Real Life Science: What Inspires You?

io9 recently posted some amazing footage caught by a passenger in an airplane of the last launch of Space Shuttle Discovery.

It is a gorgeous and awe-inspiring image of man's reach towards the heavens. It reminded me of one of my favorite recent pictures. It's an image of astronaut Tracy Caldwell Dyson staring out of the window of the International Space Station at home.

I like the images of the astronauts all suited up floating over Earth, and they, too, are awe-inspiring. But there's something about seeing her face, knowing what she's looking at, how she's looking down and not up.

So then I had to go further out.  With Hubble, there's so many amazing images at our fingertips. My favorite, though, isn't the one where you see the amazing colors or the highly detailed surfaces of the planets. Nope. The one I love is the one with the galaxies.

What I love is that those balls of light aren't stars--they're galaxies. Full, glorious, spinning, chaotic, amazing galaxies. The universe is just so vast.

In searching up these images, I found this: a view of the Orion constellation from the ground all the way into the starstuff. It's mostly magical.

This is what inspires me: the giant universe. This is why I write my books.

What inspires you? 

Shiny New Ideas

Let's say that you've decided to begin a new novel. A brand new, shiny delicious novel. Where do you start?

Do you use Word or something more like Scrivener?
I've seen several posts about this recently, and as someone who's never used Scrivener--and someone who's about to begin a shiny new novel--I'm wondering if this is something I should explore. I usually just open Word, crack my knuckles, and go for it.

Do you write by hand or on the computer?
I've done both in the past. I start in notebooks, and move to the computer after a week or so, because I'm so much faster at typing.

Do you take notes first? Outline?
I'll admit that I've never done this. So I'll ask you: If you take notes, what are they about? I've been forced to outline in the past, and while I see the merit in this, it is very painful for me. Very painful.

Do you have a character or a plot point as a jumping off point?
I always have a character in mind. They begin to form with  a name, and then I start to fill them out in my head. I don't do anything as deep at character interviews or characteristic sheets or anything like that. I usually just make them up as I go. (Yes, I revise a lot afterward.)

Do you start at the beginning or write out of order?
I'm one of "those people," and I write whatever scene I have in my head. I can write in chunks, and then go back and stitch all the chunks together. I usually write the beginning scene/chapter one after I have about 60 - 80 pages of other stuff.

Do you set a goal for completion?
I always set a goal, and I always include some of my writing pals as cheerleaders. I find that this helps me stay on track, and gives me a sense of accountability.

When starting a shiny new novel, how do you begin?

Chapter Endings

After my local SCBWI crit group meeting this past weekend, I found myself thinking about endings. Chapter endings, that is.

Many chapters cease and desist at the natural ending of a scene, but more often than not, a chapter can end right in the middle of the action—or even in the middle of a conversation.  Just like there's no rule for chapter length, there's not a rule for where to end one.

So what do you do?

Here's my take. End on strong note that you’ve been building up to for the whole chapter.  That note could be a realization or revelation. It could be ending one plot point and signaling another.  It could be a cliffhanger. It could be a quiet moment or a call to action. 

And that note has to propel the reader into the next chapter. 

For instance, here’s a chapter ending from Scott Westerfeld’s Behemoth:

“Look smart, gentleman,” Dr. Barlow said. “We have an elephant to catch.” (102)

This one just sounds great—and you’re looking forward to what happens next. Here’s another:

Alek looked up and saw it…

A gyrothopter hovering directly overhead. (348)

Both chapters break in the middle of the action, but the end signals a change in direction. For instance, in the last example, Alek and the others have been trying to sneak around Istanbul, but now they’ve been discovered.  Then next chapter will be about engaging the enemy instead escaping.

In Levianthan and Behemoth, Westerfeld keeps the story going at a very brisk pace, but chapter endings don't need to be so  plot-oriented. The end note of a chapter can be thought-provoking and quiet, or whatever you need it to be. It just has to keep the overall tension of the story moving forward.  The reader must want to turn the page to find out what happens next.

My last bit of advice. Don't bury your end note with a lot of stage direction. You can save the "and then they caught the train to Barcelona" stuff for the beginning of the next chapter--or let it fall between the chapter cracks. End on a strong note and get the hell out.

What makes a chapter satisfying for you?

Interview and Giveaway with THE SMARTEST WOMAN IN THE WORLD!

So my wife is a pretty smart cookie. We were sitting around talking about female characters in novels for teens the other night.  (Gretchen is an Associate Editor splitting her time between Atheneum and McElderry. She's also a super rad blogger with her first book on sewing coming out in 2012)  Gretchen made the observation that sometimes writers think they're writing a "strong female character" when all they're really doing is writing a "girl who punches people."

Such a great observation and also a great reminder that it was way past time that I invited Gretchen over to the League for a little interview.

While she's here she's also going to provide a giveaway! Just comment on this post for a chance to win an ARC of Blood Red Road, the highly anticipated post-apocalyptic novel by Moira Young coming out this June.

So what's the difference between a strong female character and a girl who punches people?
Hi everyone! Thanks for having me.

The problem for me is the way a female character's violent actions can be read as "kickass" and therefore feminist. It's a pretty reductive way of thinking. Since The Hunger Games trilogy gained popularity, I've seen a lot of writers attempting a Katniss-like character but only really succeeding in writing a cookie cutter with all the trappings of a "tough girl": weapons, impulsive violence, etc.  (Oh, and big boots! They always wear boots.) I feel like we've reached a plateau where strong female characters fit into this bad girl template, but it's time to take it a step further. I think the most feminist YA book I've ever read was The Disreputable History of Frankie Landau-Banks. Frankie is tough, but her strength comes from her intellect. Ironically, I think she's one of the angriest characters I've read.

On the other hand, some of my favorite female characters are known to throw a punch every now and then. There's a reason we love girls who hit things, especially as women. If you're brought up to be a "good girl," I think it's a sort of superhero fantasy; a vicarious acting-out. The real issue is when writers use impulsive violence as a shorthand for a strong girl character.

Why do you find the "girl who punches things" such  a troubling archetype?
Besides being a simplified glorification of violence, what disturbs me most is how sexualized it is. It's a pretty typical straight male fantasy, as far as I can tell. (Think Lara Croft or Sucker Punch for some pop culture examples.) I was recently at a cover shoot with a beautiful model. We'd toyed around with the idea of her holding a crossbow on the cover (though we later ditched that direction) and you should have seen the reaction from the men in the studio when this gorgeous model started posing with the crossbow. It was kind of icky, actually.

I think we have to be really careful with strong girl characters to make sure they're not simply a product of male fantasy, but an organic extension of the anger and raw emotion one can feel as a teenage girl.

How'd you get involved in Children's books? What do you think it is that draws you to them as opposed to adult lit?
I started my publishing career at Harcourt about 7 years ago after working as a manager in a bookstore. Seeing the YA boom as a bookseller made me positive that I wanted to work in children's. I think it's awesome to edit this relatively young category that's always growing and figuring itself out.

Any books coming up that you're particularly excited about?
I'm extremely excited about Blood Red Road by Moira Young coming out this June. It's a very raw, bleak, post-apocalyptic novel about a girl who is both incredibly violent and a well-developed character. (So I guess you can have both!) There's also The Trouble with May Amelia by Jennifer Holm, releasing in April. It's her sequel to the fantastic Our Only May Amelia, about a plucky heroine growing up as the only girl  in a Washington State settlement in 1900. 

For fall, I'm psyched for The Pledge by Kimberly Derting, which is set in a dystopian society where only women can rule, interestingly. This is further off, but I'm in the thick of working on a fantastic debut novel for 2012 called Smashed by Lisa Luedeke, which deals with alcoholism and sexual assault in a really dark, moving way.

Ok. You knew it was coming. Here's the obligatory "what kind of things are you looking for right now?" question. Out with it.

Dark and fast-paced YA. Sweet, classic middle-grade. That pretty much sums it up!

Thanks babe! Great interview!

To enter for a chance to win Moira Young's Blood Red Road just leave us a comment. I'll announce the winner right here next Wednesday.

Jeff Hirsch
The Eleventh Plague
Coming from Scholastic, September 1, 2011

Find me at and @jeff_hirsch

Metropolis - 1927

One of the great things about living in Bloomington is that it’s the cultural mecca of south central Indiana. As far as The Arts go, Indiana University is tops. They bring in (and produce) great stage plays and concerts. The Jacobs School of Music is one of the most respected in the world (I can’t tell you how many now-stars of the opera I've seen when they were just getting started!) They recently reworked a theatrical stage, making it into IU Cinema where they are showing art, classic, current, experimental, documentary - actually, you-name-it - films. Many of which have the directors coming to the university to speak about their art. (Both in a classroom setting, public lectures and Q&A at the showings.) 
So, you might be wondering... what does this have to do with a sci-fi / dystopian blog?
Well - this past Sunday I attended a screening of METROPOLIS - the 1927 Fritz Lang masterpiece of sci-fi/dystopian silent films!

The original 157 minute film was cut not long after its release. There were several hatchet jobs done to the film over the years and it has only been recently that original film was recovered in Buenos Aires. The film was painstakingly reconstructed and scenes that had been previously cut, which had made the movie make little to no sense - have been restored. This piece by Roger Ebert is chock-full of great info on the restoration, Lang, and the movie itself.
The Jacobs School of Music and IU Cinema got together to do this silent movie up right. Although METROPOLIS has been screened with a 60-piece orchestra - the IU Event was the world premier of a new score for a 17-piece salon orchestra. I’m here to tell you - it worked - in spades!
And here’s the trailer for the restored version. The thing to remember - the thing that I find most fascinating of all - this was made in 1927!  1927!

What Did You Miss The First Time?

Here's my dark secret: as much of a browncoat as I am, I didn't see Firefly when it first aired.

I know. I know. I saw it very soon after--through my boyfriend-who-I-later-married, but the original Fox airings of the infamously cancelled show? Didn't see them.

Recently, Firefly came back on the radar because it's going to be re-aired in high-def on a network channel. When a friend posted about it on Facebook, I was surprised to see how many comments below it confessed my own dark secret--that they had either not seen the show originally broadcasted, or that they had still not seen the show.

Of course, Firefly wasn't my only television faux pas: I'm also only just now seeing Battlestar Gallactica on DVD.

And there are many classic sci fi and dystopian books I've either not read yet or read ridiculously late. I somehow got out of reading 1984 in both high school and college, and while I now own a copy of Handmaid's Tale, I've not yet had a chance to read it. (Sorry, Julia!)

So, share my shame with me: what classic or popular work have you just not gotten to? Did you miss it when it first aired, or avoid reading it in school and still haven't given it a chance? Do you plan to--or are you happy to have by-passed it? 

How Do You Define Dystopian?

Okay, so I've been attending a symposium on science fiction and fantasy, and I was asked to sit on a dystopian/utopian panel.

We spent a lot of time discussing what makes a novel a dystopia. There were a few of us on the panel, and we all had interesting things to say, some of which included:

  • A society that includes "bad" things.
  • A society in a post-apocalyptic world.
  • A "closed" society--one that exists without any outside influence.
  • A society that includes a overbearing government.
  • A novel that includes social commentary.

I'm going to open it up to you. How do you define dystopia? 

Grammar of Old and New Worlds

True confession time. I’ve been watching Spartacus: Gods of the Arena on Netflix.  This is not Kirk Douglas’ Spartacus. This show is a guilty pleasure obviously designed to emulate 300, which, oddly enough, I wasn’t a big fan of.  The Starz channel production uses that bleak 300-esque cinematography and the same stylized stop-action, blood-flying-everywhere fighting. (It is about gladiators after all.) The style can get on your nerves after a while. However, for me, John Hannah and Lucy Lawless as the scheming owners of the ludus (the gladiator stable) make the show worth watching.  Think I Claudius (with a touch of Caligula) meets Gladiator. 

But I come not to praise Spartacus. What has really fascinated me about this show is its use of diction. (Didn’t see that coming did you?) You’ve got the usual stilted language that writers rely on to indicate you’re reading or watching something classical or high fantasy.  But the writers of Spartacus took it a step farther. They tweaked the grammar of English to emulate Latin. Just a bit. They dropped the articles.  Well, most of them. They really aren’t consistent about it, but they did it just enough to give the English the flavor of ancient Rome.  

Here’s a few PG-13 examples (there aren’t many of them) from Spartacus:

When has son denied father?

Man of ambition is capable of anything.

I will not die faceless slave forgotten by history.

This is but glorious beginning.

You get the idea.

Latin, you see, doesn’t have an equivalent to “the” or “a.” (Another true confession.  I took many years of Latin in school. I am geek. I am so geeky that I won the Latin project competition one year with my carefully crafted wax tablets. ) Latin is a very different language than English.  Latin is all about cases and endings, and the word order is flexible.  So, dropping the articles was the simplest way to give the English tripping off the tongues of the citizens of Capua a ring of Latin.

This strategy got me thinking about all the ways diction might be used to create the flavor of other worlds—either fantastic or futuristic.  Vocabulary is one way to do it. [Elana did a great post on slang a few weeks ago.] You get a great sense of the world from this bit from Clockwork Orange:

There was me, that is Alex, and my three droogs, that is Pete, Georgie, and Dim, and we sat in the Korova Milkbar trying to make up our rassoodocks what to do with the evening. The Korova milkbar sold milk-plus, milk plus vellocet or synthemesc or drencrom, which is what we were drinking. This would sharpen you up and make you ready for a bit of the old ultra-violence.

Style is another.  You can definitely tell high fantasy from a noir detective story by the style of the language. For instance, it's a no brainer which one of these is from Lord of the Rings and which one is from Mildred Pierce:

“All that is gold does not glitter, not all those who wander are lost; the old that is strong does not wither, deep roots are not reached by the frost. From the ashes a fire shall be woken, a light from the shadows shall spring; renewed shall be blade that was broken, the crownless again shall be king.”

"You think just because you made a little money you can get a new hairdo and some expensive clothes and turn yourself into a lady. But you can't, because you'll never be anything but a common frump whose father lived over a grocery store and whose mother took in washing."

So, manipulating the grammar of the language can be a third way to create the feeling of a new world.  I don’t mean using bad grammar to indicate an incomplete grasp of our language. No, I mean changing the grammar or sentence structure of English to emulate an alien language or maybe a profound change in a human one. 

Think about how English has changed since Shakespeare or Chaucer's time. What's it going to be like 400 years from now--if we're speaking it all.  Or what would the language be like if we didn't have certain concepts anymore?

The only good example I can think of at the moment is Babel-17 by Samuel Delaney.  In that story, the humans learn a language that actually designed by aliens to be a weapon.  The language doesn’t contain words for “I” or “self,” which theoretically limits the speaker’s ability to think about those concepts (at least in that language).  This is the same idea as Doublethink in Orwell’s 1984.  If you reduce the words in the language, you limit the speaker’s ability to think about concepts outside their vocabulary.

Can you guys think of any other science fiction or fantasy works that have used some tweak in grammar as a world building technique?  What are some of your favorite works that use diction—slang and/or style—in a creative way?

Meet Your New Robot Overlord (on Jeopardy)

So have you guys been following the rise of our new robot master?

I refer of course to IBM's Watson computer that is now in the middle of a three game Jeopardy match with the two winningest players of all time, Ken Jennings and Brad Rutter.

If you haven't been following, Watson is IBM's 5 years in the making super computer. The goal of Watson was to essentially make the ship's computer from Star Trek, a computer that can give direct answers to questions stated in normal conversational English. On the surface it sounds like it should be simple enough, right? A computer has access to way more information than the average human and is tops when it comes to sifting through data quickly. Turns out though that more often than not it isn't having info that's Watson's problem. The clues on Jeopardy, like all language, are full of subtle meaning, irony, riddles and other linguistic complexities make teasing out the meaning of the question the biggest trick for the computer. Unless Watson understands what's being asked, it can't answer.

As an example, one question was,"From the Latin for end, this is where trains can also originate." Jennings gave the correct answer, "terminus." Watson answered wrong with "finis." Basically the computer saw the part about "From the Latin for end" which seemed to call for a cut and dried translation and missed the deeper, trickier meaning of the question.

Ultimately, I think the effort to make machines that match the abilities of humans only serves to make it clear how amazing we actually are and, honestly, how little we have to fear from a robot uprising. Watson  cost billions and took years to build. It is made up of ten server racks holding 90 servers and 2800 processor cores giving it the computing power of about 2800 very advanced computers. And with all that power in can hold it's own with folks sporting a mere 3 pounds of squishy gray matter.  Go team human!

(Keep in mind, I'm writing this Tuesday night and the final match is Wednesday. It's entirely possible that on Wednesday night, Watson trounces the humans, achieves self awareness and launches WWIII, killing us all and completely invalidating this blog post.)

So what do you guys think? Is trying to make machines in our own image a fool's game? Can we ever really make something that's smarter than us? Should we?

Jeff Hirsch
The Eleventh Plague
Coming from Scholastic, September 1, 2011

Find me at and @jeff_hirsch

Tech Tuesday - A Visit to the Dentist!

Normally one would expect a Sci-Fi/Dystopian blog to deal with the future. But... one can't always see the future without a look at the past. And... this morning, I'm going to the dentist! (YAY!!!... uh... NOT!)

This is an interesting look at the history of dentistry - along with several interesting pics of various instruments of torture the trade used over the years.

If you'd a mind to laugh about a trip to the dentist, you might want to check out Bob Hope in The Paleface. He plays "Painless" Peter Potter, a correspondence school dentist.

What will going to the dentist be like in the future? Here's a look at research on re-growing tooth enamel.

Dentistry advances in my lifetime have gone from drills that felt like they belonged in a tool shop to relatively painless laser technology. I do wonder what's coming down the pike. But, for now... I have a pretty good idea!

I do hope your day starts out better than mine!

Brush, floss, rinse, repeat! 

Love at the End of the World

One of the reasons why I like dystopian fiction is because it makes all the emotions people normally have seem more vivid and real. Take a real-life dystopian and consider how much more deeply we appreciate the emotions the people have: Anne Frank's budding love for Peter, or the strong familial love they share.

When terrible things are happening in the world around us, it's nice to know that we can still feel--and believe in--love. I think that's the greatest power we have as humans.

So today I'm gonna get a bit mushy on you--after all, if I can't get mushy on Valentine's Day, when can I?--and tell you some of my favorite dystopian love stories.

I'm going to start with THE HUNGER GAMES. But I'm not picking this one for the reason you think. I know people were all split about Team Gale or Team Peeta or whatever, but to me the real love story was Katniss's family. Remember: the entire reason Katniss joined the Games was to protect her sister, Prim. And the relationship between Katniss and her mother fascinated me--it was so realistically broken, but also with hints of how different it could have been in a different world.

Can you imagine what kind of person Katniss would have been if she hadn't been from Panem? Can you imagine what sort of joyous, wonderful family she would have had?

That's the real heartbreak of the story for me. That the family was destroyed by the world they existed in.

But then again--the love survived. Katniss's love for Prim was the theme that carried all three novels. And I won't spoil MOCKINGJAY for those of you who've not read it yet, but I'll just say this: that damn cat made me cry.

I'm also going to add Carrie Ryan's THE FOREST OF HANDS AND TEETH to my list of "love-dystopian-books," but again: not for the reason you think. Because while I DO think that Mary's love triangle is beautifully written (and the way a love triangle SHOULD be, where there's reasons and consequences for both boys), the things that I'm left with most isn't the love triangle.

It's the love Mary finds for her world.

Even though Mary's world is torn apart by zombies, even though she is surrounded by death and ugliness and horror--she still finds something beautiful in her world. She still finds something worth seeing. She doesn't give up on herself or her life--she still seeks the value of the world around her.

THIS is what makes Mary a strong character, in my opinion--that even as the world dies, there is something beautiful that still remains in it.

OK, OK, fine. All you romantics are probably shouting at me by this point because my list of love-in-a-dystopian-world books has yet to focus on romantic love.

I give you: DELIRIUM.

If you're a romantic at heart, this is the book for you. This is a world where love is eliminated as a dangerous disease, and where people literally cut the part of them that feels from their brains.

What I loved most about the main character, Lena, is that despite the fact that she lives in a world where love is feared and reviled and thought to be a disease that kills--she still falls in love. It creates a nice allusion to the way love really is: that it's a scary, dangerous thing, something that can hurt and even, yes, kill, but still worth it when it's real.

And finally, I'm going to mention Veronica Roth's debut: DIVERGENT. Please don't shoot me that you have to wait for this one to come out--because trust me, you want it now.

DIVERGENT is about a world that's run by factions that value certain traits: strength, truth, wisdom, humility. And it's about a girl trying to find her place in this divided world. It's very kick-butt, fast-paced, lots of blood and fighting and death.

But it's also a love story.

And yeah. I'm gonna throw you for another loop. Because although I love the love story between Tris and her man (no spoilers), I love even more the love story between Tris and herself.

Throughout the course of the novel, Tris is trying to figure out who she is, what she stands for, what she's willing to fight for, and what kind of person she wants to be. And although it's not really a conscious thing for her, she grows to appreciate and love herself for exactly who she is. She starts out wishing she could be one thing or another, but by the end she realizes that she's great the way she is.

So there you have it! For Valentine's Day, my book recommendations are a story where a girl loves her family, one where she loves her world, one where she risks everything for true love, and one where she discovers a love for herself.

What about you? What's your favorite romantic tale?

Using Fear To Create A Dystopian World

Okay, so we know that a lot of writers use their personal experiences in their fictional works. And if you didn't know that, well, now you do. (Of course, this is not always true, but there is a piece of each author, I believe, in everything they write.)

For me, I use my fears to create a scary dystopian world. Maybe fear isn't the right word. I think about things I'd really rather not live without, and then take those away in my society.

For example, I love to take really long, hot showers. So, in my world, shower time is regulated to five minutes, and five minutes only. The temperature of the water is decided for you, and it never varies.

For me, that would suck. I'm hoping that readers will think so too; that I can use something as simple as a shower to make a connection.

I've seen this used in other dystopian works I've read. Let's look at THE MAZE RUNNER by James Dashner. He creates an immediate sense of world--and suckage--by having Thomas lose his memory. Isn't that something we're all afraid of? Not remembering what we need to remember? Have you ever felt frustrated when you couldn't remember?

It's an instant connection. And a terrifying one.

Another device I see used a lot is the idea of a fence, or a wall. I've been blogging about it a lot on my personal blog, but I love fences/walls/barriers. To me, they symbolize fear. This thought of "There's something bad out there."

I saw a fence in DELIRIUM by Lauren Oliver, a wall in BIRTHMARKED by Caragh M. O'Brien, social walls in SHIPBREAKER by Pablo Bacigalupi, a fence in THE HUNGER GAMES by Suzanne Collins, nothing but walls in the space ship in ACROSS THE UNIVERSE by Beth Revis.

Walls are caging, confining. And who likes feeling like that? Using fear to make a connection helps in dystopian world-building, and it establishes an emotional connection from the reader to the story.

I'm all about the fear.

What do you think? What do you love that if taken away, would really stink? Could you write that into a dystopian novel? What have you read in dystopian fiction that you thought, "Wow, this world sucks. Wouldn't want to live without [fill in the blank]."?

2012 Debut Dystopians

Most of us here at the League are Elevensies, that is we’re part of a community of YA/MG authors debuting this year. Next year’s group of debs has already started forming, and you’re going to love their name: the Apocalypsies. (You know, the whole 2012, world-coming-to-an-end thing.)

Anyway, I was browsing through their site, and I noticed that there are quite a few dystopian titles coming out next year. (Coincidence?) Here’s a few of them by our fellow debs:

The Other Life By Susan Winnacker
Marshall Cavendish, Spring 2012

From Goodreads:

Sherry and her family have lived sealed in a bunker in the garden since things went wrong up above. Her grandfather has been in the freezer for the last three months, her parents are at each other’s throats and two minutes ago they ran out of food.

Sherry and her father leave the safety of the bunker and find a devastated and empty LA, smashed to pieces by bombs and haunted by ‘Weepers’ - rabid humans infected with a weaponized rabies virus.

While searching for food in a supermarket, Sherry’s father disappears and Sherry is saved by Joshua, a boy-hunter. He takes her to Safe-haven, a tumble-down vineyard in the hills outside LA, where a handful of other survivors are picking up the pieces of their ‘other lives’. As she falls in love for the first time, Sherry must save her father, stay alive and keep Joshua safe when his desire for vengeance threatens them all.
Incarnate by Jodi Meadows
Katherine Tegan/Harper Collins Winter 2012

From Goodreads:

About the only girl who is new in a world where everyone is perpetually reincarnated, and her quest to discover why she was born, and what happened to the person she replaced.

Under the Never Sky by Veronica Rossi

Harper, Winter 2012

From the Publishers Marketplace announcement:

… about forbidden lovers from radically different societies - following a girl banished from her enclosed, technology-bound city out into the deadly natural world, where she encounters a savage boy who becomes her only chance to survive and return home…

Cybernetic by Laura Riken
Disney Hyperion, Summer 2012

From Goodreads:

Cybernetic is the first in a young adult dystopian series about a 16-year-old girl who lives in a walled city surrounded by bloodthirsty beasts, also threatened by rival armies of cybernetic soldiers who want to enslave humanity. Cybernetic is tentatively set for publication in the summer 2012 by Disney-Hyperion.
I hope I didn't miss anyone. Not every Apocalypsies' book description is online yet, so there may be even more dystopia on its way next year.

What dystopian titles (debut or repeat offender) are you looking forward to  next year? Or even late this year? (Ours go without saying, btw.)


Glitch by Heather Anastasiu
St. Martins, Summer 2012

From her website:

Seventeen-year-old Zoe Gray is a cybernetically-enhanced teenager living in an underground society when her internal hardware begins to malfunction. She slowly realizes that her body is changing, that she’s developing powerful telekinesis, and that she’s not alone. Even though getting caught could mean reprogramming, or worse, deactivation, Zoe begins to seek out other glitchers in society, including a dreamer named Adrian who can see the future, a boy named Max who can mimic other’s appearances, and a young girl named Molly with X-ray vision. They work together to plan their escape, but soon learn there is another powerful faction at work whose ambitions threaten all their carefully laid plans.

Thanks for pointing it out in the comments!

Top 5 Coming to a TV Near You

Hi All! Just recently saw this article and was very excited by it. Figured you guys probably would be too. put together a list of all the possible sci-fi/fantasy/paranormal/superhero TV series that may be coming our way soon. Some are definite, some are possible, some are rumors. Still, there's an awful lot of exciting stuff in here. Definitely take a look at the whole thing, but here are my own personal top 5.

Poe: A police procedural featuring Edgar Allen Poe as a detective in 1840's Boston? Oh yes. Yes, please.

AKA Jessica Jones: This is based on the comic Alias, by Brian Bendis. It's the story of Jessica Jones, a damaged former superhero who's given up her costume and opened a private detective agency. While she wants to leave the life she inevitably gets drawn into cases involving superheros. The comic is gritty side, with an adult view of sex and violence and relationships. I fear they'll sugarcoat it a bit, and having lots of Marvel Universe guest stars is probably unlikely, but hope springs eternal so I'm  interested in seeing what they'd do with this on TV.

Locke and Key: Another comic derived show. This one is based on the comic series of the same name by Joe Hill (Stephen King's son and author of Horns and 20th Century Ghost. You really need to check him out if you haven't already) about a family that retreats to a spooky old house after their father is killed. The house turns out to contain a number of supernatural doors, and everyone seems to want the keys. I think Hill is a terrifically talented dude and, like with Jessica Jones, if they do the comic justice it could be really great

Smokers: Hmm. Starting to see a pattern here. This one is from comic book super star Brian K. Vaughn (Y: The Last Man, Ex Machina) about a group that deals with alien threats in deep space. If you don't know his work, Vaughn is a terrific storyteller and since he's now got some TV experience under his belt (he was on the Lost writing staff for a season or so) I think this out could be really exciting. (And for you Vaughn fans out there. How crazy is it that no one is doing an Ex Machina TV series? Seems perfect to me.)

Dark Tower: This seems like a no-brainer. I'm only a couple books into the Stephen King series (I'm kind of a late adopter) but I like it alot and from everything I've heard they're bringing serious talent to this. Ron Howard is in charge and Javier Bardem may be playing Roland. I also think the idea of wedding a TV series with a trilogy of movies like they're talking about doing here is a really interesting one.

17th Precinct: Don't need much more than "Harry Potter Police drama" from Battlestar Galactica creator Ronald D. Moore to catch my interest. Moore did amazing things for sci-fi with BSG and I'd love to see him pull off something similar here.

So those are mine. What do you guys think? What upcoming shows are you really looking forward to?

Tech Tuesday - Robots - Gotta love 'em!

Well, maybe...

In XVI, I introduced "Hal," the robotic hall monitor in schools. Hal stands for Hall Access Limiter. And, they look a lot like humans - but, they all look alike.

There are robots in use all over the world. Of course, they don't necessarily look humaniod at all. They tend to look like this.

or like this...

But... there are other much more human looking - and acting. Like the ones in the following linked photo list.

My question to you... how do you feel about technology making robots more and more "human?" Do you think it's a good idea? Are you willing to interact on a personal level with a non-human (but created by humans) life form? Or is it really a "life" form?

Dear readers - what are your thoughts?

Short Stories: Compressing Everything into a Few Pages

I've got short stories on the brain. I just had a short story posted on Merry Sisters of Fate, and I'm working on two stories for anthologies that are, frankly, killing me.

I am not good at short stories. I have trouble getting the idea for the story compressed into such a short space. More often than not, my short stories end up being opening chapters for novels. Seriously. I have written more novels than I've written short stories. I try to write a short story, but I get caught up in the world and the characters and the plot, and I end up with a novel. As hard as it is to believe, I find it much easier to write 90,000 words than 9,000.

Which means, of course, that I am fascinated by the short story form.

One of my favorites is Ray Bradbury's story "All Summer in a Day." I first learned about this story when Robin McKinley mentioned it on her blog, promptly tracked it down, and fell in love. If you'd like, the full text of the story is here (as well as clips of the PBS short made based on the story). But the premise is this: in a future world, people can live on other planets. But for the residents of Venus, you only get to see the sun once a year. When a little girl's class is preparing for the day of sun, things get out of control...

It's a tragic story, not the least of all because the true horror behind what happens is a very internal sort of horror. There's no monsters jumping out, here--it's not scary because of that. It's scary because--despite the fact that it takes place on Venus--it's a very realistic and true story about the human condition.

I think what makes a good story work is getting that one unique twist to it, and building the story around that. In Bradbury's story what happens to the girl is the twist, and he built the setting--and characters--around that.

For me, I like the stories with twists like this. My fave readings in junior high were by Guy de Maupassant and O. Henry, as well as Isaac Asimov and Ray Bradbury. Recently, I've been reading the fantastic collection of shorts in Zombies vs. Unicorns.

All the while, I'm trying to learn--what makes short stories work? And it seems to me that the ones I like the best are the ones just like Bradbury's "All Summer in a Day"--they provide a snippet of a whole world, but a full event for a single character.

What are some of YOUR favorite short stories? Any suggestions or advice for me in writing them?

Revising: How To Avoid Staring Into The Great Black Abyss

Okay, so imagine you've finished the fifth draft of your amazing NYT bestseller. You've let some time go by. And now you're ready to edit the manuscript. Again. (*Note: for the purposes of this post, editing and revising are synonymous.)

You sit down, open the document, and...proceed to stare into the great black abyss like somehow your MS will edit itself. Oh, sure, maybe you're like me and you immediately click on gmail when something earth-shattering doesn't hit you about your novel. Or Farmville. Or Cafe World. Or a writing forum. Heck, maybe you even distract yourself with Hulu and Free Rice. And when you get really desperate, well, let's not go there.

I know (trust me, I KNOW) the thought of editing an entire manuscript is overwhelming. Daunting. Like climbing the mountain--again.

So today, I'm going to give you some pointers that have helped me tackle my 320-page manuscript, edit it, polish it, get it to betas and then out the door in less than 30 days. Strap yourselves in.

1. Set goals. Not only a "finish-by" goal date, but goals for what you want to accomplish in the edit. Does character A need more depth? Do you need to introduce the antag earlier so readers know who/what the MC is up against? Do you need stronger world-building? Faster pacing? A sub-plot that needs fleshing out? What are you trying to accomplish with the edit?

Know what these are. Don't freak out that there's SO MUCH that needs to be done. Just make a list.

2. Chunk your MS. It's much easier to wrap your mind around 100 pages rather than 350. So chunk your MS into manageable sections. I split mine into three distinct pieces and worked on them individually.

Okay, so you really haven't opened the document and started yet. This is all the "behind-the-scenes" stuff that you can do in a notebook or in your head. It usually takes me 2-3 days to make my list and chunk my MS. Take some time to do this. It helps things settle in your head before you actually start.

3. Read. That's right. Hopefully, it's been a while since you've read or worked on your MS. You'll be able to see things with fresh eyes this way. I printed the first chunk and sat down to read. Yes, I had a pen (it was black, not red) in my hand. During this reading phase, I was doing three things:

  • Line-edits (for awkward phrasing, repeated words, word choice, paragraphing, funky formatting, etc. Everything looks new and different on paper. I strongly encourage printing the chunk and editing on paper.)
  • Outlining (I don't outline before I write. So I create my outline as I edit a finished draft. I have a pad of small (2-inch by 2-inch) post-it notes next to me. After I finish reading a chapter, I write the main focus of that chapter on a post-it and place it neatly in my manila folder. Can't sum it up? Maybe you don't need that chapter. Every chapter must advance the plot. Even if you write from an outline, you can do this to see if you've really used every chapter, every scene to advance your plot. And hey, maybe your outline has changed.)
  • Making Notes (I know my goals for the edit, so as I'm reading, I draw a star and make myself a note. Like, "Insert a memory about character B here." Or "This would be a great place to reflect on plot point G." Or "Introduce antag here by way of video." Or "More world-building/setting here." I don't actually write the insertions. I simply make notes of places where they could go.)
4. Transfer from paper to computer. Remember, this is only for the first chunk. For me, it was about 115 pages, and it took me about 3 days to read, line edit and make notes for the section. Then I finally opened my Word document and started with page one. I entered the line edits, written changes and deletions. When I got to spots where I had a note for new material, I wrote it. Everything is done with the "Track Changes" feature on, so I can see what I've done. Actually transferring the changes is easy. And since you have something tangible to do, you don't waste any time staring at the screen, wondering what to do and where to do it. Transferring only takes 1 day. Maybe longer if you have large sections to add/rewrite.

5. Rinse and repeat. After section one is transferred into the computer, print section two. Read, pen in hand, post-it's nearby, computer off. Transfer to manuscript. Print section three. Read, transfer. Since I only had three sections, I edited my entire novel in about 12 days. With the goal-making, I finished a round of (major) edits in two weeks.

(*Note #2: Some of you might stop here. If this is say, the second draft, and you're not ready to send to readers yet, you're done! In only 2 weeks. Leave the MS for a while, write something else maybe. Then come back and start with #1 with new goals for another edit.)

6. Send to readers. Now, this could be an entire post by itself. But I don't have time for that, so I'll just say to choose people who you A) trust and B) love and C) will read FAST. I mean, you only have 16 more days. I recommend recruiting a few (meaning: 2 or 3) readers who will critique as you finish chunks. So really, you could have stuff out with Beta readers after you transfer the first chunk. When they finish, send them the second, and so on. This way, you're not stalled at this point in the process, waiting for reads. You've been getting them back on shorter sections. Which is how you want to work anyway.

7. Go over crits, make changes. Add stuff, delete stuff, etc. This is just a polish. You've already done the major reconstruction. Now you're just smoothing over the edges, based on what your readers have said. If you have fast readers, you can probably get this done in a week or so. I think I had my chunks back and crits incorporated in about 8 days.

8. Leave it alone. Which means, leave it alone. Don't open it. Don't read it. You can think about it if you want. I didn't. 2 days. I actually did this immediately following the final transfer (step 5), while waiting for reads to come back on chunks. It doesn't matter when you do it, but it's vital. Seriously, leave it alone.

9. Send entire, repolished MS to trusted readers. These are NOT the same people who read the chunks. Different people. I had 4. I sent them the "final" MS as well as a list of my goals so they knew what I was trying to accomplish with the edit. (*Note, I did this because with one exception, my readers had already read my book, so I wanted them to know specifically what I was trying to do this time around.) Again, they need to be A) trusted B) loved and C) fast.

10. Final edits based on final reads. 

11. Done!

This system worked for me. I managed to edit my 83,000-word novel, get reads, and polish it up in under 30 days. Hopefully, you've seen something in this list that can help you focus your energy into accomplishing an edit (no matter if it's your third draft or your, um, eighth) of your manuscript without falling into the great black abyss. What do you do that helps you get the editing done?

The 5 (maybe 6) Stages of Revision

Revision can make a book, but it’s definitely hard.  Often you need to let go of not only words and scenes you love but also characters, plot lines, and maybe even the whole underlying idea of your book.  (I speak from experience.) So, sometimes you need to mourn the last draft before you can move onto revision.

For example, let’s say your editor has written in your editorial letter that your favorite scene doesn’t work and even slows down the pace of the book.  So, with apologies to Elizabeth Kubler-Ross, here are the five (maybe 6) stages of grief… I mean .. revision, you’ll probably go through:

1.    Denial.  “There’s nothing wrong with that scene!”
2.    Anger.  “There’s nothing wrong with that scene, damnit!”
3.    Bargaining. “Okay, what if I have Mary bump into John as he’s leaving the theater?”
4.    Depression. “I’m such a hack. I’ll never get this to work, and the publisher will decide to pull the book.”
5.    Acceptance. “Damnit, they’re right. That scene doesn’t work.”

The 6th step, of course, is that you get over it and actually start writing a new scene.  Like grief, the only way out is through. And the result is that you’re a better writer for it.

Revision Week: Rough Draft Triage

Not long ago I finished the rough draft of the second book on my contract, called Magisterium for the time being, and now I'm trying to get it in good enough shape to show it to the nice folks at Scholastic. Since this is a contracted book the experience has been a bit different than the last time I edited a rough draft, mostly because it needs to happen a bit, um, faster. Not that they're rushing me or anything, I just figure the earlier I can get their comments back, the longer I'll have to work on them.

What's been good about this is that it's forced me to be very focused about what I need to do. I don't have time to turn this rough draft into a real live finished book, all pretty and polished. I really only have time to get it to a point where I can hand it to my editors in a form that makes it clear what I'm trying to accomplish.

This meant finding the spine of the book and working on that to the exclusion of anything else. For folks that don't use the term spine, what I mean is the core of the book, the character or relationship or journey the book is most centrally concerned with. For me, this is the main character's arc and the arc of her one most significant relationship.

I would love to work on world building, or take the time to make that one secondary character's journey sing, or make the action scenes more varied and, you know, exciting, but right now none of that can be a priority, not until that spine is solid

While it can be maddening to see something that you know either isn't working, or could be soooo much better, and pass it by, I'm liking working this way and think I'd do it like this even if I wasn't on a time crunch.

One of the most dangerous things about approaching a rough draft is to see the amount of work that needs to be done and become overwhelmed. This can lead to paralysis or, as I saw alot when I taught writing, a tendency to get lost in the weeds of smaller changes.

If instead you narrow things down and focus on the most important points first to the exclusion of anything else it seems a bit more manageable.

Think of it like triage. In an emergency situation you deal with life threatening injuries first and then work your way down.  Ask yourself what fixes your book needs to work on the most basic storytelling level. Focus on fixing those things and then move on, revising in layers.

(Oh and because I'm so revision obsessed right now, you can cruise on over to my personal blog if you want 5 more observations on revision. And hey, while you're there, become a follower, why don'tcha? )

How about you all? What's your process when approaching a rough draft? Any personal revision words of wisdom?

Jeff Hirsch
The Eleventh Plague
Coming from Scholastic, Fall 2011

Find me at and @jeff_hirsch

Writing/Revising - Same coin/2 sides

I may not be the greatest writer - but I'm a pretty darn good reviser. This does not - I repeat - DOES NOT - mean that I like to revise. But, it's a necessary evil when you want to be a published author. And, well, okay - honestly, I do kind of enjoy it. I like to take what I said kind of off-the-cuff and turn it into something better - smoothed and polished.

The revising process. Do I have one? *scratches head* First off... I'm mostly like Beth (see yesterday's post), in that I'm a pantser - I like to get the whole story down post-haste. (Something NaNoWriMo is great for!) But, then I find revising the entire manuscript to be a HUGE job!

One thing I've been doing lately is... when I sit down to start writing, I reread several paragraphs back before starting in on the story. At first, I was doing that just to make sure I wasn't missing where I was headed. Now, I'm taking the opportunity to tweak and rewrite those paragraphs before I start in again. For one, it helps improve my writing (the self-editing part) and it gets me into the flow of writing more how I want to write.

That is, of course, on a small scale. On the larger scale of full-out revising - I have been known to write out index cards (one for each chapter), showing who is in the chapter and what purpose that particular chapter serves. Does it move the plot forward? Does it give important background information while doing so? How is it on character growth? Etc.

Laying out all those index cards and studying them gives me a pretty clear idea of what is working and what isn't. Where the story is lacking. Where the reader might just stop reading (boring exposition - no plot-moving action). Where I have an opportunity to give a supporting character more face time. Which character(s) might not need to be there at all.

It's a long process - but, now that I'm using Scrivener, I might figure out how to use the corkboard therein - and my dining room table could be used for dining once more!

There are as many ways to revise as there are writers and that, in my humble opinion, is what makes so many great books! I'm eagerly looking forward to a the other Leaguers' revision notes - because it's not beneath me to incorporate some of their methods into my own. I think writers are always looking for "another way" - because it keeps the writing fresh.