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Monday, February 28, 2011

5 Steps to Mindful Writing

Mindfulness is the idea of becoming aware of our mind; we notice when it wanders and strive to bring it back to the task at hand.  Mindfulness is all about being present and living fully in the moment.

Recently, I've been thinking a lot about mindfulness and its connection to writing.   In particular, how can we as writers, improve our writing practice by being more present in the moment?  Here are 5 steps I've discovered that bring me to more mindful writing. 

1)  Show up at the page.  This is the "being present" part of mindfulness practice.  It might seem like a no-brainer, but you can't write if you don't actually show up at the page.  These days it's so easy to putter around and "look busy."  You can tweet or post on Facebook that you're writing.  You can hang out with writing friends and talk about how you're going to write.  You can do lots of things instead of writing, but if you don't actually pull out your pen and paper to write, you won't get any writing done.  It's that simple.

2)  Be aware.  Are you feeling overly judgmental about the current project?  Are you loving your idea a little too much?  Is your inner critic gnashing at the bit?  Notice your emotional impulses (especially fears and worries) as you write, then set them aside and keep writing. 

Tip:  I keep a worry jar on my desk where I write my fears on a slip of paper and put it in the jar.  This way, I get them out of my head and put them away for safe-keeping so that I can keep writing. 

3)  Draw on your Wise Mind.  Wise Mind is where Emotional Mind and Rational Mind intersect.  Wise Mind is where you find the resources to write mindfully and push forward in your work.  When you write, your Rational Mind might be worried about pragmatics: how tough it is to get published and why you should be researching potential agents before you write your book.  Your Emotional Mind will probably focus on emotions like: What's the use?  Whatever you write will never be perfect so why bother?

Wise mind is the part of you that tells the other two to shush.  It's the part of your mind that acknowledges that both Rational Mind and Emotional Mind do have a point but that they're not right about everything.  Yes you need to know something about the business, but if you don't write, you won't have anything to sell.  And maybe your book won't be perfect, but you can work at it and make it better, as long as you put words on the page in the first place.

4)  Sit with your discomfort (for a little while).  I hate mindfulness exercises.  I fidget too much and can't keep still.  My left knee is always bouncing and I have a nervous tick where I start to laugh if I think people are looking at me.  Still, I make myself do them because I know it's important.   I do my best to sit with my discomfort for a while, until it starts to melt away.

The same is true for writing.  I used to have this knee-jerk reaction whenever writing something would get hard: I'd start writing something else.  Now I force myself to sit with the uncomfortable project for a little while, to see if my decision to set it aside is one of pragmatics (the project just isn't feasible) or based on my own discomfort.  If the latter, I try to work through the discomfort.

5) Practice, practice, practice.  This comes back to showing up at the page.  The goal with mindfulness isn't to be aware of every thought every minute of the day.  The point is to be able to turn on the "mindful" switch and become aware when you need to be.  The same is true for writing.  You need to practice getting "in the zone" so that eventually you will be able to do it on command.

Contrary to popular belief, the brain is a muscle and you need to work it often.  As you become more accustomed to switching on this level of awareness--this mindfulness--you'll be able to do it whenever your writing needs a boost.

Saturday, February 26, 2011

My Funny Valentine Winner!

Hello Dear Friends of iggi!

I just realized that the contest for My Funny Valentine closed yesterday and I completely forgot to post the winner this morning!  I'm so sorry to keep you waiting.  (Note to self: don't move apartments the week you're running a contest on the blog.)

Without further delay... (drum roll, please)... the winner is...

Prof. Bragg with his Oedipal Ode (in haiku form)!

CONGRATULATIONS!!! *throws confetti*

Prof. Bragg--Please email me with your info(name and address) so I can get that gift card to you.

Thank you to everyone who participated for giving me so many smiles.  You guys are the best!

Have a lovely weekend everyone!

Friday, February 25, 2011

YA Cafe: Separation Anxiety

Welcome Back to YA Cafe, where book lovers can gather and chat about teen literature.  I'm your barista, along with Ghenet from All About Them Words.

Each Friday we pick from a menu of topics and share our thoughts on our respective blogs.  We've also got plans brewing for interviews, events and even some exciting giveaways, so stay tuned!  Join the discussion by responding in the comments, on your own blogs or on twitter using the hash tag #yacafe.

Today's Special is: Why Contemporary YA Rocks!

Have you been in a Barnes & Noble store lately?  A few months ago, I was browsing my favorite section (teen, duh) and was stunned to discover that they had re-shelved the books into new sub-genres.  There was one huge shelf for Teen Paranormal Romance, one for Teen Fantasy and Adventure and one shelf labeled Teen, which I'm assuming was supposed to house "everything else."

Am I the only person in the world who is horrified by this idea?

For starters, I have serious doubts about separating teen literature from the general fiction section because this type of division does nothing more than imply value judgments as to some books being "real literature" and some being "just for teens."  Not to mention that there are so many books that cross the teen-adult barrier, it's hard to know what to do with these books.  Do we shelve them in both sections?  Make an executive decision?  There are some countries where teen literature and adult literature are shelved together and it seems to work just fine.  What is it with our American culture that makes us want to quarantine teen literature in its own special section?

And now, the largest book chain is also dividing teen literature according to sub-genres.  I suppose I can see the sales motivation behind this idea.  Paranormal romance and teen fantasy are really hot right now, so why not make it easy for teens to find the books they really want to read, right?


When all sub-genres of Teen Fiction were shelved together, there was a good chance that readers looking for some paranormal teen stuff would also come across a "quieter" contemporary book or something historical.  Maybe a reluctant reader who fell in love with books because of Stephanie Meyer's Twilight Saga, will discover Carolyn Mackler's books (for instance The Earth, My Butt, and Other Big Round Things).  These books are also about teens and romance, and would be shelved right nearby to boot.

It also goes both ways.  Just like a fantasy-reader might pick up a piece of contemporary YA because it's right next to Twilight on the shelf, there may also be a teen who reads only contemporary YA but would be drawn to a work of fantasy while browsing.  But now that the books are separated by genre in the teen section, the likelihood of that happening are next to nil.

And while I love fantasy and dystopian YA and even some paranormal romance, I also believe we have to respect the contemporaries.  These books show us life as it is in the here and now.  The stories aren't set in some crazy futuristic world and people don't have magic powers.  In fact, the magic of contemporary YA comes from seeing ourselves (or our teen selves) in the stories.

In the end, separating genres within the teen section seems ridiculous to me.  In fact, it seems almost dangerous.  Personally, I don't believe in separating books by genre or age-group.  Who's to say that some books are for kids of one age and not for kids of another?  The minute you start separating books or limiting access to certain books, you're only a small step away from banning them altogether.

This is why, in my new home, I have decided to shelve all works of fiction and narrative non-fiction (from all genres and age groups) mixed together.  I've alphabetized by author's last name, but that is for pragmatic reasons only (so I can actually find the books I'm looking for without having to tear apart the whole house).  I have E. B. White's Charlotte's Web right next to Walt Whitman's Leaves of Grass.  I have Virgil (translations and original Latin text) on the shelf next to Rachel Vail's Brilliant.

By putting all my books of all genres together, I like to think I'm taking one tiny step toward conceptualizing genres as equal, rather than "separate but equal." (Based on history, we all know how well "separate but equal" turned out in the past.  Why, oh why can't we humans ever learn?)  OK, so I may not be able change the world with one bookshelf, but it's a start.

What do you think?  Should books be separated by genre or age group?

Still craving more jolts of YA-licious java?  Fellow barista, Ghenet shares her thoughts on her blog: All About Them Words.  Check it out, then tell us why you love contemporary YA!

BONUS!  To celebrate today's topic we're giving away a signed copy of a seriously awesome piece of contemporary YA literature: Sara Zarr's Story of a Girl.  Ghenet and I got a chance to meet Sara Zarr at the SCBWI conference and she was so inspiring.  Here's a picture of us with her:

Details about the contest...

 All you have to do to enter the contest is fill out the form either below.  You'll get extra entries for leaving comments here or on About Them Words.  Deadline is next Wednesday, March 2nd at 11:59PM EST. We'll announce the winner in next week's YA Cafe post. Good luck!

Thursday, February 24, 2011

Protecting Your Ideas

Let's suppose you have this super-amazing, sparkly idea and you know it's a winner and you realize you have to copyright it right now.  (After all you don't want someone to steal your super-amazing, sparkly idea, right?)  You call up a lawyer friend and ask what you need to do to copyright your super-amazing, sparkly idea and lawyer friend says:
"You can't copyright an idea."

Your heart sinks.  It seems so unfair!  Your idea is so super-amazing and sparkly, someone's bound to steal it and make gazillions.  Why can't you protect your idea?

Here are two things to remember:

1) You can protect your idea.  It's called a trade secret, so as long as you don't spill the secret, it's protected.  If you want to protect your idea, zip the lip.

2) The idea is not the book.  We've talked about what makes ideas unique and one of the most important things to remember is that ideas are not books.  You could have two books with very similar ideas and yet the execution of the concept turns out to be completely different.  This is true in works outside of literature too.


Dracula vs. Twilight
These two books couldn't be more different.  But, if you strip away all the peripheral details, the idea behind these books is strangely similar.

Boy meets girl.
Boy obsesses over girl.
Turns out boy's a vampire.

Antz vs. A Bug's Life
Anyone who's ever seen both of these movies knows that while the concept is the same, the execution couldn't be more different.  Even looking at the DVD covers you get a sense that these are two very different movies.

In the end, it all comes down to this: ideas are not books.  Books are books.  If you're worried about protecting the idea for your book before you've written the whole thing, then you need to keep the details secret until you're done writing.

Keep in mind, though, that even if someone does have an idea that's vaguely similar to yours, they will never be able to execute the idea quite the same way you will and that's where you're protected by copyright.  While you can't copyright an idea, you can copyright the expression of an idea.  Once you've written the book, you can copyright that book as an expression of that original idea.

Up next week: Infringement (stealing someone's expression of an idea) and Derivative Works (work that is derived from other copyrighted work)

Any questions?  I'M planning a Q&A post with lawyer hubby in a few weeks, so if you've got any questions you want to ask, email them to me and I'll get those answers.

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Notes on the Whereabouts of iggi

Dear Friends!

Just a quick update to let you know that iggi and I will be away from the blog for a few days.  We're still in the midst of unpacking madness so we won't be able to do our Tuesday or Wednesday posts this week.  Fear not!  "Legally Speaking" (usually scheduled for Tuesday) will be here on Thursday and Friday we'll still be having YA Cafe. 

In the meantime, check out these awesome finalists for the "My Funny Valentine" contest and vote for your pick (voting booth is in the sidebar).

Until Thursday, I'll be missing you all terribly, but I promise I'll be back to my usual posting schedule soon!

Hugs n' Bunnies,

Monday, February 21, 2011

Announcing the "My Funny Valentine" Finalists

Before I announce the finalists, I just wanted to say thank you to everyone who entered the contest.  This was a really tough choice and I was seriously tempted (especially early on when we only had a handful of contestants) to call everyone a finalist and let the voters make the tough choice.

It was so hard to choose, because all the valentines were so funny and unique.  In the end, what helped me decide was that element of surprise.  All the valentines I chose as finalists are ones where the pair is unexpected in some way.  A love letter from Dr. Jekyll to his evil alter-self.  A sweet valentine from a Tigger who just wants to be part of the family.  A letter of friendship from Dobby to the wizard who gave him his freedom.  And I couldn't resist a haiku from Oedipus' Mom to her son/husband/whatever he is.

Please vote for one of these fabulous finalists!

Patti Struble:  From Dr. Jekyll to Mr. Hyde
Kemendraugh: From Tigger to Kanga
Dave Symonds: To Harry Potter, From Dobby the Free Elf 
Prof. Bragg: An Oedipal Ode (in haiku form)

The Voting Booth will be open momentarily (see the sidebar) and will stay open until 11:59pm EST on Friday, February 25.  (Any votes posted after that time will not be counted.)

We're all mature human beings, so I'll be using an honor system here.  This means only one vote per person, OK?  But definitely feel free to help spread the word and tell your friends to vote!  I will tally the votes and announce the winner next Saturday.

Good luck to all!

Recap of Finalists:

Patti Struble:  From Dr. Jekyll to Mr. Hyde

You left the milk on the table,
I did not put it away.
I was not able.

You tossed the laundry,
Broke the vase.
You even jumped up
On my work-space.

Still, you brought me yet another gift.
Half-beaten man from over the rift.

Now the lab’s all a-twitter,
We, we’re not quitters.

His heart will go; lungs & brain too.
For these gifts, I give to you.

          * * * * *

Kemendraugh: From Tigger to Kanga

I don't have a mama, and I'm not Roo.
But I sure love bouncing in on you!
You guys are my family. Like it or not.
And you're the best family I ever did got.
I can't write much, and I can't spell more
That doesn't matter, it's you I adore
I want you to know you're special today
Well, you're special all days but this day especially special, okay?
So here's a valentine's ditty
Because you're quite pretty
To Kanga (and Roo the little pest)
(I didn't mean that I just needed it to rhyme.
(Poets say things like that all of the time)
Like I said, Kanga, and Roo the pest.
Poems is what Tiggers do best!

          * * * * *

Dave Symonds: To Harry Potter, From Dobby the Free Elf

To Harry Potter

Dobby is extremely fond
Of Harry and his waving wand.
And Dobby always gave support
As Harry fought Lord Voldemort

While at the Malfoy’s alma mater
He was freed by Harry Potter
Luscious Malfoy was in shock
When Dobby got that dirty sock

Although Dobby is a goner
Dobby feels it was an honor
Helping Harry to the end
As a free elf and his friend

Your friend
- Dobby the Free Elf

          * * * * *

Prof. Bragg: (an Oedipal ode in haiku form)

Love found after love
Grief and misery remain
Baby Man of mine 

Saturday, February 19, 2011

My Funny Valentine Finalists Coming Soon!

Dearest Friends of iggi!

I am so sorry I haven't announced the finalists and set up the poll for my Valentines Contest just yet.  You see, I moved houses yesterday and in my semi-delusional state I actually thought I'd have oodles of time this weekend to review the contest entries and figure out the poll widget-thingy.  Alas, we don't have our internet set up so I'm borrowing some to write this message.  I guess living out of boxes is not conducive to one's efficiency so please forgive my tardiness.

But don't fret!  I will be posting the finalists by the end of the day on Monday and I'll be leaving the poll open until Friday so all the participants will have plenty of time to tell their friends and get votes!

In the meantime, please send some sanity-filled-happy-unpacking-vibes our way.  I'm doing fine but iggi's a bit out of sorts without his usual writing fix.

Friday, February 18, 2011

YA Cafe: The Teen-10

Welcome Back to YA Cafe, where book lovers can gather and chat about teen literature.  I'm your barista, along with Ghenet from All About Them Words.

Each Friday we pick from a menu of topics and share our thoughts on our respective blogs.  We've also got plans brewing for interviews, events and even some exciting giveaways, so stay tuned!  Join the discussion by responding in the comments, on your own blogs or on twitter using the hash tag #yacafe.

Today's Special is: The Teen-10

What's the Teen-10 you ask?  This is the list of my absolute favorite 10 books from teen literature.  These are the books that affected me so much, I can't imagine what life was like before I read them.  One of these books I read just a few months ago so I guess you can say my life wasn't completely whole until this past November.  (And yes, I do have a flare for the melodramatic.  Can't you tell?)  Here it is... the moment you've been anxiously awaiting.  *drum roll*

Gabi's Teen-10 
Listed in order of ranking on my oh-so-scientific scale:
LOL<------>Super Suspenseful<------>Total Tearjerker

I am a Genius of Unspeakable Evil and I Want to Be Your Class President (Josh Lieb)  An evil mastermind running for eighth grade class president?  Hilarious!  This kid has such a great voice, it cracks me up.  Some readers might also not fully appreciate the voice, but chances are that's because they're just not smart enough to appreciate the sheer genius that is this book (and this character).  Then again, it's easy to overlook genius in its own time.

The Earth, My Butt and Other Big Round Things (Carolyn Mackler)
A funny, heartfelt book about a girl who's struggling to live up to the unrelenting standards of her seemingly perfect family.  It was a tough call between this book by Carolyn Mackler and two of her others (Vegan Virgin Valentine and Tangled) but I chose this one for my Teen-10 because it's the one that spoke to me on the most personal level.  Anyone who's ever felt a little too fat or not good enough will relate to this heroine.

Geektastic (Holly Black and Cecil Castellucci)
This collection of short stories captures geekdom on all it's geekish levels.  Geektastic has all sorts of geeky goodness represented here--from trekkies and techies--the stories are written by bona fide members of the "nerd herd."  Why I love this book: first there's the sheer inspiration factor; being a geek doesn't condemn you to a lifetime of awkward loneliness (these writers are living proof).  Second (in number but not in awesomeness) this book intermingles short stories with super-funny comics.  What's not to love?

Feed (M. T. Anderson)
Feed is one of my favorite books of all time and it most definitely wins the prize for best first line in a novel EVER.  I can't think of what else to tell you that won't seem meaningless, because no summary can do justice to the awesome that is this book.  But I'll try.  Here goes.  Imagine a world where everyone has the internet pumped directly into their brains.  Sound scary?  Maybe because it's not too far from being reality.

The Looking Glass Wars (Frank Beddor) 
Alice in Wonderland meets Star Wars.  If you don't find that unbelievably awesome, you need to get your head examined.  'nuff said.

What I Saw and How I Lied (Judy Blundell)
When I read What I Saw and How I Lied I read it practically in one gulp because I couldn't put it down.  Now, let me just say this... with all interwebby awesome out there and reruns of Law and Order on just about every cable channel, the temptation to put a book down is pretty big.  But this book grabbed me by the scruff of the neck and would not let me go.

Ice (Sarah Beth Durst)
Who would have thought a book entitled Ice would be so warm, heartfelt and passionate?  The relationship between Cassie and Bear is loving, sexy, and real.  I love how this book combines elements from so many different genres and styles; it has the flavor of a folktale with the structure of a fairytale and the strong-yet-vulnerable female protagonist of contemporary YA.  A breath-taking book.

True Believer (Virginia Euwer Wolff)
Of course I had to include a verse novel on this list because verse novels are among my favorites.  This book makes my Teen-10 because when I read True Believer (book 2 in the Make Lemonade series), I detested it.  I thought it was sappy and silly and ridiculous.  The thing is, when a book makes me feel so viscerally against it, I often have to go back and take a second look.  In this case, I decided to go back and read book 1 in the series (Make Lemonade) and it's positively lovely and made me reconsider my feelings about True Believer.  When a book (or in this case, author) wins me over on a second read, it often becomes a favorite of mine.  It's as though I end up liking it all the more because I disliked it so much at first.  This is one of those books.  The other book I felt like this about is now my number-one-all-time-favorite-book:
Pride and Prejudice.

The Book Thief (Markus Zusak) 
A book narrated by Death?  A story about the power of words?  Love, war, friendship, betrayal, family and sacrifice all woven together?  The Book Thief is a bibliophile's dream.  Seriously.  When I read this book, I cried almost the whole way through.  Not because this book is sad (which it is, by the way) but because it's so beautifully crafted that I kept thinking "I'll never write like this!"  My writerly insecurities aside, if you haven't read this book, you need to.  Right now.  Seriously, step away from your computer and Read. This. Book.

If I Stay (Gayle Forman)
This book made me cry.  So much so that I couldn't read the ending right away because vision was blurry.  Seriously, I had to get up and make a cup of tea so I could collect myself and read those last few pages.  This book has special meaning for me, for reasons I can't quite explain here.  Suffice to say, this is a heart-wrenching but beautiful book.  Read it with a box of tissues.

* * * * *
Still craving more YA-licious literary goodness?  Fellow barista, Ghenet shares her picks on her blog: All About Them Words.  Check it out, then tell us one or two (or ten!) of the books on your Teen-10 list.  

Thursday, February 17, 2011

The Answer is In the Work

All you have to do is glance at the twitter feed for the SCBWI Winter Conference in NYC (#ny11scbwi) to know that Sara Zarr seriously rocked the house.  There have been numerous recap posts about her talk.  My favorites include:

Jenny Torres Sanchez [Read. Write. Suffer.Sara Zarr at SCBWI--VALIDATION!

Candy Gourlay [Notes from the Slushpile] NYC 2011: Sara Zarr gives the speech she wanted to hear.

Now it's been two weeks since the conference and as I sit down to write this post, I can't shake that feeling of dread... that feeling that no matter what I write here, it could never do justice to the AWESOME that was Sara Zarr's actual speech.  With that in mind, I have come to the conclusion that I will not do a recap.  Yes, I have pages and pages of notes.  Yes, I could give you a long list of all the amazing things she said.  But I could never manage to recreate the energy that filled the room while she said it.  So rather than try and fail miserably, I will simply try something else.

"The answer is in the work."  Even as I write this post, I realize how true Sara Zarr's statement is.  The answer isn't some elusive thing floating out in the ether.  The answer is in the work.  All the things Sara Zarr listed as being essential to a fulfilling creative life are simply ways of taking the focus from neurotic writer-selves and channeling it toward the work.

Here are some of the qualities that Sara Zarr mentioned that lead to a fulfilling creative life (and obstacles that get in our way):
  • Sustainable
  • Engaging (as opposed to Disenchanting)
  • Invites Company but Knows When to Send Company Away (as opposed to Inviting the WRONG Company)
  • Faith-Based (as opposed to having a Lack of Faith)
  • Gives Back (as opposed to being Self-Obsessed)
  • Practice and Craft are central (as opposed to emphasizing Process or the Commodification of Creativity)
As I look down that list, I realize that writers will tap into all of the qualities of a fulfilling creative life the moment they focus on loving the work.  If you love the work, it will sustain you and engage you even when the people around you are not supportive.  If you love the work, you'll invite good company into your circle of trust and send the bad company away.  If you love the work, you'll have faith that someday, good things will happen even if the present moment kind of stinks.

"The true goal to strive for is to love doing the work."  ~Sara Zarr

Notice also that all the obstacles that oppose those good qualities of a fulfilling creative life can get knocked down the minute we start loving the work.  If we love the work, it's hard to be self-obsessed or to commodify our creativity.  The work will have inherent meaning to us, not just meaning defined by what other people think of our work.

Ultimately, writers need to love doing the work and believe that there's enough generosity in the universe to go around.  In the words of Flannery O'Connor: "People without hope do not write novels."

In closing, there is a line in that movie Pushing Tin, and it sums up the writing experience for me.  This one air traffic controller is returning to work after having a meltdown and his therapist has given him a mantra: "It's a big sky, there's lots of room."

I feel like that mantra captures the writing life beautifully.  This isn't a zero-sum game.  OK, it might be if your end-goal is to have a #1 bestseller or win some prestigious award--but that doesn't necessarily make for a fulfilling creative life (and can lead to a lot of stress and neuroses).  But if the goal is to love doing the work, then there's plenty of good stuff in the universe to go around.  It's a big sky.  There's plenty of room for everybody.

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

How to Survive the Revision Process

OK, I'll admit it.  When I was in school (and college and grad school) I was seriously guilty of turning in work before revising it.  Sure, I would do a quick spell-check and maybe give it a once-over for grammar, but rarely did I ever roll up my sleeves and do serious revision.

Now that I have a draft of my book done, I find myself in the middle of the revision process and I totally realize why I was resistant to revision before: it's flippin' scary.  This is why I was so thrilled to hear James Scott Bell speak about the revision process at the Writer's Digest Conference.  I was particularly excited to attend his talk because I am a huge fan of his book The Art of War for Writers.  Here are some of the sparkly nuggets I took away from this session.

Principles of Revision

1)  Write hot, revise cool.  Revision allows you to add rational choices and strategy to the frantic bursts of creativity that came out in the first draft.  Take at least two weeks (maybe longer) after writing your draft to let it cool down before you revise.

2)  You need to finish first.  Nothing you write is etched in stone... you can always come back and make it better later on.  The only thing you can't do is revise a blank page.  Finish first.

    3)  Do a first read-through.  Try to recreate a reading experience so that you're not focused on the fact that you're reading your own book.  Make minimal notes.  Tip from Gabi:  I put my book on my Kindle and have been reading it there so that it feels more like a "real book" and not just a draft on printed computer pages.  I use the footnote function on the Kindle to make my notes, and since I'm lazy about taking notes on Kindle, it forces me to make my notes short.

    4)  Summarize your changes.  Write a 2000 word summary of your draft with the new adjustments you just noted.  Tip from Gabi: You can also try extracting an outline from the first draft, as a way of getting a handle on what you have written.  Then adjust the outline according to the notes you made in your read-through and implement those changes in the draft.

    Things to Think About in Revision

    Character:  The characters need to jump off the page.  Here are a few exercises to help you with this:
    • Try creating some "off-screen" scenes where you see what the character would do in crazy situations.  
    • Do the "opposite exercise" where you have the character do the opposite of what you'd expect, then figure out why they did that.
    Remember, even at the very beginning, try to give the reader an inkling that the character has the potential for change.

    Opening:  As Bell put it: "Cut out the parts that people skip."  Start the story where things get interesting.  Also, make trouble for your characters from the start.  Readers become engaged with the characters at the first sign of conflict.

    Dialogue:  Compress the dialogue and extend the action.  Get rid of exposition and ramp up the conflict.  Even if characters are on the "same side" they should still have some kind of conflict between them.

    Take-Home Message

    Ultimately, revision is where you add the strategic element to your story.  Now that you know who the characters are and what's going to happen, you can plant foreshadowing moments and hint at themes that will be important later on.  You can't do all this in your first draft because during that stage of the process you don't know your characters or the story completely.  It's only once you know the ending and who your characters are at their core that you can manipulate the story in a strategic way.

    Much as my brain understands all the amazing benefits of revision, I still find myself having trouble because I keep psyching myself out. 

    Help!  Do you have any revision tips I can borrow?

    Tuesday, February 15, 2011

    What is Copyright and What Does it Do?

    There are 4 main areas in IP (intellectual property) law.  These are: patents, copyrights, trademarks and trade secrets.

    Patents:  Protect an invention.
    Copyrights:  Protect artistic expression.
    Trademarks:  Protect brand names and symbols.
    Trade Secrets:  As long as you don't tell the secret, it stays protected.
    (Example: the Coca-Cola formula is a trade secret.)

    For authors, the most relevant area of IP law is copyright.  Here are some of the basic things you should know.

    What is copyright?
    Copyright is a property right which insures that someone else will not take your artistic expression and claim it as their own.

    What does it cover?
    Copyright covers various forms of artistic expression.  This includes music (both composition and recordings), dramatic works (plays, dance, opera), visual arts (painting, sculpture, illustration), and film/TV.  Of course, the most relevant category for writers is written expression, which is also covered by copyright.

    How long does coverage last?
    This is a tricky question because the law changes frequently.  (The running legal joke is that length of copyright follows the "Mickey Mouse rule" in that coverage is extended continually so that lovable cartoon mouse will always be copyrighted.)  A more specific answer can be found in the FAQ section of the U.S. Copyright Office website.

    How do you get a copyright?
    The minute you write that last sentence and put down your pen, your work has gained certain rights under the copyright laws.  This is why you don't need to tell agents or editors that your work is copyrighted because they already know that.  Caveat: while ownership of the copyright is automatic, you may not be able to collect all the damages if you don't register it.

    How do you register a copyright?
    You can register with the U.S. Copyright Office.  Registering preserves some rights that you might not otherwise get, such as the right to sue for statutory damages (a fixed amount per work) and attorney's fees.

    Does this mean that if you do all these steps and someone copies your work, the Copyright Police will go after them?
    Sorry, but that's not how it works.   First of all, there isn't really a copyright police (yes the FBI deals with copyright matters, but usually in the case of large scale criminal infringement) and the copyright office doesn't enforce copyrights.  You're probably wondering what the point of copyright is if it isn't enforced.  What copyright means is if someone copies your work, you can take them to court and sue for damages or get an injunction.  (An injunction means that the offending party must stop doing what they are doing.)

    Take-home Message:  Copyright is a property right to your work which you own automatically.  By registering it, you give yourself evidence of having created that work.  If someone copies your work, you can sue for damages or get them to stop their infringement.

    Legally Speaking

    As many of you already know, I'm married to a wonderful man who--for the purposes of this blog--is called lawyer hubby.  In fact, he's an IP (intellectual property) litigator, which means he understands all that legal rigmarole that writers often fret about and he has actually represented authors in court.

    Of course, I get to reap the benefits of his wisdom, but it hardly seems fair that I should be the only one.  Hence my new blog series for Tuesdays: Legally Speaking.  Starting this afternoon and going for the next few weeks, I'll be doing a series of posts on the different aspects of copyright and legal stuff that writers should know about.  Lawyer hubby gave me a crash course and I've done my best to translate it from legal-speak to normal-people-speak.

    That said, here's iggi with his little Disclaimer poster.  I'm not a lawyer.  These posts should in no way be considered legal advice.  The point of these posts is to give my writer friends (that's you!) some of the basic information so when you do seek legal advice from a lawyer, you can ask smart questions.

    Monday, February 14, 2011

    My Funny Valentine: A Contest!

    I'm one of those people who utterly detests Valentine's day.  Don't get me wrong, I've had a wonderful valentine in my life for going on ten years now, so it's not out of bitterness that I dislike this holiday so much.  Mostly it's because of logistics; this grotesque little holiday falls two days before my birthday.  Every year.  I also have serious issues with a holiday that encourages numerous affronts to the English language in the form of cheesy song lyrics, sappy monologues and bad poetry.

    Someone needs to do something to improve the overall literary quality of Valentine's day and I've come to the conclusion that the best way to accomplish this is by having a CONTEST!!!

    What you need to do:  Write a valentine from one literary character to another and post it in the comments.  Easy right?  Here are a few more details:

    • Contest is Open Until: Precisely 11:59pm EST on Feb. 16 at which time I will close comments on this post.
    • Finalists:  Will be selected by moi, and will be announced on Saturday, Feb 19.  Once I announce the finalists, I'll set up a poll so everyone can vote for the Grand Poobah of Valentine Literary Awesome.  I will post to let you know when the poll opens.
    • Prize:  $15 Gift Card to the Grand Prize Winner!

      Get extra bonus points and kudos in the first round if you: 
      • Use characters from children's literature or teen literature.
      • Pair two unlikely valentines in such a way that it goes from bizarre to deliciously ridiculous!
      • Make me laugh so hard I snort milk out of my nose.
      • Make me sob so much I think my heart might break.
      • (But really, I like laughing better than sobbing.  Just FYI.)
      Ready... Set... Write!

      Saturday, February 12, 2011

      Valentine Contest Coming Soon!

      Just a short post to let you all know that there's a Literary Valentine Contest coming on Monday here at iggi&gabi!  Get your writing chops ready because it's going to be super-fun.

      Prepare yourselves...'s going to be AWESOME!

      Friday, February 11, 2011

      Introducing YA Cafe

      Welcome to YA Cafe, a place where book lovers can gather and chat about teen literature.  I'll be your barista, along with Ghenet from All About Them Words.  Each Friday we'll pick from a menu of topics and share our thoughts on our respective blogs.

      The fun won't stop there, though.  We've got plans brewing for interviews, events and even some exciting giveaways!  Join the discussion by sharing your thoughts in the comments, on your own blogs or on twitter using the hash tag #yacafe.

      Today's Special: Why do we love teen literature?

      The easy answer would be to say "um, because teen literature is AWESOME" and leave it at that.  But the point of these YA Cafe discussions is to move past these easy answers and dig deep into what's really important.  The truth is, I owe that classic The Catcher in the Rye* for my love of teen literature.  This book sparked my love affair with YA, not because I loved it, but because was the first book I ever read that made me truly angry.

      *Note: Technically, Salinger's novel is not YA because it was originally written for adults, but it captures the teen voice so well that it has been adopted as part of teen literature.

      When I finally read this book in eleventh grade, I was just about the last person in my grade--no, the whole planet--who hadn't read it already.  Everyone raved about how amazing it was and how they either wanted to marry Holden Caulfield or be him.  I'll admit, I enjoyed the first paragraph or so, but right around page two I started hating Holden.  Yes, you heard me right: I hated him.  It was a visceral hatred, an emotion that had hitherto been reserved for only the worst things in my life: Phys Ed, my arch-nemesis and cooked carrots.  But now, here was this fictional character--this whiny little pissant--lodged firmly in that category of all-that-is-evil-in-Gabi's-world.

      The more I read, the more I wanted to slam the book shut and use it to smack Holden Caulfield upside the head.  And yet I kept reading.  Secretly, I hoped somewhere along the story, Holden would get run over by a cement mixer.  (Spoiler Alert: He doesn't.  I was gravely disappointed.)

      But what does this have to do with why I care about teen literature?  While other types of books might transport me somewhere magical or teach me something valuable, teen literature is the only type of book that can elicit this level of emotion.  Reading Cather in the Rye and hating Holden made me realize what amount of a character's crap I'm willing to forgive, and what crosses the line to something I will not tolerate.  There are two types of people in the world: those who think Holden Caulfield is awesome and those who hate his guts.  I'm one of the latter.

      Hi, my name is Gabi and I love teen literature.

      * * * * *
      Fellow barista, Ghenet at All About Them Words, shares her thoughts on her blog.  Check it out, then tell us why you love teen literature.

      Thursday, February 10, 2011

      Dear Facebook: It's not Me, It's You...

      Dear Facebook,

      I'm sorry, but this thing we have just isn't working out.  I know you're trying to bring people together, but really you're nothing more than a college alumni magazine on crack and I just can't deal with all your TMI anymore.  No, I don't need to know how many hairballs your cat spat-up today.  No, I don't care what you had for breakfast.  And no, I really don't need to see photos of the four orphan goldfish you rescued from a third-world country.  You need to learn some boundaries, Facebook.  Seriously.

      Your obsession with reciprocation irks me.  I can only be friends with someone if they friend me back.  But what if I want to follow the goings-on of someone so supremely awesome that I don't care if they want to friend me back?  Sometimes, like any good fan-girl, all I want is to bask in the glow, and there's nothing wrong with that except that you won't let me.

      And then, of course, there's the issue of dear Great-Aunt Sally, who friended me yesterday, bless her heart.  I knew our days together were numbered, Facebook, the minute all my relatives over retirement age decided to jump on your little bandwagon.  I do not need to be poked by Grandpa Harold.  (Did I mention that this "poking" feature seriously freaks me out?  You couldn't think of a better word than "poke" could you, Facebook?)

      Still, I must admit that we did have our good times, though can't think of any at the moment.  Don't worry, Facebook.  I'm not leaving you entirely; I'll still use you when it's convenient, but ditch you as soon as you start acting stupid.  I hope that's alright.

      See, it all comes down to this: I've found someone new.  It's name is Twitter.  And it seriously rocks.

      BTW--here's one of those little heartbreak icons just for you.  Enjoy.

      Tuesday, February 8, 2011

      NYC Awesome for Writers

      New York City is a great place to be a writer.  OK, I was born and raised in Manhattan so I'll admit that I'm a little bit biased.  Setting that aside, this city has some wonderful things going on for writers.  Here are some of my favorites.

      Readings and Events
      Conferences are loads of fun, but they can also get expensive and exhausting.  If you're in the NYC area, though, and you're craving some writerly fun that's easy on your wallet and schedule, there are a few great options.
      • Teen Author Festival (NYPL Jefferson Market Branch on 6th Ave and W. 10th Street)  This is a fantastic monthly reading event.  For more info and a schedule, check out the Teen Author Festival group on Facebook.
      • Brooklyn Book Festival (Brooklyn Borough Hall, 209 Joralemon St.)  The next Brooklyn Book Festival will be on Sunday, Sept. 18th, 2011.
      Favorite Places to Caffeinate and Write
      Grab that notebook and pen, and treat yourself to a writing date.  Places I love:
      • s'Nice  (Manhattan--45 8th Ave, btwn Jane St. and West 4th; Brooklyn--315 5th Ave, btwn 2nd and 3rd St)  Yummy vegetarian food and their coffee drinks are delish.  Also, while the do have rules about laptops--communal tables only--the staff is really cool about letting people sit for a while.
      • Lincoln Center Atrium (Broadway btwn 62nd and 63rd Street)  The Atrium has got to be one of New York's best-kept secrets.  It's got ample seating and it's an open public space so you can sit there all day.  Sometimes they close the space for private events, but they're really good about giving advanced notice.  Also, there are free concerts there weekly.
      • Aroma (72nd Street btwn Columbus and Amsterdam Ave.)  OK, this place seriously makes the best cappuccinos EVER.  And the outdoor patio upstairs and in the back is one of the best places I've found for summer writing.
      Other Awesome Stuff
      • NYPL (Main Branch on 42nd Street)  They have all sorts of amazing items in their collection, including the original Winnie the Pooh toys.
      • 826NYC An affiliate of 826 Valencia, this Brooklyn-based organization is a great way for writers give back to the community by working with kids on their writing.  This is an amazing place where writers interested in teaching can gain valuable experience.  It's also a great way for writers to meet and connect with other writers--I know I've made some great writing friends through 826.  For more information about the program or to volunteer check out Oh, and did I mention that the center is located behind the Brooklyn Superhero Supply Company?  How cool is that!

      Sunday, February 6, 2011

      Updates! Exciting! Woot!

      Publishers Weekly Blog: Beyond Her Book
      My dear friends!  It's been too long, no?  I am soooo sorry to leave you in the lurch and not post with my usual somewhat-regularity this past week.  Things have been especially nuts on this small slice of the planet where I reside.  Here's what's been going on:

      1)  SCBWI Winter Conference in NYC!  OMG, such a fantabulous conference and sooooo much fun.  I have sooooo much to tell you.  Promise I'll dish all the details real soon, but in the meantime, check out my guest post recap on Barbara Vey's (of Publishers Weekly) blog: Beyond Her Book

      2)  Sooper-seekrit collaborative project shall be unveiled soon!  Actually, Ghenet and I were supposed to unveil it on Friday but an unavoidable incident made it such that I couldn't access the internet for the latter part of the week so we decided to postpone for a week.  Don't worry.  It's coming...

      3)  OMG why won't it stop snowing?  It seems like every week we get more snow dumped on the city.  Or ice.  Or sleet.  And to add insult to injury, it's almost always on a Tuesday, which is when my writer's group meets.  While I happen to live and work only a few short blocks from the meeting place--making the snow only a minor inconvenience for me--we have folks coming in from all over the tri-state area and for them it hasn't been as easy.  Basically, I haven't gotten to see some of these super-awesome writers in, like, two or three weeks and I seriously need my fix.  Enough with the snow already.  Oh, and did I mention what was in the forecast for Tuesday?

      4)  Today's the Superbowl!  No, I don't watch football.  No, I don't have a favorite team.  Actually the only interest I ever have in that sport is watching the Patriots lose and they're already eliminated so as far as I'm concerned, I don't much mind who wins.  But after the game, they're doing a new episode of GLEE, which is the best show EVER.

      5)  So what's in store for iggi&gabi this February?
      •  SCBWI Winter Conference recaps
      • A few last recaps for the Writers Digest Conference
      • Other random iggi-licious things
       Are you excited?  I'm excited.  For those of you who celebrate: have a Happy Superbowl.  For those of you who prefer to watch the post-game GLEE episode... I've got your back.

      What's happening in your slice of the planet these days?

      Wednesday, February 2, 2011

      Where Do Characters Come From?

      Some people collect stamps or seashells.  Some collect bottle caps or baseball cards.  Some even collect parking tickets.  I collect characters.  I squash them between the pages of my notebook, the way you might press flowers (or faeries).  I'll let you in on some of the secret sources I turn to when I need to boost my stash.

      In Real Life:  Basing characters on real people has some major advantages.  For starters, you'll be able to observe an actual person (or if the real life person is dead, you'll most likely be able to rely on primary source material).  Not only that, if you're ever wondering what your character would think or do about something, you can just ask.  That said, there are two drawbacks you'll need to consider if you decide to base a character on someone from real life:
      1. You could get sued.  You can avoid this problem by doing one of three things.  A) Avoid saying anything that could get you into trouble, which could lead to a very boring story.  B) Change enough of the details so that it's no longer obvious that you've based the character on a specific person.  C) Base the character on someone who can't sue you... like, say, your cat.
      2. You might get so caught up on being true-to-life that you'll kill your story.  Remember, fiction is by definition fictional.  It's not about getting the facts exactly right; it's about crafting a story that reveals a greater Truth about life, humanity, all that good stuff.  Of course you can base certain elements of a character on a real person but in the end, you may have to discard some details that echo reality in favor of ones that will serve the story.
      Situations:  The place where I discover most of my characters are in the situations themselves.  I often start with a vague idea like: "What if when you die, your job becomes to convince other newly-dead people about the benefits of being dead?"  Then I work on developing a character who would be the worst possible candidate to cope with that situation.  I know this sounds counter-intuitive.  After all, we're usually taught to develop our character first then throw obstacles at him or her.  But if you think about it, this method accomplishes the same thing.  The only difference is that instead of starting with a character and developing obstacles that will throw him or her for a loop, you think of the situation first and then develop a character who's most likely to freak out in that scenario.

      Pictures:  I love looking at a picture and trying to figure out the story behind it.  Some of my favorite artists for this exercise are Edward Hopper, John Singer Sargent, and Edgar Degas.  Photography is also a great resource--especially antique portraits or work that's photojournalistic in style.  Every time I go to a museum, I'll get a handful of postcards that I think might spark interesting characters.  These days with the interwebs at our fingertips, we can find inspiration without even leaving the comfort of our office chair.  Here's one of my favorites:

      Quotes:  One of the great things about living in a big city is that people will say the craziest things in public.  Seriously, it boggles my mind what some people will say while riding the subway or talking on their cell phones.  I used to feel bad about eavesdropping but now I figure, if these people are talking that loud, it's because they want me to hear and use it in my book.  Whenever I hear a good line, I jot it down right away.  Here's one I recently rediscovered in an old notebook:  "What do you mean she's pregnant?  I thought she was just getting fat."  Even though I just wrote down the quote and made no notes about the speaker, I get a clear mental picture of this character right away.

      What about you: where do you go to find characters?  I showed you my sources, so now you show me yours, k?  Awesome.

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