Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Don't Take My Advice

I see so much writing advice out there, laundry lists of dos and don’ts, and not all of it is good, or helpful, or true.

What one reader enjoys, another hates. What works for one book does not work for another. What might be cliché in this instance is not so cliché in the hands of a different artist.

Getting caught up in the “dos” and “don’ts” of writing can be dangerous. If you’re so worried about doing it wrong, you may never do it right, either. Because you are going to do it “wrong.” Not wrong because some governing board of creative writers says it is, but wrong because that’s not who that character is or the direction that story wants to go. For me, writing means layering, and I can’t get to that final, polished layer until I first lay down all the other ones.

Writing is a talent and craft that requires hard work. It does not come with a set of tried-and-true, guaranteed-to-never fail instructions. (We aren’t assembling bookshelves, after all.) Great writing is honed and developed over time. The best writing forges its own path instead of following the paved, oft-traveled road laid by others. (Or it takes us on the paved, oft-traveled road and makes us look at the familiar world in a way we never have before. See? No rules.)

Well-meaning advice is just that. Following it does not guarantee you a poignant story, an agent, a book deal.

Art demands it be felt, not reduced down to a dos and don’ts list.
But don't take my word for it.

Friday, January 24, 2014

Top Ten Books I Want in 2014

I'm finally posting my Top Ten Books I'm excited about for 2014. There are so many amazing books releasing this year, so it was hard to choose just ten. (Because after I typed this up, I went back to my TBR list and realized I'd missed several: Follow me Through Darkness by Danielle Ellison, Sing Sweet Nightingale by Erica Cameron, Hook's Revenge by Heidi Schulz, Sinner by Maggie Stiefvater - seriously, I could be here all day listing them. I'm going to have to quit work if I'm going to have time to read them all!) But this is a top ten list, so I'm not going to cheat by adding a few extra. I play by the rules and all that jazz.


I loved Send me a Sign, so I’ve been eagerly awaiting this ever since I heard about it. I love the last two lines of the description: “One night can change how you see the world. One night can change how you see yourself.” Doesn’t that sound awesome?

This one has been on my radar a while. Russian spies? An “espionage thriller with a dash of both history and dystopia?” Yes please!

I loved The Disreputable History of Frankie Landau Banks. Loved. So when I heard about this one, I didn’t care what it was about. Now that I know, I’m even more excited. May is an awfully long time to wait.

I met the lovely Dahlia at BEA, she of the macaroons and shiny tiara. She also saved me from having to ride the subway by myself. Dahlia has impeccable taste in books (she’s never recommended a book that I didn’t love), so I can’t wait to read hers.

I also met the lovely Megan at BEA this past May, so I called in a favor. I begged to sneak a peek at Between, and either my wiley Southern charm worked, or Megan thought I would leave her alone if she just sent it already. Whatever the reason, she sent me the first five chapters, which was actually torturous, now that I think about it, because as soon as I’d read those chapters, I wanted more. The writing is clean and the characters interested me from the beginning. I can’t wait to get my hands on the rest of this book.

I need more Sturmhond. There. I said it. I still love Mal of course, but Sturmhond stole the show in Seige and Storm, and I can’t wait to see what he gets up to in the final book. I read the first book, Shadow and Bone, because of the gorgeous cover. But what’s inside is even better. If you haven’t read these yet, there’s still time to do so before the final one is out. Get on that.

If you haven’t read A Discovery of Witches, then you need to reexamine your life. A friend recommended this book to me, and though I was a bit skeptical, I took her advice. I finished the book in two days and immediately re-read it. It’s sexy and smart with a healthy dose of history. I liked the first one better than the second (which got a little slow for me), but I’ve been looking forward to this book for two years now.

So I’m cheating a little with this one, since I read a very early version of it about a year ago. Getting my hands on it also involved begging. (I’m shameless, I know.) I read this book in one afternoon. I was only going to read a few chapters, but the voice was so incredible, the characters so real, that I didn’t move until I’d finished it. And I was reading it on my computer, which, if you’ve done this before, you know is not the best reading experience. But it didn’t matter – the story was that good. So I can’t wait to see what Kelsey has done with it in the year since.

I’m super excited for the third Raven Boys books. I loved the first one, but the second, Dream Thieves, was even better. Stiefvater writes very lovely sentences, but her writing isn’t the only thing I admire about her work. She creates complex characters and then puts them into a contemporary setting with an otherworldly feel. Both prose and story are haunting and magical. I’m not sure I can wait until fall for this one. I might do unhealthy things for an advanced copy.


I absolutely love the sound of this, particularly the last line of the description: “But between ‘right’ and ‘wrong,’ there’s a whole world of possibilities.” I was also lucky enough to interview both Jaye Robin and Dahlia Adler about waiting on their debuts.

Thursday, January 2, 2014

Neverending Stories

So many people have asked about a sequel to Reclaimed. Teachers and students accost stop me in the halls to discuss what happens later and demand I write a continuation. I’ve received emails expressing the same thing.

At first I was shocked people expected a sequel. To me, the story ends exactly where it needs to. The main conflicts are resolved and, in my mind, the characters are happy. (Or as happy as they can be considering the situations I put them in.) Then, I was flattered. That readers connect with and love my characters enough to want more is the best feeling an author can have. Sharing your characters with the world can be frightening, but when readers love them as much as you do, it’s worth it.

I have no plans for a sequel to Reclaimed at this time. I don’t know what that story would look like. But it got me thinking about story endings. To me, the best stories end in such a way that the main conflicts are resolved but the readers feel like the characters have a hundred more stories to tell.

I just read Doctor Sleep by Stephen King. For those who don’t know, it’s the newly released sequel to his 1977 book The Shining. I loved The Shining, but I really loved Doctor Sleep. King does such an amazing job of bringing his characters to life (making them shine, if I may), that even when the story is over, readers know the story isn’t over. The Shining didn’t need a sequel – King wrapped up the conflicts satisfactorily. But he’d created such dynamic characters that readers knew there was more story to tell. So he did, showing what happened to Danny Torrence. It didn’t read like a sequel to me. It was its own story, with appearances from familiar characters. But at the end of Doctor Sleep, I was left knowing that the characters had more story to tell. I want to know what troubles Abra gets into and out of.

It is my favorite King book, and while there is no sequel, I know, through the characters King created, that there is more story there. And I’d read it if King ever decided to write it down.

There’s a reason there are so many Pride and Prejudice continuations, with authors imagining what happened to Elizabeth and Mr. Darcy after the wedding. It’s understandable why so many people write fanfiction – we know our favorite characters have much more adventure in them. When a character has been developed well enough to truly come alive in a reader’s mind, we know that the story the author chose to tell is just one of many.

The best stories linger in readers’ minds. We think about the characters and imagine a hundred different journeys. If done well, all stories can become Neverending Stories, which come to life, draw us in, and take us along with them, allowing us to create the endings, knowing that the best stories never truly end.