Monday, September 27, 2010

Fabulous New Fiction: 2k10 Debut Author Michele Corriel

I'm so pleased today to introduce my fellow Montanan Michele Corriel and her debut novel FAIRVIEW FELINES: A Newspaper Mystery. I can't wait to get my hands on my own copy this weekend at her signing at the Country Bookshelf in Bozeman, Montana (and don't you love the cover!?) but for now, here's our conversation.

Congratulations on the publication of your novel, FAIRVIEW FELINES: A Newspaper Mystery. It’s such an intriguing title! Can you tell us a bit about the story and what inspired it?

FAIRVIEW FELINES is the first in a series of middle grade mysteries based on the main character, Thomas Weston, who loves everything about newspapers, ink-covered fingers and all. He dreams of having his own newspaper at school, so when all the cats in his town of Fairview start disappearing, he figures he can prove himself and solve the mystery. Oh, yeah, and he thinks in these really funny headlines.

Inspired? I don't know if it was inspired, but I worked for newspapers for years and before I started to freelance, I worked at a small weekly newspaper, so I knew a lot about how it worked. And I love reading mysteries (who doesn't?). Thomas' voice came to me right away and so did the headlines, the rest was putting it all together.

How long have you been writing for children/teens? Have you written other books or is this your first effort?

FAIRVIEW FELINES is my first middle grade novel. I have a non-fiction picture book coming out this fall called WEIRD ROCKS, published by Mountain Press, and my agent has another, more serious upper MG or young YA (however that works) that I hope will be out in the world soon.

Can you describe your path to the publication of FAIRVIEW FELINES?

My path to publication is more like a labyrinth! I actually wrote the first draft of this novel years ago but I couldn't seem to find the right home for it. I attended a SCBWI conference and met with Miriam Hees, the publisher at Blooming Tree Press. She asked to see it. I rewrote it again (and changed the ending) before sending it to her --  a year later I got the phone call.

Do you have any advice for beginning writers?

First of all, read, read, and read some more. Don't just read your own genre, but read everything you can. Then go to conferences. Go to workshops. You can never stop improving your writing. And most of all, never, never, never give up.

Can you tell us something about your personal life – inspirations, plans for the future, goals, etc.?

I grew up in New York City and moved to Montana about 17 years ago. When I was in high school I won a Pen Women of America award for my poetry and that was that. I knew I wanted to be a writer but I didn't know how to get there. I traveled around Europe, managed a Rock n' Roll club in the East Village, in NYC, and had a poetry performance band. When I moved to Montana I got involved in SCBWI and found I loved writing for young readers. I'm currently working on my fourth novel and I have ideas all the time about my fifth. I love my life! 

Do you have any new writing ventures underway?

I'm working on the second book in the Newspaper Mystery series, besides the ones I mentioned in the previous question. And I continue to write about art for various national magazines.

Do you have a website where readers can learn more about FAIRVIEW FELINES? 

You know I do! It's From there you can find me on Facebook, Twitter, and you can follow my blog called, "Playing with Words."

Monday, September 20, 2010

On a Personal Note: Grateful, Plus

Because I just finished a heavy-duty edit round on FORGIVEN, my second novel due out next spring from Penguin, I thought I break for a personal post. I'm going to list a few of my favorite things - some new to me, some reruns.

5. I discovered a new craft book, HOOKED, by Les Edgerton. Yes, he's talking about novel openings, but he discusses so much more. Here's a sneak peak:
"An opening scene has ten core components: (1) the inciting incident; (2) the story-worthy problem; (3) the initial surface problem; (4) the setup; (5) backstory; (6) a stellar opening sentence; (7) language; (8) character; (9) setting; and (10) foreshadowing."
He goes into great detail on each and every one of these elements, and his insights are fabulous. Love this book. It made me think about my novel in a completely new way.

4. We live in an area that has no cell coverage and very poor radio coverage, but we are NPR addicts. I found a superb dealer in Bozeman (Poindexter's - don't you love the name?) and they turned us on to Sonos, a whole-house wireless system that also streams internet radio. From anywhere in the world. Anywhere. Or streams your entire music collection from your computer to the whole house. Fantastic.

3. And once we found was only a short step to discovering Pandora Radio. OMG - love this!! Setting up music libraries that stream endless new music so that I can make new discoveries...just what I want for whatever mood I'm in. How did we live without this?

2. Bookstores - all bookstores. They've been so supportive of FAITHFUL. Even the biggies - Barnes and Noble and Borders - they've been great. Truly wonderful. But at the moment I'm having a love-fest with a sweet little store in downtown Bozeman - The Country Bookshelf. They hosted me at a signing last Saturday. Welcoming, warm, generous - hearts to them!

1. Autumn. I was autumn-deprived for 15 years. I tried not to focus on it; I love the people in Texas dearly. I always will be grateful for those years. But I knew I missed autumn and had been hungering for it once I arrived here in Montana for keeps and am now experiencing day in and day out of fall - cool weather, rain, brilliant sun (without the heat), turning leaves, deer on the lawn, sweet smells and fires and hot soup. Honey, I'm home.

Monday, September 13, 2010

Reading Like a Writer: Pacing

Lately lots of people I know seem to be talking about pacing in novels. Pacing was the topic of discussion on kidlitchat a few weeks back, about the same time that a thread opened on my Vermont College of Fine Arts discussion board. These conversations were roughly coincident with the release of the final installment of Susanne Collins’ The Hunger Games trilogy, Mockingjay. Perhaps that was accidental; but because I think Collins has mastered the art of pacing, I’d like to take a closer look at the topic and peruse Mockingjay for examples.

I searched for a definition of “pacing” in a few of my favorite craft books, and was surprised at how few make specific mention of it. John Gardner says only “the efficient and elegant writer makes each scene bear as much as it can without clutter or crowding.” Janet Burroway reflects simply, “Drama equals desire plus danger.”

Personally, I think pacing and tension are linked, but I'm still trying to discover exactly how.

It seems that pacing is an art that must be mastered as we craft scene after scene after scene, making each scene work to the max, and bridge these scenes with perfect transitions that let the reader rest...but not long enough to put the book down.

In Mockingjay, when Katniss confronts the damaged Peeta for the second time, the scene is relatively quiet, especially when compared with the action packed scenes that comprise most of the novel:

I’ve just reached the door when his voice stops me. “Katniss. I remember about the bread.”
The bread. Our one moment of real connection before the Hunger Games… “So, what do you remember?”
“You. In the rain,” he says softly… “I must have loved you a lot.”

Now, how does Collins move out of this scene without putting the reader in a doze? By upping the emotional ante between Katniss and Peeta, by not letting them out of the trap they are in:

“…Did you like kissing me?” he asks.
“Sometimes,” I admit. “You know people are watching us now?”

Huh? Why did Katniss say that? Well, clearly, she’s thinking that maybe Peeta’s thinking about kissing her right then, and she wants to discover whether he would and whether it matters that they are being watched – in fact, she wants to discover his heart and whether it still belongs to her. Does he offer it up?

Not if you are Collins:

“…What about Gale?” he continues.
My anger’s returning… “He’s not a bad kisser either,” I say shortly.
…Peeta laughs again, coldly, dismissively. “Well, you’re a piece of work, aren’t you?”

And with that, Katniss and Peeta are emotional enemies, and Katniss is not going to settle into contentment with him (yet), promising the reader more drama (desire plus danger) as clearly spelled out in the closing lines of the chapter:

Finally he can see me for who I really am. Violent. Distrustful. Manipulative. Deadly.
And I hate him for it.

Collins is a master at manipulating pacing. This scene is less than 3 pages long. It acts as an interlude but it gives up nothing in the way of tension - and I think that's because she twists and turns in her characters' thoughts, just as we all twist and turn whenever we argue with those we love/hate.

Do you have any thoughts about pacing versus tension? What other novels do you hold up as examples of good pacing?

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Voices You Should Hear: Amy Brecount White

Today I'm delighted to have Amy Brecount White (one of the sweetest people I know) as a guest, talking about her lovely debut novel FORGET-HER-NOTS

Thanks so much for being here, Amy! Please give readers a quick snapshot of your novel FORGET-HER-NOTS.

It's a new spin on garden magic.  In FHN, my main character discovers that whenever she gives someone a flower or herb, whatever it means in the language of flowers comes true.  For example, if she gave you rosemary, that would make you remember something.  Red tulips declare love, and orchids -- well, you just want to be careful around certain blooms.  Also, most people don't know that the language of flowers goes back to Ancient Greece (the myths of Narcissus, Hyacinth, and laurel, for example) and Shakespeare.  It was very fun to weave those details throughout the scenes.

I love the concept of flowers as having a “magical” quality. What was your inspiration for the theme?

I love hanging out in gardens, and I do think that flowers have a certain magic.. Why else do we include them at nearly every special occasion in our lives?  

I found out about the language of flowers when I was looking for ideas as a freelance writer.  I never got that assignment, but I made a symbolic bouquet (a tussie-mussie) for a friend of mine who was ill.  I so wished that my flower messages of hope, health, and strength would come true for her!  It was a small leap from there to wondering what would happen if the flower meanings really did come true.  :-)

Your cover is gorgeous. Is there a story behind it? Did you have any input?

My art director at Greenwillow said it was serendipity.  He was looking for a gorgeous flower image, and this one came in over the transom.  The flowers are scarlet poppies, which mean "fantastic extravagance" in the language of flowers. I fell in love with the cover the moment it popped up on my computer screen.

What was your path to publication – smooth? Bumpy?

I like to say it was a long and windy road with lots of potholes.  :-)  I used to freelance for newspapers and magazines, so I expected the process to be a little quicker.  Writing novels and finding the right agent was more challenging than I expected.

Is there a sequel in the works, or another new novel? Please tell us a bit!

I'd love to write a companion novel to FHN, but nothing's in the works yet.  I just finished a contemporary YA called String Theories.  It's about a girl who gets in over her head, a stream, and the physics of relationships.

I love the title of that one. How are you balancing your writing life with your launch?

Many days I feel pretty unbalanced!  Luckily, I was almost finished with my second novel when my first launched.  I've spent most of the past summer doing promo work, catching up with my kids, reading, and thinking about the next novel, which is still amorphous.

Thanks so much Amy! Can you give readers a way to find out more about you and FORGET-HER-NOTS?

Yes!  You can find me at or follow me on Facebook or Twitter (@amybrecountwhit).
Thanks so much for hosting me, Janet!!

Here's Amy's trailer:

Monday, September 6, 2010

Voices You Should Hear: Mara Purnhagan

I'm welcoming back Mara Purnhagan, one of my 2k10 classmates, on the launch of her second novel in 2010. TAGGED debuted last March; PAST MIDNIGHT is now available, and Mara has a wonderful story to tell about her success.

I’m so impressed that you finished two novel-length manuscripts and managed to sell them both to appear in one year! More about that in a minute, but please tell us a bit about PAST MIDNIGHT first.

Hi, Janet! PAST MIDNIGHT is the first book in my new series. The books follow Charlotte Silver, a typical 17-year-old girl with very atypical parents: they work as ghost debunkers. Charlotte and her older sister, Annalise, travel with their parents and help them film documentaries. They don’t believe in ghosts—until something strange happens to Charlotte that doesn’t fit in with any of her family’s scientific theories. The books take place outside of Charleston, South Carolina, which is an amazing town.

And the cover is so evocative! What was the process that led to your two sales?

Before I sold TAGGED, I had an interview with my editor, Tara. She asked what else I was working on, and I mentioned that I had completed a first draft of a story that could work as either a stand alone or as a series. She was intrigued by the concept and offered me a two-book deal. Then, after she read PAST MIDNIGHT, she offered me another two-book deal. So I’ll have a book coming out every six months for two years. It may sound impressive, but it was really years in the making—by the time TAGGED was published (over a year after acceptance), PAST MIDNIGHT was being revised and the next book, ONE HUNDRED CANDLES, was in its first draft. It seems faster than it really is—there’s no way I could write a book every six months. I’m glad that while I was waiting to hear back on TAGGED, I began a new project. It kept me from losing my mind, and in the end, I had a solid draft completed that helped me secure a two-book deal.

One of my teachers at Vermont College of Fine Arts, Ellen Howard, talked about writers as “fat writers” and “thin writers.” And this has nothing to do with bathing suits! (I’m breathing a sigh of relief here.)
“Fat” writers write fast and pack in lots of pages and then have to do mountains of editing. “Thin” writers write slowly and carefully and edit as they go. Do you think of yourself as a “fat” or “thin” writer?

I think that’s a great way to look at it. With TAGGED, I was definitely a “fat” writer. I chopped more than one sub plot from the final draft. With PAST MIDNIGHT, I was more on the “thin” side (which sounds funny to me because I was pregnant and closely resembled a manatee). There are a lot more plot twists in PAST MIDNIGHT, and I was very careful about how and when I revealed certain information.

For example, there is a sub plot involving a character named Adam. The truth about Adam is revealed in the first half of the book, and I’m hoping readers can identify that truth before it’s revealed, because the aftermath is important to the second half of the book. I like suspense, but not the kind in which you have it all figured out within the first twenty pages and the ending is a letdown. (By the way, I loved the way you built suspense in FAITHFUL—I did not see those twists coming!)

Wow - thank you, Mara! (blushing furiously) 
PAST MIDNIGHT and TAGGED are very different stories. Do you like to work in such disparate voices?

Yes, I wanted to do something different, although each of the books center around a mystery. I love to read mysteries and it’s great to be able to write them. I also think both books can stand alone, which was important to me when I was writing PAST MIDNIGHT. The major plots are all wrapped up by the end—I wanted my readers to have a sense of satisfaction that their main questions were answered.

What are you currently working on?

Right now I’m halfway through my first novella. The novella covers the time period between PAST MIDNIGHT (Book One) and ONE HUNDRED CANDLES (Book Two), and will be available online in January 2011. I’m also working on Book Three of the series, which is scheduled to be released in September 2011—if I can get it done on time!

I am so impressed with your energy. Is there anything else you’d like to tell readers about PAST MIDNIGHT?

Everything mentioned in the first book-- including names of minor characters and a few important quotes—was put there for a reason. If you like the first book and decide to read the second (which comes out in March 2011), you’ll see exactly why some of the details in PAST MIDNIGHT were so important. ONE HUNDRED CANDLES is darker, spookier—and has a body count.

Thank you so much, Mara! Please tell readers how they can learn more about you and your work.

Thanks, Janet! My web site is