Nathan Bransford, Author

Wednesday, October 31, 2012

NaNoWriMo Resources!

It's Halloween, which means it's NaNoWriMo Eve!

In case you haven't heard of NaNoWriMo (but I'm guessing you have), it is a one month challenge whereby you ignore your friends and family and instead dedicate yourself to the noble pursuit of writing a novel as fast as your fingers and brain will allow. 

It's a fantastic event for beginning and veteran writers alike, and it has inspired quite a few fantastic novels, some of which went on to be bestsellers. This year there's a program specifically geared toward young writers, and the NaNoWriMo org estimates that overall, 250,000 writers will participate. 

Are you going to NaNoWriMo it up? Here are some blog posts that will help get you started:

What Makes a Great Setting
5 Ways to Stay Motivated While Writing a Novel

And here's NaNoWriMo boot camp 2010:
Choosing the Right Idea
Goals and Obstacles
How Do You Power Through?
Editing As You Go

And and don't forget about the discussion forums!! Share your trials, tribulations and victories with your fellow writers. Here's the NaNoWriMo 2012 thread.

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Hurricane Sandy

I did not expect to arrive in New York and be greeted with an October hurricane, but hey, never a dull moment in NYC. The winds were really intense last night but I was fortunate to only lose cable and Internet, which were back up this morning.

In case you need a sense of the scope of the storm effects, this gallery will show you all you need to know.

Thanks very much to the courageous first responders out there, including my friend Daniel José Older, and to everyone who put themselves in harm's way last night to help people out. Now is a great time to consider donating to the Red Cross.

It looks like it's going to be a while before things return to normal, but hope everyone is doing alright out there and thanks for all the well-wishes!

Monday, October 29, 2012

Penguin Random House

It's official - Penguin and Random House are merging their book business into "Penguin Random House."

The initial reaction has focused mainly on the combined power the new behemoth will have to combat Amazon, though surely there are benefits in consolidation as well as the companies wind down print operations in the transition to the e-book era.

For authors, it will be interesting to see whether Penguin and Randon House imprints will continue to bid separately on projects or whether there will be a single house bid. If it's the latter, that will have large implications as competition is reduced.

And, well, I guess this means I'm soon to be a Penguin Random House author.

What do you think of the merge?

Friday, October 26, 2012

This Week in Books 10/25/12

It's been a while since I've done a link roundup, but I'm starting to get settled in New York and hope to begin moving to a slightly more normal schedule. Famous last words! These links may stretch back a while.

Random Penguin? Penguin House? People have long speculated that there would be consolidation in the publishing industry, and now Pearson has confirmed that they are talking consolidation. It will be very interesting to see whether this comes to pass and how it plays out.

Penguin, meanwhile, has been suing authors over non-delivery of manuscripts.

There have been a few articles lately about how the publishingpocalypse has not exactly come to pass, no matter what breathless doomsday predictions you may have heard in the past few years. In The Atlantic, Peter Osnos writes that the industry is adapting well to the e-reader era, and Mike Shatzkin writes that Amazon's publishing wing is not yet a threat to publishers.

Cynthia Leitich Smith has a great post on how authors can prepare for public speaking.

Editor Cheryl Klein writes about how you get a job in publishing.

Book Riot has a great take on Gillian Flynn and Gone Girl, one of my favorite books of the year, writing about how genre fiction sometimes doesn't get the same social commentary cred as more "serious" literary fiction.

Butterfly in the sky, Reading Rainbow is back! This time in app form.

You've probably already read this, tweeted it and had a flame war, but there was quite the controversy a few months back about sockpuppet Amazon reviews and the authors who have used them.

And, of course, rejection bingo! (via The Millions)

Now being discussed in the discussion forums, which you should totally join, which TV shows are you watching?, agents and self-published e-books, where have all the review bloggers gone?, discussing the Casual Vacancy, how many characters do you have?, and prep for NaNoWriMo 2012!

And finally, for all you cooking fans out there, one of my friends has started a really cool site, Cook Smarts, devoted to recipes and learning new techniques in the kitchen. I highly, highly recommend her newsletter, which delivers some awesome recipes straight to your inbox every week.

And finally, finally, Apple released another big player in the e-reader world with the iPad Mini. Here's CNET's first look at the new game-changer (disclosure: CNET is where I work):

Have a great weekend!

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Christine Pride

I often get requests for a good editor to help out at all stages of the manuscript process, so I was extremely excited to learn that Christine Pride is going to start taking on freelance editing projects.

If you haven't heard of Christine, she worked for many years at Random House and most recently at Hyperion, editing eight New York Times bestsellers and working behind-the-scenes on many more. She has a great eye and a wide breadth of experience that spans from novels to memoir to self-help.

She's available for idea development, editing, book doctoring... you name it. I've known Christine for almost ten years, and she's an awesome person in addition to being a talented editor.

Check out Christine's website or contact her at

Monday, October 22, 2012

The Writing Revolution

Can good writing be truly taught? And could it underpin basic academic achievement?

The Atlantic recently delved into a new program that has shown very promising results at a troubled school:
And so the school’s principal, Deirdre DeAngelis, began a detailed investigation into why, ultimately, New Dorp’s students were failing. By 2008, she and her faculty had come to a singular answer: bad writing. Students’ inability to translate thoughts into coherent, well-argued sentences, paragraphs, and essays was severely impeding intellectual growth in many subjects. Consistently, one of the largest differences between failing and successful students was that only the latter could express their thoughts on the page. If nothing else, DeAngelis and her teachers decided, beginning in the fall of 2009, New Dorp students would learn to write well. “When they told me about the writing program,” Monica says, “well, I was skeptical.” With disarming candor, sharp-edged humor, and a shy smile, Monica occupies the middle ground between child and adult—she can be both naive and knowing. “On the other hand, it wasn’t like I had a choice. I go to high school. I figured I’d give it a try.”
The program advocates a very structured style of writing that emphasizes tools over self-expression. 

Could the same be true of fiction? Are there rules and structures that can be as important as sheer creativity? 

Art: Schreibender Knabe by Albert Anker

Thursday, October 18, 2012

Ideas Aren't Sacred

I've long maintained that orginality is at least somewhat overrated. In a world with billions of people, it's very unlikely that you are privy to wholly original idea that no one has ever thought of.

Author Natalie Whipple puts it better than I could:
We writers can be really weird about our ideas. Sometimes we love them like people. Sometimes we doubt them or feel as if they betrayed us...or we betrayed them. We can be wildly possessive over them, and we really want to think that we're the only person EVER to have a certain idea for a story. 
The truth is—other people are going to have your ideas. 
Also, that is OKAY.
And, not only that, it can even be helpful. Authors can sometimes serendipitously tap into a trend started by another author just because they happened to simultaneously be writing something somewhat similar.

Absolutely try to be yourself and put your own unique spin on whatever idea you have, but don't go for broke trying to think of something completely different than anything that has been done before. What's most  important is the originality of your execution.

Art: Archimedes Thoughtful by Domineco Fetti

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

The Way We Learn About Books is Changing

Some interesting data about the changing way in which we hear about books (via Mitchell Waters):
Two years ago, 35% of book purchases were made because readers found out about a book in bricks-and-mortar bookstores, the single-largest site of discovery. This year, that figure has dropped to 17%, a reflection both of the closing of Borders and the rise of e-readers. In the same period, personal recommendations grew the most, to 22% from 14%. Some three-quarters of personal recommendations are made in person, while the rest come by e-mail (8%), phone (7%), Facebook (4%) and other social networks (3%).
That's an incredibly fast change. Just two years ago a plurality of people were hearing about books in bookstores, now that has dropped to half that number.

Is this consistent with your experience? Are you learning about books in new ways?

Art: The Friendly Gossips by Eugene de Blaas

Monday, October 15, 2012

The Strangeness of Re-reading Older Children's Books

In the past year I've gone back and read some older children's books, and I've been struck by how strange they now seem. The magic that made them classics still absolutely remains, but it's striking how much sensibilities have changed.

If you read a thriller published in the '60s or most literary fiction published in the twentieth century, there are certainly elements that may seem dated, but it does not usually feel like a wholly different experience than reading something written today.

And yet I was struck by the very adult perspective in From the Mixed-up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler, and the way A Wrinkle in Time starts slowly before veering into what I now think is a bit of a scattered plot by today's standards.

A few months back in The Atlantic, there was an interesting discussion about adults who re-read The Giver, not even a book that was written that long ago.

Is this just a matter of returning to books with adult perspectives, irreversibly influenced as we are by our experience and the way our outlook has changed? Is it a reflection of the maturation of a genre that is still relatively new compared to most adult genres? Is it the movie-influenced impeccable pacing that has come to dominate modern fiction?

Have you revisited a book you loved as a child and experienced it differently? What do you make of it?

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Writing as Catharsis

A writer wrote to me recently with a really great question. She wants to write a story that draws from a difficult chapter in her life, but wonders if the possible closure is worth the tough memories and negative emotions it will stir up.

In her own words:
I have an idea for a story that I would like to write. However, the story draws on my experiences from a rough time in my past, and I anticipate it could be emotionally draining for me to write this story. But I also feel and perhaps hope that writing about this could help me find some closure for some stuff. Do you advise writing a story that would unleash some tough memories and negative emotions if the end product could be a great novel?
I've made no secret about the fact that I wrote the latter part of Jacob Wonderbar for President of the Universe and all of Jacob Wonderbar and the Interstellar Time Warp while going through the most difficult period of my life. I've blogged previously about how to keep writing when the s*** hits the fan, but there's another component to powering through too, about leaning into those difficult feelings and channeling them into your work.

Naturally, twelve-year-old Jacob Wonderbar does not go through a divorce or anything remotely comparable to anything I experienced considering he hasn't even had his first kiss yet, and he doesn't become a depressed malcontent (nor, thankfully did I).  But as I was writing I nevertheless poured many of the emotions I was feeling into the novel in ways where only I really know they're there. (Well. You know too now that you're reading this).

There's a moment in Jacob Wonderbar and the Interstellar Time Warp where Jacob goes back in time and sees himself, two years younger, just after his father had moved away from home never to be seen again. Twelve-year-old Jacob is struck by how incredibly sad his younger self looks, and he wants to go reassure him that things will get better and that he has a lot to look forward to.

There was a lot of me in that scene. Even in the course of writing a wacky space adventure, I was still channeling myself into the novel. We all do, whether we're writing precisely about what we've gone through or not.

I think there is incredible power in revisiting the painful moments in our past and getting them onto paper, some way, somehow. When I was going through my divorce everyone under the sun encouraged me to keep a journal to get my thoughts out, and I resisted for the longest time. I was spending all of my free time writing Jacob Wonderbar, the last thing I wanted to do was write still more on top of that.

But when I finally took it up for a brief time I was struck by how powerful it is. There's just something about getting those thoughts out of your head and onto a piece of paper that clarifies, expels, soothes, and calms.

There's some science to this too. There are scientists out there who see some benefit in the painful bout of mind-spinning that can follow a traumatic event: 
Andrews and Thomson see depression as a way of bolstering our feeble analytical skills, making it easier to pay continuous attention to a difficult dilemma. The downcast mood and activation of the VLPFC are part of a “coordinated system” that, Andrews and Thomson say, exists “for the specific purpose of effectively analyzing the complex life problem that triggered the depression.” If depression didn’t exist — if we didn’t react to stress and trauma with endless ruminations — then we would be less likely to solve our predicaments. Wisdom isn’t cheap, and we pay for it with pain.
Writing is a way of channeling and focusing this rumination in the way that organizes your complex thoughts and channels them into order and a narrative. By taking these feelings and forcing them to make sense on the page, we are also identifying, describing, and understanding the things that are causing us pain.

Now, that's not to say that diving into a dark pool doesn't have its consequences, and if you feel yourself getting pulled under you absolutely need to reach for a life preserver or get out of the pool.

But I tend to think that this is one of the most important reasons to write. No matter what genre we're writing in, whether we're writing raw memoir or wacky kids adventures, we're ultimately trying to make sense of the world and of ourselves.

Art: La Bohémienne endormie by Henri Rousseau

Thursday, October 4, 2012

Two-step E-mail Verification

Do you use Gmail?

If yes, please, please do yourself a favor and turn on two-step verification. It will make it extremely, extremely difficult for someone to hack into your e-mail.

Here's what it is: After you turn it on and you enter your phone number you'll receive a text with an extra code before you log in to your e-mail. It's easy to get your devices set up so you don't have to do it over and over, and only slightly annoying when you are logging on to a device you don't normally use.

The advantage? Even if someone has stolen your password they still can't access your e-mail.

Do it. And don't take my word for it, check out this awesome explanation by James Fallows.

Here's how to do it (disclosure: link is to CNET, I work there).

Tuesday, October 2, 2012

Empathizing With Literary Agents

Michael Bourne, tired of having his novel rejected without knowing why, interviewed literary agents to find out what their job is like and arrived at a newfound empathy for them:
They are called literary agents, and if you are a writer with one or more unpublished books on your hard drive you have probably received a terse note from several dozen of them telling you that your novel is “not a right fit” for their agency at this time. In that moment you tore open that thin self-addressed envelope or read the two-line return email, you probably hated them. Not just that one agent, but all literary agents, as a class. How could they not see the brilliance in your manuscript? How could they possibly guess at the quality of your manuscript based on a one-page letter and a synopsis? And what the hell does “not a right fit” mean, anyway? Is that even grammatical English? 
This is a perfectly natural and human response. It hurts to be rejected, and it hurts even more when you walk into a real bookstore, one with chirpy sales clerks and splashy book covers, and see truly godawful books by authors represented by some of these very same agents. But as natural as that rage might be, as satisfying as it is to rant to your friends or online about the idiocy of the people in mainstream publishing, this anger is misplaced. There are good literary agents and bad ones – the gap between the two is huge – but literary agents are only middlemen navigating the rough seas between the swarms of unpublished writers and an ever-diminishing readership for literary fiction.
Check out the whole thing. I don't agree quite as strongly with the necessity of being totally plugged into publishing culture, but I do embrace the idea that ultimately writers should seize as much responsibility for their own destiny as they can.

Art: Portrait of Alexander Benua by Lev Bakst

Monday, October 1, 2012

It's Not Necessary to Write Every Day

One of the most common writing myths out there is the idea that you have to write every single day in order to be a writer.

Some people totally do this, and more power to them. They set word count goals, they wake up early or stay up late, they bend schedules to make sure they're getting some words down every single day.

Not me. Barring catastrophic deadlines I only write my novels on the weekend, and the vast majority of my blog posts too. And I know I'm not alone. Not all the writers out there are beholden to a routine or a schedule.

I worry that this myth intimidates people who would otherwise excel at writing from pursuing their writing dreams. Every single day is a major, major commitment, and not everyone could or even should do it. Sometimes your brain needs a break to unlock a problem or maybe you just have a different rhythm.

So don't fret if you are a somewhat sporadic writer. As long as your productivity remains high whatever your schedule you'll be just fine.

Art: Les raboteurs de parquet by Gustave Caillebotte

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