Caroline Bock-BEFORE MY EYES
YOUNG ADULT NOVEL WRITING TIPS
Names are hard. I had a seasoned journalist ask me this week, how did I decide what to name my characters? There are ten distinct first person characters in my novel, LIE
, and about ten additional secondary characters.
I said I had to create the characters first, and then name them. He pointed out that we name babies before we know them. So I've been thinking of this.
The difference between parents and writers and giving names is that when you're a writer you can create the character, the inner life, the psychological turmoil, the hair and eye color, whether they have bad breath or not, before you name the character -- and if you don't like any of this, or if you don't like the name, you can change it. Upon reading my young adult novel, a few readers have remarked that the teenage boy's names feel old-fashioned -- Jimmy and Sean -- and in fact both are named after their fathers. Jimmy is someone trying to prove himself to his father. He does this through sports -- and through the hateful actions against Hispanics. I wanted him to have a name that reflected his father, and to be all-American, hence he is James Seeger, Jr., or Jimmy, the popular Scholar-Athlete to all his friends. I wanted the father, James Seeger, to be filled with rage, bigotry and hate and to reflect that back on the son. I wanted an unbroken circle, the apple not to fall far from the tree. These characters practically named themselves.
However, when you have a baby, and you hold him close, you don't know much about this baby, even the hair or eye color can change from birth. You may have an idea about the name, you've researched some, discarded the one that is the name of your high school nemesis, been told that it would be nice, so nice, to name the baby after your husband's great-great grandmother. The fact is: you are totally unqualified, still in a fog from a 14-hour delivery, to name a baby, much less remember you're own name. Yet, you are commanded, by the nurse, to fill out a birth certificate, to name him. You think of all the names you've writen down, hope that one will work. Even more so, hope that this name will bestow good-- that he will go strong and smart and make a difference in the world. When he kicks his swaddling blanket off, you notice, again, his big feet. These are the feet that have been kicking you the past few months. For some reason, that reassures you enough to name him.
Or, if she smiles at you, less than a day old, the nurse will tell you it's gas. But you know it's her trying to tell you her name. You hold her mouth to your ear. Is she, this new born baby, trying to whisper her name? You smell her baby smell: milky and musty, as if that will give you a hint. I held my daughter this way -- and she spit in my ear as if curious to my reaction. I laughed, and I swear, so did she. Of course, she could have no other name than the one my husband and I gave to her.
So maybe it's not that different -- at the start. Maybe the only difference is that a writer can with a few clicks change a character's name, adjust the inner life or physical description to match, if they must, if the character insists upon it.
But once you give a name to a child, it's his or hers, even if they go to great lengths to change it, which people rarely do -- it's the name your mother and father gave you. You're running from something if you change that name, you have something to hide. Help! Why do I feel a new character coming on?
Am I onto something with names?
This post is dedicated to Michael and Sara, may they grow tall and strong, may they run fast, may they be curious about the world and be kind to others, and to themselves. Truly, from the author of LIE.
I put together this totally biased writer's resource list based on groups that I have actually participated in (many on line and free or at low cost) for the talk I gave today at the Plainview-Old Bethpage Public Library reading/reception event for LIE, and I thought I'd share it.
But first, I have to LOUDLY THANK two extraordinary women -- Gretchen Browne, director of the POB Library and, especially, the fabulous young adult librarian Heather Grecco who helped organize the event (yes, that's Heather and me in the picture). The reception was warm and inviting. Ages 6 to 80 were represented, and I believe everyone found the talk interesting (my 10 ten myths about the writing process, and top 10 'truths' -- more about them in later blogs!).
I distributed the following short list, which I thought I'd share with all of all you. if you have resources that you use to help you write, let me know!
RESOURCES: This is by no means a comprehensive list, but represents groups
that I have participated in or taken classes with over the years—
Long Island Children’s
Writers and Illustrators (LICWI) - a very inclusive Long Island group meets
once a month at St. Joseph’s College in Patchogue, and features group critiques
of children –young adult work.
Editor visits. Very
reasonable annual membership.
Society of Children’s Book
Writers and Illustrators – (SBCWI) National
organization for children’s writers, I’m a member of NYC chapter with monthly
seminars, annual winter meeting in January in NYC offers critiques, workshops
and panels. www.scbwi.org.
Hofstra Continuing Education (adult education writing classes
year round and a well-run Summer Writers Institute on Long Island). If you are an aspiring children’s
writer, try a class with Brian Heinz, very worthwhile.
Figment: Write yourself in. A community to share writing – no fee
to join. Teen orientated. Educator section too. Find interview with me on this
Book Country – new site to read,
explore, review and write fiction – no fee to join. Run by Penguin Group, a major publisher. www.bookcountry.com.
SheWrites (for women writers only). Terrific site -- no fee to join. As they note, they re, “premiere destination for women
writers, providing services and support for women at every stage of their
writing lives.” Lots of free
information, sharing here. Also
writing classes for a fee offered on line. www.shewrites.com.
MediaBistro (on-line and in NYC, www.mediabistro.com): daily free email on the media business, plus some excellent short-term writing
classes. Class with D.B. Gilles on
screenwriting is very worthwhile.
He has a new book: The
ScreenWriter Within – I highly recommend it.
Publisher’s Lunch – daily free email on the publishing business. Key info for serious aspiring writer
about what books have been sold by what agents to what publisher’s, what books
optioned by film or television, and the scope of the deals. A subscription component of the
site gives more details on deals.
Top Writing Competition for
High School students:
The Scholastic Art
& Writing Awards for grades 7-12.
Top award for high school students in the country for writing. Dramatic scripts, Flash
Fiction (1,300 words), Personal Essay, Poetry, Science Fiction, Short Story are
among the categories. DEADLINE for
Northeast regional: JANUARY 6,
2012. Regional and national
winners. Scholarships for
winners. More at www.artsandwriting.org
list of my bookshelf about writing include: Bird by Bird
by Anne Lamott about the creative
process; Immediate Fiction by Jerry Cleaver, a complete writing course in one book; and The Practical Writer from Inspiration to
Publication edited by Therese Eiben and Mary Gannon on the staff of Poets
&Writers Magazine. Also,
Poets&Writers Magazine and its
website are essential resources.
I'm sure there are more out there, this is only my 'short list,' so if you have some, let me know.
A POEM FROM HIGH SCHOOL and A REFLECTION FROM 2011
I am here,
And I’m lonely.
I live, eat and talk with you.
You listen while reading the paper.
My tears are shrill, deafening.
Sitting on the toilet seat,
I cry them
into a raggedy towel.
You bang on the locked door and
yell at me to get out.
I attempt to tell you my problems,
I know you have enough of your own
But I can help you too.
Tell me what you’re feeling….
I’ll grow up.
You turn your back to me,
reverting to the work stacked on the desk.
My voice unhinges.
You said you’d listen.
I stop in the middle of reciting my poem;
you’re not listening.
I know you have more important things to do.
You probably think I’m a fool.
(originally published in OPUS at
NEW ROCHELLE HIGHS SCHOOL)
I grew with a single parent, my
father. He raised four kids alone. My mother had a stroke that left her
brain damaged, paralyzed and hospitalized since I was four-and-a-half years
old. When I was in high school I felt particularly desperate. By then, I was responsible for my three younger siblings, in charge
of the housework and meals for my
family. I wrote this poem in 11 grade. My high
school literary magazine, Opus, at
New Rochelle High School published it. This poem, never titled, made me realize that I could
channel my emotions, my raw loneliness, into writing.
All these years later, this poem still resonates for me. How did my father react to it? I don’t think he did.
He didn’t read, or listen to, my poetry. Will
he read my LIE, my debut novel? I can’t say for sure, but now I know, I am not a fool.
I did the dishes, the laundry,
made dinner and wrote. I grew up. Writing shaped and defined me, carried
me through the worst times in my life, and the best. Though, I have
to admit, I hope he reads LIE. After all these years, I still want him to listen, to hear me, to acknowledge me -- why?
Be the first to watch the LIE book trailer!! Go to YouTube http://youtu.be/QZPmG1mrymk
This trailer was produced and directed by an amazing independent filmmaker (and Apple guru) Heather Smith. Thank you so much Heather for all the passion you have for LIE. The novel is in stores everywhere on August 30th!!
Wild graffiti our
artifacts, relics, sprayed marks
of a drive-by past.
--haiku by Caroline Bock, 2011
Inspiration day, trip to the Bronx and Queens with amazing artist friend to disappearing sites. Her work can't compare to these quick shots I took for inspiration. See her work at charleneweisler.com
LIE will be published on August 30th by St. Martin's Press!! The Countdown begins.
At the same time, I wrote this short short poem and from it came the idea for a character. This is where it always starts.
MEETING HIM AT THE
BEACH HE SAYS:
I like you --
you’re not pretty.
And so as LIE becomes available to the world -- August 30 -- I start again with a new novel. Am I compulsive or crazy?
No Nice Days
In memory of Raymond Carver
There are no nice days –
there are days
that you write
and days that you don’t.
The first is gravy,
as another writer
once said, and the latter—
you may as well be dead.
Do you think I was having a 'nice day' writing -- when I wrote this? Why in memory of Raymond Carver? He was a groundbreaking short story writer, and a pretty good poet -- he wrote a poem entitled, "Gravy," which has stayed with me all my days. Raymond Carver was also a wonderful teacher -- I was in his creative writing class at Syracuse University. So, have a nice day, and if you are a writer, write.
My dad visited last week. Not a lot of writing done, but lots of note-taking for future works! Read closely any 'dad' character I write, and in part, it is my father-- full of fury and humor and straight forward talk. He raised me and my two brothers and sisters, and is in many ways my idea of a hero. Here is a picture of Pop, age 81, on his way home. Back to writing this week.... Who informs, inspires your writing? Take notes.
Attended one Saturday of Thriller Fest -- a conference for writers and lovers of thrillers - in New York City. Why attend any writers conference? This was the first time for me at this one. I've attended others -- on the very other end of the literary spectrum -- about ten years ago, a week-long writing conference at the University of Iowa who made me believe again that I could write. But if you are a new writer, attend to meet other writers, or in some cases like this the festival had an entire day of agents on panels. Or, attend to find out trends in the industry, or because you have to get out of your own head, or out of your damp cool basement into a over-cooled, windowless, packed hotel ballroom.
Best things about Thriller Fest - Ken Follett (Eye of the Needle and Pillars of the Earth) and Joe McGinniss (Fatal Vision and Blind Faith). One thing each said: Follett, (paraphrasing here), "Stakes need to grow higher for each character as the story evolves" and McGinniss, "True crime novel is dead... killed by cable news. Write it as fiction." For the YA readers in the crowd -- R. L. Stine of Goosebumps fame was there as a key note speaker -- and said when he was starting out he wrote two books a month (and did nothing much of anything else). More at www.thrillerfest.org and www.bigthrill.org