Tag Archives: Book Writing

Writing Horror Chills and Thrills

I’m a sucker for all things scary. Except for zombies. Those freak me out a bit too much. As one of the YA Scream Queens, I’m privvy to a variety of YA horror novels and I find it fascinating that out stories are so different and yet all have the same intention: to unnerve our readers in some way.

Horror is so subjective, and that makes it–like comedy–a very hard genre to write. What terrifies one reader gets a “Meh” reaction from another. When my agent has had my work on submission, I had one editor say they just didn’t find the story that frightening and another editor said she had to sleep with the lights on and still had nightmares.

Because of the subjectivity of scariness, I approach writing horror in this way: write what scares you. If you the author are legitimately unnerved and ready to jump out of your skin when writing a horror scene, that energy will translate into the story. I remember writing one scene in a project that had me so disturbed that I had to turn on more lights and walk away from the computer to check the windows several times when writing it–and every single one of my crit partners and my agent pointed to that scene as being scarier than all get out. I wrote something that frightened me, the author. Even though it was my creation, it scared me, and my unease bled into the page.

And when you go back to revise those scene, don’t wince. Don’t soften the scare. Timing is everything, and tone is important, too. But if you are unsettled, your readers will be, and that is the ultimate goal of any horror novel.


Turning 30 and Breaking Down the Numbers

I’m so glad to have you all here with me (well, long-distance—I’m even long-distance too, since I’m still fishing) to celebrate my 30th birthday (okay, and it’s actually this Sunday, the 13th, but who posts on Sundays?).

AHEM. Anyway. Turning 30 is such a milestone—I mean, this is only my third completed decade—such a “big” number, that it makes me think about what I’ve been doing with myself, and a few of the other numbers that have added up to a fledgling writing career. My dream career. So, while sometimes it feels like it has taken me a really long time to get to this point, at least I’m doing exactly what I want to be doing.

Now for the breakdown (non-emotional, I hope)…

30: years old

6: years writing seriously

3: manuscripts abandoned well on their way

6: fiction manuscripts completed (3 young adult novels, 2 adult novels, and 1 middle grade)

1: nonfiction manuscript completed

3: completed manuscripts trunked (2 adult novels and 1 young adult)

2: manuscripts sold

1: publisher

2: completed manuscripts with high hopes

2: novels in the works

1: debut book launching August 8th, 2014

As for how those numbers will change, it’s anyone’s guess. I have interesting projects in the works this next year: a sequel to WORDLESS called LIFELESS, which will come out a year after WORDLESS does—and WORDLESS comes out in only a month! I also have a middle grade project that I’ll soon announce… and prepare to be surprised (can one actually prepare to be surprised?), since it’s not a typical publishing deal. (Hint: I’m working with a company. A toy company.) Anyway, all of this is very exciting, and I’m just so thrilled to have you all along for the ride with me.

This is where I say something cheesy like:

Incalculable: My joy to be doing what I love, surrounded by people I love.

And so I did. Just, uh, ignore that if it triggers your gag reflex.

AHEM. ANYWAY… Cheers to 2014, to 30, and to the other awesome numbers yet to arrive!

adriannestricklandAdriAnne shares a home base in Alaska with her husband, but has spent two cumulative years living abroad in Africa, Asia, and Europe. While writing occupies most of her time, she commercial fishes every summer in Bristol Bay, because she can’t seem to stop. Her debut YA sci-fi/fantasy, WORDLESS, is coming August 8th, 2014 from Flux Books. You can follow her on Twitter and like her on Facebook.

The Science of Writing

My little brother just participated in the fifth-grade science fair. His topic was something about evolution. I’d give you more details, but I was slightly distracted by the fact that he used a photograph of me as part of his illustrated progression from Australopithecus to Homo Sapiens. And that picture was NOT on the far right of the scale.

In high dudgeon, I turned to inspect the other fifth-graders’ projects. Humanity’s age-old questions were answered here, guys. “Why Are Volcanos Deadly?” one girl asked. “What Type of Steel Is Best for Bridges?” queried another.  A bespectacled boy presented a board entitled “Is There Dark Matter?”

My fifth-grade science fair experiment was called “Do Plants Grow Better with Water or with Coke?”

Given the obvious intellectual gap between us, I hope some of these scientists can be persuaded to take on my burning questions.

Are Writers More Productive in Sweatpants, or No Pants?

I would like to see a controlled experiment that would take into account quality, quantity, and number of panicky moments when the UPS guy unexpectedly arrives.

How Many Wikipedia Pages Can One Read Before One Realizes One’s Not Researching, Just Wasting Time?

I expect it’s a very high number, as I myself have not hit it.

How Many Awkward Constructions with “One” Can One Embrace Before One Just Uses “You” Already?

Hypothesis: many.

Does the Cactus on My Desk Grow Better with Water or No Water?

As I write, I often ponder this problem. Though not often enough to be shamed into trying the “water” option.

How Many Words a Minute Is It Possible to Type with Six Fingers?

Is anyone else cursed with this fate? I somehow learned to type properly with my left hand and chicken-peckingly with my right hand. Now I can’t change.

In Emails to One’s Agent, What is the Ideal Ratio of Exclamation Points to Periods?

If it’s not approximately 5:1, I’m doing something very, very wrong.

Why Does My Brother Think I’m a Neanderthal?

This question, I suspect, has no satisfactory answer.

The Power of Words + WORDLESS ARC Giveaway!

Today I’m giving away one of my few signed ARCs of WORDLESS, my debut book, so pardon me while I wax arm-chair-philosophical. (Or you can just scroll down and enter the giveaway.)

Since I’m writing books about the (super-) power of words—people with the ability to speak and have their words literally manifest in real life—and since I’m, you know, a writer, it’s always fun to think about words and why they fascinate me.

I think it boils down to this: words are powerful. From a simple sentence, a whole world of ideas can be born. And they can be used for good or evil: inspiration, lies, love, hate.

I’ll be frank with you—I started out on the evil sides of things, back when I was five years old. I was a habitual liar. It was a revelation that I could open my mouth, say something, and have people believe it was true when it was anything but. As a generally powerless kid (like most) who was told when to go to bed, take a bath or eat my vegetables, I suddenly discovered I had immense influence. Did I eat all of the candy in the cupboard? No. Was I sick and needing to stay home from school? Yes. Did I draw a treasure map on the couch in permanent marker? No sir-ee. Did I live on a farm populated with a ridiculous menagerie of animals? Why, yes I did.

I felt like a god. Of course, some people didn’t believe me, but they just exchanged knowing looks with a nearby adult. When you’re a kid, people let you get away with this stuff.

Except for my grandma, who, after she asked if I was trying to thieve a stuffed-animal from her house and I said no, called me out on it, made me take it out from under my shirt and put it back where I’d gotten it. Yes, yes, I tried to steal from my grandma. Evil five-year-old, remember? Still, I’ve never been so ashamed.

And good for her for humiliating the heck out of me and sending my little power trip crashing to the ground. Because lying might be somewhat funny when you’re five and can only inflict minor damage on gullible friends and siblings. Adults are mostly impervious and accept such childish behavior with an, “Oh, is that so, dear?” (…Unless you’ve been drawing on the couch in permanent marker. Then your mother gets PISSED.) But what happens when you’re in school later, and you tell someone they’re ugly? Stupid? Worthless? What happens when you’re an adult and you tell someone that you love them…and you don’t? What happens when you claim “she wanted it”? What happens when you tell an entire country that a certain race of people is lesser than yours?

Very bad things, that’s what happens. Evil, if you will. But words are like SCIENCE (cue darkly dramatic music). There’s not always a mad scientist cackling in the background over chemical weapons and atomic bombs. Cures for diseases are discovered, computers invented, washing machines gifted to the people of earth. (Seriously, have you ever had to wash all of your clothes by hand? It royally sucks and takes half of the day.)

Words are like that. So much potential. We can create worlds… or destroy someone else’s, all with words. And that kind of power is still fascinating to me. These days, I like creating worlds in the form of novels, which is essentially a glorified but a mostly harmless form of lying for other people’s entertainment—the difference is that I now call it fiction from the get-go. (Thanks Grandma, for not putting up with my sh*t.)

And so it shouldn’t come as a surprise to anyone that my first published book is about living Words: god-like people saying, “Flame,” and making things burn; people saying, “Die,” and watching someone topple over; people saying, “Live,” and letting them stand up again. And even less surprising is that there’s a kid without words at the heart of it all, feeling powerless and wondering how much better life would be if he only he had such power.

How, indeed? Because, while words are powerful, it’s all about how they’re used.

Now you can enter the giveaway!

-Adri out
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Wordless - small

“The Gods made their Words into flesh, giving privileged individuals the powers of creation…”

In Eden City, a member of the illiterate wordless class would never dream of meeting the all-powerful Words … much less of running away with one. So when a gorgeous girl literally falls into his lap during a routine trash run, seventeen-year-old Tavin Barnes isn’t sure if it’s the luckiest or worst day of his life. That girl is Khaya, the Word of Life, who can heal a wound or command an ivy bush to devour a city block with ease. And yet she needs Tavin’s help.

By aiding Khaya’s escape from the seemingly idyllic confines of Eden City, Tavin unwittingly throws himself into the heart of a conflict that is threatening to tear the world apart. Eden City’s elite will stop at nothing to protect the shocking secret Khaya hides, and they enlist the other Words, each with their own frightening powers, to bring her back.

adriannestricklandAdriAnne shares a home base in Alaska with her husband, but has spent two cumulative years living abroad in Africa, Asia, and Europe. While writing occupies most of her time, she commercial fishes every summer in Bristol Bay, because she can’t seem to stop. Her debut YA sci-fi/fantasy, WORDLESS, is coming August 8th, 2014 from Flux Books. You can follow her on Twitter and like her on Facebook.

Writing with a Partner – The Real Scoop, Straight Poop & Loop-de-loop

When people find out that my debut novel DREAM BOY is co-authored, they generally do one of two things:

#1: Share with me their great idea for a novel (usually involving a toilet that doubles as a space-time portal, a grandmother who comes back from the dead, and a treasure map)–followed by the suggestion that I abandon whatever project I’m working on currently so that I can write that book with them instead.

#2: Ask me what it’s like to write a novel with someone.

Space Toilet complements of NASA. Time travel compliments of Awesome.
Space Toilet complements of NASA. Time travel compliments of Awesome.

Let me be clear: I love the idea of potty-time travel, unlikely resurrection, and treasure. I DO want to write that book with you. Eventually. But since the purposes of this blog are not expansive enough to allow me to do so here, for now I will turn my attention to #2.

And no, that doesn’t mean I’m going to talk about poop. I am referring instead to the aforementioned question numero duo:

What is it like to write a novel with someone?

Well, my answer may depend on your someone. After all, the who, not the what, is the most important part of the collaborative writing equation.

You probably know some writers. You might even know some writers you like. That doesn’t necessarily mean you should try to write a novel with them… or even a haiku, for that matter.

“Like” is certainly a good place to start, but it might not hold up to the stresses of collaborative writing, especially the wear and tear of a multiple-year, 300-page project.

It’s equally important that you find someone who shares your aesthetic, emanates kindness and reason, and knows how to disagree without making a fruckus.

While of course you’ll want a partner who equals your skill, it can also be a good thing if your particular strengths vary. Look for someone who (in the immortal words of Jerry McGuire) “completes you.” A strong plotter, for example, might be well paired with someone with a great ear for dialog.

But whatever talents you bring to the table, you need first and foremost to respect and be respected by the person sitting across from you.

I have been tremendously fortunate in my collaboration with Madelyn Rosenberg. Not only is she smart, funny, and easy-going about all things unimportant, she also has the special talent of disagreeing in a way that makes me (a woman my own husband has called out for my bad habit of “arguing for the sake of argument”) simply laugh and shrug and try again.

But perhaps, after all my rambling, Madelyn describes the process best in this video she made about overcoming some of the obstacles we faced as we wrote DREAM BOY together:

Have you ever considered writing with a partner? How did it turn out? Let us know in the comments below!


MaryCrockett LookawayMary Crockett is a fan of the tongue-stud and coauthor with Madelyn Rosenberg of the upcoming novel DREAM BOY–a book which, like Sally Field, really wants you to like it. You can make the book happy by adding it to your Goodreads bookshelf or pre-ordering at IndieBound, Amazon, or Barnes and Noble. Connect with Mary on Twitter @MaryLovesBooks and Madelyn @MadRosenberg.

First Lines from First to Final Draft

I’m sure we all know the importance of first lines: they’re the first impression, the first chance to hook your reader, the first breath of the baby you’ve labored over for months.

start line

They’re the curtain whipping away from the stage, the gun shot signaling the start of the race, the … you get the idea.

We thought it would be interesting to reveal our first lines over here at the BookYard–from both the first AND final drafts of our debut books. Would our FIRST-first lines stay with us, surviving the firestorm of revision? Or would something completely different take their place?

Ready? Set? Go!

First line of SALT, by Danielle Ellison: 

First draft: “Gran always told us not to leave home without salt in our pocket.”

Final draft (That you can get right now ahh!): “Gran always told us not to leave home without salt in our pocket.”

Comments: Yes, it’s exactly the same! It’s the first/only book I’ve written where the first line/chapter has never changed. But it’s not the same with other stories.

First line of FOLLOW ME THROUGH DARKNESS, by Danielle Ellison:

First draft: “I freeze, listening for the echo of a footstep.”

Final draft: “All I’ve ever wanted is freedom, but I never imagined it would be like this.”

Comments: FOLLOW ME THROUGH DARKNESS had eight first lines. (One for each draft/rewrite/revision before I sold.) I had a really big problem trying to figure out where the story actually started, because it was such a huge story. I love the new first line now! It’s completely the tone and theme of the book. :)

First line of DREAM BOY, by Mary Crockett and Madelyn Rosenberg:

First draft (or close to first draft): “It was the perfect June evening for the perfect June wedding and my cousin Heather, the perfect bride, was puffed up like a frosted pastry in her wedding gown. The vows had been said, the unity candle lit, and now we were scattered around the reception hall, stuffing our faces with sweet-and-sour chicken and bits of cheese molded into the shape of doves.” (Ok, I know that’s two sentences.)

Final draft: “Will found me by the river.”

Comments: Madelyn and I ended up cutting the first chapter of DREAM BOY in revisions. There are a ton of quirky details in that lost chapter–and we really didn’t want to cut it–but ultimately it was one of those darlings that just needed to die. But if I ever have to write a wedding scene for some future project, you can bet I’m going to try to work in cheese shaped like doves.

First line of GILDED, by Christina Farley:

First draft: “The concrete steps yawn before me and stretch all the way up to the museum.”

Final draft: “Stillness fills the empty stage as I press the horn bow to my body and notch an arrow.”

Comments: Basically, I deleted the whole scene of Jae Hwa walking into the museum with her parents and setting up to practice. For the final draft, not only did I start the story later, but I also ‘killed off’ the mom. The key was tightening so I was only keeping necessary scenes and necessary characters.

First line of WORDLESS, by AdriAnne Strickland:

First draft: “I’d heard the story when I was a kid—everyone had, even wordless nobodies like me.”

Final draft (+ second sentence): “I’d heard the story when I was a kid. Everyone had, even wordless nobodies like me, who had never set foot in any of Eden City’s cathedrals.”

Comments: You’ll notice that not much changed, other than my attempt to reign in some of my em dashes (I’m totally em dash-happy), which then left me room to add more detail in the (now) second sentence.

First line of THE GIRL FROM THE WELL, by Rin Chupeco:

First draft: “I am the paths dead girls travel.”

Final draft: “I am where dead children go.”

Comments: Not only did I decide to go for ambiguity to sound more profound, but also made my protagonist an equal opportunity avenger.

First line of A MURDER OF MAGPIES, by Sarah Bromley:

First draft: “A lone tuft of ash wanders through the air.”

Final draft: “I always swore Jonah would blow our cover, and today looked ideal for a catastrophe.”

Comments: Not only was A MURDER OF MAGPIES originally in present tense, it also had a prologue that took place two years before the bulk of the book. MAGPIES had been put away for a while before I brought it back out after I signed with my agent, and when I ngave it to Miriam, I’d already nixed that prologue and changes tenses from present to past. In the final draft, Vayda’s troubles are more immediate, and she’s not at all happy with her brother, Jonah. But if you look hard enough, you’ll see a version of that first original line somewhere in the book.

First line of BETWEEN SISTERS, by Trisha Leaver: 

First draft: “My phone buzzed across my nightstand, jarring me from the sketch pad I had open across my lap.”

Final draft: “I don’t remember her room being so cold. Even snuggled into her sweater the chill seeps in, settling into my bones like a whisper from beyond.”

Comments: Technically the first sentence of chapter one hasn’t changed. However, a prologue was added, hence changing the first line the reader will see!

First line of CREED, by Lindsay Currie and Trisha Leaver:

First draft: The car rolled to a stop on the side of the dirt road. I swore, frustrated that I opted to leave my jacket at home rather than cover up my new shirt.

Final copy: The car rolled to a stop on the side of the dirt road. I swore, frustrated that I’d left my jacket at home rather than cover up my new shirt.

Comments: It didn’t change much at all!

First line of ANOMALY, by Caroline Richmond: 

First draft: “The Nazis always arrived on schedule.”

Final draft: “At four o’clock sharp, I spot a Third Reich cadet flying over the farm.”

Comments: Oh goodness, ANOMALY! The book that nearly broke me. When I first started drafting it in 2011, it was written in first person, present tense. But that wasn’t quite working so my agent suggested a switch to third person past. Through the years, the manuscript has been scrapped and re-written multiple times, including the first line; but I’m pleased with how everything has turned out!

First line of THE GIRL WHO NEVER WAS, by Skylar Dorset:

First draft: “One day, my father walked into his Back Bay apartment to find a blond woman asleep on his couch.”

Final draft: “One day, my father walked into his Back Bay apartment to find a blond woman asleep on his couch.”

Comments: Yup, exactly the same. 🙂 The first sentence of this book was the first image of the book that ever came to me, and it stayed the same the whole time. One of the few things that did!

First line of FALLS THE SHADOW, by Stefanie Gaither:

First draft: “I took some of the flowers from my sister’s funeral, because I thought her replacement might like them as a welcome-to-the-family present. ”

Final draft: “I took some of the flowers from my sister’s funeral, because I thought her replacement might like them as a welcome-to-the-family present.”

Comments: This was the first line that came to me when I started brainstorming the book, and it managed to survive all fifty billion rounds of revision!

First line of THE MERCILESS, by Danielle Vega:

First draft: “A crescent of blood appears below my cuticle and oozes into the cracks surrounding my thumbnail.”

Final draft: “I snag my thumb on the lunch tray’s metal edge and a crescent of blood appears beneath my cuticle.”

Comments: THE MERCILESS is a horror novel, so I knew I wanted to start with blood. As time went on, I honed the sentence to include a little context, but the overall intent is still the same.

First line of THE VIGILANTE POETS OF SELWYN ACADEMY, by Kate Hattemer:

First draft: “We were back to school after the holidays, back to the routine. The school year had settled itself like a fat person into an airplane seat: it wasn’t entirely comfortable, but it would do.”

Final draft: “A Preface-Slash-Disclaimer from Ethan Andrezejczak: Just call me Ethan.”

Comments: I am extremely grateful to my agent and editor. These two lines demonstrate why.

Writer’s Block Got You Blue?

Life was a lot less complicated back in 2008 when I was first drafting A MURDER OF MAGPIES. Oh, I’d known I wanted to be published since high school (we won’t go into how long ago that was), and I knew that I wanted to secure a literary agent and sign a book deal. Okay, done and done. While I still write new stories, something’s happened. I’ve gotten in my own way.

What’s the deal? Well, I’m not adept at shutting off my internal—nay, infernal—editor. I am also a certified worrier. Between three kids and three dogs, my house is one of perpetual interruption, and sometimes there is nothing more daunting than a blank screen with a flashing cursor that mocks you. So what helps when the words won’t come?

Here are some of the ways I try to beat writer’s block:

*Turn off the Internet on the computer. I do this all the time. Just shut off my Wi-Fi and don’t give in to the temptation to check Twitter, Facebook, any of my other online haunts until I’ve written at least a thousand words. I set a timer for twenty minutes, and then I’m done. No more online playground until more of the story is on the page. Those little bursts of online activity are my Scooby Snacks and keep me going until I can power through more words.

*Remember it doesn’t have to be perfect this time around. First drafts are first drafts. Second drafts are second. Final drafts . . . well, I think some of us could edit the same book continually. But there does come a point where you know it’s ready.

*Read other books. Honestly, if I’m in a dry spell, I will read other works, mostly outside of my genre. Books are fuel for your own creativity.

*Brainstorm. Got critique partners? Yes? Good. Now talk to them about what’s holding you up. I’m on good enough terms with my agent that we’ll talk about what I’m writing as well, and she’ll put in her two cents for what she’d like to see happen in the story. Sometimes a good conversation where you lay out the story is all you need to get over what seems like a massive obstacle.

*Relax. Eventually, the story will make sense to you and you’ll be drawn into writing again. Unknotting the threads of any given story happens to me in the strangest places: walking the light bulb aisle at Target, waiting in the preschool pick-up line, standing in the shower. Sometimes if you think about something too much, your brain revolts and you can’t do it anymore. And then it will come to you later when you thought it couldn’t be further from your thoughts. Let your subconscious handle your writing woes for a while.

Granted, there are times when a project does have to be shelved for whatever reason. Sometimes you’re just not that into it. It doesn’t mean it was all bad. It can be a learning experience. There may even be scenes or characters that you copy into another story. I do think that some of the best advice I was ever given to get through a dry spell was to write every day. No matter what. Writing is an exercise, and the more you do it the easier the words will come.

 Anyone else have a surefire cure for writer’s block? Leave a comment and tell us!