Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Go Visit - A Great Way to Enhance Your Creativity

By Nick G. Giannaras
            Hey all, this is Nick and this is my first article for Teen Factory and I’m excited to be able to help others fulfill their endeavors. As some of you may know, I am an American Civil War Re-enactor. There are many civil wars which have taken place through the years, so I clarified for simplicity. With my historical fiction piece set during the Civil War, duh, I was able to draw from tons of experience, sixteen years worth, in order to capture the flavor of this specific time period. In writing, you want to make people “feel” what they are reading: the icy winds off the northern Atlantic, the crisp fall morning in the Blue Ridge Mountains, or even the sweltering heat of a summer evening in southern Florida, the emotions of the characters. Do this, and you’ll hook them to read deeper.
            Now, drawing off an awesome vocabulary can create this. But nothing beats describing something from a personal experience. Therefore, one of my favorite methods of imagining a scene to describe is to experience it. How? Go visit. Being a Civil War Re-enactor, I can draw on memories of waking up before dawn to bugle blats and drum rolls, the smell of campfires, the aches of stiff muscles from sleeping on the ground, and all the excitement of battle.
            In visiting a place or event, you will be able to take your time and record your thoughts on a hand-held recorder, jot it down on notes, or even take pics to capture your experiences. For example, say you are writing about a scene in a quaint small New England town. Find one. Then, find an isolated vantage point, have your coffee, tea, or cocoa with you (if it’s cold outside), and watch. Watch the people, traffic, business activities, how the morning or evening sun sets upon the town. Document it.
            Perhaps you are writing about folks in a retirement home, a graveyard at night, a historical battle reenactment (lots to choose from). Go, visit, observe, document. To draw on my example again, let’s say you are doing a piece on the civil war and need to truly feel the sting of battle. You should be able to find a reenacting unit close by (the members live everywhere) and talk to their commanding officer. Tell them what you are doing and find out if it is possible for you to attend an event (usually on weekends) and fall in with them. Historical reenactors (living historians) love for folks to participate. You will be taught how to drill, fight, eat, sleep, etc. like the real soldiers did. You will be IN THE MIDDLE of the action! From one weekend, or even one day, you should be able to create a library of descriptions off of it.
            So, next time you need help in describing something, give your writing a boost. Go visit. You won’t be sorry. 

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

A Different Kind of Nano

We’ve all heard of nano seconds, nano ipods and little Japanese toys called nano’s but here’s another idea for your nano stash words.  Nano is short for NaNoWriMo which stands for National Novel Writing Month and it’s anything but small. 
Every year the Letters of Light in California sponsor a novel writing month for anyone who wishes to participate.  It’s thirty days of grueling, I mean, fun work!  There are two programs.  One is called NaNoWriMo and the other is the Young Writer’s Program.  The YWP is designed to be used in a classroom. 
The original NaNo participants make their own webpage on the Nano site and write approximately 1667 words per day for the month of November.  That’s about 50,000 words by the time you’re done – if it’s not a full length novel, its’ well on it’s way to becoming one.  The YWP allows teachers and parents to set the word limit per day for students so if you participate in YWP, your word count will be less. 
The fun thing for Nano is you can make your own author’s page, download a cool pic of you and post your website or your blog.  And…ta da…you can post your word count daily to track your progress.
Nano stats are very cool and you can find them on the websites – it’s a worldwide thing:
Nano, the writing one, is a wonderful thing.  Stay tuned for Nano secrets here at Teen Word Factory in the weeks ahead.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Interview with YA Author Kevin Craig

Name: Kevin Craig  

Date: September 7, 2010

Where did the concept for your current book come from?

Summer on Fire came to me after I saw an abandoned house go up in flames. My mind just started working on the “what if…” question that writers often ask themselves. The fire was so sudden and so complete that it transfixed me. Flames shot from every window and the house was engulfed in a matter of minutes. The story just built inside me while I watched the house burn down. It was quite a while before the fire department arrived, too, so I was able to go down that long “What if…” road. “What if three friends accidentally started a fire?” “What if one of them broke his leg trying to escape?” “What if…” and it just went on like that until the story was something I couldn’t let go of. I had to answer those “What if…” questions.

How long have you been working on your latest book (concept to editing)?

I started Summer on Fire in 2003. I didn’t spent seven years working on it, though. I wrote the first 30,000 words or so right away. Then I put it away and started working on something else. But the way I left it, with all those unanswered questions, began to bug me. I had to find out how the story ended, so I dug it back out and completed it in 2008. Then I went through a year of edits to string it all together. This was done after it was workshopped for well over a year in a critique group I was a member of. Eight of us met once a month at my house and critiqued pages of each others’ manuscripts. It was a great help with some of the direction I finally took when finishing the manuscript. But through the critique process I didn’t really spend a lot of time on the novel itself. It was percolating at that time.

How many books do you have published?

Summer on Fire will be my first published novel. I have 4 other novels written. I will be shopping them around shortly.

What interferes with your muse and what do you do about that?

Nothing. I’m lucky in that when I sit down to write, I write. I don’t get interrupted by writer’s block, or anything like that. Life sometimes prevents me from sitting down and writing, but once I start it’s go, go, go. I can always just sit and lock in to whatever it is I’m writing.

Where do you perform your best writing? Why?

My best writing is done at the Muskoka Novel Marathon. It’s a yearly novel writing marathon in Huntsville, Ontario. It takes place every July and I wait impatiently for it to arrive. Approximately 30 writers lock themselves in for 48 or 72 hours and write complete manuscripts. It’s a fundraiser for Muskoka Literacy Council, but it’s also an amazing opportunity for the writers who participate. Imagine having a complete first draft manuscript after 3 days! It’s phenomenal. And we all support each other and have a great time while writing on the fly without sleep. I think it’s my favourite way to write. I don’t know what I’d do without it now.

Who was your greatest influence on your writing? Do they know it?

My greatest influences have been writers that I have read. No…they don’t know it. But they put their best foot forward and some of their readers happen to be writers because of them. My favourite authors are the ones who influenced me the most. From Dr. Seuss to Roald Dahl to JD Salinger to Michael Chabon. As far as people in my own life, my wife has been the one to tell me to keep going, to keep writing. She believed in my abilities as a writer LONG before I did.

Did you grow up in a ‘reading’ household? Do you believe that had anything to do with your becoming an author?

I grew up reading. Not particularly in a reading household, but I was always a voracious reader. My love of story is definitely the reason I started to write. I always wanted to write. For a long time I thought it was something reserved for ‘other’ people. I held back for so long…until I couldn’t hold back any more. Then I found myself writing everything at once; plays, poems, essays, short stories, novels, articles…you name it.

What was your favorite childhood activity and why?

Probably reading was right up there…but we also did a lot of camping, swimming, fishing in the wood by our place. That kind of tied in with my love of story, though…we were adventure seekers.

As a youngster, what did you want to be when you grew up?

I wanted to be a writer. But I also wanted to be a veterinarian. I’ve always been crazy in love with animals. I was always bringing home strays and trying to nurse them back to health. Cats, dogs, birds, etc. At one point I remember thinking I had this amazing ability to communicate with animals. I was our block’s Dr. Doolittle. But there was also writing…always writing. I loved books so much.

Do you think people who are especially good at something, writers, singers, musicians, artists, etc, were born with talent or can it be fostered throughout a lifetime?

I am ON THE FENCE with this question. And I’ve gotten into a LOT of arguments over this one, too. To an extent, I think it’s possible to foster a talent for these artistic endeavors. But I also think that some people who have the desire can try for an entire lifetime to take on one of these abilities and NEVER get better. Desire is only a fraction of the ingredients that go into making an artist, a writer, a musician. I think you need something to be there, even if it’s just a kernel. I’ve seen people struggle and struggle and struggle to write, without success. Just as I have seen people write something on the fly that I’ve been eternally jealous of. There is no magic recipe for success in the arts. A talent can be wasted without desire and a heart that desires can be crushed without talent. I told you…on the fence. I can talk myself into circles with this one, so I better just stop here and now.

What is your greatest fear about being an author? What about in life?

As a writer? Success. I’ve always been freaked out by success. With each achievement, I feel more vulnerable. In life? I worry about my kids…I want everything to work out perfectly for them. And I get very freaked out when something goes wrong for them.

What was your favorite subject in high school and why? Least favorite and why?

Favourite? ENGLISH! Because it involved language and reading. I always loved words and English always seemed to be taught by word lovers who ‘got’ me. I felt at home in the English classroom. Least favourite? Math. Because I always hated numbers. They were the opposite of letters. I was always good at math, but I never had time for it…I hated numbers. They just did NOT interest me in the least.

How did your high school English teacher(s) respond to your writings back then?

Extremely positively. I had great teachers who believed in me. They always had good things to say about my writing. I’ve always been lucky with the draw when it came to English teachers. Mine were always amazing…they always loved language as much as me and recognized that I loved it as much as them. I always heard horror stories about certain teachers, but I never had any of them.

What was your favorite book as a teen and why?

As a teenager? I’d have to say there was a three-way tie for favourite. #1 was A Separate Peace by John Knowles. I LOVE that book. I could read it over and over and never tire of it. The whole impossible struggle of the friendship of boys is perfectly portrayed in the story of Gene and Phineas. It’s just perfect. #2 The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald. Another perfect book. I just love the dreamy prose of Fitzgerald. I get lost in his prose every time I reread that beautiful book. #3 Franny & Zooey by JD Salinger. That is just filled with great dialogue and questioning. It’s one of the reasons Salinger is one of my favourite authors. I always thought that book was so much better than Catcher…even though I love all of his works. I couldn’t possibly pick a favourite between these three.

If someone told you everything you write is junk and worthless. Would you continue to write? Why or why not?

Yes. Because I feel at home when I write. I don’t need to be validated to know that when I sit down to write, I’m at home. The validation is a wonderful side-effect, but definitely not needed.

What classic literature would you recommend teens to read and why?

There are too many to list. I am always reading the classics. I love them. I would actually consider A Separate Peace to be a classic, even though it was written in 1959. It will always be read…a modern classic and a TERRIFIC read for teenage boys. And teenage girls love it too. I think it has spawned a LOT of writers, that book.

What one book do you think everyone should read and why?

I keep going back to the same books in my answers. I think everyone should read The Great Gatsby. Because it’s a great story, well told. The language used is beautiful…worth reading for that alone, without even examining the story that comes out of it.

What would you tell teenaged writers about the submission to publication process?

It’s HARD. They have to know that it’s not an easy thing to do. You open yourself up to rejection in the hopes of acceptance. You’re not always going to get accepted, though. It’s really hard putting yourself out there when the thing you wrote means so much to you. Being told that it’s not good enough is hard medicine to swallow. Even if they tell you it’s great writing, just not ‘right’ for them. There’s no easy rejection. But I would also tell them to NEVER give up. Keep writing…it’s the only way to get better. And keep submitting. If you get rejected a hundred times, send your work out another time, and another time and another time. Don’t give up after five people tell you no, or after a thousand people tell you no. If you believe in your piece, keep trying.

Why do you think teenagers are so fascinated by the paranormal and fantastic? (vampires, werewolves, ghosts, faeries, elves, demons)

I don’t know. I went through a stage where I was in love with these sorts of things, particularly vampires. I think it’s just so fantastical…otherworldly…it takes them away. And there’s always an angsty love and yearning underlying these stories…I think that’s a big draw.

You’ve been asked to choose 5-10 books for a space capsule. What would you choose and why?

   1. A Separate Peace – Because it’s fantastic and it never gets old.
   2. The Outsiders – Another great YA that will never lose its shine.
   3. The Great Gatsby – Poetic writing should always be enjoyed.
   4. Charlie and the Chocolate Factory – Because it is filled with such hope and happiness.
   5. Franny & Zooey – Because I need to re-read it at least once a year.
   6. Green Eggs and Ham – Because. Just because. It’s fantastic. It hits us where we’re still children.
   7. Wonder Boys – Because it’s a great book about writers living their writerly lives.
   8. Little Women – Because it’s an old standby that you can read over and over again without getting bored by the outcome.

Is there an upcoming release (from any author) that you are anxiously anticipating? Why?

I was. I was dying for the latest Hunger Games release…Mockingjay by Suzanne Collins. I read the other two books in the series and wanted to know how the series ended. It was eagerly anticipated by a lot of people…all ages. Another one of those YA series that adults devoured as quickly as teens.

If your child declared they were going to be an author while a senior in high school. How would you respond?

I would tell them to start writing and start writing seriously. I know teens who were published…published with great success. I know it can happen. I would support them fully and completely.

If your daughter wants to marry an author who is just starting out and has no other job, what would you tell her? If your son wants to marry an author… Does it make a difference?

I’m not going to tell my children how to live their lives. I would support their decisions. I would be the same with my son and my daughter.

If you weren’t an author what other job would be doing?

Visual artist, maybe. Photographer. I need creativity in my life.

How is being an author different from what you thought it would be like?

I had no expectations, so I can’t really answer this question.

When you decided to pursue publication, did you realize what marketing and promotion would entail?

Not really. I thought it would be a component, but I was more interested in just writing and submitting. That kind of thing comes AFTER acceptance, so I didn’t really think about it until that happened.

How has your concept of marketing, platform building, promotion changed since you wrote your first word?

I know you have to sell yourself every day. Writers need to be good at writing, but they also have to continually push themselves as a brand…constantly shove themselves in peoples’ faces. I do a lot more than write novels…I freelance and I’m a poet and a playwright too. I am always getting in peoples’ faces…to the point where I’m afraid that I come across as a braggart sometimes…even though I still have next to no confidence in my writing.

If technology did not exist, would you still pursue writing and publishing?

Yes I would. Writing is something I NEED to do.

Do you prefer publishing fifty years ago when the big houses ruled or today when eBooks and POD allow anyone to publish?

I don’t believe that ANYONE should be published. I’ve seen some pretty horrendous self-published works. I think there should always be a vetting process. I think there still has to be a higher power besides the writer who says their work is good enough to share. That may sound mean, but there it is. A writer can’t see their own mistakes. Some writers self-publish without the benefit of a second pair of eyes, and I think that’s a huge mistake. But I do prefer the publishing world of today. I’m an ebook junkie. I think it’s a good thing that they’re here and that ebook publishers are here. I think it’s made the publishing world a better place.

Do you think self-publishing demeans the title ‘author’? At what point can one consider oneself an ‘author’? How does that differ from being a ‘writer’?

I have always considered myself only a WRITER. Until Summer on Fire was accepted for publication, I would not call myself an author. I do think self-publishing has demeaned the title author. As I said, I have read some truly horrendous self-published works. Stuff that should never have been put into print. When the writers who publish this type of manuscript call themselves authors…it demeans the title, for sure. I’m not saying that all self-published works are bad. One of my favourite books was self-published by a friend. She just did not want to go the traditional route, and she’s a fabulous writer. Her book is a true delight to read. And there are a ton of well edited, well written self-published books. You can’t knock them all for the bad ones out there. I do strongly believe that every writer, self-published or not, should go through some kind of vetting process.

If you’ve never written a children’s picture book, would you consider doing so?

Sure. I would try my hand at one. It seems like it would be a fun experience.

If you’ve only written for children and teens, would you consider writing a mainstream fiction novel?

I have written for adults. I have two finished adult novels. Both of them won Best Adult Novel in the Muskoka Novel Marathon. Sebastian’s Poet won it in 2007 and The Reasons won it in 2008.

What do you think is the boundary between Young Adult and Middle Grade?

It’s shady. But I would say Middle Grade would cut off at around eleven or twelve…depending on the reader. I have a finished Middle Grade that I think kids between 8-11 would enjoy. Dubious Pickles and the Space Between the Walls.

What is the boundary between Young Adult and Mainstream Fiction for adults?

That boundary is quickly getting erased. Adults are reading YA and teens are reading Adult fiction. I wouldn’t even hazard a guess where the line is drawn these days. YA is a great read. I read it all the time. To cut myself off from it because of my age? That would just be foolish. To write YA…it is distinctly different than adult fiction. It’s one of those things, I know it when I see it, but I can’t quite put my finger on the important differences. Subject matter is part of it, but there is a formula in YA that I notice quite a bit.

Do you think many adults read what is classified as Young Adult? Why do you think they do this?

Of course they do. It’s happening more and more these days. I used to find that adults were embarrassed to admit they read YA. Carrying the book around was once a dead giveaway. NOW, though, they have ereaders…they’re doing it more often. It’s their dirty little secret…to enjoy the latest hot YA…and nobody sees the cover!

Write a Twitter tweet about your next release. (140 characters)

Summer…fire, a body, murder, enemies, lies and a crazy lady for good measure. Is it too much for three friends to handle? The race is on…

Write your own six-word memoir.

He was happy before he died.

Blog 1:   http://kevintcraig.wordpress.com/

Blog 2: http://happenedinkenya.wordpress.com/

Facebook: http://www.facebook.com/home.php?#!/profile.php?id=591877020

Email: kevintcraig (at) hotmail (dot) com

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

4 Ways to 'Plump' Up Your Flat Character

Confused about what editors or readers or even other writers mean when they say ‘flat character’? After reading your own work, are you less than excited about the characters – they seem one-dimensional and uninteresting?

That’s because they probably are. When you hear about ‘flat’ characters, it refers to those usually written by amateurs, beginning writers, who haven’t learned how to ‘flesh-out’ a character yet. As with all writing, designing and writing about an interesting character takes practice and thought and time.
There are some ways you can speed up that process, however. Assuming you already have some ideas forming about your character, do the following:

1.      1- Read. If you pick up books by well-known and respected authors, study their characters. What is it about them that draws the reader into the story? Why does the reader care what happens to that character?
2.      Take notes as you read. I keep a word doc open while reading so I can take notes straight into my writing file. When I find a particularly impressive sentence or description or turn-of-phrase, I copy it and note author and book.

3.     2-  Study. Read blogs about character development. There are thousands of writers online daily sharing what they’ve learned about ALL facets of writing. USE their knowledge gained and save yourself some time.

4.    3- Use a rubric. Those of you still in school know exactly what I mean by that. In the course of writing my first book, Odessa, I rewrote my main character about six times. I designed umpteen rubrics to help me define her. But I finally came up with one that worked and when I used it along with #5, I finally knew how she thought and how she would react to situations.

5.     4-  Interview. This is your ace-in-the-hole. Authors get interviewed all the time about their stories. That’s how readers get to know them and about them. So – interview your character. If necessary, put a chair beside your laptop, facing you, and imagine he/she sitting there. Verbally ask them questions. They will answer. It’s like the old “If you build it they will come.” Well, “If you ask them, they will answer.” And you might be surprised by what they say.

So that’s it. That’s how I design characters for my books.

Should you use real people as characters? No. For several reasons. One of which is this – real people are boring. How many heroes do you know personally? I’m not saying you can’t START with a real person and embellish the parts that will create the villain or hero you need. I did that. I used my children as models for my main characters then added or took away characteristics to make the character fit the story.

It’s not a problem to sit in a public place (airport, mall, park) and take notes on various people you see. How do they walk? How do they hold their bodies while moving, sitting, conversing? What expressions do they have at various times you watch them? How do they dress? Be observant and scribble, scribble, scribble. Remember, you should ALWAYS have a little pad and pen with you for these moments.

Secondly, if you base a character on a real person straight-up, you might have liability issues to deal with. And that would completely spoil your book release party.

I hope these ideas get you started. I’ve put the rubric I use on the Samples page. Check it out. Modify it. Make it your own. Then look at my Character Interview and do the same.

Write Often, Write Well.