FOR STUDENTS • FOR TEACHERs • FOR WRITERS
If you’re here, you’re probably looking for help with reports. First off, thanks for choosing my books, and me. I really appreciate being an author you want to read! A few things you need to know:
The most important thing is you have to read the book(s)! Most of your questions will be answered by reading carefully, not just skimming. (They’re too good to skim over anyway.) Please don’t ask who the main characters are, or what the plot is. If you’ve read the book, you’ll know.
On themes. A theme is a universal idea or message that the book embodies. If your teacher asks you what the theme of the book is, it’s up to you to decide. I won’t give you that answer. Some common themes are lost love, betrayal, faith versus doubt, fear of failure, circle of life, quest for power, temptation, pride and downfall. For a list of 101 common themes, go here:
I would love to be able to do a personal interview with each of you. Unfortunately, I simply don’t have the time (see #6, below). You will find most of the answers you need on this website. Feel free to quote this site as if you asked me these questions personally.
For information on me, please see my About page, which has my biographical info. If you need more in-depth publishing information, including a list of awards, please visit my Vitale page. For a list of frequently asked questions, and their answers, please go to the FAQ page. And each book has its own information page. Still other great information can be found on my blog. Be sure to scroll all the way through the old ones! livejournal.com
If you still have questions you can’t find the answer to here, you mail email up to five questions to firstname.lastname@example.org
If you have writing related questions, please stop by my For Writers page. There’s a lot there about process, publishing, poetry, etc.
I cannot read your writing and comment. There are legalities involved, but it’s mostly because I really don’t have the time. What am I doing? Traveling for book signings, book festivals, school or library events, and writers conferences; publicity; social networking; raising grandchildren full-time, and a husband (both are labor-intensive); spending precious hours with my grown children, grandkids and friends; taking care of my home, yard and garden; depending on the time of year, canning vegetables or shoveling snow; caring for my animals; exercising so I can stay healthy; advocating for disenfranchised youth; political activism; and, of course, writing.
Some great websites for teen writers are: www.teenink.com, www.wattpad.com, and www.figment.com.
I wish I could clone myself so I could visit every school and town. There wouldn’t be enough time in my lifetime to do that, however. So I probably can’t come visit your school, unless a teacher or librarian arranges the visit. There is an honorarium and travel expenses required to bring me in. And, again because of time constraints, I can only do so many in a year. Some kids have done fundraisers to bring me in, and these still require an adult request. These can be made through: AUTHOR.APPEARANCES@SIMONANDSCHUSTER.COM
Requests for Skype visits can also be made there.
Here are some FAQs you won’t find on the FAQ page.
Q: How do you research your books?
A: I do as much primary research as I can. This involves in-person, telephone or online interviews with people who have faced the issues I’m writing about. So, with Tricks, I spent time talking to teen prostitutes on the street, and by email. Then I do a lot of secondary research—with experts, on websites, through magazine or newspaper articles and books, etc.
Q: How much time do you spend writing every day?
A: When I’m home and not under deadline, at least six hours. Under deadline, that could be much more. When I travel, I try to write at least an hour or two every day. This includes vacations, holidays, and weekends. Writing is my career, but it’s also my heart. Not writing makes me unhappy.
Q: What is your writing process?
A: It may interest you (and your teacher) to know that I don’t write drafts. Because each poem flows so specifically into the next, each must be pretty much “right” before I move on. That means I may spend those six hours creating just three pages, especially in the early part of the book, when I’m just getting to know my characters and learning their stories. I do, however, spend many hours in prewrite, creating those characters. I get to know them almost all in my head. Some writers do elaborate charts, family trees, etc. Others outline plot. I do neither. So, when I complete a book, I do one read-through for glaring errors, then send it off to my fabulous editor, who I trust to tell me if something isn’t working.
Q: What’s the best part of being a writer?
A: Everything! I get paid to do what I love. Is there anything better than that? I set my own hours, don’t answer to a boss, and don’t have anyone griping at me. Okay, a few people gripe sometimes, but that’s their problem.
Q: What’s the worst part of being a writer?
A: Budgeting. The money I earn comes in once every six months, so I have to make sure I don’t spend too much today to make paying my bills next month impossible. And I’m sooooooo not a math person!
Q: When did you know you wanted to be a writer?
A: Pretty much from the first time I realized the power of “story.” So I guess I was in high school when I decided that, though I did take a wide life detour that finally brought me back to my dream of writing as a career in my thirties. Keep striving for those dreams! They don’t always come easily or right away.
Q: What do you think about people who want to censor your books?
A: I think they’re misinformed at best and dangerous at worst. Please refer to my livejournal blogs for more information.
Welcome Educators and Book Clubs!
You might be wondering how you can use my books in your classrooms or book club discussions. Simon & Schuster has created some wonderful reading guides. You'll find the links here.
YOUNG ADULT BOOKS:
*Please be advised that my novels for adults contain VERY MATURE content. For book clubs, consider reading both TRIANGLES (adult viewpoint) and TILT (teen viewpoint), which offer adult versus teen viewpoints of the same set of circumstances.
Subjects to consider when teaching my books in the classroom:
NARRATIVE VERSE v FORMAL/LYRIC POETRY
VERSE v PROSE
POETIC DEVICES IN PROSE
REAL LIFE IN FICTION
BANNED BOOKS AND CENSORSHIP
THE EVOLUTION OF YA
STAND ALONE NOVELS v SEQUELS/SERIES
AUTHOR NOTES AND WHY THEY'RE THERE
ON AUTHOR VISITS:
I love visiting schools and juvenile detention facilities. My presentations detail my path to bestselling author (which was NOT a straight line) and include the stories behind my stories. They are designed to make young people think about choices they will be presented with, and encourage them to make good decisions. I can do assemblies or work in the classroom (consider any of the above subjects), or do a combination of both. Three presentations max per day. My honorarium is higher than many authors, lower than many others, and I can try to work with you as far as your budget, but please understand that "one day" includes a day of travel on either end, and my time is valuable. Please email me for details.
1.Try to write every day, even if it’s just a sentence or two in a journal, a short poem or a character sketch. If you miss a day, don’t beat yourself up. Writing should be something you love to do, not something you have to do.
2.Always keep a notebook by your bed and in your purse, pocket or glove box. Jot down those ideas or character sketches when the muse strikes. You can always flesh them outlater.
3.Study your craft. Writing is one thing. Writing well is another. If you can, take classes online or at a community college. If you can’t, buy or borrow books on craft. Be the best writer you can be.
4.Other classes to consider are psychology, sociology, philosophy and religion. All these give you insight into the human psyched and character, IMHO, is what the best stories are all about.
5.Read, read and read some more. What is it about a poem or story or book that makes you love-or hate-it? What works for you, and what doesn’t?
6.Join a critique group. Sit in on a session or two before sharing, so you know if the group seems like one you can trust to offer fair, but kind, criticism of your work. It’s good to have other eyes on your writing, but not mean spirited eyes.
7.If you can’t find a group you like, start your own. Find other writers in your area, especially those who write the same kinds of things you’re writing. If it’s too hard to meet in person, trade writing for critique online.
8.Handwritten work is easy to lose, through moves, fires, floods and other events. If you’re going to submit, you’re going to have to put your work into a computer at some point. But even if you’re just writing for yourself, put everything into a universal word processing program (WORD is recommended) and store it both on your hard drive and on a flash drive, which is portable. Keep that in a safe place.
9.Writer’s block can and does happen. Take a break. Take a walk. Personally, I take a hot tub. The bubbles seem to work wonders for me when I get stuck.
1.Poetry doesn’t have to rhyme at all. And rhymed poetry doesn’t have to use end rhymes. Consider interior rhyme (where the rhyming words are within the sentences, rather than at the end of them), which is less likely to force your language into an unnatural pattern.
2.Imagery is the heart of poetry, which is about painting pictures with words, so your readers can “see” what you see. (Not just with your eyes, but with all your senses.) Metaphor, simile, sensory detail, etc. will make your poems rise above those that don’t employ poetic devices.
3.Consider taking the “I” or “me” out of a poem, even one about a personal experience. Using “he” or “she” in your place can allow readers deeper access, by making the poem less about the personal and more about the universal. Experiment with POV and try writing third person.
4.Line breaks are the words you leave on the end of a line. Often you can add “surprise” by choosing these carefully:
your song, your pewter
dirge against my windows.
See how ending a line on “silence” paints one picture, then having “song” below means something else. Same with leaving “pewter” on the end then having “dirge” below.
1.A word about voice: as writers, we hear a lot about “voice.” It’s an elusive concept. Even editors can’t tell you exactly what great voice is, other than they know it when they read it. YOUR voice is the basically the way you put words down on paper. Best advice is not to try and sound like a favorite author or poet, but to develop a style unique to you.
2.Authorial voice (yours) should not be confused with the voices of your characters. Character voice is dependent on where the character lives, his/her age, social status, race, gender, etc. One thing to watch is not letting your authorial voice interfere with your characters’ voices. For instance, if your character is five, he/she most likely won’t use words like “libido” or “subsidiary”.
3.Begin with great characters. Let the plot grow/flow from who your characters are, rather than try to force them into situations unnatural to them. As you write, listen to your characters. If they insist a story should move in a certain direction, consider it. (I know it sounds schizo, but my characters talk to me all the time.)
4.How will you tell their stories? Whose point(s) of view will you choose to tell the story? First person or third? First person tends to make a story/poem more immediate, but also limits the amount of information a reader can get at one time. Ditto present tense versus past tense. These decisions become part of your authorial voice for the project.
5.Show, don’t tell. You will hear this many times. What it means is, don’t “tell” readers a character is angry or happy or sad. “Show” them through actions or dialogue. Consider the difference:
Joe got mad and left.
Joe’s hands clenched into tight knots. “Leave me alone!” He wheeled on his heels and stalked off.
This is as important when describing non-human story elements:
It was hot that afternoon.
The sun beat against the asphalt. Heat rose in shimmery waves.
1. First, please remember that the road to publication is rarely short. Often it takes years to start publishing well. Submission and rejection are both part of the process. Accept rejection and learn from it. Perseverance is crucial, and belief in yourself and your writing.
2. Start with smaller publications. Literary magazines are a great place to send poetry and short stories. Don’t expect payment here. You are building a writer’s bio, and that is priceless. Try writing articles. Even if you want to write fiction, you’ll learn to research and to finish projects under deadlines.
3. Join writers groups, especially critique groups, where you’ll have other eyes on your work. Often as writers we’re too close to our words to see when a story takes a wrong turn or that a character is flat.
4. Take classes at a local college or adult learning program. Spelling, grammar, etc. most definitely do count. An editor at a big publishing house will not look twice at a manuscript with glaring errors.
5. If you’re truly interested in writing for a living, DO NOT self-publish. While there are a few renowned exceptions to this rule, the fact is most big publishers will not pick up a self-published book and go on to publish it. Not only that, but self-publishing signals impatience on the writer’s part, something a big publisher won’t deal with. An exception to this is if your book has a definite niche within the marketplace, one you can fill on your own. For instance, a textbook for your own classroom. Marketing is the biggest issue with self-published books. And most bookstores won’t carry them.
6.Once a book length manuscript is ready to go, go to writers conferences where you can meet editors and agents face to face to discuss your work. Often, they will critique manuscripts at conferences, and this is the best possible feedback, not to mention a great connection. Much better than submitting to the “slushpile” (just mailing it off and waiting to see what happens, along with those thousands of other manuscripts in the slushpile). And today many publishers don’t accept over-the-transom submissions.
1. Do you need one? Depends. You may very well sell your work unagented, although if you’re trying to sell an adult fiction project, the odds are slim.
2. Do you want one? If you’re selling novels, yes. Agents can not only get you more money, they are experts on contract issues like subsidiary rights, escalator clauses, etc. And they can act as a go between when there are sticky issues between you and your publisher.
3. But don’t they cost you money? Compared to how much more money you’ll likely get through their negotiating skills, that 15% is negligible.
4. But aren’t they hard to get? They can be. But if your work is good enough, you’ll find one. And again, writers conferences are good places to hook up with one.