Saturday, November 20, 2010


Agents and editors are not our writing coaches. They’re not there to teach us how to fix mistakes we should have learned in craft classes and writing groups.

If our manuscript is close, if it’s getting there but still needs work, that’s our issue, not theirs. Hence the form rejection. Any kind of personalized rejection means they see something of value in the work and they want to encourage us to keep on writing. Congratulate your self on each of those efforts, because some agent or editor thought you were good enough to deserve the extra time in their already overfull schedule for that little encouragement. The form rejection takes a few seconds. That note meant they spent long minutes composing a note specific to you and your effort. Read it, treasure it, print it out and frame it. And then get back to writing more things. Because, unless they specifically ask to see a revised version, they don’t want you to send that piece back to them. So don’t antagonize someone who likes your work by by handing them the same piece they already rejected after a few unasked for revisions.

Monday, November 15, 2010

Boy Book Review - all the broken pieces

All the Broken PiecesAll the Broken Pieces by Ann E. Burg

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

The story of 7th grader Matt Pin is told in verse, a format I usually dislike (I'm not a poem person). But this book, one of many I learned about at the YALSA conference on diversity, gripped me from page one and never let me down. The tight writing enabled me to feel what the boy struggles through.  Matt and his Vietnamese mother were abandoned by his American soldier father before he was born. At the age of ten he was airlifted out of Viet Nam and adopted by an American family, leaving his mother and crippled half-brother behind. Three years after being adopted by an American family he's dealing with enemies in school, a beloved coach facing cancer, a new baby brother who might take his adopted family's love away, and injured Vietnam veterans who force him to confront his feelings about the past. Now his family has their own child, and he's left worrying about his future. Will there still be a place for the boy who looks different from everyone else, the boy who cannot forget his past?

This book brought back the Viet Nam era in a way no other book I have ever read did for me. The wounded vets help Matt understand that his mother had to have loved him to give him away. His adopted father deals with guilt over his medical school deferrment. And a schoolmate who hates Matt because "my brother died over there because of you," helps Matt overcome his own guilt over the accident that crippled the brother he had to leave behind.

This is more than a book for middle school and more than just a boy book. Young people and adults of all ages will be pulled into this world and time that many of us tried to forget, and that Matt cannot forget. In the end I know it's not IF Matt heads back to Vietnam to find his mother and brother, its WHEN.

View all my reviews

Friday, November 12, 2010

Return from YALSA

I came back from the YALSA (Young Adult Library Services Association) conference earlier this week. Rest assured, I'll blog about that event soon. But today I want to talk about what happened when I left.

The conference ended Sunday at noon with a great keynote address from Ellen Hopkins and Lauren Myracle, two often banned YA authors who spoke on their experiences to the appreciative audience of librarians.  I stayed in Albuquerque until Monday for a little sightseeing and then took a 10:00 shuttle to the airport. My 1:00 flight left me with almost three hours to kill, so I approached the snaking security line without concern. No worries, not even when I realized I was about to have my first full-body scan.

I'd like to tell you I got zapped and felt the radiation surge through my body. No such luck. It was an anti-climactic experience - step on the mark, hold your hands over your head, big whoop. I passed.

My suitcase didn't.

With threat level orange, the man eyeing the x-ray machine saw something he didn't like inside my bag, so I needed to unpack for things with a TSA monitor. And that's where things got to be fun.  Bet you never thought you'd hear anyone say TSA and fun at the same time, but the lady was a joy for this little introvert to talk to.

She chatted about the number of books in my suitcase - librarian's symposium = lots of free books to bring home which was probably most of the problem.  As we spoke she picked up one of my two remaining ARCs of PULL (every other ARC had been distributed to conference-goers). I told her she was holding the book I had written.

Suddenly I was a celebrity. She even called her nephew and fellow TSA employee over to introduce him to her author friend. I gave her some of the promotional chachkas I've learned to carry with me at all times as we continued unloading my suitcase. (Seriously, I even carry a supply when I go to the bathroom because you never know.) She gushed, talking telling her librarian friends that she knew an author, and her church group and her book club and...and a voice inside my head said, "Just give her an ARC."

Sometimes you just have to listen to those voices.

She swore to read it and pass it on, promised to email me and we even discussed the possibility of an invite to town to visit her book club, too. By the way, my bag passed it's second scan, and she helped me repack before picking up the book and promotional literature like it was made of spun gold and heading to her locker to put them safely away.

Ohmigod, I think I have another fan.

See the Pull Book Trailer on YouTube.

Monday, November 8, 2010

VOICE - What it it?

Your author’s Writing Voice is the force that makes one reader hate your books, and (hopefully) thousands of readers love them. This voice isn’t about how the hero or heroine speaks. A character’s southern accent or stammer or expletive-laden manner of speaking is different from an author’s writing voice. Your writing voice is part of the author’s personality, and just as we all have a distinct individual personality, we also have a distinct writing personality.

Voice is created by the unique combination of style (sentence structure and word choice), tone (mood), descriptive imagery, theme (the broad issues an author feels passionate enough about to address in his or her writing), and the types of POV characters used to tell the story. Your voice is the sum of your history, economic background, upbringing, moments of triumph and despair. Accept that, embrace and use those factors to empower the words you write.

While I hate analogies, (that too is part of my voice) I will use one now and compare a manuscript to a human body:

Main characters Brain

Plot (outer journey) Muscles

Scenes Skeleton

Setting Skin

Story (inner journey) Heart

Theme Blood vessels

I know it’s not exact—I hate analogies, remember—but I’m going to call your writer’s voice the blood supply. Blood carries the fuel that empowers the body. A good circulatory system keeps that body zinging. That makes the characters move through their inner and outer arcs with punch and appropriate pacing, armed with power-laden verbs and tight writing. Voice supplies that zing with skillful word choices and sentence structure and the occasional plot twist.


All fiction writers know we are supposed to show, not tell. In the showing we reveal our voices.

She was sad.

Anyone can tell a reader that. But how an author reveals the character’s morose nature, or despair, uncontrollable heartache or simply very bad day, is shaped by that author’s voice.

Take a look at two different ways of describing my own novel, PULL

A seventeen-year-old boy named David feels guilt after his mother’s death and dedicates himself to fulfilling her last wishes even though they are at odds with his one needs. He meets a girl, makes enemies, angers family members, throws away a chance at a college scholarship and drops out of school.

Interesting –I think not. Even I yawn. It’s my story, my plot, but not my voice.

Let me try again, this time with feeling.

The world implodes for seventeen-year-old David when his father kills his mother. Guilt over his inability to protect her drives him to concentrate on fulfilling her last wishes for him – that he complete his education. But he is happier working with his hands than sitting in classrooms that feel like prison cells. David deals with homework and hormones that draw him ever closer to Yolanda, who means trouble because she’s bad boy Malik’s girl. When Yolanda and David get together, sparks fly, leading Malik to threaten David’s freshman sister. David’s problems converge as he struggles to rescue his sister without resorting to violence, and then has to choose between his mother’s dreams for him and his own dream of working with his hands for a mentor he has grown to admire.

It’s exactly the same plot, but these words hold my theme, my passion…and my voice.

On another note, think about voice in music. It only takes a few notes to recognize the difference between Lady Gaga and Mariah Carey or between Snoop Dogg and Justin Beiber. (Can you tell I write YA?) OK, between Joe Cocker and Frank Sinatra. Even if the singers are saying the same words there are important and unique differences in delivery: style, tone, pacing, timbre and emphasis.

The same is true with the writer’s voice. What makes one Cinderella story different from another? Why does one pair of star-crossed lovers stand out from the horde? Answer: style, tone, pacing, timbre and emphasis. It’s all in the delivery, the way we tell the story, how we present a plot to the reader.

Finding your voice:

Examine the things, feelings and ideas you feel passionate about. What kinds of writing do you like to read: humorous, witty, acerbic, playful or intense? Look at your sentence structure? Do you tend to write in a choppy, stream-of-consciousness fashion, in short, declarative sentences or perhaps in long, weighty, and complex sentences?

Your voice is you reaching out of the pages and sucking in the reader with a promise they will enjoy the read.

It’s you fulfilling that promise.

It’s you leaving them panting for more.

In today’s market, your voice is the force that will make readers return to select another one of your books over those written by your very sizable competition.

Strengthening your voice:

After completing three novels and multiple short stories, I finally noticed a consistent theme embedded inside my works. Underneath everything else, my very angst-ridden voice reflects family and the idea that people having the right to decide their own futures, even if society and family object and have supposedly better plans. It’s my passion, and it colors my writing. Study your own passions, recognize and use them to help strengthen your voice and distinguish you from other writers.

Exercise makes your body strong; writing exercises make your writing voice strong, too. The process of writing itself shapes your voice. So write. And keep on writing.

Final thoughts

Consider the eternal agent/editor question: why are you the person to write this book? “Because I wanted to,” is not the correct answer. They’re asking what you bring to the story that is new, fresh and different. The real answer involves your voice and how you empower the words on the page. On the one hand a writer is supposed to take him or herself out of the book and let the characters be themselves. But a good book is more than a recital of bare facts, so we have to turn around and insert ourselves back into the mix.

The experience of reading gives human beings something that no other art form, not even a movie, can. A great read pulls us into another world, lets us experience a life outside of the one we live, and come back form that refreshed and sometimes even changed. Your writer’s voice pulls readers on a ride that begins with the promise of the opening hook and ends with the strong and emotionally satisfying ending. A strong voice ensures that readers will see and experience exactly the same world when they read your words as you saw in your mind when you wrote them. Best of all, it leaves reader panting for more of your energetic and passionate voice. The trick is to define your voice, to strengthen and develop it, and make it pulse through your story.

So be passionate about your writing. Be authentic and artful, and you too will reach that destination called "strong voice."

Here's to making your voice jump from the pages.

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

I'm enjoying a travel day

Today I'm on my way to the YALSA conference in Albuquerque where I'll be mingling with Librarian talking about Diversity in literature and their library populations. I'm most interested in the discussions on ethnic characters and covers. 

I've heard that the printer has rectified the problem, so PULL will only be delayed a couple of weeks. In the interim, please enjoy this download of Chapter One.  Read and leave a comment telling me what you think.