Who Are You? On Finding Your Writer Identity.

I recently started the Writing For Children and Young Adults Masters Program at Vermont College of Fine Arts, with my first residency completed in July and my first packet due to my advisor in ten days.

Already, I have found it to be a transformative experience.

During my ten days in Vermont, I made more realizations about who I am as a writer than I had in the past ten years of going through the process of becoming a published author.

That’s not to say that I learned more, it just means that I was able to step back from the process and ask questions that got to the core of who I am.

In the workshops, lectures, and conversations with faculty and classmates, one idea kept coming up, over and over: the idea of self-awareness and it being the cornerstone that everything else is built upon. As writers, we run into a lot of prescriptive advice (don’t do this, do this!), and more often than not, it overwhelms us, even stagnates us.

This is because writing is not a one-size-fits-all proposition. What we need most is to explore our writer identity and then arm ourselves with the tools that will help us, as individuals, to develop our craft and to protect what is important to us.

So how does one go about exploring one’s identity as a writer? Ask lots of questions and be open to the answers. Experiment. Understand that it’s not going to happen overnight and that each day brings new challenges and new opportunities. Never stop striving to be better.

Who are you?

Summer Reading Club: Looking Forward

Dude, I so want to be able to see the future. Even just a few minutes like that one movie with Nicholas Cage.

Anyway, I digress. This week on our final installment of our League Summer Reading Club, we're bringing you titles we can't wait to read! Books that aren't out yet, but that should be on your To-Be-Read list already.

So let's add them to the club!

Beth Revis: I am so excited for THE WALLED CITY by Ryan Graudin. I was lucky enough to nab an ARC, and it is BRILLIANT. Absolutely beautifully written, with heart-pounding excitement. I'm truly fearful for all the characters. I've only read the first few chapters, and I'm already so crazily excited to see how it turns out.

Coming November 4.

Mindy McGinnis: I'm looking forward to JACK: THE TRUE STORY OF JACK & THE BEANSTALK by Liesl Shurtliff. She writes great fairy tale MG retellings that are hilarious for all ages.

Coming April 14, 2015

Bethany Hagen: I'm looking forward to SNOW LIKE ASHES by Sara Raasch. It sounds like a mash-up of Game of Thrones and Finnikin of the Rock, which is a combination guaranteed to delight me.

Coming October 14.

Peggy Eddleman: I am really looking forward to STITCHING SNOW by R.C. Lewis. A sci-fi Snow White retelling? Yes, please!! I've heard that the writing is incredible, and that it's full of action and adventure and romance and a kick-A main character. My kind of book!

Coming October 14.

Elana Johnson: I can't wait to read Karen Hooper's VIRTUAL ARCANA. I mean "The Matrix meets The Notebook"?? Sign me up for that! I think the whole premise of outlawed virtual reality games and the idea of the MC escaping into her novels (hello INKHEART!! Another fave!) makes VIRTUAL ARCANA sound like a real winner.

Coming in September.
Lenore Appelhans: I am really exited for Jen Brooks IN A WORLD JUST RIGHT about a high school senior who can create worlds at will. He's created one in which he's dating his crush, but one
day he makes a mistake and kisses her in the real world. I've read the first chapter and it's fantastic!

Coming April 2015.

What book are looking forward to?

Basking in the Movie's Glow

Okay, so I was sitting in a pizza place the other day. (Don't judge. Writers gotta write...and eat, and sometimes cooking and writing don't coincide. So pizza.) And they had this wicked-lame TV next to the menu. Don't get me wrong, it was a nice TV. Flat screen and all that. But the cable feed into the TV was terrible. It skipped, blurred out, paused, you name it, this feed did it. There was hardly any sound to be heard, because this classy pizza joint has an open kitchen.

So anyway, I'm sitting there, half-involved in a conversation and half-watching the guy make my pizza to ensure nothing goes awry there, when a few seconds of non-blurry, smooth action takes place on the flat screen.

It's a commercial--a movie trailer. My friend noticed it at the same time as me, and we both stopped conversing to watch. I'm like, "Whoa."

She's like, "Is that Ally's?" (<<referring to Ally Condie's MATCHED, as Ally lives near us and we are somewhat friendly with her.)

I go, "Maybe... I haven't heard anything about it."

She says, "Wait."

I say, "I know what that is!"

Then it flashes on the screen: THE GIVER.

I didn't even know they were making THE GIVER into a movie! I'm totally thrilled. We collected our pizza, basking in the movie's glow the rest of the night.

See? Good things can happen at crummy pizza places. So go get yourself a pie!

I only got to see the final seconds, so here's the whole thing if you want to watch it. THE GIVER comes out in movie format on August 15! #happydance #scifirocks

What movies are you looking forward to this fall?

Little Things That Make World Building Work

Today’s guest is R.C. Lewis, who has taught math to teenagers for over ten years, including several where she found calculus is just as fun in American Sign Language. After a lifetime of thinking she didn’t have an ounce of creativity, she realized she just needed to switch to metric. Turns out whole liters were waiting to pour out, and she now writes geeky-chic sci-fi when she escapes the classroom. Her debut novel Stitching Snow releases October 14, 2014 from Hyperion. You can find R.C. on Twitter (@RC_Lewis) and at her website.

When you’re writing science fiction, world-building is a major consideration. For some writers, it’s the first consideration. Government structure, social hierarchy, clothes and customs and more.

Language is another aspect, and what I want to focus on. Not the global level—how many languages, who speaks each one, levels of formality. No, what I get caught up in are the tiny details. The individual words.

Sure, we can pretend we’re reading a translation of the “real” language, so anything in English is fair game. Sometimes that works just fine, but if we use certain words without thinking them over, we might kill the immersive nature of the reading experience.

Here are a couple of vocabulary areas I try to keep in mind:


Every society seems to have some form of slang. Personally, I’m rarely in favor of completely making up words for this purpose. If you think about the slang we have in our own society, it all has a root in something. Those roots can often tell you something about the values or focus of the society in question.

On a related note, this is especially true of swear words, which is why I’m especially not into purely made-up words for cussing. It’s a missed opportunity to show something about your world. Do they have puritanical roots similar to ours? Has a focus on technology taken over everything? Do they have long-standing superstitions that are so ingrained, people no longer actively think about the original meaning?

Units of Measure

Wait, measurement? Like, math and science class “don’t forget the units” measurement?

Yes. Exactly.

Let’s start with time. If we’re on a planet, it’s likely enough that it rotates, so “days” are pretty safe. So are “years,” since that planet is probably revolves around a star. But what about “months”? Only if the planet has a moon—and just one. (Can you imagine the complexity of months with more than one moon?) That is, if your months are going to be anything like ours.

And “weeks”? Forget about it. So arbitrary. Easy enough for a world to have them, but there’s no real reason for them to be seven days long.

There are other measurements to consider, too. Say the world is a dimension parallel to ours, with some common history but a divergence at some point where they became even more scientifically focused. Might be a good idea to go metric. Inches and feet and gallons and ounces? Maybe not as likely.

Another problem is that many of our units are named after people. Personally, if I’m reading a story set in a world that has nothing to do with Earth, it jars me to see someone mention watts or volts or megahertz.

(I might just be picky. And a math teacher.)

We have to draw the line somewhere (or risk cluttering up the narrative), so I often let “hours” stand and pretend they’re roughly the length we know them to be, along with other terms. Sometimes it may best serve the story to stick with the familiar, even if it means miles and pounds.

But it’s a decision that should be actively made. Sometimes thinking up alternatives makes us think more deeply about our world … and can be a lot of fun, too.

Summer Reading Club: New Releases

Okay, so this week on the League Summer Reading Club, we're talking about new releases. For our purposes here, a "new release" is a book that's come out in the past 5 years. So let's here what the Leaguers have read and loved recently!

Hopefully you'll add some of these to your TBR pile too!

Lydia Kang loved Seraphina by Rachel Hartman.
"This book, with its dragons and singular main character, has such a rich world and beautiful, savory prose. It will be one of my favorites for life."

Bethany Hagen says to read The Raven Boys by Maggie Steifvater.
"The combination of mythology, dead Welsh kings and ghosts is already perfect, but after you sprinkle in boarding school boys with artfully rumpled uniforms, it becomes unforgettably delightful."

Beth Revis is obsessed with Darkest Minds by Alexandra Bracken.
"I listened to this book on audiobook, and ended up crying in my car on the way home one day. Cleverly put together, beautifully written, with an edge-of-your seat plot and a take-your-breath-away romance."

E.C. Myers recommends The Burning Sky by Sherry Thomas.
"Cross-dressing magical girl at a boarding school for boys. 'Nuff said."

Mindy McGinnis thinks Divided by Elsie Chapman was the best.
"Everyone has an Alternative version of themselves, that they must assassinate in a given period of time to ensure that only the strong survive. Adrenaline-pumper!"

Lissa Price loved Incarceron by Catherine Fisher.
"Love how in her world of computers they recreate the past, and the mythology around it."

Peggy Eddleman adored Legend by Marie Lu.
"The world felt so real and rich, the conflicts were non-stop, and I loved that the characters were so capable and kept you rooting for them every second."

Lenore Applehans recommends The Color of Rain by Cori McCarthy.
"It is a bold, ambitious novel about interstellar sex trafficking with rich characters, tight action scenes and grounded writing that never sensationalizes the subject."

Have you read any of these? What would you recommend from a pool of books published in the past 5 years?

Get Out Of the Bathtub! There's A Storm Coming!

I can't tell you how many times I've heard this in my life.

Where I grew up you can see for miles over flat fields. Anytime farm chores left a film on your skin and thunderheads were piling up, you ran for the house so that you didn't have to smell yourself while eating dinner. Now that I'm older - and supposedly wiser - I've found out that a lot of the things I learned when I was a kid weren't necessarily true. Try most of American history... but that's another post.

So while brainstorming for new book ideas I found myself ruminating on this old idea. Did I really need to leap out of the bathtub every time my mom yelled at me, or was she just being overly protective? A little research was all it took to find out that she was no helicopter parent and that Norman Bates is not the only thing to be scared of while getting clean.
  • Yes: You can be struck be lightning while in the shower. When lightning strikes a home it can travel through plumbing, metal pipes delivering that electricity directly to anyone who happens to be holding onto them at the time. Not only that, but the water itself carries impurities that help conduct electricity.
  • Hold the Phone: Actually, don't. For everyone who still has a landline, those conduct lightning blasts as well. Right into your ear. 
  • Those Dishes Will Keep & Your Breath Is Not That Bad : Yeah, don't do dishes during a thunderstorm either. Or brush your teeth. Honestly you should probably just follow the dog. Go under the bed and whimper for a little while.
It turns out that mother nature really can be quite vengeful, and my own wasn't as paranoid as I thought.

Fairy Tales Reimagined

Okay, so I've seen quite a few fairy tale stories floating around out there. I'll admit that I've kind of held them at bay, because I'm afraid I'll get sucked right in and never be able to get out! After all, I devoured the first season and a half Once Upon A Time, and yeah. Wasted a lot of hours there!

Not that I actually think enjoying good books, movies, or TV shows is a waste, but you know. So today, I want to talk fairy tales. Have you read any reimaginings?

Here are a couple I'm starting with (already loaded on the Kindle! Yay!):

A BEAUTY SO BEASTLY by RaShelle Workman.

About: For your vanity, your cruelty, and your cold unfeeling heart, a curse I leave upon you . . .”

What happens if the beauty is also the beast?

The stunning Beatrice Cavanaugh is considered American royalty. She has everything except the ability to love. Cursed on her eighteenth birthday, she becomes more beastly than ever, having a newfound craving for raw meat, and an undeniable yearning for the night. Bitterness is her only companion.

After accusing a maid of stealing, a disgustingly kind and exquisitely handsome guy named Adam shows up asking Beatrice to drop the charges against his mother.

Infuriated by his goodness, Beatrice vows to break him. Destroy him. Make him hurt the way she hurts. So she agrees. On one condition: Adam must take his mother’s place as a servant in the mansion.

Because Beatrice won’t stop until he’s more beastly than she is.

RaShelle said this about where she got the inspiration for A BEAUTY SO BEASTLY: "My inspiration came from the fairy tale, Beauty and the Beast. I’ve always loved that story but I thought it would be fun to have the beauty also be the beast. And A Beauty So Beastly was born. =)"

RaShelle writes a lot of fairy tale retellings, so be sure to check out her other work!

I'm also looking forward to DOROTHY MUST DIE by Danielle Paige. I mean, the title is enough to peak anyone's interest (and is this technically a fairy tale? It's definitely a retelling, so I'm going to go with it), but here's what the book is about.

I didn’t ask for any of this. I didn’t ask to be some kind of hero. But when your whole life gets swept up by a tornado—taking you with it—you have no choice but to go along, you know?

Sure, I’ve read the books. I’ve seen the movies. I know the song about the rainbow and the happy little blue birds. But I never expected Oz to look like this. To be a place where Good Witches can’t be trusted, Wicked
Witches may just be the good guys, and winged monkeys can be executed for acts of rebellion. There’s still the yellow brick road, though—but even that’s crumbling.

What happened? Dorothy. They say she found a way to come back to Oz. They say she seized power and the power went to her head. And now no one is safe.

My name is Amy Gumm—and I’m the other girl from Kansas. I’ve been recruited by the Revolutionary Order of the Wicked. I’ve been trained to fight. And I have a mission:

Remove the Tin Woodman’s heart.

Steal the Scarecrow’s brain.

Take the Lion’s courage.

Then and only then—Dorothy must die!

And a friend of mine just sold her Alice in Wonderland retelling too! Be sure to check out her announcement on Facebook and say congratulations!

What fairy tale retellings have you read?? What are you excited for?