Friday, August 08, 2008

Chapter Titles for Grown-Up Fiction?

Like all reviewees this last conference, I took an entire manuscript in hand because I knew that behind the Hyatt ballroom is a secret print shop that does print-on-demand for publishers who are looking for the hottest new authors. Well, they didn't snatch up my Kinko's 3-hole punch, double-sided copy this time, but next year I just know that after signing with an agent at breakfast that my book will be in the conference book store at lunch.

So new to the industry, I only recently read (and realized, duh!) that YA and adult books do not have chapter titles. But what's the fun of that? It certainly didn't stop me from putting them in my YA cross-over "Pardy Boys" draft. And though I know I'll have to take them out (wah!) for a more market-aware professional look, they have really helped me define sections of the book. It's one of the tricks I learned in screenwriting. Yes, my tawdry Hollywood past has come to haunt me (I feel like the poor girl in 1984's "Angel", tagline: Honor Student by Day...Hollywood Hooker by Night.)

In screenwriting, the script is broken down into "beats", much like paragraph breaks might represent the scenes of a novel in an extensive book outline. But an extra recommendation to really fully illuminate your intentions with each beat is to give each movement of the script (or book) a chapter title. And though you can't keep them for your book, chapter titles are not only kinda fun to write, but give an instant road map to where your novel goes. And if you insert a Table of Contents (using Word's "insert: reference: tables: toc") you will literally have a one page listing of your chapters. Think of it as an at-a-glance reference tool.

I found this really useful when dividing the book into its chapters without being limited to just the stale breaks of "chapter 1...chapter 2...", etc. Dividing chapters into fairly even breaks of 5 to 10 pages is a great start, but chapters don't always break evenly when a chapter is often unified by a theme, goal, or pursuit for the characters involved. Chapter titles make it much easier to see where the story breaks organically. After you find those natural breaks, you just take the descriptive titles out, leaving the professional chapter listings behind. Your reader/agent/editor will never know you dipped into the customs of a chapter-book, but they'll definitely be caught up in the powerful rhythms of a book that has its own ebb and flow.
Now get back to work!

Dirty Secret

I drive a ’94 Geo Metro, and I drove it before car recycling became cool six months ago. (Touch that, bitches!). Though I’ve never had any engine trouble, the car has charming quirks like missing hubcaps (stolen in Atlanta where I guess someone was desperate enough to steal, umm, Geo Metro hubcaps), and windows that are increasingly hard to roll up and down. In keeping with my efforts to ‘go greener’ and in deference to California’s drought, I also don’t wash the car very often. I’m not sure what my excuse is for not washing the inside of the car is, but the interior is definitely sorely neglected. Blame the straight genes, ok? (Or is the straight-gene what causes MAOCD? (Masculine Automotive Obssessive Compulsive Disorder)

But as I was going to be attending a conference, and the possibility of leaving the SCBWI campus with passengers became a possibility, I thought I might invest in a ‘wash and detailing’ that is so popular in car-conscious LA. $40 later and probably 20 lbs of dirt lighter, I drove away from the Palms Car Wash II (even car washes have sequels in LA).

Looking through a windshield so clear that I had to reach out to touch it to make sure it was still there, I realized all the windows were still up. Rolling down the driver’s side, I was amazed at how smooth the handle turned. And then it dawned on me: the windows were just…(gulp) dirty! It’s like my grandfather who was nearly deaf because he hadn’t had his ears cleaned in too long. Oh, the shame. So from now on I’ll be going in for a wash ‘n detailing every six months, or whenever I start building biceps trying to roll the windows down.

Signs of the Apocalypse

Remember I told you about the Q4 Network's show "Hurl." See, I wasn't making up a show about force-fed contestants competing to see who barfs first (or is it last?) while enduring carnival rides.

Read all about it on Defamer.

I just don't know why they keep rejecting my proposal for a spin-off (or would it be a spew-off?) called "Dump" in which the losers of "Hurl" are forced to wait 8 hours, climb back on the same rides, but this time chugging laxitives and wearing diapers. Lows are the new high on reality TV.

Same Page, Different Music

Lisa Yee's brilliant tip on changing the fonts and margins before printing out a working draft was brilliant. I've also found it useful to change my playlist (or at least the song order), as well as where I work. If I do too much writing in one place, I find myself stagnating, or procrastinating. So a combination of printing a reformatted draft, new music, and a trip to the library usually produce newer, better results faster. God, it's beginning to sound like some kind of efficiency seminar instead of the Zen-pleasure that I'm proposing. Without a pastoral view and chirping birds, these few things really have helped me go from one draft to the next without it being drudgery.

Thursday, August 07, 2008

Facebook? I've got SNSF!

To take Tyler's lead, I've got SNSF, or Social Networking Site Fatigue. First it was MySpace (musicians), then LynkedInn (hotels), now it's FaceBook. Models? No, writers. Or so an editor claimed at the SCBWI conference. One more "age" "name" "birthdate" set of blanks to fill in. Pictures to post. I'm scared! Someone hold me! What am I, a layout studio?

But if it will get my name and (no pun intended) face out there, then dammit, I'm all for it. But please let this be the end of it. I can barely keep up with it all. Mac needs to create a magic "cloud" to update all the sites at once (oh Graeme, you're a genius, if only you had the technical know-how and some capital...).

Wednesday, August 06, 2008

The Glass Table

You've heard of the glass ceiling, right? Well in publishing-especially at conferences-there is the glass table. The one you don't get to sit at. The one where sparkeling, witty, and life-changing conversations must be going on. Or at least I imagine they must be going on. For most of the conference I sat with my posse, cutting up, telling highs and lows of the day, and hoping that before it was all over, I'd have met an editor or an agent. But throughout the days and nights, we all cast a curious glance at the tables where we longed to be. Inviting glances were never cast our way, nor was there the expectation they would be. These are closed tables, a refuge from the day's work. And can you blame them?

The editors agents and published writers are faculty, giving lectures, signing books, and having professional dialogues. And when they're eating, well...they're eating. Imagine if a very green writer crashed your table, asking questions that just a little research would answer, how would you feel? Still, the glass table stood just out of reach, tantalizingly real. All the more so because a place at the table has to be earned. Not just for the asking, but through the accomplishment of being published.

We were lucky enough to have editor Elizabeth Law of the forthcoming American launch of Egmont come visit our table. She was very friendly, talked a little shop, but mostly hung out. The house is obviously looking to expand submissions, but she could easily have relied on the normal submission process. Instead she came and put her feet up for a while. It was demystifying to have a visit from "the other side." She didn't levitate or quote Tolstoy or anything, and revealed that an editor can be just as easy to talk to as any other conference goer. If only writing like a published writer were as easy, we'd all be sitting at the glass table.

Submitting: No, Not an S/M Essay

One of the best things about the SCBWI Summer Conference was submitting a manuscript for review. Though I wasn't quite ready (are you ever?), I went ahead, pulled together 15 pages, and submitted the work. The synopsis was even rockier, but I went ahead and sent it in. And you know what? It didn't burst in to flames. It didn't bring down the ire of an editor who I had imagined would scream something like "How DARE you submit such garbage, now kneel! Kneel swine!" Ok, so maybe this veers slightly into S/M territory, but only because the whole process lends itself to that.

But what I took away, regardless of how the review had gone (I mean, how many editors are there? That's how many opinions you'll get, right), it was the idea of a deadline that got a fire going under me. Months before I was actually going to be ready, I had to turn in pages. And then for the conference, I HAD to have the entire manuscript entirely finished. That was another deadline.

Now that I have a response, and have talked the book up a little, I now have another deadline: one week to polish this and submit it to the boys at A Different Light here in LA. They read, they gave me great tips on some recent book purchases, and they said they'd read it.

conferences -specifically SCBWI


So the Summer SCBWI conference ended yesterday and it was stellar. I made a lot of new friends, half of them published, and had good manuscript review with a New York editor. New York editor people. That's royalty. Although "manuscript" isn't really accurate because it's just 15 pages and a synopsis. But what good editor can't predict the trajectory of a novel from that, right?

It was a long, but very satisfying 4 days hanging out at talks, break-out sessions, and the bar, and all at the Hyatt Regency in Century City, a pretty swanky hotel. I paced myself, sleeping in at my loft, and then heading over whenever I got up. One afternoon I took off and went for a swim in the fabulous pool, sunning on the steps, chasing the sun across the large round disc of grass.

The things that stuck out:

- One speaker said that they themselves weren't the important contact that we'd make, but other people in the room. And it was true. The friends I made there will be people I'll stay in touch with as we rise up the publishing ladder.

- Slow down. Publishing is a slow process. It was Steven Malk at his talk on a career strategy who advised not only thinking of the long arc of a career, but of giving it enough time to happen.

- Michael Stearns of Firebrand Literary encouraged being sure of an offer on a manuscript before accepting it. This was kind of a running theme through several of the break-out talks actually. If an offer comes in, it doesn't mean it's the right offer. It might be another six months or a year before you get the right editor/money/agent/house that you're looking for.

- The keynote speakers like Susan Patron and Sara Pennypacker reminded me that there is great heart in great writing. Sara's speech literally brought me to tears, inspiring me to create something new out of the ashes of something that is dying.

- Lisa Yee's talk on revision was so inspiring, hearing that "Millicent Ming: Girl Genius" took six years and three completely different versions to be successful.

I ran into a few agents/editors in passing, and there was that awkward stalker/victim dance you have to do at conferences. They seem to hold magical keys to the universe of publishing, while you may hold a magical manuscript. But they were all gracious and willing to take a question or two. Each answer illuminated a path or gave a direct answer.

After my editorial review by Mark McVeigh, I'm still not sure if my gay boy-detectives book needs to be fully pulled out of YA or not. Mark was sure, and I feel kind of silly doubting someone with such impeccbable credentials. But after looking at some of the hard-hitting YA books, I can't imagine that I'm squarely in the adult category either. I heard that Firebrand has an expanded list of YA/adult crossover, that Laura Rennert has taken on some properties that straddle both, and that another house (as yet no word on the name) has a list that ranges specifically for cross-over at 18-36. The best advice I got was to just write the best book, get the best agent, send it to the best editor, and then work with them to place it where it fits best.

Well I've got notes to type up, pics to put on the web, and reading, writing, and research to do.