Thursday, December 29, 2011

A Much-Needed Update and Looking Ahead to 2012

Hello readers! It has been a long ass time since I updated the ole blog. Much has happened, and I have updates to share. I hate that so much time has lapsed between entries. But as I've said before, working on my writing must come before blogging for me. Still, one of my resolutions for 2012 is to get back to blogging more regularly -- even if it's once a week. Even if it's just a weekly check-in and not book- or YA-related.

Belated news item #1 - I finished my first draft! I actually finished it on December 4th. It took me 4 months to complete, which was a little longer than I wanted, but still an acceptable amount of time. And it's done! But now comes the hard part, the part that separates the real writers from the wannabes: revisions. I've had a problem in the past with starting projects, completing first and second drafts, and then abandoning them. I refuse to let that happen with this manuscript.

Belated news item #2 - I'm working on a new project for this month only, a script. It fell into my lap unexpectedly. I can't reveal too much, but said project needs to be completed by the New Year. I'm writing the script now. It's amazing to think I only heard a vague idea for this project after Thanksgiving, and now I'm banging out a first draft. I usually never work that fast, and I'm proud of myself for hitting all previous deadlines thus far.

Writing Year in Review
A problem I keep having is when I look back, I see I've written a lot, but I have no material to show for it. 2011 had that same problem. The first half of the year was spent working on a second draft of a WIP that I soon aborted. I was trying to write something to get published rather than write something I loved. Also, my revision process was staggered and ultimately ill-conceived. I was having my writers group read 1-2 chapters/month, per our guidelines. Get critiqued in piecemeal did not work.

I decided to break one of my rules, succumb to Sexy New Idea syndrome, and look into starting a new WIP that I was passionate about, that I believed could show off my voice. And so far, so good. I began brainstorming the idea in late-May/June, worked on an outline in June/July, and began writing in August. I believe in this project, and unlike the others, I want to see it through to the end.

This year, I also started my blog and twitter feed (@FillupSeagull), and despite some gaps, I have kept it going and met lots of kind, supportive, talented writers.

So, at the end of 2011, I don't have a polished manuscript or screenplay to show around, but I remain optimistic for 2012. And this time, I'm learning from my mistakes.

2012 Resolutions

#1 - See It Through: I want to see through every WIP I start, specifically my new book. No more ditching projects after draft 1 or 2. I want a finished product. I will see this book through. I'm already taking action. After critiquing the beginning chapters by piecemeal for a few months, I'm having my writer's group read the entire novel over the holidays, and they are coming back with notes in mid-January. I won't have to sit idly and wait months for them to read the whole thing. I can take their feedback and get started on draft 2. I am limiting the number of writing projects to attempt this year down to two: this novel and a screenplay idea. In years past, I resolved to finished four different projects, and that never happened. I will focus on these two and see them through to finished products.

#2 - Get My Work Out There: For all the writing I've done over the years, I've barely shown my work to others. I kept telling myself that it wasn't good enough yet, that I needed to do another draft to get it to professional quality. I was holding myself back, paralyzed by fear, by so many articles telling aspiring writers to get their work absolutely 100% perfect before sending it out. Those articles were correct -- your work should be as good as you can make it -- but you shouldn't fixate so much that you never send anything out. I gave my writer's group a first draft to read, something I never would have done before! In the past, I would've held back, claiming that I'll complete a second draft -- work out all the major kinks -- before submitting to group. But who knows how long that would've taken, and frankly, who knows if I would've even completed draft 2?

I have also never queried an agent. Again, I kept telling myself that my work wasn't ready yet. And maybe it wasn't. But I should let other people tell me that sometimes. Rejection is part of the writing life, and it should be embraced. And who knows -- an agent may even like my work.

Besides completing the book, I want to get back to writing screenplays. I miss it. I stopped writing scripts once I moved to Chicago, convinced that a screenplay is impossible to sell when you don't live in LA. It is nearly impossible, but there are lots of contests I can enter. I've already found a few contests, including one right here in Chicago, where I can submit my as-yet-unwritten script. And again, who knows where this could lead. Writers must always be cautiously optimistic.

All in all, 2011 was a good year for me. I rekindled my passion for writing, and I'm excited about my goals for next year. By this time next year, I want to have queried/submitted a finished book/script while maintaining a normal schedule for my blog. I think that sounds reasonable. Do you, loyal readers?

Thursday, December 1, 2011

YOUNG ADULT the movie review

Last night,  I got to see a sneak preview of Young Adult, the new Charlize Theron comedy from the writer-director team behind Juno. There's been some buzz in the kidlitosphere, worry that Young Adult will portray people in our profession in a negative light - that we're writing about teens because we're immature, can't grow up. And that Charlize's character will grow up in the end, and choose to write adult novels to symbolize her maturity. NONE OF THAT HAPPENS.

Young Adult was a great movie. It's not what you expect. It's a dark comedy-drama, and it stays that way until the credits. Charlize Theron plays Mavis Gary, a rude, depressed thirty-something ghostwriter of a young adult series who decides to return to her hometown to win back her high school sweetheart Buddy (Patrick Wilson) - who happens to be married and a dad. When she isn't trying to seduce Buddy, she spends her time getting drunk with Matt, a high school classmate she never paid attention to. Her life peaked in high school, and she refuses to move on and grow up. She's an unlikable character, borderline pitiful, and she doesn't become a good person in the end. She does have an epiphany, but it's not what you expect, which I found refreshing. Mavis acted that way we wish we could act sometimes but never would. That may turn people off, but I appreciated that the filmmakers stuck to their guns and never veered into sentimental territory.

Through all this, I found the character fascinating to watch - a credit to the acting, writing, and directing. Charlize Theron is so good at playing bad, a trend she'll continue with Snow White and the Huntsman. The script was a step up from writer Diablo Cody's first film Juno. Unlike Juno, the characters were less verbose and witty, more natural sounding. She also used voiceover in a clever way. Director Jason Reitman gave the film a lived-in, unpolished feeling down to the omnipresence of chain stores, and he managed to wring humor from twisted characters and setups. He is now 4-for-4 with his films. If you haven't seen his first three films - Thank You For Smoking, Juno, and Up in the Air - netflix them now.

Young Adult does not discredit or disrespect young adult writers. It's not a commentary on authors or the genre - just Mavis, and she is an extreme example. She lives and acts like a teenager still, down to a messy room and drinking coke from the bottle first thing in the morning. Her young adult writing is a device the movie uses to explore the theme of growing up. She is stuck in the past, which is why she can't write about adults. Her YA series, which is getting canceled, is about catty girls at a prep school, very mid-2000s. Think The A-List, Private, Gossip Girl. The movie never makes the assumption that all YA writers are like this. It's only focusing on her arrested development.

Film and TV writers will identify more with Mavis than will YA authors. Most of them have left their small hometowns to make it big in NY/LA. They've gone on to try and be rich and famous while those they left behind got married, had kids, and live "boring" lives. However, the majority of YA authors I've read about and interact with are married with kids and live in the suburbs. Really, Young Adult is a semi-autobiographical movie about the screenwriter, Diablo Cody. Like Mavis Gary, Diablo lived in Minnesota, writes under a pseudonym (real name: Brooke Busey), moved to a big city (LA), made it big as a writer (hello, Oscar!), worked in the YA genre (she was hired to script a movie version of Sweet Valley High), is thirtysomething, was divorced, and was childless and unmarried until recently. (congrats on both!) She may have felt like a hotshot writer, but when she returned home and found her old classmates had less glamorous lives with a family in the burbs, did she have a pang of jealousy? The young adult publishing industry really seems like a cover for Hollywood, while allowing Cody to ruminate on growing up and not letting the past define you forever. And like I said, Mavis does not write adult novels in the end.

Overall, I loved Young Adult, and it's a shame movies like this are so rare. It has a strong shot of being nominated at the Golden Globes for Best Comedy and Best Actress - Comedy. Its box office prospects are decent. This is not a mainstream movie, so word-of-mouth may not reflect how the critics feel.

Young Adult opens December 16. Are you planning to see it?

Friday, November 11, 2011

10k Writing Challenge: Volume III

Here we go again!

Sarah at Empty White Pages and I are doing another 10k writing challenge this weekend - our third in three months! I know I need it. I've fallen woefully behind with my WIP. Work has been kicking my butt lately, and I have been too lazy haven't had the time to catch up on writing. In the month since my last 10k challenge, I've only knocked out a few thousand words - not awful, but not up to snuff for me, either. It's time for me to rev my engine.

If anyone's fallen behind with NaNoWriMo, this is a great opportunity to catch up!

I will be tracking my progress on twitter, as always. @FillupSeagull

How is everything doing with NaNoWriMo? Since I'm already in the middle of my WIP, I'm using NaNo as the impetus to finish my first draft. NaNoFinishMo?

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Team Buffy or Team Bella?

(In case the print is too small, under Bella it says: Edward, you watch me sleep at night, you treat me like a child, and you think about eating me for dinner. Under Buffy, it says: No guy is worth your life. Not ever.)

I have never read or seen either, so I don't have a dog in this fight. However, the infographic above is the main gripe I hear about Bella.


Now get back to writing, NaNoers! :)

Friday, October 28, 2011

Does YA Give You Body Dysmorphia

I recently finished a YA contemporary novel, a well-written coming-of-age story about a girl standing up for what she believes in and finding out who she is. I enjoyed the book, but the part that bugged me was her love interest: the blonde-haired, blue-eyed, preppy, built, cute boy. The most generic 'boy' stereotype across all media. And the girl protagonists in these stories usually believe they're dull-looking, yet still manage to attract the attention of the cute boy.

Why are these characters always so good-looking?

Our culture has a serious body image problem with no cure in sight. TV, movies, and magazines inundate us with impossible standards for male and female beauty: blonde, skinny, six packs, big boobs, long legs, no body hair, chiseled chin, etc. Women have it 100X worse than guys. In Hollywood, guys like Seth Rogen, Kevin James, and Woody Allen wind up with women like Katherine Heigl, Amber Valetta, and Diane Keaton. Guys can be schlubs, but women must always be stunning. Men have it rough, too. Every female-targeted romcom has the women ending up with some lockjawed, ripped dude. This has been going on forever. I know that. But why are books, especially YA novels, embracing these stereotypes, too?

TV and movies are visual media. They use hot actors to attract paying customers. Books don't need to use that trick. Readers don't pick up a book (with the exception of romance novels) because it's about attractive people. And if they start reading the book and find the main character isn't gorgeous, they don't automatically put it down. Teenagers are particularly insecure about their looks. I spent way too much time on my hair in high school; no wonder half of it's fallen out! Teens are bombarded all day by images of supposedly ideal body types. Why do we perpetuate those body types in YA books? Not all girls are attracted to the hot/dreamy guy, and not all guys are into the Heidi Montag look. If that were the case, then only supermodels would date. People have different ideas of what they find attractive. We should strive to write characters that have physical quirks to them - like actual teens. Let's not try to recreate a CW show. I'm sure readers will love your book even if the boy of your MC's dreams has unruly hair or a bony chest. And guy readers won't throw a book across the room if the girl love interest has blemishes or love handles. Don't save all odd body features for your side characters. I worry that many female protagonists in YA novels suffer from Laney Boggs syndrome: they think they're so ugly when it's glaringly obvious to the reader/whole world that they are total knockouts.
In Tina Fey's book Bossypants, she said that most successful shows centered around normal-looking, even slightly unattractive, casts. Friends was the exception. The casts of Cheers, The Office, Seinfeld, 30 Rock, and CSI among others are not filled with models. Whereas how many series with sexy casts got canceled?  *cough*Coupling*cough*

Believe it or not, there have been successful books with protagonists who don't fit the beauty mold. Skeeter Phelan of The Help was tall, lanky, flat-chested, and had embarrassingly frizzy hair. Katniss Everdeen had few discernible female features. She was kind of described as looking like Sandra Bullock in the first half of Miss Congeniality. Even down to the hairy legs. I know that readers love pining after the same guy/girl as the MC; that's part of the fun of reading a book. But you don't have to make them generically attractive. Create your own form of sexy. Leave the generic body types to Hollywood.

What do you think, readers? Is there a body image problem in YA?

Monday, October 17, 2011

Social Media Overload

Recently, Google+ opened the floodgates officially and now everyone can join yet another social media site. For months, I've seen other bloggers talking about Google+, putting the link in their sidebar, etc. A co-worker tried to sign me up for Google+ over the summer. I asked her why should I sign up for G+ over Facebook. "G+ is awesome. You can put people in circles." That wasn't reason enough for me. I told her plain and simple that I would only sign up for G+ if all of my friends left Facebook and joined. I'm such a trailblazer! I have nothing against G+, but I don't have the time or energy to join ANOTHER social media site. I'm already on Facebook and Twitter, and that feels like more than enough.

Agents love talking about platforms and social media presence. The quality of your writing is first and foremost, but online prowess is not far behind. I worry about this because I have limited mental bandwidth for the internet. I'm on Facebook and Twitter, but I don't use them religiously. I have a blog and blog friends, and try to post and comment regularly. To add Google+ to this list is daunting to me. What can G+ bring to the table that those other sites can't? I don't want to be overconnected. I can't be everywhere. I just have to admit to myself that I'll never be a social media maven. Will that make me less desirable to agents and publishers?

For all the authors who have a strong web presence like John Green and Brent Hartinger, there are plenty who don't who've sold lots of books. YA authors need to be online in some capacity, I think, since that's where their audience is. What do you think is the bare minimum of social media that authors should utilize?

Friday, October 14, 2011

Didn't You Know - All Professional Writers NaNoWriMo

Hello readers! I hope you had a great week! Last weekend, Sarah at Empty White Pages and I did another weekend writing challenge - Columbus Day edition, this time for 10k words. And we both did it! I was completely drained by Monday night, but I'm now 2/3 the way to my writing goal. I may actually hit that mark by Halloween, which a month ago I never would've thought possible. This was the second weekend writing challenge I completed in as many months, and something tells me it won't be the last.

But of course, the writing challenge that all writers are eagerly awaiting is NaNoWriMo - National Novel Writing Month. Your challenge, should you choose to accept it, is to write a 50,000 word novel during the month of November. Bloggers are already buzzing about the event, preparing their outlines, resting their hands. This year, I won't be participating since I'm knee deep in my current WIP, though I may crash some write-ins.

Many writers view NaNo as a fun exercise, a once-a-year excuse to write like a maniac. However, NaNo is more applicable to being a professional writer than they realize. Produced/published writers need to write fast. They must follow the golden rule of NaNo: always hit your deadline.

The best example of this are TV writers. They are constantly writing because they have X number of episodes that will air. It doesn't matter if they fall behind or get writer's block. Something HAS to air in that timeslot. You need to feed the beast. Last Sunday, I watched this special called South Park: 6 Days to Air. It went behind the scenes of making an episode of South Park. The staff had 6 days until their episode was set to air, and they had no idea what the show would be. It didn't matter. They had to meet that deadline. No excuses. So in 6 days, the writers brainstormed an idea, plotted it out, wrote the script, animated it, voiced it, revised, and combined it all together into a 30-minute episode.

Writers on sitcoms and dramas also must churn out scripts in a few weeks. When I worked in a writer's office for an hourlong drama years ago, the writers had fallen behind with their writing schedule. They'd hit plot roadblocks that took up more time solving than they anticipated. Could they push back the airdates of the episodes? NO. By the end, they were writing 60-page scripts in days. And you thought having a month to write wasn't enough time?

Screenwriters for movies have more time to write, but if studios are waiting for a draft, then they have to write. It's been said that John Hughes wrote Weird Science in two days and The Breakfast Club in three days. Joe Eszterhas wrote Basic Instinct in three days. Kevin Williamson churned out the script for Scream in less than a week. Lots of screenwriters have the luxury to take months or years to write their script, but they are usually not getting paid for it. They write their scripts on spec, and then hope to sell it, just like authors.

And just like authors, once somebody is paying you for your work, they will always impose deadlines. Publisher, movie studio, TV network. Publishers won't wait forever for revisions. As a first-time author, you want to impress them by meeting your deadline. Even for writers who self-publish, they have deadlines, too, set by their readers. Readers devour e-books rapidly, and they always want the next book now. Amanda Hocking famously sold a kajillion e-books in a year, but she put out nine in that span. If she had just written one, then taken a year to write her next novel, sales would have dropped.

So remember when it's November 28th, and you're only at 34,000 words, and you're thinking of throwing in the towel, keep on writing! Don't stop. Think of it as practice on your way to being a  published author. Anyone who pays you will always set a deadline, so get used to it.

Friday, October 7, 2011

Young Adult trailer!

For those who don't follow movies obsessively like I do, Paramount is releasing a movie called Young Adult this December about a YA writer who hasn't grown out of her bratty teenage phase. She goes back to her hometown in the hopes of winning back her old high school boyfriend - who's now a husband and father. The movie has great auspices: Charlize Theron, Diablo Cody, Jason Reitman. But I'm not sold on it yet. Diablo Cody is currently scripting a movie version of Sweet Valley High, and I think that's where her perception of YA literature is coming from. I don't think she has any idea how much YA lit has developed since then. I still remain hopeful. Reitman has not directed a bad film yet (Thank You for Smoking, Juno, Up in the Air).

What do you think?

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In other news, my writer's group read the first 6 chapters of my WIP and loved them! I've never gotten such a positive response from them. It was the inspiration I needed to continue plugging along with the second half of my book. Woohoo!

New Years Resolutions

Last week, I was home in NJ celebrating Rosh Hashanah (the Jewish New Year) with my family. September feels more like the start of a new year than January. School's starting up, new TV shows are premiering, the Oscar season is beginning, summer's over. Rosh Hashanah is celebrated the exact opposite way of New Year's Eve: no partying, no drinking, and all the action happens during the day in temple. Because the holiday falls so closely to my birthday, it gives me added reason to reflect on what I've done this past year. Another year gone by, and what progress have I made? 

I have made significant strides professionally and personally, but with writing, I feel like I'm in the same place I was a year ago. Each year, I keep saying things will be different. This year, I want to mean it. I realized that my big issue was not following through, not seeing my WIPs through multiple drafts. And this year, I intend to change that. I am currently working on manuscript #3. Will this be the one that lands me an agent and/or book deal? Who knows. But this will be the one that I keep revising and will eventually query. I'm not fixated on what the responses will be. I just want to get to that point already. I've read lots of author stories about writers querying too soon. But there are some of us that wait too long, crippled by doubt. This year, I will get over my fear of rejection and just send the darn thing out. And if it's a pile of rejections, then so be it. At least I'm in the game.

I am currently halfway through my WIP. Sadly, it seems that I will not participate in Nanowrimo this year. I'll just be finishing my first draft by November. Nano and I are just not meant to be. Which is a shame because I've always been so excited by it. So maybe this year, I'll sneak into a writing session.

Are any of you participating in Nanowrimo? Have any writing resolutions?

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

I'm Back! With Books!

It's like I fell off the face of the earth or something! I have not blogged in two weeks, and truth be told, I haven't even checked my blog in a few days. *Hangs head in shame* I missed the Second Challenge from Rach Writes and have missed out on tons of your great blog posts. To the writers in my group, I apologize for not checking out anyone's stories and not participating. For the past week, I've been home in Jersey visiting family and friends and celebrating Rosh Hashanah - the Jewish new year, which I will write about in another blog post.

While I was home, I visited a friend up in Boston for the day. We went to a book sale her library was having. But this was not just a little shelf on wheels with some 1980s pop fiction on it. This was a mega sale. Thousands of popular books on sale for twenty-five and fifty cents apiece. Or a whole shopping bag of books for $8. The library didn't open until 1pm, and there was already a mob waiting at the front doors by 12:45. It was like Wal-Mart on Black Friday. It was a great feeling, seeing people still excited about books. I said I was only going to get a book for the bus ride home, but I wound up with much more! I absolutely have no self-control around discounted books. My friend nearly cleaned out the children's and YA section, and is creating a library at her church's youth center. Here are the books that I gorged on and lugged back to Chicago. My suitcase came to 48 pounds!

A suitcase (half) full of books!

I was supposed to get a kindle this month, but obviously that's not happening. I've been hesitant to make the purchase, not because I'm such a fan of physical books, which I am. But a majority of books I read are taken directly from the bookshelves of friends. I love borrowing books and recommending mine to others. With a kindle, you can't do that, at least from what I've heard. When I go over someone's house, one of the first things I do is peruse his/her bookcase. I take pride in my bookcase, too. A bunch of the books I bought I've already read and thoroughly enjoyed, but I never owned a copy. Now I can reread and lend out my favorites. I will probably get a kindle sometime in the future - they're easier to read on a crowded subway car. You only need one hand! But for now, between these books and the ones I bought at Borders before they closed, I am set.

What about you readers? Kindle or Physical books? And do any of my books pique your interest?

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Cursing in YA

Kids love cursing. We want kids to read our books. Ergo, we should make our stories chock full of the seven dirty words. Right?

Well, that's up to you. Fantasy/sci-fi/dystopian novels generally have no cursing. It seems in scary, futuristic societies, people watch their language. And middle grade novels don't have any curse words because those readers are too young. Cursing seems to be an issue in contemporary YA. We want our books to feel real, and let's face it: real kids curse. But does that mean we need to use curse words in our books? 

The more serious your novel is, the more likely it is you will involve cursing. If you've written an issue-driven book about drugs, abuse, or violence, then chances are you will use dirty language to emphasize the scariness of a character, or the harsh reality of this world. But for regular, contemporary YA, I don't think cursing is needed unless it has a point. To this day, controversy surrounds teaching Catcher in the Rye in schools because Holden curses. Yet his cursing is viewed as a symbol of rebellion against the phony, upper-class society he inhabits.

Personally, I rarely curse, so I don't feel comfortable writing characters who drop f-bombs left and right. And when I read a YA book or watch a teen movie, I'm taken out of the story when the characters begin swearing excessively. Filmmakers like Quentin Tarantino and David Mamet LOVE swear words, but it's natural to their adult characters: mobsters, hitmen, gangsters, shady businessmen, angry power-crazed men. Some YA characters will curse more than others since it's part of their characters, like if they were lower-class or poor. But for a suburban teen, is it necessary?

To garner a PG-13 rating, a movie can only contain one f-word; any more, and it's instantly rated R. PG-rated films can only have maybe 1-3 s-words. G-rated films can't have anything filthy. When PG-13 movies cash in their f-bomb, they usually have a strong reason, i.e. the protagonist may be in a climactic fight. In She's All That, Laney Boggs shouts the infamous "Am I a bet? Am I a f--king bet?!" The f-word gives that line more power, makes it more jarring. For the most part, curse words are used sparingly, and that doesn't make audiences enjoy these movies any less. Luckily, books don't have that kind of censorship, but I think there should still be some responsibility on the author and editor's part not to take advantage and load up on swearing. Yes, kids swear, but that doesn't mean they won't enjoy a book with clean language. You don't need f--k and s--t to have your characters sound like real kids; you need them to have conflicting emotions and complexity.

I'll leave you with what my dad always said about swearing: The English language has hundreds of thousands of words. Why do you have to continually use the same 4 or 5?

What are your thoughts on cursing in YA? Do you have it in your story?

Monday, September 12, 2011

Go Team 9k!

I did it!!! I, along with Sarah at Empty White Pages, wrote 9000 words over one weekend. 9063 to be exact. Sarah put me to shame. She cranked out 9784 words by 5pm on Sunday. How awesome is that?? We took on my 9k Writing Challenge and won. I feel a great sense of accomplishment - I followed through on a goal and worked on my WIP. Those things don't happen as often as I like.

My favorite part of this exercise, though, was what I learned about my story, my writing, and myself. It had been a long while since I focused so intensely on a WIP. No work or other responsibilities to distract me. I was locked in my apartment with my WIP, and we did some major bonding. So I bring you 9 things I learned about this weekend:

  1. I work better at night. I wrote 5,889 words past 9:30pm, and 3,853 words past 11:30p. It felt like college, burning the midnight oil. I want to change myself to write early in the morning, though. I can't stay up until 2am writing when I have to be at the office seven hours later. 
  2. I don't know my characters well enough. Half of the reason for any writer's block I faced came because I didn't know how my characters would react or how they truly felt or what they wanted. I didn't know the minor details about them that fill the gaps between major events. I love to plot, and I realized that my characters are being driven by plot, not vice versa. At the same time, this challenge helped me get to know them better. But I still have work to do on this front.
  3. I stopped worrying about finding the best word. If I was stumped looking for the right word for a sentence, I didn't waste time thesauring or googling or smacking my forehead. I picked a lesser word and moved on. When I edit, then I'll obsess over one word. But right now, it's not worth it. 
  4. I need to work on my procrastination. On Friday night, I didn't begin writing until 10:30pm. On Sunday, I didn't sit down until 9:30pm. I could've finished by noon, but I procrastinated. Maybe I don't love writing at night so much as I am addicted to procrastinating. This has to stop.
  5. I think I use the same words over and over. The same expressions. How many times can someone burst out laughing, or shoot someone a nasty look? Maybe this is my writerly doubt kicking in. Do you ever feel like you use the same words over and over? Again, this is a problem for the editing stage, not first draft stage. What will combat this is to keep reading, expand my horizons, and learn from other writers.
  6. I have to push myself. Writers write. When I sat down to write on Saturday morning, I eeked out 700 words in two hours. It was slow going and painful. But I pushed on. I couldn't wait for inspiration to strike me. And soon enough, the words came faster. So if I'm feeling blocked, I won't stop. I will keep going.
  7. I wrote 9000 words in about twelve hours. That equals 750 words/hour. Not too bad. If I can write for 1.5-2 hours per day, then I can keep making progress on my WIP.
  8. I obsess too much over word count. I checked my word count repeatedly this weekend. I found myself doing a little cheating - writing wordy sentences, not using contractions. Unlike many writers, I worry that my book will be too short. But I need to stop overwriting to hit certain word goals. If my book comes up short, then that's a story problem. I need to write enough to complete the scene and then move on.
  9. I can't do it alone. I was so happy that Sarah agreed to this challenge with me. We emailed our progress back and forth, and knowing I had someone else in it with me kept me going. Tweeting my progress and receiving positive responses showed me I have support. I may have spent much of the weekend by myself, but I was not alone.
Overall, a great experience. I'll let you know if I do this again. Maybe next time, I'll try for 10k.

Friday, September 9, 2011

What I Learned This Summer

***Reminder. Tonight starts my 9k Weekend Writing Challenge. Keep up with my progress and give me a cyber kick in the pants if I'm falling behind on Twitter @FillupSeagull. You can also join the challenge. Details here.***

Who says you can't learn anything when school is out? I saw a bunch of movies this summer in lovely air-conditioned, popcorn-scented theaters across Chicago, and I learned some valuable lessons about writing that I would like to pass onto you, my casually loyal readers. Now that Summer 2011 is over (although technically it's not over until September 20th), let's look back at a summer box office filled with surprises:

Midnight in Paris = Just write!
This summer, Midnight in Paris became the highest-grossing film in writer/director Woody Allen's career. And you know how he's celebrating? By writing and directing his next film, which will be released in 2012. For the past 35 years, Woody Allen has made nearly one film a year, which is an unheard of rate. Some of his movies are hits, some are bombs. But no matter what, he keeps cranking them out. As writers, we must do the same. Always keep writing. Don't rest on your laurels. Don't wallow in your doubt. Not everything we write will be a masterpiece, but you have to write through the crap to reach the gold.

The Help, Bridesmaids = Stay true to yourself!
Both movies were humongous hits this summer, and as I said back in June, Bridesmaids, and now The Help, prove that not just teenage boys go to the movies. Both movies also featured behind the scenes talent who fought to get their vision on screen. Kristen Wiig and Annie Mumolo did not let Bridesmaids devolve into a trite, Kate Hudson-esque romcom. They fought to keep the raunchiness in there. They fought to let Wiig star. They fought to cast mostly unknown actresses. In the end, Bridesmaids shushed all doubters. Kathryn Stockett, writer of the novel The Help, said the movie could be made only if the studio let her childhood friend Tate Taylor write and direct. He had bought the movie rights to the book when it was an unpublished manuscript. (after 60 rejections!) Taylor had only one tiny independent film to his credit. He and Stockett also demanded that their close friend Octavia Spencer, the inspiration for Minnie, get to play the feisty character, too. Dreamworks, the studio, gave in and took a gamble, staying true to Taylor and Stockett's wishes. The Help has been #1 at the box office for 3 weeks running.

The Green Lantern, The Change-Up = Don't write what you think will sell!
Poor Ryan Reynolds. He was the punchline of the summer. Both of his starring films were huge bombs. A criticism of Lantern and Change-Up was that they seemed formulaic, chemically engineered to be hits, yet ultimately bland. The former had all the routine elements of a comic-book film: mythology, brand recognition, hero with inner demons, and lots of CGI. The latter came off as just another body-switch comedy that brought nothing new to the genre. They screamed "We want to make money!" which turned off audiences. When writing, don't write something just because you think it will sell. Write it because you want to. Most agents will tell you not to follow trends, and they are savvy enough to recognize a manuscript riddled with cliches.

Horrible Bosses, Bad Teacher = A great hook can go a long way!
I couldn't wait to see these R-rated comedies, and neither could millions of moviegoers. Horrible and Bad had fun, catchy titles that stood out on the marquee in a sea of sequels and nebulous titles (Super 8, I'm looking at you). The hook for Horrible Bosses - 3 men plot to kill each other's bosses - was the best of the summer. I didn't like Bosses, but the hook and title drew me in. When agents sift through thousands of queries a year, and readers scan thousands of books in stores and online, a sharp title and nifty hook can go a long way in making you stand out from the clutter. Don't just assume that your novel will speak for itself.

Transformers 3, Kung Fu Panda 2, Pirates 4, Cars 2, etc = Crap happens, get over it!
Yes, crappy movies still get made and they still make a lot of money. Crappy memoirs from "celebrities" still get published and still receive higher marketing budgets than 100 of your favorite YA books. Get over it.  There will always be lousy books and movies. This is a business after all. All you can do is focus on writing a good book. And if it has series potential, then even better.

What were your favorite movies of this summer? My favorites were Bad Teacher, Rise of the Planet of the Apes, and, despite the title, I loved Super 8.

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Nineowrimo - 9K Challenge for 9/9

I had read on Chandler Craig's awesome blog Fumbling with Fiction about 10K Writing Challenges. She and her writer buddy Jen Hayley challenged and motivated each other to crank out 10,000 words in a single weekend. After a busy, fun-filled (but writing deficient) August, this weekend I look forward to staying in - and catching up on my WIP. (Remember in July when I said I was going to crank out a first draft in a month...oh, you do remember?...crap...)

Since this Friday is 9/9, I am going to challenge myself to write 9,000 words this weekend. Ridiculous? Possibly. Insane? You bet!

Now who's with me???

I will be live-tweeting my endeavor (@FillupSeagull) We can spur each other on throughout the weekend, commiserate about falling behind, but then cyberhug and cheer when we pull ahead. After a summer where some of us were sidetracked, let's use this weekend to get back into the swing of things, build some momentum and make some progress on our WIPs. It will be fun fun fun!

Ok, NOW who's with me???

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Campaign Challenge #1

It's that time, folks. Campaign challenge numero uno. As stated on Rach Writes...

Write a short story/flash fiction story in 200 words or less, excluding the title. It can be in any format, including a poem. Begin the story with the words, “The door swung open” These four words will be included in the word count.

If you want to give yourself an added challenge (optional), use the same beginning words and end with the words: "the door swung shut." (also included in the word count)

For those who want an even greater challenge, make your story 200 words EXACTLY!

 I've never done flash fiction or writing prompts like this, but I enjoyed myself, and I enjoyed reading others. These challenges strengthen my editing skills. I'm amazed by how much I can cut and still have my story make sense. I love that four little words can inspire writers to go in a million different directions. I actually wrote a different flash fiction story for this exercise, but right before I posted, I abandoned it and wrote something else from scratch.

Without further adieu (and at exactly 200 words long)

I Am Woman. Hear Me Pee.

The door swung open, and Lacey entered a brave new world: the men’s room. For years, she watched men file in and out while she suffered on line for the ladies’ room. She finally had it.

She crept past the lineup of synchronized pissers at the urinals. The lights flickered; intermission was ending. She spotted a row of stalls; her bladder rumbled with excitement. Even the seat was down - a sign from above!

“You can’t be in here!” An old man said, cane pointing. Other men craned their heads, but kept peeing.

“This is the men’s room,” a guy wearing a pink scarf said.

“I…” Lacey’s face reddened. “I’m sorry.”

“Get out!” The old man yelled.

She glanced at the toilet. Her heart ached for the women outside who couldn’t enjoy this embarrassment of riches. Centuries of injustices endured by previous generations flooded her mind.

“No!”  She could feel the spirits of Gloria Steinem, Billie Jean King, and Susan B. Anthony surrounding her. “I am going to the bathroom, and if you have a problem with that, then you get out!”

With that, Lacey lifted her head high, marched into that stall, and smiled as the door swung shut.

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

I'm a Platform-Building Campaigner!

Like so many awesome bloggers I follow, I have decided to join the Platform-Building Campaign hosted by Rachael Harrie at Rach Writes... which focuses on building my online presence. After reading agent and writer blogs for the past 2+ years, I decided to jump into the madness three months ago with A Time to Phil. No longer on the sidelines, I'm getting used to balancing my time between blogging and actual writing as well as keeping my blog updated (it's like feeding the beast!), but I love it! I'm still very new to the blogging world, and I'm excited to meet and learn from my fellow bloggers. The writers I've interacted with thus far have been awesome, and I can't wait to meet more.

I'm in two groups: MG/YA (3) and Contemporary/Mainstream Fiction (1). I'm the guy without a head in his pictures because I chose auto-crop.

I look forward to campaigning!

Friday, August 26, 2011

Do You Have Enough Time to Write?

Nobody has set hours to write. Most of us have to squeeze it in between work, family, and sleeping. I try to write during my 20-minute commute to work if I can grab a seat on the train. Aside from that, a problem I face is not having enough time to write for a session. I may have 15 minutes here or there, but it's not enough to sit down and write. It can take a few minutes to get into writing mode, and then just as I'm getting into a scene, my time is up. But recently, I've had a change of heart.

Do I not have enough time to write? Or do I tell myself I don't have enough time to write?

Convincing myself I don't have time to write is like a reverse-psychology procrastination method. Yes, writing in 10-15 minute spurts is not ideal, but we don't live in an ideal world. A writer writes. Period. End of sentence. I've read about lots of aspiring authors who write while waiting to pick their kids up from school, in the waiting room, in traffic. They may only have 5 minutes, but they do it. Two nights ago, I was cooking dinner, still had not written. But I had 10 minutes left until my food was ready. And I decided to find out what I could accomplish in those 600 seconds. Surprisingly, a lot! Maybe not as much as I could in 2 hours, but more than I assumed. In fact, because I had limited time, I didn't have time to waste to "get into writing mode." Even though my actual writing time was short, those 10 minutes got my creative wheels spinning so that when I returned to my WIP later that night, I could jump in where I left off. It's like exercise - even a few minutes a day of it has beneficial effects for hours afterwards.

When you think about it, if you add up all those 5-10 sessions during a day, you come out with some decent writing time. And when you publish your novel and people ask how you managed to do it between job/family/other, you can say with a smile "Oh, I just wrote a few minutes here on the train, a few minutes there in the doctor waiting room, and whalla! I had a novel!"

What is the shortest amount of time you've had to write and where were you?

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Sparkfest! aka Thank You Amy, Lois, Caroline, Cecily, James, and Kody

I am participating in Sparkfest 2011, brought to you by The Writer Coaster. I couldn't participate in the Star Trek blogfest also happening since I have never watched the show. But I have seen Galaxy Quest. Does that count??

For this blogfest, Christine Tyler @ Writer Coaster asked us the following:
What book made you realize you were doomed to be a writer? 
What author set off that spark of inspiration for your current Work in Progress?
Or, Is there a book or author that changed your world view?

I thought about this for a while. I wish there was one moment, one writer that provided the spark for me to write. I've wanted to write ever since I was a kid, unlike every other author in the universe... :) It was a steady stream of movies, TV shows, and books that gave me the enthusiasm to pursue writing.  

Amy Heckerling - Clueless
I've watched tons of movies and am known as somewhat of a movie buff. Clueless, however, will always be my favorite movie. Even though it is loved the world over, I still feel that it's underrated. The screenplay is one of the best in modern movie times. It's true! If any aspiring screenwriters are reading this, Clueless is a paragon of voiceover usage, and its dialogue is flawless - revealing, true to character, doesn't try to be cutesy (cough *Juno* cough), and darn funny. I've watched this movie around 13242 times, and I can probably quote it start to finish for you, if you'd like. The spirit of Clueless hangs over everything I write, and I aspire to write something 1/26th as good as Heckerling's movie.

Caroline B. Cooney - The Face on the Milk Carton
Lois Duncan - Killing Mr. Griffin, I Know What You Did Last Summer
My comments section blew up when I posted about I Know What You Did Last Summer the book. For good reason. I was a couch potato in middle school, but when I did read for fun, I read Cooney's and Duncan's books. Their hooks drew me in - what if you received mysterious letters taunting you about a deadly secret, what if you saw your face on a missing child poster, what if some students plotted to kill their nasty English teacher. They made reading fun for me, and their twisty, suspenseful novels provided the spark for many of my early short stories. Even today, these books still hold up. 

Cecily von Ziegesar - Gossip Girl
On a 2004 flight from London to New York, I needed a book to read to pass the time. I had heard about this hot new young adult series and decided to give it a shot. It would be a fun read for the flight. And I was hooked. I read five books in this addictive series about spoiled New York teens. (I stopped when the plots got too ridiculous and repetitive) This series inspired me to write YA. I read it and thought, "Hey I can totally write something like this." It was sharp, snarky, risque, fresh -- a notable difference from the YA of my childhood. Gossip Girl seems passe now, its references to the Hilton sisters and brand-name labels a quaint reminder of Bush-era excess. But YA had grown up, and I wanted to ride the wave. 

James Frey - A Million Little Pieces
Say what you will about the veracity of the story, but this is a compelling, well-written book. I read A Million Little Pieces post-scandal, when I suddenly found myself unemployed and didn't know when I'd get back on my feet. It was fall 2007, and I was trying to make a career writing in television with no luck. The book gave me hope and reassured me that no matter what happens, it will be ok. I reexamined the type of writing I wanted to pursue after reading it, and a few weeks later, I began my first attempt at writing a novel.

Kody Keplinger - The DUFF
I'm just not that into paranormal romance. I have full respect for writers and readers of those books, but I am simply not one of them. My genre of choice is regular contemporary. It can difficult for me to find the kind of books out there that I want to write. The Duff restored my faith in the genre. I count is as my "I wish I wrote that" novel. It gave me hope that these issue-with-a-lowercase-i books can get published and find an audience - in TV terms, a Dawson Leery can survive in a world of Edward Cullens.

All of these authors inspire me in some way, their influence molding together to give me a swift kick in the butt with my writing. Who inspires you?

***p.s. Follow me on Twitter --> @FillupSeagull ***

Monday, August 22, 2011

I Fear for the Hunger Games movie

Note to Hollywood: The Hunger Games trilogy is NOT the new Twilight.

I loved the first Hunger Games book, and I'm not alone. And I'm not alone in anticipating the movie adaptation. But the more information I read about the movie, the more I worry that I'm going to be extremely unhappy with the finished product. It was fun to speculate on the director and cast. (I always imagined Lenny Kravitz as Cinna!) Yet I think the movie is getting too much exposure from the media, especially Entertainment Weekly. They've already had two covers dedicated to The Hunger Games - and the movie is still shooting! Photos from the set have trickled out to mainstream websites. It's beginning to feel like overkill. I know the movie biz has changed; fans are more invested in certain properties starting at the pre-production stage. (I don't get why people were so up in arms about a brunette being cast as Peeta. Could you not watch the film if he didn't have blond hair?) Some of us want to be surprised when we walk into theater, not know every detail of the script, story, special effects. I want small glimpses and teases, and I think The Hunger Games production is borderline guilty of oversharing.

Now, all that will be forgiven if the movie turns out to be incredible. The producers just have to remember that Hunger Games is not Twilight. I'm get the feeling that they are pushing the Katniss-Gale-Peeta love triangle. To me, that was one of the weakest parts of the trilogy. This is a series about war and man's cruelty towards each other; it's not about what boy Katniss wants to date. I am dreading the day when I see girls wearing Team Gale or Teem Peeta shirts. I get it. Twilight has been a huge success. The Hunger Games appeals to a similar audience. Lionsgate (the studio behind the movie) wants to make boatloads of money. Ergo, Hollywood is viewing Hunger Games as the new Twilight. Romance was a natural element in Twilight; it was the crux of the story. But in The Hunger Games, it's a subplot. In the first book, it's hardly developed. I don't want the director to pander to the Twilight crowd. I want them to make a thrilling, suspensful, cunning movie.

Hollywood has an obsession with franchises and pre-sold concepts. (you did hear that they're releasing a movie based on the board game Battleship starring Rihanna, right?) Now that Harry Potter and Twilight are ending, all eyes are turning to The Hunger Games to be the next big thing. I don't want the movie to carry such lofty expectations. Just because it's garnering heaps of advanced press doesn't mean it will be a blockbuster. It may not reach the heights of those two. Will that automatically make it a bomb? And just because Harry Potter and Twilight split the last books into two parts doesn't mean Mockingjay deserves the same treatment. Those books were split just to milk more money out of the series. I don't think Mockingjay has enough material to warrant two films. Let's be honest: the first half dragged. I wonder how they will make an entire movie out of it.

Do you think The Hunger Games movie is getting too much exposure? And do you want them to beef up the romance part?

***and now you can follow me on Twitter --> @FillupSeagull ***

Friday, August 19, 2011

Overdue Shoutouts

My mother taught me to always thank someone when they give you a gift. This month, I was fortunate enough to receive two Liebster awards from Julia Hones and E.R. King, and I never said a proper thank you! So here it goes:

Thank you thank you thank you this is awesome thank you thank you!! Or as Alanis says, Thank U

For those who haven't visited Julia or ER's blogs, I strongly recommend you check them out.

Julia likes to write short stories, which is a nice change-up in our YA world. She also gets up every morning at 5:30 to write. I'm in awe. I wish I had that willpower. For those in editing mode, she has a great checklist to use when rereading your story. In honor of Julia, I'm posting a scene of another Julia - Roberts, that is, from one of my all-time favorites My Best Friend's Wedding. You are definitely not Jell-O.

If you don't know who E.R. King is, then you obviously are new to the kidlitosphere. Her blog is aptly-named Get Busy Writing, and busy she is. She puts more passion and energy into blogging than anyone I know - posting regularly, writing hilarious comments on everyone's blog, starting series like Blogger Mentor Mondays. I know she's going to get an agent and publish tons of books someday! So in honor of her, and her pen name, here is the theme song to ER (which I always think of when I see her pen name):

(I just learned how to embed videos. can you tell?)

Thank you again ladies!

also sidenote -- I'm on Twitter! The Twitter link wasn't working on my blog, but my handle is @FillupSeagull  I know I should use something more professional, but I'm not ready to retire it just yet. Feel free to follow me, and let me know your Twitter handles in the comments so that I can follow you.

Have a good weekend!

Monday, August 15, 2011

Goodbye Borders

Hello readers! I apologize for my absence. Life gets in the way. My parents came into town last weekend, work picked up this week, and this weekend I helped on my friend's film shoot. I stalled on my WIP, but I am pushing myself back on the wagon!

The Borders next to my office is in the middle of its goodbye firesale. I've taken to swinging by once a week on my lunch break to check out what the discounts are. You can read a million blog posts about what Borders closing means to publishing. I will spare you another one.  I love wandering through bookstores. I love the smell of new books. I find the whole setting inspiring. Skimming the titles on the shelves and their first pages always made me want to write or create reading lists in my head. Bookstores were a fun place to hang out when I was younger, to meet up friends or just hang out. I wonder where kids today hang out. There are no record stores, no video stores, and now very few bookstores. Do they hang out at Starbucks? I feel bad for kids today.

I also feel bad for Borders. The store has been insanely busy every since it began liquidating. Where were these people before? But each time I've walked through the store these past few weeks, the same sad thought runs through my head: I understand why they are going out of business. I peruse the front covers and first pages as a book lover and writer. But I check out the price sticker on the back like a consumer. Books are expensive. When did that happen?

It's hard to justify paying $25 for a book, especially in a recession. Most people only read a book once, then either pass it along or add it to their bookshelf. People who buy DVD's will watch that movie several times, and as the market shrunk, the price of DVD's came down drastically. I feel like the opposite happened with books. One of my friends said she'll only buy a book if it will impress people who peruse her bookcase. A lot of my cash-strapped friends and I just rent from the library. I love borrowing books from my friends and vice versa. Someone told me she goes to goodwill to buy books for a dollar because they have a decent selection. Every time I go into Borders, the prices have dropped, and I keep telling myself that I will buy a book. But it never happens. I still can't justify $10-15 for a paperback. I ask myself if I need to buy it, or if I can just get it from a library or friend. I can justify paying $10 to see a movie because I enjoy the moviegoing experience on top of the actual movie. It's an evening activity. Consumers are better bargain hunters today. Our dollar has less value but has to go further. Stores like Wal-Mart and Target - and the internet! - have trained us to search out low prices. As I walked through the aisles at Borders, I got the feeling that they were still operating like it's 1999. I know there are financial reasons behind book prices - bookstores get a cut, publishers get a cut, the author gets whatever is left over. Publishers can't charge a dollar for books. I just find it strange that in these times when bookstores and publishing and families across America are hurting, Borders prices have remained exactly the same, which make them seem steeper than a decade ago. In their music section, I saw CD's priced at $20 and laughed to myself. Do you think that books seem too expensive today?

Every time I look at the shelves at Borders or any bookstore, I always think of how much hard work went into each book. Pick any random novel in the fiction section, and that author and editor works for years to get it perfect. It's a shame that our society does not value art like it used to; now cost is paramount in the consumer's mind. It's sad, but that's the world we live in, and we just have to deal with it. Musicians today know they aren't going to make money off their albums. They've found other ways to generate income: tours, merchandise, endorsements, TV shows, clothing lines, perfumes.
 What do you think the corresponding revenue streams will be for authors in the future?

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Novel Film Blogfest - Day 2

This is part 2 for the Novel Films Blogfest hosted by Madeleine at Scribble and Edit . You can check out part 1 here.

For today's post, I am going to talk to you about a rare occurrence: sometimes, the movie is better then the book.

This doesn't happen often. Movies by their very nature are forced to condense and simplify in order to fit into a 2-hour time period and appeal to mass audiences. Books can delve into characters. They can take their sweet time revealing the story. It's a more personal medium than movies - you and your imagination vs. you and a theater full of strangers. Of all the books I've read that've been adapted into movies, I have always enjoyed the book more. Except once.

The Devil Wears Prada movie far exceeded the book. It hewed closely to the book's plot - smart, non girly-girl Andie Sachs (Anne Hathaway) gets a job working as assistant to Miranda Priestley (Meryl Streep), the demanding, crazy editor of fashion magazine Runway, and she must perform outrageous tasks to keep her boss happy. Both book and movie were huge hits; the movie single-handedly kept female-driven films afloat for a time.

So what made the movie better than the book?

The book was a roman a clef by Lauren Weisberger, the former assistant to Anna Wintour, legendary editor of Vogue. It was pretty much 400 pages of the author saying "I'm so smart. These people in fashion are so stupid. Look how stupid they're being. Read about the ludicrous things they do and say. My boss is a crazy bitch. Why am I here?" The movie managed to convey the outlandishness of Runway magazine and Miranda Priestley, while also making us understand the world of fashion. In both book and movie, Andie, a wannabe serious journalist, is totally out of place at a fashion magazine. She guides the reader/audience through the ridiculous world of couture. In the book, she constantly demeans this world; her views never change. In the movie, she learns what the big deal is all about. She has a discussion with Nigel, Miranda's right-hand man, about how people at Runway think they're curing cancer or something. He tells her that some of the "greatest artists of the last century have walked these halls," that fashion is the best kind of art because "you live your life in it." I thought that was such a profound statement. (And for the record, I have very little fashion sense and most of my wardrobe cost under $10.) Up until that point, I had the same views on fashion as Andie. But then I got it. I understood why people were so enraptured with this world, why they would spend so much money on a shirt, why they dress for work like they're walking a runway. They get to be curators everyday. A scene or two before that, Andie gets eviscerated in a fashion meeting by Miranda for snickering over a life-or-death decision about which blue belt to use. In a brilliant minute-long monologue, Miranda tells her how the decisions made on the runway and at Runway affect every single person, down to bargain shoppers like herself.
The epic scene:
(p.s. for you Lost fans, that's Charlotte Staples-Lewis in the beginning!)

In less than 5 minutes, the movie managed to give credence and respect to the fashion world - something the book refused to do.

Secondly, the movie humanized Miranda. We saw that she neglected her family in order to get ahead, and she wound up paying the price. Again, Meryl Streep has another great scene when Miranda learns she is getting a divorce. The scene is very true to her character -- not sappy, just blunt and calm. Miranda came off as demanding and mean just like in the book, but in the movie, she also was shown to be a very knowledgeable editor. We understand why she's at the top. In that cerulean sweater scene, as in another scene when she's at a meeting discussing the new issue, she comes off as smart and savvy. We may not like Miranda, but we sure respect her. The author of the book, probably with an ax to grind, portrayed her as one-dimensional, leaving out the respect part.

Finally, and most importantly, the movie centered around the struggle between your personal and professional life - a real issue with which many people can empathize. The book just wanted to make fun of the fashion world. There is a place for that type of expose. I won't sit here and tell you that the book was unreadable. It was a fun, light read. But the movie dug deeper. It took great pains to find out what makes these people tick. It dared to make us understand the lunacy of high fashion and empathize with a character as seemingly evil as Miranda Priestley. That's why in this special case, the movie was infinitely better than the book.

How about you, readers? Are there any movies out there that you thought were better than the book? And if you haven't seen The Devil Wears Prada, rent it!

Monday, August 1, 2011

Novel Film Blogfest - Day 1

I guess it's technically Night 1. Er...sorry for the delay with this post! I am blogging as part of Scribble and Edit's Novel Film Blogfest...

I warn you. My list of titles that I have both seen and read is not long. I established a rule a few years ago not to read the book after I see the movie. Election is one of my favorite movies. It's also one of the best movies of the past 20 years, but that's another blog post for another time. I had decided to read the book, since I loved the movie so much. And much to my dismay, the two are very dissimilar. The premise is the same, but not much else. The Tracy and Mr. M in the book didn't sound at all like Reese Witherspoon and Matthew Broderick. In short, I hated the book. I found it dull.

The best part about reading a book is using your imagination to fill in the gaps - visualizing a character in your head, picturing the setting. But a movie does that for you. Tracy in the book was not like Tracy in the movie, among other differences, and that made it difficult for me to enjoy the novel on its own terms. So from then on, I would not let myself go back and read books if I'd already seen the movie. Currently, I am actually breaking that rule. I picked up The First Wives Club at a thrift store en route to the beach because it was the only book they had that seemed interesting. Even though I'm picturing the actresses in the 3 main roles, I'm working hard to not think of the movie and remembering that the two are separate entities.

Without further ado, my small list of books and movies I have both read (and there's probably a few I may be forgetting):

The Devil Wears Prada
Along Came a Spider
Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants
The Time Machine
Pride and Prejudice (the Keira Knightley version)
The Bonfire of the Vanities
I Know What You Did Last Summer
Gossip Girl (this is a TV show)
The Rules of Attraction
The Help (I will see this movie when it comes out in 11 days)
Bringing Down the House (movie version: 21, not the Steve Martin/Queen Latifah movie)
In Cold Blood (movie: Capote)

Thursday, July 28, 2011

I Read the Movie Part 2: Options

Welcome back for Part 2! As I discussed in Part 1, before your book is turned into a movie, coverage is written on it. Now, if you do receive a coveted Recommend from the reader, your book could be optioned!

But don't pop the champagne just yet.

Some books get turned into movies, but most do not. Well, many books get optioned, but most do not make it to production. An option is where a producer will purchase the rights to your book or script for a set period of time, and if he/she cannot get it produced during that period, then the rights revert back to you. It's like a leasing a car. Most options last a year, sometimes longer. If in that time the producer pulls together the resources to make the movie, then he will full-on buy the rights to your book. Option payments vary, but I've heard of them being as low as a couple thousand. If your book is bought, though, that goes for a minimum of six figures. (for major studios)

From what I've seen, every book that gets acquired will get published. In the film industry, the vast majority of scripts that get bought never get made. I'd say 90%. Why would a studio purchase 10 scripts and only produce 1 of them? The film industry looks at this as Research and Development. The same way companies spend millions on R&D, creating prototypes that never make it to shelves, so do producers buy or option scripts.

Most producers have options on multiple books/scripts at a time, increasing their odds to get at least one of them produced. Why lease and not buy? These producers do not have the funds to purchase your book rights, let alone produce the movie. They have to wait for financing, either from a larger movie studio (Disney, Paramount, Sony, WB) or from independent sources. When a movie studio "greenlights" a film, they are giving the producer the money to put the script into production. It can take YEARS to get to this point, and most projects never make it this far. Thus, if a producer options your book, it is by no means a guarantee that a movie will get made. Now, there are big-time producers with a discretionary fund. Think Jerry Bruckheimer. They can buy your book's rights without a greenlight because they have millions of dollars at their disposal. But it's still not guaranteed to get produced.

It's easier for books to get optioned, but harder to get produced. Movie studios are risk-averse; they want pre-existing properties or projects with a built-in audience. Hence the flood of remakes, sequels, and comic book movies at your local multiplex. A producer will option your book in the hopes that it's a bestseller, but if doesn't make much noise, then it loses incentive to get produced. Paramount and 20th Century Fox both had options on Twilight but passed.

Producers may option your book, but if your MC can't be played by a star, then it probably won't get made. Mega-successful books like Harry Potter and The Help are the exception because they didn't need starpower to sell tickets. But a producer usually needs a star or director attached to the project in order to get greenlit. It's tough for YA because our current talent pool is so limited. If you can't imagine your MC being played by Selena Gomez or Taylor Lautner, then it will be hard to convince a studio to pump millions of dollars into the movie.

Note: These rules also apply for turning books into TV series for the most part. Alloy Entertainment, the book packaging firm behind Gossip Girl and Pretty Little Liars, has its own production wing. They deal directly with networks to bring their books to the air. So if you sell a book series to them, then your odds increase significantly to get your book made into a series.

And if you are super-duper lucky enough to have your book produced, understand that once the studio buys the rights, what happens next is out of your hands - unless your last name is Rowling. I doubt Tom Wolfe expected Hollywood to turn his beloved novel Bonfire of the Vanities into one of the most reviled films of all time. And I'll bet when Susan Orlean sold the film rights to The Orchard Thief, she was not expecting Adaptation.

I'm sorry if these 2 posts seem negative. The film/TV industry can be very confusing, and I'd rather have writers be educated so they know what to expect if they're ever in this position. Books do get optioned and produced into movies all the time, so there is hope. But now you'll understand if nothing comes of it. It's not you. It's not your book. The film industry is a different beast from the publishing industry. So while we all fantasize about watching the movie/TV adaptation of a book we wrote, just focus on the writing part. It's the only part you can control.

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

I Read the Movie Part 1: Coverage

First off, I would like to apologize for my sporadic posting and sporadic comment responding. Work has gotten busy, and that has to take precedence. I will still continue to post weekly, though my output may only be 1-2 times/week for now. Thanks for reading!

Most of us (myself included) like to picture the film version of our book before we've finished the first draft. "Who would play your MC in the movie?" is a fun game. We've been raised on TV and movies. My instinct is to always visualize a scene before I write it. Yet like most things in the world of publishing, it's a fantasy followed by a harsh reality. Some books get turned into movies; most do not. It can be frustrating for authors who don't know the film development process. There are countless authors who have been wooed by Hollywood, who have received offers to bring their book to the screen, but nothing ever comes of it. It's frustrating. The world of books and movies are very different. Books get published, but movies get developed.

The first step in bringing your book to the screen is coverage. All books get covered, even the bestsellers. See, in Hollywood, nobody likes to read. So instead of reading the book, they'll read coverage. Coverage is a 2-3-page form that condenses all of the book's necessary elements into an easy-to-peruse format. Coverage varies from place to place, but they are comprised of key elements:
  • Book's title and auspices (author, publisher, date of publication, agent, # of pages)
  • Logline (one-sentence summary) of the book
  • 4-sentence summary of the entire book's plot
  • 1-2-page synopsis of the plot
  • 1/2-1 page of comments from the reader
  • A chart where plot, characters, and writing style are graded on a scale of Excellent-Poor or 1-5 (see example at the top)
  • Final recommendation from the reader: Pass, Consider, Consider with reservations, or Recommend
That is what your book is funneled down to in the end. Like I said, in Hollywood, nobody likes to read. Producers and studios will hire professional readers to read scripts and books and write coverage. But what's more common is the producer's assistant or intern will write the coverage. I interned for a production company while in college, and that's what they had me do every day. I was 19 and had taken one screenwriting class at that point, and I was the gatekeeper for scripts and books. Not all, though. There were several scripts and books that come into the company that went straight to the producer's assistant. But in all cases, coverage was written. If the coverage said recommend, then the producer would read the script. However, as you can imagine, it's rare for a book to get a "recommend." Readers hand those out sparingly because they reflect on their taste. If a reader recommends a script that the producer hates, then said reader's abilities will be brought into question, and he may lose his job. It's easier to say no than to say yes.

Don't be cry if your book's rights are not bought. Your book may be great, but it may not be marketable. And the film industry's version of marketable is much more stringent than publishing's. Many agents and producers say that they need to visualize the poster before they will produce the script. Cars 2 was made just for merchandising sales. The problem is your book may have some of those tricky "unmarketable" elements like depth, complex characters, or emotional ambiguity. I wouldn't take it personally.

Come back next time for Part 2, where I will discuss what happens if your book is lucky enough to get optioned.

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Taking the First Draft Plunge

How do you know when you're ready to start your first draft? That's a question currently running through my mind.

Tonight, I am meeting with my writer's group to discuss my revised outline for my WIP. People in the group submit material once a month to be critiqued. Last month, I brought in the first draft of my outline. I received excellent feedback and realized that it needed work before I could begin the first draft. I believe this new draft is much stronger, and I'm hoping the group feels the same way. My goal is to begin writing the first draft of the manuscript beginning this weekend, fingers crossed that I get a thumbs up from the group.

I am a hardcore plotter. I like to get my outline as tight as possible before writing. It's easier to fix structural and character problems in a 10-page outline than a 300-page book. But I also want to start writing the first draft NOW. I'm excited about my book, excited to begin writing, and I don't want to lose this momentum. And no matter how strong my outline is, there will always be problems that need to be addressed. Right now, I'm not sure if it's better to keep preparing or to let this excitement carry me into the first draft. Thus, my question remains: how do you know when you're ready to begin your first draft?

Plotters and pantsers face this quandry. For the former group, we need to get to that point where we're secure with our outline before plunging into writing. For me, starting the first draft is the point of no return. I can't rush it. Two years ago, I tried participating in Nanowrimo, but I couldn't make it past the first page. I wasn't ready yet. Pantsers, you guys also deal with this issue. You have to reach a point where you're ready to put the idea swirling around in your head onto paper. How do you know when you're ready?

I need to feel that mixture of excitement, confidence, and impatience in order to start my first draft. And I'm feeling it! I've prepped all I can. I am confident in my outline. This story needs to come out of me now. Ultimately, I can only prep and outline so much. After that, I just have to take the plunge.

My insane goal: To have a first draft completed by Labor Day. I'm calling it Augowrimo.
My sensible goal: To have a first draft completed by Halloween. You know, in case that thing called life gets in the way.

I'm usually wary of talking publicly about my writing goals in case I can't live up to expectations. But I am taking a stand of solidarity with my blogging buddies who have been open about their progress. Maybe if I hold myself accountable to you, that *may* help motivate me.

So how do you know when you're ready to being your first draft?

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Hey, what's that over there!

I am guest posting on Literary Rambles today! Check out my tip of the week. Casey and Natalie's blog is a great resource for writers, so definitely poke around there if you haven't been previously.

And welcome new followers!

Monday, July 18, 2011

Would I Ever Self-Publish?

(Like Chantele @ My Writing Bug, Warning: Personal Post)

If you had asked me that question a year ago, I would've said "B*tch, please." But now...the answer is yes. I would. That doesn't mean I will right now. But I'm no longer ruling it out.

Self-publishing always had a "kick me" sign taped to its back. It was linked to vanity publishing, which seemed to me like the publishing version of a ponzi scheme. People who self-published were thought of as those not good enough to get an agent and be traditionally published. However, over the past year, from what I've seen, the tide has turned. We've reached, or are about to reach, a Tipping Point. (a book everyone should read) The moment I realized that self-publishing was legitimate was when I read about Amanda Hocking. Her story is an anomaly, just like Stephanie Meyer is an anomaly in traditional publishing. But then I began reading about other authors who were making money from selling e-books. Not six-figure salaries, but a decent chunk of change. I'm not trying to get published to become rich and famous. I want to write books that people I'm not related to can read and enjoy, and earn some money while doing it. Not a fortune, more like what I made at my high school job as an usher.

 From what I've seen, genre works and series are most conducive to self-publishing. I can see myself writing a series. I did want to be a TV writer at one point because I love serialized storytelling. The stigma attached to self-publishing is fading away. Don't get me wrong: I do want to get an agent and be traditionally published. I still believe in traditional publishing. They provide an array of services to bring books to the market like publicists and typesetters, jobs I couldn't do while working a full-time job. Agents and editors do a great job as gatekeepers; they are better read than me, and they believe in great writing. But if I cannot find an agent, I think self-publishing would be a viable option for me. In my eyes, the taboo has been lifted. You may not feel the same way. This isn't a blanket statement about the industry. This is just my opinion as an aspiring writer.

With self-publishing, I now have a plan B if I cannot find representation. The world is no longer "Find Agent or Bust." It's nice knowing that if all else fails, I can use e-books as an outlet for my books and that real people could buy them. It sounds like you have to treat it like your own small business. Secondly, I don't have to worry about writing to fit a market. Many of us have ideas for novels that straddle multiple genres or don't fit in perfectly with any of them. The first book I tried to write took place in college, but then I was told that there isn't a market for college-set books. I tried to write the book in a prep school with lackluster results. If I ever chose to self-publish, I wouldn't have to worry about where it fits in the market. There may be an audience for genre-straddlers. Or nobody could buy the book, but at least I would find that out for myself.

I don't know if I just shot myself in the foot with this post. As I said before, I still believe in traditional publishing, and I will try to get my book published through that route. But if that plan doesn't work out, then I would consider self-publishing in the future. Of course, first I have to finish a book before I cross any of these bridges. How about you? Do you think you would ever consider self-publishing?

Thursday, July 14, 2011

3-Act Structure – More like 4-Act Structure

When I write, I adhere strictly to 3-act structure. I come from a screenwriting background where my professors and books like Syd Field’s Screenplay drilled structure into my brain. But I love it. I am huge proponent of 3-act structure. A plotter to the core. The only pantser part of me is that I wear them occasionally. However, I actually use 4-act structure. I split the middle act in half, which is what happens in 3-act structure anyway. The middle is very daunting. Once your characters enter a new world, they muddle through and stuff happens until the visit to death/end of the world/new plan for Act 3 comeback. That’s a lot of pages to fill in the meantime – 60 pages of script and untold pages of manuscript.

I always prefer breaking down a large task into a bunch of smaller steps, and that’s what I do here. The 2nd act was meant to be split in half at the midpoint. At the midpoint, your MC’s mission changes. They have more clarity and now they know what they must do. My professor would reference the midpoint of Gone with the Wind: Scarlet O’Hara raises her fist in the air and exclaims “As G-d is my witness, I will never be hungry again!” Your MC should have a moment like that (maybe not as histrionic).

At the midpoint, your MC should be used to his/her new world. If you’ve ever seen fish-out-of-water movies, the first half shows the MC adjusting making culture-clash mistakes. By the midpoint, those jokes stop and their mission shifts. Next time you watch a movie, pause it at the 1 hour mark. See if you notice a shift in the story.

Some examples:
-Hunger Games: When Katniss first gets to Panem, her mission is to survive and figure out her world. Halfway through, she becomes used to the games and life in the arena. Now, she begins plotting. Her goal is no longer to survive; it’s to win.
-Pride & Prejudice: [SPOILER ALERT] At the midpoint, Mr. Darcy confesses his love to Elizabeth Bennett, and she rejects him. She spent the first half of the book detesting him, and now she realizes that she likes him and made a horrible mistake. As G-d is her witness, she will get him back.
-King’s Speech – At first, Bertie is getting used to Logue’s unorthodox methods. He’s learning to speak properly. At the midpoint, his brother abdicates the throne, making Bertie king on the eve of WWII. Now, as G-d as his witness, he will learn to be a leader and give a reassuring speech to his citizens.
-Legally Blonde – When Elle Woods goes to Harvard, the first half of Act 2 focuses on her getting adjusted and fitting in. Total fish-out-of-water. But then she gets used to it. She has a cool montage where she types at a computer and raises her hand a lot. At the midpoint, she gets selected for Callahan’s internship. Now the mission is getting Brooke Wyndham acquitted of murdering her husband.
-Lost – It’s rare for a TV series to have a midpoint, but Lost had one at the end of the third season. I won’t ruin it for anyone, but if you’ve watched the series, then you know what moment I’m talking about. The moment the changed the show forever.

Can you think of any examples of the midpoint in books or movies?  Also, how do you keep the middle chunk of your story moving?