Monday, February 28, 2011

Very Good Things in My Life Today

  • Eating a grilled-cheese sandwich, interspersed with bites of fresh-cut Roma tomato
  • Listening to my son sound out words slowly and then announce each one triumphantly when he figures it out, a little puzzle-master becoming more and more fluent, stacking up words till they become sentences
  • Snuggling in the crook of my husband's arm after he gets home from class and drinking a beer together

Sunday, February 27, 2011

The Iron Witch by Karen Mahoney, Review

The Iron Witch by Karen Mahoney. First of all, can we just bask in the gorgeousness that is this cover? It's even better and person, with the script filigree all shiny and raised over the matte background, I'm so cover-lusting!

As soon as I learned the premise of this book, I was hooked: it's pretty common knowledge that in the fey mythology, iron is deadly to faeries, and the premise that this girl had iron tattoos woven magically into her skin?! And that a sexy fey boy is involved? Couldn't wait, and I finally got this book at my closing Borders this week, and totally devoured it tonight in one sitting.

This book had all the things I love in a good story: a real romantic connection, the supernatural, and a slowly revealed mythology that comes to a kick-ass climax at the end, bringing elements that begin the story to a close with satisfying symmetry. I also liked that Donna was so strong, literally and figuratively. Even just the paradoxical idea of iron, something we think of as brute and burly, being woven in delicate tattoos on a girl's forearms, is a striking image. Not to mention that I love a girl who can hold her own, even rescue the DUDE once in awhile. A nice break from damsels in distress, I'm excited to see where this series goes!

Saturday, February 26, 2011

Split Brain: Plan A vs. Plan B

I finished the first major chunk of Book II in my Glitch trilogy today, which ended on a big fat exciting action sequence that is very first-drafty and needs a ton more work. Actually, the whole 30,000 words I've written on it need a ton more work, and part of me is itching, nay, even aching, to dive into those edits. Very emo of me, I know. That's how I roll ;)

Because I don't have the time for that right now. There's this little thing called my grad school classes which are splitting my focus so that even when I spend a delicious day writing like I did today, there's this underlying unease and stress because of other looming deadlines. But I have zero motivation, much less patience, for academic crap right now. I've have a 4.0 up till now, not only because I've been a perfectionist, but also because I thought this would be my career. It's the same reason I've chased down conference panel submissions and academic publications--so I'd be an attractive PhD candidate. Which was always Plan B. But Plan A? To become a writer? Seemed like too ridiculous a dream to hope for. Yet, surprise, surprise, Plan A is actually working out!

BUT. I'm still stuck finishing up Plan B because I've come this far and it's my last semester of coursework and who knows what will happen with the writing in the future and I can't shoot myself in the foot b/c I still might need this and----- yes, the neurosis is very loud sometimes :) Basically, I still might go for a PhD at sometime in the future, but for awhile, at least a year or two after I finish school, writing gets to be my vocation. All I've ever wanted to do was write for a job! And I get to do it! And I want to be doing it NOW!!!

Ahem. So I have no actual resolutions about how to resolve this. I think flying by the seat of my pants and putting out fires as they arise is the motto of this semester. When editorial notes for Book I come, all else will cease to matter in the world and my academic perfectionism will take a hiatus until the edits are done. I remind myself to breathe. I chant this Romanian rhyme the husband taught me over and over: incetul cu incetul invatam alfabetul.

It roughly translates to: little by little, we learn the alphabet. I can't think of an English saying that encapsulates it exactly (which is probably why I stick to the Romanian one), but I guess our equivalent is: one day at a time, or maybe slow and steady wins the race. But you get the picture. Focus on one thing today, another tomorrow, and eventually, everything will get done. Incetul cu incetul, my lovelies. Incetul cu incetul.

Friday, February 25, 2011

Friday Writing Tips #3

Um, I'm not sure how it got to be Friday already, but here we are! And I live in Texas where spring is already in the air (I know, cruel to say to all you northerners still steeped in snow). My window is open and there are literally birds twittering their asses off outside, and the small tree we planted two years ago has green shoots budding on all its branches. I'm ready for spring, even though my winter was great--so much good news and craziness, it felt a little surreal though!

But spring feels sturdy and hopeful and promises that maybe we'll find a little stability and sanity in spite of all the upheaval of moving and book deals and thesis-writing. Or maybe I'm just on a delusional high from all this warm spring air :)

On to writing tips, which I think I'll be making a weekly feature. I'm deep into Book II and am thinking about writing pretty much constantly. This week I finally had occasion to use a plot scheme I've known since I was a kid and watched the 90's version of Robin Hood with Kevin Costner and Alan Rickman: only reveal all of the details of a planned rescue/escape (complete with diagram in the sand) if it is doomed to go horribly awry when it all actually goes down. This was one of those movies I watched OVER and OVER as a kid, along with Terminator, Running Man, and Beauty and the Beast. *hmm, I wonder if this explains my love of epic hero story lines and dystopian/apocalyptic futures?*

Anyway, back to Robin Hood! Robin's going to break into the castle to rescue John Little and others from being hanged. It takes about 5 minutes of screen time to explain in detail the rescue, which looks perfectly planned and should go off without a hitch. But when one of their men who's a plant in the crowd at the hanging is discovered and tied to the barrel of gun-powder Robin had been planning to blow up as a distraction, all planning goes to hell. But because of those thwarted expectations and spontaneous complications, it makes the scene so much more compelling for an audience.

From then on, I always paid attention in movies or novels, and it's a rule that almost always holds fast and true: if they explain in detail, it's doomed to go wrong. If there's a rescue/attack and they just jump into the scene without telling you the plan ahead of time, it will more likely go according to that secret plan, and the spontaneity comes from the fact that the audience just doesn't have all the details until they are revealed in real time.

Monday, February 21, 2011

Overflow of Happy

Agent Dude has referred to the process of all the people working to make a book happen--writer, agent, editor, other readers, foreign rights agents, and more--as making great music. I like this metaphor a lot because it implies a group of individuals all working together to create, not a product, but a moment, a shared experience--something alive that is then given to the world, something that will hopefully carry meaning and emotion beyond ourselves to others.

I just had a very difficult last week followed by a very wonderful few days, culminating in today, which has been a combustion of happy and love and giving to others. And all of the wonder-ment has been because of relationships in my life. I feel this overflow of happy in my chest, fullness, that old biblical image of 'my cup runneth over'. The question of how do you contain happiness over the long-haul? Answer: you don't contain it, you give it away, and paradoxically, I think that's how it stays with you.

Gut Reaction After Finishing Across the Universe

So. HOLY FREAKING SH#*!!!! I just finished Across the Universe by Beth Revis. I've been anticipating this book ever since the cover and premise reveal. I was patient when I couldn't get my hands on an ARC, then the semester started, so I waited for the library to order a copy. That copy has been sitting on my bedside table for a week. And tonight I picked it up and devoured it in one sitting.

Almost every time that I anticipate a book so much, it's a bit of a let down. But This. Freaking. Book. I mean, so much of YA tends to circulate around the same themes: supernatural dude, high school girl, danger, evil, kick-butt fighting. But this book, not only did it have a concept that's just so original as far as YA fare, but then it's so amazingly executed! I mean, I'm really just sitting here flabbergasted, and still reeling from everything that happened at the end, still feeling the characters in my friggin gut. So, um, yeah, actual coherent review to come later, but all I can say now is it's freaking awesome and YOU SHOULD READ THIS BOOK.

Across the Universe at Goodreads.

Friday, February 18, 2011

Friday Tips For Aspiring Writers Part II

Continuing on with last week's theme: more tips for aspiring writers, aka, painful things I learned along the way that I wish I'd figured out sooner ;)
  1. Revise. Edit. Rip apart that scene you loved which everyone agrees isn’t working, take into consideration their critiques, and re-write the thing. It’s painful. It hurts. Do it anyway. Hmm, I’m noticing a common theme here. Writing hurts! But then when the magic is burning though your veins, you know there’s nothing in the world you’d rather be doing.

  2. When all else fails, Outline. Ok, if we were going chronologically, this should obviously come first. And as a long devotee of Outline Resisters Anonymous, I understand it’s annoying and difficult and occasionally impossible. I revised my stance on the subject, however, after writing 200 meandering pages that ended up being useless because I didn’t know where the story was going next. If there’s one thing I hate, it’s useless pages. Do you know how long it takes to write 200 freaking pages? A LONG TIME! Determined not to waste so much time again, I approached outlining with reticence. With Glitch I charted out a basic arc to the story-line, beginning middle and end. Then I would outline about two scenes or chapters ahead as I went. With book II and III of the proposed trilogy, Agent Dude told me, hey, that sounds great, send me outlines. And I was like, um… o-kaaaaaaay. I didn’t say I’d never really in-depth outlined a whole book before. I just did it. It was strange and uncomfortable. But then it took on a life of it’s own as I thought through and imagined scenes (with full dramatic lighting and special effects, natch) in my head, and wrote them down on paper.

  3. Read Natalie Goldberg. There is no more beautiful writer who writes about writing. She approaches it like a zen practice, and if that sounds cheesy to you, well it’s not. It’s brilliant and beautiful, full of honesty and straight-to-the-gut zingers. Everyone will tell you to read Writing Down the Bones, and they are right. Go buy yourself a copy. Now.

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Sweet Valentine

I know, I know, Valentine's is over, done with all the mushy stuff, yada, yada. But I've been thinking a lot lately about my marriage and in general I've been a giant slush-gob of mush for my man. In the past month, we've had a slew of good news between my book deal and his acceptance into several PhD programs of his choice, and it's been so strange to be able to get to know each other during GOOD times, you know?

Staying together during hard times, difficult sh#%y times? We've got that part down pat. We got married when I was 19 and he was 21, so the first time either of us was on our own paying rent and bills, it was together. I distinctly remember the year I was in a wheelchair and we were living in Chicago, where in all the crappy 4-story apartments there are no elevators... and we lived on the third floor. So everyday the husband would push/pull/carry me up the stairs or I would crawl miserably up them with him by my side encouraging me, it usually took about 15 min to get up those goddamned stairs either way. So yeah. That was a pleasant time.

We've been married 9 years now and have changed A TON, but luckily, we've been able to change together. Even as we were morphing as individuals, we were careful to make sure we stayed compatible, even as I went from a tight-knit conservative to a raging liberal, even as we became parents, got jobs, went back to school, changed our future goals about twenty times. It seems rare, but maybe it's not. Even in the bad times, he's easily hands-down always been my best friend. So yep, gotta say it's been nice to be able to pop out the champagne over the last month, get good news upon good news, plan out our future as partners, and get to know each other in joyful times too :)

Friday, February 11, 2011

Friday Tips For Aspiring Writers

Not that I am now a magical know-it-all because of my book deal, but these are some things I've learned (and some I wish I would have learned sooner rather than later!) as I've struggled to become a decent writer!


2. I mean it, WRITE. Get your butt in a chair and write every day until you get the feel for writing scenes, dialogue, character development, and figuring out what the hell they mean by voice. All of us would love to be a magical genius where the first thing we ever put to paper would be publishable and become an Oprah pick but: It. Doesn’t. Happen. Everyone fills pages and pages as you get into the practice of writing that will never see the light of day. That’s okay. It’s necessary. Jack Keroac filled thousands of manuscript pages developing the free style jazz-writing of On The Road and Big Sur, and most great writers have written thousands of what turn out to be practice pages. For every other discipline, musical or otherwise, years of practice are necessary before you become comfortable enough with the medium to be able to bend it to your will and style. Writing’s no different.

3.Accept critique. This is the single most important thing I’ve learned. No matter how many pages you fill up with chicken scratch or how many thousand words are rung up on your word count, if you aren’t getting strong and straight talking critique, and even more important, LISTENING TO AND INCORPORATING THAT CRITIQUE, you are seriously stunting your own growth. Everyone takes critique differently: some people want harsh, others need encouragement to keep going; you just find a group or situation with an atmosphere you’re comfortable with. I find I work best with a little of both. My writer’s group rips into my work sometimes, but it’s a group I trust, and they are almost always right. They see what I can’t, question character motivation, story-logic, comma placement, plot arcs. But at the same time, gimme a frickin’ break! If critique is too negative for too long, it wears on you. Even the most confident of us get unsure. We’re doing this thing we love, pouring hours and sweat and occasionally tears, because WE LOVE IT. We need a little bit of positive nourishment too, some sunlight with the rain, if you’ll allow a cheesy pun.

Part II to come next Friday! Let me know what you think! What tips have helped you as you've learned how to write?

Monday, February 7, 2011

Unearthly by Cynthia Hand - Review

Unearthly by Cynthia Hand. This book was so beautiful I was literally crying at parts, not because it was sad, but because it was so achingly BEAUTIFUL. There was this one passage where I could f#%@ing FEEL the glory. I just put finished the book down and it's still zinging around and resonating deep in my chest. I think it was her depiction of fallen angels that got to me too--as the heroine at parts of the novels feels what they feel, a sadness, hurt, and rage beyond anything you could imagine. But at the same time, Hand was able to evoke it on the page! And then when the glory comes, by God you can feel it too.

There's so many things the book brings up about responsibility and destiny and free will, and most of all, about love. But not cheesy or love-at-first-sight or we-are-beautiful-people-and-must-therefore-be-in-love love. The real kind of love, the kind that catches you unexpectedly in the gut. And the characters were so well-realized, especially Clara, as we ride through the first-person narration of her entire journey, from an unquestioning certainty about the way the world works to that uncomfortable nebulous confusion that most people live in. In this way, Clara's journey echoes that of moving from adolescence to adulthood. Yes, when you are young your parents are heroes and the world revolves steadily on a bedrock of absolute truths. But then you grow up, and life is hard and uncertain, and you get to know yourself even as all the other things you imagined were solid turn to unsteady subjective whisps. What is truth? Where do you go from here? What is important in life? But this book seems to give hope that, underneath all the uncertainty of being human, love is at least real. It might not be entirely steady either, but it's something to ground you, or maybe even, something to lift you up and make you fly.

Sunday, February 6, 2011

Journey to a Book Deal

So it's been about a week since I found out about my book deal... and yeah, those three words together--'my book deal'--still sound a little bananas. I've spent the week walking around in daze, giddily connecting with other writer's whose books debut in 2012 too (also known as The Apocalypsies), completely blowing off reading for my grad school classes, and using far too many exclamation points in every email/post/tweet. I've been thinking about how I got here, and wanted to put it on paper (like the way moms always want to tell thier gory birth stories after they pop out a kid):

I got my agent the old fashioned way: hard work, querying, rejection, more hard work, more querying, more rejection, you get the picture :) Glitch is the third book I’ve written all the way through and queried, and each manuscript along the way was a necessary (if grueling) step on the path to becoming a better writer. The first one was bad, but it taught me plotting. The second one was a little less bad and I’d gotten better at dialogue and keeping tension up during scenes, but agents rejecting it said it didn’t have a strong enough or unique voice. And the third one, I finally figured out what the hell they meant by voice. Which is actually one of the most important things to figure out (though some people, and yes I am insanely jealous of them, come by it naturally). Best definition I’ve found for what ‘voice’ is: Steven Malk’s Interview on Literary Rambles. To sum up: figure out who’s telling your story and make their personality come through in the way you tell it.

I’d been thinking through Glitch all of the Spring semester (I can’t seem to use academic brain and creative writing brain at the same time!), but wrote it mainly in July 2010. I started querying agents in August, got more requests for manuscripts than ever before, and in September, Charlie Olsen emailed saying he wanted to set up a call with me. He said he liked it, but wanted me to do some edits before he’d take me on as a client. I dug in, and in October, he offered representation! Then we did more edits, and decided to wait for the new year before submitting. And voila, started submitting in January and last week got the offer from St. Martin’s Press. I don’t know if that’s whirlwind or if it just feels like it to me, like it’s too ridiculously wonderful a dream to be true, but here we are. I’m sure more deep edits are headed my way, but I love getting to dig into the story again like wet clay. Or maybe kneading bread is a better analogy. That’s the picture in my head when it comes to edits: knuckles in, muscles working, to shape a dull lump into something glossy and magical shining.

Friday, February 4, 2011

GLITCH - Quick Plot Summary

I figured there should be some place on my blog until I get my website up saying what my book is actually about! Glitch is the first in a young adult romantic sci-fi trilogy, pitched as 1984 meets X-men.

Quick Summary:

Seventeen-year-old Zoe Gray is a cybernetically-enhanced teenager living in an underground society when her internal hardware begins to malfunction. She slowly realizes that her body is changing, that she’s developing powerful telekinesis, and that she’s not alone. Even though getting caught could mean reprogramming, or worse, deactivation, Zoe begins to seek out other glitchers in society, including a dreamer named Adrian who can see the future, a boy named Max who can mimic other’s appearances, and a young girl named Molly with X-ray vision. They work together to plan their escape, but soon learn there is another powerful faction at work whose ambitions threaten all their carefully laid plans.

Thursday, February 3, 2011

Confidence & Getting Back Up After a Beat-Down

Awhile ago, I heard there was a study ranking US children against the rest of the world, and while the US kids were ranked twenty-something in math skills, they were ranked 1st in confidence! I thought, yep, that sounds about right. All the self-esteem programs and positive posters and praise really did sink in with my generation, maybe too much, some people have a sense of entitlement that's frustrating. I think Stephen Colbert epitomizes this ridiculous American swagger perfectly, but with the sarcastic self-referential understanding that it's parody. Probably why I love him so much :)

But back to confidence! I was NOT a confident kid growing up. I was shy, a total people pleaser, door-mat, etc. It wasn't until my mid-20's that I caught up on the confidence train. In part, I think that's what the pink hair and tattoos are about--I didn't have to hide my personality anymore, be the quiet, good, religious girl. I could be loudly, visually me. I started to trust my abilities and talents more, to try things I wouldn't have attempted before.

And as I get to know other artist types, I see a lot of self-doubt, self-deprecating comments, and unsureness. Don't get me wrong, I think humility and honesty are always hugely important! And maybe it's just because rejection and failure are such a big part of trying to make it as an artist/writer. But really, the fact that we keep on trying, get knocked out and get back up again, face EPIC FAILURE and then manage to write another novel and try the querying/submission process all over again, speaks to the fact that at some level, we BELIEVE we can really do this. You have to have some degree of ego to keep trying, you have to believe there's a possibility, however small, that you CAN be successful. And when you've put in the hard work, the years of trying, and the crazy of crazies happen and you get some success, enjoy it, don't question your right to be there! Yes, it was most likely a lot of lucky confluences of events that brought success (and that's where the humility is key), but it was also a crap-load of hard work, and if someone was going to make it, why shouldn't it be you!