Amy Kathleen Ryan is the author of internationally best-selling The Sky Chasers series.
Ryan shared her research and organization tips with members of Society of Children’s Books Writers & Illustrators www.scbwi.org at their Jan. 19 meeting in Fort Collins, Colorado.
Amy Kathleen Ryan loves Pinterest, but not for the same reason everyone else does.
“Pinterest is a really good research tool,” said the author of The Sky Chasers series (Glow, Spark, and Flame), which is now sold in 15 countries, including China, Russia, Turkey, and Brazil. “It’s actually one of the best ways to research.”
Ryan, who has been writing professionally for 10 years, is working on a novel about a girl traveling through Europe during ancient times. It requires extensive research, and she discovered her best sources of information are historians and hobbyists on Pinterest. She speaks affectionately of those eccentric people “who dress in costumes and go into the mountains and joust” because they’ll reply to her requests of photos showcasing historical clothes, etc.
“Historians love it when you say, ‘Hi, I love something that you care about. Can you tell me about…”
One of her best tips on document organization is using the Document Map feature in Microsoft Word, which allows you to navigate easily to different chapters in your manuscript. She also keeps all notes on her computer so she can search for a key word instead of having to thumb through notebooks.
Ryan uses a color-coded timeline to distinguish between groups of characters (Saxons are in purple and Frisians are in peach, for example), and uses PowerPoint for compiling details about all characters. She had about 100 characters by the end of her science fiction series and admitted it was “a pain to keep track of who had green eyes.”
But you don’t have to use technology tools. Magazine cutouts can substitute for PowerPoint presentations and electronic photos, and bulletin boards or three-ring binders and file folders can take the place of Word documents.
When it comes to the craft of writing, the Wyoming native advises aspiring novelists to be honest with themselves. Due to time constraints, Ryan hired an editor for Glow before submitting it agents. She would have preferred to run it by a critique group.
“You have a little bit of myopia about your own writing.” If you have four or five sharp readers in a group, she said, they’re likely to catch everything you need to improve upon.
When asked whether her novel ideas start with plot or character, Ryan replied “plot” then explained people are mistaken to divide the two.
“I think it’s a false distinction. Characters need to surprise your reader,” she said. “Both of those things need to work together.”
She mentioned one genre as an example. “Don’t put down romance. Romance is incredibly hard. Taming of the Shrew…Shakespeare started the “rom-com,” then came Jane Austen.”
Ryan landed a literary agent for her first novel, Shadow Falls, who later proved to not be a good fit for her writing career. That debut book went out of print, and she published two more novels before The Sky Chasers series: Vibes and Zen and Xander Undone.
Ryan met her current agent at Squaw Valley Writers, a juried conference, meaning attendees must submit a manuscript to be considered for an invitation. Competition is intense. Agents are eager to attend these types of events, she said, because they’re looking for new clients. Publication may be within sight if you can attract an agent.
“If you get an agent based on your manuscript,” Ryan said, “you’ve got a pretty good shot.”
Katherine Valdez blogs about writing events in Northern Colorado (and occasionally shares stories of embarrassing encounters with famous authors). To subscribe, type your email address in the Follow box at www.KatValdezWriter.wordpress.com/blog and watch for the email confirmation to complete the process.
A Note from Katherine Valdez
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