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Thursday, December 31, 2009

What kinds of writing did you do as a teen?

This is my favorite photo ever of me as a teen:

I'm 15 going on 16 and it shows how I spent most of my afternoons as a teenager, sitting in a park (though this was not taken in Scoville Park from Ballads of Suburbia. Sometimes we changed up our park-going routine and went to Mills Park, which is where I am here) and when I wasn't getting into trouble, I was writing.

I always carried a notebook like the one in my lap with me and I filled several of them, mostly with angsty poetry. That line in my bio about getting my start writing bad poetry about unrequited love and razor blades in eighth grade is totally true. My main inspiration as a teen was Sylvia Plath... as well as Hole and Babes In Toyland lyrics. Yeah, most of my poems were total rip-offs of Sylvia, Courtney or Kat. I entered lots of poetry contests. There were tons of shams back in the 90s (and probably still now) to lure in aspiring writers like me. Enter your poem! Oh look, it made it into an anthology! Would you like to buy the anthology? And my proud mom was easily duped. I think she has four or five of those anthologies. Sigh. At least she has actual published books to put beside them now.

In addition to poetry, I also wrote zines in high school. Three friends and I put out four issues of a riot grrrl feminist zine called Kill Supermodels (which was not about killing actual supermodels, but about killing the idea that women had to look like supermodels to be beautiful.) during my junior year. It created controversy at school, which I loved and thrived on, but also got a lot of great dialogue going with some of my classmates about feminism. We also had a lit zine called Crust because our high school's literary magazine was called Crest and you totally had to know someone to get in. We were the punk rock, we'll publish anyone's writing alternative.

I also put out three per-zines: Goddess Defiled, Hospital Gown, and Do Not Go Quietly Unto Yr Grave. Per-zines meant personal zines. Those were the kinds of zines you purged your soul in as opposed to issue-based zines like Kill Supermodels (though I purged a lot in there too) or lit zines like Crust or fanzines for bands. It was almost like publishing your diary. And some people were very proud of me for what I wrote about and others felt I crossed the line. Ultimately, it was the release I needed at the time and I learned a little about boundaries in writing, so I have no regrets. My zines mainly focused on my struggles with self-esteem, self-injury, and Hospital Gown in particular focused on the emotionally and sexually abusive relationship I was in during my sophomore year of high school. That zine led to my first real publication credit that I was proud of. My all-time favorite YA author and idol Francesca Lia Block co-wrote a book with Hillary Carlip (whose book Girl Power turned me on to the Riot Grrrl movement and zine writing) called Zine Scene. They talked about Hospital Gown and reprinted a page from it in their book. Seeing this in print was probably my biggest motivation to get published some day:

Yeah, those zines were kind of intense. I was probably proudest of my last one, Do Not Go Quietly Unto Yr Grave. I wrote that one after graduating high school early and moving into my own apartment in Madison, Wisconsin, when I was seventeen. I reflected a lot on the life I left behind, friends with drug addictions and problems not unlike the ones my characters in Ballads of Suburbia go through. And I also put a short story in one of my zines for the first time. Those short stories were odd, not very good really. Full of image and metaphor-- my current obsession with existentialist philosophy very evident in them. But they were about restless kids sitting in diners, girls struggling with friends and boyfriends were teetering on the edge of something--addiction, depression. You can definitely see the early themes that would become this:

So, my love for writing was definitely honed in my teen years and I think that might be why I write YA!

What about you? Were you or are you a teenage writer?

Monday, December 28, 2009

What kinds of writing did you do as a teen?

Before there was this

or even this

there was this

and this.

My first published works, besides articles in my junior high and high school newspapers, were short stories in the winners' collections for the Alabama Penman writing contest for high school students. When I was in ninth grade, my short story "The Wild Morosa" came in third. If you are super-curious [*blank stare*] you can read it here. I posted it back in 2006 when one of my friends on Live Journal invented "International Embarrass Yourself as an Artist Day." If you read closely and are feeling generous, you'll see it's a little baby romantic comedy, like the ones I write now for Simon Pulse. By twelfth grade, my new short story had made it up to second place! Woot! And it's a little baby teen drama, like Going Too Far or Forget You.

You laugh. But in all seriousness, these prizes meant the world to me. From the time I was fourteen, my writing had affirmation from someone outside my high school. I would cling to that affirmation, I would continue to write short stories and articles for my college literary journals and newspapers...and when I decided a career in music was not for me, I switched to English without another thought. These two Alabama Penman collections are still on the bookshelf right behind my desk, at the bottom of the pile of my published novels.

Thursday, December 24, 2009

What Kinds of Writing Did You Do as a Teen?

As a teen I loved creative writing. When the assignment called for a short story or descriptive passage, I threw myself into the task. All five senses were given their due; sentence variety was a snap. You want smooth transitions? I’m your girl. And my idea of fun was combing the thesaurus for words with the perfect nuance of meaning. I beamed as my teachers read my work to my bored and restless classmates.

But during study hall I wrote poetry so atrocious the walls of my high school must have shuddered. Except for the shuddering walls part, I’m not exaggerating. The proof is in the brown spiral notebook I’m holding, the one with “Private Property” printed inside the cover.

It should read “Enter at Your Own Risk.”

I wrote poems about my friends, teachers, and boys I liked and didn’t like. I even wrote poems about poems. And I seem to have had a creepy fixation with teeth. In one poem I called a boy's teeth “little stones so ivory white” and in another “a white picket fence.”

Yes, my imagery really was that dorky.

And then there were the “rhymes” I used to glue my images together. What do you mean, “focus” and “atrocious” don’t rhyme? They both end in “us,” don’t they? If I’d written in free verse, maybe my poems wouldn’t have been as awful, but I doubt it.

It’s all the more embarrassing because I had plenty of exposure to good poetry. My mother—who also loved to write—won a poetry contest in high school. The prize was a thick book of poems I read from cover to cover many times while I was growing up. Because I loved reading and reciting poetry, I thought I could write it, too.


In case you still don’t believe me, the following example will remove all doubt. It’s untitled, which is just as well. WARNING: If you are easily traumatized, STOP reading now!

A blur and a swirl,

A dizzying whirl,

Uncomprehending though it seems

Has lights and rays of knowledge beams.

All seems darkness,

But a light

Like the moon on the blackest night

Shows comprehension.

Though it’s small

I know it’s better than none at all.

My mind seems blank and dark and wet.

I know that all’s not hopeless yet!

All may not hopeless, but my poetry definitely was.

Happy Holidays to every one of you!

Sunday, December 20, 2009

What Kinds of Writing Did You Do as a Teen?

As a teen I went through tons of paper and glitter pens writing notes to my friends. I also have several notebooks full of notes that I wrote to one of my best friends, using plenty of code words, of course. In addition I wrote angst poetry and kept humorous journals of my exchange trip to Germany and my family trip to South Africa.

I wrote stories and handed them in as extra credit, even when extra credit wasn't offered. I have a file cabinet full of old stories, poems and school papers. I even started a novel my senior year of high school called, "Visions of Liberty". It's about a girl that runs away to California. She has a quirky family and her dad works for a plastic fork factory. I think I have about eighty pages of the novel written.

I didn't share my poetry much but here is one of the poems that my teacher sophmore year shared with my class. Note: I never had a willow tree but always thought they were cool!

The Old Willow Tree

The old willow tree was always there for me in my time of desperate need.
It was a place where I could sit and grieve.
When hate filled my lungs, the big willow was standing right over me.
I always felt it could protect me. That was my comfort deep inside.

Some days I could just sit and swing on that old willow tree.
Other days I'd sit in my cozy spot and just fall into an endless dream.
I could dream wondrous dreams right beneath that old willow tree.

One unfortunate night a terrible wind storm blew my tree right down.
I could have died at that very spot because that tree was always there for me.
I could no longer dream wondrous dreams.
My nights became sleepless, my bones started to ache with sorrow.

I cried and cried because now I felt completely lost.
There is no other tree like my special willow tree.
I'm telling you it might have only been a tree, but it was always there for me!

I never kept a journal for fear that someone would find it and read it but I did fill a notebook with my poetry. Writing has always been a part of my life ever since I learned how to put a story together in the first grade.

Friday, December 18, 2009

What kinds of writing did you do as a teen?

This is going to be a short blog because my answer is... none!!
Outside of school that is.
I was a huge reader as a teen, but not a writer. I know there are girls who loved to write their deepest, darkest feelings in a journal and, as hard as I tried, I wasn't one of them. I have "journals" completely blank except for the first page, where I promise up and down to write something every day. I didn't. And I'm sort of sorry. I'd love to know what a teenage me was thinking back then, as my memories are bound to be revisionist in retrospect.
As a matter of fact, I don't have a single piece of writing from high school. In college I did a little, but only because I took creative writing classes. I didn't major in English and didn't even minor in creative writing because, while I loved the writing courses, I hated the literature courses that were required. I took a total of 1 and 1/16 literature classes in college (I lasted for four classes before dropping).
Hated the one lit class I took Freshman year. Then, senior year, I decided to try again. Ugh. Yuck. Why would I want to spend time being forced to read books I didn't want to read when I could read books I wanted to read anytime I wanted? So I dropped the course. Which meant going into my last semester senior year I was short a single credit that I needed to make up!!! (I'd taken summer courses at other colleges that made up for the rest of the credits).
Faced with a dilemma - add another course to my schedule or not graduate (not an option), I found a 2 credit course in Middle Eastern Dance. Otherwise known as Belly Dancing. Yes, I walked into the dance department for my first time ever my last semester of college. And had a great time belly dancing and learning all about the art of Middle Eastern Dance. And I graduated.
So, long story short - didn't write in high school; didn't write in college outside of class; didn't major in anything remotely having to do with writing or reading; learned to belly dance.
There you go.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Time to exercise!

I know everyone is looking at that subject title and going wait... what? Now is the time for holiday eating and winter laziness! See but the thing is I'm going on a honeymoon in a month. I'm going to be in Florida on a beach in a bikini, so I've been amping up the workout routine.

I started seriously exercising three years ago. It was my New Year's Resolution for 2007--the only New Year's Resolution I've ever kept, aside from the resolution I made when I was 13 to never eat meat again.

I did not enjoy exercise as a kid. I wasn't totally opposed to physical activity, but aside from a couple things, like bike riding and swimming, I did not ever enjoy it. Well, I also did ballet and gymnastics and loved both of them. I wasn't great, but I wasn't terrible. I think what it came down to was that I was terrible at team sports-- too short for basketball, too uncoordinated for kickball or soccer, I just thought football was stupid, and even though I was great at hitting the baseballs my dad threw in the backyard, it didn't translate to gym class. Gym class was the place where I got made fun of. It was the bane of my existence. The annual mile run/ President's Fitness Council thing they make you do--my own personal version of hell. Another thing to get teased about. I would just walk the mile-run to show that I didn't care if I came in last. (Actually I did care.) And don't get me started on doing push-ups and pull-ups. My frustration at those made me declare years ago, so I have no upper body strength I DON'T CARE, I have very strong legs, dammit!

But when I was a kid and a teenager I could get away without exercising, or just taking a ballet class once a week and calling it a day. I had this awesome metabolism. Then I went away to college, gained that freshman 15 and suddenly I was a little flabby in some places. I lost muscle tone because there were no more required gym classes and the only dancing I did was when I was drunk at a club.

In my early twenties, I was having all these problems with insomnia and depression. My doctor, my therapist, my nurse mother, the magazines I read all started saying the same thing: if you exercise, you will feel better and you will sleep better.

Still holding on to angry gym class memories of the mile-run, my lack of endurance and upper body strength, I decided to try pilates. It was an ab thing and I wanted a flatter stomach. It seemed to be about flexibility and I was okay at that from the years of dance.

Pilates was my gateway drug to exercise. Within a few classes, I noticed I was feeling stronger. I was starting to correct some of my back problems (terrible posture has seriously affected my shoulders). I was even developing some upper body strength. My mood also did improve. My Pilates teacher commended my hard work, but said that it was really important to get some cardio as well. So, reluctantly, I joined a gym, telling myself, I would walk on the treadmill. Maybe jog a bit.

That was my routine for awhile, but fast forward to New Years of 2007. I'd been dating my now-husband for about a year then and had gained some more weight as tends to happen when you start dating someone because you go out to eat a lot. I've had body issues in the past, so I was determined to lose it in a healthy way and to get strong. I decided to join the gym on the university campus where I worked instead of the gym across town from my house, figuring I would go more regularly either at lunch or right after work. Plus it was super cheap!

The plan definitely worked. It worked really well in fact because I hated my job and going to the gym at lunch to blow off steam was exactly what I needed. I discovered the joy of zoning out to bad TV on the elliptical. (I have bad knees and ankles from gymnastics so I can't do the treadmill nor can I run outside much, though I do like a nice jog through my local cemetery when weather permits.) And, oddly enough, I also came to enjoy what I'd once hated-- gym class.

My gym offered several free classes a week. The first one that my friend and I tried was called "Ab Lab." Due to Pilates I knew I had good core strength, so I would probably do okay at it. It actually kicked my ass, but I liked it. Then it was on to cardio kickboxing. We hated our job. It was fun to go in there and pretend we were kicking the people we didn't like at work. Next was this thing called 20/20/20, 20 minutes of kickboxing, 20 minutes of step aerobics , and 20 minutes of... basically gym class. Running drills, doing push ups and squats. And some twisted part of me liked it. Maybe it was because I was doing it with a friend, someone I could struggle with, and we laughed together when we sucked at something, no one was laughing at me. Maybe it was because I had a lot of aggression to get out. Or maybe it was because within six months, I could rock a bikini like this and not feel self-conscious:

The hardest thing about quitting my job to go back to bartending/have more writing time was giving up that gym. Leaving my job meant losing my membership to the gym because it was the University gym (hence it was so affordable and had fun free classes). I'd also be making a lot less money so another gym membership wasn't an option. I raided my savings and bought a good elliptical machine.

Every day after I finish writing I go down to my basement and work out. I'd been kind of slipping lately. Not skipping the workout (I watch my beloved soap opera, One Life to Live while I'm on the elliptical to bribe myself), but I've been half-assing it. And I haven't been varying my workout at all, which means I've lost some of that valuable arm strength. (Plus I was getting bored.) So instead of doing the elliptical five days a week, I've substituted workout DVDs twice a week. My favorite is The Firm: Total Body Time Crunch, which reminds me of that 20/20/20 class since it includes some kickboxing and cardio mixed with strength. Not nearly as fun, but definitely forcing me to build that upper body is Jillian Michaels' 30 Day Shred.

I want to get some new ones. This Cardio for Indie Rockers DVD looks great and is on my Christmas list since I would prefer to exercise to cool music. But I could really use some fun kickboxing DVDs too.

Yes, I just called exercise fun. Twelve year old me would totally be gawking and perhaps weakly trying to punch me. But you know what, after I banished the demons of the mean boys who would pick on me back in school (by imagining them while kickboxing of course), I realized that exercise was truly empowering. I love feeling stronger and I love the release it gives me. So if you are feeling the winter doldrums, I'd highly suggest a little workout to give you a boost.

If you do exercise regularly, what do you do? I know our Jenn Echols is a runner. Ooh and if anyone has workout DVD recommendations, I'm all ears. I need to get that bikini body back again fast!

Monday, December 14, 2009

'Tis the season

Maybe it’s the nasty weather (for you, snow, perhaps; for Alabama, rain and fog), but I always get a lot of reading done this time of year, shopping and family gatherings notwithstanding. My family gatherings actually perpetuate the tradition of reading rather than talking to each other. We are not particularly social. We are a family of brainiacs. When we got together at Thanksgiving, the climax of the evening was bundling up and waddling outside to watch the space station streak across the sky.

So over the holidays, we will settle around the fireplace in the den and read according to our personal tastes. I have asked for lots of YA novels for Christmas, plus all the Jennifer Crusie novels I haven’t read (write faster, Jenny...I am running out). My brother has asked me to buy him those timeless holiday classics, The Battle for Leyte Gulf: The Incredible Story of World War II's Largest Naval Battle, and Clash of The Carriers: The True Story of the Marianas Turkey Shoot of World War II. Festive! My mom will be re-reading Diana Gabaldon, again. My dad will settle down for the latest issue of Plane & Pilot and a long winter’s nap. My husband will continue his recent and inexplicable Laura Ingalls Wilder addiction, and my son will read whatever I will pay him 50 cents to read.

What’s even more exciting, to me anyway, is that this is my writing season. For some reason I write more during the winter than any other time, and my stories are always about spring or summer or a sun-struck fall, often at the lake or the beach. I’m really looking forward to getting up at 4:30 a.m. every morning during vacation so I can write before the family gets up, and I am saying that with no hint of sarcasm whatsoever.

How about you? Do you read or write more at a certain time of year? It sure seems to me that my book sales go way up during the holiday season, but maybe that’s because everybody gets bookstore gift cards in their stockings. :)

Friday, December 11, 2009

To Kindle or Not to Kindle...

That's the question I'm asking myself. The other day I was on Amazon and I decided I wanted a Kindle. I thought it would be cool. So I told my husband that's what I'd like for Christmas.

But then as the days went by I thought to myself: "Really? Holding what amounts to another computer in my hands while I read? As if spending all day on a laptop isn't enough. As if my nighttime routine doesn't already include powering down a computer after checking my emails one last time. Do I really need another electronic gadget?"

The thing is, I love books. I love book covers and book jackets and dog earing pages. I love holding a book in my hands. I love going back to read phrases I enjoyed. Replace that with a "device"? No way.

So a few days later I told my husband that I decided I didn't want a Kindle.

But apparently I was too late, because the next day a box from Amazon arrived in the mail and it was addressed to him. And it was the exact same shape as a Kindle.

Now I'm wondering if he'll send it back or not. And I'm torn. It would be great for traveling because I usually take 3 or 4 books with me on vacation. Unfortunately my vacations also include beaches and water and sailboats. Do I really want to have to be careful with my "book" when I'm reading? Do I really need another thing that requires technical support when I'm having problems?

Not to mention the guilt factor. I love my local bookstore. But if I'm buying ebooks off of Amazon, I'll feel like I'm screwing them out of a sale. And we need local bookstores!

If you have a Kindle or ereader, what are your thoughts? If you don't, why not?

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Random Thoughts from the Heart of the Blizzard

Nothing says winter like the worst snowstorm in 30 years. I’m sitting here in my freezing office wearing three layers of clothes topped off with a hooded sweatshirt--hood up, naturally. Just outside the window, more than 15 inches of snow are blowing around on 40 mph winds. It’s 2:00 in the afternoon, and I’ve spent about three hours shoveling snow. A half dozen of my young guineas have been sitting in a tree for two days because they’re afraid to land on the white stuff covering the ground. If they don't freeze to death, they'll have a great story to tell their chicks.

Blizzards in Iowa aren't anything new, but they aren't any fun, either. Here’s a short list of some things I’ve learned about blizzards:

1. Blizzards aren’t impressed about the plans you’ve made for the day—or the week.

2. Blizzards don’t care if your frustrated dogs use the deck and front porch as bathrooms.

3. They yawn when cabin fever drives your cats to shred every plant in the house.

4. Blizzards aren’t sympathetic when you fall on the front porch, the sidewalk, and on the path you just shoveled to the guinea cage.

5. After you’ve shoveled the front porch, the sidewalk, and the path to the guinea cage, blizzards find it amusing to refill them all with snow.

6. Blizzards laugh at knee-high boots, hooded coats, and insulated socks.

7. Blizzards are cold-hearted beasts!

But I have the last laugh because eventually blizzards end and spring comes. March is only three short months away!

Sunday, December 6, 2009

Other careers that I've considered...

From the time I wrote my first book in first grade, I've always wanted to be a writer. However, over the years I've pondered and dabbled in other careers. So I thought it would be fun to share some of them.

1. ACTOR--Since I was five I also wanted to be a movie star. I took acting classes throughout my childhood. Even though I was shy,I enjoyed being up on the stage. I started out in college as a double major: Creative Writing and Theater. At the end of my sophomore year I decided to ditch the theater component and opt for saving money and graduating a semester early. My parents were very happy with this choice. I never made it to "Hollywood" but I've always dreamed of having a cameo in my own movie!

2. RADIO DJ--During college I worked as a DJ and really loved this experience. I did send out audition tapes after I graduated. I got a call from one station in Martha's Vineyard that was interested but told me flat out that I would need to get a second job because radio did not pay very well. I decided not to make the move because I made more money babysitting!

3. JOURNALIST--In college I got a job at a local town paper. I was given the really exciting assignments like zoning hearings, school board meetings and neighborhood feuds. It was a great experience but it was not easy sitting through those meetings.

4. MIDDLE SCHOOL ENGLISH TEACHER--I do come from a family of teachers so this is a career path that has always interested me. I enjoyed teaching kids how to be better readers and writers. The kids also kept me on my toes and provided me with a lot of great material. I ended up teaching for seven years but eventually left to concentrate on my writing and taking care of my kids.

5. COPYWRITER--After receiving my BFA in Creative Writing my first job was at the supermarket deli counter. Yup. That was in addition to the job I already had at the movie theater. I totally panicked that I would never find a job in my field and rushed off my application to graduate school. I was accepted and received an MA in Marketing Communications & Advertising. I worked as a copy writer for several years, mostly while in grad school. I learned so much about the business world but I really missed writing for myself and wasn't the biggest fan of the cubicle.

These are just some areas that I dabbled in and they all helped shape who I am today. I treasure each experience and really learned a lot along the way. In my next life I plan to be a rock star, geologist and a resort tester.

Monday, November 30, 2009

How do you stay motivated to write?

What a good question for me to ponder right now since I've been feeling so unmotivated lately... though I don't know if it's actually lack of motivation or lack of focus, but lets tackle the motivation thing first.

I have to say a lot of the same things motivate me as my fellow MTV Books authors. Like Jenny, I work best under pressure and deadlines are great motivation for me. One of the reasons I love revisions is because I know it's a solid, set-in-stone deadline and I can map out my time around it. Like Danielle, creating mini-goals such as finish this chapter or this section by this date really helps me and I try to set word counts, but those don't actually work as well for me.

Like Jan, I have a great local writing group as well as a couple of writer pals who I email regularly and using them to talk myself through a hard place often works for me.

Other writers inspire me in a huge way. I do enjoy seeing them speak like Danielle, but reading their books is one of the biggest motivators of all. Case in point, Thanksgiving night, I started Wintergirls by Laurie Halse Anderson. I'd just finished a book that I didn't find very satisfying and I knew Wintergirls would be incredible because Speak is one of my all-time favorite books. I was exhausted. I'd worked like crazy at the bar the night before (Black Wednesday, the biggest bar night of the year), barely slept and did the whole family thing all day. I really planned to read for maybe half an hour tops and then go to bed by midnight.

I stayed up until almost three am because once I started I *had* to finish. Wintergirls hurt to read. I was crying through a lot of it, not just the end. Like with Speak, even though I hadn't been through the precise experience of the main character, it touched on some of the stuff I went through as a teen and that feeling of recognition, of someone understands, someone put this in a book, still meant so much to me even though I've mostly healed from those experiences.

When I finished I thought, this is why I write. I want to be this good. I want my books to be read this widely. I want to touch people the way this author touches people. My characters are very real like these characters and I need to keep putting them out there. People might need them, the way I needed Laurie Halse Anderson's characters.

Ultimately, like Jan, my biggest motivator is my characters or the voices I start to hear about a story that needs telling. They tug at me. At times I have to step away from the computer and (im)patiently wait for them to explain their stories to me while I do other things. But they are the reason I write. Or rather, the real people that I know their story will mean something to or help in some way, are the reason I write and stay motivated to do so. Every email that I get from fans about how my books impacted them is saved in a special email folder so I can go back and look at those when I'm feeling shaky. And when I reply to those or to comments on my Facebook fan page or Twitter or Myspace and say how getting that message has inspired me, I'm not lying. Often times that is the push I need to get offline and get back to my writing.

But as I mentioned at the beginning of the blog, right now I have the motivation. I have some incredible characters who I think can really touch some lives and open some minds, but I am so unfocused! I procrastinate, I while away hours on the internet, I organize and reorganize and I honestly don't know what to do about it.

I've set a little deadline for myself and I think to keep it I am going to be staying away from the internet as much as possible. So my blogs will be a lot less frequent this month and my replies to things will be slow. I might not even be around on Twitter as much as I usually am and I definitely won't be on Facebook as much (that thing is my biggest time suck!). So I'm sorry and I'll miss you, but I'm trying to STAY MOTIVATED!!!!

Saturday, November 28, 2009

How do you stay motivated to write?

When I'm under contract, I don't need any help. Somebody has asked for my work and paid me for it. To me the pay is just affirmation, which is what I'm really looking for. As long as I don't feel that I'm spinning my wheels, writing is its own reward.

When I'm not under contract, when I'm writing something on spec and hoping an editor will buy it later--which happens to me a LOT--it's much easier to get derailed by one negative opinion. But I've been through this enough times by now that I know how to deal with it.

First, to echo what many people have said here, I lean on my writing friends--my local writer's group, Southern Magic; my critique partners, Victoria Dahl and Catherine Chant; and other authors like Barb Ferrer, Erin Downing, Niki Burnham and Marley Gibson, who are always willing to read a manuscript for me or just listen to me rant. Writers are a little crazy, in case you have not figured this out yet, and nobody really understands us except other writers, who understand completely.

Second, I read how-to-write-a-book books for inspiration. A lot of writers hate how-to-write-a-book books but I love them, and they certainly got me out of my funk last spring. Click here to review that particularly gruesome episode of wallowing.

Finally, I go back to the manuscript in question, the one I'm having trouble finishing, and I make sure it's the book I want to read. Writers are readers first, and if my books aren't the most delicious novels I personally have ever read, or at least pretty darn close, imho I'm not doing it right.

Just a reminder...

Next Saturday, December 5, I'll be signing books in the Birmingham area along with authors of adult romance Christy Reece, Debra Webb, and Peggy Webb, so these would be terrific events to drag your mom to. We'll be at the Books-A-Million in Fultondale from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m., and the Books-A-Million at Brookwood Mall in Mountain Brook/Homewood from 3 to 5 p.m. I realized belatedly that the latter signing is during the #2 Alabama vs. #1 Florida SEC Championship slugfest. If you're not a football fan, come out and see us. If you are a football fan, come see us during halftime and tell us the score.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

How do you stay motivated to write?

When I'm feeling blah, funky, or uninspired I turn to the members of my writing group. Sharelle, Eileen, and Becky are the first to hear about my writing issues because (1) they let me whine as much as I need to, and (2) they know how to cheer me up. If my plot hits a dead end or my characters are dead boring, my writing group helps me brainstorm my way out of trouble. They also tell me in the kindest possible way that my “great” story idea isn’t going to cut it. (Sometimes they don’t say a word; their expressions of pity get the point across.) Whether I need a shoulder, a hug, or the occasional kick in the arse Jenny mentioned in her blog, I can count on them.

My other motivators are the same “people” who cause me the most trouble—my characters. They might let me go without writing for a few days, maybe a week. But when their patience runs out, they stalk me. Their favorite tactic is to wait until I’m in bed with my eyes closed, almost asleep. Then they camp out in the semi-conscious part of my brain and start talking. Pulling the covers over my head just makes their voices louder. They’re not satisfied until I drag myself out of bed, boot up my computer, and write down every word they’re saying. After they’ve wormed their way back into my head, there's no stopping them. They talk while I’m running and lifting weights and walking the dogs and so on. And, just like that, I’m in their clutches again.

Which, as it turns out, isn’t such a bad place to be.

Friday, November 20, 2009

How do you get motivated to write?

If there's one thing being a writer has confirmed, it's that I need a deadline. In college I wasn't one of those people who read a chapter or two a night and was all set to go by the time the test rolled around. No. I was the person out having fun, going to parties, and then sitting down the night before an exam to cram all that I'd missed into one night.

I remember one particular assignment my senior year of college - a final term paper for a religion class (I'm not a religious person but loved learning about different religions). I had to write a paper about the Bhagavad Gita, which is a sacred Hindu scripture and a philosophical classic. This was a final paper, something I was supposed to be working on all semester. So with a week to go before I was due to turn it in, I figured I'd start.

So I dug in. Just me, Krishna, Arjuna and their battlefield conversation that serves as a guide to life. Pretty heady stuff. And I was a senior, so I still had a fair share of partying to attend to, so the whole final paper thing was crimping my style, to say the least. Well, I ended up getting it done, I think I printed out the last page about 3 minutes before it was due.

And that's pretty much been my approach to writing. Which is why my agent just had to say to me, "I want a book by February 15." He knew that without a deadline he'd probably see another book in 2038. And that just wouldn't work.

So my motivation? Fear of not meeting deadlines. Fear of the repercussions of not meeting deadlines. Because at the end of the day I may prefer to go out and have fun vs. sit at my computer, but I hate letting people down or not meeting expectations. And I like to write. It's not the actual writing I need motivation for. It's the finishing part that requires a swift kick in the arse.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

How do you stay motivated to write?

Um, write a blog about motivation for starters! Procrastinate a lot! This means checking email, feeling a sudden urge to clean out a drawer or sharpener a stack of pencils. More laundry, sure, bring it on! Then after a period of time, guilt sets in and I actually miss writing. However, at that time of the day, I’m most likely tied up with carpools, homework or baby chasing. So the next time I sit down in a funk, I remind myself that writing time is precious and I better get to work. That usually helps because after I get going, I don’t want to stop.

On a bigger scale, conferences are a great motivator. Hearing an awesome speaker can really get me back in the groove, especially if it’s someone I’ve admired for a long time, like the time Judy Blume was the keynote speaker at our local SCBWI conference. Also, hanging out with fellow authors at conferences allows us to talk shop and I think that’s vital to regenerating the writing spirit.

I’m also lucky to have a local critique group where I can share a chapter or two at a time of whatever novel I’m working on. Just reading and discussing a chapter gives my mind the boost it needs to move on with the manuscript. In addition, reading a great book is helpful. It makes me fall in love with writing all over again.

Reflection is another motivator. I go to bed thinking how lucky I am that I’m doing something that I love—writing books. I think about how each moment I spend with the book that I’m working on is such a pleasure.

When I’m in a particularly slow spot in a book, I find that daily word goals help. These mini goals provide me with a sense of accomplishment. Often I go over my daily goal but just knowing that I can stop helps to keep me going.

And when all else fails, dig out the chocolate! I often say, WILL WORK FOR CHOCOLATE! Okay, now that I’m done with this blog, I better get back to working on my current manuscript. So now I want to know, what are your tricks for staying motivated?

Monday, November 16, 2009

Love Thyself

Today on my blog, I shared some photos that a really talented photographer named Chad McGavock took of me this summer for a magazine that did a write up of BALLADS OF SUBURBIA. My favorite photo is to the right (and you can click on it to see it bigger), and you can see the rest of the photos and the story behind them here.

I've been posting a lot of photos of me on my blog lately. First there were wedding photos, then last week I showed off my hairstyles through the years, and now these. It feels kind of weird, especially when I share old photos because I remember how much I used to cringe at getting my picture taken. I hated most photos. I always immediately spotted flaws, the same flaws that upset me every day when I looked in the mirror.

Now when I look at those photos, I usually don't see the flaws or at least I am not nearly as critical, and I can always find something I liked about myself back then whether it's my hair, my outfit, or the fact that I had the balls to wear *those* earrings. Other than a phase in 4th/5th grade where I tried desperately to fit in, I've always dared to be different and I think it gave the impression that I was more comfortable with myself than I really was. The truth is from around 3rd grade on, I hated myself. And I'm sure a lot of people, especially women, had a phase or maybe still struggle with that on a daily basis.

I try to think back to why, when it all started because I know at one point, I was a happy-go-lucky little kid who totally didn't care about her bad 80s bowl cut, 80s shorts and socks that went too high.

There aren't very many moments that I lifted from my own life and modified and put into Ballads of Suburbia (I can only think of three off the top of my head), but one happens at the beginning of the book when Kara moves to Oak Park and is accosted on the playground by the most popular girl in her class and her minions and chastised for wearing generic clothes. This also happened to me. And I think that was it, the moment when suddenly I became aware that I was supposed to live up to some sort of standard of appearance and I wasn't making the grade.

A friend of mine from elementary school stopped by the bar where I work on Saturday to catch up. We'd found each other on facebook, but hadn't actually talked since probably junior high. One of the things she said to me was, "You were always so tiny. You were the cutest little thing." And I immediately replied, "Well, I wasn't as small as Chrissy."

In my mind, Chrissy had always been the cute, tiny one. She was a gymnast with adorable dimples. I didn't have dimples and I was just short. If I couldn't be as cute as Chrissy, I didn't want to be short. And I hated that I was the last girl to get a growth spurt and to get boobs and I was so self conscious about my body, I have terrible posture to this day because I spent so much of my life hunching over to hide myself. I also never wore clothes that fit until I hit my twenties. All the concert t-shirts that I got when I was in high school are extra large even though I could have fit an extra small. I'd never felt comfortable about my body, or my blotchy, zitty skin, or my hair that was way too thick and too wavy. It didn't help that in junior high, some asshole jock boys said I looked like the lead singer of the Black Crowes because I was flat and skinny and had this out of control hair.

God, I hated, hated, hated myself. And hating yourself is not a good thing. If you don't care about yourself, you don't treat yourself well, and you allow other people to treat you like shit. If my self-esteem had been better, I never would have gotten into an abusive relationship at fifteen and I also probably wouldn't have been cutting myself or abusing substances.

Most of the characters in my books battle self esteem issues, with some it is more obvious than with others. But it's a topic I will continue to write about because I think it is so important. We need to find ways to love ourselves for who are.

How did I learn to love myself? I started doing what I loved best and what I felt was the thing I was best at--writing. And when I got out of my last bad relationship at 26, I told myself that I was going to live for me and love me and I would allow myself to get into another relationship until I knew who I was and what I wanted. So I surrounded myself with good friends and I wrote and when I was ready, I finally met a good guy, the one I married.

But self- esteem is a battle that I still wage. I hate it when I find myself focusing too much on the five to ten pounds I'd like to lose and I hate that I still feel so uncomfortable about my skin that I don't like having photos taken or going out without makeup (except to run errands, my laziness overrules self-consciousness on some occasions). But at least, I've finally learned that I am a person of value, a unique person who deserves to be treated well. It was a hard battle and I can't say how exactly I got here, aside from supportive friends. And I'm glad I can look at myself and feel beautiful most of the time. Of course it helps that even when I'm feeling dumpy, my husband tells me I'm beautiful :)

What about you? Is self-esteem an on-going battle? I challenge you to look at some old pictures of yourself, pretend they are magazine photos and I bet you will find something beautiful about that "model"-- you! And I also encourage everyone to pay someone a compliment today and every day, a friend, a stranger, and it doesn't have to be about something physical, but it could be about something they've done. There is so much negativity in this world. It's important to counterbalance it. So love yourself today and share that love with others.

Friday, November 13, 2009

This is not what I signed up for.

Back in 2006 when my first book was published, you could have asked me to do any sort of appearance and I would have said yes. I drove several hours each time to speak with potential authors at the Wetumpka library, to coach teen authors at the Prattville library, and to make a presentation and speak on a panel at the Alabama Book Festival in Montgomery. I really appreciated the invitations, and all these appearances were great fun, but I swear I would have said yes if I’d been invited to emcee a pumpkin chunking. As my (extremely extroverted salesman) husband kept telling me, "Your book may not sell well, and you may never get this chance again. You'd better enjoy being a published author while it lasts."

Lately I’ve started saying no.

There are a couple of reasons for this. One is that I just don’t have time. I’m in a twilight zone (or purgatory, depending on your perspective) where I have requests to write more books, but I haven’t quit my “real” job. My normal life chugs along as usual, including work deadlines in addition to book deadlines. And every time I need to find child care so I can speak to a group after school hours, it takes a village.

The other reason is that I hate making public appearances! I have a good time while I’m there, but the fear and anticipation leading up to the event nearly kill me. I know a lot of authors love to meet readers and make speeches. From the way our “Events” sidebar looks occasionally, I’d guess Stephanie is one of these. My own writers’ group just hosted Anne Stuart, who strolled up to the podium in a quilted kimono and sneakers, gave a hilarious speech until she discovered she’d lost the last few pages, and ad-libbed the rest without a single shudder. I’ve even met some folks, children’s authors especially, who seem to make a living from their school appearances rather than their books themselves. I do not understand these people. I want to shake them and scream “YOU ARE AN AUTHOR! AREN’T YOU INTROVERTED? ISN’T THAT WHY YOU SIT AT HOME BY YOURSELF AND WRITE BOOKS? HAVE YOU GONE MAD???”

Having said that, I have a couple of appearances coming up in the Birmingham area. My writers’ group, Southern Magic, has arranged book signings for several of the members. Christy Reece, Debra Webb, Peggy Webb and I will sign our books on Saturday, December 5 from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. at the Fultondale Books A Million, and from 3 to 5 p.m. at the Brookwood Village Books A Million.

There is strength in numbers, you know. If you’re sitting with a group of authors in the bookstore rather than by yourself, you don’t feel quite so conspicuous when a potential buyer approaches, and you think she might want a book signed, but instead she asks you for directions to the bathroom. Please come out on Saturday to have some books signed for stocking stuffers, and tell me how convincing my extroverted act is! I won’t be doing it again for a while. (And please don't ask me out loud where the bathroom is--just make a flushing motion and I will point you to it.)

Monday, November 9, 2009

Writing Conference Don'ts

At every writing conference I hear horror stories about the outrageous things people will say and do to get an editor’s or agent’s attention. And it occurred to me that writing conference newcomers—and a few clueless conference veterans—might benefit from a refresher course on writing conference behavior.

Here are the Top Ten Things Not to Do at a Writing Conference:

10. When sending in your work to be critiqued, do not single-space the manuscript, use a microscopic Font, or include a 10-page synopsis. Not following the guidelines labels you as a rank amateur and annoys whoever is critiquing your writing.

9. If you don’t know anyone in the room, resist the urge to hide in the coat closet or cower under the buffet table. Writing conferences are for networking. Climb out of your shell and make some new friends!

8. During workshops, small group sessions, or keynote speeches, do not talk on your cell, text, or draw unflattering pictures of the speaker—especially if you’re sitting in the front row. Speakers notice these things, and not in a good way.

7. In breakout sessions hold back from pointing out every flaw in the work being critiqued. Use the sandwich method—discuss the positive aspects of the writing, give a suggestion for improvement, and end your critique with an overall positive comment. If you can’t think of any positives, go directly to the punchbowl on the buffet table and bob for orange slices.

6. No matter how annoyed you may be, do not bitch at the conference organizer about the schedule, speakers, food, door prizes, parking, accommodations, or weather. This person has spent months working out the details, dealing with vendors, and finding replacements for cancellations. If you don’t like the way things are being done, roll up your sleeves and help put the next conference together.

5. If you are lucky enough to have an editor or agent ask about your current project, do not take up their time with a 10-minute description of your inspiration, writing philosophy, characters, plot, setting, and theme. Before the conference, practice summarizing your story in 60 seconds or less—30 is better. An interested person will ask for more information; someone who isn’t interested will breathe a sigh of relief.

4. At mealtimes do not elbow, trip, or head butt other hopefuls out of the way so that you can sit at the table with a presenter. Being a writer doesn’t grant you immunity from wrongful injury lawsuits or assault charges. And there’s always the possibility you’ll elbow the wrong ribcage by mistake.

3. If you find yourself in a situation where complimentary drinks are served, you do not need to “get your money’s worth.” Drunks are never as charming or witty as they think they are. And upchucking on an editor’s shoes is not the recommended way to make a lasting impression.

2. Do everyone a favor by not dropping the names of every editor, editorial assistant, intern, and agent you’ve ever met, heard of, or seen from a distance. Nobody—and I mean nobody—cares.

And the Number One thing NOT to do at a writing conference:

1. Never, ever, ever corner an editor in the restroom, pass your manuscript under the stall door, and hold the poor woman hostage on the stool until she reads it. That’s not opportunity knocking at the door; it’s the SWAT Team.

Monday, November 2, 2009

Mistakes happen, but...

I'm reading a new teen book that's gotten a lot of press. Something happened on page 14 that totally turned me off. The main character goes into the girls' room at her high school, walks into a stall, "puts down the lid" on the toilet and then sits on it to think. Now you tell me. How many high schools have toilets with lids? Commercial grade toilets don't have lids for several reasons, one of them being that they're just one more thing to break and with all the wear a commercial toilet gets it doesn't make sense.

So why am I talking about toilets? Because the author did something simply to serve her character and scene - she put a lid on a toilet so the character could sit on it and think. And it totally spoiled the mood for me. It just would never be. And I hate when authors make near impossible things possible just to serve their purpose. I hate mistakes in books.

Now I'm not talking about typos. There's a HUGE typo on the very last page of THE BOOK OF LUKE. And it drives me crazy. But the book keeps getting reprinted with that damn typo over and over again. I swear in my manuscript it was correct! Mistakes happen. Copyeditors and typesetters are people, afterall. By the time we've all read the book over and over we're lucky the chapters have the right numbers.

But authors are supposed to be held to a higher degree of accountability for the content they write. I once read a book for a blurb and it had the character taking a cab from Kennedy Airport in NYC to Manhattan. But the fare and the time it took to get there were all wrong! And it ruined it for me. Such a little detail and so easy to get right.

Creative license is one thing. Just making something implausable up just because it's what you want to happen or because your character needs it, is another. The character in the book could have sat on the floor. Totally gross. No person in their right mind would sit on the floor of a school bathroom. But it would totally have been in character. The girl is considered nuts. She's odd. She'd do something like that. I wish the author would have realized that instead of taking the easy way out and changing the rules of commercial plumbing.
What about you? Do you let the incorrect details slide or do they break the spell of the story?

What I Learned as a Debut Author...

1. Start collecting friends months before your first book signings because they will make up the majority of your audience.

2. Be expected to be woken up by hubby and have a pen and book shoved in your face to sign a book for client that he’s going to meet that morning. And you need to write something uplifting for daughter of client in crisis. No pressure.

3. Dive into social networking—there is a whole world out there of book bloggers, teachers, librarians and authors talking shop and reviewing books etc..

4. Writing can be lonely at times so blog your heart out and read other authors’ blogs. There is so much to learn.

5. You are your own best advocate so make sure your bag is stuffed with bookmarks or postcards about your book, you never know who you might run into around town.

6. Join a community of writers. I belong to the Class of 2K9 (see our recent post on marketing advice: http://community.livejournal.com/classof2k9/) and the 2009 Debutantes (www.feastofawesome.com). Both groups are very supportive and help keep you grounded. And I love the ladies over here at the MTV Books Blog—all have been very kind to me, willing to answer any questions I had during the year.

7. Take a moment every day to appreciate the fact that you are published. How many people get to do what they love? The publishing world is very competitive yet the community is very warm. We are a lucky bunch.

8. Be prepared to answer all sorts of questions from are you going to be as rich as J. K Rowling to my friend wrote a book, is your editor interested in______fill in the blank.

9. Take the time to say thank you. I make sure to answer every email that I get from readers in a timely manner. It really makes my day to hear from readers so I let them know that. Remember they are taking the time out of their busy day to write you.

10. Don’t forget to breathe. It’s a fast and exhilarating rollercoaster ride!

Friday, October 30, 2009

When & Where Do You Write?

Like most of my fellow authors, my writing routine is sporadic. I work a night job as a bartender, so I have a lot of time during the day to write but as a relatively new author, I'm still learning how to balance my time between writing and promoting and doing the other random tasks that come with being a writer. I finally stumbled upon a routine that works for me this summer. I get up around 10:30, do my morning routine and then settle down to write around 11:30 or 12. I write for at least an hour and a half before taking a break for lunch. Then, unless I have pressing business to attend to I dive in for another hour and half. Then I take another break and on it goes until about 5 or 6 o'clock depending on what I have to do that evening. Then I work out, cook dinner, on Mondays I go to or host our weekly writer's group, on Wednesday's I work, and on the other days of the week I spend time with my husband until he has to go to bed and then around midnight, I go back to work and do all the promotional stuff such as writing blogs, answering emails, etc. I try to read a bit before bed and I go to bed around 3 am every night. It's a routine that works for because I'm a night owl. Not only has this routine better organized my writing life, it also helped resolve my insomnia issues.

Of course everything changes when I am on deadline. Then I do nothing but write or revise. I'm also best as a binge writer so when I get to a certain point in a book, I like to go away and just write 8 to 12 hours a day for a week. And I'm discovering when I start new books things get thrown up in the air. Once I figure out this new book I'll have to update you and let you know how my routine changed.

I'm not the kind of person who writes in coffee shops, though I might try this if I had a car and could get to my favorite local cafe. And I am considering heading to the nearby library if I get stuck with this new book. But for the most part I just move to another room in my house. I like to do all my revisions on my dining room table, since it is a big glass table that is fun to spread out on. And I head there when I'm stuck and need a change of pace. But 95% of the time, this is where I work (click on the photo to enlarge it):

This is my office. And yep, that is about as clean as it gets. If the pile on the left gets too unruly and I can't find my little notebook to scrawl ideas down or my other little notebook that contains my to-do list then I get stressed and cranky and have to clean, but other than that I like the clutter. I like having images everywhere. This started when I was home sick from school in eighth grade and I got bored so I started cutting out pictures of my favorite musicians and other cool stuff I liked from magazines and plastering them to my wall. It started above the bed, but by the time my mom sold our house, you couldn't see the walls at all. My room was a giant collage. There were even posters on the ceilings. It took more than a day to dismantle. I kid you not.

I've stopped cutting things out of magazines, but rock posters adorn all the walls in my house. Some of the framed to look classier. And the room that is my office is the most covered, not quite to the level of my teenage bedroom, but almost. It's comforting. It's inspiring. It's the core of me.

My office is not just my office, I've got my dresser in here and a closet full of clothes (because I have too many clothes. Our bedroom closet is entirely filled with my dresses and a I have a second dresser in the bedroom too.) I've also got the stuffed animals I can't bear to part with and my altar (I'm Buddhist). Then, not pictured are the boxes of stuff I don't have enough space for. My author copies of my books that I send out as contest prizes and my other swag. There is also a box of files that I need another filing cabinet for. I have a picture of a filing cabinet/bookshelf combo that I'm hoping to have my husband and father-in-law build when we have the money for it... and when I can figure out where to put it.

As you can see my desk is pretty big. I'd be able to utilize my space better if it was smaller, but I like being able to spread out. Now the important stuff on and around the desk:

We'll start with the chair. It was my college graduation present from my mom, who insisted I needed a nice comfortable chair that would encourage good posture. Umm, unfortunately the way I sit in it most of the time, I'm still slouching, but it is comfy. And you'll note the electric blanket on it because my office is freaking cold in fall/winter/spring.

Of course, the most important thing is the computer. I do most of my writing there except when I am brainstorming or in writer's group, then I journal by hand. I used to use a desktop, but when I needed a new computer I got a laptop because I like to do writing retreats so I need something I can travel with and it helps to move around the house too.

To the left of the laptop are my notebooks I was referring to as well as a stack of stuff I need to go through, but probably never will... You also see my blackberry. I'm glued to that thing. Sometimes to write I shut off the wireless on my computer, but check for important emails on my phone. It kinda works. At least I'm less tempted to surf the net on my phone. To the left of that stuff is one of my filing cabinets. That's all writing stuff. Old drafts and notes. I try not to print out as much anymore though.

To the right of the laptop is my big cup of tea and a glass of water. Writing essentials. Above the laptop is a calendar where I note all my deadlines. When blogs need to be posted, when my newspaper columns are due, readings, etc. It's a Seattle calendar. I get one every year when I visit. I wish I lived there. I hope to someday, but for now the images on the calendar help me daydream and inspire me. There are lots of Seattle images on my desk.

That brings us to the other images around me. On the right, above the printer, you'll see a very professional looking photo of me with very normal hair. It was my official "Assistant to the Dean" photo from my old job. I took it with me when I left and crossed out my title, writing beneath it, "Author, Bartender, Assistant to No One." It's a big reminder of what I'm hoping not to have to go back to. Why I strive to keep writing better books so that I can make my living this way and never go back. Next to that is a picture of me with Krist Novoselic of Nirvana. Yeah, a big fan girl moment. All over the shelves of the desk are pictures of my friends, the people I love most and who believe in me. I like to feel surrounded by people who are cheering me on. I also have pictures of my pets, both the ones that I currently live with and those that have passed on. I no longer let my three cats into the office because they just cause chaos. On the left side of my desk near the stapler are my husband's senior photos. He gave those to me right before our wedding. I'm not really sure what to do with them because he looks so young, I feel like a creepy old lady looking at them. Oh and there is a picture of Kurt Cobain to the left of my calendar. His music inspired me to find my voice, so that is why he is there. There are also notes of encouragement from friends. My friend Eryn sends me lots of those.

Most important is the shadow box in the top right corner. There is a paper towel with my friend Marcel's instructions for life in there because one day he jotted down his ideas about how to live life on a paper towel. It's a reproduction my friend Thea made for several of us after Marcel was killed in a motorcycle accident in 2008. Marcel gave me some of the best advice of anyone in my life, so this is my way to look to him when I need it even though he is gone. The first of his instructions for life is "Take into account that great love and great achievements involve great risk." Whenever I am doubting myself, worried to death that I'll never sell another book or make enough to get by as a writer/bartender and have to go back to an office job. I have to try to take the risk. Life isn't worth it otherwise. So I continue to plug away in the little space for creativity that I've carved out for myself.

Thursday, October 29, 2009

When and where do you write?

I’ve already spent a couple of hours in Starbucks this morning, writing the revision of Forget You (coming July 2010). No part of writing is easy to me, but typing words is a lot easier than what I’m about to do. The hard part is figuring out the logistics of a story. Why would Zoey do this? Why wouldn’t Doug tell her about that? I could sit in Starbucks and stare at my computer screen for another eight hours without answering those questions, but I know I will get a lot closer to the answers on my morning jog.

Mile 1. I have started this book at the wrong place, too late in the story. I need to add a lot to the beginning, but where exactly to start? Hmm...

Mile 2. A conversation between Brandon and Zoey at the beach, where they are headed, and why. Hmm...

Mile 3. The secondary characters in this book are driving me insane. I have already deleted Doug’s mother and the llama because they wouldn't behave. If Keke, Lila, and Mike don’t start cooperating soon, I will throw them under the bus too. Hmm...

Mile 4. Somebody has stenciled a computer’s power button on the asphalt. I always step on this button when I finish my jog so my mind will stop racing about my book and I can get on with the rest of my day. Power off.

Monday, October 26, 2009

When and where do you write?

It would be cool to say I scribble my first drafts on the bald heads of sleeping strangers in the airport or on barstools in 5-star hotels. But I could never let my hard-won words disappear on a jet plane or be rubbed into oblivion by a stranger’s tush.

Almost all of my writing is done on my computer at my messy desk in my equally messy office. The lighting is great, my chair is comfortable, and the controls for both the ceiling fan and thermostat are within reach. If I need inspiration, I can grab one of the many books about writing on my bookshelves.

Writing at my desk poses one challenge, though. I have to pry Raggedy Andy off my chair, which is one of his favorite sleeping places. Every other piece of furniture—including the kitchen table--is his second favorite sleeping place. He's had no problem leaving his feral cat days behind. I remove the towel that's supposed to keep my chair clean, make a few futile swipes at the cat hairs, sit, and pull my wip up on the screen. After that, I’m all business except for an occasional check of my e-mails, snack and drink runs, and breaks to toss clothes in the dryer.

My ideal writing time is 8-11 a.m., but like most writers I rarely have a free day to do nothing but write. Most of my writing happens in late afternoon and early evening when I get home from my part-time job, a school visit, or one of the several writing classes I teach. On my days off I’ve been known to write for 5-6 hours at a stretch; other days I feel lucky to squeeze in 15 minutes. But whether I’m able to write for hours or minutes, I’m always glad I made the time.

Saturday, October 24, 2009

When and Where Do I Write

It's Saturday. It's 11:27 in the morning. And I'm at the bookstore. I'm actually sitting right across from that black chair you see to the left. This is where I do my writing. This photo actually shows the cafe next to where I sit. I love writing here. I have rows and rows of books to my right, and food right next to me. Every weekend I come here, buy an iced tea and a cookie or a sandwich, depending on the time of day, and plug my laptop in next to the fireplace (it's gas and has a little fire going at all times so it's very homey). During the winter I drink hot chocolates.

I have wireless access so I can research any topic as I write. I can check emails when I feel like procrastinating (or update my Facebook status, which doesn't help me be very productive).

These days I write mostly on the weekends and at night, if I'm not too burnt out from my day (I'm a marketing consultant, so I split my time between writing and client stuff).

When I'm starting a book (as I'm doing now) I have a hard time writing at home. Being in the bookstore helps me focus, to organize my thoughts. Once I'm more than halfway through a book I can write at home, but until then I need to get away and write somewhere else.

I always wonder what the girls behind the cafe counter think about the woman who sits here all day with a laptop on her lap staring into space like she can't figure something out or typing away with a vengence. I don't think they know what I'm doing. They probably think I have no life, if this is where I come every weekend.

But I like sitting here, knowing that over in the teen section my books are on the shelf. It's motivating - even if sometimes it's depressing when I feel like I'm not getting anywhere on my latest story.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

When and where do you write?

I write whenever I can. That usually means a few mornings a week, some nights and on the weekends. I am a night person by nature but have become more flexible since having kids. I love to write so any time is a good time for me. If I'm under deadline then writing definitely becomes a priority over mounting laundry and mopping. Okay, it's true I'd do a lot of things instead of tackling household chores!

You can usually find me writing at one of two places: my home office, pictured here or at my local Starbucks. I write at home when I need it really quiet (minus the family:) and I write at Starbucks when I need to be away from the distraction of toys strewn about the house and little voices (very cute voices but still distracting:).

At home I can play my music as loud as I want, use the internet for research and stare at my little believe sign given to me by my son a couple of years ago when he was five (pictured here). This works great for new scenes. However, when I am editing a book I prefer to go to Starbucks where nobody knows my name and I can fill up on coffee.

One of my favorite things about writing is that it can be done virtually anywhere. I have not written in the shower or in a hot air balloon but I have written at a stop light while driving and in plenty of waiting rooms.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Wedding Music

I got married on October 3rd and to celebrate I've devoted this week on my blog to sharing all the details! (You can read about the ceremony and the theme of the wedding here and drool over our wedding food here.) However, today I decided to bring the celebration over here for three reasons.

1. Um, it's my day to post and I wasn't sure what else to post about.
2. I planned to post about music today and music and MTV used to be synonymous. There is still a lot of music in MTV Books at least!
3. Today over at my blog is Women Who Rock Wednesday and I'm featuring a newly signed MTV author, Kathy Charles! Her book Hollywood Ending came out in Australia last month, but MTV Books will publish it in the US next summer! So check out my interview with Kathy and welcome her to the MTV Books family.

Anyway, now on to the wedding topic of the day: MUSIC!

You probably know by now that I live and breathe music. I love it as much as a I love books and possibly more than I love food. My husband Scott and I were all about focusing on our shared loves during our wedding. Our invitations and a lot of other things were tattoo-themed. And when it came to wedding favors, Scott immediately had an idea: a wedding mix CD. It was perfect. I adore mix CDs. I make them for every book I write and I made one for Scott when we started dating (It was a two-discer. And it included the song I Wanna Be Your Joey Ramone before I'd even decided to name the book after the song.) We just had to find a way to make the packaging special.

Enter Leslie Hamer, genius designer. She did our wedding invites (and I recommend her to anyone who needs a design for a special occasion. You can find her work at http://www.unlesssomeonelikeyou.com/) and when we mentioned the CD favor and asked for her advice, she broke out some cool cardboard packaging and said she could design a sticker that matched our wedding invite to go on it. Ta da! (Click to see bigger)

But what about the CD itself. We couldn't just scrawl Wedding Mix on it with a sharpie like I'd usually do. Leslie offered to burn an image into the CD for us, but she'd already been so generous with her time and resources that Scott decided to take the task on himself. His burner had just died so he bought a lightscribe burner to replace it and put together an image that included three photos of us and a tattoo-style design that matched our theme to burn onto the CDs:

Of course you are probably most interested in the actual playlist. We chose thirteen songs. (13 is my lucky number since I was born on Friday the the 13th. You'll notice that our wedding date 10/3 adds up to 13. Yeah, I'm weird when it comes to numbers.) Here there are with explanations:

1. Who Would've Thought- Rancid (This is our song. We listened to this Rancid album on our way to dinner on our first date. "Who would've thought that the dreams come true? And who would've thought I ended up with you? And who would've thought what they said was true? But it was and you are, light in darkness come through." That pretty much sums up how I feel about Scott. Rest of the lyrics are here. Woulda been the first dance, but kind of hard to do anything but mosh to. I did drag Scott out onto the floor for it though to try.

2. Talk Dirty To Me- Poison (This is my ring tone for Scott. He brought back my love for cheesy 80s hair rock that I'd disavowed because I was too punk and so much of it is sexist. He loves Poison, GNR, etc without shame.)

3. Brown-Eyed Girl- Everclear (A sweet song, but Scott also jokingly calls me his brown-eyed girl because he knows it drives me crazy because my eyes are hazel, dammit!)

4. Clavicle- Alkaline Trio (Scott introduced me to Alkaline Trio. I knew the band they came out of, Slapstick, but had honestly stopped paying as much attention to Chicago punk after 1996. Scott educated me. This song is just another perfect punk love song.)

5. First Time Ever I Saw Your Face- Johnny Cash (I once noted that I wanted to dance at my wedding to this song. The Man In Black does love songs so well.)

6. Just Like Heaven- Dinosaur Jr (On the original mix I made for Scott. I usually hate cover songs, especially Cure covers, but this is genuis.)

7. Little Rude Girl- Lars Frederiksen & The Bastards (I guess this song reminds Scott of me in some way, he picked it. Our cat is named for Lars Frederiksen too.)

8. I Will Follow You Into The Dark- Death Cab For Cutie (Yeah, I know it's depressing, but it's about eternal love, so I like it. A lot.)

9. Drain You- Nirvana (Nirvana reminds Scott of me. I think Nirvana reminds a lot of people of me since they are most beloved band. I think this is a great twisted love song. Love and bodily fluids, only Kurt Cobain would write this kind of song.)

10. Love Song- The Cure (Pretty self explanatory.)

11. Highway 101- Social Distortion (Scott and I drove up Highway 101 last summer on my IWBYJR book tour. It just captures that moment for me and sums up more feelings for Scott: "I believe in love now, with all of its joys and pains, Follow the palm trees under the California sun, I believe in love now, I believe in love again." More lyrics here.)

12. Swing Life Away- Rise Against (Another Chicago punk band that Scott turned me on to. And this song is all about building a life together despite your scars. It's also seems to be about getting the hell out of Chicago, which I hope someday we will do together.)

13. T.S.R.- Against Me! (Scott and I started dating because of Against Me!. His myspace screen name was an Against Me! reference. My friend Amber had just really gotten me into Against Me! That's what got us started talking. And we listened to AM! a lot. Scott had their CD "As The Eternal Cowboy" in his alarm clock CD player for months when we first got together. This is the first song on that album and we would wake up to it every day. The lyrics start, "The party's over..." and it was so fitting because it meant we had to get up, go to work and be apart. That sucked. The party was over. For the moment.)

So that's the CD favor, but of course there was also the actual music we played at the wedding. We decided pretty much immediately that we wouldn't be having a band (unless we could get someone like Rancid or Against Me! or Social Distortion, and that was out of our reach) and I didn't really want a DJ either. My best friend had one and she pointed out that her "DO NOT Play" list was longer than her list of requested songs. This was pre-iPod. Now that places were offering iPod hook-ups why not just create a wedding playlist and go. It's free and you have control over the songs that play all night long. I like control. One of the only things I hate about working in a bar (besides the unreliable pay situation) is having to listen to other people's crappy jukebox selections. I'm one of those people who puts a ton of money in the jukebox to totally dominate it when I go out. This way we got to come up with 3 whole hours of music we liked and wanted to dance to.

It was a long playlist, one that took us a couple nights to build. My friend (and music expert) Tai contributed some CDs she made for a wedding she'd DJed so we'd have some songs that were outside our usual choices to play, but for the most part we stuck with what we loved, a lot of punk and fun, danceable 80s music.

I won't go through all the selections as that would take forever, but I'll share a few highlights.

The music started with the recessional, the song that would take us back up the aisle, ready to greet our guests after the end of the ceremony. I tried to convince Scott that this song should be "Get This Party Started" by Pink. He staunchly objected. He doesn't appreciate Pink. I'm not sure why because she's awesome. The compromise was "Heaven Tonight" by Hole. Hole is my second favorite band (after Nirvana) and it's a very pretty song. Here's a YouTube video of it playing with the lyrics if you aren't familiar with it.

For awhile we were convinced we wouldn't do a first dance. We weren't into all that traditional stuff and neither of us can dance so we didn't want to embarrass ourselves in front of everyone. But then as we planned out the evening, we realized that after we did the toasts and ate our cupcakes, it would work out really well to do some sort of first dance. Initially I wanted my Johnny Cash song, but that seemed so serious and slow and we really wouldn't want all that focus on us for so long. In the middle of making our wedding playlist we came up with the perfect song. One of the first things we bonded over was silly comedies. Our sense of humor really ties the two of us together. So obviously "I Wanna Grow Old With You" the song Adam Sandler sings to Drew Barrymore on the plane at the end of the Wedding Singer would be perfect. But neither of us had it! Thank goodness for Facebook and Twitter! I put out a call and had it within 15 minutes! Here we are dancing to it:

The other big highlight of the wedding playlist was an arrangement we were particularly proud of. I pride myself on perfect flow of songs when making a mix or playlist. There has to balance, but also contrast. Statements should be made. Or you should tease people. We put "Under Pressure" by Queen and David Bowie on there knowing that people would think the opening was the opening to "Ice, Ice Baby." Those people would slink off the dance floor in defeat..... until the next song, which actually was "Ice, Ice Baby!" Yeah, Scott came up with that. What can I say, I married a brilliant man.

Ultimately the result of our music was a lot of crazy dancing at times. For example, toward the very end my dad asked if he could dance with me. "Um, Nirvana's on," I pointed out. "We can't really dance to that. We're going to have to mosh." So that's what we did. I dragged my brother along too and then got my friend Eryn to help me show them how it was really done. Hopefully the professional photographer caught us actually slamming, but this is all I have for now:

Ultimately there were good times had by all out on the dance floor at my wedding:

One of my favorite Columbia College professors Randy and his girlfriend, my cousin (2nd, 3rd, 4th, a billion times removed or whatever) Annie:

My dear friend Anna and her boyfriend Adam:
Kathy and Joe and Amber and Ryan:
Katie, Amber and Anna crash one of me and Scott's dances:
Amber and Anna doing some kind of dance while my cousins Jeff and Natalie laugh:

What about you? What are some of your favorite love songs or what would you choose to dance to at your wedding?