Reading you under the table since 2012

Generating New Ideas

by Julie Eshbaugh

~~~

Julie

Where do your ideas come from? This can be a difficult question to answer, since usually, an idea seems to come out of nowhere. One day you’re driving in your car or washing dishes and an idea starts to glow in your mind like the sun coming up, or maybe it glares down on you all at once, as if dark clouds were suddenly blown away and there it is – hot and bright and obvious.

Since ideas seem to come unbidden, it might seem that we writers have no control over our ideas. They come on their own, after all, not when we call to them (no matter how nicely we call…) but when we least expect them. But I would argue that these seemingly random ideas are actually the product of a subconscious mind that has been “trained” to be searching for them at all times.

Maybe this sounds very mystical or pseudo-psychological (because, well, maybe it is…) but if you’ll indulge me, I’d like to share four suggestions to prime your mind to subconsciously formulate story ideas:

Always ask “what if?” You may have heard never to open a query letter with a hypothetical question, but that shouldn’t mean that hypotheticals are useless to writers. Most of us think this way already. If it rains for three days straight, we say, “Imagine if this were snow!” If it starts to storm, we say, “Imagine if you were catching a flight on a day like today!”

Since most of us already think this way, I’m simply suggesting you take your questions a bit further. You may ask yourself, “What if it never stopped raining ever again?” or “What if all this rain were acid and it destroyed everything it touched?” You may think of the flight taking off in a storm and ask, “What if two long separated lovers were seated next to each other in a jet taking off in dangerous weather?” or “What if lightning hit an engine just as a hijacker was storming the cockpit?” Just pushing your “what ifs” a bit further will jump start your imagination.

Never accept that there is only one solution to a problem. If you have to pick up Mary from cheerleading and Rebecca from field hockey, and they are ten minutes apart and you have only five minutes to make the trip, you can probably figure out at least one solution. Maybe Mary catches a ride with another family. There’s a solution, so the problem is solved. But as writers, shouldn’t we train ourselves to come up with a few extra solutions? Rebecca could walk to the local library and wait there. Mary could ride her bike to practice so that you only need to worry about Rebecca. Writing is all about obstacles and overcoming them, so train your mind to look for more solutions than you’ll ever need.

Ask questions like a child. I remember when my son was small he would ask questions all the time. “How does an antenna work?” “Why do fluorescent lights make my skin look blue?” “How does the TV find the right show when you change the channel?” I’m embarrassed to admit how many times I had to answer, “Go ask Dad.” Shouldn’t a grown woman know how an antenna works? And if she doesn’t, shouldn’t she be anxious to find out the answer? Unfortunately, as we get older, we let the day-to-day questions – “How am I ever going to pay the cell phone bill?” – crowd out the questions that lead to much more creative thinking.

Read widely. While it’s important to read in the genre you write, I personally believe writers should read all kinds of fiction, as well as magazine articles, current events, travel stories, and even science journals. A few years ago, when the Chilean miners were trapped, I developed a voracious interest in Chile, and tried to read as much as I could about a country I’d rarely thought about before. Not long after that, a photo on a magazine cover spawned a frenzy of research into Machu Picchu. To date, I’ve never used anything I learned about Chile or Machu Picchu in any of my fiction, but it has helped train my mind to imagine different environments, and the lives of the people who live there.

Do you have unique methods for generating ideas? Do you already practice any of these habits? I’d love to hear from you in the comments!

~~~

Julie Eshbaugh writes fiction for young adults. She is the author of the upcoming Ivory & Bone (HarperCollins, 2016.) You can add Julie on Goodreads and follow her on Twitter and Pinterest.

Posted in Beginner Resources, Writing Life | Tagged , | 3 Comments

Bridging the Gap between Science and Fiction

Writing Life

 

by Amy K. Nichols

Now That You're HereAmie says: Some months back, I was lucky enough to get my hands on a copy of Now That You’re Here, Amy K. Nichols’s debut novel. I loved it. I mean, I LOVED it. So much, that this is the blurb I gave it:

“The perfect blend of sci-fi and swoons, Now That You’re Here is like no other book I’ve read. Riveting, romantic and utterly original, it kept me up late!”

And in a starred review, here’s what Publisher’s Weekly said:

“These geeks own their intelligence like a badge of honor, using science to help a friend and explore strange new worlds.”

If you want a fantastic holiday gift for yourself (you deserve it!) or the science-fiction lover in your life, pre-order yourself a copy — it’s out on December 9th!

I loved the science in Now That You’re Here so much that I asked Amy to tell us how she approached the task of incorporating it into her story. Here’s what she had to say!

Amy NicholsGrowing up, I wasn’t a very enthusiastic science student. Perhaps it was a lack of awareness of science’s relevance to my self-absorbed teenage existence, but the last science class I remember actually enjoying was in seventh grade when we dissected frogs, learned about the hazards of smoking, and my teacher told us how hot dogs were made. (I haven’t eaten one since.) So I find it somewhat ironic that I’m now a science fiction author.

Somewhere in my college years, I discovered how cool science is, going so far as to consider a career in medicine and reading science books for fun. (I can just imagine my seventh-grade self raising an eyebrow at me.)

Then came the Large Hadron Collider.

Around 2007 I started hearing about this ginormous apparatus deep beneath the Swiss Alps that would answer all the questions of the universe…or create a black hole and swallow up the earth.

Black hole? Well that caught my attention. Even though I hadn’t shown much interest in science classes, I grew up loving science fiction stories, especially those involving portals to other worlds. One of my favorites was H.G. Wells’ The Time Machine. So I started reading books about black holes, string theory, multiverses. A couple that stood out were Lisa Randall’s Warped Passages: Unraveling the Mysteries of the Universe’s Hidden Dimensions, and Michiu Kaku’s Physics of the Impossible. I can’t say I understood all of it, but it definitely made an impression on me.

By the time CERN flipped the on switch for the LHC (which, thankfully, didn’t destroy the world), I’d already decided to give this writing thing a go, and was actively working to improve my craft. I’d even written a novel (that is really bad it should be burned with fire). I’d also started writing a story about a boy who suddenly finds himself in a body that’s his own but isn’t, in a world that’s his own but isn’t. Somehow, he’d jumped to a parallel universe.

Somehow. That’s the fiction side of science fiction.

In the early drafts of Now That You’re Here, Danny’s jump just happened, more like magic than science. I included just enough science to make it clear he’d jumped without getting into the specifics of how. I mean, this was science fiction, right?

Then my agent sold the book to Knopf, and I started working with my editor, the brilliant Katherine Harrison. From the start, she honed in on the science. How exactly did Danny jump? What is the science holding up the fiction?

So I began researching, trying to form a theory for this scientifically impossible connection between Danny’s parallel worlds.

Now, this is where it gets a bit tricky. If I go into a lot of detail about the actual theory, it’ll spoil the book. So I’m going to try to do this without giving away any spoilers.

Somewhere in my research, I read How to Build a Time Machine by Paul Davies, and attended a talk he gave at Phoenix Comicon. It was fascinating, reading and hearing about the mechanics of time travel. But I wasn’t writing time travel. I was writing parallel universe travel, which is an entirely different animal.

Or is it? I continued researching and tinkering, writing ideas into my revisions. My editor liked the direction I was going, but asked for more grounding. At one point she said, “I showed your book to my friend who is a physicist,” and I thought, Nooooooo. It’s fiction, not actual science! She encouraged me to write a book where readers couldn’t easily poke holes through the science, which is such a great goal. But how do you make the implausible plausible?

Research.

I kept googling and searching, reading scientific studies to support my fictional account of a boy landing in a body and world that isn’t his. I wish I could show you the list of websites in my browser’s bookmarks. It’s long. Really long.

As I worked through my revisions, I created a construct for the impossible elements of the book, all of which are based on actual scientific principle and tested theory. When I stepped back and looked at it, my geeky little heart went pitter-pat.

Then came book two.

See, we’d sold Now That You’re Here as a two-part series, where the books mirror each other. Same characters, but two different stories in two parallel worlds. Pretty cool, right? But…science.

Suddenly the science of the second book had to work with the science of the first book. Since I was telling a different story in a different world, it couldn’t be the same science, either. It had to be something similar, but different.

So I went back to work. More research. More reading. More theorizing. More imagining.

More fun.

By this time I was geeking out. I not only fell in love with science, I fell in love again with science fiction. All those stories I’d loved as a kid felt so…possible. A time machine? Sure. Flux capacitor? Okay. Wardrobe leading to a winter-cursed land? Why not?

And then it happened. I found the Holy Grail I’d been searching for. I was reading an article about Nikola Tesla and scalar wave function, and everything clicked. All the bits of info I’d been collecting suddenly fit together to create one cohesive system involving both worlds, and there in between stood my character, Danny. I revised Now That You’re Here again, and this time, I got the science right. (Or at least my editor said so.)

Is it still science fiction? Yes. Is there still a gap between the scientific and fictional elements of the story? Of course. Fiction always requires some degree of suspension of disbelief on the part of the reader. But hopefully, thanks to research and my mindful and diligent editor, it’s more a step over a crack than a leap over a chasm. And maybe, just maybe, somewhere my seventh grade self is smiling.

Amy has been crafting stories for as long as she can remember. She earned a Master’s in literature and worked for years as a web designer, though, before realizing what she really wanted to be was an author. Her first novel, YA sci-fi thriller Now That You’re Here, will be published by Knopf Books for Young Readers on December 9, 2014. The follow-up, While You Were Gone, will be published in 2015. She is mentored by award-winning crime novelist James Sallis. You can find Amy on FacebookTwitterPinterest and Tumblr.

Posted in Writing Life | Tagged , , , | 5 Comments

The Value of Handselling

by

Rachel Seigel

In my world, November means display month. We, and the other companies like us spend approximately 6 weeks lugging a truck full of books to different locations across the province where we participate in book fairs for the major school boards. We set up on average 30-40 tables stacked high with our newest fiction & non-fiction pics for the season, and work one-on-one with the Teacher Librarians to recommend books to purchase for their libraries.

While the whole process is physically exhausting, (it really is comparable to a whirlwind trip where you are in a different city each day) my favourite part is having the opportunity to handsell books. In the digital age, where so many people are purchasing books online, the value and importance of handselling books can often be lost.

Take for example the new picture book I Am JazzJazz This is a wonderful & uplifting story about the now 12-year-old Jazz Jennings, a Transgender girl. With the timeliness of the topic, I naturally assumed that the book would fly off my table. Little did I realize that from the cover & the first few pages, people were not guessing what this book was about. One customer told me that she glanced at it, but thought it was just another girly book about the colour pink & mermaids.

Another great book that I discovered required some explanation is Hello from 2030: The Science of the Future and You. Hello from This is a seriously cool book. Narrated by a robot, it makes some predictions about what the world might look like in 15 years from a science point-of-view. It looks at medicine, technology, environment and more, and it’s well-written, colourful & interesting. For most of a day it sat on our table and nobody was even picking it up. But as soon as I took a few copies over to my feature area and started suggesting it to customers, the book started flying. (Too bad I didn’t do it sooner)

What I’ve discovered over and over again is that despite what we might think, (established, popular series & authors notwithstanding) few books sell themselves. It doesn’t matter how many starred reviews the book has received, or how good the cover or blurb on the back might be- most books (children’s books especially) still need someone to champion them & tell someone how amazing they are to make them successful.

Rachel Seigel is the Sales and Selection Strategist for EduReference Publisher’s Direct Inc. in Ontario. She also maintains a personal blog at http://readingtimbits.blogspot.com and can be found on Twitter as @rachelnseigel.

Posted in Uncategorized | 2 Comments

Expectation vs. Reality

by

Jodi Meadows

This month I polled Twitter for a topic and one that intrigued me was “author expectations vs. author reality.” I’m going to limit it to my top three (because wow, that got long quickly), and add how I cope with these differences, but I want to know what you guys think too!

Expectation: Publication Day is life-changing. Suddenly everyone is reading your book. Bookstore rankings are shining gold.

Reality: Nothing really changes on publication day. I mean, it’s really cool! But it’s also a little anticlimactic. There’s all this build up to the day of the book release, and then the day arrives and it’s just another day, albeit a day that people can now purchase the book you’ve spent so long writing and slaving over.

The day, while it feels like it should be all about you, isn’t really. Not totally. Other books are coming out too. Some of them might have more hype and promotion and therefore feel like they’re getting more attention. It’s a bummer. It’s really humbling. And it’s so easy to just sit at home and wonder why this life-changing event (your book is coming out!!!) feels like a let-down.

How I’ve learned to deal: The day my first book came out, I stayed at home and watched the numbers on That Retailer Site. (I was disappointed.) I answered lots of tweets! (That was great.) I went to a bookstore to find they’d lost two copies of my book and hadn’t put the other two out. (I wanted to shrivel up and die.)

The next two books, I decided to travel. And I will likely be traveling on release day for all the rest of my books if I can help it. Traveling gave me a sense of control, like I was doing something useful. When the airport small talk happened, I told people I was heading to my book launch party and I gave them my card (with my book cover on it). Traveling also keeps me from checking numbers or comparing myself to others. I don’t have time to look at those things! And, as self-centered as it may sound, it gives me the feeling that the day is all about me and my book.

And while I’ve learned to accept a slight anticlimactic feeling, I’ve also started reminding myself that things have changed. My books are out. People can buy them. People I don’t know, even. And that’s pretty great.


Expectation: I can totally write several books a year.

Reality: I’ve always been what a lot of people view as a “fast” writer. Before I was published, I often wrote two or three books a year, occasionally more. I thought a book-a-year schedule was nothing — maybe even too slow. But now that I’m on the book-a-year schedule, I realize just how difficult it actually is.

There’s not just writing the book, but editing and more editing and more editing. Crit partners get a crack at the book. So does the agent. And the editor. And just when you think you’ve spent more than seven months revising a book to death and you can’t look at it again, copyedits arrive and the book must be read yet again. And no, that isn’t all! Pass pages!

As if that wasn’t enough, while you’re getting those pass pages and copyedits, often you’re already writing a new book, so you must tear yourself from the new book, stick your head back in the first book for a week or so, and then jump into the new book again.

And then, you must promote the first book while you’re editing the new book and planning (or possibly already writing) a new new book.

And boy, if you want to write novellas or collaborate on another project in there, just forget about sleep or answering those emails piling up in the inbox.

How I’ve learned to deal: Planning and schedules has become very important to me. Also, communication. I give my agent an idea of what I have coming up, how long I think it will take me, and she doesn’t so much keep me on track (I’m an adult, after all) as check in every now and then to make sure I’m still good. That way, if I need more time on something, or I’m struggling with a book, she can help me out. I do the same thing with my editor, though that’s more limited to what is actually under contract, with harder dates for when I’d like to turn something in.

And any time I start feeling like the book-a-year schedule is too slow, I force myself to think about how busy I am this time of the year, when I’m editing a book, promoting a book, planning a new book (and in this year’s special case, writing four novellas and co-writing another book). Remembering that there insanely busy times keeps me from getting out of control.


Expectation: I can just write all day. In my pajamas. And eat cookies. It’s great.

Reality: Well, it is great, but it’s not all just writing in my pajamas and eating cookies. Sometimes people ask what a typical writing day looks like, but the truth is there is no typical day besides trying desperately to make sure you get enough writing done that you don’t feel like a failure.

There’s the never-ending emails to answer, social media accounts that like to be maintained, and all the non-book writing you do (like this blog post!) that doesn’t pay but is still useful. There’s traveling, school visits (and preparation for), bookstore visits, and festivals to attend.

While it’s true that a lot of that is fun (maybe too much fun sometimes!), it’s all time that’s spent not writing. And if you’re not careful, it can really pile up and end up with missed deadlines. After all, that stuff is work too. And writing can sometimes feel like a reward (other times punishment) that you do after all the hard work is done.

How I’ve learned to deal: I remind myself that writing is my job. Not tweeting (though how cool would that be!) or any of those other things.

When I get invited to places, or requests to do school visits/interviews/blog posts, I ask myself honestly: do I have time for this? Can I do all of this stuff around writing my book? If I feel like maybe I can’t meet my deadline and attend the fun book festival all my friends are going to . . . then I stay home and write.

For the day-to-day stuff that can make writing vanish, again, I make writing the priority. If I’m feeling distracty, I close everything else that wants my attention. And I just write. Then, after I’ve accomplished my goal for the day, I go in and take care of some of the stuff I missed.

And then I go do something fun and relaxing, because I am the kind of person who will easily overwork herself and by golly sometimes I just need to knit.


So, those are my top three expectation vs. reality. What about you guys? Any others up there? How do you deal with reality?

Jodi Meadows lives and writes in the Shenandoah Valley, Virginia, with her husband, a Kippy*, and an alarming number of ferrets. She is a confessed book addict, and has wanted to be a writer ever since she decided against becoming an astronaut. She is the author of the INCARNATE Trilogy and the forth coming ORPHAN QUEEN Duology (HarperCollins/Katherine Tegen).
*A Kippy is a cat.

Posted in Writing Life | Tagged , , | 7 Comments

A Reminder to Actually Write

Writing Life Banner

by

Susan Dennard

WritingThis is a repost from my personal blog, and it’s something that I KEEP finding myself pointing writers to this NaNoWriMo.

As such, this has become a personal “disclaimer” of sorts, and I thought the lovely readers of Pub Crawl might enjoy it too. :)

I get a lot of emails (and tweets, tumblr asks, facebook messages, etc.) asking me about my process–and that’s great! I love sharing what I do, and I love hearing about what YOU do.

But the thing is, no matter what my process is (or her process…or his process), at the end of the day, the writing is all that really matters.

I think it’s easy to get caught up in different “methods” or “outlining plans” or “character creation schemes” because we’re all looking for that Top Secret Foolproof Magic Bullet. I see this most often in new writers–they want that special, insider trick that will make writing a breeze.

Heck, I see it in experienced writers too. They think, If I just follow X-author’s approach step-by-step, then the first draft will basically write itself! 

Or, If I just interview my characters like Y-author does, then that first draft will pour out of me!

Or even, If I find my story cookies like Sooz does and write screenplays for every scene, then this book won’t be hard to write!

And I totally understand that attitude, guys! I mean, no one is more guilty of wanting a Magic Bullet than I. Whenever I’m feeling even the slightest resistance in my drafting, I’ll start scouring books on craft 0r author blogs or online workshops. I want anything that will make this writing easier!

But at the end of the day, no matter what method I use–no matter how carefully I prepare or how strictly I follow X-author’s Top Secret Foolproof Magic Bullet–I still have to write the book. All the outlines in the world won’t change that. Knowing my characters as well as I know myself won’t change that either. And even getting pumped up with my cheerleading critique partners won’t change that CRUCIAL step in writing a book.

You know, the part where I actually have to write a book.

Now, I’m not saying that you shouldn’t explore other methods and techniques. I love trying new approaches to the same “problem.” But you HAVE to realize that no matter what: you’re still going to have to write a book, word by word, page by page, and scene by scene.

You’re going to have put your butt in the chair and your hands on the keyboard. You’re going to have to push through every chapter until you reach, The End. And nothing–absolutely nothing in this entire world (short of hiring someone to do it for you) will change the fact that the writing is all that really matters.

So go forth and write. Even when you feel shaky and unsure.

ESPECIALLY when you feel shaky and unsure.

Sit down (or stand. That’s what I do.) and write one sentence. Then write another sentence. Then write another and another until you have a page.

And then write another page. And another after that.

Don’t stop! Keep going. Maybe not right away, but a wrote little bit as often you can, and eventually you’ll find yourself with a finished book.

If you like what you read here, consider signing up for my newsletter, the Misfits & Daydreamers or swinging by my For Writers page! All subscribers get a free guide to query writing OR a free extra scene from A Darkness Strange & Lovely.

SusanDennardBefore she settled down as a full-time novelist and writing instructor, Susan Dennard traveled the world as marine biologist. She is the author of the Something Strange and Deadly series as well as the forthcoming Witchlands series (Tor, 2015), and when not writing, she can be found hiking with her dogs, exploring tidal pools, or practicing her tap dance shuffles. You can learn more about Susan on her blogTwitterFacebookPinterest, or Wattpad.

Posted in Beginner Resources, Inspiration, Writing Life | Tagged , , , | 1 Comment
  • About Pub Crawl

    We're a group of authors and industry professionals (formerly known as Let the Words Flow) who blog about all things writing, publishing, and books!

  • Recent Brews

  • Brews on Tap

  • Past Brews

  • Enter your email address to receive notifications of new posts.

  • Book of the Month

    Story of Owen
  • Grab a button!

  • Current Homebrews!