Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Review of PASSION by Lauren Kate

I just finished Lauren Kate's PASSION and I really enjoyed it. This book was very different from the previous two - it didn't have the same structure, didn't take place at a school and I liked that Luce is finally taking charge to figure out the past instead of just putting up with Daniel being cagey and keeping secrets. Really, this was what I've been wanting to see since the beginning--to see Daniel and Luce's love throughout time. It's what made this book so special and gave it epic scope.

Over and over we get to see Luce's past incarnations fall in love with Daniel, and it seems to become real to both Luce and the reader along the journey. I loved the changing historical settings and the way Luce's character slowly makes some important realizations. As Luce begins to see that she did have a choice in all this, and over and over she chooses Daniel, as she first watches and then steps into her past selves and experiences it firsthand, both the love and the heartbreak of her death in each life, it was really powerful. I'm loving how this series has developed, and I can't wait to read the epic ending when the last book comes out next Spring!!!

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Snow

It's snowing outside and I can't help but grinning because it's so beautiful and magical. I just moved from Texas to Minnesota, and in an odd bit of weather, it's only snowed a few times so far this winter. Everyone here assures that me by March and April, I will find little about the snow magical ;) But for right now, the magical feeling stays, and I found myself humming all morning: It's beginning to feel a lot like Christmas.

This December has been completely insane and without going into TMI, let's just say it's been very emotional and rollercoaster-y, but good things have come out of it. On the 29th, I'll celebrate my ten year wedding anniversary, and it's especially meaningful this year. I look out the window and see the snow falling, and it feels like hope and new beginnings.

Monday, December 12, 2011

A Little Romanian Saying

I'm posting this week on the Brave New Words blog of debut ya sci-fi authors, check out my thoughts on a little Romanian saying that has gone a long way: Brave New Words Blog

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Two Roads Diverged in a Yellow Wood

I was never one who liked poetry much. Except for Robert Frost. I read him as a teenager when I was trying desperately to be cool and like poetry, and he was the only one who resonated. I liked that he talked about deep sh**, but that he still rhymed. It seemed then, and still does, like the mark of genius that his rhyming lines rarely sounded contrived, and still managed to convey such deep, clearly imaged ideas. After a few readings, the lines would get stuck in my head.

At the time (as an emo teenager) it was "Stopping By the Woods on a Snowy Evening" that most captivated me. The repeated line at the end, so powerful, haunted me for years, maybe haunts me still: "The woods are lovely, dark and deep, but I have promises to keep, and miles to go before I sleep, and miles to go before I sleep." The short jumble of words in this poem, it was the first time I'd really understood the power of literature. He managed to say what I felt so deep in my soul. He captured it on paper. In words I could repeat over and over.

Just last week I was thinking of "Fire and Ice," (when I was thinking about apocalyptic and dystopian literature) playing at trying to remember the lines, and finally lighting by memory upon the whole poem before looking it up on the internet. Residual memories, lines memorized a long time ago popping up again when I felt a particular emotion. So strange and awesome.

And today, the lines I couldn't get out of my head: "Two roads diverged in a yellow wood...." Over and over, like a mantra beating beneath my forehead. "Two roads diverged in a yellow wood, two roads diverged in a yellow wood, two roads diverged in a yellow wood..." I want to grab Robert Frost by the lapels and demand: but how the hell do you know which is the best f'ing road to take??? But alas, he is not here, and his lines, like ice, will suffice. At least so perfectly to portray the dilemma, if not offering any clear answer.

Sunday, November 27, 2011

Am I a Grown Up Writer Yet?

So, as I edit this dry bones draft, I started another document called "Emotional Big Ideas" in which I write scenes, throughout the day (or the middle of the night) about the emotional zingers--scenes that help me see clearly who my characters are and what they want. I don't know exactly where the scenes will go, or if they'll even make the cut when I start pasting things into the new draft, but it's so helpful to start to get a real feel for who my characters are. This side document is now 40 pages long.

I never used to understand when writers would talk about all the pre-writing and extra character development writing that wasn't actually part of the draft. I'd think: all that wasted time! those wasted pages!

Yeah, I'm finally getting the idea.  Does this mean I'm getting to be a Grown Up Writer? Lol, we'll see, my lovelies, we'll see. Meanwhile, I listen to Florence + The Machine's sophmore album, and am inspired.

Monday, November 21, 2011

When in Doubt, Double

This is my newest writing trick. I'm working to bring a dry, bland manuscript to life, so as I go in to rewrite scenes, I'm trying to make every scene a double of something else (usually a big emotional theme in the book). So if there's an action scene, something in it has to double another scene or parallel an emotional theme. A conversation between friends? It too needs to have that doubleness to it - always external action that's relating to the internal drama. Because really, it's the slowly building internal, emotional action that makes us care about characters.

It's another way of saying that there is no unmotivated scene as a writer. No scene that's just there as a place holder or a way to fill space. No. Everything has to keep building up toward the climax. No plateaus. Not if you want a tension-filled, compelling book.

I think I did this more naturally with the first book. This one, I don't know. I think I was trying to keep it from being too dark and depressing or something. Or I was just kind of at a rough point emotionally in my own life. But all it really resulted in was me not digging into the characters. Emotional conflict is eternally compelling, ya can't get around it. Conflict is what makes stories.

Some writers are able to write funny books, light books that still have a driving conflict. Yeah. Not me. I gotta go for digging salt in the wounds. And then doubling it ;)

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

We Now Interrupt This Regularly Scheduled Program...

So I might be interrupting work on my NaNo project of book 3 to pause and try to figure out what the hell is going on with Book 2. I got a beta read that was a perfect zinger, cutting through my crap and pointing out some of the core problems with the book - namely, that we don't feel connected to the main character, that there doesn't seem a lot of reason to care about her, that it's emotionally dry.

Underneath, I knew it. Everything I built up in book 1 just kind of fizzled here. It's like a skeleton, dried out dead bones. There's a sort of life-like structure, but not much flesh and no heart. I meant to keep working on book 3, but now that I see so clearly what needs fixing on book 2, I don't think I can go forward without pausing to dig into it. Also, if I don't figure out what's going on emotionally in this book, how can I blunder forward with the next book, making the same mistakes?

So I've spent a lot of my writing time today staring into space. Trying to feel out what draws me to a good story. How to develop an emotional core.
I think one secret to doing this is NOT to just have events occurring and your mc just being batted around by circumstance. Good TV shows have a way of doing this--creating a doubleness to the action so that it's always mirroring something going on internally with the characters. I'm thinking specifically of last season of Fringe. For example, there's one episode where they are investigating a doppelganger and Peter explicitly asks how the person's partner hadn't known the person they were sleeping with had been switched. Of course, in a perfect case of dramatic irony, the audience knows what Peter doesn't. The person Peter himself is getting close to isn't who he thinks she is either. And just like the spouse of the person in the case, he doesn't notice the difference, even when its so blatantly in front of him.

When shows do this well, it's like a kick in gut as you watch. It's so enthralling having the reinforced emotional texture rebounding at a number of different levels. The first season of Lost did this really masterfully too. Everything occurring in the present action would then be mirrored in the flashbacks of one character's life before--both stories weaving together into one cohesive emotional whole that packs far more punch.

Now if I can just figure out how to work this out in my novel. Every scene should be building on this emotional tension and speeding up to the climax. What does my mc want? What is her obsession? What is she dying in want of?

Monday, November 14, 2011

Writing vs. Revising: Grass is Always Greener on the OTHER Side!

I'm amused by the amount of contortion the goat in the picture is going through to get to the greener grass. Um yeah. That's pretty much what being a writer feels like sometimes! Last month after I'd been editing for so long, I declared with complete assurance that drafting was far easier and more fun than editing.

Yeah. Until I start drafting again.

I've been NaNoWriMo-ing the rough draft of Book 3 in my trilogy, and today I was thinking the whole time: I can't wait until this gets done so I can start editing again. Editing is so much better than drafting!!

Then I remembered I'd thought the exact opposite a month ago. The thing is, to be honest, both writing and revising have their perks and downsides. It's easier to feel productive when writing a first draft. Literally productive even - I mean, that little word count number just keeps going up! It's so satisfying. I set a word count to reach for the day, I reach it, then I feel satisfied that it's been a good day's work accomplished.

Revising on the other hand, is pretty amorphous. A lot of the time you are cutting out entire sections, then re-writing, so if you're looking at word count, some days it goes down!

But here's the down-side of drafting. They're called rough drafts for a reason. Because sometimes it can be really rough. And just plain sucky. It makes me antsy to get to editing so I can fix it all up, and see the bigger picture. So I can make it STOP SUCKING! Plus I half think I'm a better editor than writer. I'm better at shaping the mass of words and plot after there's already a sizeable chunk there to start with. So I try to remind myself of that as I keep writing. I'm giving myself a big chunk of clay to work with later.

But I have the patience of a gnat, and just want it to be pretty now! I hit 20,000 words today, so then I just try to think: well, even if can't quite get hold on the process, or how best to both write and revise, even if I feel like I'm just bumbling around blindly with everything I do--at least it's still moving forward. Gotta take what you can get sometimes.

Thursday, November 10, 2011

DARKER STILL by Leanna Renee Hieber

DARKER STILL by Leanna Renee Hieber

Goodreads Description:
Picture of Dorian Gray meets Pride and Prejudice, with a dash of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde.
New York City, 1882. Seventeen-year-old Natalie Stewart's latest obsession is a painting of the handsome British Lord Denbury. Something in his striking blue eyes calls to her. As his incredibly life-like gaze seems to follow her, Natalie gets the uneasy feeling that details of the painting keep changing...
Jonathan Denbury's soul is trapped in the gilded painting by dark magic while his possessed body commits unspeakable crimes in the city slums. He must lure Natalie into the painting, for only together can they reverse the curse and free his damaged soul.

My review:
This book was so much fun. A historical paranormal mystery with a perfect sense of place and rich setting, Darker Still draws you into Natalie Stewart's world and keeps you flipping pages. The book opens as Natalie comes home from a school for the disabled and starts trying to finding her way in the world, in spite of her muteness. But the part of herself, and her past, that she's long tried to deny comes bubbling to the surface when she sees the enigmatic painting of Jonathan Denbury.

I really liked the way the story was told through journal entries. It connects so well with the story-telling tropes of novels from a similar period, like how Wuthering Heights and Dracula are narrated. It only amplified the tone of the story, completely immersing you in the period. At the same time, the characters are still relatable enough for it to feel like a modern story.

And yeah, can't forget to mention that there are some super passionate scenes in this book!!! But with that fabulous sense of restraint and decorum of the period. The mystery and action builds throughout. Loved, loved, loved it.

Monday, November 7, 2011

NaNo Wk 1--Upping Word Count & Staying Passionate

I'm at 11,500 words on my NaNoWriMo project, which is book 3 in my Glitch trilogy. It's my first official NaNo, and I'm pretty much having a blast. I used to always write first drafts quickly. Funnily enough, I think this draft is actually going slower than previous drafts, but I'm glad for the motivating framework of NaNo. My deadlines used to be provided for me by the schedule of school semesters, but have been somewhat lacking since I'm taking a semester break just to write.

Yes, I do see the irony of taking time off to write, and then the actually writing being so much slower and more difficult than under the pressure-cooker of grad school schedule! But at the same time, I'm a lot saner ;)  So in the end, I'll take the trade-off.

I'm reading other people's updates and watching their word-counts grow, and it's mainly encouraging. But here's the thing: I hated wasted pages worse than anything! I kinda refuse to write scenes that I know AS I'M WRITING them will have to be re-written.

This hating-wasted-pages-thing started when I was just pantsing a draft of a novel a couple years ago, a retelling of Jane Eyre. I'd just been going off the cuff without an outline, and I realized after I'd written about a hundred and fifty pages that a big plot point early on needed to change (a hundred pages ago), that would negate 2/3 of the draft I'd written.

Do you know how long it takes to write a hundred freaking pages??? A long time. A lot of wasted energy.

So now, I'm learning the fine line between plotting out every little thing to the point of being frozen on a draft because you want to make sure they aren't wasted pages, and actually just getting the shitty first draft down.

For this new project, drafting Book 3, since I'm under the auspices of NaNo, I can't just take three days off to perfectly plot out a logical escape, or the infiltration, etc. This is the cool part about being at this point in my writing career, and having so much experience under my belt. I recognize as I go which parts I'll end up re-writing. So instead of wasting energy and pages at the get-go, I just put a bracket and write a place holding message like: [kidnap programmer guy here] or [break into facility here] and then I keep on going with the stuff that I've already thought out so I can just keep writing and building word count.

As I draft this new project, my other big concern is that I not lose the passion that set me writing in the first place. I lost sight of it at times during the drafting process of Book 2, and I kind of refuse to do that again. I'm a writer because I love it. Because I love stories that move me. Those are the only kind of stories I want to tell. If I lose sight of it, if I let it turn into A Job, then I'm missing the freaking point. Not to mention that people can feel the difference when they read the finished product.

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

NaNoWriMo & Book 2 Difficulties

For the first time, I'm actually at a place where I can participate in NaNoWriMo. I'm not in school right now, don't have many deadlines, and just finished editing a draft of book 2. My November is all free, spanning out in front of me, and after editing for so long, I've been itching to actually start WRITING again. I've missed the plain old freedom of starting a new draft and building up word count.

Writing book 3 feels different than the last one, I can already tell. I'm having more fun. I think with book 2, I felt this crazy pressure and doubts -- what if I couldn't write another book as good as the first? What if I couldn't write it in the time frame needed?? What if being under contract completely stifled my inner muse?!?!

Book 2 got written this summer, somehow. But with all the difficulty I had editing it, and the distance of a few months, I think it was partially written out of that place of fear. All those worries made me frantically produce a first draft, sure. But it wasn't as good. It was robotic at parts, where my narrator would just relay what was happening like she was reporting it. It's in first person, but still, it wasn't clear what her motivations were and why the reader should be propelled through the story. In short: why should the reader care about her? It lacked heart. And for good reason-- I didn't really know what was going on with her!!! I didn't know why she was doing things, I was just moving my characters around like a puppeteer dragging them through a show, getting from one plot point to another. This summer was also just very hard personally for me. I myself was muddled, so it only makes sense that, along with the other pressures I let myself be controlled by, it bled into my writing.

But I don't feel any of that dread or doubt about writing book 3. As hard as book 2 was, and as stilted as the product may have been at first, I did finish it. I'm not worried anymore my ability to write under contract anymore.

What I feel as I approach book 3 is a sense of freedom to explore the story and an anticipation for writing that I haven't felt for a good long while. For the past few weeks, scenes have been tumbling over themselves and playing out in my head--always the sign that I'm excited and passionate about a project. I have this spidy-sense that this is going to turn out to be a good book--it's the same sense I had when I was writing Glitch to start with. I'd faced rejection numbering into the hundreds for the other three novels I'd written and queried in the past, but this time it just felt different. I had this strange confidence that this was going to be the one. And it was!

As for book 2, I just finished a big edit round on it, so I have zero perspective right now. I suspect it's still stilted and muddled in parts, but that's the beauty of having an editor and team of readers behind you as an author. They'll point out where it's all wonky and I'll do re-writes and get it into shape. I feel confident about that too.

And in the meantime time, at least until I get the last big round of edits on book 1, I get to dabble in the fields of drafting delight. I'm so glad to be reminded again: I really love writing.

Saturday, October 29, 2011

Kiersten White's SUPERNATURALLY is a Sparkly Batch of Awesome!

ZOMG, I love Kiersten White's Paranormalcy series! I just devoured the second book, and it was so much fun. Like: laugh out loud funny at parts. And let's face it, YA can be heavy with heavy sometimes. Ok, a lot of the time. There's lots of family members dying and betrayal and violence and sadness in YA lit. Did you read the last Hunger Games book? It's like a non-stop PTSD trip, only barely able to breathe before something else horribly traumatic happens.

So it is just so refreshing to read a book that's so spunky, and again I say, fun! And yet it  also has a deep core of great story-telling, themes, and heart underneath. You can't say Evie doesn't face some difficult *bleep* (to use her stand-in word), but the story-telling voice is still so snarky and funny, exemplified in the hilarious chapter headings. My favorite, the one that had me seriously rolling laughing: Sparkles Make Everything Better.

 Yes, Evie. Sparkles do make everything better :D

Also, from a writerly point of view, I'm kind of obsessed with seeing how writers handle sequels. Can the romantic tension keep up? Can the character's voice stay compelling? And are characters not put in just such horrible circumstances that it's hard to read the dang thing? White's book is obviously a check, check, and check.

It's not lightly that I say that this series is one of the few around right now that I'm super invested in and can't wait for the third book!

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Between The Sea and Sky Review

Between The Sea and Sky by Jaclyn Dolamore. So, full disclosure: I watched The Little Mermaid every single day after school for a YEAR in 2nd grade. I have a special warm place in my heart for mermaid stories :D  And Jaclyn Dolamore more than fulfills all those old-world mermaid fantasies and introduces a new generation to the romantic mermaid fairytale in this book!

My first impression of this book was that it reminded me of Robin McKinley's books back in the day, like Beauty and Rose Daughter and The Hero and the Crown, those epic fantasy/fairytales that completely sweep you up. The suspension of disbelief is instant--this is a novel not aiming for realism--we don't get a modern day exploration of the logistical ins and outs of being a mermaid. Instead we are presented with the fantasy world, and it is so instantly compelling you allow yourself readily to be taken to the story-realm.

Here's the Goodreads description, that summarizes better I can:

For as long as Esmerine can remember, she has longed to join her older sister, Dosinia, as a siren--the highest calling a mermaid can have. When Dosinia runs away to the mainland, Esmerine is sent to retrieve her. Using magic to transform her tail into legs, she makes her way unsteadily to the capital city. There she comes upon a friend she hasn't seen since childhood--a dashing young man named Alandare, who belongs to a winged race of people. As Esmerine and Alandare band together to search for Dosinia, they rekindle a friendship . . . and ignite the emotions for a love so great, it cannot be bound by sea, land, or air.

I liked the build as Esmerine travels into unknown lands (the surface) without knowing what's coming next. Her relationship with Alandare is pitch perfect. A girl of the sea and a boy of the sky: could there be a more star-crossed pairing?  At the beginning there's that awesomely awkward stage of getting to know a childhood friend as an adult, on adult terms. And Alandare is so delightfully flawed, bookish and slightly socially awkward, but still charming. . The build of romantic tension and then the climax of the book, so powerful and so emotional and sigh! I loved it. Five stars.

Between the Sea and Sky hit shelves this week! Go grab a copy!!
*My thanks to NetGalley for providing a review ARC of this book.

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Randomosity, aka What I've Been Up To This Week

So this week I:
- finished editing a solid draft of book 2!!!!!!!!!!
- am working to finish a couple beta reads still out
- finally acknowledged the extra ten pounds I gained this year aren't going to magically melt away went and bought pants that actually fit. Fitting into your pants in the morning and not having to squirm like a pig trying to get into its blanket = WIN!
- cleaned out my inboxes
- am toying with the idea of writing book 3 during NaNoWriMo. I have the time. I'm not in school and don't have a job, so I guess that theoretically means I'm a full time writer ;)  And drafting is a great high. There's nothing like that piling up word count. It feels so tangible, in a job that is often so not. I don't know if I'd get the whole thing done in a month, but I think I could get at least a hefty half, and I like being part of the energy of people around the country, even the world, all writing together. I have an outline, and I've been day-dreaming scenes from it the past couple weeks, a sure fire Good Sign.
- am reading the Game of Thrones series and trying to remember how to speed read ;)

Sunday, October 23, 2011

Game of Thrones

I'm reading the second book in the Game of Thrones series. It's quite strange to read when I pretty much ONLY consume YA lit the rest of the time. The tone is so different, the shifting point of views, the slow and drawn out story-telling. And it is taking me so long to read! I've been at it half the day and have barely made a dent in the 750 page tome. But I am just a slower reader lately, though I didn't used to be. I know I consumed Terry Goodkind's entire 11-book series last year, and each one was as long. But this has been such a strange year all around.

In this series, there is so much to like. I love the epic scale. The slow build, character storylines that never meet each other, but there's that unspoken promise that eventually they will tie together. I like that George R.R. Martin tells the story from the point of view of the outcasts of society, from that of an old man who has trouble climbing the stairs and who's counsel is no longer sought, from the little person mockingly called Imp, from the eyes of children, the disabled, from the woman who was all but sold and then holds the key to bringing dragons back to life. I like that kingdoms may rise and fall on their doings, and not those of the beautiful and strong.

As I said, it has been a hard year. I park in disabled spots and limp exhaustedly into stores. Other days I don't have energy to leave the house. George R.R. Martin's book here reminds us that people, of all shapes and sizes and abilities, matter. And matter on an epic scale ;)

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

When You Can't NOT - What Being a Writer is Really About

A common story gets told about when a more experienced writer or poet comes to a class of new writers: when the eager young writers ask for advice, the seasoned, wizened (and one can assumed, a bit weather-worn) writer says this, "First Piece of Advice--do anything else other than be a writer!"

This was kind of novel the first time I heard it. It speaks to how hard it is to make a living as a writer, of the trials and tribulations within the writing lifestyle itself, and of how little appreciated writers may be within our society.

But let's be honest. None of the young writers listen. We all still want to be writers!!! Perhaps we think: our path will be smoother, our genius more quickly recognized, that our success can be attained! But once the rejection piles start stacking up, the young writer looses their first enthusiasm, and hopefully, their delusions of grandeur. And yet some of them will just keep writing anyway. The pack thins out.

Because here's the deal. If you're a writer, you just can't NOT write. It doesn't matter how many time rejections bury you under your covers for days on end. It doesn't matter how darling your story or novel was that has been unanimously rejected across the board. You just keep writing because you can't not.

That's what being a writer is about. And sometimes, as my fellow Apocalyspies and I have discovered, it can even lead to the impossible: a book deal.

And sure, that's a brief awesome blip in your life as a writer. But then the day of the big announcement comes and goes, and it's still back to the bones of being a writer: the page in front of you, and whether you'll write today.

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Cover Reveals!!

It doesn't take much to get me encouraged and back on track again, and a couple of peeps' kindness in the past few days have allowed me to do just that. I'm fired up with edits on book 2, making lists of the things left to fix, and generally being enamored with all things.

And to celebrate, let's all look at some gorgeous newly released covers of fellow 2012 debut-ers:

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Kathleen Peacock's Hemlock
Anne Greenwood Brown's Lies Beneath
Suzanne Lazear's Innocent Darkness
S.J. Kincaid's Insignia

I can't wait to read these!!!!

Sunday, October 16, 2011

Discouragement & Solitude

So my chronic illness relapsed about three weeks ago (right after that post about how great I was feeling, naturally!), and I’m trying to dig my way out again. I can manage about two hours out and about in the world each day, as long as there is comfortable enough seating.

Which is a problem at the Zen Center. I’m discouraged that even a group founded on the basis of SITTING still involves too much athleticism for me. I need to sit on something that has back support, and here’s the kicker: head support as well. And, understandably I suppose, there are no lounge chairs at the Zen Center. I tired more quickly than normal during the hour-long class this morning, which itself is in a room up three flights of stairs.

Still, I thought, perhaps there is a way for me to be involved at the center and to meditate during the week with others. I can manage 30 minutes of sitting on the floor if I can rest my back against something at least. I asked if it was all right if I sat leaning against the wall, and was very kindly informed that no, meditation during the week at this center is done facing the wall, not leaning against it. It’s okay, I understand—there is order and ritual involved here, and I’m not going to try to tromp in like a bull in a china shop demanding accommodations.

But I am discouraged. It all circles round to what I’d rather it not: that if I’m going to do this and really develop a meditation practice, I have to do it alone. More solitude, in all it's many textures.

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Natalie Goldberg & Author Signings

I talk a lot about Natalie Goldberg. I first was introduced to her when I started writing and heard about this Must-Have Writing Book: Writing Down The Bones. I picked it up, wondering if it would turn into a case of over-hype. It didn't. There is something really special about that book.

Only now, finally (though it has been sitting on my shelves for a couple years) am I reading her first memoir piece, Long Quiet Highway. The cover is gray. The name sounds slow. Quietness is not much of a hook. And we in YA circles are so very interested in good hooks ;) But now I am so eager to devour stories of people engaging in meditation, especially women. So I read Eat Pray Love (I'm still in the middle of it), and devour Goldberg's memoir, so youthful, hopeful, optimistic. She goes and lives in a tipi in a commune in Taos. She is a hippie. She loves writing. She wants to meet her own mind. The book is saturated with these loves and longings. The book is written in 1993, when she's around 45 years old.

I met her in person a couple of years ago, at a reading and signing. 'Met' is a strange word when it comes to author signings. You have a minute, maybe more, with this person you've all but idolized, and here they are, in person! but they are tired and there is a long line behind you, and all you can sputter off is some quick nonsense about how much you've been moved by your work, and they sign your book, and look you full in the face maybe, and then it is over.

And I have a crap memory, so I don't remember much about it, except, she seemed like a very strong woman. Strong, opinionated. A teacher who had so many students she didn't put up with much crap anymore. A strong woman, comfortable in her age. And I have her signature on a book in my apartment. Meanwhile, I feel far more connected to her through this memoir of hers I am reading. And this place, meeting people at the Zen center here in Minneapolis and trying out sitting in meditation, I feel more connection to her than ever.

As a writer, I wonder, when my book is published and people read it, will they feel connected to me? Will they feel like they know me? And appropriate me for themselves, as I myself have done with so many authors in my long reading history? I think this will be a funny moment, when I am the one signing books at readings.

Sunday, October 9, 2011

Beginning Zen & Crumbling Idols

I went back to the Zen center today for another beginner's class (the 2nd of 4). I've been sitting for meditation by myself most days this past week. It is... Well, now I don't really know how to describe it! It is calming. It is not earth-shattering. But on days that I do it, I find myself more mindful of my thoughts as they pass the rest of the day.

And I have been writing, really writing again. I'm getting ahold of the book finally, it starts to feel less chaotic, less disorienting. I have set a deadline for this draft. The self-discipline of meditation has spilled over into that of writing. When I face resistance in writing now, it is no great shock. As most writers will attest: it is what happens. I acknowledge the resistance, I gently nod to it in greeting. And then I put my pen back on the page and keep writing.

It's funny, reading Natalie Goldberg's writing books was my first introduction to Zen (though I didn't know it at the time, I just knew I liked the way she saw the world). I found out only after I'd visited the Zen center here in Minneapolis that it was founded by her teacher, Katagiri Roshi. She wrote Writing Down the Bones and Long Quiet Highway while still half-idolizing him, before she became so disillusioned after his death when she discovered he'd carried on affairs with some of his other female students.

I'm glad to hear this tale of disillusionment as I begin. Is that funny? I like to see things get real, to have the illusion debunked that there is any way of life that will keep men holy. I saw it enough in Christianity, I was not surprised to find it here as well. People are people, thier foibles and sins remain. All idols have clay feet, and tend to crumble given enough time (and power or authority). Our human-ness will out.

I feel more compassion for this condition than I have in the past. But then again, I am more compassionate with myself. Most days anyway ;)

Monday, October 3, 2011

Zen & Meditation & Eat Pray Love

I have a bit of a pattern to my days now, though I hesitate to write it down, because I feel like every time I assert something lately, it's doomed to change the next day. But I will chance telling you all anyway ;) 

I wake up, take my son downstairs and wait for the bus, come back up to my apartment, make some coffee and read and meditate. Well, sort of meditate. Usually I sit quietly and listen to music and try to focus on sensory input and still my wandering mind. I watch trees out the window. At my old apartment I watched the birds in delighted fascination. But I tried it 'for real' this morning, with the whole sitting quietly for a set period, just focusing on breathing. I don't know what to think of it yet. But I liked what the teacher last Sunday at the Zen center said: that this is an experiment, something we are trying out as a way to be present in our lives. He repeated part of a poem by Dogen several times: "to study zen is to study the self, to study the self is to forget the self, to forget the self is to be connected to all things." I like that.
So I go write in the afternoons, take care of my son on alternate days after school, and spend most evenings reading. And lately my evenings have been spent reading Elizabeth Gilbert's Eat Pray Love. I thought this book sounded silly when it came out and became so popular. Sure, I thought, rolling my eyes, some chick going around the world to find herself and talk about some spacy God-hybrid (you know, all the religions mixed into one), complete with having heart-warming stories that sum up nicely at the end of each chapter and make everyone who reads it feel good.

But then, I watched Gilbert on a You-Tube video, and you know what, she seemed pretty great--down to earth and compassionate. And then I looked up a bit about her book and realized: a woman who hits a crisis, goes through a divorce, and talks about meditation? I need to read this book ASAP.

So I picked it up last week and am reading slowly through it. I like it. Some moments are just perfectly captured, even transcendent. I've cried several times while reading. Gilbert is very likeable, even if some of her stories do have that too-familiar 'testimony' feel--you know, that art of crafting stories out of one's daily life more according to the lines of narrative punch than actual reality, where there's always a lesson to be learned, some clear out-come to be gleaned (a good testimony even follows the narrative arc: conflict, rising action, climax!, resolution). And when Gilbert asks questions of god, she gets (or as she says, some part of herself provides), answers. Like answers answers. In words. Which always disturbs me a bit, because it was stories like this that were so confusing when I was very religious for a full decade, and so desperately hoping to hear an answer from God.

Here's the thing--I may take up meditation, I may try out participating in the community at this or another Zen center, but I am not looking for enlightenment, I'm not looking for an intense spiritual experience, and I'm certainly not looking for God.

But I would like to be a little bit less bewildered feeling all the time. I would like some peace. And I have seen the way that this lifestyle engenders compassion. That's what I would like to see organically grow in myself: peace and compassion. If there's a long history that says this kind of meditation can bring that, then I will try it out, and try it genuinely. I can do self-discipline. I face resistance and overcome it with writing fairly regularly, I think it will not be entirely foreign to sit everyday and try to focus my breathing and let go of the monkey thoughts.

We'll see. Like the teacher said, it's an experiment.

Saturday, October 1, 2011

The Hardest Question in Life: What Do You WANT?

The instructor in my writing class said that what drives plot is this question: what does your character want?

This is a devilish question. It startled when she said it, because I've been quite tied up with plotting out this book (book 2 in my trilogy) very externally: this happens, and then this, which leads to this. The cause and effect thing I had down. But I realized there was a problem as I was reading through the first draft I'd written this summer: it had no heart, it had no soul. There was no reason to care about my main character, because she's a muddle.

What does she want?

Oh, you horrible, very important question. And it only hit me today, because I must be slow, and because things in my life have been quite hard lately--she's a muddle because I'm a muddle. What do I want?

Believe it or not, it was this exact question that set me off on some of these Big Change Life Choices earlier this year. I read this question (or a version very similar to it) in a book and literally threw the book down as if it had burned me: "Where do I feel good? What is giving me joy?" --Joseph Campbell, in A Joseph Campbell Companion: Reflections on the Art of Living

My answer to what my character wants as I looked through my muddled draft today was: she wants things to start being okay, for them not to be bad for awhile. But really that is what I want. On my quest to find joy and to answer the question of what I want, all I have so far  discovered is What I Do Not Want: loneliness, sadness, bewilderment. Divorce is hard.

My novels are in first person. My main character, Zoe, is both like, and unlike, me. I think she will need different motivations from me--that the motivation that drives a novel cannot just be for things to be okay. Though maybe she's a little understandably shell-shocked from some things that have happened. And I have always used writing as a way to work through and understand my own world. If I can let my main character be more honest, let myself be more honest, I think it will give soul to the book. But I don't want this to be a sad book. I'm tired of the cliched middle novel of trilogies being The Sad Book ;)

Saturday, September 24, 2011

Scott Westerfeld & Plot Knots

I got to hear author Scott Westerfeld speak at The Wild Rumpus bookstore today, and it was wonderful. I go to YA author events as often as I can and Westerfeld was definitely among the top speakers I've ever heard. He has an easy style, had a really interesting talk (and pictures!) prepared about how pictures stopped being popular (in anything other than young children's books) these days when they used to be so prominent, and the Q&A time was killer.

Things he said that stood out to me:
- someone asked him basically what kind of reaction he got when he came up with this complicated "weird" story idea for the Leviathan series. His response was awesome--that complicated stories are a lot easier to write than simpler ones--there's so much to explain, so many places you are freed to go with it. He gave the example of trying to summarize Season 3 of Buffy--and how hard that is to do quickly because there are so many intricate things going on with so many characters and interweaving storylines. And Westerfeld does do some seriously complicated storylines. I loved the Uglies series, but it was really his Midnighter's series that impressed me with some f'ing SMART, intricate, kick-ass storytelling. Really, Leviathan too. So intricate, so smart, love it.

-which leads to the next thing he said that totally surprised me: he says he's not a plotter! Doesn't do outlines. He just goes with it, and said he'd rather just try things out and write it several different ways if he has to. And when he comes to a plot knot that may arise, between research and his extensive worldbuilding, he always finds a solution. For example, if you've read Leviathan and Behemoth: he didn't know what kind of creature was in the eggs for a long time!!! Then it turned out to be the awesome perspicacious loris!

I am a big Plotter. But I'm learning you can only take it so far: you outline, you write, then you step back and see the story has a giant lump sticking out the side that's going to have to be lopped off (aka, I think I'm gonna have to kill this one scene). But once you do that, the whole shape is now wonky, and you have to re-think what it's going to look like. Plotting and outlining shouldn't be taken to the point where you forget to allow the story to grow organically--you are not some supreme god able to control every element of the book you are writing and the world you are creating in it. It should surprise you.

Art imitating the Big Things I'm learning about life: trying to hold onto it with a clenched fist of control isn't the way to go. Things will be a lot more exciting and spontaneously creative if you learn to let go.

So, I'm looking at this mass of words that will eventually be a book, a cohesive and hopefully moving thing. And I'm teasing out thoughts and playing around with the shape (without trying to be so immediately controlling), just digging my fingers in the clay and seeing where it goes. Some question tools I'm using as I explore:
  • What's the emotional core of this book?
  • What's the climax (and how does that connect to the emotional core)? 
  • How are all these chapters driving towards that climax?
  • What's necessary, what's not?
  • How do I bring these characters to life?

Friday, September 23, 2011

Giveaway of Gabrielle Zevin's ALL THESE THINGS I'VE DONE

Enter to win ALL THESE THINGS I'VE DONE by Gabrielle Zevin!!  I've loved Gabrielle Zevin ever since I came across her freaking AMAZING book Elsewhere, and she was actually the first YA author I heard speak and do a reading (for the debut of Memoirs of a Teenage Amnesiac) after I'd begun writing seriously.

So I have warm feelings in my heart for Zevin, and I was worried about over-anticipating this book. But I need not have worried! I devoured this book over the weekend and am reminded of why I loved Zevin's writing in the first place. The narrator's voice is just spot on, authentic, and all of Zevin's characters feel so very real. And dang, some DRAMA goes down in this book, you gotta check it out!

To enter, please COMMENT with your name, email address, and add up any extra points.
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How To Save Your Own Life

My insecurities can run away with me if I don’t watch it. I’ve felt like I’ve been walking around for a few weeks now frantic and absolutely bewildered. Time moves too fast, then too slow. I feel no control over my life or the hours as they slip by. I thought of the perfect image to encapsulate how I feel today—being caught in an riptide, being swept further away from the shore by forces stronger than oneself and not able to get control or break the surface.
There’s this lyric from Adele’s “Turning Tables”:
Next time I’ll be braver, I’ll be my own savior.

Makes me think of the title of Erica Jong’s book: How To Save Your Own Life. I hated the book, but the title is still one that’s stuck rattling around my head years later.

There are some admittedly crappy things going on in my life. Things I wanted to go one way, and the opposite happens. My health junking out on me again. There are also some very wonderful things.

It's NOT that I need to adjust my expectations, or ‘let go’ of expectations, or even pull myself up by my own emotional bootstraps—I think really it’s one of those things where I need a different paradigm. I’m asking the wrong questions about how life should be lived, and about what constitutes a ‘good’ and ‘bad’ life.

I felt the frantic and the awkward self-consciousness bubbling up before my writing class tonight, so I sat out in the car in the parking lot beforehand for awhile. I turned on some quiet music. I sat still. I concentrated to my connection and relationship to all the things around me—my fingers on the steering wheel, the air blowing on my face, the trees gently moving outside my windshield. If I am connected to the things, much less the people, surrounding me, all my self-involved concerns of awkwardness fade from the foreground.

And I suspect that control (or at least, peace) comes when I abandon my clenching fist, trying so desperately to control outcomes (which tend not to obey anyway).

How to save my own life might in this instance mean: number one, that change is possible--it is possible to stop drowning, but beating at the water more frantically isn't the way to do it. Instead, stop thinking about the self in such isolated individualistic terms and learn to exist, present, in each moment, connected to the things and people around you.

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Interview with Elizabeth Richards

Today I'm interviewing the fabulous Elizabeth Richards about her novel BLACK CITY, debuting from Putnam in Fall 2012!

Summary of Black City:
Deep in the heartland of the United Sentry States are the burning ruins of the Black City, a melting pot simmering with hostility as humans and Darklings struggle to rebuild their lives in the aftermath of a brutal and bloody war. A wall now divides the city separating the two races. Trapped on the wrong side of the wall is sixteen-year-old hustler Ash Fisher, a half-blood Darkling who’ll do whatever it takes to survive, including selling his addictive venom ‘Haze’ to help support his dying mother.

Then there’s Natalie Buchanan, the daughter of the Sentry Emissary, who feels imprisoned by her life of privilege and fame. When their paths cross, they instantly detest each other but Ash is shocked when his once still heart starts to beat. Bonded by a mysterious connection, Ash and Natalie first deny and then struggle to fight their forbidden feelings for each other, knowing if they’re caught, they’ll be executed. Then Haze users start dying all over the city and Ash discovers the terrible truth behind his and Natalie’s mystical connection. Suddenly, city walls and the threat of execution become the least of their problems.

You said on your website you used to review video games. Has that experience, or video games in general, influenced your writing and/or storytelling methods?

Ah, the good ol’ days. That was a fun job! Writing for videogame magazines taught me how to work to tight deadlines and not to stress about opening paragraphs. I quickly learnt that if you obsess about your opening you'll never get the rest of the article written, so I always wrote that last - and funnily, this is what I do with my books too!

It also taught me how to write for a specific age group, and I have followed that through to my novel writing. Regarding storytelling, a lot of videogames use the traditional 3-act structure, so you can learn a lot from them regarding creating an exciting adventure with plenty of twists and turns, lots of peril, and a big crescendo, all within this classic structure.

Do you do a lot of outlining, or do you prefer to just write and see where it takes you (in other words, are you a Plotter or a Panster?) Why?

I’m a plotter, thanks to my training as a scriptwriter (I studied Scriptwriting for TV and Film at university). I like to do detailed outlines, 3-act structures with all the key turning points mapped out, character biographies, scene-by-scene breakdowns, that sort of thing. Then I throw it all out the window after 50 pages and let my characters tell me the story. But I do this prep-work more for my peace of mind, so I know if I get really stuck I’ve got a solid story to fall back on. It also makes sure that I don’t write scenes that don’t drive the plot forward or reveal something about the character.

One of my favourite plotting tasks is to get my 3-act structure together. I usually do this process with my good writer friend Tracy Buchanan (www.tracybuchanan.co.uk) – who incidentally is the girl I named my protagonist Natalie Buchanan after! What we do is write up all the key scenes on post-it notes, then move them around my dining room table to decide the best order for things to happen, making sure all the key turning points are on target. It’s a very quick way to see where there are gaps in your story and where you need to add some more conflict.

What has your path to publication been like?

Well, my path to publication certainly isn’t the awe-inspiring story like fellow Apocalypsie, Gennifer Albin (http://theredpenofdoom.wordpress.com/2011/09/12/interview-with-gennifer-albin-author-of-crewel/), that’s for sure! But I think it’s inspirational in its own way, mainly because despite many rejections and set-backs I ended up with a 3-book deal with Putnam, Penguin!

Black City is actually the second book I queried. My first attempt several years ago was…well, a learning curve. We’ll gloss over this, because it was a dark, dark period in my life, filled with much rejection and humiliation (including accidentally inviting an agent along to my sister’s bachelorette party.)

However, I did learn a lot from that experience, including making sure your book is easily definable so agents and publishers know how to sell it; how to write an eye-catching query and to make sure you use a separate email account to query agents. ;-p

Black City itself wasn’t an easy journey either. I sent it out for a first round of queries, and while it received a lot of positive feedback, and plenty of requests to read the full, agents were concerned that it would struggle to find a place in the saturated paranormal romance market. So I took it back to the drawing board, and spent nine months completely redrafting the story, turning it into the dystopian fantasy it is now. And I’m so glad I did!

The second round of queries went a lot better, although funnily enough my agent – the truly amazing Ayesha Pande - originally rejected Black City. Her intern read the query and while she loved the premise and the writing, she had concerns about the supernatural element of the book. We had some enthusiastic email conversations, where I tried to persuade her that she really did want to read the full MS, but sadly she said she wasn’t sure they could take it on.

Then two weeks later, out of the blue, I got an email from her saying that she and Ayesha had been thinking about it a lot and they were very intrigued by the idea, and would I be willing to submit the full MS afterall? Of course, I emailed it over in about a nanosecond, and two weeks after that I got an offer of representation.

While it wasn’t the easiest journey to getting an agent, I’m so glad it happened the way it did because I couldn’t have asked for a better, more supportive agent. She really is the best! I’m thrilled. :)

After doing two months’ worth of revisions, we got Black City out on submission to the publishing houses and a few weeks later I got my amazing offer in from Putnam – 2 days after I got married, no less.

So it was a real rollercoaster ride, but it was totally worth it, and I hope other authors out there take encouragement from it, and realise that it can happen, as long as they keep believing in themselves.

What’s been the most surprising part of this whole crazy publishing process for you?

I think for me, I’m surprised at how quickly it’s all happening now I have a deal. I’m currently working on my editorial revisions, which are due at the end of this week (Eeeps!), the Art Team are working on my cover and I’ve got to get the next book in the trilogy written by March.

I was always told publishing took a long time, but really if it’s anything like my experience things happen very quickly!

Luckily, I’m so blessed to have a really communicative and supportive editor, Stacey Barney, who likes to keep me involved in every step of the process. She’s so enthusiastic about Black City (she calls Ash and Natalie ‘Nash’. I love it!), that it gives me so much encouragement. And my awesome agent, Ayesha, just inspires a lot of confidence; she always keeps me calm and well informed, so I feel incredibly supported by them both - which is good, because I’m a bit of a neurotic mess at times.

I think the main thing I’ve learnt is you need is stamina, and crazy amounts of it. The hours are long, the deadlines are short, and you just need to make sure you find the time, energy and enthusiasm to keep going. But it’s so worth it! I’m loving every second.

What book has influenced you, either personally, or in your writing? Why?
 
Stephen Fry’s The Liar had a very profound effect on me as a teenager. I was in sixth form (the UK equivalent of your Senior Year, I think?) when I read it, and his humour and masterful use of language really inspired me. I wrote a film script immediately after reading that book, and that script secured me a place on my university course. The rest, they say, is history. So I think for that reason that book has been a great influence on me.

Other books that have inspired me have been the Harry Potter series, Twilight, Shiver, and The Hunger Games, just because they have enriched my life in so many ways. I come back to these books time and time again, and they remind me why I want to be an author.

The two main characters in Black City seem to come from very different socio-economic backgrounds. What was writing that clash of cultures like?

Challenging! But it also opened up so much scope for the narrative, allowing me to tell the story through the eyes of two very different people from opposite sides of the track.

Ash and Natalie’s different backgrounds force them to question things about themselves, to challenge beliefs they’d been brought up to believe, and to find a common ground where they can learn to love and respect one another.

It was fun too, as I basically spent the whole book arguing with myself as Ash and Natalie struggle to overcome their differences, despite their love for one another.

You’ve written that your favorite book is Harry Potter (specifically Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince *that one’s my favorite too!*). Why do you think this series was such a game-changer for young adult literature?

In all honesty, it just comes down to Harry. He’s simply an amazing character. He is everything you want a hero to be: brave, kind, loyal, trusting, funny, dark, complex, dangerous.

You could drop him in any scenario, and it would still be a thrilling adventure! And I think that’s the key to his success. A lot of characters are confined to their own universe, and outside the realms of the story you’re telling for them, they simply won’t work. However, Harry feels as real to me as any living, breathing person.

Plus JK Rowling is a master at universe building. I loved learning about the wizarding world (I’m still dreaming about the day they manage to genetically engineer a Pygmy Puff), and everything is so well thought out and developed that it doesn’t require much effort on the reader’s behalf to get engrossed in Harry's world. Which I suppose is why it’s so accessible to so many people.

She’s a genius, there’s no other word for it!

Advice for would be writers?

Get some writing credentials under your belt. I can’t stress how much it helps your chances of getting an agent if you’re able to prove to them that you’re serious about writing. So start blogging, write columns for newspapers / magazines, enter writing competitions and just get out there. Like any business they need proof that you have knowledge of the industry and that you’ve got writing experience. Think of querying like applying for a job – if your CV is blank, then it’s going to hinder your chances.

Also start following other author blogs, and keep an eye out for any competitions they’re running, especially ones they're doing with agents. It’s a great way to get your name out there and there’s also a good chance you’ll be able to by-pass the query process and get your MS directly into the hands of an agent, who can give you feedback and maybe even offer to represent you. I won a Twitter Pitch contest shortly before getting my agent, and it was just the boost I needed. So keep an eye out for any opportunity to get ahead of the pack.

It's a lot of hard work, but if you want to do this for your career, you have to start taking yourself seriously and then agents will too.
 
Elizabeth Richards
BLACK CITY
(Putnam, Fall 2012)
Blog: theredpenofdoom.wordpress.com
Twitter: @theredpenofdoom

Monday, September 19, 2011

Revision Vs. Rewrites

It's funny how much of the plotting process is about sitting and staring into space. I spent several hours today staring into space and trying to unravel a plot knot I'd worked myself into. I knew I wanted my character to get to Point B, but after getting notes back from my editor, I realized she has to get there a different way than how I'd written it.

Which means, you guessed it: Rewrites. Completely rewriting scenes makes me grouchy. I far prefer revision, just editing and tweaking what's already on the page. Rewrites mean throwing out old pages and writing new ones. Now don't get me wrong, I'm not grouchy that things need to change, but that I didn't take the time to fully think the situations through in the first place. I look at the lovely pages that will just have to be completely sacked. I think about how much time it took to write those pages. I make a grouchy face.

Then, I sit and stare into space, trying to figure exactly HOW I'm going to unravel this mess with the new angle on the scene (i.e., remove all adults, have our plucky teenage heroes do it on their own). And how to do it logically so that the suspension of disbelief can be achieved as seamlessly as possible.

So today, instead of piling up word count as I like to do, or editing through and then satisfyingly marking a chapter off my mental map, I scribbled on notebook page after notebook page trying out ideas and solutions before I commit to them. Answering questions like:
  • Can I get BOTH characters to point B logistically, or does it work better if one stays behind?
  • If only my main character goes, should she do it one way, or another way?
  • Is it too much of a coincidence if this other thing happens while she's there, or is there a way I can make it feel natural? Maybe if I drop a foreshadow-y feeder hint ahead of time, it won't seem so oddly coincidental. In fact, I need to make it part of the cause-and-effect cycle (A causes B which causes C, and then it's not so odd when A comes back around again and surprises everyone), and it will feel even more logical.
Some things, you just can't see ahead of time until your Very Smart Editor points them out , even if you're big on outlining like me. Rewrites (unfortunately!!!) are part of the game. But still, I'm going to make sure I spend extra time sitting and staring into space to REALLY think out scenes for the next book before I write them, especially ones that are kind of iffy (yes, I'm looking at you, opening scenes of next book, I can smell from here I haven't fully thought you out yet).

Friday, September 16, 2011

Interview!

Check out my interview over at Elizabeth Richard's blog where I talk Twilight, being in a wheelchair, and my writing process :)

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Confidence

So, confidence is something I've been thinking about lately. Because mine's lacking. For serious. Being a stranger in a strange land = being transitioned back to Jr. High feeling all awkward and like, um,  how do I make friends and make people like me?

I'm 29 years old. Haven't I outgrown this yet? Usually (well at least for the past few years), I've kicked ass confidence-wise. At least on the outside. I have blue hair! I have tattoos! I am exuberant and friendly! But wanna know a secret? Inside, I'm still that suuuuuper awkward jr. high girl. Oh dear, I feel an awkward picture coming on:

Ooooo, there we are. Hello super awkward jr. high Heather. Aw hon, you really need to cut your hair where it's still fried from the perm two years ago. And I'm so sorry you're buying into that whole 90's grunge thing with the over-sized flannel shirt. You've got a great figure, even though it feels all awkward-sauce right now because all the other girls are so tiny and you're grown-up sized already in 8th grade.

Back then, I let it drive my life--my uber-self-consciousness, my need to be liked. What I know now (at least, I know it most the time) is that confidence is something you fake until you make. Few of us are naturally confident, and certainly not all the time. Hopefully, being grown up also means caring more about the people around you and being engaged in life so that you don't concentrate so much on your awkward self stumbling through it. When compassion grows and you begin to see the world (and the people in it) for the large, complex entities they are, personal self-consciousness seems to shrink into perspective.

But dear god, I so, so understand how difficult it can be sometimes.

Sunday, September 11, 2011

Body In Motion

So, for the first time in a decade, I can exercise. It's kind of a big deal.
I've had this crappy illness for the past ten years, and exercise only made it worse. I got sick at 19 during my first year of college. Right when everyone else was just beginning their lives, mine suddenly ground to a halt. Working out would put me in bed for a week. Then there was the infamous year (2003, I think?) when it got so bad I couldn't walk at all. I had to use a wheelchair.

Yes, my hair is the same color as the sign, I think that's actually why we stopped to snap the picture ;)

But being in a wheelchair? Seriously. Not. Awesome. Dang, even that picture pains me to look at! And it got worse afterwards. After I birthed my beautiful son, I was bed-bound for six months. That was also just as bad as you might imagine.

But this past summer, I started a med that randomly helps the CFS. I'd tried everything and then some for years before this and given up on finding relief. Then of course, when I'm not looking, I randomly stumble on something that helps. Then I cut out gluten as well, and all the sudden I'm fucking superwoman, i.e., I can take 20-30 minute walks every day with no repercussions. And be on my feet at say the grocery store or somewhere else for an hour too. In the same day.

This is a completely insane development for me. I still can't push it too far. I still have to stop and head home from my walks when I start getting dizzy and light-headed. I still get low-grade fevers every few days. There was a day last week when I pushed it even though I knew I shouldn't and was totally stumbling and had to stop and sit on the sidewalk several times before finally making my way slowly home. But then, I rested just ONE day and was back out walking the next. And I was fine!

I've been at it for a month now, with the exercise walking (and four months since I started having more energy with the new med). The CFS isn't cured. But damn if the boundary lines on my life aren't so much larger now!!!

I walk down the walking/jogging/biking path that goes by the river each evening, breathing in the air on the sun-dappled path and I feel... young. I'm out there with all the other healthy people doing their healthy-people things. I feel my own legs pumping solidly under me, the smooth bounce of every step, all of my muscles taut under my skin. It's quite alien, and it's absolutely fucking wonderful.

Also, if you're intrested, read about fellow CFS sufferer and bestselling author Laura Hillenbrand (she wrote Seabiscuit and the recently released Unbroken) talk about life with CFS.

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Writing Tips from Recent Releases: Conflict is King!

So part of a writer is about plunking down as many conflicts and competing character motivations as possible into one space, then letting the sh** fly! If there’s something that can go wrong, it should go wrong. Several books I’ve read lately have reminded me of this, and I’ve been treating them as master classes in good writing. 

Bloodlines by Richelle Mead. Tip learned: conflict keeps you turning pages! Just finished this one last night, and damn, Mead has still got it! This book begins steeped in conflict with the main character put in a bad position from the get-go. A VERY dislikable and horrible person is put in charge as her superior. It’s immediately tense reading, even to the point of making it uncomfortable at times. But then, the best writers make failure seem like the only logical solution. Then, if there is triumph or success, it feels that much more emotionally powerful and satisfying. I remember first reading Terry Goodkind’s Wizard’s First Rule and how every chapter ends with some dire development in which the characters are headed forward while being certain they will most assuredly die.

Andrea Cremer’s Wolfsbane
. Tip learned: NO SAFETY, ANYWHERE. The entire book is this wild adrenaline rush from one intense, life-threatening situation to the next. Even the places you think should be safe and secure may not be. This is a biggie for me. In real life, I like to have places that are safe strongholds, as do most of us. It’s healthy. But it’s a problem when it bleeds over into my fiction. No great story was ever safe!

Possess by Gretchen McNeil. Tip learned: dump the reader right into the conflict, and then make them laugh. Chapter 1, and we’re already seeing our plucky exorcist at work! This is a theme common to all three of these books I mention here (first chapter, straight to the action and conflict), but McNeil’s Possess always keeps an engaging humor at the forefront along with the action. Sometimes super-conflicty books can feel like TOO MUCH, like, hell, we need some banter to break this up and let the reader breathe! This book has great tension, but it’s also just plain fun.

Sunday, September 4, 2011

In Which Nietzsche Makes Me Lol

Nietzsche always seemed like one of those big intimidating writers. The impressions I gained growing up and in school was that he was horrible and godless, not to mention that his ideas about the "will to power" had been wedded with Nazi's and genocide.

This preconception lasted longer than others I've had simply because I really didn't have much occasion or care to investigate any of his stuff first hand. Really, I didn't read much non-fiction or theory or philosophy texts until grad school when it was required reading--and when I DID finally read primary source stuff, I found them shockingly delightful and exciting and challenging. But still, I hadn't read Nietzsche until my Form &Theory class last semester. We read a snippet of Nietzsche about art and aesthetics.

I did a double take. Nietzsche and art? Even more startling to my ignorant self--what he wrote was absolutely fucking beautiful. Finally, after friends talked about him, and in reading Camus recently, he's often mentioned. So I finally went by the big indie bookstore here and picked up a Nietzsche reader.

And then the first page I read from it made me literally laugh out loud in delight. And made me feel that sense of a resounding yes, I can tell I'm gonna have kinship with this dude's writing. He writes:

[The artist] appears to be fighting on behalf of the greater dignity and significance of man; in reality he refuses to give up the presuppositions which are most efficacious for his art, that is to say, the fantastic, mythical, uncertain, extreme, the sense for the symbolical, the overestimation of the person, the belief in something miraculous in genius.

Made me Laugh. Out. Loud. I was like, way to call it like it is, dude! He's probably right, or at least it's an interesting way of looking at it - writers and artists, while we are supposedly dealing with giant questions of truth, of discovering and understanding reality, of investigating questions about the meaning of life... um, in the end we go with what works, what's "efficacious for [our] art." We aren't scientists trying to discover and communicate fact. We aren't even philosophers in our fiction, trying to discover truth no matter what. We may think we are. Maybe something inside us is the lofty FIGHTING FOR TRUTH motivation. But really, let's be honest: what we're doing is trying to make art! That's our inconvertable drive--to make art! And we'll utilize tools that are useful and effective in making art. We want to make art that allows us to continue making art because we love it.

Now why that is, that's a much larger and more mind-bending question. As well as: what the hell is art?

After a lot of thought about these things, I think I have an inkling of why, or at least why art works the way it does for me. But that'll be for another day, another blog ;)

Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Can Writing Be Therapy?

Check out my explorations of this question in today's vlog.

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

VLOG!

Hey all, so I'm starting to vlog now!! I'm working out the kinks as I go (aka, next time there will be a stable surface to set the laptop webcam on, and more light) but here's my first real vlog, talking about my first impressions of Minneapolis, getting lot A LOT, and how people look funny when they jog ;-)

Monday, August 29, 2011

"Having it All" - Wisdom From WHITE COLLAR

So, TV screenwriters, sometimes you can just hit the nail on the f'ing head. For example, from a recent episode of USA's White Collar, about a white collar thief, Neil Caffrey, who avoids (more) jail time by working for the FBI. Anyway, check out the wildly perfect convo from this week about what "having it all" means. I agree, Caffrey, that IS pretty much the dream:

Jones (FBI agent): Well, because choices are sacrifices. And, inevitably, that means giving up something that you want for something that you want more. So, now I have to ask... What does "having it all" mean to Neal Caffrey?
Neil Caffrey: Never having to worry about money. Doing something that's meaningful, being surrounded by people I care about and respect, you know. That's pretty much the dream.

Saturday, August 27, 2011

Rejection's A Bitch

The process of becoming a writer is often like becoming a Professional Rejectee. It’s a good life skill to have, and even though I’m actually experiencing awesome successful things in my writing career (after YEARS of the rejections!!!), rejection in other forms still abounds, socially and manifold other ways. There's the quiet kind of rejection – where people just don’t notice you at all and you want to shout: “I’m interesting and awesome, I swear!” Moving to a new city where no one knows you is rife with this kind of (perceived) rejection. Then there’s also the loud kind – the blunt NO. My method in general for life the past few years has been to barrel forward, face-plant into a wall of rejection, be knocked to the ground in a kind of bewildered shock (cause you gotta think there’s a chance of being successful if you’re gonna keep that kind of full-speed forward motion going), slowly and dazedly pick myself back up onto my feet, and start going forward again. I can’t decide if this is because I’m a glutton for punishment or if this is just the necessary formula to actually accomplish anything in life.

Sometimes I have such confidence in myself—that I can tackle and be successful at almost anything reasonable I set my mind too. Then there are other times when every little slight or even barest criticism seems to cut to the bone, and you cuddle up in your blankets feeling like a giant uninteresting blob of failure. You wonder how you ever felt extraordinary. Then, if you’re me, you re-dye your hair blue, drink some wine straight from the bottle, and go to sleep. And when you wake up the next morning, things always seem to be better and brighter. One foot in front of the other til you start gathering momentum again ;)

Friday, August 26, 2011

Guest Post Up at The League!!

Check out my guest post: Is This a Kissing Book? at The League of Extraordinary Writers today, in which I discuss (you guessed it!) kissing, action, Twilight, and why I like it when authors show dialogue :D

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Stranger To Myself

I wake up at 8am each morning. I just got back from a half hour walk. Like, you know, for exercise. I've been making my bed every day. I ate vegetables for lunch today.

It's official. A stranger has invaded my life or I've been body-snatched!!!

Well, that, or I just moved to a new city and am at this very straaaaaaaaange transition period in my life! And I've finally found a medicine that, for the first time in A DECADE, helps my CFS and allows me to exercise without it putting me in bed for a week. Soooooooo. That's weird. I push my body with exercise... and it doesn't push back. I only need 8 hours of sleep at night instead of 10-12. I was always the kinda girl who woke up at noon.

I'm just so awake and have energy and keep active most of the day. Part of my freaking identity has been inevitably composed in large part by my illness and its limitations. I can't really tell if I'm happy or sad. All my rubrics for understanding the world and my happy-o-meters have been thrown out the window. Dragos and Joseph are still in Romania. I don't know a person in this city, other than online friends, who I'm slowly trying to meet IRL ;)

But I AM being productive. I do feel a bubbling creativity that's pouring into my writing. I go to the corner cafe and read some of my "deep thinking" books each morning. Then I write/edit for a few hours. In three days I've gotten through half my edits.

I come home, rest a little. Maybe go to the store to get more to set up the apartment. Read more. Eat vegetables with rice. At sunset, go for a long walk along the river, the sun shining through the giant leafy trees along the Mississippi. The trees make a canopy over the walkway. It's all so freaking green. There was a cool breeze blowing through my hair as I walked!!!! I just left 105 degree Texas last week, so yeah! the weather here just adds to my bizarre feelings, a little alienation, a little adventure, a lot STRANGE. Albert Camus talks about the Absurd as "an actor without his setting." Yes, I feel like that--like the stage crew stole off with my setting when I wasn't looking!! I'm trying to construct a new one, toss a little structure together in this chaos. Hence the bed-making and routine-creating, I think :) 

I have no idea who I'll be on the other end of this when I'm able to articulate an identity in words again. But I'm optimistic about good things--both good things coming, and good things now.

Monday, August 22, 2011

All Alone in the Big City!

I've been here in Minneapolis a total of 5 days, maybe 6? I've lost track, but it's definitely been one of those weeks that feels longer than normal weeks do. I went and got lost in the city trying to find a bookstore today--always the best reason to get lost :-)  I broke out my street map and found myself again, eventually found the bookstore too. I've been here 5 days or whatever, and I've been to three bookstores and one library. Shocker, I know ;)

Then I went for a walk this evening. Did you know the Mississippi river runs right through Minneapolis? I didn't, before I got here last week. And our apartment is seriously two  blocks from the river. I went out walking on a path along a high up bank. So much greenery! Giant old trees, and the sun was setting through the branches as I walked. Then a nut from a tree fell and landed on my head and I just laughed and laughed. Absurd world we live in! *yes I know I probably looked like a lunatic, laughing my ass off and rubbing my head as I walked down the sidewalk*

It's so bizarre not to know a single person around me. Dragos and Joseph are still in Romania for another week and a half, and it's seriously whacky being so on my lonesome. Not sad really, just STRANGE! At my old coffeeshop where I went for years and wrote my book (and the three starter-books before), everyone knew my name and I knew theirs. I had in-jokes with the baristas. We hung out sometimes outside of the coffeeshop.

Here, I've been frequenting the same cafe every day this week, but I'm not feeling up to being gregarious and trying to introduce myself. This is the first time I've moved to a new place without some mechanism in place to get to know people, like school or a church or a job. I don't know how grown-ups get to know each other and make friends without these things. Guess I'll learn and start coming up with some inventive ways!

In other news, I am being wicked productive on line edits. After two days, I'm 65 pgs through the 300 pg draft, and I gotta say, I'm SO EXCITED about what's happening with this edit round. I may not be the most objective observer, but I feel like MAGIC is going down with this draft! I read the notes from my editor or see how she tweaked a line, and I swear it's like SHE INVADED MY BRAIN and plucked out exactly what I meant but hadn't expressed well! So yeah, every edit round I get more excited about how having a great editor can really shape up a book into something excellent and exciting.