ROW80 Check-In 7: Tamora Pierce on finding ideas & dealing with writer’s block

 

Hello gentle reader,

It is already time for another ROW80 check-in! My goals for this fourth round are as follows: Write or edit every day 4/7

This week I finished my current round of editing for The Last Queen. Unfortunately I didn’t do this every day but I did get a lot more done than last week. I’m hoping to get back to writing every day next week. Also this week my blog reached 200 followers and I have a giveaway to celebrate. Feel free to enter to win YA books!

Now, on to an inspiring story to keep us going this coming week. Today I’m sharing Tamora Pierce’s tips to find ideas and fight writer’s block. When it comes to YA fantasy, one doesn’t really get more successful than Tamora Pierce. She has been writing since the 1980s and she is most famous for her Song of the Lioness quartet.

“Where do you get your ideas?

Some I stumble across: watching his nature programs, I decided British naturalist Sir David Attenborough would make a cool bio-mage. Watching my mother and sister produce blankets from balls of yarn and crochet hooks, I thought of it as a kind of magic, and wondered what all could be done with thread magic. Wrestling with my best friend’s dove gave me the ideas for Kel’s relationship with the baby griffin in SQUIRE. Pictures in magazines also give me ideas, as do stories in the news.

Other ideas come from my past obsessions. From the time I was six or seven until I was ten, I read anything and everything I could find about knights, the Crusades, and the Middle Ages. My next area of interest in knighthood was in the fantasy novels and Arthurian legends I read in middle school.

Another way I get ideas is from people: my Random House editor, Mallory Loehr, my agent Craig Tenney, my husband Tim, my friend Raquel…

Current events and history are also fertile ground for ideas. Keep a file of events and figures that interest you; it might prove useful one day.

The best way to prepare to have ideas when you need them is to listen to and encourage your obsessions. Watch and re-watch all the TV programs and movies you have a need to; read and re-read all the books, magazines and comic books; visit all the museums, zoos, galleries, concerts and wilderness areas; and listen to all the kinds of music that interest you. If you get a sudden passion for anything and everything to do with, say, gang warfare, starling behavior, painting frescoes, or jousting, go with the urge. Find out all you can. Even if you can’t use it right away, it’ll go into some holding zone deep in your brain, and surface when you need it. All creative people–not just writers!–expose themselves to as much information, in as many forms, as possible, in the hopes that it will be useful down the road, or even right now. You never know what will spark something new!

 

How do you deal with writer’s block? Here are some fixes I use when I get stuck:

  • Introduce a new character, a strong one with an individual style in speech, dress and behavior–one who will cause the other characters to review their own actions and motives to decide where they stand with regard to the new character.
  • Have something dramatic happen. As Raymond Chandler put it, “Have someone come through the door with a gun in his hand.” (My husband translates this as “Have a troll come through the door with a spear in his hand.”) Machinery or vehicles (cars, wagons, horses, camels) can break down; your characters can be attacked by robbers or pirates; a flood or tornado sweeps through. Stage a war or an elopement or a financial crash. New, hard circumstances force characters to sink or swim, and the way you show how they do either will move things along.
  • Change the point of view from which you tell the story. If you’re doing it from inside one character’s head, try switching to another character’s point of view. If you’re telling the story from an all-seeing, third person (“he/she thought”) point of view, try narrowing your focus down to one character telling the story in first person. If down the road in the world you’ve created someone has written a book or encyclopedia about these events, insert a nonfiction-like segment (that doesn’t give the important stuff away) as a change of pace. Try telling it as a poem, or a play (you can convert it to story form later).
  • Put this story aside, and start something else: letters, an article, a poem, a play, an art project. Look at the story in a day, or a week, or a couple of months. It may be fresh for you then; it may spark new ideas.
  • If you have an intelligent friend who’s into the things you’re writing about, talk it out with him/her. My husband often supplies wonderful new ideas so I can get past whatever hangs me up, and my family and friends are used to mysterious phone calls asking about things seemingly out of the blue, like what gems would you wear with a scarlet gown, or how tall are pole beans in late June?
  • Most important of all, know when it’s time to quit. Sometimes you take an idea as far as it will go, then run out of steam. This is completely normal. When I began to write, I must have started 25 things for each one I completed. Whether you finish something or not, you’ll still have learned as you wrote. The things you learn and ideas you developed, even in a project you don’t finish, can be brought to your next project, and the next, and the next. Sooner or later you’ll have a story which you can carry to a finish.”

How are other ROWers doing? Here is the Linky to support each other!

Should you really be writing that YA High Fantasy novel?

Hello gentle reader,

Recently I have been researching agents as I am getting ready to query my YA High Fantasy novel The Last Queen. And when I check out literary agents’ websites to find out what genre they represent, I often find a note along those lines: “represents YA Fantasy, all subgenres, but no high fantasy please”. And I want to bang my head on my keyboard.

When asked why they don’t represent YA High Fantasy, literary agents will often give you one of these two answers:

–          The market for YA High Fantasy is very narrow: only a handful of readers buy those books.

–          The agent herself doesn’t read this genre.

The second answer is fair enough, and I wouldn’t want to be represented by an agent who doesn’t “get” my book anyway. But the first one? I beg to differ.

I went to check the Amazon’s Best-Seller List this morning. Not 6 months ago. THIS MORNING. And in the Top 100 Books for Teens, you find authors like: J.R.R. Tolkien, Orson Scott Card, Cinda Williams Chima, Rick Riordan, Christopher Paolini and Laini Taylor. Most of them appear twice in the list. All of them but one appear among the first 40 best-selling books.

Then I checked the new releases to see how the YA High fantasy books released in 2012 are ranked by Amazon (according to their sales). Here is what I found:

The Crimson Crown by Cinda Williams Chima (released October 2012): #318 in Books

The Crown of Embers by Rae Carson (released September 2012): #4,778 in Books

Throne of Glass by Sarah J. Maas (released August 2012): #6,184 in Books

Seraphina by Rachel Hartman (released July 2012): #1,592 in Books

Shadow and Bone by Leigh Bardugo (released June 2012): #4,436 in Books

Bitterblue by Kristin Cashore (released May 2012): #3,505 in Books

The False Prince by Jennifer A. Nielsen (released April 2012): #10,834 in Books

NB: The books in bold are debut novels. All rankings are in Books (E-books sales are not taken into account).

You’ll notice that when the release date is further away, sales start to decrease. But even if we take this into consideration, I’d say these sales figures are quite impressive for a subgenre that’s supposedly dying. I’m especially interested in the ranking of debut novels such as Seraphina and Throne of Glass: these books sell really well considering their authors are unknown.

So is YA High Fantasy a subgenre that only a handful of readers buy? I don’t think so. Is shopping around a YA High Fantasy debut novel crazy? A little bit. But not crazier than shopping around a “regular” YA fantasy novel.

What do you think? Have you written a High Fantasy novel for Young Adults? Have you encountered agents who tell you you’ll never sell your book? Is YA High Fantasy dying, or is it the next big thing?

Feel free to leave me a comment, I’d love to hear what you have to say!

Liebster Blog Award!

Hello gentle reader,

Last week my blog was nominated twice (!) for the Liebster Award! Thanks to Craig Schmidt & Mara Valderran for passing the award on to me. This award is about spotlighting new blogs (with fewer than 200 followers) and answering 11 questions. Since I was nominated twice, I had to choose from a set of 22 questions.

So this award arrived just on time since my blog has almost reached 200 followers (more on this coming soon!). Here are the questions I have decided to answer:

What is your motto?

Don’t give up your dream.

Tell us three things about a favourite character you’ve created.

In my WIP The Last Queen, the main character Elian is shy, dutiful and self-conscious. Yet, somehow, he becomes a hero. Don’t ask him how, he wouldn’t know.

Which author influences you most as a writer, and in what way?

Neil Gaiman is one of my favourite authors, because he tells fantasy stories that are accessible to any reader, at almost any age.

When you get writer’s block, doing this helps.

When I get the feeling that what I’m writing doesn’t work, I stop writing and I read instead. Sometimes it takes just one book, sometimes it takes six, but eventually it makes me want to write again.

What is something you regret?

I have been writing for 15 years, and it took me a very long time to listen to people who told me “why don’t you try to get published?” I wish I had listened to them earlier.

What was the first thing you remember writing?

The first novel I wrote AND finished was a story called The Chronicles of a Girl on a Swing in Paris. Well, the title pretty much says it all 😉

What goal are you most focused on right now?

Finishing edits to The Last Queen and querying it.

Who was your favourite actor or actress when you were growing up?

Kevin Costner. I still really like him. If one of his movies comes on TV, I’ll always each it.

What is your favourite television show that was cancelled before its time/too soon?

I’m assuming everyone already said Firefly… So I’ll say Blood Ties (2007): vampires and an awesome heroine. No idea why it got cancelled, it was excellent. I also was a bit disappointed that The Gates (2010) didn’t really get a chance to find its audience.

What is on your bucket list (things you want to do before you die)?

Read ALL THE BOOKS (almost). Visit the US West Coast, New Zealand, Italy and Greece.

If you were to write a “Thank you” note to someone you’ve never actually met, who would that be and why?

I would write it to Fantasy author Gregory Maguire (The Wicked Years series). His books were a huge inspiration because they were like nothing I had read before and it showed me that I could write weird stories too, as long as they were good.

Now I have to tag other new bloggers so they’ll answer those witty questions…  Here is my list:

Yesenia Vargas

Em Loves to read, Wants to write

Lauren Garafalo

SJ Maylee

The Next Big Thing

Hello gentle reader,

I was recently tagged by the lovely Amanda Fanger for The Next Big Thing blog hop and I’m happy to take part since all I have to do is answer questions about my Work In Progress.

What is the working title of your book?

THE LAST QUEEN (Book I in THE DARKLANDS trilogy)

Where did the idea come from for the book?

I started thinking about this story ten years ago. I wanted to write a story where the main character would be a teenage girl (like I was at the time). I also liked the idea of a fantasy land where humans were the lesser people. Finally I wanted to write a love story that would be as realistic as possible, although set in an imaginary land.

What genre does your book fall under?

YA high fantasy.

What is the one-sentence synopsis of your book?

In the dangerous Darklands, a power struggle between Elves, Wolfmen and Humans is igniting, shattering the lives of a young princess, a warrior and a slave boy whose destinies seem meant to intertwine.

Which actors would you choose to play your characters in a movie rendition?

I’m going to cheat for that one 😉 I have no idea who would play my characters on screen, but I can tell you who inspired me while I was writing The Last Queen. I need to have a clear picture of my characters in my head in order to bring them to life, and I’m usually inspired by actors. With that in mind, here goes:

Elian is my main character. He is a 16-year-old slave whose life has been quite traumatic until he meets Araminta. He was directly based on English actor Eddie Redmayne, who was in countless historical movies between 2007 and 2010. Every time I saw him on screen I thought “This is Elian!” So here it is: Elian.

Araminta is 14 years old. She is an Elf, and a Queen. She is strong-willed, smart and quiet. When I described her in my WIP, I thought of English actress Lucy Griffiths.

Theron is 19 years old and he is Araminta’s husband. He is a Wolfman and the son of a lord, who loses all at the beginning of my WIP. He is a short-tempered warrior who happens to be very good-looking. Since I have had a crush on British actor Henry Cavill since, well, forever, I pictured Theron looking like him.

Will your book be self-published or represented by an agency?

Call me crazy, but I’m going for the traditional route.

How long did it take you to write the first draft of your manuscript?

Seven months for the first draft. Then six months for the first round of revision. I have battled with a high word count, instances of telling instead of showing, repetitions, adverbs, passive form and everything you shouldn’t do when you write. I’m still working on this manuscript, hoping one day I will get it in shape for the query process.

What other books would you compare this story to within your genre?

That’s a tough one. If you don’t know what High or Epic Fantasy is, think Game of Thrones and The Lord Of The Rings. But I can’t compare my WIP to those masterpieces. Since it’s YA, I guess it could be compared to The Seven Realms series by Cinda Williams Chima.

What else about your book might pique the reader’s interest?

My favourite character in the book (beside Elian) is Araminta’s bodyguard/slave/assassin Jerod. I actually wrote a short story about him entitled The First Guardian, because I felt he deserved his own story since he is, you know, awesome.

Thanks Amanda for nominating me!

And now, for my nominations… Six special ladies who write Epic Fantasy:

Raewyn Hewitt http://raewynhewitt.wordpress.com/

Mara Valderran http://maravalderran.blogspot.co.uk/

Susan Francino & Tyler-Rose Counts http://thefeatherandtherose.blogspot.co.uk/

Rachel Horwitz http://www.rachelhorwitz.com/blog/

K.L. Schwengler http://myrandommuse.wordpress.com/

ROW80 Check-In 1: Neil Gaiman’s 8 Rules of Writing

Hello gentle reader,

It is time for my first ROW80 check-in! My goals for this fourth round are as follows:

Write or edit every day

Editing – Finish my current round of editing for The Last Queen, get my manuscript critiqued and beat-read, then edit some more.

Writing – Write a short story, and continue writing the first draft of The Cursed King

I’m happy to report that I’ve had a great writing week, since I did manage to write or edit every day! Some days (Tuesday and Friday) were tough because I got home from work very late, but I still stuck to the routine. I also managed to read two books for my upcoming Halloween post and I kept my blog alive with an interview with YA author Meagan Spooner. Check it out if you want to know how she got published.

If you’re new to this blog, know that I always add an inspiring story to my ROW80 check-ins. This week, I’m sharing Neil Gaiman’s 8 Rules of Writing that I found on the Guardian website. Neil Gaiman is one of my favourite authors and his writing advice is worth a read.

Image by Kimberly Butler

  1. Write
  2. Put one word after another. Find the right word, put it down.
  3. Finish what you’re writing. Whatever you have to do to finish it, finish it.
  4. Put it aside. Read it pretending you’ve never read it before. Show it to friends whose opinion you respect and who like the kind of thing that this is.
  5. Remember: when people tell you something’s wrong or doesn’t work for them, they are almost always right. When they tell you exactly what they think is wrong and how to fix it, they are almost always wrong.
  6. Fix it. Remember that, sooner or later, before it ever reaches perfection, you will have to let it go and move on and start to write the next thing. Perfection is like chasing the horizon. Keep moving.
  7. Laugh at your own jokes.
  8. The main rule of writing is that if you do it with enough assurance and confidence, you’re allowed to do whatever you like. (That may be a rule for life as well as for writing. But it’s definitely true for writing.) So write your story as it needs to be written. Write it ­honestly, and tell it as best you can. I’m not sure that there are any other rules. Not ones that matter.

How are you other ROWers doing? Here is the Linky to support each other!

ROW80 Round 4 – Goals!

October 1st, 2012 (that’s tomorrow!) is the official start date for Round 4 of A Round of Words in 80 Days (aka ROW80). I have decided to join this writing challenge for the third time. Created by Kait Nolan, ROW80 is “the writing challenge that knows you have a life”, or “the challenge that champions the marriage of writing and real life.” Unlike NaNoWriMo which runs for only a month, each ROW80 round runs for 80 days and the participating writers have to set themselves writing goals for that time. Each Wednesday and Sunday, we check in and let the others know how we are doing. The idea is to form writing habits that writers will hopefully continue once the challenge is over.

As you may know if you follow this blog, my daily life is pretty crazy. I have a day job that keeps me extremely busy, I travel a lot and I read tons of books. Fitting some writing time in my schedule is a challenge, but I’m still very intent on getting published one day.

So here are my goals for this round (and yes, I know they haven’t changed much since the last round, but if at first you don’t succeed…):

Write or edit every day

Editing – Finish my current round of editing for The Last Queen, get my manuscript critiqued and beat-read, then edit some more.

Writing – Write a short story, and continue writing the first draft of The Cursed King

Round Four starts on Monday, October 1st and will end on Thursday, December 20th.

If you would like to join in this writing challenge and become a part of the ROW80 community, here are the rules:

  1. Post a goals post in which you lay out your goals for this round.
  2. Post a check-in post every Wednesday and Sunday, in which you share your progress with the other ROW80 participants.
  3. Comment on other participants’ check-in posts.

Here is the Linky for the other participants’ posts. What are your ROW80 goals for this round?

GUTGAA Pitch Polish

As previously mentioned on this blog, I am taking part in the Gearing Up To Get An Agent blogfest (GUTGAA) hosted by the amazing Deana Barnhart. This week is all about Pitch Polish and you can find my query and the first 150 words of my WIP The Last Queen here. Now, if you’ve read my query or part of my WIP before, know that my manuscript has been undergoing major revisions lately. I have also worked on my query, based on the comments I received a WriteOnCon. So I would be very grateful if you could have a look at my new pitch and give me some feedback on it. I’ll return the favour if you give me a link to your query in the comment section of this post!

And since I hate asking without giving, remember that you can still enter my 100 followers giveaway here and win books!