Monday, June 28, 2010

Evolving Voice in the YA novel

In lieu of a post, here's an article I wrote on The View from the Loft.  Check it out.  Hope you like....

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Final moments in books

In the last couple of years, I've been thinking about what makes for satisfying final moments of a book -- the kind that makes you sigh and put the book down on your chest, still open to the last page because you want to savor the moment, because you aren't sure you want to close the book yet.

My question about final moments was thrown into sharp relief when I took a screenwriting class and discovered that I can quickly and easily recall the ending of about half or a third of the movies I've seen.  On the other hand, there are only a handful of books whose final moments I can remember. I asked some other writers and found that I'm not alone in this.  Final moments of books are rarely memorable. Why is that?  Are movie endings better?

At first, I thought it was a strong image.  And while I'm sure that's a factor, I'm not sure that is the only factor.  After all, many, many books' final moments are on a strong image and honestly, the image didn't make them any more memorable.

Then, I thought it was because movie endings are a so clean and everything is wrapped up, but then, some of my favorite movie endings are not.  The end of Shakespeare in Love, for instance, is Gwyenth Paltrow walking on a beach with the voice over narrating something along the lines of:  "My story starts at sea, a perilious voyage to an unknown land." (Go to minute 3:25 to see what I'm referring to.)

Or even the little joke at the end of Patriot Games, where we cut to black while we are waiting to hear whether the next baby in the family is a girl or a boy.  Sure, the ending was tied up, but something else was happening in those endings:  they were giving the viewer a way to let the story continue.

Does that translate to the page?  I realized that there were only three(Jazz by Toni Morrison, Project X by Jim Shepard, and Invisible by Pete Hautman),  and they all had something in common:  they weren't really endings. (Well, maybe I take too much credit when I claim to have 'discovered' this.  More like, it was nicely gift wrapped for me.  I was lucky enough to talk to Jim Shepard when he came to the University of Minnesota and asked him about endings, citing his book as one of the few whose endings stays with me.  He told me that Project X ends en medius reus).  Which got me thinking about Invisible, which ends with a bit of twist that indicates that there is more of the story to come and Jazz, which is one of the best endings I've ever read.  Jazz ends by bringing the call and answer techinque of the musical art form of well -- jazz -- to lit.  Wikipedia defines the call and answer this way:  Part of the band poses a musical "question", or a phrase that feels unfinished, and another part of the band "answers" (finishes).

Morrison ends my throwing out the call and waiting for the audience to answer.  Her final line:  "Look.  Look at where your hands are right now."  They are, obviously, on the book.  She is giving us a hint about the narrator of the piece, but also empowers the reader to act, to move, to think and by doing so, answer her call.

So maybe the Shakespeare in Love prinicple applies here.  Maybe final moments in books, like movies, are most memorable when they leave room for the reader.

I'm still not sure why movie endings leave a stronger impression than books, so what do you think?  Who has written an ending that you love?  Why?  What makes a final moment satisfying to you? 

Sunday, June 6, 2010

Blog Resurrection & Top 3 BEA lessons

So... that mini-break turned into a major break.  Sorry 'bout that.  Lots going on... most of which you will get to hear about in time.

Most recently, I was at BEA.  Sort of.  I went to NYC with the Class of 2k10, a group of middle grade and YA novelists who are debuting this year.  I've been in touch with these writers via email for about a year, but had met only one of them previously.  It was wonderful to meet all these writers who had been encouraging and helping each other. They were funny, intelligent, witty and as varied as our books are.  Shari Maurer, whose novel Change of Heart just debuted, put together the tour and the hysterically funny Shannon Delany, author of 13 to Life, introduced us to some great bloggers.

I started off by lunching with my editor who told me, off handedly, that Split is in its second printing!!  I went through the day on a cloud, completely misunderstanding what that meant. (Reality set in far later.  More on that below.)

Class of 2k10 started by reading at Books of Wonder in Manhattan.  I never really understood what it meant when I read "pumping hands" to describe shaking someone's hand until I met the owner.  He was enthusiastic and wonderful, to say nothing of what happened when he came in front of a crowd.  I did my 2 minutes, panel-style on Split with my editor in the audience and a good friend and writer, Nicholas Kaufmann.  But I really had to work to keep it together in front of my editor who still intimidates me beyond words, regardless of how kind, personable, and un-intimidating she is.

Throughout the weekend, when we talked at The New York Public Library to 3 fabulous classes of kids and when we went to The Voracious Reader in Larchmont, I was tickled to hear from the author's mouths about their books.  I learned that Shannon's book started as tweets, that Jame Richards' can tell a true story about the how a girl was saved in the Johnston Flood by a mattress and a courageous man, and that I'm not the only one of us authors who is struggling with that sophomore effort.  It was reaffirming and supportive and a lot of fun -- everything I'd hoped for.

My last evening in NYC was  my birthday as well and I'm now of the age where I'm just starting to greet birthdays with the slightest bit of hesitation, wondering if I really want this to come.  I really like being in my 30s and the 40s are getting closer rapidly.  But, reading at The Voracious Reader, where the owner and her window display, is so kind helped me forget about it.  Then, a friend and blogger who happened to be in NYC as a choreographer took me out for an incredible desert at Cafe Lalo.  (Don't miss their Pear Almond Tart) and we gabbed and munched.  I even got a birthday candle to blow out and they played Happy Birthday on their speakers.

So, here's my top 3 things I learned around BEA.

3) Standing out in a crowd of talented and funny authors is a hard thing to accomplish.  So, don't bother to try.

I quickly abandoned all competitive urges and instead, reveled in the company.  Every author has struggled just as hard, worries just as much, and seems always interested in how much to charge for school visits, what publicity has worked, and second book blues.

2) Second printing does not equal earning out.

Printings these days are small and so the publisher expects/wants/hopes to go through a number of printings.  It does not, as I had hoped, mean that you've exceeded or even met your publisher's expectations.  I had a rewarding email exchange with my editor after I returned that helped me realize that my publisher would be pleased if I sold twice as many books as my first print run.  Earning out is not about when the house starts making its money back.  Rather it's about when an author begins to get money beyond the advance.  I found out from my fairy godmother (agent) that you can roughly calculate your earnings by taking 10% of the list price and then multiplying that times the books sold.  BUT don't bank on that amount because of those horrid things called returns if the bookstore can't sell all the copies it has bought. (Yikes!)

And, I found out from a fellow class member that any royalty statement that you receive in which you haven't earned out, shows how far in the deficit your publisher is on your advance. (Double yikes.)

And I read (on the web somewhere, can't remember where so I'm not sure if I trust it) that 85% of authors don't earn out.  And of course that if you don't earn out, you are less likely to get a second contract.  I'm trying to fight off panic and trying, though not succeeding, to stop watching that fickle and meaningless Amazon sales rank.

1) Gespalten is the german world for Split (at least according to

On my final night in NYC, my birthday, I got an email from my fairy godmother just before the clock struck midnight that told me that she has sold German rights.  Gespalten will get a new cover and a translation!  I'll be paid in Euros (which of course, means less and less each day).  Turns out that "issue" books don't generally get translated and that means that Split has done what I'd hoped for -- surpassing the issue and becoming a book about Jace, his family, his struggle, and his journey.