Category: memory thief


memorythief_FacbeookIt’s a new week, and I’m still in Utah, but Saturday the news broke, and I wanted to share it with you lovely people. At the end of May I got an email out of the blue with the bestest of news: a Chinese publishing company (Beijing White Horse Time) has bought the Simplified Chinese rights to THE MEMORY THIEF. The news about the film deal caught their eye and brought extra attention to the novel.

It’s kind of strange blogging about something that I’ve known about for so long. It would be so much more fun to share the news right after I found out. But it seems like everything in publishing operates on a delayed schedule, so I get great news and then have to sit on it for a long time until the ink is dry.

What does this deal mean? Ideally, authors sell as few rights to their work as possible with each deal. Publishers would love to get World Rights: the right to publish the book in any language and country in the world. Authors try to just sell North American Rights, which is what I did with MEMORY THIEF. That frees me up to sell the book in as many markets as I can. (Germany, France, Indonesia, China, etc. Basically each country is a different market.)

Some markets pay a lot, some pay a little. In this case, I almost got as much for the Chinese rights as I did for the North American Rights, so it was a fantastic surprise. Better yet, it’s another advance, meaning it’s money I get right away. And the most fantastic thing about it is that I didn’t have to do anything else other than sign a contract. No revisions. No drafts. No nothing.

The Chinese publisher will take care of translation, getting a cover, and all that jazz. I just get to sit back and look forward to seeing my writing in a new language at some point in the future.

It’s my first international sale, and that feels like a great threshold to cross. Maybe the interest from China will catch other countries’ eyes. Who knows? But for today, I’m just happy things continue to move forward so nicely.


Point of View: Memory Thief Chapter Ten


Welcome to another chapter annotation, where I discuss some of the behind the scenes work that went into writing THE MEMORY THIEF. As always, this assumes you’ve read the book already. Up this week is Chapter Ten, where Benji first sees memory bottles, but not before he is overcome by rage at school and on the bus.

This is a scene that I’d pictured early on in the drafting process, and it stayed more or less true to the way I wrote it the first time. I wanted memories to alter who you were. It’s a concept I’ve always believed, and I wanted it to come out through the story. (Related to this, I also believe our memories of a single event can be different due to the way we each perceive that event individually. This isn’t something that really fits with the world of the Memory Thief, where memories are basically recordings of what we experience. Then again, it might also be an area I could explore more.)

One tricky thing to pull off in this chapter was to show what’s going on with Benji in a way that makes sense and doesn’t alienate the reader. A first person point of view brings a lot of things to the table. It lets you get inside the narrator’s head and get to know him in a way that’s much more difficult with third person. But on the other hand, you can’t just tell the reader what’s up, and that can get confusing.

The example I always think of when I discuss this is Great Gatsby, where the narrator is extremely unreliable. He’s in love with a girl in the story, and so he presents her as being far more charming and wonderful than she is. Then at the end of the book, he sees her for what she is, and her character seems to shift. Not because she’s changed, but because the narrator’s perception of her has changed.

In this chapter, with Benji having taken in so many angry memories, it warps him. I wanted to have some of that bleed through, but this is Middle Grade, and so I needed to be careful with how I did it. Part of me wanted to have it go on longer, but in the end I just thought that would be too much. I don’t want to confuse my readers, so I thought if I kept it tight within a single chapter, it would still make sense to everyone. It was fun writing an angry Benji scene, though. One where he had no patience for anyone or anything. My characters aren’t typically like that.

Maybe in the end I thought it was a bigger deal than it was. No one’s commented that they were confused by it in the slightest, and no one’s commented on how much they liked the scene. You never know.

Family Relations: Memory Thief Chapter Nine


Welcome to another behind-the-scenes look at The Memory Thief. We’re up to chapter nine, and it’s another chapter that actually didn’t change a whole lot between the first draft and the final version. I thought about just skipping over the chapter because of this, but I wanted to talk a bit about why I think the chapter didn’t change.

For those of you who don’t feel like actually getting out the book and rereading the chapter, I’ll remind you: it’s where Benji steals his parents’ memories of the reasons for being mad at each other.

It’s interesting to me: when I started writing the book, I had no intent to explore family relations as a sub plot. It wasn’t like I started out thinking, “Benji is the son of parents who fight a lot.” I didn’t know who Benji was. Instead, I knew I wanted Benji to be at the fair and to go off on his own, where he’d eventually meet Louis. I needed a reason for him to want to go off by himself. The one that I ended up going with was that his parents were fighting, and he wanted to escape it.

I could have gone with many others, however. Maybe his parents were just the type of people who’d let him wander the fair on his own. Perhaps he got separated from his parents in the middle of a crowd. He could have been there with his friends as part of a group. Any one of those reasons would have been perfectly acceptable, but I went with arguing parents. Maybe it’s because it’s something I’d had experience with. I didn’t have a definite reason for doing it.

But because I chose that, it established a few things about Benji. First, he had parents who didn’t get along, and second, he disliked it enough that he wanted to escape it.

Once those items were set, then it only made sense that as soon as he had the ability to steal memories, he’d use it to try and “fix” his parents. There was no avoiding that choice, as an author. It’s a thread I just kept following to see where it ended. In a middle draft, Louis appeared in Benji’s Dad’s Memory Library, come to warn Benji against stealing those memories. But even with that warning, Benji still did it. At that point, I just knew that’s what Benji would do.

Characters define themselves by their actions and thoughts. Early on in a story, when we don’t know them, they’re able to do just about anything, and the audience won’t question it. They’re getting to know the character. But once that character is established, then the options grow more limited. You can force them to act a certain way, of course. As an author, you can write anything. But the audience won’t believe it unless you set it up properly. In the middle of To Kill a Mockingbird, Scout could suddenly go all Child’s Play on everyone, killing everyone in the scene. But people wouldn’t buy the change in her character.

This is one of the main reasons I end up ditching so many of my plot outlines about a third into the book. I made the outline before I really knew the character, and I’ll have had them make a big choice that they end up not wanting to make. At that point, I either need to go back and rewrite their character to make it work, or I need to have them change their decision. I typically have them change their decision. I know and like them by that point. Who am I to force them to do something they don’t want to do?

Anyway. I just found it interesting that one seemingly simple choice right at the beginning of a draft could end up having such big implications later on in the novel. The whole book ended up having family relations play a big part. In fact, because I’d started with that as the main conflict, I decided to end with that being the final conflict to get resolved. (More or less.) It helps bring closure to the story.

That’s it for this week. As always, thanks for reading!

Working with Sequels

I’ve finished writing at least a draft of 15 novels, but up until MEMORY THIEF 2, I’d never written a sequel. Why not? Because you can’t sell book 2 if you haven’t sold book 1, so what was the point in devoting time to a book that would be in that situation? That always made sense to me, but now that I’m actually writing a sequel, I’m finding some of it is (go figure) tricky, and I’m examining other sequels to see what they do right and wrong.

The problem is finding the right balance between old and new. People who turn to a sequel want to find more of what they found in the original. This is where things went wrong in the Star Wars prequels. Some of the stuff from the original was there (lightsabers!) but a whole lot of it felt very different. Too different. So people rejected it.

On the other hand, people also don’t want a simple rehash of the original. Ironically, this is where some critics have focused with the Star Wars sequel. It was too much like the first movie. (For the record, I loved it, and I don’t agree with the criticism.)

I watched Guardians of the Galaxy 2 last week, and it was another good example of how hard it is to get a sequel just right. In this case, the original was so fresh. So out there. That recapturing that feeling is likely impossible. It’s the same as the sequel to Pirates of the Caribbean. Depp’s Jack Sparrow can only be 100% fresh once, and since a whole lot of the power of that movie came from that freshness, the sequels can’t help but feel staler in comparison.

I thoroughly enjoyed the Guardians sequel. I thought it was exciting, full of humor and adventure, and that it had a cool story (even if it was a bit more convoluted and contrived than it could have been.) It found some ways to make old things fresh (Groot is now little!), but it still couldn’t be quite the same as the feeling you got when you watched the first.

So how does all of this connect to MEMORY THIEF 2? I’ve been going through the same process. Trying to decide for myself what the right balance between old and new should be for the book. I started by going pretty far into “new” territory, but as I’ve been revising, I’m reeling quite a bit of that in, weaving the new to the old, so that it’s shown to be all part of the same cloth, if that makes sense.

Of course, in the end, you might be like George Lucas: making a sequel the way you want to, only to discover that what you liked in the original was totally different from what everyone else liked. Here’s hoping that doesn’t happen in my case . . .

The Whispers: Memory Thief Chapter Eight


Welcome to another chapter annotation, a chance for me to tell readers a bit about the writing process that went into THE MEMORY THIEF. As always, this will have plenty of spoilers, so don’t read it if you haven’t already read the book.

Now we’re finally to the point where it’s all new territory. Chapter Eight was written entirely fresh for later drafts. In fact, it didn’t appear until the fifth draft, after my editor got back to me with her first round of revision notes. (Yes. That means I’d done four drafts of the book before I even sent it to an editor.) In the letter, she noted:

The idea of each person’s mind looking like a different library that reflects that person’s personality is fun and provides for interesting set pieces. One important addition of world building would be increasing the stakes of memory thieving by incorporating a kind of ticking clock that only allows a person to be in someone’s mind for a short amount of time before they are stuck there and go brain dead (or some other potential problem). This would increase the intensity and urgency for every memory-thieving scene that we have with Benji.

Up until this point, the Whispers didn’t even exist. Jordan (my editor) rightly noted that it really had a detriment on the tension of Benji could just dart into a Memory Library whenever he felt like it and be safe. It was a like a giant “Pause” button just hanging over everything, waiting to be used. It also meant that he could really dink around whenever he was in a Library. Take his time. No pressure at all.

Of course, it was up to me to figure out what sort of form that “ticking clock” could take. At first I considered making it just that: a literal limited amount of time a Memory Thief could be in any one Library at a time. Jordan’s suggestion of imminent brain death was definitely appealing as well. But I rejected those ideas for one main reason: I wanted the book to be creepier. During each revision, I did my best to “up the creep” factor and bring the novel more in line with my original concept of Disney Horror. I discovered I don’t naturally do this. I have to really focus on writing scary scenes, and even when I believe I’ve done a good job, when I go back to read it through, it was never scary enough.

A ticking clock might scare someone with a phobia, but at that point, there was nothing visceral about the book. All the conflict was pretty much cerebral. I wanted something people could think about. Actually see. Actually run away from.

The Whispers is what I ended up with.

I’m a Robert Jordan fan, and I’ve read Wheel of Time multiple times through. In that series, there’s a thing called the Black Wind, a terrifying something that first manifests itself as incoherent whispering. I always thought that was high on the creepy scale, and perhaps that’s some of what I drew on for the Whispers. But where Jordan takes them in a different direction, I fused that idea with the shadow demon things we now see in the first book.

I was very pleased with how they turned out. I didn’t know much more about them than the basic idea when I started writing this chapter, and I discovered a whole lot “in scene.” It’s my favorite way of brainstorming.

The Whispers are playing a big role in the sequel at the moment. So many readers had questions about them. They ended up being one of the things that caught people’s interest the most. I’d definitely say they were one of the best late additions to the book, and they’ve given me a whole area to play with as I further explore the world of The Memory Thief. What are the Whispers? Where do they come from? Those are questions that were on my mind as I approached the sequel.

Anyway. That’s all I have time for this week. Thanks for reading, and stay tuned for more . . .

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