Last July, Justine and I taught at the Alpha Workshop for Young Writers, a science fiction, fantasy, and horror writing camp for people 14-19. It was tons of fun (pic here) and we learned a lot. So when Alpha asked me if I would lend space for their fund-raising and young-writer-recruiting blog tour, I said yes.
So here’s a post by Sarah Brand, an Alpha alum, talking about how workshops and the communities they form help us all to become better writers.
In the summer of 2006, I attended the Alpha SF/F/H Workshop for Young Writers for the first time. As I boarded the plane to Pittsburgh, easily the farthest I had ever traveled on my own at that point, I wasn’t sure what to expect. Being a somewhat anxious, awkward girl, I didn’t know whether I would make friends. But maybe I would learn more about writing, or how to get published. Maybe Tamora Pierce, who teaches at Alpha every year, would look at my novel. (I had brought a printout of all 300 pages just in case.)
I was right about some things, and wrong about others. I did learn a lot about the craft and business of writing, enough to recognize that my novel still needed a lot of work. (Tammy didn’t look at it, which was definitely for the best.) And though I was anxious and awkward, and though minor disasters kept happening to me—getting stung by mysterious bugs, making my parents worry by forgetting to call home, and the like—I felt completely at home with the workshop’s staff and the other students. Something magical was happening.
After ten days, the workshop ended, and I went home. But something was different, something that had never happened to me after any summer camp before: I kept in touch with my fellow Alphans, regularly, via LiveJournal and email. We commiserated about school and traded drafts of stories for critique. Even months after the workshop, I felt as close to some Alphans as I did to other friends I had known all my life. Maybe geography had cruelly scattered us from California to New Zealand and everywhere in between, but we were united by our love of making stories happen, and bringing strange new worlds to life.
In 2009, after I had returned to Alpha twice more—once as a second-year student and once as a staff member—fellow Alpha graduates Rachel Sobel and Rebecca McNulty founded the alpha-crits community, which soon became the way many Alphans stayed in touch. In addition to trading critiques, we celebrate each other’s writing accomplishments and publishing successes. For four particularly memorable months, the moderators ran the “700 words a day or shame!” thread, which resulted in Alphans collectively writing 875,799 words in that time. Also, every year as the deadline for the Dell Magazines Award approaches, eligible Alphans frantically write and revise stories for the contest, and everyone pitches in to give critiques with an extra fast turnaround time. (A couple of months later, we all join in the nail-biting until the finalists are announced.)
Importantly, the members of alpha-crits encourage each other to write things and send them out, continuing the time-honored Alphan tradition of treating rejections from agents and editors as a badge of honor. (Rejections, we have all learned, mean that you are writing things and sending them out, and that is always a step forward, even if it doesn’t feel like it.)
Even if I had never attended Alpha, I think I would still be writing. The entire course of the last eight years of my life would be different, sure, but in the end, telling stories is part of who I am. But being part of a community of such fabulous writers—not only brilliant and talented, but also uniformly encouraging and kind—has made the journey much easier, and a lot more fun.
And lest you might think I’m the only one who feels this way, I reached out to other Alphans to get their thoughts. Alpha graduate Marina Goggin had this to say: “One thing I hear a lot that I would never expect out of a two-week workshop is that Alpha changes lives. This is absolutely true… Being part of Alpha makes you a part of the writing world—even if you haven’t been published yet, someone you critiqued probably has been. Someone you know just got an agent, or a job at a publishing company. While I’m working to improve my writing, I’m encouraged by the fact that other Alphans have already been through the same process and are there to help me through it in turn.”
“I have a whole community of writer friends who I can go to for advice or encouragement should I ever need it,” added Alphan Mallory Trevino.
If you are between the ages of 14 and 19 and love writing science fiction, fantasy, or horror, you should apply to Alpha! This year’s workshop will be held July 25-August 3 in Pittsburgh, PA, and applications are due March 2. Everyone else: if you like the sound of Alpha and want to help the workshop, please consider donating to our scholarship fund, which helps students who couldn’t afford to attend Alpha otherwise. All donors receive a flash fiction anthology, written and illustrated by Alpha graduates, as a thank-you gift.
Sarah Brand attended Alpha in 2006 and 2007. She writes young adult science fiction and fantasy, and her fiction is represented by Ammi-Joan Paquette of the Erin Murphy Literary Agency.
If you live in the United Kingdom, you can acquire the e-book of Uglies for the low cost of FREE from iTunes.
[Alas, this offer is no longer.]
Hope all your NaNoWriMoings are going well. Today’s NaNo hint is: Don’t forget that visual aids can help you organize your novel!
Here’s my Action/Tension plot from the first few chapters of Behemoth. Each index card represents one chapter. I add the chapter description, the Action/Tension labels, and the color-coded POV pushpins (red for Deryn, blue for Alek). This is all really easy in Scrivener:
Rather than software, some writers use physical objects to help organize their novels. Here is Lauren Beukes’ “murder wall,” which she used to keep the serial killings in The Shining Girls straight:
Image ganked from this interview in Zola Books.
I can just imagine the South African police busting into Lauren’s home on an unrelated matter, seeing this murder wall, and being all, “Check the basement.”
Diana Peterfreund also uses a physical medium for plot tracking, color-coded sticky notes!
Her blog post about this “plot board” is here. This one is for the book Rampant, which I blurbed.
Those of you with more monochromatic tastes should check out Justine’s post about How to Write a Novel, which includes this spreadsheet for word-count and POV tracking:
Of course, it doesn’t matter what combination of yarn/software/post-its you employ. Whatever helps you visualize your novel’s structure, and gets your eyes out the trees so you can see the forest, is awesome.
Just remember, a good novel isn’t just a piece of text; it’s a terrain, a country, even a world. As its ruler, you should probably have a map.
I AM BACK. Yes, it’s been a while. But I’ve been writing, and a week ago I finished the first draft of my NEXT NOVEL. It is 135,000 words long, almost as long as Uglies and Pretties put together!
At the moment, this draft is with my agent and editor, and various novelist friends of mine. They’ll all have a gander and get back to me with comments and suggestions, and then there will be rewrites, copyedits, page proofs, sales meetings, cover designs, advanced reader copies, etc. Getting through all these stages means that Afterworlds will come out on
October 28 September 23, 2014.
Yep. A year from now.
As always when I finish a book, I made a word cloud of Afterworlds. Word clouds take the most commonly occurring words in the text (omitting obvious ones like “the” and “was”) and size them by how often they appear.
I make these clouds partly to amuse and titillate you guys, and partly to make sure that there aren’t any overused words stinking up the joint. Check it out:
Okay, so what do we have here?
Darcy is the main character, so she’s the biggest word, naturally. Imogen is also key, as are Yamaraj and Lizzie. (Lizzie looks small to me, but her sections are in first person, so her name doesn’t appear as much!) Mindy, Kiralee, and Nisha are the other characters to appear, and they all seem about the right size. And yes, there is an important character that shows up as “mother”/”mom”.
Of the Dreaded Overused Words I look for, most aren’t there. No “eyebrows” or “frowned,” thank heavens. No “smiled” or “laughed.” But I will probably take a look at “looked” and “stared” when I do the rewrites. Looking ain’t a verb you need too much of.
What I mostly notice from this is how plain the words are. There’s very little sign of the genre of book I’ve written. To see what I mean, check out the word cloud of my last novel, Goliath:
Along with all the character names, this cloud has lots of words from the Leviathan milieu: “airship,” “Clanker,” “captain,” “cargo,” and “engines.” But you don’t have any of those in my new cloud. This is partly because Afterworlds is contemporary, and half of the book has no fantastic elements at all.
Indeed, this is a story told in relatively simple words. Notice “bad” and “little” in there, which make perfect sense. (Gotta read it to see why.) This makes sense, now that I see it revealed in the cloud. Must contemplate what it means, though. Certainly there’s a bit less world-building in Afterworlds than there was in the Leviathan series, but that makes sense for a stand-alone novel.
For more on the story of the book, check out this podcast with Sarah Wendell of
SBTB. It’s her interviewing me and Justine in Brisbane, and we discuss both our next-year books. Click here, then go to the bottom of that page and click the player controls to listen. Lots of me talking about the plot, which some might find a bit spoilery!
Enjoy. And be seeing you here more.
Justine and I have spent the last six weeks traveling in the US, which is why there have been zero postings here. Apologies! I realize that this hasn’t been a very bloggy year for me, but it has been a writey year, and which would you rather have, really?
Let me take you on a slideshow of various things I did while in the States:
Shortly after I first arrived, I was greeted by the sight of my latest publication on bookstore shelves. It’s an essay in a collection called Breakfast on Mars, edited by Rebecca Stern and Brad Wolfe. Basically, it’s a bunch of YA writers taking on the dreaded essay, many teen’s least favorite form of writing.
My essay, for reasons you might guess, is all about illustrations in books.
If you’re a teacher or librarian, or anyone interested in non-fiction writing, you should check it out. If you ask me, Stern (a former fifth-grade English teacher) and Wolfe have helped fill a huge gap in the world of YA and middle-grade letters.
The next cool thing to happen on my trip was Manhattan Henge, a twice yearly astronomical event in which sundown lines up with the crosstown streets of Manhattan. It looks like this:
What were the ancient peoples who built Manhattan trying to tell us about May 28 and July 12? We may never know.
The third thing I did was have an amazing dinner with respected private citizen Maureen Johnson and her English offsider, Oscar Gingersnort. This was at 11 Madison, and included crazy-ass dishes like this one:
The courses were many and wondrous, and gave us the opportunity to plot
the destruction of all other YA authors what to do at Leaky Con next year.
Nextly, I had a meeting with my excellent publishers about how to market my next book, Afterworlds. The ideas were many and wondrous, and will be revealed in due time. I can’t wait to see what you guys think of this book, which has been three years in the writing. (Because it’s really two books in one.)
Afterworlds will come out late next year, probably on October 28. (This date is a clue to the book’s subject matter! Spin on that one, fannish brains!)
One of my other projects for this trip was to start gathering my “papers,” all the editorial, artistic, and business flotsam that I’ve collected over the last two decades. I’ll be donating them to an as-yet-undetermined institute of higher learning as a
huge tax dodge boon to future scholars.
The first step was to collect exactly one first printing of each of my foreign editions, a project which, even in its opening stages, ate my living room floor:
I also found my very first (incomplete) novel, the least embarrassing page of which looks like this:
And that’s all you will ever see of that novel, unless you travel to the as-yet-undetermined institute of higher learning personally. (It’ll be in the box with the big padlock encrusted with contact poison.)
I just realized that this piece of juvenilia is called Keeps, only one letter away from a somewhat more recent (and less appalling) novel of mine. I wonder what the ancient peoples who made me become a writer were trying to tell us about the letters “-eeps.”
In mid-July, Justine and I also had the great pleasure of teaching at Alpha, a residential sf, fantasy, and horror writing workshop for teenagers (basically, a week-and-a-half-long genre writing camp). The young writers and the staff there were smart, committed, and tremendously stylish, as you can see here:
We had a great time. The awesomeness of the students makes me think we’ll do more teaching of this kind in the future. Watch this space for details.
Also, there was a waffle tower. I haz proof:
From there, I traveled onward to San Diego Comic Con, the premier geekfest of our time. There I had many and wondrous business meetings, which you will see the fruits of soon right here. Also many costumes were witnessed. The best of which was Sharknado Hat:
I also enjoyed this shirtless steampunk dinosaur hunter (based on a Greg Broadmoor comic, I think):
Also witnessed were a cavalcade of capitalism aimed directly at the geek dollar, like these bathrobes:
And these leggings:
So let me get this straight. These are Dr Who-themed leggings in the style of van Gogh. In the words of Tally Youngblood, isn’t that one thing too many? (Nah. It’s probably one thing too few. And, yes, I know the reference from the show.)
After SDCC, Justine and I spent a week in LA, where various meetings were had. Some of these shall be the subject of my next blog post. But no, there is no fresh movie news of consequence. The usual movie options are afoot, but the feet in question are slow moving. Sorry to disappoint you. The wheel of Hollywood turns slowly, but it grinds exceedingly fine. (Not really. It usually grinds pretty crappily. But it does grind onward in the case of Uglies and Leviathan. We shall see.)
Okay, more about the trip in a week or so. I’ll be blogging here more often, because I’m almost done with Afterworlds. Thanks to all of you who’ve stuck around and enlivened the comments section while I’ve been writing.
Caio for now.
Note All of these deals are over. But there’s a cool video below, and info about my Sydney Writers Festival appearance.
If you’ve never tried the audio book of Leviathan, it’s pretty awesome. Alan Cumming does a wonderful job with all the accents and characters.
For the next day or so, you can download the audiobook for only $5.99 from Audible. (Offer only good in the US, I think.)
Click here to make it happen. This offer expires at the end of Monday May 20, US time.
As a reminder, here’s one of my interviews with Alan about the books:
Also, on Monday morning, US time, there will be another low-price offer for another of my books, which I’ll announce right here. I’m not allowed to tell you till then, so come back Monday!
Last night I had a great time at the Aurealis Awards in Sydney. And I’ll be appearing at the Sydney Writer’s Festival next week. On Saturday, May 25, at 11:30AM, I’ll be on a panel with Lauren Beukes, David M. Henley, and James Bradley.
What is speculative fiction, and where do the boundaries start to blur between genres and sub-genres? Have the classic genres changed now that we live in a world where technology has caught up?
This is free and no bookings required. Event details.
Just got back from my 50th birthday vacation, and will resume normal blogging shortly. Thanks for sticking around.
I don’t have a book out this year, so I won’t be on any sort of tour. But I will be traveling around a bit and doing a few live appearances (mostly in Australia) so it makes sense to list everything in one place for easy linkage. And this is that place.
Here are all my known appearances in 2013. I will update this page as things change. Note that Justine will be at many of these things.
I’ll be doing a presentation about Leviathan and the history of illustrated novels on Friday (April 26) at 5:00PM, Event Room One. (And otherwise hanging out, so come say hi.) Conference site.
INTERNET DEAD ZONE
I am turning off my internet for this whole week. Get off my lawn!
May 18, 7PM
I’ll be hosting the ceremony for these yearly awards for Australian fantasy, science fiction, and horror. Hopefully I will be funny. Click here for details.
Sydney Writer’s Festival
Saturday, May 25, 11:30AM
I’ll be on a panel with Lauren Beukes, David M. Henley, and James Bradley. What is speculative fiction, and where do the boundaries start to blur between genres and sub-genres? Have the classic genres changed now that we live in a world where technology has caught up?
This is free and no bookings required. Event details.
Alpha Teen Workshop
I’ll be teaching at this week-long writing seminar for teenagers. Admissions for the workshop are closed, but there will probably be a bookstore appearance in Pittsburgh. Check back here for details about that, or at the Alpha site.
San Diego Comic-Con
I’ll be hanging out here and getting into trouble. They might make me do a panel or two. Check back here for details, or at the con site.
Melbourne Writer’s Festival
I’ll be here and doing stuff. Details not set yet, but you can always check back here or on the festival site.
Brisbane Writers Festival
I’ll be here too! Details following. Festival site
All in all that’s a fair amount of travel, but nothing like when I go on tour. I’m kind of glad to be mostly hanging out at home and writing.
But next year i’m planning to have a book out, so who knows . . .
Usually when I blurb a YA book, I post about it here when it’s published. Alas, I was in the depths of non-blogging when Alaya Dawn Johnson’s Summer Prince came out a month ago. So now I’m making up for that, because it is a very good book indeed. Here’s what I said in my blurb:
A nimble, beautiful novel about risking everything for love and art, both otherworldly and magnificently real.
But now that I have some time, and more space than one gets for a blurb, I have a lot more to say.
Summer Prince is set four centuries in the future (roughly the same time frame as Ugies). It’s set mostly in a city-state called Palmares Três, which sits where Rio de Janeiro, Brazil does today. The city is post-scarcity futuristic, but technology is carefully controlled and wealth unequally distributed. It’s also a matriarchy, though one with a peculiar old tradition: every five years, the youngest citizens (under thirty) all vote to elect a Summer King.
Summer King is an honorary position, basically an official rock star of the city. He’s always super charismatic, beautiful, and artistically talented, and has an awesome time being king.
There’s only one drawback: at the end of one year the Summer King is ritually sacrificed.
Here’s something you might not know: The sacred king who reigns for a year and then dies can be found in lots of societies in history. It’s an old pagan tradition. But Johnson uses it to examine our current celebrity culture, in which we build up and tear down famous people, particularly young ones, even as we love them with all our hearts.
Which brings us to June Costas, the protagonist of Summer Prince. She’s eighteen, an artist, and a child of privilege. (Her mother is a high government official; her father was a famous singer who committed suicide.) Thanks to her POV, Summer Prince is all about art. Music, drawings, sculptures, nano-tattoos, large-scale high-tech media manipulations—all of these get deployed by June in her quest to be the best artist in Palmares Três. She’s in rebellion against her mother and the government, still angry at her father, and gloriously egotistical (as one might expect of the self-annointed best artist in Palmares Três).
She’s also gloriously in love with the just-elected Summer King, who’s not only fated to die in a year, but also happens to be in love with June’s best friend, Gil.
Anyway, it’s pretty awesome, and got starred reviews from Publisher’s Weekly, Kirkus, and Booklist. If you liked the way that the high tech in Uglies empowered its teen characters to do cool things, you will totally love this book. The art in it feels like real art, and the love, both celebrity-crushing and actual face-to-face connection, totally feels like real love.
You can read the opening here.
Because Russia has to have new covers every year, or something.
Here they are:
I don’t have much to say about these covers, except that I love the darkling dragons in them. For the earlier versions, click here.
Insert here the usual apologies about not blogging lately. Yes, I have been taking rather a long break. But I assure you, it’s only because I’ve been writing loads. I’m at about 70,000 words in my current work in progress, currently titled Afterworlds.
Now, what does 70 kilowords this mean? That this book will be out soon?
Hah! I’m afraid not.Afterworlds is going to be a long piece of work, with two novels wrapped into one in a strange and mystical way. I’m maybe halfway done, so the novel isn’t going to be in anyone’s hands until late next year. (Or later, because art is no science.)
Anyway, thanks to those who continue to hang around my dusty windblown blog. I apologize for letting this space that we’ve all created together lie fallow. But rest assured that some day it will spark back to life, when I have more energy and time, or simply find something to rant about.
Till then, hope you’re all having fun.
I’m headed to the Adelaide Writers’ Festival in a few weeks, so I’m hoping to see some of you South Australian fans there.
Here’s my schedule:
SUNDAY MARCH 3, 5PM
Pioneer Women’s Memorial Garden
Leviathan: Scott Westerfeld (US/AUS)
This is me having a long chat with my old buddy Sean Williams. We will be talking about All Of The Stuff.
Click here for more.
MONDAY MARCH 4, 5PM
Pioneer Women’s Memorial Garden
Highways to a War: A Reading
War stories are among our oldest narratives and this session of readings will explore some of our more recent wars. Christopher Koch has taken us to Cambodia, Vietnam and Indonesia. Peter Robb has introduced us to the mean streets of Italy and Brazil. Tom Keneally has chronicled both the World Wars. Scott Westerfeld explores an alternative First World War and Ross McMullin chronicles the letters home.
It looks like I’ll be doing a reading for this second one, and with Tom Keneally! (AKA the guy who wrote Schindler’s Ark.) Click here for more.
A pre-nanowrimo warmup for you . . .
At the last minute on a Friday afternoon, you and a few friends decide to go camping in the nearby lake district. You throw together a few sleeping bags, one tent, some food, and a few extra clothes. Sure, you’re not the most experienced campers, but you’re going to have fun anyway.
The drive is longer than you think, thanks to some bad navigation and car trouble, so it’s almost midnight when you arrive at the campsite. You eat a cold meal, erect a somewhat shambolic tent, and then all crawl in together for a good night’s sleep. Not a brilliant start to your mini-vacation, but tomorrow is going to be awesome.
The problem is, you’ve managed to pitch your tent right over a rather large rock, which you somehow didn’t notice in the darkness. And now it’s in the middle of your back. The tent’s a bit too crowded to avoid this rock. So finally you climb out, ignoring the protests of your friends, and reach beneath the tent to retrieve it.
And here’s the weird thing: trapped beneath the rock was a piece of paper.
You take this paper back into the tent, where you all crowd around it with a flashlight. It’s a hand-scrawled note that says . . .
a) “I’ll be back just after midnight.”
b) “Here lies Rusty, who asked too many questions.”
c) “This place is plagued with midges.”
d) Put your own story-starting note in the comments thread below!
Don’t forget the meet-up over at the Westerforum. I’ll be there to answer all your questions (within human limits).
Here are the details:
October 20, 2012
7PM Eastern US/4PM US West Coast
Sunday morning at 10AM in Sydney