Splendid Questions from Brilliant Readers (yes, another post about writing! OMG!) :-)

Hi all!

All right, who ordered the blisteringly hot early summer?  What is up with this craziness?  My mom tells me it was A HUNDRED AND NINE DEGREES in New Jersey today, according to her thermostat.  That is INSANE.  I am barely done complaining about winter!  I need a couple of months where I can cheerfully wear my hooded sweatshirts all the time; this direct switch from fluffy coat to tank top overnight is TOO WEIRD.

Sigh.  I hope President Obama fixes global warming soon!  🙂

Anyway…y’all, I’m a little baffled.  I sent out some emails last week to some of the awesome namers, and I’ve gotten nearly zero responses!  My friends, how can I send you a book if you don’t write back to me?  I’m wondering if it’s because the Pet Trouble email says it’s from "Sunshine Sutherland", and you’re like, bawho?  who the heck is that?  Well, it’s my dog, obviously, (doesn’t everyone’s dog have her own email address?) 😉 so don’t send her to the Spam folder!  Read it and write back!  We’re talking about a free book, people!  🙂

I am particularly looking for Kiku’s owner, so I hope she’ll check this and then write back to me…if you didn’t get an email from me/Sunshine, use the Contact form and please email me again!  

The funny thing is that I just got a package of really exciting letters in the mail, from the kids I talked to at my school visit last week.  And there are yet more awesome puppy name suggestions in here!  Kiwi! (LOVE it! We would totally use this if we didn’t already know a dog named Kiwi, which I think is a PERFECT dog name!)  Sprinkles!  Milkshake!  (Is it a bad idea if your dog’s name makes you hungry all the time?)  :-)  Killer! (Ha!  Funniest idea ever!)  I continue to be very impressed with your naming skills.

I hope some of the letter writers will come on here and read my blog this week, because there were so many great questions in the letters that I thought I’d try to answer a bunch of them here.  It also made me realize that I should add a Frequently Asked Questions section, especially for the purpose of explaining all my pseudonyms.  Apparently I am more mysterious than I ever realized.  😉

Rachael G. writes:  Were you a good writer when you were 12 or even a good speller?

I don’t know if I was a good writer, but I’m afraid do know I was a good speller, because I won the 6th-grade level of the Miami Spelling Bee, and also I used to go around the house correcting the spelling on my mom’s "things to do" lists, which I’m sure wasn’t terribly annoying at all.  ;-)  My mom is a hilariously awful speller, but she has the excuse of being foreign, and everyone knows New Zealand English is spelled completely differently from American English.  (Although that doesn’t entirely explain how she managed to misspell my name on my lunch bag this one time in elementary school.  MY GOODNESS, talk about scarring childhood trauma, especially for a future editor!)

The good news is that you don’t have to be a good speller to be a good writer!  Publishing companies actually have entire departments devoted to checking your spelling for you.  When I was an editor, I got plenty of manuscripts with spelling mistakes in them.  But that’s OK; I wasn’t looking for perfect spelling — I was looking for good stories! 

So don’t be discouraged, Rachael…I can tell from your letter that you have some great ideas.  There’s actually a job for people who like coming up with ideas more than they like writing the whole book.  There are companies where everyone sits around a table and brainstorms ideas, and then finds authors they want to write them into books, and then sells them to publishers.  Doesn’t that sound like fun?  I always think if I ever get bored with writing, I’d want to do that, because I don’t think I’ll ever be bored of thinking up new ideas.  🙂

Rachael also asks:  Why do the Warriors series have to be about cats or bears; why not people?  And the last Pet Trouble should be about a cat as a twist.  The title is Pet Trouble, not Dog Trouble!

That is a very good idea about Pet Trouble, and it’s definitely something I had in mind when we named the series.  In fact, my first set of ideas that I sent to my editor also had stories for cats, hamsters, turtles, and rabbits in it!  We decided we’re going to focus on dog stories for now (I have SO MANY dog stories to tell!), but if the series keeps going for a long time, I could definitely see us adding cat stories in the future (there’s a character named Maggie whose cat totally needs a book of her own!).

As for Warriors, it sure would be a different series with people in it!  Maybe then it would be a bit like Lord of the Rings, where instead of cat clans you have elves and dwarves and hobbit communities.  But I think when Vicky came up with the idea for the series, she started by wondering what cats do when they’re off by themselves.  Most of the things that happen in the books (badger attacks, leaders with nine lives, dangerous street cats trying to take over the forest) make more sense if they happen to cats…although there are some things that can happen to either Warriors or people!  (Forbidden love, betrayal, figuring out which secrets should be revealed, etc.)  So I think we all really wanted to explore these fun animal worlds…plus that way the covers are extra-cool.  🙂

Richie asks:  What book is your favorite book you wrote?  And if there was a book of yours that you would rewrite to make it even better, which one would it be?

These are great questions, and the answers are actually connected!  My favorite book I’ve written is usually the most recent book I’ve written, because I love shiny new things.  Right now I am super excited about the Pet Trouble books (especially #3…and #5…and #2…ok, I can’t decide!), because I love writing about dogs (and hanging out with dogs for research!).  Also, the books are all set in the same town, so I get to write about the same scenes and characters from different viewpoints, which is one of my favorite things to do.  I’m hoping that as you read the series you’ll be like, "oh, THAT’S what Heidi was thinking in that scene!" and "I had no idea that’s what everyone else thought about Parker!" and stuff like that.  Fun! 

And I also kind of love my new vampire book, Never Bite a Boy on the First Date, which is coming out in a few months.  I like it because (I hope!) it’s funny, and it’s a murder mystery, and the main character is a smart, sarcastic teenage vampire girl who would rather be sleeping all day instead of going to high school (something I can TOTALLY RELATE TO). 

But I’ll always love Avatars because it’s so complicated, because I got to play with all these different mythological characters, and because I spent three freaking years thinking about it.  :-)  And I’m working on a new idea that’s more like Avatars right now, so if I ever finish it, that’ll probably be my new favorite.

So the book I would maybe want to rewrite is the one I wrote longest ago — This Must Be Love, my first novel.  I wouldn’t change any of the main plot or anything, but I feel like my writing has gotten simpler and tighter since then, so I would maybe take some of the parts where Helena complains about boys and make them…shorter.  :-)  And I’m sure if I reread it now I’d notice other things I’d want to change…my editor brain never shuts up, even about my own writing!

Robert M. asks:  I wanted to know how many pages was your longest book, or how many pages do you write in a day?

Ooooo, interesting question.  I assume one of the Avatars books was my longest…let’s see, the third one was 329 pages (double-spaced) in Microsoft Word.  (Boy, that seems really long now that I’m writing mostly 120-page books!)  I try to write at least one page a day, but when I’m on a deadline, I’ve written up to 30 or 35 pages in a day, too.  (Again, double-spaced in Microsoft Word.)  That’s a pace I can’t keep up for more than a few days, though, or my brain explodes.  :-) 

And when I’m writing that much, I don’t get anything else done…emails, dog-walking, running the dishwasher…well, OK, maybe I still watch TV.  ;-)  But only as a reward/break!  This is one of my deadline strategies, actually.  (Editors, avert your eyes!)  It requires:

1 Very Patient Spouse
1 Weekend with No Other Plans
1 TV
1 DVR stuffed to the gills with shows I desperately want to catch up on
1 Looming Deadline
1 Barely-Begun Manuscript

Recipe:  Start by saying to Patient Spouse: "OK!  It’s noon right now!"  (It’s usually noon because I just woke up, is why.)  "I’m going to go away for two hours and write ten pages!  So I will be back at 2pm, and then we’re going to watch an episode of Heroes!"
Very Patient Spouse responds:  "Um.  OK."

Two hours later:  Me:  "Bam!  10 pages written!  Time for TV!"
Very Patient Spouse:  "Um.  OK."
[episode of Heroes ensues]
Me:  "OK!  It’s 3pm!  I’m going away for two hours and writing ten pages and also showering and THEN I’ll come back and we’ll watch ANOTHER episode of Heroes!  Only this time I’ll be all clean!  Woo hoo!  OK?"
Patient Spouse:  "Um.  OK."

Rinse, lather, repeat until book is written!  Bam!  🙂

This works best if the shows are actually more awesome than Heroes, though, since I’m still kind of mad at it (Nathan is no longer evil for no apparent reason again! Hiro and Ando are still having the same fight over and over! Mohinder is still the most annoying character on TV!  BAH!).  I haven’t seen the finale yet, though, so we’ll see if that’s any improvement.

Castle or Chuck are much better alternatives, but I can’t bring myself to watch all the Chuck episodes currently on my DVR that fast, because I feel like I should save them in case there won’t be any more.  (Wail, sob, rend garments in despair.)

Does that help?  OK, maybe it sounds kind of crazy, but it works for me.  The Very Patient Spouse is a key ingredient, though, which is why this really only works on the weekends.  Otherwise it’s entirely too easy to convince myself that 2 pages is really just as good as 10 pages, so I might as well go watch The Office in the middle of the day and then fall asleep on the couch with my dog.  🙂

Clare H. asks:  How many books do you hope to write and publish in the future?

Oooo, let’s see…well, according to this list, the most prolific writer in history wrote 904 books.  So…905?

Ha ha ha!  Maybe I could do that if I write 12 books a year for the rest of my life (and live to be a very spry and productive centegenarian).  But the most famous children’s book author on this list is Enid Blyton, who wrote 600 books.  That’s only 8 and a half books a year.  No problem!  ;-)  (By the way, check out how many writers on that list used lots of pen names!)

Then again, a lot of people think Enid Blyton’s books are kind of pat and underdeveloped (I am certainly not one of those people, but I can see what they’re saying).  And I would much rather write, say, 100 books that people love than 600 books that people are like, "well, whatever" about. 

So right now I’m just focusing on writing books that I’m excited about, and I hope other people will like them, too!  In the immediate future, there are two more books that will finish up the Legends of the Brethren Court series; then Pet Trouble will go to at least book #8 (and hopefully more!); I’ll be working on Seekers #5 soon; and I have three trilogies, two series, and four other stand-alones in my head that I want to work on…you know, as soon as I have a spare moment.  🙂

And finally (for today), Samantha M. writes:  When you are reading a book and you are at a really boring part, how do you know to keep reading or that this book is going to be very boring I should stop?

This is an excellent question, because I have definitely read plenty of books where I had to slog through most of it and then at the end I was like, you know what?  That wasn’t worth it at all!  (Still looking at you, Crime and Punishment!) (I know, I said I’d stop picking on it…but SERIOUSLY.)

On the other hand, I wish I had kept going with (specifically) Stephen King’s The Stand.  This is a REALLY LONG BOOK.  But it’s post-apocalyptic, so I figured I should read it, because I love that kind of story.  I literally read at least EIGHT HUNDRED FREAKING PAGES of it before I got to a part that was just too slow for me, and I gave up.

Years later, I read Stephen King’s completely amazing book On Writing, where he talks about writing The Stand.  If I remember correctly (and I’m paraphrasing terribly here), he said that he got to a part of The Stand where even he was bored, and he didn’t know what to do with the characters.  The fascinating thing is…it turns out that’s exactly where I gave up reading it.  But as I discovered from reading On Writing, if I had kept going for another few pages, I’d have gotten to the part where he BLOWS EVERYBODY UP, which is a fantastic idea, and he did it basically to shake up the book and jumpstart the rest of it.

Um.  AWESOME.  If I’d known that was coming, I would totally have kept reading!  But now I’d have to read the first eight hundred pages again so I can remember who everyone is (there are a LOT of characters too), so…that might be a project for a very long vacation someday.  🙂

Anyway, to answer the question, I actually think that most of the time it’s OK to stop reading if you’re bored.  I used to force myself to finish any book I started, but then I started keeping a list of all the books I’ve read.  I go back at the end of the year and keep track of the ones I loved the most.  And that’s when I started noticing how many bad books I was reading.  My little notes next to my list too often said "meh…yawn" or "bleh…nothing happened!" or "SHOOT ME NOW." 

The thing is, there are so many good books that I really want to read, that now if I’m not enjoying a book, I’ll usually stop after the first few chapters.  I can only read about 90-100 books a year, so I want to make sure to leave myself time for the 300 books on my "Haven’t Read Yet" bookshelf and the hundreds more that haven’t even been published yet (Kristin Cashore’s Fire…Robin McKinley’s Chalice…everything Connie Willis has ever written…Kate Atkinson’s next book…Terry Pratchett’s Nation…ACK I NEED MORE HOURS IN THE DAY!).

Of course, sometimes you have to read the whole book even when it’s boring, maybe because it’s for school (er, not that school ever makes you read boring books or anything).  :-)  But in that case, my suggestion is to pay close attention to what you don’t like about it.  Even boring books can teach you something about writing. 

The last book I read that I didn’t like had a main character who was horribly self-involved; even when one of her loved ones was in terrible danger, she was mostly just worried about her outfits or the cute boy she kept embarrassing herself around.  Also, everything that happened was really predictable; the bad guy was obvious from a million miles away, and nothing surprising happened in the whole book. 

So, here’s what I learned:  Shut up about your hair when your best friend is being held prisoner by bad guys.  Also, when a character does a lot of really embarrassing things and obsesses over them endlessly, sometimes it actually makes you like that character less and less.  And: DON’T BE BORING.  ;-)  I try to make sure my bad guys are either surprising or at least really weird in some way (tied to rocks the entire time with venom dripping in their eyes, for instance) (<– Avatars 3 reference!).  :-)  Or disguised as someone else…this is certainly easier with supernatural stories, though (for instance, Legends of the Brethren Court…ooo, exciting hint!).

Well, I hope that all helps!  There are tons more awesome questions, but I’ll have to get to them next week (or soon, I promise!).  For now, I must sleep, because I have to get up at some shocking hour like 10am tomorrow to take Sunshine to the vet, which I’m sure she’s going to be Ever So pleased about.  Poor fluffy girl.

Hope you’re all having a fantabulous week and staying cool!

Quote of the Day:
PJ:  You’re up so…in the morning.
Brandon:  Tell me about it.  I gotta go meet the electricians at 8.  Do you think Starbucks is even going to be open this early?
My Boys