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Space Camp: The Final Frontier

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by

E.C. Myers

20140714_213020A couple of weeks ago, I was thrilled to participate in one of the most exciting and memorable things I’ve ever done: the Launch Pad Astronomy Workshop. Dubbed a “space camp for writers,” it brings together established writers, editors, and creators for an intensive, week-long crash course in astronomy: basically a semester’s worth of Astronomy 101 classes in  seven days. It was breathtaking (literally—it takes place in Laramie, Wyoming, about 7,100 feet above sea level), mind-blowing, and, most of all, inspiring.

It was inspiring not only because of all the story ideas it generated and the opportunity to learn more about our incredible, mysterious universe, but because there’s nothing like meeting and spending time with other writers and creative professionals. The 2014 class included authors, reviewers, editors, and television and film writers: Amy Sterling CasilGeetanjali DigheDoug Farren,Susan ForestMarc HalseyGabrielle HarbowyMeg HowreyAnn LeckieWilliam LedbetterAndrew LiptakMalinda LoSarah McCarryJames L. Sutter, Anne TooleTodd Vandemark, and Lisa Yee. Our intrepid instructors were Mike Brotherton, Christian Ready, and Andria Schwortz, whose enthusiasm for their field was apparent and contagious.

We were in class almost every day from 10 a.m. until well after 5 p.m., with some lab sessions and outings thrown in. So what sort of things did we learn? Just as an example, our Monday lectures included the Scales of the Universe, Units, the Solar System, Seasons and Lunar Phases, and Misconceptions about Astronomy. By Friday and Saturday we were discussing galaxies, quasars, and cosmology (including dark matter and dark energy). That’s quite the learning curve! Most of us felt like our heads were full by the end, yet we were always eager to hear more.

Yup. That is totally an exoplanet.

Yup. That is totally an exoplanet.

I know I must have learned some of this stuff in elementary school (and forgotten most of it), but there have also been so many breakthroughs in astronomy since I was a kid (sorry, Pluto!), I was learning much of this for the first time — and I also had a new appreciation for the topic. Every class was a revelation. What made it even better was having the opportunity to see the science we were learning at work: analyzing the emission spectrum of different elements in the lab, searching for exoplanets at planethunters.org (warning — that site is addictive!), learning how those famous images of space are put together for the public, and visiting the University of Wyoming Infrared Observatory to photograph stars with a giant telescope. It was there, at the top of Jelm Mt., that I experienced the highlight of my week: viewing the Milky Way with the naked eye in a clear night sky. (It also looks very impressive in expensive night vision binoculars.) Returning home and looking up at night was depressing; the city lights blot out all but the brightest stars, and I can imagine that some people go their whole lives without seeing a sight like that.

Copyright Todd Vandemark

© 2014 Todd Vandemark

People always ask writers, “Where do you get your ideas?” Look up. Look around you. Ideas are all around us! As a science fiction author who doesn’t have a background in science, all too often I get distracted by fun concepts like time travel and parallel universes and faster-than-light space travel. It’s so easy to forget just how fascinating and exciting actual science is and skimp on it in stories. Why make everything up when we have a whole galaxy to play with, and an even bigger universe full of weird and mind-boggling things?

I’ve always enjoyed doing research for stories, but from now on I’m going to pay more attention to what’s happening in astronomy and physics and the world and universe we live in — and hopefully the things I learn will inspire new stories, instead of the other way around. (Added bonus of the workshop: Now I actually understand those astronomy articles in Scientific American!)

We also stopped by the Geological Museum at the University of Wyoming. I love dinosaurs. Meet Dracorex hogwartsia, "Dragon King of Hogwarts"!

We also stopped by the Geological Museum at the University of Wyoming. I love dinosaurs. Meet Dracorex hogwartsia, “Dragon King of Hogwarts”!

I want to continue learning about astronomy, and work real science into more of my fiction. It’s important to keep “refilling your creative well,” and Launch Pad was a great way to do that. If you’re a science fiction writer, I encourage you to apply to next year’s workshop, and I also encourage you to donate to keep the program going. It’s a wonderful resource that is helping to get more people interested in science, and helping we writers to make our stories as scientifically plausible and accurate as we can.

For other perspectives on this year’s Launch Pad experience, read accounts from my awesome classmates and instructor:

Gabrielle Harbowy
Andrew Liptak
Sarah McCarry
Christian Ready
Jenn Reese

How about you? Would you go to Launch Pad? How do you refill your creative well?

LaunchPad

E.C. Myers was assembled in the U.S. from Korean and German parts and raised by a single mother and a public library in Yonkers, New York. He is the author of the Andre Norton Award–winning young adult novel FAIR COIN and its sequel, QUANTUM COIN; his next YA novel, THE SILENCE OF SIX, will be published by Adaptive in November 2014. You can find traces of him all over the internet, but especially at his blogTwitter, Facebook, and Tumblr.

Posted in Inspiration, Writing Life | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments

An Intro to The Art of Revision: Part 2

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Kat Zhang

Kat ZhangSo, a couple of weeks ago, I posted “An Intro to The Art of Revision,” and promised more to come. Here’s the more to come ;) (which will, in time, be followed by yet another “more to come,” I’m sure)

Again, I start with a disclaimer about how revision (and writing, in general) is different for everyone, yadda yadda yadda, and how you should totally ignore me if the following doesn’t appeal to you.

Last time, I focused on how you should see your first draft as malleable, and how you’re using it to figure out What Is My Story About (and What Is My Story NOT About). Here’s a little more explanation on that.

At the heart of every story, there is Want and there is Conflict. Your characters are driven to action because they want something. The rest of the story exists because there’s conflict that prevents your characters from just getting what they want. This Want and Conflict (which can then split into many Wants and Conflicts) can differ wildly in complexity and subtly from story to story.

You can think about it this way (and I’m generalizing/stereotyping here): a summer blockbuster action movie is gonna have a pretty simple main Want and Conflict—Villain wants to destroy the world (mwauhaha!); Hero wants to save it. An “art-house” indie film might have something less outwardly dramatic: young woman wants to get into college and escape her little town; her emotionally needy mother wants her to stay.

But either way, there’s always a main Want and Conflict. Many times, there are sub-Wants and Conflicts as well (Hero in action movie also wants to maintain his relationship with his girlfriend, who doesn’t understand why he’s always off saving the world and not watching police procedurals with her; she threatens to break up with him if he keeps skipping date night). But the main thing in your revision is to make sure that your main character(s)’s major Want and Conflict are established as early as possible, and as clearly as possible. Without this, readers find it much harder to care. After all, this juxtaposition of “want” and “conflict” is your book’s plot.

This is what people are talking about when they say beginner writers often start a book “too early” in the story. If your story is about a boy whose sister gets kidnapped and he has to go after her, it’s an issue if the girl doesn’t actually get kidnapped until chapter 10. You might protest that the first 10 chapters are necessary to explain why the girl would get kidnapped, and to develop the characters, and the setting, and so on. Yes, those things are important, but not as important as kick-starting your plot.

I’ll wrap up here for today. Go check your WIPs! Are you setting up “Want” and “Conflict” as early as possible?

Kat Zhang loves traveling to places both real and fictional–the former allows for better souvenirs, but the latter allows for dragons, so it’s a tough pick. Her novel WHAT’S LEFT OF ME is about a girl struggling to survive in an alternate universe where people are born with two souls, and one is doomed to disappear. It is the first book in a trilogy and was published by HarperCollins in September of 2012.  Book 2, ONCE WE WERE, released September 2013, and Book 3, ECHOES OF US, will come out September 16, 2014. You can learn all about Kat at her site, or listen to her ramblings on twitter.

 

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What to Watch this Weekend: Book-to-Film Adaptations

by

Alex Bracken

Alexandra Bracken

A few months ago, while sitting in a weekly meeting with the Sales team to go over numbers and publicity and marketing plans for books, a question came up about why two of our backlist titles suddenly jumped up in sales. A few people chalked it up to summer reading starting in a few months, but I wondered–did it have anything to do with the fact both of these books’ film adaptations were added to Netflix a few weeks before?

Obviously not all book-to-film adaptations are good… in fact, as we all know, some make you want to die a little inside. But, thankfully, there are plenty of fantastic adaptations out there–and Netflix has recently added a whole bunch of them. Even if you don’t have a subscription to the service, most of these films and TV shows should be available to rent via iTunes or another streaming service.

Have you watched any great book-to-film adaptations recently? Here are some of my recent favorites.

Screen Shot 2014-07-25 at 11.21.36 AMOrange is the New Black (based on the book by Piper Kerman)

This might be an obvious choice, but for good reason! It is a master class in character study and strikes the right balance between laugh out loud funny and heartbreaking. I’m in the middle of reading the real Piper’s memoir and I’m amazed at how well the TV writers have captured the spirit of her experience while letting their own characters and ideas take flight.

Screen Shot 2014-07-25 at 11.02.42 AM

How I Live Now (based on the book by Meg Rosoff)

Teens surviving the outbreak of WWIII together in England–otherwise known as Alex Puts Her Head Down on her Desk for a Good Cry.  Speaking of beautifully shot films, this one fits the bill and does a really fantastic job of elevating the book’s story. It’s harrowing, heartbreaking, and beautiful in turns with one sliiiightly scandalous romance.

Screen Shot 2014-07-25 at 11.58.29 AM

The Witches of East End (based on the books by Melissa de la Cruz)

I love me some Buffy, Teen Wolf, and Charmed, and this series fits right in with them–with some awesome (spoiler) Norse mythology thrown in as an added, surprise bonus to the great, heavily female cast. This is a really fun marathon if you’re looking for something a little more light-hearted, than, say, Sophie’s Choice or Legends of the Fall (both of which are also available to instantly stream if you need a good, epic cry).

Screen Shot 2014-07-25 at 11.04.48 AM

Tiger Eyes (based on the book by Judy Blume)

It took me a while to work up the courage to watch this film, having lost my own dad two years ago. But ultimately I found this to be a faithful, loving adaptation of the original work. Fun fact: it was adapted by Judy’s son Lawrence.

Screen Shot 2014-07-25 at 11.08.42 AM

Now is Good (based on the book Before I Die by Jenny Downham)

This book absolutely destroyed me when I first read it–it’s The Fault in Our Stars before The Fault in Our Stars, the story of Tessa, a seventeen year old who is losing her fight to leukemia and creates a list of things she wants to do before she dies.

Screen Shot 2014-07-25 at 11.55.27 AM

Bitten (based on the books by Kelley Armstrong)

Also in the supernatural camp, Bitten follows the trials and tribulations of Elena, the only known female werewolf, as she returns to her pack. While certain elements of the book series were changed–especially on the character front–I found this as equally as fun as the books. (And, let’s be honest, the cast is pretty easy on the eyes.)

Screen Shot 2014-07-25 at 11.09.11 AM

Jane Eyre (based on the novel by Charlotte Bronte)

This 2011 adaptation of Bronte’s classic work isn’t new to the world, but it is new to me. I waited way too long to watch it! This is is the perfect vehicle to transport you away from the sticky summer heat to the windswept moors. I’ll be the first to admit that I’m no Bronte fangirl, but the performances in this adaptation really breathed new life into the story for me and made me reconsider the characters in ways I hadn’t before.

Alex lives in New York City, writes like a fiend, and lives in a charming apartment overflowing with books. She is the New York Times bestselling author of The Darkest Minds and Never Fade. You can visit her online at her website or Twitter.

Posted in TGIF | 1 Comment

Are Your Scenes Causing an Effect?

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By

Janice Hardy

Janice Hardy small RGB 72Last month I shared a tip on how to keep your scenes moving. This month, I’d like to take a step back and look at the bigger picture aspect of scenes and plotting. Once you know what’s moving your scenes forward from a plot perspective, consider how that scene affects your entire novel.

What is the cause and effect in your scenes?

No matter how well written a scene might be, if it isn’t doing anything to make the story happen it probably doesn’t belong in the story. Scenes happen for a reason, and a good scene will cause an effect that changes the story in some way.

Take a look at one of your scenes–either a finished scene or a rough outline if you’re still in the planning stage. What’s the point of that scene? Why is it in the story? You’ll probably have two answers to this:

  • The goal of the protagonist
  • The goal of the author

The protagonist will be driving the scene, either trying to achieve something or trying to avoid something–sometimes both.

The author will have a reason for writing this scene that relates to the overall story or plot. She chose this scene to dramatize at this point in the story for this reason.

Next, ask: what effect does this scene cause? How does it change something in the story?

Whatever happens in this scene, no matter how big or how small, should effect what comes next. It might be a direct result, such as breaking into a house (cause) and getting caught by the antagonist (effect), or it could be indirect, such as breaking into a house (cause) and leaving behind a clue that will alert the antagonist the protagonist was there and make him retaliate at the worst possible moment (effect).

In essence, it’s “When protagonist does X, Y happens.” If you describe your scene and all you have is, “Protagonist does X,” that’s a red flag that your scene isn’t moving the story forward. Try looking for the Y (the effect) to get that scene back on track.

If that effect eludes you, pull back and consider why you as the author put that scene in the book. What’s your reason for it being there?

Be wary if that reason is of the “to show X” variety, such as “to show that the protagonist is afraid of commitment.” Showing an aspect of a character is great, but on its own it doesn’t cause an effect. Instead look for ways to make that character aspect cause something to happen, or be the result of something happening. “To show the protagonist’s fear of commitment by having her start a fight with her new boyfriend so she doesn’t have to go meet his parents later at breakfast, which causes things to be strained between them at breakfast and this makes his parents decide they don’t like her.”

A little convoluted, sure (sometimes that’s just how scene summaries are), but basically, this boils down to, “When the protagonist has a fight with her boyfriend, it causes tension between them that makes his parents not like her.” That cause leads easily into the next effect, “When the boyfriend’s parents decide they don’t like her, they start trying to convince the boyfriend to dump her, putting a strain on their relationship.”

Actions cause reactions, which cause more actions, which cause more reactions, and so on and so on.

One trick to test the effect of a scene, is to look at the story without it. What changes? What can’t happen without this scene to trigger it? If nothing does, odds are there’s a problem and it’s not serving the story.

Let’s look back at our couple:

Say the reason for the fight scene really is just “to show that the protagonist is afraid of commitment.” The protagonist has a goal of not going to breakfast because meeting the parents is a big step she’s not sure she’s ready for. You write a fun scene with them arguing over something inconsequential, exchanging witty banter, poignant observations, showing great characterization. By the end of the scene, boyfriend calms her down and they go to breakfast (because you need that to happen for the plot). The scene works as a scene.

Next scene, the couple has breakfast with the parents. The protagonist tries to win them over and fails. They don’t like her (which was always the plan for that scene).

What does the fight scene have to do with that breakfast scene? If you cut it, would it have changed the breakfast scene at all? Probably not.

Will it kill your novel to leave it in? Honestly? Probably not. But it’s a missed opportunity to strengthen the overall story, and that opportunity could make the difference between a happy reader gushing about your book to all her friends, and one who forgets about it a week later. If there are a lot of scenes like this, then the odds of the novel feeling pointless increase, and that can kill your novel.

It would take very little effort to make the fight scene affect the breakfast scene and cause the parents to not like her. That way, it becomes a result of something the protagonist does, not random chance that has little to do with her and is only happening because plot says so. It also forces her to work harder to win them over when she realizes she does want to commit to this particular guy, and now she’s screwed it all up. She has to fix her own mistakes–commit to making things right–which can work as a great thematic mirror to committing on a larger scale. Suddenly this little nothing scene has deep roots and will resonate on a much bigger level.

Cause and effect is a simple tool that can help you craft stronger scenes and tighter plots, whether it’s planning a first draft or polishing an almost-finished draft. No matter what stage you’re on, think about what you want your scenes to accomplish on both a character level and an author level. What do your scenes cause to happen in your story? How are they interconnected? A story that holds together well on multiple levels is a story readers remember.

Do you ever think about how your scenes affect the whole novel?

Janice Hardy is the author of the teen fantasy trilogy The Healing Wars, where she tapped into her own dark side to create a world where healing was dangerous, and those with the best intentions often made the worst choices. Her novels include The Shifter, Blue Fire, and Darkfall from Balzer+Bray/Harper Collins. The first book in her Foundations of Fiction series, Planning Your Novel: Ideas and Structure is out now. She lives in Georgia with her husband, one yard zombie, three cats, and a very nervous freshwater eel. Find out more about writing at her site, Fiction University, or find her on Twitter @Janice_Hardy.

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Posted in Beginner Resources, Writing Life | 14 Comments

Happy Book Birthday to Strange and Ever After by Susan Dennard!

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featuring

Susan Dennard

StrangeandEver jkt hi-res

We’re celebrating over here at Pub Crawl. It’s not every day one of our members completes a trilogy, and today, Susan Dennard’s Strange and Ever After, the final installment in the Something Strange and Deadly series, hits shelves!

I (Erin) have loved this series since I got my hands on book one ages ago, but I have to admit: Strange and Ever After tops them all. Susan brings Egypt to life with ease (how is she so skilled at setting?!), but the journey Eleanor and Co. have to make is not easy at all. Packed with action and surprises, SaEA had me frantically turning the pages until the very end. And speaking of endings… this is one of the most pitch-perfect trilogy conclusions I’ve read. Bittersweet and moving. The last few lines (heck, most of the last chapter) was downright magical.

Oh, and if you’re an existing fan of the series, don’t miss the Something Strange and Deadly series recap Epic Reads has on their blog, complete with top 5 moments from each book. You should also sign up for Susan’s newsletter. Like, right now. Not only is it inspiring and packed with helpful writing information, but it sometimes includes bonus scenes from her novels!

Anywhoo, if all my gushing hasn’t sold you yet, here’s the official synopsis for Strange and Ever After:

In the conclusion to the trilogy that Publishers Weekly called “a roaring—and addictive—gothic world,” Eleanor Fitt must control her growing power, face her feelings for Daniel, and confront the evil necromancer Marcus…all before it’s too late.

He took her brother, he took her mother, and now, Marcus has taken her good friend Jie. With more determination than ever to bring this sinister man to justice, Eleanor heads to the hot desert streets of nineteenth-century Egypt in hopes of ending this nightmare. But in addition to her increasingly tense relationships with Daniel, Joseph, and her demon, Oliver, Eleanor must also deal with her former friend, Allison, who has curiously entangled herself in Eleanor’s mission.

With the rising dead chomping at her every move and Jie’s life hanging in the balance, Eleanor is convinced that her black magic will see her through to the bitter end. But there will be a price. Though she and the Spirit Hunters have weathered every battle thus far, there will be consequences to suffer this time—the effects of which will be irreversible. And when it’s over, only some will be able to live a strange and ever after.

Susan Dennard will leave readers breathless and forever changed in the concluding pages of this riveting ride.

Goosebumps, right?

In honor of Susan’s release day, I’m giving away one copy of Strange and Ever After (hardcover if the winner lives in the US; e-book if the winner lives internationally)! To enter, just fill out the Rafflecopter form below, and be sure to wish Susan a happy release day!

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Congrats again, Sooz! I’m so darn happy for you and proud of you and thrilled to see your series conclude with such an explosive bang. You’ve created a world readers are going to want to revisit many times over! <3

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