About Cheryl

Cheryl Zach has published over 50 books, mostly for young adult and middle grade, some for adult readers as Nicole Byrd. Her YA titles include the Southern Angel series: Hearts Divides ( which won the Virginia Romance Writers Holt Medallion), Winds of Change, A Dream of Freedom, and Last Rebellion. Her YA Runaway won the RWA Rita award, and she is a member of RWA's Hall of Fame. A military brat, she changed schools 10 times in 12 years, won a National Merit Scholarship, holds a B.A. and M.A. in English and taught school before stopping to write full time. Born in TN, she has lived in TN, TX, GA, on the MS Gulf Coast, in southern CA, in Britain and Germany and has visited most of the other states and several other countries. She has spoken at schools and workshops around the country.

CONFERENCE MUSINGS

I’m back from the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators Conference in Los Angeles, as usual a terrific conference, and slowly getting over the brain overload–normal– and slightly sprained ankle–not normal–that I acquired during the week..

The good news this year is that everyone from Simon & Schuster Vice-President and Publisher Justine Chanda, who spoke about ‘The State of The State of the Industry,’ to Deborah Halverson, who gave the annual market report, (available to all SCBWI members), to various editors and agents, all agreed that children and teen publishing is in great shape, which cheered conference participants immensely.

Young adult fiction is still going strong, with the exception of dystopian novels, which are generally believed to have passed their peak.  (Personally, I never liked them that much to begin with, although some good books have come out of the trend.) Self publishing continues to be more accepted, although those who do it are urged to do it well, with careful attention to editing and book design.

One of the most interesting comments I heard, several times, was the agreement that YA novels are getting a lot of cross-over; that is, that many adults as well as teens are reading them.  No wonder, then, that so many YA novels have graced this last year’s best-seller lists. Someone, I forget who, put up a quote from TV comic Stephen Colbert, that said something like:  YA novels are regular novels that people actually read!

There were many good keynotes and many, many good workshops–I wish I could have attended twice as many as I did.  There was an editors’ panel, one composed of agents, and one with marketing and sales people.  Add that to seeing old friends and making new ones, and it was a very productive week.  (Have to come clean:  I’m on the SCBWI Board and have been a member for over 20 years, so not exactly unprejudiced, here. : )

I think most of us came home with renewed enthusiasm to get back to work. So excuse me while I switch to the WIP.

Cheryl

PS During the Board meeting, the dispute between Amazon and Hachette Book Group was discussed, and a statement will be released about that, soon.

Time and the Writer

Some writers I know have been discussing how unfair it is that more and more editors and agents are not responding to queries or manuscript submissions. That is, if the writer doesn’t hear back, you are to assume that the publisher or agent is not interested in your submission. If the editor does want to read more or make an offer, or if the agent is interested in representing you, of course, they do contact you, although there might be a long wait first.

The writers feel this is unprofessional and, as I noted, unfair. The editors and agents usually note that they regret this necessity, but they are receiving more and more submissions and simply do not have the time and perhaps lack the staff to send out rejections for each one.

I can see both sides of this. I can’t help remembering my husband telling the kids when they were younger, “Who said life is fair?” when they made the same complaint over some household rule. And goodness knows the old form rejections were not satisfying. “Tell me what you don’t like,” we wanted to scream, when we got the meaningless: “This does not meet our needs at the current time.” Most published writers remember the immense relief when we finally graduated to a “good” rejection when the editor scrawled something specific on the rejection letter.

I know most editors are hard-working people who wish they could do more for hopeful writers. They often read queries or ms. on the subway home or while they eat a hurried lunch at their desks. And I’ve seen their desks–overflowing with paper, even in these computer driven days! They’re not out there plotting to make us miserable.

And yet, it’s more than frustrating for us writers. Time is what writers also don’t have, what writers snatch out of hours and minutes of their days and nights.  I remember well trying to write after a full day at work, after coming home to throw together dinner, get kids through homework and baths and bedtimes.  I remember going to sleep with a pad of paper in my lap–the original laptop! So what can we do? No magic answers, I’m afraid. Keep writing, keep sharpening skills, most of all, just keep on keeping on. Go to conferences for greater access to editors and agents, and as Winston Churchill famously said, never, never give up! Talent, hard work, determination, the same answers as always, are the ones that will- sooner or later–and sadly, it’s most often later than we wish–carry us through. Mostly, don’t give up!

And of course, there are more avenues today than traditional publishing, but that’s a whole other column. : )

New Year, New Words

Somehow New Years always seem to demand new year’s resolutions, no matter how many worthy promises  to ourselves were left in tatters last time around. From personal–those five pounds put on by grazing on too many holiday sweets that now need to be dropped–to professional, do we have resolutions!  As I cleared up shredded wrapping paper and fallen Christmas tree balls sent hither and yon by clever cat paws, I was already pondering.

My writing resolutions are clear.  I did finish the YA novel I was writing in 2013.  In December I read the last, much revised chapter to my critique group.  Now a little more polishing and I must brace myself and put it out there into the cold, cruel world–that’s resolution number one, and then, number two:  start a new project.  I already have something in mind, although I’m not ready to talk about it yet.

Number three: I want to learn more about ebooks and think about reviving some older novels that are OP (out of print) and decide if I want to try to get them back into circulation and if so, see what is involved.  Okay, I confess, that was a resolution for this year, too, so I really need to do that one, or at least, gather the info.  I do know that the books will need some revising–no one is as up to date on new technologies as teens and preteens, so if I do reprint a book even a few years old, it will have to be brought into the world of cell phones, texting, etc. So my tech horizons will be broadened in more ways than one.  Santa brought me a new up to date I phone for Christmas, so that will help.

And after that, who knows?  What are your resolutions?  More consistent writing hours?  Better research habits, or maybe reminders not to get so carried away by your research that you forget to write?  Are you determined to find a new critique group/start a new critique group?  Haunt the local library and book store and read plenty of the age fiction or nonfiction you wish to write?  Go to a writers’ conference and get the tips and networking you need to get past your current logjam?

Whatever your resolution, I wish you good luck and fortune in 2014.

Cheryl Zach/ WIP:  The Devil Tattoo

 

 

 

When secondary characters don’t behave

Cheryl Zach

As the White Rabbit famously said, “I’m late, I’m late, I’m late!”

And I know it, I’m so sorry.  I’m moving, (you don’t want to know.  Think boxes, boxes and more boxes.)  The whole family has a stomach bug–you for sure don’t want to know details about that!  And when I’ve had the rare spare moment, I’ve added a few lines to the WorkInProgress, pounding out scenes and editing dialogue and making notes for future chapters.

The good news is–there actually IS a WIP.  Despite all best intentions, life sometimes takes over, even before the chaos of the move, and for a time, I couldn’t connect with the writing side of my brain.  Sometime, I will write about that–it’s too much for even a blog, though, I think.  But I can’t tell you what a relief it was for the ideas to begin to flow again…..whew!

And when I pushed everything else away and had to decide which book idea to work on, it was a Young Adult I had put aside some time ago when I got hung up over the problem of Bad Language, which I thought might set off all the censors and cause trouble with schools.  I had this drug dealer, you see, who was swearing every other word.

But this is the book, the story, the main character who is calling to me, so I pulled it out and took another look.  And I discovered that, although, yes, his swear words are still a problem–right now, I think the four letter words are just going to have to fall where they may–the much bigger problem is–he’s a total stereotype.  And I’ve taught students in my writing classes about avoiding this pot hole!  Teacher, listen to your own lesson!

Okay, I admit I don’t know that many drug dealers.  I don’t know any drug dealers–but that’s no excuse.  I do know how to create characters, even minor, foul-mouthed characters that nonetheless play an important, even vital role in the story.  They have to be individual, with their own storyline, their own background, needs, experiences.  Even though the readers will never glimpse most of this, the author will know, and it will make the character real, make him rise off the page.

So  I went back to square one and a much more satisfying character evolved. . . And now my story is humming along, and I can focus again on my main character–who is not, as you might be thinking–hooked on drugs.  It’s a lot more complicated than that.  This novel is about a girl from a rough part of town, yes, (not that drug dealers aren’t found in ritzy subdivisions, too!) but it’s mostly about identity–something I’ve played with before.  (RUNAWAY, Berkley, which won a RWA Rita award in the YA category.) I always tell my writing students that YA novels are by definition coming of age novels, but they also involve a teen figuring out who he/she is.  How much is environment/experience, how much of the real you are you born with, how much can you change–if you choose to, wish to?  Parents sometimes wonder this as they watch their children grow up, but what do teens think/feel when they hit a defining moment or a traumatic experience?

Oh, I can’t wait to jump back into this novel and share these exciting/poignant/heart-rending hours with my teen as Jude makes life or death choices.   So–see you later, fellow writers, and good writing!

Cheryl

Writing for the Long Haul

by Cheryl Zach

Sometimes at writing conferences, I give talks to other writers, new or established, about writing for the long term. It’s hard to get that first book published, sure, but it’s also hard to stay published, given the industry’s ups and downs and twists and turns. At no time has that been more true than today as changes in technology affect us all. (There’s also self publishing, but that’s a whole other topic.)

I’ve been publishing with established publishing houses for over two decades–okay, well over two decades (reluctant grin!) but I still remember the early years when I thought I’d end up a little old lady and still be trying to publish my first book! And I well remember the amazing thrill of The Call–when you hear for the first time that you have an offer on your manuscript–an editor actually wants to publish it. She/he likes your work, is sending a revision letter to help you polish (yet again), is sending a check for real $–wow! Now, I’ve been in love, married, had two wonderful children, so I won’t say it was the most wonderful day of my life, but it certainly ranks high on the list! I’ve now published over 50 books, for every age level from chapter books to adult, but they’ve been mainly for young adult (YA) to middle grade (MG) readers. I can tell you the thrill never fades. And the fun comes not just in selling manuscripts, seeing your books on the shelves of stores or libraries, or signing books for your readers. The act of writing, of creating characters and stories–the process itself is and must be a particular pleasure (tho hard work, too, at times) if you want to be a writer for the long haul.

Early in my career, when rejection slips and letters descended like a New England blizzard, my family knew that I had to be left alone for a few days to work my way out of the dark hole that rejection threw me into. A hug was acceptable, but I didn’t want comforting speeches. When they heard the click-click of the keyboard, then they could stop tiptoeing around me, and life would be back to normal: Mom was writing again. Because a writer needs not only talent, constantly honed to make his/her writing skills sharper, but persistence as well. As Winston Churchill said, you never, never give up!

My visual metaphor for a genuine writer is that of old time lumber jacks who, for fun and games, would challenge each other to race on a rotating log in a river. They’d run very hard to make the log go round and round until one or both fell off into the chillly water. Running very hard to stay in the same place, like Alice and the White Queen–this is what authors do most of their careers–and when the inevitable dunking comes–you just climb back on the log and you start again!

Writers write because we love to do it, we love spinning our stories, creating our characters, growing our worlds, working with wonderful editors, and even the crazy ins and outs of the publishing industry will not defeat us.

Writers write, and we love every minute of it!