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Tuesday, December 30, 2008

SHELTER ME is almost here…

by Alex McAulay

So my fourth novel, Shelter Me, is coming out in a week, on January 6. To my knowledge, it's the first historical thriller that MTV Books has ever released (but feel free to correct me if I'm wrong, anyone!) It's the best book I've written so far, but it's also a little unusual. It's a thriller about a teenage girl during WWII who escapes from boarding school with her friends and embarks on a journey across a war-torn landscape to get back home. Although it's set in the past, I think savvy readers will probably see some parallels to present-day situations. The book goes to some pretty dark, scary places and it's probably closest in tone to my first novel, Bad Girls. I'm really looking forward to reader reactions on this one, so feel free to let me know what you think (you can email me directly at info@alexmcaulay.com and I will try to respond and not be lazy).

At the same time that I'm getting ready to go out and promote Shelter Me, I also just wrapped up my first screenplay, Demonica, which I wrote with a friend from college. It's about a championship fencer who gets stalked by a death cult bent on resurrecting ancient demons. It's inspired by the great early Sam Raimi films, as well as the works of Wes Craven, Tobe Hooper, and Clive Barker. So far, people are liking it, and I'm talking to managers, agents, directors, etc. The good thing about living in Hollywood is that I get to go around and meet people in the film industry all the time (including some childhood heroes) which is always a total blast, because I'm an obsessive movie geek. In fact, the film rights to Bad Girls just got picked up again last month, and things are moving ahead on that front (hopefully I can post more details here soon).

And in addition to all of the above, my wife Lisa is pregnant with our first child. That is, of course, the best and most exciting news of all!! We don't know yet whether it's a boy or a girl, but we are thrilled (and a little scared) either way. We've already been hitting up all our friends who have kids for advice, because we don't really know what we're doing. But we do know that we're probably right at the start of a very big, crazy adventure…

Anyway, so that's what I've been up to recently. I hope all of you out there have a great New Year's! And if you're bored, come check out my redesigned website www.alexmcaulay.com, which features a new FAQ section.

Friday, December 26, 2008

Upside Down

Hope you all had a great holiday. Ours was low key, just the 4 of us (and a new Wii - which I'm not all that into yet).

Since it was just us we didn't go nuts for Christmas dinner (surprise!). Just cooked an oven stuffer roaster, the kind with the pop up button so you can't screw it up.

Only we couldn't find the button. The top of the chicken was looking delish, all golden and yummy. But no button.

Damn those Purdue people! They forgot the pop up button on our chicken!

Um, nope. Turns out we had the bird in upside down. So the button was on the bottom. So that lovely crispy top, all seasoned with butter and rosemary and salt and pepper and onions? No meat there people, just bone.

The other side? The one face down for 2 hours with not a seasoning or crispy brown to be found? That's where the meat is. And that's what we had to eat.

Figures. Turns out you can screw up an oven stuffer roaster with a pop up button after all.

In any case, Christmas is over (sadly, I love Christmas). And I promise, pinky swear, that I will finish the freaking first chapter of my new book now that I have character names resolved.

I'm not a big believer in New Year's resolutions, but if I was I'd resolve to finish the book before summer instead of just thinking about it.

Instead I'll just wish you all a happy new year, because that's so much easier!

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

2009, HERE I COME!

This is the year I’ve been waiting for, striving for, on my road to publication. Since receiving my contract for Shrinking Violet, I have cyberally met so many amazing authors, editors, reviewers, bloggers and book lovers. You can be as involved in the process as you desire without leaving your computer.

I started out by setting up a MySpace page. There I friended tons of cool authors, found a few old pals and avoided a handful of cyber weirdos. From there I opened up a LiveJournal account. I love reading what is going on in the lives of fellow writers. There is so much to learn from how others work. Writing can be such a solitary profession so this has been a great way to stay in contact with real people/colleagues.

After that I breathed life into my one-dimensional Facebook account that my cousin had urged me to set up a couple of years back. It’s like insta-friends on there! I especially like the status updates where you can track people’s everyday happenings. Shortly after that I wrote my first entry for this fab MTV Books Blog. I really enjoyed all the insight into the revision process provided by such a warm, funny and savvy group of fellow authors.

In the meantime, I also banded with two groups of fellow 2009 debut authors. In the Class of 2K9, www.classof2K9.com, we discuss marketing, promotions and everything in between that has to do with publishing and not. Then there’s the wonderfully supportive group of debutantes that blog on LiveJournal and share daily writing experiences, swap music and even gifts. You can visit us at www.feastofawesome.com and become a watcher of the community.

Let me tell you, 2K9 is going to be a rockin’ year for books from debut and established authors. I’ve had the privilege of reading a few arcs and devoured all of them! I can’t wait to get my hands on more new reads! And the fun does not stop there, Cynthea Liu has created an amazing site, www.authorsnow.com which is the largest internet collaboration of debut children’s and teen book authors and illustrators!

So as I continue on my journey, I hope you’ll stop by some of my cyber hangouts and say hi or check out my website, www.daniellejoseph.com and shoot me an email.

Happy holidays to all and may all your wishes come true in 2009!

Friday, December 19, 2008

How I'm Spending My Holidays

This is how I'm spending the holidays. Imagine it's a postcard. On the bottom it would say Greetings From Revision Land!

A couple weeks ago, I received the revision letter from my lovely MTV Books editor Jen Heddle for my forthcoming novel BALLADS OF SUBURBIA. Deadline January 7th. No holiday break for me. Other than working three nights a week, my life is devoted to revising and writing and making this book freakin' perfect. Right now I'm pretty thankful that I work at a bar because it feels a little bit social and it gives me an opportunity to see some of my friends. (I have no idea how I did this with my 9 to 5 job last time. I think I've blocked out how crazy I felt.) The friends who don't come and visit me at work out of luck until January. I feel bad about this. I miss them. I also feel bad for my boyfriend and my cats all of whom are missing out on cuddle time. I'm also sure Scott wishes I could hold conversations without stopping mid-sentence and staring into space, then going, "Oh sorry... I was thinking about the book." But this is what I do. Scott understands. The cats not so much.

So let me tell you about this picture and walk you through what my routine now.

The photo is taken in my dining room. I relocate to the dining room when doing revisions because I need more space to spread out than the desk in my office provides. Also when spending such long hours writing, I need more window than my office provides. I say window and not sun because it's winter in Chicago. There is no sun. I must say the up side to working on revisions in December instead of October like last time, is I don't long to be outside at all. I look at that snow and am very content to be in front of my computer. There are a few plants in my dining room brightening up the place and that's all I need.

After the first week of working uncomfortably in one of the dining room chairs, Scott was kind enough to bring my office chair down for me. You can see one of the dining room chairs positioned nearby though. That's for Sid, my eldest cat. He never used to be a lap cat but now that he's 13 and it's cold out, he wants to be on my lap. Unlike Lars, my kitten-sized two year old cat, Sid is too big to comfortably type over. I try to accomodate him, get frustrated and put him on the chair. He glares at me and hops up onto the pile of papers at my left.

"Please get down."

He edges toward my lap.

I sigh and place him back on his chair. "This is your chair. Right next to me. You should be fine there."

He glares at me and hops up onto the pile of papers... This process repeats with me raising my voice and feeling guilty about it until eventually Sid settles in or moves onto the living room couch.

He is better behaved than the other two cats. For some reason when I work in my office and am not on urgent deadline, they sleep all day in the bedroom. Now that I'm downstairs, they feel the need to run around, cause a distracting ruckus or hop up onto my stuff. Not pictured is the purple spray bottle that I squirt them with. If I attempt to eat and work, Kaspar is all over the table. He runs from the squirt bottle though. Lars likes to jump on the table just to be annoying. He doesn't care about being squirted until he's really wet. This results in my papers getting wet. Sigh.

Lets talk about all that paper. The manuscript to the left of the computer has my notes scrawled all over it. Mostly I just transcribed the things that my editor put in her revision letter (that's the smaller stack of papers above the manuscript to the left, you can't really see it) and made quick notes about changes I wanted to make. I spent the first day of revisions doing that. It's a process that involves different colored pens and highlighters for different things ie. places where I need to be more descriptive, places where my phrasing is awkward, places where the flow of time is confusing.

There are two manuscripts to the right of the computer. Those are from my lovely critique partners, Jenny and Aaron. They live nearby and we have a writer's group every week (they are the only other people besides Scott, my mom, and people who come to the bar who see me right now), so that is why I have actual printed copies with handwritten notes from them. My other lovely critique partner Vanessa lives in Australia, so she sends her notes back in the Word document. I keep that open on my computer screen and flip back forth between it and my working document. When I make major changes to a draft, I save it as a new document. So I'm on BALLADS draft 6 at this point (IWBYJR had 8 drafts). Though I am calling this Ballads Final Revision... in hopes that it is (Editor will kill me if it is not!).

The stack of paper behind the computer is mail. It's there so that hopefully I will remember to pay the bills. Sigh.

Then there are the notes I make as I go. You'll notice sticky notes along the top of the computer screen. Those are the things I need to remind myself to do throughout, such as "Describe Kara, Cass, and everyone through out" and "Describe places throughout and how they change." This picture was taken a couple days ago and those sticky notes have since multiplied.

To the right of my mouse pad (which you can't see but it's a Nirvana mouse pad, I'm such a fangirl dork) are some notepads and sheets of paper where I wrote random notes when I wasn't by the computer. The pink notepad on top of the stack is the notepad I keep by my bed. I'm an insomniac and I tend to figure things out when I'm supposed to be sleeping, so I sit up and write in that or take it to the bathroom and jot things down so as not to disturb Scott. There is also blue paper beneath the pad. That's from work. I managed to figure out some things while bartending last week. There are some more scraps of paper from when I figured things out while cleaning the house a two weeks ago (and the house has not been cleaned properly since. Thank god there will be no guests besides the Writers Group who understands that words take priority over clean floors and countertops. Soon I really will need to do laundry again though...).

Lastly, we have my supplies. There are the essential books: Dictionary, Synonym Finder (which I prefer to the thesaurus), and Baby Name Book (usually I wouldn't rename characters so late in the game, but a couple of them just weren't right.) There is also a date book. I've broken down my revising time by the day. My book is in four sections (I like breaking books into different acts, I'm not sure why, the inner theater geek?), so I broke the calendar into five section. Equal parts for each of the four sections and then one last week where I read the whole book aloud at least once and make sure each word is perfect and necessary. Basically that's how I do my line edits. Also I send the lovely critique partners the revised MS as I finish each section and they will give me final notes on where something is still lacking or where things can be cut (which is what I really need cause this sucker is getting long!)

I also have nourishment. This picture was taken in the morning so you see my tea cup (I try not to drink much caffienated tea due to the insomnia, but during revisions I drink whatever kind of tea I want), my yogurt (Silk cause I'm vegan) and breakfast bar. There is also the water glass that advertises my favorite sports team (I don't really like sports except I'm a die-hard Chicago White Sox fan). The kitchen is a few steps away (you can see the cabinets in the background of the photo) for when I need more nourishment.

My routine is basically this: Wake up around 9 or 9:30, quickly blog or respond to email, workout on my elliptical in the basement for 30 min (during which I catch up on my guilty pleasure TV, the soap opera One Life to Live. When I'm not revising, I take a "lunch break" and watch it, but there is no time for lunch breaks now), shower, chant, sit down to write with breakfast by 11:30 or so. If I have to work that night (I work from 7:30 pm to 2 am or 3 am on Saturdays), I stop writing around 6 to cook dinner and get ready for work. If not, I write until I'm hungry. Then eat, then possibly write more. Around 10 pm, I'll finally stop and veg with Scott. We watch TV shows together from Netflix. We've watched Californication and now are getting into Weeds. Since Weeds is about the seedy side of suburby and so is my book, it's been working out well. And I'm so in love with Californication, I may just subscribe to Showtime before the next season starts. I've never paid for premium cable in my life so this shows a very serious devotion.

Anyway, those shows and bartending are pretty much my only break. I'm constantly thinking about the book and to keep in that mindset when I do manage to cook and clean, I listen to the 30 song playlist I created for BALLADS.

And while part of me misses having a life and wishes this wasn't happening over the holidays, part of me totally thrives on it. I do my best work under these sorts of intense conditions. At least I hope it's my best. In the midst of it all, I can't really tell. I have days where everything clicks and I think I've never written better and I have days where it feels like total crap and I'm convinced no one will ever pay me to write a book again. This book means more to me in some ways than IWBYJR. I kinda feel like it's the story I've wanted to tell the world since I was 16 and writing short stories about kids sitting in diners. So the pressure is really on and it mostly comes from me.

That's my life right now. What about you? Tell me about your fabulous holiday break plans so I can be jealous. And writers, share your revision strategies and routines. I might tweak mine if yours sound better!

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Makin' a list and checkin' it twice

Why not, right? It's the end of the year (almost) or at least, my last post of the year here.

So let's see, this year I:

Severed ties with my old agent (Made me very sad)

Found a new agent (Yay)

Began work on a new adult project (Yay)

Had a young adult book contract canceled (Sucks. A lot.)

Suffered the usual round of rejections and "great writing but not quite right for us" (Eh, part of the game, right?)

Had AdiĆ³s nominated for a YALSA list (whee! The librarians like me!)

Had Accent recognized by the Oklahoma Romance Writers in their Reader's Choice Awards (Aw, my second baby got noticed.)

Watched publishing implode under the weight of the economy and its own insanity. (Scary but probably needed in the long run.)

Suffered a major crisis of confidence. (Boo! Hiss!)

Participated in Nano and used it to jump start my writing and attempt to put the demons in a dark hole where they belong. (Begone foul beastie demons!)

Basically, 2008 saw me go from published to unpublished and starting over. It saw me wonder why on earth I still did this and remember exactly why. (Yeah, yanno, I have to. I'd also l ike to earn a living at it, but I kind of have to write for me. I'm good with that.)

While professionally, I'd like to dropkick 2008 straight into oblivion, personally, it hasn't been bad at all. My family-- they're happy and healthy. Got to watch my son start middle school (oy) and last night, I was able to watch his progress in band. Dude-- my boy's a musician! Spent a week in New York with my daughter and discovered that she's a load of fun to travel with. We adopted a rescue dog who fits into our family as if she's always been here. I have two other great dogs who never fail to make me smile. I have a husband, who, while he'll tell me if he thinks something isn't working in a story, also has every faith in the world that I can fix it and has every faith in the world that I'll continue to succeed as a writer, since, as he puts it, "It's not often you get to actually observe someone who's so crazy passionate about what they do. Emphasis on the crazy."

Yeah, I smacked him.

I have a great, amazing network of friends who get the writing crazy. I have a home and plenty and the freedom to pursue my dreams.

Got to see Australia. What? Nothing wrong with a healthy dose of Hugh Jackman.

So NYAH, 2008. You didn't win. I did.

Whatever your celebration, I hope it's safe, happy, and sees you well into 2009.

See y'all on the flip side.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

How to take an author photo

STEP 1. Consult other authors. You have seen beautiful professional photographs of your friends.

Niki Burnham

Christy Reece

Victoria Dahl

Victoria in particular has gotten a lot of mileage out of blogging about her Magical Glowing Left Arm.

You know from talking to your published friends that you will not get any warning from the publisher that your photograph is needed. You will not have time to schedule a photography session then. Your editor will e-mail you out of the blue that she needs your photograph YESTERDAY. When that happens, you’d better be prepared.

STEP 2. Schedule a professional photography session. You like several of the photographs. Send the results to your family and friends to let them choose the best. They hate all of them.

Mother: “You look like you’re posing.”

You: Duh!

STEP 3. Take your own photo. Isn’t this what people do in the age of MySpace and Facebook? Won’t this look young and hip on the back of your book about teens?

You are so proud.

Send to your family and friends. Everyone hates this one too but they don’t say why. Examining it again, you suppose you DO look a bit unbalanced, but no crazier than a chick who blogs about herself in the second person.

STEP 4. Take your own photo. Set this shot up very carefully by lying down on your stomach on the living room floor, where the morning light is good.

Everyone hates this one too. Get frustrated and say to hell with this for a year and a half.

STEP 5. Take your own photo. Actually you are still jaded from the previous sessions. However, it is a beautiful fall day. It is the first day in a long time that hasn’t been humid, so your hair looks pretty good. You are wearing makeup for once. You are wearing your lucky praying mantis T-shirt. You are going to the park to write anyway. Why not take a few photos with your camera phone while you’re there?

You love this photo. You do not ask for anyone’s opinion this time. However, you do admit to your husband where your new author photo came from.

Husband: “OMG you were taking pictures of yourself in the park?!? Did anyone see you?”

STEP 6. Smile smugly when your editor asks for your author photo for the back of GOING TOO FAR and says she needs it yesterday. Send her this new photo immediately.

Editor: “The resolution is too low.”

Damn camera phone!

STEP 7. Consider not sending a photo. Your editor has said it is not required. But you think it will help. Readers want to know you are a real person, not a Novel-Writing Collective. And the photo doesn’t have to be beautiful. It will be very very tiny on the back of the book. How hard can this be? Resolve to give it one more shot.

STEP 8. Enlist help of husband and son. They do not want to take pictures of you. They want to play football. Tell them when this book makes a million dollars, you are not giving them any. Also you are not making them any Hamburger Helper tonight. You slave away in front of the computer all day, creating literary brilliance, and this is the thanks you get? If THEY needed an author photo, YOU would take one of them, and you would not complain this much. God!

STEP 9. Pose and smile while husband takes a hundred photos and son offers unhelpful commentary.

STEP 10. Examine photos. You are older than you thought.

STEP 11. Change clothes. Pose and smile while husband takes a hundred more photos and son suggests you hold his stuffed dog.

STEP 12. Examine photos. Maybe the first batch was not so bad. Show husband your choice.

Husband: “Maybe you could Photoshop it.”

STEP 13. Photoshop picture. It looks much better. Wonder whether the MTV Books art department will notice that you Photoshopped it and laugh at you. Is it better to look vain or wrinkly? Undo the Photoshopping and send. Voila!

The face that sold a hundred thousand books.

Editor: “What’s the photo credit?”

You: “Photo by exasperated husband.”

Editor does not laugh.

The Big Purge

I read something recently about an organizational expert who asked his clients three questions about every item in their closet. Do you love it? Is it flattering? Is it you? If an item of clothing didn't meet all three qualifications, it got tossed.

Now, I went ahead and took a peek at my closet. If I followed his rules I wouldn't have a whole lot to wear. Frankly, it'd be hard to get dressed more than once a week. But I am in the midst of a huge revision of a big book and there is a lot of purging to do. So much is up in the air about the concept and plot right now that I need some guidelines and I am wondering whether I can apply those three questions to every character, plot, subplot, chapter, setting, more.

Do I love it? Like really really love each sentence or character or idea? Does that sentence or scene or character "flatter" or WORK FOR THE BOOK? And is every aspect of the story reflecting who I am and want to be as a writer as I move forward? Maybe these questions will help me figure out what to keep and what to toss as I struggle with this second draft.

How do you decide what stays or goes? In books and in life?


Friday, December 5, 2008

And I'm Supposed to Write, Too?

Being relatively new to the writing biz, it's taken me a while to catch onto the irony that every other writer knows--the more writing success I achieve (modest though mine is), the less time I have to write.

Recently I agreed to teach two writing classes: the first for middle and high school students this winter, the second next spring for the 55-and-older crowd. At heart I'm still that kid who started her term paper the day it was assigned rather than pulling an all-nighter and printing it ten minutes before class. So I'm already writing and rewriting the curriculums and deciding the format to use for my lessons.

In the past I've put everything on transparencies, a holdover from my years of teaching middle school. But the PowerPoint icon has been winking at me from the dock of my Mac for months. Last week I clicked on that little orange sucker and took a stab at the tutorial. There's a learning curve--for me, at least--but forty minutes here, an hour there, two hours wherever I can eke them out, and I'll be able to dazzle my students with technology that everyone else has been using for a decade. 

Speaking of technology, scrounging an overhead projector and screen for school visits is often an adventure. Unearthing an LCD projector could rival the Quest for the Golden Fleece. Maybe I should have my own. But a few hours of searching the Web left me shell-shocked. As if the prices weren't enough to put me off, there are hundreds of brands and models, not to mention terms like "throw ratio" and "native XGA resolution." And lumens--don't get me started!

And it wouldn't be right to leave out my time-sucking buddy, Facebook. In October I blogged about the fun of reconnecting with my friends and former students. And great fun it is. So is updating my status, checking my news feed, writing on walls, and adding birthdays to my social calendar. It's easy to let an hour or two be gobbled up by the pure enjoyment of it all.

This morning I switched it off--the curriculum planning, PowerPoint learning, LCD projector searching, Facebook socializing--and pulled up my YA work-in-progress. At first my characters didn't recognize me, and I had to reintroduce myself. By after we'd dispensed with the niceties, we got down to the business of putting a story together.

Until two minutes later when the dogs let me know they couldn't wait another second to go outside.