Monday, August 30, 2010

Fabulous New Fiction: 2k10 Debut Author Denise Jaden

Denise Jaden has written a gorgeous book about loss and faith and family: LOSING FAITH. I know it's gorgeous because I could not put it down. I'm so pleased to introduce her on the blog today.

Congratulations on the publication of your novel, LOSING FAITH. It's a beautifully written story. Can you tell us a bit about the story and what inspired it?
LOSING FAITH is about Brie, a girl who loses her sister, Faith, in a mysterious accident. While grieving her sister’s death, Brie discovers her role in a dark and twisted religious cult…a cult that now wants Brie for a member.

When coming up for the idea for LOSING FAITH, all I really knew was that I wanted to write a story about sisters. The idea came to me that one of the sisters would have died, and the other would suddenly realize she had never known her sister as well as she thought. I talked it through with critique partners until I discovered Faith’s secrets. I lost a close friend of mine when I was sixteen, and I think this was inspiration in part for the story as well.

How long have you been writing for children/teens? Have you written other books or is this your first effort?
I’ve been writing for about seven years, and while I thought I started by writing for the adult market, it’s only lately that I can look back at my early work and see that I’ve always had a teen voice. I’ve written six novels (seven if you count the one that even I won't look back at!), which are all in various stages of revision.

I know what you mean about discovering that you are really writing for teens! Can you describe your path to the publication of LOSING FAITH?
I wrote the first draft of LOSING FAITH during NaNoWriMo 2007. From there, I spent about nine months revising, then started to query. As rejections staring piling up, I continued to revise. In October, 2008, I attended the Surrey International Writers’ Conference and sat down to pitch my book to Anica Rissi from Simon Pulse, among other agents and editors.  I left the conference with several requests to see my manuscript, including a request from Anica Rissi. I didn’t send to any of the editors at that point, but just doubled my efforts to get an agent quickly. By November I had a couple of offers of representation, and a couple more based on revisions. After accepting an offer of representation from Michelle Humphrey, I went through a line edit with her and we sent out my manuscript to several editors in January, 2009. By March, Anica Rissi from Simon Pulse made an offer on the book, which I was thrilled to accept.

Do you have any advice for beginning writers?
Write because you love to write. Publication is based on so many variables, and can really play with your mind if that is your main goal. Write a lot, don’t be afraid to try new things, but know that not everything is supposed to make it into your finished book. And finally, read, read, read.

My own favorite advice! Can you tell us something about your personal life – inspirations, plans for the future, goals, etc.?
I’m a homeschooling Mom. My son is six and I love the time I spend with him. At this point he is my main focus, but I know as he grows older and more independent, that’ll change. I look forward to the day when I can spend three or more hours per day writing. I’m also a professional Polynesian dancer and I’d love to one day travel more with my dance troupe. But for now, I’m really enjoying plenty of time at home with the family.

Polynesian dancer! Okay, that's another whole blog post. In the meantime, do you have any new writing ventures underway?
Yes, I do! I’m currently working on another YA novel called PERFECT AIM, about a teen archer who, in the midst of family turmoil, falls for her young and understanding woodworking teacher.

It sounds fabulous. Do you have a website where readers can learn more about LOSING FAITH? 
Yes, my website is at and my blog, which I update regularly is at

Saturday, August 21, 2010

Reading Like a Writer: Voice

The revisions on Forgiven are done (for now – there’s always more to do!) and now on to “Reading Like a Writer” (RLAW, for short.)

Before I start, with Tell Me A Secret (Holly Cupala) and The Sky is Everywhere (Jandy Nelson), I’d like to point to blog posts by my friend Bethany Hegedus, who began her own RLAW segment not long ago (her first post: ). Both Bethany and I are graduates of the Vermont College of Fine Arts MFA program in writing for children, and these analyses are a kind of standard ritual, and one of the ways we hope to improve our work.
There seems to be a thing in books for teens lately about dead sisters. Tell Me a Secret and The Sky is Everywhere share that theme (along with a number of other books: Jane in Bloom by Deborah Lytton and Losing Faith by Denise Jaden are two that come to mind.) Secret and Sky are both contemporary novels written in first person, both protagonists are grieving, and both – Miranda in Secret and Lennie in Sky – go through a “thing” with their dead sisters’ boyfriends.
Yet these two novels, which in my opinion are among the best of this year, have strong, distinctive voices and that’s what sets them apart. So in this segment of RLAW, I’d like to start with voice.
There is authorial voice (the way you phrase things every time you write; for example, I’m very fond of parallel construction.) But the voice of your character is unique to the work.
In Secret, Miranda speaks in past tense with an urgency that drives the narrative:
“We sat together in the silence, time passing like the stream of cars whizzing beneath us on the highway. Another wave of pain threatened to engulf me, and I isolated it in my mind. It began the size of a marble and swelled into a watermelon, pink and fleshy and throbbing. Giving in would mean going back, something I wasn’t ready to do yet. Not until I knew everything.”
Miranda’s emotional edge is driven by her secret, which is captured in the image of something “pink and fleshy and throbbing;” the narrative voice is evocative but terse. Time is Miranda’s enemy, and her deadline (which we know about right from the start) looms. Cupala chooses a sentence structure that is elegant yet straightforward. She often ends her paragraphs with simple declarative sentences: “Maybe fear did, too.” “We each had a little of both.”
In Sky, Lennie’s voice couldn’t be more different: dreamy, languid, with unique and expressive vocabulary:
“I realize something that scares me: I’d be happy, but in a mild kind of way, nothing demented about it. I’d be turtling along, like I always turtled, huddled in my shell, safe and sound.
"But what if I’m a shell-less turtle now, demented and devastated in equal measure, an unfreakingbelievable mess of a girl, who wants to turn the air into colors with her clarinet, and what if somewhere inside I prefer this?”
Nelson chooses complex compound sentences and elevated imagery (“turtling,” “turn the air into colors”) that are exactly right for Lennie.
Miranda is an actor – she may be conflicted, but she’s constantly on the move, taking things in hand (not always successfully, which is the source of the novel’s tension.) Lennie is a dreamer – processing slowly and carefully, through words (poetry), and the tension here is driven by her inability to act at the right time. And these two disparate personalities are expressed by the unique voices given to them by Cupala and Nelson.
I’m sure I could go on, but I’ll turn it over to you. What unique voice have you read lately, in which the language used by the writer perfectly mirrors the personality of the protagonist?

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Craft Issue: Revision Checklists

I know I promised a "Reading Like a Writer Series"... and it is coming! But I'm in the midst of the first major revision of Forgiven, and it's due on my editor's desk yesterday. Well, Friday, but the pressure's on. And RLAW takes some deep analysis.

Because I'm thinking revision, I thought I might share with you a few thoughts about how I work through a manuscript the second, third, fourth, umpteenth time.

In addition to smoothing all those plot inconsistencies, adding twists and turns, and working on character-deepening, and there are a few things I "checklist" as I revise. Here they are:

  • Find all the "ly" words (i.e., adverbs) by using the Word search feature and eliminating most.
  • Search for "it is/was" and "there is/was". It's almost always stronger to use different phrasing. (Or...Phrases are almost always stronger without "it's".)
  • Search for places where my character "felt," "saw," "looked," etc. When I'm really inside my character, those phrases aren't necessary.
  • Search for sentence "flow." In particular, I look sentence by sentence for stronger first and last words.
  • Search for passive voice and other indicators of "telling."
  • Try to make sure there's tension on every page. 
  • Remove dialogue tags wherever possible. Even "said" can get in the way when only two people are talking.
  • Make sure gesture substitutes for internal thoughts wherever possible.
  • Look for those things that popped up in my subconscious and may be amplified - recurring metaphors or images.
  • Watch for repetition.

I try to do a dedicated pass for each of these items. These are really the last bits - if the story needs to be stronger in general I try to use some of the exercises that Donald Maass uses in his Writing the Breakout Novel Workbook.

Now - back to work...and I promise, back soon with RLAW!

Monday, August 2, 2010

...And More Secrets!

Holly Cupala is giving a grand finale to her book launch, including prizes. Post a comment here and then follow the link to let Holly know that you posted. Here are the particulars:

Party Prizes! Here’s what people can win:

Signed TMAS books!
TMAS t-shirts!
Fan-made bracelets by Hannah S!
Music that inspired the book!
Sneak Previews!
Bookmarks and Handmade Magnets!
A Tell Me a Secret handmade necklace!

HOW TO WIN? Share the Trailer Love!

  1. Click here to go to YouTube, then click the Share button to send to your Facebook, Twitter, MySpace, or blog! 5 pts each
  2. Click here to tell us where you posted and enter to win!

Plus Holly will be featured at readergirlz for the entire month of August, with a live Twitter chat coming up! Hope you enjoy the trailer, and thank you so much for being part of the virtual tour and party!

(And, dear readers, I promise soon a "Reading Like a Writer" post! I'm working on my revisions of please forgive me!)