Monday, January 30, 2012

Blog Tour Redux, Day Four

Pixie over at Page Turners' hosted the SPLIT tour for this one.  I was thrilled that Kari at Teen Book Scene organized this tour because I ended up on really great sites.  Check out Page Turners.  It's a 5-poster blog, so you are sure to get multiple (and good) opinions! Right now they are running a fantastic giveaway -- definitely worth checking out.

For those of you who are just coming in: I'm re-posting the blog tour posts to celebrate the paperback release of SPLIT.

Top Five Writer’s Tips.

5. Celebrate the mess.
I am not naturally neat. So, my life is cluttered with ways to keep my messes organized. Necessarily evils include: my ga-zillion sticky notes, my calendar, calendar reminders, weekly, daily, master, and manuscript to-do lists. Without them I get nothing of quality accomplished.
Unless we’re talking about the first draft of a novel. Then messy is good. Messy is productive – it just doesn’t look like it. First drafts are about playing, discovering and uncovering. Let go. Play in the mud, celebrate the slop, and see what you unearth.
Example: In the first draft of my current WIP, I introduced a 2 year old in the beginning of the book. Three months and around 200 pages later, he was 25. I ended up cutting him out altogether, but he was useful: his appearance taught me that my protagonist needed to be protective of someone (when he was 2), and by the end of the novel, needed a mentor (when he was 25). His appearance was my intuition talking. Respect your intuition. Messy as it is.

4. Learn to love revision.
Pouring out the story on to the page is wonderful. It’s a rush. But revision is even better. Are you groaning? Lots of writers I know hate revising. I love it. Here’s how I learned to love revision:
First, I assumed that every word I wrote would need to be re-written. Probably more than once. Probably more than twice. For Split, 8 was the magic number. Yep, 8 full drafts. 6 of them before I started agent-hunting looking for an agent. (Don’t actually hunt agents. Hungry as you are, they do fight back.)
Second, I learned that revising is pretty much the same thing as writing. You are still uncovering deeper levels of the story. But you are also discovering what the story is not about. Pull out all the distractions. Complicate all the moments where you are only doing one thing at a time.
Third, know when you are done revising: when you have a house of cards and removing one line, causes a cave in; when your critique group agrees; but most of all, when there are no more surprises left in the book for you, no nuance left to uncover.

3. Think, think, think.
Admit it. Your imagination is like a dog with a bone, gnawing at it to get at the rich marrow inside. Give your imagination a problem and then go for a walk, knit part of a scarf, or sleep on it. You’re likely to have the marrow out if your imagination keeps at it.
Or, go even farther and use method acting (preferably when no one is around) to explore your POV character. I once went grocery shopping as Jace. My kids were beyond thrilled when I came home with tons of junk food, and they learned what Little Debbie was.

2. Cultivate your Ideal Reader.
Your Ideal Reader is insightful, passionately opinionated and smart, especially about books. Your Ideal Reader will speaks in truths, both hard ones and kind ones. Your Ideal Reader gives you foot rubs and calls you a genius. Well, maybe not the last one. Find that person. If you’re lucky, it’s someone you already know. (For me, it is my husband) If you’re not, take writing classes and listen to hear whose opinion you respect. Share pages with a trusted friend. Or hire a book doctor, one who you are sure you can trust.
Then, listen. Your ideal reader is your ideal reader for a reason: you respect his opinion.
Then speak. If you don’t agree with his suggestions, talk about why. Don’t argue him out of his point. Rather, try to uncover what about the line or the moment is bothering your Ideal Reader. Once you understand, find an edit that accomplishes your goal and your Ideal Reader’s.
I can’t overstate the importance of an Ideal Reader. I can only say that Split could never have been written without mine.

1. Writing is no place for timidity. Write bravely. Write boldly. Write every day you can.

Read more:

Signed giveaway of SPLIT

Lizz at dreaming dreams no mortal ever dared has kindly interviewed me and is giving away a personalized, paperback copy of SPLIT.  Check it out.

Friday, January 27, 2012

Day 3, Blog Tour Redux

The awesome John at Dreaming in Books hosted my third stop. It was the first of the scenes I wrote outside of SPLIT's narrative to try to mine the characters I was working with.  I love reading John's reviews.  Check out his blog.
Christian in New York

In Split, Christian, Jace’s older brother, disappeared one night when Jace was ten years old. After taking years of his father’s brutal abuse, Christian ran, relying on the hope that their dad had not, and therefore would not, hit Jace. But he was wrong. For five long years, Jace never heard a word for Christian until the night Jace finally hit his father back. When Jace shows up on Christian’s doorstep, Christian has a lot to answer for.

As a writer, it is easy to get sucked so deeply inside your protagonist’s head, that you don’t think about what is going through your secondary characters’ heads. And when that happens you end up as the puppet master and your critique groups keep saying, “I’m confused about Christian.” And then you go home and grumble to yourself that they are right. But you don’t know how to fix it.

One day, you go to your meeting in the Loft Mentor Series and Jim Moore, a poet and teacher, assigns you and your colleague a writing exercise: every day for a week, sit down in the same place, at the same time and write for 15 minutes. Write about this: 1) Take two characters who have a charged relationship and write a quiet scene between them 2) have a reoccurring object.

You decide to write from Christian’s point of view. It seems like a good fit – you hate taking precious minutes away, writing scenes that have no chance of making ink in your book, but you think 15 minutes for 7 days isn’t that bad. You only manage to get in five days. When you’re done, you have five exercises that were never meant to go into your novel. But you also have Christian’s voice. You also have the better part of a scene that ends up in the novel, after all. And you have 5 details that end up making it in the final cut of your book. 

Here’s what those 75 minutes produced:

1. Jace’s nickname –Toad.
2. Why they like having breakfast for dinner. 
3. Jace thinking, “He never stuck a candle in a cupcake on my birthday”
4. The Halloween that Jace and Christian went trick-or-treating that Christian tells Mirriam about.
5. Mornings where Christian would run and Jace would ride his bike.

And most, importantly, you understand why… why Christian didn’t write letters or contact Jace. This is the first in a series of three mini-scenes written from Christian’s point of view:

(Author -Mystique-buster: This is all I get in 15 minutes and first drafts are pretty bad.)


Standing at the library table, I unfold your birthday card and put it down. It sits there, open, white, waiting for ink. I scrounge a gel ink pen from my backpack and lay it beside the card. 
You’ll be eleven.

What can I say? Is there anything I could write that would justify my five-month absence?

Outside the beveled glass window, I can see autumn. Every day the sun sets a little earlier, and so the trees begin to hibernate. The leaves lose their shiny green fa├žade, showing their waning colors: reds from fire maples, yellows from ginkos and elms. The leaves flare as they go. Here, in New York, they spill out from the sidewalks onto the streets, caught in the gutters, ending up a mushy pile.

I snap the top off my pen, work it onto the back of the pen, leaving its silver tip available.

It’s your first birthday without me.

At home, mom has baked you a cake. What is it this year? Fourth birthday was a stegosaurus-shaped chocolate cake that stood up, triangular chocolate cookies for the spines sticking up down his back. She even found a candle for you that would roar when it was lit. “Once you know that frosting is glue, you can make anything” she would tell me. But last year’s was her piece d’resistance; an entire scene made from cake: a castle with chocolate leaves and a molten moat. A knight, his sword and shield gleaming with silver balls, stood facing a dragon. What have you chosen this year?

I can’t imagine.

I try to make myself sit down at the table. I pull out the chair and tell my thighs to contract. I push myself into the seat and force my hand to pick up the pen. What is your cake this year, Jace? What are your latest, greatest imaginings? Have you kissed a girl yet, or do you still turn away when dad kisses mom’s cheek before he heads out the door? Paper can’t answer my question, and a pen won’t build a bridge.

I close the card and put it in my backpack. I’ll come up with something, later , I tell myself, but I know that I’ll forget, lose the card, not have the stamp – invent some excuse because getting a birthday card after five months without a phone call, an email, even a postcard is worse than nothing. It’s hope for more, when there will be less and less. Next year, I won’t even buy a card, won’t even light a candle or look online for presents I won’t buy.

Autumn trees should just die, not hold out hope for spring.

Thursday, January 26, 2012

Day 2 of blog tour redux

On the second day of the blog tour, my bloggers gave to me:  a review by the kind Corrine!

Reposted here by permission of Corrine at Lost for Words, where she is currently hosting another blog tour for Julia Karr's new release, Truth.

I love this review!  The word that jumps out at me most today is the word "intense" because, as I learned last week, that is the word used most often by my students to describe me.  While I honestly believe that there is a pretty significant difference between authors and their characters, I guess some defining traits will always come through.

Well, of course, I don't *mind* the final line of the review either.

Split - Swati Avasthi - Blog Tour Review

Sixteen-Year-Old Jace Witherspoon arrives at the doorstep of his estranged brother Christian with a re-landscaped face (courtesy of his father’s fist), $3.84, and a secret.

He tries to move on, going for new friends, a new school, and a new job, but all his changes can’t make him forget what he left behind—his mother, who is still trapped with his dad, and his ex-girlfriend, who is keeping his secret.

At least so far.

Worst of all, Jace realizes that if he really wants to move forward, he may first have to do what scares him most: He may have to go back. First-time novelist Swati Avasthi has created a riveting and remarkably nuanced portrait of what happens after. After you’ve said enough, after you’ve run, after you’ve made the split—how do you begin to live again? Readers won’t be able to put this intense page-turner down.
(Synopsis taken from goodreads.)

Title: Split
Author: Swati Avasthi
Genre: Young Adult, Contemporary
Publisher: Alfred A. Knopf
Publication Date: March 9, 2010
Source: ARC given to me by Kari. Thanks Kari! This review is part of theTeen Book Scene blog tour.
My rating: 5/5

Split follows the story of two brothers after they have broken away from their abusive home. Christian escaped several years earlier, and now Jace is landing on his doorstep, having just left as well. Jace has finally had enough, and is hoping that he will be welcomed in by his brother, knowing that they both have survived a tumultuous and horrific upbringing. 
Jace is a character that I immediately felt sympathy for. He is a three dimensional character, well rounded, yet broken. He gets good grades, is an excellent soccer player, but he's had a hard life, and is hoping to break the cycle of abuse. He's had his fair share of regrets, but is hoping to learn how to live without fear, pain, or knowing that he could be more like his father than he would like. 
Christian was an intense character as well. It is so hard to define him as he left relatively early on in Jace's life. He is, again, another broken character, picking up the pieces trying to learn how to live a "normal" life, when everything is so far from normal. He does gather favour in my book, when he takes Jace in and tries to establish a home life for Jace. 
Avasthi writes a mesmerizing tale of destructive tendencies, and how one person's actions can and will reverberate through those around them. Splittakes a raw, no holds barred approach to domestic violence, and allows us a glimpse into a world that unfortunately is all too real. The view she gives to us, of Jace, Christian, and their parents, is a haunting and gripping one. We see that things are not necessarily black or white, and it truly is an eye opening experience to realize that for those stuck in the cycle, the unknown could be worse than the reality. 
All in all, a disturbing, but eloquent look at the severity, and secrecy of domestic violence in a person's home. You truly do not know the circumstances of those around you, and to escape from that cycle, and to have to learn to adapt and break the cycle is truly amazing. Statistics dictate that most cannot break the cycle, but it is heartening to realize that above all, people have choices. You define who and what you are, or will become. No one else can take that from you. With that said, everyone should read Split.

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Blog Tour Kick Off Redux

SPLIT -- in paperback, with a brand new, beautiful cover. (Thank you, Knopf marketers!)  I'll confess:  I LOVE IT!

And to celebrate its release and to honor the upcoming National Teen Dating Violence Month, I'm going to re-post the 2010 October Blog Tour for SPLIT in paperback ... uh... electronic... uh... a different (?) format.  Which is to say, it will all be here on my website, instead of elsewhere in the world.

Note: I'm skipping the first post because it was all about October and the attached fundraiser / auction.

Hope you enjoy.

A Place Called Character
by Swati Avasthi

See, there are these things called issues and there are these things called novels and, according to
plenty of people, the two should never go together. Otherwise you are treading into after-school-
special zone. No one wants preaching disguised as fiction.

That was drilled into me. If not through conversations and lessons, then through my own
experiences while I winced, embarrassed for writers who would blatantly hammer in the moral
of the story. And the morals were always so self-evident: If Ugh hit wife, then Ugh baaad. No
hit wife, Ugh.

And yet, both as a writer and as a reader, I found myself drawn to issue narratives, pulled to the
serious and heavy one-word title books: Speak, Godless, Twisted. They would jump out at me
and I’d devour them. Plenty, plenty, plenty of writers have written great issue novels. Look at
Chris Crutcher or Jay Asher or Laurie Halse Anderson.

But I was still afraid to write them, especially afraid because I came to Split with a history of
working with survivors of domestic violence. (I coordinated a domestic violence legal clinic for
three years and spoke to thousands of survivors.) I came to Split after giving lectures about the
cycle of abuse; I came to Split with statistics that clattered around in my head, and stories that I
couldn’t shake loose from my brain. So, I was worried that if I wrote about domestic violence, I
would pull out the soapbox that kills a good story.

But, to get onto a soapbox, you must have answers. And I only had questions: what would it
be like to grow up watching your dad hit your mom? What if you loved your dad anyway and
looked up to him the way that every kid does?

I had left the clinic almost ten years before I sat down with a cup of coffee and my computer and
a 16-year-old boy in my head. The deeper I dug the more muddled I became, uncovering more
questions. But somehow, I didn’t feel like I was the one asking the questions anymore. My
narrator, Jace, was. And the nature of the questions were slightly altered and the stakes much
higher. Instead of “What would happen if you loved your dad anyway?” my questions became
more specific and were asked in Jace’s voice: “Why, in the name of all that is holy, do I still
admire my creep-of-a-father? WTF is wrong with me?”

I had no more worries about my soapbox. All I worried about was whether I could get my story
right and what would happen to Jace. The challenge became not to flinch when the story got
hard, how to be honest now matter what. The story stole the soapbox’s spot.

Much later, after the ARC came out but before the novel was printed and we were deep into
copyedits, a friend read the book and commented that she was upset with something I’d written
– something minor, but valid – about culture. And I suddenly was so tempted to use Jace as a
mouthpiece. I struggled for two days, trying to find a way to make the idea work. My friend
was astonished and wondered why I could “make Jace” argue with Mirriam about issues, but
couldn’t find a way to “make him say this.” I told her I could never “make Jace say” anything.

About a year after I wrote Split, a colleague of mine was working on an issue novel. In her fear
that she would preach, her novel ended up saying nothing and she asked, “how do you write an
issue novel without preaching?”

So, I could tell her: See, there are things called issues and these things called novels. And they
should go together right through the juncture of a place called character.

This was originally posted at:  Karen's For What It's Worth blog.  Which is a spectacular blog, run by a spectacular lady.  After drumming up comments and donations for the October fundraiser for SPLIT, she did another great push for Doctors without Borders.  Subscribe and find her on twitter @teamsheltie.