Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Some days are...

... a kick in the pants. Today was just one of those wicked tough days, both for me and my husband in our respective pursuits. He's in his first year as a PhD student, and I'm just a little in limbo trying to figure out where this book is going to go, and some days are well, the kind that kick you in the pants!!

But what this post is really about is how super lovey dovey I feel for my husband. So tonight we were both kind in downs-ville, bumming about our fears of failure and all the things that could go wrong, and awhile later he stops and says: "but the most important thing in my life is you, and we're good and that makes everything else okay."

At which point I turned into a happy sobby mess and hugged him hard. He's right though. Sometimes life just feels really f'ing tenuous you know? This this last year made me realize how life's crazy and hard and if you are lucky enough to find someone solid, then you're one of the luckiest f'ing sobs on earth. This is a man who has put up with years of my debilitating sickness, tons of other bs, and has loved me through everything. I love him so f'ing much. The Titanic might feel like it's sinking around us sometimes, but being together makes you believe you can survive it, it makes all the difference in the world.

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

The Rare & Spectacular Moments of Transcendence As a Writer

There's this line from Natalie Goldberg's Writing Down the Bones that has all but haunted me. She is writing about writing, and she says: We are not running wildly after beauty with fear at our backs.

Goldberg talks a lot about fear in this amazing book about writing. It seems she almost spends equal time talking about fear and overcoming resistance as she does on writing itself. As any writer knows, the two are often inextricably tied. We are all trying to capture moments of transcendence, but it sure takes a lot of toiling in the dirt to get there.

But sometimes the toil seems to take up all our attention. Hitting daily word count. Thinking up a plot and then producing scenes to knit it all together. Getting through a draft to meet a deadline. There are so many things to fear, even when you tell yourself not to be afraid, that fear and anxiety are stupid and just made-up impediments in your head. Goodness knows I've done this kind of writing for months at a time. I wrote a whole book last year like this. But telling yourself not to be afraid is like telling yourself not to think about something--suddenly it's all you can think about, all you can feel. I'd think about this line from Goldberg and want to scream: but how?? how do you release all the fear and only concentrate on the beauty?

And then there are shocking times like these past two weeks when inspiration hits, and like the proverbial rain storm after a drought, you just soak it in and think oh god I'd missed this so much. Suddenly writing doesn't feel like work, it feels like play. Everything you'd tried to force comes naturally. Sometimes you go through such long stints of the drought kind of writing that you don't think the transcendent moments can even exist anymore.

The key I'm discovering about beginning to enjoy writing again (which, I know plenty of writers will tell you, can be an unfortunate rarity): stick to the scenes I love best. And if I don't love a scene or a big portion of the book, transform it into something I do love and am interested in. This sometimes means BIG think-out-of-the-box changes, but when I sucked it up about the pages I needed to cut to transform the book, I felt the old giddiness inside. And I literally can barely stop myself from writing. It's not fighting to meet word count anymore, I just want to get to the next scene, and when I finish it, I'm eager for the next.

I remember the kind of stories I like best: big, epic, as melodramatic as possible within believable bounds, and of course at the center, a love story. The thing is, if I'm not really enjoying the scenes I'm writing, readers probably aren't going to enjoy them either. The whole fight of writing is getting to that deep emotional spark. Those are the kind of books we read and re-read and can't get out of our heads.

But it's hard, because I couple this idea that I need to love what I'm writing with the very pragmatic demands of being a writer. Sometimes you just need to produce words and pages, and allow it to be crappy, sometimes writing is just bland potatoes without any spice. If you hear writers giving writing advice, so much of what we will talk about is overcoming resistance, trying to just make ourselves sit down and write every day, stressing out over deadlines, feeling anything but love for our stories but forcing ourselves to do it anyway.

Usually what happens (and this is basically what the theme of Goldberg's very beautiful and practical book) is that as you force yourself to write and get into the disciplined habit of it, is that those beautiful moments with the emotional spark will come eventually. Sometimes they'll show up out of nowhere and then you look at the pages you've written with a kind of shocked, huh, that turned out really good! But there are other times like lately when I've been experiencing that even more rare magic of big ideas that seem to set everything into place. Those forehead slapping moments, lightbulb over the head moments, Archimedes jumping out of his bathtub and running down the street shouting Eureka! moments. I'm far from a mystical person, but what can I say that they seem to come from some place outside myself and all I can feel is a very deep gratefulness that I got to partake at all.

So I'm spending every moment I can writing, with more furious passion than I've felt in a long time. It feels good, so good.

Monday, February 6, 2012

What Contemporary YA Teaches Me About Writing Sci-Fi

This past month I've gotten back into book devouring mode. Which is awesome for me, not so awesome for my budget ;) But sometimes you gotta chuck responsibility to the wind, and go with the reading mood when it strikes (and then try to offset buying books with reserving them at the library!).

Now, you might ask, why are you so obsessed wih YA contemporary when you write sci-fi, Heather? My response: ummmmm. I don't know! But other than a select few gems of awesome, I can't seem to really get into anything that's sci-fi or paranormal. I seem to have zero patience, sometimes make it half-way through,  put it down because I feel like 'meh,' and then am like, dude, what's up? Did becoming a writer make me broken as a reader somehow? Then I pick up a contemporary book and disappear into it and four hours later come up for breath and let out a happy sigh.

So I've been trying to figure out what it is about contemporary that makes them such easy reads, even when the subject matter isn't light (I'm looking at you The Fault In Our Stars). I think part of it is: the setting is relatable. There's no worldbuilding you have to figure out, no trying to gear up to learn the ins and outs of how things work, no trying to decode new and strange social codes that come with a dystopia or a post-apocalyptic book. I also think part of it might be that the conflicts can be intense, but they aren't all life and death (and sometimes that's a relief to read!). There's not kick-butt action, it's lots of emotional drama instead. Because here's really what's what--those are my favorite parts of action-y life or life-and-death books--the space in between the action, where characters are learning about themselves or falling in love.

I've been working on book 3 in my series, which paradoxically is pretty chockful of big action spreads. But I've also been very careful to avoid some of the things I hate in the third book of trilogies. Like take for example, Mockingjay. There's so much action, and so little of the interpersonal relationships that made us fall in love with the first book. The personal bits seem like quick toss-ins between one trauma or another. So I'm trying my damndest to create space for my characters to really have the growth I want for them. And for the romance, which I've worked in some *hopefully* creative ways to keep fresh. It's the emotional core of any book that really hooks me and makes a book stay in my head for long after I've read it.

Friday, February 3, 2012

Incarnate by Jodi Meadows - So Worth the Wait!!!

I first heard of Incarnate almost a year ago, and have been dying to read it ever since. I wait for book release days like most people do for summer blockbusters. Like with movies, I read the synopsis over and over. I read interviews with the author, sample chapters, repeatedly watch the book trailer if they have one. And then I wait. And wait. And wait for the day I can get the book in my hot little hand. If there’s anyway I can beg or borrow or enter a contest to win an ARC, I try to find it (and usually fail, lol!) 
Incarnate finally came out this week, and I wasn’t going to let a little thing like being too sick to get out of bed stop me from finally reading it as soon as it came out! So like any good reader with zero patience and a Kindle on hand, I bought it at midnight the moment it released, and read into the middle of the night until I’d finished it.

And oh. My. Gosh. You know how some books suffer the sad fate of the over-hype and the over-anticipation, where you’ve waited so long to read a book it can never live up to the monument you’ve created for it in your head? Yeah, Incarnate lived up. And more.

Oh how to name all the things I loved about this book!

-The setting. It has kind of a fantasy world feel to it, but they have gadgets too. And dragons! It was unusual and really freaking cool.

- Ana, the heroine. Her mother tells her that because she’s been born new (and not a reincarnation of someone else, like everybody else in their world), she’s a nosoul. Barely even a person, really. Watching Ana struggle with this conception of herself and slowly grow into the conviction that she is a full person with as much right to live and love as anyone else was really satisfying to read, and handled so well at every moment along the journey by the author.

- The reincarnation idea. It was really f’ing fascinating to think about a world where a soul can live for thousands of years, casting off old bodies and being born anew, but retaining their memories of everything that came before. You really get a feel for how insane this would be through Ana’s friendship with Sam. Ana’s seventeen, and Sam’s  thousands of years old, currently in a seventeen-year-old body. Many of the residents of Heart consider Ana to be childlike, because she doesn’t have the skills or knowledge everyone else has been able to gather over the millennia. But being that old also means people are set in their ways. Many are unwilling to accept the newness and challenge that Ana’s very existence brings. Others ignore her, because like a butterfly, her life will be so brief that she’s not even worth reckoning with. I guess I found this point especially fascinating, because it gets into questions of what a single life is worth, however short it may be, and how it would affect the way you live if you believed that your existence was un-ending, that even if you died tomorrow, you’d come back and back and back. People tell Ana that she is passionate, and it made me think about the ways that passion is so often tied to do with discovering new things, discovering things you want to fight for, and having something to lose. It’s easy to lose your passion as you get older.

- The mysteries. There are some great mysteries throughout, starting with the question of why Ana is the first newsoul ever to be born, questions about the dragon attacks and the mysterious temple with no door, mysteries about factions that are secretly working against Ana, questions about Sam’s past, and more. And my favorite part of the book was the epic ending, where we get some really satisfying answers to some of these questions, there’s some amazing heartbeat-raising action, and basically all around, big sh*t goes down! There’s nothing I love better than a satisfying ending. Some mysteries are left to be resolved throughout the series, and with the characters that I completely loved by the end of the book, I finished at 4 in the morning and about died realizing I’ll have to wait a whole nother year to find out what happens next!!!! But like with book 1, I expect it will be worth the wait.