Feb 21, 2011

Can't we all get along?

Well, it’s official. My local Borders is closing. Lots of people are blaming e-books. And everyone seems to be taking sides.

People are either for the e-revolution or they’re against it. If you own an iPad, you’re a paper-book-hater who is taking the tater tots out of the mouths of indie bookseller’s kids. If you own a physical bookstore, Amazon is (still) your worst enemy, especially now that it threw a Kindle at you.

But do we have to choose sides? Why can’t I own an e-book reader AND continue to buy “real” books in bricks-and-mortar bookstores? It’s true that e-books can’t provide everything a physical book can. But a physical book doesn’t provide everything a Kindle can, either. It’s like being expected to own only one pair of shoes. I wouldn’t wear sneakers to a wedding, but that doesn’t mean I don’t OWN sneakers, and won’t wear them when it’s a sneaker kind of day. Why can’t it be the same way for books? There will always be a time and a place for paper books, but there is also a time and place for e-books. I can live with that.

Feb 15, 2011

Thank you, Margaret K. McElderry

I never met Margaret McElderry, but she gave me a lot, as a reader, as a writer, and as a woman.

She published The Borrowers, one of my very favorite childhood books.

She trained the two women who became my agents, and she taught them well, and now I'm the beneficiary of that knowledge and expertise.

She established the imprint that will publish my next book; an imprint that I'm already honored to be associated with; an imprint with the name of a real person still behind it; a name synonymous with the love of literature for literature's sake.

She was a role model for women-- someone who followed her passions and didn't let anyone tell her she couldn't, and as a result was very successful and very influential.

Thank you, Margaret K. McElderry.

Feb 14, 2011

Kindle as a writer's tool

As a Kindle owner, I was relieved to hear that Kindle books would soon have page numbers. Mostly because I hate those weird "location number" digit-strings jabbering at me from the bottom of the screen.

So I downloaded the new software, and...

...none of the books I own have page numbers. Of course.

But I discovered two nice things instead:

Thing One: The new software did erase the nasty location numbers, leaving only the "percentage read" number in the lower left corner. My screen looks much less cluttered (and, somehow, makes the % number more meaningful, maybe because I'm not trying to figure out some kind of equivalence between the % and the location numbers). Suddenly, I don't even miss page numbers. I know where I am in my book with a quick glance at the lower left corner.

Thing Two: And then it occurred to me that, as a writer, I can follow along in any novel and see at a glance how that novel's structure is revealed by its % numbers. Here's how:

I'm a fan of Linda Seger's book, Making a Good Script Great. In it, Seger explains the basic structure of a movie script, which can also be applied to novels. It's a 3-act structure with distinct milestones: turning points, a midpoint, climax, and resolution. Seger maintains that each of these milestones should come approximately at a certain percentage of progress through the script/novel, and if the writer sticks (more or less) to this structure, the story will flow well, without lagging. For example, the climax should occur at approximately the 90% mark.

Back to my Kindle. I'm currently reading All Clear, a time-travel novel by Connie Willis.* I was plowing along well past the 50% mark, the plot was picking up speed, and all the many pieces of the puzzle began falling into place.

I glanced down at the % number, and where was I?


The story built, the plot threads continued to tie together, and then came the surprising and impressive climax. Which was at...


That's when I realized that the basic plot structure of this (very complicated) book could still be boiled down to a tried-and-true, foolproof plan. A plan that was laid bare by my Kindle in one little number. And a plan that I can replicate when I write my own novels.

True, you can figure out pretty much the same thing with a physical book, by counting page numbers or even by comparing the thickness of the pages left as you read. But somehow, that little number in the lower left-hand corner makes me feel like that book's author is whispering a secret into my ear.

*Fans of Willis may know that All Clear is actually the second part of a complete story begun with Blackout. So you could probably identify milestones based on the entire 2-volume story, but I've discovered that All Clear has its own structure, and milestones that still fit the 3-act structure outlined in Seger's book.

Feb 1, 2011

About That Ending

One of the best things about having a book published is hearing from readers. The question I’m asked most often about Jump the Cracks is: “What happens after the book ends?”

At first this question surprised me, and I wasn’t sure how to answer it, because (of course) I think the ending is perfect the way it is. But the more I thought about it, the more I decided that it’s a great question, because it means you got so wrapped up in the story that you kept thinking about it after you finished reading. I like that.

But I suppose, since so many of you have asked, you deserve an answer. What DOES happen after the pages of the book close? Does Wills grow up happy? Who raises him? Will Victoria ever see him again?

I have a confession to make: Originally, I wrote a different ending. An ending that answers all of those questions, without any doubt. I tied the story up in a neat little bow.

And then I changed it.

Because the thing is, when you’re writing a story for readers who are smart enough to think about what they’re reading, it’s not fair to do the thinking for them. So I changed the ending for a couple of reasons:

1. A “neat” ending wouldn’t have fit the story. After all, Jump the Cracks is about a bunch of imperfect people trying hard to do their best (well, most of them, anyway). It wouldn’t have made sense to end the story with everyone suddenly perfect and doing all the right things.

2. The open ending allows each reader to imagine his or her own perfect ending—whatever that might be.

Think of it as one of those “You decide” stories.

Are you a sucker for a happy ending? The possibilities are there, at the end of Jump the Cracks, for a perfect, storybook ending. All you have to do is fill in the blanks.

Or maybe you like your stories gritty and more true-to-life. The possibilities for that type of ending are also there, in the story. Just fill in the blanks.

It’s completely up to you. You are free to imagine what happens after the book ends. And whatever you imagine, that is the right ending.