Monday, April 17, 2017

Writing for Change: Kelly Loy Gilbert Speaks

With the intensity of the 2016 election, something amazing arose: millions of people are now engaging in politics in ways they never had before. Town halls are packed, phone lines are jammed. And we writers have a unique role to play. 

On that note, Kelly Loy Gilbert, author of Conviction, is here to discuss how the political climate has shaped her work. Take it away, Kelly!

I've been working on my current novel (forthcoming from Disney-Hyperion), which is about Asian Americans and immigration, long enough to have happily changed plotlines after the DREAM Act went into effect--and then been at a complete loss after the election this past November. As a writer of contemporary fiction, everything felt different: was I suddenly writing a dystopian novel?

I have always believed in the importance of the story as a means of demanding empathy, and I feel that now more than ever. I'm always conscious that I write for young people, many of whom are politically voiceless and yet still affected by this administration's policies, disregard for all norms and decency, and extreme endangering of POC/queer/disabled people, among others.

Sometimes stories feel useless, or at least like such small weapons against everything happening, and I think it's easy to get discouraged. But I think of the young people who don't fit the mold of what the administration believes a person should be and do and who have that message reinforced daily. I think of the people whose bodies and families are under threat. I think of the ugliness that's been given a national platform. And I hope, if nothing else, those young people will know that the literary community is behind them, that we see them and won't look away from what's happening.

I don't believe we can separate politics from anything we do, and I feel that acutely in my stories. Writing is a calling. May we ever answer it.

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Kelly Loy Gilbert is the author of Conviction, a 2016 Morris Award Finalist and Children's Choice Book Award Winner. She lives in the SF Bay Area. You can follow her on twitter at @KellyLoyGilbert and on tumblr.


Tuesday, March 21, 2017

Writing My Resistance: New Blog Design & Logo

I know so many writers who have had trouble getting words on the page since the election.  Honestly, when it seems as if the world is imploding around us, our own dreams and passions can feel like an indulgence. But that's simply not true.
 
Books create empathy. 
Books open doors to new worlds and new ideas.  
Books are powerful. 

It's clearer than ever that our world needs that. So we must write. And our responsibilities as writers of young adult fiction have grown with the rise of hatred and xenophobia around us. If we can instill a greater understanding of the world at large, we can create better leaders tomorrow.

As a writer with no book deal in hand (yet!), I wasn't keen on expending a lot of resources on a fancy design. But I decided that a new logo with a strong message could be a powerful reminder to myself about why I do what I do.  I wanted it to reflect my commitment to writing as a means of making positive change.

So I called up Vin, founder of Fabler & Design (and my sister). I said, "Hey, do you think you can make me a logo that is beautiful and elegantly captures the theme 'Writing my Resistance'? Oh, and on top of that, can you bring in elements of my Indian identity?"

I was inspired in part by the Shepard Fairey resistance posters that have been everywhere. I love how he has so easily captured patriotism and diversity together. But what he makes look effortless is no easy feat, so I knew that Vin had her work cut out for her.

Her first idea was beautiful, incorporating the Hindu Goddess Saraswati as a muse. Yet I had trouble easily translating it into the theme. We tried adding more elements to make the messaging clearer, but the added complexity was only making it more muddled. We decided to take a step back and try a simpler approach.

The header above is what Vin came up with on the second try. It captures everything I wanted to convey, with elegance and simplicity. I love how fierce the girl looks and how words flow seamlessly out of her head. (I wish my novels came out so easily.) We chose quotes by writers and leaders that honed in on the themes of books as weapons, writing as a means of identity, and the importance of taking a stand.

Take a closer look. I hope it inspires other readers, writers, and dreamers out there. I know it will keep me pushing along on this journey!

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If you like the design and you want to make a change to your own site, please contact Vin at Fabler & Design. Her current pricing for a new custom art logo is only $295, and as you can see, it can transform even a simple blogger account.



Thursday, December 8, 2016

Interview: Creating the Perfect Author Website with Fabler & Design


Hello, friends.  Today I have an interview with Vin from Fabler & Design!  We'll discuss her creative adventures in designing compelling author websites.

What inspired you to open up a business focusing on author websites?   

 A love of books is certainly at its heart. I am so appreciative of the work and care that authors put into the worlds they build. Giving an author’s personal story the same attention through her website design is not only a good use of my design abilities, but is a way to support the writers who make possible the many comforting hours I while away between bookstore stacks.


I also think a website is such an important tool for authors. It is a place where the author gets to fully display her own personality and show the voice that unifies her works. It is a place where fans can connect with the author beyond any one book, and where they can celebrate the love and labor put into the author’s work. Very simply, it is a practical and essential marketing tool.

After an author has expended so much creative energy telling the story in her book, not to mention other marketing and publication tasks, the details of building a unique webspace may, understandably, be overly burdensome. I hope Fabler and Design can help make captivating website designs more accessible, and help build a personalized home for an author’s work.
 
If an author chooses to work with you, can you tell us a little bit about how you will interact with them to make sure they end up with a product they love?

It’s important for me to get to know an author’s goals, tastes and personality to ensure her website shows off her style and fully serves her purposes. We’ll cover a lot of ground before I start designing, thinking about what content the author wants to highlight, viewing samples that will help me understand the author’s aesthetic, and discussing how the author describes her works individually and collectively. Once I have that background, I’ll mock up options that I think meet the author’s individual needs and we will work together from there to make adjustments.

I have noticed how immediately a person responds when they feel connected to something—it is my task to find the visual that creates that sense of connection.  

What are your thoughts for authors working with a strict budget?  How can they maximize their dollars?

* Use classic styles.  
 

 Making sure that your website will last you for a while is a good way to maximize your budget. Using the newest scrolling animation or a very en vogue style can certainly create an exciting webpage, but it may take on a dated feel as technologies progress and tastes reposition. So make sure your site is not too tied to a certain style moment.

That is not to say your website should be devoid of personality in order to be timeless. For example, I really like davidarnoldbooks.com. The approach is simple. His fonts and colors don’t feel tied to any era. Yet notably, his laidback style and a bit of quirk shine through.   






* Don’t tie the site too much to a single publication, but dedicate space to dynamic content.  

It may be tempting to splash your newest release all over your webpage, and it makes sense if you are able to update your site often. However, to avoid reimagining your website with each new release (which might mean a costly large-scale redesign) make sure you design feels connected to your overall writing. This might mean thinking a bit into your future—do you want your website to be tied to any certain genre, or type of protagonist? What do you see unifying the writing you have completed and works yet to come?


At the same time, make sure you design has space that is easy to update with your newest information. This makes your website feel more interactive. It can include spaces for news announcements and blog posts. Or this may be a space on your homepage that you can easily update with the details of your newest book.

Juliemurphywrites.com has a fun take on dynamic content—her photo diary homepage can easily be updated with new photos to keep it feeling fresh and current.  

* Find a picture or image that gives an instant visual of who you are as a writer.
 
This can take different forms for different budgets but having a visual that sets the tone for your writing can have a lot of impact. A visual can create instant mental associations in a way that nothing else will.

If you can find an existing image, you may be able to save some funds. For example, I really like the image that heads mattdelapena.com. It’s a simple image of hooded figure contemplating a stormy ocean, but it fits so well with his turbulent teen tales of introspection.



If you have a little room to commission something custom, it doesn’t have to be complex. For example lizzieskurnickbooks.com uses a styled “LS” as the main visual feature of its homepage. It gives the page personality and sets a light, fun mood. If an author wanted to add a small element such as this to her homepage, I would certainly work with her budget to make sure her website has that little extra personality.  




On the other hand, what would you recommend for an author who is ready to really invest in their site?

* A personalized logo  
 
Even with a more limited set of funds, investing in a logo can create a big impact. A single visual element crafted to showcase your style can tap into memory, recognition, and interest. It gives a reader something specific by which to remember your site. It helps a fan recognize you from one platform to another, when your logo travels from your website to your Twitter feed. And it sparks interest when a reader visits your site, encouraging the reader to continue scrolling and clicking.

A custom logo can also be a positive signal of how much you believe in your writing. It is a confident display of your core voice and a clear investment in your writing.

For example, my latest work, updating priyaardis.com, includes a logo that will last the author for many books to come. It gives a strong and immediate sense of the core of her writing—daring teen heroines whose hints of awkwardness make them more endearing.  

* Discussion pages

Having dedicated fan space will take a bit more time to manage and facilitate, as well as requiring a bit of an additional investment to set up. However, it can create a sense of connection and community that might prove invaluable as you begin marketing new works. Fan space will help readers connect to you, as well as forming connections with fellow readers. It can be a space where your most enthusiastic readers feel a bit special when you share extras, like new tidbits about your characters or story.  

What do you recommend for authors who are intimidated by the technical aspects of operating a website?
 
* Make sure your design allows for easy updating with your newest information.

Earlier I mentioned that you will want to have a space on your website for news, updates and your latest releases. But it’s important that you work with your designer and web developer to make sure there is nothing too complicated about how that information is updated; you will not want to go back to them for each little change and update.

* Updating is easiest using a website builder with drag-and-drop editing. 

User friendly website building does exist! On a website builder, such as wix.com, all content is drag-and-drop. This means you are never viewing any code; and this means that anyone can update the information on the website without having to program the content.

I personally use a website builder for my own website and highly recommend that my clients allow me to build their site on one. It will make futures changes of an image practically a one-button process, and even updates of whole layouts very simple. It eliminates so many of the technical aspects of coded websites. This will save you time, money and anxiety!

* Try a blog page or display your Twitter feed as your homepage.

Blog posts are easy for most people to work with. If you want to continually include new content front and center, using your blog instead of other fixed homepage content, such as used on catherynnemvalente.com, can be an easy way to interact with your site. There are also programs that will automatically display your Twitter or Instagram feeds on your website, so this is also an option that doesn’t require any technical changes to refresh your main display.

What are some author sites you absolutely love, and why?
 
I have mentioned some already, but I also really love annaholmes.com. It’s so clean without being at all stark, and has such simple navigation (it’s actually just one long page). And I can’t help but love her main illustration that shows her feverishly attacking her work.

I also think veronicarothbooks.com is a gorgeous example of a very modern site. She has a little graphic twist on a large hero image as her header. There is a lot of interesting content that flows nicely as you scroll, while her colors and fonts keep everything feeling soft not busy.




How do you work with an author who maybe has a completely different aesthetic than you?

There is always a journey to understanding someone’s tastes, sometimes for the client as well as for me! I think it’s at the foundation of designing—that ability to identify which visuals are creating which responses, and understanding why certain elements work together. In order to understand someone’s style, I think about what she has described as her taste but also spend time dissecting a range of visual samples to which she has positively responded. It is its own puzzle really, understanding the nuances of a specific style. Once I have that understanding, that style gives me a framework to which I add my experience to create something that is true to the author’s personality as well as more broadly pleasing.  

Just for fun, tell us a little bit about your personal tastes. Where do you draw inspiration from?

There is so much design all around us, I actually feel like I can never stop finding new sources of inspiration! Some of my favorite sources are indeed book covers: booknerds like myself certainly spend enough time with them. I am a fangirl for all things Cartoon Saloon, the animation studio responsible for the film Song of the Sea—wow, something that pretty seems like it shouldn’t be possible. Maurice Sendak may be my illustration hero; he spent endless hours just observing kids to understand the quirks of their facial expressions and the little giveways of their joy and pain. Recently I started learning Sumi-e (Japanese brush painting) and I absolutely love its philosophy: finding the essence of your subject to capture it in minimal brushstrokes. Sumi-e teaches us to appreciate the process of creating—it has been such a welcome reminder to find some ease and flow.

Thanks so much for having me on Maya!


fableranddesign.com
Contact Vin: fableranddesign@gmail.com

Friday, June 26, 2015

Which Writing Rules Do You Break?

It seems that I've taken up the Slow Blogging movement.  Ah well, at least I am making progress on my WIP.  Real progress.  Daycare-enhanced progress.

And I've made it breaking many rules.

I've read tons of books and blogs and attended conferences on the craft, and I've learned that no two people do things the same way.  Still, there are these "rules", these myths about writing that keep on spreading, and in a way it hurts us.  Because we feel guilty when we don't follow the rules.  We think we're doing something wrong.

Let me tell you, the greatest writers didn't follow the rules either.

In the tumble of the past few years, where I've had so much trouble completing anything new, I've learned a lot about myself.

Here are a few that I consistently break, and why:

1. Write every day.  Trust me, I'd love to.  But life gets in the way.  It seems like the minute I hit my thirties, crisis after crisis has come my way.  And even where there isn't a big crisis, maybe I just want to spend a Sunday morning with the kiddo instead of writing.  Balance in all things.

2. Write your first draft quickly.  Nope, my first drafts are both slow and terrible.  I can't help it; it's my brainstorming phase.  I figure out the story best via prose, not outlining, but it is messy and it is slow.

3. Write till the end without stopping to revise.  I revise as I go.  The thing about novels is that usually there is a cause & effect for each event.  A leads to B leads to C.  So sometimes it's better to revise A before bothering to write C (since D might happen instead).  When you're running around without an outline, it happens quite often.

4. Blog often, in a predictable routine.  Ha! Maybe someday.

5. Don't let your family read your work.  I know not everyone is lucky enough to have family members who can give a good critique, but I do.  (I have learned that most non-writerly people are not so great at this).

So which rules do you break, and why?

Sunday, February 1, 2015

5 Reasons to Ditch the Outline

While writing by the seat of your pants is generally accepted as a viable method for writers, few people can actually verbalize why outlining just doesn't work for some of us.  Sure, we discovery writers often complain that we lose our creative juices when forced to work with an outline, but that is a vague and unsatisfactory explanation at best.

Story Trumps Structure by Steven James offers a better, more precise explanation, and I highly recommend it to others who want to try discovery writing.

According to Steven James, I'm not the only that comes across these five problems while trying to follow an outline:

1.  Events seem forced because I am following some pre-determined plot points rather than taking my cues from the details of my character, settings, and situation.  What I thought would be logical in the pre-planning stage might not actually be so when I flesh out the world in my draft.

2. Transitions between scenes can turn out weak because instead of writing what follows logically from the previous scene, I'm writing what I dictated in the outline.

3. Narrative weight of subplots is hard to predict until I flesh out the scenes.  It's hard to tell whether a scene will take one page to write or ten pages.

4.  This leads to problems with fulfilling reader expectations.  The more weight or time you spend on an aspect of your novel, the more readers expect that it will payoff in a meaningful way later.  However, at the outlining stage, you're unable to predict what will become important as you write it and to outline the correct payoff.

5. The climax may either feel as if it came from nowhere (because it didn't follow logically from what we know about the character/setting/situation) or it might feel predictable (because it takes time to come up with a truly unexpected yet believable ending and our outlining stage is often much shorter than the writing stage).

Not that discovery writing doesn't have its own pitfalls, such as falling into a rabbit hole you can't navigate your way out of.

What do you think? 

Wednesday, January 14, 2015

On Resolutions and Evaporating Snowflakes

Another January arrives and after we've all finished exclaiming at how 2015 sounds like "the future," we do a little soul searching and try to come up with enthusiastic new year resolutions.  You know, those shiny things that look great in January and then in December half the time we can't remember what they were, and even if we do, we're not quite sure if we accomplished them.

Yes, for many of us, resolutions are made with good intentions but often end up falling by the wayside.  But each new year, we can't resist the sense of optimism that seeps into our skin as we strive to better ourselves.

Many writers will resolve to finally finish that manuscript they've been slaving away on.  Others will resolve to query or self publish or to move onto the next novel.  Still others might decide they need to step back from writing pressures and restore more balance in their lives.

Personally, I'm in multiple camps. I'm on the verge of getting some much needed daycare for my toddler.  It will only be two days a week, but imagine, if you will, the potential productivity of sixteen hours.  Are you grasping my excitement?  However, after some health problems I have also vowed not to put undue pressure on myself and to focus on maintaining myself as well as possible.  Wise people in this industry have said it before: write for yourself first.  That advice will be my mantra going forward...(says January me).

Whatever your aspirations are, there's no shame in taking a moment to take stock and make a resolution or two.  And if they end up evaporating during the year like last December's snowflakes, that doesn't mean they weren't fresh with hope and magic while they lasted.

Happy New Year!




Friday, October 10, 2014

Pantsing on a Leash

Wow! It has been a WHILE since I have blogged.  But this is a good thing; I made a resolution to write more in my WIP and write less on my blog/twitter.  I think my [limited baby's nap] time has been more productive as a result.

But I thought I'd share with you this new thing I'm trying.  I call it "Pantsing on a Leash."

What I've Done in the Past

I've always loved being a "discovery writer" and finding the story and character as I write.  I usually picture a character and situation I find interesting and go from there.  As I write, I figure out things like:

What brought my character to this point in time, this place, and this situation?

What is her underlying hope, the one seated deep beneath whatever is happening on the surface?

What life change is just waiting to happen to her?

As you can tell, I tend to focus on the character more than the plot.  I write and rewrite the first three chapters until I get something I like.  In the past, I've then tried to continue the same approach for the rest of the novel.

Problems with Pantsing the Entire Novel

1. I always, always reach a point at around 10-20K where I start to lose interest, and it is REALLY hard to keep going.

2. When I force myself to continue, most of it is fairly unusable and I end up rewriting completely in the second draft.

Presenting...Pantsing on a Leash

I don't know if it will turn out the way I think but this is what I'm trying.  *Horn intro sounds*

Stage 1: Pantsing/Prewriting stage.  I write my usual 15K, revise, have alpha readers take a look, revise again, to my heart's content.  But I limit this stage to 15K, until I feel confident I have a story and character I understand and am excited to write an entire novel about.

Stage 2: Outlining/Brainstorming.  To keep in the pantsing tradition, the outline is very brief, only 1-2 pages.  The important thing here is to figure out the key plot points.  There are a lot of different ways to enumerate the plot points, but I like Dan Wells' approach to this.

If you're like me, you think an outline will bleed your creativity dry.  But you also have trouble writing focused plots.  I think by pantsing the beginning to your heart's content, you probably know enough about your character to take a stab at figuring out the plot points that will work best for her (and you can always change them).

My goal is to be able to write a first draft that is more focused, but to keep my creativity going by not outlining too deeply.

Stage 3: Draft the Good Parts:  Next, I'll skip to the part I am most interested to write in the outline, and go from there.  This is important because I think the section from 15K to the midpoint tends to be a lot of set up and I get very bored writing it.  Since I have both the outline and a beginning, I have a good idea of what has happened thus far.

Stage 4: Complete the Draft:  Finally, I'll revise the beginning as needed and then write up to the part in Stage 3.  I think the reason we often slump at 15-20K is not because we don't know what will happen in the end, but just because it seems like a huge hill to get there.  By writing the end first, we've given ourselves motivation.  The beauty of this is that we'll often find that we didn't need as much setup as we thought.  I can avoid a saggy middle by hitting plot points faster, and thus improve my pacing.  Yay!

Does it work?

Nobody ever said writing a novel is easy.

The hope here is to find the sweet spot that hits the creative side of discovering the story while still writing a usable draft.  If I end up with a draft that I can revise rather than have to rewrite, I'll consider this a success.

I'll let you all know how it goes.  In the meantime, any other pantsers are given free license to try out my non-patented method.

Happy writing!