Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Congrats to Margaret, winner of A Book Vacation's Seranfyll giveaway!

I have been rather slack in my updates as of late. I do apologize, but I promise I have not been totally idle (the operative word being "totally").

First off, congratulations to Margaret for winning A Book Vacation's giveaway of a signed copy of Seranfyll! As of this posting, she's probably already received the book in the mail, but nonetheless, congrats Margaret! And a great big thank you to Shana of ABV. If you haven't checked out her fantabulous blog (http://bookvacations.wordpress.com/) or followed her on Twitter (@ABookVacation), then what's your problem? (jk :]) But seriously, check out her blog because she's pretty wonderful, and you just might find your next great read based on her reviews.

In other news, I'm looking forward to my local SCBWI conference next week. It looks like we have a pretty great group of traditional children's book authors, artists, agents, and editors who are being gracious in sharing some of their invaluable time and wisdom with us peons. I didn't get to go to the big SCBWI summer conference in Los Angeles this year, which sucks because it was the organization's 40th anniversary. But hopefully I'll get to go next year. Plus, my cousin The Actor just moved to LA. I'd like to visit him and see the creature in his natural habitat.

And I'm making some great progress on Seranfyll's sequel, though it's starting to look questionable as to whether I'll have it ready in time for Christmas. I think I'll push back the launch until February or March of 2012. I'll see how things go, but I'd feel more comfortable with the extra time to make sure I've got things the way I want them.

Sunday, September 11, 2011

September 11, 2001

I had just started my first year in college in the Fall of 2001. On the days I had an 8:00 a.m. class, I'd get up at about 7:30 and join one of my friends for breakfast before going to class.

When she came by my dorm room so that we could walk to the dining hall together, she told me that she heard on the radio that someone had crashed a plane into the World Trade Center in New York City. Since there were no other reports, we thought it was just a little sightseeing plane and that it was an accident, so we went to breakfast without another thought about it.

When I got to my class, a journalism one, my professor was late. When she came in a few minutes after eight, she told us to come with her to the next room classroom, where there was a television. There was already another class there, so we had to sit on the floor or stand along the walls. That's when I learned what really happened. It wasn't a little sightseeing plane, but a jetliner full of passengers. It wasn't an accident. And there were two. We watched the reports as they came in and saw the repeated footage of both planes striking the towers.

People hardly talked, which is probably why I remember my professor's words that day so well. "You're witnessing the 'Pearl Harbor' of your lifetime," she told us.

Then it happened. The towers collapsed.

I couldn't believe I was seeing this live. Both of them disappeared in clouds of smoke and dust. A girl in the other class started freaking out and was trying to get one of her parents on her cell phone. She had to leave the room. I later learned that both her parents were safe.

Class was canceled. Our only assignment was to keep abreast of the news. That wasn't hard to do.

That's where I was, 10 years ago, on September 11, 2001. Where were you?

(Image courtesy of Thomas E. Franklin / The Bergen Report.)

Saturday, September 10, 2011

On Writing: The (Plot) Rockets

A couple years ago, while I was at a writers conference in Portland, Oregon, I attended a workshop about plotting that was conducted by a former writer for Star Trek: The Next Generation. It was mostly geared towards screenwriters, but I found what she taught useful in writing books, too.

The presenter began by drawing a diagram on a white board that looked sort of like this: 

1st Rocket(beginning)-------2nd Rocket-------3rd Rocket-------4th Rocket(climax)/Resolution

If you divided up a story into three sections, then you might notice that at the border of every section, there is a game changing event that propels the story to another level, usually in the form of a complication.

To better illustrate this, I've decided to use The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins because she literally told us where the rockets are by the parts she used to divide the book. There are spoilers, so just a heads up if you haven't but want to read the book.

Here we go:

1st Rocket - Here in the beginning, the writer introduces the main characters and the main problem. In Part 1/"The Tributes", we meet Katniss (the main character) and the problem (taking her sister's place in the Hunger Games). This rocket is important because it's what launches everything, so it has to be carefully crafted in a way that gives enough relevant information to get us into the story, but not too much to where we don't want to read on (i.e. info dumps).

2nd Rocket - Just before Part 2/"The Games," Peeta declares his love for Katniss in front of all of Panem. Talk about a complication. This second rocket changed the game for everyone even before the Games began. Now, it's not about survival. Emotions have been tossed in. And not only that, but Peeta's declaration humanizes the Games for the first time. It gets people's attention in the book, and it keeps our attention who are reading it.

3rd Rocket - Here is another game changing moment, literally. Just before Part 3/"The Victor," the gamemakers allow the tributes from the same district to work and win together. But Katniss has to find Peeta, if he's still alive. And since we were already introduced to Peeta's declaration of love at the last rocket, we can look forward to seeing how this complicates or helps the situation going forward.

4th Rocket - The Star Trek writer called this the "darkest before the dawn" moment. After everything the characters have been through, this is the most difficult challenge of all. All hope is lost. This is the part of The Hunger Games where the gamemakers change back the rule, and either Katniss or Peeta has to kill the other in order to end the games. But just on the tail of the 4th rocket comes...

Resolution - Katniss and Peeta decide to kill themselves together, meaning no one wins. The Capitol can't handle that, so the end of the Games is announced and Katniss and Peeta live.

All the events in between the rockets lead up to the next rocket. (i.e. Rue's death to allying with Peeta). And for the most part, the rockets occur fairly close to the physical divides of the book (i.e. 2nd Rocket occurs about a third of the way through the book, and 3rd Rocket occurs about 2/3 of the way through).

Now, these aren't necessarily set in stone. The rocket format that I followed for Seranfyll looks more like this:

1st Rocket(beginning)-------2nd Rocket-------3rd Rocket-------4th Rocket-----5th Rocket(climax)/Resolution 

I had an extra rocket, essentially, and my rockets occurred at the quarter, half, and three-quarter points instead of at the thirds.

But I wouldn't go more than five rockets. I don't know if there's something psychological to it or what, but this is just a way that that makes information easier for humans to consume.

And if you think about it, lots of popular books, movies, and television shows follow these formats. Especially with television shows, try looking for where the commercial breaks hit. Just before the break is the rocket.

And there you have it. The plot rockets.

(Images courtesy of NASA and Scholastic.)

Monday, September 5, 2011

Dear Readers. You're awesome. Love Christina.

In the movie version of The Chronicles of Narnia: Prince Caspian, Caspian says something along the lines of, "Two days ago, I didn't believe in the existence of talking animals. Of dwarves or centaurs. Yet here you are, in strengths and numbers that we Telmarines could never have imagined."

I had very much the same sort of epiphany when it came to putting out my first novel. When I decided to publish Seranfyll by myself, I have to admit it was quite a leap a faith. I didn't know the first thing about marketing a book (actually, I still don't really know). And I certainly didn't know how to find readers. I knew you were out there, but not in "strength and numbers" that I could've possibly imagined.

Fortunately, a few helpful hints from some very gracious independent writers and first readers led me to some very useful tools. Before March of this year, I didn't have a Facebook, a blog, a Twitter, or a Goodreads page. Now, I have those and then some.

I can count on one hand the number of avid readers I know personally. So, imagine my surprise when I found that not only are you out there in great number, but so many of you are unbelievably passionate about reading books. Many of you literally "devour" epic page numbers in mere hours. You fall in love with and/or despise characters like they were real people. And you find meanings and messages that even the authors didn't realize we wrote into our works. It's quite remarkable.

Only a couple months ago, I put out Seranfyll without any intention of writing a sequel. But because of some of the readers I've met along this very new journey, I'm writing a series. I'm encouraged to want to put forward my very best work. I feel like you deserve no less of me.

So, thank you, Readers of the world. You make this "hobby" something a lot more meaningful and special.

(Image courtesy of Disney and/or Walden Media.)

Friday, September 2, 2011

Giveaway goodness and cheap ebooks

I just wanted to take a moment to say thank you to everyone who entered the Goodreads giveaways for three signed copies of Seranfyll! Alicia, Irwin, and Patricia are the lucky winners, and their books are on the way as I type this :)

Coming up next week, the awesome Shana is also going to be giving away a signed copy of Seranfyll on her blog Books: The Cheapest Vacation You Can Buy.  The giveaway starts Tuesday, September 6, so head over there for all the details!

And if you haven't stopped by the Indie Book Blowout yet, go check it out to find loads of ebooks (including some YA titles) for only 99 cents. Plus, you can enter to win great prizes, like a new Kindle and gift cards to Amazon. But hurry, because the sale ends after Labor Day!