Second Sight

Happy News

This appeared today in the Publishers Weekly Children's Bookshelf e-newsletter:
Amy Cherry at W. W. Norton has acquired Cheryl Klein’s book on writing children’s and young adult fiction. Previously self-published as Second Sight: An Editor's Talks on Writing, Revising, and Publishing Books for Children and Young Adults, Klein will be revising, re-writing, and updating the book. Klein is the executive editor at Arthur A. Levine Books/ Scholastic, where she served as the continuity editor for the last two books of the Harry Potter series, and she also teaches in the publishing program at the NYU School of Professional Studies. Publication is planned for September 2016; Brianne Johnson at Writers House negotiated the deal for World English rights.

Some PAQ (Possibly Asked Questions):

W. W. Norton!

I know! The Norton Anthologies! And Michael Lewis! And Patrick O'Brian (swoon)! I am thrilled.

How will the new book be different from Second Sight?

We are still talking this through, but my goal is that it will be a more complete and fully integrated guide to writing fiction for children and young adults, with a structure that walks writers through all the major elements of fiction and the writing process, accompanied by exercises, worksheets, and practical examples to help them apply the ideas on the page. Much of the material will be new, and much of what is taken from Second Sight will be extensively revised.

So you're not self-publishing anymore. Why not?

This new project started because I wanted to revise Second Sight into the book I describe above. As I thought about what it would take for me to do that, I realized that I was (and am) at a different place in my life than I was when I put Second Sight together, and I could really use the support, structure, challenge, and deadlines provided by a traditional publisher.

When people have asked me about self-publishing in the past, I've always said that neither traditional nor self-publishing should be the universal prescription for every writer and every project -- that the choice always depends upon the nature of the book, its market, and the writer's abilities and expectations in relation to the project. This was the right book and the right time for me to switch to traditional publishing, and I'm very grateful to Brianne for encouraging me and connecting me with Amy at Norton.

What will happen with Second Sight?

Second Sight is now going into its fourth printing (also hooray!), and should remain on sale for at least the next year and a half. It is still available through Amazon, at my appearances, or by contacting me directly at asterisk [dot] bks [at] gmail [dot] com. I also remain enormously grateful to everyone who has supported the book through the years, and everyone who's told me about their experiences with it, good and bad. (Much of that criticism is informing the new draft.)

What's it like to be on the other side of the editorial desk?

Pleasant and yet extremely weird.

What will the title of the new book be?

We're still working on that, but I have faith the right title will come in time. Most titles do. (And suggestions welcome.)

Edited to add:  It arrived! The title will be The Magic Words:  Writing Great Books for Children and Young Adults.

Thank you for your interest!

A New Conference + Miscellany

News! Later this month, on June 28, I'll be appearing in a great little mini-conference in my hometown of Belton, Mo. (about half an hour south of Kansas City). I'll give a talk on the five things editors want to see in every manuscript. Then the picture book author (and my best friend) Katy Beebe and I will discuss query letters, particularly the one that led to the publication of her lovely book Brother Hugo and the Bear. And finally, we'll do a first-pages session to round out the morning. Registration is $60, to benefit the Cass County Library Foundation (one of several library systems that made Katy and me the writers and readers we are today). For more information and to register, please click here.

In sad news, last month marked the first month in the nine-year history of this blog where I did not write a single post! Not a one! Part of it can be attributed to this fine fellow:

Mr. Bob Jacob Marley Monohan, who has come to dwell in our apartment and demand my time and attention, cat treats, things to gnaw on (currently a pair of James's cargo shorts that he unwisely left on the couch), etc. Part of it is that I have Twitter to accept all of my random thoughts. Much of it was simply work and life. But I miss writing here. I'm going to try to do a post a week for the rest of the summer, and I hope it will result in good energy all around. 
  • The Great Greene Challenge is still on! Have you gotten your copy yet? It's a great opportunity to support diverse books, an independent bookstore, and fantastic middle-grade in one fell swoop. 
  • As this blog has often served as my running results archive: My sister and I ran the Brooklyn Half-Marathon a couple weeks ago in 2:10. It was my slowest time for a half ever, but I didn't care, because I super-enjoyed running and chatting with her.
  • We have a great new episode of the Narrative Breakdown up here, with Matt Bird and James and I talking character goals and philosophies. Our podcasting has fallen off a bit of late because we lost our sponsor.... If you'd be interested in donating to the cause or sponsoring an episode yourself (a great way to reach a wide audience of writers and other lovers of narrative), please contact us at narrativebreakdown at gmail dot com.  
  • And if you'd like to buy my book SECOND SIGHT, but not through Amazon, please e-mail me at chavela_que at yahoo dot com. I'd be happy to work out alternate means of payment and delivery with you. 
  • Happy summer!

A Nomination! A Third Printing! & 2013 Editorial Year in Review

I'm pleased to report that The Nazi Hunters: How a Team of Spies and Survivors Captured the World's Most Notorious Nazi, by Neal Bascomb, is one of five finalists for YALSA's Excellence in Nonfiction Award!

The development of this book can be directly traced back to an SCBWI conference I attended -- Whispering Pines 2011 in Rhode Island (which was an excellent conference all around). During an off hour, I wandered into the conference center's library, and someone had left a copy of an adult book called Hunting Eichmann by Neal. I started skimming the book and immediately grew intrigued: I'd been thinking about how much I loved the narrative nonfiction in The New Yorker and how interesting and fun it would be to publish for a younger audience, and the hunt for Adolf Eichmann combined history, mystery, spywork, and Nazis in one terrific, suspenseful, high-stakes story. When I got back to New York, I reached out to Neal, proposing a YA edition of Hunting Eichmann. We embarked on a very enjoyable collaboration where we both learned a lot (me about photo research, especially -- a topic worthy of a whole blog post all its own), and the resulting book, with a awesome foiled cover by Phil Falco, came out in September. You can read the opening pages here.

While I'm posting:  I'm also pleased to announce I've ordered a third printing of Second Sight, which should be available for sale in early January. (The book is out of stock until then.) Thanks to all of you who've supported it thus far!

Finally, a quick look back at all of my 2013 books, with plenty of time left to order for Christmas (hint hint):

  • The Fire Horse Girl by Kay Honeyman: Pride & Prejudice in 1923 Chinatown!
  • The Path of Names by Ari Goelman:  Math, mysteries, mazes, magic, & even murder at a summer camp! This was named to Booklist's rolls of both Top Ten First Novels and Top Ten Religious & Spirituality Novels for Youth.
  • Zoe's Room (No Sisters Allowed) by Bethanie Deeney Murguia:  Two sisters. One room. Stuff just got real. 
  • Openly Straight by Bill Konigsburg:  A gay book for the "Glee" generation, about being out, being proud, and being ready for something else. 
  • If I Ever Get Out of Here by Eric Gansworth:  A "brohemian rhapsody" (Eric's phrase) about a Tuscarora Native American boy and a white Air Force kid discovering their shared love of rock music, and the complications that ensue.
  • The Nazi Hunters by Neal Bascomb:  Hey, did you hear it was nominated for YALSA's Excellence in Nonfiction Award?
  • The City of Death by Sarwat Chadda (sequel to his excellent The Savage Fortress):  Ash Mistry, weapon of the goddess Kali, goes to Kolkata, and the city will never be the same. 
And I'm excited about all the equally great things on the docket for the new year. This will probably be my last post for 2013, as I'm leaving for my belated honeymoon (in India, in fact!) on Saturday . . . so I wish you all the very best for the holidays, and a happy new beginning to 2014!

A Revised Plot Checklist

Recently I sat down to analyze a couple of the novel manuscripts I'm working on, and as is my wont, I ran them through my Plot Checklist, which helps me ensure that I know (and more importantly, the reader knows) what the story is, what is at stake, what emotional ends we're working toward, that things actually happen, and all those other good things. However, the version of the Checklist I featured on my website (which is also the version included in Second Sight) hadn't kept pace with some of my thinking about plot -- particularly what I'm currently teaching in my Plot Master Class,

So I revised the Checklist for my own use, and put the revised version up on my website here, again with a Word template for downloading. (The old checklist is still up here, at the address given in the book.) If you've read Second Sight, the four biggest changes you'll notice are:
  1. The addition of "Desire" to this page. I discuss it in the character talk, but a Desire is such a useful structuring element for a plot -- giving your protagonist a defined goal -- that I wanted to include it here too.
  2. The addition of "Obstacles" -- the things that get in the way of the Desire or of the task your character must accomplish in the novel. Generally there are both Overarching Obstacles -- the major things your protagonist must overcome, like the distance to Mount Doom -- and Periodic Obstacles -- problems in each individual period of the journey. They can be both internal and external (and there probably should be both internal and external obstacles).
  3. "Periods": Rather than thinking about individual Escalating & Complicating Events, I now try dividing a manuscript into periods. A period is a set of Escalating & Complicating Events that occur within a limited period of time, often with one other particular person or in one particular place, during which time your protagonist changes in one particular way. They are often joined by Turning Points (but there are usually more of them than just three or four, so they aren't quite Acts, in the screenplay-structure sense).
  4. "The Experiential Point" -- I wrote about this here.
If you use the checklist, I hope you find it useful! I'll next be teaching my Plot Master Class in Utah on November 17 -- registration here -- and I believe spaces are still open in Hawaii in February as well. The online version will start up in December, and if it goes well, we may run it again next spring. This blog will have details. 

Because I Needed SOME Way to Freshen Up These Announcements

There once was a podcast re: stories,
From action films to allegories,
Shared with tout le monde 
By a ginger and blonde,
Who each loved their narrative glories.

And as plotlines are most in the pink
When action and characters sync,
Behold: our new show!
(They're weekly, you know.)
You'll find it by clicking this link.

For more about this episode of The Narrative Breakdown -- which features material from the "Quartet:  Character" talk in Second Sight -- please visit the show page. And follow us on Twitter at @NarrativeBreak

Creating a Cover: Three Alternate Takes on SECOND SIGHT + Some Thoughts

At the National SCBWI Conference in January, I was approached by an artist named Heidi Woodward Sheffield, whom I'd met once before at a conference in Michigan. She told me she loved Second Sight -- so much so that she'd designed some alternate cover concepts for it, which might better represent what she considered its complexities. After she sent them to me, I was fascinated by these alternate visions of how my book could have looked, and asked if I could share them here. Heidi replied:
If you could note how incredibly rough they are, especially the collage piece with the baby, locket and quotes from your book (too busy), and your name (illegible...). Please stress it was a concept piece and not a final. Photoshop has a sneaky way of looking too finished for conceptual work.
Here they are -- and aren't they beautiful?


Looking at these alternate visions led me to reflect a little on why I went with the book cover I did, and the principles that drive my editorial decisions on a cover. Most of all, I want the covers of my books to convey, in both their text and images, a clear, straightforward message about what each book is, and for that to be an emotional message that will appeal to the book's most likely buyers. Thus I wanted to have books on the cover of Second Sight so you know immediately that this is a book about books, and then the large subtitle says clearly who this book is for (writers for children and YA) and why it is different (by an editor) -- all within a colorful, highly structured design whose feeling echoes my own rather structured writing style. If you're working on designs for your own book cover, you could do worse than to fill out the following questionnaire before you start:
  • Who is my most likely audience of buyers? Of readers?
  • What are the successful "comparison titles" for this book, which we might want to subtly remind that likely audience of? (I admit this question is how book cover trends get started.) 
  • What emotions are evoked in or by the book? In novels:  What are the most high-drama scenes or resonant images that might make a great cover?
  • Which of those emotions would I most like to convey to my likely audience? Which one would have the most appeal to them? 
  • How can I build an image or design that will put forward that feeling?
  • How much of the appeal can be carried by the title, and how much has to be taken up by the visuals? How will the two play together?
  • Where will this primarily be sold? (If online, it's important to think about how the image will look scaled down to an inch onscreen.)
Thank you again, Heidi, for letting me share these!

Egomaniacal Link & News Roundup

Because it's all about me and my books; because I haven't posted in forever; and because ... I'm sorry, my creative/essay/thoughtful-blog-post-writing muscle seems to be taking some time off for the time being. This may have to do with the fact that I've been exercising all my other muscles a lot -- training for some long runs -- and also writing a lot of editorial correspondence; and also sharing a lot of my immediate thoughts on Twitter (meaning, if you follow me there, this post might be quite boring for you. But I'll throw in a joke to make it worth your time). Thank you for stopping by as ever.

(The physical training paid off, I must say:  This morning I ran my fastest 10K ever, in 57:57! I give all credit to Rihanna and this extremely earwormy song.)

Erin Saldin's wonderful The Girls of No Return is reviewed in the New York Times today! Elissa Schappell calls it "A smart, absorbing story about damaged girls realizing how hard it is to connect with other people when you don’t trust anyone," and damn straight. It's racked up another starred review, too, from the BCCB.

Trent Reedy and I recently talked about writing across cultures (and editing books written across cultures, like his Words in the Dust) for the website Women on Writing. Words in the Dust also recently won both the Christopher Award and a Golden Kite Honor Award, and I know I speak for Trent when I say how much we appreciate his hard work being recognized. (The lovely Uma Krishnaswami also did a terrific in-depth interview with Trent on the subject of writing across cultures last summer: Part 1 and Part 2.)

This checklist of Ten Quick Ways to Analyze Children's Books for Racism & Sexism is another great resource if you're trying to write or read books outside your culture. And Teju Cole's thoughts on sentimentality and "The White Savior Industrial Complex" are worth keeping in mind as well.

Guus Kuijer won the Astrid Lindgren Award! His The Book of Everything is a wonder -- one of those books people still discover and then write to thank us for publishing it -- and an adaptation of it will open on Broadway later this month.

This review of Above, by Leah Bobet, made me do a fist-pump on the street, because it fully appreciates the magnitude of what Leah accomplishes in that book, and that is an exceedingly rare thing for a review to do, sadly (sometimes because of space issues, sometimes because of reviewer-book chemistry). (Beware major spoilers, though.) It also got a starred review in Publishers Weekly, which called it "a dark, dazzling tale." When my thoughtful-blog-post-writing muscle comes back, I'm looking forward to talking more about this novel, which you should check out in stores now. 

Vicky Alvear Shecter shares a deleted scene from Cleopatra's Moon and a little bit of the editorial/authorial thinking that went into it being deleted. I'd add to what she says that it's not just about tone, it's also about pacing, and this scene came very early in the book, when the young Selene was just starting to become aware of the conflict between Rome & Egypt that will shape the rest of her life (and the novel). And it felt more important to me as a reader/editor to get into that conflict quickly than to have what is definitely a very sweet moment. If the scene had come later in the book, at a moment when the action was already humming along nicely, we might have kept it there.

My alma mater, Carleton College, interviewed me and fellow alum Kathleen Odean about the Meghan Cox Gurdon foofaraw last summer. (Or was it a kerfuffle? Both, I think.)

And the super-interesting and smart blog The Whole Megillah asked me some insightful questions about Second Sight, writing, and revision. Which I then answered.

The joke: What do you call a dyslexic agnostic insomniac? A person who stays up all night wondering if there is a dog.

I recently received copies of the second printing of Second Sight -- yay! -- and the book was mentioned by commenters on Jennifer Crusie's website as a recommended writing book -- double yay! (And many thanks, Robena, if you're out there.) Jennifer Crusie is one of my very favorite writers, so it was a thrill to see my book on her site. ("My name and book title went through her brain!" I think. "Even if it was just in cutting and pasting the title in! Wow!") 

Here's a non-me link: If you're looking for a writing skills tune-up, I bet Ms. Crusie's forthcoming series of online writing workshops, The Writewell Academy for Wayward Authors, will be pretty amazing.

And another one, if you need inspiration:  Dear Sugar/Cheryl Strayed's excellent advice to "Write Like a Mofo." I'm reading her memoir Wild now, and it is terrific.

Other things I've been loving:  the return of Mad Men; this recipe for spaghetti with Brussels sprouts; 21 Jump Street -- an unexpected delight; this list of "Lines from The Princess Bride That Double as Comments on Freshman Composition Papers" (or Manuscripts); string cheese.

There, now it is no longer about me. Go forth and write like mofos.

A Blogiversary!

Today is March 4, and that means it is the seven-years-and-one-month blogiversary of Brooklyn Arden. I will allow these fine gentlemen to express my feelings on the occasion:

Some other things to celebrate:
  • Words in the Dust by Trent Reedy was named a Golden Kite Honor Book for Fiction by the SCBWI!
  • My Plot + Structure Master Class for the Inland Empire SCBWI went well on Saturday, and while my brain felt finely fricasseed afterward, it has now recovered!
  • I just ordered a second printing of Second Sight!
  • It is Sunday night and I just watched an episode of Sherlock I have never seen in full! (It was "A Study in Pink," and it was delightful.) 
Here's wishing you all many Kool, exclamation-point worthy good things this week.

Wake Me Up When September Ends

. . . and maybe I'll remember to post these interesting things. Because I haven't been doing much besides working, thinking, and keeping up with friends, this is, I'm afraid, a completely self-absorbed list; but hey, it's my birthday month. (Or you can attribute it to the evil influence of Eat Pray Love, which I'm reading right now and really liking. Here's to women who know what they want and go after it, I say.)
  • Jordan at the Rusty Key kindly interviewed me about working on the Harry Potter books. (Hermione's and my joint Virgoness pleases me deeply.)
  • A picture and one-line quote from me appears in Psychology Today magazine this month! It's as part of their "Person on the Street" feature, which is entirely appropriate, because it came about because of a stroll up my beloved Crosby St. I was walking to work one day, and at the corner of Prince and Crosby, a woman with a clipboard said to me, "Would you like to be in a photoshoot for Psychology Today magazine?" This seemed like a pleasingly random opportunity, so I said yes, answered a question, and posed in a strange position, which is of course the picture they chose for the magazine (in a spread of other people similarly strangely posed). It's not online, I don't think, but if you are exceedingly bored and near a periodicals rack at some point soon, you can look it up. 
  • And Sue Lederman LaNeve talked with me about self-publishing and Second Sight in her Tampa Bay Children's Book Writers and Illustrators newsletter, available here.
  • (I've sold well over half my stock of Second Sight, for the record -- thanks to all of you who have purchased it or helped spread the word!)
  • That interview also contains an announcement of another fun upcoming conference for me -- Florida SCBWI over Martin Luther King Jr. weekend, which I am already excited about. Wouldn't you like to spend a three-day weekend in January in Miami talking writing and children's/YA books? I think you would. 
  • If you disliked The Boy in the Striped Pajamas, as I did, you have to read Manohla Dargis's brilliant review of the movie, which is also spot-on for the book. (Thanks to my friend Ronnie Ambrose for introducing me to this review.)
  • Make your own S'mores Pop Tarts! Yum yum yum.

Nine Questions and Answers About Writing

As part of the Writer's Digest University event, I answered nearly fifty questions written by participants in the course of the webinar. Here are nine of my favorites (including a definition of the new Point I just named, the Experiential Point, in part because I wasn't satisfied with what I wrote in the blog post here).

8. Can you review the difference b/t emotional and experiential Points.

The Emotional Point is the emotional change that your protagonist goes through – how he or she develops from A to B emotionally as a result of the action of the plot, and how you would define that development from A to B. (The Emotional Plot is the steps through which she makes that change.) The Experiential Point is a loose summation of the dominant feelings you intend the reader to feel in the course of reading the book: scared, delighted, under stress, etc. Or, if you prefer, it’s a summation of the book’s overall atmosphere/attitude: funny, tense, relaxed, amused . . . again, what you’d intend a reader to take away.

9. What if the change is not something modern American readers appreciate? And what if the change is very subtle, again, that readers might not connect to?

If you’re determined on this change, and there’s no way to heighten it or make it something modern American readers might appreciate (if, in fact, the subtlety and strangeness of it are part of your whole intention, as sometimes happens): Then you need to accept that your book may have a limited audience among modern American readers. Which is not the end of the world – you can still find a publisher (just maybe a smaller one that appreciates this kind of change, and not a mass-market one); you can still find those readers (ideally the ones served by this publisher); and you will have written exactly the book you wanted, which is always a good thing, because people rarely get exactly what they want in this world. But if that is not something you’ll be satisfied with, then I’d return to the idea of heightening the change.

10. How do you feel about using modern terminology such as BlackBerry, iPhone, Facebook, etc., in YA novels?

As a general rule, I think it’s good to try to avoid brand names, because they also brand and date your character for the reader in a way you may not intend, and those companies don’t need the free advertising. The exceptions are Facebook and Google, because they’ve become such an ubiquitous part of everyone’s online lives, and an online life has become such a ubiquitous part of life in general for many people, and they don’t seem likely to go away anytime soon. . . . I feel as if you might as well use the real names of those programs, since if you use a fake name, readers will just see through to what you mean anyway. On the other hand, if you can come up with a fun fake name for those programs, that’s cool too, and it protects you from concerns about something getting outdated; for example, Sarah Dessen invented her own social network,, that appears in all of her books.

18. Are there rules for how a novel is written such as in the 1st person.

Yes. I’m going to shamelessly quote my own book at length here:
With first person, the reader is inside the narrator’s head, looking out through his eyes. This means that we have an immediate and intimate connection with this character—immediate access to all of his thoughts; an immediate, you-are-there presence in the action. It is terrifically intense, because there is no escape from this point of view, and everything that happens to the character happens to us, the readers, as well.
However: That will only happen if readers find this narrator likeable or compelling in some way. If the narrator is really annoying, that greatly increases the chance that the reader will put the book down. (If I stop reading a book, nine times out of ten it’s because I dislike something about the narrative voice.) . . . In first person, a narrator is under three kinds of pressure: (1) to tell the story; (2) to be believable and compelling as the voice of that particular character; and (3) to bring a personality and richness to the story beyond mere factual narration, as no interesting human being telling his own story ever reported merely the facts.
. . . Doing a first-person voice is like writing a picture book in rhyme: You should do it only if you do it very, very well. Of the three kinds of pressure placed on the narrative voice above, #2 and #3 are by far the most important; everything else — all your informational and plotting needs — has to work within the bounds of the character’s believability and personality. And if you have more than one first-person narrator within a book, then each voice has to be distinct from each other one in all the personality aspects we’ll discuss below: word choices, sentence rhythms, thought patterns.
20. Any techniques on how a character with low self esteem, as in a lack plot, can be created into an attractive character?

Show the reader that the character is actually quite interesting, smart, and funny, and has strengths s/he doesn’t recognize, most likely because they’re not valued by the culture (familial, social) in which s/he lives. Then make the plot of the book the change in the character’s own values, and the discovery of those strengths. (Three books that do this well: Speak by Laurie Halse Anderson; Eighth-Grade Superzero by Olugbemisola Rhuday-Perkovich; and the forthcoming The Rites and Wrongs of Janice Wills by Joanna Pearson.)

23. What aspect of being an editor, do you find the most enjoyable? Challenging?

My favorite part of being an editor is my conversations with my authors, in person (especially over food), on the phone or through e-mail, in my editorial letters, and on the manuscript page. The most challenging part of the job is the workload.

25. Is there a common theme that you see in new writers, of something that needs to be strengthened?

New writers tend to be impatient. They give away their entire story on the first page, or in the first chapter, because they believe they have to hook a reader right up front by throwing everything awesome they can possibly imagine (and/or all the information they have about the story) at the reader ASAP; but then there’s very little left to discover for the reader as she or he goes forward, because the writer has already revealed everything that’s interesting. I believe that readers are in fact more often hooked by authorial control: the sense that there is a lot of interesting story to be told here, and this author knows just how to tell it, and is going to reveal it to you piece by piece.

The moral here (slightly vulgar, but still true): Write your novel as if you’re performing a striptease, not going to a nude beach.

35. If one doesn't know what happens in the middle of the story, how can one figure it out?

In the words of Ray Bradbury, “Find out what your hero or heroine wants, and when he or she wakes up in the morning, just follow him or her all day.”

47. You talked about defining point and three kinds of points. Do you have any more tips on how to uncover/define/figure out these points in our manuscripts? I was horrible at figuring out theme in high school and I still struggle with it.

Yes, “Figure out your points!” is one of those things I say blithely because I do it all the time, but I know writers often struggle with it a little bit more, because they practice creating action, not diagnosing it! I’d set Thematic Point aside at the beginning and think about your Experiential Point first: What are five things you want to make the reader feel in the course of the book? How would you want the reader to describe the book afterward (beyond generic positive adjectives like “Great!”)? Then think about your main character. Who is he at the beginning? And the end? How would you define the difference between those two people? What has he learned emotionally? There’s your Emotional Point. And then if you can take what he’s learned Emotionally and turn that into a more general thought about life or people or ways of being in the world, you can check off Thematic Point too.

Shameless Authorial Bookmongering: My book Second Sight: An Editor's Talks on Writing, Revising, and Publishing Books for Children and Young Adults, containing many more thoughts on plotting, novel beginnings, character development, and voice, is available here.

Plot Questions

Earlier today, I taught a webinar for Writers' Digest University about plotting. As promised, I'm posting the questions I asked the writers to ask of their books here. Readers of Second Sight may note that these questions both substantially reflect and in a couple of instances substantially change the material in the book.
  1. What is your Emotional Point?
  2. What is your Thematic Point?
  3. What is your Experiential Point? 
  4. Does a change of some kind happen in the course of your book?
  5. Who changes in your WIP?
  6. What is your protagonist’s change in circumstances from the beginning to the end of the novel? (Action Plot)
  7. And how does he himself change? (Emotional Plot)
  8. What is your character’s drive that keeps getting him into trouble in the plot? What is your character’s compulsion?
  9. What is your character’s thing to be gained or lost? What is her desire? 
  10. Conflict, Mystery, Lack: Which type best describes your central action plot?
  11. Stakes: At the beginning of your book, what is at stake for your character in this book in the Action Plot? The Emotional Plot? What will happen to him if the change we see in the action doesn’t come about?
  12. What are the stakes by the end?
  13. Structure:  What is the Inciting Incident of your Action Plot?
  14. List as many Escalating or Complicating Events in that plot as you can.
  15. List the Obstacles in that plot.
  16. What is the Climax of your Action Plot?
  17. What is the Resolution of your Action Plot?
  18. What is the Inciting Incident of your Emotional Plot?
  19. List as many Escalating or Complicating Events in that plot as you can.
  20. List the Obstacles in that plot.
  21. What is the Climax of your Emotional Plot?
  22. What is the Resolution of your Emotional Plot?
  23. Where are your Turning Points?

For SECOND SIGHT Readers: Some Further Thoughts on Emotional Points & Patterns

I had a nice exchange over e-mail recently with a writer who read Second Sight and felt a little bit unclear (quite understandably!) about a couple of concepts promulgated in the book; and I decided to post our correspondence here to help clarify the ideas for anyone else who might be interested and/or confused. To wit, here's my correspondent:
At first I wasn’t sure whether you were saying a book needs both a thematic point and an emotional point or just one, but I believe you mean the book has a single point and it can be either of the two. 
Also, I was a little muddled about the emotional point itself. I wondered if the emotional point is the intended emotional response to the book’s resolution, or is it the reason a person chooses to read that particular book in the first place. Your example of the humor that is essential to Pilkey’s books makes me think it must be the latter.

I spent some time pondering the Compulsion vs. Obstacles section of “Four Techniques to Get at the Emotional Heart of Your Story” and wanted very much to hear you expound upon the “emotional pattern” that a character is compelled to repeat over and over. I’m not certain what an emotional pattern is. Is it something like a tendency to be impulsive, stubborn, zealous, etc.? Or is it the driving emotional force behind most of the character’s actions, like love or anger?
These were just tiny questions gnawing at me as I read Second Sight, but the *emotional pattern* I repeated over and over was exhilaration at the clarity and the little epiphanies I experienced and a bit of a brain fry as I tried to pin down the point of my story. That simple plot checklist was so helpful (thanks!)
My response:
Thanks for your questions -- they're good ones!

Actually, I think novels (literary fiction, anyway) should have both Thematic and Emotional Points -- a philosophical thought or idea or question driving the book (a question answered through its events), its intellectual heart; and then the emotional heart, which should be the Emotional Point.
When I'm working over a manuscript and I say "What's its Emotional Point?", my answers tend to go toward the overall emotional atmosphere of the novel, the key feeling the author intends the reader to take away at the end. (I make absolutely no claim to this being clear in the book.) In Pride and Prejudice, I would say its emotional point is humor, amusement, that sideways & smiling look at the foibles of intelligent human beings. In Twilight, I would say it's that feeling of being caught up in falling in love, and the reader's being in love with Edward too. In Feed, I would say it's that gaping, yawning, despairing feeling at the emptiness of the society and the lack of connection that Silas has at the end. (So yes, it's more of the intended emotional response to the book's resolution, as you put it.)

It's also often the author's intended emotional reaction to the idea espoused by the Thematic Point . . . For instance, in Pride and Prejudice, the Thematic Point is that even smart people sometimes get caught up in their own smartness and act stupidly, but rather than treating that with rage or despair (like, say, Dostoyevsky or Vonnegut might), Austen laughs at it and creates a happy ending. And that laughter, which she hopes to inspire in readers in turn, is the Emotional Point. In the classical Well-Made Novel, everything in the book should help add up to that feeling on the emotional side and the Thematic Point on the intellectual side.
As for the emotional pattern, I'd say it's a combination of those two things you describe . . . It's the outward behavioral tendency to hide, run away, be silent, be angry, fight, hit, whatever, which is driven by some inward emotional force (or pain, usually) in the character's nature or experience. In Speak, for instance, Melinda is silent and hides as much as possible for most of the book, because she believes no one will listen to her after her experience at the party; so silence/hiding is the emotional pattern she repeats again and again, coming up against the obstacles of people who WILL listen, who DO value her words (and also the obstacles of situations in which she SHOULD speak out), until those things give her the courage at the climax to change her pattern and name what happened to her. Or Pride and Prejudice again: Lizzy's pattern is to be prejudiced and pleased with herself, until she comes up against the obstacle of being massively wrong about Darcy and Wickham, and having to recognize all the other obstacles she bypassed to continue to be massively pleased with herself. . . .
This pattern does not necessarily apply to every novel; it's much more useful for character-driven books where the character needs to make some emotional change than plot-driven ones, where the change is mostly external. (I don't think you really find it in Harry Potter, for instance, at least not on the single-book level.) But if you can identify that key thing your protagonist does over and over again, especially in response to a threat, it's often quite useful in unlocking his/her nature and what might need to change for him/her to move forward emotionally, to grow.
If you've read Second Sight and you have questions or ideas you'd like to see explicated more, do feel free to leave a comment about them here. I continue to revise the underlying talks whenever I give them (and who knows, maybe there'll be a second edition of the book someday), so it's always nice to get feedback on what needs more explanation/examples, where I got too much into theory and not enough into practice, what's working well and what isn't, etc. Thanks!

Writers: What Are Your Rules?

Want to know a secret?

Everyone who buys Second Sight gets not only the book, not only my never-before-published talks on character, principles of plot, and voice, not only my full list of Twenty-Five Revision Techniques in one handy place, not only some so-terrible-they're-funny pictures of me -- but, at the very end, a link to a secret page on my website where I'm compiling more resources like the ones in the book. While this does include links to all my past talks and a quasi-index by subject to this blog,  these resources aren't just things that I've written. Rather, it's craft stuff that I find all over the Internet that I think writers should read. I've basically indexed Jennifer Crusie's website, too, and I should do the same for Nathan Bransford, and then there's this great post by Erin Murphy on how to define success . . . I like having this page as a list of all the resources I return to again and again; having it available to Second Sight readers is just an added bonus for everyone.

Anyway, I started a new section tonight called "Other People's Principles." Basically, I'm trying to put together a list of all of those "Rules for Writers" articles by various famous writers, for instance:

I always love reading these and occasionally adopt a rule or two for my own, though at the same time, I think those principles are best applied to the work of the writers who espouse them. . . . Contra Monsieur Leonard, sometimes books need prologues. Anyway again, in looking at this list, I realized that everyone I have on here is a writer of adult fiction, and indeed the only people who tend to write these kinds of lists are writers of adult fiction, because generally writers of children's and YA fiction aren't accorded the literary respect that would lead to their being asked "Hey, what are your rules for writing fiction?" by a major media outlet.

And you know what? That is stupid, because God knows the children's/YA world has as many smart writers with interesting principles as the adult world does, and indeed the peculiar nature of writing fiction for children and teenagers should require our principles to be more interesting than, say, "Don't use adverbs." (Which is a good principle, but one that needs to be thoughtfully qualified, as it can lead to deadly dullness.) (And you see what I did there . . .)

Anyway again again, I'm asking:  Authors of children's and YA fiction:  If the New York Times came to you and asked you to write a "Writers on Writing" essay like Mr. Leonard's, what would you say? What principles, large or small, guide your storytelling? What are your ten rules for writers? I'd like to know, and I bet other writers would as well. And I think it's a fascinating exercise always to dig down and find your unconscious lodestones. . . .

So, if you want to participate, feel free to write up and post your list of principles on your blog/LJ and put the link in the comments below; or, if you don't have a blog/LJ, you can write the principles themselves in the comments. (If you're reading this on Facebook, please click this link to post the comments on the blog post itself and not in Facebook comments; that way everyone can read them.) I will be excited to see what people say, and I hope all of us can learn new things from one another.

Thank you for your interest and participation!

A Ramble: Invisible Ink

(Continuing my series of monthly posts in which I write for an hour about more or less whatever is in my brain at the time.)

This has been a very good month--"an epoch in my life," as Anne Shirley would say--thanks to Second Sight and several other events. Trent Reedy's wonderful, world-changing Words in the Dust, previously featured here, has been named as the next book in Al Roker's Book Club for Kids on "The Today Show." You can read an excerpt of the book here if you haven't already seen it. (The campaign from that blog post raised $300 for Women for Afghan Women, by the way, and Trent and I both thank you for your support.)

And then Erin McCahan's I Now Pronounce You Someone Else was named as a finalist in two categories in the Romance Writers of America Awards: Best Young Adult Romance and Best First Novel (where it's competing against big old mean grown-up books too!). This really is a terrific recognition for a totally swoonworthy romance about what happens when you realize life can't always be lived as a totally swoonworthy romance. Plus other nice recognitions for Operation Yes and Eighth Grade Superzero and Marcelo in the Real World . . .

And then, yes, Second Sight came out at last, and was greeted with an ice-cream cake from my lovely boyfriend, many kind e-mails from people who have received it, and a ginormous sigh of relief from me. (Though the typo count is now up to four--grrr, arrgh.) Also a new kind of tension, though. I was talking with a writer at the wonderful Whispering Pines conference this past weekend about what it feels like to be an author; and having gotten over my terror at the book's initial release (or perhaps it's just mutated into this), the thing that keeps giving me pause now is that I like being invisible, often, and books are the opposite of invisibility. They are a claim staked, a space claimed (even if that space is just 5.5" x 8.5" x ~.8" in volume), principles declared, a flag planted, making oneself present in rooms where one has never been.

And this scares me for a very specific reason. . . . There's a talk in the book called "Morals, Muddles, and Making It Through," where I describe what happened when my best friends in fourth grade grew up much quicker than I did in fifth grade. I felt left behind, isolated, bewildered, all alone in a social world that suddenly seemed to be full of jokes I didn't get, focused on interests I didn't share. And I responded by doing my very best turtle imitation, avoiding anywhere I'd have to engage in social interaction, hiding in the library whenever I could (or the bathroom or a back bedroom if I had to go to a party--preferably a bedroom with a bookshelf). I don't have an Invisibility Cloak, but I long ago learned all the tricks available to Muggles for the same purpose: Know where your exits are at all times; don't look at the thing you're trying to avoid, because attention draws attention; wait for a burst of laughter, a noisy conversation, something to distract everyone, or better yet, leave the room at the same time as someone else, if the someone's bound for the bathroom or some such; move quickly and quietly, head down, eyes on your destination; don't look back. And then the deep breath once you're out, the return to the safety and lack of pressure of being alone. While I'm now a much more comfortably social person, someone who doesn't mind public speaking and can navigate a cocktail party pretty decently, my years of playing ghost gave me a taste for the freedom of invisibility . . . which is its own cage as well, I suppose, freedom being just another word for nothing left to lose and all that. But I was also thinking earlier this evening that one of the reasons I love New York is that it provides invisibility via sheer numbers: There are so many things to see and people to watch that it's very easy to hide in plain sight, all of us Purloined Letters of our own stories. . . .

(I really am rambling all over tonight; I feel almost lightheaded from tiredness but I want to try to finish this.) Anyway, again, putting out a book is the opposite of invisibility. And visibility carries responsibility, and I like to travel light, for fear of getting something wrong or hurting someone somehow or just because of everything I'm carrying already. (If a book is published and no one reads it, it still makes a sound, through its influence on the author and its physical existence if nothing else; and when people are reading it, then goodness--who knows how far that whisper might travel?) Maybe eventually I'll get used enough to this that I'll stop thinking "Oh, my, someone else is reading this now," with a little hitch of my heart, at every kind message or book sale. Do know I'm very grateful to every person who causes my heart to hitch.

(This has NOT been a passive-aggressive plea for compliments, by the way, should it come off that way; I meant the rumination on invisibility sincerely, and there's more to say on it later. Maybe April. Writers: Do you like being invisible? Or is what you love about writing the opportunity to plant your flag?)

For the record, if anyone wants to offer me a $500,000 advance, a la Barry Eisler, or a cool $2 million like Amanda Hocking, I'll take it. I'm liking self-publishing, but I'd be happy to sell out to the Man for the right price--especially when, heck, I am the Man, albeit in another market. And given the choice between true invisibility and flight, I'd go with flight, all the way.

And More Fun Interviews!

The Cheryl B. Klein Media Blitzkrieg continues with:
One fun fact about the book that has not yet come up in any interviews:  I'm Cheryl B. Klein on the book because there's another Cheryl Klein who's a writer, blogger, and editor:  the West Coast director of Poets and Writers, who has already published two novels under our joint name sans middle initial. My website is; hers is I blog here; she blogs at I love New York; she loves L.A. We both run, wear glasses and love Sondheim and carbs, and I'm convinced that if we ever met in person, the universe would explode a la matter and antimatter. OTOH, I kind of wish she would write a book for me, simply for the mindblowingness of it all.

All Aflutter

This has been a good and busy week, and promises only to get more so. Some quick things, first non-booky (for a change) and then all-booky:
  • I finished "Downton Abbey," and oh my goodness: What period, characterful, conspiracyful, Englishy goodness! Someday I aspire to wear dresses like Lady Sybil and bite off words like the Dowager Duchess. (And more immediately to write a blog post comparing the series to "Mad Men" for all the things they have in common: a large ensemble cast; of multiple social classes, with the attendant conflicts and resentments; on the cusp of (or even in the midst of) gigantic, sweeping societal changes they don't quite grasp, even as they inadvertently bring them about; also on the cusp of a war whose seriousness they cannot possibly foresee; with many buried secrets revealed over time, and liaisons right and left; all while wearing teeth-gnashingly envy-inducing* clothes (though really I suppose I should remember: corsets).)
  • * This phrase courtesy of Joanna Pearson's The Rites and Wrongs of Janice Wills, out in July. You read/edit a book enough times, its phrases naturally leap into your brain and writing. . . .
  • I'll be teaching a Master Class on Plot at the Kansas SCBWI conference the first weekend in May. There are, I think, exactly six spots left as of this writing, so book quickly if you're interested!
  • My other upcoming appearances: the Mid-Atlantic SCBWI Novel Revision Retreat in June, and Lit Day at LeakyCon 2011 in July. The Lit Day lineup is insane -- insane! -- and features Arthur's first appearance/speech at a Harry Potter fan convention ever, so it's well worth attending if you can make your way there.
  • And I loved, loved, loved the new "Jane Eyre" adaptation, partly for the fabulous period clothes and design, yes, but mostly because Mia Wasikowska and Michael Fassbender bring terrific passion and intelligence to the roles of Jane and Rochester, and make Charlotte Bronte's sometimes unwieldy or ethereal dialogue sound perfectly natural in their mouths, sweeping us viewers up in their passions as well. When I reviewed the Keira Knightley "Pride and Prejudice," I contrasted what I called Romantic and Rationalist romances, and faulted that P&P for shooting a Rationalist romance as if it were a Romantic one. Well, "Jane Eyre" is a Romantic romance par excellence (and the film gives that all the brooding atmosphere it warrants, to delicious effect) -- but I had forgotten, till I saw this adaptation, how much it is a Rationalist romance too, how much its unique intensity derives from Jane's absolute control over herself, and how much hotter the love burns for it. I want to see it again already; get your own taste on the movie page here.
Now the Second Sight stuff:
  • When I go home to Kansas City for the Kansas SCBWI conference, I'll also have a public book party in Belton, Missouri, on Thursday, May 5th; e-mail me at asterisk.bks at gmail dot com if you're interested in attending.
  • Jennifer Bertman interviewed me for the Creative Spaces feature on her website, where I talk about my writing process, my workspace, and the regrettable lack of a magic bullet for making someone a good writer.
  • Donna at the First Novels Club and Kate Coombs at Book Aunt each reviewed Second Sight and said some kind things.
  • Apparently people have started to receive their books! I hope you enjoy them. If you find typos (sigh), please e-mail me with them at asterisk.bks at gmail dot com. (I've found two, which I regret, but so it goes.) Also, if you had trouble ordering via earlier, there's now a direct-order phone number available on the order page, and copies should be available to ship from within the week.
  • And to end on a yummy note, James, my darling boyfriend, got me a cake to celebrate the publication of the book; here I am with it in my office.

Happy (and Scary) Book Day to Me!

Today, March 11, is the official publication day of Second Sight! (And there was much rejoicing in the land.) Books are in the fulfillment warehouse and will start shipping out today, and I have many books in my apartment as well, should you like one hand-delivered in New York. (Would you like to know how to order one? Allow me to oblige you.) There have also been several more kind reviews lately, from Chris Eboch here and the King of Elfland's Second Cousin here; and the book has a Goodreads page as well, where it currently stands at five stars. (Based half on my own review, I admit. But also half on Martha Brockenbrough's.) If you get the book and you use Goodreads or another service, or Amazon, I very much appreciate any and all reviews.

I will be honest: There is also much terror in the land, or at least in my apartment, at seeing the scope of this project I've undertaken made real. So many books with my thoughts in them! That must be sold to recoup an investment! That will be read by others! That will be judged by others! And who knows how any of that will go? I am trying to take deep breaths, to calm down and remember publishing, reading, writing, is always a long game, not a short one, that Second Sight is just out today, that I am really proud of the book even if copies malinger here forever; that it is my true thing, as true as I could make it at the time, and that's all that a writer can do. And all of that is also true, and I am mostly succeeding at talking myself down. But for any of my authors or friends who have ever felt disturbed at my seemingly irrational calm in the face of your feeling of seemingly absolutely justifiable anxiety: I get it now.

So, today is about deep breaths and terror, but also remembering how far the book has come, and how much I like it, and that wonder of making that "Sunday in the Park with George" expresses so well: Look, I made a book -- where there never was a book. (And therefore, also, for both halves of the emotional spectrum: Today should obviously be about chocolate.) Thank you all for listening, and for your support.

La La La

I've always loved the rejected epigraphs for Dave Eggers's A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius, one of which is:
"Ooh, look at me, I'm Dave! I'm writing a book!
With all my thoughts in it! La la la!"
-- Toph Eggers (the author's little brother)

With all due respect to both Mr. Eggerses:

Here I am! I'm Cheryl! And I wrote a book! With all my thoughts in it!

And I am happy. That is all.

The Proof Is in the Pudding

(Mmm. Pudding.)

And the proofs are also in my hands, as you can see here:
(I imagine y'all might be getting sick of my nattering about Second Sight, but I'm going to talk about this anyway, as it's a nice opportunity for you writers to see a little of the behind-the-scenes book manufacturing process.)

So: This is the cover proof, which I have to approve for color and final text. Both at work and here, the cover proofs come with clear plastic overlays, one for each of the various kinds of cover effects. Here I'm just getting a gloss coating, so there's just one overlay; but if I were getting, say, matte lamination along with spot gloss (aka "spot UV"), then there would be two overlays, one showing the matte layer, one showing the gloss layer, each one positioned precisely to show what areas of the color proof that effect would cover.

And then there can also be overlays for embossing, debossing, foil color #1, foil color #2, printing on foil . . . all the myriad ways in which you can bling up a book, for better or worse. Each individual effect costs money -- an additional three to eighteen cents per effect, per book (costs quoted off the top of my head), depending on the effect and the amount it's used and the print run and so forth -- which goes directly to the unit cost of the book. So the more effects a book has, the higher the unit cost, and the more expensive the book itself might be as well; but that can also pay off, if the effects result in more attention from buyers or a more attractive package overall.

Here's something I don't see at work: an actual bound book proof for approval! At work we see "lasers" or "blues," which likewise provide an absolute last chance for any text changes, but which arrive either as loose pages printed on both sides of special laser paper, or on blueprint paper printed in signatures (hence the terms). I assume whether the proofs come bound or unbound depends on the printer and its arrangements with the production department. And I think I prefer unbound proofs, actually, as they're easier to lay flat, consider, and mark up.

(Which is not to say I am not THRILLED with this as a proof: It's a book! A real book! If my unit cost had increased every time I squeed over this today, I could no longer afford to print it.)

And here you can see the actual interior, showing a spread from "Words, Wisdom, Art and Heart." The pictures are printing very nicely, which was a big concern for me; sometimes you need heavier paper to prevent bleed-through, or more grayscale to render the tones of a photograph correctly, but that doesn't seem to be an issue here. I'm going to go through this proof page by page to confirm that all the pages are there, in order, and no lines have slipped or text gone missing; and then I have to sign and return both proofs to the printer.

Then, in just under three weeks, it will be a real book, with the cover attached. I've set the official pub date as 3/11/11, by which date the books should have reached the warehouse and be available for delivery. (Ordering information to come soon.) Once again: Squee!

ETA, 2/17/11: The cover proof was fine, but I decided to make three corrections to the interior: one italicization that went wonky in the last round of proofing; one incorrect word I'd missed; and one fairly large typo I couldn't let stand. Cost of making these corrections: $52. Feeling like my book is that much more complete: Priceless.