Countdown to Ch1Con 2015

If you’ve ever seen that episode of Gilmore Girls where Lorelai leaves a billion messages for herself at the inn, because they’re getting ready to open and she’s super stressed out, and she drives everyone crazy–Yeah. That’s me right now, with the conference this weekend.

I’ve found that no matter how much legwork you put into an event, things will ALWAYS come up in the last few days leading to it. So I’m currently juggling a thousand last minute questions and mini emergencies, between speakers and volunteers and, oh yeah, attendees. And while so far my team and I have been able to handle everything (THANK GOD for the Ch1Con team), I keep panicking that something’s going to slip and the entire conference will come crashing down because of it. And I so, so don’t want that to happen, because all of these awesome people are coming and I want them to have the best experience possible. And yeah.

At the same time though, we’re doing the best we can. I am SO EXCITED to finally see this thing we’ve been planning for over a year now come to fruition. And more than anything, I’m blown away by how much support we’ve received this year, how many attendees have decided to give us a chance, and how many great new memories people will hopefully make this weekend.

I trust my team. I trust the work we’ve put into this and the love we have for it. So here goes.

Chapter One Young Writers Conference, 2015: We’re coming for you.

Five days.

~Julia

Wordy Wednesday: Summer in New York

As mentioned in my last post, I’ve been spending a little time every day “adventuring” since I arrived in New York City. Most of this has been around Manhattan, but over the weekend I also visited Ocean City, NJ and Sarah Lawrence College with a couple friends, both of which were wonderful and a nice break from the constant chaos I’ve grown used to.

It’s funny getting some distance from New York after being here for almost a solid month, because you really do stop noticing how busy and loud it is after a while. And then the moment you get back after time away, even if it’s just one day? SENSORY. OVERLOAD. I made the mistake of going through Times Square a few hours after getting home from Sarah Lawrence, and my head almost exploded.

Weirdly, it’s worth it though. For all of its annoying parts (how long it takes to get anywhere, the way Queens occasionally smells like a horse farm, tourists being, well, tourists), New York is an amazing place to live. There’s always something to do, you can’t turn the corner without running into a food truck, and the entire city is just so full of energy.

I wrote a kind of very rambly/gushy poem about it this afternoon, while hanging out in Madison Square Park. I figured I’d share it for this week’s Wordy Wednesday.

**********
I am sitting
in my favorite place
in all of Manhattan
(Isn’t it crazy,
having a favorite place?)
and it’s on the
far right side
of the second bench from the left,
overlooking the Empire State Building
in Madison Square Park
with the tree
and the fountain, and
the scent of Shake Shack grease
and lobster rolls.

It is 94 degrees outside,
so sunny it burns away the clouds,
the last wisps punctured against
the points of the skyscrapers,
and I am hot, with skin so much browner
than any other summer
(although I’m still unreasonably pale,
comparatively)
because the city is this weird
inside out space where
everything happens outdoors,
everything.

And it’s stupid
to sit here, just
sit here
when I could be doing a thousand things
anywhere else on this island,
but all I want in this moment
is the thrum of the people walking by
and the taxis on the street
and the knowledge that
I am here
I am here
I made it
I am here.

I dreamed this moment
so many times
I have to close my eyes
to believe it’s real.

**********

Thanks for reading!

~Julia

On Adventuring

One of the things I’ve been focusing on this summer is not wasting days. 

I feel like this should always be a goal, but it can get hard during the day-to-day shuffle. Sometimes you’re truly just going to have too much homework, or paperwork, or whatever kind of work to be able to go off and do something fun. But since I’m only in New York City for two months, I’m doing my best to not fall into that same old pattern.

This doesn’t necessarily always mean going out and having a grand adventure. (That sounds exhausting.) But I am trying to do at least one thing for myself every day. Maybe I go to a museum or read in the park; maybe I watch a movie or get frozen yogurt with a friend. 

 

For example, I spent yesterday afternoon exploring the Guggenheim and Central Park. I got ice cream. I read by the sailboat pond. I let myself relax in the midst of everything.

 
The point is that I do something that makes me happy. Every single day.

And yes, this is slowing my usual productivity a little. But I’m enjoying my summer in this amazing city, and that matters too, right?

So, try it for yourself. Try to do one thing a day for the simple sake of making yourself happy. Let’s not waste any more days.

~Julia

Wordy Wednesday: Writing with “Series Potential”

So, obviously the Paper Towns premiere yesterday was a highlight of this week. However, I got to do some other fun stuff too since last Wednesday. Thursday I explored the High Line park for the first time, which was as gorgeous and cool as everyone says it is. Then Friday Camryn (yes, that Camryn), Ariel (yes, that Ariel), Ariel’s best friend, and I went on a pizza tour of New York, then to the Hunger Games exhibition in Times Square. (Yes. That exhibition.) And it was all amazing.

We learned so much about the making of the Hunger Games film adaptations, saw so many costumes and props, and nerded out in general over the series.

  
I also spent a few hours this afternoon in the Museum of Natural History, then read in Central Park, and I hope I never fall out of love with this city (not that that’s probably even possible).

This week’s Wordy Wednesday is a writing process post. (Thanks to Ariel for suggesting the topic!)

If you’ve ever queried a novel you hoped would become the first in a series, you’ve probably heard about the myth of “series potential.”

Basically, while you can hope someone will pick up your novel as a series, you can’t pitch it as that, because it sounds cocky. (Also, you know, it’s just easier in general to sell a single book than a series when you’re a debut author.) So instead you have to pitch your novel as being a standalone that you could expand into a series, if someone really wanted you to.

This is easier said than done, though. A book that stands alone that could also naturally flow into a longer series is like a cat that could also be a dog. (They’re things that look similar on the surface, but are very, very different at their cores. So now try smashing those into one thing. You get a whole new species.)

Of the five novels I’ve completed, I wrote three with the hope that they’d parts of series. These are some of the ways that I’ve gone about writing with “series potential.”

Make the Novel Stand on Its Own

This is the most obvious thing, and also one of the most important things for series in general. The novel needs to be able to stand on its own, with a plot that resolves and completed character arcs. It should follow dramatic structure. It shouldn’t read like the prologue to another book. It really does need to work as a standalone.

Every novel you write should read like it is the story you mean to tell. Maybe you’ll get lucky and get to make that story one element in a larger picture. But when you zoom in so the first novel is all you see, it shouldn’t feel like you’re missing something or looking at the wrong place.

Leave Loose Ends

On the other hand, you also need to make the reader want more. So, leave loose ends–just not in any way central to the story you’re telling. Maybe you leave a very minor subplot unresolved and touch on it again right towards the end, to remind the reader it’s there. Or maybe your protagonist’s character arc is complete at the end, but it’s clear s/he still could do a lot more growing in the future.

You don’t want a big cliffhanger ending. But you do want the cliff to be right there waiting, should the agent/editor choose to push the series over the edge.

Hint Towards More

This corresponds with leaving loose ends, but is slightly different. Whereas loose ends hint towards something specific, it also helps to hint towards the potential of more books in general.

I know this is a movie (and at this point kind of a dated reference; goodness, I’m getting old), but let’s look at The Incredibles. It’s a really solid example of a standalone with series potential.

At the end, the Incredibles meet the Mole and we get that shot of the heroes going off to work. It gives us an idea of the direction their lives are going and the fact that they could potentially have more stories to share in the future. However, it doesn’t give us anything specific; we know a future movie wouldn’t be about them facing the Mole, because:

a) we’re already seeing him at the end AND (and the “and” is the important part here)

b) it’s not some big “aha!” plot twist that we are

This tells us that the Mole doesn’t matter. He’s a stand-in for super villains in general, letting us know that facing many more people like him will be the fate of our heroes.

This kind of ending is the epitome of “series potential,” because it promises your protagonists have future stories to share without making the promise of sharing them.

Aaand yeah. That’s all I’ve got for tonight.

What are your tips for writing a standalone with series potential? Is there anything I missed?

Thanks for reading!

 

~Julia

Story Time: Paper Towns NYC Premiere!

When I woke this morning, my plans for the day involved going to work, maybe hitting a museum in the afternoon. You know. The usual.

Then I saw John Green had posted his Tuesday Vlogbrothers video. And in the video he mentioned that today was the big, fancy New York premiere of the film adaptation of Paper Towns.

Um. What.

A google search revealed they would be handing out wristbands to fans to get onto the red carpet, then afterward to get to attend the movie. But people had already been lining up for a couple hours when I saw all of this around seven, and I was supposed to be at work until one.

Ugh. So close, but oh well. I got ready for work and started the long walk to my subway station.

However, I was still thinking about the premiere. My boss is really awesome and had said I could take days off whenever I needed to. The question was less of whether or not he’d let me take the day off if I called, as much as if this would be a legitimate thing to take a day off work for.

I trudged another block closer to the subway. Pulled out my phone to call. Put it away. Took another few steps.

It came down to the fact that yes, there are plenty of movie premieres (I mean, I literally just stumbled across the one for Pixels last weekend). There would definitely be more I could attend in the future. But Paper Towns is one of my favorite books, and I adore John and Nat and Cara, and I’m only in New York for two months.

I texted a friend for help and she tipped me over the edge: At the very least, I needed to ask if I could do it.

So I called my boss, and of course he gave me the day off (because, as mentioned, he’s amazing), and off I went to get in line. (Slowly. Because said friend, who gave me the amazing advice of taking a risk and going to the premiere, also gave me the horrible advice of taking an Uber during rush hour instead of the train. I guess we can’t win ’em all.)

Finally, a little after ten, I arrived at the AMC Loews Lincoln Square 13 theater and got in line as number 246. A representative from Fox–the guy running the premiere–came by a little later to tell us that at that number, we were guaranteed to get onto the red carpet, although we were too far back in line for the movie. (No big deal.)

Everyone celebrated. They were supposed to hand out wristbands at eleven forty, so it was only a couple hours more, then we’d have a few free hours, then the premiere. IT WAS SO EXCITING.

Except, of course, that then everything fell apart.

People cut in line ahead of us. The people running the premiere ran out of wristbands because they hadn’t ordered enough for the three hundred people they’d promised to let in. (What even?) And, apparently unable to handle it all, the Fox rep left to “take a nap.”

The day dragged on, hot and muggy. Suddenly it was one PM, then two, then three. I needed to pee really bad. Pigeons lined along the edges of the buildings, apparently for the sole purpose of pooping on all the people stuck in the line below them. The fans who’d gotten wristbands paraded them past the couple hundred of us still stuck in line.

However, in the midst of this, some really awesome things happened that made the wait worthwhile. A woman working on the premiere came by with free water bottles for all of us (not that we could drink them, since it was so tricky to get to a bathroom, but still); I still managed to get all of the work I would have done at the office done, since I’d ended up with my laptop with me.

And more than anything, what made the all-day wait bearable was hanging out with the five girls in line around me.

Of the six of us, only two knew one another at the beginning of the day. But throughout the hours of harassing the security guards, complaining about the wristband shortage, and of course obsessing over Cara Delevingne’s eyebrows, we got to know one another.

When they finally brought out more wristbands around three thirty (they secretly had them the entire time, the jerks), we cheered and freaked out together like we’d known one another for years.


When they started splitting people into smaller groups to bring onto the red carpet, we refused to let them split us up. 

And we ended up meeting John, and Cara, and everyone else together.

John was super nice and took the time to sign absolutely everyone’s posters. So awesome.

Alex Wolff made eye contact with me and nothing will ever be the same.

A bunch of random celebrities showed up, including a certain couple models and, of all people, the freaking Property Brothers(!!).

We didn’t get to meet Nat, but the guy hosting the event did let him know we all wanted to go swimming with him, so there’s that.

CARA.

All six of us managed to get autographs from Cara and she even said hello to two of the girls. She’s so beautiful and amazing. I can’t. Oh my gosh.

The premiere was totally worth all the hours waiting in the heat, and I can’t wait to see the movie this weekend.
It’s funny how you can start out strangers at the beginning of the day and be friends by the end of it. And how something like making the mistake of taking an Uber instead of the subway can turn out not to be a mistake at all.

~Julia

Wordy Wednesday: Trust the Reader

This week has been busy. Thursday night I went to an LGBTQ YA panel at McNally Jackson, which was definitely one of the highlights of my summer. I got to see Lindsay Ribar (The Fourth Wish) and Michael Barakiva (One Man Guy), meet Becky Albertalli (Simon vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda), Adam Silvera (More Happy than Not), and Dahlia Adler (Under the Lights)–and also hang out with some kind of cool people.

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I mean Camryn, Amy, and Mark are all insanely cool. But John lowers the group average significantly. 

It was so great to get to see Amy again, and meet the others in person for the first time. It’s always so weird and awesome meeting internet people.

Friday I attended the ticker tape parade along the Canyon of Heroes for the US women’s soccer team, in honor of winning the World Cup(!!), followed by the ceremony at City Hall. (Of course I watched that part on the jumbotron from across the street, but still. Super cool.)

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Saturday I finally caught my first Broadway show of my two months in NYC: a matinee of Hedwig and the Angry Inch with Darren Criss. Afterward I read in Central Park for the rest of the evening. (I like it here.)

IMG_9358Aaand now I’m back at work for the week (although I still found time to check out the Strand yesterday and start reading Go Set a Watchman, so yay).

ANYWAY. Now that I’ve gushed endlessly about my week: This week’s Wordy Wednesday is a writing process post.

**********

Between internships and helping friends, I’ve critiqued a good number of stories at this point. Probably somewhere between twenty or thirty full novels, along with who knows how many novel openings, random scenes, and short stories. And through all of these, one of the things that I’ve noticed is that writers generally have a tendency to over-explain things to the reader.

I’ve talked before about trusting the reader, but always as more of a smaller part of a larger picture. But this is important, so I figured it was time it got its own post.

If you’re a writer, chances are you’re also a reader. And if you like to read, chances are you’re a pretty awesome person. And if you’re a pretty awesome person, chances are you’re also, you know, not unintelligent.

And what does all of this together mean?

Chances are, you’re trustworthy.

I don’t mean this in, like, the traditional “you can trust that there human with your innocent, adorable, very kidnappable children” kind of trustworthy (although, chances are, readers are also not the type of people who would run around offering candy to random five-year-olds, because hello, why do that when it would cut into your reading time). But I do mean that readers are trustworthy in the way that we don’t need absolutely everything explained to us in explicit detail.

This is often easier to figure out from a macro perspective than a micro one. You don’t have to go through the step by step process of your protagonist getting ready for the day for us to understand that things have happened between her waking up and leaving for school, right? That’s common sense.

Despite this, a lot of the writers for whom I’ve critiqued–especially those who’ve given me the privilege of reading their earlier drafts–haven’t expanded this idea to the micro level in their writing. The line-by-line level.

The reader doesn’t need the author to explain that “he fell down.” Down is the traditional direction of motion when you fall, so the word “fell” inherently implies a movement downward. (If “he fell up,” it’s a different story, because it no longer follows the traditional meaning of the word.)

Similarly, we don’t need to know that a character “screamed in horror” if she’s just spotted herself in the mirror for the first time after a bad makeover, or that someone “wrinkled his nose at the smell” while taking out the trash. The scene dictates these things already for us.

Descriptions like these bog down writing, because they’re redundant. The reader doesn’t gain anything from them, so instead they work against the writing. Make the scene run slower; make it feel less interesting; make it easier for the reader to get distracted. (These words are basically empty calories that don’t even do you the service of tasting good.) (Like those crappy potato chips you eat so you won’t look pathetic at a party where you don’t know anyone.)

Of all the issues writers can run into, I think this is one of the hardest ones to fix. Not because it’s an inherently difficult issue to pinpoint (see examples above), but because it’s easy to second guess yourself.

The manuscript I was revising the past year was neck deep in redundancies like these and I thought that because I had learned how to recognize them, I’d be able to get rid of them SUPER EASILY. But then I started wondering, “Will the reader actually get what I’m saying if I don’t point that out, though?” and “What if it’s not obvious enough?” and “What if the sentence is confusing without this?”

It’s easy to be afraid of messing up. When you over-explain things, you know you’re in the clear. No matter what, the reader will get what you’re saying. But you also run the risk of losing the reader to boredom, or annoying the reader, or any number of things.

So, I took a chance and cut all my little “explaining” descriptions. Sent the MS to my critique partners.

And while occasionally someone had a question about what I meant by something, or wanted more of an explanation behind an action, generally they didn’t miss those redundant explanations. At all.

Readers want your writing to make them feel smart. You know this–you’re a reader. So make them feel smart by treating them like they’re smart. (Spoiler: they are.)

Let us fill in the blanks. Allude to things. Tell us steps A and C and let us figure out step B. Be careful not to lay too many hints to what’s going to happen next, because chances are we’ve already figured it out.

Trusting the reader is key. It allows the reader the chance to find a plot twist surprising; to flip through your pages at a hundred miles an hour, because the writing flies by; to fall in love with your characters and world and you.

Books are about trust. By picking up a book, readers take a risk. They choose to trust an author.

Trust them back.

**********

Thanks for reading!

~Julia

Story Time: BEA/BookCon 2015! (Part 3/3)

Okay, I’m doing it. I’m finally finishing my severely belated recap of BookCon 2015.

(A reminder that I’ve been splitting the recap of BEA/BookCon 2015 into three parts, corresponding with the days of the events we attended. You can read Part I–about Friday of BEA–here and Part II—about Saturday of BookCon—here.) (Also a reminder that all of these posts are long enough to make you an old man, filled with regret by the time you finish reading, so proceed at your own risk.)

Sunday morning we got up early, finished packing, checked out of the hotel, and took an Uber to Javits.

We were expecting the same mess as Saturday to get into the building, but the BookCon staff magically learned how to manage a crowd overnight and we got to walk right in. They even managed to scrounge up a couple VIP goodie bags for Madre and me.

We dragged our luggage downstairs to the cavern, where we waited in line for the show floor to open. (And they actually did have a separate line for VIP attendees there, so yay for that!)

IMG_8721It was weirdly fun waiting in line. There were so many young, excited book nerds all smushed together, talking about who they hoped they’d meet and which panels they were dying to see.

The dividers keeping everyone in some semblance of order were these metal rods on poles that fell super easily. Every time one did, everyone in that area cheered a la someone-just-dropped-a-plate-in-the-dining-hall. It was fantastic.

Tickets and Signings and Free Stuff, Oh My

At ten o’clock, the doors opened, and we all sprinted for the escalators up to the show floor. I left my luggage with Madre, who very kindly went to stash all of it in the baggage check for me, and met up with Hannah’s family. In the show floor, we grabbed tickets to the later Humans of New York poster signing and a tote bag, Madre caught back up with us, and she and I headed for the First in Line author breakfast. Got tickets to that, then I left her in line for a sec to grab more free stuff from the Random Penguin booth.

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The First in Line breakfast was very cool. We got a bunch of ARCs and chapter samplers, met Nicola Yoon and got ARCs of Everything, Everything signed (one of the ARCs I most wanted, after hearing her speak on Friday), and got to choose one of the three more established authors at the breakfast to meet and get a book signed by. I’d already met James Dashner, so instead Madre opted for Jennifer Niven (signing All the Bright Places) and I got to meet E. Lockhart (signing We Were Liars). (Ironically, I’m now interning for the agency that represents her, so I am endlessly surrounded by copies of We Were Liars. My inner fangirl can’t handle it.)

We grabbed food from the buffet table at the end of the path through the event (corn muffin, fancy apple pastry, and a strawberry for me), then ate in an empty part of Random Penguin’s massive “booth.” (They, in reality, had like three giant booths that dominated a corner of the show floor. The middle one was mostly empty on Sunday.)

Panels and Humans of New York

From there we headed to the We Need Diverse Books “Luminaries of Children’s Literature” panel, recapping everything they’d accomplished in 2014, then hit the end of the “writing epic series” conversation with James Dashner and Co.

Speaking on the WNDB panel were:

  • Aisha Saeed (moderator)
  • David Levithan
  • Libba Bray
  • Meg Medina
  • I.W. Gregorio
  • Jacqueline Woodson
  • Soman Chainani

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Aaand from there, we headed to the line for the HONY signing. (In the middle of this, Madre very kindly let me run off on a wild goose chase for Magnus Chase and the Gods of Asgard shields, because apparently the Disney Hyperion booth had gotten another shipment of them to giveaway–Hannah and I had been trying to snag a couple all weekend–but they were already all gone by the time I got there.)

We met Brandon Stanton, the amazing human behind Humans of New York, got our posters signed, and generally tried not to make too big of fools of ourselves. (He’s so nice and down-to-earth and gah. I want to be best friends.)

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At that point, Madre and I split up. I headed into the end of the “Fierce is My Middle Name” panel about kickbutt female YA protagonists, while she attended another across the hall. I only got to see the last few minutes of the panel, but SO WORTH IT.

Speaking on the panel were:

  • Annette Cardwell (moderator)
  • Charlaine Harris
  • Rae Carson
  • Sarah J. Maas

Afterward, Madre and I met back up and headed to the cafeteria to give our stomachs some much needed TLC. Because it was so late in the afternoon, on the last day of BEA/BookCon, the cafeteria was mostly sold out of decent vegetarian options, but I somehow ended up with a huge pile of Chinese food to gorge on. While eating, I spotted someone a few tables over who looked vaguely like she might be Maureen Johnson.

The person caught me looking and gave me a creeped out stare back. (Proof that she was indeed Mauren Johnson. Also that I should never be allowed in public.)

Finished eating. Headed into the Judy Blume conversation in the special events hall, which had already been going for a while, but was still awesome. (JUDY BLUME!!) Besides sitting down awkwardly late, I also had to get up awkwardly early to make it to the next panel on my schedule–and of course, as I tiptoed my way to the exit, I passed and once again made eye contact with, you guessed it, Maureen Johnson.

She looked at me like she thought I was stalking her. I looked at her like I wanted to sink into the floor. (A friend who met Maureen at LeakyCon a few years back assured me not to worry about it. “She’s always like that,” she said. “Don’t take it personally.” Still, here’s hoping Maureen doesn’t remember me or I might have to change career fields out of embarrassment.)

I hurried back up to the show floor for one last panel before the end of BookCon: “Booktube 101.”

Speaking on the panel were:

  • Monica Watson (moderator)
  • Lainey Kress (moderator)
  • Jesse George
  • Kat O’Keeffe
  • Christine Riccio

I didn’t get to stay for much of the panel, but I’m SO HAPPY I saw what I did. The Downtown Stage area was overflowing with eager fans, and there was SO MUCH energy and enthusiasm for books and vloggers and fandom in general. It was incredible.

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Meeting Judy Blume

From there, I ran downstairs, back to the cavern, for Judy Blume’s signing. It had only begun a few minutes before I got there, but I was still already about two-thirds of the way back in the permitted line.

While waiting, a worried buzz grew amongst attendees. A storm was settling in over New York. Flood warnings lit up our phones. People started bailing to try to get home before the worst of it hit.

I wasn’t going to miss meeting Judy Blume though, so I decided to stick it out. Hannah was further up in line, so after getting her book signed she came back to warn me I should head to the airport as soon as possible, then her family left to find a taxi.

My mom found out I wanted to meet David Levithan, who was signing a couple tables over, so she went and met him “for me.” The Judy Blume line stretched on. A metal rod fell, but there weren’t enough people left to cheer for it.

Finally, it was my turn to meet the woman who wrote so many amazing books about being a kid and growing up and ohmygosh JUDY BLUME.

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The cavern was almost entirely empty at that point. It was bittersweet seeing it that way after it had been so full of people and energy just that morning.

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This isn’t even the whole space, if you want to know how large that room was.

Madre and I rushed upstairs to baggage check, where we grabbed our suitcases, repacked them with our plethora of new books, got ready to leave–only to find out that they’d delayed our flight until 10:30 that night.

Stuck at Javits for Eternity

The weather had gotten scary. We were sitting under Javits’s glass dome and the thunder boomed and echoed beneath it. It was raining so hard, you couldn’t see outside. Hannah texted me to say, despite trying to leave so much earlier, they hadn’t been able to find a taxi and were stranded outside the building. There were no taxis or Ubers on the roads, everyone was so freaked out over the storm.

Quite a few attendees were stranded at the Javits Center, so we all huddled together under the glass dome and waited for the storm to pass. It didn’t. Roads and tunnels closed due to flooding. The BookCon and Javits teams packed up the convention around us. Hannah’s family finally managed to secure a taxi and headed for the airport.

People slowly trickled out, giving up, and Madre and I relocated to an exit, where we could better monitor the storm. I held doors open for industry people trying to drag out stuff from their booths. We thanked security repeatedly for letting all of us wait inside. Our flight got delayed to eleven.

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I believe I tweeted this picture with a caption along the lines of, “We’re going to be at Javits until we die.”

Finally, a little after seven, we managed to grab an Uber to Laguardia and headed out into the madness. The storm had mostly let up at that point, but the tunnels were all still flooded so traffic was horrendous. Hannah texted me to say they finally had arrived at the airport, after a couple hours in the taxi. We were really grateful we’d ended up waiting, so we weren’t stuck in traffic as long.

At the airport Madre and I got dinner at a food court (one last slice of New York pizza for the trip). I fell asleep at the table while she played with the free iPad attached to it.

We moved over to our gate, where we found out the terminal’s air conditioning was broken (so they had backup emergency air conditioning on instead, which left the place at approximately polar-bears-would-freeze-in-this degrees). I changed into my warmest clothes, which still weren’t very warm considering I had packed for summer in New York. The terminal was overflowing with people stuck there due to delayed and cancelled flights. They moved ours back even further to twelve thirty AM.

Madre and I played with iPads a bit more, I read a bit, Hannah came over from where her family was camped out and we talked for a while–then our flight got delayed to twelve forty-five. Hannah’s cousins had also been in NYC for the weekend, but had an earlier flight back to Detroit; apparently so many planes were grounded due to the storm, we were now waiting for their already severely delayed plane to return in order to finally fly our even more delayed flight home.

An amazing turn of events: The plane made it back early and we boarded around midnight. Everyone slept on the way home, despite some supa fun turbulence, then Madre and I finally drove home and crawled into bed around three AM.

To Recap the Weekend Haul

We ended up with one hundred and three books (all but the Jude Blume one free), sixty of them ARCs and 29 signed; eleven tote bags; and countless posters, bookmarks, pins, and other freebies.

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And so, finally, came the end of our BEA/BookCon weekend.

And so, finally, you can congratulate yourself on surviving to the end of this post!

Despite all the mishaps of the weekend, I had an amazing time at BookExpo America and BookCon this year. They were so much fun, and I got to see and meet so many people I look up to, and I really, really hope I get to go again next year.

~Julia

Wordy Wednesday: Red Herring 101

How is it already Wednesday?

My family met up in Washington D.C. for the Fourth of July this weekend, which was really cool. We got to see all the big monuments, watch the parade (from in front of the IRS building, but whatevs), and ogle the fireworks as they lit up Lincoln. We saw the flag Francis Scott Key wrote the “Star Spangled Banner” about, ate lots of unhealthy (and delicious) food truck food, and ultimately had a really good time.

I’m not going to see my mom again until Ch1Con–and my dad or brother until the very end of August–so it was nice to get one last hurrah with them this summer.

Since then, I’ve been on my own in NYC, mainly just working and trying to get my life in order. Things should maybe settle down a little bit soon, though? (I’m so looking forward to the weekend to finally get this insane list of tasks done.)

Anyway, this week’s Wordy Wednesday is a writing process post.

So, I have a fascination with the red herring. It’s one of my favorite plot devices, because it’s so CONNIVING. The author purposely leads the reader astray.

Also, it appears in basically every genre (because every story is a mystery, remember?).

ALSO, it’s become weirdly difficult to execute.

There are a lot of bad red herrings in the world, these days. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve read a book and immediately been able to predict the ending based on the fact that the red herring/actual culprit-love interest-etc. combo was too formulaic. (This isn’t a bad thing, per say. It just makes me sad because now the book is less interesting.)

The problem with the red herring is that the usual, simple approach of executing it (X seems like bad guy, but it’s actually Y) HAS become formulaic. You can only read one formula so many times before you catch onto it.

So now, to avoid this issue, authors are getting craftier. Creating layers of red herrings. Making you question EVERYONE.

I love this. It’s impossible to tell how many layers the author has intended, so you don’t know if you’re being paranoid, suspecting Random Character C, or if you actually aren’t looking far enough and the true culprit is Character E.

When I was revising a YA thriller over the winter, I ran into the “this is too formulaic” issue myself. So I thought through some of the plots of my favorite, unpredictable books and tried to decipher what those authors did that made their red herrings so wonderful.

This is what I came up with.

Paint in More than Just Red

Your red herring can’t just be there to be a red herring. While you can use a character as a plot device, you can’t use a plot device as a character. So develop your red herring. Make him/her a real, breathing person the reader will come to love or hate. Paint that red herring in a thousand colors.

Utilize Multiple Red Herrings

As mentioned, this is a really nice trick. Don’t just provide your reader with a single red herring, but multiple. One red herring is easy to figure out; three or four or five is not.

And make some of these red herrings subtle. Don’t make it obvious that you’re trying to lead the reader to believe that person’s evil or whatever. Make the reader believe s/he’s being clever by suspecting one of these people, when the true culprit is still lurking in the shadows.

Inspire Doubt

You don’t want any of your red herrings to be too obvious, because that feels cheap. So, inspire doubt. Give your character reason to believe so-and-so might actually be the bad guy, only for the evidence eventually to lead back to the original red herring (only your character doesn’t realize).

The reader knows to look past the characters your protagonist suspects. If the protag no longer suspects someone (but that person still seems suspicious), there’s a good chance your reader will start believing that character’s the real deal bad guy.

This is also a way you can go about introducing the REAL real bad guy. Have your protagonist suspect him/her at the beginning, but have credible reason not to as the plot progresses–then BAM at the end when everything shakes loose and s/he truly was the antagonist.

Don’t Be Afraid to Be Subtle

Readers are smarter than authors often give them credit for. If they’re invested in a mystery, they will pick up the subtlest of clues in order to unravel it. Which means that anything at all NOT subtle becomes glaringly obvious.

So, to Recap

Don’t be afraid to be subtle. Trust your reader. Make your red herrings real characters. Inspire doubt and use layers.

And, more than anything: paint your pages red.

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Thanks for reading!

~Julia

Busy, Busy

Sorry about not posting all week! Things are kind of crazy right now. Hopefully they’ll slow down just a teeny tiny bit in the next week or two so I’ll have more time to post again!

Thanks for sticking with me. Love you!

~Julia

Wordy Wednesday: Put the Ordinary in Extraordinary

Today was my first day at the office! I was only there for a few hours, so it was a pretty chill first day, but it was cool. And now I am exhausted.

And I don’t have much else to say, so let’s dive right into this week’s Wordy Wednesday, shall we?

This week we have a writing process post.

I’ve talked a lot about character development on the blog–primarily because it’s not something at which I’m naturally, well, at all decent. But I’m learning to make my characters more complex and realistic, and in the process I’ve learned a number of ways to go about doing that. Currently the one I’m looking at, in particular, is putting your character in “ordinary” situations.

This can range from thinking about what your character would purchase at the grocery store to what she would do in those last moments awake at night to how he would handle getting a cold. What would she do if she found twenty bucks on the street? What would he order at a fast food restaurant? (Which fast food restaurant would be his favorite? Would he even eat fast food?)

It’s these ordinary, everyday things that make up so many of the little pieces of our personalities. And they’re what make it so that we can relate to one another.

Like, thinking back on my interactions with friends in the past week or so, the main things we have discussed are:

a) Opinions on current events (gay marriage, the confederate flag, etc.)

b) Opinions on pop culture stuff (Jurassic World, Taylor Swift’s open letter to Apple, etc.)

c) Opinions on food (Chipotle, breakfast, etc.)

My friends lead diverse lives. Everyone’s off studying abroad or working somewhere unique or taking classes this summer. We have different backgrounds and live in different places and, ultimately, are insanely different people. But these ordinary things bring us together.

If your character has super powers, that’s awesome. That’s a good jumping off point for getting someone to pick up your book. But the reader can’t relate to that.

On the other hand, if your superhero protagonist has nasty allergies or acts like a five year old every time she sees a cute dog or is addicted to House Hunters? Those common, ordinary characteristics transform your character into someone I’d not only like to let save my city, but with whom I’d like to be friends.

Running with the superhero example, let’s think about superheroes: Superman is a really difficult hero to work with nowadays, because he’s too perfect. He doesn’t have those ordinary quirks and flaws that define humans. People have trouble relating to him, so he’s losing popularity.

Who is popular right now? The Avengers. What makes the Avengers so popular? Not their powers, but their banter and weaknesses and interactions with the every day. (Steve Rogers has trouble understanding twenty-first century technology. I understand that.)

The situations you put your characters through don’t necessarily need to go in your novel. You don’t even necessarily have to write them out. You just need to consider them. Let complexities develop organically. Think about how your extraordinary characters would go about doing the ordinary.

The point is that five thousand, million, billion little things go into making us who we are. Let your characters have those same kinds of complexities.

Maybe next time your hero is saving the world, he should crave shawarma.

Thanks for reading!

~Julia