Friday, April 22, 2011

Hello! My name is Demetra and I am an obsessive list maker—PART 2

A few weeks ago I looked at all my lists and thought, how can I apply this to plotting my next novel? (see post: Hello! My name is Demetra and I am an obsessive list maker—PART I—3/20/11) Adding to the lists from that post is my love for the requisite moleskin writer’s notebook. I make lists in there as well, jotting down things about the characters in my next book or little snippets of dialogue I come up with on the fly when doing rote tasks. I have lists about setting, character naming, and other ideas typed and file away in my equally obsessive-compulsive computer filing system—everything in its place. But how can I combine them all in cohesive order. That was my dilemma. I need structure and order like I need oxygen.

The first time I plotted, for my book Fatal Threads, I had read a great book (I can’t remember the title; it was library loaner) that taught outlining/plotting in a chapter-by-chapter format rather than the looking at the big picture. It was good, but I need more. I turned to YA author Rachel Vincent, known for her exceptional plotting skills. Where other authors dive in and let the story take over, Rachel Vincent knows where her story is going from beginning to end. Consequently, she is a prolific writer and a New York Times best-selling author. The system she outlined on her blog was something I could get behind. I too start with characters and build a story around them. And although she is a lover of the Post-it note, I found her system didn’t give me the story arc instruction I was looking for. I decided to do an exhaustive search online for a better way to plot and found, Fill-in-the-blank Plotting, by Linda George. The unattractive cover was an initial turnoff (shallow, I know. But I am a graphic designer and therefore highly visual). The book’s title was a bit deceptive as well, because it’s not a workbook and therefore doesn’t have blanks to fill in. The writer makes the blanks—on index cards.  Cool. Okay, so they aren’t Post-it notes, but index cards do come in neon colors. Bonus. The book combines the twelve steps of the hero’s journey with the classic three-act structure, utilizing two pushpin boards, one for the hero’s journey; one for the three-act structure. A visual representation of the plot; hallelujah! Rather then spend a gob of money on pushpin boards, I revisited my resourceful art student ways and picked up foam core boards and map pins, making my plotting boards light and easy to move from room to room. I live with a saxophone-playing husband in house without soundproofing, so sometimes sharing the office space is not an option. After all, I’m not the only creative in the house. I can’t hog the room all the time, though I do get more than my fair share. I’m going to start taking my lists and moving them onto the foam core boards and let you know how it goes. So far, just having the structured, visual plan is real motivator. Now, let's see how it looks in action...

Monday, April 18, 2011


Me (Demetra Brodsky) and Bettina Restrepo. No authors were injured in the making of these photos.
It isn’t often that I’m at a loss for words. But walking up to dream agents at the first YA A to Z conference in Austin left me tongue-tied. I knew if I just got the first sentence out the words would follow. “Hello, do you have time to hear about my book?” or “Does your agency represent books based in mythology?” As each agent smiled, the words flowed from my mouth and swept my frazzled nerves away.

At the end of the conference I had pitched three agents, and asked for the business card of one at the end of the wrap up party (because quite frankly she looked, well, done and I needed to respect her as a person with limitations). On Saturday afternoon, I had an appointment with Agent X. I sat outside the room, ready for my speed date, with a racing heart. When I was called up to bat, I took my seat and the agent smiled (as above). All fear was gone. Agent X was as real as they come. I gave her my pitch and we spoke about my book more in depth. She asked for the first 50 pages, and my time was up. Another author was waiting to woo her. I left the room in complete awe of her intelligence. Agent X knew exactly what she wanted to represent, what facets in a novel needed to be included, and how she could position it in the market. All in 15 minutes time. Amazing. 

I made many new friends at the conference who I know will be in my life for a long time. They are brilliant, talented, funny and supportive women. Who knows, maybe will all be on book tour some day at town near your. Look out world. We're coming.

L to R: Demetra Brodsky, Jenny Peterson, Tori Scott, Caroline Tyler and Amy Rose Thomas

Why YA
I owe a great deal of gratitude to Literary Agent Laurie McLean of Larson-Pomada. She sat two seats over from me at the opening session. There is something in Laurie’s demeanor that made me feel at ease. Maybe it’s her effervescent personality, her award winning smile, or the fact that she just seemed genuine. Probably, it was a combination of all three. But when she stood up and challenged the attending aspiring author to pitch their story to her at some point during the conference, I knew she was a woman I wanted to speak to. In return, Laurie promised to accept the query and first page of our novels. Not a bad deal at all. I approached her as soon as that first panel discussion was over, and lo and behold, I didn’t have a heart attack or break out into a sweat like I anticipated. Thanks Laurie.

Major Takeaways:
The components of a great YA novel are based on Story, characters and plot. The market is looking for great books for boys and one attendee, whose name I unfortunately missed said this about writing for boys (mind-set).
“First person is best. Their thoughts reveal those issues they can’t address with their peers. The dialogue hints at it, but they will deny it.” Genius. Thank you. Books for boys are based on actions, not thinking.

New Voices in YA:
Sitting across from John Cusick, Bettina Restrepo and New York Times Best Selling author, Carrie Ryan made me realize they have been in the exact same position as the rest of us. They started somewhere. The moderator (Debbie Gonzales) did a great job of bring personal anecdotes about each author, or author/agent in the case of John Cusick, to the table. They each read an excerpt from their books and I could feel the honesty in their words, the work that went into writing each sentence and the dedication to their craft. John Cusick, I learned, went to high school in the town I grew up in, Carrie Ryan’s husband tells her when she can do better (as does mine) – the best advice ever—and Bettina…where do I even begin. Bettina took a small group of aspiring authors under her wing this weekend and changed our perspectives, calmed our nerves, and coaching us to the finishing line with several victories. A simple thank you seems inadequate. She lives by the principle of paying it forward, and has earned a great many fans. Bettina gave me a critique on my query and I bought her book. For me, the winning was all on my side. A million thank yous to you, Bettina.

Major Takeaways:
Bettina said it best: “You are asking your readers: May I crawl into your brain and whisper intimately.” 

The Imaginarium: Writing Fantasy
Cinda Williams Chima and Carrie Ryan did a fantastic job breaking down some major components of fantasy writing.  Carrie writes in first person present and was asked how she writes her support characters. She said it’s in the memories, how they dress, how they handle their emotions, their body language…

Major Takeaways:
Don’t rely on your magical systems to solve all problems. Fantasy worlds have to have rules and you must stick with them. Magic has to have a limit, that’s why we have kryptonite. Sometimes there is a cost to doing magic. Magic creatures have to have human elements.

SECRETS OF THE AGENTS II: How to shop your book
Major Takeaways:
When you query, let agents know you have an established online platform. Make you’re your query reveals how they can position the book to tap into the intended audience. And work on your first lines until they’re perfect. Tell the agent why you chose him/her. Flattery does help. Research the agents you query. It’s important to know who they are and what they like to represent.

Thank you Writer’s League of Texas for hosting the first conference completely dedicated to young adult fiction. It was a smashing success, and I hope there will be another next year. I know I’ll be there. And if you write for young adults, so should you.

Friday, April 15, 2011

Why I YA is at the YA A to Z CONFERENCE

Writers' League of Texas Presents

YA A to Z Conference

Everything You Need to Know
About Writing for the Young-Adult Market

April 15-16, 2011
Hyatt Regency Austin
208 Barton Springs Road
Austin, TX 78704

At the Writers' League of Texas' brand-new YA A to Z Conference, you can focus on the craft of writing for teens and young adults, as well as meet agents and editors and get up to speed on the latest trends in publishing for this hot market.

Why attend?
  • Study with some of the country's premier YA authors
  • Meet top YA agents and editors
  • Learn the latest about this booming market
  • Position yourself to succeed as a YA author

Monday, April 11, 2011

What I Learned at the RT Booklovers Convention

Tera Lyn Childs, Demetra Brodsky, Sophie Jordan
At the RT Booklovers Convention on Friday, I had the opportunity to interact with some of the best young adult authors in the industry. Sitting in and participating with panel members that consisted of Authors, Literary Agents and Editors opened my eyes to the world of publishing. Below is the list of panels I attended and my major takeaway point from each. I hope you find some inspiration for yourself in what I learned.

Panelists: Sarah Rees Brennan, Kimberly Derting, Jackie Morse Kessler and Moderator: Young Adult Author, Jennifer Lynn Barnes.

Major Takeaway: You can pretty much say and do anything in YA if you can take the heat. Many young adult authors are questioned for their choice of language (even though teens do, indeed, curse), and for the level of sexual content (even though teens do, indeed, you know...) Critics run the full range in YA, as does the audience. Almost all of the authors said their readership was 50% teens and 50% adult. It was a pretty even split when I posed the question "Do you think YA books should have the age appropriate level on the back? For example YA age 14+. Some authors, mostly those that had teens at home thought it was a good idea, while others thought it should be left to the parents. What do you think?

Panelists: Merrilee Heifetz (VP Writers House), Anne Hoppe (Harper Collins Executive Editor), Valerie Vaugh (Producer, Wild West Picture Show Productions), Sally Willcox (Film agent CAA), Moderator: Young Adult Author, Ally Carter

Major Takeaway: Many Young Adult novels are being "optioned for film" right now. However, the number of books optioned that make it all the way to the big screen is very slim. It is a lengthy process, not a get rich quick scenario. So focus on writing a great book and worry about films when you have time (ha!)

Panelists: Jan Burke, D.P. Lyle, Stephen Jay Schwartz, Alexandra Sokoloff, Moderator: Allison Brennan

Major Takeaway: I went to this panel on a whim, looking for something outside my genre. And boy did I get it. What a great group. My most memorable takeaway came from D.P. Lyle who said:
"On your way home today, go into three places you've never been, stay for 90 seconds and go back out to your car and write down the three things you remember!" WOW! You mean, you can't get it all from google.

Stephen Jay Schwartz backed up this information by confirming how often he's ridden along with police squads, visited mortuaries, and most importantly, went into The Cable Car Museum that he could have researched online. But that wouldn't have flooded his senses with repetitive (dugga dugga, dugga dugga, as he put it) sound of engines in the museum, which would be annoying while trying to investigate a crime scene! Great advice.

Oh Yeah, and...corpses don't bleed. That's a big one!

CRAFT: SURVIVING EDITS & REVISIONS (with only a few tears)
Panelists: Stacey Kade, Linnea Sinclair

Major Takeaway: 
First, let me say that Linnea Sinclair is one of the most forthcoming and honest writers in the business. She showed the group pages of manuscript edits from her own book that came via her editor. That big blue X through an entire happens. With tears, I'm sure. But, taking 24-hours to think and look at the edits constructively is a great place to start. We're all attached to our work, but the editors job is to take it from good to great. She also gave out a little secret weapon to each author in the group. But I can't tell you what it is. It wouldn't be a secret then, would it? Suffice it to say, it's liquid and relaxing. : )
Linnea also teaches month long writing workshops at Saavyauthors. com

And last, but not least, I had the opportunity to hang with my friend Lani Woodland, the hardworking young adult author of INTRINSICAL. Who says you can't make real friends online?