Monday, January 28, 2013

The Last Next Big Thing (with apologies)

If you read author's blogs, by now no doubt you've heard about The Next Big Thing.  It a rather clever chain letter-type blog event making the writing world rounds like a flu virus.  You answer 10 questions and pass it on to 2 to 5 other writers for them to do the same.  I like the fan club feel of it, but I confess I'm terrible at these things.  I don't know why.  (Send me an online questionnaire or an email about being a child in the 80s and I won't ever get around to it, either.  So be warned!)

In the case of The Next Big Thing, I have been tagged by several writing friends including Tanita S. Davis and Rahna Reiko Rizzuto and Cecil Castellucci. My apologies for not posting in a timely manner.  Because I'm so late to the party, I believe I am officially the end of the line. (Hence the title of the post.)

 Without further ado:

• What is the working title of your next book?

The title of my next book is ORLEANS
• Where did the idea come from for the book?

My mom was a Katrina survivor.  In the aftermath of the storm, while we worked to get her evacuated and put the pieces back together, I read a lot about what was happening in the city. One story talked about gangs protecting their neighborhoods when the police were nowhere to be found. A little while later, the character of Fen popped into my head, telling me her story.

• What genre does your book fall under?

It's speculative fiction.  Some will call it dystopian or SF.  Speculative to me covers it all—the ultimate "what if?"

• What actors would you choose to play the part of your characters in a movie rendition?

If I had to cast the movie, I actually don't know who I would choose, with the exception of Morgan Freeman for Mr. Go, but I'll give it a go.

Fen:  I have no idea.  Probably an unknown.  A friend suggested Quevenzhan√© Wallis in another six or seven years. 

Daniel: Nicholas Hoult

Mr. Go:  Morgan Freeman

Lydia:  Kerry Washington

• What is the one sentence synopsis of your book?

After a series of man-made and natural disasters devastate the Gulf Coast and give rise to a virulent disease, the US Government builds a quarantine wall, abandoning the survivors in the former city of New Orleans to a tribal society based on blood type in which a teenaged girl must save the life of a newborn baby.

• Will your book be self-published or represented by an agency?

The publisher is G.P. Putnam and Sons.  My agent is the dashing Kirby Kim at WME.

• How long did it take you to write the first draft of the manuscript?

The first draft took a record three weeks during a writing residency at the amazing Hedgebrook retreat in Washington State.  That's about four months of work crammed into less than a month thanks to their creedo of "radical hospitality!"

• What other books would you compare this story to within your genre?

Elements might remind people of Paolo Bacigalupi's Ship Breaker, as they are both set in the Gulf Coast.  I'm more inclined to compare it to movies and books that came to mind as I was writing:  Escape From New York, DUNE, The Wizard of Oz.  Heck, there's a little Lord of the Files and some Dickens in there, too.

• Who or what inspired you to write this book?

A native New Orleanian, my mom was a Katrina survivor.  During the week it took us to get her evacuated from the city post-storm, I read everything I could get my hands on about what was happening in the city.  One article was about gangs protecting their neighborhoods after the police fled.  A few days later I was driving home and I heard a girl's voice in my head say, "O-Neg Davis, he beautiful."  And then I knew—instead of gangs, there were tribes, instead of race, blood type was the great divider.  The girl was Fen de la Guerre, and the story grew from there.

• What else about your book might pique the reader’s interest?

Hmm.  There's a knife fight.  And some really haunting imagery of the city.  It's like those big disaster movies where LA falls into the ocean or a volcano blows up Denver or something.  There's something fascinating about imagining the "after" for any place you know in the now.  Also, Fen is really kickass.  She's my toughest heroine yet and worth spending a little time with. 


And there ends The Next Big Thing by Sherri L. Smith.

Now comes the hard part.  I am supposed to encourage you to visit three to five other writers who are also answering the above questions.  The trouble is, every single writer I know has already done it!  And so, instead, I encourage you to seek out those honorable men and women who did what they were supposed to do on time.  Please check out:

Cecil Castellucci's post about her new, adorable new graphic novel/picture book ODD DUCK.  It will charm the pants off of you.   Cecil is a Young Adult Fiction maven, by the way, and way cooler than me.  So, if you like cool.  If you're a rocker, a geek girl with edge, read Cecil.  Check out BOYPROOF and BEIGE if you doubt me.  But don't stop there.  After ODD DUCK, she's got a YA novel coming that will Knock. Your. Socks. Off.  (Neither claim is literal.  Your clothes will not fall off.  I promise.)

Tanita S. Davis's post on her upcoming novel FAVORITE SON.  I e-met Tanita when she was just tapping the shell on her baby chick writer egg.  Then she went and won a Coretta Scott King Author Honor Award.  Clearly the wings have spread!  Read the award-winning MARE'S WAR, and don't forget to check out her last book, HAPPY FAMILIES!

Rahna Reiko Rizzuto's post on her books SHADOW CHILD and THE MATRIX OF FEAR.  Reiko is a gorgeous writer.  Her work so far is for adults (see the National Book Critic's Circle Finalist HIROSHIMA IN THE MORNING—stunning!), but MATRIX is a YA trilogy.  She also holds the distinction of being the only person to give one of my books a tarot reading.  She is part of the reason why ORLEANS works.  Friend of the book, talented writer, and teacher at Goddard in Vermont, you can learn a thing or two about beauty from reading her work.


Monday, January 21, 2013

Zombie Aftermath, or How I Am So Not Michonne

The Walking Dead, Issue #1
I'm having surgery today to fix the ACL I tore in my right knee while dodging a zombie at Comic Con last year.  In honor of the event, everyone should read the entire Walking Dead comic book series.  It's different from the TV show.  (Better, in my opinion.)  And the reason why I'm having surgery today.  See how I forgive and forget? 
Michonne.  Way cooler than me.
Oh, and if you ever see an undead guy in a lab coat coming at you, do yourself a favor and just run away.  Dodging him doesn't seem to work. 

Thursday, January 17, 2013

Character Collage Class - Postponed!

Bad news.  Or great news, depending on your point of view.  My YA Character Collage class at the Writing Pad in Los Angeles scheduled for this Sunday, 1/20/13, has been postponed until May 4th.  That's bad if you were looking forward to this Sunday.  On the other hand, if you only just now heard about the class, there's still time to join in the fun!  My apologies for any inconvenience.  See you in a few months!

Monday, January 14, 2013

I Go Hobo

Americans,architecture,buildings,columns,DC,flags,fountains,government,houses,landmarks,nights,sites,USA,White House

Did you know the word hobo is short for homeward bound?  Well, it's one of the possible origins of the word, at any rate.  Given the other options are "ho, boy!" and "ho, beau" I think I'll stick with my original statment.  Well, they say you can never go home again.  It's a wonderful clich√©  I decided to defy it last week.  I went home to Washington, D.C., the scene of the crime from ages 3 to 11, and took a tour of the old neighborhood.

My family hasn't lived in this house in years.  The last time I saw it in person was probably 2004.   Recently, I took a fantastic Improv for Writing Workshop (if you live in the LA area and can swing it, take this class.  It's incredible), and one of the exercises we did was to imagine a walk we used to take when we were kids.  We drew maps of the walk, the things we saw at each step along the way, and then used the map as a jumping off point for writing scenes.  So, in my mind, I've been down this street and around the corner just recently.

Last week, however, when my husband drove the rental car around the corner and I screamed,"Wait!  This isn't right!"  My poor husband almost steered into the curb, thinking he'd made a wrong turn. 

"No, the street is right, but they houses…  They're all… weird." 

It was as if someone had, I don't know, squashed the street.  The street was foreshortened, as if someone had squeezed both ends of the block like an accordion bending inward.  There was my sweet little childhood home, the place I'd grown up in, smack dab in the middle, and I could hardly recognize it.

 We parked the car and I walked the block, pointing out all of the things that I had mapped so recently in that workshop.  But none of them were quite right.  A hedge was missing here, the door was the wrong color there, and that tree—the big one out front where my brother and I poured a mixture of honey and cooking sherry to watch drunken ants and bees fight—it was tiny.  It couldn't possibly be the same tree.  Someone must have changed it while I wasn't watching.  The surreal sense of omniscience Google maps had given me, allowing me to spy on my old neighborhoods from the heights of an invisible cloud had not prepared me for this.

Every stone was in its place.  But it had changed.  It was familiar, like the smell of chicken soup on the stove, but different.  I wanted chicken and noodles.  Somehow, this bowl had chicken and stars.

So maybe it's true.  You can return to a street address (unless a bulldozer and a city planner have something to say about it), but you just can't go home again.

Sunday, January 13, 2013

It's Not Too Late! Sign up for my class!

iStockphoto,classrooms,desktop globes,blackboards,books,wooden desks,chairs,rulers,back to school,old fashioned,education,academic

Hey fellow writers!

It's not too late to sign up for my character collage class!  Just picture it:  a week from today you, me, and a few other like-minded individuals rattle the windows and shake the halls of our minds while characters spring, Athena-like, from our craniums!  So, bring a notebook.  It's gonna be a bit messy.

Fun times!

Monday, January 7, 2013

A Riddle Wrapped in a Mystery

Meat in shape of question mark
Mystery Meat
Have you ever written a mystery?  Do you like reading them?  I read mysteries voraciously as a kid—Nancy Drew, Trixie Belden, etc.  I've also read more than my fair share as an adult.  (I love Sherlock Holmes!)  And then I decided to try to write one.

Boy, was that a taller order than I expected?  I had ideas, of course, but the more I wrote, they less sense they seemed to make.  I started reading books on writing mysteries.  I came away with some thought provoking statements on the need of society to hunt the bad guy, how the stakes must be archetypically life or death, and how to chart your clues.  I created spreadsheets of every character, charting where they were while the hero was doing X, Y, or Z.

In short, I got lost. 

So I asked some adult mystery writers, "How do you do it?"*  Laurie R. King, who writes the fabulously convincing Mary Russell series said, "It's just all up here," while tapping her temple with a zen-like calm.  Kate Carlisle of the charming Brooklyn Wainwright series (she's a bookbinder who solves murders!) said, "Oh, I just go back and fill in the clues later."  Playwright and journalist Kitty Felde said, "If you figure it out, let me know."
Finally, I decided to simply ask myself, "how would I solve this crime?"  I've decided the trick is to get to know your hero and ask them the same question.  After all, deductive reasoning is logical (if I know my Holmes, and I do!)  And logic varied from person to person, whether it should or not.  So, know your villain, know your crime, and know your hero.  The rest should fall into place. 

At least, that's the working theory.  When I figure it out, I'll let you all know. 
*Full disclosure: I do not know all of these fine women. Sadly, being a writer does not come with an all-access pass to a private club where we all talk shop. Sometimes the fan girl has got to step up and ask some questions!