I Have Another Book Coming Out!

I’m so excited to talk about my new novel. It’s called Monster, Human, Other. Here's the cover:

And here's a bit about it:

Wren is human. Isaac is not. Having switched places at birth, they now live with each other’s families. Growing up among a different species is difficult—for Isaac, who has to keep many secrets, and for Wren, who is teased for her lousy human senses. They’re told it’s necessary, though. The exchange is the first step in an ambassador program meant to ensure peace.  

But not everyone wants peace. There are creatures that live deep underground, coming up to the surface to feed. For them, war means food. They have a plan to stir up trouble, and so far, it’s working. In the end, it’s up to Wren and Isaac to prevent a looming war and to save both their kinds.  

The book is recommended for children ages 8 to 12, but I officially give permission to older people to read it, too. It comes out September 5, but you can pre-order it at AmazonBarnes & Noble, or your local bookstore.

How to Plan Your Novel: Plotting Versus Pantsing

There are two basic ways to write a novel: you can plot it or you can pants it. If you plot your novel, you work out the plot before you start writing. If you pants your novel, you start writing with an idea in mind but without a developed plot. You write by the seat of your pants, as it were. You wing it.

It’s best to think of these two options as opposite ends of a spectrum. Your personal style may lie somewhere in between. It could even vary from project to project.

There are pros and cons to each side.

Plotting your novel ahead of time means you don’t have to worry about writing yourself into a corner. You’re far less likely to realize you need to cut fifty pages or eliminate a character. Foreshadowing is much easier when you know what’s coming. Although you’ll still have revise your work—there’s no way to avoid that—the revisions will generally be less intensive and less painful if your manuscript was plotted ahead of time.

If you’re a published writer and want to pitch your agent or editor before you’ve finished a project, plotting is essential. Yes, your plot may change a bit as you go, but you need something substantial to show others.

But pantsing has some advantages, too. Some people don’t like plotting and will drag their feet through the process. They may find that discovering the story as they write is what keeps the passion for the project alive. Once they’ve plotted it, they know the story, and they’re no longer interested in working on it.

Other writers may opt for pantsing because they want their characters to dictate the story. If writers force their characters to follow pre-determined plots, some of the decisions and motivations may seem unnatural and, well, forced.

My debut book, Dead Boy, was pantsed. I started with an idea for the character and a few vague ideas for the plot, but I didn’t know how the story would end, and much of the middle was pretty hazy, too. I was working on the project for fun after another project fell apart. I had a lot of passion for it, but not much else.

This resulted some pretty major revisions as I figured out the plot. Characters changed. Backstories got replaced. It was a lot of work, and I think it would have been easier if I’d done more plotting ahead of time.

But I hate outlines. When I’m writing, I can sense what the story needs. When I try to outline, I can’t. I need to be immersed in the story to develop it properly.

Luckily, I’ve found a good compromise: synopses.

These days, when I start a new project, I write a synopsis. It’s usually around two pages long and tells the story from beginning to end.  It may include some subplots, but not all. It includes most major developments, but the order is flexible.

As I write the project, I adjust the synopsis as needed. By the time I’m about fifty pages into my project, I’ve worked out any issues, and the synopsis is finalized. At this point, I’m confident in the story, and I have fifty pages and a synopsis to show others.

I’m not going to tell you how you need to write your novel. Writing is an art form, and each artist approaches it differently. If plotting works for you, great. If pantsing works for you, keep it up. If you’re having trouble, though, it’s smart to look at other options, including something in the middle.

What Would Your Character Do?

Imagine this situation. You're reading a book. (Not too difficult to imagine so far.) It's about a girl named Kathy who's really into science and nature. She likes new stuff, especially if it's weird, and she doesn't mind getting dirty. A boy shows her a neat bug he found, and she gets grossed out. You get mad and throw the book against the wall. 

Or you're watching a television show, and the vegan who's obsessed with health food is shown snacking on one of those convenience store processed meat sticks. Or maybe it's a movie. It doesn't matter. The important thing is that a character did something that character would never do, you know it, and it ticks you off. 

A good character feels as real as a good friend. When good friends act out of character, you get worried. When characters act out of character, you get angry at the writers.

So how can you avoid writing inconsistent characters?

By getting to know your characters, of course. 

The trick to writing realistic characters is to get really deep into your character's mind. One of my favorite ways to do this is to ask how your character would respond to different events.

After you’ve covered the basics—age, job, appearance, hobbies, and so on—start thinking about what your character would do in various situations. They don’t have to be things that will come up in your book. The point is simply to get a better understanding of your character. 

Here are a few situations to get you started.

What would your character do if a rude stranger bumped into him?

What would your character do if told the planet was about to be destroyed by an asteroid?

What would your character do if he was wrongly accused of a crime?

What would your character do if a kitten started following him?

What would your character do if he was running late for school or work?

What would your character do if he accidentally damaged another person’s property and no one witnessed it?

The Magical Origin of Ideas Revealed

Where do you get your ideas?

It’s a question that authors get asked all the time, and it’s one that I’m never quite sure how to answer. I feel like people expect an interesting response, like my ideas should have some amazing, magical origin. Sorry. They don’t.

I don’t know where I get my ideas. I get them from everywhere—every show I watch, every book I read, every picture I see, every conversation I hear. I get them from nowhere—they pop into my head without introduction or invitation.

My ideas often come in bunches, which is quite annoying, honestly. The file I keep my ideas in currently contains 15,065 words and dozens of story ideas, and there simply isn’t enough time to write all of them.

I’m not sure why I tend to get a lot of ideas at once, but I have two theories. The first is that certain moods lead to ideas. I think up new things with I’m intellectually bored, or maybe when I’m intellectually stimulated—I’m not sure which.

The second theory is that idea generation leads to more idea generation. Creativity is a muscle, and once I start exercising it, it’s hard to stop. I think this is true, even if there are other factors at play. I believe people can become more creative through practice, through brainstorming and writing prompts and the like.

I don’t always know where my ideas come from, but I do know how they develop. The ideas always start out small: I picture one character, one scene, one problem, one something. Then I flesh it out by asking questions. Why is this happening? What will happen next? Why? What does this character want? Why? Why? Why? You could call it the Socratic method of story generation.

In my experience, people have one of two problems: too many ideas, or none. There’s no in between. For those with no ideas, I suggest you flex your creative muscles. Brainstorm ideas, even if they’re boring and unoriginal at first. Keep coming up with ideas until you create ones you like, and then develop those into bigger ideas.

For those of you with too many ideas, I have no advice. I think you are doomed, like me, to keep ever-growing files full of ideas you’ll never have time to write.

Three Reasons to Give Thanks for Books

It’s been a hard month and a hard year. Staying positive can be a challenge in times like these, but yesterday was Thanksgiving, and despite everything I have a lot to be thankful for. I’d like to take a moment to explain why I’m especially grateful for books.

I’m thankful for the magical doors books open. My favorite genres are fantasy and science fiction, and I'll admit it: my reading tends toward escapism. Don’t we all need an escape sometimes? Books give me a chance to join an exciting adventure, one that I would never agree to take on in real life, and one that makes most of my actual complaints seem trivial in comparison.

I’m thankful for the lessons books teach us. When I read and write, my main purpose is entertainment. Nevertheless, I cannot deny the educational value of books. I’m not talking about facts, although it’s possible to learn those from books, too. I’m talking about empathy. Books let us slip into the shoes of another person—another gender, another race, another socioeconomic class. There’s no better way to understand people who are different from ourselves.

Finally, I’m thankful for my own career. I adore being a writer. Everything about it—from being able to work from home to getting paid to make things up to seeing my work in bookstores—is amazing. So thank you to everyone who reads this, and to everyone who reads my books.              

That’s Not Why You’re Getting Rejected

I keep hearing the same misinformation, so I want to address it. You don’t need connections to get a book deal. You don’t need publishing credits to get a book deal. You don’t need to live in New York to get a book deal. If you’re getting rejected, it’s not for one of these reasons.

How do I know this? Well, I got a book deal without any connections or impressive credits. I didn’t live in New York, and I didn’t travel there for conferences. I never met my agent or editor in real life before signing my contract.

This wasn’t a fluke. I’ve spoken to a lot of other authors, both face-to-face and online, and my situation was pretty common. Agents and editors like debut authors, and because everything’s done online these days, location doesn’t matter.

Nevertheless, I keep hearing these misconceptions.

Some people might have outdated information. I’ve heard that, in the past, writers were advised to develop some credentials writing short stories before seeking a book deal. Location may have mattered more in the past, too.

I think there’s another reason behind the misinformation, though. Nobody like being rejected. If people can blame something that’s outside their control, they might feel a little better. I get that.
The problem is that this type of excuse making can keep people from the fixing the real problem, which is in their control.

If your novel keeps getting rejected, it’s not because you don’t know the right people, have the right credits, or live in the right place.

It may be because your query needs work. Do more research on queries and seek feedback.

It may be because your writing needs work. Work on your craft and, again, seek feedback.

It may be because your novel is difficult to market. Maybe you’re writing a genre that everyone’s sick of. Maybe your plot doesn’t stand out. Maybe you’re not following the standard conventions for your chosen genre. If the problem is severe, you may need to start over with a new book—and that’s okay. 

Once you identify the problem, you give yourself the power to fix it. 

Five Ways to Make Time to Write

It’s National Novel Writing Month, that time of year when many writers challenge themselves to produce a 50,000-word novel in 30 days, so I figured this was a good opportunity to discuss a common question: How do I find time to write?

Before I continue, I think I should admit I’ve never participated in NaNoWriMo. I think it’s great motivation for some writers, but it doesn’t really fit my writing style, and I always find myself in the middle of a project when it begins. Maybe some year I’ll give it a try.

Even though I’m not doing the marathon that is NaNoWriMo, I still have to make time to write. Notice I said make, not find. If you’re hoping to find time, you’re destined to fail. Everyone has the same number of hours in the day. There are no extra minutes lying under your sofa cushions or in you jacket pockets like spare change. If you want to write, you have to give up doing something else.

So what can you give up?

Most people have at least a little idle time most days. Maybe you can give up some time spent watching television or playing games on your smartphone. (If you're like me, you might have to delete the game from your phone. Go ahead. Do it now. I'll wait.)

I’ve woken up early to write, so giving up sleep is another option. Just don’t give up too much. Sleep deprivation is a real problem. 

Sometimes family members cut into writing time. You might need to tell your family that you want a little uninterrupted time. Don’t feel bad about it. Everyone deserves a little personal time, even parents.

Or you might be able to write while doing something else. For example, you can write while you sit on the bus or during your lunch break. For those antisocial people out there, this also gives you a great excuse not to talk to people.

If you get too distracted to write at home, go to a coffee shop. If the internet distracts you, go online. You can even use old-fashioned pencils and paper for your first draft. 

You don’t need a lot of time. Thirty minutes a day. Two hours twice a week. As long as you make a schedule and stick to it, you can finish a novel. You might not do it in a month, but you’ll do it.