Second Book Week: Title Redacted

Wow! Can't believe it's already second book time! So excited to read about all my fellow bloggers next books and I'm really looking forward to telling you every single thing I can about my next book.

Unfortunately, every single thing I can tell you is....nothing.

I'm currently under strict orders to keep it all a big secret, including the title. So how to do a post about a book I can't talk about? Well, mostly I'm going to be irritatingly mysterious.What I thought I'd do is share a few of the inspirations for the book in hopes that they might give you a taste for what it is.

First, there's this quote by Stephen jay Gould that was probably the single biggest early influence on the book.

"No..conflict should exist because each subject (science and religion) has a legitimate magisterium, or domain of teaching authority—and these magisteria do not overlap..."

Next, a wikipedia entry.

And now a few significant locations where the book takes place.

The main character has one of her last happy memories floating late at night  in a place just like this.

This is what all the characters spend alot of time looking at.

This is where one character gets down on his knees and begs for forgiveness.

This is a major character in the book who's not entirely what he seems.
Other thank this I can tell you this is a much bigger book that The Eleventh Plague. More characters. A bigger world. It's also more on the side of a fantasy/adventure story with a little sci-fi thrown in.

I can't wait to tell you all more!

Second Book Week: Truth

Wow! Has it been a year already? I'm so excited for Truth to be coming out!

Nina Oberon’s life has changed enormously in the last few months. When her mother was killed, Nina discovered the truth about her father, the leader of the Resistance. And now she sports the same Governing Council–ordered tattoo of XVI on her wrist that all sixteen-year-old girls have. The one that announces to the world that she is easy prey to predators. But Nina won’t be anyone’s stereotype. And when she joins an organization of girls working within the Resistance, she knows that they can put an end to one of the most terrifying secret programs the GC has ever conceived. Because the truth always comes out...and the consequences can be deadly.

  • Details: Published by: Puffin/Speak, Release date: January 19, 2012, ISBN 0142417726 (ISBN13:978-0142417720)
  • Amazon | Barnes & Noble | IndieBound | BAM
  • Book Bloggers! If you are interested in a copy of TRUTH for review on your blog, please contact Penguin at:

    with your name, address, and blog information in order to request a galley. Due to the volume of email they receive, you may not get a response, but your request will be read, logged, and galleys will be distributed at Penguin’s discretion.

Second Book Week: A MILLION SUNS

All this week we're celebrating our member's second books! It's crazy (for me at least) to think of how we're already onto our second books....whew!

Godspeed was once fueled by lies. Now it is ruled by chaos.

It’s been three months since Amy was unplugged. The life she always knew is over. And everywhere she looks, she sees the walls of the spaceship Godspeed. But there may just be hope: Elder has assumed leadership of the ship. He’s finally free to enact his vision – no more Phydus, no more lies.

But when Elder discovers shocking news about the ship, he and Amy race to discover the truth behind life on Godspeed. They must work together to unlock a puzzle that was set in motion hundreds of years earlier, unable to fight the romance that’s growing between them and the chaos that threatens to tear them apart.

In book two of the Across the Universe trilogy, New York Times bestselling author Beth Revis mesmerizes us again with a brilliantly crafted mystery filled with action, suspense, romance, and deep philosophical questions. And this time it all builds to one mind-bending conclusion: They have to get off this ship.

Published by: Penguin/Razorbill
Released: January 10, 2012
ISBN 159514398X (ISBN13: 978-1595143983)

Advanced Praise:
“Revis’ interweaving of science fiction, romance,and action is deft—an especially impressive feat given the condensed time line under which this story operates. …Revis just might make straight-up sci-fi cool again.”
–Booklist, December 1, 2011

Buying Information:

Theme Week: An Ending Is Just A New Beginning

I've thought about this in real life before, but it's never really translated to reading or writing. But the whole mantra of when one thing ends, another begins is really true in storytelling.

I'm a firm believer that stories don't need to be completely closed to be satisfying. Yes, I need the drama to be wrapped up and the conflict resolved, but I don't need to know what happens five years after the book ends or anything like that. (Jeff touched on this earlier this week. I loved THE ELEVENTH PLAGUE for exactly this reason. I could imagine what else happened based on the superb storytelling Jeff had already done.)

I adored everything about Harry Potter except the fact that we know exactly what happens 19 years later. I wanted to imagine what I wanted for Harry and Ginny, Ron and Hermione and their kids/lives.

I think the best storytellers weave the elements of the story so tightly with the elements of character that the reader can formulate that perfect ending in their head after the main conflict is resolved.

Those are the kind of endings that create new beginnings for me. Those are the kind of endings I enjoy reading. Those are the kind of endings I try to write.

What do you think? Do you like the author to tell you exactly what happens, or would you rather construct that for yourself?

Theme Week: Twist Endings

I love the Twilight Zone—and all well executed twisty stories—but, let’s face it, the very title of the show has become synonymous with cliché and trope. That’s not to say you can’t write a great twist ending anymore. (Or enjoy a good TZ marathon.) Films such as the Usual Suspects and Memento are classic because of their twists.

But for a twist to work, it has to happen because it’s what needs to happen. That is, the ending needs to be organic to the story. The twist should add another layer of meaning, but at the very least it can’t be just for the sake of the gotcha.

And you have to play fair with the reader. Lay the groundwork for the twist in your story, but don’t make it too obvious. Don’t make all the characters too idiotic to figure out what’s going on. Don’t deliberately hide a fact just to prevent the reader from figuring it out until the very end. Don’t have a character wake up and find it’s all been a dream (or virtual reality or a book). The reader doesn’t want to feel fooled or tricked—or feel like you cheated. (Or didn’t know what you were doing.)

Some readers, though, are gonna hate the twist no matter what. Just like some people hate ambiguous endings or cliffhangers. But plenty of us like all three—as long as they’re well done. SyFy still runs a Twilight Zone marathon every New Years (and at least one other time a year). I can’t be the only one watching it!

How do you guys feel about twists? Any favorites (or not)?

Endings Week: New Beginnings

Was thinking about endings and ran across this list of the 50 best movie endings. It's a fun list and I generally agree with their choices. My personal favorites are ones like Say Anything, Casablanca and The Silence of the Lambs.

It struck me that each of these movies actually has a similar ending, in that they each end with a beginning. Lloyd and Diane boarding a plane into the unknown. Rick and Louis embarking on a beautiful friendship. Hannibal Lector free and getting ready to have an old friend for dinner.

In each case, the story is complete in a satisfying way but the ending makes it clear that life goes on, these characters are still out there, still having adventures. I think it makes for a powerful ending, allowing the characters to live on in our imaginations.

And now that I think about it that's actually what I was trying to do with the ending to The Eleventh Plague. The world has completed one transformation and that has opened the door to a new world for the main characters. (Being just slightly vague for any of you that haven't read it) People have mixed feelings about it to be sure. By far the most frequent question I get in emails is along the lines of "But what happens next?!" and "Will there be a sequel where you tell us what happens next?"

I think people naturally want to have things tied up and all questions answered and can be a little frustrated when they don't get exactly what what they want, or all that they want. As a writer though you're sometimes in the position of, hopefully, giving them something that might be more satisfying in the long run.

What do you guys think? Any endings that frustrated you initially but you later realized worked really well?

Theme Week: Endings, really?

I was recently talking about endings on my other blog, and a friend commented that when they were younger (12-ish) they wanted everything wrapped up neatly. They needed to know that it all worked out - even if it wasn't necessarily happy (Old Yeller, anyone?) But, she noted that as she grew older that became less and less important. And, now she prefers some mystery, some loose ends, some unanswered questions in her endings.

Well, I've been thinking about this - cause I tend to write endings with loose ends and unanswered questions. And, one of the things that hit me was - of course - I like life! And, life is one sort of frayed, raveled blanket that has no neat, tidy end.

That's it you know... I like books that remind me of the mysteries of life. There are no absolute answers - no one knows anything really for sure. Certain episodes of life have endings - or beginnings if you will. Falling in love might end in marriage - and then that's a beginning. Then there's a baby - and that's an end of a couple and a beginning of a family. Then the baby grows and leaves home and that's an end - and a beginning... and so goes life. There's birth and death - beginnings and endings  - but honestly, who's to say which is which?

Before I get too esoteric... let me just say - I like my endings real - and that doesn't necessarily mean they will be neat and tidy. Life sure isn't!

What do you like?

Theme Week: Endings

Last week we talked about beginnings. This week, we're talking about endings.

When I was an English teacher, I had to teach about the NC Writing Exam--a two-page essay every tenth grader was required to complete that was then graded by the state. This was the bane of our existence: like any teacher, I didn't want to teach to the test, but my administrators wanted good scores, so I had to teach to the test, at least to some degree.

But I tried to teach some actual, you know, writing while working on that test.

The state essay was broken up into three parts: introduction, body paragraphs, and conclusion. In a lot of ways, the conclusion was the least important. In fact, some teachers advised that students just forego it if they ran out of room on the essay form.

But I stressed to my students that often a good conclusion was the difference between getting a passing grade and getting a perfect one.

The same is true with books. A good conclusion is the difference between an okay book and a life-changing one.

And when I write conclusions, the first thing I think about it the same thing I taught my students: find a way to come full circle.

Just like The Hobbit is "there and back again," you need to, on some level, come back to the beginning of your book. It could be a literal return, like in The Hobbit when Bilbo Baggins goes back to the Shire.

But it could be symbolic. The character who started out hating her hometown can end up returning home happily--or leaving it altogether. The character who started out lovesick and end up independent and happy.

If you're struggling with your final chapter, go back to your first one. Find out a way to bring some element--a feeling, an object, a person, a thought, a wish--from the first chapter back into the last chapter. It can be different, but it needs to be there. In your first chapter, you can start with an innocent kiss--but your last chapter can be an impassioned one.

Write the Beginning...Last

Okay, so I don't think it's a huge secret that I'm a bit on the unconventional side when it comes to writing. I don't outline, I don't name characters until halfway through books, I switch up eye colors, etc. (BTW, all that gets fixed eventually. My first drafts are nightmares.)

Writing the beginning is no different. It's simple really. Don't write it first.

Now I don't necessarily write my beginning last, but I don't stress about writing it straight out of the gate either. Let me explain.

So I don't write in order. The first scene I wrote in POSSESSION shows up in the book on page 130. The second scene I wrote is the one before that one. And the third scene appears about page 45.

I don't worry about when I write the scenes. I worry about where they go in the story and how they fit with what else I've got. I worry about stitching them together with transitions. I worry about what needs to happen earlier in the book so that the scene I just wrote will make sense. And so I piece together my scenes, writing notes in between them for what needs to happen, and possible ideas for what could happen later.

I write what's in my head, and nothing more. Beginning, middle, end. Doesn't matter when it gets on the page, just that it does.

Unconventional, I know.

But I think there's something to be learned here. Beginnings do not have to be written first. Don't know your beginning? No problem. Write what you do know. You can work backward to the opening scene at any time.

When do you write your beginning? Are you able to write without having that opening scene down on paper?

Top 10 Opening Lines in Science Fiction and Fantasy

Great first lines grab the reader by the balls—eyeballs, that is. That line shows the reader a peek at what your story is going to be about.  It’s your chance to set the tone, voice, theme, setting, etc. Is it going to be high fantasy or poetic cyberpunk? Is it set in a world unlike ours? Is it ironic or whimsical? Think of that first line as your opening “we’re not in Kansas anymore” salvo.

Here are my favorite opening lines in science fiction and fantasy novels:

  1. “The sky above the port was the color of television tuned to a dead channel.”

    Neuromancer, William Gibson.

  2. "It was a bright cold day in April, and the clocks were striking 13.”

    1984, George Orwell.

  3. "It was a pleasure to burn.”

    Fahrenheit 451, Ray Bradbury.

  4. "Far out in the uncharted backwaters of the unfashionable end of the Western Spiral arm of the Galaxy lies a small unregarded yellow sun. Orbiting this at a distance of roughly ninety-eight million miles is an utterly insignificant little blue-green planet whose ape-descended life forms are so amazingly primitive that they still think digital watches are a pretty neat idea."

    Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, Douglas Adams.

  5. "All children, except one, grow up."

    Peter Pan, J. M. Barrie

  6. "The year that Buttercup was born, the most beautiful woman in the world was a French scullery maid named Annette."

    The Princess Bride, William Goldman

  7. “What’s it going to be then, eh?” There was me, that is Alex, and my three droogs, that is Pete, Georgie, and Dim, and we sat in the Korova Milkbar trying to make up our rassoodocks what to do with the evening, a flip dark chill winter bastard though dry. 

    Clockwork Orange, Anthony Burgess.

  8. "In a hole in the ground there lived a hobbit.”

    The Hobbit, JRR Tolkien.

  9. “Marley was dead, to begin with.”

    A Christmas Carol, Charles Dickens

  10. “Lyra and her daemon moved through the darkening Hall, taking care to keep to one side, out of sight of the kitchen.”

    The Golden Compass, Philip Pullman

Ok, A Christmas Carol isn’t technically considered SF/F, but it does have ghosts in it.

What are your favorite opening lines?  Any genre.

Theme Week: Beginnings - The First Impression

First impressions are everything.

You meet someone for the first time and what are you looking for? A smile? A firm handshake and an air of easy confidence? A self deprecating sense of humor? A first impression is a kind of promise. Someone is telling you "If you deal with me, this is what you can expect." Ideally that impression is going to grow over time and deepen but I think that first meeting is always the foundation your eventual understanding of the person is built on. If what comes next varies too significantly or too fast you can feel lied too, and if it doesn't change at all you feel let down.

Same with a book. You're making a promise. The first scene (maybe it's my theater background, but I always think in scenes not chapters) says "you are in this sort of world with these sorts of people and these are the kinds of things these people are concerned with."

Now establishing settings and characters are pretty obvious but when I say "the things these people are concerned with" I don't quite mean establishing the main conflict. For me, that doesn't necessarily get started in the first scene. What I mean is more like establishing the main thematic concern.

The Eleventh Plague opens with a father and son burying the son's stern ex-marine grandfather. It comes out in the scene that while the grandfather could be cruel he was really the one that was responsible for keeping them alive in their harsh post-apocalyptic world.  Once they've finished burying him they have the following conversation:

I sat beside Dad, edging my body alongside the steady in and out of his breath. He draped his arm, exhausted, over my shoulder. It felt good, but still the knot in my stomach refused to unravel.


“Yeah, Steve?”

“We’ll be okay," I asked. "Won’t we? Without him?”

When Dad said nothing I moved out from under his arm and looked up at him.

“I mean . . . nothing’s going to change. Right?”

Dad fixed his eyes past me and onto the dark trail we would start down the next morning.

“No,” he said, his words rising up like ghosts, thin and pale and empty. “Nothing’s ever going to change.”

You'll see that there's no big conflict yet, what there is a suggestion that the characters are thinking a lot about change. Their lives have always been very steady, day in and day out, but now that the grandfather is gone, maybe things can be different. It's a complicated notion for them. In some ways they desperately want change but they're afraid of it, and also on some level don't really believe it can ever happen.

As the book progresses all of those questions will play out in a more literal way between the two of them and then will grow to be the dominant concern of the book, effecting the relationships and conflicts of every other character and even the fate of the world they're in. But all that starts right here with a  first impression where you learn the general direction of the road you'll be heading down. 

So what do you all think? What are the most important things that need to be in the first few pages of a book for you to keep reading?

Theme Week: (The Cursed) Beginnings!

You've got an idea for a story, but where the heck do you start?

It's tempting to do a prologue, an entire set-up before you jump into the story - right? You want  your reader to know who your main character is, what he/she looks like, how happy/sad/nervous/scared they are... what kind of surroundings they are in. But... and this is a BIG BUT!!! DO NOT start your story that way!

If you must do a set-up -- do it for yourself. That can be your pre-story before you jump into the REAL story! And, actually it's not a bad idea to write down all kinds of character analysis on all of your characters. Detail your setting - I even draw maps and sketch out rooms, etc. Tell yourself what your characters look like. But again - DO NOT - put those into the beginning of your story. Weave those kinds of details into your first few chapters. It's not urgent (usually) that we know your MC is a blond. However, when she pulls a brown wig on to disguise herself - THEN is when we need to know that. Yes - a scene like that could be the first scene - but chances are, it won't be!

Your beginning needs to have enough mood to draw in the reader - enough voice of your MC for readers to start caring about them - and enough plot set-up that the pages are begging to be turned.

Hard? Yes. Necessary? Yes. Achievable? Most definitely, YES!

For those of you doing NaNo - remember - this month is about getting the story down. Don't concern yourself with the dreaded beginnings - just jump in and write. However, come December - your real work will begin!

Any books you can think of that immediately draw you in?

Theme Week: Beginnings

A lot of you out there are working on NaNoWriMo and arguably one of the most important things about a book is the beginning, so this week we're going to be talking all about beginnings of books.

There's one problem.

I don't really know that much about beginnings.

Here's the thing: originally, the first chapter of ACROSS THE UNIVERSE was Chapter 4. When I sent the book out to beta readers, nearly all of them felt the original beginning was kind of "blah" and that the book really picked up in Chapter 4.

The problem was, I knew that most of the time when an agent asks for a partial, he'll ask for the first three chapters.

"This sucks," I said to myself (being prone to talking to myself when I was an angsty writer). "I want them to see Chapter 4! Should I break the rules and just send the fourth chapter anyway?"

"No," myself replied. "That's a sure way for an agent to dismiss your work."

"Then what do I do?" I wailed (being also prone to wailing).

"Cut the first three chapters."

To be honest: I sort of shocked myself. I needed those first four chapters, didn't I? I needed to explain how Amy got selected, how Elder was born on the ship. I needed all that background, right?

Turns out, I didn't.

So--write the book the way you want. But when it comes time to edit, you need to figure out what your best chapter is, the point where the reader sits up and says, "Whoa."

Then cut everything before that.

(PS: If you'd like to read the first chapter of my sequel, A MILLION SUNS, click here! And for the record--that was originally a Chapter 5, and I cut the four chapters before it.)

Literary Palimpsest (Don't Worry, I Don't Know What That is Either)

Okay, so I meet the greatest people at book signings. Toni Pilcher was one said person. She is amazing, and I begged asked her to blog for me on the League today.

A little bit about her first: She is simply a graduate student at BYU pursuing her MA in English, writing her thesis on young adult literature. Even though she's a starving student, she spends her grocery money on books, and she has frequent nightmares that her bookshelves are empty.

She is so much smarter than me! So let's have her take it away!


Last summer, I attended Writing and Illustrating for Young Readers in Salt Lake City. I came with questions because I was struggling with my dystopian WIP: the story was just not progressing. At the conference, Martine Leavitt, author of Keturah and Lord Death and other wonderful YA novels, introduced me to the concept of the palimpsest. In technical terms, a palimpsest results when the writing on a clay tablet or a piece of vellum is scraped away and replaced by new writing. Often, the original words can still be seen through the new words. In a similar way, as Martine pointed out, an older story can illuminate the themes of a new story.
Now, this literary palimpsest is no new thing in YA lit. Many books are retellings of older stories. Fairy tale retellings are easy to recognize, but some retellings are more disguised. It wasn’t until after I finished Neil Gaiman’s The Graveyard Book that I realized it was a unique retelling of The Jungle Book. With this knowledge, my second reading was much more interesting!

Other books borrow plot structures. The most famous structure is probably the hero’s journey. But think of how Rick Riordan adapts plots from mythology without simply retelling the myths. And in Rebecca Stead’s When You Reach Me, aspects of the main character’s favorite book, A Wrinkle in Time, become very important to the plot.

Some books simply make references to characters or lines or themes. The characters in S.E. Hinton’s The Outsiders read Gone with the Wind, and the idea of becoming Southern gentlemen informs their decisions later in the novel. Poetry is also an important influence in The Outsiders (Stay gold, Ponyboy!), as it is in many other books. Most recently, poetry has provided motivation for the characters in Ally Condie’s Matched and Crossed. Literary palimpsest works on many levels.

After getting this great idea from Martine, I immediately began to brainstorm “master” stories that could illuminate the themes in my WIP. I settled on Shakespeare’s The Winter’s Tale, and my WIP exploded—in a good way. I have so much more insight into my characters! I’m using some of my favorite lines from Winter’s Tale, including the line that gave the play its name (“a sad tale’s best for winter”), as guides for plot, dialogue, and character development. Though I have a different character line-up and setting than the original, I’m borrowing the basic plot structure and reworking some iconic scenes. And yes, I’m even using the famous stage direction, “Exit, pursued by bear.”

Whether or not readers actually recognize the story beneath the story, I think literary palimpsest can strengthen a manuscript. For a writer, it’s like being an apprentice to a great wordsmith and having something to show for it.

Do you follow a master story when you write? Do you recognize the influence of master stories on the books you read?

Are dystopias screwing with our ability to get the big stuff done?

In a fascinating article for the World Policy Institute, Neal Stephenson (author of Reamde, Snowcrash, Cryptonomicon, etc.) argues that (1) as a society we’ve become less able to execute on the big stuff and (2) it may be the fault of us science fiction writers.

Now I feel him on the first part. He describes being a child of the 60’s growing up watching us get big things done in space. That was me, too. I was glued to the Apollo missions (as well as Star Trek, 2001, and anything space), and I later ended up working at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center.  Yet this year we watched the Space Shuttle program sputter to an end with nothing really to replace it.  So, yeah, we’re not executing on the big stuff so much at the moment.

But, is this because we’re not writing science fiction about moon colonies and galactic civilizations? Well, I don’t know about that. Granted, the science fiction leading up to (and well into) the space age embraced a certain techno-optimisim. And now we’re writing about, gasp, dystopias and steampunk. Correlation ain't causation, though.

I think we’re not executing on the big stuff not for lack of imagination but because of lack of political will. Going to the moon captured the world’s imagination, but the US got there because we were afraid the Russians were going to beat us—and drop bombs on us. Right now our leaders don’t see the strategic value of missions to near Earth orbit. (The irony is that we’re now relying on the Russians to service the space station.)

What do you guys think? Is there a connection between the literature of our imagination and our ability to get the big stuff done?

Finding your Normal

In total I've written three books. One is in a drawer and will remain there until the end of time. One is out now. One is out in Fall 2012. I'm starting number four now. Not a huge number by an stretch of the imagination, and maybe not enough to have developed some tried and true writing method,  but I'm realizing it's now enough to start making some observations about how I go about writing a book.

I noticed one quirk in particular. At around page 100 I find that all forward momentum stops cold and I'm overcome by this irresistible urge to go back and rewrite everything I've done to that point. My rational mind is usually screaming that this is me wasting time. That I'm nervous about moving forward so I want to fiddle around. During first draft time I should be pushing forward at all cost, just get that draft done and get to the time when I can rewrite the whole thing. Except I can't. My need to go back and rework the beginning is overwhelming, like some sort of migratory thing. Must go south! 

And the thing is, now that this has happened a few times I'm starting to see why it happens. And really it's pretty darn obvious. The first 50-100 pages is where the world of the story is formed. It's where we set up a character's basic traits, their key relationships and concerns. It's the foundation that everything that comes after. I didn't realize it before, but something has been saying to me "The foundation isn't set yet. Go back and fix it before you move on or the whole thing is going to collapse."

What's great about realizing this is the ability to give yourself a bit of a break. The next time I start to get to that 100 page mark I'm going to be able to say "Oh. Here I am again. Time to go back and rewrite." and not stress about it so much. It's kind of comforting too finally start to come up with your own normal.

How about you guys? Any essential writing quirks you've noticed now that you have a good amount of writing under your belts?

Things that make you go "hmmm..."

So, I just read this article about the world's most powerful laser being built. The scientists who are building it are hoping to find "ghost particles" and other dimensions.

Uh... wow! 

What do you think about this?