Tuesday, February 27, 2007
Her post, “It's a Little Pitchy: How Writing For Kids Is Like American Idol” instantly put everything into perspective. This is a huge breakthrough, as I've spent too many days shuffling around the house, morphing into Johnny Depp's character from Secret Window with my tattered robe, greasy hair, and un-bathed body. I've been talking to myself, napping, walking around outside, and avoiding phone calls and e-mail. Slowly I've become the crazy little reclusive writer lady I always feared becoming. Jack Nicholson in The Shining, Emma Thompson in Stranger Than Fiction, Nick Cage in Adaptation…I feel your pain!!
Back to Laura's post… I, too, am obsessed with American Idol. There. I said it. The fascination for me has always been the psychology-experiment vibe of it all. Take a perfect cross section of America, put them naked on a stage in front of a billion viewers, have them perform in front of those judgmental viewers, pummel them with ridicule and/or praise, and see what happens. But as I read Laura's dissection of American Idol and how it parallels writing for children, I realized that I identify so strongly with these contestants because I am them. Okay, in a different profession, not on a stage, and sans paparazzi stalking me. (Thank God, because no human should have to see me greasy, un-showered, in a tattered robe!)
Read her post and you'll understand what I'm talking about. I'm in the “Top 24/Hollywood Week” category, where my book has made it past the arena audition phase of humiliation among the thousands of wannabes and deluded freaks. I've made it to the pile of writers where everyone has some talent. Now, I've got to stand out without gimmicks, and create a voice and product that's beyond memorable.
After a looong talk with Jay and Robin, and reading Laura's post today, I finally figured it all out. I know exactly how to make it a totally original, kick-ass book! It hit me very suddenly, and all it took was a simple American Idol analogy to bring it all together. (Well, that and a lot of Disco Mermaid support.) Here's hoping to make the “Final 12” in the weeks to come! And I promise not to sing “Do I Make You Proud” if I do. Or maybe I will.
Sunday, February 25, 2007
I just want to talk about why I love this business so much. When I was 18, and trying to decide what to do with my life, I had a conversation with my dad inside a McDonald’s (which I wrote about here). I told him I wanted to write. I figured my best option would be to get a degree in journalism and go into advertising. Then I could write things that rhyme! (What rhymes with diapers?)
But a professor told our class that the field of advertising is very competitive. That if you’re not willing to go out there and step on someone else to get where you’re going, then you won’t go far.
I literally quit my major that day. I don’t have a competitive bone in my body (I even apologize if I sneeze too loudly).
And what I’ve found out about the business of writing for children is that it is the most open, noncompetitive field out there. All the writers we’ve come across at conferences or on list serves or through this blog, have always, always been nothing but supportive. There seems to be a sense that there is room for everyone in this business. If you have a good story to tell, there’s always room.
And speaking of meeting great people through our blog, I’ve been corresponding with Natalie after we realized we both share the same awesome agent. She’s a talented writer living in Italy with her family for a few years and has a blog herself that details the life of an American living in a foreign country. It’s fantastic. Check her out!
Meanwhile, I’ll be sitting here sipping my red wine, listening to Enya, and thinking about how much I love this business. Sure advertising is great (why else would I actually go out and buy insurance from Geico?), but children’s literature is where it’s at.
Happily yours (and a little drunk from all this wine and really, really sick of Enya),
Friday, February 23, 2007
That's how Gordon Korman autographed my copy of Jake, Reinvented at the 2004 SCBWI National Conference. That was the year the Disco Mermaids won our first of three costume contests. (No matter how many times I tell people, I really was dressed as a disco dancer...not a pimp. I swear!)
Anyway, Mr. Korman left a huge impression on the three of us that year. He was so funny and inspiring in his speeches. And after we won the costume contest, we felt confident enough to approach him. Not only was he funny and inspiring, but he was so nice, too. When we got home and started reading his books, we became even bigger fans. In fact, I had been a huge fan all along and didn't even realize it. My bookshelf was loaded with his books from when I was in elementary school but I never put his name to those titles...otherwise I would've lugged them all to the conference and had them signed.
What's the point of this post? I'm getting there. But first, let me tell you what I've told Robin and Eve ever since I rediscovered G.K.: If I could model my writing career after one author, it would be Gordon Korman. He writes hilarious middle grades, adventurous middle grades, hilarious YAs, and suspenseful YAs. The dude can do it all! Plus, children and librarians love him.
And here's why this is all so cool. Gordon Korman gave my first book, Thirteen Reasons Why, a blurb:
A spectacular first novel.
Jay Asher tells his story with such honesty and simplicity
that the tragedy feels shatteringly real.
Okay, I don't know how much more cool news I can take.
Wednesday, February 21, 2007
Anyways, I love that by the end of my story I absolutely love my main character…Skye. Love, love, love her. I just want to hug her and go shoe shopping with her. So it’s nice to feel that I made a lasting impression on myself. Now on to the rest of the world!
But before I give it to my critique group and then Jay and Eve, there’s one more bit of business I need to attend to: my title. At this point, it’s called Skye is Falling. It’s a good title and I like it...kind of. It was Jay and Eve’s suggestion, and I like them very much as people…so…you know…there’s that.
I feel like a title tells you so much about a book and a good one can make all the difference. Since you all helped Eve with her title search, I was hoping you could help me with mine!
Here are some of the themes in the book: Skye, a withdrawn depressed teenage girl is the daughter of a recovering alcoholic. She spends a lot of time at Al-anon meetings and skips school to hang at a coffee shop. She meets a guy (woo-hoo!) who is a bit of her opposite (very religious, home schooled) and they fall in love (very woo-hoo!). She is basically on a search to find passion in her life and to discover her spiritual side. Oh, and she plays piano and loves crossword puzzles. (Can you believe I stretched that into 175 pages!?) So here are some choices:
SKYE IS FALLING (Thanks, Jay and Eve. Love you guys. No matter what.)
A GIRL LIKE ME (Which is a line she says at an emotionally climactic moment with her guy.)
FAITH NO MORE (Which is a really great band I saw in Athens, GA back in the late 80’s, but could also be a good title.)
FINDING NEMO (No?)
Um, that’s all I got. I considered putting the word scrotum somewhere in the title, but Jay gets all fidgety when I mention it. (Great…my parents are reading this and probably don’t know about "the controversy." At this moment, my father is no doubt hugging my sobbing mother, patting her on the back and saying, “There, there.”)
So back to my title search. Will it be Skye is Falling? Or something I’ve never considered? Bring it!!!
Monday, February 19, 2007
During my first phone call with my editor, we brainstormed images we thought would be perfect for the cover. A couple of months went by and, though I'd been told an artist was working on it, my editor wasn't saying much. Finally, just before ending our line-edit phone call, I added, "By the way, I almost forgot, how's the cover coming?"
"Oh, fine," she said.
"Can I see it when it's done?" I asked.
She hesitated, then said, "I can e-mail it to you right now, if you'd like." Yes, she actually said if you'd like.
As it was flying from her computer to mine, she admitted she was concerned about what I was going to think. While she was absolutely thrilled with it, it wasn't at all what either of us had pictured in the beginning.
"It's up," I said. "Are you ready for this? I love it!!!"
That girl on the swing is Hannah Baker. And I love the mood that's set. When people are reading this book, they're going to flip back to the cover many times to re-examine that expression on her face.
Thank you, Christian Funfhausen! I'm honored that your design will be the first impression people have of my book.
Friday, February 16, 2007
I have a growing collection of children’s books signed by their authors. Now, I have a children’s book signed by...a politician! Al Franken is running for the U.S. Senate in Minnesota and he autographed my son’s dinosaur book.
Back when Al was promoting his book The Truth (with jokes), he stopped by our quaint little town of San Luis Obispo. Jay invited me to go with him to listen to Al talk, but I had no babysitter so my little boy went with us.
We stood in the back of the cramped bookstore listening to him speak (I was just standing, Jay was on his tip-toes, and my little boy was sitting on the table which held all of Al’s books).
We were all very excited: Jay loves his radio show, I love the fact that he’s a Dead Head, and my son loved sitting on that table. But I had to make sure my boy stayed quiet during his speech, so I ran over to the children’s section and grabbed a book that I knew would keep his attention: Dinosaurs!
Al spoke, Jay and I laughed, and my son yelled, “Look, Stegosaurus!” After lots of shhh-shing, we finally made it through Al’s speech without too much rude behavior.
Then came the book signing. I looked at my adorable son sitting on that table with all of Al’s expensive hard cover books, waving that $2.99 soft cover dinosaur book at me...you can just guess which book I purchased. (Sorry, Al.)
But I wasn’t going to leave that building without Al’s autograph. So we stood in line to get the book signed. But it was a really long line and my boy was getting tired and I was getting tired and...oh, like you wouldn’t do the same thing!
“Um, Jay? Would you mind standing in line and getting our book signed for us?”
“Sure. Where’s your book?”
My son handed it to Jay.
“This? I’m supposed to walk up to Al Franken and have him sign...this?”
Believe me, there’s no way you could’ve said no to that adorable face either. So here it is...
THIS MESSAGE WAS NOT PAID FOR BY AL FRANKEN FOR SENATE
Wednesday, February 14, 2007
That said, for some reason, every time I'm on the verge of a major life change or have a radical decision to make, I turn to these otherworldly forces to guide me. Or at least to tell me what's going to happen, because I can't stand the suspense! For example, when I was all broken up over whether or not to quit medical school to pursue a more creative career, I consulted a Venice Beach psychic. (Like how I slip the fact that I attended medical school into my posts as often as possible?? I like to broadcast how smart I am… so sue me.)
This morning I turned Robin on to an Astrology website that I've found to be eerily accurate when discussing my past and present and predicting my future. Her horoscope told her that she'll be getting a wonderful message on February 28th. (Or did it say, “a wonderful massage” ?? Not sure.) She also got a fortune cookie saying that the month of March would be the beginning of something BIG.
So, tonight I sit here playing the waiting game, wondering what my publishing future holds, and of course the only way to know for sure is to check my trusty Astrology site. Here's what it says, and how it applies to me personally:
“This month you will have a career victory so special that the press will pick up on the accomplishment.” (My middle grade novel, “Kidz In The Wood” will be sold at auction for an unprecedented seven figures and I'll make the covers of TIME and PEOPLE Magazines.)
“An unusually large number of new people will enter your sphere as a result of the new moon February 17th.” (Again, hinting at my book being sold at auction…these aforementioned 'new people' are undoubtedly my new editor, PR rep, film agent, booking agent, foreign publisher, cook, nanny, house cleaner, dog walker, nutritionist, personal shopper, personal stylist and Oprah…people that will come into my life as a result of the seven figure book deal.)
“Old friends will be supportive and helpful and will surround you with lunches, meetings and parties. Your popularity will rise and you'll be introduced to someone new and influential.” (Jay and Robin will be throwing congratulatory fiestas 'round the clock for me…on P. Diddy's yacht. Hence, the “someone new and influential.”)
“Venus is the planet in charge of your income, and at the end of the month it's orbiting close to Uranus, so financial aspects will be surprising…it may make you jump for joy or it might make you angry.” (Venus is messing with my head…it can't decide if I deserve a seven figure book deal or a seven dollar book deal, so it will decide sometime toward the end of February…. as it gets closer to my anus.)
“If this career achievement doesn't happen now, you won't get another opportunity until June 30th.” (If this book doesn't sell for seven figures this month, I will have to wait for the next offer, which will come in on June 30, of the year 2014.)
My fate is written in the stars, man. Stay tuned to find out which way I go!
(It's late. I'm tired. This post may be censored in the morning by the powers that be...but I cracked myself up anyway!)
Tuesday, February 13, 2007
As part of their bid to acquire Thirteen Reasons Why, Razorbill submitted a 13-point marketing plan. To muddy up a quote from Jerry Maguire: You had me at Point One.
1. Interactive website and working phone numbers
The interactive website will give readers a taste of the journey
that Hannah Baker sends Clay Jensen on, as well as contain
additional material that will deepen the stories of Hannah and Clay.
On Monday, my editor and I began brainstorming ideas for the site. And by the time we hung up, I was freaking out. This is going to be an exhilarating project…and fitting with the atmosphere of the book, oh so very creepy. Gimme an R! Gimme an A! Gimme a Z! Gimme an O! (Oh, you know the rest…)
Quick Book Summary: Clay Jensen comes home from school to find a shoebox leaning against his front door. Inside are seven audiotapes. When he presses Play on the first tape, out comes the voice of Hannah Baker, a girl who committed suicide two weeks earlier. She promises to tell thirteen stories about people who moved her toward that decision. And if you received the shoebox…your name is on the tapes.
Here are some early ideas for the website:
- It features the contents of Hannah's locker, untouched since the tragedy.
- When you open the locker, taped to the door is an eerie photograph mentioned in the book.
- Tucked beneath the photo is a scrap of paper with Hannah’s new cellphone number. If you dial the number, you'll hear Hannah’s voicemail. Do you dare leave a message?
- If you click the Chamber of Commerce map, it will unfold and you’ll see ads for businesses mentioned in the book, including the shoe store owned by Hannah’s parents. If you call that number, you’ll find out that they’re closed temporarily due to a family emergency.
- You’ll be able to read the entire Freshman Class: Who’s Hot/Who’s Not list…and read what Hannah scribbled in the margins.
- And then, of course, there will be an audiotape--one you can actually listen to. Will it be an excerpt from Cassette 1: Side A? Mmmmmaybe. Or maybe it’ll be an excerpt from the Fourteenth Reason Why...a recording Hannah chose not to include. Hmm…
Monday, February 12, 2007
Have you ever had a moment when reality smacked you upside the head? Well, that was my moment.
I sold a book: Understood. My book will be in libraries and bookstores: Check. Teens are going to read my book: Got it. Teens are going to read my book: Yes, I got it the first time. No, teens are going to read...my...book.
Okay, Ms. Pettit, I’d like it back now. Please give me my book back. Seriously, if you hand it over right now I’ll return the advance. You don’t understand. It’s not really a book. Authors write books. Me? I totally made it up...and I’m not even a good liar.
Sometimes it feels like everyone's been tricked into believing I’m an author. I love Laurie Halse Anderson and Avi and I know they’re going to be so angry at me for pushing my book between theirs (I don’t think they mind M.T. Anderson squeezing in, though). It feels like this all happened too fast for me to process it correctly. My agent got our first offer on Thirteen Reasons Why the last week in September. Then I had an auction, a revision, a line edit, a copyedit, author photos, a blurb hunt, a proposal for Book 2, and we’re only halfway into February!
I’m already freaking out about what teens will think of the story I totally made up. But in the moments when I'm not nervous, another part of me (where’d it go...I thought I put it right...oh, honey, that’s not trash) is wound up with anticipation, mostly because my manuscript’s been so well taken care of at Razorbill. My editor maintained such an incredibly high level of excitement throughout this project that sometimes I thought she was the author and I was the editor trying to make her book the best it could be. My late-night/early-morning revision sessions were fueled entirely by her pep talks.
So I’m feeling nervous, excited, blessed...and completely scared. If I’m ever at a writing conference or an ALA event and see Laurie Halse Anderson and Avi speed-walking towards me, I’m outta there!
Friday, February 09, 2007
There are other words I love. Like…
• cubicle (saying it, not sitting in it)
• and the ever popular…poop
Anyways, it’s the weekend and I really should be cleaning the house, which brings me back to my first word…dustballs. I have this problem—and please tell me I’m not the only one—where I find myself in that “my-house-is-filthy-and-I’m-okay-with-that” phase, and I refuse to visit any friends who have a clean house. It’s almost like I can’t handle being reminded of my inadequacies and lack of scrubbing skills. (Or maybe it’s just a motivation issue.)
So typically Eve will invite me over to her house and I’ll imagine what’s living in my bathroom, and then I’ll imagine how her bathroom is cleaner than Martha Stewart’s, and I’ll graciously reply, “Maybe some other time. I’m busy detangling my pom-poms.”
Then there are other times when my house is miraculously clean (thank you, hubby) and I’ll find any reason to show up at “someone’s” house just so I can sneak into her bathroom and look in the corners for dustballs. Aha! At least my house isn’t as filthy as these poor slobs! (Which I’ve never said at Eve’s house, by the way.)
So what do dustballs have to do with writing? I know I have an analogy…it’s somewhere around here…maybe under this pile…oh, here it is! I often find myself doing the same thing when I write a book: while I’m writing it, during the phase where it’s messy and I’m not really sure what I’m doing, I stay away from reading any book that’s similar to it. I think I don’t want to lose confidence and be reminded of my inadequacies.
Then, when I’m finished, I rush right out and read every book I can find that’s remotely similar and find all the flaws and convince myself that my book is SOOO much cleaner. (Though I’m usually really saying, “Great book…and it isn’t mine! Waaahhh!) But that’s okay, because there’s always room out there for one more good, clean book.
Now I’m off to clean up this rubble and find more analogies!
(who also likes saying the word “dustbunnies” when she’s feeling all girly)
Thursday, February 08, 2007
I doubt that had anything to do with their desicion, but they accepted.
And he’s off!
Because I love acronyms (and because the title may change), I’ll hereby refer to this experiment as the Young Adult Book About Desire Authored By Asher, II...or Y.A.B.A.D.A.B.A., Deux. Why am I using the French translation for two? Guess you'd better stay tuned to find out!
So how far into Y.A.B.A.D.A.B.A., Deux am I? For the past week I’ve been struggling to get the perfect opening chapter. A lot of authors write their first chapter fully intending to tear it apart and put it back together later on. I can’t do that. Unless I’m totally satisfied with my beginning, I can’t get excited about the rest of the book. With my first book (Y.A.B.A.D.A.B.A., Une), the opening chapter is almost identical to what I wrote the day I came up with the idea. And it’s one of the only chapters my editor told me to leave alone.
Once again, I have two main characters: one male, one female. And something odd I've noticed, as with my previous book, I'm having an easier time writing from the female P.O.V. than the male. Do you find it easier to write as the opposite sex or is it just me? And if it is just me...why?
Tuesday, February 06, 2007
Problem is… it was totally unnecessary. Not that sex is unnecessary. But in some YA books, the sex seems to be gratuitously tossed in either for shock value or for kicks or maybe the author is showing off a bit. Look at me! Look at me! I'M DEAD SEXY! I get it. Those scenes are really fun to write. And read. But how does an author decide when it's necessary?
Yes, teenagers have sex on the brain. I read a 2005 child development study that said over half of all teens claim to be sexually active. About 20% of America's ninth graders checked the “I'M HAVING SEX” box on the questionnaire. Uh, yeah. I work with ninth graders every day now, and here's a newsflash for ya…they exaggerate!
Ain't no way that 1 in 5 of the fourteen-year-olds I'm tutoring are doing anything resembling sex. Oh sure, they SAY they're having sex, but they also SAY they've wrestled sharks, Karate-chopped bank robbers, and saved puppies and nuns from attacking lions! They'll say anything, ANYTHING to impress me or their friends or the imaginary person looking over their shoulders to see which box they've checked on the Sex Questionnaire.
So, anyway, that rant aside…Do I need to add sex to my new YA novel? It's a Romance, yes. However, excuse me for being a prude, but remember when talking late into the night and holding hands and kissing meant everything in the world? I do. To me, the romance of my story lies in the heart-stopping emotional bond that my characters share. Sure, they're physically attracted to each other. Very much so. But I'd love to make sex a non-issue. Does it even have to come up?
99% of writers I've posed this question to agree that my characters must have sex to make it realistic. Yes, they're deeply in love. But does love always have to equal sex? (Especially when we're talking about kids??) Am I being a serious prude, here? No, for real, is it me? Am I being unrealistic? Help, blog-readers. Help!
(Who may need therapy after this one to deal with the fact that I was the most straight-laced and boring teen on the planet.)
Saturday, February 03, 2007
I met with my critique group yesterday and they gave me a great pep talk about revising. Cynthia reminded me to go through it many times, looking for only specific things each time.
First, is continuity. Then there’s language then dialogue then more layering then similes and metaphors then symbolism. Oh, and maybe some grammar.
Well, I’ve already gone through the manuscript once making sure it had a beginning then a middle then an end. At the same time I also made sure I used the same name for my main character all the way through. Wow! Not bad, Robin!
Now on to reading it through six more times, then having my critique group edit it, then Jay and Eve, then my agent, then back to me and then…it’ll probably be winter again and my legs will be covered and I’ll have some extra time to finish it up.
So this morning I found I had some extra time (hubby was sick in bed and son was telling Dora on TV which log to step on so she won’t fall in a snake pit). And what did I do? I wrote out a summary of my next novel! A middle grade humorous historical science fiction epic! (For real.)
Okay, fine. Back to revising. But before I do all the layering and similes and stuff, I gotta go through my manuscript and make sure I take out all of these…NOTE TO SELF: MAKE THIS PART BETTER.
(who is wearing long pants and boots out of necessity)
Thursday, February 01, 2007
After my agent called to let me know I sold my first book, one event stands out as the most exciting. Last Friday, Chris Crutcher gave my novel a wonderful blurb! That should classify as one of those 'Nuff Said moments, but let me explain its significance:
I heard Mr. Crutcher speak at my first L.A. SCBWI conference in 2000. I wasn't interested in teen literature at the time, but he was an amazing speaker so I bought Stotan! simply to get his autograph...but then I read it. I now consider Stotan! my gateway YA.
Soon after I began writing Thirteen Reasons Why, I noticed a brand new contest called the SmartWriters.com Write-It-Now Competition. And who was slated to judge the YA category? That's right, Chris Crutcher. So I entered, hoping my entry would make it far enough to pass before his eyes. And it did. In fact, he gave it the top prize!
That award was based on the first ten pages and a synopsis. A few years later, after I finished and sold the manuscript, my editor asked if I knew any authors who might offer me a blurb. I told her about this manuscript's connection with Mr. Crutcher and she asked if I knew how to contact him. I did, via the wonderful author and person (as well as Mr. Crutcher's assistant) Kelly Milner Halls.
Okay, gotta go. I'm getting all choked up again.
P.S. The stamp at the beginning of this post is from the upper right-hand corner of the contract I just received...along with my first check. So yes, it's been an amazing week!