The MTV Books Blog will close on October 31. Follow us to our new home at YA Outside the Lines on November 1!

Saturday, February 28, 2009

Danielle asked, I'm answering...

I'm going to pick up where Danielle left off.

She asked: So why do you write or what type of book do you like to read?

It's funny, I was just out with my friend and her boyfriend and he asked me the same thing. What he actually asked was, "As a writer, when you finish reading a book what do you first think back on: the writing or the story?"

I immediately answered, "The story." Then I told him about the industry's definition (if there is one) of 'literary' fiction - the lyrical writing, georgeous sentences, blah, blah.

Me, I'm a story girl. I've read so many books that were lauded as brilliant, the writing oh-so-beautiful. And you know what? Couldn't get through them.

Yes, I have a very short attention span. Little tolerance for plugging through things. Maybe that's why I'm all about the story sucking me in. It's also probably why I won't read past the second chapter if a book doesn't grab me. I have too much to do and my free time is at a premium, so reading something I love is important to me. It's akin to spending my afternoon talking to a person I find uninteresting and trying. I hate small talk. I'd find a reason to excuse myself and leave. And that's how I feel about books. Life's too short to read books I don't love.

So, back to Danielle's question: what type of books do I like to read? Ones about real people. Their flaws. Their insecurities. Their strengths. Their moments of self-revelation. And funny. I love funny books. I'm reading I LOVE YOU, BETH COOPER right now and laughing my butt off. So smart, so funny. I like authors who don't take themselves, or their characters, too seriously. Who can make fun of themselves, show their warts. Their twisted thinking. I like books with characters who could be my next door neighbors, a girl behind the counter at Target, someone I pass at a tollbooth. Books that give me a glimpse into the life of someone I might otherwise not even notice, someone who has a whole story behind a simple nametag at the Burger King drive through. A book like THEN WE CAME TO THE END, wickedly funny and insightful. A book about average people at average jobs - people who are anything but average when you put them under a microscope.

Because I believe that most people, if we spent the time to really know them, are interesting in their own little ways. It's their stories that I find interesting. Not necessarily the way an authors tells it.

And to answer Danielle's question: Why do I write?
So I can spend a little time with those people. And, hopefully, have others spend a little time with them, too.

Wednesday, February 25, 2009


For me it's simple, I couldn't live without it. Writing helps me to feel grounded. If I go too long without putting pen to paper, I feel off balance. Now I may not be tapping away on my keyboard every day but I'm constantly thinking about the manuscript that I'm working on, the characters that are milling around in my head.

Th first time I wrote a story was in the first grade when my teacher Mrs. Peterson said we could write and illustrate our very own books. She then typed up our words and had the books lamented. I couldn't believe that I was able to write whatever I wanted. I still have my 86 word picture book and that is all I needed to get started on my journey as an author.

I wrote poetry in high school and beagn (and never finished) my first novel senior year. Then I majored in Creative Writing in college and that is where I really found my voice. I love writing young adult novels because that is where I feel most comfortable. After college I panicked, quickly went back to school and got my Masters in Advertising. For a few years I wrote copy and then took a job teaching English, which finally steered me back to my one true love: writing young adult fiction.

I'm passionate about writing but I love to connect with readers. If even one person can get something from my book, Shrinking Violet, then I think I've done my job. If you're really shy like my main character Tere, or even if you're not, I hope you can relate to her in some way. We all have our place in life, we just have to find it.

So why do you write or what type of book do you like to read?

Friday, February 20, 2009

Old Project versus New Project

Before I get into the topic I wanted to talk about today, I have two random things to say. One, Happy Birthday Kurt Cobain. He would have been 42 today and I miss him. Maybe it's silly but I've never been shy about the fact that Nirvana's my favorite band and since I discovered them when I was twelve, I'm obsessed. Things that mattered a lot when I was a kid/teen tend to make a really deep imprint.

Secondly, it's the deadline for my "Inspired By" contest. I extended the deadline til late Sunday night for all you procrastinators out there, though. So please get your entries in. You can read all the details on my website.

Now on to the topic at hand. So I had a big self-imposed/agent-imposed (she's always flexible so that's why it's more self-imposed) deadline to meet today. I need to get my proposal for my next book to her so she can review it, I can revise it, and then we can send it on to my lovely editor in hopes that MTV Books will want to publish it.

I have a really great idea for this book. I expounded a little bit about it over at the Teen Fiction Cafe today so you can read that blog and get a vague sense of it. At least I think its a good idea. Sometimes. Sometimes I hear those inner critics telling me how much I'm going to be mocked for this book, that I'm not a good enough writer to write it. Sigh. I hate those guys. They've been really getting me down lately, but I do my best to ignore them. But the real struggle with this has actually been that this is the first time I'm writing a proposal for a book to submit to the publisher rather than just writing the entire manuscript and submitting it. The proposal (at least in my case, I know they can vary) includes the first 50ish pages and a synopsis. When I submitted full manuscripts in the past my agent always asked for a synopsis to go along with it and I totally sucked at writing them even though I'd already written the whole book and knew exactly what was going on. Now that I've only written the first 50 pages of the book and maybe about 40 or 50 pages from random scenes (I'm not always a linear writer. BALLADS was written linearly, but IWBYJR and this one, not so much), I really really suck at writing that synopsis. I know the beginning, I have a pretty good idea about the end, I've got a grip on a few random things in the middle, but there are big chunks where though I know the major plot point (these characters plot an act of revenge against this character), I have no idea about the details.

So I have to say I was in agony writing this proposal. I procrastinated terribly. And mostly because of the synopsis. The actual manuscript pages are pretty solid... Mostly... I have some nagging self-doubts largely because I'm trying new things. But yeah. Anyway, I sent it off. Not feeling very good. Asking agent for notes and pointers. Sent it to a critique partner asking for notes and pointers as well. Usually I'd want to perfect it a bit more myself, but I was too excited to get that off my desk and get into this:

What the hell is that, you ask? That, my darlings, is copyedits for BALLADS OF SUBURBIA. When my lovely editor emailed me on Wednesday and let me know they would be coming on Friday, due back March 4, I sort of panicked (I had some critique partner work I wanted to get to reading next week, but my CPs are everso understanding), but mostly I sighed in relief. Oh thank god, I don't want to try to work on this new novel. I want tackle the very final round of revising and perfecting BALLADS.

I hear those who know me well snorting whatever they happen to be drinking while reading this out of their noses. They are thinking, "But Stephanie, revisions on BALLADS nearly caused you several nervous breakdowns. You've said yourself, you don't feel fully recovered from it yet, why in the name of all that is holy..."

A few reasons:

1. I've had enough time away from BALLADS to convince myself that I'm happy with it. But at the same time, I know it is not finished. It needs that last round of minor tweaks that is the copyediting process to be complete. I'm hoping that I will go through the copyedits and discover like I did with IWBYJR that I did actually write a book I can be proud of. And then it will be complete. Or as close to complete as an author can ever feel there book is. But it will be done. Other than page proofs, I will be done with BALLADS and be able to fully commit to work on another project.

2. I'm actually terrified to fully committing to a new project. I haven't done so since 2007 when I finished BALLADS. I wrote IWBYJR, wrote BALLADS in 2006/2007, then have been dealing with editing either IWBYJR or BALLADS since that point. In the spaces in between I have been flirting with three different novels. Eventually I narrowed it down to two and finally to this one I am working on the proposal for. But I'm insecure about my decision. Is this the best time to write this particular novel? I think so... But I'm having commitment issues. That other novel wants to be written now too. I've always flirted with different ideas, but ultimately ended up being monogamous, writing one book at a time. Maybe I thought, maybe this time I could write two. No, no, no. I'm still working part time and I have a wedding to plan and BALLADS to promote.

3. I'm making excuses because honestly I think I'm scared that I just can't write another book all the way through. I know it's a silly fear. I've done it twice. Maybe that feels like a long time ago. But I can do it. I just hate first drafts. I really do. I like revising. And I adore copyediting. Oh, I hope that doesn't bite me in the ass. I said I loved revising before I started revising BALLADS and then I got horribly hateful of revising and wished I could write my new book.

4. (Are these even reasons anymore or just my train of thinking in list form?) The grass is always greener on the other side. Revising, etc., seems so much better than trying to struggle with a new manuscript. Though when you are struggling with revising...

But anyway, I think I really will feel ready to attack my new project after the copyedits are done. I'm just one of those people who needs the job to be done fully and completely before moving on to other things. Like my fiance, it drives me crazy when he cleans the entire bathroom EXCEPT for washing the floor and then he doesn't wash the floor for three or four days.... Umm, wait... I just cleaned the kitchen on Tuesday and still haven't done the floor... But that's because of my deadline. I'm going to go do the floor right now.

So, excuse my very stream of consciousness post and tell me, do like just focusing on one project til it is absolutely perfect or do you like bouncing around to many projects? Do you get kind of scared when you have to jump in and start something brand new? (I definitely do, hence staying in crappy jobs forever and then quitting the crappy job to go back to an old, safe job.) And if any writers out there have synopsis advice or advice about any of my other writing madness feel free to leave it!

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Random things make a post


I'm a day late posting. Darned holidays completely throw me off.

I was watching T.V. the other day and was struck yet again by how very much I absolutely love Love Actually. In terms of romantic storytelling, it's one of the best examples. Richard Curtis just gets it, you know? Plus, Rodrigo Santoro. ROWR.

On a general writing forum I've been mostly lurking on, it's been incredibly illuminating reading the discussions between people who consider themselves "serious" writers. I mean, some of them consider themselves to be Serious, in the "searching for the essential human truth in the prose" sort of way and some of them just consider themselves to be "serious" in the "I want to get published" sort of way. Regardless, what's pretty universal is how utterly clueless so many of these serious writers are about some of the things I consider to be basic about writing to get published. Like how to format a manuscript and theories on simultaneous submissions. Makes me ever-more grateful for RWA and the yahoo group "teenlitauthors." I think those of us who come up through RWA, in particular, are probably better prepared for the surprises of the business end writing than almost any other writer out there. You just wanna bop people over the head and say "snap out of it!" when they start going on about things that are so far removed from reality, you wonder if they're talking about the same industry.

Simon Baker from The Mentalist is a total woobie and I want to smish him and take him home.

Ditto for Zach Levi from Chuck.

Back to writing, isn't it funny how every few months you'll have a kerfluffle or watch a writer absolutely implode? I think it happens more during the winter-- first the Stephen King/Stephenie Meyer brouhaha which has prompted more outrage than anything I've seen in recent memory, including a rage-filled You Tube vid where the complainant goes on for eight minutes as to what a complete hack King is and how he just doesn't understand how absolutely amazing Twilight is and how he's just a dried up jealous hag whose movies all went straight to DVD. Or something like that. Okay then. (Warning: Not Safe For Work language in the vid. Girlfriend was really ticked off.)

Then I've been seeing a couple of instances where authors are venting their spleens at other authors or groups just... you know, I don't know why. I have no idea what they gain from doing so. I know that the old axiom is "any publicity is good publicity" and I suppose in most instances it's true, but I don't know-- for me, I see an author completely lose it like that, it does tend to make me think twice about buying their books. The internet's a great thing, but it has really made the world a smaller place.

Okay, enough about kerfluffles. Oooh... the Oscars are this weekend. I've seen NOTHING, except Dark Knight. Which is sad, but such is my life. I do want to see Slumdog Millionaire and Benjamin Button, in particular, and I hope I get to see them in a theatre. Obviously, it looks like those are the two frontrunners, but you know when it comes to the awards themselves, it's not just about who wins-- the gowns, baby! I can't wait to see the gowns. *is shallow* And Hugh Jackman hosting! *is very shallow*

Okay, I think I've been quite random enough-- oh, except Duffy (my new favorite girl singer) released an EP of material off Rockferry. She just so neo-retro and really stands out in the crowd. And not anywhere near as much a mess as Amy Winehouse, bless her heart.

So, tell me-- what's going on with you guys? What's caught your attention? Books? Movies? Music? Kerfluffles? Share!

Monday, February 16, 2009

How to build an author web site

1. Right out of college, get a job as a copyeditor for the Montgomery newspaper. Edit articles, write headlines, and design newspaper pages to your heart's desire. You love this job. The only problem is that they don't pay you much above minimum wage, AND the hours are 3 p.m. to midnight, AND your "weekends" are Tuesday and Wednesday, AND they never let you design the front page. Finally, your last day there, Labor Day, they let you design the front page because you are about to quit, and because no one else is there to design it. They all have Labor Day off. You design a beautiful page and you are so proud. Take it home and hang it above your toilet.

This experience does not really teach you much about designing web pages. It only makes you THINK you know what you're doing, which makes you dangerous. Read on...

2. Work on a PhD in English at a university that allows HTML to count as one of your required foreign languages, because code is probably more useful to you in this day and age than Latin. Teach yourself HTML in 24 hours.

3. SELL A NOVEL!!! Now you need an author web site. Never even consider paying a professional to build one for you. You got mad skillz yo.

4. Build an adorable web site that's just as happy as the cover of your first book, Major Crush. You are SO PROUD until wordcandy.net reviews your second book, The Boys Next Door. They say they love your books but your covers are whack and your web site is cheesy! Funny, if a reviewer doesn't like your books, you think they have bad taste, but if a reviewer doesn't like your web site, you change it immediately.

5. Try again.

6. Try again.

7. Try again. You must have been depressed this day.

8. Try again.

9. Try again.

10. Try again. There are actually a lot more versions that you haven't kept. Generally when you have redesigned the site, you have posted the link on your blog and asked for comments. If Barbara Caridad Ferrer says, "Oh, honey," as if you have swept into a dinner party wearing an evening gown with galoshes, you know you have gone wrong.

11. Go to the grocery store. Buy eggs. The expiration date on the eggs is March 19. OMG GOING TOO FAR WILL COME OUT ON MARCH 17, BEFORE THE EGGS EXPIRE!!! This is always the time when you get really excited about a book release: it will come out before the cheese expires! It will come out before the yogurt expires! Woot! Obviously you are very attached to your books, and to the dairy aisle. You need to redesign the web site again! When Going Too Far will come out before the milk expires, you will be too deep in blogging and mailing out books to mess with the web site! Ack! Give it one more go. Ta-da!

Saturday, February 7, 2009

True To Type

This winter I taught a Saturday writing class for middle graders. In my case, old teaching habits die hard. Within the first five minutes, I had mentally categorized each student. Front and center sat the precocious girl who has read every book imaginable and does her best to monopolize each discussion. The back row was occupied by the quiet, brainy gamer listening to his iPod and the ultra cool gum-popper who texted her friends and ignored my existence. 

For teachers it's a matter of survival to quickly assess the best way to work with each student. If teasing has worked with brainy gamers in the past, I'm going to tease the heck out of this one. If I've had success seating cool gum-poppers in the front row,  you can bet I'll do it again.

I believe the same approach is often true when we create characters. At the outset of our novels, we want readers to have a frame of reference to build on. Is our MC the smart, quiet type or the mouthy, struggling student? The class clown or the know-it-all brainiac? The nerd or the knucklehead? When our MCs show some common traits, readers can quickly form mental images of them.

But, in order to be believable, characters must be three-dimensional beings. As our story unfolds, so do the many facets of our MC. The painfully shy boy with illegible handwriting who cowers in the face of  bullies emerges as a leader in his Boy Scout troop. Armed with his newfound confidence, he auditions for his high school's song and dance ensemble, surprising himself and his classmates with his musical abilities. Before the novel ends, he earns the lead in the high school's musical. Revealed along the way are his love for animals, his irrational fear of clowns, and--at home--his nonstop talking which drives his parents to the edge. Each revealed trait adds another dimension to his character so that, by the end of the story, our Pinocchio has become a real boy.

At first glance many people--real or imagined--seem to fit familiar personality types. As authors, our task is to carefully create and then expose the layers beneath the familiar surface. Each of those layers fashions a unique individual readers will remember long after the story has ended.

Sunday, February 1, 2009

15 Random Things

Anyone who's been on Facebook lately has seen the Random 25 Things postings. Everyone is passing it around and encouraging their friends to answer it. I've received it a few times but haven't actually written any responses. 25 seems like a lot. So I decided to post something here - only I have 15 random things. A lot more managable.

1. I have never had a cup of coffee in my life and hate anything coffee-flavored.

2. I didn't eat pasta until I was 25 years old. Never liked it.

3. I was interviewed on CNN when my first book came out. The hair and make-up people used a flat-iron on my hair and MAC Pink Poodle lip gloss on my lips. They both looked great. Immediately went out and bought a flat iron and the lip gloss.

4. I am no degrees from Kevin Bacon. I was interviewed on a NY TV morning show and Kevin was on it with his band. He was in the green room next to me. Took himself very seriously. Not a nice guy.

5. Met Dee Snider of Twisted Sister when I did a TV show in Philadelphia. A great guy. Had so much fun talking to him, even got some good Bon Jovi stories.

6. When I got married I walked down the aisle to Tesla's Love Song on acoustic guitar. You can listen to it here.

7. I love 80s hair bands.

8. I still have my favorite pair of Levis from college, rips, bandanas and all.

9. My husband wrote a song for me. It's fabulous. Don't know how to put it on the Internet, otherwise I'd let you listen to it. It's called Walk Around Walden because when we first started dating we took a walk around Walden Pond one day.

9. The summer after my sophomore year of high school I spent 6 weeks at the Rhode Island School of Design for a summer program. My parents thought I was artistically talented. After 2 days there I realized I wasn't. But it was an absolute blast.

10. Eleven years after I attended the RISD program my best friend from college told me the name of a girl she sat next to at work (she worked at Harper's Bazaar in NYC). Turned out it was my roommate from my summer at RISD.

11. I am a HUGE believer in the small world theory. I run into random people in random places and meet people who know people, etc.

12. I ran into my best friend from 6th, 7th and 8th grade at a bar in Chicago over 27 years after I left public school and went to private school. I hadn't seen her since 8th grade. Turns out we'd both moved to Chicago from CT and she was meeting the same group of guys I was at the bar with. See, small world.

13. I think Alanis Morissette is a brilliant, brilliant song writer. She writes what I think.

14. My dad is an actor in LA.

15. My husband and I brought friends with us on our honeymoon. Figured we had our whole lives to travel together, but taking a cool trip with friends would only get more complicated with time, so we took advantage of the opportunity.

There you go! (oh, one more random thing: my birthday is on Thursday!!! And I love my birthday no matter how old I get)