Everything Books
Writing and reading and books, books, books (and anything that might relate)

October 3, 2013

Writers on writing — learning and loving the craft

When I met Scott Boyer in 2010, he was in the thick of writing his first book.  I was working on Velva Jean Learns to Fly at the time, and we formed a kind of informal writers group, sharing not only our work but our thoughts and feelings on the process.  Unlike me, Scott didn’t grow up writing.  He studied business at UC Berkeley.  But when it comes to writing, he is one of the most passionate and dedicated people I’ve ever met.  To celebrate his book’s release, I’ve asked Scott to write a few pieces about his writing journey. 

BobbyEtherfrontcoverWriters Write

by R. Scott Boyer

It’s Fall 2010 and I’m heading to a writing class on the UCLA campus. Jennifer Niven is with me. While I’m still learning to write, Jennifer is already an accomplished author and, as such, has been invited to speak to the class about the process of writing a novel. Arriving a few minutes early, we take seats across from the instructor, near the head of the horseshoe of tables surrounding the chalkboard. I’ve never seen my fellow students so animated. They can’t wait to talk to Jennifer and hear what she has to say. Even the teacher looks eager.

Jennifer talks for a while about writing in general and about her books, especially Velva Jean Learns to Fly, which she’s still working on the time. As usual, she’s charming and witty, with everyone hanging on her every word. The other students all have tons of questions. The more they ask, however, the more I hear one question asked lots of different ways: how do you find time to write? When do you write? Where do you find the energy?

Jennifer and I exchange a look. It’s a topic we’ve discussed many times. To us, the answer is both profoundly simple and deeply complex: writers write. When you have a passion to write and a story to tell, it’s often more difficult NOT to write than it is to sit down at the computer and start typing. A better question may have been: how do you manage any sleep when you’ve got a story inside you trying to claw its way out?

Now it’s present day, nearly three years since that class ended. I just finished publishing my first book, Bobby Ether and the Academy, less than three weeks ago. Jennifer and I are talking and I find myself asking a whole different set of questions: how does anyone get their book noticed? How does one manage all the marketing and social media needed to connect with readers? How does anyone find time to keep writing when there are so many other aspects to being a successful author that require attention? (For the answer to this one, see my previous answer.)

Of course, for someone like Jennifer, who is both incredibly talented and blessed with an amazing team (agent, editor, publisher, etc.), some of these issues take care of themselves, but many do not. It takes hard work and commitment no matter what stage you’re at. It also takes a deep love of writing; a refusal to quit and a willingness to do what has to be done because you wrote a great book and, gosh darn it, people are going to hear about it!

For any of you just starting out as a writer I offer this advice: just write. Don’t worry about anything else. Write what you love, because you love it, and find happiness in bringing the story to life. For those of you further down the road, perhaps with a book or two already written, I offer this advice: ask Jennifer, she knows way more about it than me.ScottandPatch

I’m kidding, please don’t bombard dear Jennifer with emails.  Try this instead: do research on the web, engage in book clubs, chat rooms, and blogs about writing. Connect with other authors, ask questions, and really listen to the answers. Perhaps the greatest skill I possess is not the ability to write, but the ability to learn. That skill has served me better than any other as I’ve advanced along the continuum from dreamer to published author.

For anyone interested, my book, Bobby Ether and the Academy, is a young adult adventure story that blends urban fantasy with new-age/spiritual fiction (Think Harry Potter meets The Celestine Prophecy). It’s full of excitement, mystery, and just a hint of magic. Information about the book and about me can be found on my website.

Scott Boyer grew up in Santa Monica, CA and still resides in the Los Angeles area. Graduating from the Haas School of Business at UC Berkeley in 1996, he started writing Bobby Ether and the Academy with the goal of blending YA fantasy with spiritual fiction. Nowadays, Scott splits his time between helping his father manage an insurance brokerage, playing with his Shepherd-mix rescue dog, Patch, and writing the sequel to his first book, the soon to be released Bobby Ether and the Temple of Eternity.

(Note from Jennifer:  Please bombard me with emails!  I love hearing from readers and other writers.)

June 4, 2013

The book that nearly killed me (and my loyal literary cat Lulu)


On Saturday, I sent American Blonde off to New York and my editor.  From February till June 1, I conceptualized, outlined, researched, wrote, and edited 753 pages, which became the 525 pages I emailed on Saturday.  I’ve had to write most of the Velva Jean books quickly– Velva Jean Learns to Fly and Becoming Clementine each were completed in about nine months– but this is the fastest I’ve ever written a book.  (Even though most of the time I was working on it, I felt as if I’d been writing it my whole life and would always write it and that it would never end.  Ever.)

It wasn’t supposed to be this way.  I handed in the original version of American Blonde last September.  But by the time I received my editor’s notes on the manuscript months later, I’d decided that the book needed to be rewritten from page 15 on.  Not just tweaked or edited, but COMPLETELY REWRITTEN, as in an entirely new plot, new characters, new everything.  This wasn’t something my editor requested, but I knew in my writerly bones what the story needed to be.  And it wasn’t.  So I wrote it.  Again.  Only in less time!

I went through more upheaval while working on this project than I did with any of the others.  To name just two of the upheavaliest… There were the recurrent eye problems from sitting at the computer every single day since February 1.  These last few weeks, I often had to type with my eyes closed because it hurt too much to keep them open.  Ahhh… And in March, my wondrous literary agent of fifteen years went missing, only to turn up in the hospital, where he died April 27 very unexpectedly.  I’d been with John Ware since the beginning, and suddenly, in the midst of the hardest work I’ve ever done, I found myself without my creative champion, mentor, and dear friend.  (During the roughest deadlines, John would call me just to tell me a joke or leave an old, scratchy blues tune on my voicemail.  “Onward, kid,” he would say.)


So when I crossed that long-dreamed-of finish line this weekend, the only sad moment was realizing all over again that John isn’t here to read the book.

But my eyes have slowly but steadily started to clear a little, and my mind is beginning to relax a little (as much as it ever does), and I am damn happy with the state the manuscript is in. (Lulu, incidentally, is exhausted. She has been sleeping nearly non-stop since Saturday, and this is a cat who rarely ever ever sleeps.)

As my mother says, You write it anyway and in spite of and because you have to (on so many levels).  And as someone tells Velva Jean in American Blonde:  “You have to be willing to work.  Just when you think you’re giving your all, know that you can go past that and give more.  You can always give more.  Don’t give up.  Don’t just rely on what you know you can do.  Think of what you hope you can do and then do it.”

Here’s a very tiny (and I mean seconds-tiny) movie that captures how it feels to have this book– for the time being– off my desk:

THIS JUST IN:  My editor has sent that manuscript back to me, asking me to trim 19,000 words before she reads.  And so, it seems, I spoke too soon…