Wednesday, September 25, 2013


As I stood in the shower this morning mentally piecing my day together, I realized that instead of looking for free chunks of time into which I could shoehorn some writing, I was looking for gaps in my writing time into which I could shoehorn everything else.

That’s all—sorry it’s not more profound, but it was a nice moment.

Wednesday, September 18, 2013

Tip o' the Day

When doing a revision late in the game (i.e., not the first or even the second or probably even the third revision), Ive discovered that if I print out my manuscript to look as much like a book as possible and read it on paper, I catch global problems (contradictions, weak story arc, lack of character development, etc.) much better than if I read it on-screen yet again with it looking like a typescript: double-spaced with ragged right margins, etc. I figured out how to format like a book after some trial and error and am sharing this knowledge with you today. These instructions are for MS Word (from Office) on a Mac; if you have some other program, you're on your own.

1. Open your document (duh). Notice that at the top of the screen you have a row of words headed by the symbol of an apple, followed by “Word File Edit” etc. I have no idea what the technical term for this is but I refer to as the “Apple row.” Ignore this row until Step 11 below. Right above your document is another row headed by the symbol of a house, followed by “Home Layout Document Elements” etc. This will be referred to as the “Home” row.

2. Enter Command-A to highlight your entire manuscript, which will turn blue as soon as you do this. If at any point from here through step 11 the blue disappears, enter Command-A again so that the entire ms. is highlighted.

3. On the “Home” row, click on Layout. In the Page Setup section on the far left, click on Orientation and then on Landscape. Don’t exit the Layout menu. (If you do exit it, just click on Layout again.)

4. In the Margins section, change all the margins to 0.8.

5. In the Text Layout section click on the down-arrow next to the little box that has two columns outline in green. Click on the word “Two.”

6. Click on the word “Home.” A new set of choices will appear. In the bottom row of the Paragraph section, there are four buttons that show left-justified text, centered, right-justified, and full-justified. Click on the button on the far right of this group of four, the one that shows full-justified text.

7. In the font section, choose a typeface that looks like a standard book font but that isn’t what you’re currently using. Even a subtle change between what you currently use and something else will make a difference. I usually choose Book Antiqua.

8. In the font section, change the type size to 11 pt.

9. In the typography section, check the box next to the last option, the one that has AV with little arrows above and below the letters (sometimes it won’t let you check that box. I have no idea why, and it makes very little difference. This is just fancy-schmancy stuff known as “kerning”).

10. Click on “Home” to close the ribbon.

11. In the Apple row, click on Format and then on Paragraph. In Line Spacing, click on the box with the up and down arrows (it will probably say “Double”) and click on “Exactly.” Then move to the box to its right and enter 14 pt. While youre there, make sure there's a check in the box next to “Don't add space between paragraphs in the same style.” Click “OK.”

12. At this point it doesn’t matter if the text is highlighted in blue anymore. Click on Edit in the Apple row. Hover your cursor on “Find” and then click on “Replace.” A dialog box will open on the left. Click the cursor in the first box and type ^t (exactly like that, no spaces, no capitals). Click the cursor in the second box and hit the space bar five times. Click on “Replace all.” Click on the “X” near the top of the dialog box to close it.

13. If you want it to look even more like a book (and also save a piece of paper or two) make sure that there are no huge gaps between the end of one chapter and the beginning of the next one. I do this by searching for the word “Chapter” and seeing if there’s a huge amount of white space above it. If there is, I backspace until the new chapter starts at the top of the previous page.

Now you’re ready to print. If you don’t want these changes to be permanent, don’t save the document. Leave the document up until you’ve finished printing and then exit without saving. It will revert to the shape it was in before you made all the formatting changes.

To print double-sided like a book, click on File in the home row. Click on Print. Click on Copies & Pages. Click on Duplex Printing & Margin. Click on Duplex Printing. Click on Short-side stapling (Top). Click on Print.

Et voilà!

Wednesday, September 4, 2013

Tag—I'm It!

My friend Jody Casella writes one of my favorite blogs about writing and life and the writing life. Shes also days away from the launch of her debut novel, Thin Space. I'm dying to read this one, especially after its starred Kirkus review (seriously, read that review—doesnt it sound amazing?). Jody has tagged me in a Children’s Author Blog Hop, meaning that I answer the same four questions that she did in her post and then tag three more YA authors to do the same, kind of like a writerly chain mail.

The questions and my answers:

1. What are you working on right now?
I’m writing the first draft of Mirror, a retelling of Snow White, while revising The Stepsister’s Tale, a retelling of Cinderella (my twentieth book for young readers!). Harlequin Teen will publish Stepsister in July, 2014, and Mirror is due out a year later.

I’m also revising a totally different kind of book with the working title The Icarus Complex. It’s about Clancy Edwards, a teenage girl who’s being smothered by her overprotective father and boyfriend. Her mother died in a skydiving accident when the main character was six, and her father owns a skydiving center. Clancy busts out of this smothering in a dramatic way.

This idea came to me when I was pondering how to use skydiving in a story, preferably a Greek myth retelling set in the present, and Icarus seemed a natural. I wrote the draft for NaNoWriMo last year.
That's me!

2. How does it differ from other works in the genre?
In both of my fairy-tale retellings, things aren’t quite the way we’ve been led to believe in the traditional stories. Cinderella isn’t as good and virtuous and put-upon as her supporters have claimed—she’s the typical kid in a blended family who finds it hard to fit in with her new step-family and thinks that she’s being mistreated. In Mirror, the stepmother isn’t a witch and is actually Snow White’s ally. I'm having lots of fun with Mirror, weaving in Crusades and druids and all sorts of cool stuff.

3. Why do you write what you do?

Like many people, Ive always wanted to travel to the past, but until someone invents a time machine, historical fiction is the best way to do that. An author who does careful research and writes compellingly can transport a reader to a different time.

I also love examining familiar stories from an unfamiliar point of view. My first experience of this genre was Grendel (John Gardner) and I love The Wide Sargasso Sea (Jean Rhys), Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead (Tom Stoppard) and other. Recent favorites are March (Geraldine Brooks) and The Penelopiad (Margaret Atwood), which gave me the seed of an idea for King of Ithaka, the story of Homers Odyssey from the point of view of Odysseuss son, Telemachos. Dark of the Moon is the tale of the Minotaur as told by the Minotaurs sister, Ariadne, and his killer, Theseus.

4. What is the hardest part about writing?
Middles! E. L. Doctorow famously said that just as when you take a drive at night you need to know where you’re going, you need to know where you’re going when you’re writing, but that in both cases you don’t need to know every tiny turn in the road. The farthest you need to see ahead of you is as much as you can make out in your headlights.

My headlights sometimes dim and sometimes lead me down dead-end streets, and then I have to turn around and figure out where I am and how to get back on track. I have a lousy sense of direction, and when I get lost while driving I panic with the irrational fear that I’ll never reach my goal and will drive around in circles until my car runs out of gas, and I get that same feeling in the middle of every book. I just have to remind myself that so far I’ve always made it, and this time won’t be any different.

I hope. 

Update: Vicky Alvear Shecter, author of wonderful fiction and nonfiction set in the ancient world, has responded to her tag! Read her post here.

Ive tagged three authors to continue the chain—Ill let you know next week if any of them have the time to participate!