Monday, February 28, 2011

For Writers - Beating Writers Block with Margaret Peterson Haddix

Again, I'm grateful for writing friends who are willing to share their time and wisdom to help other writers. This week's tip comes from my local critique group friend and best-selling author Margaret Peterson-Haddix. Margaret has written more than 25 books for kids and teens, including Running Out of Time; Don’t You Dare Read This, Mrs. Dunphrey; Leaving Fishers; Just Ella; Turnabout; Takeoffs and Landings; The Girl with 500 Middle Names; Because of Anya; Escape from Memory; Say What?; The House on the Gulf; Double Identity; Dexter the Tough; Uprising; Palace of Mirrors; Claim to Fame; the Shadow Children series; and the Missing series. *taking deep breath* She also wrote Into the Gauntlet, the tenth book in the 39 Clues series. Her books have been honored with New York Times bestseller status, the International Reading Association’s Children’s Book Award; American Library Association Best Book and Quick Pick for Reluctant Young Adult Readers notations; and more than a dozen state reader’s choice awards. I am honored to have her on the blog today.

You can also find Margaret online at her website, and follow her on facebook.

Margaret says:

“What do you do when you get writer’s block?”

I think this is the question people ask me the most about the actual nuts and bolts of being a writer. Probably this is partly because anyone who’s ever written anything has felt that terror of the blank page (or blank computer screen) at one time or another, and a lot of people can’t imagine choosing to grapple with that on a regular basis. Also, I think, a lot of us authors have encouraged that image of ourselves as tortured creative souls bravely doing battle with the demons who threaten to silence our voice.

It beats actually admitting, “Yeah, I just spent an hour staring at an empty computer screen. Do you think watching paint dry would have been a more productive use of my time?”

But over the years I have found that three different approaches work for me with writer’s block, depending on how serious it is:

1. Force yourself to keep writing.

This is the technique I always try first. It works best when you have at least a wisp of an idea of where you want the story to go, but you just can’t find the right words to tell your story. Even if you seem to have regressed to a preschooler’s command of the English language, get that down on paper. Even something as pathetic as “Characters go. Eat dinner. Sleep in bed” can always be revised. When I try this approach, I’m constantly telling myself, Yes, I know this is terrible, but I’ll fix it later. Nobody but me will ever have to see how terrible this is. Just keep going! And then, most of the time, the bad stuff leads into good stuff and I forget the internal pep talks because I am totally in the story and writing like crazy.

Unless, of course, this doesn’t work, and every word I try to write makes me more and more frustrated and I hate my story and I hate my characters and I hate writing and I’m ready to delete the entire manuscript and throw my computer out the window. Before I actually turn destructive, I shift to my second approach:

2. Walk away.

This one is a little bit dangerous, because what if you walk away and never go back? My strategy is to force myself to do something completely menial and brainless instead. It’s even better if it’s work I would normally hate, like scrubbing the grout in my shower. With my hands occupied and my brain free to wander, I can usually get a better perspective on what I’m trying to write, and mentally experiment with lots of ideas without the pressure of trying to instantly put those ideas into words. I have worked out knotty plot or character issues while exercising, mowing the yard, folding laundry, washing dishes, painting my basement, and, yes, scrubbing shower grout. There’s just something about physical labor that really does help you think.

But sometimes, all that that helps you accomplish is to get a mowed yard, clean clothes, clean dishes, newly painted basement or clean shower. Sometimes I have to try the third approach instead:

3. Do more research.

If I’m working on a book where I did a lot of research ahead of time, I go back and re-read my notes, or delve into more books or Internet sites to add to my knowledge base. Even if I’m writing something that would seem to be 100 percent imaginary, I find some angle to research. If I’m writing about an imaginary political uprising, I read about real ones; if I’m writing about an imaginary disease I read about treatments of vaguely comparable real ones. I almost always find some useful information to weave back into my story and keep me going. Often I realize that my problem wasn’t writer’s block at all—it was ignorance.

Good luck!

This week's link roundup:

Telling the story:

Getting started (Gail Carson Levine) All it takes is a few drops of blood.
Story starters! (Spilling Ink) Weird and wonderful prompts.
How to find good ideas (Time to Write) Ha. I watch No Ordinary Family with my son. He's right.
First lines (Part one - no gimmicks) (Part two - no cliches) c/o TheWriteGame
First line hooks (The Blood Red Pencil) Setting up story problem, setting, conflict.
Elevating Good Ideas (Nathan Bransford) More on first lines.
7 tips for 1st chapters (Alexandra Sokoloff) Love her blog.
What to avoid in opening chapters (WarriorWriters) Why your novel might get rejected.
Keeping going (Beyond the Margins) Be prepared to rip out a few seams.
Messy middles (Writer Unboxed) Navigating through.
Chapter Endings (League of Extraordinary Writers) Keep it moving forward.
Play by play storytelling ( How to avoid the chronological grocery list of events.
Aha moments (Paperback Writer) Listen to your instincts.

And then...

Synopsis checklist (YA muses) 7 steps to a better synopsis
Queries (Fiction Groupie) How to avoid getting donged.
Don't Knock The Query (Between Fact and Fiction) Tests your writing at every level

Storytelling elements:

Voice (Wordplay) Character vs. authorial
Omnicient POV (The Other Side of the Story) The stuff the character doesn't know.
Pacing (Dark Angel Fiction) Anticipating the pay-off scene
Settings (Edittorent) Use to establish the problem.
Establishing character (Openings) (Middle) (Endings)
Antagonists... (Write-brained) ... need sympathetic characteristics.
Action is Character (Rachelle Gardner) Actions speak louder than narrative.
Single character scene tension (LynetteLabelle) Internal conflict & triggers.
Creating moments (FictionGroupie) Make your story memorable
Cliches for aspiring authors (There Are No Rules) Excellent.
Finding the core (Jade Hears Voices) Be willing to change everything but that.
Goal vs Need (Plot Whisperer) Hint: tie goal to emotional need.

Inspiration and tips:

David Mack Quote (Ingrid's Notes) Love his illustrations, too.
Advice (WriterUnboxed) Nuggets of wisdom
More wisdom (Angels and Demons and Portals) Tips from the masters.
On Writing and Fear (All About Them Words) Take the leap.
Writing Demons (Natalie Whipple ) How to Deal.
Coping with criticism (Beyond the Margins) Know the game.
Suffering (The Bookshelf Muse) Don't forget the fabulous emotional thesaurus. New entries added all the time!

Reminder: The Writing Mysteries for YA online workshop begins next week. There's still time ro register here (until Monday.)

Also, because I'm racing to clear my desk before the workshop, there will be no Freebie Friday again this week. See you next week!

And for fun - how to deal with rejection letters:

Now go. Write!

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Winner and Tough News

The winner of RIVAL is:


Please send your mailing instructions to gerb (@) lindagerber (.) com and we'll get that send out to you.

A lot happening this week, but I'm mostly consumed with the Borders bankruptcy and the earthquake in New Zealand. Mostly feeling helpless about both. We are losing two Borders stores here in the Columbus area. I had just stopped into the Dublin store a few weeks ago to sign stock and the employees there could not have been nicer. What a blow. One of the ladies from the store told me this week that most of them found out about the closings the same time as everyone else - and on the news. She has worked for Borders for fifteen years, but with the restructuring, she won't receive any severance. The employees are reeling. Authors are reeling. Long time customers are reeling. This is not a happy time.

Meanwhile, my New Zealand friends are all accounted for, but the same can't be said of hundreds of people still missing in Christchurch. Most of us are too far away to be able to physically help the people devastated by this earthquake, but here is a list of avenues to donate: tvnz donations list.

And with that, I'm signing off for a week or so. I need to focus on getting this next manuscript in shape and off to my editor, so no Freebie Friday this week.

Wish me luck getting it done!

Monday, February 21, 2011

For Writers - Writing in Public with Jessica Brody

Today’s writing tip comes from Jessica Brody, the internationally bestselling author of the young adult novel, THE KARMA CLUB as well as two mainstream novels, THE FIDELITY FILES and LOVE UNDERCOVER. Jessica’s recent good news: two of her book properties were optioned for film! Yay, Jessica! Be sure to watch for her upcoming novel, MY LIFE UNDECIDED, coming your way June 2012.

You can find Jessica online on her website, on twitter, and on facebook.

Jessica says:

I used to be one of those writers who could only write at home. Shut up in my office, lights low, door closed, windows shut—a make-shift cocoon. Because I required complete silence and isolation. But I became frustrated that I couldn’t be one of those cool writers you see in coffee shops and cafes, sitting at their laptops with a cappuccino on one side and a yummy pastry on the other. Plus, I also found that being able to write only in my home was extremely limiting to my overall mobility as an author.

But then, about three years ago, I discovered the magic solution. Well, at least it was magic for me. Because now I barely ever write at home. I write everywhere. Coffee shops, cafés, restaurants, airports, airplanes. The world is my writing oyster. So I hope in sharing my little magic tip, that other writers may be able to come out of their cocoons as well and experience the joys of writing in public.

So…are you ready for it? Are you sure? It’s pretty life-altering. And yet, so simple. It’s called “White Noise Meditation.” Which is really just a music track of white noise. I play it on repeat in iTunes, stick in my little noise canceling ear buds, crank up the static and voila! I am safe in my “virtual” cocoon, yet still out in the world like a normal human being! The noise blocks out all distractions and actually helps me focus. To the point where I don’t even write at home any more without my white noise track playing.

I actually use a track called “10 Hz Alpha Relaxation and Learning” by “White Noise Meditation” (available for download on iTunes). It has an extra special technology embedded in it called “Holosyncing.” You might have heard of it before. Basically holosyncing is the science of “syncing” your brain waves to vibrate at a certain frequency. In this case, the frequency is one of “relaxation and learning,” helping me to concentrate on my writing even more. The waves are buried deep below a constant waterfall sound, making them undetectable. And the overall effect is awesome. After having written three books listening to the same 10 minute track over and over again, my brain has ultimately been trained to go into writing mode when it hears that track. So it ends up keeping me motivated to write as well. A double whammy!

So here’s another tip, if you see me out in public, wearing those magic headphones, I wouldn’t try talking to me. Chances are, I’ll be too “zoned” to even notice your there, let alone hear you!

Best of luck, writers!

This week's link roundup: (with apologies to all the other great links this week. I'm racing a deadline and had less time to read as many posts as I would like to have, but these should give you some inspiration!)

How will your Ms. be judged? (Falling Leaflets) List of 50 criteria.

10 Latin abbreviations (Daily Writing Tips) Are you using them correctly?

5 Self-editing tips (Genreality) Actually from last week, but I missed them!

More on Editing (Cheryl Rainfield) "Take what works for you"

Details, details (Brian's Blog) "Genuine writing comes out of the specific."

Getting the big picture (Gary Corby) Note: must love spreadsheets.

Walk before you run (Children's Publishing) Also, learn before you leap.

Defeat writer's block (Chelsea M Campbell) "Crush on every scene."

Smoothing out gaps in your writing (Gail Carson Levine) Writing magic.

Be nice! (Becca Fitzpatrick) So simple and so true.

Take care of your writer self (Genreality) Good advice.

Your best writing life NOW (Happy Writer) Don't wait to be the writer you want to be.

Five writing mantras (Magical Words) Helpful to remember.

Now go. Write!

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

FF - RIVAL by Sara Bennett Wealer

The Author:

Sara Bennett Wealer grew up in Manhattan, Kansas (the “Little Apple”), where she sang with the choir and wrote for her high school newspaper. She majored in vocal performance at the University of Kansas before deciding she had no business trying to make a career as an opera singer. She transferred to journalism school, where nobody cares if you can hit a high C or convincingly portray a Valkyrie.

Sara now lives in Cincinnati with her husband and daughters, and she still sings when her schedule allows—most recently with the May Festival Chorus, the official choir of the Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra.

You can find Sara online at her website, on her blog, on facebook, or on twitter.

The Book:

What if your worst enemy turned out to be the best friend you ever had?

Meet Brooke: Popular, powerful and hating every minute of it, she’s the “It” girl at Douglas High in Lake Champion, Minnesota. Her real ambition? Using her operatic mezzo as a ticket back to NYC, where her family lived before her dad ran off with an up and coming male movie star.

Now meet Kathryn: An overachieving soprano with an underachieving savings account, she’s been a leper ever since Brooke punched her at a party junior year. For Kath, music is the key to a much-needed college scholarship.

The stage is set for a high-stakes duet between the two seniors as they prepare for the prestigious Blackmore competition. Brooke and Kathryn work toward the Blackmore with eyes not just on first prize but on one another, each still stinging from a past that started with friendship and ended in betrayal. With competition day nearing, Brooke dreams of escaping the in-crowd for life as a professional singer, but her scheming BFF Chloe has other plans. And when Kathryn gets an unlikely invitation to Homecoming, she suspects Brooke of trying to sabotage her with one last public humiliation.

As pressures mount, Brooke starts to sense that the person she hates most might just be the best friend she ever had. But Kathryn has a decision to make. Can she forgive? Or are some rivalries for life?

Kirkus calls RIVAL "Glee, only with chamber music."

The Interview:

Have you ever been in a fierce musical rivalry?

Sure! I feel like I've been in a few over the years. The arts can be competitive, even at a school or amateur level, so you're always looking sideways at someone. Even if you don't have an all-out "enemy" rival, you're keeping tabs on how everybody else is doing and hoping they don't show you up. It's not *always* like that, but it took me years of singing actively before I could just relax and appreciate someone else's gifts without comparing to my own By that point I was just singing for fun.

What excites you?

Right now, it's having time to myself - time to write, time to sleep, time to shop and read. I'm a working mom with a busy husband, so time away is precious. At the moment, peace and quiet really excite me!

What turns you off?

Unnecessary drama. I figure life will create enough crazy business without people dragging me into theirs. I'm a big fan of "saving the drama for your mama."

What is an average writing day like for you?

Do day job, take care of family, put children in bed, sit down at computer and write or edit until midnight. Lather, rinse, repeat.

Do you have any special writing rituals or totems to connect with your muse?

Nope. My muse only visits when she knows I'm doing the gruntwork. She doesn't like rituals or incantations or scented candles, she just wants to see sweat on my brow.

If you could invite anyone you wanted - living or dead - to hang out with you at a weekend retreat, who would you invite and why?

I have a list of favorite people I'd like to hang out with. They include Steve Martin, Dolly Parton, Edith Wharton, Tori Amos and Julie Andrews. Wouldn't that be an interesting retreat?

What songs would make the playlist for RIVAL?

I've got a playlist for RIVAL right here!

If RIVAL were made into a movie, who would you like to see in the role of Brooke? Catherine? Chloe?

That's hard, because I would want to see actresses who could really sing. I don't like when movies cast a superstar then get a double to do the singing/dancing/etc. I don't know any big names right now who sing opera, so maybe they could do a talent search for Brooke and Kathryn. As for Chloe, there's a Disney Channel actress named Bridgit Mendler who I find kind of interesting. I'd love to see what she'd do with the part.

What are you working on now?

My new project is a blend of contemporary and supernatural - hard to describe in just a few words, but if you saw it, you'd get it. Unfortunately, it's way too early to share! :-(

The Freebie:

To be entered to win a signed copy of RIVAL, leave a comment below, telling us about your greatest rivalry. This drawing will remain open until Wednesday, February 23.

What's up

And the winner of this week's Freebie Friday is:


Congratulations! Please send your choice of book and the mailing instructions to gerb (@) lindagerber (.) com and we'll get that send out to you.

Be sure to come back on Friday for another freebie with Sara Wealer and her debut novel, RIVAL!

What's up this week?

Borders declares bankruptcy (bloomburg) Sad, sad, sad.

How it happened
(Shelf Awareness)

"It's about the bookstores." (Washington Post)

BUT... Borders says, business as usual (Borders)

RIP, Margaret McElderry (NY Times)

Likely Bullies (LA Times) Social climbing strikes again.

In happier news...

2010 Cybils Winners:
(Cybils) Congratulations!

Harlequin tries to patent the kiss (New Yorker) LOL

Top 10 children's apps of 2010 (Kirkus) List and reviews.
Return of the serial novel? (Seattle pi) What do you think? Would you read in that format?

Books to Movies stuff:

New still of Alex and Vanessa in BEASTLY (facebook) Nice.


Taylor Lautner & Emma Watson in INCARCERON? (Hollywood News) Go, Team Jacob... er, Finn!

13 REASONS WHY going to Universal (Deadline NY) "Selena Gomez vehicle"

Edward and Bella's Honeymoon location (The Hollywood Reporter) Pretty.

Happy release week to: Courtney Allison Moulton (ANGELFIRE), Kimberly Derting (DESIRES OF THE DEAD), Greg Taylor (THE GIRL WHO BECAME A BEATLE), Anna Myers (THE GRAVE ROBBER'S SECRET), Mara Purnhagen (ONE HUNDRED CANDLES), Maria V. Snyder (OUTSIDE IN), Tyne O'Connel (A ROYAL MATCH), and Sara Bennett Wealer (RIVAL)!

This week's video link: Atlas Shrugged Any Ayn Rand fans on here? I read this book nearly 20 years ago. Unsure how it will translate to film.

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

For Writers - Writing Fresh with Kate Coombs

I love having clever writing friends. Especially when they are willing to take the time to share their expertise with us. This week's tipper is my dear friend Kate Coombs, the acclaimed author of SECRET KEEPER, THE RUNAWAY PRINCESS, and THE RUNAWAY DRAGON. Kate is a talented and witty author, a poet, and an artist. (You can see some of her artwork on her clever website.) She knows more about children's literature than about anyone I know. (Check out her fabulous blog, Book Aunt.) Finally, Kate's writing is fun to read and uniquely Kate, so she's the perfect author to offer advice on fresh writing. Enjoy!

Kate's Tips for Writing Fresh:

Let's say you're brainstorming, getting ready to start a new book and trying to come up with a great premise. You really should know that on average, the first idea that pops into your head has an 85% probability of being a cliché. (Note: All statistics were specially invented for this post.)

Please, try for idea #2.

Oops. IT has a 50% probability of being a cliché.

After that, the process isn't quite as predictable. But my point is, a brainstorm list with 12 items on it is much richer than one with 3, no matter how much you think you like #2. 'Cause baby, wait till you see #8!

Then there's the Tweak Phase. Let's say you've made a list of 10 ideas and NONE of them cause your computer screen to light up and ring like a Vegas slot machine because they are Astonishingly Good. So what do you do?

You take each idea and brainstorm about it! The key phrase for brainstorming book ideas as well as for tweaking them is, of course, "What if?" Here's an example, starting with a so-so idea before moving into tweak mode.

1. A girl goes to prom with this boy she really likes after feeling like a loser, and now she feels confident and beautiful. [NO, TOO TYPICAL.]

2. A girl goes to prom with a guy she hardly knows because he owes her brother a big favor. He's surprised to discover he likes her. [STILL PRETTY BLAH.]

3. The guy thinks he's doing the girl such a favor, but she isn't that thrilled, and HE winds up falling for her. [I'M BORED. TIME FOR SOMETHING A LITTLE DIFFERENT.]

4. What if a girl at the prom with a guy she hardly knows is secretly pregnant and has her baby in the bathroom? [MORE MATERIAL THERE! WHAT ELSE?]

5. What if the girl convinces another girl—a quiet loner/loser—to say it's hers? [MUCH BETTER.]

6. What if the second girl decides she really likes having a baby and wants to keep it? [OKAY, BUT...]

7. What if the first girl changes her mind, so the second girl goes on the run with the baby? [NICE! HOW DOES SHE PULL THIS OFF?]

8. Why does the first girl want the baby back, anyway? Is it maternal instinct, or because her rich grandmother wants to leave all her money to her first grandchild? [SOAP OPERA-ISH, BUT FUN!]

9. Does the boy find out and want his paternal rights? Who is he? What's he like? [NOW WE'RE COOKING!]

10. What if the father of the child falls for the second girl? [HMM. THAT'S WAAAY TOO CONVENIENT. HOLLYWOOD WOULD LOVE IT.]

11. What if the father of the child falls for the second girl, but she doesn't like him back? [NICE TWIST.]

12. What if the grandmother sues for custody? [MORE SOAP OPERA, BUT I'M REALLY ENJOYING ALL THIS!]

You may have noticed that my premise tweaking turned into plot development, but that's good, too. Oh, the incredible power of "What if"! You can use it to move a story along, especially when you're stuck, and even to revise after you've finished the first draft or so. I sometimes assign writing students to pick plot points or scenes from their WIPs that are bugging them vaguely and brainstorm the wildest twists they can think of for those sections. They often come up with really good stuff and end up incorporating it in the next draft.

Another consideration when trying to "write fresh" is: How do you know if your ideas are stale and predictable? I bring this up because I've had people say the equivalent of, "I have the most amazing idea for a book! There's a girl, and she's in love with a vampire, but her other friend is a werewolf, and it's this whole love triangle!" They tend to get upset when I say, "Um. Sounds like Twilight."

No, really, assuming you aren't THAT bad, how do you know?

One suggestion is to read extensively in the field. You can also do some googling and other Internet research—for example, look up certain books on Amazon and check out the section that says, "People who bought this book also bought...." Or try asking librarians and knowledgeable bookstore clerks for good books about your general topic, then read the flap copy of selected books and decide which ones you feel you should read in their entirety.

Of course, there will always be some basic overlap regardless of what you choose to write about. But do your homework. And if you really, really must write about vampires, tweak your premise very deliberately to make sure it's not a Twilight clone. Instead, YOURS will be a wild new take on that currently overdone subgenre.

What else can you do to ensure freshness? Put the brainstorm list away and let it incubate. In a week or two, come back and make a brand-new list. Then and only then, you can take another look at your previous list. Compare the two lists. Combine items. And maybe even repeat the whole process all over again.

Assuming you've made your list—or two or three lists—and are now sitting there staring at them, which idea should you pick to work on?

If none of the ideas on your list are working, try rewriting every single idea with a twist. Or rewrite the better ones with multiple twists. But if you already have some stuff you really like, put a star by your three favorite ideas, the ones that appeal to you on a gut level. (If you've made additional lists, mark four or five.) The next step, which is very important, is to do a one- or two-page freewrite about each of your top ideas.

THEN you can see which one is really taking flight. That is, do this for three or four of your top ideas because the one that shines will not always be the one you might have predicted.

At this point, make yet another "what if" list, this time oriented toward further plot development, as I did in the second half of my example above. As you can see, I tend to write these notes as a series of questions and answers about the plot. While you're doing that, see if the idea continues to soar, filling you with hope and energy. Does it intrigue you? Are you eager to read this book you haven't even written yet?

If not, you can always start over, pursuing the elusive fresh factor with yet another "What if?" Because if you're going to spend a year of your life writing one particular story, you really want something that makes you smile every morning when you wake up. Happily, that will almost always be the same story that makes readers smile, too.

This week's link roundup:

Ode to the Shiny New Idea (Frenzy of Noise)

Easy Outlining for Whiners (Misadventures in Candyland)

What to Know Before You Start (Annastan)

What's it About? (Loglines) (Katie Ganshert)

Finding Clarity (W.I.P. It)

Zen and the Art of 1st Draft Writing (Claire King)

Seven Tips to Writing Success (TheArtist'sRoad)

Six Things to Consider Before Adding Flashbacks (Character Therapist)

Three Places to Tell, Not Show (Wordplay)

Gender Writing (The Other Side of the Story)

Character Habits (Mystery Writing is Murder)

Confused Characters (Unedited)

Character Development Tool (Paperback Writer)

Staying Sexy in Fiction (YA Fantasy Guide)

Victims Aren't Sexy (Don't Pet Me, I'm Writing)

Dialog Basics (Part One) (Part Two)

Creating Settings (Kill Zone)

Micro Tension (Sisters in Scribe)

Conflict, Tension, Stakes (Dawn's Rise)

Avoiding Melodrama (Fiction Groupie)

Time Transition (The Sharp Angle)

Stuck in the Middle? How to get unstuck. (Time to Write)

Nailing the Climax (Publetariat)

Getting to The End (Plot Whisperer)

Finding Your Way Through Revision (JoKnowles)

Phrase Frequency Counter (GalleyCat)

Presubmission Checklist (Adventures in Children's Publishing)

Query Troubleshooting (Babbles from Scott)

Agent Perspective - Love vs Sell (KidLit)

The Pressure to Jump Too Soon (Jody Hedlund)

Tips to Keep Writing (KatrinaKittle)

Ten Tips to Ensure a Productive Writing Day (BloodRedPencil)

For Mac Users: Writing & Publishing Tools (The Creative Penn)

Now go! Write!

Friday, February 11, 2011

FF - More Leading Men

For bookish valentines... we continue celebrating the best of YA's leading men. Today's freebie will be your choice of one of the following books:

VAMPIRE ACADEMY, book 1 by Richelle Mead
Favorite leading man - Dimitri Belikov. What's not to love about his Russian accent and love of western novels?

HUSH HUSH, by Becca Fitzpatrick
Favorite leading man - Patch Cipriano. Patch is a fallen angel who could become human by offering Nora as a sacrifice - which would be so much easier if he wasn't falling in love with her.

SHIVER by Maggie Stiefvater
Favorite leading man - Sam Roth. Sam reads poetry and writes songs and loves Grace with all his heart. Sigh. Sadly he is also a wolf.

To be entered to win, leave a comment below telling me which book and leading man you love best, and why. This drawing will remain open until Wednesday, February 16.

Wednesday, February 09, 2011

Winner and Brian Jacques

The winner of this week's double header freebie is:

Helen R-S

Please send your mailing instructions to gerb (@) lindagerber (.) com and we'll get those books sent out to you.

In lieu of the regular What's up post today, I want to take a moment to remember a great story teller, Brian Jacques. Mr. Jacques passed on Saturday from a heart attack, and the world of children's literature lost a special spark of light.

I first started reading the REDWALL series with my oldest son when he was in elementary school. It was the first series my son devoured, and I believe was a sure contributor to him becoming the avid reader and creative writer he is today.

The story of how Mr. Jacques began writing is even more inspiring. He labored the first half of his life in a series of not-s0-easy blue collar jobs (a longshoreman, a long-haul trucker, a merchant mariner, a railway fireman, a boxer, a bus driver and a British bobby.) Then he began a stint as a milkman. On his route, Mr. Jacques delivered milk to the Liverpool Royal Wavetree School for the Blind. Not long after, he began volunteering his time at the school to read aloud to the children. He became frustrated with some of the books, and decided to create a "proper story" of his own - a regular good-triumphs-over-evil tale filled with battles and hardship, gallantry and chivalry. The first REDWALL book was the result.

Mr. Jacques leaves behind a great legacy. His books have touched the lives of countless children - including my son. They have inspired imagination and creativity. They have created readers and future writers. Brian Jacques was truly one of literature's Greats. He will be missed.

The 22nd Redwall book, “The Rogue Crew,” is scheduled to be published in May.

Tuesday, February 08, 2011

For Writers - Historical Writing with Marsha Skrypuch

This week's tip is from Marsha Skrypuch, multi-award-winning author of books for children and teens, including STOLEN CHILD, CALL ME ARAM, and DAUGHTER OF WAR. Marsha is known for encouraging other writers. I actually met her online through her gig as the leader of the kidcrit group on the Compuserv Books and Writers' Community. She's been a friend, crit partner, and mentor ever since. Marsha also teaches workshops in her home town of Brantford and all over Canada.

You can find Marsha online on her website, her blog, and by following her on twitter.

Marsha says:
Writing the first draft for historical fiction:

Just last week I finished the companion novel to my 2010 juvenile
historical, Stolen Child. It is called Making Bombs For Hitler and is
scheduled to be published by Scholastic in 2012. Writing it took four
intense months.


Do preliminary research of the era you want to write about and try to
imagine yourself living in that time. Non-fiction children's books are a
great preliminary research tool. Also encyclopedias and textbooks. At
this stage you just want to gather enough background to get the general
lay of the land.

In order to come up with a premise for a novel, ask yourself: What would
happen if...

Think in terms of a dilemma for a person in your historical era.

As an example, for my 2008 Armenian genocide novel Daughter of War, the
question was: If you were pregnant by rape but survived a genocide,
would you want your fiance to find you?

If you can't boil your novel idea down into a question like that, it's
too unwieldy a concept.

Do an outline. I hate outlines, but it is amazing what you can
pre-organize by doing a one or two page point form plotting of your
entire novel.

Try writing a sample chapter or two. This will help you narrow down the
point of view, as well as voice and tone.

After you've done the outline and initial chapters, do more research.

Do read memoirs, diaries, newspaper articles, recordings, interviews,
maps, city directories of your era. Look at photographs. If people are
still alive, talk to them.

Do not read novels set during your era. If you do that, you may
unconsciously pick up inaccurate bits, or you could unwittingly copy the
author's style or turns of phrase.

Try to get opposing points of view of the same situation. As an example,
when I was researching Daughter of War, I consulted both Armenian and
Turkish memoirs, as well as those of missionaries and medical personnel
of the time. Inter-library loan and are great resources for
this sort of item.

Over-researching is great procrastination technique. Not only do you
waste time, but you'll also be tempted to use everything you learn,
which makes for a very boring novel.

I like to do commando research -- ie -- only as much as I'll need for
the next 20 pages or so. When I dry out, I do more.

Now start writing!

Think in terms of scenes. You don't have to write the story in order. I
like to start with the scene that is most vivid in my imagination. As I
write each scene, I decide whether it comes before or after that first
one. As the writing continues, the story develops like raindrops forming
a puddle. Don't worry about sticking to your outline. Let your
characters take you to new places.

Goal one is to get the first draft finished.

Set yourself a schedule. It might be to write one new page a day, or
maybe to write just one new paragraph a day. I like to write one scene a
day. Butt in chair (or feet under tread desk) and get those words out.
Don't get up (or get off) til your goal is achieved.

Don't give in to excuses. The most lame one is that you're too busy to
write. Writing can be done in a steno pad while waiting in line at the
grocery store or watching your kids play baseball, or on the subway. My
favourite writing place is at an airport.

Do not keep going back to page one in an attempt to make it perfect.
That is just a procrastination technique. First drafts aren't supposed
to be perfect.

Once you finish your first draft reward yourself!

It is a huge achievement to be able to write The End. Go to the movies,
Eat chocolate. Drink wine.

Let that first draft cool off for a couple of days before looking at it
again. Once you've given your brain a chance to clear, print your draft
and read it aloud, carefully, a few pages at a time. You will be amazed
at what you can catch when you speak your words and read them on paper
instead of the screen.

There are many more steps to revision, but that's another post.

This Week's Link Roundup:

Revise without Compromise (Writer Unboxed)

Avoiding the Bite of Revision (Paranormal POV)

The Process of Revision (SCBWI Blog)

Rough Draft Triage (League of Extraordinary Writers)

Ten Tips for Taming a To-do List (Tawna Fenske)

Eight Rules That Aren't Necessarily True (The Literary Lab)

Five Rules You Should Break (Victoria Nixon)

Four Writers' Master Skills (James Killick)

Four Levels of Transition (Mary Carroll Moore)

The Dreaded Synopsis (Genreality)

How to Avoid Head-hopping (JamiGold)

Character Choices That Matter (The Other Side of the Story)

Depth of Character (Writer Unboxed)

Complete Characters (Paranormal POV)

Perfect Stories - Veronica Mars (Kiersten Writes)

**Layering Conflict (Anna Staniszewski)

Dramatic vs. Melodramatic (Julie Musil)

Emotions and Writing (Help! I Need a Publisher!)

The Heart of Writing (Penniless Writer)

Sound Effects in Writing (NouveauWriter)

Processes and Page Counts (Genreality)

Weekly plug for next month's Mystery Writing online workshop: (CRW)

Now go! Write!

Friday, February 04, 2011

FF- Leading Men Double Header

In honor of Valentine's month... leading men!

The Guys:

Seth Mulo (represented here by Tyler Posey), leading man in THE DEATH BY BIKINI MYSTERIES, was a regular high school student in his former life. He played football and served on the student council. Now he and his family are on the run.

Jake Anderson (represented here by Darren Criss), leading man in TRANCE, works at a boring music store in the mall, but he'd rather be out riding his classic Indian motorcycle or playing his guitar.

The Books:


Aphra Connolly was living a quiet, teenaged life. But that was before devastatingly handsome Seth Mulo turned up at her family's island resort. And that was before a girl-the strings of her bikini top tight around her neck-was discovered dead on the beach. Without warning, Aphra is plunged into a vast conspiracy that takes her from Seattle to Paris to Italy. And, in the end, Aphra and Seth will be lucky to escape with their lives-and hearts-intact.

DEATH BY BIKINI was selected as an ALA 2011 Popular Paperback. Booklist calls DEATH BY BIKINI "Heart-pounding" filled with "taut suspense."


Ashlyn Greenfield has always known when bad things are going to happen. Each time that familiar tingling at the back of her neck begins, she knows what’s to come -a trance. She’s pulled in, blindsided, an unwilling witness to a horrible upcoming event. But she’s never been able to stop it-not even when the vision was of her mother’s fatal car accident. When soulful Jake enters Ashlyn’s life, she begins having trances about another car accident. And as her trances escalate, one thing becomes clear: it’s up to her to save Jake from near-certain death.

TRANCE has been named a Junior Library Guild Selection. Booklist calls TRANCE a "well-written" paranormal thriller.

The Interviews:

How did you first meet your leading lady?

Seth: The first time I saw Aphra was in the Plantation House at her dad's private resort. I didn't officially meet her, though, until later on the beach when I dove into the surf to save her from drowning. And then she ended up saving me.

Jake: I first met Ashlyn at the mall where we both worked. She looked like she was having a rough night - she was pretty spaced out for a while, and I saw her outside crying when I left the mall, so I stopped to see if there was anything I could do to help.

Are you superstitious in any way?

Seth: Not really. I figure my real life demons are bad enough without inventing new ones.

Jake: I wasn't superstitious either, until all the weird stuff that went down with Ashlyn and the numbers and her trances. Now I'm not so sure.

Describe your idea of the perfect date:

Seth: Swimming at the beach in the moonlight. Just Aphra and me, like the day we first met - only now there wouldn't be any secrets between us.

Jake: Already happened the day Ashlyn met me at the park. We played on the swings like little kids, shot hoops for a while, and then I played my guitar for her as the sun set.

What's one thing people don't know about you?

Seth: I could tell you, but then I'd have to kill you.

Jake: There's a reason why people don't the thing they don't know, so I'm not going to spill it here.

If you could invite one person to hang out with you on a deserted island, who would it be?

Seth: Aphra. Duh.

Jake: Ashlyn, of course.

What kind of chocolate best describes you?

Seth: Who makes up these questions? What's with the chocolate?

Jake: It's a girl thing. Just say dark. They like that.

Seth: Dark? Why?

Jake: It's a metaphor. Just go with it.

The freebie:

To be entered to win a signed copy of THE DEATH BY BIKINI MYSTERIES and a signed copy of TRANCE, leave a message below, describing your idea of the perfect date. This drawing will remain open until Wednesday, February 9.

Thursday, February 03, 2011

Winner and What's Up This Week

The winner of HEAD GAMES by Keri Mikulski is:

Cherie J

Please send your mailing instructions to gerb (@) lindagerber (.) com and we'll get that sent out to you. Everyone else, come on back tomorrow for a doubleheader freebie!

What else is going on today?

Snowpocalypse (Chicago Tribune) Here in Ohio, we're recovering from winter's one two punch - first an ice storm, then snow and high winds that knocked out power to over 10,000 of us. Not fun, but even though my driveway's been converted into an ice rink, we're lucky to have full power restored and school back on today. I know a lot in the Midwest didn't escape so easily. Check out the link for an eerie image of Chicago's Lake View Drive.

Conference Recap (SCBWI blog) If you're an SCBWI member and missed the Winter Conference, great recaps and a lot of wisdom to be found on their blog. Anyone planning on going to the LA conference in August? Drop me a note. I'll be there!

Authors in Egypt (SLJ) Hope they get home safely!

More on Egypt (Washington Post) Answering kids' questions

Books and Bullying (SLJ) It's a good list, but by no means complete.

Reading Black History (the Hub) More book suggestions.

Save our Libraries Day (The Guardian UK) We need one of these in the US!

More on e-books (PW) Amazon ups its edge.

Happy release week to: Valerie Sherrard (ACCOMPLICE and THE GLORY WIND), Roderick Gordon & Brian Williams (CLOSER: TUNNELS), Andrew Lane (DEATH CLOUD), Lauren Oliver (DELIRIUM), Mary Hooper (FALLEN GRACE), Jana Oliver (THE DEMON TRAPPER'S DAUGHTER), Joy Preble (HAUNTED), Tomas Mournian (HIDDEN), Emily Franklin & Brendan Halpin (JENNA & JONAH'S FAUXMANCE), Walter Dean Myers & Ross Workman (KICK), Kathleen Benner Duble (PHANTOMS IN THE SNOW), Michael Northrop (TRAPPED), Joan Bauer (CLOSE TO FAMOUS), Philana Marie Boles (GLITZ), Stacey Jay (THE LOCKET), Helen Bailey (RUNNING IN HEELS)!

This week's video link - because it's never too early to think Superbowl:

Tuesday, February 01, 2011

For Writers - Reasons for Not Quitting with Joanne Levy

Shhhh.... Today is another snow day and the kids are sleeping in. The longer they sleep, the more uninterrupted writing time I have.

I'm happy to welcome - very quietly - online pal Joanne Levy to the blog... and to congratulate her on her recent sale, SMALL MEDIUM AT LARGE to Bloomsbury Kids! **Soundlessly happy dancing!**

Here's the book blurb:

Lilah Bloom is just an average twelve year old. Or she was, until her regular life becomes not-so-regular when she gets hit by lightning and can suddenly hear dead people. Alienating the school's popular girl, helping her dead grandmother find her divorced Dad a new wife and saving the grade eight fashion show were not items on Lilah's seventh grade to-do list, but these are just some of the things she has to deal with now that she’s a medium. Oy!

And here's her bio:

Joanne Levy’s love of books began at a very early age. Being the youngest and the only female among four children, she was often left to her own devices and could frequently be found sitting in a quiet corner with her nose in a book.

After much teenage misadventure, Joanne eventually graduated from university and now spends her weekdays as an executive assistant at one of Canada’s big banks planning meetings and thwarting coffee emergencies. When Joanne isn’t working, she can usually be found at her computer, channeling her younger self into books.

Joanne still lives in Ontario with her husband and kids of the furred and feathered variety. You can follow Joanne on Twitter or find her on Facebook.

Joanne says:

"First off, I want to start with a big thank you to Linda for having me here. I met Linda for the first time a few years ago when I was in New York City for the Backspace Writers Conference. I knew that while I was in town, a group of authors was doing a signing at the amazing Books of Wonder bookstore, so I made a point of going. I had ‘met’ a few of the authors—including Linda—online through the Backspace member forum (sa membership I highly recommend – trust me, this resource is well worth the nominal membership fee). Anyway, Linda was at the signing and the conference as well and although we didn’t have a ton of time to chat, I saw right away that she is a great person and a generous soul who looks for ways to help other writers. Of course, you, as a reader of her awesome blog, already know this, but I wanted to say it anyway. Linda – you are amazing! (Note from Linda: *sniff* Aw, thanks, Joanne!)

Okay, so I’m here to talk about perseverance. I sometimes call it stubbornness, but whatever you want to call it, it means sticking with it no matter how hard it gets.

I can’t remember exactly when I started seriously writing for publication, but it was a long time ago—like over a decade. I sent out my first query letter in summer 2003 for my third completed novel. I signed with my first agent (on a different book) in fall of 2004. Unfortunately, that was only the beginning of my hard knocks lesson on ‘things can take a very long time in publishing’. I have been close a few times and have written a lot of books (16 complete novels to date) but it wasn’t until just last week that I finally got my first book deal. I have tried to tally up how many rejections I’ve gotten over the years from both agents and editors, but I stopped counting after it began to get a bit painful. I will tell you this, though, it’s over a thousand. That was not a typo: over a thousand.

You might be sitting there shaking your head, thinking, “Joanne? How could you possibly keep going after all that? Why didn’t you just quit?” I’ve often asked myself those questions and after a lot of thought, I’ve put my answers down in writing.

I call this list Joanne’s reasons for not quitting (despite wanting to, many, many times).

  1. I’m extremely stubborn and refuse to be denied something I really want. I also refuse to fail for lack of trying hard enough. I decided a long time ago that I really want to be published, so I just kept trying. I’ve never been the kind of person who waits around for stuff to just fall into my lap, so I kept writing and submitting and writing and submitting (and waiting and waiting and gnashing my teeth) and writing and submitting. I figure if I’m breathing, I can still try.
  2. I’ve never taken rejections personally. If someone rejects my work, they are rejecting my work. Not me. A rejection is merely a decline to take on your work; it is not a judgment on you as a human. Log the rejection and move on.
  3. My support group

a. My husband. He is the number one cheerleader in my life and if I ever did quit, I would feel like I let him down (even though he is behind me 100%, no matter what I decide, even if that means quitting). I never, ever want to feel like I let him down. Ever.

b. I made a lot, and I mean A LOT of awesome friends along the way. My tremendous support group of friends has been integral in keeping me sane over the years. I mean it when I say I couldn’t have made it this far without them. They have held me up when I was buckling under the feelings of complete failure, and have now danced with me when the good news finally came.

  1. I mostly write to entertain myself, because why else bother?
  2. I try to remember to take great pride in even the smallest successes like finishing a manuscript or making myself laugh when re-reading through a draft. This is a tough business. Really tough, and not for the faint-hearted, but that doesn’t mean there aren’t small joys along the way. Publication is not the only measure of success.

So now that I’ve officially done it and will be published, I guess can say it’s all paid off and I’m pretty darn thankful I didn’t quit after all. But I’m not done—I don’t just want to publish one book--I want to have a long career publishing many books. But I’ll get there. Because it’s something I really want and I’m still breathing."

This Week's Link roundup:


Layering Fiction (Writer Unboxed)

Creating Character Arcs (The Other Side of the Story)

Evolving Characters (Plot to Punctuation)

Characters in Denial (

Sensory Details (Quips and Tips)

13 Ways of Beginning a Novel (Beyond the Margins)

Read What You Write (Wordplay)

The Heroism of Revision (Editorial Anonymous)

How to Untangle a Plot (Alan Rinzler)

Don't be Fooled by Bad Writing Advice (Writer Unboxed)


Queries and American Idol (The Sharp Angle)

5 Things I Wish I Knew Before I Queried (Some Things I Think)

Querying the Cliche (Query Tracker)

How to Sub Queries & Fulls in the Digital Age (Jill Corcoran)

Why Did I Get Rejected? (Write Anything)

Writing & Writers:

Am I A Writer Yet? (Misanthropology 101)

3 Traits of an Author (Write to Done)

A Post For Procrastinators (YA Highway)

Find and Replace (Julie Musil) Short and excellent post.

Workshop announcement: FYI: Registration is now open for the online workshop I'll be teaching for Carolina Writers next month - Nancy Drew to You - Writing Mysteries for YA. Information about the workshop can be found here.

Now go! Write!