DRAWN Haunt – Writing Magic

October is DRAWN MP900414028Haunt Month here, in celebration of the 5th anniversary of my award-winning ghostly time-travel novel DRAWN. To catch every haunted bit, check back often, or follow my blog (see bottom of this post). And for more about DRAWN and how to order your own copy, click here.

Now, the haunting continues! Today I talk about…

WRITING MAGIC

We writers have the best job in the world.  We get to perform magic, to make things mysteriously appear out of nowhere.  All writers do this when they write fiction, but when we are writing actual fantasy scenes, well, that’s more magical than ever.

The trick, as with all magic, is making the audience believe. In my novel Drawn, the main character Michelle De Freccio is an artist that draws and then meets Christopher, a hot medieval ghost with a sketchy past.  Okay, so you have to suspend some disbelief when

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The characters are all wonderful, filling in two worlds with real people and making you feel like you’re there. The main romance is heartrendingly sweet and will curl your toes.
Clean Romance Reviews

you read books like this, but my job is to make everything as credible as possible.  I didn’t want to create something goofy, but a novel that is gripping and that feels very real. A story that truly draws you in. To do this, I grounded as much as I could in a gritty reality, and only put in a few spare touches of magic.

On the reality front, it helps to have a character like Michelle who is a born skeptic, and a cynical Jersey-girl to boot. She’s hoping to start over in England and have a more normal life (back in New Jersey everyone called the De Freccio’s the De Freakos…her family has an odd background and she was labeled a freak).

Even Christopher, who is technically a ghost to Michelle, is a realist living in his own world in the 1400s. Convincing both of them that they are linked in a time traveling relationship isn’t easy. People who are skeptics need some undeniable proof…and a touch of magic, like in this scene from the book, narrated by Michelle, when she realizes she’s truly in another time and invisible, among other things:

But Thomas Haston’s vision remains barely focused on Christopher. “Yes, master.” He bows his head. “I shall grab the reins.”

He hurries toward us. Straight toward me. He must be completely blind, because he’s going to walk right into me.

“Watch it,” I say.

He doesn’t walk into me. He walks through me. Like I’m a stream to be waded through. My skin feels itchy and a nasty saltiness fills my mouth. Christopher releases me and looks at me with horror. I look at my hands, expecting them to be see-through, but they’re solid. “What the hell?” I say.

“What in hell,” he says, his voice barely a whisper.

So who is the ghost here, and what, exactly is going on?  Here’s the end to that scene:

Christopher takes both my hands, gingerly, as if he’s afraid they’ll burst into flames. “What are you? A sprite? A spirit? A phantom?”

“I’m a freak,” I say. And burst into tears.

MP900444287While much of Drawn is based in realistic scenes, whether in the present or in the distant past, there are a few times when I really get to flex my magic muscles. One of my favorite moments happens when Michelle brings a book with her into the past, a book that reveals all the battle outcomes in the 1400s.  While Christopher would be able to use this information to his advantage, this will clearly mess with destiny.  Some things are just not meant to happen, so:

I run my finger over the text to where I left off. “The Duke, misreading his opponent, brought his forces for the Christmastime to the castle of…” Suddenly the page looks different. More white space. Less words.

“The castle of?” Christopher prompts.

I try to focus on the words. “…for the Christmastime to the castle of Sandall, but…” Something seems to move across the paper. My skin crawls, as I slide my eyes downward. I watch with horror as the letters at the bottom of the page disappear one by one.

I flip the page. Letters disappear from the bottom here, too. The white of the paper grows, eating away at the words. Frantic, I flip back to the page I was just reading. Completely blank. “Oh God.”

“What is wrong?” Christopher tries to sit up.

I flip ahead a few pages. Two paragraphs are left. I quickly read, “Henry’s forces had been gathering throughout the area for some time and the land was heavily for—” The rest of that word is gone, as is the rest of the writing on that page.

“Why did you stop?” Christopher says and peers at the book. He draws in his breath as the words I’d just read vanish like a fabric unwound by a pulled thread.

 

Every novel with a fantasy element must have its own set of rules.  In Drawn, messing with destiny can be killer, literally. The history book with its unraveling writing sends up a warning to Michelle, but she disturbs destiny anyway, and winds up putting Christopher’s fate in horrific danger…  Okay, I can’t say anything more about that without spilling too much about the story.

But I can say one other thing about writing magic: If you put a very real moment right up against a magical one, the contrasts can create a seriously strong scene. In this scene from Drawn, Michelle is in her own time being attacked by a bunch of thugs from “the wrong side of Castle Road”:

Drawn-ebook cover final border

Original cover for DRAWN (cover illustration by Marie Lamba)

As rough hands drag me off the sidewalk, I shriek “Christopher!”

They laugh. “Calling your posh boyfriend?” Bobby says. “Guess he can have you when we’re through.”

I close my eyes and hear a scream. It’s not me.

My eyes fly open. Bobby cradles his arm. Blood seeps through his fingers. “Who did that?” He looks around wildly.

I back away and another guy tries to grab at me. He shrieks as his thumb is sliced off, seemingly by nothing. It lands bloody beside me. I catch a glimpse of a rusty truck in the street before I close my eyes and curl up in a ball. Tears streak my face.

There’s more terrified screaming, then I hear them run away.

“Michelle. Michelle?” someone says and touches me. I whimper. “It is okay. I came. They will not hurt you now.” I feel the hand rub my arm and he says, “Shh now. Shh.”

I dare to open my eyes and there is Christopher kneeling beside me, a blood-smeared sword in his right hand. He drops the sword and gathers me into his arms.

 

For some reason, this scene always gives me the shivers.  I guess I’ve always been a sucker for a brave hero in tall boots.  Now that’s magic!

*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: Poor Mom

MP900446418Hi gang!  Happy Agent Monday to you all.  With Mother’s Day approaching this upcoming weekend (a big happy Mom’s Day to each of you!), I thought I’d pose this question to writers submitting to me: What do you have against moms?  Or dads?  You seem to have an obsession with killing them off.  Poor mom and dad.

It’s one of those weird things I see in numerous queries every day – the protagonist is an orphan. The parents died in an accident (sometimes the protagonist feels at fault), or from an illness, or one died and the other had already left the family years before.  So many orphans.  We’re talking about middle grade and YA novel submissions here.

If it’s a contemporary novel, then this orphan has been shuffled off to live with a weird relative – an eccentric, usually.  Perhaps they return to their mom’s home town to live with an estranged grandparent and begin to learn more and more about their mom’s past – full of surprises and secrets.

If the novel has any sort of fantastical element to it, the child – who lives with an eccentric relative now – discovers that mom didn’t just die from a disease, it was actually all a coverup for something bigger – an epic war is at hand and mom died fighting the good fight with whatever powers she had (magic, was a mythical being, could shoot lightning bolts out of her eyes – you get the idea).  Said orphan learns that he or she has those powers too, was left some talisman that will help with the fight, must figure out what’s happened/will happen or the entire world will come to an end, or something along those lines. Cough cough, Harry Potter, cough, cough.

And sometimes, in the fantasy scenario, mom isn’t dead for good and the child’s actions can bring them back.

Now hold up.  I can almost feel you folks ready to comment with a whole “It’s a fairy tale motif,” “It’s a classic fantasy trope,” “It’s a way for a child to embark on their own autonomous story,” “It’s how classic stories for kids have been shaped forever!”

I know, gang.  I’ve read those stories. Studied ’em.  Even took several courses on the fairy tale when I was at Penn.

But here’s the thing: how many orphans did you know growing up?  How many do your kids know right now at this moment? Maybe it does tap into some dark fantasy in a resentful child’s mind or some “I’m on my own” desire ala My Side of the Mountain… But (and this is a big but, I can not lie!) it is done and done and done again and again.

Sometimes finding this all too familiar scenario makes me sigh aloud and I just can’t read yet another word.  Do you think editors might feel that way too?  Can you recast your novel to play out differently and thereby make it stand out in a fresh way?

And, couldn’t a parent, sometimes, be a part of the story?  Part of the humor? Part of the heart? Part of the conflict (without it going straight to abuse, which I see a lot of as well)?

I’m just putting this out into the stratosphere, because it just might result in more realistic reads, even in the fantasy genre. And it just might make your story stand out.

So go honor your mother!

 

*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.

Collingswood Book Festival Coming!

On Saturday, Oct. 2nd, the Collingswood Book Festival in Collingswood, NJ will be packed with authors of all genres.  It’s free, it’s fun, and you gotta be there. Especially if you are interested in young adult fiction.

From 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. you’ll also find the following YA authors there, hanging out and signing: Marie Lamba, yeah, that’s me (WHAT I MEANT…) ,  Sara Shepard (Pretty Little Liars series), Jonathan Maberry (who just released his first YA, Rot and Ruin), and Gregory Frost (Lord Tophet).

Plus we will be doing a special Young Adult Lit Panel Discussion at 1:30 p.m… Sara will share what it’s like to have your books translated into a major TV series…Jonathan will talk about shifting from adult to young adult novels… Gregory and I will share the challenges that YA authors face in the market today. Plus we will answer audience questions!

For the Facebook invite, click here.  If you RSVP to the invite, you can then go ahead and invite your own friends through that page, and spread the word to anyone you know who might also be interested.

We hope to see you there!

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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.

Sex and Lies

*This post is cross-posted over at the Liars Club site…

As a young adult author, how can I NOT write about sex? Adolescence. Raging hormones. First loves. Broken hearts.  Hot stuff, and truly powerful material.

But, as a young adult author, how CAN I write about sex?  See, I know that just including the F-bomb in a novel immediately limits my market.  As I type that word, I can almost hear the upper elementary and middle school librarians tsk-ing as they remove my novel from their order lists. I can imagine the grandparents who would have bought my book as a gift for their grandkids, changing their mind after a quick skim of its pages.

Yet teens DO curse.  And my most recent manuscript has moments when the hero has to let the expletives rip. There’s just no way around it. So I’m automatically skewing that novel to an older group. Not necessarily bad, but true.

Following this logic, by including sex in a novel, I’m turning off one audience, even as I’m turning on another.  In my first novel WHAT I MEANT…, the heroine is only 15, so much of the readership is that age or younger.  In this story, there is a crush, a first-kiss, and a heartbreak.  But there is also a parent with a dark past that did involve sex.  I handled this in a way that isn’t immediately obvious to a younger reader, and because of that, my book is labeled a “clean YA,” which, it turns out, is a decent selling point.  N.B.: I point out it’s a clean read to adults at my signings, who are thrilled. I don’t point this out to teens, who really wouldn’t mind some thrills…

When you get down to it, though, I am writing for teens. Not for parents. Not for school librarians.  I want to tell as true a story as I can. Anything else would be dishonest.  Fact is, if you include a steamy sex scene in a young adult novel, then it stands out SO much more than it would in an adult novel.  The book stands the danger of becoming all about sex. Or all about the issues involved in sex.  It overwhelms. In WHAT I MEANT… the focus wasn’t on sex, it was on dishonesty and loss of trust, and finding inner strength. No hot bedroom scenes belonged. It would have been all wrong.

So we, as YA authors, need to seek out the best way to reach our audience and convey our tale. In my novel OVER MY HEAD, I had the main character fall for a much older and very experienced hottie, but my heroine is all about true love.  So there are plenty of mixed signals, and steamy encounters, even a few almost moments, but mostly I tease with sensuality, and once completely leave the rest of the scene to the reader’s imagination.  That’s a fantastic way to infuse your writing with sex, without the sex. And for me it was a way to focus on the character’s emotions and the storyline, rather than on that tan muscled lifeguard as he…well, I’ll leave the rest of this sentence to your imagination…

In my most recent manuscript, DRAWN, the main character is falling for a ghost, and every time the two are drawn together, he disappears.  Hm, a commentary on commitment?  Kidding!  What made this fun to write, and hopefully fun to read, is that she WANTS to be with him. She’s a willing participant, or would like to be. Will they or won’t they? Can they or can’t they? With this setup, there’s plenty of tension and playfulness and passion, without actually having the characters do the nasty.

So, sex sells, except when it doesn’t.  When young adult authors weave stories, we do have to think about the marketplace.  But I try first to think about my readers. I try to tell an honest story, try to spice it up with passion, and try to do this with sensitivity.

Now that’s good lovin’.