Thursday, September 29, 2011


Most writers would agree that conflict—or confrontation—can often be the most fun part of writing a book. On the page, conflict is where the story really takes off.

But because I’ve been hard at work, all month, on the revisions for my forthcoming debut MG, THE JUNCTION OF SUNSHINE AND LUCKY, I’m also reminded of another type of conflict that occurs in the process of getting a book on store shelves—between a writer and him or herself.

Every writer is protective of their book. In a lot of respects, you have to be. That need to protect is what gets you through multiple rounds of submission and rejection. It’s also, I’d argue, what gets a book written in the first place.

So many writers refer to or think of our books as babies. (Online, release dates are celebrated as “book birthdays.”) Often, I’ve heard writing a book likened to giving birth. Actually, I think it’s more like being home with a newborn. When a baby comes home, your world becomes about the baby—your entire life revolves around caring for and protecting that baby. When inspiration strikes, you have to treat your book the same way. You have to say, “I couldn’t possibly go to the movies [or out to dinner or away for the weekend, etc.], I’ve got a book to write!” The same way that you’d never leave a baby home alone, in order to get some guacamole. You’re responsible for getting those ideas on paper, every bit as much as you’re responsible for the well-being of a newborn.

That might sound like hyperbole, but really, I’m not exaggerating at all. Protecting your idea, your novel, really is that important—as important as caring for a newborn. If it’s not, believe me, the world encroaches, and the book never gets written.

The conflict that I’m referring to, though, actually happens after the book is written. After the book has been accepted. After you ink the deal, and all your hard work has paid off…

And you get your editorial letter. Asking you to make global changes.

At this point, that ultra-protective writer inside you—the same protective writer who cared for your concept like a newborn—butts heads with the ultra-critical editor inside you.

And that’s where the magic happens.

I love the global revisions that take place after a book’s acquisition, because inevitably, something really beautiful always comes from that internal conflict: my protective self wanting to stay true to the initial concept, and my critical self seeing my editor’s points and wanting to implement changes. Characters are reinvented, subplots revamped, events placed in a different order. The book becomes three dimensional at this point. It has skin.

So do I ever avoid this confrontation with myself? Never. Once I get that editorial letter, I jump straight into it, heart racing with excitement…

Below: a "greatest-hit" moment, as I unveil the official title of my MG! (The book features a young artist, and nothing reminds me of the art projects of my youth quite like construction paper. All that's missing from the vid are a few pipe cleaners...)

Thursday, September 22, 2011


I always compare it to meeting up with a shadowy figure at the end of an alley—reading blog reviews, that is. You never do know, when you first start to read a review, if that blogger is about to become your newest ally, or someone who just wants to tear your work to shreds. John Claude Bemis wrote a post last month (at my MG author blog, Smack Dab in the Middle) about some of the horrors of dealing with less-than-positive online reviews. Like John, I had to figure out what, exactly, to do with online reviews of my work when my first book released—a quandary for all current writers. I know some authors ultimately decide not to look—not at reviews on individual blogs, or on Amazon, or Goodreads. I decided early on to set up Google Alerts on my name and my book titles, and to read it all.

Now, with two books under my belt, I’ve got a few pointers for those about to face blog reviews for the first time:

1. Cut the umbilical cord. Your book is your baby; you raised it up from the tiniest germ of an idea into a complete, finished product. Like a proud parent, every writer does—and should—feel protective of their work, as well. This desire to be protective is often what carries you through rejection and multiple rounds of revision. But once that book hits the printer, you need to separate yourself just enough to grab a little objectivity. You should always love your book, and always feel proud of it. But a bit of distance is important when the book releases.

2. Accept that you’ll get some horrible blog reviews. It’s inevitable. Within the industry—among editors, agents, and reviewers for trade journals—there tends to be some similarity of thought. But once the book hits the public, there is absolutely no consensus. None. Somebody out there’s going to say, “Yuck.”

3. Don’t expect to glean much from negative blog reviews. When a reader doesn’t connect with a book on any level, their comments aren’t particularly constructive. But because you’ve cut the cord, and have gone into reading reviews knowing that you’ll get some negative comments, a one-star review won’t cut your heart out, either. You won’t dwell on it. You’ll be able to move on fairly gracefully to the next review.

4. Let bloggers tell you what you can do better. Even in the midst of a positive review, you’ll still hear, “The book would have been better if…” For instance, a blogger who reviewed—and loved—my first book, A BLUE SO DARK, noted that Aura, the protagonist, used figurative, poetic language throughout…and also swore quite a bit. The blogger wasn’t opposed to the swearing (which was used to help illustrate Aura’s desperation), but asked, If Aura speaks in such a unique, figurative way, shouldn’t she also swear in a unique, figurative way, too, rather than just dropping F-bombs? I found that to be an extremely insightful, thoughtful comment. But I don’t think this comment ever would have permeated if I was still being 100% protective of my work and not yet willing to listen.

I realize that, once a book is released, it’s done. There’s no changing that specific work. But as a writer, I know I’ll be writing more similar kinds of books—I’ll be releasing more YA, more literary work, etc. And as much as I write for acceptance from the industry—editors, trade reviewers, etc.—I primarily write to touch the audience: readers who buy my books. Without readers…well…

Constructive criticism goes into the back of my head, and it does, I would argue, help as I draft my next works…every bit as much as constructive criticism from my agent and editors also help.

Just a few years ago, a writer’s audience discussed books in private—in reading circles, over coffee, in living rooms—and the writer never got a chance to know what his or her audience was saying. I feel incredibly lucky to be writing at a time in which I do get to eavesdrop on the discussions of my books.

Friday, September 16, 2011


Yep, that's where I've been all week...and where I'll be for the rest of the month. Hard at work on revisions for my MG, due out in '12: THE JUNCTION OF SUNSHINE AND LUCKY.

Revisions are actually my favorite part of the entire process. It's where I see the book start to take on its final form. Where I can start to picture it as a finished product.

And there's nothing quite like seeing (and holding!) that finished product for the first time. As proof, check out this greatest hit: the smile I flash as I rip into my author copies of PLAYING HURT (which arrived on my doorstep early last March...)

Friday, September 9, 2011


I'm in the midst of putting my life back together after a massive computer meltdown, and am popping in for an exciting update:

If you have been waiting to grab PLAYING HURT on the Kindle, today is your lucky day!

Click here to download....
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