Tag Archives: Anthony Horowitz

every story has a world

Writing speculative fiction [as Orson Scott Card refers to the entire science fiction and fantasy genre] is a dream of mine. I’ve struggled with this world building concept and thought it applicable only to a couple of ideas I had about something outside the realm of contemporary or historical.

There have been a number of panels at SCBWI events on ‘world building‘. Why do I highlight that? Because most, no all, of the panel members were writers of speculative fiction. Sitting in the LA ballroom one year not too far back, I wondered. Why? Didn’t Jane Austin build a world in PRIDE AND PREJUDICE? Didn’t Sue Grafton build a world and sustain it in every one of the Kinsey Millhone mystery stories? Ellen Raskin in THE WESTING GAME? Jay Asher in THIRTEEN REASONS WHY? Anthony Horowitz ALEX RIDER?

I grew up reading Edgar Rice Burroughs’s JOHN CARTER ON MARS, Fredrick Brown’s MARTIAN’S GO HOME, Asimov’s LUCKY STARR, moving on to the LOTR trilogy, The GORMANGHAST TRILOGY, anything Frank Herbert, or Robert Heinlen, Frederick Pohl, Phillip Dick… you get the picture. I’ve probably spent more of my time in other worlds cumulatively than I have anywhere else.

The question was–why was world building only thought of in speculative fiction, in those science fiction, fantasy, paranormal stories? So when a world building intensive was offered this year at the SCBWI MidWinter Conference [with authors Henry H. Neff and James Dashner]  I signed up and brought my contemporary murder mystery set in Boston. And, interestingly, I wasn’t the only one. Although there were speculative-fiction type manuscripts at the table, there was on on discrimination in the south using the ghost of Medgar Evers, [okay, so paranormal] and one on a transgender child navigating high school.

Here’s the bottom line….


Whether it takes place on another world, in outer space, in the apartment building down the block or in a time period long past, that story exists somewhere. This isn’t just setting–as in where an event takes place, the physical. A world is so much more–it’s who’s in charge, who’s friends with whom, what is the belief system, how do they communicate.  The better the somewhere is described, the better you are able to fit the character into that description, the better the story. Makes sense, right? And well it should. This intensive made me question what was unique about my world? What ways the world impacted my story? What ways the world impacted my characters? It also made me question whether or not the world was complete, was I describing the MC’s world well enough that you could understand her predicament, how much did I develop and how much did I assume the reader would know based on the contemporary setting?  What did I need to change?

These questions helped me to be certain I had clearly identified the theme of my story. It helped me to see any inconsistencies in the way the characters behaved. And, it helped me to achieve an ending to the story that was in keeping with the character’s behavior, and it helped me to find a solution to identifying the murderers that was consistent with her world.

So. THIS WORLD. The world of my story, the one that my main character roams around in each day, this world in some ways helps define her, is important. I had to build this world, I needed to make her world complete enough that when the last page of the story is turned, this world is something you remember.

Because every story has a world. Every single one!


my kind of keynote…


A couple of years back I was advised that reading Alex Rider would be a good thing for my writing. To read like a writer and see an action novel unfold. Because of the source of the recommndation I found the first book, published in 2000, and gobbled it up. To be so cool! Here was a teen James Bond, reluctant, teenage-y, hot, and with a family member in the spy industry. Well, yes, why hadn’t I found these before? I would have killed for a book like this, Geeze, I would have killed for a life like this…apologies to my darling parents and their wonderful upbringing, but damn if I didn’t continually try to make life less sedate.

I had not focused on the conference agenda coming into NYC.I did focus on the two breakout sessions and the intensive [more on those later] and not for a minute on the speakers. So when Anthony, [oh, please can I call you Tony :-)] Horowitz was introduced by Lin Oliver, I sat up straight. I got out my note book [which I don’t do for the inspirational ones] and I was ready.

Mr. Horowitz did not disappoint. In his dapper black suit, skinny tie, and the Brit accent of the upper crust as we have been taught on BBCA, well, perhaps he could have recited the NYC phone book and I would have noted it down, but HE DID NOT.

Yes, he was inspirational. He started writing because maybe that was what he was best at of all the choices. He wanted to be Nero–set the world on fire and in the writing he knew it was a children’s book that would do it. He wrote a lot. He wrote TV shows, screenplays, and children’s books. Then came Alex!  Alex is a reluctant hero who is true to himself. Ah, to be a teenager and be true to your self. That is hard–wicked hard!

Mr. Horowitz asked for gleeful writing. Simple. Fun. And most important-True. And then he remarked that children today only experience real adventure in literature. He’s right! How many parents do let their children out to play from dawn to dusk. There is a cosseting, a cocooning, for their safety, for the parental peace of mind. And yet! What children don’t learn as a result of being tested is huge. According to Mr. Horowitz, there is not enough violence in kids books and children like violence. Life is full of violence and kids know that. That’s part of being true.

If I were in a discussion with Mr. Horowitz I would ask him about video games, and the Marvel Universe and the CGI in movies that take our breath away with their animation and their violence. About all the speculative fiction that is huge in middle grade and young adult. And, I wonder if he might say, ‘but those are not real. And kids know it.’ And he’d be right. Alex Rider is now, present, with some fantastical toys but still, now!

He said that we have a responsibility to treat this writing as an upbeat thing. To that I say, a winning thing; success, extraordinary, yes, even heroic. Write up to children, he said. Not about the ordinary, but to show the POWER OF STORYTELLING. Oh, yes!

Reflections: SCBWI NYC 2015

The NYC conference is a mash-up of greeting friends, meeting new people, get-togethers with regional members and the scheduled events. I always hope there is something I can take from the presentations be they keynotes or breakouts sessions or even intensives. Last year it was Jack Gantos who stayed with me for long after the keynote was given. The organization, the dedication, the determination was so present, not because he told us about all of that, but because he SHOWED US. He had a power point of his notebook, what his desk looked like [at a private library no less–wow] and how he plotted and planned his stories. Now that I liked, process. I can do process.

I admit to not being huge on inspirational speakers. I think just about anyone can be an inspirational speaker if the topic is themselves, talking about how they got to where they were, how much it took, what made them keep on going. And I love those speakers and speeches, they just do little for me.

When we work on our regional conferences our goal is to have solid, practical, relatable notes that can be translated into the writing or art of all participants.

The NYC conference is not based on craft for the most part. It is a series of keynotes surrounding breakout sessions with agents and editors based in New York and what they are interested in. Some, like Jordan Brown gave a craft-based presentation along with submission guidelines. Others may just tell what they want, how they want it and give submission guidelines.

So, stay tuned for takeaway number one—Anthony Horowitz.