More my books

News! Forgive Me, I Meant to Do It is getting a lovely short review in The New York Times Book Review this coming Sunday, March 11th. I’m so happy! It will be great for the book.

Last week I overlooked this question from Charlotte about the Fairies books: Can fairies die of old age, or just disbelief/hawks/drowning/etc.?

In my idea of it these fairies don’t age. If disbelief, hawks, drowning, and so forth don’t get them they can go on forever. The fairies in Ella Enchanted, on the other hand, do age, but slowly. I never had to imagine fairy death in Ella’s world but I guess they can die of old age, probably not of disease – they would be able to cure themselves with unicorn-hair soup or something else. The fairies in The Two Princesses of Bamarre are probably immortal and probably never seem to get older, since they’re whirls of light, although I can’t be sure because the problem didn’t come up so I didn’t have to decide.

Next question, this one from Elizabeth: ….how long did it take you to write Writing Magic? It seems like it wouldn’t have taken very long, because you have so much writing advice stored up, but you never know!

You’re right. Writing Magic grew out of my writing workshops. The narrative was sitting in my head and the exercises were in my workshop notes. When I wrote, it all came pouring out, took about six months, which is quick for me. The publication was delayed, however, because the people at HarperCollins felt they could launch the book more successfully if they paired it with my next novel, which was Fairest, and that was not quick! The dual publication allowed me to tour for both books, whereas HarperCollins generally tours me only for my novels. And Writing Magic has found lots of readers and writers – oh, joy!

As I’ve mentioned here before, my editor and I are thinking about a second writing book, this one based on the blog, which should go quickly too, as it will be more of an assembly job and deciding which blog posts are worthy and which aren’t.

Back to Charlotte, who had more questions:

I was going to ask which is your favourite, but I think you’ve already said it’s Dave at Night. What’s your second favourite?

There are contenders for second place: Writing Magic, Ever, Ella Enchanted, The Princess Tales, especially Princess Sonora and the Long Sleep and For Biddle’s Sake. The Princess Tales don’t come up often here, but I’m very proud of them because they’re funny, and I love humor and I laughed my way through writing them.

And: How do you start a book? Like, do you have a bunch of tentative ideas and when you finish one you start working on another? And when do you tell your publisher what you’re doing? (You said you have x amount of time to finish Beloved Elodie, right? So there’s contracty stuff already?)

After I finish a book I give myself a little break, a few weeks generally. When I finish Beloved Elodie I plan to start excavating the pile of I-no-longer-know-what on my desk and cleaning out the closet downstairs where the ruined boots of winters past have collected. If I’m going to do the writing book next that will be easy to jump into, but when I start my next novel, yes, I will look over my list of idea notes. I hope the novel will be a third Elodie book, so I’ll be hunting for an idea I can frame as a mystery. If I don’t see anything in my notes that appeals to me, I’ll let my mind wander and take notes on anything it brings back. I may read a mystery or two. Often I reread fairy tales in my home collection. As I go along I write more notes. The ideas that appeal to me generate more musing and more writing than the others. Eventually I find most of my speculation settling on one big idea. The next thing that happens is that a beginning swims up to me. And I’m off.

There’s no set time when I tell my editor what I’m doing. I don’t make a secret of it. The contracty stuff specifies only that the book has to be fantasy, and of course it has to be a novel for kids. Rosemary (my editor) doesn’t have to approve my idea. Naturally, if I tell her and she spots a problem I want to know about it. For example, at one point I was considering extending a short story I wrote several years ago into a novel. I told her and she said there was a glut of dystopian books. What I had in mind was more utopian than dys, but I couldn’t figure out where I wanted to take the story. If I had worked it out (or if I do in the future) I would have had another conversation with her. After I explained what I wanted to do, if she thought it was still dystopian I might have held off on the idea until the dystopian craze faded.

And: Which is the more agonizing first draft–Two Princesses of Bamarre or Beloved Elodie? Or another one?

There are three contenders, the two you named and Fairest. Fairest might have been the worst. I couldn’t get the POV right. I thought I wouldn’t be able to write from Aza’s perspective because she’d be in a coma, so I tried it from the gnome zhamM’s, Prince Ijori’s, and third-person omniscient, and I wrote about 300 pages in each before realizing it wasn’t working. Finally I figured out the coma and I was able to have Aza tell her own story. I was able to use some of the 900 pages, but I had to recast everything.

On the other hand, whatever book I’m working seems toughest because the struggle is uppermost in my consciousness. Past pain fades.

On the third hand (hah!), each of these miserable books had its own delights too. In Two Princesses I loved fooling the reader with the specters and I loved writing the epic poem fragments. In Fairest writing the songs was a joy. In Beloved Elodie my favorite part is switching POVs chapter by chapter and finding voices for the four different speakers. Masteress Meenore’s dry voice is the most fun to write. And figuring out the mystery is fascinating, plus there’s some reader fooling here too.

And: Before you published Ella, were you feeling a bit lost, like you might not ever get published? Did you get that “why am I wasting my time on this?” feeling? The one where everyone looks at you funny because you’re the only person you know who’s writing a book on top of everything else?

Yeah, at around the nine-year mark I did get discouraged and thought of quitting. I don’t know how much longer I would have kept going, but then I got lucky and Harper accepted Ella. It’s even harder to get published today, I believe, when no publishers I know of look at unsolicited work. And yet people break in all the time. There’s hope, but writing and publishing both call for reserves of patience.

More questions from Charlotte and others next week.

Here are three prompts:

•    Fairies are absent from many fairy tales, like “Snow White” and “Rumpelstiltskin.” In some, however, they’re critical, like “Cinderella,” “Sleeping Beauty,” and “Toads and Diamonds.” Pick one of these tales with fairies and imagine a back story that causes the fairy or fairies to care about the plight of these particular humans. Invent your own species of fairies and write a back story scene or an entire novel in which the known fairy tale is only a small part of the action.

•    Imagine that Cinderella’s stepsisters have their own fairy godmothers. Rewrite the fairy tale and get these new fairies involved. What happens to them and to Cinderella? Heck, you can give everyone a fairy godmother: the stepmother, Cinderella’s father, the prince.

•    Speaking of beginnings, see what you can do with this (you can change any of it): Once upon a time a girl saw a dryad slip out of a tree. The tree was oak. The girl was eleven and her eleven-year-old beagle had just died.

Have fun, and save what you write!

  1. Great post, as usual! I have an unrelated question that I've been meaning to ask for a while and I'm curious what you think about the issue. In my novel, the same tropes/situations seem to come up all the time. For example, I have at least two instances of each of these: where the MC is listening in on someone else's conversation to learn something crucial, or where she is chased by a "bad" guy, or where a character uses incriminating language to get someone else to confess something…you get my drift. These scenes feel so important and are good ways of advancing the plot, but I was wondering how much repetition of *basic* plot elements a reader is willing to accept and/or notice. Sometimes it feels almost impossible to make every situation unique in every way. Do you have any thoughts about this?

  2. Thanks for the posts, this one and last week's! They are so interesting! And I love you prompts!

    On another note, I have a question that doesn't have anything to do with this. How many climaxes do you think are okay to have in a book? In my current story, there is a lot of action because my MC's are tangled up in a spy mission. I'm about a fourth of the way through it and I've already got a very big climax right now. There were little action areas before that, but it's just now getting really intense. If it goes as I have planned, there will be several more major areas of action before I reach the final climax. What I am wondering is, is that going to be too much? My current mega-climax is only half way through, at the moment, and it's fifteen pages long. Should I tone it down, or is that a good thing?

  3. I loved this post! It is SO interesting to find out a little "behind the scenes" stuff like this!

    I do have a question that is about something different, though. In my novel, I have two MC's (a boy and a girl) and the POV is third person omniscient. The MC's are friends and have been since they were very young. Now they are teenagers, but they're still just friends. Another girl comes along and the boy seems to the first girl to like the new girl. She spies on them once to see if her suspicions are true but he catches her and gets mad. He avoids her and is falling for the new girl more and more. Then at some point the original two make up and the boy realizes he actually loves the first girl. They fall in love. How do I write that so that it doesn't seem as though the boy quickly changes love interests without thinking and actually being serious? Thanks so much!

  4. writeforfun–I don't think there's a number. What I would worry about is sameness. If each climax feels different, seems okay to me. Any thoughts anyone?

    Sophia–It's hard to tell, but I'd suggest taking it very slow on that bumpy road to love. If there are lots of starts and stops the reader won't feel any lack of seriousness. Any thoughts anyone about this one too?

  5. @writeforfun: Try doing Script Frenzy, like April said. (Especially the YWP version, since they have nifty free workbook that you can print out and use.) And read plays, like Mrs. Levine said. Also, try going to see plays and musicals and operas live. (Sometimes, theaters have school showings which are cheaper to see.)

  6. April, Gail, and Kate – thank you all! I've never heard of script frenzy. I'll definitely check it out! I'm trying to write a Christmas play for my church for net Christmas. Wish me luck!

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.