Secrets in Storytelling

I am a huge fan of secrets in storytelling. Recently, while struggling with the best way to conceal (and subsequently reveal) one in a project of my own, I decided to escape to the cinema.

Best. Decision. Ever.

What I saw was the gorgeous 2017 (US release) François Ozon film, FRANTZ.

During the film itself, I simply sat captivated. Like most books I read, this was a historical, set in Germany and France after the Great War, and it had a bit of everything I love–mystery, tragedy, even a hint of romance. And then came the film’s secret: that glorious midpoint where everything you thought you knew about French veteran, Adrien, is flipped on its head. Aaaaaah. Though some viewers might guess the secret, the distraction of what you’re led to believe it is offers an impressive surprise when it’s revealed.  Its placement at the midpoint turns a very good film into a fantastic one.

And this is what a well-placed secret in storytelling can do for you.

How do I know this? Because during the credits, I learned that FRANZ is based on a 1932 film, BROKEN LULLABY, directed by Ernst Lubitsch.

Luckily for me, my dad is a classic film buff, and he happened to have the original Lubitsch film on hand. Lubitsch is a fantastic director, and BROKEN LULLABY is a very good film. But the biggest difference between it and FRANTZ is that here, the secret is laid out in the very first scene.  It’s still tense; it’s still traumatic for the characters. But the viewers here are *in* on the secret rather than surprised by it as they are in FRANTZ. This reminded me of feedback my critique partner, Michelle, once gave me on one of my projects that:

[…] you can choose to write it as surprising the reader or surprising the characters, and either can be done in a way that would make the reader go, “Wow, that was so well-done!”

This couldn’t be truer. It’s all up to you as the writer in the end, and sometimes getting the secret out on the first page is the right thing to do. But just remember that it might also be helpful to hold on to that secret for a little longer. Either way, best of luck with all your secrets!

National Poetry Month Kickoff

Happy National Poetry Month! (Or almost, since it’s just a few days away now.) I’ve always found it so fitting that NPM falls in April, when much of the northern hemisphere is transitioning into spring, our heads filling with poetic thoughts. Everything is new, reborn, fresh! Therefore, my plans to celebrate this month include:

  • much frolicking out of doors
  • enjoying some sunlight at my desk and experimenting with some new-to-me forms of poetry (a series of my blank verse poems have been published here, but there is still much to explore)
  • reading a poetry craft book (on deck: THE CRAFTY POET by Diane Lockward)
  • reading more poetry and verse novels (recent reads include THE PRINCESS SAVES HERSELF IN THIS ONE by Amanda Lovelace, MILK AND HONEY by Rupi Kaur, RONIT & JAMIL by Pam Laskin, and STONE MIRRORS by Jeannine Atkins)
  • peeking at the entries to our YA #FindingHome poetry contest at YARN
  • continue working on my own verse novel projects (yes, they have multiplied and are now plural!)

While I hope many poets out there are writing, reading, and entering our contest at YARN this month, I’m curious how else everyone is celebrating. Any big poetic plans? Please do share!

Favorite Books from 2016

Time for a rundown of my favorite books from 2016! This was a crappy year for lots of reasons (*cough* election *cough*), meaning it was an especially lovely year to hide in a book. Out of the eighty books I read this year, it’s probably not surprising that eight of my top ten picks are historical, since that’s my favorite genre, and nine out of ten are young adult, since that’s what I mostly read, but I’ve also got a couple of additional picks that really blew me away.

  1. SALT TO THE SEA by Ruta Sepetys (YA historical). This one comes  a photo of me with the author right after she signed my copy of her book. This WWII historical with multiple points of view is most definitely a must-read! kipandruta
  2. OUT OF DARKNESS by Ashley Hope Pérez (YA historical). This book absolutely wrecked me (and I mean that in the most positive way). Anyone who knows me knows I love tragic reads, and this story about a 1937 school explosion in Texas couldn’t be more compelling.
  3. BURN BABY BURN by Meg Medina (YA historical). I wasn’t convinced this story would be for me, since it’s closer to present day (1977), but the details absolutely captured me in the time and place. I absolutely loved Nora and couldn’t turn pages fast enough as the summer of Sam heated up.
  4. OUTRUN THE MOON by Stacey Lee (YA historical). This story takes place in San Francisco in 1906, so the danger to Mercy Wong and everyone she holds dear is evident from the very beginning. Such lovely details and gorgeous writing!
  5. THE PASSION OF DOLSSA by Julie Berry (YA historical). This is one of the voice-iest historicals I’ve ever read, with multiple points of view sharing an amazingly well-researched story.
  6. AUDACITY by Melanie Crowder (YA historical in verse). Clara’s story as an immigrant at the turn of the last century grabbed me right from the start in this stunning verse novel. Such compelling images throughout!
  7. TO STAY ALIVE by Skila Brown (YA historical in verse). If you think you know the story of the Donner party, think again. Though I knew what was sure to happen in the end, I simply couldn’t put this book down.
  8. WHEN THE MOON WAS OURS by Anna-Marie McLemore (YA magical realism). This book is about a boy born as a girl and the girl reborn from the water who loves him, and it is absolutely magical. Each line of the story of Sam and Miel’s romance sings.
  9. GEORGIA PEACHES AND OTHER FORBIDDEN FRUIT by Jaye Robin Brown (YA contemporary). Even if you don’t read a lot of contemporary, do yourself a favor and pick up this lovely story about a queer teen who has to hide who she is as she navigates faith, friendship, and romance.
  10. THE GUSTAV SONATA by Rose Tremain (Adult historical). One of the reasons I loved this book is because of its similarities to Thomas Mann’s THE MAGIC MOUNTAIN, but I also adored the glimpse into post-WWII Switzerland, along with the very fine line between deep friendship and true love.

As a bonus, I was lucky enough to read an ARC of THE GENTLEMAN’S GUIDE TO VICE AND VIRTUE (YA historical by Mackenzie Lee), and I simply cannot recommend this book enough! It releases in June, 2017, so get it on your radar now!

So … what were your favorites? Any great historicals I missed?

We Will Not Be Silent

After a polarizing election that’s left this country divided and now fills many of our citizens with sadness and fear, one line from Secretary Clinton’s concession speech still manages to bring tears to my eyes: “This loss hurts, but please never stop believing that fighting for what’s right is worth it.”

The election loss did hurt. It hurt me and millions of others who voted for Clinton, believing that she is the best person to lead our country forward, especially when compared with the alternative. But Clinton fan or no, I hope fighting for what’s right is something all Americans can agree on. Even if you didn’t vote for Clinton, you can still fight for what’s right. And there’s plenty of fighting to be done.

In the few days since the election, hate crimes are already on the rise. Several friends have posted photos of swastikas and other hateful messages in their towns or even in front of their houses.

While this appalls and saddens me, I have to recognize my own position of privilege. I’m not a member of a marginalized group, so I can’t personally speak on how it must feel to be the victim of such attacks. However, I’m not about to sit by and let it become commonplace. This is not commonplace! This is reprehensible!

We must condemn this kind of behavior. Silence leads to indifference, and we cannot allow ourselves to become indifferent. As a non-marginalized person, I want to use my privilege for good. We must report such crimes. Speak out against these acts. Stand by the innocent victims, who deserve our full protection. In the words of the White Rose:

We will not be silent. We are your bad conscience. The White Rose will not leave you in peace!

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PitchWars Wishlist

PitchWars-LogoHello, Pitchwars hopefuls! I’m posting my PitchWars wishlist in the hopes that I’ll get lucky enough to be able to work with someone on something so lyrical and unique that it transports me to another time and place before breaking my heart and (possibly) putting it back together. But before going on about my wishlist, a little bit about me:

kip_avatarBio: Kip Wilson Rechea is a young adult writer represented by Roseanne Wells of Jennifer De Chiara Literary Agency. She has a Ph.D. in German Literature and is the Poetry Editor at Young Adult Review Network, publishing new teen poets along with superstars like Jacqueline Woodson. She lives in Boston, spends a lot of time in Spain, and has lived in both Germany and Austria.

As far as PitchWars goes, I absolutely love this contest. I was a mentee myself in 2014, and I can’t recommend it enough (evidence: my letter to the 2015 mentees). I’m still in awe of my amazing mentor, Sarah Guillory, who helped me tear apart my manuscript that landed me my agent (read my journey about connecting with Roseanne here), and I’m still in contact almost daily with my fellow mentees, many of whom are mentors this year.

I’ve been with my critique group for about ten years and with some of my other favorite critique partners and beta readers for several years, too. I’ve been so proud to see many of their books come out and land on my shelves, so here’s a quick sampling of some of the books I had the privilege of reading as manuscripts:

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As far as mentoring goes, I couldn’t be happier to be on board. I’m a YA mentor, and I’ll start off by listing the three top things I’m looking for in a YA project. If your manuscript falls under even one of these, I would absolutely love to see it. If you story falls under two, even better, and if it falls under all three, what are you waiting for?

  1. Historical fiction. I write YA historical fiction myself and read oodles of it. Recent favorites include OUT OF DARKNESS by Ashley Hope Pérez, SALT TO THE SEA by Ruta Sepetys, and BELLE EPOQUE by Elizabeth Ross. My favorite era is twentieth century, but I am most definitely interested in others. For instance, I absolutely loved UNDER A PAINTED SKY by Stacey Lee and COPPER SUN by Sharon Draper.
  2. Novels set in another country or with main characters from other countries. Bonus points for characters who speak other languages. Some of my favorites include THE WEIGHT OF FEATHERS by Anna-Marie McLemore and THE GIRL WITH BORROWED WINGS by Rinsai Rosetti. Both of these are magical, delicious books that absolutely stole my heart. Light-hearted contemporary is not for me, but I can’t stop gushing about more serious books like SMALL DAMAGES by Beth Kephart (a contemporary set in Spain) and BLUE VOYAGE by Diana Renn (a mystery set in Turkey), which both transported me deep into their worlds.
  3. Verse novels. As the poetry editor at Young Adult Review Network, I love all kinds of poetry, including verse novels. Some of my favorite YA verse novels include A TIME TO DANCE by Padma Venkatraman, AUDACITY by Melanie Crowder, and BROWN GIRL DREAMING by Jacqueline Woodson. I also fell hard for THE CROSSOVER by Kwame Alexander even though a basketball novel didn’t sound at all like my thing.

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As you can see from these examples, I’m drawn to tragic rather than light reads, literary over commercial, and I prefer to cry rather than laugh over a good book. I like a little magic/fantasy, but I prefer those with very different settings, like Norway in Ingrid Paulson’s VALKYRIE RISING or China in Cindy Pon’s SERPENTINE. Between character, beautiful writing, and plot, beautiful writing always wins me over. I love multiple points of view, diverse characters, weird timelines, unlikable heroines, and unlikely friendships or romances. My personality is likewise pretty serious. You can expect few (if any) GIFS, jokes, and pop culture references from me, but you can also expect my undying devotion and passion in helping you make your project all it can be.

So what can I do for you? I am a plotter, and can share what I’ve learned from plotting and outlining workshops to help identify plot holes and areas that could benefit from higher stakes and bigger twists. I specialize in multiple points of view and making individual voices in casts of characters unique. I also know firsthand how hard it is to achieve a balance between setting details and too much backstory, and I have had plenty of experience both revising and rewriting my own manuscripts from scratch, as well as helping critique partners identify problem areas in their stories.

If we end up working together, you can expect a full edit letter on your manuscript, as well as whatever level of support you need to get through revisions over email, twitter, gchat, whatsapp, and/or DMs. I like talking on the phone about as much as I like GIFs.

If you’re not sure if your project is right for me, feel free to ask in the comments. Best of luck to all!

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Favorite Craft Books

CraftBooksIn this pre-PitchWars season, I thought it might be helpful to share some of my favorite craft books in case anyone is struggling with preparations. Critique partners and beta readers are excellent (essential!) in pointing out any issues in a manuscript, but because in the end, the fixing of any issues come down to you, the writer, the right guide can sometimes help you see solutions that you’re unable to pinpoint on your own. A quick summary of some of my favorites:

  • READING LIKE A WRITER by Francine Prose. I picked this one up because I love Prose’s fiction, but this book is a great guide at any stage in the process. The premise is that creative writing can be taught through close readings of masterpieces, outlining how to do so looking at everything from words to characters to dialogue. It also serves to remind that there’s no substitute to reading recently published books in your genre.
  • SAVE THE CAT by Blake Snyder. Originally a guide for screenwriters, this book walks writers through a “beat sheet” with details on how to nail down a manuscript’s structure. Though most helpful in the initial outlining stage, this is also a great tool in working through any plot issues in revisions.
  • SECOND SIGHT by Cheryl Klein. This is my go-to craft book for revisions. I’ve taken her amazing revision class as well (ask me about my bookmap), and can’t recommend it enough. Her advice and exercises can really get you to the heart of your story.
  • LETTERS TO A YOUNG POET by Rainer Maria Rilke. This collection of letters, sent to a young cadet in military school, contains inspirational advice that is applicable to most of us. I like to read it and pretend the letters were written to me.
  • BIG MAGIC by Elizabeth Gilbert. This is a truly magical guide to stepping away from fear and writing books of your heart.
  • THE FIRST FIVE PAGES by Noah Lukeman. While only beginnings are stressed in this book, a clean, hooky beginning is essential in querying, contests, or even once published. This guide covers some typical issues and offers solutions.
  • SELF-EDITING FOR FICTION WRITERS by Renni Browne and Dave King. For the most part, this guide gets into the nitty gritty of typical issues found in manuscripts with some great exercises and checklists.
  • A POETRY HANDBOOK by Mary Oliver. I love poetry, and this is a great guide for poets, but I’m including it in my list because the musicality of language is important for writers of prose, too.

This is by no means a complete list of craft books! But hopefully at least one of these will be just what someone needs, and in the meantime, if you have any others to share, please do!

NESCBWI 2016 Recap

As always, I return from a writing conference energized with all the new things I learned, interesting people I met, and fun moments with good friends. Probably not surprisingly, my NESCBWI 2016 recap includes all of those things.

CPsOne of the best parts of the conference this year for me was meeting my longtime critique partner, Michelle Mason. Michelle lives in far-off Missouri, so even though we’ve worked together for years, this was our first time meeting in person, so you can imagine how cool it was to have real conversations for the first time!

It was also lovely catching dinner with one of my favorite writing friends, Katharine Manning, meeting some of her good friends, and talking a mile a minute about all the bookish things. But of course, the conference is about more than just socializing, and while the workshops at NESCBWI are always good, this year, they were simply fantastic. A few of my absolute favorites:

Scrivener with MarcyKate Connolly: I consider myself an intermediate Scrivener user, but I learned quite a few neat tricks as well as got all of my burning questions answered.

Antagonists with Annie Gaughen: I have a thing for antagonists, and I was glad to learn that antagonists aren’t necessarily the villain. As an added bonus, Hamilton and Burr came up more than once. Which one is the antagonist?

Verse Novels with Padma Venkatraman and Holly Thompson: I have been studying verse novels recently, so this class couldn’t have come at a better time for me. Both authors gave a great overview of some of the important elements in verse novels, along with so many wonderful examples to illustrate their points. My reading list has certainly grown!

Counterfactual Fiction with Trisha Leaver: This workshop walked us through Trisha’s recent YA historical release, Sweet Madness, with an eye focused on weaving facts and theories together (all without altering the timeline). Such a unique way to attack historical fiction!

Finally, even though I was busy stuffing my brain (and my mouth, since the conference food was pretty tasty), it was also great to take a break with the members of my #PitchWars family gathered for the weekend. So fun seeing you all. Until next time!

PW

Verse Novel-a-thon

To celebrate National Poetry Month this year, I decided to turn my reading list into a verse novel-a-thon, and I can happily report that it was an even more amazing experience than I had hoped. What stories! What voices! What magnificent, gorgeous writing!

My signed copy!

As a Rilke scholar and Poetry Editor at YARN, I of course love poetry. I’ve read and loved some fantastic verse novels in the past, among them BROWN GIRL DREAMING by Jacqueline Woodson, THE CROSSOVER by Kwame Alexander, and AND WE STAY by Jenny Hubbard, to name a few.

At YARN this month, we chatted with two verse novelists, Leza Lowitz and Dana Walrath, who also shared some of their beautiful work. Reading their novels definitely inspired me to read more novels in verse, so you can find more about them in my recommended reading list below. This is by no means a complete list! But if you’ve never read a verse novel before, one of these might be a good start.

UP FROM THE SEA by Leza Lowitz is a haunting tale about the devastating 2011 tsunami in Japan told from a teen boy’s perspective.

LIKE WATER ON STONE by Dana Walrath uses multiple points of view to share a family’s heartbreaking journey during the Armenian genocide.

AUDACITY by Melanie Crowder pulls the reader deep in the head of a striking factory worker at the turn of the 20th century with amazingly visceral details.

SKYSCRAPING by Cordelia Jensen is a gorgeous near-historical set in NYC about AIDS, guilt, love, and family.

WITNESS by Karen Hesse is another multi-POV story for middle-grade readers that takes a serious look at the KKK in a small Vermont town in 1924.

MAY B by Caroline Starr Rose is a beautifully-written middle-grade historical that appeals to Little House fans (with a bit of Home Alone mixed in).

CAMINAR by Skila Brown tells the heart-wrenching story of a boy who survives an attack on his village in war-torn Guatemala.

ORCHARDS by Holly Thompson sends the reader on a journey with a teenage girl to her family’s orchard in Japan after a bullied girl in her class kills herself.

A TIME TO DANCE by Padma Venkatraman is a beautiful story about a bharatanatyam dancer’s healing process when she loses her leg in a tragic accident.

VerseNovelsHaving read all these fantastic novels has not dampened my enthusiasm in the slightest for verse, as is probably evident by my current TBR stack. Can’t wait to make my way through these ones next!

Please feel free to add any other must-reads in the comments!

 

Gearing up for NESCBWI 2016

Conference season is most certainly upon us, and I’m thrilled to be gearing up for NESCBWI 2016 this year. Last year, I chose the amazing Novel Writing Retreat at VCFA over the conference (so many events, so little time/cash/what have you), and while I hope to head back to that one again next year, there’s nothing quite like NESCBWI, as evident in my recap post from the last time I attended (in 2014).

I have to say before even going how excited I am about the workshop offerings this year. I registered the first minute they opened and managed to get all my top choices, which focus on everything from Scrivener to verse novels to revision. So exciting! I consider myself a lifelong learner and always walk away from this conference with new tools tucked into my bag, so I’m already looking forward to all the new knowledge around the corner.

business_cardsAlso, business cards! I haven’t gotten new cards in a while, so I figured it was time for some new ones.

Of course, another thing I’m really looking forward to is seeing all my writing friends. In general, I prefer to hide out at home, but I do make exceptions for bookish events, and this one brings together so many of my favorite authors as well as fellow travelers on the path that it’s even possible for an introvert to enjoy. Perhaps best of all, I’m finally going to meet one of my longtime critique partners, Michelle Mason, in person!

So who else is going? Let me know because I’d love to meet up!

A History Lesson from Erika Mann

Erika Mann, the flamboyant, fascinating daughter of Nobel prize winner, Thomas Mann, piqued my interest a few months ago when I saw the 1932 film, Mädchen in Uniform. Erika plays a supporting role as one of the teachers in the film, and seeing her onscreen sent me in a spiral of research, reading works by and about both of the eldest Mann children, Erika and her close brother, Klaus.

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Library of Congress: Erika Mann

From Berlin’s cabarets in the 1920s to a life of exile in the 1930s that made her stateless until her lavender marriage to English poet, W.H. Auden, got her a passport, Erika zoomed about trying to find joy with no desire to be political.

I have no desire to be political, either, but as it becomes more likely that someone many of us once thought was a joke is now a viable candidate for president, with comparisons to even contemporary leaders that make one shudder, we must look to history for proof of what can happen when radical leaders take power. Because it’s all there.

Erika Mann’s essay, “Don’t Make the Same Mistakes,” appears in the 1940 collection Zero Hour: A Summons to the Free. This appeal, to a young American she meets on a train on the way to Los Angeles, is meant as advice to a country on the sidelines of a Europe under siege, but her words are just as applicable today:

But what constitutes the disease? Fascism, Nazism, dictatorship, defeat? No! Because they already are death. The “disease”—that is the inability of the body to resist Death. The decay of the organism, the breakdown of resistance, that is the disease.

She goes on to write a full essay-within-the-essay for her young companion, outlining the symptoms of decay, her own experience as a non-political actress silenced by a horde of Brownshirts in 1931, a political meeting with a group of friends in Berlin, and ultimately the failure of resistance. Perhaps most haunting of all are her words closer to the beginning of the essay, when she passionately tries to explain why this history matters:

“You will not believe,” I added, and noticed that my tone was a little too intense, “you can’t imagine how painful it is gradually to discover that no country, no nation, no youth has wanted to draw a lesson from our dreadful example.”

Please, draw a lesson. History like this—a dreadful example like this—should not be allowed to repeat itself.