Category: Uncategorized

I’m taking a break….

I hate to do this, but I’m going to take a hiatus.

I have a manuscript that I’m pretty excited about and the holidays are coming, too.  Things are just going to be too hectic for me to write quality posts.  I don’t want to just throw anything up on the blog so that I keep up with my schedule.  So, here’s my plan:

I’m going to take a break until after the first of the new year.  Hopefully, by then, I’ll have more of my manuscript written and several young adult books under my belt.  Then, I hope to resume the blog in the way I originally intended: as book deconstructions in three parts.

I want to thank everyone who’s been reading my posts and I want to wish everyone a happy holidays!  I’ll see you after the first of the year with more reading and writing adventures to share!

Happy writing!






It’s not Friday, is it?  Crud!  I thought it was Thursday, which is lovely for my work week but not so awesome for my blog.  Sorry about that!  Have a great weekend and I’ll be back on Monday.

Happy Birthday To Me!!!

It’s my birthday.  I, unlike so many people, love birthdays.  In the words of my favorite philosopher, Dr. Seuss:

Today you are You, that is truer than true. There is no one alive who is Youer than You.

I decided to give myself the day off from my blog but I’ll be back on Wednesday bright and early to talk about the writing style of THE HAUNTING OF ALAIZABEL CRAY by Chris Wooding. In the meantime, please excuse me while I go on a birthday book-buying spree, compliments of Mom and Dad.

Some days, life is sweet. 🙂

That delicious morsel is brought to you by artist Theresa Thompson and I found it on Flickr.

How do you build a character?

I happen to think that building realistic characters is one of the hardest things that we do as writers.  People are so complicated.  They never act the way you think that they will but they always have a good reason why they do the things they do.

In the last book I was writing, my main character sprung fully formed from my head, like Athena.  I knew what her name was, what she looked like, and what she sounded like.  I’ll tell you what, that book had voice.  That was an enormous gift from the muse.  Now that I’m moving on to my next manuscript, I’m finding that when a character doesn’t just wander into your writing, it’s a real grind to build them yourself.

So, how do you go about building a character?  My process involves a lot of thinking before I write.  I brainstorm everything from socio-economic status to family dynamics to hobbies and motivations.  I imagine the person I’ve created–say, a sweet, sensitive art student– in a scene that I want in my book–say, slaying a dragon.  I ask myself, is this how my character would react in this situation?  Could I create a character arc that would make this a natural outcome?  If the answer is no, I tinker with the character.

Once the character is pretty solid in my head, I pick a name.  Oh. My. God.  I’m a nut about naming characters.  I form lists.  I have a baby name book…but that’s never enough names so I use the internet sites, too.  In my own defense, it really does give your character a little extra something when you pick the right name.  If I say, “Her name was Rosa Bellini,” do you get some sort of automatic mental image, even without a description?

And then, finally, I fine-tune as I write.  I find she needs to have a skill, I add it in with a short answer to how she got this skill.  Sometimes a characteristic comes out that I hadn’t planned.  When that happens I go with it, because it’s probably much more organic than anything I could have designed.

I’ve heard wonderful advice for how to make a character rounder and I’ve used several techniques.  One great idea that my beta reader gave me was having a written conversation with your character.  If you’re stuck at a point in your book, ask your character what she thinks she should do and let her answer you.  Write the conversation out on paper.  Sometimes it’s surprising the things you come up with when you come at it from that angle.  Another fabulous little exercise I got from agent Mary Kole’s blog is called 100 declarative sentences.  You write 100 declarative sentences about a character that you think is flat or undefined.  You’ll be so over the exercise by number 75 but your character will fill out.  It helps.  Trust me.

So, how do you build a character?  Do you use writing exercises?  Wait for divine inspiration?  Make complicated family histories?  How you figure out what makes your characters tick?

I just love the setting for THE HUNGER GAMES by Suzanne Collins.  The idea is that the United States have crumbled under the devastation of global climate change.  What remains is a magnificent capitol city ringed by twelve districts.  The districts, numbered one through twelve, grow progressively poorer and hungrier the higher their number.  Our protagonist, Katniss, lives in district twelve where they mine coal.  One of her allies in the Hunger Games, Rue, lives in district twelve, the agricultural district.  These areas are an echo of the past.  District twelve reminded me of nineteenth century coal mines.  The dark, stained streets.  Explosions that kill the miners.  People who grow old before their time.  District eleven was a throwback to antebellum plantations.  Children are not educated and they are whipped if they steal food.

In comparison, the capitol city seems like a whole different world.  The medial advances are staggering–almost magical.  Our protagonist lives in a skyscraper while she’s there (one with a force-field over the top to keep the teens from committing suicide) and travels by hovercraft.  The fashion seems to dictate that everyone have unnaturally colored hair.  However, if you look a little closer, you find historical reference that goes back even further.  Runaways from the districts become servants in the capitol and have their tongues removed–a punishment that harkens back to Biblical times.  When the hunger games begin, all they really are is a high-tech Coliseum with gladiator games.

I think it’s brilliant.  It meshes the darkest times in human history into one gripping setting.

One of the things I found really interesting about the characters in this book is that gender is almost meaningless in THE HUNGER GAMES.  Neither males nor females have any advantage in the games.  They compete against each other without any question of one of the genders having an unfair advantage.  And, in fact, when we get to the final four survivors in the games, there are two boys and two girls.

Even more interesting to me was that Katniss, the female protagonist, seems almost sexless.  And the same is true with her male counterpart Peeta.  In fact, you could easily exchange their roles and have Katness be the charming, cunning thinker while Peeta was the hot-headed fighter and nothing would be lost to the story.  Sure, there’s a romantic element.  And, every once in a while Katniss thinks fondly of a boy back home, but for the most part, gender is a complete non-issue in this book.  Which is why, even though the protagonist is female, I think this book would really appeal to male readers.

Another thing that I really loved about the character development is that each of the contenders in the hunger Games has a strength.  Not every strength is fighting, weapons, and violence.  Kaniss’s ally, Rue, is second to none at moving through the woods undetected.  Another character makes it through the games simply through cunning and thievery.  Peeta, who is no way a fighter, still manages to use his brains and charm to keep himself alive.  The oh-so-subtle message seems to be, “Know your strengths.  Play to you strengths.”  Whether in the hunger games, or in life, that’s pretty good advice.

I could go on and on about the characters.  The people in district twelve.  Katniss and Peeta’s stylists who help get them ready for television.  The other players, or tributes.  So many characters get a few sentences dedicated to them, and with just those few words, the character is cemented in my mind.  I could say the same thing with the setting.  It’s such a beautiful mix of dystopia, sci-fi, and historic references that I could probably just pick the setting to pieces.

Next time, I’m going to go on to the plotting.  It’s actually pretty straightforward, because the premise also works so wonderfully as a plot.  As soon as the readers hear about the Hunger Games, we know what inevitably must happen and can’t wait to find out how it ends.  So until then…

The next book I’d like to take a look at is SHIP BREAKER by Paolo Bacigalupi.  I had intended for my next book to be something light and “candy” but there was so much buzz about this release, I was curious.  So let me warn you: this is a heavy, dark, deeply themed book.  It’s definitely for the older young adult crowd and I think it could probably even be shelved in mainstream adult fiction.  It’s also a brilliant work of literature.

If you don’t know this (and I didn’t when I started reading SHIP BREAKER) ship breaking is a real profession.  It is the process of breaking down a ship that’s reached the end of its life for the scrap metal.  Although it used to be something done primarily in the United States and Europe, after the 1980’s it was recognized as a dangerous, unhealthy, and environmentally unsound practice.  Now, it’s done primarily in parts of Asia and the Middle East by people who risk their health for pennies an hour.  The practice is particularly common in Bangladesh and if you want to read more about this, I found a couple of articles here and here.

Enter Paolo Bacigalupi, author of THE WINDUP GIRL and PUMP SIX AND OTHER STORIES.  THE WINDUP GIRL, which came out last year, was his debut novel.  It won the Nebula Award and was nominated for a Hugo.  SHIP BREAKER came out last month and is his first young adult book.  I knew within the first couple of chapters that I was going to love this book and that it was going to break my heart.  It didn’t disappoint.

It’s the story of Nailer, a teen boy who works as a ship breaker on the Gulf of Mexico in a post-global warming world.  It’s a brutal environment. Children work the “light crew”–if they’re lucky enough to get the job–where they crawl through the filthy, sometimes toxic, ductwork of beached ships, stripping them of their copper wires.  Adults work the “heavy crew” where they strip the iron sheets.  Everyone is hoping for a “lucky strike”–some lucky break that is going to rescue them from this back-breaking existence.  Nailer gets just that; he finds a high-tech clipper ship stranded on his beach.  Inside is one survivor: a beautiful rich girl who is the only thing standing between him and the fortune this scavenge could bring.

There is a fairly extensive cast of unusual characters.  Aside from Nailer, the main character, there is Pima, his crew boss and best friend.  Also, there is the wealthy girl from the stranded clipper ship, who is called both Nita and “Lucky Girl”.  Striking a beautiful contrast in parenting is Sadna, Pima’s mother, and Richard Lopez, Nailer’s father.  Sadna is strong, capable, loyal, and loving.  Richard is a violent, greedy drug addict and acts as this book’s primary antagonist.  And finally, there is Tool, the half-man.  He’s a product of the genetic splicing of human and animal DNA–something that is commonly done in this far-future world and results in vicious and loyal servants.  Tool is an anomaly, in that he has no particular loyalty to any one human.

I’m looking forward to working on SHIP BREAKER. It was a very compelling adventure story with a message about the future of humanity.  So next time, I’ll tackle the characters and setting.  See you then!

I only intended to blog three days a week but I read something on another blog that I just had to pass on.

In an effort to raise money to help the flood victims in Tennessee, several well-known authors are putting together an on-line auction.  I was just on the site where the auction is taking place, and they’ve got some nifty stuff.  I’ve got my eye on a copy of the novel BREAK by Hannah Moskowitz that’s marked-up by the author.  OK….I’m pretty sure I won’t be able to afford it, but I have my eye on it.  Also literary agent Mary Kole is putting up a FULL MANUSCRIPT critique.  Seriously, that’s pretty amazing!

If you’d like to read about this, I got my information from Mary Kole’s blog.  You can check out her description of the event over there.  See you tomorrow!