Goth Girl is Now a Toy!

UPDATE: Want a Kyra Minimate? It’s easy click for details.

I am really excited to announce this. I’ve been working on this for a few months now, and it’s finally ready to talk about.

Meet Kyra Sellers, a.k.a. Goth Girl!

Kyra minimate

That’s Kyra in “Minimate” form. Minimates are cool little block-style action figures. They’re two inches of articulated plastic awesome.

Over the years, there have been Minimates for Spider-Man and the X-Men and Star Trek and Ghostbusters andBattlestar Galactica and lots more (you can learn more at ). Now Kyra joins their ranks as a very limited edition Minimate, thanks to the folks at Diamond Select Toys, who decided that Kyra just had to exist in three dimensions. (And, you know, in plastic.)

  • Nose stud? Check!
  • Lip ring? Check!
  • Reverse-smiley? Check!
  • All-black outfit? Duh!

How do you get your hands on this toy? Well, you can’t buy it in stores. In fact, you can’t buy it — period. The Goth Girl Minimate will only be available as a giveaway from Houghton Mifflin Harcourt and from me.

The first people to get the Minimate will be the entrants in the Goth Girl Rising Trailer Contest. Everyone who makes a trailer will get a Goth Girl Minimate. (For the rules for the Goth Girl Rising Trailer Contest, click here.) But if you have neither the time nor the talent to put together a trailer, have no fear: there will be other ways to net yourself a Kyra of your very own.

So, keep your eyes on my Twitter feed, my Facebook and MySpace pages, and on — Kyra could be coming your way!

(P.S. If you were following me on Twitter or Facebook, I dropped some hints about this toy. They were “I’m not TOYING with you,” “Technically SMALL news,” and “Mr. McGuire to Benjamin,” this last one an allusion to the famous line from The Graduate: “Plastics!”)

  Minimates logo   DST logo

Writing Advice #14: Reality

A couple of years ago, I wrote a blog on MySpace devoted to writing advice for teens. Over time, it evolved into a general blog on writing advice for everyone. I blathered on and on, answered questions, etc. Since then, I’ve pointed people to that blog when they’ve sent me questions on writing, but I know that MySpace isn’t always the most, uh, reliable repository for such things. Plus, if you’re not on MySpace, you can read the blogs, but you can’t comment on them.

So once a week (probably on Wednesdays), I’ll be reprinting my writing advice blogs here on I’ll go through and edit them a little bit, too, and I might make some merges/changes, so they won’t be exactly like they were on MySpace, but they’ll hopefully still be helpful to people who are interested.

Here we go!

Hey, everyone! We’re going to talk about reality today, in two forms.


Writers sometimes get caught up in a web of their own storytelling. By this I mean that they forget a key rule of writing: The writer is in charge.

Many, many times I’ve pointed out a problem with someone’s work, only to have the following conversation ensue:

ME: This bit in chapter 12 doesn’t really work. Can’t Scampy the al-Qaeda Meerkat get his information from the library instead of from the internet?
WRITER: No, that won’t work. Because back in chapter 4, I established that Scampy had lost his library card.
ME: I see. And is it important that he lost his library card?
WRITER: It’s a really great scene.
ME: But is it important?

Look, what you have written is written on paper (or on-screen), not in stone. In the example above, we’re assuming that having Scampy go the library is infinitely more interesting and entertaining than having him go on the internet, OK? In that case — since the loss of the library card is not important, but merely “great” — it’s time to lose that earlier scene.

The most important rule is this: If it makes the story better to change something, figure out a way to change it!

You see this in science fiction and fantasy novels a lot. Writers will get to a tough point and have to play fast-and-loose in order to get out of that tight spot. They’ve created rules and systems for magic/technology and now those rules are hamstringing the story.

But the novel is not reality! Remember: You can change whatever you want! Many, many times, writers say to me, “I can’t change so-and-so.” “Why?” I ask. “Because that’s not the way it works!” they tell me.

You are the writer; you can change anything. Don’t let yourself get caught up in your own rules and restrictions — they don’t apply to the author! If you come up with an amazing idea — and if it works — don’t say to yourself, “Oh, but I can’t do that because the rituals/science/whatever won’t let them.” Change the ritual instead.

No one will ever know, “Oh, that was changed.” They’re not going to read your first draft — they’re going to read your lastdraft.

As we write, we get very caught up in the worlds we create. They become very real to us. We sometimes forget the most important thing, though: We created them. We can alter them. If you establish early on that Scampy’s special musical pistol can only fire underwater (because it makes for a dramatic scene early in the book), and then realize at the end that you need him to fire it while on the surface… Well, then you need to look at both scenes and balance their importance against the overall well-being of the novel. If that final scene absolutely cannot work any other way, then guess what? You need to change that earlier scene and scour the novel for references to it to keep everything consistent. Because otherwise you’re going to find yourself torturing both logic and credulity in order to twist your story into some bizarre permutation that will let you get away with firing that pistol above water this one time…and readers are going to roll their eyes at your pretzel writing.

Now, this doesn‘t mean that you can just ignore the reality you’ve created whenever it’s convenient. You can’t, for example, say on page 12 that Scampy’s gun only works underwater, then have him fire it on page 349 while hanging from the legs of a helicopter speeding over the Kansas plains. What it does mean is that you can reconfigure the reality — either find areasonable loophole that allows for unsubmerged firing or, like I said before, rewrite the portions of the book that made submerged firing the rule. You make this change throughout the book — you don’t just change it at the end. We call that “cheating” and no one likes it. You need to look at those earlier portions and make it work. Either that, or you lose your dramatic helicopter chase in Kansas and replace it with the invasion of Atlantis. You can have one or the other, but not both.


And yeah — the tough part is knowing which element in the balance is more important: Page 12 or page 349. I can’t help you there. You’ll have to figure that out on your own, taking into account what you’re trying to accomplish with each scene and with the overall story.

Yes, I know — it’s a hell of a lot of work. Guess what? Whoever said writing was easy?


This is another one I hear a lot. I’m not going to spend a lot of time on it because it’s pretty simple.

We usually write fiction based on something like our own reality. Whether it’s an episode of Law & Order that was inspired by yesterday’s New York Post or even, say, my own Boy Toy, our muses are often in the world around us.

But, inevitably, it happens: Someone reads the story and says, “Well, I like it, but the scene where Mom says that she’s been Scampy’s secret lover since December 2000 just doesn’t ring true to me.”

And the writer screeches, “That’s what really happened! I can’t change it!”

Listen carefully in your writers’ groups, people, because you’ll hear that a lot — “I can’t change it. That’s what really happened.”

To which I say: Tough shit.

You want to write about “what really happened?” Great. Become a newspaper reporter. Write autobiography or memoir or non-fiction. But I’m here to talk about fiction. And I don’t care what “really happened.” I care about a good story. A compelling story. And if something detracts from that story, then you know what I say? Say it with me, kids…

Reality is not a defense.

Reality does not absolve you from lame dialogue, stupid action, nonsensical characterization, or idiotic plot twists. People are plunking down their hard-earned dollars to be entertained by your story, not to wonder why it sucks.

Furthermore, even if reality were a defense (and it’s not!), it wouldn’t matter. What are you gonna do, put a footnote in the book: “* Dear Reader: I know this part sucks, but it really happened this way in real life!” Are you going to stand behind each reader as he or she reads the book and say, “That’s what really happened! Honest!”?

Um, no. You’re not.

What you’re going to do is this: Tell your story to the best of your ability. And realize that reality is fine as a starting point, but at some point you have to let go and go spinning off into the wild blue yonder of your imagination. That’s actually the best feeling. Sure, it’s comforting to hew closely to reality and keep yourself on solid ground, but it’s even better when you don’t feel the need to stick to the facts, when you let your mind wander and wonder… “What if…? What if things had happened differently?”

Example: I based much of The Astonishing Adventures of Fanboy and Goth Girl on my own experiences growing up. But early in the book, I made a decision: Fanboy would have no siblings, nor would he have any step-siblings. This was in direct contrast to my own upbringing. Furthermore, I decided that Fanboy’s mother would be pregnant. My mother never had a child with my stepfather.

The result was two-fold. For one thing, it made me feel freer about having the characters do and say things that aren’t necessarily the nicest things in the world. They resembled people I knew, but they were different enough that I could put words in their mouths without feeling weird about it. Second of all, though, it opened up the story to a whole new universe of possibilities! I was able to explore Fanboy’s fears and feelings about his parents’ divorce and Mom’s remarriage through the device of his unborn half-sister. And for those of you who’ve read the book, you know that that same half-sister made possible a final scene that worked like a kick in the gut to the reader.

None of that would have been possible if I’d gone into the book thinking, “Well, I can’t do X, Y, or Z because that’s not how it really happened.”


Like I said before: Reality is a nice start. But don’t feel the need to stay there. If reality were so great in the first place, we wouldn’t need to write fiction. 🙂

Writing Advice #13: Adverbs and Starting Actions

A couple of years ago, I wrote a blog on MySpace devoted to writing advice for teens. Over time, it evolved into a general blog on writing advice for everyone. I blathered on and on, answered questions, etc. Since then, I’ve pointed people to that blog when they’ve sent me questions on writing, but I know that MySpace isn’t always the most, uh, reliable repository for such things. Plus, if you’re not on MySpace, you can read the blogs, but you can’t comment on them.

So once a week (probably on Wednesdays), I’ll be reprinting my writing advice blogs here on I’ll go through and edit them a little bit, too, and I might make some merges/changes, so they won’t be exactly like they were on MySpace, but they’ll hopefully still be helpful to people who are interested.

Here we go!


OK, gang! Here we are again, back for more writing advice.

This week: Adverbs!

Also: Starting actions!

“Ugh,” I hear you say. “Yuck,” I hear you say.

(And, truthfully, it bothers me to hear you say those things because that means you’re lurking around my house somewhere!)

Yeah, I know — these are NOT sexy topics. But they’re necessary.


Look, I know that J.K. Rowling has made roughly ten billion tons of cold, hard cash, and I know that the Harry Potter books are just DRIPPING with adverbs, but for God’s sake, people! Drop the “-ly” words! Keep your typing fingers where I can see them. Make no sudden moves. Step away from the adverbs V-E-R-Y S-L-O-W-L-Y.

Stephen King beats the drum on adverbs in his book On Writing, and while I don’t have the almost-pathological hatred for adverbs that he has, I do find that they are misused and inappropriate more often than not. It’s not that the adverbs themselves are inherently bad (or dangerous). It’s just that new and young writers tend to mis-use them horribly, often to groan-worthy comedic effect. And that is NOT the reaction you want an agent, an editor, or a reader to have when reading your story, right?

In most cases, you are doing a disservice to your story and your readers when you use adverbs. When used properly, an adverb can be a very effective modifier that clarifies or illuminates. But adverbs are also a seductive shortcut for writers, and the results typically aren’t pretty, especially in fiction. Writers often use adverbs to substitute for showing as opposed to telling — this is a quick way to get a point across, but it robs the story of power and steals momentum from the reader.


She put her hands on her hips disdainfully.

That’s telling, not showing. Think about it for a minute — how do you put your hands on your hips “disdainfully?” How do your biceps and triceps and the ligaments in your elbows work differently when you move them “disdainfully” as opposed to just moving them? And be honest: You don’t really care HOW she puts her hands on her hips — you just want to work in the word “disdain” so that the reader understands that she feels, well, disdain at this moment. But when you look at what I just wrote above and the questions I’ve asked, you see that this is a nonsensical way to go about it. Might as well say that she did it “redly” or “loudly.” Honest!

Try it. Put your hands on your hips.

Now do so “disdainfully.”

What’s the difference?

If you’re being honest, you’ll admit that there’s no difference at all. You might claim that when you did it the second time that you did so with a swagger, or a glare, or some other action to communicate disdain, and that’s fine.

But those other actions have nothing to do with putting your hands on your hips!

She sniffed like she’d smelled something overripe and planted her hands on her hips.
She glared at him and put her hands on her hips.
“Go to hell. Take the shortcut,” she said as she put her hands on her hips.

See how those rewrites work? The reader will understand that she’s disdainful, disgusted, etc. without you having to come right out and say it. Don’t undermine yourself with words like “disdainfully.”

“But, Barry,” you say. (And again — just where the hell ARE you hiding?) “Barry, you cheated. You made a strawman argument there. Of COURSE it’s idiotic to say that someone put their hands on their hips disdainfully. But what about just LOOKING disdainfully? What about that?”

OK. Let’s try it:

She looked at him disdainfully.

Eh. Still sucks. It’s a little better than before because it doesn’t cause the guffaws of trying to figure out the biophysics of disdain, but it’s still so close to meaningless as to be, well, meaningless.

Think about this: What does it MEAN to look at someone disdainfully? What’s going on there, from a character perspective? Whose head are we in? The looker or the lookee? The feeler of disdain or the cause of it?

She glared at him, wishing she could melt him into the ground just by the force of her glare gaze.
She looked at him in such a way that Bill immediately knew how prairie dogs felt when the puma sniffed them up and down…and decided “Not worth it.”

There. Two different perspective, both written in such a way as to communicate the character and power of that look, but without wimping out and leaning on an adverb crutch. Don’t you feel like you’ve learned more about the characters this way? Don’t you have more invested in the story now? (And, yes, I’m WELL aware that I used an adverb in that second case — immediately. That’s the RIGHT way to use an adverb: To take a verb and modify in some important way that can’t be done another way.)

If you find yourself using a lot of adverbs, that usually means that you need to think about your narrative imagery and/or your verbs. Instead of “looked quickly,” use “glanced” (never “glanced quickly,” as the word “glance” denotes quickness already). Instead of “sighed heavily,” use “sighed like a rock star trapped at an accountants’ convention.” Tossing out the adverbs forces you to dive into richer, more evocative language. And richer, more evocative language keeps the reader interested, enticed, and, yes, turning those pages.

Starting Actions

OK, this is a rookie mistake, but I see it a lot and I hate to see it!

As a general rule of thumb, it’s not a good idea to have an action “start” unless you’re going to interrupt it. It just slows things down because it makes your sentences longer and more complex than they need to be. Look at this:

Depression began to settle in.

Why is it important that the depression STARTS to settle in? No one stops it, right? And you’re probably not going to jump in later to say, “OK, now at this point, the depression had finished settling in.” It’s a pretty simple image: Keep it so. Save complicated sentences for complicated actions.

Depression settled over him like a pall.

Doesn’t that do the job just as well? This may seem nit-picky and small, but anything that slows the reader down is an excuse for the reader to put the book down. And if a reader will put the book down, you can bet an editor or agent will, too.

He started to turn on the oven to cook dinner. He thought of Melinda and of the meerkat they had once loved together. Then he made dinner.

Um, er… Look. OK, maybe in real life we start to turn on the oven and then we think of something and then we finish, but all you’re doing here is the narrative equivalent of the dialogue-choking vines we talked about last week. You’re just confusing the issue, getting the reader all bollixed up. “Is he cooking dinner while he’s thinking of this? Is dinner going to boil over? Has he preheated the oven or what?”

He made another lonely dinner for himself, standing at the stove while it cooked, thinking of Melinda and the meerkat they had loved. Ah, Scampy! Poor little Scampy, who’d been abducted by the Department of Homeland Security for visiting forbidden web sites… He sighed and took his meal to the table to eat.

See? I’ve got this guy cooking his whole meal AND flashing back to Scampy the Al-Queda Meerkat at the same time, but I don’t have to stop-and-start any particular actions. Sometimes you’re better off just dropping in the process (“made another lonely dinner”) rather than breaking it down to its component parts and trying to describe each and every one of them.

OK, then. That’s it for this week! Next week, I think, will be “The Story Is Not Reality.” One of my favorite topics, and something most writers need to know. In fact, it’s something I have to remind myself all the time…

And the ARC Goes to…

The “Win the Goth Girl Rising ARC” Contest is officially over, with entries coming through FacebookMySpace,Twitter, and both of my web sites. And the winner is…Fanboy107. (Hmm. With a name like that, maybe it’s fate?)

How did Fanboy107 win? Well, it was all random. I got so many entries and so many people used the same quotes — I decided that the fairest way to settle this was randomly. I took everyone who submitted a valid, actual quote from Kyra and put their names into a bowl, then randomly drew a winner. (Note that I said a “valid, actual quote from Kyra.” If you listed a quote from someone other than Kyra, you weren’t entered…and some of you did.)

What’s sort of funny about this system is that not only does Fanboy107 have a VERY appropriate name for this contest, but he was also the first person to put an entry on!

Fanboy107’s quote was a favorite of MANY people in this contest:

“Other people are just… there. If they aren’t helping, they’re just in the way. Weave around them, knock them over, do whatever you have to, but get past them.”

That line — and variations on it, with people using more or less of the text around it — was really popular! Twelve people total used that line as their entry.

But the most popular Kyra quote was:

“People are stupid. People suck. Period.”

That bit — and some of the text around it in some cases — was used a total of fourteen times in the contest.

What were some of the other really popular entries?

Kyra’s sobbing speech about being broken (“Yes you would. You would. Because she’s perfect. She’s perfect and I’m broken. Just a broken piece of- Broken…”) was used six times. Her rant about how “Adults are idiots” (ending with the line about “if you have the balls to tell them to shove it, they crumble.”) was used eight times. And her scathing comments about Tinkerbell and Jean Grey at the end of the book were used five times.

With something like 100 entries scattered across two MySpace pages,, Twitter, Facebook, and, though, there were also plenty of lines used only once or twice, such as:

“Damn, you always carry ammo?””Go ahead – try to get it. Go for it. I won’t stop you.”

“Calm down, fanboy. Don’t blow a gasket ok?”

“Do I pass your test, or do I have to name the founding members of the Legion of Super-Jackoffs?”

“My sister’s a freakin’ pharmacy on spiked heels ever since she lost the kid.”

And someone even dropped in Kyra’s line from her cameo in Boy Toy:

“You seem happy coming out of there. Did he blow you, or was it the other way around?”

For the record, my favorite Kyra quote was picked by someone. This is my favorite line of hers from the first book:

“Normally I’d be pissed, but your honesty and your willingness to admit you’re an idiot has endeared you to me.”

Congrats to Fanboy107, and thanks to everyone who entered! Remember: Goth Girl Rising will be in stores in the Fall and can be preordered now!

(Oh, and if you have any mad video skillz, check out another way to win the Goth Girl Rising ARC: The Goth Girl Rising Trailer Contest!)