors. From the author's perspective, I want to put this out there to writers: if you're not already blogging and doing online promotion for your books (published or not-yet published): you should be. And the only way it can be effective is if you genuinely connect with the spirit of the online community. It's not enough to just put up a blog that periodically announces your bookstore events. That won't get you anywhere. You have to take an interest, get to know your kindred spirits, and really become a blogger. (Take it from me: it's incredibly rewarding!)

At last year's conference, I learned about such things as "blog blast book tours" and "search engine optimization," and "podcasting," and I got to meet wonderful reviewers like Jen Robinson, Betsy Bird (who I'd been lucky to meet before), and Jules & Eisha of 7 Impossible Things Before Breakfast (who, by the way, did a lovely piece on Laini's Ladies last weekend!). There were terrific writers in attendance too, like Ysabeau Wilce and Sara Lewis Holmes.

So, join us. Portland is beautiful in September. You can go see some waterfalls, shop at Powell's, and talk kidlit with awesome people. Come, come. (click HERE for more info and to register.)


Tuesday, July 22, 2008

a morbid question, apropos of nothing:

It's just something that popped into my head:

Have you ever thought about how there will be people whose dark luck it is to live at the end of things? I don't mean the Rapture end, I mean the years when life here is just misery because we've gone and ruined our planet. When everything is flooding and disaster and famine, planet-wide. There will be people with the bad luck to be born then and endure short, terrible lives. There will be people who will be the last people.

Isn't it awful to think of that?

I don't know about you, but I have no hope for the future of this planet. I'm not going to go on and on here, I'm just saying.

When the last living thing
has died on account of us,
how poetical it would be
if Earth could say,
in a voice floating up
perhaps from the floor of
the Grand Canyon,
"It is done.
People did not like it here."

-- Kurt Vonnegut

Friday, July 18, 2008

The Ghost Carousel

[story removed by author]

Commencing third draft. . .

Whew. In the aftermath of sending in my second draft, I set off on a whirlwind of summer activities and spending time with friends and family. But now I have my edits in hand and it's time to get back to work! The manuscript arrived yesterday, covered in notes as usual. Now, third draft, here I come. [Shudder.] I am so ready to write a new book!

[By the way, big thanks to Lexi, Heather, and Amber, who come in #2, 3, and 4 respectively in the Silksinger readathon. Thank you ladies!!!]

This week I have scarcely set foot in my own home, it seems. My sister was in town from California, and now my niece is here too. Here are we four Taylor women having Thai food at Pok Pok:

Yesterday, my mom and I took Isabella (we call her Izzy, she calls herself Bella) to get some fun colored hair extensions (like my yellows) for the summer. She got to choose her color:
I really thought she was going to go for the aqua blue, but she didn't. She chose. . .
Hot pink! (Why, I ask, would anyone want pink hair???) It looks so cute. It's so fun -- why doesn't everybody have a few streaks of blue or purple or pink in their hair? Why?

Strolled around a little on Mississippi, went into Flutter, which always feels like a fun photo safari. You never know what you're going to find. Weird, altered prom dresses (one had a patch on the front that said EAT), stuffed foxes and iguanas, singing birds, gas masks. . .

And the day wasn't over! Yet to come was dinner with two wonderful bloggers, tiny noises and Frida. "Tiny noises" lives here in Portland, and "Frida" has been visiting from New Zealand. Jim and I had a wonderful time eating Mexican food with them and their boys:

And so, thus ends my social summer interlude. Now it is me in my writing room once again, with a new stack of manuscript beside me. Deep breath. . .

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Opal Creek Ancient Forest

Another thing off my squeeze-summer-into-a-few-days list: a hike at Opal Creek! My sister Emily is in town for just a few days, and since she's usually here at Christmas and only ever sees Oregon in the gloom, my parents and I took her out to the woods. (Poor Jim stayed home to draw some role-playing game cards he's working on for White Wolf).

I've been wanting to go to Opal Creek ever since I read about it in Audubon Magazine at the doctor's office (and stole the magazine, I confess). It's a tract of 35,000 acres of old-growth forest that was narrowly preserved from loggers over a long battle that spanned the 1960s to the 1990s. Remember the whole spotted owl controversy? Well, this is spotted owl habitat, and now -- thanks to decades of fighting by a few remarkable people, this forest still stands. (Thanks, remarkable people!)

This is "Jawbone Flats" -- the old gold-mining camp that has been turned into an education center and cabins:

It's all powered by the force of the creek (cool!) and you can't get there by car -- it's 3-1/2 miles from the trailhead, with sights like this along the way:
I am not the sort of skilled photographer who can convey scenes in the forest with much majesty, but trust me that it is spectacular.
It was hot, and all that green water looked so enticing, but it is so cold -- the kind of cold that makes your feet ache within seconds of putting them in the water. (Quite different from the bathwater-warm waterfall Jim and I went to in Chiapas!)

We just went for the day and didn't get a chance to hike any of the side trails from Jawbone Flats or really look for critters (Opal Creek is a "phib" paradise -- ie, amphibians -- home to some 3 kinds of frogs and 11 species of salamanders, including the Pacific Giant Salamander, which can live up to 40 years!!!) but it was still lovely. Another time I'd like to go and stay. I had a thought while sitting beside a creek that it would be so fabulous to have a "fairy tale writing retreat" there -- a group of writers for three or four days, all working on writing fairy tales? Find a different place by the creek or falls to sit and write each day, get together in the evenings to share? Sounds great, doesn't it? Maybe some day!

Speaking of faeries I want to hugely thank Stephanie for officially being the first person to read Silksinger in one day! Perhaps only other writers can understand how much this means -- to have someone read your book in a day is the biggest compliment there is, and of course, often someone might want to, but just not be able, so I'm not saying I don't love other people who took a few days to read it. I love anyone who reads my book! (But special thanks to Steph!)

And thanks also to Steph for introducing me to Mr. Thornton North and South, the BBC drama which I also thought was that old Civil War thing with Patrick Swayze, but which is way, way, way better. Imagine if you will, that when Mr. Darcy proposed to Elizabeth (and she turned him down with cold disdain), he had passionately declared his love for her. Twice. And, imagine: kissing. Misunderstandings. Riots. Girl throwing herself in front of an angry mob to save brooding hero. And there's smoldering. Really, really good smoldering:
And remember: kissing! Rent it, ladies. Meet Mr. Thornton for yourselves.

Thursday, July 10, 2008

Berry Day (& the Silksinger winner!)

This morning, checked another thing off my squeeze-summer-into-one-week list: pick berries! Jim and I went with my parents to Sauvie Island and picked blueberries and raspberries. It was so lovely. The weather was perfect, there was barely anybody there, berries were plentiful. Just lovely. You see, we picked a few:
I'm not sure what I'm going for in that photo -- am I guarding the berries, or am I gearing up to eat them in one gulp? I only know my mouth is very open and it is very flattering! Here's Jim, much more civilized than me (and with far, far fewer berries, poor lad):
Tonight for dinner we had huge portobello mushrooms and corn on the cob, and for dessert I had been planning to make a cobbler but the berries are too perfect to bake, so we just had berries with frozen yoghurt, and it was wonderful. I love summer.

On the matter of the Silksinger prize pack [of work], the winner is: Nerd Goddess!!!
Yay, Nerd Goddess! That will go in the mail to you tomorrow, and I really look forward to getting your feedback. Thank you! Thank you to all who entered -- your emails were wonderful, and I'd love to send it to ALL of you, but all that photocopying really adds up! I will do another drawing for some galley copies when those come out. I do plan to email everybody to say thank you, but right now I am exhausted. It was hard work eating picking all those berries!

Leroy says goodnight too, from his particularly crooked position:

Wednesday, July 09, 2008

In which Laini leaves the house. . .

See? Me in the sunshine with grass. You can't see them, but there are honest-to-God trees around me too! Oh, and though I look like a depraved animal (snort!), those aren't beers, they're pear sodas. If you look real close, you can see the pears!

YES! I have exited the house! More than once! On Monday, after hitting send, I thought: Picnic! So we picked up yummy sandwiches and peanut butter cookies and went to Mount Tabor park, and then we went really crazy and went to Home Depot for garden plants (so woefully late to be planting, but so it goes) and some sky blue paint for my patio table. On the way there, we got ice cream at Ikea; on the way back we got mango Slurpees at 7-11. Oh yeah. Day of decadence! ha ha ha! So, in the past two days there has been *gardening* (not really, more like weed pulling and cursing), and painting of patio furniture, and watching of mediocre summer blockbusters (Wanted, Hancock).

As for Silksinger, I just want to say a huge THANK YOU to everyone who emailed to enter the drawing for the manuscript and shwag! Thank you so much! I was secretly afraid no one would want it, which is why I had you email me instead of just comment -- because that way I could hide it if there weren't many responses (ah, confidence!). But! You guys make me feel very special! Thank you! I have been loving reading your emails and I wish I could send you ALL a manuscript, but that is not really reasonable. I will draw out of the hat later today. And I think I will probably draw two, though I only have one audiobook to give away. There is plenty of Laini's Ladies stuff for prizes though. The manuscripts are at Kinko's right now getting copied and spiral-bound. I will mail them out tomorrow. Thank you again everyone! I'll announce the "winner of the work" later.

In the meantime, for your entertainment, click HERE for a very funny rap video about two hardcore guys going to get cupcakes and watch Narnia!

And here, watch this. It's really short. This girl is kind of a Magpie Windwitch -- a little girl with big mojo. Love this!

Monday, July 07, 2008

It is done. (And there is a prize in it for you.)

Draft two is done, and it has been sent away through the ether to my bow-tie-wearing editor in New York, who will hopefully like it and tell me so in generous language. Draft two is 17,000 words shorter than draft one. I was aiming for 20,000 words shorter, but that's still pretty good. And. . . it's not like I *cut* those words. Really, it was more like I cut out about half the book and then rewrote it from scratch. This was a much much bigger revision than I have done before, because Silksinger has been a tricky, tricky book from the beginning, but I think I have done it. I think this draft comes close to being what I want. I think I love it.

I feel weirdly empty and slack now, though, and all moody and surly. Why? I don't know. It will help when some eyeballs have read it and [hopefully] liked it. Certainly, that will help. I've been in this book so long it's hard to see it. I'm going to make some copies for a few kid readers, one of whom is my best friend's 10-year-old niece Miriam, who is the world's best and fastest kid reader, and another one is the darling, darling 10-year-old, Owen, whose father runs a literary festival and whose mother owns a chocolate shop and who swooned at my feet when he came to hear me do a reading. (Love those two kids.) And my parents haven't peeked at the book at all yet, and are anxious to. Jim has read a little more than half and today I will release the rest to him. It's always a tense moment, because of course when you finally give your manuscript to readers -- especially a reader you live with, you want them to fall into it, be unable to tear their eyes away, not get sleepy, love every single word. . . etc, and you want to hear them laugh from the next room, and you want to spy on them reading it, and if they get a perplexed look on their face, or smile, or look sad, you want to say, "What? What? What part are you reading now?"

Jim's very good. He laughs and cries and tells me nice things, and he hugs me a lot when I'm mopey, and he genuinely thinks I'm the best writer in the world. (He also thinks I have a better butt than Angelina Jolie, so, you know, he's kind of biased!) Oh, and he helps me make my action scenes better. (Thanks, sweetie. Mwah.)

Which brings me to the PRIZE mentioned above. . . Well. . . more of a prize PACK, really. Here it is: If you are interested in reading Silksinger shazam-fast and giving me feedback, then I will give you a copy of the fabulous audiobook of Blackbringer read by the marvelous Davina Porter, PLUS some Laini's Ladies goodies, such as a box of adorable post-its for use in your feedback-giving! (Have you noticed that this is kind of a trick? That it's. . . work? Shhh. . . don't tell anyone.) Are you interested? If so, email me [hotdiggity@comcast.net] and let me know. In the subject line put: PRIZE PACK OF WORK. I will put names into a hat and draw one at random.

Okay, I think I will go wash my hair, and then maybe step outside. I must be vitamin-D-deprived. Is vitamin D the sunlight vitamin? I have a deep craving to be in a forest.

And then, there's thoughts -- always -- of the next book. . .

Wednesday, July 02, 2008

Letter to a Young Writer

I know, I shouldn't be here right now. I should be frantically revising, but I couldn't stay away. Why? Wellllll. . . I got a draggy email today that sort of derailed my deep, happy concentration. And it has been deep and happy and everything has been going great, truly, the book is at last becoming the book I have always wanted it to be. Yay! But since the suck email, I've been trying and trying to scoop my brain back into the world of Dreamdark, but I have not yet been successful, so here I am instead, because writing about writing often gets me inspired, and here is a post I have been wanting to write.

So check this out. I got the greatest email from a 13-year-old named Jessica (dig her playful spelling at the end) and I was pretty floored by how perfectly and succinctly she summarizes the trials and woes of writing a novel. I think you will agree:

Dear Laini,

Do you ever get so incredibly frustrated when writing through drafts of your book that you just want to erase it all and start all over? That's how I feel right now! I've been writing and re-writing this one chapter and now I'm so fed up with it I'm ready to bang my head against the computer desk! Suddenly it seems like the story doesn't want to work with me and I just can't get the words to flow the way I want to. Out of the blue, I'm stuck on how to describe things and how to give my readers the opportunity to make connections with what's happening. Whatever inspired me to write this book seems to have faded away and I can't get it back. Is that normal for a young author? Is there some sort of cure for my sudden lack of inspiration? Please give me any advice you might have. Thanks.


Wow. Jessica, you're awesome, and you will so write novels, of that I have no doubt. (By the way, I have been lucky enough to read a plot summary of Jessica's fantasy novel and it is awesome and I've jokingly doubted that she could really be 13 -- but, Jessica. . . are you really???)

Okay. YES, Jessica, I do get so incredibly frustrated that I want to erase it all and start over, and I do erase it all and start over -- which I don't necessarily advise, but sometimes it is the only solution. (But not always.)

The first goal is to find the story. This doesn't always happen on the first try, and really, when you think about it, it would be kind of like a crazy coincidence if it did. I mean, a young story is a wild and feral thing that has never seen a human before. It's not curled up in your lap like a cat. It takes some hunting to find it.

The trick is to keep hunting. Keep writing. And specifically, keep writing that story. Yes, new ideas will spring to your mind that seem so shiny and gorgeous and, by comparison, easy. Resist them. They are like those evil lake spirits that look like beautiful maidens just to lure you close, and as soon as they've got you in their clutches, they turn into hags and drown you! That is to say, even the new ideas will get hard once you get going on them. Don't let them trick you into abandoning your work-in-progress.

You need to develop a habit of completion. For a new writer, it might be a good idea to start on stories or novellas, rather than novels, because dang, novels can defeat almost anybody. But the most important thing is to heed the story that is alive in you, whatever it is, and whatever it wants to be.

And NO, it will not always feel alive in you. What inspired you to write the book is bound to fade away as you work with it day in, day out. This is totally normal. You must make yourself remember how it made you feel in the beginning, and remind yourself always of what you loved about it when it was all fresh and shimmery. I recently discovered that a writer friend does something I also do, which is make a list of the things I love about my book, so that when I am having a hard time accessing the love, I can refer to it and just trust that, at one time, those ideas did seem shiny and original and awesome -- and that when someone reads them for the first time they will think so too. The ideas for Silksinger that I have now been laboring with for over a year, for example. They stopped being fun new ideas so long ago. But I have a page in one of my notebooks entitled "COOL THINGS" and it's a list with things on it like: dragonfly caravans, Djinn in bottles, trapdoors, licorice-whip eyes, and crickets dancing to a zither, along with various secret identities, crushes, and nemeses that are crucial to the plot.

There's a lot of faith involved, faith in your original idea, and there's a lot of stubborness involved too, to stick with it and finish it. Here's a question: what's the main difference between a published novel and one that is sitting unfinished in a drawer? Well, the main difference is that the published one is finished. "Finished" is an absolute prerequisite to publication. Even before the requirement that it be good, first it must be finished -- because only then can you go on and make it better (but making it better, that is, revisions is another subject for another day).

When you feel uninspired, it is your task to re-inspire yourself, not with a new idea altogether, but perhaps a new idea within your idea, or a whole new way of looking at your idea. Sometimes I think of this as "turning the kaleidoscope." If a scene or section of the book feels dull and colorless, I try to turn the kaleidscope, get the colors wheeling and spinning, look at the events of the story from every conceivable angle and figure out a cooler way of unfolding them. Or, if this completely fails, sometimes I might have to face the hard fact that I've taken a wrong turn in the labyrinth of my novel, and I have to go back a few paces and try another path. There is always a way through. You just haven't found it yet.

Remember: as long as you keep working, the book can never defeat you. It might feel like it is fighting you, but really its only tactic is intimidation. It can't do anything to you, but you can do everything to it. You are its god, and it must obey you, not the other way around!

As for the actual work of laying down words and creating scenes, this is another place where sheer stubborness comes in. You must simply do it and keep doing it. I love the way you phrased this: "how to give my readers the opportunity to make connections with what's happening." I think that's a gorgeous of way of saying what it is we're trying to do. All I can really say is that I try to sort of "climb inside" the scene and feel as if it is really happening, and examine the way the characters would truly feel. How would you feel? If you can get at the truth of the emotion, you might be able to make that connection. Then, of course, you must be able to clothe that truth in language that enables it to be transferred to other human brains, and that is a matter of practice and work, and developing mastery of language.

One thing I will tell you about being stuck on one chapter is this: skip it. Or rather, take an index card or a scrap piece of paper (something that is not precious) and just write a simple synopsis of what needs to happen in that chapter, both the actual happenings and the emotional growth of the character. Write it as simply as you can. Get to the bone of it. Then just set that aside and move on to the next chapter. I find so often that it is easier to go back. It's as if, by simply skipping it, I've showed it who's really in charge and next time it behave much better.

Along the lines of that sneaky index card or scrap piece of paper, here's another thing to try: never don't write. I mean, when you're stuck, don't just stare at your chapter. Instead, open up a writing journal or a new document on your computer and "chat with yourself" about what you're trying to do. Write about the scene, about the plot, about whatever is tripping you up. Brainstorm, turn the kaleidscope, ask "What if. . .?" about a million times. Try out scenarios. Very very often, this turns into writing.

All in all, in my experience (today included), there is much woe and turmoil in the writing of a novel. Sometimes one must embrace the joy of woe, that is -- slunch down on the sofa and watch a crappy movie instead of writing, all while complaining about how hard writing is. This can be very satisfying. (I know.) Well, woe is so much easier than writing, but, while satisfying in the now, it does not really pay off in the long run. (I know that too. If I could be 13 again, I'd do things differently!)

I could go on about this stuff forever, but I will finish up with this quote that I found today in an interview with the writer Larry Doyle (who wrote for The Simpsons and also wrote the novel I Love You Beth Cooper, which is very funny but not at all appropriate for a 13-year-old!!):

"I have always wanted to write a novel. What prevented me from doing so until now is there was nothing stopping me from not writing it."
- Larry Doyle

Thank you for your great emails, Jessica! I hope this helps a little. Keep writing. (And P.S. It is okay at 13 to write stories instead of a novel, and work your way up, but that is entirely up to you.)