{MONSTROUS BEAUTY Blog Tour Guest Post & Giveaway} "Weaving the Past with the Present" with Elizabeth Fama

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Elizabeth Fama is part of Macmillan's Fall 2012 Fierce Reads campaign and will be going on a multi-city and multi-author tour in September. Details can be found on Facebook.

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 A chapter excerpt of MONSTROUS BEAUTY can be read on the Fierce Reads Fan Page and a free Fall 2012 Fierce Reads chapter sampler for e-readers is now available!
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Elizabeth Fama is the author of MONSTROUS BEAUTY and OVERBOARD, which were published a decade apart.

Elizabeth's second young-adult novel, MONSTROUS BEAUTY, was published by Farrar, Straus and Giroux / Macmillan this past Tuesday.

Her debut novel, OVERBOARD (Cricket Books, 2002), was named a 2003 Best Book for Young Adults by the American Library Association (one of only eleven books selected unanimously by the committee that year). It received the 2002-2003 honor award from the Society of Midland Authors, and it was nominated for five state readers' choice awards (New Hampshire, Texas, Illinois, Utah, and Florida). She is currently working on a young-adult alternate-history novel with the working title PLUS ONE and a middle-grade novel about a girl and her hippo (which will have AWESOME COMICS in it).

She can be found on her website and Twitter!
Check out my review of the fantastic new novel MONSTROUS BEAUTY!

Also, check out the short story "Men Who Wish To Drown," set in the world of MONSTROUS BEAUTY. It's FREE online here!
Weaving the Past with the Present
Thank you so much, Bonnie, for hosting me at A Backwards Story. And thank you for asking me to talk about how I wove the present with the past in Monstrous Beauty--a nerdy subject that I love!

Unlike any other manuscript I had ever written, I began Monstrous Beauty with an intricate outline. With two time periods and so many layers, I knew that following my usual seat-of-the-pants writing style would have been impossible.

When I started the outline I had a few goals for the story, the loftiest of which was this: to somehow pay homage to Louis Sachar's Holes by weaving a historical line with a contemporary one, including a mistake in the past that carries through multiple generations to the contemporary character. It was this goal, more than any other, that shaped the mystery of this book.

Exactly how much historical back story is in Sachar's book, I wondered? I had read his novel twice before, but the structure is so organically executed, I knew I couldn't imitate it without actually studying it.

I decided to deconstruct Holes using a technique that I developed several years ago for my own work (I'm sure I'm not the first)--a technique I call "Sentence Summaries." With Sentence Summaries, I describe each chapter of a book in one or two short sentences and then single-space the document so that it fits onto a single page. The technique gives me a visual grasp of the plot of an otherwise unwieldy, often 350-page document. It lets me step back to see the forest rather than the trees. In my own writing it allows me to see where the pacing is too slow, which chapters are overloaded, whether each chapter is wholly necessary, and when chapters feel out of place. In the case of Holes, Sentence Summaries allowed me to visualize exactly how the historical information is peppered into the narrative. After I'd compiled the Sentences for Sachar's book, I went in and highlighted in yellow the passages that occurred in the historical past, and I highlighted in gray the historical information that Stanley tells us himself in the present day. This is the end result:

Sentences for Louis Sachar's Holes

Part 1: You are Entering Camp Green Lake

Ch. 1 Green Lake is dry. Lizards will kill you.
Ch. 2 (one page) Stanley chose camp over jail. He had never been to camp.
Ch. 3 On the bus, Stanley thinks about his great-great-grandfather, the pig stealer, and his great-grandfather, the stock broker who was robbed by Kissin' Kate. He sings the family song to himself.
Ch. 4 Introduction to camp, Mr. Sir, and Mom. You can't run away.
Ch. 5 Introduction to other campers.
Ch. 6 How the shoes fell out of the sky and Stanley lost the court case.
Ch. 7 Stanley digging, alternating with Mme. Zeroni's story. (S-MZ-S-MZ-S-MZ-S-MZ-S-MZ-S)
Ch. 8 Spotted lizard lore (how they bite, jump).
Ch. 9 Stanley gets nicknamed Caveman. Zero introduced.
Ch. 10 Stanley finds fossil.
Ch. 11 X-ray requests future finds. Stanley remembers bully at home.
Ch. 12 Counseling session.
Ch. 13 Stanley finds KB lipstick.
Ch. 14 Introduce warden. X-ray gives her the lipstick.
Ch. 15 Stanley realizes they're digging for something.
Ch. 16 Zero finally talks (about Stanley's letter).
Ch. 17 Zigzag hits Stanley with shovel.
Ch. 18 Zero asks Stanley to teach him to read.
Ch. 19 Stolen sunflower seeds.
Ch. 20 Rattlesnake venom on polish. Warden scratches Mr. Sir.
Ch. 21 Stanley thinks about KB abandoning his great-grandfather (Thumb of God introduced); Zero digs Stanley's hole.
Ch. 22 Stanley teaches Zero, realizes KB = Kate Barlow
Ch. 23 (p. 101 of 233) Story of Katherine Barlow, Trout Walker, Peaches, Sam's onions heal. Ch. 24 Mr. Sir punishes Stanley by withholding water.
Ch. 25 Katherine and Sam fall in love.
Ch. 26 Sam is killed, Katherine becomes Kissin' Kate.
Ch. 27 Stanley teaches hector, Mr. Sir still punishes him with water.
Ch. 28 Trout and Linda demand Kate show them where the loot is. Lizard kills Kate.

Part 2: The Last Hole

Ch. 29 Stanley sees the Thumb of God in a storm.
Ch. 30 Warden finds out Zero's digging Stanley's hole. Zero runs away.
Ch. 31 Stanley debates going after Zero; Warden tells Mom to erase Zero's files.
Ch. 32 Stanley tries to steal the truck, then runs away.
Ch. 33 Walking past hundreds of holes. Looking for Zero in them.
Ch. 34 Finds the overturned boat and Zero hiding under it.
Ch. 35 Zero survives on Sploosh. He refuses to go back.
Ch. 36 Hiking toward mountain.
Ch. 37 Hiking up mountain. Stanley is stronger than when he came to camp.
Ch. 38 Stanley carries Zero. Digs for water. Finds onion.
Ch. 39 Gives Zero onion. Zero confesses re: shoes. Stanley sings him the song.
Ch. 40 Flowers are onions. Interspersed: Sam's onions saved Becca Tennyson.
Ch. 41 Zero improving. Stanley deepens water hole. Clyde's sneakers were stinky.
Ch. 42 Stanley has a euphoric night. Feeling of destiny. Wants to dig for the treasure.
Ch. 43 Zero's mom left him in park. They walk to camp, find hole.
Ch. 44 They dig up treasure. Warden catches them.
Ch. 45 Stanley and Zero are covered in lizards. No one will move against them.
Ch. 46 Stanley is stuck in the hole. Warden plans how to lie about Stanley's death.
Ch. 47 Attny. Gen. shows up to release Stanley. Zero reads on suitcase that it "belongs" to Stanley.
Ch. 48 Stanley won't go without Zero. Zero's records are gone.
Ch. 49 Sam's onions prevent lizard bites. Morengo tells Stanley about his dad's invention.

I was fascinated to find that there was no pattern to the drip-feed of historical information in Holes. Also, there is much less historical back story than I expected. Sachar (brilliant man) wasn't handing me a "formula," that was for sure.

In desperation I printed out my Monstrous Beauty outline and cut it to pieces, literally. I laid the scraps on the floor, and used a yellow highlighter to mark the edges of each historical section (which you can only see if you zoom in on the photo below). And then I spent a day sliding the pieces around relative to one another, like a trickster playing a shell game, hoping to hide the pearl exactly where I wanted it.

(The sheet of paper on the bottom left is Sachar's Sentence Summaries.)

Playing with the pieces created an "Aha!" moment for me. I discovered that I wanted to feed the reader tidbits of information before Hester herself discovered them, so that much of the tension would come from the anticipation of Hester's discovery. At the same time, I wanted the most important details of the mystery to be left unanswered even for the reader until the end. When the plot order looked about right, I taped the whole thing together and called that my new outline.

Unlike Holes, my story required a regularly alternating pattern of historical and contemporary information, and there was a lot more back story. But even though my structure didn't wind up mimicking Sachar's, if I hadn't dissected his book, I would never have known how to use scissors to slice up and reassemble my own.

O F F I C I A L   I N F O:

Author: Elizabeth Fama
Release Date: Out Sept. 04, 2012
Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux / Macmillan
Received: ARC for review


Fierce, seductive mermaid Syrenka falls in love with Ezra, a young naturalist. When she abandons her life underwater for a chance at happiness on land, she is unaware that this decision comes with horrific and deadly consequences.

Almost one hundred forty years later, seventeen-year-old Hester meets a mysterious stranger named Ezra and feels overwhelmingly, inexplicably drawn to him. For generations, love has resulted in death for the women in her family. Is it an undiagnosed genetic defect . . . or a curse? With Ezra’s help, Hester investigates her family’s strange, sad history. The answers she seeks are waiting in the graveyard, the crypt, and at the bottom of the ocean—but powerful forces will do anything to keep her from uncovering her connection to Syrenka and to the tragedy of so long ago.

And now, what you've all been waiting for, a chance to win your own copy of the stellar MONSTROUS BEAUTY, courtesy of Macmillan! Hurry, the last day to enter is September 30th!


  1. I love seeing this book deconstructed in this way--and how amazing that this book started out as a sort of homage to HOLES! Thanks for hosting such a great post. :)

  2. Thank you for all your outlining tips! I find it hard to outline, like Elizabeth, but in this case with two timelines you had to. Great tips, I love the visuals:)

    Thank you! Your book sounds awesome:)

  3. What a epic outlining process. I couldn't imagine doing it myself. It looks so overwhelming. But I'm sure it helps :)

  4. Today as I was looking for some tax paperwork in my office, I came across a timeline I had written for the contemporary half of the story, detailing Hester's actions down to the hour (to make sure it all fit properly, and to make the sunrise and tide data accurate to Plymouth). It seemed like another (supremely organized) person must have written it!


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