Writing Week: The Revision Process

All this week, we're focusing on writing, or, in the case of this particular week...revising.

Revising. ICK.

Revision is, hands down, my least favorite part of writing. I love the first draft process--getting the story down, feeling all clever with myself, falling in love with the words--but the revision part...not so much. Because, see? In revision, you have to admit you were wrong. Or, at least, that you weren't all the way right. And for someone as pig-headed as me, that's not an easy thing to do.

So, my greatest revising tip? Get help.

Seriously. I was never good at revising my own work until I joined in crit groups and got beta readers. I've written about this before a lot on my own blog, so I'm not going to go into detail on it here, but I'll say this: the number 1 thing I ever did was start working with other writers.

But I've talked about this before. Today I want to talk about a specific method that I've been using lately.

First, a caveat: everyone writes in a unique way, and everyone rewrites in a unique way. So just because this works for me, doesn't mean it will work for everyone.

I am a pantser. I don't outline. And I pay for it in revisions.

When I finish the book, first I give it some space. Then I start thinking about all the things I wanted to do with the book. This also helps when you have critique partners or beta readers who can help pinpoint their reaction vs. your intention. But the point is: once the book is done, you need to sit back and consider everything you wanted it to be.

I make a list.

Then, I compare that to what I actually have in the book. This will look like an outline that those wonderful "planning" people use before they write. I make a list of all the events that actually happen in the book. Then I compare that to the things I wanted to happen.

My revision process really begins when I compare those two lists, and start thinking of ways that could make the book I want come from the book I have.

Case in point: let's say that one goal with the book was to create a fast paced story. When I make the list of what happens in the book, I realize I've got a huge chunk where...nothing happens. Then I see specifically what part I need to fix.

You can also use critique partners with this. Compare what you want from the book to what they get--you thought your character was snarky, they think she's mean. Now make a list that can better show the snarkiness versus the meanness.

This is really the best thing that I do when revising. I use pen and paper (as opposed to the computer) and list everything out. Putting it in simple, dry terms helps me to see better what needs to be done. If I just look at the manuscript, all I see is my beautiful darlings...when I categorize them, it's easier to kill them.

Creating Futuristic Vocabulary

So I've been reading a lot of science fiction and dystopian this year. Something I've noticed that sets some books above others is the use of vocabulary.

I think each world that is different from our own, even in the slightest of ways, should have an operating vocab that the author can use. And that the reader can pick up on and relate to.

So how do you do this?

1. Be aware that such a need exists. It's okay to use familiar, but not commonplace, words. Does that make sense? For example, instead of saying "teacher," you might simply call the teachers in your word "educators." Sure, it means the same thing, but it signifies that your world has changed from this one to a futuristic one. Bonus: Readers don't have to work hard to figure out what you mean.

2. Even the simple things count. In a futuristic world, things have to appear changed. We run marathons now; they shouldn't run marathons in your post-apocalyptic society. You can use the same concept, but you should be aware of the vocabulary you create to portray it.

3. Beware the capitalized word. I often see novels with many capitalized words. It sort of marks the genre, especially for dystopias. I would simply caution to think long and hard about what should actually be capped, and what shouldn't.

4. Slang. Slang is constantly revolving. It's okay--and a good idea, I think--to create your own slang. Caution: Make sure it's not so far out of this world that readers can't figure out what you mean. You don't have to use the word "awesome" to characterize awesome. You know?

What do you think? Have you read any science fiction lately that makes excellent use of vocabulary? I have, and I highly recommend BIRTHMARKED by Caragh M. O'Brien. It is fabulous.

Gay Teens in YA Science Fiction and Fantasy

This week’s Entertainment Weekly has a special report on Gay Teens on TV.  EW traces the timeline of GLBT teens on network television—from the sparsely out early 90’s (eg, Ricky on My So-Called Life) to the recent proliferation of gay teens on shows like Glee and Skins. [And bless the Canadians. Degrassi has had no less than eight GLBT characters, including a transgendered one.]  GLBT teens have become more and more represented on TV in the last two years TV---partly because of the popularity of Glee’s Kurt. More importantly (imho), though, they’re not just portrayed as kids with a problem but as fully realized characters that just happen to be gay.  I’m not saying gay teens don’t still have acceptance problems. Quite the contrary. But TV has begun to catch on that gay teens not only exist but have the same wants and desires as most teens.

However, as I look at the EW timeline of gay teen characters, I’m struck by one thing. Willow and Tara (Buffy the Vampire Slayer) are the only gay young adults on a speculative fiction show. There aren’t that many gay adult characters on science fiction or fantasy TV shows either.  Captain Jack Harkness and Ianto Jones on Torchwood.  Sam Adama on Caprica. Camille Ray on Stargate Universe.  A handful.  The Star Trek universe was seemingly inhabited solely by straight people, a fact that Brannon Braga, the producer of many of the Star Trek franchises, recently admitted that he regretted.

This all got me thinking about gay teens in young adult (or middle grade) science fiction and fantasy.  Gay and lesbian kids do seem to be represented in contemporary YA fiction (at least to some extent).  For example, one of the Will Graysons in WILL GRAYSON, WILL GRAYSON is gay. The book was nominated for a Stonewall Award, which the American Library Association gives to young adult books of merit to GLBT teens. 

However, I’m having trouble finding many YA / MG speculative fiction titles with gay characters. (Adult science fiction, yes.) VINTAGE: A GHOST STORY by Steve Berman was a 2007 Andre Norton Award nominee. (Deathly Hallows won that year.)  ASH by Malinda Lo was nominated for a Lambda Literary Award last year.  So, these books exist. Kind of like Ricky on My So-Called Life existed in 1994. Alone in a sea of straightness.

Why does this matter? We, as writers, have the opportunity to build futures and/or societies in which gay teens (really all teens of any background) are represented—and not just as “issues” (that is, unless that issue is central to your book) but as integral parts of the world. That does at least two things.

First, it builds tolerance.  GLAAD president, Jarrett Barrios, put it well. He told EW, “This increasing number of storylines makes it impossible to assume there are no gay people around you. It makes it uncool to be a bully.” 

Second, it builds hope. During a round table discussion about Battlestar Galactica, Edward James Olmos (Admiral Adama) related a story about the importance of representing Latinos on the show.  A friend called him about a year after the show hit the air. Her 12-year-old nephew was so excited about the show. The kid told her, “We’re in the future. We’re in the future.”  (You can see that video here.)

Imagine NOT be able to see yourself (or someone like you) in the future. We have the power to change that.

Can you guys think of any other YA/MG titles with gay characters in recent years? I'm hoping I've just missed quite a few.

(btw, when I use "gay" above I'm including lesbians. Most of the time.)

Seeing Art Everywhere

Had the good fortune to go over and check out the new exhibits at the American Folk Art Museum this weekend and saw some really amazing stuff by outsider artist Eugene Von Bruenchenhein.

If you aren't familiar with outsider art, it's really worth checking out. Basically these are wholly self taught artists working outside the art mainstream. Often, their works are not appreciated, or even viewed, in their own lifetime.

Von Bruenchenhein was a baker and florist living in Wisconsin from 1910-1983 with his wife Marie. His work was only discovered after his death when a police officer, hoping to help out Von Breunchenhein's then destitute wife,  contacted a local museum owner to see if any money could be earned by selling the thousands of paintings, photographs and sculptures that the artist spent his life making.

He began as a photographer, almost exclusively taking pictures of Marie. Early photos are pretty straightforward but soon he began experimenting with double exposures and created distinct, surreal images like this:

Soon Von Bruenchenhein moved onto painting, creating eerie, abstract and apocalyptic images like these. Most of these are painted on scrap pieces of cardboard he picked up and bound with masking tape. He painted with his fingers, finger nails and brushes he sometimes made with Marie's hair. (wow, that really makes him sound more nuts than I think he was. Keep in mind he was a fairly poor dude so alot of this is about making due with what he had)

Was he satisfied being a photographer and painter? Nope. Apparently one day he stumbled across some clay, brought it home, and started making things like this.

Even dinner wasn't safe. When Eugene and Marie had chicken or turkey for dinner he kept the bones and made sculptures like these, painted with metallic paint he got from a guy he knew that worked at an auto body shop. (again, not nuts, just poor and creative)

While not my favorite of his work, I'm blown away by these pen and ink drawings he did later in life. They're just such a radical departure from the rest of his art that it almost seems like they were done by someone else. How impressive to make such a radical but assured left turn so late in life.

The thing I love about this work is that here was a guy that was alive with art. He saw it everywhere he looked, felt it in everything he touched. And it didn't matter that he spent his life as poor and unrecognized,  he worked passionately, constantly innovating and evolving, his entire life. While it's sad that he didn't enjoy any of his well-deserved notoriety, it somehow makes his efforts and his dedication so much more heroic.  An example for us all I think.

How about all of you? Where do you find your inspiration? Found any somewhere unusual lately? 

Jeff Hirsch
The Eleventh Plague
Coming from Scholastic, Fall 2011

Find me at jeff-hirsch.com and @jeff_hirsch

Hello out there!

Aliens. Extra-terrestrials. ET! We're looking for you!

For years earthlings have been watching and waiting for aliens from outer space to either invade

or come bearing gifts

and, definitely have superior intelligence

But, some people, like physicist Stephen Hawking - think celestial visitors may not be quite so nice...


Live Science ( www.livescience.com ) had a fascinating article on space aliens.


So - If we're not alone in this vast sea of eternity... what do you think lies out there? Good / Evil / Anything?

Women in the New World

When I went to Comic-Con NY, one of the events we went to was the "Women of Battlestar Gallactica." The husband picked that one out. Imagine that. :D

But actually, that's the event that I remember the most. Because one of the things the ladies talked about was that the writers didn't assign genders to the characters--they wrote the stories, and then cast whatever actors were best for the characters, whether they were male or female.

Starbuck is one of the lead characters--and she's a swearing, drinking, cigar-smoking pilot. I can see her just as easily as a male than as a female, and it is to the credit of the director and the producers that they chose a female actor for this strong, hardcore character.

It seems to me that often in futuristic or dystopia works, women are often given stronger roles--sometimes surprising ones. One of my favorite things about The Hunger Games, for instance, is that the strong, fighting character was a girl--Katniss, and she could care less about love. It was the boy who was weak and love-sick.

I like these characters in part because it is a role reversal from traditional stories. But also because to me, it's more realistic. Women are strong. And it is in the extreme situations--like the end of the world, like dystopic societies--that women have the ability to be the strongest.

I'm not at all trying to put men down with this post--I'm not saying that men aren't strong, or that men won't fight to protect those they love. I just think that women tend to be under-represented in this role, and that it is in dystopic fiction that this image is being remedied.

Recently I had the great pleasure to read Divergent by Veronica Roth. Among other great themes and ideas, one thing I loved was that the main character, Tris, makes the conscious choice to be a fighter--as do other women. In training, gender doesn't make a difference, not in rank or in tactics or, really, in anything. It's presented in a very matter-of-fact way--that's just the way things are.

In all these works, women are presented as different. When Starbuck's knee is injured, she's not allowed to resume her flight missions until her muscles are strong enough--and the fact that she's a woman means her physical strength is less than that of a man. Katniss can't carry the weight Peeta can. Tris must learn a different fighting style than that of her physically stronger and larger opponents. There ARE differences between males and females. But what I love about these works is that the differences are recognized--and then the women are treated as equally as the men. They face the same conflict, troubles, and battles.

I think it's very easy to slip into "traditional" roles in literature, television, and the like. Look at every Disney Princess movie ever made. But I also think works like these are leading the ideas of what true equality really is. Perhaps it takes an extreme world situation to present these ideas, or perhaps this is a sign that, as a whole, our society is accepting women in more equal terms.

Either way, I like it.

Celebrating YA Science Fiction

So there's been some excitement recently, what with the announcement of the Newberry, Caldecott, and Printz awards. The 2011 Printz was given to SHIP BREAKER, a fabulous young adult science fiction novel.

2011 Printz Winner

Ship Breaker by Paolo Bacigalupi published by Little, Brown and Company, a division of Hachette Book Group

In Ship Breaker, near a drowned New Orleans ravaged by hurricanes and global warming, Nailer and his young crew eke out a meager existence by scavenging materials on the ship-littered coast.

“This taut, suspenseful novel is a relentless adventure story featuring nuanced characters in thought-provoking conflicts. Bacigalupi artfully intertwines themes of loyalty, family, friendship, trust and love,” said Printz Award Committee Chair Erin Downey Howerton.

Another fabulous young adult novel has achieved acclaim. Beth Revis's ACROSS THE UNIVERSE debuted at #7 on the New York Times bestseller list. Congrats Beth!

I've read both SHIP BREAKER and ACROSS THE UNIVERSE, and they are brilliant examples of great young adult science fiction. What have you read lately in the sci fi genre that is paving the way with greatness?

A Lament for Caprica

Oh, SyFy Channel.

Why do you cancel critically acclaimed, well written, actual science fiction mid-season (just when it's getting really interesting) and put on schlock like Behemoth and wrestling? And to rub salt in the wound, you advertise that you're going to show the rest of episodes in January--and then you unceremoniously dump them in a midweek, late afternoon / early evening mini marathon, which doesn't even show up on my DVR as new episodes so I can record them? Really?

Of course, I'm talking about Caprica, the prequel to Ron Moore's Battlestar Galactica.   Caprica is (was) set 58 years before the Cylons attack Caprica (and the other Colonies) at the beginning of BSG. Caprica is about the genesis of the Cylons, whose birth comes from a fascinating intersection between military contracting, teenage gaming genius, and radical religious terrorism.  The show is also about personal and societal excess and power--and the inevitable fall from those heights.  There's also Yakusa-style gangsters, virtual gaming worlds, and teen angst.  Think Dallas and the Sopranos meet the Matrix with a touch of Buffy thrown in. 

How could you cancel that? Rather easily, I guess. Wrestling is a little cheaper to produce.  At least Warehouse 13 is still on (knock wood).

Any other Caprica fans? What other gone-but-not forgotten science fiction or fantasy shows do you miss?

BTW, you can watch the episodes on SyFy.com or Hulu. Here's the first of the last 5 episodes.

What's your Writing Resolution?

Happy New Year everyone! I know, I'm a little late to the party but New Year's Eve seemed to lead directly to a bad cold that lasted about ten days, big release festivities here on the blog and some final edits on Eleventh Plague. So basically I've just noticed that it is the New Year.

Now I've never really been one for resolutions in my personal life but it occurred to me that a writing related resolution wouldn't be a bad idea. 

I had a few ideas but more than anything I think I would like to work on being a bit more, um, levelheaded about things.

See I, like many of you I'm sure, have this bad tendency to fret and worry, often about the same things over and over. Bad first draft? It doesn't seem to matter that I know first drafts are always bad. I  still torture myself over it. Rewriting hit a snag? It's like I forget that at some point rewriting always hits a snag and you just have to just stay in the ring and keep punching and eventually it'll get better. Somehow I hit these problems and it's always like it's the first time. It would be quite funny if it wasn't so personally stressful.

So that's my resolution, basically, remember everything I've learned about the process and don't beat myself up so much.

How about you all? What's your New Year's writing resolution?

Jeff Hirsch
The Eleventh Plague
Coming from Scholastic, Fall 2011

Find me at jeff-hirsch.com and @jeff_hirsch

Tech Tuesday - Holograms - reach out & touch the future!

I love holograms! My first interaction with them was at the Luxor in Las Vegas a million years ago. I was hooked. They are fascinating!

Then I recently saw this... which actually kind of freaks me out - okay?

But, there is also this... which is very cool and has excellent (useful) applications.

I dunno - but, I think this stuff is amazing, even if, in the case of the pop star - a little creepy.

What do you think?

Reading for the First Time

All this book launch stuff has me thinking about the first time I read my favorite books.

I read THE LION, THE WITCH, AND THE WARDROBE under the stairs at my county library when I was a kid, a quiet spot I considered all my own, and I remember turning the pages as fast as I could to get to the end. I read THE HERO AND THE CROWN in the school's library, laying on that hard, tightly woven carpet that might as well be made of stone. I started THE FOREST OF HANDS AND TEETH in the car ride home after attending Carrie Ryan's signing, and I remember walking up the steps of my back porch with my nose still stuck in the book.

There is something magical about the first time you experience a story. Something about discovering the world and its secrets all on your own, about being surprised right there along with the characters, about not knowing if everything ends happily ever after, but hoping it does.

I also remember the first time I'd ever seen Casablanca. Now, Casablanca is a beautiful movie--but it's become so much a part of our culture, that even if we haven't seen it, we know something of it:

Of all the bars, in all the world, she had to walk into mine.
Play it again, Sam.
This is the start of a beautiful friendship.

After I watched the movie--in my Humanities class in tenth grade--my teacher Ms. Washburn asked me what I thought of it. I said I liked it well enough, but it was full of cliches. "They weren't cliche when the movie was made," Mrs. Washburn said. "The movie did it first."

It made me wish I could have seen Casablanca before it became so popular.

There are certainly a lot of stories that have become a part of our culture--and are, therefore, to a certain extent ruined for future generations. I have never seen The Planet of the Apes, but I know the story, and I even know some of the dialog: "You damn, dirty apes!" and "It was Earth...all along!" I will never be able to truly see that movie for the first time, because I've known how it ends for as long as I can remember.

And there's something about experiencing a story for the first time. Personally, I've always sort of wished I could have been there for the original live radio-show production of The Day the Earth Stood Still--I've heard that the reactions of the time--that people believed the Earth was truly under attack by aliens--have been exaggerated by history, but how cool would it be to experience this tale for the first time? To be one of the people sitting by the radio, on the edge of your seat, as you wonder what will happen next?

How about you? What story do you wish you could experience for the first time again?

We have Lift-Off!

This post is late.

I don't really have an excuse for it--just that I've run out of words.

Because the words I want to say--thank you--seem so inadequate. And there may have been 90,000 words in Across the Universe, but none of them say thank you enough.

They say a picture's worth a thousand words, though, and all one thousand here are joy and gratitude:

The husband and I right at the end of the book launch party yesterday.

Society and The Godspeed

Wow! League of Extraordinary Writers Release Week II! Congratulations Beth! ATU is getting huge buzz out there in the world. What an exciting week this must be!

I was lucky enough to read Beth's book just this week and one of the things that struck me about it was her skillful use of the ship as a microcosm. Here, nestled into one (admittedly HUGE) ship, The Godspeed, we find a mirror image of a larger society--workers, scholars, artists and scientists, and sitting above them all a leadership structure. By Beth distilling all of society down into a more manageable size, it's easier for us to see its structure and also track the movements in the culture as it starts to change.

This got me thinking about how often we see  microcosms in YA literature used as a way to comment on the larger society. The most famous example is probably The Lord of the Flies, where William Golding gives us a snapshot of humanity in the lives of a group of British schoolchildren left to fend for themselves on a deserted island. Golding uses his situation to look at the clash between civilization and anarchy, good and evil. In The Chocolate War, Robert Cormier mirrors society with his look at non conformity and the corrupting nature of authority in the power structure of a small boy's prep school.

What Beth seems most concerned with in the microcosm of Godspeed is how lies effect a civilization. I don't want to go into spoilers obviously, but in Across the Universe we see an isolated and deeply interconnected society that must come to terms with the possibility that it may all be built on lies. What does a community do when it discovers this? What if the effect of the lies has, in some ways, been good? What do you do then? Where do you draw the line?

Beth's decision to place her story on a spaceship completely left to its own devices, with death for all just on the other side of a few feet of metal, complicates all of these questions wonderfully. There are no easy answers on Godspeed, Beth seems to suggest, and maybe there aren't for us either.

Have you all noticed any other YA novels using a microcosm to look at society in general? Were they effective? What did they examine? Do you like this technique?

Jeff Hirsch
The Eleventh Plague
Coming from Scholastic, Fall 2011

Find me at jeff-hirsch.com and @jeff_hirsch

Interviewing Beth Revis is Out of this World!

If you are into YA lit, you would have to have been on another planet to not know that on 1/11/11, Beth Revis's debut novel, ACROSS THE UNIVERSE was released into the world! YAY!

Beth's a fellow Leaguer and I just interviewed her about AtU. Here's some fun insights about Beth and her book!

So, Beth, you've been into space and star-gazing since you were a child. If you had the opportunity to go into space, say to the international space station, would you? Why or why not?


I would love love love to go into the stars. I'm nowhere near disciplined (or fit) enough to be a real astronaut, but can I please go into space as a passenger? That would be awesome. I just want to sit by the window and STARE. I'm so excited about some of the advances we've had recently in this area--I've got my eyes on Virgin Galactic --and I really do think this might be a possibility within my life time. 

Also: if that doesn't work, I am ready and willing to be a companion to Doctor Who. Just putting that out there.

When did you start writing AtU?

I started over Christmas break, between 2008 and 2009. I wrote the whole spring semester of 2009--since I was teaching at the time, I mostly wrote during teacher work days and Spring Break and weekends, and I finished writing at the start of summer break. I used the summer to revise, and then started subbing it to agents near the beginning of the fall semester.

Edited to add: I'm a doofus and terrible with numbers; I originally had the dates wrong here. I wrote it in 2009, sold in 2010, published in 2011. Sorry for the mix-up!! --Beth

Did it come as a fully-formed story? Or a small idea?

The idea hit me around Thanksgiving or so in 2008--or, rather, the end of the story hit me then. I had this idea for a great twist, and so for the next few months after that, I spent my time thinking about a story that I could develop that would use that twist. 

That said, when I started writing, I was still a little bit in the dark. A quote by EL Doctorow basically sums up my writing method: "Writing a novel is like driving a car at night. You can only see as far as your headlights, but you can make the whole trip that way."

How did you go about making up the slang for AtU? Was it difficult? Or did it seem natural?

I loved studying linguistics in college--I only took a few classes, but they were so interesting that I considered changing my major. I definitely wanted to include some element of language in the story because, of course, language isn't static and is constantly changing. I did not, however, want to force people to flip to a glossary just to understand what was being said. 

I figured that the first thing in language that changes is the curse words and the slang. You can see that even within the living generations today (consider, for example, that while "cool" is still used, so is "beasting," "wicked," and more. Also, think about how some curse words that were taboo to older generations, such as the f-word, are now quite common in daily usage of some younger generations). So I focused my language development on those two forms, and I tried to make it clear that the words were derivatives of other words that we have now. For example, brilly comes from brilliant, chutz comes from chutzpah, loons comes from loony, and so on. 

The only "tricky" curse word I came up with is frex. Some people think that frex is a derivative from the f-word, and although it is used in place of that curse word, it's actually a derivative of something from their world. I don't want to give it away, but clever readers have made the connection between the worst curse word on the ship and the abbreviation that the word is derived from...

Your first chapter is amazing. How much research did you have to do on cryogenics? Was it easy to find out how the process would be?

I have to say that researching for science fiction is easy--at least, it's easier than if you were an actual scientist. All I had to do was find out why we don't have cryogenics now, and then invent a way to make it work. I quickly learned that the biggest difficulty in making cryogenics work now is that the cell walls break with freezing (think of freezer-burned meat). Once I knew that, I just had to invent something that would fix that--in my case, "blue goo." What is actually IN that blue goo will require years of scientific research!

How did you come up with the blueprint for the Godspeed?

I had a rough sketch of the ship--literally, a pen drawing on notebook paper. And when I say rough, I mean ROUGH.

This is all I had for the outline of the ship, and as you can see, it's super simple. A rough egg shape, divided into three levels. I had a general idea where everything was--for example, the grav tubes, the solar lamp, the engine--but really, what I sent Penguin was not much more detailed that this. 

It's so sketchy for a few reasons, but the most important one is that for me, the details are already in my head. I have the sketch there for simple directions. For example, if I need a character to go past something, I need to remember if the tube is to the left or to the right of him. 

I also broke it down and did another sketch for each level. Here's what the Keeper Level looks like in my notes:

As you can see, it's still pretty basic. But I have to say, when I sent this off to Penguin, I was amazed at how they took these simple doodles and turned it into something as amazing as the diagram that's on the reversible jacket, or the schematics that are featured on the website 

How much of you is Amy? Elder?

I think that when I wrote the book, I was most like Elder. Elder's just so darn eager to please, to be the kind of leader everyone wants him to be. By that point in my life, I'd been writing for ten years and had had zero success--and I was just so darn eager to be the kind of writer that everyone wants, the kind of writer who gets published. Actually, I was just coming off a rather bad break-up with the book I'd written before ACROSS THE UNIVERSE--I'd edited it to death, trying to please everyone else. So Elder starts of that way: doing anything to live up to everyone's expectations. But, like me, he finds his own voice throughout the course of the novel.

Amy, on the other hand, was always supposed to be the kind of girl I wanted to be: strong, super sure of herself, never willing to back down or settle. But when she breaks down toward the end of the novel--I think that's when she's most real, and most like me. To write that scene, I tapped into what it felt like to go to college. I was young (17 years old) and went to a university that was twice as big as the entire county I grew up in. My high school had about 1,200 students--my university had about 26,000 students. And it was 200 miles away. When my parents dropped me off, I was acutely aware of how alone I was: no car, no money, no way my parents could come bail me out if I got in trouble. I was alone for the first time. That's the situation I put Amy in, too.

Besides Amy and Elder, who is your favorite character and why?

Harley. Hands down: Harley. Harley's the artist, and he's the only character based on a real person. I wrote his scene while I was supposed to be grading papers during a planning period at the school where I was a teacher. I needed creative characters, so I made up Victria, the writer; Bartie, the musician, and I needed someone else. I glanced over at my podium, which a student of mine, Charley, had painted with a koi fish. I renamed the student to Harley, put the koi on his canvas, and that was his origination.

(Koi on Beth's Podium)

But, of course, he became a much more involved character. I had another artist in my life--my brother, who was bi-polar. I tapped into that as I was developing the character of Harley. If you read closely, you'll notice that he's given extra medication by the doctor of the ship to treat his condition...and that he doesn't always take his meds...

There's certainly more than a little dystopia in AtU. Do you think the events/actions you envisioned are possible only in a controlled environment like Godspeed? Or could something like that happen here on earth?

I don't think you need a spaceship for something like ACROSS THE UNIVERSE to happen, but you do need control. Right now, I don't see people giving up their freedoms for assumed safety. But one of my favorite quotes (and one I actually found through you, Julia) is by Plato: "This and no other is the root from which a tyrant springs: when he first appears, he is a protector." If we let our fear grow--and you can see this happening now, with disease and terrorism and general public fear--then it will get to a point where we'll be happy to hand over our freedoms for the illusion of safety. That's when a world like Godspeed will come true, whether on Earth or on a spaceship.

Can you tell us anything about the next two books? (Those books that everyone is anxiously awaiting!)

Not really! Even the title is secret (hint: if you like the Beatles, you might guess the title of Book 2 & Book 3....)

That said, I can say this: At least two things you think are true from ACROSS THE UNIVERSE...are actually lies.

Whoa! I can't wait! Thanks so much, Beth!

The Science of Across the Universe: Getting There--while Avoiding Freezer Burn

A glimpse of the Godspeed's
blueprints from Beth's website.
Time to state the obvious (and get my geek on). Space is big, and it takes a really long time to get anywhere good.   Science fiction writers have been dealing with this distance thing for as long as they’ve been dreaming of colonization and galactic empires. Some writers use some sort of FTL (faster than light) drive. (Think warp drive on Star Trek). Some  (Star Wars, Stargate / SG-1, Bablyon-5) use hyperspace to get from point A to point B quickly.   Others embrace the fact that it does take a while to get where they’re going.  Beth takes this old school approach in ACROSS THE UNIVERSE.

The Godspeed is a generational sleeper ship.  The colonists are frozen for the 300-year (or so) voyage.  Meanwhile generations of crew are born, live, work, and die on the Godspeed without ever even seeing the stars.  The colonists aren’t supposed to wake up until they reach their destination. However, Amy is woken up early and experiences the society that has developed over the centuries on the ship.  (We could talk all day about the society on the Godspeed, but I don’t want to give anything away. )

So let’s talk about freezing people for the long sleep.  Cryonics is the science  of freezing living matter—with the aim of ultimately thawing it out. Alive and well.  But, you can’t just dip someone in a vat of liquid nitrogen and hope for the best. Cells get damaged. (That is, you get a hell of a case of freezer burn.) Instead, the process (at least to date) involves pumping the body with a cryoprotectant—human antifreeze—to protect the tissue from damage in the freezing process. Then the temperature of the liquid is lowered. (This is actually called vitrification rather than freezing.)

Beth paints a vivid picture of the experience.  A lot of fiction imagines the cryo process something akin flash freezing peas. Someone flips a switch, and then you wake up a thousand years later as fresh as the day went into the freezer. (Think Fry on Futurama. Or Woody Allen in Sleeper) In AtU, Beth does not gloss over how it must feel to be vitrified.

Hassan squeezed the bag of blue goo again. A line of blood trickled from under Mom’s teeth where she was biting her lip.

“This stuff, it’s what makes the freezing work.” Ed spoke in a conversational tone, like a baker talking about how yeast makes bread rise. “Without it, little ice crystals form in the cells and split open the cell walls. This stuff makes the cell walls stronger, see? Ice don’t break ’em.” He glanced down at Mom. “Hurts like a bitch going in, though.”

And this is just Amy watching her mom go through it.  The process is agonizing for Amy, and the her poor neurons are still firing during her long journey.   Check out the AtU trailer for a taste of how Beth so adeptly handles this part:

(And yes, that’s Lauren Ambrose from Six Feet Under narrating!)

Need a bigger taste? Check out the first chapter of Across the Universe.

So, kudos to Beth for tackling the “reality” of the vitrification process head-on. It’s one of the many things that makes ACROSS THE UNIVERSE great science fiction—and an epic story.

So, you may be wondering how far-fetched (or far in the future) is the whole sleeper ship—or cryonics thing in general? You’ve probably heard about people wanting to be frozen after they die. (The whole Walt Disney thing is a myth, BTW.  Baseball great Ted Williams, however, was indeed frozen—and evidently his body was not treated well.) There are a few places in the world (Alcor, Cryonics Institute) that will freeze you or your pet immediately following death. (In the US, you have to be legally dead before being frozen. Sorry, vitrified.) But no one is even close to being able to revive a corpsicle, let alone a still living “sleeper.”  If you’re interested in the freezing process these places use, check out this Channel 5 documentary.

Given what you know now, would you sign up to take a sleeper ship across the universe?  Or if you had an incurable (now) disease, would you want to be frozen with the hope of being revived--and hopefully cured a few centuries from now?

Introducing ACROSS THE UNIVERSE by Beth Revis

This week is the epic launch of ACROSS THE UNIVERSE by Beth Revis! I'm starting off the awesome, and throughout this week, there will be much more to come, with Beth herself wrapping it up for us on Friday.

First up: The trailer for ACROSS THE UNIVERSE says everything.

From Beth's website:
Summary: A love out of time. A spaceship built of secrets and murder.

Seventeen-year-old Amy joins her parents as frozen cargo aboard the vast spaceship Godspeed and expects to awake on a new planet, three hundred years in the future. Never could she have known that her frozen slumber would come to an end fifty years too soon and that she would be thrust into a brave new world of a spaceship that lives by its own rules.

Amy quickly realizes that her awakening was no mere computer malfunction. Someone—one of the few thousand inhabitants of the spaceship—tried to kill her. And if Amy doesn’t do something soon, her parents will be next.

Now, Amy must race to unlock Godspeed’s hidden secrets. But out of her list of murder suspects, there’s only one who matters: Elder, the future leader of the ship and the love she could never have seen coming.

Hardcover, 400 pages
Published January 11th 2011 by Razorbill
ISBN 1595143971 (ISBN13: 9781595143976)

Audio Book also available:
Audio CD, 8 pages
ISBN 014242899X (ISBN13: 9780142428993)

Oh. My. Heck. Doesn't that sound amazing?

Well, it is. I've read it and it will blow your mind. Blow your mind, people! You can get signed copies (after tomorrow) and check out other awesomeness on Beth's book page.

My Twitter Review: With strong storytelling, brilliant writing, creepy characters, and a budding romance, ACROSS THE UNIVERSE has everything to satisfy readers. (Okay, so sue me. I have one extra character.)

Other Noteworthy Things:

Congrats, Beth! Here's to a successful launch week!

So, who's had a chance to read Across the Universe? Let us know in the comments (no spoilers, please!). Who is going to die if tomorrow doesn't come like RIGHT THIS SECOND?? We wanna know that too.

It's a Book Baby! Welcome to the World, XVI!

Wow! Just like giving birth to a baby, I don't think anyone could've prepared me for the actual birthing of a book baby! Welcome, XVI! With human babies, you pretty much know that nine months after conception, you're gonna give birth. With books -- nuh uh...

Here's a peek at the conception-to-birth path of XVI.

Conceived: November 1, 2005 (in the back seat of NaNoWriMo - National Novel Writing Month!)

Formative milestones:
1st complete draft, November 30, 2005
1st revision, January, 2006
Made mistake, tried to birth, March, 2006 (we will not talk about that!)
1st showed to critique group, October, 2006
2nd revision complete, July 2007
Queried possible midwives (agents), July through October, 2007
Found midwife, November 2007
3rd revision, complete, December 2007
Midwife began querying doctors (editors), March 2008
Possible doctor found, September 2008
4th partial revision, complete, October 2008
Hospital, declined, January 2009
5th total revision, complete March 2009
Same doctor, still interested, June 2009
New doctor, interested, July 2009
Both doctors want to birth, August 2009 (tough choice!)
Choose original doctor, September 2009
Pre-natal surgery, April through June 2010
Obligatory waiting period

Birth Announcement -- It's a Bouncing Baby Book!
Name: XVI
Mother: Julia Karr
Doctor: Jen Bonnell
Midwife: Kate Schafer Testerman
Hospital: Penguin, USA
Delivery Room: Speak
Date of Delivery: 1/6/2011

Mother and Baby - exhausted, but doing fine!

This week has been an amazing roller-coaster of emotions -- hopes, fears, dreams, joy, and tears -- all tumbling out at various times, sometimes simultaneously. Just like having a baby (and I know of whence I speak!) Thanks to everyone for attending the birth of my book baby! She's already everything I dreamed she'd be!

Buzzing about XVI

Oh my heck! Oh my heck! Our first Leaguer is out of the gate today with XVI! If you haven't already, go get your copy, and join us here on the blog for a discussion.

Here's what people out there are saying:

"Gender politics and sexual awareness play prominent roles in Karr's thought-provoking dystopian debut, set in a totalitarian future. A solid, enjoyable story." ~Publishers Weekly

“A fun little thriller.” ~Kirkus

“In her unsettling debut, Karr depicts a sex-obsessed future where women are the perpetual victims of predatory marketing, and other societal ills seen in our present...taken to terrifying ends. ...there’s no doubt this well-written, accessible sci-fi thriller will provoke discussion.” ~Booklist

Now those are the professionals. But we all know the real pros are the readers. So you wanna know what other people are saying? How about Princess Bookie? She weighs in with FOUR CUPCAKES! That's pretty darn delicious.

And Zoe over at Zoe's Book Reviews had some amazing things to say also. Or check out Supernatural Snark's review. So if you don't believe the pros, maybe you'll believe your fellow readers. Because nothing speaks about a book louder than readers.

As for this reader, I only have a few words to say. XVI of them, actually: XVI is the kind of book you lay awake thinking about. And that’s a good thing.

Have you read XVI? Care to add your own 16-word review in the comments? Haven't read it? Tell us what you're most excited for in XVI.

Interview with XVI Author Julia Karr

One of the best parts about being in the League is the chance to read advance copies of each other's books and then talk directly to the author about them! So recently, I had a chance to pick Julia's mind about XVI, and here's what I discovered!

Where did you come up with the idea for XVI?
The initial idea for XVI was a random imaginary picture that popped into my brain. It was a teen girl walking down the street of a big city, ear buds in as she tried to block out the cacophony of noises. She stepped over a homeless person, passed out on the street. And then, she turned around - not willing to be oblivious to others any more. That was the beginning. The story itself morphed out of that.

Do you think the world of XVI--with 'verts blaring everywhere, sex treated as an expectation of girls above a certain age, and a class system based on rank--is a possibility in our own future? What do you think exists now that might one day become the world of XVI?
Unfortunately, I do think it’s a possibility for our future. We have a rapidly declining middle class. The rich are getting ultra-rich and the poor are, indeed, getting poorer. We’re heading to a two-class system of haves and have-nots. That’s one thing.

The sex expectation of girls... OMG. I don’t know if you’ve seen the recent Tom Ford layout in French Vogue - but, it is basically the sexualization of young (5 to 8 year old) girls. How anyone could consider that okay is beyond me. But, here’s the thing, and this is what makes me think the world of XVI could happen... mothers and fathers allowed their daughters to be displayed that way. Just as young girls get all decked out for pre-pre-teen beauty pageants and the like. One only has to walk through a shopping mall to see girls under twelve wearing tight, revealing clothes that have no business on a teen, let alone a child. Oh dear... ranting, aren’t I? Let’s not even talk about baby bootie high heels. Gah!

In XVI, the people are classified in levels or ranks based on their economic, academic, and employment level. It's very hard for people to break into a higher class--one reason why there's pressure on girls to join FELS. Do you think this is currently happening in our society today (or is a possibility for the future)?
Again, I think it’s a possibility. With the cost of a college education rising at a rapid pace, many families will not be able to afford to send their children to a traditional college. Scholarships will go to the star students – standouts in their studies and/or sports. Technical and two-year colleges will pick up some of the slack. Those students, traditionally, go into service industries – lower paying jobs. Back down to the haves and have-nots. Class separations begin in areas like this.

In XVI, girl are forced to get a tattoo labeling them as 16 years old (and available for sexual encounters). Men seem to have the upper-hand in this society--if a girl is an XVI, she's expected to be willing and even eager to participate in sex. The book drops us in medias res and we don't really know about the origins of this attitude and practice, but could you tell us a little bit about how the world came to be here? What happened in Nina's world's history that made society place such an emphasis on sexuality in girls?
There was a point where the Fems, in a bid to end wars forever, revolted and ended up ruling the western world. The pendulum of power tipped to the female side. But, because there wasn’t an equal balance between men and women, that same pendulum swung in the opposite direction. Men in charge of the media and big business waged a subtle, all-out psychological war against the women. The end result being – in an effort to prove their desirableness to men – they ended up giving away all their power. Of course, that focus on women being sexually desirable above all else had to be perpetuated. And, girls reaching maturity could not be allowed to really think for themselves, lest the Fems of the past be revived.

I thought that Sandy and Nina were two sides of a coin--Sandy embraced the XVI world, and Nina was uncertain of it. Why do you think these two girls are so different--how did their different view points develop? And why did they become such close friends anyway?
Geography played a lot in their becoming friends. When Nina’s mother moved her family out to Cementville, Sandy lived in the house next door to them. And, Sandy’s really a sweet, fun girl. Of course, they developed so differently because of their mothers. Nina’s mother didn’t trust the government and didn’t believe girls were nothing but sex objects. Sandy’s mother was desperate for Sandy to either get into FeLS or get married to a higher tier. She was constantly encouraging Sandy to practice being desirable. Nina’s mother was just the opposite.

Some reviewers have said that XVI is pro-abstinence. Was that your intent with the novel? What is your position on abstinence?
It was my intent to write a story, not take a stand on issues. As far as abstinence goes... well, it hasn’t worked so well for a lot of people, has it?

My position is that teens should be educated about sex. What it is, why it is, what can happen if you have sex, how to be safe, and how to say no, and to understand that no means no. All the ramifications of becoming sexually active should be right out there for girls and guys to understand. Teens are constantly being bombarded with images on TV, in movies, and on-line about sexuality – not to mention that their bodies are a mass of raging hormones. I personally think it’s unrealistic to think that abstinence is the only answer. There’s just too much going on physically, mentally and emotionally for teens to be able to make good decisions regarding sex – UNLESS they are making their decisions from an educated and (to them) moral place.

Can you tell us a little about the sequel to XVI coming out next year?
The sequel, tentatively titled “The Sisterhood,” is a continuation of Nina’s world and what happens when the FeLS scandal breaks loose (including “all hell” with it.)

I was fascinated with the lives of your side characters. Mike's sister is mentioned only for a few pages, but I felt as much sympathy with her as I do with some of the other larger characters' fates. Will we be seeing her in the sequel?
Yes. Mike’s sister, Joan, definitely plays a part in the sequel.

What one theme or lesson or idea do you hope readers get from XVI?
I would hope that readers of XVI would stop for a minute and think, really think, about the way girls are viewed in our society. They should be cherished in their childhood and allowed to become adults at their own pace – not at the pace of corporate bottom lines.

I hope you all enjoyed learning more about the world of XVI as I did! I have to say, I find it fascinating to learn about the history of the world and of Nina in particular, and I, for one, agree entirely with Julia's stance about education over abstinence. Do you have any other burning questions for Julia?

Who Were you When you Were XVI?

First off, YAY!!! Our first League release! Congratulations Julia! We all know this book is going to hit the world like gangbusters!

In anticipation of this release I got to thinking that one of the things that really struck me about XVI is how well Julia depicts the momentous experience of going from 15 to 16. There's something about that transition and our reaction to it that seems to form so much of who we are and who we come to be. 

Who knows, maybe it's because 16 is when we start driving (at least here in the States) and we feel that first adrenaline rush of freedom and power, or maybe because we're finally rounding the corner into the last leg of High School and thinking more and more about college and beyond. 

Whatever the reason, for me 16 felt like a major pivot point between being a kid and being an adult. From your place at 15 everything on the other side seems simultaneously thrilling and terrifying, like you're about to step into a whole new world. This is exactly what's happening to Nina in XVI, and it's so well expressed in the book.

So in the spirit of XVI, I'm wondering what all of you were like when you were just 16.

I'll start.

Yeah, this was me. Me and my glorious glorious mullet. 

Beyond sporting the "business-in-front, party-in-back look," who was I? Musically I was moving out of my all Prince all the time mode and starting to discover 80's angst rock like REM, The Cure, Siouxsie and the Banshees, New Order, XTC and others. I had just started to drive (my dad's old powder blue Chevy Malibu) and was dating a cute and spunky red head with a  turned up nose who eventually completely broke my heart.

Most importantly, I was starting to get into theater in a big way. The above picture is from a production of Man of La Mancha.  Ever since I was little I remember looking for what my thing was. I knew it wasn't sports or music or academics. I dabbled in drawing and writing, but for some reason when I got up on stage the first time, that's when I felt myself slide into something that felt right to me. I was more and more sure that this was the path for me in life. The funny thing is that in a way it actually was, acting lead to writing plays seriously which that lead to writing books so in a way I'm still on that path, it was just a bit twistier than I imagined.

Ok, so I went ahead and embarrassed myself a bit here, so how about all of you, in honor of the release of Julia Karr's XVI, tell us a little about yourself at 16.  Who were you? What were you doing? What were you thinking? Did the 16 year old you lead directly to who you are now?

Jeff Hirsch
The Eleventh Plague
Coming from Scholastic, Fall 2011

Find me at jeff-hirsch.com and @jeff_hirsch

Introducing XVI by Julia Karr

This week we’re celebrating the release of our own Julia Karr’s first book, XVI.  (And next week is dedicated to the release of Beth Revis’ ACROSS THE UNIVERSE.) So, I’m kicking it off with a little introduction to XVI.  During the rest of the week, we'll cover the book more in depth, talk to Julia, maybe do something fun, and then end with a wrap-up by Julia herself.  On to XIV! (btw, check out the pic below of XVI spotted out in the wild!)

XVI spotted face out in a Nashville bookstore.

The Jacket Blurb (via Amazon):

Nina Oberon's life is pretty normal: she hangs out with her best friend, Sandy, and their crew, goes to school, plays with her little sister, Dee. But Nina is 15. And like all girls she'll receive a Governing Council-ordered tattoo on her 16th birthday. XVI. Those three letters will be branded on her wrist, announcing to all the world - even the most predatory of men - that she is ready for sex. Considered easy prey by some, portrayed by the Media as sluts who ask for attacks, becoming a "sex-teen" is Nina's worst fear. That is, until right before her birthday, when Nina's mom is brutally attacked. With her dying breaths, she reveals to Nina a shocking truth about her past - one that destroys everything Nina thought she knew. Now, alone but for her sister, Nina must try to discover who she really is, all the while staying one step ahead of her mother's killer.

Reading level: Young Adult
Paperback: 272 pages
Publisher: Speak; Original edition (January 6, 2011)
ISBN-10: 0142417718
ISBN-13: 978-0142417713

My Favorite Things:
  • Strong, compelling female characters.  Nina is a jeans-and-t-shirt kind of gal who’s not taken in by the media hype.  Best friend, Sandy, on the other hand, buys the whole “sex-teen” thing wholeheartedly—because she sees it as a way out of poverty. 
  • The setting. Future Chicago is almost like another character in the story.
  • Heart-wrenching ending.  That’s all I’m gonna say!
Anyone else had a chance to read XVI yet? If so, what were some of your favorite things? Please no spoilers!