Friday Links: Time and the Writer

Happy Friday! I’ll kick off this weekend with a reminder that tomorrow, April 30th, is Indie Bookstore Day. It’s a wonderful excuse to hit your favorite local indie bookstore and browse those shelves. Many stores have events scheduled and assorted special merchandise available for the occasion. It’s also a wonderful way to spend a few hours with the kids in your life, so be sure to take them along.

This weekend is also another good chance to check in with your writing goals for the year. End of April means we’re a third of the way through 2016, as hard as that might be to believe, so take a moment to assess where you are and where you’d like to be. Maybe set some mini goals for May — a task per week — to get yourself back on track or to make a bit of quick progress.

To help you on your way, I have both writerly and bookish links for you today. Several have something to do with time, and timeliness, and though I by no means encourage anyone to wait around for fate to determine their course of action, sometimes it steps in when we least expect it. I hope these links give you some inspiration for your own work, and maybe an idea or two of something to pick up on your bookstore visit. Enjoy, and have a wonderful weekend!

Shakespeare and His Stuff — As part of the ongoing celebration of the 400th anniversary of the Bard’s death, an interesting look into what he know of the man through his things.

Alexander Chee on What Writing Parties Reveals about Characters — How to make those group scenes really work for you.

Ondaatje: Embrace Creativity in Your Writing — The author shares his approach to creating. Please note that this site, rather than requiring registration or a subscription, asks readers to take a very short survey before loading the article.

On Finding the Right Book at the Right Time — An author shares two occasions when a book particularly entwined with her experiences.

Jonathan Coe on the Top 10 Books Written about Books – Pretty much as described.

Paula Hawkins: The Woman Behind The Girl on the Train — A brief background on the author and discussion of her break-out work.

Writing for a Better World — Author Christopher Golden shares his keynote speech from the recent DFW Writers’ Conference.

Friday Links: The Spring Fever Edition

Welcome to Friday! I have a readathon this weekend, which has me very excited, although a part of me questions how this is different than just about any other weekend. It’s just a more formal version of my favorite way to spend the weekend, with added on permission to ignore the laundry until the readathon is complete.

So what do you all have planned for your weekend? Spring keeps coming and going in various parts of the country so I find it hard to know who can escape outdoors and who is going to be curling up with a book and hot chocolate. But it still feels like time for spring fever, that twitchiness that makes you want to romp and play.

Whatever you have on your schedule, I hope you pencil in a bit of writing time. Maybe peek at those goals for your year and chip away at something. Regardless, have a good one and enjoy!

Chorus Lines – One writer explains how his experiences in the theater made him a better writer.

The Secret History of Jane Eyre: Charlotte Brontë’s Private Fantasy Stories – In honor of the anniversary of the author’s birth, a look at the fantastical stories she wrote in private before she became published.

Stephen King Used These 8 Writing Strategies to Sell 350 Million Books – A great cheat sheet for the key points King mentions in his book, On Writing. I recommend the entire book, but these are also a wonderful reference for daily use.

Structure: What Writers Can Learn from Visual Artists – An interesting approach to filling in the blanks of your story.

One-Sitting Books Perfect for a Readathon – Or for anyone pressed for time. Some great picks here, and I actually read a couple during previous readathons.

Opportunities for Writers: May and June 2016 – A list of places to submit or enter your work with deadlines coming up in the next couple of months.

2016 Pulitzer Prize Winners – A list of winners in all of this year’s categories. If you haven’t read the Kathryn Schultz piece for The New Yorker, I recommend it.

Modern Retellings of Shakespeare for Every Reader – In honor of the anniversary of the playwright’s death, a fun collection of works inspired by his plays.

2016 AWP Conference & Book Fair: A Quick Roundup

As previously mentioned, I recently spent three days wandering around the Los Angeles Convention Center with some 13,000+ writers, editors, agents, booksellers, librarians, and other assorted writing-related people for the 2016 AWP Conference and Book Fair. This isn’t the normal sort of conference I attend. Mostly I go places where they stick me on a panel or have me stand behind a podium and answer questions, and then at some point I will sit across a table from a parade of writers and listen to pitches or possibly critique first pages of their work. What made AWP16 so different and so much fun (not that I don’t enjoy my normal conference experience, because I do) was that this time around I was flying somewhat under the radar. I was an attendee rather than a participant, which meant I had the opportunity to go to panels and sit in the audience and listen to what other people had to say.

Over the course of three days I sat in on some 10-12 panels on a variety of subjects, including a session on visual narrative that looked at illuminated books, graphic novels, and participatory storytelling such as gaming apps; a panel of agents discussing equality and gender on the business side of publishing; the use of film techniques to engage readers in young adult literature; ideas for harnessing the social media skills of a group of writers to provide support and cross marketing; subjects that are (or are not) taboo in young adult fiction; and a discussion of the realms of real and unreal in writing. There were conversations with writers I knew and others I had just met, and hours spent wandering the floor of the main hall where hundreds of small presses, publishers, literary mags, MFA programs, poetry chapbook authors, PR people and others had set up their tables.

Publishing has always been a moving target, an ever-evolving industry that changes shape at the rate of storm clouds. But some trends trumpet more loudly than others. I heard a lot of discussion and debate about diversity in all of its permutations, from the need for more diverse people working in publishing to the importance of championing varied characters in books as well as a spectrum of writers to tell their stories. There were in-depth looks at ways to promote work in this age of social media and a steady increase in competing forms of entertainment, and thoughts on how to harness some of the new forms of technology to tell stories in fresh, exciting ways. But there were also still people lugging tote bags filled with newly acquired books — paperback and hardcover alike. There were halls filled with enchanted listeners as writers read from their latest releases. I saw many aspiring writers bent over notebooks, frantically scribbling notes on advice from the pros. Some things remain forever the same.

There’s no graceful way for me to share every nugget of information I absorbed in those three days. Instead, I offer up a few links to sites and books that I heard about that might provide some inspiration or at least food for thought.

In terms of visual narrative:

Bats of the Republic by Zach Dodson – an illuminated novel that includes hand-drawn maps, letters, and other items that join with the text to tell the story.

A Life in Books: The Rise and Fall of Bleu Mobley by Warren Lehrer – an illuminated novel that features 101 books ostensibly authored by the title character.

PRY novella by Tender Claws – a novella and an app that allows reader interactions designed to put you in the narrator’s experience/thoughts.

In terms of the changing face of publishing:

Literary Publishing in the 21st Century – essays by a variety of writers, editors, etc. on the future of the industry, including the effects of technology, the fight for diversity, and more.

VIDA: Women in Literary Arts – home of the famed VIDA count, which holds magazines accountable for their diversity (now newly expanded to include race, gender, ethnicity, sexual identity, and ability).

In terms of marketing:

Tall Poppy Writers – a marketing collective started by a group of women’s fiction authors and now somewhat more broad in its scope, the purpose of which was to share social media knowledge and talents and to support each other’s book launches and careers.

Anyone interested in AWP’s annual conference and/or membership in the organization should check out their site: Association of Writers & Writing Programs.

 

Friday Links: Writing Aspirations and Inspirations

TGIF! I hope you’ve all had a wonderful, productive week, and that you have some excellent weekend plans. I’m off to the Los Angeles Times Festival of Books both tomorrow and Sunday. We’re anticipating some rain on both days, so I hope that doesn’t discourage people from attending. It’s a fabulous event every year and I’m always quite disappointed when something comes up to keep me from going.

I do intend to get a post up over the weekend detailing my AWP adventures from last week, so if you’re hanging around the internet, be sure to stop by. Otherwise, I wish you lots of good reading and/or writing time, and I’ll leave you with this week’s collection of Friday Links of things to aspire to or that might just inspire you. Enjoy!

James Triptree, Jr. Literary Award 2015 Winners – Great roundup that includes the long list folks, etc.

Lin-Manuel Miranda: By the Book – The brilliant force behind Hamilton the musical provides his reading inspirations to The New York Times.

Pacemaker: A Word Count Planner for Writers and Students – Pretty much as described. Great for setting goals and tracking your progress.

10 Contemporary Baseball Books for the New Season – A fun list in honor of the return of baseball.

10 Mistakes (Almost) Every Rookie Writer Makes – Some good tips and things to keep in mind.

Conquering Six Enemies of Deep Point of View – Wonderful checklist of questions to apply to your work.

Kelly Link Interview – AWP16

Book View Now with Ruth Ozeki at AWP16

At the end of last week, I attended the 2016 AWP Conference & Book Fair, which was held here in Los Angeles. I’m still working on gathering my thoughts for a post about my own experiences, which were myriad and diverse, but in the meantime I thought I’d post this fascinating interview — one of many that took place over the course of the conference — with author Ruth Ozeki. She speaks about her novel A Tale for the Time Being, reflecting on the spark for the book and the ways in which world events affected her narrative. Such an interesting discussion — I hope you find it inspiring.

Friday Links: The Language of Writers

Welcome to April! I must say, April 1st — April Fool’s Day — is one of my least favorite days of the year, because when it comes to pranks, I rarely see them coming, and so I tend to walk through this day with my shoulders hunched around my ears in anticipation of something annoying happening. Today, however, I’ll be wandering the Los Angeles Convention Center with thousands of writers, editors, agents, and other publishing types, and so I’m hoping that everyone will be too preoccupied with the bookish goodness going on to worry about fooling anyone.

So without further ado, I bring you this week’s Friday Links, no jokes or pranks included. May they inspire you on your way to writing greatness. Have a terrific weekend, and happy writing!

From Idea to Novel – Some award-winning novelists share how they deal with the blank page.

First Draft with Sarah Enni: Victoria Schwab – A wonderful podcast interview with the author of A Darker Shade of Magic, Vicious, and much more.

34 Compelling First Lines of Famous Books – Fun graphics highlighting some terrific book openers.

What Literary Discourse Offers in an Age of Extremism – Thoughtful look at why we should talk about writing and books when the world is going to hell in a hand basket.

On the 13 Words that Made Me a Writer – Fantasy author Sofia Samatar talks about making the turn from reader to writer.

The Forgotten Secret Language of Gay Men – In the mid-twentieth century, when homosexuality was still illegal in Britain, gay men apparently spoke a secret language to communicate in safety. Interesting on both linguistic and cultural levels.

Ta-Nehisi Coates on Creative Breakthroughs:

Friday Links: Recommit to Your Writing Goals

Happy Friday, everyone! And a very happy Easter to those of you celebrating this weekend. I suspect anyone dealing with bunnies and eggs and midnight services might not get a whole lot of writing done over the next few days, but that still leaves a few days on the other side of the weekend to address what I’m going to talk about next, which is the end of the month — and therefore the end of the first quarter of 2016.

Ah, snuck up on you, didn’t it? Kind of hard to believe we’re just about three months into the year, but we are. So I challenge you to take an hour or two between now and April 1st to take a peek at your list of goals for this year and see how you’re doing. On track? Need to recommit? Can you cross anything off? Maybe things have changed and you need to rework one or more goal in light of those changes. Only you can say for certain, but now is the perfect time to make those decisions and figure out where you go from here. And for those of you who didn’t make any writing goals for 2016, it’s never too late to start! We still have nine months ahead of us and it’s amazing how much you can do in that amount of time.

As for this week’s links, I hope they inspire you in your commitment to your goals and maybe help you get them done. Enjoy, and happy writing!

Lynn Steger Strong On Writing Characters Too Nuanced to Be Reduced – An interesting article with some thoughts on making characters deep and true.

Opportunities for Writers: April and May 2016 – A list of fellowships, competitions, etc. where you can submit your writing in the next couple of months.

Before You Blow Up Your Life, Do This – Jonathan Fields on knowing when not to quit your day job.

Dewey’s 24-Hour Readathon – Sign-ups are now open for this fun readathon scheduled for April 23rd. A great way to set aside some time specifically for catching up with your reading.

The Life of a Book: An Interview with Editor Brant Rumble, Part 1 – The first in a series from Penguin Random House tracing the book’s journey from manuscript to bookstore.

On Terrible Writing Advice from Famous Writers – A humorous reminder to always think for yourself and filter what you hear.

Want to Write for Book Riot? – The bookish site is currently seeking new contributors.

 

Making Room for the Reader

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As children, we fall in love with books that take us along for the ride, stories where we can close our eyes and easily imagine ourselves into the adventure. Book lovers never really lose that urge to join the story, to fall into the romance between the pages or head out on the dangerous quest. The writer’s job is to craft their tale in such a way as to allow the reader this mental insertion. But how does that work? What makes a novel that accessible?

Writers of otherwise polished, well-paced stories often hear back from agents or editors that they could not “connect” with the protagonist. Or that they weren’t “feeling” the voice. In some instances this is a case of personal taste, but in others it can mean that the writer has held back from really delving into their main character, especially if they are writing a limited third-person narrative. The character might be portrayed in great detail — lots of showing and not too much telling — but what’s lacking is the why behind the actions. If the reader is going to be able to walk in the character’s shoes and feel that connection, the writer must walk there first, and showing the details of that character’s journey includes conveying their thoughts and motivations and making sure they have direct correlation to their actions.

A writer who puts themselves inside their character’s head and asks whywhy are they doing this, why are they saying that — will soon find their story changing. Filler actions, such as smiles and sighs and other character twitches that often serve no purpose, will get deleted. Dialogue might become more meaningful, or more sparse, or more snarky, depending on the character and the point in the story. Emotions such as fear and anxiety get ramped up. Characters might be less likely to faint or cry without true provocation. Complications could arise, making the text richer and more layered. All of these things help pull the reader into the story. The character will no longer be shuttered and closed off, keeping the reader at bay.

First-person narratives might seem like an easy fix to this issue, but the truth is that writers can fail to dig deeply into the character even when writing in first person. The danger with first person can be the temptation to ramble on inside the character’s head, creating overly long monologues that cover every nuance of their thoughts. As with real life dialogue, which features far too much chit-chat to include in character dialogue, a real person’s thoughts include more tangents and fluff than is interesting in a novel. A writer must still crawl quite consciously into their character’s head and sort the important details from the detritus. Again, it’s important to ask why the character thinks these things, how they connect to their actions in the story, and to make these things shine through in the writing so that the reader feels welcome in that character’s head as well.

Knowing the character, drilling down, strengthening motivations, taking it further — all ways of referring to this opening up the details of the story in order to make it accessible for the reader. The goal is to pull that reader in on an emotional level, make them wish they were part of the action on the page. A well-written novel is an invitation to fall in love, to catch the killer, to find the treasure, to slay the monster. A completed novel might be an accomplishment, but it only truly comes to life when someone opens its pages and dives into the world the writer has created.

Friday Links: Inspiration and Creative Risk-Taking

Happy Friday, everyone! I hope you’ve had a terrific week and that your weekend looks equally bright. Spring has truly sprung here in SoCal, and I have the twitchy nose to prove it. Suddenly everything is in bloom. But that’s fine with me, because I always think spring is a highly creative time. Something about all those new things growing and in bloom, plans formulating for summer vacation, stretching muscles that are stiff from curling up in a cozy spot all winter. It’s a great time to brush off your old, neglected ambitions and get moving. So if you’ve found yourself dragging when it comes to getting your writing done, I want you to shake off those cobwebs, flex your fingers, and get to work. Try something new, aim high, and tell that internal voice-of-doom to take a hike.

To inspire some creativity and perhaps a bit of risk-taking, I’ve got a bunch of fun links for you this week. Even if there’s still snow on the ground outside your window, or you’re in the other hemisphere facing down the start of autumn, take a few minutes over the weekend to dive into a different project or take a fresh look at an old one. You never know what kind of inspiration might take hold. Happy writing!

This Is How to Be Creatively Productive – Thoughts from writer and artist Danny Gregory.

Polygon Map Generation Demo – World-building a completely new land for your fantasy novel or story? Use this site to generate an all-new continent to go with your setting.

Readers are willing to follow writers into risky territory: Alexander Chee on Writing and The Queen of the Night – Some terrific observations about how and when it can pay off to write something truly different.

Wit and the Art of Conversation – Thoughts on what wit is, precisely, and observations on what makes it appealing. Great for writers working on improving their dialogue.

6 Ways to Track Down a Magazine Editor – Advice for anyone in the freelance trenches or looking to get into freelance writing. If you’ve been thinking about it and putting it off, what are you waiting for? Go for it.

Second Cousins,” “Once Removed,” and More, Explained in Chart Form – Handy relative definitions, very useful for anyone sorting out a big family drama, on paper or in real life.

A Lifelong Lover of Books Breaks Ground Atop the Literary World – Q&A with Lisa Lucas, who recently became the first woman and first African American to head up the National Book Foundation. Proof that there’s always new ground to break.