DRAWN Haunt – Definitely Not Normal

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…a wonderfully spooky tale of romance and discovery. It’s a magical exploration of the unconquerable power of love. Highly recommended!
— Jonathan Maberry, New York Times bestseller

DRAWN Haunt month continues today with a post about some truly ghostly occurrences, but first – here’s a special limited-time deal! ***Get the Kindle version of my award-winning time-travel novel DRAWN for just 99 cents by clicking here!  Note: Sale is ONLY today 10/9 through this Wednesday 10/11 at 8 p.m. The regular price is $3.99, so grab this 99-cent-deal fast before it disappears into the dark and spooky night.***

The DRAWN Haunt is the month-long celebration I’m having here in honor of DRAWN‘s 5th anniversary. To catch all the spooky posts check back often or subscribe to this blog (see bottom of this post for how).  And for more about DRAWN, click here.

Now for today’s DRAWN Haunt post…

DEFINITELY NOT NORMAL

…my eyes again stray to the drawing of that guy. In the sketch I can now see the very edge of his cheek. It’s as if he’s just turned ever so slightly toward me.

But that’s crazy.

In my novel Drawn, young teen artist Michelle De Freccio moves with her dad to England hoping for a more normal life. In England, no one will know that back in New Jersey everyone calls her family the De Freakos. They won’t know about her supposedly psychic mother (A.K.A. Madame Florabunda) or her mentally ill brother.  But when Michelle starts drawing a medieval ghost, and then she meets him and falls for him, well clearly nothing is going to be normal again.

The thing is, while Michelle is looking so hard for normal, I find I’m actually doing the opposite.  I can’t say I’m a believer in ghosts or the paranormal, but I’d really REALLY like to be. Show me, I think. Prove it.

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Christopher from DRAWN. Illustration by Marie Lamba (copyrighted material)

Like Michelle in my novel, I’m an artist too. Maybe that’s why a particular guest speaker I heard way back in high school made such an impression on me.  It was a woman who created colorful oil paintings of the Hermitage, a Colonial-era mansion in Hohokus, NJ.  She pointed to the shadows in one painting, the stairway in another, the roof tiles in still another.  “See?” she’d said.  “See the figures?”

I drew in my breath. I did see. In one painting dappled shadows revealed a Colonial soldier in military regalia. In another, a bride seemed to materialize on the stairway, her image woven into the wall texture.  In an exterior painting, a few roof tiles were shaped into a face, the expression leering, malevolent.  The artist claimed she never intended to paint any of this, that she didn’t see these figures until the painting was completed. That she was clearly channeling spirits through her art.

My first thought was: Cool!  I want to do that.  I want to go there and pull out my charcoal and find these spirits materializing in the shadows of my own sketches. But of course my next instinct was to narrow my eyes and scrutinize the painter. She seemed sweet, grandmotherly, but was she nutty?  Well of course she was, I thought.

Hey, even Elijah Rosencrantz, a resident of the Hermitage in the early 1800s, thought ghosts were a lot of phooey. According to the website thehermitage.org, he wrote a statement titled “If the Hangings Flutter,” saying supernatural beliefs were “absurdities,” something to only be believed by “persons of the lower classes and from poor early education.”  Hm, then again, what if Elijah became a ghost himself?  I bet he’d be beyond pissed.  Maybe that explains that angry spirit leering from the roof tile…

I guess the question I want to ask everyone is: Is it normal to hope, yet disbelieve?

tombphotoIs it normal to travel the world exploring graveyards? Because I’ve done that. I’ve sketched tombs throughout England and visited crypts in Italy and wandered through ancient cenotaphs in India, fascinated by the culture of death, the promise of the supernatural. The cold breeze on my neck could have been a ghostly breath, right? The orbs in photos might have been dust, but what if they weren’t?  A few years ago my daughter visited Greece and sent me this picture.  Take a good close look. You see the orbs, right?  And the FACES IN THE ORBS?  I pointed this out to my daughter who wrote back freaked out saying, “THIS IS A TOMB!”

But is this proof? I’m still not completely convinced myself.

Wouldn’t you give anything to have some undeniable proof? Do you dream of going on a ghost tour in a castle? Do you watch ghost-hunting shows hoping that it won’t be silly? Do you get lost in novels laced with the supernatural?  The Woman in White, Dracula, The Picture of Dorian Gray, even The Graveyard Book by Neil Gaiman?

Well, I do. But of course artists are a little out there, anyway.  Writers too.  Especially writers. We spend all day hearing voices that aren’t there. Writing things that haven’t happened as if they did.

So, yeah, maybe that’s partly why I wrote Drawn.  Why I have my main character meet a ghost and step into his world. Why the final scenes are in a castle dungeon during a ghost tour.  Because I’m a little out there.  And because, unlike my main character Michelle, I’m not looking for normal. I’m hoping for the weird, the strange, the haunting.

Aren’t you?

***Remember, the 99 cent sale of DRAWN only runs today through this Wednesday, 10/11 at 8 p.m. Click here!

*Marie is a Literary Agent at The Jennifer De Chiara Literary Agency in New York City. To keep up with all her posts, subscribe to her site.

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Agent Monday: Halloween Treat – Behind the Scenes with Illustrator Lee Harper

TTTCoverHappy Agent Monday – Halloween style! For a special treat, I’m excited to have a guest post from our talented client, author/illustrator Lee Harper. He’s going to take you into his studio for a behind the scenes look at how he created the images for Wendi Silvano’s too-funny TURKEY TRICK OR TREAT (Two Lions). Lee’s currently hard at work illustrating the sequel to Leslie Helakoski’s wonderful WOOLBUR picture book, titled WOOLBUR GETS READY FOR SCHOOL (Harper Collins). To see his portfolio, and get info on his books,  visit his website here.

****LAST MINUTE UPDATE! I just found out that TURKEY TRICK OR TREAT is read aloud by Scandal’s actor Guillermo Diaz on the show BOOK-A-BOO. The reading has fun animations and is available for streaming here.  Perfect treat for kiddos of all ages. 😉

Okay, take it away, Lee!

Tricks Behind Illustrating Turkey Trick or Treat
by Lee Harper

After I received the manuscript for Wendi Silvano’s Turkey Trick or Treat, I started by filling up sketchbooks with drawings. In the beginning, I let the story and my imagination take me wherever they wanted to take me without worrying about how it would all come together. A lot of the character development happened during the sketchbook drawing stage. There were a lot of animal characters to develop.

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There were also a lot of human characters to develop, each with their own costume.

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All the characters needed to look like they belonged to the same reality.

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Only a small percentage of my early stage drawings made it into the book.  As a result, I have a vast collection of storyless characters as this illustration shows.

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I mixed in some experimental painting during the drawing process to make sure the drawings would work in color. This sheriff turkey didn’t make it into the book but gave Wendi an idea for another turkey story!

When I had a general idea of the characters and an overall visual theme in mind, I started the dummy by creating a storyboard with thumbnail sketches on Post-its. At this time I also gave myself a drawing schedule that kept me moving along. I like to do this part fast, in one fell swoop. Details can wait for later.

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The great thing about storyboarding with Post-its is you can quickly mix and match images —like putting together a puzzle — and because each drawing is small, it’s impossible to delve prematurely into too many details.

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When the storyboard was done, I began a more detailed dummy by drawing each individual element of each page, scanning it, and placing it in Photoshop.

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I then arranged all the elements of each page, including the text. Since each element of the drawings was an individual layer in Photoshop, I could easily re-arrange things and make revisions.

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Once I had all the drawings completed, I saved each two-page spread as a JPEG file and created a PDF dummy to email to my editor and art director at Two Lions. After revising the sketches according to their notes, I printed out the pages 10% larger than actual size and traced them onto watercolor paper using a light table.

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After the lightly drawn drawing was complete, I soaked the watercolor paper with water and stretched it on a board to keep the paper flat during painting.

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While painting I referred to photo-reference material I collected during the drawing stage. I needed to show the farmer’s feet in one of the illustrations so I photographed my son Dan’s pants and boots. (There’s nobody in there.)

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This is the illustration with the boots and pants.

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Because Turkey Trick or Treat was the third in a series of books about the same character, I regularly referred to the first two books to make sure I kept things somewhat consistent.

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Here’s my watercolor palette while I was working. This is actually the first book in which I use a black pigment. Usually I make darks by mixing other colors, but for Turkey Trick or Treat I wanted a very pitch-black sky.

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I have an unusual painting process that involves spraying a mist of water in the air and swinging the painting through the mist. It eliminates hard edges.

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Here’s a painting under construction.

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And finally, an illustration comes to life.

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Thanks so much, Lee, for giving us such a great behind the scenes look into your studio and fun creative world!

Happy Halloween, everyone. And keep your eyes peeled tonight for Turkey trying to steal some of your treats!

*Marie is a Literary Agent at The Jennifer De Chiara Literary Agency in New York City. To keep up with all her Agent Monday posts, subscribe to her site.

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Agent Monday: Too Many Points of View?

MP900321197Happy Agent Monday, everyone! Recently I’ve received a number of novel submissions with multiple viewpoint characters. Today I’m happy to welcome the following guest post by one of my interns – Colin Gironda. As a first reader for me, Colin has his own point of view on why multi POV’s sometimes work really well, but at other times can actually lead to a rejection.

So here’s HIS view of things. Take it away Colin…

A book written from one perspective can sometimes become limited in its scope, but using multiple perspectives in a manuscript can be a great tool because it allows for other characters to have a voice.

The way one character views themselves or others can be different from the way another character does. With two sets of eyes on a person instead of one, you can create better developed characters by revealing different aspects.

Also, perspectives can foil one another. Using this technique, you can place in the reader mistrust or curiosity about another character’s actual intentions. This allows a reader to be drawn deeper into the plot and to become more compelled to discover the truth. This can also help the reader identify more closely with a character –  we are choosing sides and deciding who we like and believe in.

But there can be pitfalls and dangers for writers using multiple points of view as well. Each perspective needs a distinct voice. Without that distinct voice, the plot can feel convoluted; the reader can lose track of who’s doing or saying what.

Each point of view character must also be well developed. If the character isn’t 3-dimensional, or they don’t have a large voice, you may want to refrain from using their perspective. The reader will likely become bored with them or confused at the presence of someone so minor.

When not used properly, multiple view points can spell trouble for your plot, too. Bouncing from character to character too quickly and too often can slow your story down, especially if the storyline itself doesn’t advance enough. Readers can lose track of what’s going on, and when they don’t feel invested in what happens next, or truly know why it matters, they might just stop reading altogether.

Multiple view points really can have multiple benefits in a story. But as powerful as this tool can be, it’s just that – a tool. Don’t let it become a distraction to readers or drag down the pace. Instead make sure it’s enhancing your story, adding depth. Get that right, and the end result will be complex and rich storytelling.

Colin Gironda is earning his Bachelors degree in Creative Writing at Franklin and Marshall College, and is an intern for The Jennifer De Chiara Literary Agency in New York City .

*Marie is an Associate Agent at The Jennifer De Chiara Literary Agency in New York City. To keep up with all her Agent Monday posts, subscribe to her site by clicking on the Follow link located on her page on the upper left margin.

Agent Monday: Too Soon?

9781585421466Happy sunny Agent Monday, gang! It’s too soon for shorts and bathing suits here in the Northeast, but the signs are there. Birds singing. Days starting to grow mild. The promise of hot sunny days ahead. But you can’t rush it. Likewise, in my agent inbox, I often see queries of books that are promising, but not there yet. So in today’s post, let’s talk about that important question writers should be asking themselves before submitting: Is it too soon?

To kick off this post, I have to tip my hat to a wonderful book: The Artist’s Way by Julia Cameron. Are you an artist of any sort (musician, fine artist, writer, etc.) who isn’t producing work the way you’d like? Or are you enjoying it less and less? Or feeling angry or stressed in some way that is impairing your true creative spirit? Dude, buy The Artist’s Way, follow the chapters and do every single exercise in there that feels right to you. It will change you and free you. I’ve been using this book myself for the past 8 months, and I am definitely different. I am better for it. It’s a gift you can give to yourself. Take it!

Okay, back to the Too Soon point. In Cameron’s book, she states something so simple and elegantly true: “An act of art needs time to mature. Judged early, it may be judged incorrectly. Never, ever, judge a fledgling piece of work too quickly.” She points out that many hits are sure things only in retrospect. “Until we know better, we call a great many creative swans ugly ducklings….We forget that not all babies are born beautiful…”

Some of these judgements come into our writerly minds before we set a word on paper. We think, eh, that’ll never sell. That’s been done. That is crap. And we never write that idea down, follow it to completion. Some of these judgement we inflict on our work after it is written. We say to ourselves, this sucks. No one will give a damn. We tell ourselves that we will never break in or break out. In all of these cases, we are the block between the idea and the possible future reader of our work.

And sometimes we are caught up in the rush of competition. I’ve written it. I’ve made my agent list. BAM! I’ve sent it out. Done!  But wait…no responses. Form rejections. The answer the writer can take away from this? My writing sucks. I suck. I’m done. I have another idea, but what’s the point?

Okay, so nothing promises success when you take your idea from inception and trot it out into the world. That’s the artist’s life. But, as I’ve said, I often see things that are half-formed. That have a good voice and style, but a half-baked idea. Or I see works that need more focus. Or people who are just starting out in their fiction writing and who have created their very first novel. Obvious ideas, mimicking other writers, stories that are really just their own lives told back. All the things that a new writer must work through before creating something more original and unique. In sum, I often see writers who show promise, but don’t have something they are showing me that is in a state of readiness that’ll make me sit up and think – yes! This is ready.

I’m talking far beyond spell checking and formatting something correctly. I’m talking about a writer not rushing. Taking the time to let a work sit and stew. And to then revisit it with revisions, and have others read and react to it, then let THOSE comments sit and stew, then revise again, tweaking what feels right. Only when you feel your work is fully developed, fully realized, only then should you be sending it out to an agent. And THEN you should move on to create something else. This may be a young novel for you. Maybe your next one will be more developed, maybe the one after that. But you’ll never know if you don’t give yourself the chance to grow.

I’ve said it before in this blog: you must take a long view of your career. That means that you should take the time you need to develop, produce, grow as a writer. — that’s something that never stops for the true artist, no matter how many books you write or even how many get published. You should look at setbacks as something to learn from and move beyond. Thinking that you will write X many books and stories and send out to X many agents and publications and that should definitely lead you to your shiny goal of publishing success is all well and good. BUT you will hit walls and you cannot control what’s on the other side.

Hey, if you as a writer are looking for reasons to stop writing, you will find them. TONS of them. But if you want to write, then don’t look for reasons to stop. Ever. Your ideas are valuable. Your voice is valuable. As Cameron says, “The need to win — now! — is a need to win approval from others. As an antidote, we must learn to approve of ourselves. Showing up for the work is the win that matters.”

So I guess what I’m saying is don’t be in such a hurry. Enjoy your creative process and see it thoroughly to the end. That fulfilling creative world will give you endless joy and rewards. And then send it out into the commercial world. And move on to create something new and well and thoroughly despite the outcome.

Slow and steady can win the race. And if that race is artistic fulfillment vs. success, that is a race you can definitely win. And I would argue that artistic fulfillment will open up all sorts of success.

So what’s the hurry?

 

*Marie is an Associate Agent at the Jennifer De Chiara Literary Agency in New York City.  To keep up with all her posts, subscribe to her site by clicking on the Follow link located on her page on the upper left margin.

 

 

Agent Monday: Wait, You Rep What?

Red TulipsHappy Agent Monday, everyone!  And HAPPY SPRING. Phew. Somehow this feels hard-won this year.  I honestly can’t remember when seeing snow bells and crocuses in bloom has made me more giddy or brought more relief. Change is in the air, folks!  And something else has made me a bit giddy… so I’m “putting out there” a shift in my agent submission guidelines.  Hence today’s post title of: Wait, You Rep What?

First a wonderful announcement!  I’m delighted and thrilled to now represent picture book author/illustrator Lee Harper. Lee is well-known for creating books which are hilarious as well as breathtakingly beautiful.  He is the author/illustrator of SNOW! SNOW! SNOW! (Simon & Schuster/Paula Wiseman Books) and THE EMPEROR’S COOL CLOTHES (Two Lions) and his most recent book is the lyrical and lovely COYOTE. Lee illustrated WOOLBUR by Leslie Helakoski (HarperCollins), TURKEY TROUBLE and TURKEY CLAUS, both by Wendi Silvano (Two Lions), and LOOKING FOR THE EASY LIFE by Walter Dean Myers (HarperCollins). Lee equally enjoys illustrating the works of others and writing and illustrating his own stories, and he currently has a number of his own picture book ideas in the works. Yeah!

Okay, I know.  My guidelines say I’m NOT interested in picture books and make NO mention of repping illustrators.  So what gives? Hey, things do change. But before you hit that send button, I want everyone to know that I’m not open to picture books and illustrations from everyone. I’m actually only open to submissions from established illustrators and picture book authors, and to those sent to me on referral, or to folks who I meet at conferences and request submissions from.  If you’d like to see where I’ll be when, my up-to-date appearance schedule can be found here.  Sorry I can’t take submissions from everyone, but if you saw my inbox and my workload for current clients as represented on my very scary spreadsheet, you’d truly understand.

I’m really excited to enter the world of representing picture book authors and illustrators!  I bring to this not only my background as a writer and editor, but also my fine art background (I have a dual degree from U. of Penn in English and in Literary Art – a major I created there which combined creative writing and all the fine arts classes I could take).  Plus I’ve already sold one of my client’s very cool non-fiction picture books: TO THE STARS! by Carmella Van Vleet and astronaut Kathy Sullivan, the first American woman to walk in space (Charlesbridge).

So there are a lot of new things popping up everywhere…crocuses and snow bells included.  I’m also still looking for great middle grade and YA fiction, adult and women’s fiction and memoir, and my guidelines for those can always be found here.

Happy Spring, everyone!

 

*Marie is an Associate Agent at the Jennifer De Chiara Literary Agency in New York City.  To keep up with all her posts, subscribe to her site by clicking on the “Subscribe to Marie’s site here” link located on her page on the upper left margin.

Drawn from my Art Background

Sketch from Marie's England journal

In some way or other, aspects of my own life seep into my novels. And in my new paranormal YA novel Drawn you will find it’s the artist in me.  Like in these lines from the novel:

“I sit on a wooden pew in the back row, flip open my pad and lose myself in my sketch.

Things make sense when I draw. Everything is angles and texture and relationships.”

Like Michelle in this novel, I’m a very visual person. I notice the slant of an eyebrow, the curl of someone’s hair along their neck, the slightest twist at the corner of a mouth. In college I double-majored in English and in Literary Art, which was a major I created that blended creative writing and fine art.  My plan was to become a writer/illustrator, but since then I’ve been all writer.  The artist side of me has always been within me, though, lurking.

As an artist, I tend to unconsciously sketch the lines of things I see. You might find the pointer finger of my left hand (southpaw, here) tracing the lines of what I see onto my lap or on a tabletop.  And as a writer, this “mental sketching” naturally filters into my writing. I’m always making connections about what things look like.  It filters into my scenery, like in this part of my novel when Michelle is describing a graveyard she’s walking through:

I like St. Paul’s because you enter its yard through a little wooden gateway with a peaked roof. The roof leans to the left and the gate makes a horror-movie squeak when you open it. Best of all, the graveyard is filled with stones in varying stages of decay. Tall ones lean forward or backward like giant levers that have been pushed or pulled. And full-sized carved stone images of knights in armor on top of marble slabs look like they’d laid down for a nap and froze into place for a few hundred years. Closest to the tiny church are the oldest graves. Words washed away by time. Stones cracked and crumbling. My favorite stones are the ones that look like giant gingerbread noblemen resting on the ground. Their arms and legs are separated from their bodies as if they’d been soaked in milk for too long.

And it shapes my character descriptions, too:

He rubs his chin. “Yet there is something, indeed. And you wield some power over me. I feel it.”

I shake my head but I think there is something about him. Christopher has this rugged appeal that makes even William Wallingford ordinary in comparison. I can’t seem to look away. It’s as if I’m studying him for a portrait. I notice he tends to raise his chin. The very corners of his mouth curve up, making him seem slightly arrogant. And his eyes. Their light color gives them endless depth. Yet they seem so full of…of what?

Longing.

I glance away, surprised.

Of course the fun here is that Michelle actually is an artist too. This means I can use her powers of observation to shape what the reader sees, and her drawing skills are integral to the plot.  Through her drawings she starts to channel what is either a ghost or a delusion. And her ability to notice details ultimately helps her to put together the pieces in an ancient mystery.  It also presents a great opportunity for me as the writer to create some beautiful images, especially of the guy Michelle is so drawn to:

I take a deep breath and open the door. The flickering fire in the small stone hearth casts a shadowy light. Christopher is in his bed asleep. I close the door and press my back against it. My eyes fill with grateful tears. I’m not too late.

He is bare-chested, a sheet covering him just below his arms. His one arm is flung over his head and his chin is turned toward the fire. The coin he took from me hangs on a chain around his neck, a silvery orb resting in the hollow of his throat. I quietly set my bag beside the door, peel off my sweater and crouch beside the bed, wincing from my sore knees. But what do sore knees matter? He’s here and he’s real and he’s safe and he’s even more beautiful than I’d remembered. I’m glad he’s asleep so I can look closely at him without embarrassment. The pout of his lips. The curl of his dark lashes. His flexed bicep. I long to touch him but can’t bear to wake him.

I’ll draw him.

I’ll draw him…  With Drawn, it’s as close as I’ve come to being the writer/illustrator I’d once envisioned I’d become.  I did draw the book’s cover myself, which is a pencil sketch painted with India ink. I guess in a way I am a writer/illustrator and always have been. Just painting images with words.

And hoping you, as the reader, are seeing what I see.

Happy reads,

Marie

Cover of My Newest YA DRAWN – Sneak Peek Time!

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Just in time for the holidays, a little present: a sneak peek of the cover for my new YA paranormal novel DRAWN.

This book’s about a teen artist who, through her drawings, meets and falls for a hot medieval ghost with one sketchy past. Check back on this site for updates, details and a firm pub date… DRAWN should be out in time for your holiday reading on that new ereader and in good old print too!  So expect a lot of news to be popping up here soon. In the meantime, you can click this link for a brief excerpt.

BTW: I drew and painted the illustration.  I’d love to know what you think of the cover!

A Different Look at WHAT I MEANT…

About a year ago, there was some talk about releasing my novel WHAT I MEANT… as a paperback.  The talk went as far as the publisher hiring wonderful illustrator Jitesh Patel to design a fresh new cover design.

The economy and the fates put a halt to the paperback release, but I thought you might enjoy seeing what almost became the cover design for my young adult novel.  Jitesh is based in London, and has done a range of work for publishers, advertisers and even Macy’s. If you get a chance, check out his fresh and original work of over at his site!

The Plot Sickens

Plot. Ugh! We writers need it to make our great ideas flow. Readers crave it…it’s what makes them turn pages, what creates tension, what makes them CARE about a book. But here’s a dirty little secret: many writers have a love-hate relationship with plotting. Mostly hate, really.

The Rebel Writers are (left to right) Damian McNicholl, Russ Allen, C.G. Bauer, Jeanne Denault, John Wirebach, David Jarret and Marie Lamba

I belong to an amazing novel critique group called The Rebel Writers.  (If you want to learn more about this group and our unique methods of critiquing long manuscripts, you can check out my article Plotting a Novel Group in Writer’s Digest Magazine by clicking here.) This month, our meeting was devoted to discussing plot. Our personal struggles with it, how it tends to bite us in the ass mid-way through our novels, how uncomfortable we are with artificially manufacturing it, and what the hell we can do to make sure our novels are tightly written starting right at the first draft. We came up with some interesting thoughts that I’d like to share…

All 6 of us were on hand for this meeting, offering a variety of perspectives. I’m a young adult author; Damian McNicholl is author of the critically acclaimed literary novel A Son Called Gabriel; C.G. (Chris) Bauer is author of the stunning debut horror novel Scars on the Face of God; Jeanne Denault is author of an amazing memoir about raising a son with Aspergers titled Sucking up Yellow Jackets – soon to be published by the UK publisher O Books; David Jarret writes historical novels and hysterical short stories, John Wirebach writes gritty crime and mystery novels, and Russ Allen writes literary novels.

C.G. Bauer's debut horror novel is "hotter than the flames of hell," says horror master Scott Nicholson

One thing we all acknowledged: we are uncomfortable with following plotting formulas and using step-by-step advice to plot novels. Here’s the thing: writing is an art. At least we writers hope so.  Art should flow, should be organic and original. Should be something new and exciting and enlightening.  We authors want to get to that spot of artistic originality in our completed works with every single bit of fiction that we create.

So imagine how a bunch of artists (put your nose in the air when you say that word) feel when they consider planning out their work of art on 3×5 cards or with post-its. When they think about following formulas in designing their novels… It feels so, so…artificial.

And herein lies the problem. Novels ARE artificial. And, as cheesy as it sounds, writers are manipulators. We use technique to create suspense, tricks to make cliff-hangers, melodrama to induce tears…if we are doing it well, then no one will even notice we are pulling the strings. And we need to be aware of these plotting techniques and embrace them on some level, don’t we?

So we Rebel Writers decided to take our noses out of the air and look around.  Pulp fiction writers use formulas. Soap opera writers use formulas. Many romance authors use formulas. So do television script writers. So do film writers. So, in fact, do many novelists. Maybe its time we face the facts: we can learn something from these folks!

Damian McNicholl's celebrated novel was a Book Sense Pick of the Year

Okay, so once we packed away our collective artistic snobbery, the info sharing really began to flow.  It was like a confessional of sorts, with each of us sharing our own secret plotting cheats.

Russ introduced us to a text called Story Structure Architect by Victoria Lynn Schmidt, Ph.D., which outlines just over 50 plots, and argues that every story ever told was one of these plots.  We Rebels quickly found our own novels’ plots in the listings.  Humbling. Forget originality, right? All we have to do is pick one of these plots, and write a story…

We discussed our discomfort with this, but soon admitted that, yeah, it would be convenient to know the sort of story we were writing before we embarked on months to years worth of actually writing it and uncovering our direction. And we all reassured ourselves that whatever we wrote would be distinct if we were true to our own voice and our own view of the world.  That’s the clincher, isn’t it?

Many of us swore by Donald Maass’ Writing the Breakout Novel Workbook, which has exercises that ensure your novel has a sound structure, a strong subplot, tension on every page, etc. etc. etc.  John pointed out how focused movie script writers are in plotting, and how most scripts have a climactic moment on a certain page according to an understood formula. He recommended we look at books about treatments, including a book I have on my own shelf: Writing Treatments that Sell by Kenneth Atchity and Chi-Li Wong. Another favorite of the group is The Writer’s Journey by Christopher Vogler. It follows myth and archetypes culled by folklorist Joseph Campbell in his incredible The Power of Myth, and applies the hero’s journey to plotting and structure. It’s phenomenal, and I used parts of this while plotting my newest young adult novel, Drawn. Jeanne shared how she used index cards to decipher the plot of one of her murder mysteries and to reorganize the plotting to fix a problem in its pacing.

I know, right about now you’re thinking: So if everyone has been secretly using all of these plot theories, what’s the big deal? What did the Rebel Writers actually learn here?  Well, every one of us have used these tools AFTER we wrote our novels. First we spent forever writing our monster works, then we sat down with our drafts and thought, hm, the middle is really slow, or huh, the ending just doesn’t do it, and we spent forever dissecting our works and fixing them by applying all of these plotting theories.

Jeanne Denault's stunning memoir about Aspergers

But wouldn’t it be nice to start out with a better sense of the structure and plot at the start? Wouldn’t that cut down on the length of time it would take to write a novel? Imagine how wonderful it would be to be able to create two novels a year vs. one every two years. And wouldn’t we enjoy our writing more if we didn’t have to agonize over our edits, going over the plotting and structure again and again and again? Wouldn’t our final work benefit?

We are all nodding now.  But still scepticism rears its ugly head. Can you really sit down and plan out a novel, plotting its structure, its twists, its climax and conclusion, and still come out with a work of art?  I’m about to find out. See, I’m also a member of the Bucks County Romance Writers, and will soon attend my very first plot party with them. They ask that each member bring a brand new novel idea not worked on yet, a pen, and a stack of stickees. At the end of the 6 (!) hour event, each person is supposed to leave with a completely plotted out novel, and all we’ll have to do is simply write it. Easy, right?

Can this possibly work? Can I come up with something fresh and original, yet plotted, with only stickee notes, my imagination and some strong plotting traditions? Can I then save time writing my novel, with my first draft being close to a final draft? Will I end up writing more novels and being more productive because of this? God, I hope so. Stay tuned…

New Beginnings

It’s 2008, and I’ve sort of recovered from my extremely crazy booksigning/appearance schedule of the past few months.

I don’t know about you, but for some reason, this year I’m more ready than ever for fresh starts. I’ve seriously cleaned out my office, trashing old files, and even windexing my desktop. I’ve filed away the old, and pulled out the new, namely two new novels to move ahead on.  So this seems like the perfect time to start a brand new blog!

For my older postings, you can go to my myspace page Marielamba, and click on my blog. There isn’t a ton there, but it does chronicle some of my experiences with marketing my first young adult novel, WHAT I MEANT… (Random House YA). 

Here, I’m hoping to relate more of the writing experience. 2008 should prove interesting. For one thing, my second YA novel, which I call OVER MY HEAD, is just starting to make the rounds to publishers via my wonderful agent. How quickly will anything happen? What responses will we get from publishers? Will I chew all my fingernails and toenails off while I wait? These and other burning questions may or may not be answered over the next few weeks or months. Suffice it to say that I’ve done all I can with the writing of the manuscript, and now it’s on to the part I hate: the it’s all out of my hands part. I really really really like to be in control of my own destiny. Too bad I never am!

And while this manuscript is out trying to find its perfect match, I’ve got to somehow put it out of my mind while I escape into the world of my next book, which I call DRAWN.  I’m actually really looking forward to writing DRAWN. It’s about a teen artist who moves to England with her father in hopes of finally fitting in and seeming normal. But when she gets there, she discovers she’s unwillingly carrying on her family’s freaky psychic tradition.

Among the fun things I’m looking forward to in this book are exploring the artist’s mindset, exploring the castles and countryside of England, and exploring what it would be like to be in love with a really fantastically sexy ghost.  Good times for me!  

I’ve always been an artist, sketching, doing linoleum prints, pen and ink drawings, photography, ATTEMPTING to oil paint. But when I had kids, I kind of put my art supplies aside, devoting myself to raising my daughters and to writing. There simply wasn’t time for art, too. Can you tell I really miss it? I’m hoping that by traveling along with my character Michelle De Freccio as she sees the world through her artist’s eyes, that I will start to see things that way again too. 

As for England, when I was a senior in college, I spent a semester living in the Cotswolds with a British family. So writing about Michelle as a student there will be just like traveling there without having to pay the expensive airfare.

And as for getting involved with a sexy ghost? Sigh. What can I say? I never have. I envy Michelle’s future adventure, except for the whole her boyfriend is already dead part. Hey, no relationship is perfect, right?  

I’ll keep checking in with updates on DRAWN, and on OVER MY HEAD for you guys here, along with any news about my first novel WHAT I MEANT… 

Also keep your eyes peeled for a series of book reviews on this blog. I have about 30 advanced reader copies of new YA books that will be coming out in 2008 spring and summer. As I read through them, if I like them I’ll post a review. If I don’t like it, I’ll keep my mouth shut.  I’ll leave the negative crud to others. Suffice to say, if I write about a book, it’s because I really think it shines. 

Later!