Writing a First Book

Question:

I read your books in seventh and eighth grade and they have, along with the Twilight series and The Perks of Being a Wallflower, made a meaningful impact on my life. I am now a junior in high school and am trying to write a book of my own. When writing, I keep coming back to your books and wondering why they are so good and what they have that mine don’t. I was wondering if you had any advice for a beginning writer. How would you suggest going about writing one’s first book?

Phyllis replied:

I’m glad my books have meant so much to you.  It’s very difficult to give advice about writing a book, and actually, no one really can.  I’ve written a book called “The Craft of Writing the Novel,” which is everything I know about writing that I can put down on paper.  But the truth is that your own book should come from inside of you.  The more personal–and the more universal–the better.  It should be “the book that only you can write,” because it’s looking at the world through your own unique eyes, putting a spin with your own particular twist on the things that happen to you, that others can identify with too.  That’s about the best I can offer. I hope it helps, and wish you the best of luck.

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Rereading the Complete Series

Question:

Perhaps you remember I’d been in touch with you last spring before we went to MD to see my best friend from high school…and we took in the Dale Music Store etc. following your tips. At that point my daughter was about half way through the books.

She is now rereading everything, savoring the details since she already knows the plots.

As a mom, and a psychologist, it was great to have the opportunity to discuss life’s dilemmas in our home rather than waiting until someone gets wrapped around a telephone pole….

Thanks from both of us!

Phyllis replied:

I have a feeling I answered your email once, but found the photo you had sent of your daughter in front of a complete set of the Alice books, which you put together in singles and sets.  Hopefully at some point it will be possible for readers to get the whole set with one purchase.

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Lonely and Disconnected

Question:

I arrived at college yesterday and am staying in a dorm. We all live in single rooms. Even though it’s my second day here and I have made a few friends from the same floor, I still feel so lonely and disconnected from everything. There’s about 20 people on my floor, and the majority of those people seem to have banded together, and I feel like I’ve been left on the fringes. For the friends that I have made, I feel like we’re not really quite gelling together that well. I know it’s only the second day, and it might just be that I’m feeling tired and I didn’t get much sleep last night, But I feel really hollow and like I don’t belong. It’s not like I feel homesick, just a bit alienated. The fact that a large proportion have bonded and always seem friendly and talkative to each other makes it worse. A few times already, the people on my floor have sat around the living area of our floor with only the really outgoing people talking to each other, and bantering back and forth. I feel like I’m a more small groups, one-on-one type of person, and when large crowds just sit and talk like that I feel like I can’t get a word in edgeways and I just sort of shut down. I never expected to feel like this, and for it to be this hard. I’m scared that it’s going to be like this for the rest of the year. Even for the 2 or 3 friends that I have sort of made, it still doesn’t feel completely right and I just can’t see me being close friends, or friends I want to hang out with all the time. I feel a bit lost, to be honest. Do you have any advice?

Phyllis replied:

OK, so you’ve been there about a day and a half.  If you had emailed me that you had made two really good friends, I would find that very, very exceptional.  My guess is that at LEAST half of those girls are feeling more like you do, even if they seem outgoing and happy.  When a whole bunch of people are thrown together, it takes time to sort them out, talking to them in line in the cafeteria, before a class, watching TV, or one-on-one. Give yourself time to know them individually, and see which ones you want to hang out with and get to know better.  But as soon as possible, join a club, an activity, a team–anything where a group is focusing on something other than trying hard to find friends. The number one best way to make good friends or find a place you “belong” is through a mutual interest or activity, where you are all focusing on doing something together,exploring something, attending something, reading something, competing at something…. Just sitting in a roomful of people “hoping to make friends” can be deadly, whereas being in a play together, or singing in a group, or volunteering for a campaign, or discussing a book are all opportunities to become friends who share the same interests or values or personality as you do.

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Couldn’t Stop Crying

Question:

I can’t even begin to thank you for everything the Alice series has done for me. Alice feels so real to me! Like she’s my friend! After reading the last book, I couldn’t stop crying. It felt like a part of my life was over. So I’m just gonna read the series again! Alice has pulled me through so much in my life. Especially during puberty. I couldn’t ask for a better role model and I thank you so so much for that!

Phyllis replied:

I so appreciate your email.  It’s strange about life…when we’re young, we can’t wait not to be children anymore and become grown-up, but there’s a certain sadness, whether we admit it or not, to leaving childhood and puberty behind, and facing all the choices adults have to make.  I’m so glad the series was helpful to you.  Thanks for writing to me.

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Hated Patrick So Much!

Question:

You probably have no idea how much of an impact the Alice series has had in my life. I love them so much to the point of having re-read them several times. I think it was your books that really introduced me into the world of storytelling and now I am an intern at an ebook company called Kobo Inc. My favourite part of this company is that we can download all the books we want from our store for free!

I started reading the Alice series when I was in elementary and am now in my 20s. I was a die-hard fan until Patrick broke her heart and then I just couldn’t continue because I was hurting too. To tell you the truth, I hated Patrick so much. Time flew by and I started my internship when to my amazement, my supervisor started talking about the Alice books. Of course, I started downloading them like crazy and was so excited when I saw the entire series right before my eyes.

I raced through the series to get to the final book. I honestly felt like I was on vacation. There was a part, however, that really bothered me. Patrick broke her heart a second time (which I understand can happen) but I just don’t understand how Alice can be so forgiving when she meets him at the airport. How can she just fall into his arms as if he had never broken her heart. I mean, she can’t live with the pain forever, but I think I would have brought up the issue if my boyfriend had done the same to me some time. I was also kind of upset because Patrick was never “punished” for hurting her, which he did twice. And twice, he came back to her as if nothing had happened.

These questions have been roaming around in my head and I would love to know what you think.

Thank you so much for these books. They are forever in my heart!

Phyllis replied:

You definitely have a point, and you and some other girls would not have been so forgiving.  Meeting at the airport, however, was a turning point for both of them.  Patrick was coming home, and Alice was leaving home–even though she was only heading for Oklahoma.  Yes, he had other lovers while he was in the Peace Corps, and Alice had other dates, and even a serious relationship while he was away.  It was hard for her to read his letter, but she needed the freedom to go out with other men–to get to know them, compare them with Patrick, build up some self-confidence.  When Patrick broke up with her the first time–he wanted to date two girls at once–that was so narcissistic, so adolescent that we can hardly count that. Haven’t we all been through that in middle school or high school–either doing the dumping ourselves or being dumped?

Alice really was too dependent on her father and her boyfriend.  Her dad realized it, so did Lester.  And so did Patrick.  I’m sorry he couldn’t be your “knight in shining armor,” but it wouldn’t be real if Patrick didn’t have faults too.  When Alice was able–married, with children–to take the supervisory job she deserved, and give herself the pleasure of being the one to do the traveling, incorporating both job and family and pleasure into her life–she has matured, and placed some of the responsibility on Patrick.

But it’s okay to be mad at him.  He’s grown from the silly adolescent who once placed lemon slices on her breasts while she slept on a picnic table, to a caring dad and husband who had a brilliant career and included his family in some of the perks. And this: in each case, Patrick was completely honest with Alice. Even when he was tempted after marriage, he confided in her. He may not be your idea of the man you wanted her to marry, but there were ways Sylvia was not the perfect step-mother.  Lester did not always do what we thought he would do, or marry the kind of girl we expected.  But these are the things that make them real people instead of story-book types.

Thanks for letting me know how you feel.  It’s wonderful that you have connected with Alice again!

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How Do You Write Plot?

Question:
Dear Mrs. Naylor, I really enjoy reading your books, they’re so detailed and Alice feels so real, I’m a teen author, a young adult that’s an author not an author who writes for young adults. (Or atleast i like to think of myself as an author. (: )
& I love to write, my style is mostly, realisitic but humorous and sometimes I get ideas to just make a very imaginative fairy tale sort of story. So really I like all genres.
But I can never really stick to writing these stories because I don’t know how to make a plot, I sort of just go on and on with conversations that my characters will have but I don’t know how to make the base for the story , so I stop writing that story and start another. I basically like to free write, if that is what it’s called. :)
I get into that mode where you feel like your stories are pouring into the pencil & onto the paper, or keyboard or typewriter. :) And you don’t even have to stop and think your hands just write for you and the story just keeps making itself in your brain. That’s the best.
I love to make the characters information, like where they live,what they look like, how many siblings they have,and humurous conversations. Those kind of things, but im not very familiar with making a base for the story.
Or the ups and downs of how the story line is supposed to go, I found these plot charts on the internet, and they show at the begining of stories everything’s fine and then something happens and then problem solved and then a smaller problem occurs and then happy ending…not sure if that’s excactly how it goes though.
I want to make a plot that makes sence and catches the readers attention. If you are understanding any of this then kudos. :)
Do you have any tips for making the base of the story? How do you, get the inspiration for your plots?
I’ve looked up some things about plots but I don’t quite understand how to make an interesting plot that has to have a meaning or something important that usually leads up to the character learning a lesson. Do you always need to make them learn a lesson? And I get a sort of writers block where I don’t write stories for a long time, does that happen to you?
And do you have to pay for a pen name?
Mrs. Naylor, if you have any writers tips for a W.I.P. (writer in progress) it would be so awesome to get them from you…you’re a really great author and I love Alice.
Phyllis replied:
I could not possibly tell you how to plot in a short space, as I’ve written a whole book on how to write a novel (or a story). And I don’t plan to use this website to advertise it, but the book, “The Craft of Writing the Novel,” is no longer in print, so I sell it from my home. Your problem is a common one–you enjoy descriptive writing, building the characters, the community–but they don’t “go anywhere.”  I spend far more time thinking about a story than I do writing it.  And though all writers do things differently, I begin with a situation: “What if….?”  In my bookShiloh, for example…after I had actually come across a real dog, obviously mistreated…I asked myself the question, “What if I knew who legally owned this dog and was abusing it?  What if I  tried to buy it from him but he wouldn’t sell it?”  And then, to eliminate obvious answers, such as going to the authorities, “What if I were only eleven years old, in a rural community?” etc. etc.  Using other books of mine as examples, “What if my father was mentally ill and my mom insisted on keeping it secret?” or  “What if I were a girl living in a depressed area in Tennessee and was chosen as the one to go on a two-week exchange, moving in with a wealthy girl in Lexington?”  The Alice books were a little different, in that every book was a “slice of her life,” and you almost have to put all 28 books together to see the arc of the plot.  Try starting with something from  your own life–think of the thing that made you the most angry or the most embarrassed or sad or scared.  Write a paragraph about it and then turn it over to your imagination.  Make it happen to someone else.  Put a different beginning on it…a different end.  Expand it.  Have your main character face a definite problem, and when she goes about solving it, throw some more obstacles in her way.  Before you begin a story, you should know the beginning, the climax, the end, and a few major stepping stones along the way.  THEN you begin your story, and the delight comes in filling the rest out–the descriptions, the conversations, all the things you love to do.

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Alice Books Have Helped My English

Question:

The first Alice book I read was “Starting with Alice”. I was eight years old. I totally loved the book!  I continued reading the books over the years. I’m 14 now. I just wanted to thank you. I’m from Germany and your books have helped my English so much and made me, well, wiser. Words cannot express how much the Alice books have helped me. I even read some of the books multiple times. In sixth grade I participated in a reading contest in my district, and you know which book I chose? The Grooming Of Alice. I read a really funny part, and people laughed. I ended up winning the contest. Words cannot express how much the Alice books have helped me. I even read some of the books multiple times.

Phyllis replied:

That is so great to know.  I’ve found that humor is a good way to connect with an audience, and I’ll bet you made a good presentation. Congratulations!  Thanks so much for your email!

You’re such a big inspiration. Thank you so much.

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