Friday, December 30, 2011

“The question isn't who is going to let me; it's who is going to stop me.” 
 ― Ayn Rand

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Top Five of 2011

My top five favorite things of this year:

5. 21 by Adele

Adele is brilliant. She has such a powerful voice, and the music and lyrics are perfect.

This the first album I've bought in a while where I enjoyed every single song. I've played this over and over again and still I love all of the songs.

Of course my favorites are "Rolling in the Deep" and "Set Fire to the Rain" but none of the songs feel like they'll ever get old.

4. Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part II

I was skeptical about splitting book seven into two movies, but the way it was handled here was perfect for me. Though I liked Part I a little better (it was more true to the book), I loved everything about this movie.

Between the books and movies being over (something that's been a part of my life for like the last 15 years!), I don't know what I'm going to do with myself.

3. Where She Went by Gayle Forman

So this is also my number one favorite cover of the year. There's just something about the model that's so entrancing. This was definitely one I was excited to buy and keep on my shelf.

And then I read it.

So. Amazing.

It takes so much to write an impressive follow up (I loved If I Stay), and even more to write one that has alternating past and present chapters that are both equally engaging. I read this in one sitting. And I WEPT.

2. All Things Game of Thrones

I fell in love with the TV show and then all five books. I've become a complete George R. R. Martin fangirl.  That he can create such complex and relatable characters, and a world with so much history, is simply amazing. And the show! It's perfect. Definitely the best thing on TV.

1. Chime by Franny Billingsley

This was definitely my favorite book of the year. It was dark and complex and I was on the edge of my seat for the whole read. Briony is the kind of character I want to know and be friends with.

The voice, the writing, the descriptions, the story! Everything was so amazing that I was depressed for a few days after I finished it because I couldn't spend more time in that world!

Monday, December 26, 2011

Getting to "The End"

I am a strict believer in writing through anything tough. Which is exactly what I do when I get to the dreaded middle.

When I first started writing, I would revise and revise and revise. I never finished anything because I was so busy revising things that I didn't like. And I didn't like everything.

And well, let's face it, not finishing anything is sort of problematic. But I was saved--by NaNoWriMo. I stumbled across a website forum of writers all taking about nanowrimo, and I had no idea what it was, but they all kept talking about it and asking each other if they were going to do, and I hate being left out, so I checked it out.

It taught me two very valuable lessons.

1. 200,000 words is not actually appropriate novel length. (I'm a little embarrassed to admit I'd written several very lengthy manuscripts--which were mostly character studies with no plot--and they were all over 200k words. I had no knowledge of word length until I got involved with NaNoWriMo.)


2. I needed to Just. Keep. Writing.

Word count is thankfully something I've made myself familiar with and kept in mind while writing in the future, but Nano challenged me to keep going, to forget how crappy the beginning was, or the deus ex machina plot disaster going on in the middle, or the flat characters and absent motivation. It taught me to push through all that, and get to The End.

Which was something I really needed to know how to do.

After I survived my first Nano and finished the first draft of a manuscript, I went through and read it. There was a lot to not like--there was a ton of stuff I threw out and rewrote, but I had a framework, and revising from there was so much easier for me.

So now, I'm working on a new project. It's a little different than things I've written before, and I've written some scenes that are way too rambly, dialogue that's way too stiff, and worldbuilding that borderlines the definition of info dump.

But if I stopped and revised now, I would get lost in the frustration of those scenes. I might even get stuck in a loop of rewriting the same scene time after time after time. (It's happened more times than I care to admit). Instead, I grab some kids--the sour patch kind--and I keep writing. I ignore the stuff that makes me want to groan, because when I finish and I reread the manuscript, there will be stuff I can keep too, scenes I love, even scenes that amaze me because they're good.

In my WIP, I'm almost 20k words in, and I know I'm going to rewrite a lot of the beginning so it flows more smoothly, but about 5k words ago, I hit a stride, and that makes all that grumbling through the beginning is worth it.

Friday, December 23, 2011

If You Forget Me 
          --Pablo Neruda

I want you to know
one thing.

You know how this is:
if I look
at the crystal moon, at the red branch
of the slow autumn at my window,
if I touch
near the fire
the impalpable ash
or the wrinkled body of the log,
everything carries me to you,
as if everything that exists,
aromas, light, metals,
were little boats
that sail
toward those isles of yours that wait for me.

Well, now,
if little by little you stop loving me
I shall stop loving you little by little.

If suddenly
you forget me
do not look for me,
for I shall already have forgotten you.

If you think it long and mad,
the wind of banners
that passes through my life,
and you decide
to leave me at the shore
of the heart where I have roots,
that on that day,
at that hour,
I shall lift my arms
and my roots will set off
to seek another land.

if each day,
each hour,
you feel that you are destined for me
with implacable sweetness,
if each day a flower
climbs up to your lips to seek me,
ah my love, ah my own,
in me all that fire is repeated,
in me nothing is extinguished or forgotten,
my love feeds on your love, beloved,
and as long as you live it will be in your arms
without leaving mine.

Monday, December 19, 2011

Five Surefire Ways to Get Me Plotting

Some writers just sit down and write--fly by the seat of their pants--and the story unfolds itself for them.

I'm not like that. At all.

I actually like to know exactly what I want to happen from the first to the last scene before I start writing.

So once I have a vague idea of something (usually a character or two and a situation), my writing/plotting rituals are:

1. Angsty Teen TV Shows
I specifically love the ones from the 80s and 90s that are up on the Netflix. I'll watch a string of episodes all back to back.

2. Specialized Playlist
I have playlists for certain projects, playlists for certain characters, and even playlists for certain scenes. I'll sit down with iTunes for a few hours and go through my music looking for the right songs for my characters and their relationships. And then hopefully those songs all together will inspire me.

3. The Long Walk
Before I lived in NYC, this would have been called The Long Drive, but now that I'm carless, I love grabbing my ipod and just setting out for a walk. The scenery of a park or even just the city and people watching can give me some great ideas, and sometimes when I'm thinking of nothing in particular, a plot point will come to me.

4. Brainstorming Sessions
I have a couple really talented and creative friends who thankfully don't mind helping me sort out plot details. We'll sometimes meet for coffee, and I'll tell them what I've got and we'll throw ideas back and forth. Other times, we'll brainstorm via text message or even email.

5. Research
io9 is the one website I follow religiously. I love their links, the articles, the sense of humor--all of it. And every time I've plotted myself into a corner, I'll click their links and something, even if it's just a word or a phrase, will sent me off on inspired research.

Each of my projects have started with the characters and then the plot has developed from there. UNRAVELING was conceived because of a guy I found pretty swoonworthy, a marathon of Roswell season one, "We Are Broken" by Paramore, walks through the financial district in Manhattan, late night emails, and a couple well worn copies of Scientifican American magazines.

After I had one lined journal, almost full with character descriptions, worldbuilding notes, scene ideas, and snippets of dialogue, I typed up a synopsis and went to work turning those ideas into an actual manuscript.

First published on 8/21/2011, this post in its original form can be seen at Brave New Words.

Friday, December 16, 2011

“Have you ever been in love? Horrible isn't it? It makes you so vulnerable. It opens your chest and it opens up your heart and it means that someone can get inside you and mess you up.” 
 ― Neil Gaiman, The Sandman, Vol. 9: The Kindly Ones

Monday, December 12, 2011

Complex Characters (aka Let me Fangirl George R. R. Martin)

I've decided my favorite characters--heroes or villains--are the ones that I'm not really sure about.

In the last few months, I read all five of the books in George R. R. Martin's series A Song of Fire and Ice. One of the main plotlines revolves around The Game of Thrones because 15-20 years before the book opens, there's a rebellion, the former ruling family is overthrown and most of them killed off, and the leader of the rebellion makes himself king. Only he was a better solider than he is a king.

I could say I devoted a lot of sleepless nights to the several thousand pages in the series so far because I love the worldbuilding. (I do, it's the closest thing to Middle Earth I've ever read). I could say it's because I love the fact that no one is safe that I know GRRM won't pull any punches. (Sometimes, I don't love that, though.) Or I could say that I love the twists, the gasp inducing scenes that always convince me I have to read just one more chapter. (There are some big ones).

But really, it's the complexity and moral ambiguity of all the characters. Because for each character, everything happening in the books relates to that rebellion, to what happened to them in their past. They remember events differently and their actions are based on those memories. When I first started reading book one I was convinced who the good and bad guys where, only when I got to book two and started reading from some of those "bad" guys' points of view, I realized they weren't all that bad. In fact, in some instances, my opinion was completely turned on its head.

There are other great examples of really complex morally ambiguous characters that I've loved. When I was reading Harry Potter my opinion of Snape and whether he was good or bad changed with each book. And it took me most of The Hunger Games to figure Haymitch out. And that's why I found them so interesting.

First published on 8/8/2011, this post in its original form can be seen at Brave New Words.

Friday, December 9, 2011

"Love all, trust a few, do wrong to none.” 
 ― William Shakespeare, All's Well That Ends Well

Monday, December 5, 2011

How I Landed an Agent

Well, there was this guy...

Actually let me backtrack, because this is a pretty unconventional agent story and it requires some backstory.

When I was in high school, I fancied I was writing the Next Great American Novel. It was about three wealthy families with intertwined lives and the careless way they moved through life and left people and things broken behind them. It's was F Scott Fitzgerald inspired (poor guy he probably rolled over in his grave a few times) and it was unfinished at the time I went to a writing conference. Since I knew nothing about the industry, I went to this writing conference and signed up to pitch agents.

It did not go well.

At all.

For a lot of reasons. I was a painfully shy teenager (I swear I made it through sophomore year of high school and uttered under 10 words). I didn't know how to pitch a book. I was overwhelmed and unprepared and overly sensitive.

I'm also relatively sure the agent I sat down with was having a really bad day.

I left the pitch appointment in tears, left the conference without going to anything else, and went home. And in a way, I quit. I decided I would write for me because I loved it, and the publishing industry--and agents--just wasn't for me. (did I already explain I was overly sensitive and more than a little melodramatic?) There were plenty of other things I loved do

Fast forward 10 years and there was this guy...

This guy specifically.

The insanely talented Brooks Sherman is a friend of mine, and he'd just moved from working for a theater company to a literary agency. And (shockingly!) he really seemed to like his agency, enough that he was hoping to somehow weasel his way from intern to assistant there.

He was also part of a writing workshop of six people who got together once every two Thursdays and critiqued each other's work. When we were Christmas shopping last year, he mentioned someone was leaving the workshop and they were looking for another member. Because he knew I dabbled in writing sometimes, he encouraged me to join.

Because I don't easily say NO (it's harder than I think it should be) I said "of course I'll do it" (and then later I tried to think of ways to back out and failed).

At this point I had abandoned my attempts at copying F Scott. I'd written fantasy, paranormal romance, urban fantasy and was currently writing thrillers. But I never let anyone read anything. I saved manuscripts in different folders on my laptop and revised them sometimes when I was inspired or bored. I wrote a lot, but then I did the equivalent of shoving that writing into a drawer and just moving on to something else.

Which meant before the first workshop meeting, I was terrified. I emailed the first twenty pages of my current thriller to the group, felt a little like I might throw up, and then I tried to forget about it.

The first meeting and even subsequent ones were nerve wracking. I hadn't had anyone look at my writing since high school for a reason. Writing is extremely personal, it's something much bigger than just words on a page. I didn't know how to talk about it or how to listen to other people talk about it. But after the first meeting, I was beyond glad that I decided to do it. Writing might be solitary when it comes to first drafts, but it takes a lot of other people to make a manuscript take shape into a book.

Brooks and the people in the workshop were able to give me two huge things I needed. 1. Insight and fresh eyes that could spot plot holes and character flaws and 2. Confidence.

Because after a few workshop sessions, Brooks sang my manuscript's praises and swore it was something he would pick out of the slush pile. I took his edits (which were INVALUABLE) and thought about rethinking my attitude towards my own writing.

But then he talked about the manuscript at FinePrint's office and one of the agents said "tell her I want to see it."

Which is how I found myself emailing Janet Reid.

From there it was a whirlwind. Janet is as amazing, knowledgeable, funny, and as all around spectacular as Brooks said--and as she appears online. (Though I didn't know anything about her online presence before I met her). She reads fast and she talks even faster. She's so charming on the phone she manages to make me feel less awkward.

So far she's made me laugh a lot. And she's only made me cry once and that was later when she told me we had an offer on my book, so good tears.

And Brooks, the guy I owe a big thank you...he is an assistant at FinePrint now, and he's looking for his own projects now.

First published on 7/18/2011, this post in its original form can be seen on Brave New Words.

Friday, December 2, 2011

“There is never a time or place for true love. It happens accidentally, in a heartbeat, in a single flashing, throbbing moment.”

― Sarah Dessen, The Truth about Forever

Monday, November 28, 2011

Becoming a "Writer"

When I was a kid, my goal never was to become a writer. I liked to write stories and especially draw accompanying pictures in elementary school, but I didn't ever say writer when someone asked me what I wanted to be when I grew up.

I wanted to be a surgeon, even though the sight of blood made me faint. I wanted to be a veterinarian at a zoo, even though, again, there was that whole blood problem, not to mention all the schooling. I wanted to be a flight attendant so I could travel the world for free. I even wanted to be a singer, never mind that I was tone deaf.

But I came from an abusive home. The environment creates a certain need for escapism. As a kid I was constantly daydreaming and envisioning my life as something different than it was. I watched movies and read books and imagined myself in that world as the heroine of my own adventure.

I also created a persona for who I was outside my house. Which means, I lied a lot. Like a lot. Before I even knew how awful it was. And my lies were elaborate with intricate details and safeguards. I told my kindergarten teacher my cat had eight kittens. (My family had a dog who was spayed). I described each kitten in major detail, gave each of them names, drew pictures of them for weeks, and when a parent of a fellow student asked if they could buy one of the kittens from my family, I told them we'd already promised them to people in our family.

Then of course, I grew up and got caught in a few lies and suffered the punishments, and realized that maybe wasn't the best way to go about life.

And I had an English teacher who saved me. Her name was Mrs. Hall, and she loved books with a ferocity that couldn't be anything but contagious. Every time she spoke, in class, in the hallway, to me or to someone else, I was captivated by how passionate she was. I wanted to be just like her.

So I read everything she recommended. I showed up at her classroom every day after school, even when she wasn't my teacher anymore. We discussed hundreds of books--the characters, the worlds, the language, the authors. Everything. 

She asked to read my stories, so I wrote them down. 

And she listened.

That encouragement drove me through high school, and writing itself became a staple in my life, something I did every time I had a free moment whether it was on my computer, in a notebook, on the back of a receipt or on a napkin. 

I tried to write the Great American Novel for a while, and then I read Elizabeth Haydon's Symphony of Ages series. The characters and world became so alive and so inspiring that I realized I had it all wrong. Most of the stories I loved most (excluding Gatsby) were all fantasy or science fiction.

So I changed my focus, and I embraced the inner science fiction/fantasy geek inside me and somewhere along the line, I wrote Unraveling. Then Brooks Sherman and Janet Reid and a lot of other people helped make things happen.

First published 10/2/2011, this post can be seen in its original form on Brave New Words.

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