Archive for the Writing Category

Let the #PitchWars begin!

Posted in PitchWars, Writing on July 19, 2016 by Austin Aslan

ltrNcrop1amaste!

To all you hopeful, prospective #PitchWars contestants out there: welcome! May you find all that you’re looking for—and all that you never knew you needed—through this wonderful platform. I’m excited to participate this year, to pair up with the perfect match through this process, and I’m as eager as you are to find out who that will be!

IMG_7724-Edit-3I am the author of the highly-acclaimed sci-fi eco-thriller The Islands at the End of the World and its sequel, The Girl at the Center of the World, published by the incomparable and preeminent Wendy Lamb at Random House. The Guardian recently ranked my debut novel as a top-ten read in the awakening genre of climate fiction, and Kirkus Reviews hailed the series opener as a “Best Book of 2014.” I earned a master’s degree in tropical conservation biology while living with my wife and two children on the Big Island of Hawai`i. A Northern Arizona native and long-distance backpacker, I can often be found exploring the world’s last wild places while sleeping on a punctured air mattress. Follow my globetrotting and outdoor adventures on both Facebook and Twitter at “Laustinspace,” and PLEASE CHECK OUT MY ESSAYS on the Gore-Tex® “Experience More” blog.

I’m naturally attracted to a wide variety of material. But I think my mentee will best be served if I strive to focus my mentoring in the direction of what I’ve proven to be best at writing myself, namely: YA oriented toward survival/disaster, dystopia, and/or eco-thriller. Your novel can be set in any time period: past, present day, the near future, or the far future—the key is that it feels gritty and grounded and sensual (note: that’s sensual, not sexual). The material should have a redeeming undercurrent to it, without feeling at all preachy or smelling too strongly of an agenda.

I’m going to gravitate toward material that comes with a compelling initial hook (the elevator pitch has to impress me and make me curious). Make sure you have an original idea! The genres I mentioned above all suffer from too much of the same.

I need the author to have a sense of voice. (What does that mean? I don’t know. I know it when I see it. If that doesn’t make any sense to you, you should be concerned. Voice is the DNA of your novel.)

The sample must showcase well-drawn characters who act logically and who pop out at me. I preach that plot is what gets in the way of what characters want. What is happening in a novel should  primarily be a function of who your characters are and how they uniquely effect the world around them. What fingerprint does your main character indelibly leave in your world? The days of books being interesting simply on the merits of their new gimmick are far behind us (ex: (and not to bag on Clarke, but…2001: Space Odyssey, Childhood’s End), and natural disaster-y movie violators which rely only of FX to carry their weight: Transformers, Dante’s Peak, Armageddon, Twister, Day After Tomorrow etc.)

In terms of story and narrative, I’ll forgive a lot as I scan initial pages, but a generally-clean edit is elemental (I don’t have time to fix punctuation and spelling errors–if you’re proud and serious about your material, that will have been taken care of long before your ms reaches the likes of me). A really sloppy voice or little command of sentence structure will quickly earn a pass. The story has to feel anchored immediately. I need to be grounded, know where I am, what’s going on, and why I should care.

I’m an okay copy editor, but I notice trends in errors and understand how grammar is supposed to work. There will likely be repeated errors in any ms, and I’ll address these with a few examples and lessons for how to fix the problem, then expect the author to weed all similar incidents out during the next revision. I’m far more interested in troubleshooting the content of the story, the elements that are lacking or weak, of discussing how to make plot and characters stronger and more vibrant, and how to tighten, tighten, tighten. I suspect there will be room for three rounds of revision in the two months. I personally work fast. You as the author should take more time, really try on what we discuss, and create distance between revisions for the sake of clarity.

I have no favorite child, and the best books I’ve read are all unique enough to defy direct ranking against each other. But for what it’s worth, my best reads have all been somehow transcendental, somewhat epic in form, and illuminate something profound of the Human condition. 100 Years of Solitude and Love in the Time of Cholera fit the bill. LOTR does, too. Brothers Karamozov. stephenkingThe Gunslinger and The Shining. Cloud Atlas, for its sheer versatility. And one of the few series I read over and over again: Ursula K. LeGuin’s Earthsea books. Simply sublime. I don’t know what these books do to my own writing, except to humble me, and ignite my love for the written word. I will be most enthusiastic about a match that does the same. Forget the fact that I got published first; I have every reason to hope that your project will humble me and teach me. I firmly believe that I’m likely to get as much out of this collaborative experience as you will!

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Introducing ISLANDS 48-page Comprehensive Core Curriculum Teaching Guide!

Posted in The Islands at the End of the World, Writing with tags , , , on August 14, 2015 by Austin Aslan

ISLANDS curriculum guide coverHey, teachers and librarians! And people who know teachers and librarians! Are you looking to teach a popular and exciting literary novel? Look no further! The Islands at the End of the World, a Kirkus Best Teen Novel of 2014, now has a 48-page comprehensive Common Core multi-discipline curriculum guide! Developed by education professionals. Immediately downloadable here for a nominal $3.50 fee. (Use coupon code “Book2” at checkout to save even more!)

A 2014 Junior Library Guild Selection, ISLANDS is being taught in many classrooms and school districts already. Please consider it for your curriculum, too! (This will also work in many college classes, for sure, including Biology and Science classes.) And authors, if you’re looking to consult with a pro to have something similar developed for your book(s), email me and I’ll connect you with the professional educators who developed this.

I should add, too, that I’m happy to become part of your curriculum. I’m available for school and site visits with students, Skype visits, and more! Contact me to arrange details and logistics.

Here’s a teaser:

2015-08-14 09.27.44 am

Announcing the arrival of THE GIRL AT THE CENTER OF THE WORLD!

Posted in The Girl at the Center of the World, The Islands at the End of the World, Writing on August 5, 2015 by Austin Aslan

Dear Reader,

The Girl at the Center of the WorldTHE GIRL AT THE CENTER OF THE WORLD, sequel to my 2014 YA science fiction debut (The Islands at the End of the World) is finally out! Please consider supporting your local brick-and-mortar bookseller. And don’t forget…Islands releases in paperback this week, too! I will be able to autograph a copy of any book for you if you order through Changing Hands Bookstore and ask for it to be personalized at checkout: http://www.changinghands.com/search/author/%22Aslan%2C%20Austin%22

But let’s dispense with logistics, shall we?

Welcome to the Big Island! Enjoy your escape, but know that this is no vacation. Leilani Milton and her family, whom you may have met in The Islands at the End of the World, are heading down a very difficult and bewildering road. Of course, unique hardships are nothing unusual for Hawai`i.

The Big Island is a challenging and unpredictable place during the best of times. It’s a cauldron of brewing forces—in every sense. One side is a vacation paradise, perfect for golfing, deep-sea fishing, scuba diving, luaus, and beachside massages. The other side is a rocky, rainy jungle too harsh for most visitors but beloved by locals, erupting with unique culture, tradition, and historical tension. And between the two sides are volcanoes—literally erupting at this very moment! at once strangely accessible and beautiful, yet cruel and deadly.

Few fantasy or science-fiction worlds can boast such a spectacular setting.

I was only a guest there myself. I lived in Hilo long enough to earn a master’s degree in Tropical Conservation Biology. During that time, the schizophrenic Big Island settled deeply into my soul, and when I began to think about writing a novel set there, Leilani Milton appeared. Several years later, Leilani is a constant companion, and her severe paradise remains vividly close. I’m so excited to return to Leilani’s story, to linger in the stranger-than-fiction setting of her haunting home—and I’m grateful that you’ll be joining us on this new adventure.

As these pages open, I’m both exhilarated and unsettled by the extraordinary trials facing Leilani. Just as my time on the Big Island and with Leilani has done for me, I hope this book delights you and disquiets you in equal measure, and stays with you after you’ve said goodbye.

Happy reading.

Austin Aslan

Are Your Moon Phases Accurate in Your Writing?

Posted in Night sky, The Great Outdoors, Writing with tags , , , , , , , on July 28, 2015 by Austin Aslan
moon_phases_diagram

MoonConnection.com All rights  reserved.

Did you know that a full moon ALWAYS rises at sunset and sets at sunrise? (Think about it…that’s why it’s full…it’s opposite the sun in the sky.) Did you know that a new moon ALWAYS occurs exactly two weeks after (or before) a full moon? And every other phase of the moon is set like clockwork, too. Half full moons are always out for half the night. Waxing half moons set at midnight, while waning full moons rise at midnight. Crescent moons always appear near the horizon at sunset or sunrise.

Always.

The night sky is very important in my newest novel. My characters stare up at the dazzling stars often, and the questions they ponder are important to the story. But the stars don’t dazzle when the moon is full (or when it’s out at all, for that matter—and this is doubly true within bright cities). So its important for me as the author to know which times of the night my characters can expect to see the Milky Way and which times of night they can’t.

Maybe this isn’t important to you, or to your characters. Authors constantly have to choose details to be concerned about, and details which are largely irrelevant to the story. For me, with my new novel, getting this aspect right was not only critical to believable storytelling, but a matter of pride. Very few readers will notice any discrepancy when it comes to moon phases. If I were to have a fallacious half moon rising at sunset in my story, who cares? But I would know. For me, it’s one of those details about the physical world that I notice. And if I don’t want to drive myself crazy, I best have my moon ducks in a row.

A funny corollary, if you will: I’ve been watching the Fox show LAST MAN ON EARTH, which is supposed to take place in Tucson. I’ve lived in Tucson. I know Tucson. That show CLEARLY doesn’t take place in Tucson. The Old Pueblo is blanketed with the iconic gem of the Sonoran Desert: saguaro cacti. I’ve never seen a saguaro appear on the show. Instead, I see Joshua Trees, which is completely ridiculous because those only appear in the Mojave Desert, which is mostly in California and Nevada.

Anyway, does this detail matter to the show? Maybe, maybe not. Probably not. But it’s a good example of how getting the facts wrong can become a distraction for members of your audience. Why distract them if you can get the facts right with a little research? For TV, there are reasons: Fox can’t film in Tucson, but Palm Springs and on-location sets closer to LA make sense. But for authors who work with blank pieces of paper and a pencil, we have no such excuse. It costs us nothing to get the facts right.

Moon phases can hurt the brain if you think about them too hard. But the pattern is real and it’s set. I developed the following chart for myself for use in my revisions, and it was helpful in getting a few extra details in place. This diagram is crude. Times are approximate, and would vary depending on latitude and time of year. This is also only accurate for the Northern Hemisphere (the pattern would be reverse Down Under). But the progression is locked no matter where you are. Please feel free to consult this crude diagram yourself. Let me know if you do, and if you found it helpful! You may notice how the progression of moon phases in my new book start with a description on page 39. The moon phases then progress from here onward in the story, each new phase correctly corresponding chronologically with the reality of how the moon really works. I’ve included a few example lines from the story to show you what I mean.

One last point worth articulating: this tool shouldn’t become a distraction from your storytelling. Don’t allow getting the facts right to take your reader out of the narrative. What I was principally concerned with in my writing was the times of night when the sky was darkest—I am not interested in acting as an almanac for the reader. Does that make sense? Weaving these sorts of details into the story should be done smoothly and only when necessary. Otherwise they become the very kind of distraction you were trying to avoid, anyway.

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Excellent ISLANDS interview…

Posted in Fall14Books, The Islands at the End of the World, Writing on July 16, 2014 by Austin Aslan

Curious about how my role as a scientist affected the writing of ISLANDS? Is my novel an “eco-thriller” or not?

I was recently interviewed by Joshua David Bellin, “The YA Guy,” on his blog of the same name, for his series on the subject of nature in YA books. I’m very pleased with how the interview turned out. Please check it out here!

http://theyaguy.blogspot.com/2014/07/ya-guy-presents-ya-for-nature-with.html

Starred Review from Kirkus!

Posted in Book Review, The Islands at the End of the World, Writing on June 2, 2014 by Austin Aslan

My first industry review has been published. Kirkus Reviews has awarded THE ISLANDS AT THE END OF THE WORLD a star! A distinction primarily notable within the book industry, a starred review is received by less than 1 out of 10 reviewed books! It  helps position the novel closer to the front of bookstores and libraries. Check out the generous review for yourself on the Kirkus website.

My personal favorite quote: “Aslan’s debut honors Hawaii’s unique cultural strengths—family ties and love of home, amplified by geography and history—while remaining true to a genre that affirms the mysterious grandeur of the universe waiting to be discovered.”

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ISLANDS will be an audiobook!

Posted in The Islands at the End of the World, Writing on May 22, 2014 by Austin Aslan

I’m stoked to report that we’ve just inked a fab deal with Audible.com, an Amazon company, who will produce ISLANDS AT THE END OF THE WORLD into an honest-to-God digital audiobook! Brilliance Audio will handle eventual hard copy CD sales. As I’m sure you know, audiobooks are becoming quite popular these days, as our commuter culture and access to handheld digital content intersect. As a busy dad and child chauffeur who lives with the bobcats and javalinas and gila monsters in the beautiful desert outside of Tucson, I’ve become very reliant on audiobooks to keep up with reading as I schlep kids to and fro and attend PhD classes on the UofA campus. It’ll be such a hoot to listen to my own audiobook soon as I mosey down the road!

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