Writers on Writing: Malinda Lo/Serials and Series

 

Continuing a story over several books is serializing that story. Books that share a common setting, story arc or characters is a series. A series would books such as Nancy Drew, Border Town and The Babysitters Club while serialized fiction would include The Goddess Wars, Legend and Dorothy Must Die. Despite these technical differences, we tend to call books with characters and settings that extend over multiple books a ‘series’. To really learn about serialized fiction, I recently interviewed Malinda Lo.

Why do you think serialized fiction is so popular with young readers?

I think serialized fiction is popular with readers of all ages because we become attached to certain characters, and we want to follow their journeys through many stories. Reading serialized fiction is like revisiting old friends. There’s a comfort in it because mlo-by-andiepetkus-wordstock1-lowresyou have a good idea of what you’re going to get, and if they’re old friends, you enjoy spending time with them.  

Additionally, if you like epic tales of adventure, they often have to be in series format. It’s hard to fit saving the world into one book! So if you like big, sweeping narratives, that’s another reason to love series. You get to see much more of that fictionalized world.

How is it decided that a particular story should be serialized? How are the contracts usually negotiated? (one book at a time, or for the entire series at one?)

I’ve written two kinds of serialized fiction. My Adaptation series is two novels and a novella, and is the kind of serialized fiction you generally find in bookstores. The sequence of this series and the number of books in it was negotiated during the contract stage, when Little, Brown acquired it. Sometimes if a book is a standalone and it does really well, publishers will ask for a sequel or for more in the series. So it’s not always decided up front. 

The other type of serialized fiction I’ve written is Tremontaine, a serialized ebook series from an ebook publisher called Serial Box. They release serialized ebook novellas weekly, like a TV series releases episodes. It’s actually quite an old kind of publishing. This is how Charles Dickens released his writing in the nineteenth century — by publishing it in newspapers serially. This was different from my novels because I was one writer on a team of writers, and we worked out the plot together. The overarching beats of the plot were created together before we started writing.

Is writing serialized fiction the same as writing a novel, or are there differences?

If your series consists of a series of novels, it’s like writing a series of novels. As many writers enjoy saying, every novel is different. At the same time, if you’re working with a series, it’s a good idea to know the whole plot (at least generally) before you start writing book one. Otherwise the resulting series will have continuity problems and plot holes. So while each novel on its own is simply (simply, ha!) writing a novel, you have the added issue of plotting across a series rather than only one book.

For Tremontaine, it was quite different from writing a novel because each “episode” was only about 14,000 words. That’s much shorter than a novel, so the structure of each episode was different. You had to limit what you could get done in one episode, and you had to work with the other writers by asking them to insert plot points in their episodes to lead up to yours, or to follow through afterward. The entire arc of the season felt more like a novel. 

If someone were to develop an award for outstanding young adult series, what criteria do you think they should consider?

I think that would be a wonderful idea! There are so many series that are fantastic that don’t get recognized because most awards focus only on standalone novels. For example, Holly Black’s Curse Workers series is truly a work of art. She plants many seeds in the first book (White Cat) that don’t fully blossom until the climax of the third (Black Heart). That kind of multi-book planning — and its successful execution — is really hard to do. So I think a series award would need to look at the entire arc of all books in the series, and consider how well the narrative and characters develop over the course of all books.

Additionally, each book in the series should have its own inner cohesion. Because it’s a book within a series, however, there will necessarily be loose ends in all the books except the last one. But even with that caveat, each book should move the characters through a relatively contained story arc, and then also push the greater story forward. It’s a big challenge and I really admire writers who are able to juggle epic plots and multiple character threads.

What can we expect from you in 2016?

This year I’m hunkering down and doing a lot of writing. You won’t see much new from me this year because I’m working on stuff that won’t come out until after 2016. I will have some nonfiction published this year, including an essay in a collection for adults on the business of writing. And you never know, I might turn out some other essays as well. Stay tuned.

After reading Malinda’s description of what would make good, award winner series, I too wish there were an award! But, Malinda is such a good writer that she could convince me of almost anything. Malinda Lo is the critically acclaimed author of several young adult novels, most recently the duology Adaptation, a Bank Street College Best Children’s Book of 2013, and Inheritance, winner of the 2014 Bisexual Book Award. She is the co-founder of Diversity in YA, a project that celebrates diversity in young adult books. She lives in Massachusetts with her partner and their dog. We’ll have to watch for her releases in 2017!

 

Rambling on a Rainy Tuesday

This morning, I suddenly realized that one reason I don’t do as many informational posts any more is because I post what I find on Facebook. Please, feel free to follow me there!

Have you had a chance to read “Against YA”? I’ve read pretty lively attacks directed at the thoughts expressed in the article and interesting to note they all came from authors of YA and kidlit, librarians and others with a unique relationship to the industry. Did bankers pay this any attention? How do plumbers and astronomers react to news of so many adults reading books written for those years or decades younger? The decades? That would be me. I honestly doubt I would fill my world with YA if I were not a librarian who works in the field. I know I wouldn’t. Perhaps I would pick up a YA books now and then, but I wouldn’t have the steady diet. I don’t like a steady diet of any gene, any ethnicity or any one thing when I read. I really like this from BookRiot on reading beyond your depths. I feel a constant back and forth in my reading, from stretching my imagination with a good YA spec fic to relaxing into an adult romance to expanding the bounds of my knowledge with professional nonfic. #INeedDiverseBooks

Yesterday, I finally made it back to the gym and as always, I used my time on the treadmill to get some reading done. I’m reading Cynthia Leitich Smith’s Feral Nights at home but prefer reading on my Nook when I’m on the treadmill. So, I began reading Shieldwolf Dawning by Selena Nemorin. As works of speculative fiction, both of these books require world building. The writers had to create myth, place, names, and problems that do not exist in their day to day life. I looked at Cynthia’s blog to get an idea how authors tackle such a project and found Malinda Lo discussing Ash (Little Brown, 2009). Cynthia asked Malinda how she goes about building worlds in her writing.

I was an anthropology graduate student when I began working on Ash, so I approached the world-building from an anthropologist’s perspective. I thought a lot about the rituals that mark the turning points in life–birth, marriage, and especially death.

This was particularly important for Ash because the story begins when Ash loses both her mother and father. I studied funerary rituals in China when I was in grad school, and I relied heavily on that knowledge when I wrote about Ash’s parents’ funerals, and when thinking about how people in that world think about death and dying.

Another of the most significant aspects of the Cinderella story is the fact that the stepmother wants her daughters to make wealthy marriages. I read a lot of analysis of fairy tales, and discovered that many tales included stepmothers because mothers often died in childbirth, and fathers were forced to remarry because they needed a wife to help raise the children.

These family structures might set up a situation in which a stepmother is forced to raise both her own children and another woman’s, and in a world of scarcity, this naturally sets up a kind of competition.

For girls, marriage was basically their ticket to freedom–a girl had to marry in order to support herself later in life, and it was to her advantage to marry well.

If a stepmother is raising both her daughter and her husband’s daughter from his earlier marriage, and there are few eligible males around, it might not be surprising that she would favor her biological daughter.

Obviously not all stepmothers are like this! But doing this research helped me to understand why a stepmother might act this way.

So, I guess I thought about the worldbuilding in a fairly intellectual, anthropological way! But then when I wrote, I kind of just loosened my focus and allowed it to become the background–the motivator for characters’ actions. I didn’t bother describing all the rituals or reasonings behind decisions; I focused on how those rules and practices would influence a character’s behavior. source

As with any writing, authors bring what they know and how they’ve come to view the world into their creation process.

Eric Gansworth’s If I Ever Get Out of Here didn’t have to involve world building, but I think when Eric considered his audience, he realized he’d have to build his world for them to enrich the story. How skillfully he did that! He took us right inside his character’s world and made us feel as though we were accepted.

I wonder which is more difficult, writing about a newly created world or one we intimately know. How does one become aware of things they’ve come to take so much for granted and know they need to be described to an audience?

Some of the following have recently been posted on my FB page.

Saturday 16 August is the date of this year’s International Children’s and Young Adult Literature Celebration: Muslim Journeys. This one day workshop will feature authors Ali Alalou, Saideh Hamshidi, Rukhsana Khan and Naheed Senzai. “This year the celebration will focus on Muslim Journeys by exploring new and diverse perspectives on the people, places, histories, beliefs, and cultures of Muslims around the world, through presentations on literature, media, history and social organizations.”

Creative Child Magazine, published by Scooterbay Publishing (a company that doesn’t appear too focused on diversity), focuses on “helping parents nurture their child’s creativity”. Yesterday, they selected Chinese Fables: The Dragon Slayer and Other Timeless Tales of Wisdom (Tuttle Publishing) as the Book of the Year, kid’s books category.

Works of many outstanding authors appeared on this year’s Bank Street Best Children’s Books of the Year List, including the following authors. Congratulations! Lists were created for a variety of genre for under 5, 5-9, 9-13, 12-14 and 14 and up. I did not look at the 5-9 list.

Margarita Engle The Lightening Dreamer: Cuba’s Greatest Poet (HMH) (12-14 Historical Fiction and 12-14 Poetry)

Margarita Engle Mountain Dog (Henry Holt)

Rita Williams-Garcia: P.S. Be Eleven (Amistad Press/Harper Collins)

Lesa Cline-Ransome: Light in the Darkness: A Story about How Slaves Learned in Secret (Jump At The Sun)

Jewell Parker Rhodes Sugar (Little Brown Books for Young Readers)

Diana López Ask My Mood Ring How I Feel (Little Brown and Co.)

Andrea Cheng The Year of the Baby (Houghton Mifflin)

Andrea Cheng Etched in Clay: The Life of Dave, Enslaved Potter and Poet (Lee and Low)

Cynthia Kadahata The Thing About Luck (Atheneum)

Angela Cervantes Gaby, Lost and Found (Scholastic Press)

Farhana Zia The Garden of My Imaan (Peachtree)

Eric Gansworth If I Ever Get Out of Here (Arthur A. Levine0

Crystal Allen The Laura Line (Balzer + Bray)

Nikki Grimes Words With Wings (Wordsong)

Shaun Tan The Bird King: An Artists Notebook (Arthur A. Levine)

Andrea Davis Pinkney Peace Warriors (Scholastic)

Tonya Bolden Emancipation Proclamation: Lincoln and the Dawn of Liberty (Abrams)

Matt de la Peña The Living (Delacorte Press)

Patrick Scott Flores Jumped In (Christy Ottaviano Books)

Carol Blythe Revenge of a Not-So-Pretty-Girl (Delacorte Press)

Gene Luen Yang Boxers (First Second)

Gene Luen Yang Saints (First Second)

Lynn Joseph Flowers in the Sky (Harper Teen)

Alaya Dawn Johnson The Summer Prince (Arthur A. Levine)

Sherri L. Smith Orleans (Putnam Juvenile)

Swati Avasthi Chasing Shadows (Alfred A. Knopf)

Walter Dean Myers Darius & Twig (Amistad)

I am really enjoying the BrownBookShelf’s Making Our Own Market series. Not only am I learning how African Americans are succeeding in various areas of the book industry, but I’m learning more and more about the industry itself. Most recently, Kirsten Cappy of Curious City discusses marketing African American titles. Here, she talks about how her work to promote Terry Farish’s The Good Braider (Amazon Children’s Publishing).

In “creating partners for the book by finding commonalities,” I reached out to a young Sudanese hip hop artist and shared a galley of the book with him.  A few months later OD Bonny told me the book reminded him of his flight out of South Sudan alongside his brothers.  I asked if we could pay to use one of his songs as the audio for a book trailer.  He responded, “Why wouldn’t you want a song of your own? I’ll write it. Tonight.”

When I heard his song, “Girl From Juba,” I realized that it was not just marketing, but a reader’s genuine tribute to a work of fiction. An author can have no greater gift.  I also realized that I did not need to be the one to produce this trailer. I transferred the book trailer funds to OD and the music video/book trailer was created with an all Sudanese American cast (save one Irish kid), crew, and director. The video had 1000 hits within a week, not of book professionals, but of Sudanese and African American young adults that follow OD’s music.

Ok, I have some writing of my own to do!

 

 

 

 

Wednesday’s Harvest

It’s really hard to believe it was 97 degrees last week when we’re having 30 degree nights this week.

The garden is definitely winding down. I’m hoping for a red tomato or two but probably will get the last few green tomatoes, some rutabagas and whatever other surprises are left. One draw back to having a community garden is that people from the community wander into our garden and help themselves to the veggies. I’ll just hope I’m feeding someone who really needs it.

+-+757567409_140With sadness, I must mention the passing of Sonia Lynn Sadler, She was a talented artist and designed and recipient of the 2011 Coretta Scott King John Steptoe Award for Seeds of Change. May she rest in peace.

 

 

 

Malinda Lo (Inheritance, Little, Brown Books for Young Readers, 2013) just compiled a very interesting set of statistics on BFYA. Malinda’s analysis addresses several variations of diversity, helping us to realize all the different teens who are reading the ‘best’ books. Her closing:

The question is: Who is this “young adult” reader that this list is supposed to appeal to? Considering race alone, in a US where 37% of the population is people of color, and where “half of all children under 18 are expected to be non-white in five years” (MSNBC), should the BFYA lists attempt to diversify? How does quality — that slippery concept of “best” — relate to race and representation? These questions are further complicated when you bring in sexual orientation, gender identity, and disability.

And what about authors of color? What can be done to increase representation in that arena, both in general and in lists and awards that seek to recognize the best of YA? Is that important? Should it be?.

She followed this with an interview with yours truly.

Getting listed in BFYA or other award lists is quite important to authors. Alaya Dawn Johnson (Summer Prince, Arthur A. Levine, 2013) Tweeted this after learning her book is on the National Book Award longlist.

But, getting your book made into a movie? WOW!! The Watson’s Go to Birmingham will premier on Hallmark this wtsonFriday at 8:00 pm.

You do know what day it is, right? HUMP DAY!! It’s all down hill from here!

book review: Huntress by Malinda Lo

"I LOVED all the characters in this book but most especially I loved the two girls Kaede and Taisin and each of their arcs – how they started separately, then combined and then…well. I will leave for you to find out." ~ The Book Smuggler

title: Huntress

author: Malinda Lo

date: Little, Brown and Company; 2011

main characters: Kaede; Taisin

Something is not right in the kingdom and Taisin’s dreams only seem to verify it. The King decides to send an envoy which include his son, Taisin, and specially selected guards to answer the Fairy Queen’s summons to make things right. They’ve had a truce with the Fairy Queen, but stories from the areas they must travel through indicate possible danger. And then, there is the fact that Kaede is the subject of Taisin’s dreams. Neither girl has completed her studies at the academy; neither really knows her own strength or understands what challenges that may lie ahead, including challenges of the heart.

Kaede and Taisin are both indeed on a hero’s journey. Lo carries us on this journey with them, allowing readers to learn of the girl’s physical and spiritual powers as they themselves do. While they are learning to trust their own strengths, the girls also begin to trust and love each other. Only together can they conquer their foe and only two people who truly love one another could come together in such a way to fight pure evil.

It is obvious that Lo is quite comfortable with romance, legends and sheroes. This is her zone! I usually fold over corners as I read so that I can share noteworthy pages as I read but, this time, I was too caught up in the story.

I’m not sure why it took me so long to finally read a book by Ms. Lo. I suppose the only negative comment I can make here is that I should have read it sooner. This book is a prequel to Ash, which I have not yet read.