The MTV Books Blog will close on October 31. Follow us to our new home at YA Outside the Lines on November 1!

Wednesday, March 31, 2010

What do you love most about being an author?

This is a very timely post for me because I'm in the middle of two of the most anxiety-inducing parts about being an author for me. One, my agent is sending my new projects out on submission (eeeek! cross fingers and toes for me please!) and two, the project I'm starting to distract from that anxiety is just not cooperating! I know the story and the characters but I can't seem to get it going. Ugh!

So yeah, I really need a reminder of why I love being a writer... so that I don't give up in a fit of anxiety or frustration.

There are so many things about being an author that are exciting. The whole process of watching your book go from something you scrawled in notebooks and revised many drafts of on your computer into a book, an actual real book that ends up on bookstore shelves is extremely exciting. I still get a kick every time I see it or someone tells me about seeing it on the shelf somewhere.

Meeting the authors I admire and being actually considered an equal (no, I still really am not an equal... am I?) when inside I'm a screaming fangirl is pretty awesome. As is having those authors as a support system and becoming real friends with them.

Getting offered ARCS is pretty sweet too.

And it is definitely good to know that even if I don't sell another book (oh please please please let me sell another book, though) or ever make it really big, I did the thing that I'd wanted to do since I was five, the thing that as a jaded and screwed up sixteen year old, I never thought I'd be able to do. That is very satisfying.

But as for I love most, it's definitely interacting with readers. It's those heartfelt letters that sometimes start "You probably get a million of these, but hopefully you'll still read this one..." (I don't get a million and I always always read and do my best to respond in a timely manner) and then go on to tell me how my book impacted them. I've had readers tell me that it simply opened their eyes to another world and gave them more empathy for what fellow teens may be going through. I've had older readers tell me that oh man that brought back some memories and I nailed it. And then I get the ones where I actually *helped* someone. My words, my characters, they inspired someone to get out of a bad situation, they helped someone realize they were strong and could survive the really ugly things life threw at them.

I also love doing events. Getting ready for the events I always feel so nervous and worried that no one will show up or whomever does will hate me or I'll screw something up somehow. But then I get there and the people who come to see me always make me feel better.

A few weeks ago I did a reading in Madison, Wisconsin. I did it because I wanted an excuse to visit friends up there, but I also did it because last time I was there, two girls made me feel like such a superstar, I had to go back and see them again. This is me with Chelsie and Justinne, who I met via MySpace and Chelsie's book blogging and have been my cheerleaders since I WANNA BE YOUR JOEY RAMONE came out... maybe even before. that is what is awesome about book bloggers, they make you feel so welcome even before your debut.

And yes, we did intentionally pose under the sex books. We found it kind of hilarious. That is what I love about talking to the people who come to my events. They are easy to laugh with like old friends.

Another person who became a real friend to me during my IWBYJR visit to Madison was Erik Shager who is a teacher in an alternative high school program called Work and Learn. I don't do as many school visits as other YA authors and I think it's partly because my books are on the edgier side. But the cool thing about Work and Learn being a different kind of program is that I don't have to censor myself. I can just go in and tell the students my road to publishing, including all the bumps on the way. And I dunno, maybe I'm making some kind of difference or at least giving them a taste of something interesting to read. I can't tell you how psyched I was when one of the girls I met this year messaged me on facebook to tell me she'd ordered BALLADS OF SUBURBIA and was looking forward to reading it. Here I am with some of the girls from the class. Julia, the girl on the far left, added the cool text. Also pictured from left to right are Ashley, Claira, and of course me:

One high school event I was invited to this year was a day long, multi-author extravaganza called LitWorks. The kids there literally treated me like a rock star. They came right up to me, telling me how much they loved my books. I really didn't even feel worthy! You can see how much fun we had in this slideshow that the organizers put together:

Then yesterday, I got the ultimate compliment. A reader told me via Twitter that she was thinking of getting a quote from Ballads, "Secrets lead to sickness," tattooed on her! As a tattoo fanatic, well you can imagine how much that meant to me.

So thank you readers! You are definitely the best part of my job!

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

What do you love most about being an author?

I grew up in the 1980s, during the Cold War, under the shadow of A Nation at Risk. In school we were taught to face the front and do our own work. There may even have been an intimation that you'd better not share because people might steal it from you. Like the Russians! I functioned very well in this environment, because I'm introverted anyway. If you met me in the morning you would think I was shy. If you met me at night, when I'm tired, you would think I was a dork. Actually I like to think of myself as an American spy.

So when I finished my first novel at age 20, I never let anyone read it. I just started sending it to literary agents, and when I ran out (yes, I probably sent it to every literary agent in existence), I sent it to publishers. When it didn't sell, I wrote another novel. Wash, rinse, repeat, seven times. And though I did have literary representation for a couple of books and I got some nibbles from publishers, I never made a sale.

For book eight, I decided to do something different. I was still deathly afraid of sharing my work with anyone. But not sharing it clearly was getting me nowhere, and the definition of stupidity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting a different result. I am not a good spy.

So I joined writers' groups, both online and in person, and my life changed for the better.

It really is that simple. Writing makes you weird. Or, being weird makes you a writer. In any case, it is hard to be weird. Even the most supportive family and friends do not understand you. Introverted or not, it does you good to be around other writers, who are the only people in the world who know what you're going through. In the bad times they hold you up, and in the good times, they celebrate with you and really appreciate what you've achieved.

Here is my good time! After Going Too Far was named a finalist in the RITA last Thursday, I went to a meeting of my local writers' group, Southern Magic, on Saturday.

Here is what greeted me when I walked in the door. You may know Laura Hayden as an award-winning author of multiple genres or as the director of the RITA awards ceremony in Nashville on July 31. I know her as the president of Southern Magic. Here she is on the floor, bowing to me and saying, "I'm not worthy!"

Southern Magic is about supporting each other in our publishing endeavors. But we feel strongly that author support goes well with a sugar rush. So we have a complicated awards system that often involves cake. Here is mine, brought by best-selling suspense author Christy Reece.

As I said at the meeting, what I love most about being an author is sharing it with my friends. And here they are, including Jean Therkelsen (in the white sweater, with balloons), who had an even bigger celebration because she just made her first sale, a three-book deal to Kensington. Congratulations, Jeanie!

Now that I examine this picture, I'm not sure what Laura (front and center) is holding, but I'm sure it's funny.

I had a lot weighing on me last week before I found out my book was a RITA finalist. I've got a book I adore on submission--and that is a very vulnerable feeling. I expect the proofs and the advance copies of Forget You to show up any hour now, and I'm also hard at work on my MTV Books release for next year. But the weight is not so weighty as it was, and with friends like these to share the burden, it seems a lot lighter.

Thursday, March 25, 2010

What do you love most about being an author?

Due to unforeseen computer issues, I missed my posting day, but I'm totally going to make up for it today.

There are a lot of things I love about being an author, but one of my favorites is when fellow writing friends get all the kudos they deserve. In this case, it's our own Jenn Echols who deserves all the chocolate today for her RITA final.

Yep, you heard me. GOING TOO FAR, Jenn's beautiful, beautiful book is a Romance Writers of America RITA finalist in the Young Adult category!


And this is one of the very best things about being an author.

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

What do you love most about being an author?

I've always been in awe of authors who can weave characters and plots into stories that make me gasp or laugh or sob so hard I can’t breathe. (If you’ve ever tried reading Where The Red Fern Grows to a class of sixth graders, you know what I’m talking about!) Having the ability to write something so strong and true seemed like the coolest thing in the world.

When I started writing, I appreciated even more the mental gymnastics required to knit together words that would bring my characters, actions, and emotions to life. Which makes being an author the perfect job for me because I'm in love with language. I get major satisfaction from digging into my thesaurus for words that will slip into my sentences like the key pieces of a jigsaw puzzle and create pictures for my readers. To put it simply, I like to play with words.

Being an author has put me in contact with many creative, fascinating people I probably wouldn’t have met otherwise. Each author, bookseller, agent, editor, blogger, and event promoter I’ve met has given me fresh insight into writing and publishing. More importantly, they’ve enriched my life with their friendships and encouragement. Authors are the most supportive people I know—in person or in cyberspace.

And I am so honored to hear from teens and adults who are fans of my book. When a teen writes, “I found your book very addicting and read it all in one sitting because I could not put it down!” or someone simply says, “I loved it!” I smile, and sometimes my eyes water a little. And then I thank them. Because nothing amazes me more than a stranger who reads my book and takes the time to tell me she enjoyed it.

Monday, March 22, 2010

What Do You Love Most About Being an Author?

I really and truly love everything about being an author. My only complaint is that I wish I had more time to write. I definitely feel that life is too short to spend the time wishing that I had my dream job. So I am very fortunate to be doing what I love.

I have so much fun creating. I mean, there aren't a ton of jobs where you can pretend to be whoever you want to be. Through writing I am able to travel to all sorts of places, real and fantasy. And for the most part people don't call writers crazy for getting into character.

Another part of writing that I love is connecting with readers. I chose to write for teens because I feel like I can relate to them. I have yet to forget what it is like to get dissed by a guy or not make the school play. I hope people enjoy my books whether they are reading them to escape or for pure enjoyment.

Of course, there are days when I am slugging along through a chapter or a scene but that's when I turn to my critique buddies for a fresh eye. Being a writer can be isolating if you let it, but I've met so many fascinating people along my journey.

Other cool authorly perks that I take advantage of:
1. I can work in my pjs.
2. Starbucks has become my own personal office. Boy do I love my office:)!
3. Goinging on FB, Twitter and blogging are all part of my job.
4. That goes for watching TV and reading teen mags too!
5. Buying too many books at my local Borders, all to stay in touch with my industry, of course.
6. Meeting so many other cool authors, readers and bloggers whether it's a conferences or even online. It's a great community to be a part of.

Bottom line, I am happy to be able to do what I love, day in and day out. If I haven't written for a few days, I can get kind of grumpy. Writing is like exercise for my mind. I'm always thinking ahead to what project I'm going to dive into next. Well, off to finish the manuscript that I'm working on--Graveyard Shift.

Sunday, March 21, 2010

What do you love most about being an author?

For me, being a writer is a choice. I know that there are writers who say that writing chose them, not the other way around, but for me I wasn't destined to write from the time I could hold a crayon. I've always loved writing, but I love a lot of things.

Being a writer isn't easy in the sense of you just write a story, your story sells, and all is well. Being a writer causes me to obsess over things that make me wonder if it's worth it. I will never write a vampire/werewolf/shapeshifter/ghost story, but that seems to be what sells these days - so do I even continue to write? I have no desire to write a series that follows the same characters from book to book - so should I keep writing my standalone books if series are where it's at? The publishing industry is completely screwed up - do I really want to be a part of an industry that can't get it's act together and seems to become less and less relevant every passing day? It takes months and months to write a book - do I want to spend my weekends pounding away at a keyboard when I could be hanging out with my kids and relaxing?

But I do continue to write, despite all of this. I love being an author. There are two main reasons why: I get the nicest emails from readers. Just Friday I received an email from a reader named Brooke, who said, "I just read your book, The Book of Luke, and I thought it was AMAZING! It took me a day to read! I got so into it!You are such an amazing writer!" Show me another profession where a total stranger will go out of their way to say that they appreciate what you do, that it makes them happy, and that they were willing to spend hours with something you created because it was so much fun.

The second reason I love being an author is other authors. When my first book came out I was living in Chicago and received an email from another writer who lived in Chicago. She just wanted to let me know that she read my book and loved it. And she invited me to one of her readings. I went. We met. She introduced me to a few more of her writer friends and I introduced her to mine. The women I've met through writing are some of the kindest, funniest, more supportive people out there (nothing against male writers, just haven't met that many). Often, they're just women I've met via email, yet I feel like we're all pulling for one another. If one succeeds we're thrilled, if one is having problems, we're there to office advice. Show me another profression where one person's success isn't viewed as dminishing another's, and where everyone is willing to help.

Being a writer is hard, but being an author introduces you to strangers who make you feel like what you do matters, and other authors who are there to lend an ear or a hand when you need it. And I love being a part of that.

Sunday, March 14, 2010

Growing Up in Madison, WI

The title of this blog entry may seem confusing if you know. I grew up in Oak Park, Illinois like my characters in BALLADS OF SUBURBIA (though I was born in St. Louis and lived there til I was eight). But Madison, Wisconsin is the place where I actually *grew up* and became an adult.
In a few hours I will be driving up to Madison to visit some friends, as well as students at an alternative learning program, and do a reading (Tuesday, March 16th at 6:30 pm at A Room of One's Own, 307 West Johnson if you can make it!). So it seemed like an appropriate time to share some of my stories about the city.

Madison is a city I love to visit, but don't get to nearly enough even though it is only a two and a half hour drive from me. I lived there for a total of two and a half years, made some really dear friends and some really big mistakes, but all in all I have nothing but love for the place.

I graduated high school early. It wasn't really much of a feat. I hated my high school and living in Oak Park and wanted to escape as fast as possible so I looked closely at the graduation requirements and realized that I could easily meet them all in three & a half years instead of four without taking summer school or anything. I did take health class in summer school the summer before my freshman year, but even if I hadn't I still could have graduated early. As it stood, for my senior "semester" I only had a half day. I took only the classes I needed and had my dean help me arrange it so I could do them all in the morning, leave early and go to work at that fabulous job as a grocery bagger (I mean "Utility Clerk") that I mentioned in my last blog entry.

My friend Tai was already finished with high school (she'd hated hers so much, she'd done a home schooling program) who also wanted to get out of her Chicago suburb. We were both vegan (I was actually vegetarian, but she helped me become vegan), both feminist, both getting more and more into goth, both emotionally screwed up but very devoted to helping each other through these issues. In other words, we were the perfect match for roommates. I'd always wanted to move to Minneapolis because... well this is silly but a lot of bands that I liked were from there (Babes In Toyland and the Replacements) and it was still in the Midwest but a good distance from home. So my dad drove us up there one long weekend... and we were disappointed. Something about it didn't feel right. I'm not sure exactly how to explain it.

On the drive back home, Tai suggested we stop in Madison. She'd visited before and really liked it. As soon as we drove in, I was sold. I loved the way John Nolan Drive took you right over Lake Monona. I loved the downtown area, the pedestrian mall of State Street with all of its unique funky shops. As a college town, Madison felt young and like a place that was safe enough to live on my own for the first time, but far enough away from home. We decided it was our city right then.

We moved into a one-bedroom apartment downtown. This was my very first apartment building (though it looked a little different as I took this last year, 11 years after I'd lived there):

I had the bedroom and Tai transformed the living room into her bedroom. We didn't have much. We gave up the internet (which was only a newfound addiction since it was 1997, but Tai and I actually met through a Riot Grrrl forum on AOL) and cable (which was fine because the only TV I was totally addicted to was my soap opera One Life to Live). But we had my adorable cat, Sidney, who loved exploring our little home, especially from the highest place in the house:

And hanging out in my room or on Tai's bean bag:

We lived a block from a tiny park with a swing set and when you swung you could look at the lake. I sat there and wrote in my journal and went home and typed up pieces for my zine on the typewriter I got along with a record player for graduation. (It was 1997, but I was pretty old school). We were a couple blocks away from a fabulous food co-op that had the most delicious vegan cupcakes. A short drive away was a bigger co-op near a coffee house called Mother Fool's that also had delicious vegan dessert and a veggie restaurant that I want to say was called Seva.

I'm not going to lie, the first day we moved in, I cried. My mom and best friend helped us move. it was the middle of January and I had a sprained ankle, so it was stressful. When we got everything in and my mom and BFF drove off, I plugged in the phone (land line of course, I wouldn't get my first cell phone til later that year when I went to college and that was for emergencies only) and it didn't work!!! My mom and best friend were driving away and I had no way to reach them! I cried like crazy, but of course Tai comforted me. It was something we'd do for each other often and still do to this day.

In the morning everything felt better. We went to State Street and started job hunting. We took a short break to see The People Vs Larry Flynt (I was and still am a huge Courtney Love fan and she was really in prime back then) and eat at what would become one of my favorite restaurants on the planet. Himal Chuli, a Nepalese place with the best dal soup ever. Fortunately (unlike a lot of places I loved in Madison), it still exists and anyone who visits should absolutely stop there and try it. We applied at every shop we could, imagining how cool it would be to work at Four Star Video Heaven (aka the best video store on earth, in a pre-Netflix world it was the only place I could ever find obscure arty or foreign films) or the Triangle Market... solely because the guy who worked there was *really* cute. Of course we ended up with the glamorous jobs of gas station employee (Tai) and grocery store cashier (me, and it was a struggle to get that job because they had weird rules in Madison about hiring people who were under 18 full-time. Tai was 18, but I was still only 17 so I had to prove I was done with high school.)

Everything we did was an adventure. We decorated the apartment. We laughed over the notes we got from maintenance about them coming to clean the "mole off of our windows" (because obviously there were little creatures living in our windows, not green slimy stuff). We grocery-shopped at midnight at Woodmans. We went to the University's alcohol-free goth dance night. We went out driving late at night into the Wisconsin countryside, just randomly choosing roads until we ended up in a small town where we'd sit in the bar and just observe (these little experiments was where I ultimately drew inspiration for Emily's small fictional Wisconsin town in I WANNA BE YOUR JOEY RAMONE). We didn't have friends. It was just the two of us and Sidney in our own little bubble of vegan cooking, zine-making, late night emotional conversations, and dance parties to the Smiths... for a little while at least.

Then we met the homeless goth boy. That is a story that needs a whole other blog entry. But the long and the short of it was we met this homeless goth boy and we let him live with us for a week, which was obviously very stupid. Nothing terrible happened. We just found out what many girls discover--sometimes boys are very pretty until they start talking and you discover they are morons. He was a dolt and we kicked him out, but we met new people through him. Older people. Over 21 people. Who could get us in to the real goth club... The Inferno.

Here we are headed to our first night there (Tai on the left, me on the right) where we would share one vodka and cranberry very innocently:

The innocence wouldn't last. I'd quit smoking, drinking and drugs at the end of summer before my senior year because I was seeing myself going down a path that ended in heroin addiction like a couple of my ex-boyfriends. I had an addictive personality. Once I realized the freedom I had--no parents around to hide my smoking from and new friends to buy me booze and who held weight in the goth scene so I could hang out at 21+ places without an ID or any questions--things quickly spiraled out of control. And there was a boy. A boy who was very toxic for me, but I ended up being involved with for eight years.

Tai and I were both under the spell of Madison and easy club access and booze and boys and self-destruction. We both had plans to go to college in other states, but we both ended up dropping out of those colleges and moving back to Madison within a year to live with our respective boyfriends. Tai wasn't nearly as in to the whole drinking and clubbing thing as I was though so she got her life together and ditched her toxic boy much faster than me.

I lived in Madison in a drunken haze for two years. Then, around my twenty-first birthday, I decided I needed direction in my life so I decided to move back to Chicago and go to school for Fiction Writing. Madison as much as I loved it, was starting to feel too small for me.

So like I said, it is the place where I grew up. I discovered what it was like to be an adult. At first it was innocent and fun and carefree and then I lost control. But I learned that when you are an adult no one can reign back in, you have to chose to take responsibility. Ultimately I did.

I am a person who lives without regret. Everything I did, even the stupid stuff, led me to where I am now so I'm glad to have gone through it all. And I have nothing but love for Madison. Sometimes I still daydream about moving back there even though I know it is too cold in the winter and too small for me. I know that one of the reasons I love Seattle so much (the place where I hope to move some day) is because it reminds me of a bigger Madison, with larger bodies of water and better weather. So I will enjoy my visit, especially the old friends and the best dal soup I've ever had.

Saturday, March 13, 2010

How to promote your novel

Recently my local writers' group, Southern Magic, asked me to lend some words of advice to pre-published authors about promoting their work. As the publication date of Forget You approaches, I thought it might be helpful to show everyone my checklist of promotional opportunities that I'm taking advantage of this time around.

1. I am having a parade through downtown Birmingham.

This will be my sixth promotional parade, and let me tell you, it never gets old. The rush I get as I perform the pageant wave...the way people stop on the sidewalk to stare at me as I pass by...this is what being a famed author is all about.

Now, what always happens after my parade is that I get e-mail messages from a few wise guys who want to make fun of me because the police pulled me over for driving too slowly and, perhaps, weaving. Let me just stop you before you hit send because that policeman is not pulling me over. He is my ESCORT and everybody knows a parade has an ESCORT.

Let me also say this. Last year I heard super-agent Steven Axelrod speak about promotion at a writers' convention. His opinion was that when an author invents a new sort of promotion, that first author is the one who gets all the good out of it. Other authors will rush to imitate it, but they will not have the same sort of success. So I am telling you what I'm doing for promotion for Forget You, but I'm not necessarily advocating that you all follow exactly in my footsteps. I am looking at you, Ms. Ferrer.

2. I am going to be a contestant on "Dancing with the Stars." I do not even need to be paired with a partner/coach. I am going to bring down the house with my rendition of the robot.

3. I am going to decorate a well-known Birmingham landmark with the book cover.

Again, when your little fingers are itching to type me a message about my arrest while I was tying a banner to the base of the statue of Vulcan without permission...the police were just there to make sure I didn't need anything while I was working. Water? Coffee? Champagne? Look, I am trying to help you here, and I do not need your constant sniping. You are just jealous.

Moving on.

4. I am starring in my own reality show. I actually got this idea from the most famous person from Alexander City, Alabama--after me, of course--Terrell Owens. My show is going to be called "The J. E. Show" and it will document my heart-wrenching journey back to town, where I am so famous that I cannot even go to Wal-Mart without being surrounded with clamoring fans. On his show, Terrell went back to visit the high school football team. Likewise, I visited the high school library recently and they did not have a single copy of any of my books. I am sure they were all checked out.

The show was supposed to have debuted already. Unfortunately, there has been a production delay. My eight-year-old son stars in the show--his usual role is to tug and my skirts and coo, "O Mother, that I would be as loved and lauded someday!" but he is not currently presentable on camera. It seems that his third-grade class has been reading Chocolate Fever by Robert Kimmel Smith, and the teacher encouraged them to draw measles-like lesions all over themselves with brown markers. Isn't that adorable! She said the markers were washable. THEY ARE NOT. I have a sneaking suspicion that Robert Kimmel Smith purposefully sabotaged my promotion campaign with his own promotion campaign, but I will not be daunted. I am sure production of my show will resume any day now...when the brown marks wear off the kid's face.

5. And then I am posing for Playboy.

Any questions? I want to help you however I can.

Monday, March 8, 2010

Dream Weaver

During school visits I often ask students if they ever get story ideas from their dreams. Usually a couple of students nod or raise their hands. And I know writers who keep a notebook beside their beds to record their dreams before the images slip away. With that in mind, I thought it would be fun to share some info about dreams—mine in particular.

Most nights I love dreaming. When I dream, my subconscious mind makes me the star of my own adventure. But the first dream I remember was terrifying. I was lying in my crib “wide awake” when a conga line of huge, transparent insects and worms paraded around the railing. At the same time a dark-haired boy and girl were staging a boxing match in the corner of my ceiling. I screamed for my parents because I was certain I was awake.

After that terrifying experience I took control of my dreams. If something awful were about to happen I’d stop the action and change the scene so that it worked out well for me. From then on, I enjoyed my dreams. In fact, I liked some of them so much that I’d carry them over from night to night. In the morning I’d mark my place in the dream, and the next night I’d proceed with the story from the stopping point. Sometimes I’d continue the same dream for several nights in a row until I got bored with it and decided to dream something else.

Another part of dreaming I love is being different characters—male and female--in exotic settings. A point of interest to me is that I’m always my own age or younger, never older. Naturally, I have a range of superhuman talents. I float but rarely fly, escape from evil space aliens, and excel in hand-to-hand combat. Oddly, I can’t read in my dreams. Sometimes I make out a word on a sign, but if I’m handed a letter or a book, the words blur into indecipherable symbols.

Here are a few other dream facts:

I dream in Technicolor, have "normal" conversations, and usually have a task to complete.

If I’m doing something impossible like levitating, I “test” myself to see if it’s real. Since I usually pass the test I'm often disappointed in the morning.

Some recurring elements in my dreams are dessert buffets, animals—real and imaginary, antiques and knickknacks, and having adventures with my high school friends and/or celebrities.

Saturday night, Ellen Degeneres and I had a jumping contest on a high platform above a crowd of people. Although our jumping abilities were closely matched, at the top of my last jump I decided to hover in the air for a while. I won.

After decades of spectacular dreaming, I should have come up with at least one decent story idea. Not even close.

So I’m asking all you writers and dreamers out there, have you dreamed up any stories, song lyrics, poems, etc. that have held up in the light of day? If not, any recurring or bizarre dreams you’d like to share? Come on, they can’t be worse than mine!

Saturday, March 6, 2010

Blindly diving off a cliff


I like to think I know myself as a writer. I'm a hybrid between pantser and plotter-- I'll just sit and write for several chapters, getting to know the characters and story, then about five or so chapters in, I'll write a chapter-by-chapter outline. I'm very linear, allowing the story to develop, and interesting bits and bobs to evolve in an organic manner so everything ties together nicely by the end. Generally, I don't start a new story until I'm done with the WIP. I'm very much a character-driven writer, writing very slice-of-life types of stories.

All of that has just gone out the window.

In the last two weeks, as I was chugging along to the end of the current WIP, seeing that lovely light at the end of the tunnel, I was absolutely blindsided by a plot bunny. And oh, what a devious bunny this one has been. Hit me late at night while I was watching the ice dancing Free Dance during the Olympics. I was really tired and drifting and something about the music and the performance and my utter exhaustion conjured up a story and in four minutes and forty-five seconds, I had the entire framework in place.

Next morning, I wondered if I'd been dreaming, then realized, as the entire story came back to me over that first cup of coffee, that no, I hadn't been dreaming, I had really envisioned a complete and total story.

Generally a cause for celebration, right? Not if you're me. Because this is in a genre I just don't do. Those of you who know me, you know how I say that when I was first approached with the idea of writing YA it intimidated me because I'd never envisioned even trying it? This is worse. Like multiplied by infinity worse. I mean, at least with YA, it's not like it was that fundamentally different from the romance/women's fiction work I was creating with adult characters. This, however, is way different.

Like any good coward, I shrieked a good, hearty "Nooooooooooo!!" at my subconscious, but you know how effective that is. As in, it's not. Story would not. leave. me. alone. So I made notes, hoping that would settle the subconscious. Nope. Didn't do it. I whined to my husband, who was no help, whatsoever, saying, "Hey, it sounds like a really intriguing idea." And then further stirred the pot by giving me a character plot bunny addition that was absolutely perfect and made the story take even bigger shape in my head. I whined to my critique partner and really, I should have known better, because she thought it was a fascinating idea with really good breakthrough potential. Finally, in a last-ditch effort, I whined to my agent, without going into specifics. She wanted specifics. I gave them to her and she said, "You must hate me, because I really, really like this idea."

She likes it enough that she's prodding me with sharpened pencils to work up a proposal.


I've set the nearly finished WIP aside (and let me tell you, those characters aren't pleased at being shunted aside) and I'm working on a proposal. The voice in this new one is not fully formed, but definitely insistent. Not only that, but the other day, as I was at my yoga practice, another character let me know he wanted to make an appearance, ratcheting up the volume on the ideas and potential.

I'm unsettled, but I'm not entirely sure it's a bad thing. Some things are exactly the same, such as the research, it's just I have to approach it slightly differently. I have my journals, where I'm jotting ideas down. I've got a music playlist—surest sign that the story is a go. Soundtrack practically created itself.

So I'm diving on into the deep end, feet first, holding my nose, and hoping I surface intact.

How about you guys? You ever take that creative leap into the unknown? How did it work out? Any tips for maintaining sanity or is it just a lost cause?

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

Don't Sweat the Small Stuff but You Can Laugh at it!

So I got to thinking about some of my pet peeves today and thought it's definitely little things that make your characters stand out so I might have to sneak some of these thinga into my next book.

Things that Annoy Me:

1. When people don't put caps back on the markers. Do you know how many dried out markers I have?! How hard is it to recap?

2. When you call a bill collector and they ask you to call back because all lines are busy (Hello, this happened today and no, I do not want to call back, ever! Has to do with a claim that my insurance did not pay for but was supposed to.)

3. When people wear sandals that are too small and either their toes hang out the front or their heels out the back. Really, is that comfortable?

4.When people chew with their mouths open...don't like to play see-food, especially with adults!

5. Good thing chalkboards are almost defunct, just the thought of scraping chalk on the board gives me chills.

6. When people beep at you to run the red light (not sure if this only happens in Miami) but I do remember it's supposed to be safety first!

7. When young toddlers and even babies are not in car seats. I've seen this quite a few times and usually it has nothing to do with people not being able to afford a car seat.

8. When people are so lazy to park that they park in between two spot. What is up with that greediness?

9. When people clip their nails in public. Once saw this in a subway train and also in a college classroom. Just gross!

10. When people have full blown conversations during the movies and even worse is when they answer their cell phones! Stay home then.

Well, I could go on but these are just a few things that annoy me and definitely could be used to flesh out a character. Of course, no one person should be an offender of all ten or they would but very unlikeable:)! So what are some of your pet peeves? And of course, don't forget to laugh after you make your list because life is entirely to short to get too caught up in these things!

Monday, March 1, 2010

What Jobs Did You Have As A Teen?

Like many of my fellow MTV Book authors, I went to work young. I absolutely adored The Baby-sitters Club books growing up so as soon as my parents deemed me qualified & old enough (I was 11 and since my folks were both nurses, they insisted I take a CPR class in case of emergency), I started my own babysitting club with my friends. We were called Kids Inc as I recall... but I could be making that up. Despite being a packrat, I didn't save anything related to my club. The other members came and went, making me Kristy, I guess because I headed the whole thing up, though I would have much rather been Claudia since I was totally the artsy one and dressed in a funky style like she did in the books. Anyway, we made flyers and put them up around town, had weekly meetings, and brought bags filled with toys and activities to entertain the kids, all like the fictional Baby-sitters Club did. Mostly I just watched the kids on my block, though I had a few other jobs too. And I did this through all of high school. I was over the whole club thing by the time I was thirteen, but I continued babysitting a few afternoons a week for a neighbor with a 6 week old and a toddler who taught piano lessons and needed someone to watch the kids while she did so. I loved those kids, Danny and Sarah, like they were siblings, and I guess they loved me too because when I moved to Madison at 17, I asked to take a picture of the family the last time I watched the kids, and in the photo both kids (roughly 2 and 4 at the point) are sobbing in their parents arms because they didn't want me to go.

The funny thing is that eventually Sarah (who was only 6 weeks when I started caring for her) took her first job as my mom's dogwalker. She's probably a freshman in high school right now, which is makes me feel kinda old, but what really freaked me out was when one of the first kids I ever babysat, a neighbor who was 3 at the time, came in to get a drink at my bar a few weeks ago. "Do you remember me?" she asked with a grin. And once it dawned on me I exclaimed, "Oh my god, no way you are legal to be in here!" But she was. Yeah, I'm officially old.

My first real job with paychecks and all of that came when I was sixteen. I had a driver's license, so I needed gas money, plus I was planning to graduate early and move out of state (I so hated my hometown as a teen!), so I needed to save, and then there was coffee at diners practically every night and punk shows on the weekends and CDs and records I needed to buy... You get the picture. I needed the big bucks, more than a couple afternoons a week of watching Danny and Sarah would get me. So I applied for a job at Dominick's, a grocery store chain in the Chicago area. They were interviewing for deli and bakery at the time and being vegetarian, bakery was the obvious choice and it was what I was initially hired for. I was extremely excited because my grandfather was a baker... and then, after I'd been told I got the job, the manager called and apologized, saying he'd found out you had to be 18 to be in bakery. LAME!

Instead I was offered the glamorous position of Utility Clerk. Basically this meant I bagged groceries and sorted the overstock (ie. the crap people decided at the last minute not to purchase or picked up and then stuck back on the shelf in some random place). And I made.... wait for it... a whopping $3.75/hr. Woo hoo!!! This was under minimum wage, but I think they were allowed to do that because of my age. But then the law changed and my pay went up to 4 or 4.25. When I did move to Madison and became a cashier at a small grocery store, I was so excited when they offered me $4.50. Well, at least I learned early how to stretch the meager amount of money I make; it's certainly helped me be a writer, lol!

I have to say, I was an excellent grocery bagger though. There were parts of my job I detested like handling dripping juicy meat (and especially the time someone bought two skinned cow heads. Skinned, but they still had their eyeballs. It was possibly the most disgusting thing I've ever seen) and standing in the freezing cooler sorting refrigerated goods and overstock. But to this day I prefer to bag my own groceries. Partially because I actually enjoy it and also because it seems like most grocery baggers must not have seen or fell asleep during the training video I watched because they forget essential rules about weight distribution, bagging the cold items all together, and making sure your bread and bananas don't get smooshed. So yeah, it's the self checkout line for me so I can put those early job skills to use!

What about you? What was your first job? Do you still have skills (or nightmares! like ones of cow heads!) leftover from it?