Thursday, October 27, 2011

Even on vacay I'm working

Well, relatively speaking. I just got back from eight glorious days in New York where I ate too much Thai food, walked about a billion miles, smelled about a billion smells, and met a girl who met Anjelica Huston, which basically means I met Anjelica Huston. The weather was perfect, the coats were amazing, and Central Park was a dream.

But even amongst all this vacationing glory, gentle reader, my brain was working. How, you ask? Because my manuscript is set in New York, which means my trip wasn't just about vacation - it was reconnaissance. I stalked all the major locations, found nearby restaurants, made note of subway stops, and people watched the crap out of those places. I'd done my research beforehand - of course - but seeing it live in person was a whole new level of understanding. Instead of just imagining the jarring rides of the subway or the feel of a hundred miles of concrete under my boots, I was living those scenes. Now I have more than just Google street views of places, or second-hand knowledge from friends - I have my own memories to write against, which is a much richer experience.

Next book I write will be set in Greece. Or Italy. Oooo, or both. I'm off to plan.

Do you like to write about places you've never been, or do you stick close to home? Have you ever done your own reconnaissance on vacation?

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Austin Teen Book Festival - part deux

So, last I left you we had sat through a swoon-worthy I Heart Love Stories panel with Simone Elkeles, Jenny Han, Cristina Garcia, Stephanie Perkins, Jennifer Ziegler, and Christina Mandelski. After a quick stop by the book sellers tables to pick up my plundered goods, I moseyed over to the Alternaworlds panel for the final event of the day.

This crowd was ENORMOUS. It could have something to do with Scott Westerfeld's presence on the panel - the Festival had a steampunk theme in honor of Leviathan - but I think it was more that they consolidated panels for the last event so that we were the only panel on the first floor of the events center. I'm terrible with numbers, but I would guess there were at least two hundred people there, filling up the chairs and crowding the sides of the space for a chance to get closer to the stage. If I'd have been a teenager, I would have done the same thing. Authors rarely get the celebrity they deserve, so I was almost a bit giddy at the feeling of so many people (young people!) at a book event.

The Alternaworlds panel included Scott Westerfeld, Maureen Johnson, Jonathan Maberry, Brian Yansky, and Rosemary Clement-Moore. Whereas the Love Stories panel was focused on love stories as a genre, this panel was much more focused on the art and craft of writing, and the craft of world building. Once again there were a lot of young authors, so the audience asked great questions about the craft of writing and I shamelessly stole their answers to share with all of you:

  • Maureen Johnson talked about chasing down the "what ifs" and even threw out some Holly Black name dropping in the process. She said that Black was the queen of asking the right questions when developing a new story idea, and it basically consisted of a relentless string of questions. What if ghosts existed? How would they integrate with society? Could everyone see them? What could they physically do? What would the government do about them? The key to asking the right questions is to step back far enough to see the full scope of the picture, and then slowly drill down until you know all of the specifics.
  • Scott Westerfeld had the ultimate cure for writer's block: lock yourself in a room with nothing else to do for four hours. You'll get over that block real fast. For someone whose house suffers from enough shiny distractions to captivate a kitten, I can understand the advice.
  • Jonathan Maberry talked about being realistic within the fantastic. I've gone over the same concepts with my writing partners, so it was nice to get some backup from a successful published author. Even if your world includes zombies, like his, there still has to be a realistic structure to the world and how people function within it. The closer you stay to the real world - with fantastic twists - the more your readers can connect with the characters and believe the events that transpire.

Those were the highlights of the panel for me, mainly because I let two weeks go by without writing about it :). My overall feeling about the Festival, however, was that I've been missing out on prime opportunities to learn from these authors by not going to more author events in the past.

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Austin Teen Book Festival - part un

I had a lovely book-filled Saturday this weekend, kicked off by a book release party for one of my critique partners at Book People here in Austin. She is the illustrator of a new children's book, and it was so fun to see all of the children reacting to the story when she read aloud. It was a Halloween-themed book, so of course they had a costume contest. There was a girl that didn't even come up to my waist dressed as a witch, and she accidentally swept my feet with her straw broom at least twice. All in all, a successful morning.

Then we headed over to the Austin Teen Book Festival for the afternoon. I've actually never been to a book event outside of BEA (and that was for work, so it almost doesn't count), so I was curious to see how this one would go. I only heard about it through my critique partner, who only heard about it through a book reviewer friend of hers, so I was worried there wouldn't be much of a crowd to support the authors who would be speaking there. Scott Westerfeld was the keynote speaker, but we got there late in the afternoon so we missed the keynote. I was most excited to hear from Simone Elkeles, since I have a mad agent crush on her agent, and Jackson Pearce because I have a mad crush on anything she does.

I was happy about how many names I recognized on the panels - Simone Elkeles, Scott Westerfeld, Melissa Walker, David Levithan, Jackson Pearce, Stephanie Perkins, and a host of other fantastic authors and speakers (see them all here). The Festival also had a great idea to host all four of the panels at the same time, four times over the course of the day, so you didn't miss a panel if you wanted to see them all. We had time enough for two panels, so I picked the I Heart Love Stories panel and the Alternaworlds panel. I originally wanted the Supernatural Suspense for my Jackson Pearce lady crush, but because of sound issues they couldn't host that panel at the end of the day.

I Heart Love Stories included Cristina Garcia, Simone Elkeles, Jenny Han, Stephanie Perkins, Jennifer Ziegler, and Christina Mandelski. Simone and Stephanie were definitely the big names on the panel, and most of the questions were directed at them. I had heard of Anna and the French Kiss, but that's not typically my type of book. However, after seeing Stephanie on the panel I definitely want to pick up her books. She was cute, fashionable, young, and funny. And Simone was exactly what I expected her to be - funny, sassy, irreverent, and charming. I'd like to think she and I had a moment when I pretended that I might want a vampire boyfriend in space (don't ask).

The audience asked some great questions, so I got a lot of takeaways from this panel:

  • One girl asked how she could make her love story less predictable. Simone countered that love stories are predictable - in fact, in a romance novel it's what you rely on. You know they're going to get together. The tension comes from the obstacles they have to overcome to be together. It's about how much crap can you throw at them, how insurmountable can you make the odds? If they're good enough and believable enough, then even the expected ending is still satisfying.
  • Cristina Garcia said that typically romance novels have happy endings and love stories have tragic endings (apparently this is a standard knowledge thing of which I'm only just now aware). The panel discussed at large what this meant in their writing, and most of the women agreed that a good story has a healthy blending of both. Apparently Romeo and Juliet are NOT the standard in storytelling today (and thank goodness for that).
  • Another audience member asked about the reality of these overwhelming love stories. Both Stephanie and Simone said they met their husbands when they were teenagers, and that they wrote from a place of experience. I think Simone said it best: "Falling in love as a teenager was the best thing that ever happened to me. And the worst." (Cue the lady crush)
  • The panel overwhelmingly agreed that you can't write to the market. You have to write the story that you want to write, and then make a market for yourself.
  • There were A. LOT. of young writers there. Most of the questions came from young people - boys and girls - and were about stories they're writing. It was amazing to see hundreds of kids willing to spend a Saturday talking about books and writing. Warmed the cold, dead cockles of my heart.
The overall feeling of this panel was sweet and encouraging, and made me want to get out there and write about cute boys and school dances. The Alternaworlds panel also had some great advice, but I'll save that for another day.

What did you do this weekend? Anything fun and/or writing related?