Writer Wednesday: Not All Bad

*This originally appeared as a guest post over at IB Book Blogging during my Drawn Blog Ghost Tour
MC910215955Bad guys can be seriously tough characters for an author to write.  But every story needs them.  What would Star Wars be without Darth Vadar? Or Harry Potter without He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named?  But writing these characters in a way that makes them believable is tricky.

You want to create huge problems for your hero, and that requires a villain and some true evil.  But write about a person who is all bad and you have a cardboard character.  Like those villains in the silent flicks who twirled their moustaches while tying the damsel to the train tracks.

In my novel Drawn I had to create several baddies. The book is about teen artist Michelle De Freccio, who moves to England hoping for a more normal life.  Almost immediately she starts drawing a guy from the 1400’s. When she meets him (Christopher) at the town’s castle, things really get strange…and when she follows Christopher into the Middle Ages, well, stranger still.  The novel needed villains in the present AND in the past, so I had my bad-guy work cut out for me.

The secret, I found, is to show another side to your villain. Even if it’s just for a moment, you want a glimpse of someone who means well at times, or who is wounded in some way, or who truly believes they are doing the right thing.  If I can get the reader for just a moment to see this side of the bad person, then I know they’ll have a different view of things.  That they may even understand how the bad person went so wrong.

Here’s a moment from Drawn when I try to do just that… In the following scene Michelle discovers that her visits into the past have seriously begun to alter history and to wound Christopher’s fate. At this point, she’s started to really fall for him, so seeing history books that accuse him of terrible things is frightening indeed. Michelle has pulled book after book off the Academy’s shelf, searching for answers. Her modern-day nemesis Constance takes this opportunity to get Michelle into trouble with Constance’s mother who is the Academy’s Headmistress:

I blink and see Headmistress Hunter looming over me. Constance peers smugly from behind her.

“Such disorder,” the Headmistress says between tight lips, taking in the jumble of books at my feet. She’s almost trembling with anger. “Horrific. We do not treat reading material so shabbily, Miss De Freccio.”

“Yes, ma’am. Sorry.”

“The Academy expects appropriate behavior both in school and out. We pride ourselves on being the best.” She sniffs as if I clearly don’t qualify.

Constance grins.

“Clean this at once,” the Headmistress is saying. “Understand, this will go on your record. And on your father’s. This doesn’t bode well for his future here.”

Constance’s grin fades.

“But this isn’t his fault,” I say and hate the pleading tone in my voice. “Please don’t let it affect my dad, Headmistress.”

Constance whispers, “Mother, I don’t think—”

“Are you criticizing me?”

“No, of course not.” Constance looks at the floor.

In that brief scene the reader knows that Constance didn’t mean to endanger Michelle’s father’s position at the Academy. We see Constance has some sort of a soul and some limits, and that she is terrified of her own mother.

As for the villains in the medieval part of the book? This was a tough one because there is a mystery intertwined in the plot.  Who is the traitor? Who murders the Earl? And who is killing off all the courtiers? What if all signs point to Christopher, the young man (er, ghost?) Michelle has now come to love?  I had to spread doubts and clues in a way that gave info but also made the reader (and Michelle) wonder who can really be trusted. I can’t tell you who the real villains are without spoiling the book for you, but when all is revealed, you can bet the reader understands why the bad ’uns are doing what they do.

Balancing good and bad in a way that’s convincing can be a real challenge for any writer.  Put in too much good, and the villain is not a real threat. Put in too much bad, and you’ve created someone that’s ridiculous and unbelievable. I tried very hard to balance my villains for just the right feel… I hope readers will find it all works.

Actually, a review about Drawn that popped up on the site Author Chronicles says: “not a single character is one-dimensional—each one has flaws, strengths, and depths to them. Even the snotty ‘Queen Bee’ girl, Constance, who could easily have been a stereotype, has flashes of a soul at war with the front she puts up.”

Not all bad! 😉

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Psst! Secrets…Pass it on!

It's a secret...so tell everyone!

Hey gang, just wanted to let you in on a few secrets…

First of all, I’ll soon be revealing the cover for my new young adult novel OVER MY HEAD.   Look for this, and for the book to be coming out in June!  Very excited.

This novel picks up two years after WHAT I MEANT… finishes, and you’ll get to hang out with Sang, Megan, Dalton, Gary, Doodles and some new characters the summer before senior year as Sang falls big time for the one guy everybody thinks is wrong for her.

And for the many of you who have read WHAT I MEANT… and have asked me, “What happened to Gina? Why did she act like that?”…well, I’m putting the finishing touches right now on a short story that will soon appear in an anthology including stories written by the wonderful authors of The Liars Club.  I can tell you the anthology will be called LIAR, LIAR!  I can tell you that Gina is running from something, and hasn’t been entirely honest with Sang. And I can tell you the story will be called, “What I Did…”  And I can tell you that I can’t tell you much more just yet.  But I will. Soon. Honest.

Look for details, including when and how to purchase LIAR, LIAR! as well as OVER MY HEAD on this site. Soon. Cross my heart.

In the meantime, like all good secrets…Shhh! (And be sure to pass it on.)

Novelists Chasing Fads?

It’s trendy. It’s a hot topic. But should it be the subject of your next novel?

We authors want to connect with our readers.  But the question is: Should we follow trends and fads to do this? Is writing to fit into a trend a formula for success?

When you are writing magazine articles, the turnaround from conception to publication happens in a snap. Then you have to cater to fads and trends, or you may miss out.  But how do you pay attention to trends when you write novels?

Say you get a trendy idea for a novel. It can take you anywhere from 3 months (if you are extremely quick) to 2 years to complete it and send it out to an agent.  Then there is a lag between when your agent receives it (if you have an agent), and when it’ll get sent to publishers. (If you don’t have an agent, add another 6 months or more and a ton of luck into the mix, simmer and stew.) Then, once your agent finds a publisher who accepts it (and that can take time, too), it’s still not published.  Some publishers are working on books that won’t appear for 2-3 more years.  So, if you are talking about approximately 4-5 years before a book idea that you have goes into print, then why are we talking about fads and trends again?

Castle drawing by Marie Lamba...click on this image for an excerpt of her newest novel DRAWN

Hm. The funny thing is that even though publishers are working so far ahead, you will hear that, say, paranormal romance is hot now, or that houses are suddenly hot for thrillers in an urban setting.  I think the message is that if you have already written one of these, the stars have aligned and you will suddenly have people looking at this work with greater interest.  Will this mean that a few years from when the trend took hold that there will be a glut of said trendy lit coming out way past its freshness date?  Cough cough, vampires, cough cough.

So, then, you would expect me to say that my writing IS ABSOLUTELY NOT AT ALL AFFECTED BY FADS. But that’s a lie. I don’t write to meet a fad, but if there is something about that fad that speaks to me, then what the hell? I’ll be more motivated to write on that subject, even if, by the time I’m done writing the book, it’s waned on the trendometer of hip. Crazy, right?

But that’s exactly how my newest novel Drawn came to life.  I’ve had the idea simmering in my mind for years: A girl channels a hot medieval ghost through her drawings…then she meets up with him and their lives intertwine.  So when paranormal romance started to emerge I thought, yeah, it’s a sign (a paranormal sign?), and time to put this novel onto paper. So the story lives, and books are timeless. A fad helped bring it to life, and, since readers and editors are still loving paranormal, this will hopefully help bring my novel into readers’ hands very soon!

On the flip side, if I’m in the beginning stages of a novel and I hear that it’s absolutely dead because editors are sick of looking at stuff about that subject, well, if I’m not unbelievably married to that book, I’ll shelf it and work on something else. You should see my shelves.  Stacks and stacks of half-written manuscripts. Doesn’t mean I won’t finish those books some day, but just not today.

Fact is, writing is a business, and we do have to cater to our consumers.  It’s not perfect. It usually doesn’t make sense.

Hey, welcome to the wonderful world of publishing!

*This post also appears on The Liars Club blog

Top Realistic Teen Fiction

What would you put on your own top realistic fiction list?

While my novel What I Meant… has popped up in a number of Listmania lists on Amazon.com, I never really thought about how those lists were formed.  You’ve probably seen them on the bottom of a book’s listing on that site.  Well, I finally realized that anyone with an account there can create their own Listmania list and share it with others.  And so, of course, I had to create my own.

My Top Realistic Teen Fiction includes books by Sarah Dessen (one of my all-time favorite authors), John Green (who I just discovered this summer), Justina Chen Headley and Jenny Han.  But I know I’m forgetting some other greats. Hm.

If you have any suggestions, I’d love to hear them.  Nothing like having a new stack of amazing books to read and review.  So let me know what your favs are.  We’ll save the paranormal and fantasy reads for another day, another list…

If you’d like to see all the recommendations on my Listmania list, you can check it out by clicking here.

Book Review: It’s not Summer without You by Jenny Han

***UPDATE: If you like The Summer I Turned Pretty and other titles by Jenny Han, and novels by Sarah Dessen, then you’ll love my new novel Over My Head, with its summertime vibe and realistic, heartfelt conflicts. You can find out more about Over My Head by clicking here!***

REVIEW: First of all, I’m a definite Jenny Han fan.  I adored her novel Shug, and you can read my review of that here. And I also really loved her book The Summer I Turned Pretty, which I highly recommend.  Best of all, Jenny is a nice person.  I got to meet and hang out with her a bit last year when Aaron’s Books in Lititz, PA held its first children’s lit festival and Jenny and I were both featured authors.

It’s not Summer without You (Simon & Schuster, 2010) is the sequel to The Summer I Turned Pretty.  It definitely stands on its own.  Han does a brilliant job of portraying the confusing sorrow of loss and what it does to relationships.  Her clear prose captures the sweetness of childhood gone by and of regrets in the making.  Warning: bring your tissue box.  You will be crying a bit.

In the hands of another author, the events in this book – a loss of a mother to cancer, plus the lost dream of really loving the boy you have wanted most of your life – would be maudlin, depressing, bleak.  But Han creates a book filled with sunshine summer moments, and hope and the promise of the future.

So pick it up, pick up your tissue, and experience this novel.  The characters end up with no regrets, and neither will you!