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YA Author Rendezvous

Creativity Unleashed: Books for the young and the young at heart

Month

October 2015

How To Design Book Covers That Rock #1: Photo Fragments

Written by
Sarah Wathen

Readers do judge books by their covers. Everyone knows that. But indie authors also know that this book publishing business can be expensive, hiring good artists and designers particularly so. Yes, we have to wear a lot of hats—author, marketer, social media guru. Some things you have to farm out, like editing (please, please, please don’t do that yourself). But you’re probably creative, since writing is an art form after all, so you may want to give cover design a try.

If you’d like to make your own book covers, the best place to start is by looking at some excellent ones to get your creative juices flowing and understanding how you might try a similar design technique.

Lately, I’ve been loving book covers that use fragments of photos. What is left out is the most important part of the image. It’s not so much a beautiful photograph that you see but the part of the beautiful photograph that is missing. You have to fill in the rest with your imagination—just like the best books.

adThis one above looks professional and artistic, yet an amateur with vision could do it. It may be difficult to stage a full scale model shot, but if you have an iPhone, a friend with pretty hands, black drapery, and a nice tarot card, you could pull something like this off.feaAn areal photo of a landscape? Blah-di-blah. But print out that photo, fold it up like a map and re-shoot it on a white table? Three-dimensional and eye-catching!
bae

The photograph above could’ve been a stock photo purchased online. Again, print that photo out and tear into it, then re-photograph with text.

beaeg

Since I’m a painter, this one sparks my interest most. I simply can’t stop looking at the physicality of those brush strokes. They are so jarring, beautiful yet frustrating—blocking my view. I’m dying to read the book to find out what I’m missing! But again, print out a plain old boring seascape, apply paint, then photograph again with proper lighting.
wgg

This last one would be admittedly harder to pull off and was probably accomplished in Photoshop. Such gorgeous results, however. The fact is, if you are going to give cover design a shot, Adobe Photoshop is pretty essential to have. You’ll need it for the finishing touches and typography anyway. It’s an expensive program, but there are ways to ease the pain. I personally have an Adobe Creative Cloud account, by which I can access any Adobe program I want (and always have the very newest version) for $50 a month. The learning curve can seem steep, but anything you want to try can be Googled and you’ll find dozens of step-by-step tutorials on how to do it.

All of these covers rock because of the brain power that went into making them. Brainpower is something we authors usually have in spades. And who knows your book better than you do? There is nothing more satisfying than designing the perfect cover for your own book. Give it a try…but do it right! Do your research and learn from the best.

 

Lessons Learned from Authors

2410-153219Written by
Paul Briggs

Most of what I know about writing I learned from other writers. Sometimes they were literal teachers — my creative writing instructor at Washington College was a novelist named Robert Day — but usually I learned from reading their works and seeing what they did right or wrong.

One lesson came from a writer at alternatehistory.com: Never put the same tragedy in the backstories of two different characters, or it will turn into a running joke. (The writers of Avatar: The Legend of Korra could have profited from this.)

From Orson Scott Card (yes, really): This is something Card learned from a teacher named Francois Camoin: “When you have a word embodied in a story, the word itself should never appear.” Card applied this to his short story “Eumenides in the Fourth Floor Lavatory.” To pick an example everyone’s likely to be more familiar with, read The Runaway Bunny and notice how the word “love” isn’t in it.

From Harlan Ellison: That thing you think is too controversial to write about? Go ahead and write about it. Ellison once wrote a short story, “Croatoan,” about aborted fetuses surviving and growing in the New York City sewers. It got pretty much the reception you’d expect. He survived.

From H.P. Lovecraft: Know your strengths and weaknesses. Lovecraft couldn’t write dialogue that sounded like people talking, so he seldom wrote dialogue at all.

From Arthur Machen: Never write a paragraph so long it doesn’t fit on the page. When I tried to read those extra-long paragraphs of his, it felt like my eyeballs were holding their breath, if that makes any sense.

From Vladimir Nabokov: If you use a word the reader isn’t likely to know, make sure they can guess it from context, or at least find it in the dictionary. I’m still a little irritated over that phrase “lithophanic eternities” in a crucial passage ofLolita. My best guess is that a lithophanic eternity is supposed to be better than a non-lithophanic one.

From Naomi Novik: The rule “show, don’t tell” doesn’t apply to everything — just the things that matter. Carefully violating it can be a good way to draw a distinction between the details of a scene that are actually important and that the reader should remember, and those that are just there to make the scene feel complete. I learned this from reading a paragraph in which Novik described a conversation in terms of social dynamics without once quoting anybody or saying what they were talking about. Try reading Poe’s “Masque of the Red Death,” and notice how detailed he is in describing the suite of rooms, and how vague in describing the revelers.

From Terry Pratchett: A humorous tone throughout most of a novel doesn’t take away from its ability to handle serious matters — in fact, it can make the serious moments all the more poignant.

From Harry Turtledove: It’s better to create one complex and interesting character than a hundred that are barely sketched out. (Turtledove has done both.)

From Bookworm to Social Butterfly

wwywtryWritten by
Julie Tuovi

The eReader was a great invention for YA fiction-addicted adults everywhere—for those who dared read that awful Twilight gender swap book without getting flack from coworkers! In PRE eReader days, there was no hiding your reading preferences from the lunchroom crowd: your cover was right there for the world to see!

(YOU know what I’m talking about, you book addict, you. I know I’m not the only one who got odd looks for reading Harry Potter during my law school downtime, instead of catching up on Wills and Trusts…)

But the eReader era brought a breath of relief, didn’t it? Thousands of books at your fingertips, and no one is any the wiser as to whether you’re reading Hunger Games or an age-appropriate, snooze-worthy biography on the subway. Because hey, all eReaders look essentially the same from the back, don’t they?

But good news! Socially outcast bookworms everywhere now have reason to rejoice! There’s no reason to hide that copy of Abraham Lincoln, Vampire Slayer behind your Chemistry textbook anymore. Contrary to what the popular “antisocial bookworm” stigmas might have you believe, recent studies have shown that reading fiction actually helps you understand social cues better than your rather boring coworker who “only reads the New York Times, thanks.”

As Scientific American put it:

“… stories are simulations of a kind that can help readers understand not just the characters in books, but human character in general… The seemingly solitary act of holing up with a book… is actually an exercise in human interaction… it can hone your social brain, so that when you put your book down, you may be better prepared for camaraderie, collaboration, even love.”

BOOYA, HATERS!!

According to the smarty pants scientists running these studies, reading fiction actually STRENGTHENS my social ties and INCREASES my empathy towards others. How’doya like that, Professor?

I’m going to go out on a limb here and say that this fiction reading simulation thing also applies to any future zombie apocalypse that may or may not take place in the near future. Look, all I’m saying is that if reading fiction is a simulation for real life, I’ve got this zombie thing under control.

Just saying.

But, if you really wanna get nit picky about genres, literary fiction is your best bet for understanding emotional intelligence. In a study published by the journal, Science, researches found that:

“… after reading literary fiction, as opposed to popular fiction or serious nonfiction, people performed better on tests measuring empathy, social perception and emotional intelligence—skills that come in handy when you are trying to read someone’s body language or gauge what they might be thinking.”

Apparently this is because literary fiction leaves more to the imagination than, say, fantasy does. (Um… okay? Not sure I agree with that…) But in turn, this “encourages readers to be more sensitive to emotional nuance and complexity.”

This “fiction-induced empathy” is serious business, you guys. Through a series of MRIs, Scientific American proved that while reading fiction, a person’s emotions mirror that of the protagonists. (So basically, it’s okay that you cried when Dumbledore died—it’s just science!) And it is exactly these fictional, empathetic feelings that prepare us for handling emotions in real life.

So DOWN with the antisocial bookworm stigma! Books aren’t just an escape from the “real world” anymore… they’re a vehicle to understanding human emotion. Bring it on Wallflowers. It’s your time to shine!

What YA Readers Really Want In Their Strong Female Leads

Blog image10.255
Written By
Melissa A. Craven 
Author of the Emerge Series

What kind of main characters do YA readers really want to see in the books they read? What makes a “strong young woman” strong?

There’s all sorts of talk about this subject, especially with the recent addition to the Twilight series, Life and Death, Twilight Reimagined, involving a reversal in gender roles. Meyer wanted to show the world that Bella’s portrayal of the “damsel in distress” was situational, and had she been a boy surrounded by supes, he would have been in distress as well. While that is a very plausible argument, creating a strong-willed female lead is a careful balancing act that is not easily accomplished.  

In my own series, Emerge, my main motivation for writing the book was to create a true, realistic example of that young woman of strength. (And I like to think I achieved that with Allie.) I knew Allie needed to have an inner fire and a firm resolve to do what was necessary. She needed to face adversity head on and succeed. All qualities that most female leads possess. But here’s where YA has failed me as a reader in recent years. The heroine should not be all of these things to the detriment of her male counterpart! We as writers who influence younger minds, should not set the tone of tearing men down in order to raise women up. A successful female lead should be the epitome of strength, but her love interest should be the one at her side fighting the good fight with her, knowing that she can take care of herself. They should be a team. They each need to have a vulnerable side, with flaws and room to grow as individuals. They are young, so they also need to make mistakes and struggle with confidence. She’s going to have her moments of drama and he’s going to act like a douche sometimes, but at their cores, they should represent equality and have respect for one another. This generation of readers are passionate about equality and they want to see heroines and heroes they can admire.

The best example I’ve seen recently (other than my own series, Emerge, did I mention that yet? You can get it here) is the Defiance trilogy by C.J. Redwine. Rachael has backbone and determination, and the men in her life (father, grandfather and love interest) haven’t coddled her. They teach her how to fight and survive using her own skills and wit. Logan has his moments when he’s completely exasperated with her, but he knows Rachel doesn’t need him to hold her hand. Defiance is a remarkable example of gender equality in YA. See my review of Defiance, and check out Redwine’s upcoming Fairytale retelling, The Shadow Queen due out early next year.

If you’re a reader who loves books with strong girls and the amazing guys who stand beside them, check out my wall of #strong girls on my website to discover new books by authors like Kayla Howarth and her series The Institute.

Author Spotlight: Paul Briggs

PB-page1

Written by
Linda Higgins and Michelle Lynn

Here we go again! This is the second author spotlight from the Young Adult Author Rendezvous and we have a good one for you. Paul Briggs is the author of Locksmith’s Closet and we’re excited for you to get to know him!

Tell us about your book.

A boy discovers a portal to the future, finds nobody living there and sets out to discover what happened.

Who is your favorite character that you’ve written? What makes them special?

Her name is Rikki. She’s the least predictable. Depending on the situation, she can be businesslike, rebellious, heroic or just plain fun. If she weren’t such an exhausting character to write, I’d give her her own spinoff.

What is your favorite type of scene to write and why?

Any scene where a character is exploring a new place. I love trying to capture the look and feel of a setting.

What authors have inspired you to write?

Many. If I were to single out a couple, they’d be Isaac Asimov and Harlan Ellison.

What age were you when you started writing?

I think I must have been six or seven. I taught myself to read at age two, so I had a head start. Learning to write things that other people would want to read took me a lot longer.

Do you ever experience writer’s block?

Often. Usually it’s because there’s a specific place where I just don’t know how to tell the story. I deal with it by starting work on something else.

Do you work with an outline, or just write?

Generally I start by just writing, then realize this mess I’m making needs some organization and start creating an outline.

Does anything you write ever trigger emotions? For example, do you get sad when a character dies or excited while writing fight scenes?

Planning and writing a scene does trigger some of the same emotions as reading it. I did have fun writing the fights and escapes, although I tried to make the violence in the last fight scene a little uncomfortable to read. The scenes where Lock and Gary are angry, sad or despairing were definitely the hardest for me to write.

Your series has a lot to do with time travel. What drew you to this topic?

Originally, it wasn’t so much the time travel itself as what it revealed — the empty and abandoned world. It was only as I was writing that I realized the portal had to be more than just a plot device.

In your book, Locksmith’s Closet, your characters travel forward in time. If you had that ability, would you rather get to see the future or experience the past? Why?

I’d rather see the future, just out of curiosity. I can read about the past, after all, and there isn’t any bygone era I’ve read about that I’d like better than the present day. (Although I think I would have appreciated the nineties a little more if I’d known what was coming next.)

If you were a super hero, what would your power be?

Telekinesis. It would have so many practical applications.

Traditional publishing, Indie publishing, or self-publishing? Why did you choose to go the way that you did?

I wish I could claim that I’m a heroic pioneer in the self-publishing revolution. Truth is, I just couldn’t find an agent.

Can you tell us about your upcoming book?

My next book is Altered Seasons. I’m hoping to have it published traditionally. It’s about a group of politicians and ordinary people coping with a relatively sudden change in the climate after the sea ice in the Arctic Ocean melts one year. I’m also going to use NaNoWriMo to try to finish Locksmith’s Journeys, or at least get it close to finished.

What has been the toughest criticism given to you as an author? What has been the best compliment?

The toughest criticism I’ve ever gotten was after I’d written a series of short stories about a woman with gigantism. One person felt that I’d made light of what would be a really tragic situation.

The best compliment was when my teenage nephew told me he’d read Locksmith’s Closet in one sitting. (That draft of it was several thousand words longer than the final product.)

Do you have any advice to give to aspiring writers?

Be a good listener. There are a lot of people out there with a lot of stories that will give you lots of ideas. Also, this will improve your ear for dialogue.

What People are saying about Paul Briggs and Locksmith’s Closet:

“What a story! It’s one of those that you’re sure is headed in one direction and then takes a detour that makes it an even better story.  You won’t be able to stop reading.” 

“Rather than be a plot-driven story, it becomes a character-driven story, and with it we become closer to the characters as they deal with the harsh realities and tragedies that life in their own world has to offer. It becomes very introspective and philosophical, and I must say, I did not see that coming. I would recommend this story to anyone who enjoys Young Adult or time-travel stories. I can only hope that Part 2 of this trilogy comes out soon. Well done, Mr. Briggs.” 

“The writing and plotting of this book is absolutely the equal of anything published by the big publishing houses. Briggs is a formidable new talent. I’m on the edge of my seat waiting for the next installment!” 

Check out Paul Briggs’ author page on YAAR to learn more!

The Reader’s Perspective

Vertical stack of eight straw hats in a variety of shapes, textures, colors, and sizes, trimmed with ribbons, feathers, and raffia. Isolated on white background, vertical format.

Written by 
Elizabeth Woodrum

I have considered myself to be an author since I independently published the first book in my children’s mystery series, The Maisy Files, in 2013.  But, I have been a teacher for thirteen years.  During that time, I’ve taught reading and writing skills to students of a variety of ages.

I’m also an avid reader.  I simply cannot be without a book.  But, I often find myself wearing a variety of hats while reading.  I have my regular reader hat, my teacher hat, and my author hat.  It’s not uncommon for me to be piled high with imaginary headwear.

There are some books that I am able to get swept away in and simply enjoy as a reader.  But, often, inspiration strikes and I have to pause to jot down some notes for a future story.  Sometimes, the educator in me jumps up and down and screams something along the lines of, “This would be great for teaching metaphors!” or “This is a great text for introducing plot structure!” I have to pause for her, too. She’s a little bossy.

Though it is a bit tedious to manage my unintentional interrupting of my own reading, I have come to appreciate the different perspectives I have when it comes to reading great literature. I think it helps me to fully immerse myself in a story and identify with the characters.  But, I think everyone has different hats to wear while reading.  Each of us brings something different to our interpretation of a story based on our experiences.   Before I became a teacher and an author, I still appreciated and enjoyed a character-driven story.  I still do.  But, now I recognize learning opportunities and have a deeper respect for a perfectly constructed conflict.

So, the bossy teacher in me would like to assign you all a task.  The next time you find a great book, purposefully pause and consider it with a perspective that is uniquely yours, one that doesn’t often make its way into your reading time.  You may find a deeper meaning or even a little levity.  Share your thoughts with another person.  Find a teachable opportunity and bring out your inner teacher.  In other words, identify your own reader hats and wear them proudly.

How to Write a Basic Outline

Written by
Shari Tapscott

Outlining—you either love it or hate it. I happen to love it, and I’m going to share my approach with you today.

When I was in school, outlining felt suffocating. It was like death to creativity. Nothing irked me more than a free writing assignment that required an outline—and I usually wrote one after the fact (not exactly what my teachers had in mind, I’m sure). Years later, when I was attempting my first NaNoWriMo, I decided I needed some sort of strategy to get my word count in. I wrote the major points of my book in three paragraphs and called it good. And it was pretty good. I knew the main events and the ending, and it helped a bunch. But at the end of November, my manuscript was still a mess. I knew I could do better.

Fast-forward a couple more years, and now I proudly call myself an obsessive outliner. I use a mishmash of techniques that I’ve tweaked to fit my style. Before I begin to explain how I do it, I want to say that I don’t think there’s a right or wrong way to outline—you need to do whatever feels good to you. And if that means pantsing it (writing by the seat of your pants), then do it! This is just what works for me. I hope it’ll help you as well.

Sum up your idea

First, I start by summing up my story into one paragraph. What’s it about? Who are the characters? How does it end?

Divide the idea into four parts

After that, I divide my idea into four parts and write a summary paragraph for each section, making sure to end the first three sections in conflict. I like to have something inconvenient happen to my character at the quarter mark and halfway through the book. The climax hits about three-quarters of the way through, and then the last quarter is for overcoming the problem and wrapping up the story.

Expand the sections into chapters

There are several ways you can go from this point. You have your story’s skeleton—you can start writing, if you want. Some writers will go on to expand these paragraphs into a page or two. Others may take it a step further and begin chapter outlines. That’s what I like to do.

I decide how many words is ideal for my novel. Then I decide how many chapters I want. For an 80,000 word novel, I’ll usually shoot for thirty. I like to write in short chapters, and that puts me at just under 2,700 words in each.  You can have shorter chapters; you can longer ones. It’s completely up to you, and they’re bound to change as you’re writing.

Since I know I need my conflict at 1/4, 1/2, and 3/4 of the way through the story, those are the first chapters I fill in. For example, for my 80,000 word novel, I will have the 1/4 conflict at 20,000 words, which will fall in Chapter 7.

After I have my conflict in place, I begin to fill in each chapter. These little summaries don’t have to be long. I write a paragraph for each. Often, I will find I don’t have quite enough story points to fill them all in, and I brainstorm for ideas until I have a story that flows from beginning to end.

Now, as I’m writing my book, things often change. I’ll just go back and tweak my outline as needed. Sometimes one of my chapters will end up as two chapters. Other times two chapters may merge into one. Nothing is set in stone. The outline just keeps me moving toward the conflict.

After that, I begin to write! That’s really all there is to it. During my planning stages, I also like to fill out character and setting questionnaires. They really help if you’re stuck in the development stage; you’re bound to get new ideas when you’re working on them.

Whether you choose to outline or not, I hope this was useful for you! Also, if you have your own technique, be sure to add it in the comments. I love to hear how other people tackle the pre-writing stage.

Reading like a Writer

keep-calm-and-read-a-book-books-quotesWritten by
Marley Boldra

We all have our favorite books that are worn and dog-eared from reading over and over again and we have those books that we can’t even make it halfway through. Have you ever wondered why you didn’t like that particular story? In order to avoid making those mistakes, we must read books with a writer’s mind.

To read like a writer, we need to differentiate why we are drawn to a story and what turns us away. Here are some tips to keep in mind the next time you’re reading a book.

Keep a Journal
I find that it helps to makes notes to yourself on thoughts you’ve had during the day, or an idea that sparked while reading a story. Make observations to yourself on whether you liked or disliked a theme or element of the story you’re reading. Write about what you would do differently.

It helps for you to understand why you like a certain piece of writing, or why you don’t. Write those ideas down and you will be able to reference them at a later date.

Critique a Story
What do you like about the story? Is it fast paced with relevant details? Are the character so life-like that you have no problem following their story? What do you dislike?

Reread your favorite book and find out what elements draw you in. Mark or copy down any passages or descriptions that you really liked, then explain why you enjoyed them. The purpose of critiquing a story is to identify what techniques appealed to you and what turned you away.

Question everything! The author has included or excluded a pieces of information for a reason, rereading the story will help you to identify why that information was presented in that fashion. Making extensive remarks in your journal will help you understand which techniques you prefer.

Practice plotting by drawing out a diagram of books you’re reading. It will help you to see how the author pulled together their elements.

Keep Reading
Lastly, don’t stop reading! Expanding your reading base will give you insight to improvements that you can make to your own writing. You may discover a brand new technique that will work perfectly with your style. If you’re stuck on your current novel, pick up a book. Something in the text may spark your imagination and start your creative juices flowing.

Meow V. Woof: The Battle of the Book

Woof vs Meow

Written by
Cynthia Port

In the world of real things cats win—at least by the numbers.  According to the Humane Society, the US has 86 million purrfect domestic kitties but only 78 million tail waggin‘ doggies.  But in the world of fictional characters (books, cartoons, movies, etc.) the situation isn’t just reversed, it’s tipped over onto its adorable, swivel-eared head.  Sure, you can find examples of beloved dog and cat characters aplenty, but keep trying to name them, and you’ll run out of cat characters long before you run out of the Fido’s of fictiondom, the Cujo’s of crime, or the Lassie’s of late night.

On Wikipedia’s pages about fictional animal characters, the cat and dog lists are broken down into literature, comics, film, and television.  The cat list offers 26, including Garfield, the Cheshire Cat, the Cat in the Hat, Puss in Boots, Sylvester the Cat, Tom & Jerry, The Aristocats, and the cats in Stuart Little and Sabrina, the Teenage Witch. But hold onto your leashes, folks, because the dog list has 285, including such well-bred notables as Scooby Doo, Clifford the Big Red Dog, Martha from Martha Speaks, Hank the Cowdog, Underdog, Einstein, Timbuktu, Snowy from Tintin, 101 Dalmations, Bolt, Old Yeller, Snoopy, Marmaduke, Toto, the Beverly Hills Chihuahua and on and on and on and (Down, boy!) on!

But if there are so many cat lovers on this planet (and as evidence I present to you the internet), why aren’t cats at least equally reflected in our most beloved forms of entertainment?   I suspect there are two main reasons:

  1.  Dogs love cars and walks and travel. They are at their happiest when they are on an adventure with you.  Cats not so much.  If you are featuring a cat in your book or movie, for the most part it will need to take place inside a house or within a relatively small geographical area.  That’s limiting for an author.

 

  1. While cats experience emotions just as intensely as dogs, they don’t express them as obviously. A cat’s emotional signs are subtle, but it’s easy to “read” the emotions of a dog – their eyes, mouth, eyebrows, tails, sounds—pretty much their entire being expresses how they are feeling. Dogs are SO expressive it feels as if they are talking to us, which probably explains the plethora of talking dog characters in books and movies.

 

Actually, talking dogs is something I’m a bit of an expert on because, while I am technically (full disclosure) a cat person, my award winning humorous fiction series, Kibble Talk, features a talking dog.  Readers also get to hear what a cat has to say, but the main focus is on Dinky, an enormous and cantankerous Great Dane. I love hearing from readers that they are never able to look at their dog quite the same way again after reading my books!

Book Paw           Book cat

http://www.abebooks.com/books/famous-dog-novels-lassie-marley/dogs-fiction.shtml

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