New Voices: Charity Tahmaseb and Darcy Vance on The Geek Girl’s Guide to Cheerleading

Charity Tahmaseb and Darcy Vance are the first-time authors of The Geek Girl’s Guide to Cheerleading (Simon Pulse, 2009). From the promotional copy:

When Bethany–self-proclaimed geek girl–makes the varsity cheerleading squad, she realizes that there’s one thing worse than blending in with the lockers: getting noticed.

She always felt comfortable as part of the nerd herd, but being a member of the most scrutinized group in her school is weighing her down like a ton of textbooks.

Even her Varsity Cheerleading Guide can’t answer the really tough questions, like:

* How do you maintain some semblance of dignity while wearing an insanely short skirt?

* What do you do when the head cheerleader spills her beer on you at your first in-crowd party?

* And how do you know if your crush likes you for your mind or your…pom-poms?

One thing’s for sure: It’s going to take more than brains for this girl genius to cheer her way to the top of the pyramid.

Are you a plotter or a plunger? Do you outline first, write to explore first, or engage some combination of the two? Then where do you go from there? What about this approach appeals to you? What advice do you have for beginning writers struggling with plot?

Charity: I like to think of myself as doing a combination of plotting and plunging, but from all the plungers I’ve talked to, they’d definitely cast me as a total plotter

I do a lot of pre-writing and pre-work. I like to do scene cards, but I always have what I call a road map. I need to know how I’m getting from A to Z, which doesn’t meant I can’t take side trips or completely reroute the journey.

It’s the same with revisions. I need to draw a new path through the story, then I follow that.

For writers struggling with plot, I suggest investigating different methods. Not everything will resonate, but knowing what doesn’t work can be just as helpful as know what does. Look for methods that feel natural or organic to the way you write and see stories.

Darcy: I am a plunger, though I always have a premise, a couple of characters I’ve done some free-writing about, and I have a pretty good idea how the story will end. After I have that in place, I write most of the scenes in a linear progression–but if something strikes me, I might write out of order, then go back and fill in.

I like the surprises that being a plunger brings, the way the characters seem to come to life and tell me where they want to go. There are problems with being a plunger though–it’s not always the right tool for the job. Sometimes you get a clog that just won’t go away, then you have to pull out the Drano and dissolve a scene or two. And sometimes the only thing that works is a complete re-plumbing.

When that happens to me, I go back to the beginning and compare my plot to The Hero’s Journey model of story structure. I try to identify where I veered from the path or steps in the journey that I might have skipped. If that doesn’t work I call in a master plumber. I ask my writing partner or another trusted writing friend to help.

As someone with a full-time day job, how do you manage to also carve out time to write and build a publishing career? What advice do you have for other writers trying to do the same?

Charity: Probably the most significant thing I don’t do is watch television. If a show looks intriguing, I’ll get the DVD or download episodes–and I don’t do that often. This explains my answer for favorite TV show on my Simon & Schuster profile (“Firefly”). I’m still looking for time to watch “Friday Night Lights.”

For me, it’s been learning to recognize those blocks of time that I do have, along with being flexible. For instance, I wrote the rough draft of this at my daughter’s dance class. I purposely leave books at home. It’s amazing what you can write when you need to amuse yourself.

I’ve also learned the best time of day for creative writing. Endless writing books and gurus will tell you to write first thing in the morning. While I’m a morning person, this has never worked for me. I’ll do other things, exercise, edit, eat, but I’m an afternoon writer. I try to embrace that and not feel guilty because I don’t fall out of bed and let my muse spill all over the page.

Speaking of guilt, I’ve found that you have to manage that as well (or at least, I do). Sometimes it feels like you’re not writing enough, blogging enough, promoting enough. Take small steps. Complete one promotion task per day, or write a page in your work in progress. When you do get a block of time to accomplish more, you’ll be ready to go.

Darcy: Like Charity, I don’t watch much TV. I get up early most mornings (when the house is still quiet) and I try to write or do promotional tasks before I allow myself to be distracted by the lure of the Internet.

I also keep a pad of paper and pencils with me at all times. That way, when spare moments present themselves, I’m ready — even if it’s just writing down a word or two to jog my memory later.

Finally, I’m a big fan of working while I sleep. I think about the next scene I want to write or the next blog post we need to prepare just before I drift off to sleep. It’s surprising how many mornings I wake up with an answer to a plot snarl or a mental image of just how a scene should flow.

Cynsational Notes

Read the first chapter at the Simon & Schuster site. Read the story behind the story.