More BEA Consolation!

Going along with Beth's post yesterday - I've got three books to give away! It would be more, but I've got 2 12-year old granddaughters - they always get 1st dibs!

Here they are!

POSSESSION by our own lovely Elana Johnson  (ARC)
REVEALERS by Amanda Marrone   (paperback)
THE ADORATION OF JENNA FOX by Mary E. Pearson   (paperback)

To enter:

Leave your contact info in the comments

Please note: this is for USA only (sorry!)

And - I will announce the winners next Tuesday! Oh - and be sure to check out Beth's post yesterday - she's giving away 8! yep - eight books! Enter to win those, too!

BEA Consolation Week! (Free Books!)

Are you as bummed as me that you didn't get a chance to go to BEA? Or, did you go to BEA, but you still want more books?

In case you're not sure what BEA is, it stands for Book Expo America, and it's one of the largest events in the book world. Lots of important business happens there (I'm told), but the most I see is tons of book bloggers rolling in with (apparently) truckloads of awesome new books. And I am filled with envy. I love shiny new books!

When all of us at the League started talking about our BEA-book-envy, I'll admit I turned a guilty eye to my bookshelves. Here I was bemoaning my lack of books when I had several ARCs and paperbacks that I'd been meaning to giveaway! So...that's what we're going to do all this week on the League: giving away a stack of books every day this week.

Today, I'm going to offer up eight books for you! These are all either ARCs that I don't need because I now own the hard copy of the book, or paperback books that I happen to have duplicates of. Some of them have been read--but they were gently used.

Here's the stack I'm offering up for you (if you squint, you can see a few words of A MILLION SUNS on my computer in the corner of the second picture)!

XVI by our own Julia Karr (ARC copy)
NIGHTSHADE by Andrea Cremer (ARC copy)
MATCHED by Ally Condie (ARC copy)
THE REPLACEMENT by Brenna Yovanoff (ARC copy)
POSSESSIONS by Nancy Holder (ARC copy)
WAKE UNTO ME by Lisa Cahc (ARC copy)
CLASSY by Derek Blasberg (paperback)
VAMPIRE ACADEMY by Richelle Mead (paperback)

To enter: 

  • Leave a comment in to this post. I will announce winners in exactly one week, so make sure you comment before then! 
  • I'm sorry, but this contest is open to the US only--shipping this many books would be cost-prohibitive otherwise

Writing Week: Everything I Need to Know, I Learned in Fifth Grade

No, really. I teach elementary school, and in the early years of my career, I taught a 5th grade writing class. In Utah, our students take a writing test called the Direct Writing Assessment. I graded them for 8 or 9 years.

Now that I write in addition to teach, I'm realizing that all that stuff I taught to ten-year-olds? Actually valuable. So let's fall back on our roots a little.

The Writing Process:
1. Pre-writing. Some of us spend a lot of time here, outlining and researching and filling out character sheets and whatnot. Some of spend very little time here, deciding instead that the discovery approach to writing is best.

2. Drafting. Some of us spend a lot of time here, getting in a few hundred words after a long day at the office. Some of us spend very little time here, getting as many pages written as fast as possible. But no matter what, in order to write a book, you have to, well, write the book.

3. Revisions. Some of us spend a lot of time here, fixing and rewriting and adding details. I'll admit that most of my writing time is spent actually revising or rewriting what I drafted. Others of us don't spend a lot of time here, because we nailed what we needed to from using an outline or by taking the time during the drafting stage to revise at the same time as write.

But everyone revises. Usually more than once. And more than twice. This is also the stage where most of us turn over our MS to trusted critique partners or beta readers. Then we do some more revisions based on their feedback.

4. Edits. I'll go on record and say that I think revising and editing are the same thing, but in 5th grade, this is where I would teach the students to make sure the punctuation was correct. The capitalization. The paragraphing. When I get to this stage in my novel-writing, I actually check for chapter placement, indentations, style, etc. It's really formatting more than editing.

What about you? Do you think revising and editing are the same thing?

5. Final draft. This is when you sit back and exhale loudly and say, "I'm done. I've done the best I can do, and I'm done."

Then the real fun begins. The querying. *wink*

What else is in your process? Does your process look like this at all? I'll be back another day to discuss the Six Traits of Writing that we use to grade the DWA.

Writing Week: Just a Smear of Exposition Please

As may be evident from Memento Nora, I’m not a huge fan of exposition.  Not, big, heaping chunks of exposition, at least. You know, those info dumps about character, setting, plot, etc. that sometimes clog up the flow of the story. 

I like my story with just a smear of exposition.

In fact, when I think of exposition, I think of this scene from She-Devil. Mary Fisher (Meryl Streep) is meeting with her editor about her newest book, Love in the Rinse Cycle. Her editor says she doesn’t want to publish it. Why not? There’s this whole chapter just on laundry. It’s a metaphor, Fisher shrieks.

A little exposition is necessary, but more than a smidge (maybe a dollop) here and there slows down the pace of the story. I’m a cranky reader. Unless that exposition is highly entertaining, informative, and essential to the plot or character development, I start skimming.  (If something is in italics, such as a letter, forget about it.)

Some writers are very good at exposition. Take Douglas Adams.  He can tell me about the history of the pan-galactic gargleblaster or the evolution of Vogon poetry all he wants.  His exposition builds the world, sets the tone, moves the plot forward, and is often the most fun part of his books.  Most of us aren’t Douglas Adams (or Terry Pratchet or Neil Gaiman), and that kind of exposition may not be appropriate for your story. Plus, if you’re writing a first person point of view, your character may not aware (or care) about all these pesky world details.

My approach is to start with the bones of each scene, the dialogue and action. Then I interweave much of the world-building into the scenes, layering on the details in bits of dialogue and/or action with a stray sentence or two of description. Everything serves a double duty. The reader is smart enough to catch what’s going on without over-explaining it.

However, I will admit that some times you may need to use a lump of exposition to:
  • Establish voice and style. If you’re using a storytelling voice with an omniscient narrator, exposition makes sense. The narrator will know more than the characters.
  • Slow down the action. You do need to give the readers a break every once in a while.
  • Work in key information that won’t fit in any other way. 
That’s my two cents. How do you guys feel about exposition?

Writing Week: Windows on the World

Hi Everybody,

So this will be a short and somewhat exhausted post now that I've gotten home from my very first day at BEA. For any that don't know, BEA is this ridiculously massive book expo held in NYC. It's just miles of booths from every major publisher, as well as talks, panels, signings, breakfasts and dinners and after parties. I was lucky enough to be sent there by Scholastic and had an absolutely kick ass time meeting all kinds of folks, signing books, and snagging as many advance copies of books as I could.

Here's a thought that occurred to me during the day that seemed to connect to the writing week we're doing here on the blog. 

All of us see and experience the writing and literary world through a certain window. If you're here in NY, that window may be the people you know and the events you attend or, if you're outside of NY, then maybe your window is Twitter or Facebook or your Google reader feed. Whatever your window is that's where you get your info on what books people are looking forward to, what types of books people are wanting more or less of, general book world gossip, all that.

For me, my window is a smallish number of friends in publishing combined with Twitter and my Google reader. What occurred to me today is how narrow that window really is. At BEA I encountered so many people that I had never met before, never seen on twitter or on their blogs, and there were all so energetic and enthusiastic and many had heard of my book, or were looking forward to it, or had already read it.  I literally never would have guessed there was so much awareness, and enthusiasm, unless I had looked into the world through this new window.

So if you find yourself stressing because it feels like people aren't excited about the kind of story you want to write, take into account how narrow your window is. Is it open wide enough for you to find your people? The people who are craving the sort of story you want to write, who are talking about the things you want to talk about.

Ultimately this is an argument for being yourself, for doing what you want to do and being confident in the fact that there are more like you out there, it's just about casting as wide a net as you can to find them. Follow some new people on twitter, read some different blogs, go to that conference you've never been to before, step out of your comfort zone and expand that window. You might be surprised at what you find.

Reading aloud...

to yourself!

One of the great joys of being a kid is having someone read you a story. (Audio books are a reasonable substitute for adults, right?)

One of the great tools in a writer's toolbelt is reading aloud - your own manuscript, that is!

I often find that when I read my own work out loud I find numerous mistakes in rythmn, word choice and/or pacing. You'll find missing words, misplaced words, and various other little stinkers that are often missed by only proof-reading.

It's a good exercise & one I heartily recommend!

Writing for the Birds

Thank you all for responding to the poll we had up last week! We got some really great feedback and immediately started bouncing around some ideas. I'm not going to spill the beans, but I *am* going to say that I'm simply ridiculously excited about what we're cooking up for the summer months!

Meanwhile, the top thing that people asked for was more theme weeks and more posts on writing, so in an effort to mash the two together, we're going to do a writing theme week! :)

Yesterday, for the first time ever, I saw the Alfred Hitchcock movie, THE BIRDS.

I had never seen this movie before, but I knew the basic gist: birds go crazy and attack people--en masse, killing them. In all honesty, the plot actually isn't that much more complicated than psycho-murdering-birds, which, of course, got me thinking about why it's such an (in)famous piece of Hitchcock's filmography.

After watching the movie, I went straight to IMDb for the trivia associated with the film, and realized that Alfred Hitchcock does two very smart things in the writing of this story:

Hitchcock Smart Thing #1: Sometimes, Good Writing Is All About the Details You Put In the Story:

  • There's a whole backstory where it's revealed that the leading man has mother issues (a nod, perhaps, to Hitchcock's previous film, PSYCHO?).'s not really relevant to the plot at all. In other words, the fact that there's some weird stuff going on with the mother really doesn't have anything to do with the fact that there are crazy birds trying to kill people. BUT. What it does do is important. 
    • First: it made me curious about the story. It's such a specific detail to the story that I thought it must be relevant. It felt like a gun on the mantlepiece. It made me sit up and pay attention.
    • Second: it made the characters feel more real. True, the fact that the son has mother issues wasn't relevant to the plot. But it was highly relevant to the characters. It made little things, like the leading lady's hesitation to help the mother, feel much more vivid and realistic.
    • Writing Lesson: Add details about your characters to make them more real. Not every single thing has to be of service to the plot--take the time to emphasize characters, too, even if it doesn't progress the plot. It will make the story feel more real.
      • Example: I think, honestly, this touches on a lot of issues people have been bringing up recently about minority characters being underrepresented in stories. You can have a book where the character is a race other than Caucasian, or is handicapped in some way, or is gay, or portrays any other minority without the plot hinging upon the story. Certainly race, sexuality, and abilities would effect a character--but the plot doesn't have to hinge on it. Making your main character a minority in some way would actually add a lot of depth to the story. 
  • The background is where good writing shines. There are several scenes in the movie that give you a fear of birds; something as simple as birds fluttering down to stare into the window is made ominous by Hitchcock's touch. The most famous example is probably a scene at the school:

In case you can't watch the video, the picture to the left does a good job of illustrating what I mean. Basically, as the leading lady sits down outside of the school, birds silently perch on the playground in the background. If you watch the scene, you'll notice that very little happens. For a couple of minutes, all the leading lady does is light her cigarette and look pensively in the distance. And the birds don't do anything odd, really, certainly nothing threatening. They just sit there.

And that's what makes it so darn compelling. Rather then tell us that the birds are scary (by, say, launching immediately into the birds attacking people), Hitchcock merely presents the information and allows us to make up our own minds as to whether the birds are scary or not.

    • Writing Lesson: Graphically illustrating what the scene looks like and trusting your readers to determine the emotion that scene portrays is better than just telling the reader what s/he should feel by 
    • Example: Don't tell us a character is bad or good--show it. And don't show it right away. Present the character's actions in small, everyday situations, and build him up from there. 

Hitchcock Smart Thing #2: Sometimes Good Writing Is All About The Details You Leave Out

  • Somewhere in the first half hour or so of the movie, I realized there was no soundtrack. No music--at all. It was a little disorientating at first, actually. There were scenes--such as when the school children run away from the birds--that I could imagine other directors would have filled with a very dramatic musical score. A kiss had no softly playing romantic music behind it. A death wasn't heralded by trumpets. In all honesty, it made the entire film feel more like a documentary rather than a work of fiction. And I liked it. I found that the entire film was more dramatic simply by cutting out the dramatic music and putting me in the scene. 
    • Remember, Hitchcock's film before this was PSYCHO--made famous in part because of the loud "EE! EE! EE!" noise when the killer strikes in the shower scene. Hitchcock was known for sound effects and music through that film--he turned it completely on it's head for this one
      • Writing Lesson: It's good to shake up your readers in some way through a stylistic choice. And it's good to shake up your own writing by doing something different. 
      • Example: As a personal example, I had never written in first person present tense before writing ACROSS THE UNIVERSE. The style of writing was unique to me--which made me even more eager to explore it. And while there's stille more book being published in this style, it still is a somewhat rare style for readers, too.
  • SPOILER WARNING... In the very last scene of the movie, the characters drive off--and it ends. The ending is abrupt, and surprising. There's no "THE END" blaring across the screen, no assurance that the people truly escape, no answer to whether or not the bird plague is over--or just beginning  It's an ambiguous ending at best--and it totally works for the film. At first I was mad. "Is that it?" I said. Surely not. But as I thought about it, I realized how appropriate the end was. The true terror of the film wasn't in the bodies the birds had already amassed; it was in the idea that this was all still going on, that it never truly ended.
      • Writing Lesson: If you can make a story so vivid that your reader will believe in it after s/he closes the book, your job is done, and done well. Also: less is more. When in doubt, cut, cut, cut, until all you're left with is the truth of the story.
      • Example: The best writing is simple. You don't need writing with flair any more than Hitchcock needed fanfare at the end of his movie: slice away everything else so all the reader has left is raw emotion.

Pace Yourself

Okay, so I don't run, but I've heard that pacing is crucial when running long distance. The runner has to find the rhythm of their feet, and not start too early lest they burn out by the end.

Well, my friends, writing a book is very much like running ten marathons--back to back.

Just as for runners, writers have to deal with pacing, and it's very difficult. In fact, pacing is one of the things I struggle with the most. When I was querying POSSESSION, I got mixed feedback specific to the pacing. One agent would say, "I like it, but the pacing is a bit too slow." Another said, "The pacing is a bit too quick, and I'm left trying to figure too much out."

I couldn't win. (I think pacing might be an uphill battle for a lot of authors, and even when we think we've got the novel paced just so, readers might not agree.)

When my now-agent emailed to ask for revisions, what did she mention? You guessed it. Pacing. She thought the last third was too slow.

What did I do?


Yes, okay! Yes, I did. I just DID NOT KNOW how to get the pacing right.

After I finished crying, I got down to business. I did what all good writers do: I read a book.

STEIN ON WRITING by Sol Stein, to be exact. His advice really helped me to speed the pacing in the last third of my novel, and since then I feel like I have a better grip on the pacing of my writing.

And it is about the writing, not necessarily about what happens (the plot). At least, that's what I took away from Stein's book. It's in how many words I use to convey something, whether that something be emotion or plot, dialog or narration.

I continue to use the tips in STEIN ON WRITING, like looking at every sentence and eliminating any words that aren't needed. I sometimes write in shorter sentences (or fragments) in an especially fast scene. I look at the beginning and ending of each scene, and see if I can enter it later or end it earlier. All of those things help to quicken the pacing. And I learned them all from Stein.

I'm still not the the super-bestest at pacing, but hey. I can acknowledge my weaknesses.

What are your feelings on pacing? Do you like a faster-paced story, or a slower-paced one? If you're a writer, how do you tackle the beast that is pacing?

Dystopian Playlist

Julia's post on Tuesday got me thinking about dystopian-inspired songs.  I did a little digging and found a lot of them.  In fact, whole albums (back when we had those) of dystopiana.  David Bowie's Diamond Dogs album was inspired by Orwell's 1984.  Pink Floyd's Animals was inspired by Orwell's Animal Farm, and the Wall is about fascism.  The songs on Radiohead's Ok Computer and Kid A are stories of dystopia. The rock-dystopian connection isn't that surprising, considering that both are often about rebellion.

I put together my own little playlist of my faves. 

Get a playlist! Standalone player

In case you can't see the embedded player above, here are my Dystopian musical picks (in no particular order):

1.  It's the End of the World as We Know It by REM

A natural choice. It's the end of the world as we know it. And I feel fine.

2.  Sons & Daughers by The Decembrists

This little ditty is about crawling out of the bunker after all the bombs fade away:

3.  1984 by David Bowie

This song is from the album Diamond Dogs, which is all about Orwell's 1984 meets glam rock.

4.  Life During Wartime by the Talking Heads

This Talking Heads' song is about a war that breaks out in the US. 

5.  Panic by the Smiths

It's just a generally good song about panic breaking out in the streets.

6.  London Calling by the Clash

It's an apocalyptic, politically charge rant from my youth.  The ice age is coming, / the sun's zooming in / Meltdown expected /the wheat is growing thin...

7.  Another Brick in the Wall (pt 2) by Pink Floyd

There may be better dystopian Floyd songs, but this one captures the flavor of teen dystopia, me thinks.  We don't need no thought control .

8.  Karma Police by Radiohead

From one of Radiohead's albums all about dystopia...

9. Diamond Dogs by Beck (originally by David Bowie)

This is part of Bowie's glam-tinged version of dystopia, where killer robots hunt humans.  I included the Beck version because it's much shorter than Bowie's

10.  In the Year 2525 by Zager and Evans

Zager and Evans take us down the path of humanities evolution (or devolution). 

Bonus track:  The Humans are Dead by the Flight of the Concords

This is one should be watched:

What are your favorite dystopian / post-apocalyptic songs?

What to Do on a Writing Vacation

I'm in a weird sort of place at the moment writing-wise. The plan was I would finish the 1st draft of my next book, Magisterium, give it to a few trusted readers and then rewrite for about a month or so before I handed it in to Scholastic.

Well, one of those readers was my indefatigable agent Sara Crowe and within a week of sending it to her, she read it and said we should skip that month of re-writing and send it to them right now. (Guess she liked it!)

Where does that leave me? Mostly being not quite sure what to do with myself. Edits on Eleventh Plague are done. Can't really rewrite Magisterium until I get Scholastic's notes. Can't really start  on what I think will be the sequel to Magisterium until I know if Scholastic wants it.

So, I guess what we have here is a bit of a writing vacation! This is great because, and maybe this sounds odd, but I think periods of not writing are key ingredients to good writing. These are moments to rest, relax and above all, refuel before setting off again.

For me the refueling part largely comes down to consuming lots and lots of stories and doing my utmost to not think about my own. At the moment I'm...

Reading as much and as widely as possible. Just finished The Chosen One, Tina Fey's Bossypants and A Visit from the Goon Squad. Just started Old Man's War. I do my best to read in as many genres as possible splitting my time roughly in half between adult and YA.

Watching well written TV shows. Just finished re-watching Twin Peaks (Well, until the point where it goes completely off the rails) and I'm now making my way through the box set of Homicide: Life on the Street. Also finding time to keep up with great comedies like Parks and Recreation, Modern Family and Community.

Seeing some theatre. I'm seeing Tony Kushner's new play (The Intelligent Homosexual's Guide to Capitalism and Socialism with a Key to the Scriptures)  this weekend and Derek Jacoby in King Lear later this month! Also hoping to catch Robin Williams in Bengal Tiger at the Baghdad Zoo.

Honestly I'm not sure how long the vacation will last, mostly cause I get more than a little crabby after 2 weeks or so of not writing, and I do have another little idea percolating away, but I promise to enjoy it while I can!

What about you guys? What do you do to refuel between one project and another?

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

Find me at 

Reading bad books can be good...

for your own writing, that is!

Recently I was gifted the 1st book in a cozy mystery series. The premise was great, the plot good, the main character likable & interesting - but, the writing was definitely not up to par. I can say this because two pages into the book, I was revising it in my head.

I thought about stopping reading - you know - time is precious when you're an author & also have a full-time day job & other commitments on your time. However, I was in the middle of working on a revision of my own & I realized that some of the errors the cozy mystery author was guilty of were awfully familiar! I went back and looked at my own story & Oops! I was doing the same things I was mentally correcting in the "bad" book!

There is plenty to be said for reading good literature and attempting to emulate it (not copy - but write up to those standards.) But, after my experience - I'm thinking reading books that are not great is a good idea, too. Because, a really well-written story doesn't make you stop and take pause at the writing the way a mediocre one will.

I think you can learn from both the bad and the good. It's a pleasant coin to have in one's pocket! What do you think?

Don't forget to read Monday's post and vote in the Poll of what you'd like to see more of on the League's blog!

We Want Your Opinion!

Hello all! We here at the League would love to know your opinion of how we're doing and what more you'd like to see here on this blog. Please let us know in the poll below or in the comments! We want to make this blog be what YOU want, and we'd really appreciate knowing your thoughts on how we're doing so far!

What Would You Like to See More of on the League?

Revision – Revised

When we did revision week here on the League a while back, I wrote about the stages of grief…I mean revision. Recently I also did a post for Darcy Pattison’s Fiction Notes about how revision made (and sold) Memento Nora. I guess I didn’t the topic quite out of my system. (Probably because I’m just finishing up a major, brain-sucking revision on the Forgetting Curve.) 

So, this time I thought I’d share the things that keep me relatively sane while revising (besides coffee and chocolate croissants):

  1. Tackle one thing at a time. In other words, make one pass through to deal with voice, the next one to deal with story logic, chapter endings, and so forth. For me, this makes it seem do able.  Small victories. However, you can note other things you notice along the way. Color coded post-its work wonders.
  2. Smear on exposition (thinly) to advance the outer story.  As may be evident from Memento Nora, I’m not a big fan of the info dump.  (Call it a pet peeve even.) Gradually clue in your readers, with a hint of description here, a well chosen word of dialogue there. Your reader will get it.
  3. Untangle time and plot lines. I lay out what happens when and where on a calendar.  Sometimes you discover, especially with multiple points of view, that you have somebody in two places at one time, for instance.
  4. Heighten tension toward the end by adding or accentuating a plot or character complication.  This could be twist or betrayal or revelation that makes your story more satisfying. Of course, you’ll have to go back through and make sure this twist is adequately setup or foreshadowed (without giving it away).

What are some of the things that you look for when you revise? What keeps you sane (revision-wise)?

Dystopia vs. Utopia

In Today's guest post, I'm getting all philosophical. I want to compare Dystopia and Utopia.

And I'm asking: are they really all that different?

You might raise your eyebrows and think “Susanne, are you nuts? They are opposites. One is good and one is bad!”

And if I just took a look at the definitions I found on then I'd have to agree with you.

Utopia : An ideally perfect place, especially in its social, political, and moral aspects.

Dystopia: An imaginary place or state in which the condition of life is extremely bad, as from deprivation, oppression, or terror.

Good and bad. It's that easy, isn't it?

Isn't every possible utopia a dystopia in disguise?

Most dystopian societies masquerade themselves as utopias. The government wants people to believe their society is perfect, that it's the utopia everyone's striving for. Take MATCHED for example. People are happier because everyone's wearing plainclothes, because the society finds the perfect match for you (no divorces!) and the perfect job too. Society makes choices for you to ensure happiness and most people in Matched don't mind. For them it is their personal utopia.

Dystopia pretends to be the perfect society.

Utopia is that perfect society.

But aren't they ultimately the same?

I'm wondering, can a true Utopia really exist? Or wouldn't every attempt at an utopia inevitably end in a dystopia? Because how can you ensure food and work and a home and family for everyone without controlling every aspect of life, without taking away personal freedom?

And doesn't every individual have a different idea of happiness and perfect life? How can you create a society that makes everyone or even the majority of people happy?

(My own personal idea of Utopia...)

I don't think it's possible. We're too different. And we're always striving for more.

Personally, I don't think humans could settle for a state of happiness without wanting more or something else. After all, we always want what we can't have, right?

So what do you think? Is Utopia ultimately a Dystopia in disguise? Or am I too pessimistic?

About me: I'm Susanne Winnacker, author of upcoming YA dystopian novel THE OTHER LIFE, in which a girl leaves a sealed bunker after years in hiding, only to find Los Angeles devastated and haunted by humans infected with a mutated rabies virus; struggling to save her family, she falls for a boy-hunter who is both their savior and greatest danger when his desire for vengeance threatens them all. Find me on my blog, twitter or website.

Dystopian Influences

It's no secret that I was a teen in the 1960's (what a ride that was!) And, the '50's, 60's, & early 70's had more than its share of dystopian music, books, and movies that made major impressions on me. I have no doubt that subconsciously some of these influenced my mindset that eventually let to writing dystopia

Here are a few songs that may (or may not) have lodged in my subconscious..

For What It's Worth by Buffalo Springfield (I saw them live in the late '60s)

Zager And Evans - In The Year 2525  (this song totally creeped me out when I 1st heard it)

Eve of Destruction by Barry McGuire  (yeah... it's still so relevant - and that's sad)

(btw - the line in 2525 - "everything you think, do, or say, is in the pill you took today" - reminds me of MEMENTO NORA)

A few books...

Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury (what is not to love about Bradbury?)
Player Piano by Kurt Vonnegut (fellow Hoosier!)
Atlas Shrugged by Ayn Rand (no, it was not a school assignment! I was reading for enjoyment.)

And some movies (spawned mostly by books...)

A Clockwork Orange (Stanley Kubrick via Anthony Burgess's book) (great made-up slang! - no matter what some reviewers say! :) )
Logan's Run (Michael Anderson, book by William F. Nolan and George Clayton Johnson) (young Michael York = hotness!)
2001, A Space Odessey (Kubrick again, screenplay by Arthur C. Clarke) (not necessarily considered dystopian, but, OMG - HAL = terror )

Okay - I'm guessing if you're here on the League's blog, you love dystopia in all its forms... What has influenced you in your reading / listening / watching?

DRAW Your Own Conclusions

Last week featured the annual Free Comic Book Day (sorry not to mention it earlier; I forgot about it myself!). Essentially, Free Comic Book day is exactly what it sounds like: a chance to go into a bookstore and select a comic book for free.

For many reluctant readers, comic books are a gateway drug into reading other books. For many hardcore readers, comic books are something to sneer at. And while I appreciate the fact that comics can lead to more avid readers, I definitely don't think we should dismiss comics as something lesser. In fact, I'd argue that comics often hold some of the most important stories in literature today.

For me, I cut my teeth on graphic novels. My favorite ones were Sailor Moon and Fushigi Yuugi and, later, InuYasha. And while bringing up Japanese shojo manga on a blog about dystopian worlds may not seem to make much sense, I beg to differ.

Graphic novels taught me pacing, and in a dystopian novel, pacing is essential. I'm not talking about the pacing of a plot in this case--I'm talking about the pace of a page. All graphic novels and comics do this, but the one I happened to learn from was Sailor Moon. For example, take a look at the page of Sailor Moon I've got on the left here. The top image is huge, taking up over half the page, but it is also detailed. Your eyes linger on the moment. But beneath that is a series of three smaller images--your eyes dart from one to the next, absorbing quickly what's going on.

This is something that I've tried to emulate in my own writing. Fight scene? Short, choppy sentences. Something heart-breaking and nuanced? Long, lyrical sentences. And white space. Never underestimate white space.

Graphic novels taught me to show, not tell. This seems like an obvious thing--of course a genre that relies on illustrations will show, not tell, but it's more than that. Take, for example, this image of Suzaku on the right (from Fushigi Yuugi). You can just look at her face and know that she's mad, and determined, and won't back down. And you can bet that there's no dialog or exposition explaining that she's mad and determined--you can see it in her face. When we write, it's so much better to show through detail what a character feels rather than to just say it.

Graphic novels taught me that what we really want is a hero that gets knocked down...and then gets back up. So many comics and graphic novels deal with superheroes. But the real attraction to, say, Superman, isn't that he's faster than a speeding bullet or can leap tall buildings in a single bound. It's that when he does meet his match--when the Kryptonite has been thrown at him, when he falls from the sky like a stone, when he's weak before his enemy...he still gets back up.

Really, ultimately, that's the point of dystopian novels, too. It's that when the world is crumbling, when it seems like there's no hope any more...someone stands up to fight. And maybe they fail, or maybe they don't, or maybe they just die trying...but the point in that they tried.

When I was at ComicCon NY last year, the panel moderator asked me why I think dystopian literature is so popular right now. Isn't it, she said, essentially very depressing? I said no. No, it's not. Because at it's heart, dystopian lit is about hope. It turns regular people into superheroes. It's not about the end of the world: it's about fighting back and rising up despite that.

You tell me: What have you learned from comic books and graphic novels? And if you don't read them...go out and try one! Leave your faves in the comments so that other people can know good places to start reading them!

In other news, today I've got a post up on my own blog about charities and zombies, with prizes and less world suck all around. I'd appreciate it if you gave it a look and spread the word about the charities.

Dystopian Week at MTV

Okay, so this week has been filled with amazing things over on MTV's Hollywood Crush blog. (And not just because they let me blog there this week! I promise.)

If you missed it, here are some of my favorite posts:

Several dystopian authors also did guest posts, and I thought they were fascinating.

And you can click here to see everything that happened during Dystopian Week.

If you were planning a dystopian week, what books would be on your list? What authors would you want to interview or have guest post?

The Muchness of a YA Heroine

Confession time. I’ve watched Tim Burton’s Alice in Wonderland at least a dozen times. How could you not love Tim Burton and Johnny Depp and Lewis Carroll. Ok, I know. It could’ve been another Sleepy Hollow, but it wasn’t.  Burton made one of the most iconic child literary figures into a strong YA heroine.

One of my favorite lines in the new Alice is said by the Mad Hatter when he and Alice are fleeing the Knave: “You used to be much more...’muchier.’ You've lost your muchness.” The last time the Hatter saw Alice she was a fearless child. (She was six in the original Alice in Wonderland and seven and half in Through the Looking Glass.) Now, in the Burton’s movie, Alice is 19, and she’s running away not only from the Knave but also from a marriage proposal and the prospect of a lifetime of being a bird in a gilded cage.  She denies being the right Alice. The right Alice—the one Wonderland needs—is supposed to slay the Jabberwocky on Frabjous day and defeat the big-headed Red Queen. This Alice has convinced herself that her original adventures were nothing more than a recurrent bad dream that she’s tamped down inside of her—much as she’s done with her muchness.

That’s what society expected from her.  Muchness may have been tolerated in a precocious six-year-old or even encouraged by a doting father brimming full of muchness himself. However, Victorian society expected her to smother her own curiosity and verve and wanderlust, to marry well, and pop out the next generation of lordlings. Alice couldn’t completely smother her muchness, though. That’s why she ran when Hamish proposed marriage in front of all of the upper crusty society. That, and because she saw the White Rabbit.

She followed the rabbit back down into Wonderland, back down into the scene of her childhood adventures. There, she’s once more shrunk, stretched, scratched, stuffed into a teapot, stretched and shrunk some more until she ultimately reclaims her muchness. She remembers her childhood self, that she is the right Alice, and acts to save Wonderland.   “How's *this* for muchness?” Alice cries as she lops off the head of the Jabberwocky.  She defeats the Red Queen and restores Wonderland to its own former muchness.

Alice could have stayed there in the court of the White Queen. The Hatter certainly wanted her to, but Alice knew she needed to face her real-world life. She returns to the surface, muchness still intact, to tell Hamish and everyone assembled thanks but no thanks. Everyone, that is, except her late father’s business partner, whom she convinces to do business with China. In the last scene, Alice—in a lovely Alice blue suit, perfect for adventuring—sets sail for China.

Losing or forgetting one’s muchness isn’t just a product of corseted Victorian society. The time-period lends itself to telling these kinds of tales because of how circumscribed women’s roles were in that society. (Screenwriter, Linda Wolverton, said she researched how young girls were supposed to behave in Victorian society and made Alice do just the opposite.) The corsets are gone now, and girls can grow up to be whatever they want—practically.

But, we still lose our childhood muchness some time after 12 or so, it seems. We may lose our sense of wonder, our openness to experience, and our innate belief in ourselves. I think this is what fascinates me about YA/MG literature. It’s the time when we’re expected to start growing into our roles in society. The roles may be more loosely defined now, but the definitions are still there. Women are expected to look a certain way. (Men, too, but not to the same extent.) We’re all expected to do the school-work-family thing. We may spend our teen years rebelling against and/or embracing those looming roles.  And, sometimes we lose part of ourselves.  So, we need heroines like Alice to remind us not to lose our muchness in the process of growing up. 

Who are your favorite YA/MG heroines?  And yes, I know Kirkus just put out their list of Toughest YA SF/F Heroines. It's what got me thinking about Burton's Alice again.  Do you agree with their list?  Who would you add? And does tough necessarily equal strong?

Gateway Drugs

I was reading lately about how best to turn kids into readers and got to thinking about how I became one.

I was far from a stellar student as a kid, definitely not a born reader, and despite my teachers' best efforts the classics I was being shown in school weren't doing anything to change that. Dickens left me cold. Hawthorne bored me. Poe and London were ok, but overall literature felt alien, irrelevant, dry fodder for essays on themes and symbolism.

And then I discovered comic books. Spiderman, Batman, X Men, Avengers, Daredevil. Whatever I could get my hands on. Every week I would get my little allowance and go over to the 7-11 and comb through the racks. The fun monthly stories eventually led to the darker and more complex work of people like Frank Miller (The Dark Knight Returns. Daredevil: Born Again. Batman: Year One) and Alan Moore (Watchmen. Too many other awesome things to name) and from them to short genre fiction in magazines like Twilight Zone. By the time I moved on to writers like Neil Gaiman, Stephen King, Robert R. McCammon, Frank Herbert and others, I was hooked.  I would read anything. Fiction. Non-Fiction. Literary. Genre. Any book. Any time.

I think of those comics now as my gateway drug, the things that gave me the taste for reading and led to this lifelong obsession. Once I understood that reading was entertainment, not work, then I was able to go back and appreciate all those classics that bored me so much as a kid.

I guess I had to love reading before I loved books. If that makes sense.

What do you all think? How do you make a reader? What were your gateway drugs? 

The Moon & the Stars...

Maybe because it's been raining non-stop in Indiana and I haven't seen the stars in nearly a month (or so it seems), I've been reflecting on how much I love the night sky. And, since Sci-Fi often takes place in space (duh... Across the Universe by our own lovely Beth!) - I'm sharing some moon & stars love today.

One of my favorite Psalms is the 8th... this line in particular (King James Version because it is so darned poetic & beautiful!):

"When I consider thy heavens, the work of thy fingers, the moon and the stars, which thou hast ordained; What is man, that thou art mindful of him?"

If you've ever been out in the country - the desert or the mountains, even better - no doubt you can totally identify with what the Psalmist is talking about. The vastness of the sky is awe-inspiring, to say the very least. Countless poems, paintings, prose, and other creative works have been inspired by the moon and stars.

Starry Night by Van Gogh

This month's full moon (seen on May 17th) is known as the Milk Moon, the Flower Moon or the Corn Moon. 

This week, if you are not in an area being inundated with rain, you can see Venus doing her Morning Star routine in the Eastern sky. And, on May 11th, Jupiter will join her for a bit of a turn around the heavens.

Here's a little poem by one of my favorite writers... Robert Lewis Stevenson 

The Moon

The moon has a face like the clock in the hall;
She shines on thieves on the garden wall,
On streets and fields and harbour quays,
And birdies asleep in the forks of the trees.

The squalling cat and the squeaking mouse,
The howling dog by the door of the house,
The bat that lies in bed at noon,
All love to be out by the light of the moon.

But all of the things that belong to the day
Cuddle to sleep to be out of her way;
And flowers and children close their eyes
Till up in the morning the sun shall arise.

Do you have a favorite constellation? Do you love to moon-bathe? Do the stars speak to your soul?

I'd love to hear about it!

Doctor Who and the Unknown

Er....I fail. I thought I scheduled this post for the League...but then apparently posted it on my personal blog instead. So--I'm sorry for the cross-posting and for the lateness of this!!

Do you watch DOCTOR WHO? If not, please get on that now, kthx.

For those who haven't yet discovered the Doctor, here's a super brief run-down. Actually--let me let Neil Gaiman tell you about it:

There’s a big blue box. It’s bigger on the inside than the outside. It can go anywhere in space and time, sometimes where it is supposed to go. Something will go wrong, and there’s some bloke called The Doctor who’ll make it all right because he’s awesome. Now sit down, shut up and watch Blink.

Which does pretty much sum up the wonderfulness of this show. A lot of people get intimidated by DOCTOR WHO because there seems to be so much you have to catch up on in order to watch it. Honestly? You could start with last season (the season that starts with Matt Smith) and be fine. Although, like Gaiman, I do think you'd be missing out if you missed the episode entitled "Blink."

So: the short of it is that this show is amazing, and you should definitely watch it.

But that's not my point with today's post. Today, I want to talk about this:

The season opener and the sequel to it aired recently, and I still can't get over how awesome it all was. I'm going to try to not spoil anything because I know several of you don't get BBC or BBCA and have to watch the series on Netflix.

The monster of the week was that ugly mother up above, known as the Silence. And I don't want to tell you what he does...but it's terrifying. Truly scary. I was on the edge of my seat last night, watching the episode, and I truly didn't know what was going to happen next.

DOCTOR WHO is a show that can be funny and tragic at the same time, romantic and adventurous, and, yes, horrifying. The brilliance of the show lies in the way it blends genres--you never know if you're going to get a love story or if by the end of the episode you're going to be curled up on the couch weeping.

But for me, the best episodes are the ones that scare me. That make me afraid to turn around, that make me reach for the light in the middle of the night.

This has got me thinking about what fears us, and what drives a story forward. A story needs a conflict, and when that conflict is something terrifying, the emotions are ramped up even more.

I am working now on a story--it's just an idea, but I'd like to turn it into a book. But while I have an idea for a resolution, I still need a big bad. I've asked many of my friends: "What scares you the most?" And most of the answers have been spiders or public speaking or something like that. I've been brainstorming ideas, and I thought about the reason why the monster on DOCTOR WHO always tend to be so frightening.

It's because they're unknown.

Our most basic fear is the thing that goes bump in the night. We know this as children. We turn the night light on and ask our parents to check under the bed. But when we grow up, we learn to tell ourselves there's nothing there. No monster in the closet, no reason for the nightlight.

DOCTOR WHO goes back to the thing that goes bump in the night. And when you turn the lights on, it shows you the monster you thought wasn't there.

So that's what I'm doing now, as I brainstorm a new book idea. I'm figuring out what's hiding in the dark.