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Monday, May 31, 2010

My Take on Paranormals

I'm not picky when it comes to the type of book I read. I've always loved reading books set in this world or other worlds or in this world with the addition of ghosts, vampires, zombies, aliens, or other creatures from myth.

Sometimes I read books for a complete and total escape. Sometimes I read them hoping to find a reflection of myself or something to inspire me or help me solve an issue that I'm dealing with. The best books for me do both at the same time, and in my opinion, both realistic fiction and paranormal/sci-fi/fantasy can do this. I really enjoy escaping into the world of Alyson Noel's Immortals series, which is paranormal, but those books have also helped me cope with grief. I expected to find reflections of myself in Tara Kelly's Harmonic Feedback, a contemporary realistic YA novel, but I also got so swept up in the main character Drea's life that I read the book all in one day. I'm currently watching two TV series, Battlestar Galactica with my husband, and The Gilmore Girls with one of my girlfriends. On the surface, they couldn't seem more different. But I am just as swept up in both. I care about the characters, the plots are engaging, and the writing is excellent (at least so far, I've heard BSG goes downhill). Those are the main elements I'm searching for in story. However I'm also looking for a unique take.

This, my friends, is where I start to get picky.

I won't pick up a book just because it is about vampires--in fact my inner goth girl makes me *incredibly* picky about vampire books. The vampire books I've loved most lately are Jeri Smith-Ready's WVMP series because the idea of vampires running a radio station, connected to the era they are from by music is completely unique. (Not to mention, the heroine, Ciara, is a chick that kicks butt and even though her vamp boyfriend is hot, she doesn't put him up on a pedestal while putting herself down and whining and swooning....) Of course, I won't pick up a realistic fiction book just because it deals with a certain issue I'm interested in either--if that was the case I'd probably be watching a lot more afterschool specials and Lifetime movies. I'm sure there are plenty of those about teenage pregnancy, but I'm willing to bet the characters wouldn't be as well drawn as Rand from Holly Cupala's Tell Me A Secret. (Got a two chapter preview of it at BEA and now I am dying for more!) So no matter what world a book is set in, it needs an interesting premise.

I'd have to agree with what Barb wrote on this topic earlier, though--that thing about paranormal/urban fantasy being the trend is that there are a lot of books out there that are very superficial and don't have the most engaging premise or plot or characters. And yet there they are on front tables of bookstores, getting attention just because they fit the mold. Meanwhile, some very compelling realistic YA stories aren't getting the attention they deserve because they don't. That definitely bugs me.

But I have to admit, I'm also working on a paranormal/urban fantasy novel. I'm not doing this to conform. I haven't tried to conform since sixth grade when I learned that conform was boring and made me feel icky inside. Like Barb, I write the stories that I want to read but can't find. And there is a story of finding inner strength, facing your demons and nightmares, and surviving grief that I need to tell. I tried to tell it as a contemporary realistic YA because that is my comfort zone as a writer. But after struggling with a couple drafts of the first fifty pages, I realized my agent was right, I need to allow otherworldly elements to come into the story. And I needed to challenge myself.

It's funny that as a writer I've always limited myself to realistic fiction even though my reading habits are probably fifty percent realistic fiction, fifty percent genre fiction. I don't know why I've been so scared of it. I guess it's because in addition to plotting out a story, you have to create an entire world and rules for that world. Even though it has taken me a lot longer to get the story going because of this (or maybe not... I tend to struggle at the beginning no matter what), I'm having a lot of fun with it. I have no idea if it will sell, but I'm definitely hoping so. I've been keeping it under wraps for the most part and all I will say is that it's inspired partially by this book that I loved very much as a child:

And this movie that I loved very much as a teen:

Now that I've taken the plunge into writing books that incorporate otherworldly elements, I think it is something I will continue to do. Of course I will continue to write realistic fiction as well. Since I love reading both, why not try writing both?

What about you? Do you read both? Write both if you are a writer? Were you/are you scared to write to both like I was?

Sunday, May 30, 2010

My take on paranormals

My all-time favorite TV show is The X-Files (for the first six or seven seasons, anyway), but I don't consider myself a fan of paranormals. Why? Well, what I loved about The X-Files was the sexual chemistry between Scully and Mulder, and the impeccable writing. NOT the aliens. I was such a die-hard fan that I watched even the alien conspiracy theory episodes just so I wouldn't have missed any plot lines when we returned to the wonderfully written stand-alone episodes.

In a similar way, Star Wars and The Empire Strikes Back (not just ANY crappy old Star Wars movie, mind you, but specifically the first two that came out) are two of my favorite movies ever, but I don't consider myself a fan of science fiction. I love them because of the sexual chemistry between Han and Leia, and because George Lucas researched how to write a captivating story before he wrote these stories, and it worked.

What interests me in a story is the plotline itself, attention to writing, chemistry between the characters, a sense of humor PLEASE, and a happy ending THANK YOU. If you want to do that with vampires, that is okay with me. But I would never, EVER pick up a book BECAUSE it had a vampire in it, and I find that way of thinking very foreign.

So I guess it makes sense that my adult paranormal manuscript making the rounds in the publishing industry right now is romantic and funny. Whether it would pass muster with die-hard paranormal fans, I don't know. And maybe it won't find a publisher because of that.

I'm finding the current paranormal craze difficult to navigate. It is hard to go into a bookstore to sign your new release and have the bookseller tell you you're not on the featured table simply because your book doesn't have vampires in it.

But this too shall pass. In the 1990s when I was first trying to get a book published, Goosebumps were the craze, and the very limited YA sections of bookstores contained almost nothing else. (Today we probably wouldn't even consider Goosebumps YA--they would be Middle Grade.) I kept writing YA romance, and finally in 2005, the market and I met.

We will meet again.

Monday, May 24, 2010

What's My Take on Paranormals?

For this discussion I’m going to lump fantasy and paranormal into one category, mainly because I don’t think there’s a clear boundary between them. And some of what we refer to as paranormal crosses the line into science fiction, too.

Unlike many of my MTV sisters who’ve weighed in, I’ve read quite a bit of paranormal fiction. Some of my reading came about because I taught middle school. I’d hear my students talking about books they loved, and I had to know what the buzz was about. I read the first Harry Potter because my sixth graders said I “had to,” but I read the rest of the series because I was hooked. Harry, Hermione, and Ron are believable teens facing real teen problems. They struggle with their classes, relationships, and bullies. They just have the added distractions of fighting evil forces and trying to save the world.

The way I see it, good writing is good writing. If the characters are well drawn and the plot pulls me in and holds my interest, I’m a happy camper. Barbara struck a chord with me when she mentioned the series Angel. I am a huge fan of the Buffy the Vampire Slayer series, Angel, and more recently Supernatural and Reaper. These TV shows are rife with vampires and demons, but what I enjoy is the juxtaposition of horror and humor. The characters—good and evil--are cracking wise even when they’re fighting for their lives. The Harry Potter books are filled with humor, too, with talking portraits, a nearly headless ghost, and a willow tree that knocks around anyone who gets too close.

I read and enjoyed Twilight, but not enough to continue the series. I agree with Jenny on this--Bella was too whiny, and it seemed as if she swooned on every other page. And I thought swooning h been banned for at least 100 years. Besides, as a matter of principle, I never get involved with a man who is prettier than I am. Bella might want to give that some thought, too.

Before I hop on my metaphysical broom and take off, I have to mention my absolute favorite teen fantasy/paranormal/science fiction of all time—Lois Lowery’s The Giver. This is a book with compelling characters, a fascinating plot, and an ending that had readers arguing and speculating for years. As I said before: good writing is good writing.

Saturday, May 22, 2010

What's My Take on Paranormals?

Oh, this is a complex, even loaded, question for me. I'm really, really picky about paranormal. It (along with sci-fi and fantasy) has never been my favorite flavor of reading. I don't like made up names and critters that I have to stop and think about while I'm reading because I like a thread of reality to weave throughout what I'm reading to serve as a touchstone.

But here's the irony: I really love a lot of the paranormal/sci-fi/fantasy that you find in television and film. I guess it's because I'm so highly visual, I relate better to it when I can see it. But again, it's somewhat loaded because I don't like the fanged/furry/scary just for the sake of having a Critter of the Week—my favorite kind of paranormal has psychological underpinnings that can then be related back to the "real" world.

Take the television show Angel for example: it wasn't just a show about a vampire. It was a vampire cursed by Gypsies with a soul. Talk about implications. Having to fight the baser nature of the beast within. And because Joss Whedon is a mean SOB this way, he then added the twist that if Angel ever consummated a relationship with his soulmate, said soul went bye-bye and he reverted back to being Angelus, badass vampire extraordinaire. (Who was more fun than earnest, brooding Angel, but that's another post altogether...) The fun of Angel wasn't in the critter of the week, but rather in how he navigated this return to the land of the living after nearly a century of keeping himself isolated from people.

More recently, I was hooked on the now-cancelled Flash Forward. (Really ABC? You thought lizard-people were more interesting and worth bringing back for a second season? Feh.) I mean, think about that concept: a mysterious group engineers a global blackout whereupon people flash forward to their future selves and what they see (or don't) drives the plot forward and triggers character development. This is the type of show that's far more in keeping with what I love about the genre—the meaty psychological stuff that really messes with the characters because I am all about the character torture.

Jericho, Miracles, Farscape, Life on Mars, Ashes to Ashes—all shows I love where humanity and character development are at the core. It's no mistake that my favorite overall season of the revamped Doctor Who was 4, with Donna as the Companion—she humanized The Doctor in ways we'd not seen to that point.

I'm also a fan of a lot of anime that has paranormal elements—Witch Hunter Robin is my favorite of these. It has phenomenal character development and tremendous storytelling that starts out feeling like it's episodic in nature, but then, about halfway through the series, you realize it's developed into this huge arc and things that felt like little throwaway lines and gestures actually have deep-seated implications. That's my kind of storytelling. Simple concept that evolves into something bigger, but in such a gorgeous, organic manner, you don't even realize it until you're completely sucked in and strapped down for the entirety of the ride.

However, coming back to books, it just seems that in the current flood of paranormal, very little of it engages me as a reader on those fundamental psychological and emotional levels. It, unfortunately, feels kind of superficial and it leaves me feeling... like I want more.

As a writer, you can imagine that I would find the idea of taking on a paranormal as monumentally intimidating. If I can't find what I want in what's already out there, what makes me think I could come up with something that would satisfy my lofty standards as a reader? That doesn't depend on a creature of the week or a fancy, made up vocabulary?

But... isn't that why a lot of us started writing? Because we wanted to create the kinds of stories we want to read?

And on a far, far more shallow level—another reason I've never taken on writing paranormal is because in today's market, paranormal is almost synonymous with series and the thought of taking on a series makes me want to curl up in a corner, sucking my thumb. I know myself as a writer—the idea of being roped into a series for however long it would go on makes my rebellious soul stamp its feet and shake its wee fists at the heavens. Not to mention, the world building—even if you set a story within the "real" world, you have to establish rules for why things are the way they are in your version of it and... and...

Well, you get where I'm going, right?

But the Girls in the Basement (you know, the ones who sit in the background and chatter and give you more ideas than you know what to do with?) they have a twisted sense of humor where I'm concerned. They don't care that the idea of a paranormal fills me with dread.

They gave me one anyway. More Urban Fantasy than anything else and it's really, really cool. But still—

*insert heartfelt whine here*

It's slow going, because I feel like I'm learning how to write all over again, but the Girls, they won't shut up until I at least give it a try.

Wish me luck.

Friday, May 21, 2010

What's My Take on Paranormals?

Like, Jenny I am a big fan of realistic fiction and that is what I've mostly gravitated to my whole life. I will admit that I've never read any book from the Twilight series or Harry Potter. There are just so many books on my reading list and those were not on my top. I certainly might read and (love) them someday but for now I have plenty of other books on my nightstand that I'm dying to dig into.

I will say that this past year I have read three paranormal books and really LOVED them all. First was Jeri Smith-Ready's Wicked Game, Carrie Ryan's Forest of Hands and Teeth and Maggie Stiefvater's Shiver. They were all so well written and it's the characters that really drew me in.

Also, the manuscript, Graveyard Shift, that I just completed is what I call a reality-bending book. It is set in the real world but has one element that deals with spirits. I had so much fun writing this book because I loved being able to stay in the real world and just bend the rules slightly.

I'm a strong believer in write what you love and love what you write! There are certainly plenty of books out there for all different interests. So happy reading!

Thursday, May 20, 2010

What's My Take On Paranormals?

I am not the right person to answer this question.
I have read one "not realistic" teen book in the past three years. And that was Twilight. Vampires. And you know what? I was more interested in the "normal" characters than the other worldly. And here's where I admit that Bella bugged me, to the point where I wanted to slap the girl. Really, all she did was pine and be all angsty the entire book. I wanted her to grow a set and think about something, anything, besides a guy. But obviously I'm in the minority here, given the proof in how successful the series is. So what do I know?

Since the huge boom in paranormal stories I have attempted to read a few. But I never made it terribly far (like past the second chapter). They're just not for me. I'm not a fan of historicals, either. It's just my taste, which have probably not served me terribly well given the popularity of paranormal books.

But they say that you should write what you love. And I love regular girls in regular worlds dealing with the regular things a girl has to deal with in high school. And in my high school we didn't have shape shifters, vampires, werewolves, ghosts or aura-seeing clairvoyants who spoke to the dead. At least I don't think we did.

Saturday, May 15, 2010

Rediscovering the Writer's High

Last night I told my husband we were going out to celebrate. We went to the really good Mexican place, the one we can't really afford and we even got an appetizer (it was basically mashed potatoes wrapped in a crunchy corn tortilla with chocolate mole sauce. Seriously chocolate smothered mashed potatoes! How could I resist?) and coconut margaritas. Earlier while I was running errands, I swung by the new location of Bleeding Heart Bakery (which isn't actually that new, I just hadn't gotten over there yet so it was new to me) and picked up vegan cupcakes.

What was the cause for celebration?

As I told my husband, I haven't sold a book and sometimes lately it's felt like that will never happen again, but on Thursday (the 13th, which if you read my blog entry on here is my lucky number so I did time that intentionally), I sent 100 pages of writing that I was very pleased with to my agent and I've spent the past few days on an incredible writer's high--you know, like a runner's high, total adrenaline driven exhilaration?--and I haven't felt that way in over a year. I am officially in love with writing again and I wanted to celebrate it!

I've been really struggling for about a year now. Struggling to balance my writing with promotion of my books that are already out. Struggling with my own perfectionism. Struggling to find my rhythm. Struggling with the disappointments of my career. Struggling to find direction for it.

BALLADS OF SUBURBIA came out. It was a book that was very difficult to write, a book that caused me several nervous breakdowns including one just a day before the revision was due in January of 2009 when I realized the manuscript was 4,000 words too long and I had to cut and rearrange things. My editor told me to take a couple extra days and just do what I had to do. I think I spent the first of those days sobbing and rocking myself and probably making my husband, who had just proposed to me at Christmas reconsider if he really wanted to marry this crazy lady. Then I did what I had to do with the help of my critique partners who were staying up just as late as I was to re-read and comment on the revised sections I sent them. And when I finally sent that manuscript in, I'd never felt more accomplished. Then a few weeks before it was due to land on shelves, I found out that the print run was being slashed in half and I needed to stop what I was doing (which was happily writing) and promote the hell out of it, which I did, but it still came out to very little fanfare because it was a second book and the economy was in the toilet. It didn't get reviewed by PW or Kirkus, both of whom I wanted another shot with because, dammit, I felt this book was awesome and better than my first one. I hardly ever even saw it in bookstores.

And that's about the time when I became bitter. I also started pushing myself really hard because I needed to sell another book. It felt like my life depended on it.

I don't churn out books as fast as many of my peers seem to. It might seem like I'm quick because BALLADS came out a year after I WANNA BE YOUR JOEY RAMONE, but I actually came up with the basic plot for BALLADS and wrote a shitty draft of it two years before I started writing IWBYJR. It took me three years to write IWBYJR. And while I was working on IWBYJR, my brain was working BALLADS out. Then IWBYJR took a year to sell and another year from sale to publication so I had two years to work on BALLADS. Once I hit my stride, I can really move, but it takes me a long time to wrap my head around a book. Maybe if I did more prep work like really detailed outlining and character sketches, it would be different, but I've tried to do these things and it's just not how I function. I cook in a similar fashion. I skim the recipe and then I just dive in. I have moments of panic because I really should have cut up a bunch of things first or I didn't realize how long a certain step was going to take and dinner was supposed to be ready NOW, but it all works out in the end. Oh and I never measure the spices. I throw in what I think it needs and then I usually end up adding things the recipe didn't even call for. That's just my personality.

So when I write, I start with a concept and a couple characters. When I wrote IWBYJR, I wanted to write a girl rock star book to pay homage to female musicians I loved growing up. I had Emily. I had Louisa (though she was from a separate short story, but I quickly realized she needed to be Emily's mom) and then I just started writing a bunch of scenes with them. I'd stop and outline from time to time. I'd ponder structure and arrangement. I knew exactly where I wanted to the story to begin and eventually I figured out how I wanted it to end. With BALLADS, I knew I wanted to write about the darker, ugly side of suburbia, the things no one talked about when I was growing up within it. I had Kara, Christian, Adrian and Maya. I knew Kara would overdose on heroin. It wasn't til I re-envisioned it from that first shitty draft that I knew it would begin with that overdose and then go back and tell the story of how she got there.

But last year, I felt panicked. Needed to sell another book ASAP. I had a couple ideas that had been stewing, one of them since fall of 2007 when I started toying with some characters in between working on revisions of IWBYJR and finishing a draft of BALLADS for my agent. There was a daughter who was very responsible and very politically aware, kind of an older Lisa Simpson or, actually, a lot like I had been as a sixteen year-old riot grrrl. Her mother was a free-spirited bartender. Then there was another book dealing with grief and music and Greek Mythology. That book, I realized via discussion with my agent, needed to have paranormal elements, something I've read a lot of but never tried to write. It would take me longer, so we decided that I would work on the first idea first and use that for my option book with MTV. We also decided that since my books keep falling in this black hole between YA and adult that I would skew it more YA even though I would lose a lot of the bartender mother character that I loved. I wrote fifty pages of it, sent it into MTV and turned to the paranormal book. I plotted and outlined a lot more than usual with the paranormal book because it was new ground.

We got word back from MTV Books after three long months. The answer was no. A very sad, filled with regrets No, but still No. My bubble burst.

But then there was talk of what if the book was skewed more adult than YA and pitched to a different Simon & Schuster imprint. This conversation inspired me. The book had felt wrong anyway as a YA. It was missing something. I told my agent I wanted to take a crack at it as an adult novel, but first I wanted to finish the partial of my paranormal which I was very excited about. I thought this was going to be *the* novel. My big break. The concept seemed incredibly unique. It was different from what I'd done but still had the feminist punk edge that comes naturally to me. I finished the partial. At that point my agent and I had been going back and forth for a year with it (because at first I was resistant to it being paranormal). Finally, we both felt it was good enough. It went out. I turned my attention to back to the other project, but I was distracted because any day now my brilliant concept was going to sell.

I am not usually an optimistic person. I've struggled with depression since childhood. As a teen, I medicated by cutting and in my early twenties I medicated with alcohol. Finally I got on track and mediated with writing. I'm a newlywed who is very much in love and I've sold two books. My life is good and I am supposed to be happy. And yet, due to my personality or brain chemistry or whatever, I am still prone toward negativity and depression. I can't help it and it frustrates the hell out of me. But I was really really optimistic about this paranormal book. So optimistic that I was able to put the No from MTV Books behind me with remarkable ease.

But then it didn't happen. The paranormal didn't sell in the blink of an eye like I'd hoped it would. My dream editor passed on it as did several others. All positive rejections, many of which stated that it was too big of a risk to buy on partial, but if I wrote the full they'd look at it again. But I was crushed. And I found out about this three weeks ago on my husbands birthday--his thirtieth no less. And I had a total meltdown on his birthday (after the celebrating, I managed to force my way through that, trying to be unselfish, though he could totally tell I was bummed). HUGE meltdown. I think the MTV rejection finally hit me then too. I was screwed. I was not good enough. I would never sell another book. I would never be able to make a living off of this and this is the only thing I love doing. I'd be a bartender forever. A bartender with a master's in writing. What a failure. I told my husband he should leave me because I was a loser. Yeah, seriously, I was fucked up. I haven't been *that* bad since the cutting and heavy drinking years.

But hubby is a freakin' saint so he talked me off the ledge and I woke up the next morning to an email from Jeri Smith-Ready who has become a real mentor to me (and she has a new book out that is brilliant and you should buy it, SHADE, check it out), who also said some very wise things including pointing out that selling on partial had become really hard to do and I should consider writing the full, which I probably will end up doing if the one editor on my agent's primary list who still has it, ends up rejecting it. Right then, though I had another thing to work on, the YA to adult conversion of the book that MTV Books said no to, but there was a glimmer of hope that it could be reconsidered as an adult book for a different imprint.

I had to write my way through my depression like I had in my early twenties, but HOLY COW was I distracted. I had emails to answer and blogs I wanted to write and twitter and facebook. I'd taken an approach where I was forcing myself to write an hour and a half at a time and then I could take a fifteen minute break. It was my way of weaning myself off of my many distractions. However, since I was spending so much time just sitting and staring at the blinking cursor, I decided I need to try something new. The fast and shitty rough draft. This wasn't an entirely new concept to me. In fact, it's basically how I got scenes started in my workshops in college. We'd always have to write in class in the teacher would coach us through some seeing-in-the-mind exercises to visualize our scene and then instruct us to write as much as we could as fast as we could and that would get me going, then I'd go home and revise. It worked quite well for me. So, two weeks before I had the total meltdown, I'd decided that since I knew generally speaking how I wanted the first 100 pages to evolve, that I would just speed write my way through them.

I'd done that and was ready to revise and had told my agent (stupidly) that I'd have 100 pages ready for her eyes in a week. Then I had the total meltdown, but I woke up the next morning after the pep talk from my husband, got the email from Jeri, and both things reminded me that I was a writer and what I had to do was write. In fact, writing was all I could do. And fortunately revising is that part I really love. Getting that first draft down is painful for me. I like having the words on the page, no matter how bad they are and then puzzling with them and making them work.

But those hundred pages of words REALLY sucked. They were mostly dialogue and very rambly. Still I dove in and I quickly realized there was no way in hell that I would be able to finish in a week. So I emailed my agent and told her, I'd need at least one more week. She said no biggie, it was just a soft deadline. And I continued to puzzle. I was still distracted by email and twitter and blogging occasionally, but I was no longer needing my breaks after every hour and a half of writing time.

Then two days before my second soft deadline, I realized I'd really screwed something up. There are two major catalysts in this book that push my characters onto a new path. I'd written one of those catalysts like an afterthought, told it in a flashback because I'd been in a rush to get to a certain point. This is definitely one of the pitfalls of the fast and dirty drafting method. Sometimes you go off in the wrong direction and end up way off the path your book needs to go on. Fortunately this happened toward the end of my 100 pages, but it meant I'd have to change around the beginning and the structure of the chapters, both of which I'd been struggling with. Actually, I realized, I needed to change my timeline. At first, I didn't think I could. The book involves a pregnancy obviously certain things have to happen at certain times to make a pregnancy storyline realistic. It also involved one character briefly going to jail, but again, the timing needed to be realistic. Fortunately I have a neonatal nurse mother and a lawyer brother, so I picked their brains and was able to adjust my timeline.

I went to my bartending job with my head in the book, trying to puzzle out how to readjust the structure and the beginning. The story alternates between the 39 year-old bartender mother and the 18 year-old daughter. I'd started with the daughter because I was more comfortable with her. She is just a couple years older than the YA characters I'm used to writing. But it had been nagging me all along that since this was supposed to be an adult book, I should probably start with the mom. I needed the right scene for her though and I couldn't figure it out.

I served drinks and made notes, served drinks, made notes. Kind of wished that all my customers would leave so I could focus, but told myself that being half-focused was good because it would allow my mind to work. This was probably the first sign that passion was finally returning to my writing. I wanted to write. I wanted to figure my story out. I didn't feel like it was an obligation, something I had to force myself to do like I have been for the past year.

By the end of the night, I still hadn't figured things out, but my cats solved that problem for me the next morning. I'd been tossing and turning, barely sleeping and frustrated about it because I knew I needed to get up and write. Now I had a new personal deadline- May 13th, lucky 13, I had to meet it. Then, right as I finally was sleeping, the freaking cats jumped on the bed, fighting. I scolded them and then I jumped out of bed, thanking them because I knew the scene I needed to write: a bar fight.

It took me all day to write eight pages, much longer than I wanted to spend on them, but I thought it worked. I sent it to my critique partners to see what they thought, asking them to take a peek at it over the weekend if they could. One of them got back to me in less than 12 hours (the nice thing about having a CP in Australia is when you send her things at night, it's morning for her and sometimes she can get them back very quickly) with a couple of suggestions, but overall she loved the idea. So Saturday, I incorporated her suggestions and some new ideas of my own and worked until I had to go to the bar. No twitter, no facebook, no email. No time for it. I was writing. The next day was Mother's Day, so I took it off to be with my mom. She, along with my husband, is my biggest cheerleader, so as we spent the afternoon weeding the garden, she was happy to be a sounding board for my ideas. The next morning, I got up and wrote, ignoring twitter, facebook, email, etc. It wasn't urgent. The idea was. I had writer's group that evening with my other CP. I wrote two bits of scene and made notes and came home at 10 pm, apologizing to my husband, saying I couldn't hang out with him. I needed to pull an all nighter. I wrote until 3 am. Got up at 10 am the next day and started writing again. Took a break to work out and watch 90210, then apologized to the hubby again and said I needed another all-nighter.

I'm a binge writer. It started in college. I worked two, sometimes three jobs, and usually had one day off to get my writing done. I'd journal throughout the week, but then I'd spend a whole day writing. When I was finishing a major draft of BALLADS, I went to a writer's retreat in Canada and wrote 10 to 12 hours a day for 10 days. I finished half the book plus did a complete revision. This is how I work best.

But I had to build up to it because in the past two years since I published my first book, I'd been balancing promotion and email and social networking and blogging and all of it felt very urgent like I couldn't just ignore it for a week. Until I did. I'd tweet my progress for the day and my reminder that I was working at the bar and people should come visit me. But on Wednesday, I didn't actually want anyone to visit me. Usually a dead night at work panics me (a large part of my fear over the past year is that I'm working in two unstable businesses--bartending and writing--and I'm the kind of person who needs stability. I don't need to be rich, I just need to know I can pay my bills for the month.), but Wednesday I brought my laptop to work hoping I could write instead of deal with customers.

At that point I'd made it all the way through my 100 pages and I'd absolutely fallen in love with the stories and the characters. One of the main settings for the book is a bar, The Bar, I call it, and it's based loosely on the bar where I work. I love where I work. I love bartending and meeting new people and I've collected a lot of stories over the roughly five years I've been doing it. Bringing what I've lived into this story has been so much fun. And my mom character, Ivy, is hilarious. I like writing a dramaedy instead of a straight up drama for a change. I've been eating up shows like Gilmore Girls and Weeds and Californication over the past couple years and now I get to pay homage to them like I paid homage to my girl rock stars in IWBYJR. Also, Ivy is obsessed with soap operas as I have been since the age of 14 and I get to have fun with that. Zoe, my eighteen year-old daughter character, is a vegan like me and politically active and hugely into punk and about to learn the same lessons and face some of the same bitterness as I did at 18. On my last day of writing, Wednesday, I suddenly made some discoveries about the characters. The last ten pages I wrote truly surprised and that was so much fun.

On Thursday, I did my final polish of the 100 pages. And, wow, I realized, it was actually GOOD. I know there are parts that need some more work, but it's time to step back and let my agent and critique partners read it. But I almost didn't want to. Who cares about the email and everything has piled up, I was having fun. I'd remembered why I loved writing again. I was freakin' high!

I don't know what will happen next. Ideally my agent will love it, I'll tweak it slightly, and we'll send to the editor that I've discussed it with, who I do feel comfortable submitting on partial to even though this is not climate for it. While she is reading it, I will go back to my paranormal with my newfound passion and work on the full manuscript of that. Ideally this book will sell so I will feel more comfortable about taking my time with the other one. But it might not. My agent might not think it's ready yet or she might think I need to write the full manuscript of this one too. My career might unfold more slowly than I want it to. But right now that doesn't matter.

Three weeks ago, I was at my lowest of lows in years. Today, I'm blissfully happy and reminded of why I write--not to sell books, but to weave stories and have fun with characters.

I'd taking a well-earned break to read and catch up on TV (and email, I guess...), but I'm hoping to keep riding this momentum for a long while.

And I apologize for such a long blog entry. It's partially because other than to post interviews, I have not blogged in a long time and partially it was self-indulgent. I wanted a record of how my process works. But hopefully this will help other writers, too and give you ideas about process and remind you that even at your lowest, you can find a way to fall in love again.

Thursday, May 13, 2010

Holding my breath

I’ve sent out advance reading copies for FORGET YOU, which will be published by MTV Books on July 20, and so far I’ve seen nothing but good reviews. There may be bad reviews out there, but I have not seen them, which I think is a good place to be. The reviews I’ve seen are from Naughty Book Kitties, Princess Bookie, Girls Without a Bookshelf, Chick Loves Lit, Lorraine’s Book Blog, and Myriad Words, plus a review from Asamum that pegs what I was trying to do in this book so accurately, I got a little creeped out. Because of these book bloggers who have been kind enough to post early reviews, I’m no longer worried about the reception of this book when it finally comes out.

But ENDLESS SUMMER is a different story. It will be published by Simon Pulse in eleven days (!!!) and I did not get advance copies, so I will not be able to send books to bloggers until it’s already in stores.

A few months ago I was feeling a lot more confidence in ENDLESS SUMMER than FORGET YOU. ENDLESS SUMMER is the sequel to THE BOYS NEXT DOOR, which came out in 2007. I wrote the sequel because readers asked me to. It’s the only sequel I’ve written, mainly because in general I don’t like sequels. Too often it seems the author poured everything she had into the first book. By the second book, the characters have nothing left to achieve. So I thought about this sequel for three years before I finally wrote it, and I’m very proud of the result.

The copy that will go on sale also includes THE BOYS NEXT DOOR in the same volume. This means it is an Extremely Large Book, about 600 pages, and it has a beautiful cover.

I’m hoping, and I think Simon Pulse was hoping when they designed it, that it will really stand out on a shelf full of black-covered paranormals. In short, I hope that even with no advance reviews, readers will judge a book by its cover.

Before my work was published, I never gave much thought to covers. I figured I would write the best book I could, and readers would judge my books on their merit. It was a huge surprise to find that covers can make or break the sale of a book, and authors have little or no say in the matter. That’s why I am so gratified that Danielle and Barbara have such gorgeous covers for their upcoming 2010 releases—and why I am really happy to be published by MTV Books, where they understand that the cover is important to point-of-sale, and it even affects the reader’s perception while she’s reading. It’s unnerving, really, to give up that much control over how people will perceive your work. So when you get a great cover, you rejoice, and trust, and hope.

Still holding my breath, though.

Sunday, May 9, 2010

Mindless Creativity

I have one of those minds that never shuts down even when there’s nothing to think about. That’s why I can’t get to sleep and, when I do, why I have all those crazy dreams I wrote about in a previous post. Sleep deprivation aside, a whirling mind makes it difficult to focus on writing.

Which brings me to the value of engaging in mindless tasks. My morning run is a perfect example. My legs, lungs, and heart are working hard, but my brain is on cruise control. I run basically the same course every day, often in the dark, which limits my sensory input. After a few minutes, the rhythm, quiet, and darkness shut off my conscious mind and let my subconscious take over. That’s when my best creative thinking happens.

You don’t have to be a runner to benefit from mindless tasks—any boring, repetitive activity will do. One of my spring projects is to cover the berm beside our driveway with river rock. So far I’ve hauled in and spread three and a half tons of rock, and I have at least two more tons to go. Scooping and tossing rocks provides hours of mindlessness—and days of sore muscles afterward.

Our acreage provides plenty of mindless tasks to give my subconscious a chance to shine. Lawn mowing is one of the best. I pop in my earplugs, rev up the engine, and drive off. An added bonus of mowing is the vibration, which relaxes me even more. There are problems with being too relaxed, though, like running into low hanging tree limbs, woodchuck holes, and bushes I planted just a little too close together. It would also help if I remembered to take my foot off the gas to stop instead of trying to pump the nonexistent brake pedal.

When I get tired of mowing and scooping rock, I pull weeds and plant flowers. And there’s the chore I always put off until last—mucking out the guinea cage. If I wait long enough sometimes Mike gives in and takes over that nasty job.

Whatever mindless task is occupying my mind, I keep my miniature recorder nearby to capture any creative gems before they slip away.

So, do you use mindless tasks to spark your creativity? If not, I’ll be happy to point you to my asparagus bed. By the time you clear out the weeds you’ll have enough material for a thousand-page novel.

Thursday, May 6, 2010

To fanfic or not? What's the right answer?

There's been something of a kerfluffle going on around the blogosphere this past week, which makes it different from any other week... in no discernible way, really. But this is kind of an interesting kerfluffle in the questions it raises with respect to fanfiction. Author Diana Gabaldon [OUTLANDER] has some pretty strong opinions on the matter, which is, of course, her right. Especially as it concerns her work. But it kind of didn't end there. She made some pretty broad sweeping generalizations about the writers of fan fiction that were really at the root of said kerfluffle. (Just Google Diana Gabaldon & fan fiction and you'll no doubt get lots of links, but here's the original post.)

My biggest beef was with the implication that fan fiction writers can't possibly be "real" writers. Personally, I think that's a load of hooey. I know many fine writers who have no interest in pursuing publication (for my purposes, publication meaning producing original work for which they're given a contract and royalties from an established publishing company) who nevertheless practice their craft within the realm of fan fiction simply because they enjoy writing and they enjoy playing the "what if" game with established characters.

And here's the thing, I can't exactly point the finger at fan fiction writers and get my self-righteous on, because that's exactly the medium I used to relearn the craft of creative writing after too many years spent in academia. It found that it gave me a framework within which to practice dialogue, situational writing, and a little bit of character growth, within established characters and settings. I only wrote fan fiction for about ten months or so, because it only took that long for me to get twitchy and want to do something that was purely "mine" where I could control every aspect of the creative process and not feel constrained by someone else's work.

Was it right? That's up to the individual, but because fan fiction wasn't just about personal enjoyment, but also something I did as "practice" before moving on to my own work with the intent of eventually being published, I did have a few personal rules that governed my foray into fan fiction:

1) I only played with television characters. To my way of thinking, they were already being written and shaped across episodes and seasons by multiple writers, so mine was just another voice, adding another layer, if you will. I also stayed firmly within their established universe. Crossovers never appealed to me.

2) Yes, I wanted feedback. I'm human and I wanted to know I didn't suck. So I did put my work "out there." Maybe not the smartest thing, in retrospect, given my ambitions, but I was very new to the internet (it was over ten years ago) and all things considered, it was only exhibited in a very limited scope to a very small circle. You won't find any of my efforts on fanfiction.net or any of the other big archives.

3) I never, ever pretended these characters were in any way mine. Meaning I tried to stay true to the characters as already established. I tried to use clues that the show writers seemed to be leaving for the viewers on which to base my "what if" scenarios. Or I played fill in the blank, writing "missing scenes." But always, always, I tried to respect that I was only playing in someone else's sandbox with their toys.

4) I never, ever thought my work was the equal of the original creator or that I should be considered as some sort of "professional writer," simply because I had written fan fiction. I was a writer, but not a professional.

I think where fan fiction writers kind of get themselves into hot water is when they start feeling as if their work is somehow the equal of the original creator and that they somehow are entitled to the same measure of respect or acknowledgment. And thing is, they're not. I'm not saying that with respect to craft, they might not be equal (heck, in some cases, they may well have surpassed the original-- I've certainly seen examples of fan fiction that's better than the original, but that's neither here nor there). However, so long as they are playing with someone else's creation without their permission a fan fiction author is not and never will be considered the equal of the original creator. And for the love of all that's holy, don't go up to a published author and say that your fan fiction is better than the author's. Yes, I've seen that happen and the response wasn't pretty.

Which actually leads me to my next point: most authors don't want to hear from fan fiction writers about the work based on their material (it's actually a legal liability); most authors are actually pretty darned offended by it and too many fan fiction authors don't respect that. They desperately want to be seen as a peer, but the only way for that to happen is to leave fan fiction behind and establish yourself as a writer of original work. Or somehow find a way to make the fan fiction pay off for you-- it's actually great practice for screenwriting or for writing licensed novels. (Or even for finding a way to put a new spin on a classic. *ahem*) Seriously, I think it was my background in fan fiction, in part, that allowed me to think outside the box when taking the idea of Carmen and crafting it into the story for STARS.

These are just my opinions and frankly, it's not something I expect to deal with any time soon. I think there are some genres that lend themselves far more readily to fan fiction than others. (Sci-fi/fantasy, most definitely) But given my history with fan fiction, it's definitely something I take into consideration.

I can honestly say that if someone felt compelled to create fan fiction based on any of my work, I definitely wouldn't want to see it. Again, the legal liabilities coupled with the fact that I'm wicked protective of my characters and it would probably bring on a case of Hulk! Smash! Rage! if I were to see any examples of them behaving in a manner in which I never intended. Which makes it kind of ironic, I know, that I even delved into fan fiction, but it was actually writing fanfic that started developing those defensive feelings of protectiveness. I wanted to have my own characters to play with—my own situations—and I didn't want any other influence beyond that of my own twisted imagination.

As a final note, yes, I still have a few of the word docs on my computer and they are appropriately cringe-inducing, but you know, at the same time, I can see glimmers of the writer I was going to become, so one thing I'll never say about fan fiction is that it's a waste of time.

What about you guys? Anyone been faced with the question of fan fiction with respect to their work? How do you feel about it?

Hudson Children's Book Festival was a Blast!

I attended the second annual Hudson Children’s Book Festival this past weekend and it was amazing. Over 5000 people walked through the door from 10am to 4pm and every single kid received a free book. There were over 100 authors/illustrators there ranging from those who write board books to middle grade to young adult. In the photo above from left to right is: me and the super talented: Michelle Zink, Jennifer Hubbard,Neesha Meminger and Megan Frazer.

My table was nestled between Jan Cheripko and Aimee Ferris. Besides being authors, Jan works with at-risk youth and Aimee used to be a dive master—so cool!
I was also on a panel called Common Ground: Connecting Teens through Books & Music with authors, Michelle Zink, Maryrose Wood and Megan Frazer. We each read a scene from our books and played a snippet of a song that inspired us to write our novels. We even have our play list up on iTunes of the songs that we selected for the presentation.

I stayed in Hudson for the weekend and my hosts, local teachers, Val and Karen were amazing. I was ready to move in! Authors Ellen Jensen Abbott and Anne Haywood Leal, also stayed with me. We hung out late into the night chatting on the porch and drinking local wine.

On my drive back to Boston I stopped at a cemetery in Columbia County that was the perfect setting for the manuscript I’m also done writing, Graveyard Shift. I took many photos of the graveyard. It felt a little strange being there all alone on a bright Sunday morning but a girl has to do her research!

So why attend a book festival? I love chatting with readers, writers, teachers and librarians and there’s no better place to do this than at a book festival. You should definitely check this festival out next year. It will be on May 7, 2011. Don’t live near Hudson? There are plenty of book festivals across the country, just check which one is coming to a town near you. Happy reading!

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Seasonal Allergies... Writing When It's Nice Out

It feels like summer is finally here (we had 11 kids in our pool on Sunday... doesn't make for a relaxing afternoon of reading on the patio). I've never written a book during the summer before. I'm more of a fall/winter writer. Cannot get motivated to sit indoors and write when it's nice out.

I remember writing the Island Summer series (LOCAL GIRLS and RICH BOYS) from September - January. It was cold and yucky out and I was writing about the summer on Martha's Vineyard. It was so nice to imagine the beach and the sunshine and how green everything is on the island during the summer. Ironically, this weekend when it was in the 80's and sunny I was writing about December and snow and Christmas for my next book. Gotta admit, not nearly as much fun, considering I'm so glad that winter seems to be over.

What about you? Are you a seasonal writer? Are you more productive at one time of the year vs. another?