Summer is almost officially upon us, and today I celebrated by writing outside! I found a shady picnic table in a quiet corner of the park, where I spread out with my notes, iPod, and plenty of snacks. Writing under a tree is so appropriate when it's a book centered around a forest, don't you think?
I made a few bird buddies who wandered along the table and gazed at my binder with beady eyes. I think they were skeptical about my world-building (although it's possible that my Fritos attracted them too). I've been hard at work sketching out the universe of FOTL, figuring out its history, what kingdom goes where, and who was descended from whom. Sometimes it's tempting to skip that because most of it won't be in the book anyway, but I think knowing all of the details will make my world richer.
It's going to be another dual narrative, told from the perspective of my Snow White character and her stepmother. I'm nervous... I like telling both sides of a story, but I always seem to struggle when it comes to keeping both of them compelling. I don't know why one always ends up being more interesting than the other, but I hope to flesh out both characters enough that their stories will complement one another, rather than fight for the reader's attention. It's a tricky balance and I need practice!
Today I also managed to get this done:
Someone at NESCBWI mentioned that they liked to keep all of their manuscripts in binders. I thought that was a great idea, seeing as how mine end up as heaps of paper piled in the corner. That's RICE FLOWER MEMOIRS (179 pages) that you see in the yellow binder, and PUMPKIN PATCH PRINCESS (231 pages) in the pink binder. It's hard to believe that I wrote RFM six years ago, but when I glanced through the pages - adverbs, and backstory, and dialogue tags galore - it's incredible to see how far I have come as a writer, and how much better my work is now.
I'm getting closer and closer with every book. I may not have written THE book yet, but I will.
And that brings me to my announcement: I'm going to be taking the summer off from social media to work on FOTL. I've signed up for Camp NaNoWriMo next month with a hefty word goal, so it's time to unplug from the blog, and Twitter, and Facebook, and turn this book into something I can be proud of.
I will still pop in occasionally, and of course check my email obsessively (goes without saying, as I'm still hunkering down in the post-contest/query trenches), so you know how to reach me if you need to!
I hope to return in late August with plenty of writing updates and a sample of FOTL to share with you! And I hope that you all have a happy, productive summer and write lots of words and read lots of books.
See you on the other side!
Writing contest season is officially over for ELEGY, which did me so very proud. *hugs manuscript* Now it's time to enter the roughest waters of the Query Trenches: waiting. Waiting, waiting, and more waiting.
What better way to spend it than writing another project? And what better way to write said project than with music?
This month, I am trying out V.E. Schwab's calendar trick for writing. I've seen many Twitter friends doing it, so I decided to give it a shot as soon as June 1 rolled around. Good thing I was a sticker hoarder as a kid, and good thing I still have ALL of my stickers!
As you can see, I have a 15K word goal for June. I've been having a lot of trouble choosing a starting point for FOTL, and not only that, I couldn't figure out whose POV I wanted to write from. Now that I've decided, I figured that a set goal and a sticker calendar will help me stay accountable and just keep writing. Because that's how books get written, right?!
FOTL has an official soundtrack: the Silk Road Ensemble, a group led by Yo-Yo Ma that comprises musicians from all over the world. There are tambourines, lutes, flutes, cellos, violins, bagpipes... every instrument you can think of, and their collaborations are phenomenal and so inspiring. It's the perfect music for this book, which is set in many different regions of Asia and is based on various cultures along the Silk Road.
There's a scene where Jade and her guardians ride across the desert on a team of coal-black horses, and they come across a great city. I can see it all so clearly when "Arabian Waltz" plays: the burning sand, the bazaar teeming with merchants and caravans, the camels tethered to silken tents of every color...
I've decided to begin FOTL from the POV of Xifeng, the young girl from an impoverished family who lies, schemes, cheats, and kills her way to becoming the Empress of Feng-Lu. The second I heard "Ascending Bird," I knew it just had to be her theme. The name Xifeng even means "conquering phoenix." Perfect! I'm envisioning her first entrance into the royal compound in a curtained litter, gazing through the brocade at the kingdom she will rule with iron and fire.
Here's another gorgeous piece that I love. For some reason, I think of Jade and her companion, Wren, climbing the mountains on horseback when I listen to this one. It's something they do very shortly after escaping from the palace, in search of answers from the ruins of an ancient monastery:
And this is a fun introductory piece if you want more information about the ensemble. The music, "Briel," begins at the 1:00 mark if you want to skip ahead.
Hope you're all doing well and keeping busy with your writing/querying, too!
So, something exciting happened to my blog this month... it got a visit from my very own Blog Fairy, the lovely and talented Tiana Smith! Look how beautiful she made my little corner of the web! And don't you love that framed raincloud that she added in as a tribute to Silver Lining, my old blog title?
When we first started talking about a custom design, I told her I wanted something clean and simple, professional yet homey. I wanted a blog that made you feel like you were stopping by my desk or my bookshelf, and I would offer you a cup of tea and ask you to stay a while and chat about everything bookish. I think that is EXACTLY what I got. So... won't you sit a while and have a cup of tea?
Thank you so much for your wonderful work, Tiana! ♥ Guys, stop by the Blog Decorator if ever you need a site makeover. You won't regret it!
This week has been a pretty great week. I entered ELEGY into the Writer's Voice, the final contest I'll enter for this book, and it was both an honor and a humbling experience to be chosen among such phenomenal writers. I am thankful every day that I happened upon this writing community, because every contest, every Twitter conversation, every virtual hug and kind message about my blog and my stories is more fuel in the tank. You guys keep me going quite literally.
Last weekend, I attended my baby brother's college graduation, and it made me think about how different my current viewpoint is from the one I had on my own graduation day. With all of the speeches about following your passion, and making your place in the world, and finding the thing that makes you more you than anything else, I thought of how much I've grown from that girl who walked across the stage as the chair of the biology department butchered her name in 2007. (I even told him, "Dao rhymes with cow!" How can you mess up?)
I think of that fork in the road, and what might have happened if I'd stubbornly pushed on in the wrong direction. I work in a field now where I see my own "what-might-have-been" all the time, and it's daily reinforcement that jumping the track was 100% the right thing to do. (As if getting to know all of you and share my beloved books wasn't validation enough!)
I guess what I'm trying to say, in a very convoluted fashion, is that one day I hope to be the kind of mentor to other writers that my agented/published friends are to me. I'm lucky enough to know people who have gone through the query trenches, snagged agents, and signed book deals, and even luckier that some of them have kindly taken me under their wing. All I have to do is email, and I know they'll respond with the soundest advice and the strongest encouragement, and I want to give that back one day. It's heartbreaking and devastating to be rejected, to be the only one without requests, and to hope and lose hope again and again - all of which I have experienced. I don't see how anyone can make it in this business without a support network, and I want to be that for others as much as I possibly can.
(And can I just say again how glad I am that I chose a life of Word documents, PJs, and cups of tea over a surgical mask and a dissecting knife? And I believe the nurses who would have had to constantly peel me off the floor of the OR would also be glad, if they knew.)
I hope you all have a wonderful weekend (and if you're in the U.S., have a wonderful long weekend)!
Last weekend, I attended my first writers' conference ever! If you follow me on Twitter, I'm sure you've seen all the gushy tweets and pictures. Well, buckle up, because this blog post is basically the gushy tweets and pictures on a bigger scale. Be warned... this is a VERY long post, so grab a snack and get comfy if you're staying for the whole thing! :)
NESCBWI stands for the New England Society of Children's Book Writers and Illustrators, and you should look up the organization if you've never heard of it. There are many different branches, and from what I've seen on the website, it looks like membership has many benefits. I'm seriously considering it! They have an annual conference each spring filled with workshops and seminars led by publishing professionals. But it's not as stuffy as I'm making it sound, because basically it's one big whirlwind of fun. Where to begin?
Friday was a beautiful day to drive, bright and sunny, and I left early so I wouldn't hit traffic on the Mass Pike. After a few hiccups with parking (there was a sign that said "Parking Garage Full" at the Sheraton, so I drove around a few times looking for alternate parking before Melody texted me saying there were actually plenty of spots. *shakes fist* Damn my sign-abiding ways!), I dragged my heavy-ass duffel bag to the elevators. I had brought way too many outfits, but I figured too many choices were better than too few.
Anyway, I huffed and puffed into the lobby, and saw a pretty blond girl waiting by the doors with her suitcase. It was Melody Marshall, my awesome friend and critique partner who I had met when we were chosen for the same team during Pitch Wars, in REAL LIFE. I think I flailed and hugged her hard and squealed something inane like, "You are soooo pretty!"
And then I looked down and saw Gandalf's face on her tights. Guys, she was wearing the most amazing Hobbit tights. I saw Thorin Oakenshield, Legolas...
"And look, it's Martin Freeman," she said, poking at her leg. "I wore them for you!"
That was when I knew we would get along just fine. Not that I had any doubts before, since we pretty much text and email and Tweet and flail and commiserate together every day, but it just solidified the knowledge.
We got our room, dropped off our stuff, and since we had both gotten there so early and had hours to kill before dinner, we decided to go get coffee. The hotel has a really cool layout and I wish I'd taken a picture of the inside, but basically from any level, you can see all of the levels above you and below you all the way down to the lobby. So we heard a ton of commotion and when we looked over the railing, there were tables and balloons and people! WRITERLY people. AGENTLY people. My stomach was churning a bit, but felt better as soon as we got outside.
Melody is so gorgeous that she got hit on by every single male who passed us on the sidewalk, which was super amusing and a little scary, but we made it to a coffee shop without incident. I got a HUGE iced coffee with whipped cream and she got a lemonade, and then we sat down and just stared at each other and laughed. We had SO much to talk about, we didn't even know where to start!
I think that each and every one of us should meet at least one CP in real life. I don't know about you guys, but in my everyday life, I don't talk about my writing. It's such an important and a deep part of me that I like to protect it, unless I must talk about it out of politeness. But it was just so SURREAL and liberating and amazing to discuss our books, and our characters, and agents we had queried, and writing contests and all that jazz, and to mutually understand what was being discussed.
The hours just flew by and finally it was time to go to dinner at Nadim's. The place was pretty much empty, so I didn't have to make that reservation a week ago, but it was fine. We had a quiet environment to gab about books and agents and querying some more! Melody got pasta and I got chicken kabobs. We knew we had an event later that night... just an informal meet-and-greet with agents, with an open bar, but decided what the heck, it's a celebration! Let's order drinks! So this happened:
The chocolate martini was mine, and it was supposed to taste like a Thin Mint, but just tasted like alcoholic chocolate. Still good! Melody ordered the citrus-y one, which had a literary name like "Rum of the Ancient Mariner" or something like that - so appropriate, don't you think?
After dinner, we headed back to the hotel. I was really nervous, and Melody said she was shy, but I decided that we just HAD to go to the meet-and-greet. We couldn't come all this way to hide in our room! So there we went. The place was packed with people, and it was so much fun looking at everyone's faces and trying to see if we recognized any of them from Twitter or blogs. We saw some very familiar ones that we couldn't place, and ones that we could (EEP).
One of the familiar ones we placed was one of my dream agents. I turned around and there she was, smiling at me, and Melody elbowed me because she knew how much I fangirled over this agent, so I HAD to make myself say hi. I introduced myself and she was so incredibly sweet and nice, and even remembered me and my book! I can't even remember what I said - everything happened in a blur - but I felt so overjoyed and energized that I'd mustered the guts to just say hi. It's an incredible rush!
After that, some women commented on Melody's leggings so I dragged her over to say hi to them. Business cards were exchanged and new Twitter friends were found, and I discovered that one of them is repped by an agent who has my manuscript. Super cool to get the lowdown on an agent on my list, in person from one of her clients, especially when all she had to say was excellent. We then ran into Melody's friend Emily by the doors, who was basically full of awesome and promised to meet up with us the next day.
Everyone was so cool and nice. Don't believe what you hear about writers - that we are all introverted and awkward - because everyone was having a great time, trying to meet new people, chatting with old friends, laughing.
I had such a good impression of everyone and everything that I was PUMPED for tomorrow. I blame that and the gigantic iced coffee on not being able to sleep a wink. I tossed and turned for hours, but must have fallen asleep because I was woken up by the alarm clock. We both got ready in record time and packed up everything to check out and bring to our cars to save time. Here's a photo of us all set and ready to go:
As soon as we packed up our cars (and hunted down some Dunkins iced coffee for Melody), we headed in to breakfast in the gigantic ballroom, which was set up with hundreds and hundreds of white-clothed tables. A large raised platform stood at the front of the room, so we tried to find a table directly in front of that for the keynote speech. We sat with a few other really nice people - a lady who wrote middle grade books and who regaled us with tales of her failed critique groups, another lady who wrote young adult, and a lady who illustrated children's books and whose picture book had been rejected by a publisher with which I'm very familiar, as one of my close friends works there. This lady was going in to a critique session held by an editor from that publisher later in the day, and she wanted to use it as an opportunity to figure out what hadn't worked for them, which I thought was really smart and gracious.
We ate breakfast, and then Peter H. Reynolds took the stage to give the keynote speech. I teared up several times during his talk. He is such a dynamic, engaging speaker - qualities that I truly admire, being more skilled with the written word than the spoken word myself - and just drew the audience in with his personal anecdotes. I have decided to buy his books, THE DOT and ISH, for every kid that I know from now on. He read them aloud, and they were the perfect vehicle to convey the theme of the conference, which is bravery.
I'm going to veer off topic a little bit now, because bravery is something that I've realized I've been lacking, since I attended this conference. I'm afraid of writing certain genres... I'm afraid of writing my epic fantasy... I'm afraid of querying some agents because they're so famous and rep such wonderful books... I'm desperately afraid of failure, afraid that in a few years I still won't have anything to show for my efforts and my writer friends will all wonder what they've been doing, wasting their time on my blog and following a journey that led absolutely nowhere.
WHAT ARE THESE THOUGHTS. Seriously.
But I won't live my life that way any longer. I just refuse to. The writer side of me is the truest side of me. And if that side of me is afraid, then I'm a person running on fear. As I listened to Peter H. Reynolds speak, I decided that I had already taken a huge step forward in the bravery department: by going to a conference, by exploring this side of me, by making writer friends and introducing myself to an agent I'd love to call mine. And then Peter said something like, "You're not an aspiring writer if you're here at this conference. If you are here at this conference... you ARE a writer."
I am a writer. That feels nice to say.
After breakfast, Melody and I headed to our very first workshop, which was Revisions 101 with oh, you know, just MANDY HUBBARD. *dies* She is so articulate and savvy, and it was really cool to hear her talk about revisions both from the perspective of a published author and as an agent.
One of the pieces of advice I loved most was: gather all of your critiques in one place. Despite being a pretty organized person, mine tend to be scattered everywhere... in Word documents saved to my desktop, random files on my flash drive, in different folders in Gmail. Mandy advised us to keep everything in one handy place so that we could go back and read all of the pieces of advice, and even better, see all of the commonalities swiftly and easily.
Halfway through the session, Melody ran out for her critique session with, oh, you know, just LAUREN MACLEOD. She came back while Mandy was doing the question-and-answer session (with quite a handful of people who, it seems, merely raised their hand so they could talk all about themselves and their books instead of asking questions that would help us all in general - tip and note to self: don't do that). Her critique with Lauren went really well and I was so proud of her. But I'll let her talk about that in her own blog post!
By this point, I was starving so we went to lunch.
Melody tweeted our new friend Emily so she could find us in the packed ballroom, but she managed to find us anyway and we got a picture of the three of us! (By the way, if you don't know Emily, follow her on Twitter because she is super sweet and awesomely talented to boot!)
Right after lunch, we stayed in our seats because a panel of speakers headed up to the platform to talk. They included agent Jennifer Laughran (yes, the Jennifer Laughran) and the super awesome Meredith Rich of Bloomsbury Spark. I could have stayed there and listened to them talk about the business for much longer than we actually did. They discussed everything from genre trends (dystopian is way down, epic fantasy is on the ups) to exactly how a publisher auction works when more than one house wants and bids on a book, to what projects they are each craving. Diversity is big, big, big, and the movement is growing stronger. (Hallelujah!)
Following the panel, Melody and I went to our next session, which was: Write What You Don't Know, with author Julie Berry and Kendra Levin, the editor of Viking Children's Books/Penguin. This was a very hands-on session where we were given writing prompts and asked to do them on the spot, which is SO HARD, but so much fun. I really want to try doing that more often, because it's amazing what you can come up with if you force yourself to write in a very short space of time. I haven't free-written in years.
The session was all about being courageous and taking writing risks, like trying a challenging POV (unreliable narrator or second person, anyone?) or difficult tense. We practiced writing different characters, different settings, and shifting plot elements around to change the shape of a story.
Unfortunately I wasn't able to stay for as much of the session as I wanted because it was MY turn to skip out and run off to my own one-on-one critique. I didn't think I would be so nervous! I sat outside the room, opened my notebook to the page of questions, and peered in through the glass doors, where I could see small tables set up at which two people faced each other. I saw the back of Emily's head and remembered that she had her critique right before mine, with the same person!
The minute I sat down with Jennifer Carson, senior editor of Spencer Hill Press, and she began talking about the first 10 pages I had submitted, I knew she GOT my story. She got the mood, the main character, and where I was going, much better than almost anyone else. She read my synopsis and hesitated at the ending, and I was worried she would tell me she didn't like it (like a few of my CPs didn't), but she paused, looked at me, and merely said: "Why did you choose to end ELEGY this way?" And I explained my reasoning, and she said, decisively: "I LIKE IT." And proceeded to suggest a way to trim down the epilogue and write a whole new scene that would leave the book just as or even more creepy and atmospheric than it had begun. When she talked about this scene, I swear to you guys I could SEE this scene playing itself out in my head. I had goosebumps up and down my arms, and all I could say was "PERFECT."
I hogged her for almost ten minutes longer than I was allowed, and finally I had to get up because her next critiquee had been waiting patiently by the door while I gabbed on and on and asked her a zillion questions. But it was seriously amazing. I am so grateful to have spoken to her, and so appreciative of her time and advice. And now I'm ready to rock the ending of ELEGY! *epic music plays*
I ran back to Melody and told her all about it, and might have cried a little, and she got goosebumps when I described Jennifer's suggestion for the end scene, too.
Finally we reached the end of our day, and decided to pay a visit to the bookstore, which carried the books of all the authors who would be signing in the room downstairs. I snagged this beautiful book:
And I got to talk to A.C. Gaughen, who was so incredibly nice and took the time to ask me what kind of books I wrote. We have a mutual acquaintance, so we talked about her for a while, and then she signed my copy!
By that time, I wanted to linger and talk some more to Jennifer (but she was having a conversation) and maybe stalk some more agents, but Melody and I were SO TIRED. We decided to say our goodbyes to everybody and collected a bunch of Twitter names, and then parted ways in the garage. It was so sad, but I know that was only the first of many future CP hangouts!
All in all, I had a fantastic time at my first conference. I learned about being brave... not just the kind of courage it takes to go up to a new person and say hello, but also the kind that forces me to step outside of my comfort zone, write something new, and tell myself that yes, I AM a writer.
This was my first event, but will most decidedly NOT be my last. I'm so grateful for the experience and can't wait to attend again next year, hopefully as an SCBWI member!
(Holy hell, this post was practically a novel!!! Kudos if you made it this far.)
Have you been to a writers' conference yet? Have you met any CPs or agents in real life?
Italy is one of those places I have always, always longed to go. The museums, the art galleries, the scenic vistas. THE FOOD. My 30th birthday wish is to travel somewhere I've never been, and Italy is currently number one on the list. I've still got a couple of years to plan (and save up as much money as possible).
But until then, I think I've found a way to get there a little quicker.
Here's the plot:
Pippa has always wanted to go to Italy … but not by herself. And certainly not to sit in art school the entire summer learning about dead guys’ paintings. When she steps off the plane in Rome, she realizes that traveling solo gives her the freedom to do whatever she wants. So it’s arrivederci, boring art program and ciao, hot Italian guys!
Charming, daring, and romantic, Bruno is just the Italian Pippa’s looking for—except she keeps running into cute American archeology student Darren everywhere she goes. Pippa may be determined to fall in love with an Italian guy … but the electricity she feels with Darren says her heart might have other plans. Can Pippa figure out her feelings before her parents discover she left the program and—even worse—she loses her chance at love?
I love that Pippa, the main character, makes a list of ten goals to accomplish during her summer in Italy. It's something I would totally do! Some of the things she lists include: swim in the Mediterranean Sea, get a picture taken at the Colosseum, have a conversation with someone only in Italian, and (of course!) fall in love with an Italian.
Here's my list of ten goals for Italy:
- Do a wine tour in Tuscany.
- Wear a sundress and shades, and people-watch in a piazza (just like the characters in one of my favorite musicals, The Light in the Piazza).
- Try at least ten different flavors of gelato.
- Attend Carnevale.
- See the Sistine Chapel.
- Take a cooking class and master one Italian dish.
- Eat pizza in Naples (the best place for it, I've heard).
- Buy Murano glass jewelry in Venice.
- Ride a scooter through the streets of Rome.
- Throw coins into the Trevi so I know I'll come back one day!
Where to find the book:
Blue Willow Bookshop (Kristin’s local indie with signed copies)
Barnes and Noble
This is my entry for the Writer's Voice contest hosted by Brenda Drake! I am finishing up packing as I type this, and soon I will be en route to NESCBWI 2014. Pictures to come! Hope you all have a great weekend!
Dear Writer's Voice Coaches,
Stella Kim opened a Carnegie Hall concert with her world-class violin at the age of thirteen. So when she enrolls at a prestigious music school in France four years later, she’s certain she’ll be a star even among the cream of the crop. With renowned teachers and the owners’ handsome son, Paul, to impress – not to mention her best friend, Aria, by her side – Stella anticipates taking the musical world by storm.
What she doesn’t expect is shy, humble Aria stealing not only Paul’s interest, but also the spotlight, after a brilliant performance on an ugly old violin she found in the school. Her pride wounded, Stella finds herself drifting away from her friend, who seems to be growing more and more obsessed with success… and with that hideous instrument.
But when Aria starts to sleepwalk and to speak of a strange, sad-eyed man who haunts her dreams, teaching her to play with a passion she has never felt before, Stella realizes that the violin may be endangering her friend’s life. She puts aside her ego and, with Paul's help, delves into the violin’s secrets, uncovering the dark history of a musician whose unrequited love may have led him to seek revenge from beyond the grave.
Together, they must unravel the mystery before the ghost brings down the curtain and claims Aria forever in this sweepingly romantic tale inspired by the Phantom of the Opera.
ELEGY is a YA paranormal suspense complete at 63,000 words.
Thank you so much for your time and consideration!
FIRST 250 WORDS
One warm night beneath an August moon, the streets of Paris emptied into the Grand Theatre. The crowd ebbed and flowed in a colorful mimicry of the Seine, a riot of jewels, silks, and rose-pinned lapels. Here and there, nobles could be seen looking down their noses at those who sparkled less, though the presence of lower orders was to be expected tonight. After all, the poor had come to see one of their own perform.
It was whispered that young Ralph de Chevalier had once been a circus attraction, kept in a cage by a cruel ringmaster before being adopted by one of the richest men in France. His was a true tale of a pauper-turned-prince, the crowd murmured, as they took their seats in pools of chandelier light. Who would have ever believed that a street urchin could grow up to grace such a stage before such an audience?
The gossips’ attention turned to Box Five, a grand affair with a perfect view of the stage, where Ralph’s adopted father and brother sat.
“Odd, isn’t it, that the performance is still on schedule tonight?” one lady whispered, gazing at the elegant, silver-haired profile of Julien de Chevalier. “There’s something distasteful about appearing in public when they should be mourning.”
“Why should they mourn? That girl was nothing to them,” said her companion. “Just the daughter of the music teacher, and a foreigner into the bargain.”
I have a confession to make: I LOVE spreadsheets. There's just something about those clean black lines, all those highlight and font colors, and those cells waiting to be filled that appeals to my overly type A heart.
Spreadsheets organize, they keep things tidy, and best of all, they do the math for you. They tally things, and do basic arithmetic, and mash numbers together to make new pretty numbers, and you don't even have to break a sweat. I mean, this is brilliant for someone who still needs a calculator when adding double-digit numbers. And by "someone," I mean my, uh, friend. Of course I can add things in my head. *awkward silence*
When I was a senior in college, I started the job hunt super early. I never really worked during school, aside from a stint at a department store one summer (where I met one of my very best friends and that was the only good thing that came of it) and a couple Christmases at a teddy bear factory, trying to sell overpriced stuffed animals and field phone calls from weirdos. This lack of experience meant that I lacked references, so as soon as senior year began, I scrambled to find professors and doctors/nurses I'd shadowed on the pediatric ward who would say supportive things about me.
As soon as I had my references in place, I began firing off job applications every which way. I sent five new ones each day. Some of them asked for a resume, while others requested that I fill out an online form. I started getting emails from some people and phone calls from others. Before long, everything started getting jumbled in my head: where I had applied, what materials I had submitted, who had called me, whose emails I had responded to and whose I hadn't, etc.
And then, of course, three weeks into my new job after graduation, I got the following phone call: "Hi, yes, is this Julie? I'm (insert name here) from (insert company here) and I'm calling to see if you're still interested in the position."
And, because I had ABSOLUTELY NO MEMORY WHATSOEVER of ever applying to this place, I gave my very educated response of: "I'm sorry?"
There have been other job hunts since that one, each smoother and more organized than the last because I finally started making a spreadsheet. Every time I applied somewhere, I wrote down the name of the company/institution, the date I had applied, what materials I had submitted, and who to contact. And when someone got back to me, I filled in their name, contact information, and every date on which we interacted. And it helped SO much.
It's no surprise that when I started querying, I used the same technique. I have six major headings:
- AGENT NAME: This is always big and bold so I can see it easily.
- AGENT SITE: I like having their specific page on their agency website right at my fingertips. It saves me time looking them up on Google again. Sometimes I also save links to their important interviews.
- DATE: I have a column of dates on which the agent and I had an...
- INTERACTION: I write what type of interaction. "I sent my query and 10 pages," or "She requested the first 50 pages," or "Form rejection," or "Personalized rejection." If it's that last one, I write a very short description of what they suggested.
- WHAT THEY ARE LOOKING FOR: I don't want to be confused if ever an agent contacts me and I don't ever want to be thinking, "Wait, why did I query her again?" I copy and paste info from their websites, interviews, and MSWL tweets here so I know how I personalized the query and why I submitted to them.
- HOW I KNOW THEM: Did I see them on the MSWL hashtag? Did a friend refer them to me, and which friend was it? Do they rep an author I admire? etc.
If they request materials from me, I put a little flag underneath. If it's a full, it's bright green. If it's a partial, it's dark green. If it's a rejection, I gray out the whole entry. At one glance, I can see approximately how many fulls, partials, and rejections I have at any one time. This is also where those magical spreadsheet elves get to work for me and calculate percentages and all that good stuff. It's super helpful.
Note to self: One column I might add in the future is AGENCY POLICY, so I can see at a glance whether it's okay to query somebody else at that agency should things fall through. Does "no" from one mean "no" from all? Do they pass manuscripts around? And so on and so forth.
I know some of you out there are new to querying and have asked me for tips on staying organized, and I hope that this helps you somewhat! What works for me may not work for you, so tailor it to your needs. But I highly recommend keeping a spreadsheet, because I've gotten query responses up to seven months after submitting. It helps to be able to go back and refresh my memory. It's also nice when you have many queries out at once and need to make sure you don't query two people at the same agency, or the same agent twice, etc.
So there you are! Querying friends: do you have any other tips to add for those who are new to this? How do you stay organized when you're submitting?
I've been tagged by the lovely Emma Adams to participate in this blog hop about writing processes! I've talked a lot about how I wrote PPP and ELEGY, so here is a look at my brand-new project:
1. What am I working on?
I'm currently writing a YA epic retelling of Snow White called FOREST OF A THOUSAND LANTERNS (FOTL). I've had the idea for a long time, but just never got around to working on it. Earlier this year, I (very painfully) pushed aside all other shiny new ideas and WIPs to focus on this book. I'm aiming to complete it by the end of 2014. My very tentative synopsis is as follows:
Jade has been locked away in the bowels of the emperor's palace since her father's remarriage. But escape beckons when mysterious deaths begin to plague the imperial city (always beautiful women, always horribly mutilated), and she suspects that her alluring new stepmother may be behind them. When her father disappears and all signs point to Jade dying next, she flees into the forest of a thousand lanterns to seek answers from an old fable that might just lead her to her destiny... or her demise.
2) How does my work differ from others of its genre?
The most notable difference would be that it is set in a fantasy Asia! I'm pulling inspiration from Chinese, Vietnamese, and Japanese folklore, and from the cultures along the Silk Road. My principal characters are all Asian, so I don't think anyone will have flame-red hair or sapphire orbs ;)
Dragons are important in my story, as they are in many epic fantasies, but Asian dragons are very different from European dragons. They don't have wings, although they can fly; they don't breathe fire (many are actually associated with water); and they are worshiped and viewed as benevolent, rather than feared and hated. They are also the symbol of the great ruling families. The research has been fascinating and a lot of fun, but I'm working on bending the legends to fit my story and give them a twist of my own.
3) Why do I write what I do?
My biggest personal goal, as a writer, is to stretch my writing comfort zone. FOTL will definitely do that. I've always been too intimidated to write it for two major reasons:
1. It's an epic fantasy. The scope, world-building, and organization that needs to go into one of these babies is terrifying to me! But I love this genre so much and I'm sure the challenge will be worth it.
2. It calls for a lot of careful research and a deft hand when writing, being set in Asia, inspired by Asian folklore, and filled with Asian characters. As an Asian-American writer, I want to treat the cultures I draw inspiration from with the greatest dignity and respect. I try to include cultural diversity in every book that I write, even (and maybe especially) when race is not the focus of the story. We live in a colorful world and I think that books should reflect that.
4) How does my writing process work?
All together now: "She's a plotter."
I've talked about this so often that you're probably all yawning at the mention of the word "plotter," but basically: I plot, a lot. That's what I got! I buy a spiral notebook, I buy my favorite pens, and I scribble. Then I fit all the scribbles into a novel-shaped thing, which I give to other people to tear apart while I binge on Reisling and chocolate. Then I take the novel-shaped thing and try to make it an actual novel. And repeat, repeat, repeat!
I'm supposed to tag three people (how about Laura Marcella, Margo Berendsen, and Theresa Milstein), but please feel free to participate if you like. Let me know in the comments when your post is up and I'll go check it out. Looking forward to hearing what everyone else is working on!
This week, I hit 100,000 all-time views on my blog! I KNOW, RIGHT. When I started this blog back in 2008, I never imagined that anyone outside of my friends and family would ever want to read about my boring attempts to get published. Especially not when my entire blog is basically a cycle of a music post, an inspirational post about not letting setbacks get me down, a sad post about how the setbacks got me down, another music post, a peppy post, a random list, a post in which I talk to my characters like they are real and you ponder my sanity, another music post, etc.
But thank you, from the bottom of my heart, for reading and sticking with me through all of these years. I've gone back through my whole blog many times, and although there are some cringeworthy posts (well, cringeworthy to me), I wouldn't change a thing. I've done a lot of growing up on this blog as both a writer and a person. None of it is easy, but I'm so thankful every day for my writing friends.
Over the weekend, I dove back into my absolute favorite part of the writing process: drafting! FOTL grew an additional 5,000 words! I love the feeling of putting fresh new words down on paper. I can't get enough of it. Revisions are necessary and sometimes fun, because you get to see your book get better and better, but there's something really exciting about the first draft. I am a hardcore plotter (I would plot my entire life if I could) but there are things that you just can't plan: the nuances of a character's personality, the little subplots that often emerge, and the twists and turns that the plot may take.
I'll talk more about FOTL in another post for a blog hop, so I won't go into that now, but I think it's going smoothly so far! I'm still nervous, though. Writing different cultures always requires a super deft, super sensitive hand, and even if you try your hardest, most likely you will still unintentionally offend someone out there. But I guess it doesn't hurt to try, right?
I'm finally reading Game of Thrones for some epic fantasy inspiration, and holy crap, the man is an unbelievable writer. He is doing something with every scene, even if the characters are just sitting around talking. He's developing people, or moving the plot forward in a subtle way, or building the backstory. I've heard that he is a very slow writer, but maybe this is the benefit that comes from that. Just going by my own experience, the books that I write for NaNoWriMo (rushed and frazzled under a 30-day deadline) have so many pointless filler scenes that always get axed during revisions. I never understood why people disapproved of NaNo before, but I'm starting to see why.
I can't help comparing GoT and Lord of the Rings as I read. GoT is grittier and more realistic (if an epic fantasy could ever be realistic), and the characters are more complex than just good or bad, but there's an innocence to LOTR that I really prefer. That being said, I've loved the LOTR books forever and could play any character in a movie remake at the drop of a hat (that's how well I know the lines. /nerd), and the place I grew up is pretty much the Shire, so maybe that's why I prefer it? Between the two of them, I'm hoping that my book will have more of an LOTR feel.
So, what's new with all of you? If you've read GoT and LOTR, which do you prefer and why?
Well, hello! That was quite the unexpected blog break! It was high time I checked back in to let you all know that I am still alive and well, and (just as importantly) still writing. Life and ELEGY have been keeping me busy, but in the best possible ways. I tend to avoid blogging unless I can make the time to sit down and put some thought into what I'm sharing.
So what have I been up to this past month? Here is a list:
1.) I entered ELEGY into another contest. I'd heard about Cupid's Literary Connection, but had never had an opportunity to enter. So I got together with my Pitch Wars teammates, Katie Bucklein and Melody Marshall, and we all quietly submitted our query letters and first pages. I was beyond thrilled when we all got picked! You can find my letter and first page here.
2.) I wrote a synopsis for ELEGY. After much turmoil and hair-tearing, I finally condensed my entire plot and my MC's character arc into two double-spaced pages. *collapses* Writing synopses is hard, yo. I think it turned out well, though, hopefully!
3.) I queried. A lot. I'd like to tell you that the heart palpitations and clammy palms go away after a while, but they really don't.
4.) I got an iPhone. Goodbye granny phone, hello technology! I'm still getting used to the fact that this tiny gadget in my hand can give me the summary of the day's stock portfolios, deposit checks to my bank account, and give me the exact time and temperature in Udaipur. Not too shabby.
5.) I figured out some major plot points for FOTL. This new shiny has been put aside in favor of prepping/querying my old shiny, but I did get some brainstorming done. More specifically, I figured out how I want to bring in the magic mirror, and what I came up with tied in nicely with the glass coffin, so that was exciting. I'm still petrified about writing this book, though, after reading about all the ways a writer can go wrong with Asian characters in YA.
6.) I did a lot of reading. I reread THE NIGHT CIRCUS and am more convinced than ever of its magical powers. The writing is just so lovely, without ever veering into purple prose territory. Right now I am reading REVOLUTION by Jennifer Donnelly, which one of my Pitch Wars coaches recommended to me because, like ELEGY, it is a dual-timeline narrative and deals with music, obsession, and parallel stories. And it features what many might consider an unlikable protagonist. I'm really enjoying it so far!
7.) I'm almost caught up on Game of Thrones. I started watching the show after trying to read Book 1, and had a *little* less trouble keeping the characters straight in my head. There are just so damn many. I like the fact that there are plenty of great female characters, although it's odd/amusing to me that a show can feature powerful women and objectify them all at once. I got sick of seeing lady bits after a couple of episodes. But anyway, great female characters. One of my favorites is Catelyn (who I am surprised to hear is widely hated). It's refreshing to see a character who is strong and self-assured without having to put a sword in her hand to make her strength literal. I'm going to attempt to do the same for my MC in FOTL.
Now that things have calmed down a bit for ELEGY, and I'm just waiting on queries, I'll have a lot more time to work on my new book and catch up on my CPs' stories.
I am also getting very excited for the SCBWI conference that I'll be attending in early May. I've never been to a writers' conference before, so I will need all the tips and suggestions I can get from those of you who have! I was lucky enough to score one of the coveted manuscript critique slots, and I signed up for some great sessions, so I am pumped!
Are any of you going to be there? Do you have any advice on conference dos-and-don'ts?
When you're a writer looking for advice on how to improve, it doesn't matter where you go: an established author's blog, a conference, a book signing, a writers' group... One of the first pieces of advice will always be: "Just write." The more you write, the more you learn and the better you will be.
You know that saying about not seeing the forest for the trees? Well, I think I've been so focused on big trees - like writing the perfect query letter, finding the perfect agent, and just, you know, my LIFELONG DREAM of seeing my name on a real, live book - that I've lost sight of the forest. After all, the whole point of this crazy attempt of mine is to become a better writer. I want to write something one day that resonates with somebody. I want them to wake up and think about my story. I want them to read a sentence I've written and say, "Dang. This girl can write."
So I got to thinking. I've been writing books nonstop for the past six years, but have I become a better writer? Have I learned anything?
SECRET NOVEL: I've been writing forever, but this book was my first written as an adult. I was 22, trying to pretend I was happy and actually wanted to be a doctor. I worked in a medical research lab, but this was my real experiment: writing secretly at night, posting chapter by chapter online under a pseudonym, knowing that the reception would make or break my decision to pursue publication.
It is thanks to this novel that I wrote other novels. I learned about pacing, because writing a story in serial format - and having people want to read more - is not only just about hooking the reader, but keeping them hooked. The need to pace the story evenly became the need to outline my chapters, so I would know exactly what was happening and when. And now I can't imagine writing without an outline!
RICE FLOWER MEMOIRS: This book taught me about characterization. A lot of writers pull inspiration from people they know in real life, but the skillful ones do it in such a way that no one can tell who they're supposed to be. When I gave chapters of RFM to some of my family members, EVERYONE knew who they were supposed to be. And some of the descriptions were less than flattering. It was terrible! I learned to borrow defining characteristics, but to mold the characters into unique people in their own right.
PUMPKIN PATCH PRINCESS: I knew the basics about young adult (YA) and middle grade (MG). I had read widely in both categories. But I never really understood them until I started writing this book, which began YA and became MG. The difference between them might seem really obvious to you, but when I started writing, I had to learn the hard way that YA vs. MG is not just about age. It's about the characters' viewpoints, their goals, their dreams, and what drives and motivates them.
Noelle's wide-eyed exploration of the future - and the very tentative romance - made the book much too young to be true YA, and I'm ashamed to admit it took several CPs, agents, and an editor to make me realize that it should have been upper MG all along. But upper MG it eventually became!
ELEGY: This was my first attempt at a ghost story, and it was a crash course in the art of suspense. I winged it, wrote a truly terrible rough draft, and had to struggle through various rewrites before it became anything resembling something exciting enough to keep reading. I had never written anything with high stakes or the supernatural - witches, maybe; fairy godmothers, yes; but never ghosts or curses - and so it was a tough lesson in juggling smooth plotting, world-building, and tension all at once, all the while making sure my characters were behaving the way they should.
I also learned - really learned - that it is impossible to make everyone happy. You can write nice characters and people will say they're too Mary/Gary Sue, and you can write not-so-nice characters and people will say they're too unlikable. You can kill someone at the end, and people will say you need a happy ending, and you can let them live, and people will ask "Why?" I learned how to absorb and apply feedback, but to also stay true to the vision that I have for the book.
THREADS: My NaNoWriMo 2013 project was based on Theseus and the Minotaur, and I did a crap ton of research before I started writing. I thought that if I tried to learn everything about everything, and to incorporate it in my book, that it would be a better book. I wrote about the texture of linen, and the taste of the wine (always watered down in ancient Greece; it was considered barbaric to drink it straight), and the architecture of the buildings, but got so bogged down with trying to include everything that the story suffered a lot. (It definitely helped the word count go faster, though!)
The manuscript has been gathering dust on my desktop ever since, because I'm too scared to look at it, but I learned a lot about doing thorough research and then choosing what to include, rather than dumping it everywhere.
FOREST OF A THOUSAND LANTERNS: This is my 2014 book. I've got several chapters written, so I probably haven't learned anything yet, but I have a feeling that all of those previous experiences will help make this novel a lot better than it might otherwise have been. It's an epic fantasy, and I want it to span multiple books, so even pacing will be a must; as always, I am pulling inspiration for characters from real life, so learning what to include and what not to include will be needed; and all of the research I have done will need to be distilled and sprinkled into the framework of the story, bit by bit.
Have I become a better writer? I'd like to think so. There's so much left to learn, but I'd like to think that I've learned something from all of my stories and that I'll be bringing the experience with me to every book I write from here on out.
What has writing your books taught you? Are there any specific lessons you've learned from each one?
10. THIS GLORIOUS WEATHER. It has been over 40 degrees and sunny on two consecutive days. Cue the bikini! Just kidding, but I did wear a cocktail dress last night without freezing.
9. Dario Marianelli's score for Anna Karenina. I enjoyed the movie, and it was nice to see Keira Knightley playing a somewhat different character from the ones she typically portrays.
8. This Twitter account. Because there is nothing cuter than an animal dressed up like a person.
7. Cranking out 5K words on FOTL in a single sitting. Yeehaw!
6. The Lunar New Year (which is more accurate to say than "Chinese New Year" because many other countries celebrate it besides China). It is the Year of the Horse, and from what I've read, there's supposedly an exciting year ahead of us!
5. An upcoming girls' spa weekend, during which I will be getting my first-ever massage! With hot stone therapy (still need to Google that).
4. Food boards on Pinterest. *wipes drool off keyboard* Seriously, look at this. And this. And this.
3. The Puppy Bowl, because that's what this weekend is all about, right?
2. One of my readers for ELEGY composed music inspired by the book (!!!) and I am begging her to let me share it with everyone, because it is freaking amazing. Like Tchaikovsky and Hans Zimmer got together over a couple of beers and wrote a brilliant symphony with electronic synth.
1. And last but not least, WRITING CONFERENCES! At least one is in the works right now (the SCBWI), and I would like to go to at least two more, although they are very pricy. But... author talks! Live pitch sessions! Book signings! And best of all, meeting writing friends in person!
P.S. I am so sorry that I've been lax in responding to and returning blog comments, but rest assured, I have read them all and I'll be catching up this month. :)
Last week, for the first time since winter began, I wrapped myself in layers, laced up my running shoes, and took to the streets in the darkness. When it's 13 degrees out and I can barely see through the scarf of my own breath, I tend to prefer the security of a treadmill. But the gym is packed these days, as it always is in the first few weeks of the new year, and I didn't relish the idea of running in a hot room under harsh fluorescent lights, on a machine coated in other people's sweat. Not that night, anyway.
Something drew me outdoors. Maybe it was the promise of near-perfect quiet, when houses are alight with people having dinner and the roads are empty.
Maybe it was the sky, an unusual watercolor swirl of black and navy that kept the stars a secret.
Or maybe it was frustration about my writing, and the constant fear that I will never be good enough, which had intensified last week.
I knew that I was being irrational, putting so much store by something that might not mean anything in the end. But I couldn't stop feeling upset, no matter how I scolded myself, and so I fixed it the only way I knew how.
I ran. Hard.
I ignored the burning in my lungs and tugged my headband tighter around my stinging ears, telling myself that the cold would be good for me. I've always preferred frosty winter evenings over the thick, sweltering nights of summer, and so I closed my eyes against the bitter wind and forced myself up the first hill.
So far, so good. I had been keeping up with my training throughout the winter, so I was barely out of breath at the top. I had learned, from foolishly running too hard and injuring myself last year, to stretch and to warm up properly, and my body thanked me for it as I turned down a dark street several blocks from home.
I thought about how a year ago, that hill might have seemed impossible, as did running in the dark on a cold winter night. Why can't writing be like that? Why can't you write relentlessly, every single day, and risk your health and your sanity and see something solid for your efforts? Who wouldn't be discouraged by training faithfully and getting absolutely nothing back?
I don't know how many times I've thought about giving up. I don't talk about it a lot, this constant struggle to keep going while blow after blow is delivered, carrot after carrot is offered and then snatched away. I've kept it close, this thought that maybe I should just write because I love it, and then put those books away on a high shelf, to save for my children one day.
It seemed so appropriate, I thought, to ponder these things while running again, after such a long period of waiting and healing. After all, I run because I love it, not because I would ever want to do a marathon. Maybe that's the secret. Maybe by wanting something too much, you lose sight of why you're even doing it in the first place.
So that's my goal for this year. To remember why I'm writing, even if it's taking me to one hill I can't seem to climb right now.
...And I am a *little* freaked out.
For me, querying a novel is a private business. I quietly send out an email, and I quietly receive a response. Aside from me and the agent (and the few that I tell, such as my long-suffering, ever-patient critique partners [I owe you guys sooo many cookies]), no one has to know what response I got.
So this is really a few thousand steps out of my comfort zone, what with ELEGY being up there for two whole days, and everyone being able to see whether there's interest or... well... *crickets*
But I am so proud to be here and to have this opportunity, make no mistake!
Please feel free to stop by and
- ELEGY (by yours truly): Read the short pitch and first page at Jaye Robin Brown's blog HERE.
#TeamPPU (Phantom Pirate Universe)
- Our fearless leader: Stephanie Garber
- A SEA OF HOLLOW HEARTS (by Kate Bucklein): A bad-ass YA epic fantasy about pirates, romance, and monsters on the high seas. Find it HERE.
- STRANGE ATTRACTORS (by Melody Marshall): An action-packed YA sci-fi about a teen spy who crosses universes to steal secrets. Find it HERE.
- Our fearless leader: N.K. Traver
- THAT NIGHT ON BLOSSOM HILL (by Alison Green Myers): Murder, mistrust, and manipulation abound in this suspenseful YA horror. Find it HERE.
- WISHING (by Jerilyn Patterson): Magic and crime mix seamlessly in this contemporary YA fantasy. Find it HERE.
ME: (typing away)
STELLA: What are you doing?
ME: (clutches heart) Oh my god, Stella, I told you not to do that again!
STELLA: What? Suddenly leap out at you from the novel you're revising?
ME: (weakly) That was the general idea, yes.
STELLA: Well, you're making some huge changes, so everyone's all shaken up in there. I had to come out and say something. (peers at computer screen) So what's all this about a...
ME: Spoiler alert.
STELLA: And did you decide to kill...
ME: Spoiler alert!
STELLA: What about that scene where she's got the knife...
ME: SPOILER ALERT! Stop trying to ruin the ending!
STELLA: (crosses arms over chest) Okay, fine. But you owe me an explanation. Why are you changing the entire ending of ELEGY?
ME: First of all, I don't owe you anything. You are a figment of my imagination, and if I wanted to, I could do this. (finger hovers over Delete key)
STELLA: You wouldn't dare. I'm too young and beautiful and talented to die.
ME: (calmly deletes an entire page)
STELLA: STOP IT, YOU NUT JOB!
ME: (hits Ctrl+Z to undo) Get a grip, you know I need that page. And I'm not changing the ending. Not for sure, anyway.
STELLA: (glares, points at screen) Then what is this all about?
ME: This alternate ending's just for fun. Half of my CPs liked ELEGY's original ending, but the other half didn't, so I want to see what happens when I end it the way they think it should have ended.
STELLA: But why? You love the original ending, too.
ME: That's... I... (defensively) I'm open to feedback. And how would you know?
STELLA: (eyeroll) From the tear that rolled down your cheek when you reread it, you cheesy sap.
ME: Why are you so upset about me changing the ending, anyway? I don't have to change anything about you directly. (pauses) Wait a sec. That's the problem, isn't it?
STELLA: (loftily) I haven't the faintest clue what you mean.
ME: You want everything to be about you, and you're mad that I'm focusing on this other character.
STELLA: Everything is about me. I am ELEGY. Just like Theseus over there is THREADS, aren't you, Theseus?
THESEUS: (from behind) Well... yeah.
ME: (clutches heart) Okay, moving forward, you guys are officially BANNED from jumping out of your stories.
THESEUS: (raises eyebrow) I killed the Minotaur, I am a prince of Athens, and I may or may not be the son of Poseidon. Also, I am quite pretty. So I believe I can do whatever I please. (looks casually at the screen) Yes, I see what you mean, Stella. She totally cannot write.
ME: (angrily) Why are all of my characters egomaniacs?
NOELLE: Hey! I'm not an egomaniac! I am friendly and adorable, and I have a magic wand and great taste in shoes. (eyes Theseus) And men.
ME: He's too old for you.
NOELLE: No, he's not!
ME: PPP is a middle-grade novel. You are fourteen. So yes, he's too old for you.
LAUREN: Okay, since we're all jumping out of our stories, I would like to say that I am not an egomaniac, either. (looks thoughtfully at me) In fact, I'm like you. I think I am you.
ME: (blushes) RICE FLOWER MEMOIRS was my first novel, okay?! Self-insertion is totally allowed just that one time.
STELLA: Why is this suddenly not all about me? (stomps foot) We are talking about my story, and my character arc, so all of you guys can get lost.
LAUREN: Let's take that ego down a few billion notches.
STELLA: Excuuuse me for being self-confident. I don't see anyone else in this room who opened a Carnegie Hall concert at age thirteen.
NOELLE: I fought a band of evil goblins at age fourteen. Does that count?
THESEUS: I traveled, barefoot, from Troezen to Athens and slew a bunch of monsters along the way.
LAUREN: And I was in high school? And, uh, I wrote a novel?
STELLA: (scoffs) My point is, all of you guys are on the shelf, and this conversation is about ME and MY ending. And I want to know why it's changing.
ME: Because I said so.
ALL CHARACTERS: (staring blankly)
ME: I know you guys think you run the show because I let you do random stuff sometimes, and I agree to your crazy schemes here and there, but get this through your hopefully three-dimensional, hopefully well-fleshed out heads: I AM THE BOSS. The big cheese. La jefe. Lauren, if I want to shamelessly write myself into a story under the guise of an original character, i.e. YOU, I'll do it.
LAUREN: (nods meekly)
ME: Theseus, if I want to write in a gory injury for you - maybe as a punishment for just abandoning Ariadne like that - I'll do it. Capiche?
THESEUS: (flexes again)
NOELLE: (gazes at his biceps)
ME: He's still too old for you.
NOELLE: Oh, fine, you grump!
ME: And if I wanted to write ALL of you into one ridiculous mash-up of a novel, in which fairy godmothers must use haunted violins to battle a secret army of Minotaurs in Vietnam, I'LL DO IT. OKAY?
STELLA: (mutters something that sounds like "Look who's an egomaniac now")
ME: Okay, now that we're clear on that, I have to get back to work. My pitch and pages are going up for Pitch Wars soon, and I have to make sure ELEGY's in good shape.
ALL CHARACTERS: Yeah, yeah...
THESEUS: So... that mash-up novel? Is that really happening? And can I be the main fairy godmother?
ME: (turns off computer)
HAPPY NEW YEAR!
Today I am proudly co-hosting the January session of the Insecure Writer's Support Group, brainchild of the one and only Alex J. Cavanaugh! IWSG takes place on the first Wednesday of each month and serves as a support system for any writer who has ever felt unsure about themselves (hello... pretty much everybody!).
2014 is upon us at last. Twenty fourteen. Two thousand fourteen. No matter how you say it, it sounds good.
This year, people in the blogging community - folks that you and I know - will finish novels. They will land agents and/or publishing contracts. Publisher's Weekly will broadcast names that we recognize. Books will appear on the shelves with familiar author photos and acknowledgments.
How do I know? Because these good things happen every year.
The question is: in 2014... will they happen to YOU?
It's possible. More than possible.
Every new year is a new opportunity. Think of it as a clean page in a notebook, or a move to someplace nobody knows you. It's a chance to start fresh and establish your new identity as a writer.
All you need to do is dust off that old you, the 2013 you. Take risks. Send a query to that out-of-reach agent. Write that book you were always too chicken to begin. Break rules and ignore taboos. Add a prologue, or use too many adverbs, or create a love triangle with shameless abandon. Worry about critiques and revisions later.
Fearlessness is the cure for insecurity... even if you're just telling yourself that you're fearless.
For my part, I've resolved to finish my epic fantasy this year. I've been afraid to really start it for a long time now... afraid and insecure that it would be cliche, or just plain bad, or both... but I'm going to crack down and just WRITE it. The 2014 me is reserving judgment until the book is complete.
So join me, won't you? I have a feeling it's going to be our best year yet!
I know I say this every time the end of the year rolls around, but... I can't believe it's the end of the year. 2013 flew by faster than any year of my life has so far. I feel like all I did was work and stress out. BUT, I did get a lot of writing and querying done, and I went to author talks and learned a ton, so at least in that area of my life, I feel like I've made progress. I feel happy and content, and I know that I'm becoming a stronger, better writer with every book.
In case you missed my spazzing out on Twitter, I entered ELEGY into the Pitch Wars contest at Brenda Drake's blog earlier this month. You can read the official rules here, but basically, how it works is you send a query letter and the first five pages of your completed, polished manuscript to four mentors (out of 50 or so) of your choice, based on their preferences.
The mentors are agented and/or published authors who each wade through their slush piles and choose three lucky people: an official mentee and two alternates, who will all get the benefit of their coaching and expertise in terms of spiffing up their queries, synopses, chapters and/or full manuscripts for the agent round in January 2014.
I'm so proud to say that not one, but TWO mentors chose ELEGY as their first alternate, and these were my top two choices for mentors. They are the incomparable Natalie Knaub-Traver, who just sold her book DUPLICITY to Macmillan Entertainment for publication in 2015 (add her book to your Goodreads list here) and the lovely and wonderful Stephanie Garber, whose agent is Jessica Negrón of Talcott Notch Literary and who blogs at Mystic Cooking.
Let me tell you something, guys.
I have never been picked for ANY team in my entire graceless, unpopular, athletically challenged life. (Except for middle school, when we did a couple weeks of ping-pong, at which I was unnaturally gifted. Yes, I know this is totally a stereotype, but whatever.)
So to be chosen by TWO mentors for their teams, out of thousands of entries, is mind-blowing. And not only that, Nat and Stephanie really believe in me and in ELEGY, and are pretty much the sweetest people ever, and my eyes/nose are tingling as I write this because 1) I'm a sap and 2) there is no way I won't succeed with these ladies (and with my awesomely talented teammates - what's up #TeamTallahassee and #TeamPPU!!!) supporting and coaching me.
Exciting things are happening, for sure!
I have two weeks off at the end of this month, and several writing goals to meet. They are: 1) fine-tuning ELEGY: I have some small line edits and a little bit of rewriting to do, and I have to figure out how to put together a synopsis for its multiple-timelines, multiple-POVs, semi-epistolary craziness; 2) finish THREADS, the Minotaur book that I wrote for this year's NaNoWriMo; and 3) start FOTL (finally!).
Just to give you a taste of my planning process, I took a few snapshots of the contents of my writing duffel bag. (Yes, I need a duffel bag to tote around all of my sticky notes, notebooks, binders, flash drives, pens, etc.)
This is my pretty binder for all of my FOTL notes! (Courtesy of the classy French store Tar-zhay)
Some of my notes for the FOTL story plan. Later I'll write the chapter outline from this synopsis!
My finished manuscript for ELEGY (all 209 pages of it!) and my planning notebook.
A peek at my story plans for ELEGY... and all of the Post-its that I sacrificed in the process.
My chapter outline for ELEGY, on which I relied heavily while drafting!
My chapter outline for ELEGY, on which I relied heavily while drafting!
I've got a busy month ahead, so I'm not sure I'll be blogging again before the new year. If not, I hope you all have a very happy holiday season. Thanks so much for hanging out with me at Silver Lining this year, as always, and for being an important part of my writing life.
Love and good wishes to you all!
You always believed I would take the world by storm.
Awkward, meek little me, with oversize glasses and a notebook hugged against a skinny body.
You opened your arms and smiled, and after our bear hug, you tugged gently at the ears that were too big for my head. "You've got lucky elephant ears," you said.
"What does that mean?" I knew your answer by heart, but this was a ritual between us, you and I, and you happily obliged.
"It means that you're a very, very smart girl, and that you'll be very, very successful."
And you would pull out a bag of Werther's Originals, your favorite, and I would open a candy wrapper for you and you would open a candy wrapper for me and all would be right with the world.
You asked me about school over a box of Chips Ahoy - the chewy chocolate chip kind, my favorite - as I dunked cookies into milk until they broke apart, sinking to the bottom of the glass in a soggy, sugary sediment.
Whatever worries I confessed, you nodded your wise, gray head and promised that all would be well. I would get a A in math (no matter what Daddy said); that boy would like me (how could he not?); and that friend would invite me to her birthday party (even though she had left me out of the last one).
Of your seven beloved grandchildren, I was the only girl, the princess, the favorite.
Everything I did was perfect and right in your eyes. You laughed at everything I said, took my side against Mom, and bought me whatever I looked at.
Some men are born to be girls' dads and some are born to be boys' dads, and mine was the latter, too often absorbed in his sons to bother much with a lowly daughter. But to you, I was something special. You were the only one who bothered to look for the flame inside me, to cup your hands around its fragile light and protect it from the wind.
I told you I wanted to write books, and you never belittled or scolded or bent down the corners of your mouth, the way they all did. You just told me that I could do whatever I wanted, because I was your precious Elephant Ears and I was born into this world to be somebody.
You believed, even before I did, that those journals I scribbled in when I was supposed to be studying fractions would amount to something. You had exchanged wealth and consequence for a mere middle-class existence in this strange land across the sea, and damn it, you had done it for me, so that I could succeed.
Even now, when no phone or letter could ever reach you, still I think of you tugging my ears when I'm feeling low and it reminds me of our heart-to-hearts over cookies and milk. It reminds me that you always thought my dreams were worthwhile, and it gives me hope that you'd be proud of who I am today.
Whatever happens from here on out, I promise I'll keep tugging my lucky elephant ears in your honor.
Love and miss you, Grandpa.
Do you ever wonder why it's so much easier to doubt yourself than to believe you can do whatever you try? I wonder that. ALL THE TIME. I wonder that when I'm writing and thinking, This is garbage, isn't it? It is. I wonder that when I'm reading a book and thinking, I will NEVER be able to write like this.
Is it some kind of sick defense mechanism where, if you tell the universe ahead of time that you're going to fail, you'll feel like you covered the bases if said failure happens and then no one can accuse you of having false hopes and you can just shrug and say, "See? I told you so"?
The weird thing is that even with all that self-doubt, deep down, I really do believe that people can do whatever they want to do.
The key word there, of course, is WANT.
I hear people doubting themselves all around me, every single day. Not just friends and family and people I know, but strangers having conversations on the train, in a restaurant, passing by on the sidewalk.
I can't find a job. It's impossible.
You can't or you won't?
I can't take care of myself without him. I can't live alone.
You can't or you won't?
I can't write a good book.
I can't or I won't?
It's depressing, all of this negativity. Because there is ALWAYS a way to do something, if you really WANT to do it.
Here's a way I remind myself of that, every time I sit down at my computer:
Left row, top to bottom:
- Soon you will be sitting on top of the world.
- Good luck bestows upon you. You will get what your heart desires.
- The secret of happiness is not in doing what one likes, but in liking what one does.
- Right now you need to be patient.
Middle row, top to bottom:
- IT only gets better when YOU get better.
- Your present plans are going to succeed.
- We create our fate every day we live.
- When you have to make a choice and don't make it, that is in itself a choice.
- All the effort you are making will ultimately pay off.
Yeah, I know that these are arbitrary little pieces of paper that aren't grammatically correct or even logical half the time. And I know they are written in such a way that anyone cracking open the cookie would be able to apply the fortune to their own situations.
But who's to say that saving these words, reading them, and thinking about them every day won't make me start to believe them?
And who's to say that that won't help me achieve what I want?
I'm sick of doubting myself... aren't you, too?
Well, folks... another NaNoWriMo has come and gone, and I am very happy to say that I made it through alive! Exhausted, but alive. Of course, this is setting the bar high because I am now two for two for November NaNos (I'm not counting August's Camp NaNo), so whenever I participate again, I will have to try to keep my record spotless!
I've been to a few author talks by now, and since they all took place in late summer/early fall, there was a lot of heated discussion about the virtues (or lack thereof) of NaNoWriMo. I was surprised to find out that many of the authors don't approve of its crazed 30-day madness. I'm all for anything that gets people to sit down and write, but this time around - sapped of energy, fingers aching, with a ghost of a book that may or may not have any character development - I'm starting to see where they come from.
Is it better to pound out 50K as fast as you can, just to have something down on the page, even if it's complete and utter crap? Or is it better to savor the process and have a more polished product, even if it takes you months or years?
After writing four-and-a-half novels, I've done both, and I have to say... I still don't really know.
But here is what I do know, and what two NaNoWriMos have taught me:
- I need an outline. Hopelessly. Desperately. There is no way I can do NaNo without at least some plotting. If you made me pants it, I'd probably turn into Jack Nicholson in The Shining and just type "All pantsing and no plotting makes Julie crazy" until I hit 50K.
- That being said, I need to leave the ending open. I only plot about 50% of a book before I write it, because even with a road map, things change. I need to be able to adapt the story should it decide to go in a different direction, and I can always continue plotting later.
- I can't write every single day. Yes, I know that is the whole point of NaNoWriMo, but it's just not realistic for everyone who works full-time. Plus, writing 1,667 words is nothing. For me, that's barely half a chapter. When I sit down to write, I need to dive in and give it my full attention, and that means writing at least 3K.
- There is no wrong way to write a book. (Unless you're not writing at all.) I won both NaNoWriMos by doing full-on weekend sprints. Both times, I felt so guilty when I didn't (or just couldn't) write as much on weekdays. But the technique works for me. I have 50K written, just like the people who did it the "right" way.
- The idea needs to excite me. Duh, right? But inspiration helps me when my motivation flags... and it is guaranteed to flag at some point. I need to be writing something that I 100% love and believe in. It's much easier to write when I want to know what happens next.
- I will never finish a rough draft in 50,000 words. Never. I am so ridiculously wordy (as anyone who has CP'd for me will tell you) and my first drafts are always full of word vomit. My past books ended on average around 80-85K, so that's what I'm aiming for with THREADS.
My end-of-the-year goals: 1) Finish THREADS (which has less than 30K to go!) and 2) start writing FOTL, my epic fantasy. I'm scared, but I know it will be a good learning experience in terms of world-building and writing an ensemble cast, two things I want to work on.
How are you guys doing? Did you do NaNoWriMo/NaNoRevisMo, and how did it go?
Hope all of you fellow Americans had a great Thanksgiving!