Wednesday, November 23, 2011

The Breakup Letter

Dear Macbook Air,

Remember that time I spilled a bunch of water on you and wiped it off and nothing bad happened? yeah, that was a good time. So why did you want to spoil it the second time around, Macbook? It was even LESS water this time, about three drops! I thought you said I could share anything with you--documents, web pages, music files. DOES THAT NOT INCLUDE BEVERAGES? It's not my fault you looked thirsty. Why did you become so darn sensitive? (Was it something I said? Or did?)

All I know is, you didn't have to go out like that. First your "y" key kept repeating so that I couldn't type anything else-- do you have a thing going with "y" that you weren't telling me about? I THOUGHT WE TRUSTED EACH OTHER-- and then your "y" key stopped working altogether so that I had to copy-paste it (as I'm doing right now), and then all your other keys went bonkers so I had to type really slowly (as I am AGAIN doing right now) to get any of the text down.

Now when I type on other computers (computers that actually WORK unlike SOME devices I know, ahem) I automatically copy-paste when I want a y, and I end up with copied web addresses in the middle of my paragraphs. Macbook, you have turned me into a copy-pasting y machine, and I am done dealing with your particular brand of berserkers.

In fact, I am done trying to keep any of your shiny apple comrades happy, because darn it, I break things a lot, and I don't want to shell out so much dough to fix them. So I have gone over to the other side.

His name is Lenovo, he's only slightly larger than you are, he's less sparkly, and moreover, he appreciates me. AND he has a little drainage system in his keyboard, so spilled water has very little effect on him. So there.

P.S. Don't tell the iPhone.

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Bookanista Thursday!: The Near Witch by Victoria Schwab

(From the author's website)

The Near Witch is only an old story told to frighten children.

If the wind calls at night, you must not listen. The wind is lonely, and always looking for company.  

There are no strangers in the town of Near.

These are the truths that Lexi has heard all her life. But when an actual stranger—a boy who seems to fade like smoke—appears outside her home on the moor at night, she knows that at least one of these sayings is no longer true.

The next night, the children of Near start disappearing from their beds, and the mysterious boy falls under suspicion. Still, he insists on helping Lexi search for them. Something tells her she can trust him. As the hunt for the children intensifies, so does Lexi's need to know—about the witch that just might be more than a bedtime story, about the wind that seems to speak through the walls at night, and about the history of this nameless boy.


I have an Official Policy of Skepticism about books. This means that I try to enter every book warily, so as not to let my own unreasonable expectations change how much I enjoy it. I had read a lot of good reviews of this book, but I refused to let them change the Official Policy of Skepticism. Luckily the book changed the Official Policy of Skepticism for me on the first page, because the voice was just so lovely. Observe:

"With the candles all lit, I shake the match and the flame dies, leaving a trail of smoke that curls up against the darkened glass." (6)

Ah, delicious.

Another success of this book is the atmosphere it creates. The claustrophobia of the town, the mysterious emptiness of the moor, the creepy-beautiful rhyming song sung by the children, it's all fantastic. This is one of those books in which the setting is like a character. (It also feeds my obsession with large stretches of empty land. I am, after all, a Midwest Enthusiast.)

I also found the story engaging. I adored the aforementioned "nameless boy," particularly the descriptions of his strange physicality, and Lexi, who is definitely not a pushover but not so badass it's unbelievable, given the kind of environment she grew up in, and her father, who is there only in Lexi's recollections, but nonetheless has a strong presence in the story. There also weren't any cackling, mustache-twirling villains here-- every character was more complicated than that, whether you liked them or not (and I often found myself vacillating, which I love).

Definitely recommended.


Check out the other Bookanista posts!

Elana Johnson gives a standing ovation for
Shannon Messenger talks up THE PLEDGE - with a
LiLa Roecker pines for THE GIRL OF FIRE AND
Cory Jackson falls for UNDER THE NEVER
Carolina Valdez-Miller gives some love to
Katy Upperman reccommends THE PLEDGE
Beth Revis interviews and has a giveaway for a signed copy of CROSSED by
Ally Condie

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Guest Post

I have a guest post up on Nova Ren Suma's blog today-- if you haven't been reading her "what inspires you?" guest blogs this month, go check them out. They are amazing.

Just a little peek, to give you an idea...

"Right now what inspires me is a slight, short girl with blonde hair and an attitude problem. Her name is Beatrice Prior..."

NCTE/ALAN This Weekend!

This weekend I'll be packing my bags and flying from Romania to SWEET HOME CHICAGOOOO, the Chi, Chi-Town, the Windy City, the Second City...okay, you get the point: I'm going to Chicago and I'm happy about it. I'll be attending the NCTE/ALAN conference in Chicago! (NCTE=National Council of Teachers of English, ALAN=Assembly on Literature for Adolescents). If you are also attending, and you want to say hi, get a book signed, get me to teach you how to say "goodbye" in Hungarian ( if I'm qualified), or hear me talk about books, you can check out these places at these times:

HarperCollins Signing, Booth #513, 10:30-11:30AM on Saturday

Anderson's Signing, Booth #1301, 12:00-1:00PM on Saturday

"Future Worlds" Panel with Megan McCafferty, James Dashner, and Dom Testa*, Grand Ballroom (2nd Floor), 12:30-1:15PM on Tuesday

Let me know if you're going to be there and I'll be on the lookout!

*originally I wrote Beth Revis here, but that was just a misprint in my schedule-- sorry Beth! And Dom! And...everyone!

Monday, November 14, 2011

Writing Out of Order

Before Divergent, I wrote everything in order, beginning to end. As a result, I would hit a sticking place in my stories and stay there...not just for days, but for weeks. It was usually because I didn't know what would come next, but often because I knew what was next but didn't feel like writing it.

I should note that I've found that when you know what comes next but don't feel like writing it, it might be because what comes next is really boring and you should think of something else. Just think about it.

If what comes next isn't boring, and it's just that you don't feel like writing it at the moment, or you have no idea what comes next, try writing out of order.

The most common objection to writing out of order is that it will get too confusing. Understandable-- but not necessarily true.
Let's say I'm writing a story about zombie witch-kittens on a crusade across Nebraska to save their zombie dog friend, and I get the zombie witch-kittens to Omaha...okay, no. This hypothetical is way too confusing.

Let's go with a real example: I wrote the beginning of Divergent first, up until she chooses her faction. Then I got stuck. I knew I wanted part of her initiation training to involve weird, nightmareish simulations, but I couldn't figure out what they would feature, or what would come before them. I did know how I wanted her relationship with her instructor, Four, to develop-- I wanted the relationship to come from curiosity and developing respect that turns into attraction, rather than the other way around. And I had a plan for how to do that.

So I made a note of where I stopped, skipped a page, and wrote all the Tris and Four scenes that I could think of. And while I was doing that, I came up with ideas for the simulations and what came before them. For example, I wanted to start giving some insights into Four's family and how it was different from Tris's. So Tris and Four have a conversation about how he doesn't miss his family. And I decided that one of her simulations would feature her family, in order to spark this conversation (and since they're so important to her, there had to be a fear related to them, so it worked for Tris, too).

Whenever I came up with ideas, I put notes at the little hash tags separating the scenes. Notes like "scene with Al, Christina, and Will at the chasm here" or "scene with Tori here." That way, I kept track of my ideas and where they would likely fit. (This is even easier with Scrivener. I advertise because I love.)

Soon I had a beginning, and a late middle, and all I had to do was fill in the gap between them. Suddenly, skipping forward had not only maintained my interest in writing the story, but it had actually worked backward at getting me unstuck. I knew how to close the gap between where I stopped and where I skipped to.

My original objection to writing out of order was that everything would become inconsistent and I would have to edit more. What I've discovered is this:

A. I will always have to edit a lot. So who cares if I have to edit for inconsistencies at the same time I edit for crappy character development, plot holes, bad writing, and grammar problems?

B. Actually, the story can become more consistent, because if you've already written the middle but not the beginning, you can lay the groundwork for the middle more accurately in the beginning (because you already know exactly what groundwork needs to be laid).

If you write forward and in order all the time, you sometimes discover where the story is going to go but don't hint at it enough in the beginning, so you have to go back and edit for inconsistencies anyway.

Obviously if writing in order works for you, and you keep up your momentum, go for it. But if you get stuck and you need something to try, give this a shot. It sounds scary but it's really not.

The zombie witch kittens, however...

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Links to Old Posts...By Category!

I updated the FAQ page (it was a bit out of date), so if you have questions you think might be Frequently Asked, check it out!

Also, I created a huge database of links from previous blog posts, so you can look up posts by subject instead of getting lost in the blog archives. The links are on the FAQ page, but I'm going to post them here too.

Back before Divergent came out, when most of you had not found this blog yet, I did a series of amusing stunts as kind of "tests of bravery"/general ridiculousness. They're the only vlogs I've done, really, and I thought it would amuse you to see how I celebrated getting the book deal (by jumping into a bathtub full of marshmallows) and how I freaked out when I was supposed to face my fear of heights, etc. So those are in the first section, below.

My Experiences
How I Got My Agent
How I Got My Book Deal
Film Rights Sale
The Reality of Film Rights Stuff
The Time I Jumped Into A Bathtub of Marshmallows (with video)
The Time I Jumped Into A Public Fountain (with video)
The Time I Slid Down an 18-Foot Vert Ramp (with video)
The Time I Drank Pop Rocks and Coke (with video)
Some Book Recs

If what you're looking for is actual practical advice about writing, those links are here:

Concrete Writing Advice
The Backpack, a.k.a Some of the Most Useful Writing Advice I've Ever Gotten
1st Person, and Why It's Not As Easy As It Sounds
Detachment From Your Writing
Trilogies Are Like Long-Term Relationships
Trilogies Are More Like Polygamy, Actually
Dialogue, and How Grey's Anatomy Isn't So Great At It
On Sequels
Advice for Young Writers
Rules: Friends of Creativity
Redundant Sentences
Advice I Haven't Taken
How I Revise (Insurgent Edition)
Writing and Not Making Decisions
Draft-Writing Advice: Don't Look Back
Reducing Word Count
Backstory and The Maze Runner, by James Dashner
Basic Human Priorities and Story Momentum
Thoughts About Villains
Knowing Characters vs. Knowing About Characters
Insta!Love and Convincing Your Reader

I don't talk much about querying or the post-writing, pre-agent process, but these are the posts I have done about those things:

The Writing Life (Querying, Beta Readers, Etc.)
Beta Readers
Reasons Why Your Non-Writer Friends Think You're Crazy
Patience Is A Habit, Not A Virtue
The Line Between Modesty and Self-Deprecation
Advice For New Writers (Who Want to Query)
Conference Tips
On College and Being Young

I occasionally get philosophical about writing and how it relates to life (or vice versa), and those posts are here (these are some of my favorite posts, by the way):

Abstract Writing/Life Thoughts
Genre Shame is a Waste of Time
Writing and Courage
A Christian Take on Banning Speak
Writing the Ordinary
Sonnets and Failure
Writing and Anxiety
Grow Thinner Skin
The Gift of Upheaval 
About Notwriting
Freedom and Life in Stories 

And some random Divergent stuff:

Some Divergent Stuff

Monday, November 7, 2011

Divergent Inspiration

(I did a lot of bloggery this morning-- I have a post about Harry Potter and humor and writing and whatnot on YA Highway today, too, if you want to check it out!)

What inspired you to write Divergent?

Without a doubt, this is the most frequently asked question of all the frequently asked questions, and that does not surprise me at all. I always want to know where my favorite authors get their ideas. And it seems pretty simple, because there was a precise moment when the writer started the story, and so it seems like there had to be a precise moment when they came up with the idea for it.

The thing is, for a lot of writers, it's more complicated than that. For those of us who didn't have a vivid dream, or ask ourselves a "what if" question, or any of the other concrete ways that ideas come to people, it's actually difficult to answer. That's why I give a different answer in every single interview I ever do-- because at the moment that I am asked the question, I think of another, equally important, source of inspiration.

So in order to answer it, I'm going to give you the overly detailed explanation. But I'll say, first, that Divergent really happened when a bunch of these pieces of inspiration suddenly coalesced in my mind as I was writing, and I got about thirty pages of a story from Four's perspective down, and then set it aside because it wasn't so good. It was only when I discovered Beatrice that I was able to write the full book, four years later.

Bits of inspiration for Divergent:

1. Psychology 101

I was taking it at the time. In Psych 101, you get an overview of the study of psychology, so you go through many things very quickly. I had just learned about exposure therapy in the treatment of phobias. Wikipedia explains this better than I do: "Exposure therapy is a technique in behavior therapy intended to treat anxiety disorders and involves the exposure to the feared object or context without any danger in order to overcome their anxiety." This is where the Dauntless initiation process comes from. I thought that a group of people whose primary goal was to overcome fear would probably use this technique.

I was also beginning to learn about social psychology and the Milgram experiment on obedience to authority figures, which made me think about how malleable our supposedly strict moral codes become in the right conditions. Something that Divergent grapples with.

2. That Damn Song

I was driving to Minnesota (I spent my freshman year of college at Carleton College, before transferring to Northwestern), and I get really stressed when I'm driving at high speeds, so my back was throbbing. I had to plug in the heating pad I had brought with me into the cigarette lighter thing, which mean I had to unplug my iPod, which meant I had to put in a CD instead. And the only CD I had was "The Open Door" by Evanescence.

Don't get me wrong, I really like Evanescence. But I was not fond of one song on that CD in particular: "Sweet Sacrifice." I listened to it anyway, because I knew I would be hearing the CD for awhile, and as I heard these lyrics: "fear is only in our minds/but it's taking over all the time," I got this picture in my head of a person jumping off a roof to prove their bravery. And when I started to think about why a person would do that, I came up with Dauntless.

3. Division Into Groups

I have a thing for groups, and I always have. It interests me in speculative fiction, whether it's the houses at Hogwarts or the armies in Ender's Game or the houses in Kushiel's Dart (which I didn't read all of, because it made me blush too much, but the house thing kept me going for awhile). I also have a long-time (now abandoned) obsession with personality tests, especially the Meyers-Briggs personality tests (depending on the day I'm an INFJ, INFP, or an ISFJ. I've forgotten what all those mean, though), and the enneagram (I'm a number 1: The Perfectionist. Now that one never changes. Ha). And I've always been interested in government systems that stick people in classes or castes (even if I'm also pretty horrified by them), or high school cliques, as depicted so well in Mean Girls:

So: groups. It was bound to happen.

4. Tris

I've said before that I always wanted to write a character who could convincingly deliver these lines from Agamemnon, by Aeschylus: "My will is mine...I shall not make it soft for you." And I also wanted to write a character who used only as many words as she needed to say what she needed to say. This is pretty much how Tris appeared: a smart, somewhat humorless girl with a voice that wouldn't leave me alone. And eventually, I decided I couldn't tell any other story but hers.

Saturday, November 5, 2011

Goodreads Choice Awards

Just an FYI:

Voting for the 2011 Goodreads Choice Awards is happening now, and...

Divergent is a nominee in TWO categories-- Favorite Book of 2011 and Young Adult Fantasy and Science Fiction!

And I was nominated in the Goodreads Author category!

I am amazed and somewhat bewildered by this (have you seen the other books in these categories, right next to mine?! They are awesome), but if you are on Goodreads, I encourage you to go and vote for your favorites. Even if it's not for Divergent. I'll never know. Although I would really, really like your votes to go to Divergent. Obviously.

Have a good weekend, everyone! Here, have a kitten:

Friday, November 4, 2011

Divergent Fansites!

Several wonderful people have started Divergent fansites. I am so impressed by how thorough and well-organized and well-designed they all are! I thought I would link them in a blog post so everyone can check them out:

(Also, to the fansite people, thank you for being patient with me about this-- I've been saying I would do it for awhile! You are all awesome. And I scoured my e-mails for all the links and twitter handles, but if you have a fansite, or something to add, please e-mail me at veronicarothbooks[at]gmail[dot]com! I'd love to hear from you.)
Thank you all. It means a lot to me that you put in all the work to get those going.

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Some NaNo Advice: DON'T LOOK BACK

Dear NaNoers,

As much as I would love to join you (and I really would, because I think that NaNo is often good for the perfectionist writer), I should probably stick to editing Insurgent. I know you're going to get boatloads of writing advice, so feel free to discard this as necessary, but here we go:

Don't look behind you. NaNoWriMo is a sprint-- a SPRINT, I tell you. It is full throttle, as many words as you can muster, every single day. You don't get to stop for water-- you have to throw water into your mouth as you run, and if you end up splashing yourself in the ear, SO BE IT.

So I think the sprint-race advice of, don't look back to see how close your opponent is, it will slow you down and you might lose, is applicable here.

Except this time, your opponent is not another person, it's your own draft, chasing you with its sloppiness.

I am familiar with doubling back to address the draft, fixing inconsistencies as I go, tweaking sentences, and so on. I wrote my first manuscript like that, and let me tell you something, and I swear it's true: that manuscript took me a year to finish, and it required more editing than Divergent, which I wrote in less than half that time, taking the "don't look back" approach.

My plan with Divergent was this: just. Keep. Going. I would think of things I wanted to fix later and make a note of them on the document and then just plow on through. Then when I was done, I went back to address the comments, but I never even looked at them until I had written the last word.

So, a few ideas:

1. Keep in mind that when you finish, your draft will be rough, as rough as any other rough draft, and you can't stop that from happening no matter how hard you wish it.

2. COMMIT. That means not even doubling back to check something. I mean it. If you forget a character's name, who cares? Make up a new one and fix it later. (In fact, that's REALLY easy to fix. Find/replace, anyone?) If you double back, even if it's just for a few minutes, you will mess up your momentum. (Probably.)

3. Write everything, everything that comes to mind, even if it's just pieces of different scenes. You can finish them later. You can even write, in brackets, [in this scene, Main Character has a food fight in the cafeteria with Childhood Foe, involving some applesauce in the eye] if you don't feel like actually writing out that scene. Then keep going as if you had written it. It helps.

4. Don't get stuck. Don't even allow yourself to believe you could get stuck. Just start generating ideas and jotting them down like some kind of crazy idea generating machine. Your brain will get used to spitting out five different plans at once, and you really won't get stuck. You may hate yourself when you revise, but whatever, that will happen anyway. The best feeling ever is when you realize that you are racing through a huge stack of scenes and you're still coming up with new ones.

5. Make notes to avoid the "ick, ick, I messed it up, it's messy!" feeling. I find that when I make a note to fix something later, I feel relieved, like I've packed a wound and stopped the bleeding, even though I still need to go back and get it stitched later. (Sorry, that's gross. You get it.)

Good luck, friends.




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