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Wednesday, March 30, 2011

RTW: Forever Young

Road Trip Wednesday is a blog carnival, where YA Highway’s contributors and readers post a weekly writing- or reading-related question and answer it on our own blogs. You can hop from destination to destination and get everybody’s take on the topic.

This week, Road Trip Wednesday the prompt was: What books were you obsessed with as a kid?

This is such a hard question. If I were to answer this honestly, my post would go on forever and probably start looking like an Amazon page. So I’ll stick to three—one for each stage of being a kid. (I’m discounting tween and teen books here because its my blog. Neener neener.)

 When I was too little to read, my mom used to take my sister and me to the library every day to pick out a new book. Somehow, we always ended up with Strega Nona, too. Along with Stone Soup (which I also love), this is the book my mother read to us over and over and over again.

I’ve read Where the Sidewalk Ends (and Silverstein’s others) cover to cover so many times I should have them all memorized (I don’t). I think what I loved most as a kid was the humor (a girl says she’ll die if she doesn’t get a pony … and then she dies? I was ROTFL before anyone spoke in acronyms. Now when I read them I’m amazed at Shel Silverstein’s skill.

Feeling nostalgic? Here, have a poem:

Bear In There by Shel Silverstein
There's a Polar Bear
In our Frigidaire—
He likes it 'cause it's cold in there.
With his seat in the meat
And his face in the fish
And his big hairy paws
In the buttery dish,
He's nibbling the noodles,
He's munching the rice,
He's slurping the soda,
He's licking the ice.
And he lets out a roar
If you open the door.
And it gives me a scare
To know he's in there—
That Polary Bear
In our Fridgitydaire.

I first read Number the Stars in fifth grade and I’m pretty sure I’ll never get the image of Annemarie pressing her star of David necklace into her palm—to hide it from Nazi soldiers—so hard that it left a mark. It was the first time I’d read a book about the Holocaust, and I remember understanding that time period better after reading this book than listening to boring lectures.

And now I’m feeling nostalgic, wishing I hadn’t left my childhood books at my parents’ house. Because I plan on reading these again and again…

What were your favorite books as a kid?

p.s. There are three days left to enter the Mega Giveaway (I’m giving away a copy of Across the Universe, but you can enter to win a Kindle, too.) Go here for more info.

Monday, March 28, 2011

Do You Smell Something?

On Friday I talked about how characters pay a heckuva lot of attention to other people’s eyes. (Recap: Your main character probably won’t notice the eye color of the mysterious boy standing 15 feet away from her.)

Some of you mentioned that you’re eye people.* Other people may notice the eyebrows (most likely those of us who weren’t blessed with perfect arches) or hair (especially on a bad hair day). It just proves that not every character has to focus on the eyes first, just like not all of us do.

The thing I fixate on first? Scent.

If I were ever to be a supernatural creature, I’m pretty sure I’d be a werewolf. Actually, I’m not 100 percent positive that I’m not a werewolf. My sense of smell is kind of canine-like.**

(That’s not always a good thing, by the way. At least twice a day I get a new water glass because the current one smells off. I’ll smell the leftover dirty cleaning water*** sticking to a restaurant table. The Man thinks I’m nuts when I say things like, “Ew, this place smells like movie theater restroom hand soap mixed with eye glasses cleaner.” I hear pregnant women get like this. Someone will have to let me know.)

The thing is, when I walk into a room I notice the fact that the living room smells like an attic before I see the giant blow-up elephant on the floor.

My point for bringing this up—aside from having you all call me freak in the comments—is because I think smell is so often forgotten. And when it is used, it describes things everyone notices: food, perfume, books, rotting corpses (hey, you never know…), breath, dirty clothes and so on.

But what about those things only your character would recognize? The scent of vitamins, burning hair, the fragrance that a peach leaves behind on your fingers (which is not the same scent as a peach), the first whiff of a just-opened bag of potato chips, or the smell of tap water—and, trust me, all water doesn’t smell the same.

If your character is sitting in her yard, let her notice the revolting scent of dog pee–covered grass that has been baking in the sun instead of the freshly mowed lawn.

Then there’s the whole idea that smell is tied to memory, but I’m going to skip over that today to prevent this blog post from becoming a thesis paper.

Oh, and here’s what I’m smelling right now: boxes (I just moved), the heat from the hallway slipping under my door (I keep my place at 66 so there’s no scent of heat in my place), way too much chlorine in this gross D.C. water, and the scent of this medicine I just took—bubble gum trying to cover up toilet bowl cleaner. 

What do you smell right now? How would one of your characters describe it?

*Sorry that sounds bad, like you have and eye fetish. I’m guessing that’s not what you meant. You didn’t, right?

** Maybe it’s compensating for my vision. A few hundred years ago and I would have been legally blind. 

*** Yes, dirty cleaning water. If you’ve ever served, you know what I mean.

Friday, March 25, 2011

My, What Big Eyes You Have

After a week of dating The Man, I moved home to Massachusetts. (Well, technically I spent a month in Europe post-college graduation and then I moved back home.) He stayed in Baltimore, so we mainly spoke on the phone for four months.

One night, friends of our family came to dinner and asked about The Boy. I told them how I had a major crush on him for the entire year we worked together but he barely noticed me. I explained how, motivated by annoyance and my impending graduation, I told him I liked him—only to get shot down. And I told them how he came back begging (naturally) and wanted to date (of course).

And then my mother’s best friend asked me something.

“What color eyes does he have?” Um…

Mind you, I’d spent a year (covertly) staring at him and working side-by-side with him and attempting to make witty jokes so he’d pay attention to me and not the TV when the restaurant was dead. I’d spent every day for a week with him. I knew he had great eyebrows (yeah, I was jealous) and a slight Baltimorean twang. But his eyes?

“Brown,” I said as if I knew. Only I didn’t. I had no idea what color his eyes were. But his hair was brown and, hey, most brunettes also have brown eyes. Besides, brown eyes were more common than blue.

Of course, the first time he came to visit, the first thing I looked at were his eyes. His blue eyes. Bright blue eyes.

My point here is that if I didn’t notice the eye color of the person I spent most of my days thinking about, how could I ever remember the eye color of my teacher, my boss, the bank teller. Unless you look like these guys...

...I probably have no idea what your eyes look like.

And yet every main character that’s ever lived makes a mental note of everyone’s eyes. Even if the person isn’t important to the main character. Even if the person’s standing across the room.

(Dudes, there’s no way I could tell someone’s eye color the minute they walk in the door. Or in the middle of a fight. Or when I’m paying attention to anything else around me.)

I’d also like to point out how incredibly close to someone you need to be in order to notice the nuances of the eyes. If you are noticing the flecks of jade in the new kid’s eyes, you’re probably thisclose to making out. Not four desks over.

(Also, why do characters notice flecks or deep tones in the eyes and not a weird vein or popped blood vessel?)

I’m not saying you don’t have to mention eye color in your book, but consider the situation. Ask yourself whether you would notice that person’s eyes or at that time or from that distance.

Quick (without looking, you cheater, you) what color eyes does Katie Holmes have?

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Won't You Be My Neighbor

Road Trip Wednesday is a blog carnival, where YA Highway’s contributors and readers post a weekly writing- or reading-related question and answer it on our own blogs. You can hop from destination to destination and get everybody’s take on the topic.

This week, Road Trip Wednesday the prompt was: Which book character would you like most as a next door neighbor?

This was a hard one. For starters, anyone who’s anyone in a novel tends to get themselves into heaps of trouble. And I don’t want trouble. I want a friend, someone who will let me chill on their couch when I lock myself out of my apartment, even if it’s the middle of the night.

I don’t want someone who’s tempted to suck my blood, maul me with razor-sharp claws, or do some dark magic that will leave me possessed by a demon lord or the spirit of a chicken.

I was about to make the No Paranormal or Magic rule when I realized who I most want to live next door:

And, yeah, I might get turned into a chicken now and then but it’d be all in good fun. And I’m sure someone would turn me back soon. Or at least feed me daily.

When I’m human again, the Weasleys would invite me to family meals and treat me like a member of the family ... who happens to be very lame and unable to open the front door when she yells Alohomora.

Who would be your ideal (fictional) neighbor?

Monday, March 21, 2011

Making the Familiar New

I’m not sure where I read this (I’m guessing it was during those blogging experiences where you click a link that leads to another blog, where you click a link to another blog, where you … well, you get the idea.) but MT Anderson once said that the purpose of literature is to help the reader see the familiar in a different way.

I love this.

When I read that quote (or, um, paraphrase), I first thought about setting. I’ve lived in big cities and small towns. But I see each differently after reading a book. The setting’s inspired by the author’s life experiences and worldview. It differs based on the protagonist’s outlook on life, her personality, circumstances, worries, and fears. The same small town can be nostalgic or creepy or confining depending on the book.

As a teen, my family went to Paris. I loved the city, the feeling I got just being around the history and beauty. But when I read Anna and the French Kiss, I saw the city differently. It was romantic now. (FYI: there’s no romance in Paris when you’re with your family.) I saw in a way I never thought of it before. That’s the power of a good book.

This doesn’t just apply to setting, though. It applies to events and emotions and pretty much every part of a book.

In YA in particular, it’s easy to experience first love in so many different ways: wonder, apprehension, regret, guilt, and so on. Sure, we’ve all been there before. But the novel adds to our experience, expands it.

A book takes school—boring to teens—and adds a hot guy, vampires, aliens or a secret society. It takes a small town and makes it mysterious and creepy. It takes something as commonplace as a high school crush and lets us experience it this time as a teen boy or as a nerd.

I think it’s also important to remember that just because something’s boring and familiar to you doesn’t mean it’s boring to everyone else. I live in Northern Virginia and think it’s so uncool. (I mean, seriously, it takes about an hour to go two miles down the road. Grocery shopping’s a major time suck.) But someone from rural Tennessee might think living so close to Arlington National Cemetery, the Washington Monument, and the Lincoln Memorial is exciting. (It’s not.)

Your pig-riding monkey might seem so normal. But, trust me, it’s not. And about 6,189,830 people would love to see it. So slap a tape up on YouTube then write it into a story.


How do you see books as changing our views of the familiar? How do you apply this to your writing?

Friday, March 18, 2011

First Draft Bloopers

The thing I most love about writing a first draft is being able to run with a story. It’s like watching a movie for me. Sort of. I know where I’m headed and I know the major stops along the way, but the rest? Totally unexpected.

Because of this, I write fast. It took me a while to learn this, but now I mostly write without self-editing. Sure, I might go back and review yesterday’s work to get back in the story, but as I’m writing I won’t stop to rework a sentence 34 times.

But this type of writing can lead to some discrepancies. Like this gem, which The Man found while reading:

Act 1: main character has no boobs
Act 2: main character has boobs
Act 3: main character has no boobs

I can only guess that my main character got a boob job, didn’t like it, and got a reduction. But isn’t that backstory?

And to answer your question: Yes, I’m worried that my husband is paying attention to my main character’s chest size.

emo scene hipster - Harry Potter and the Deathly Headblows

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

RTW: When Real Lifers Show Up on the Page

Road Trip Wednesday is a blog carnival, where YA Highway’s contributors and readers post a weekly writing- or reading-related question and answer it on our own blogs. You can hop from destination to destination and get everybody’s take on the topic.

This week, Road Trip Wednesday the prompt was: Who (from real life) have you written into a book?

Truthfully, I never write a full (real life) person into a book. Well, okay. There was this one time I wanted to write about a friend whose parents were killed by a dark lord (sorry, I can’t tell you his name). Only my friend could defeat said dark lord, so there were high stakes. And since he was basically clueless when this happened there was a ton of built-in conflict.

But someone told my friend’s story before I had a chance. 

Aside from that brilliant idea that never was, I don’t usually add real-life friends or family into my books. (That hasn’t stopped The Man from asking, “Is this me?” and “What about this?” every time he reads my manuscript.)

Instead, I steal Real Lifers’ mannerisms. It’s kind of like going to a character trait buffet: I’ll take rapid blinking from her and that annoying sound the tongue makes when it suctions to the roof of the mouth from him. Even then, I use their mannerisms sparingly.

Real Lifers mostly help me think about each character as a fully fleshed-out person. I know how my father will act in group situations (shy) with close friends (chatty) or while waiting in line (impatient). I know for a fact that he’d leave a deli before waiting 30 minutes for a sandwich. My mother? She’d chat up the guy behind the counter until both had lost track of time. When a character’s looking a bit one dimensional, I consider how a bunch of Real Lifers might act, which usually helps me delve deeper into the character.

So, yeah, Real Lifers remind us that a character’s personality should affect how they act and react to everything.

I will add, though, that friends and family are more likely to assume they’re in a manuscript more often than they are. They also assume I’m my main character when I’m not.

Which is why The Man started touching the small of my back after reading my characters’ first kiss. Yes, the totally hot love interest put his hand on the main character’s lower back. No, that does not mean all interactions with me should start there.

What about you? Do you write Real Lifers into your books?

Also! If you want to win a copy of the awesome Across the Universe, enter here. (You’ll also find info on how to win more than 20 other prizes. So, you know, check it out.)

Monday, March 14, 2011

Agent Celebration Mega Giveaway

Here’s the great thing about the YA community: We rejoice in each other’s success. I’m so happy to take part in a blog party* today that does just that.

So, CONGRATULATIONS to Carolina Valdez Miller for signing with agent Vickie Motter of Andrea Hurst Literary! It’s always exciting to see a writer come one step closer to realizing her dream, and it’s even better when the writer is as lovely as Carol.

Because Carol never half-does anything (exhibit A) she’s celebrating with a ginormous giveaway. And, guys, you want to enter this. I pinkie swear.

You have the opportunity to win 27 different prizes. Seriously. Here’s what you can win:

Winner 1: A 1st page critique from literary agent Vickie Motter!

Winner 2: A Kindle Wireless Reading Device
In order to win this one, you will need to follow all the blogs in the giveaway to qualify.

Winner 3:
Signed copy of Escaping into the Open: the Art of Writing True by Elizabeth Berg

Winner 4:
Signed Hardback of Shade by Jeri Smith-Ready

Winner 5:
Signed Hardback of Passing Strange by Daniel Waters

Writers Digest Guide To Query Letters 
The Fire In Fiction by Donald Maass

2011 Guide To Literary Agents 
Writing The Breakout Novel by Donald Maass

One winner will win

Writing Down the Bones by Natalie Goldberg
How Not to Write A Novel by Howard Mittelmark and Sandra Newman
Given ’Em What They Want: The Right Way to Pitch Your Novel to Editors and Agents by Blythe Camenson and Marshall J. Cook

From Simon Larter
One winner will win all three

Stephen King’s On Writing
Ray Bradbury’s Zen in the Art of Writing
Anne Lamott’s Bird by Bird

Winner 1: A signed copy of Misfit McCabe
Winner 2: A canvas book bag

Winner 1: A signed copy of The Dark Devine
Winner 2: A signed copy of Raised By Wolves
Winner 3: Write Great Fiction: Plot & Structure

$25 Amazon gift card

A $25 Amazon gift card

A Signed copy of Personal Demons by Lisa Desrochers

You will need to subscribe to her blog

101 Success Secrets for Gifted Kids: The Ultimate Guide
A partial Critique

A $15 Barnes and Noble gift card

Divergent by Veronica Roth
The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins
The Name of This Book is Secret by Pseudonymous Bosch

Angelfire by Courtney Allison Moulton
Anna and the French Kiss by Stephanie Perkins
Hex Hall by Rachel Hawkins
Demonglass by Rachel Hawkins

From Me
A hardcover of Across the Universe by Beth Revis

Like I said: The contest’s awesome. And here’s how to enter:

To win the Kindle:
Follow each of the blogs mentioned here
Fill out the form on Carol’s blog

To win any of the other prizes:
Head to each participant’s blog and follow the instructions there

To win a copy of Across the Universe:
Follow my blog and leave a comment here letting me know you did so (required)
Tweet about this contest and comment here with the URL or include @T_Neithercott in your tweet so I can see it (+2)

You have until April 1 to enter. Good luck!

* BYO Champagne

Friday, March 11, 2011

When You're Stuck

It’s easy to wander. It’s important to weigh your options:

Twitter or blank page?
Facebook or blank page?
Blogs or blank page?
YouTube* or blank page?

This is where my mind goes when I’m stuck:

Real helpful, brain. Real helpful.

*Dear, Suzie Townsend, thank you thank you thank you for posting about this channel.

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

RTW: When I Grow Up

Road Trip Wednesday is a blog carnival, where YA Highway’s contributors and readers post a weekly writing- or reading-related question and answer it on our own blogs. You can hop from destination to destination and get everybody’s take on the topic.

This week, Road Trip Wednesday the prompt was: Growing up, who did you want to be like? So, in the spirit of Like Mandarin, I would have given anything to be like...

I’m pretty sure there were 20 different people I wanted to be like, depending on the weather, what I wore that day, and how much I hated my hair. I decided to go the child star route for this RTW because it lets me show you pretty pictures. When I was young, these* were the biggies:

Tracey the Kid
You know how little girls want to grow up and be a princess? Well, I knew life as a princess wasn’t all fun and games—hello, Cinderella and Sleeping Beauty. I had greater ambition: to be like Punky Brewster. (Hey, Kirsten, I just named your Book #2.)

I aspired to her purposefully disheveled look, especially since my mother would never let me wear mismatched shirts under a red vest, baggy jeans with one leg rolled up, and rainbow socks. Also, she had a deep, scratchy voice, which meant she was instantly cooler than me.

Tracey the Tween
Oh look, more actresses from ’80s TV shows. Two actually since tween me had a bunch of fangirl crushes. The first was the ever-annoying Carol Seaver on Growing Pains. In my defense, I didn’t want to grow up to be a nerd (look where that got me) I just liked the fact that she was played by Tracey Gold. TRACEY! GOLD!! Not only did she have the same first name as me, but it was spelled the right way. (Sorry Tracy, Traci, and Tracie but your names are misspelled.) And her last name started with G, just like my last name! (Neithercott’s just a little something I picked up along the way. I was born Tracey Giordano.)

So, naturally I wanted to be her. When you’re the only Tracey within a 50-mile radius, finding a fellow Tracey is A BIG DEAL. Plus, tween me knew that she and Kirk Cameron were only pretending to be brother and sister, so there was still a good chance me and Mike Seaver could get married without it being all icky.

But I also wanted to be Stephanie Tanner from Full House. I didn’t even care that she had a lisp. She was about five gazillion times less annoying than Michelle (I know, I know—how rude of me) and always said clever things, like “Well pin a rose on my nose.” The downside: Kimmy Gibbler was always over being her stupid self. But I could handle that. 

Tracey the Teen
Early in my teen years, I like any self-respecting young girl, wanted to be like Kelly Kapowski from Saved By the Bell. I’m not sure I need to explain why: Awesome hair, radical clothes, and Zach Morris. Tell me you wouldn’t want to look like this:

I thought so. But as I matured I realized there was more to life than having a hunky blonde boy with a cell phone (yes, A CELL PHONE!) and a hunky brown-haired boy with chiseled abs and stunning features.**

That’s when I wanted to be like Veronica Mars. While the rest of my classmates were fanning themselves over Joey Potter from Dawson’s Creek (totally overlooking her constant I’m-looking-into-the-sun-and-it’s-hurting-my-eyes face) I wanted to be as smart and funny and witty as Veronica. Also, I really wanted to solve crimes

Actually, I still want to be like Veronica.

Who did you want to be like when you were younger?

*While searching for these images I realized that ever single actress came of age by whipping it all off for Maxim or going on a drug and alcohol binge. That's another reason I'm really glad I didn't end up like any of them.

**I also currently aspire to be Derek Zoolander for obvious reasons.

Monday, March 7, 2011


Ah, fear. How useful it seems when some creep starts following you in the dark on a lonely street. Or when there’s a mouse in the house.

But at other times? It’s kind of in the way.

I’ve talked before about how fear stunted my growth as a writer. For years I was one of those people who said, “I’m going to write a book one day” and then never did.

Fear of failure. Fear of messing up. Fear of looking like a total goon in the process.

Now that I’m revising, I realize the fear has gotten worse. Fear that I can’t make this novel be what I need it to be. That it’ll never be as good as it is in my mind. That my characters and plot are boring, that together I have something akin to Walden.*

It’s stalled me. I’ll open the document and decide I can’t disembowel this manuscript in ten minutes or thirty minutes or an hour. And then I close it.

I had a breakthrough this weekend. Nothing huge, just a fix for a scene that added tension. But it reminded me that I should spend less time fearing and more time actually writing.

For anyone in that stage, there’s only one thing you can do—if you plan to get published, that is.

Tell fear to piss off.

Then write your book.

Tell fear to piss off.

Then edit it. Again.

Tell fear to piss off.


Lather, rinse, repeat.

*I'm not ashamed to say I hate Walden.  

Friday, March 4, 2011

I Wouldn't Call It Wanderlust

So I have this thing where I move every year. Seriously. I’ve moved once a year since I graduated from college, which means I’ve moved seven consecutive times. (And that’s not counting the four times I moved while in college. Five if you count my study abroad in New Zealand.)

Surprisingly, it’s not as fun as it sounds.

Anyhow, because I know the chances of me sticking in one place are pretty much the same as me winning the lottery, I don’t even decorate my apartment anymore. Well, I’m moving again. I know I won’t live there in a year. I know it’s a waste to buy decorations, to bother putting them up and taking them down 365 days later.

But still.

I want this:

And this:

And this:

They’d be perfect over my desk. They’ll help me write more, I swear.

I guess what I’m asking is, does anyone want to frame and hang these for me?

And come back next year to take ’em down and pack ’em up? Anyone?

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

RTW: I've Created A Monster

Road Trip Wednesday is a blog carnival, where YA Highway’s contributors and readers post a weekly writing- or reading-related question and answer it on our own blogs. You can hop from destination to destination and get everybody’s take on the topic.

This week, Road Trip Wednesday the prompt was: Invent your own mythological creature.

I’ve never written a mythological creature into my stories, so forgive me if this would never fly in a real YA novel…

Imagine a creature with shaggy brown fur.

And beady brown eyes.

Tiger’s blood courses through its veins.

It's fingers are made of magic and poetry.
When the sunlight hits it right, the creature goes mad. It starts bouncing, shaking, talking nonsense.

The creature has catch phrases, of course, which makes it easier for movie studios to sell merchandise. (A creature quote T-shirt anyone? Why yes.)

Make the creature angry and it’ll say, “I will cut your head off, put it in a box, and send it to your mom.”

When hungry, the creature will growl,  “I am an F-18 and I will destroy you in the air. And I will deploy my ordinance to the ground.”

In response to nothing in particular, it likes to say, “I am on a drug. It’s called Creature.”

Now, I know we’re not supposed to cast our characters since getting a movie deal is mostly impossible and blah, blah, blah. But I couldn’t help it:

Believable, no?