Tuesday, March 26, 2013

The Swamp

Photo by Susulyka
Currently, I'm in what my good friend and critique partner (and brilliant screenwriter) Jen Klein calls The Swamp.  That's the place where you suddenly feel mired down in your story, unable see anything but the mud and the muck and alligators.  You know the story needs something, but everything you try doesn't seem to work.  You doubt every decision you make.  You rewrite a scene, only to decide an hour later that the new scene is crap and the whole book is crap and your agent is going to hate it and it's never going to sell but that's okay because no one is ever going to want to read it anyway.

So, uh...yeah.  That's The Swamp, and that's where I am.  By the way, Jen calls it The Swamp because in her first screenplay there was literally a swamp at the place where she got stuck.

Georges Seurat's La Grande Jatte/Art Institute of Chicago
It's like I'm stuck inside Georges Seurat's La Grande Jatte and all I can see are the tiny multi-colored dots.  I can't step back and see the beautiful painting as a whole, its scope and vision.

There's a swamp in every single creative project, a place where we're suddenly struck with quicksand-like self-doubt.  It takes every ounce of positive thought and determination to not let yourself get pulled under.  Sometimes you have to doggie-paddle in place to keep yourself afloat for a while.  Sometimes it takes copious amounts of cookies and chocolate and pie to keep the alligators at bay.

The thing about The Swamp is that you can't really fight your way out of it.  You have to write your way through it.

 And maybe it takes rewriting the same scene over and over and over, but eventually you'll realize that the third new version of that scene does work, and your decision to cut that particular character out was the right one, and your writing actually isn't crap.  The sun will shine through the trees, the alligators will slink back down into the mud, and you'll find yourself on solid ground again.

Nicole Maggi writes YA - paranormal, historical, and beyond.  Her debut novel WINTER FALLS will be released in 2014 from Medallion Press.  She's represented by the fabulous Irene Goodman of The Irene Goodman Literary Agency, and lives in Los Angeles with her husband Chris, their daughter Emilia (after the Shakespeare character), and two cats Sawyer & Hurley (after the LOST characters - yeah, she's a geek).  Check out her website and follow her on Twitter!

Sunday, March 17, 2013

Dark YA

A reader recently complained to me about how dark some YA fiction seems to be. This reader was an adult, who reads YA because he wants to escape from reality, but he has trouble finding things he can read that aren't more upsetting than many adult books--or than real life. He asked me why YA authors want to write such dark things.

I didn't have an answer for him, because even though I write YA, I don't feel that qualifies me to speak for all YA authors. I can only speak for myself. So here's my opinion, because I'm opinionated like that...

First of all, "dark" is in the mind of the beholder. To my 17-year-old, a story about someone who is bullied and turns to drugs or self-harm is dark. To another teen the same age, that might be light and fluffy, because they've lived through much worse. There are some concepts and plots that nearly everyone would agree are dark: abuse, rape, death, etc. But even within those categories, there are many shades of darkness or light, depending on how the topic is treated and what happens within the story.

Second, "dark" sometimes sells, or at least that's wisdom I've seen around the internet lately. "Teens want to read about what they're experiencing" has been used as justification for books about drug and alcohol abuse, physical and sexual abuse, sexual promiscuity, etc. Not that there's anything wrong with those types of books; some would agree, though, that they are dark. And not all teens want to read them, but some do.

Personally, I write what I feel drawn to write. The reader was talking specifically about my novel Fresh Meat, and I could understand why he might consider that dark. Honestly, I consider it one of my darkest young adult books. The main character, Tobias, lives in a home with a father whose violent temper sometimes explodes onto Tobias or his mother; the older of his two younger sisters is autistic and the younger of the two is ignored; and his mother is constantly overwhelmed. Tobias, at 15, finds comfort with a 22-year-old man, until that man sexually assaults him, turning him into a werewolf in the process, and takes him away from his home.

I didn't set out to write a "dark" book, nor did I set out to trigger myself or any readers (though I was triggered when I wrote the scene in which Tobias is assaulted). I set out to write the backstory of a character who intrigued me in Karenna Colcroft's adult romance series Real Werewolves Don't Eat Meat, with the blessing of the author and publisher, and from that guideline I followed where the character led. It did go to dark places. But it also went to light, hopeful places: Tobias's friends Shawn and Eddie, who have problems of their own but support Tobias; Jed and Eloise Howe, the werewolf Alpha and his mate who take Tobias in and become foster parents to him after his change; and Harok, the 18-year-old boy who appoints himself Tobias's mentor in the werewolf world and becomes his closest friend. And Tobias himself, his strength and determination to live his life regardless of circumstances.

And that's my reason for writing what some might consider "dark YA". I write the stories that are brought to me by the characters I create, and I write so that readers who may be experiencing darkness in their own lives can see that there is light if they reach out for it.

Saturday, March 16, 2013

Reasons Why Music is Important

When I taught writing, I played music because it inspired creativity in my students’ writings. When I taught reading I played music to calm and sooth my students as they read and drifted into the worlds they were reading about.

As I write, I listen to music. I create play lists for the stories. Pick songs that fit the characters and the moods of the story.

But why is music so important?

  1. Music is a universal language. It evokes feelings, and even bridges gaps that spoken language often cannot. It brings people together in celebration and prayer. It is a commonality in a world of diversity. It is something we can all understand even when we don't understand each others language.
  2. Music inspires and evokes emotions. Music helps us to express feelings and emotions that we sometimes find very difficult to find the words to express. It can help us to express our love. It can help us to express our sorrow.
  3. Music sparks imagination and enhances our creativity. The right song at the right time can cause a spark to ignite, and suddenly a masterpiece is born.
  4. Music enhances learning. Music effects learning. It makes it more enjoyable. Various studies have shown that music effects several different brain functions--motor control, imagination, sight, hearing, and memory. Music in the classroom increases learning and raises student scores.
  5. Music creates ambiance. It can enhance or add to the mood the environment is already evoking. It helps people to relax.
  6. Music is spiritual. All religions use music. 
  7. Music is just fun.

Friday, March 15, 2013

Dead Penguins, I Never Knew This

Did you ever wonder why there are no dead penguins on the ice in Antarctica ?
Where do they go?

Wonder no more!
It is a known fact that the penguin is a very ritualistic bird which lives an extremely ordered and complex life. The penguin is very committed to its family and will mate for life, as well as maintain a form of compassionate contact with its offspring throughout its life.

If a penguin is found dead on the ice surface, other members of the family and social circle have been known to dig holes in the ice, using their vestigial wings and beaks, until the hole is deep enough for the dead bird to be rolled into, and buried.

The male penguins then gather in a circle around the fresh grave and sing:

"Freeze a jolly good fellow."
"Freeze a jolly good fellow."

You really didn't think I knew anything about penguins, did you? 

Thursday, March 14, 2013

Encouragement for Teen Writers

Click Here
Those of us who write YA spend many hours connecting with teens, observing them, thinking about their problems, jotting down their dialogue, and crafting stories we hope they'll love. When you're around teens that much and they know you're a writer, quite a few of them will confess that they want to write or are writing a novel. They ask for tips on how to get published.

It's hard to encapsulate years of writing advice into one conversation or even hours of talks, so writer Jill Williamson, who's been a mentor to many teen writers, and has many published and forthcoming YA novels has joined Stephanie Morrill to publish a book for teens. The duo also have a website geared for teen writers. Teens can hang out there to discuss writing, find out about writing opportunities, and learn from published authors. Jill also runs NovelTeen, a site where she and teens review YA novels.

Here's the blurb for Go Teen Writers:

Whether you’re just starting to write your first story or you’ve finished and are wondering how to edit, this book will help you learn how to perfect your craft and get your project ready for publication. Click to learn more.

Includes tips for:

-Getting published, finding the right agent, book surgery, thicker plots, deeper characters, richer settings, weaving in theme, dealing with people who don’t get your writing

Find this book at your local bookstore, or…
On ebook at: Amazon.com • BarnesandNoble.com • Kobo

One of my favorite pieces of advice from the book is this tip for deepening character development. After offering the usual advice of giving the character a goal and an inner desire, the authors suggest creating a lie for the character to believe and a reason for him or her to believe it. As they point out, "And just like the lie can be a point of weakness for your main character, it can be the downfall of your antagonists."

The book has more great advice that isn't just for teens, but for any writer.

If you were to give one piece of writing advice to teens, what would it be?

Tuesday, March 12, 2013

The Best Editing Tip I've Ever Gotten

Right now I'm deep in revisions on my current WIP, which means I have editing on the brain.  So I want to share the best editing advice I've ever gotten.

Several years ago, I was at the Surrey International Writers Conference in Surrey, BC and I was taking a master class with Donald Maass.  For those who haven't heard of Donald Maass, he's a pretty powerful literary agent who wrote the essential book WRITING THE BREAKOUT NOVEL.  He also travels all over the world giving workshops on that same subject.  He's a fantastic instructor, full of passion and zeal for writers and writing.  If you have the chance to attend one of his workshops, jump on it!

Anyway, there we were in the middle of a four-hour master class, and Don pulls out this little nugget of advice.  After you finish your book, and have gone through edits, and you think it's ready to go, take this one last step.  Print out the entire novel.  Take that nice, neat stack of paper.  Toss it in the air.  Literally toss it in the air.  Gather up the pages, out of order.  Read your novel.

Now, I know you're probably thinking, "you are insane," but trust me - this works.  How?  Because reading your book out of order keeps you present and on your toes.  When you read your book in order, you get lulled into the story and your brain goes soft, laughing at the hilarious lines you've written, tearing up at the emotional scenes.  And you read right over all the little errors on each page, all the missed opportunities for added tension.

But when you read the pages in random order, the unnecessary paragraphs and the chunks that drag the story down become glaring on the page.  When I did this with WINTER FALLS I actually caught an entire paragraph containing a character I had cut out three versions earlier

Don's catchphrase is "Tension on every page."  Reading your book in random order makes you see all the places where the tension lags and all the places where you can bump up the emotion.

Still not convinced?  I've suggested this to many people, and I've had a lot of them tell me, "Oh, I don't need to do that."  Then they hand me their manuscript to read, and I see a hundred places where the story drags that, had they done as I suggested, they would've caught themselves.

Trust me.  This works.

Plus, I have to say, throwing your entire manuscript into the air is very, very liberating.

Nicole Maggi writes YA - paranormal, historical, and beyond.  Her debut novel WINTER FALLS will be released in 2014 from Medallion Press.  She's represented by the fabulous Irene Goodman of The Irene Goodman Literary Agency, and lives in Los Angeles with her husband Chris, their daughter Emilia (after the Shakespeare character), and two cats Sawyer & Hurley (after the LOST characters - yeah, she's a geek).  Check out her website and follow her on Twitter!

Thursday, March 7, 2013

Why I Rarely Buy Books Anymore!

It’s March 7th and I’m back here talking to you. This is not a good time for me, since my mother passed away on March 15, 1990 and I’m never okay during this month. 

So what I think I want to discuss today is the amount of people who are offering their books for free or are having book releases who send out invitations from Facebook to me. I would really love to attend everyone’s event, but I can’t and they clog up my email with the posts. I know you are supposed to go over and say whether you are coming or not, but as I said, there are too many to do that. So I ignore them and just delete all of them without investigating them. I feel guilty, but I think it’s the only way I can keep my sanity. I can’t imagine reading all of them and I don’t want to check out the books, because I really can’t afford to buy them all. So I have this big guilty hole that keeps saying, don’t delete this one. Maybe this time it will be one you want to read.

Now you know my guilty secret, the reason I don’t buy books is because we have enough books right now for me to read every day and still not get through them all.:) My daughter has taken scads of books from BEA each year and so I never run out of books to read. Of course, you are reading ARCs so you have to ignore some of the mistakes. But when you go beyond them you might be reading the next bestseller and you are reading it for free!! 

For those of you who are unfamiliar with BEA this is a conference held every year in June mostly in New York at the Javitts Center. Every big publisher is there along with every publisher who can afford a booth. Independent authors are there as well and you can meet your favorite author too. All the big authors have a signing time and for some you need to get tickets. But the best thing about BEA is the amount of ARCs just laying around waiting for the people to take them. Librarians and members of the publishing family walk around with big bags that are usually given out by the publishers and grab tons of these ARCs. In addition, you don’t need to buy the author’s book to have it signed, you just grab a copy and stand in line. The longest line we were in was for Puff the Magic Dragon by Peter Yarrow and he was there at a table signing the books. We must have waited for at least an hour in a line that stretched across the entire Javitts Center. If you have ever been there you know how large that is.:)

As I read all of these books I like to vary them from young adult to adult. As a writer I am always comparing the writing and seeing what works and doesn’t work for each one. I am very interested in how authors use POV in the various genres. In a young adult book it is rare to have more than one POV in a chapter. Though the chapters may change POV, within the chapter there is usually only one POV. In adult books, though, this is not the case. Many adult books change POV within the chapter using the omniscient POV, which can be a little confusing. The last book I read had three POV’s and the two main characters interspersed POV’s sometimes after a few paragraphs. Occasionally I had to go back and figure out whose POV it was. Things got really interesting when the bad guy came into the picture and then the voice was very different. Making it even more complicated was the fact that there were no real chapters. This was a very risky format, but it somehow worked. It drew me into the book and soon I was on the edge of my seat wondering how the book would end. 
I have never written two POV’s in a young adult novel, but I have an adult novel with two POV’s. I find that having one POV centers your story on the main character and allows you to use peripheral characters to describe your main character. I have thought about having two POV’s, but I haven’t done it.

In this post I have touched on two different topics and now I have some questions for you. Do you read ARCs and how do you feel about doing that? What do you think about using more than one POV in YA novels? 

I’ll see you all on the 21st. Happy writing and reading!!
If you are interested in seeing my published YA novel, If I Could Be Like Jennifer Taylor, you can find it on Amazon in both ebook and paperback. 

Here are my links:

Tuesday, March 5, 2013


Greetings All!
I am in the midst of a blog tour for WAR OF FEI, book 2 of the Lore of Fei series. At each stop I am either doing an interview, guest blog or promo. Readers can win a copy of both faerie books at the end of the tour. I’ve posted the schedule for today below in case you want to check it out.
The tour is put on by Bewitching Books Blog Tour.

March 5 Interview

March 5 Promo
Liz @ Fictional Candy

In other news, my YA contemporary, HOW TO BE ALMOST FAMOUS IN TEN DAYS will be released March 16, 2013 by Gypsy Shadow Publishing. Although fantasy is my first love, I really enjoyed writing this one. Think of it as Cyrano de Bergerac meets Comedy of Errors. 17yo Cassie feels invisible and in order to make herself be seen, she devises a plan to become famous in ten days. With the help of her BFF, the plans she devises lead to humorous and sometimes serious consequences.
 I have a book trailer on You Tubehttp://youtu.be/oYc4MEW0Lz4  that I will tweak when the book is released.

I am in the throes of writing another YA contemporary with historical elements. I’m not very far into it yet.

I have revised my middle grade zombie novel and am sending it to agents again. I had one agent who loved it, liked the premise, the writing and the voice of the main character but she didn’t know where she’d sell it. Disappointing but it gave me hope that it’s now closer than it was before I revised it.

My YA historical fiction book, FITZROY: THE BOY WHO WOULD BE KING is still in the top 100 paid for children’s eBooks/historical fiction in the UK. It’s been in the top 100 since December, 2012.

I’ve been teaching at a local college and this week is Spring Break so I planned on getting lots of writing done. So far I’ve done some but not as much as I wanted. Still, it’s only Tuesday, right?

Take Care, Until Next Time,

Monday, March 4, 2013

Conflict in Dialogue

How many times have you read stories of all types where the dialogue is just plain boring? Was it bad enough that you wanted to skip it to prevent yourself from falling asleep? Yeah, me too.
In reading some topics on dialogue, I couldn’t help but think how true it is to have an intriguing dialogue, attention grabbing conversation that pulls you into the story. It doesn’t have to be an intense attack by the characters. The wording can also be more relaxed and calm as the scene requires it. But it needs to be there, especially for fiction.
Okay, then how do you indicate conflict? Swords? Battleaxes? Murder? Nope. An unexpected response, lying, evading the given question, even changing the subject is all good. If you can create two different goals in the same conversation, then you have something. That is, if one character directs his questioning in one path, and the second character detours the queries with answers in an opposite direction. Good conflict can create the outcome you desire in the reader’s mind simply through your words. You won’t have to elaborate on a subject to infer your point. The clashing dialogue does it for you.
In my trilogy The Relics of Nanthara, my most controversial character, and probably my favorite, was Azin. You never knew what he was going to say, or what he was going to do. In reading several examples of how he reacted early on in his introduction, it became clear he was capable of anything!
So remember, the embattling conversation should be consistent throughout your story. Adding another character only allows a new thread of conflict which carries the story deeper. Your captivating conversations should not end until the story is finished.

Take care,

Sunday, March 3, 2013

Writing Weather

It's winter here in Massachusetts and the rest of the United States. Here, that means cold temperatures and occasional snow. Not good weather for being outside. Perfect weather for sitting at the computer writing, at least in theory. Bad weather is usually a good time for staying inside, and since I won't go out, I should probably get a lot more writing done on those days than I actually do. The problem is that I'm not the only one staying in when the weather is cold or rainy. I have two kids who don't like to leave the house on the best days, and when the weather's bad, they have even more excuse for hanging around the living room (where my writing corner is) watching annoying cartoons and talking to the cats in loud voices. I know some authors whose creativity and skill ramp way up when the weather's bad, because they use it as an excuse not to leave the house, and since they aren't leaving the house, they can sit at their computers and create. Those people probably don't have kids, or if they do, their kids are a lot better trained than mine! But even if I can't be quite as creative as I would like, it's still nice to sit at my desk and look out the window at the snowflakes while I sip my nice, warm coffee. And sometimes I even get some writing done.

Saturday, March 2, 2013

Movie Memory Lane

The other day I overheard a conversation between several of the girls in one of my classes. They were talking about Patrick Swayze and the movie Dirty Dancing (1987), which they had watched over the weekend. They were talking about how good looking Patrick Swayze was, and one of the girls said she wanted to marry him.

By now they realize I’m listening to them and they asked me if I had seen the movie and if I though Patrick Swayze was good looking.

Yes, I’ve seen the movie. In fact, I saw it when it first came out.

Yes, Patrick Swayze was absolute good looking! And I thought it was a sad day when he died a few years ago.

The girls got really quiet for a little bit then they asked me what other movies I saw when I was a teen.

How many of you remember when these movies came out?

  • The Breakfast Club (1985)  --  Five high school students, all different stereotypes, meet in detention, where they pour their hearts out to each other, and discover how they have a lot more in common than they thought. 
  • Weird Science (1985)  --  Two nerdish boys attempt to create the perfect woman, but she turns out to be more than that.
  • Sixteen Candles (1984)  --  A young girl’s “sweet sixteen” birthday becomes anything but special as she suffers from every embarrassment possible.
  • Pretty in Pink (1986)  --  A poor girl must choose between the affections of her doting childhood sweetheart and a rich but sensitive playboy.
  • The Lost Boys (1987)  --  After moving to a new town, two brothers are convinced that the area is frequented by vampires.

I don’t know about you, but I absolutely loved these movies and still watch them today when I get the opportunity. And a lot of the girls I teach are watching them too.

Friday, March 1, 2013

March 1

Can you believe it? It's March. Spring is less than 3 weeks away, and Easter not far behind. Hopefully, by the end of the month,  the wave of snowstorms that have rocked the Midwest will be over, flowers will be blooming and the sun will be shining overhead.
But today it's March 1. Here's a few things that make it special:
March 1, 1781, the Articles of Confederation were instituted.
March 1, 1790, the first census was authorized in the United States
March 1 is Justin Beiber's birthday.
March 1 is Ron Howard's birthday.
March 1 is Robert Conrad's birthday
March 1, 2012, The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo was on the NPR best seller list.
March 1, 2012 Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy was on the NPR best seller list.
March 1 (2013) is.......Friday, the beginning of the weekend. Enjoy.