Hi there! My name is Valerie Kemp. I write YA, and I mostly blog about writing YA and YA books. (Surprising, I know!)

This journal is mainly for posting at my collaborative short story community tangledfiction (you should check it out. no, really!) and commenting on my lj friend's blogs. My main blog is on blogger and you can find it here: I Should Be Writing - ( You can also find me blogging at Sisters in Scribe - my crit group's blog where we talk about writing YA and all things related. I try to remember to cross post my blogger blog here too, but mostly I forget.

I don't generally friends-lock my posts and if you friend me I'll friend you back. And now I will end this obligatory intro-post!

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My Tragic Youth

So, I wrote a letter to my teenage self for the awesome website Dear Teen Me and it's up today. If you're so inclined, you can read all about My Tragic Youth HERE. (And see some rather embarrassing photos of my "fashion sense" - overalls were in, I swear. I have no clue what was up with the hat, though!) And then read the other letters from some amazing YA authors like Sarah Ockler, Hanna Moskowitz, Shannon Messenger, Jo Knowles, Sara Zarr, Elana Johnson, I could go on and on!

Filling In The (Fantasy) Gaps

I'm discovering lately that I seem to have missed out on the fantasy phase in my youth. (I was big on horror, sci-fi, and contemporary as a kid, like Stephen King and Christopher Pike.) There seems to be all these sort of common knowledge things for people who have read a lot of fantasy that I have no idea about and I don't like that. It's like I'm missing a whole layer of experience that could enrich my writing so I've decided I'm going to fix it. Here's what I've come up with so far:

The Dark Is Rising Sequence by Susan Cooper
The Queen's Thief series by Megan Whalen Turner
The Wrinkle In Time Quintet by Madeline L'Engle (already read A Wrinkle In Time)
Terrier by Tamora Pierce
The Hero and the Crown by Robin McKinley
Abhorsen Trilogy by Garth Nix

I would love some high/alternate world fantasy recs! I've heard good things about Diana Wynne Jones, Shannon Hale, as well as Robin McKinley and Tamora Pierce's other books but they have so many that I have no idea which book to choose. I'm especially attracted to stories based in mythology or folklore, and I love anything with magic, but I'll read anything that's well-written! That includes Middle Grade.

Note: I've already read The Lord of the Rings Trilogy, Graceling, and Fire is in my TBR pile, I'm up to The Voyage of the Dawn Treader in the Narnia chronicles. So please, rec away!

2011 Writing Goals and What I Learned In 2010

I don't make resolutions. (Um... anymore.) I think they're too broad, and they don't bend to real life situations. I'm the kind of person that needs to feel like they're making progress, and I work better when I have a set of conditions to meet, so for me it's all about setting goals.

Last year I was coming off the high of finishing my very first complete draft of a novel. I set some HUGE goals that I now know were not just overwhelming, but also misguided.

2010 was a difficult year for me in many ways, and an amazing one in many others. A death in the family left me unable (both literally and emotionally) to write or revise for about two months. I entered into that long dark tunnel called "revisions". Where I learned that no matter how good you think your first draft is, there are always thousands of ways to make it better. And some of those ways take a full revision before you can see the path to them.

So where am I as I start 2011?

After an extremely busy holiday season I am FINALLY reaching the end of what turned out to be an almost complete rewrite. I have learned A LOT about story structure, plot, and character arcs. Much more than I would've thought possible in a revision.

From my revisions I've learned a lot about myself as a writer, my tics, and ways to make my next first draft a much better starting point. (Also, Scrivener changed my life when it comes to story, plot, research, and chapter organization!)

I have felt the pain of killing my darlings and the joy of having a CP fall in love with my favorite character.

I've fought the pull of shiny new ideas, found ways to stay focused (although this will be a continuing battle for me, no matter how excited I am about a project) and discovered that I CAN write on demand and turn out something I'm proud of (thanks tangledfiction!)

I have made some truly awesome friends who get my obsession over writing and YA.

And I have been humbled and honored by some very kind and encouraging words about my writing.

So what are my goals for this year?

Last year I wanted to bang out the really rough first drafts of two novels. This year that's not good enough for me. I want to complete one really well thought out, solid first draft.

I want to make my current ms the absolute best it can be before it goes out into the world.

I want to write more short stories and on a regular basis, which okay, is a given thanks to Tangled Fiction. But I want these to be stories I'm proud of, not stories I make excuses for like "well, if I had more than a couple days, this would've been awesome!"

As a whole, I just want to keep getting better at writing by actively pursuing ways to do so. Whether it's conferences, retreats, challenging myself to styles/genres I've never written before, whatever.

And of course, I want 2011 to be the year I sign with the perfect agent for me and my book!

What about you? Are you going full steam ahead with a list of resolutions? Setting small goals? Did 2010 turn out like you thought it would?

Two-fer Tuesday

Just three days left to enter the giveaway at my crit group's blog Sisters In Scribe! We're giving away THREE signed brand new finished copy books! What can you win?

The Demon King (Seven Realms #1) by Cinda Williams Chima
The Maze Runner (Maze Runner #1) by James Dashner
Wake (Dream Catcher #1) by Lisa McMann

So head on over and ENTER! Deadline to enter is 12/31.

Also, tangledfiction is taking a break this week, which means you can catch up on the stories we've posted so far! All of our stories are up as full posts rather than in parts. You can find them in Tangles Past: The Story Archive

And if you ever wondered what's going on in our brains when we're writing, check out our first WTF were you thinking? Chat! We posted the highlights this week. We start new stories next week!

Friday Five

1. It's individual short stories week at tangledfiction! I posted mine today, and it's different from our usual stuff, so I'm a bit nervous. It's called LAST WINTER, and here's a teaser if you're interested:

“Come on, Avis,” he shouts at me over his shoulder. His breath is a thick white cloud against the night sky. “California hasn’t made you soft already, has it?”

“Ha. Ha.” I stick my tongue out at him and think how he’s got it backwards.
He was the one that made me soft. California has made me strong.

Also be sure to check out ljboldyrev and nataliesee's shorts. (Also on blogger.) They're awesome!

2. In case you missed it, GLEE did a tribute to me this week by singing Valerie, at sectionals no less! Clearly, they've been following my blog. No video post today though, I'm saving it for Music Monday!

3. I rescued a cat today! He's been hanging out in the neighborhood for the last week or so and he's so sweet. Hopefully I can find him a good home!

4. I'm not sure if any of you noticed, but somehow, it's DECEMBER already! I have no idea how this happened!

5. I had a massive computer meltdown this week, but if there's ever a time to desperately need a new computer it's during the Black Friday sales!

That's all I've got this week. Hope your week was better than mine!

Sometimes Things Just Suck

It's only Tuesday and it's already been a week full of tragic computer meltdowns, hours of stress and fear, and lots of money I'd rather not spend being spent. (Not to mention a week full of writing goals not being met.) So today I present you with yet another chestnut from The Universe, whose perfect timing helped me make it through yesterday.

"There are only miracles, and to one degree or another they all soothe, pamper, and enrich. However, to avoid blowing too many minds at once, some are disguised as unpleasant surprises, botched circumstances, and twisted acquaintances that can rarely be seen for who or what they truly are until the pendulum has fully swung."

I hope any of you out there having a bad week find this one helpful too! (Also, WTF how is it December already?)

Giving Thanks

As Thanksgiving approaches, I'm thinking of all the things I'm grateful for. Since this is a writing blog, I'll share some of the writing related things that fill me with joy and gratitude.

Like Kristi, I'm grateful that I have the time to write and the support of my family who help and encourage me to find and make the time to meet my writing goals.

I'm grateful for the awesome crit partners I've met in the last year and who I'm also fortunate to call my friends. (nataliesee, ljboldyrev, Kristi, LOVE you guys!)

And most of all, I'm grateful for the amazing, generous, supportive, open-minded, open-hearted, talented, giving members of the YA writing community. I am constantly overwhelmed and awed by the effort this community puts into helping others whether it's in becoming a better writer, or living a better life. I am so proud to be a part of this group of people and to do my tiny part in helping others and sharing the love of great books to anyone I can.

Since this is a time of being grateful, and the season of giving is just around the corner I wanted to share a link to the Season of Love and Hope Auction benefitting children's writer Bridget Zinn who is battling colon cancer.

TONS of amazing authors and publishing people have donated some seriously awesome things like critiques and ARCs and vacations so check it out if you have the time.

I hope you all have a happy Thanksgiving! Thanks for reading this blog. I'm so grateful for all of you!

Save Some For Later

Now that we've been doing tangledfiction for a couple months now and I've had the chance to write two story starts for Natalie and Lacey to finish, I've made some discoveries about plotting and revealing information.

When you're writing something that someone else has to continue without knowing what's supposed to come next your first instinct is to put in enough details to explain what it is you're doing. But you soon realize that if you do that, the next writer either has nowhere to go because you already gave up all the cool info and twists, or is locked into your idea, which is the opposite of collaboration (unless you use James Frey's definition of the word) and what you've written is mostly telling and infodump with perhaps a side of interesting character.

You learn that in order to give the next writer a chance to shine, and to give the story a shot at being all it can be, you have to leave threads dangling and hint at things without explaining them. You have to trust your partners, and your readers to pick up on the subtle cues, and to want to keep reading to find out what they mean.

In a word, you're doing exactly what you're supposed to be doing when you write a book all by yourself!

You know that feeling you get when you're starting a book, (or short story, or introducing a new character) where you feel like you have to get ALL the necessary info out so readers will get what you're doing and LOVE it? Well, that feeling is wrong. Those writing books - the ones that say don't reveal anything until it's absolutely necessary are right.

It took until I had to take an idea, set it up, and then let it go for me to really understand how that works. When I write an opening to one of our shorts, like my most recent one, KISS OF DEATH, I start with an idea:

What if there was a girl so beautiful that every boy who saw her was compelled to kiss her? What if her lips were poisonous?

Then I have to do some world-building, some plotting, and I have to make sure I leave something for the next writer. In the case of KISS OF DEATH I had A LOT of ideas. There was so much I wanted to (and did in the first draft) explain. I knew how Rosemina came to be cursed. I knew what she did all day while she was home alone. I knew what the Queen really thought about her. I knew what happened after my section ended. But I cut all of those things because they would work better if they were revealed later on or in an active way. I trusted that I had an interesting predicament (Everyone wants to kiss her. Everyone that kisses her dies. And because of that, people want her dead.) and that people would want to keep reading to find out what happens next.

This is the key when plotting your story and maintaining your pace. Drop hints. Dangle potential plot twists, make your reader excited and curious to see what happens next. Let them form opinions about why a character says or does something, and then reveal the info when it will be the most active, the most important, the most mindblowing thing that could happen at that moment. Save something for later. (And, as I always say trust your reader It's scary, but you'll be glad you did.

Teaser Tuesday

It's Teaser Tuesday! I thought I'd post something for a change. Here's the first two lines from my opening of this week's tangledfiction short! (Did I mention we're doing them weekly now?)

"Rosemina first encountered her curse at age five when the neighbor boy chased her behind the rosebushes, pressed his sticky, candy-covered lips against hers and promptly fell down dead. To this day the taste of chocolate and the scent of roses are synonymous with death in Rosemina’s mind."

Read all of Part One at tangledfiction!