Monday, July 30, 2012

Writing a Human Heroine (Guest Post!)

Such a pretty cover!
Today's guest post comes from Leah Scheier, the lovely debut author of SECRET LETTERS — a Victorian mystery with an inquisitive girl detective and a Sherlock Holmes twist.

Writing a Human Heroine

First, a Parody:
Our heroine is standing poised and ready in the clearing, her lean, muscular body taut with anticipation. Her impossibly long hair billows in the wind, framing her high pale cheekbones. Three shadowy figures emerge from behind a cluster of trees and rush upon her, knives drawn and glinting in the moonlight. She does not hesitate; her bow is out and the arrow flies, the hiss splitting the night air. It hits its mark (of course) and the first foe screams; his mate crumples next to him a moment later as her second arrow finds his heart. Only one enemy is left standing now; he springs at her and his blade buries itself in her side. She grits her teeth and grabs his head between her slender fingers, smiling coolly at the sound of his neck snapping beneath her grasp.

Less than two minutes have passed and all her enemies lie dead around her. The King/Paranormal Creature/Wizard/Warrior-she-secretly-loves will be very pleased. She gives a disdainful glance at the weapon buried in her flesh and shrugs. She can tell by the angle of the knife handle that the blade has missed most of her vital organs. Nothing to worry about then. Someone will just have to remove it later, when she finds the time.

Okay, so I may have exaggerated a touch. But you have to admit it—you still love her a little, don't you? We all want to be that girl, even if the greatest enemy we face each day is a surly co-worker or a demanding boss. We would all love to kick ass once in a while.

I love those larger-than-life fictional girls too. But while I enjoy reading tales of derring-do as much as the next person, I sometimes can't help pausing mid-battle-scene and wondering, "How would I react in Brave Girl's place?"

So when I dreamt up my own character, I decided to give readers a different type of heroine. I wanted Dora Joyce to be courageous and smart and creative, as the daughter of the Great Detective was meant to be. But more importantly, I wanted her to be human.

Here are some tips I learned as I was telling Dora's story:

1) Give your heroine flaws:
Nobody likes perfect people. In the first place, they don't exist, and if they did they would be really annoying. So what makes your character flawed? Is it a bit of a temper? Or vanity? An obsession with neatness? Whatever it is, as long as the flaws fit well with her overall personality they will make your heroine more real. In Dora's case her major flaw was impulsivity. And a tendency to take herself too seriously.

2) Don't let your character take herself too seriously:
If your heroine has a ton of pride, then some comic relief at her expense is required. Someone should be on hand to occasionally take the wind out of her sails and make her doubt herself. Nothing humanizes a character more than a realization of their own weaknesses. Dora's new friend and detective's apprentice Peter Cartwright was her kindest supporter. But he was also her harshest critic. And he never missed an opportunity to tease her and keep her on her toes.

3) Make her bleed:
That sounds harsh, I know. But real people bleed when they get hurt. They faint, they sweat, they trip over their own feet and sprain their ankle. I'm not suggesting making your heroine a complete klutz. But if she gets injured it should hurt for more than a paragraph. And she should be somewhat fearful of getting hurt again, especially if the first wound was a serious one.

4) Have her make mistakes: 
This is particularly true for spies, detectives, and anyone who lives by their wits. Especially if they are young adults. Allow her inexperience to show a little. Have her jump to wrong conclusions. Dora may have been Sherlock's daughter, but she could still screw up. And when she did, she would admit her error —even if only to herself.

5) She doesn't have to be a martial arts expert in order to be a heroine:
It helps, sure. But if your character is five foot three and barely scraping a hundred pounds, having her take on a burly armed guard — and winning, may be a touch unbelievable. It's okay if she gets beaten. And bleeds. And then admits that she probably should have waited for backup before tackling the ogre. (Points 3, 4 and 5 together!)

There are all kinds of heroines in real life and in fiction. And it's the blend of real life and fiction that can make a heroine relatable — and truly irresistible.


Thanks, Leah, and congrats on your debut!
Follow Leah on twitter.

About SECRET LETTERS (available NOW from Hyperion/Disney!):
Inquisitive and observant, Dora dreams of escaping her aristocratic country life to solve mysteries alongside Sherlock Holmes. So when she learns that the legendary detective might be her biological father, Dora jumps on the opportunity to travel to London and enlist his help in solving the mystery of her cousin's ransomed love letters. But Dora arrives in London to devastating news: Sherlock Holmes is dead. Her dreams dashed, Dora is left to rely on her wits--and the assistance of an attractive yet enigmatic young detective--to save her cousin's reputation and help rescue a kidnapped heiress along the way.
Steeped in Victorian atmosphere and intrigue, this gripping novel heralds the arrival of a fresh new voice in young adult literature. 


Want to write a guest post? Email us! firstnovelsclub [at] gmail [dot] com

Thursday, July 26, 2012

The baby has arrived! *GIVEAWAY WINNERS*

In honor of the first FNC baby, we held a Baby Pool-style giveaway o' awesome! Everyone who entered had to guess Sara's baby's birth date, birth time, gender, weight, hair color, and eye color. The four entrants whose guesses were closest to the correct birth info get their choice of 4 books from the 16 awesome prizes listed below!

Two weeks ago, Sara gave birth to her beautiful baby boy, Robin. (Seriously, he's one of the cutest newborns I've ever seen!)

Sara and Robin!
The little cutie.

Now it's time to give away some books!
Baby Robin's Birth Stats
- Birth Date: 7/12/2012
- Birth Time: 3:02 am
- Gender: boy!
- Weight: 8lb, 15 oz.
- Hair color: brown
- Eye color: blue

The Winners*

Christi the Teen Librarian
Kathrine Roid

* All winners have been contacted via email. The winner with the closest guess (Christi) gets first choice of her books, then the second-closest winner chooses hers, etc.

The Prizes!
The Immortal Rules by Julie Kagawa (signed!)
Daughter of Smoke and Bone (ARC) and Days of Blood and Starlight Chapter Sampler, by Laini Taylor
Ten (ARC) by Gretchen McNeil
The Land of Stories (ARC) by Chris Colfer
Paranormalcy by Kiersten White
Supernaturally by Kiersten White
Born Wicked (ARC) by Jessica Spotswood (signed!)
Across the Universe (ARC) by  Beth Revis (signed!)
Legend (ARC) by Marie Lu
Nightshade (ARC) by Andrea Cremer (signed!)
Clockwork Angel (ARC) by Cassandra Clare (signed!)
Clockwork Prince by Cassandra Clare (signed!)
Abandon (signed!) by Meg Cabot
The Infinity Ring (ARC) by James Dashner 
Hush, Hush by Becca Fitzpatrick
Narc (ARC) by Crissa-Jean Chappell

Thanks to everyone for participating, and we hope you enjoy your books!

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Book Recommendation: BLOOD RED ROAD by Moira Young

I finally got around to reading the much-hyped BLOOD RED ROAD by Moira Young, and here's why I'm recommending this debut novel to you!

Character: Saba's impulsive, stubborn, and quick-to-anger, but I still managed to connect with her. She'll do anything to save her kidnapped twin brother Lugh — but she wants to do it alone.

To me, the journey of BLOOD RED ROAD was less about finding Lugh and more about Saba's development as a person as she begrudgingly begins to care for people other than her twin. All the supporting characters serve as foils to Saba and push her toward this development in different ways.

Plot: Like I said, the character development interested me more than the action, but I may be alone in that thought. Make no mistake, BLOOD RED ROAD is primarily an adventure, and it's filled with page-turning action (cage fighting and enormous killer worms, anyone?).

(FYI: Despite the "change the course of her own civilization" talk in the description (below!), don't go into the book expecting a HUNGER-GAMES-esque revolution. Yes, there are crazy injustices in the world, but BLOOD RED ROAD is about saving Lugh, end of story.)

Worldbuilding: The world Young has built is fantastic. I love seeing post-apocalyptic United States in books, and this dusty, lawless version feels both rich and complete. I especially liked the hints of magic realism sprinkled in the world.

Dialogue: There's a distinct dialect and abrupt style in the book which might be off-putting to some people, but I listened to the audiobook and enjoyed the stellar narration.

Ending (Spoiler-free, promise!): BLOOD RED ROAD could very well be a standalone and has a complete ending (thank goodness!), but I'm curious to see what the next Dust Lands book brings Saba & Co.

Read or listen? Listen. The audiobook narrator did an excellent job with the dialect, so I'm voting audiobook on this one!

What did you think of BLOOD RED ROAD? Leave your thoughts (or a link to your review!) in the comments!

Description from Goodreads:
Saba has spent her whole life in Silverlake, a dried-up wasteland ravaged by constant sandstorms. The Wrecker civilization has long been destroyed, leaving only landfills for Saba and her family to scavenge from. That's fine by her, as long as her beloved twin brother Lugh is around. But when a monster sandstorm arrives, along with four cloaked horsemen, Saba's world is shattered. Lugh is captured, and Saba embarks on an epic quest to get him back.

Suddenly thrown into the lawless, ugly reality of the world outside of desolate Silverlake, Saba is lost without Lugh to guide her. So perhaps the most surprising thing of all is what Saba learns about herself: she's a fierce fighter, an unbeatable survivor, and a cunning opponent. And she has the power to take down a corrupt society from the inside. Teamed up with a handsome daredevil named Jack and a gang of girl revolutionaries called the Free Hawks, Saba stages a showdown that will change the course of her own civilization.

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

The Breakfast Club + zombies = THIS IS NOT A TEST by Courtney Summers

In addition to having one of my top ten favorite covers ever, THIS IS NOT A TEST appealed to me because of the seemingly incongruous mix of Courtney Summers and a zombie apocalypse.

All I can say is, it worked.

I was figuring out how to frame this recommendation, and I started to think of how, despite the zombies, a lot of the book centers on the interactions of a group of very different teens stuck in an empty school. Wait, don't I recognize that scenario?

Holy crap, it's The Zombie Breakfast Club.

No, really. It even has a brain (Harrison), an athlete (Trace), a basket case (Sloane, the main character), a princess (Grace), and a criminal (Cary). And we can't forget about Rhys, this Breakfast Club's swoony and sweet sixth member.

I thought I was brilliant for a couple hours, and then I decided to see if I was the first person to compare the book to the iconic movie.

I wasn't, by a long shot.

Despite the comparison's unfortunate lack of originality, it's still accurate, and I think it highlights exactly why I enjoyed THIS IS NOT A TEST so much.

Seriously, how often do you find a character-driven novel set in a zombie apocalypse?

Some reviewers have taken issue with the inclusion of zombies, but I think they add to the story. From the ridiculously intense and chilling first chapter (when main character Sloane realizes that "oh my God those are zombies outside") through to the very end, it feels like a REAL zombie apocalypse. There's a legitimacy to how the characters stumble through survival in the beginning, and how the life-or-death situation doesn't magically make everyone the best possible version of themselves. In fact, it can bring out the worst.

THIS IS NOT A TEST centers on a period of limbo for these characters — they've survived the first few days of the zombies and have found a "safe" place in which to barricade themselves ... for the time being.

They begin processing the reality of the monsters outside, mourning the people they've lost, and figuring out what the heck to do next — all while dealing with the emotional baggage they've each brought to the situation.

Summers does an excellent job encapsulating this tension, but she never lets the zombies stray too far off the page. They're a constant threat, and they appear frequently enough that, despite all the internal drama, the horde is a very real, very hungry, and very vicious external danger.

THIS IS NOT A TEST is messy. It's raw and ugly and painful, both in the literal and emotional sense. I made the mistake of starting it before bed — "just the first chapter" turned into the first 80 pages — and I spent a good half hour staring at the ceiling, completely wired. It's the opposite of a beach read, but I was so engrossed that I brought it with me to the shore and finished it in one sitting. The sun was shining, but in my mind, I was in that school with Sloane, not knowing if I would live or die.

That's my kind of zombie novel.

Monday, July 16, 2012

Stop fighting your writerly instincts in 25 easy steps.

FULL DISCLOSURE: This may or may not have happened to me a couple months ago.

1. Realize that something's wrong with your WIP. Something big. Something you can't ignore.

2. Spend hours trying to figure out what it is.

3. Become stumped.

4. Sulk.

5. Stop writing.

6. Get cranky.

7. Pretend you're happier not writing.

8. Repeat steps 2 through 7.

9. Profess to your critique partner that you're totally ok with never writing again.

10. In response to your CP's skepticism, begin to vent about why you hate your WIP.

11. Argue that all your fixing ideas don't work.

12. At your CP's urging, list all of your terrible, horrible, no-good, very-bad ideas.

12. Insist that, no, that one idea that sounds like it could work really doesn't work.

13. No, it really doesn't.

14. Ok, it could, but what about ...

15. Alright, maybe it does, but it goes against this one thing that you thought was really important.

16. Realize that that one important thing doesn't actually matter at all.

17. Scoff at the idea that you've suspected the solution the whole time but were just too stubborn to see it.

18. Secretly try really, really hard not to smile.

19. Let a teeny corner of your mouth curl up.

20. Scowl.

21. Try to poke a hole in the solution.

22. Confirm there's no hole.

23. Poke again, just to be sure. Nada.

24. Finally allow that gigantic cheeser of a grin to spread across your face.

25. Get back to writing.

Thursday, July 12, 2012

On bookish souvenirs and foreign YA covers in Montreal!

Last week, I took a roadtrip to Montreal, and of course I needed to check out a local bookstore! Pre-vacation research* led me to Librarie Renaud-Bray, which had a pretty big YA section.

When I got there, I was looking for French-language versions of my favorite YA titles. Most had the same cover (and even title) as their U.S. counterparts, but here were my favorite foreign finds:

(LOVE these illustrated covers!)

(aka "The Theorem of Katherines," which also works!)

("Four Girls and One Pair of Jeans" loses a bit in translation)


Table o' YA!

The YA section!
They had it separated between French- and English-language books.

And of course, I had to come home with a foreign souvenir!

During my first trip abroad in 2005, I bought a copy of Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone in a Waterstone's in London, mostly for the original British title (and for words like "jumper" instead of "sweater"), but also for the different cover.
My British copy's cover!
In Montreal, I decided that I would build a complete international set of the Harry Potter series, so my Canadian purchase was a French-language version of Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets!

My Canadian cover's copy!

(I speak zero French and am clueless about pronunciation, so if I ever want to entertain myself, I can always try reading it aloud.)

Anyway, I'm nerdily ecstatic to buy books from this series all around the world. They will sit happily on my bookshelves with my set of U.S. hardcovers and set of HP audiobooks.

My next planned destination is Australia, so maybe I'll pick up this ominous version of Prisoner of Azkaban I saw online, which is actually marketed toward adults!

This cover is all "dun dun DUNNNN."

Besides collecting international copies of Harry Potter books, I always get a magnet for each new city I visit. When I was a kid, my neighbors had a magnet from every U.S. state on the side of their fridge, and I loved it.

I promised myself that, when I grew up, I'd have as impressive of a collection — but mine would be from around the world. (At the time, I'd barely left my home state and had never been on a plane, but I always had a travel bug!) I started in London at age 18 and have been gathering magnets since, and one of my favorite moments of moving into my first home was putting them on the side of my fridge.

Ok, now that I geeked out, it's your turn. What's your must-buy souvenir? And what book would you want a copy of in every language? Leave it in the comments!

* I'm obsessed with researching new places before I travel to them. When I retire, I want to work part-time as a travel agent. For Montreal, I got tech-happy and created a Google map of all the locations I wanted to visit. (I admit, I out-geeked myself with that one.) On the upside, I found somewhere that served heavenly poutine and had drinks at a fantastic brew pub.

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

This Writing Life

HUSBAND notices that WRITER-WIFE is still typing away.
Are you coming to bed anytime soon?

I want to, but words keep coming out of my fingertips.

Alright then, keep it up! I'll be a house-husband soon.

I sat down at the computer last night to save my WIP and go to sleep, but instead, I started writing the scene I'd been stuck on earlier. I'd say this is a good problem for any writer to have, but it can be hazardous for the day job.

And the "house husband" comment? The hubby has said that, when my writing career takes off and I'm spending all my time perfecting soon-to-be-#1-bestselling novels and traveling to a plethora of signings and events to meet my adoring fans from around the world, he'll be more than happy to be my stay-at-home husband. If only! But you're supposed to aim high with your dreams, right?

Anyone else have the problem of the creative juices flowing just when you should STOP writing?

My theory is that the pressure to be productive dissipates near the end of a writing session, so of course my brain starts to work then! This means that I either (a) lose sleep or (b) arrive late to something, because I refuse to waste good writing mojo!

PS - Anyone ever try their hand at scriptwriting? It's a totally different beast from novels, and I took a scriptwriting course in college that totally opened my eyes to the challenges of ONLY showing, not telling.

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

The dreaded one-page synopsis.

G-chat conversation between Frankie and I:
Me: Synopsis... aughhhhh
Frankie: haha yep
Me: trying to write it now.... on the upside, i only have one main character this time, not three
Frankie: right, so that makes it simple
Me: I want to believe that so badly
So I tackle the synopsis, keep it to one page single-spaced, and send it to the FNC ladies for critique. I'm feeling pretty good about myself ... when I get back Frankie's suggestions for rewording. She blew me out of the water, and thanks to her, I now have a fabulous synopsis.

And this is why you have critique partners!
Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...