Nathan Bransford, Author


Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Charlie and the Chocolate Factory at fifty



Happy fiftieth birthday to Roald Dahl's Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, which was originally published in 1964. To celebrate, Penguin has a new paperback edition plus a golden ticket sweepstakes.

It's hard to imagine a book that was more influential for me than Charlie and the Chocolate Factory and all of Roald Dahl's books for that matter, which were so powerful with their combination of humor, heart, but with a very sinister underpinning that perfectly captures what it's like to be 10-12 years old. The world at the age is amazing and funny and wondrous, but also a little scary.

Happy birthday to one of the greatest children's books of all time. While many people's memories of the book are shaped by the equally indelible film version Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory (and to a lesser extent the Johnny Depp/Tim Burton version), some of us remember that Veruca Salt wanted a squirrel and not a golden goose, Mike Teavee was overly stretched to ten feet tall, and a vermicious knid is an alien, not a dangerous creature on Loopaland.

What's your memory of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory?






Monday, July 21, 2014

Advice for young writers


I often receive e-mails from young writers in high school and even younger, and I'm always so impressed with them and even a little bit jealous. I had no idea I wanted to be a writer when I was in high school and I rue all those years I could have spent honing my craft. And even if I had known I wanted to be a writer, I didn't have the Internet to reach out to other authors and learn more about what it takes to write a novel.

These young people are getting such a head start on their careers, and I can't wait to see the incredible books they produce.

There's a long tradition of writers offering advice to young writers, perhaps none greater than Rainer Maria Rilke's Letters to a Young Poet. I can't top that, but here's my own modest contribution to the genre.

Here's my advice for young writers:

Don't write for the writer you are now. Write for the writer you're going to become.

Writers aren't born, they are made. It takes most writers years and years to hone their craft, and it's helpful to have had years and years of reading experience now. By the time you've reached high school you have lived enough to have tasted the world and it may feel like you're ready to channel it all into a novel, but don't expect that your writerly success will come immediately.

Yes, there are occasional wunderkinds that defy this rule. But even S.E. Hinton, who published The Outsiders when she was sixteen, had already written several novels before that one.

Within the publishing industry, you won't be judged based on your age, you'll be judged against other writers who have spent years and even decades writing. Being good for your age isn't enough. You have to be good period, and it's difficult to achieve that level with limited experience.

Don't judge your writing success by whether you're able to find publication immediately. Instead, write to get better, write for catharsis and practice and fun. Your future self will be thankful for the time well spent.

Create the world you want, but don't leave the one you're in.

Teenage years can be incredibly difficult. You might feel trapped by parents, peers, or a school that doesn't understand you or even mistreats you. You have limited control over your life even as you're old enough to grasp that there is something more out there, if only you were allowed to go and get it.

Writing can be an incredible release. It gives you the ability to create a world that's better than the one you're living in. It gives you the power you don't have in your day-to-day life.

Use it well. But don't disengage with the world you're living in. Writing can feel like a substitute for real life, but it's important to find people in the real one who you can talk to, whether that's friends, a teacher, or fellow writers. Don't let your characters be a substitute for real-world relationships.

Don't be afraid to imitate at first.

Nearly every writer who starts out can see the fingerprints of their favorite writers in their work. This is normal.

Don't be alarmed if you feel like you're writing someone else's book at first. Push forward. Keep writing. Even take up fan fiction if you want to.

It takes time to learn how to craft a plot, to write sophisticated dialogue, to infuse your work with emotional depth. It takes many writers years to hone these skills.

One thing you can do in the meantime is to find your voice. Write, write, and write some more. In the beginning your work might sound like someone else. But eventually you'll make it your own.

Don't ever apologize for being a writer.

Adults often underestimate teenagers. They treat them as if they are still children, when it's not true, and they may not think you're capable of being a great writer when you absolutely are. Or, possibly worse, they might try to indulge you and be overly enthusiastic, when you know they secretly are not taking you seriously and think your writing is a phase you're going to grow out of.

Your writing is worthwhile. Your writing is important. Don't let anyone tell you any differently.

There are a lot of people in life who never try to achieve their dreams. They would rather sit back and be a critic than an artist, because it's easier to see what's wrong with someone else's work than to create your own. There will always be naysayers. But...

Writers write.

So go for it. There is a whole world waiting for you to bring it to fruition.

Art: Schreiben der Knabe by Albert Anker






Friday, July 18, 2014

The Past Few Week in Books 7/18/14

Photo by me. I'm on Instagram here.
Okay so this is more like the last few months in books because I have fallen down on the job like


but never fear! We have some terrific links for you!

Let's get to it.

Some big news today as Amazon officially rolled out its rumored $9.99 Kindle Unlimited subscription plan. Is this the long-awaited "Netflix of books?"

This was one of my favorite Buzzfeed features in a long time: the book covers of 90s book title mashups (like The Little Prince of Bel Air).

Which rappers are more verbose than Shakespeare, and which... uh, aren't? This chart is awesome. The Wu Tang Clan can hold their craniums high.

It's really important to revise your novel. But when is enough enough? Here are some red flags that you might have revisionitis.

Exposition is so tricky to handle deftly. Writer Jennifer Hubbard talks about the most important part of getting it right: Dole out only the information you need to understand what's happening now.

Nathan Bransford catnip: 4 tips on creativity from the creator of Calvin and Hobbes.

In other Bill Watterson news, OMG new Bill Watterson comic.

Do you have a self-published masterpiece? If so the Guardian wants you to submit it for review. They're choosing one self-published book to be featured each month.

Penguin Random House unveiled their new logo, disappointing everyone who hoped it would be a penguin standing in front of a house. Here is what they come up with instead:



Agent Kristin Nelson has an important reminder for all authors: read your contracts.

19 rare recordings of famous authors.

Jason Song has an interesting article about authors who are turning to young adult fiction.

Tony Horwitz wrote about the travails of being a digital bestseller.

Charlie Jane Anders has a tip for cutting down your novel: outline outline outline.

And finally, friend-of-the-blog Tony Schmiesing is a quadrupalegic skiier whose quest to ski Alaska is truly, truly inspiring:


The Edge of Impossible with Tony Schmiesing from HighFivesFoundation on Vimeo.

Have a great weekend!






Tuesday, July 15, 2014

ComicCon!


I'm thrilled to be headed back to San Diego in a few weeks for the insanity otherwise known as ComicCon, and I will be participating in two terrific panels!

On Saturday at 6pm, I will be moderating a panel called "Publishing 360: Building a Bestseller," in which we will talk about the different facets of producing a bestseller, from idea to novel to agent to editor to publication. That one will feature Maze Runner author James Dashner and Beautiful Bastard author Christina Lauren, along with their respective agents, Michael Bourret and Holly Root, and their respective editors, Krista Marino and Adam Wilson, and S&S associate director of publicity Kristin Dwyer.

And on Sunday at 1pm, for the fourth consecutive year I'll be moderating What's Hot in Young Adult Fiction, featuring Kresley Cole (The Arcana Chronicles), Kami Garcia (Unbreakable), Tessa Gratton (United States of Asgard series), Tahereh Mafi (The Shatter Me series), Natalie Parker (Beware the Wild), CJ Redwine (The Defiance series), Brendan Reichs (The Virals series), Margaret Stohl (The Icons series), and Scott Westerfeld (Afterworlds).

See you there!






Monday, July 14, 2014

The real solution to Amazon vs. Hachette


Unless you've been living deep in the Amazon (the rainforest, not the retail giant), you have probably heard... and heard... and heard... about Amazon vs. Hachette.

There have been op-eds. Stephen Colbert rants. Letters from angry authors. Counter-letters from angry authors.

You should be rooting for Amazon, says some. No, you should be rooting for Hachette, says others.

At this point, I agree with Evil Wylie:
(But apparently, I do not agree enough to refrain from writing my own blog post about it.)

In case you need a primer, Amazon and Hachette are squaring off over e-book prices. In order to increase their negotiating leverage, Amazon is trying to squeeze Hachette by removing pre-orders for their books and otherwise making them more difficult to procure. This has dragged on for nearly two months, and in order to help quell complaints that it is harming authors, Amazon recently announced a plan to pay authors in full during the dispute, an offer the Authors Guild called "highly disingenuous." (Here's more background from David Streitfeld).

What I find most amazing about this dispute is the extent to which it is a Rorschach Test for your views on the publishing industry writ large. The predictable traditional publishing industry defenders have come out in force against Amazon, and the predictable anti-traditional publishing industry forces (especially certain vocal segments of the self-publishing community) have come out in full-throated Amazonian defense.

Call me crazy, (and yes, I'm not directly affected by this dispute), but I'm not endlessly titillated by the sharp-elbowed negotiations of two massive multinational corporations who are both fighting for their respective financial interests.

Nor do I see it as a referendum on the future of literary culture, which has been on the verge of the apocalypse for the past five hundred years without said apocalypse ever coming to pass.

Instead, I see this as a wakeup call for authors to think about what it is they're actually arguing about.

Here's the thing, authors. Amazon is not your best friend. Amazon is looking out for Amazon.

Hachette is not your best friend, either. Hachette is looking out for Hachette.

Inasmuch as your interests coincide with Amazon and Hachette, they are more than happy to be your friend. And there are great people who work at both companies. But when your interests diverge with theirs and they want to maximize revenue and are able to extract more from you because they've increased their leverage, whose side do you think they're going to choose? Yours or theirs?

Do you endlessly trust Amazon to protect author's interests after they've thoroughly cemented their position as the primary game in town? Are you really happy with the digital royalty traditional publishers are paying?

So where is the for-authors-by-authors publishing option? How about a partnership with the indie bookselling community to create the literary culture we really want instead of hoping that huge corporations are going to come to our rescue? How about instead of picking which intermediary we like better we disintermediate and build a J.K. Rowling-esque option that truly goes directly from author to readers?

Yes yes, easier said than done and someone has to pick up the mantle and do it. I'm, uh, busy with writing and stuff.

But at the very least, count me out of the letters and counter-letters and the flame wars and the bile. Rather than authors fighting it out we should be working together to create something better.

Art: Symposium by Akseli Gallen-Kallela






Wednesday, June 25, 2014

Are you optimistic about the future of books?


Something strange has been happening lately: not many of my friends are reading books.

It has happened gradually, almost imperceptibly, but the number of my friends who are reading is on the decline.

Some of this may be my age. Now that I'm approaching my mid thirties, a lot of my friends are in baby zone and are using their rare spare time to sleep.

But a lot of people I know have switched to reading more articles, they binge watch Netflix in their free time, and even smart thinking people don't feel the need to be catching up with the latest hot novel.

I have been optimistic about books for a long time. And I don't see reason to change my tune.

But sometimes... I wonder. With tablets and electronics everywhere, with the Internet evermore at our fingertips... will people still read books like they used to? Will our attention spans survive?

I hope they will. I love movies, I love video games, I love television, but nothing can compare to the emotional depth of reading a book.

No movie can give us the last page of The Great Gatsby. No actual video game is as fun as
reading Ready Player One. The TV version of Game of Thrones is a lot of fun, but the longer it goes on the larger the books loom.

You know this. I know this. But are people going to keep reading?

What say you?

Art: A Favourite Author by Poul Friis Nybo






Monday, June 23, 2014

Page critique: Don't overdo it


Page critiques are back!

If you would like to nominate your page for a future page critique, please enter it in this thread in the Forums. I also am offering private critiques and consultations.

First I present the page without comment, then I'll offer my thoughts and a redline. If you choose to offer up your own thoughts, please be exceedingly polite and remember the sandwich rule: Positive, constructive advice, positive.

Random numbers were generated, and thanks to sherifredricks, whose page is below:
Screams of the terrified echoed through the corridors of Rhycious's mind. Shouts from warriors and cries of agony ebbed away as the pounding of his heart crescendoed in ritardando. 
He gripped the rough hewn table in front of him with both hands, forcing himself to concentrate on the picturesque view of the Boronda Forest beyond the kitchen window. Bloody fallen soldiers lay scattered in his reminiscence like the deadfall they were. He and his team of medics couldn't keep up with the gruesome carnage. Body parts flung high in the trees, left to hang, picked clean by scavengers.  
Rhy shook his head and blew a hard breath. Night had fallen hours ago and no Wood Nymphs attacked his fellow herdsmen. No war existed between the races any longer.  
He was safe from the horrific scenes his memory served.  
Sweat dampened his forehead and Rhycious fought the flashback's tidal wave with even, regulated breaths. Gritted teeth unclenched, one facial muscle at a time, his back straightened with determination, vertebrae by vertebrae. He hadn't started the battle that lasted nearly two centuries, but the clashing races damn well made it his emotional baggage.  
He relaxed the anchored grasp of one hand and raised his wrist to see the time. The tremor in his arm caused the digital numbers to dance before his eyes. Pan, help me. The god who reigned over terror and panic must be having a good laugh on his account.
This author can clearly write. But sometimes, even when we sense that we can write well, that can feel like it's not enough. It feels like you should push yourself toward originality with your prose. And that's great. But it's so important not to push yourself too far.

One of the biggest writerly pitfalls is to try to say something simple in a convoluted way. It's one thing to stretch your prose when you're trying to grasp at elucidating a complicated concept. But when you're taking something relatively simple and trying to say it in an unordinary way it can confuse the reader and take them out of the story.

In this case, when the verbiage is pared back you can really see how the story takes shape:
Terrified screams of the terrified echoed through the corridors of Rhycious's mind. Shouts from warriors and cries of agony ebbed away. The pounding of his heart crescendoed in ritardando
He gripped the rough hewn table in front of him with both hands, forcing himself to concentrate on the picturesque view [describe what this view literally looks like] of the Boronda Forest beyond the kitchen window. Bloody fallen soldiers lay scattered in his reminiscenc memories like the deadfall they were. He and His team of medics couldn't keep up with the gruesome carnage. Body parts flung high in the trees, left to hang, picked clean by scavengers.  
Rhy shook his head and blew a hard breath. Night had fallen hours ago and no Wood Nymphs attacked his fellow herdsmen. No war existed between the races any longer.  
He was safe from the horrific scenes of his memory served.  
Sweat dampened his forehead and Rhycious fought the flashback's tidal wave with even, regulated breaths. Gritted teeth unclenched, one facial muscle at a time, he his back straightened his back with determination, vertebrae by vertebrae. He hadn't started the battle that lasted nearly two centuries, but the clashing races damn well made it his emotional baggage ["emotional baggage" feels out of place in this world].  
He relaxed the anchored grasp of one his hand and raised his wrist to see the time. The tremor in his arm caused the digital numbers to dance before his eyes. Pan, help me. The god who reigned over terror and panic must be having a good laugh on his account.
There is a good moment happening here. The writing doesn't have to work too hard to bring it out.

 Art: Dempsey and Firpo by George Bellows






Monday, June 16, 2014

How do you know when to give up on a project?


We've all been there.

Whether it's a heady ten page burst that we realize is terrible the next day or an agonizing decision to put a novel in the draw after years of work, every writer has to give up on some projects. The reasons vary, the amount of pain differs, but we all have to decide that enough is enough.

But how do you know when you've reached that point?

Or, as longtime reader Collin Myers puts it:
I just wonder, at what point do you have to kind of sit back and say, "This isn't going to work. It's not going to turn out the way you envisioned it."
Have you reached this point with a project? How did you know? Did you ever end up regretting turning back?

Art: Jeune homme à la fenêtre by Gustave Caillebotte






Wednesday, June 4, 2014

Do you talk about your characters as if they're real people?


I'm probably in the minority on this one. 

Sometimes writers talk about their characters as if they're real people. And I don't mean as in, "So and so did such and such," I mean, they talk about their characters as if they are people with their own agency that the author has little control over.

You'll hear things like, "I had big plans for what was going to happen, but then my character Suzy had other ideas!" or "Every time I sat down to write my novel, Suzy just made me take her to the craziest places."

On the one hand, I get it. It can be sort of strange to write a character whose internal logic you learn to obey. You might plan your novel ahead, but when you actually get down to writing it, you know your character's motivations so well you realize your previous plans don't make sense. It can feel like a character is gradually gaining control over your novel.

On the other hand, who is writing this novel?? Who are these characters that are outside of these writers' head and outside of their control? 

Confession: it kiiiiiiiiiiiind of weirds me out. 

Am I alone on this one or are there others out there like me? 

Art: An Eunuch's Dream by Jean-Jules-Antoine Lecomte du Nouÿ






Monday, June 2, 2014

It's better to be a good storyteller than overly realistic


One of the things I struggled with the most as a young writer was trying to balance creating realistic characters with being a good storyteller.

Here's what I mean. Let's say I was writing a novel where there's a strange but everyday fact of life for the characters in that world, like, instead of air everyone breathes tomato soup. (Bizarre, but yum.)

Since breathing tomato soup is so ordinary to the people in the novel and they can't imagine a world in which they don't breathe tomato soup, it would seem really unrealistic for them to sit around talking about breathing tomato soup. We don't sit around talking about air and explain to each other how it came to be. So why would the characters explain it?

And it may seem awkward and contrary to the flow of the novel to just come out with the explanation explicitly.

Then you go and end up writing a novel where breathing tomato soup is totally unexplained and the reader is completely frustrated and distracted, thinking, "Why in the WORLD are they breathing tomato soup and why is no one explaining it to me???"

This is what I realized earlier in my writing days:

You are not writing for the people in the world of your novel. 

You are writing for the people in OUR world, as in planet Earth, as in a place where we breathe air and need anything different than that explained to us. Always. Always. Always.

No matter where your novel is set, pretend that the narrator has been magically transplanted to Earth and is telling it to us in 2014. They might use their own language to tell it, but they still are giving an Earthling reader in 2014 enough to go on to understand all the eccentricities of their world.

Now, as you are doing that explaining to Earthlings in 2014, this does not mean that two characters should sit around talking about things that would otherwise be ordinary to them. A better approach is to weave exposition in naturally within the context of the narrative and only when the reader needs to know the information because it relates to the plot (I talk a lot more about how to weave in exposition in my guide to writing a novel).

At the end of the day, it's much more important to tell a good story than to stick too closely to what's real. I mean, if a reader were solely interested in reality they wouldn't be reading a novel.

Now if you'll excuse me, I'm going to go make a grilled cheese sandwich.

Art: Camille au Métier by Claude Monet






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