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Writing Excuses 7.42: Contemporary YA Fiction

Writing Excuses 7.42: Contemporary YA Fiction

From http://www.writingexcuses.com/2012/10/14/writing-excuses-7-42-contemporary-ya-fiction/

Key points: both fantasy and contemporary fiction require characterization, plot structure, and setting that works. Fantasy adds fantastic elements on top of that. Contemporary adds research and accuracy. Develop the pitch before you write the book. A good pitch has a sharp conflict and provokes lots of questions. Pitch, outline, scenes. Having the pitch first helps focus the writing.

[Mary] Season Seven, Episode 42.
[Brandon] This is Writing Excuses, Contemporary YA Fiction.
[Howard] 15 minutes long.
[Mary] Because you're in a hurry.
[Dan] And we're not that smart.
[Brandon] I'm Brandon.
[Dan] I'm Dan.
[Mary] I'm Mary.
[Howard] I'm Howard.
[Brandon] And today, we have special guest star Janci.
[Janci] Hello.
[Brandon] Say hi, Janci.
[Janci] Hi.

[Brandon] Janci is one of our writer friends and has been a good friend of the podcast and its members for many years. Her first book is coming out tomorrow! So…
[Dan] [singing] Yeah!
[Brandon] So we decided we would have her on.
[Howard] What's it called?
[Janci] Chasing the Skip.
[Brandon] Chasing the Skip. That's right, I keep thinking of it as Skip.
[Janci] I still think of it as Skip, too, but we changed the title because marketing didn't like it, and we want to make marketing happy.
[Howard] Chasing the Skip. I'm completely unfamiliar with it, but the title has my attention.
[Janci] Awesome.

[Mary] I'm just going to point out, we have not said Janci's last name, which would be useful for our viewers… Listeners.
[Brandon] Janci Olds.
[Janci] Patterson!
[Brandon] You're going to go with Patterson? Okay.
[Janci] I'm Patterson. Yes. Janci Patterson.
[Dan] Janci Patterson. And the book is… I was in the writing group for this book, and it's awesome.
[Brandon] I was not in the writing group for this book, but I read this book on tour and it was awesome.
[Janci] And it's even more awesome than that because you all read it before revisions.
[Dan] That's true.

[Brandon] Oh. Well, there we go. So, Janci. This book… When I first met you, you were writing fantasy.
[Janci] And I do still write fantasy.
[Brandon] So this book came… Not… I won't say out of nowhere, because I've known you for so long and I know your interests, but it was a very different book to read and it was fantastic. What made you jump and write a contemporary fiction book rather than a fantasy book?
[Janci] This was… I'm thinking really quick… I believe it was my second contemporary book, so I have written one before. The book started with the idea of I wanted to write about bounty hunters. Because they're really interesting and have a place in our justice system… I had no idea how they worked before I started doing research for the book. It just seemed like this is an exciting part of our culture, it doesn't need any supernatural elements to make it work, and so I just went contemporary with it because it already had the drama inherent in it, and didn't… It didn't need fantastic elements to get a teenager in there and have it be interesting.

[Brandon] Right. I guess we should say what the book's about.
[Laughter]
[Janci] That would probably be a good idea. Ricki's mom abandons her… Ricki is my main character… Her mom abandons her. So she goes to live with her father. He's a bounty hunter. So she's on the road with him in his travel trailer and develops a crush on the guy that he's chasing.
[Brandon] Wow, you've got that down.
[Janci] I wrote the pitch before I wrote the book, so I've been saying that one for a long time.
[Brandon] Wow. It is a really great book. It's like a real bounty hunter, modern day, normal bounty hunter.
[Janci] Working within the law. Yes.
[Brandon] We're not even talking… This is not a thriller or anything like that. This is a… What would you call it? Would you call it a character drama?
[Janci] Mostly. Yeah. I mean, there's some guns and some chases and things…
[Dan] There's some exciting stuff in it, though.
[Janci] But mostly it's about Ricki and her dad and her figuring out what she wants their relationship to be.
[Brandon] Yeah. I mean, it is thrilling. I say it's not a thriller because it's not about a larger-than-life bounty hunter. It's not like…
[Janci] It doesn't have a thriller plot structure at all.
[Brandon] Yeah. You're not going to read this and… This bounty hunter's not going to be sniping for people while break… That's not what this story's about. It's about real life.
[Howard] Well, bounty hunters have a hard time getting paid when people are dead.
[Brandon] Yeah, that's true. Well, if I were going to write about a bounty hunter, they'd just bring in heads. But they have to probably talk, because it would be [inaudible -- laughter]
[Janci] But the goal of an actual bounty hunter is to have as little violence happen as possible because it's safer for them, they have less problems with the law, the idea is to bring people in with as little drama as possible. But since it's a book, we have to put some drama in it anyway.

[Brandon] So how is it different? What are some differences writing… Most of us… I've never written anything truly contemporary. Everything I write has some sort of wacky element in it. I don't know… Have you, Mary? Have you approached…
[Mary] Yeah. I have. But only in short form.
[Brandon] Okay. So what are the differences?
[Janci] The main difference for me is I find fantasy to be much, much harder to write. Because in both, you have to have characterization that works, you have to have plot structure that works, you have to have setting structure that works. Then in fantasy, you have to have fantastic elements on top of it, and manage all of the rules of that, and make it make sense. So to me, a contemporary novel is really just a fantasy novel without that element. Like if you could pull setting out of a book, you pull the fantasy elements out of a book, and you still have to do all of the other things, just as well as you were doing before. So it's kind of like a fantasy novel minus, really. Except that it works just fine. Fantasy elements aren't necessary to make a book function the way setting and character are.

[Howard] From the sounds of things, though, you had to do lots and lots of research into the way bounty hunting actually worked?
[Janci] Yeah. I actually got a textbook. It was written by a guy who's been bounty hunting for many, many years, Bob Burton, and I studied as if I were going to become one. Then I understood how it worked.
[Brandon] Yeah. I would always… When I approach some sort of contemporary concept, I've always left with that thing. The thing that I think is much harder is people can call you on you're making stuff up so much more easily.
[Janci] That's true.
[Brandon] In fantasy, I get to be… Completely control of everything. In fact, the closest thing I've written to contemporary is Legion, which has kind of a half schizophrenic dude. But even that, I made up my own disease and said in the story, "I'm making up my own disease," so I couldn't be told I was doing it wrong.
[Laughter]

[Janci] Well, I did stretch the truth in some places for the sake of the story, because I feel like story is more important than being absolutely true to life. For example, Ian, the boy that Dad is chasing is 17 in the book. I could never confirm if a 17-year-old would be let out on bail and be chased by a bounty hunter. But he needed to be 17, because if he's 18, then Ricki is after him, and she's 15…
[Brandon] Right.
[Janci] There's all sorts of issues.
[Brandon] 17-15 is legal.
[Janci] He needs to be 17. I could never confirm it, but I couldn't prove that it would never happen. So I decided for the sake of the story, we're just going to go with it. If someone calls me on it someday, well, it's a better book because of it. So, oh, well.

[Brandon] Now. Are you going to… You've written two books. You are revising the first… Two books in contemporary. You are revising the first one. Are you going to pursue this? Are you going to be doing… Like… Do you imagine yourself having a career both in contemporary and in fantasy?
[Janci] That is my goal. I want to do a book a year both in fantasy and in contemporary. We're working on that. My agent is working on that.
[Brandon] Are you going to do them under separate names or the same name?
[Janci] I'm going to leave that up to the publisher. That was a recommendation that I had once, and I thought it was good advice. That if my… When I get a fantasy publisher, if they want a different name to separate the brands, that's fine with me. They're both in YA, so they would be shelved together if they're under the same name, and I'm not sure if that… There are pros and cons to that. So I'm going to get some advice from the pros and let them decide.

[Brandon] This takes place in the Denver area?
[Janci] The book begins in Denver. It goes as far as Des Moines because they're on the road.
[Brandon] Okay. How much research did you do there? Did you go drive out there?
[Janci] I've driven most of it, not all of it. My in-laws live in Denver, Ricki is from Utah. So that whole stretch of the road or Wyoming, they drive through there a couple of times, so that, I've driven. I actually wrote down details last time I went through and added them into my setting. I did not drive all the way out to Des Moines, so hopefully it doesn't show.
[Brandon] Okay. Well, there's not a lot there. I'm kind of from that area.
[Janci] I have been through there, but I was much, much younger. It was a long time ago.

[Brandon] All right. Let's go ahead and do our book of the week, which is, not surprisingly, Chasing the Skip by Janci Patterson. This is a fantastic book. We have all loved it. We are pretty sure that there is going to be an audiobook version of it. If there is not, then wait a little while and there will be, because an audiobook is coming. But it should come out tomorrow.
[Howard] Just to demonstrate how well rehearsed and awesome this is, you want to give us the pitch again?
[Janci] Ricki's mom abandons her. She goes to live with her dad, who's a bounty hunter. They're on the road in his travel trailer and Ricki develops a crush on the guy that he's chasing.
[Howard] That's awesome. That's… I… Wow.
[Mary] Yeah.
[Dan] Second-half, let's talk about pitching.
[Howard] All right. Audiblepodcast.… I just wanted to reinforce that for our listeners. Audiblepodcast.com/excuse. You can start a 30 day free trial membership. Assuming there's an audiobook for Chasing the Skip, you can acquire that for free. If there isn't an audiobook yet, and we don't know this for sure, there are plenty of other titles at audible to sate your needs. But none of them would be by Janci, so look for Janci Patterson first.

[Brandon] Yep. We keep stumbling over the… I remember talking to you about this. You chose to use your maiden name.
[Janci] Yes.
[Brandon] I now remember you've chosen that. Was there any discussion about that? Why?
[Janci] I had been networking in the industry for a long time before I got married, so people knew me by that name. Also, it's a better name. Janci Olds just doesn't sound as good as Janci Patterson.

[Brandon] It doesn't. It is a better name. So you said you developed the pitch before you wrote the book?
[Janci] I always do that now. I wrote… The first several books that I wrote, I did not do that. It was actually my first agent… I believe I've talked about that whole story on this podcast before… She really drove in to me how to pitch, taught me how to pitch. After that, I discovered that what was wrong with a lot of my books… I couldn't pitch them, and it was because there was something wrong with the structure of the book itself. It was not pitchable. It was a problem with the book and not my ability to pitch. Now I never write a book I can't pitch because it means the idea is not ready.
[Brandon] Okay. Do you have any books you have pitches on you're working on right now? Like, you have the pitch, you're working on the book, you could tell us?
[Janci] Yeah. The book I'm working on right now is about a girl whose sister has been trying to adopt for a long time, she's infertile, she really, really wants a child, and this is causing all kinds of drama in their family. So my 16-year-old protagonist, Penny, decides she's going to get pregnant so that her sister can have a baby.
[Brandon] Oh...
[Mary] Wow.
[Janci] What a great idea, right?
[Brandon] Your pitches are very good.
[Dan] That's another great pitch. [Garbled -- Holy Cow?]
[Janci] Right now it's first draft, so the pitch is better than the book. By the time the book comes out, it will be better than the pitch.

[Brandon] What is your process for developing pitch to book then?
[Janci] I take the pitch and then I outline from there. So my first step is to say, "Okay..." The pitch will have the conflict in it. That's what makes a good pitch is that it has a sharp conflict. Then I will take that and say, "Okay, where does my character begin?" I will just write a sentence outline. This is where we are, and then what happens next. What does my main character do in relation to the conflict? Then how does that further the conflict? My outline will end up being a page or two pages. Then from there I start writing scenes.
[Mary] I noticed that your pitches don't have the endings in them. Do you know the endings when you come up with the pitches?
[Janci] Not necessarily with the pitch, but by the time I'm done with the outline. So, definitely before I start writing, but not necessarily when I come up with the pitch. The pitch, for me... another attribute, I think, of a good pitch is that it evokes lots of questions. Specific questions, liek with Ricki, it's how is she going to go after this guy, and what's that going to do... how's that going to affect her relationship with Dad, and what's going to happen to her, she's going after a criminal? So for my outline, then, I take all those questions and try to answer them. I try to bring them out in the beginning of the outline, and then answer them by the end. So that the things that I'm... the issues I've brought up in the pitch are actually answered in the book so that it's a satisfying experience for the reader.
[Mary] I am just writing down, "Pitches evoke good questions."
[Brandon] Yeah.
[Dan] That's good stuff.
[Mary] That's like… that's excellent advice.
[Brandon] Yeah. I just started thinking about this story that I'm brainstorming... was brainstoming with you guys. Thinking, "Man, I don't have a pitch for that. I should have a pitch for that. Maybe that story needs... If I had the pitch first, it would help. Maybe I should develop one." This is very good advice.
[Mary] I think that's actually what I'm doing with my thumbnail sketches to some degree.
[Brandon] Oh, yeah. Your thumbnails are pitches. They very much are.

[Janci] I think it also helps with the outline and when I'm writing... When I find something doesn't actually fit under the pitch, if it's not going towards the same themes and conflicts, it doesn't belong and it helps me to weed them out a lot sooner. So I'm not weeding them out in like the third draft after I've refined them. [garbled]
[Howard] Do you ever find yourself in the outlining phase writing something or discovering something about the character that is so cool and so crucial that it modifies the pitch?
[Janci] You know, I never have. Usually, those things are off topic, and I set them aside to use at other times. Sometimes I discover things in writing scenes that modify my outline. But I haven't yet modified my pitch. I think because it's so distilled, that if it doesn't fit under that pitch, it's probably a distraction.
[Howard] It's a different story.

[Brandon] One thing our listeners are very interested in is breaking into the market. You are now the person we know who's done it most recently. Do you... You've heard my story of breaking in a number of times. Did your's differ? How do you feel things are changing now, if they are? Do you feel you have enough experience to talk about that, or...?
[Janci] I'm not sure that... It's hard to compare one experience to another. I mean, there were some differences in mine. I think you met your editor at a con, correct?
[Brandon] Yes, I did.
[Janci] I technically met my agent at a con, but I don't think that was necessarily what made him look at my work. I had networked and had ... hum!... friends at the same agency. Who might that be? So it's different in that way. But I think all experiences are different. I think it's really hard to generalize.
[Brandon] The market is shifting a lot. There's the whole ebook thing. There's self-publishing. There's all of this stuff going on. People are really worried about this. You are publishing with a mainstream traditional publisher?
[Janci] Yes. I'm with Henry Holt.
[Brandon] Why?
[Janci] Why?
[Brandon] People are asking that. Why not do it yourself?
[Janci] For me, I set out 12 years ago to publish a book. I wanted it in a bookstore, I wanted it with a New York publisher. That was my goal. I am really resistant to changing my goals based on passing whim. So I didn't want to change my mind and go with something else when I had been working with this... for this for so long. I am also still convinced that your best bet to make a living is to be with a publisher in New York. It is totally possible to make a living self-publishing. I don't want to... there are many legitimate reasons to self-publish. But I really do... I don't have room in my life for a full-time job and to write. So I felt like I needed to put my chips on the best bet, and I really still feel that that's New York.
[Howard] I'm not familiar enough with the contemporary YA market, but I have this sense that contemporary fiction in general is a larger market than genre fiction.
[Janci] I believe that's true. I'm not sure in YA. My sense is that it's fairly evenly split in YA. But...
[Howard] I mean, that's just wet finger in the air. But my point is that if you are writing genre fiction, self-publishing reaches a small market, but it is a larger percentage of the overall market that's there. Self-publishing in contemporary reaches an even smaller percentage potentially. Again, wet finger in the air.
[Janci] Well, and genre readers tend demographically to be people who are really interested in technology. So they tend to be more early adapters. So self-publishing in genre fiction… My guess would be is probably especially… In science fiction and fantasy is what I mean… Is probably a better idea right now than in contemporary because science fiction and fantasy readers are more likely to have e-readers.

[Brandon] All right. Well. I think we can wrap it here. Janci, do you have a writing prompt that you can give us?
[Janci] I do. Pick a place where teenagers are not typically allowed, like a club or a bar or a military situation, and put a teenager in it.
[Brandon] All right. That's a great prompt.
[Dan] Cool.
[Brandon] This has been Writing Excuses. You're out of excuses, now go write.

[Brandon] Hi, all. This is Brandon. Hope you enjoyed today's episode. I just wanted to give you a special reminder. Audible has my novella Legion up for free in audiobook. So since they're a sponsor of the podcast, I thought I'd give an extra shout out to it. They actually have, if you go to www.audible.com/sanderson they have Legion up there. There's no trial, there's no strings attached, you just get it for free. I hope you guys go give it a listen if you haven't already. You can go to audible.com/sanderson to download it and give it a try.
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