Monday, December 27, 2010

My Writing Process--Riding the Groove

Woo hoo! Finally the writing mojo is back and I hit my stride again, wrote 2,500 words today. This book's been a little slower in getting started than projects in the past. Probably b/c I jinxed it by breezily saying to others, "oh, I write books fast, most of the last book was written in a month." Yeah. With this one I've barely been keeping up with my word count (I set a goal of 1,000 words a day). [Side note on word counts: Some people hate making word count quotas for themselves. I've heard some authors say it makes them produce the required amount of words, but then later they just end up cutting most of it! Not so for me. If I can push through a scene or two, it's usually a usable first draft.]

But still, it's been a bit like pulling teeth, until today. I'm finally IN the story enough (third chapter) where I'm familiar enough with the characters again and the words and scenes flow out like smooth, smooth butta. It's a good feeling, because I was afraid I'd lost my magic. Lo and behold, it just took two weeks of getting back in the writing groove to find it.

Really, what it took was getting excited about the story again. I'd outlined this book, and it's the second book in a trilogy, which I've never done before. I've written about 4 1/2 manuscripts before, but each time I started a new project, it was totally fresh, with new characters that were jumping like popping popcorn in my head to get out. With this one though, I'm picking the story back up that I'd brought to resolution in the last book and having to work hard to build up fresh tension and interest--both in the story itself, and in myself FOR the story! But it's like I finally reminded myself why I loved these characters in the first place, all their many complexities and quirks that made me so interested in them as I created them in the first place. And their relationships with each other, which is really when the pages start to fly.

The writing process itself is a little hard to describe. We writers keep trying to explain it, and I imagine it's different for everyone. For me, pardon my mysticism, it's kind of like magic. Not like there's some divine aura or muse directing my words or anything. I use the word "magic" to mean that it's just something I don't really understand. When I get in the groove, I lose sense of the world around me, what's playing on my mp3 player, how far down the page I am, page count, etc. The scenes happen. I look up, realize seven songs have played on the album I'm listening to and I've written a bunch of pages. Magic. Like dancing or any activity where you lose sense of time and are totally absorbed in the moment and the movement without thinking ABOUT what you are doing. You just groove.

It took two weeks to catch the groove again, and I only get one more week to spend before I have to put the book down again. I'm taking Agent Dude's advice, and am not going to put a lot of energy into this one till Book 1 sells. But still, I'm giving myself another week to luxuriate in it. After that, it's time to put this away, then turn to working on my thesis. My advisor said she needs to start seeing chapters by the end of January!

Saturday, December 25, 2010

Top Ten Reads of 2010

I read a little over a hundred books this year, not as much as my benchmark set last year, but still a lot. Note: a lot of these are young adult books, the kind you can down in a single sitting. it's not like I a read a hundred dense books like Crime and Punishment or Middlemarch :)

And there were definitely some that stand out, almost all paranormal or fantasy ya reads. In no particular order:

1. Finnikin of the Rock by Melina Marchetta. Okay, this might actually be my top favorite read of the year. I know Jellicoe Road got all the praise and attention last year, but I didn't really like it. This one, though, god it was full of great characters and it rang out so many notes of hope of restoration, forgiveness, and reconciliation after the horrors of war. So many books are about the falling apart and climax of wars, but this one is about the aftermath, plotting the path back to healing and wholeness. But this is just the underlying theme, it's far from didactic. Marchetta does what great writers do best: write something incredibly meaningful through the medium of engaging characters, tension, and epic plotting. Both covers of this book have been bad, though. Kills me, because it's such a GREAT frickin book!

2. The Sky is Everywhere by Jandy Nelson. This book might win my award for most beautiful writing of the year. The author also writes poetry, and not only is the language itself poetic in the prose, but the snatches of poems at the beginning of chapters are also really evocative. Lots about loss, love, sexuality, a really honest depiction of this girl emerging from a painful event back into life.

3. The Demon's Lexicon by Sarah Rees Brennan. This book came out a year (or two) ago, and I'd always heard/read good things about it, but for some reason had stubbornly refused to pick it up --maybe b/c it had a male protag, and I'm not usually into dude narrators, but that was actually one of the things that made this book absolutely amazing--being inside Nick's head and getting his unique view on the world, being part of his confusion about all the emotions in the people surrounding him but not knowing how to share them. There were seriously cool supernatural elements to Brennan's world, but really, it was getting in Nick's head that just wrenched my readerly heart out. I couldn't stop thinking about this book for weeks after I'd put it down. And bummer about the not-very-good covers (both hardback AND paperback), it deserves so much better!

4. Nightshade by Andrea Cremer. This book was fabulous, and a surprise. I got an ARC of this book and was happily surprised to find it wasn't just the cliche paranormal fare. Cremer creates an intelligent mythology and does intricate world building. It's awesome because the reader is introduced to the world through Calla's eyes, and to her, the flawed power structures and strict gender (and creature) roles around her seem normal. But with the introduction of Shay into her world, she slowly begins to question everything she thought she knew. The book keeps up action, tension, and sexy elements all the way through.

5. The Other Side of Dark by Sarah Smith. I just read this book this week, but haven't been able to stop thinking about it since. I wrote a pretty big fan-girl post about it last week, but yeah, it's a great story, so piercingly honest. It's about race relations, yes, but also just about being human, and Smith excellently uses supernatural elements to help the characters see just what it means to be human, to be haunted by the past, and how to work to overcome pain to keep on living.

6. Clockwork Angel by Cassandra Clare. Loved this book hard. I liked it's pacing and setting a lot more than I did the modern world of her Mortal Instruments Series. The late 1800's with the supernatural and a little bit steam-punk? Along with delicious, tormented boys and a strong female lead? Yes please.

7. The DUFF (Designated Ugly Fat Friend) by Kody Keplinger. Bianca's acerbic sarcastic wit is frankly refreshing in a YA world full of weaker female leads. Bianca's got problems, sure, but she's dealing with them the best way she knows how. She doesn't fit in the cookie-cutter pattern expected of young girls, and she's not shy about it. I love, love, love Bianca's character. She's complex, has plenty of vulnerabilities underneath. And then there's Wesley. Yum.
8. Paranormaly by Kiersten White. I'm surprised I haven't seen more buzz about this book around, because I totally loved it. Again we're introduced to a main character who accepts the world as it's presented to her and all of the limitations imposed on her, and through the introduction of an outsider, begins to question they whys of her confinement. The action, pace, and lighter voice of this book made it a really fun read. It was the perfect balance of tone--not light enough to be fluffy, but not so dark it was hard to read.

9. The Vespertine by Saundra Mitchell. Okay, maybe this isn't fair, because this one won't come out till March, but it was still one of my best reads this year. It has a haunting tone underlying the glitz and glitter of life in Victorian Baltimore. The language alone makes this book worth a top ten read. The characters are all complex, especially the main character--her transformation throughout the book, for better and for worse, really resonates through the text. And the romantic aspects of the book are also so realistic and full of aching, unresolved tension because of the setting (boys and girls are barely allowed to touch, much less kiss!).

10. Personal Demons by Lisa Desrochers. Sexxxxxxxxxxxxxxxy. This book is wicked sexy, with a demon and an angel vying for Frannie's soul, and her supernatural abilities that could change the course of the world as we know it. Apart from the super sexy factor was the appealing nature of each character, especially the character growth of the demon Luc. Being inside his head was awesome. This book was fun, but again, not fluffy. Can't wait for the sequel next year. Only flaw is the cover, which is so mass-market-paper-back cover, and the book deserves better!

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

You Should Read This Book

The Other Side of Dark by Sarah Smith.

This book. This book. This book. It's worming it's way inside me. This book makes me want to start giving a shit again, about entering into the suffering of others, about the worth of all the lives around you and the acknowledgment of the difficult legacy of race relations left to young Americans today. The Other Side of Dark is one of the most poignant and honest fiction books I've read about the haunting (dramatized literally) legacy of slavery, so honest and transparent about all the complex ways we think--the good and the bad--the multiple truths that exist alongside each other in our heads. Our UNlovely motivations. This book makes me want to crack open my hardened chest again and start giving a crap about people, with humility and love.

During my very religious years I kept repeating words and trying to feel the things I ought to feel. Trying to love my neighbor. Trying to do charity and want to keep doing it. Wishing I didn't hate working at the soup kitchen and scrubbing the very dirty bathrooms afterwards because it was the one time a week some people had access to hot water. Because out of all the many shoulds that I accomplished with great zeal, I smiled and lied about how I really felt. Because to admit my less than lovely thoughts meant I was wrong and sinful.

And then afterwards, I told myself I'd give myself a few years off from charity, from giving a fuck about others. To cleanse my palate maybe? To stop living like Jacob Marley with chains of guilt banging around my neck? And then when I was so sick for years, nobody cared, and I thought, maybe that's just how we all are--selfish and self-involved.

I think enough of that pain has scar-tissued over now. The clouds of anger and bitterness have cleared enough where maybe I can try to love other people and still be honest at the same time. Not expect perfection of myself, or be disappointed when I don't find perfection in the people around me. Maybe there's still hope for truth and beauty in the world? In others? In myself?

Quote from near the end of the book:
Death sucks. Life is a lot more fun. So live, huh? Even when it's hard.

Sunday, December 19, 2010

The Writing Life

The semester has finally ended and I find myself with a bit of that precious commodity: time. Of course, the accompanying necessary ingredient: motivation--now that one's still missing a bit. I know logically that after the stress of the semester that I'd have to just be prone for a week, but there's a buzzing under my skin to get started on all the projects I couldn't during school. Like writing!!

I'm doing last edits on Glitch before Agent Dude sends the manuscript out on submission in Jan. He's mentioned some impressive publishing houses, now we'll just see if they want me. Do you remember the refrain of that 90's song by the Cardigans:
Love me, love me, say that you love me

Yeah, the entire querying, trying to get an agent, and now sending it on submission to editors makes that song refrain sound over and over in my head. Love me! Love me! Say that you love me! And my book!

But then, because I'm me, this leads to larger existential questions - isn't that the refrain to most our lives - would someone or multiple someones just love us and want us around? Sometimes I've thought the epigraph of my life would be: she wanted to be wanted. Which um, yeah, sounds a little emo and pathetic, but really, I think it's what most of us just want. It's what I wanted when I was a dorky 7th grader hoping for a seat at the lunch table with the cool kids, it's what I wanted when I went off to college and started dating, it's what we want when we are interviewing for jobs, when looking for agents, and now publishers. Like me, like me! I swear I'm cool enough to belong here! I'm unique and special, like the snowflakes!! Like the snowflakes, dammit!

Sunday, December 12, 2010

The Duff by Kody Keplinger - Review

Goodness gracious, I loved this book. From varying reviews I've seen around, people either loved this book, or hated it. It surprised me at first when I looked after I'd read it, but upon further reflection, I get it. The main character, Bianca, is a bit acerbic, with a biting bitter wit that I, for one, appreciate. People have called Bianca our generation's Holden Caufield, and I'm tempted to agree. She's so wonderfully displaced in her own life, so correctly cutting in her views of the world around her. And then there's the fact that she's just a friggin' teenager who is going through some really tough sh#%.

But of course, since it's YA, people get all book-baning on Keplinger's ass, even though SHE'S STILL AN ACTUAL TEENAGER!! Yes, and don't think I'm not depressed at this debut by such a talented 19-year-old, but this amazingly-voiced novel is from an actual teenager. And for that reason alone, she should get past all the fuddy-dudding book-banners.

Everything in this book is so funny, and HONEST. Want to hear an authentic teenage voice with a less-than-conservative-happy take on the world? Pick up this book. Plus, can I just say, hot love story, while also poignant and honest? This book is a crazy mix of tear-your-heart-out honesty and suprising-love-story. I read this book without knowing how young the author was, and then when I found out, I was absolutely-frickin-shocked. You will not believe how friggen good this book is. Absolutely, one of my top-ten best reads of 2010.

Thursday, December 9, 2010

Memories of the Wheelchair Days

Life's been too good lately, if you know what I mean. I'm not so pessimistic that I'm waiting for the other shoe to drop, but I am trying to enjoy the happy while it's here. Earlier this week, when I realized I wasn't going to be able to finish a paper in time, in spite of all the research and effort I'd put into it, I started laughing- literally laughing out loud. Just like, oh well, it was bound to happen sometime! I sound a little manic here, but I'm actually not. Just happy.

I'm generally wicked happy and in a great mood almost all the time now, but it's not so far removed that I don't remember some really horrible years I had, mostly in Chicago, when I was in a wheelchair because the CFS was so bad, and I really hated people like me--you know, the bouncing around, cheerful kind of people. I have these very vivid memories of wheeling around my undergrad college campus, staring at people's feet, and wanting to just run the hell into them with my footrests, especially people who were overly nice to me or tried to open doors for me, or stopped me in the hallway because they wanted to pray for my healing (no lie, this happened on several occasions, it was a Bible college after all). I was so angry, so incredibly angry, sick, and unhappy. For years, you know? I don't know how my then-new husband put up with me, but he stuck it out, constantly supported me, used to all but carry me up or stay with me as I miserably crawled up the two flights of stairs to our damnable tiny one-room apartment (most of the smaller apartment buildings in Chi-town don't have elevators). I think a lot of lesser men would have left me.

So I think back to that person, and it seems incredible that it was actually me. At the time, one of the things that angered and hurt most was how hard it was for people to continue to caring about what a hard time I was having- people who were supposed to care, like friends, or church. People might care for a moment, a week or two, but all anyone wants to hear when they ask "how are you?" is that it's getting better, not the same or getting worse. But sticking it out for the long haul with a sad or sick person? For months, years? One of the Bible verses that still resonates with me is "Rejoice with those who rejoice, and mourn with those who mourn." Be willing to hear that the answer to "how are you?" is "man, not good, not good at all." Especially around the holidays, when holiday cheer makes the juxtaposition of melancholy feel all that much more heavy.

No great resolution here, just let's try to love on people more.

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Lots of Delicious Reading, So Little Time

This week, in between maniacally working on edits for the book, finishing a paper about an 800 pg Renaissance book, and finishing classes, I also downed a few YA books that were really delightful. I'll rank them in order of awesomeness.

The Vespertine
by Saundra Mitchell
. I'll post a fuller review closer to when it's published next March, but it was A-MAZING!!!! Set in Victorian Baltimore with a hint of supernatural elements, this book was thick with longing, so achingly decadent in every sense of the word. In a time where touching bare hands was considered wanton and dangerous, every intimate moment Amelia and Nathaniel steal alone has a heightened sense or eroticism (even though their contact by today's standard would be considered chaste). The tension and haunting narration also adds a depth that really launches this book beyond the normal YA fare. I can't say enough about how happily surprised I was at devouring this advanced readers copy. Five stars.

It's Not Summer Without You by Jenny Han. The first book in this series, The Summer I Turned Pretty, was one of the few non-paranormal reads that has really stuck with me. Han has a knack for capturing real-life emotions, weaving the present in with memories of the past that make you feel like you really know all of the characters, in all their complexities. And a love story that was so real, and so, so satisfying. The sequel was just as satisfying, but had some surprising twists. I can't say too much without giving away spoilers, but I was really happy about where Han took Belly's story in the sequel. I'm also glad there's just two books in the series, which felt like bringing the story full circle without dragging it out to make it a trilogy just for the heck of it. Four stars.

Wish by Alexandra Bullen. This book was kind of fluffy, with fairy-tale elements (hello, magic dresses you can wish on), but at the same time, it was attempting to tackle some heavy issues: death of a family member. I feel like this is becoming a young adult lit trope: kill off a family member and suddenly your main character is deep because they have really been through something. It separates them from all their classmates and gives them a more mature perspective on things, and when done right, it's very effective (like in one of my fav reads of the year, The Sky Is Everywhere). But here, eh, it was like the frosted cupcake version of the dead-sibling narrative. Which was a little disconcerting, though it was an okay read in and of itself. Three stars.

Saturday, December 4, 2010

CAN Men and Women Ever Be "Just Friends"?

This is the age old question, awesomely dramatized in the classic When Harry Met Sally. And it's one I've certainly wondered about often enough, because here's the thing: a lot of the time, I get along better with dudes than I do with other women. I don't know if this is because I grew up with brothers or because of the difference in topic in conversations I can have with guys.

I have several guy aquaintances that I wish I could spend more time with and who, if they were girls, I'd want to be besties with. But then I worry if its inescapable that b/c of the tension of opposite sex relations (or same sex relations if one swings that way), that you always have to tread a certain boundary line. You always have to be careful not to create too much of an emotional connection with any dude other than your spouse. But these are still some awesome unique people who I feel the better for knowing, who push me creatively and intellectually, and who are just plain fun!

I think about things too much, probably. Over-analyze things that are no big deal. In my mind, I generally just make categories, and guy friends are firmly put in the "brother" category.

So take that, Harry. Men and women CAN be just friends, I hereby declare it! with the caveat not to be stupid and pretend making too-deep emotional connections with people won't affect you. What do you think?

Friday, December 3, 2010

Back to the grindstone

All week, I have been luxuriating in edits on my novel, diving back into the story-world and losing myself for hours at a time. Seriously, one day I edited for 11 hours and still didn't want to go to bed b/c I wanted to keep going! It's like delicious magic time, especially compared to writing shitty academic papers!

But alas, edits are done, new draft turned in to Agent Dude. And yeah, that paper that I've been putting off and already got an extension on? It's due Monday. I should be writing it right now. As we speak. But what fun would that be?

I'm still giddy with fiction world, and wanting that future to work out so badly my stomach curls up just thinking about. That's what I want to be doing with all my time. Being a writer was always Plan A, but I always thought it a ridiculous pipedream b/c I know how hard it is to make it as a writer, even to get published. So it was on to Plan B--getting my Master's and Doctorate and teaching. But now that Plan A is a possibility suddenly, it's ALL I WANT. So forcing myself to still keep working on Plan B stuff--every hour spent and page written is grueling and feels IMPOSSIBLE!!! How did I ever make myself do this before????

All right, whiny rant over. Agent Dude sounded excited about the changes I'd made on the book, but he thinks it might be best to wait until January to start submitting to editors at publishing houses b/c people are already checked out for the holidays. I'm glad it's him and not me having to make these decisions, because I have the patience of a three year old.