Ask me anything!

Oh hai!

found at

I'm putting together an About Me page, but I have no idea what you all want to know. So I'm opening this thread up for questions.

Any questions.

What do YOU want to know?

EDIT: I'll give actual answers to the questions in my next post over the next week, btw.

Monday videos!

THIS is the most hilarious thing I've seen all month. 

Now I have the urge to go up to people and ask them "Do you want to be my friend?"


Also, this is awesome. (Of course, give all the wonderful people I know who are in this video, I might be biased.)

I'm a firm believer that anyone telling a teenager "These are the best years of your life" should be shot. For the vast majority, it just isn't true. I was the most awkward kid you've ever seen, and I can tell you that not only does it get better, but YOU get better.  Honest.

Happy Monday!


 Thank you again for all your support for my Thank You Contest, everyone! I plugged everyone into, and the results are in.

found at

And the winner of the GRAND PRIZE is...


First runner up, and winner of the board game is...

And finally, the winner of the gift card is...

 Winners, please email me your addresses so I can get you your prizes. And if you didn't win, don't despair. My editor sent me some awesome books last month, including some amazing ARCs, and I'm planning on having another contest soon.

Have a good weekend!

SOLSTICE celebration!! (and my new hobby)

In all the book/worldbuilding/contest excitement, I almost forgot to gush about P.J. Hoover's new book SOLSTICE!

Isn't that cover divine? And the blurb is awesome too. 
Where Mythology and Dystopia meet...
Piper’s world is dying. Global warming kills every living thing on Earth, and each day brings hotter temperatures and heat bubbles which threaten to destroy humanity. Amid this Global Heating Crisis, Piper lives with her mother who suffocates her more than the chaotic climate. When her mother is called away to meet the father Piper has been running from her entire life, Piper seizes an opportunity for freedom.
But when Piper discovers a world of mythology she never knew existed, she realizes her world is not the only one in crisis. While Gods battle for control of the Underworld, Piper's life spirals into turmoil, and she struggles to find answers to secrets kept from her since birth. And though she’s drawn to her classmate Shayne, he may be more than he claims. Piper has to choose whom she can trust and how she can save the people she loves even if it means the end of everything she’s ever known.

P. J.'s alternate passion is mythology and her books are perfect for anyone who's ever loved Greek and Roman myths. She's also an excellent writer, an avid supporter of other authors and a collector of tortoises and Star Trek references.

SOLSTICE is available on Amazon, Barnes and Noble and Smashwords for less than the average morning latte. Go forth and purchase. Or, if you're the cautious sort, take a gander at the free sample and THEN go forth and purchase.


For more information, check out P.J.'s blog tour going on now, or stop by the book's Facebook and Goodreads pages.

(In other news, I gave in and made myself a tumblr. Expect lots of randomness and fun research facts!)

Worldbuilding, part 6: Finding your secret weapon.

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Did you know you have a secret weapon? Because you do.

We've talked about a LOT of different aspects of worldbuilding in these posts, and I wouldn't blame you if you felt a bit overwhelmed.  It can be pretty discouraging, looking at all the work and the research that goes into a vivid world.

But don't despair, lovely readers! I have one last tip for you that will help you streamline the process.

Find your secret weapon.

(or alternately)

Give priority to what you love.

There is something you love besides writing. Come on, admit it. Something else makes your eyes light up besides the act of putting words on paper.

Maybe it's cooking. Or neuroscience. Or making quilts. Or dancing or drag-racing or playing Scrabble. Maybe you'd never tell anyone about it, never in a million years, because you know you're not very good. But you love it anyway.

Maybe it's animals. Or architecture. Or watching heist movies.

Or maybe there's something you're passionate against. Something that pushes your buttons, that you can talk for hours about. Like human-trafficking or drug abuse or hate crimes.

Something makes you spark, and that thing is your secret weapon. That's the thing you can research for hours and never get tired of. That's one of the good ideas you can combine to make something special. That thing that you hold so close and feel so strongly about, that's what makes your world uniquely yours.

For me that thing is cultural anthropology. I LOOOOVE  learning about different cultures and social systems. I'm currently first-drafting a middle grade novel set in Hawaii, and I could research Hawaiian history and culture FOREVER. It's so cool.

So that's what I use. My worldbuilding focus is on how societies are organized, how they function, what happens to individuals when things go wrong.   But I'm not the only author with an alternate passion.

Jennifer Lynn Barnes has a degree in cognitive science. She spent years studying--among other things--pack behavior in monkeys. And when her amazing new book Raised by Wolves, came out last year, one of the things that totally blew me away was the pack structure. The interrelationships between the wolves were so subtle and detailed and completely realistic that I bought into the book immediately.

Poet/novelist Ellen Hopkins's book Crank was loosely based on her older daughter's struggle with addiction. Because Ellen had first-hand experience and was passionate about the subject, the book had a powerful impact. Ellen Hopkins continues to write novels-in-verse, taking a deep, compassionate look at some of the dark things that can happen to us, and how we survive them.

This amazingly vivid book revolves around Persian history and culture--specifically weaving--something author Meghan Nuttall Sayres  is an expert in. In fact, she does such a wonderful job, that all I wanted to do when I finished the book was go and watch someone weave.  It was fascinating.

The next time your world feels flat, or you feel overwhelmed by all the information out there, take a step back. Look at what YOU love, what makes you happy. And then find a way to put it in.

Don't just give your readers someone else's passion, someone else's world.

Build your own.

Thanks for hanging in there with this series, everyone! Have I covered everything? Do you have any more questions?

Worldbuilding, part 5: The "Pigs in Space" principle.

Yeah I said it.

Pigs. In. Space.

For those of you who don't know, Pigs in Space was an ongoing skit that the old Muppet Show used to do. I've included a clip below for your nostalgic viewing pleasure.

Now whether you thought that clip was awesome or cheesy or both. (I vote for both), you now have one burning question. 

What the heck do pigs in space have to do with worldbuilding?

I'm glad you asked.

No matter what kind of worldbuilding you're talking about, everyone has the same problem: how to create a world that stands out. It's a serious dilemma, really. Too predictable and cliche and your story will feel stale. Too exotic and experimental and the reader can't connect.

How do you build a world that's both fresh AND accessible?

The answer is simple: you combine ideas. You take one strong idea and pair it with another strong--but completely unrelated--idea. And then you figure out how to make them work together. Pigs in Space  took the tropes of sci-fi television and added, well, pigs. Not-very-bright, not-very-brave pigs. Poof! Instant humor.

It can work for you too. In fact, it can be as simple as taking your favorite story elements and shifting them to a different setting.

The first middle-grade I ever wrote was about dragons in Alaska.  Holly Black's fascinating Curse Worker series is about con-men and mobsters in who live in a world where people can do things like alter thoughts or change someone's luck with a touch. Cassandra Clare took the world she built in her Mortal Instruments series,  shifted it to Victorian-era London, added a dash of steampunk and ended up with Clockwork Angel.

In essence, the Pigs in Space principle boils down to one simple directive.

Give yourself permission to play.

Play with your ideas. Combine settings, combine characters. Move the whole kit and kaboodle to ancient China and see what happens. Give everyone telepathy. Make rutabagas essential to your magic spells. Make writing illegal. Have every character fluent in interpretive dance.

Have fun with it.

At some point, you'll move two ideas together and something will spark. You'll think "Hey, that's kind of cool," and before you know it you'll have a world on your hands, a vivid engaging world that fascinates you as much as it fascinates your reader.

And if that doesn't work, try throwing in a few pigs.

Last day of the contest and worldbuilding recap!

1. THANK YOU everyone who's entered, tweeted and blogged about my contest! Your enthusiasm was so uplifting and I feel like I've made some great new friends. You are all amazing.

2. And speaking of the contest, it's the last day to enter! If you haven't entered yet and you want to, click this link. The grand prize is a backpack full of YA and writing books and the contest closes at midnight PST. 

3. Now that the contest is almost done, it's time to get back to worldbuilding! First up, I apologize to everyone who's been following the series. Between the book deal and the contest and the moving, I haven't been as consistent with it as I would've liked to be.  But I'm jumping back in, and this time, nothing will stop me!

For those of you who just tuned in, here's a quick recap of the first few posts.

Worldbuilding, part 1: It's not just for science fiction anymore!

In which I give you my definition of worldbuilding, talk about how we can learn from other genres and explore the four basic kinds of worldbuilding.

Worldbuilding, part 2: By the Power of Grayskull....I mean Research!

In which we learn how research kills stereotypes and highlight five different sources to use when you're researching.

Worldbuilding, part 3: The Secret to Worldbuilding Success (according to me).

In which we talk about the magic of internal consistency.

Worldbuilding, part 4: Let's talk about exceptions.

In which we look at when and how to make exceptions to worldbuilding rules.

(Up next, the Pigs in Space principle, and how to make your world uniquely your own.  Stay tuned!)

4. In the midst of all this happy activity, there has been an upset. Not only does our new house not have internet yet, it's not even wired for it. 

*makes shocked face*

Also, there has been a with my laptop, requiring me to borrow one instead. All this means that my online stuff might be more erratic than usual. I'm still going to stick to my blogging, and I will try to reply to all comments, (and @replies on Twitter) but it might take me longer.  I'm not ignoring you, I promise.

5. Finally, if any of you are missing your daily dose of cute animals, this one's for you. 

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So have I missed anything while I've been gone?

A look at THE PENDERWICKS by Jeanne Birdsall

Meet the Penderwicks, four different sisters with one special bond. There’s responsible, practical Rosalind; stubborn, feisty Skye; dreamy, artistic Jane; and shy little sister Batty, who won't go anywhere without her butterfly wings. 

When the girls and their doting father head off for their summer holiday, they're in for a surprise.  Instead of the tumbledown cottage they expected, they find themselves on a beautiful estate called Arundel. Soon the girls are busy discovering the summertime magic of Arundel's sprawling gardens, treasure-filled attic, tame rabbits, and the cook who makes the best gingerbread in Massachusetts. But the most wonderful discovery of all is Jeffrey Tifton, son of Arundel's owner, who quickly proves to be the perfect companion for their adventures.

The icy-hearted Mrs. Tifton is not as pleased with the Penderwicks as Jeffrey is, though, and warns the new friends to stay out of trouble. Which, of course, they will—won’t they?

If your favorite childhood reads were Little Women and Anne of Green Gables, if you loved the stories of E. Nesbit, and if you're in the mood for awesome writing with a classic feel, then this is the book for you.

For a long time after that summer, the four Penderwick sisters still talked of Arundel. Fate drove us there, Jane would say. No, it was the greedy landlord who sold our vacation house on Cape Cod, someone else would say, probably Skye.
Who knew which was right? But it was true that the beach house they usually rented had been sold at the last minute, and the Penderwicks were suddenly without summer plans. Mr. Penderwick called everywhere, but Cape Cod was booked solid, and his daughters were starting to think they would be spending their whole vacation at home in Cameron, Massachusetts. Not that they didn't love Cameron, but what is summer without a trip to somewhere special? Then, out of the blue, Mr. Penderwick heard through a friend of a friend about a cottage in the Berkshire Mountains. It had plenty of bedrooms and a big fenced-in pen for a dog--perfect for big, black, clumsy, lovable Hound Penderwick--and it was available to be rented for three weeks in August. Mr. Penderwick snatched it up, sight unseen.
He didn't know what he was getting us into, Batty would say. Rosalind always said, It's too bad Mommy never saw Arundel--she would have loved the gardens. And Jane would say, There are much better gardens in heaven. And Mommy will never have to bump into Mrs. Tifton in heaven, Skye added to make her sisters laugh. And laugh they would, and the talk would move on to other things, until the next time someone remembered Arundel.
~excerpt from The Penderwicks
More than  anything this book reminded me of Eight Cousins by Louisa May Alcott, one of my favorites by far. It has the same feeling of adventure, the same mix of different personalities and age ranges, and in both books, the lessons the kids learn the most are the ones they teach each other.

I will say that this book is often shelved in the children's section of the bookstore and not in the YA section, but that really only highlights the benefits of going to your local indie bookstore.

Yay indies!!!

The people at my local store have actually read most of their books, including the kids and YA sections. And when shopping for an in-between age like thirteen, it helps to have a seller who knows where to find what you're looking for.

(Also,  I came across a blog post by an agent I follow, talking about what editors are looking for right now. And right on the top of the list for middle grade was another book like The Penderwicks. So dark fiction isn't all that publishers want.) 

How about you? What is your favorite classic children's book?

(Want to win this book? Go here to enter my Thank-You Contest of Amazingness!)

A look at FLIPPED by Wendelin Van Draanen

The first time she saw him, she flipped. The first time he saw her, he ran. That was the second grade, but not much has changed by the seventh. But in the eighth grade everything gets turned upside down. And just as he's thinking there's more to her than meets the eye, she's thinking that he's not quite all he seemed. 

 When I read the beginning of the WSJ article about YA--about the mother who couldn't find a book for her thirteen-year-old--this was the book I thought of. It's funny, clean, and written with a light touch.  It's also written in alternating points-of-view so you get to see Juli and Bryce change in different ways as she realizes he's kind of a jerk, and he realizes he wants to be better.
 All I've ever wanted is for Juli Baker to leave me alone For her to back off-you know, just give me some space.
It all started the summer before second grade when our moving van pulled into her neighborhood. And since we're now about done with the eighth grade, that, my friend, makes more than half a decade of strategic avoidance and social discomfort.
She didn't just barge into my life. She barged and shoved and wedged her way into my life. Did we invite her to get into our moving van and start climbing all over boxes? No! But that's exactly what she did, taking over and showing off like only Juli Baker can.
My dad tried to stop her. "Hey!" he says as she's catapulting herself on board. "What are you doing? You're getting mud everywhere!" So true, too. Her shoes were, like, caked with the stuff.
She didn't hop out, though. Instead, she planted her rear end on the floor and started pushing a big box with her feet. "Don't you want some help?" She glanced my way. "It sure looks like you need it."
~excerpt from Flipped

My favorite thing about this book is that there are some very deep and emotional things hidden in the comedy, like the social distance that exists between Juli and Bryce, even though they live in the same neighborhood. Or the way that both dads shape their kids. Juli's father teaches her to see the beauty in everything while Bryce's dad teaches him to judge and draw lines. If I wanted a good read for a thirteen-year-old, this would be one of the first books I would reach for.

Can you think of any other books that are light and funny, yet powerful?

(Want to win this book? Go here to enter my Thank-You Contest of Amazingness!)

A look at FAT KID RULES THE WORLD by K.L. Going

Troy Billings, at 6'1", 296 pounds, is standing at the edge of a subway platform seriously contemplating suicide when he meets Curt MacCrae, an emaciated, semi-homeless punk guitar genius who also happens to be a drop-out legend at Troy's school on the Lower East Side of Manhattan.

"I saved your life," Curt tells Troy. "You owe me lunch." Troy can't imagine refusing; after all think of the headline: Fat Kid Argues with Piece of Twine.

But lunch with Curt brings more than he bargained for. Suddenly, Troy finds himself recruited as Curt's drummer for his new band. "We'll be called Rage/Tectonic. Sort of a punk rock, Clash sort of thing," Curt tells him.

There's only one problem. Troy can't play the drums. Oh yes, and Troy's father thinks Curt's a drug addict and Troy's brother thinks Troy's a loser. But with Curt, anything is possible. "You'll see," says Curt. "We're going to be HUGE." Fortunately, mercurial Curt has an energy, enthusiasm and wisdom that is as irresistible as it is contagious. Before long, Troy is swept up by his desire to be everything Curt believes him to be.

This is another darker one. And yet... it isn't.

Every reader has a story about a book that they resonated with on a deep, personal level. Those books that give voice to everything we secretly felt, but could never find the words to talk about. Fat Kid Rules the World was a book like that for me.

I am not a skinny person. I have never been a skinny person. And while there are a lot of horrific things that can happen to a teenager today, being fat and socially awkward creates a special hell of its own. I was lucky in that I spent my most overweight years out of the general school system, and that very few of my peers were overtly cruel. Still, there is something about being overweight, about being part of a culture that considers you an unattractive joke, that burns deep into your soul.

I’m a sweating fat kid standing on the edge of the subway platform staring at the tracks. I’m 17 years old, weigh 296 pounds, and I’m 6 foot 1. I have a crew cut, yes a crew cut, sallow skin, and the kind of mouth that puckers when I breathe. I’m wearing a shirt that reads, “Miami Beach – Spring Break 1997” and huge, bland tan pants - the only kind of pants I own. Eight pairs, all tan.
It’s Sunday afternoon and I’m standing just over the yellow line trying to decide whether people would laugh if I jumped. “Would it be funny if the fat kid got splattered by a subway train? Is that funny?” I’m not being facetious; I really want to know. Like it or not, apparently there’s something funny about fat people. Something unpredictable. Like when I put on my jacket and everyone in the hallway stifles laughter. Or when I stand up after sitting in the cafeteria and Jennifer Maraday, Brooke Rodriguez,and Amy Glover all bust a gut. I don’t get angry. I just think, "What was funny about that? Did my butt jiggle? Did I make the bench creak so that it sounded like a fart? Did I leave an indentation?” There’s got to be something, right? Right?
So it’s not a stretch to be standing on the wrong side of the yellow line giving serious thought to whether people would laugh if I threw myself in front of the F train. And that’s the one thing that can’t happen. People can’t laugh. Even I deserve a decent suicide.
~excerpt from Fat Kid Rules the World

This book contains a lot of what some people would term "objectionable material." There's language, drugs, a vividly imagined suicide.  But it is ultimately an hugely hopeful book about the facade that people put up. It's about learning to see yourself as valuable, and learning to fight for what you care about. And it's an excellent example of the sort of realistic, contemporary YA that is deeply needed.

(And unlike the first two books, it's also extremely funny.)

Have you ever read a book that seemed written just for you?

(Want to win this book? Go here to enter my Thank-You Contest of Amazingness!)

A look at HOW I LIVE NOW by Meg Rosoff

Fifteen-year-old Daisy is sent from Manhattan to England to visit her aunt and cousins she’s never met: three boys near her age, and their little sister. Her aunt goes away on business soon after Daisy arrives. The next day bombs go off as London is attacked and occupied by an unnamed enemy.

As power fails, and systems fail, the farm becomes more isolated. Despite the war, it’s a kind of Eden, with no adults in charge and no rules, a place where Daisy’s uncanny bond with her cousins grows into something rare and extraordinary. But the war is everywhere, and Daisy and her cousins must lead each other into a world that is unknown in the scariest, most elemental way.


Before The Hunger Games, there was How I Live Now, a 2004 novel that won a Prinz award before dystopia was even a trend.

But this isn't primarily a dystopian novel, it is--in feel and structure--a literary novel. There is some violence, and Daisy ends up falling in love with her cousin (which is a bit strange, but works within the story). But ultimately there is very little in the book that is explicit.

I’m coming off this plane, and I’ll tell you why that is later, and landing at London airport and I’m looking around for a middle-aged kind of woman who I’ve seen in pictures who’s my Aunt Penn. The photographs are out of date, but she looked like the type who would wear a big necklace and flat shoes, and maybe some kind of narrow dress in black or gray. But I’m just guessing since the pictures only showed her face. 
Anyway, I’m looking and looking and everyone’s leaving and there’s no signal on my phone and I’m thinking Oh great, I’m going to be abandoned at the airport so that’s two countries they don’t want me in, when I notice everyone’s gone except this kid who comes up to me and says You must be Daisy. And when I look relieved he does too and says I’m Edmond. 
Hello Edmond, I said, nice to meet you, and I look at him hard to try to get a feel for what my new life with my cousins might be like. 
Now let me tell you what he looks like before I forget because it’s not exactly what you’d expect from your average fourteen-year-old what with the CIGARETTE and hair that looked like he cut it himself with a hatchet in the dead of night, but aside from that he’s exactly like some kind of mutt, you know the ones you see at the dog shelter who are kind of hopeful and sweet and put their nose straight into your hand when they meet you with a certain kind of dignity and you know from that second that you’re going to take him home? Well that’s him. 
Only he took me home.   
~ excerpt from How I Live Now

This book is an excellent example of the best thing about kidlit, the extensive backlist. Are there more dark YA books then there used to be? Maybe. But all the best books of the last decade are still readily available, if not in box stores, than in indie bookstores and online. This is a highly charged and compelling read, and an excellent choice if you want a book that is heartbreaking without graphic content.

Has anyone else read the book? What did you think?

(Want to win this book? Go here to enter my Thank-You Contest of Amazingness!)

A look at THE MARBURY LENS by Andrew Smith

Sixteen-year-old Jack gets drunk and is in the wrong place at the wrong time. He is kidnapped. He escapes, narrowly. The only person he tells is his best friend, Conner. When they arrive in London as planned for summer break, a stranger hands Jack a pair of glasses. Through the lenses, he sees another world called Marbury.

There is war in Marbury. It is a desolate and murderous place where Jack is responsible for the survival of two younger boys. Conner is there, too. But he’s trying to kill them.

Meanwhile, Jack is falling in love with an English girl, and afraid he’s losing his mind.

Conner tells Jack it’s going to be okay.

But it’s not.

I am not going to lie. This is a dark, dark book. The character goes through some pretty intense stuff, and getting kidnapped is kind of the least of it. There's violence, language and a lot of self-loathing on the part of the protagonist. 

This is not a book for everyone. I had to put it down several times and go read something else for a while. But I finished it. Because while it's a dark book, it is also a well-written and powerful story about what happens to a person when they go through something horrific.

I am going to build something big for you.
It's like one of those Russian dolls that you open up, and open up again. And each layer becomes something else.
On the outside is the universe, painted dark purple, decorated with planets and comets, stars. Then you open it, and you see the Earth, and when that comes apart, there's Marbury, a place that's kind of like here, except none of the horrible things in Marbury are invisible. They're painted right there on the surface where you can plainly see them.
~ excerpt from The Marbury Lens

When Jack discovers Marbury, he can't stop going there, because in Marbury, the horrible, evil things in life are obvious. They're fightable. And while it's been a long, long time since I've been that traumatized, I do relate to the feeling. Sometimes I think that's why I love fantasy so much, becuase in fantasy the evil is visible; you can defeat it.

In the end, Jack does face his trauma. He moves forward, and I believe that is is that sense of moving forward, of progress, that defines a lot of darker YA. While stuff like this isn't for everyone, the teenagers who do need it, need it badly (as evidenced by the #yasaves hashtag).

What do you think? Do you think there's a place for dark YA like this?

(Want to win this book? Go here to enter my Thank-You Contest of Amazingness!)

Extending my Thank-You Contest!

In honor of the huge outpouring of YA love this weekend in response to the infamous Wall Street Journal article, I'm taking the rest of the week to celebrate YA in all its various forms.

I'm also extending my Thank-You Contest of Amazingness. In an effort not to be complicated (ha) I'll break it down for you.


1. The deadline of the contest has been extended to midnight, PST on June 15th.

2. The grand prize--the backpack--will have five new books added to it. The books range from super dark to sweet and mellow. Every day for the rest of this week I will highlight and discuss one of these books.

- An ARC of The Marbury Lens by Andrew Smith (one of the specific examples used in the WSJ article.)
- How I Live Now by Meg Rosoff (a Prinz-winning book)
- Flipped by Wendelin Van Draanen
- Fat Kid Rules the World by K.L. Going (a Prinz Honor book)
- The Penderwicks by Jeanne Birdsall (a National Book Award book)

3.  For those of you who have already entered the contest (you're awesome, btw) if you tweet or facebook about the contest AGAIN and leave the link in this comment thread, I will add 2 points to your entries.

So those are the new rules. Any questions? What did YOU think about this weekend's kerfuffle?

Why I am a liar and why YA is awesome.

This is what my parents got me for my birthday. Isn't it awesome?

So...I said I was going to do another worldbuilding post today. But then my husband and I decided to try and finish up the moving today and tomorrow. Which means I spent most of my afternoon at the house-with-no-internet. Which makes me a liar.

Sorry all. Worldbuilding will resume shortly, I swearz.

In the meantime, for those of you who don't know, The Wall Street Journal released a ridiculous article about YA this weekend. The writer lamented the sad and sorry state of YA and claimed publishers were trying to "bulldoze coarseness or misery" into children's lives.

As you can imagine, the YA community was not amused. Many insightful articles and blog posts were written, and Maureen Johnson started a twitter hashtag  called #yasaves.

(If you have time, I recommend reading the #yasaves thread. It made me teary. Repeatedly.)

In the face of all this well-spoken brilliance, I have little to add. Except that I am proud to be a YA/MG author. I am proud to write for kids and teenagers, proud to work with so many compassionate, creative people and damn proud to create these kinds of books.

And in honor of YA books everywhere, I'm going to extend--and add to--my Thank You Contest. There will be more books, and more opportunities to discuss books. The details will go up tomorrow.

That's right, a Tuesday post at last. And that's no lie. *grin*

Getting tagged for Possession.

So this weekend's post will be short because I'm visiting my family. (Said visit includes a backyard baby shower, putting together a trampoline and watching a old monster movie marathon.)  But I do want to point out my new Twitter/Facebook avatar.

Isn't it cool? It's all part of this amazing contest to celebrate the release of Elana Johnson's debut Possession. 

Elana is widely known around the web for being a generally awesome, helpful and ridiculously nice person AND the buzz around her book is reaching epic proportions. In fact, a bunch of other awesome authors are putting together a series of contests next week.

You can find the details here. Go forth and enter!

(And come back on Monday for more worldbuilding fun. Have a good weekend!)

Worldbuilding, part 4: Let's talk about exceptions

Annd... we're back!

Once again THANK YOU EVERYONE for all your awesome support for my *squee* book deal last week! (Are you tired of my saying thank you? I hope not, because I'm not even close to tired of saying it.) If you haven't entered my Thank-You Contest of Amazingness yet, check it out. I'm giving away all kinds of fun and random stuff.

Now back to worldbuilding!

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In my last worldbuilding post, I introduced you to the principle of internal consistency, which states that everything in your world should mirror the real world as much as possible, with deliberate exceptions.

However, one of the great and wonderful things about fantasy is the ability to let your imagination loose, to create a world where impossibilities abound. So with that in mind, let's talk about the exceptions.

I have three basic rules for exceptions:

1. Exceptions should be intentional

Stretching the bounds of worldbuilding is a bit like bending the rules of grammar. You can get away with it if you know the rules well enough to break them on purpose.

There are a couple of reasons for this, and the primary one is that seven times out of ten, an unintentional exception will be a cliche. It's almost inevitable because of our mass media culture. Everyone's head is stuffed with cliches. The best thing to do is acknowledge them, and then decide how best to use them. 

Which leads me to to the second reason why you should be intentional with your exceptions. There is a fine line between cliche and archetype and it's a line you can only walk successfully if you know exactly WHY you're doing what you're doing.

Harry Potter is a classic example of this. The series contains a lot of things that could be classified as cliche, the wise old wizard, the mark of destiny, etc.  But because J.K.Rowling is a master of fresh, intentional worldbuilding, they became more than cliches, they became archetypes.

2. Exceptions should be useful

The wonderful power of exceptions is that they set up an expectation in the readers mind. Readers are smart people and they notice exceptions: if you make your main city a cloud city, readers will naturally expect that to play some part in the setting and plot. And it should. Every exception is a box full of potential awesomeness, as long as you use it fully.

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Take the cloud city for example. It's a fun exception, but don't just leave it alone. Make it work for its keep. How does living in a cloud affect people with a fear of heights? What kind of slang and descriptions would arise in a place where no one ever sees the ground? What kind of pets would people prefer?

This was something I ran into when writing House of a Thousand Dolls. I decided early on that the sky in the Bhinian Empire would be gray. And not cloud gray either, but smooth, unbroken gray, like a roof over the world. There are no such things as clouds or rain or snow or sun or stars.  And this created a challenge for me in the last place I expected it: description.

I couldn't use any similes or metaphors that had anything to do with weather or sky. Do you know how many common descriptors have something to do with the sun? Or how often we compare things to rain or snow? It basically forced me to come up with new ways of saying things. And that's one of the hidden benefits of a good exception.

3. Exceptions should be fun.

As regimented as some of my rules may sound, the bottom line is that exceptions are supposed to be fun. After all, why make something up if it's going to be boring? Rowling could have come up with other wizardly ways to send telegrams--or just had them come normally--but she used owls. And I firmly believe that Rowling's sense of fun is one of the reasons that Harry Potter was such a knockout success.

Your imagination can and should go wild at times. Because if you're not having fun, your reader isn't having fun. And no one wants that.

Now none of this is first draft stuff, at least for me. I go crazy in first drafts, and put in anything that sounds fun. But when you're going back through your story, I invite you to look at your exceptions. Measure them against the rules, try to find a good reason to keep them.

And if the only reason you can come up with is "Because I like it" then it's a darling.

And you know what we say about darlings....

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Fabric art in the header by Carol Riggs.