Tuesday, December 28, 2010

what a difference a year makes

i declare this holiday blogging break officially over!

we're running up on the new year here in just a few days, and it got me thinking about just how much has changed in the last 12 months.

it's hard to believe at this time last year, i'd never queried an agent or sent a manuscript to a beta reader.
it's hard to believe i was a blog lurker and a die-hard twitter hold out instead of a blogger and tweeter.
it's hard to believe Butter was still unfinished, and Billy D was barely a twinkle of an idea.

i never would have guessed that by now i'd have an agent, a publisher, a new manuscript and best of all - friends online i can truly confide in.

we always say publishing is slow, but maybe it only looks that way from the front end. i think sometimes when you look back, it's easier to see how things move pretty damn fast, actually.

i'm glad i started seriously down the path to publishing this year, but i'm mostly glad i took the plunge and joined the online writing community. from blogs to tweets, public forums to private emails, i've had a blast making friends and following other writers. you are all made of awesome.

here's to another fun year in the blogosphere.

Thursday, December 23, 2010

the greatest Christmas present ever

i bet you think i'm going to say peace on earth or the love of family and friends or some such thing, huh?

yeah, yeah, that's all well and good... but no, the greatest Christmas present ever was from an elf named Lemdel.

i can't remember how old i was, but it was around the time of the Cabbage Patch Kids craze. remember phase two of this fad? KOOSAS - the cabbage patch pets!
i wanted the dog one, with a brown eye patch. (or as i believe i put it on my letter to santa - "a black-eyed akoooza")
this letter to santa was followed by many conversations with my parents, in which they explained santa's workshop was all out of the black-eyed koosas and wouldn't i want a different one? no, just the black-eyed one. (i wasn't spoiled at all. nope, not me.) mom and dad even put in a personal call to santa, they explained, but he just did not have time to make any new toys, and surely some other koosa would be fine, right? no, santa will figure it out. (really, i was darling.)
around the same time, i remember seeing something on TV that looked like a stampede of adults climbing shelves in Toys R Us, trying to grab the last Koosas. i guess they all got the same messages from santa about the toy shop being all out. i still had faith in the jolly old guy.
my parents came home looking frazzled sometimes too, and trying to talk me into different toy ideas, but my list was unshakable.

anyway, every year, on top of the gifts under the tree... Christmas morning, an additional pile of presents would appear - all wrapped in special red santa paper. that Christmas, there was one extra present on the pile - wrapped in green elf paper instead. a long letter attached to the present in special elf handwriting (that looked an awful lot like professional caligraphy, now that i think about it) was addressed to me. the letter explained that i'd been such a good girl (all evidence to the contrary) and that i deserved a very special present. so even though santa was very busy, one of his helpers - the one writing the letter - had taken time to make one extra present just for me. it was signed: Lemdel, the Elf.

i guess you know what was inside. i still have my black-eyed Koosa, who is named, of course, Lemdel.
best. Christmas. present. EVER.

there is a sequel to this tale - an adventure/mystery in which Lemdel goes missing, sparking a desperate search that ends with Lemdel nearly getting thrown out with the trash only to be saved at the last possible second.
story for another time.

Monday, December 20, 2010

the myth of Shiny New Ideas

...well maybe not myth so much as illusion.

clearly, the Shiny New Idea is not a myth. ideas are very real things - tangible even. we can see them, hear them, taste them. it's the "shiny" part that's an illusion... for me at least.

Shiny New Ideas sneak up on me when i least expect them (i.e. very inconvenient times, like when i'm in the middle of another manuscript or about to start a long revision.)
i find new ideas are shiny only when i need a distraction from the work i'm supposed to be focusing on. i had at least three shiny - even glowing - ideas when i was smack in the middle of NaNo. funny how the shine slid off those ideas as soon as NaNo was over. now they're kind of muted and dull and not even interesting enough to distract me from editing.

i'm not saying all SNIs are clunkers disguised as something sparkly. some of them are worth exploring. for many authors, every book started with a SNI.

but i'm learning that, for me, the ideas that become full manuscripts aren't the shiny ones that pop up out of nowhere... they're the ones that slink in barely formed - just a character or a line of dialog - then slowly grow and fester, refusing to go away until i deal with them. (which is probably why i can't pinpoint the exact moment i came up with either Butter or Billy D. - they were both books that snuck into my brain through some dark back door instead of bursting above my head like a light bulb.)

i get those "light bulb" ideas all the time. they just tend to fizzle out. whereas the ideas that creep up on me nice and slow are the ones that eventually illuminate my entire imagination.

okay, are you tired of my lighting metaphors now? me too.

the point is - SNIs, for me, are just fuel for the creative juices. sometimes i need them to get my gears going when i'm in a slump with the current WIP. and sometimes i need them to bridge the gap between the ideas that will actually become stories. But i've yet to turn a Shiny New Idea into anything more than a dusty word document abandoned somewhere inside my laptop.

what about you? did all of your stories start with that burst of inspiration that writers have come to call the SNI? or do your stories sneak up on you?

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Jack Master

Handsome and i were talking recently about whether it is better to be a jack of all trades or a master of one. he considers himself a jack, and i'd have to agree. i don't think there's a thing on this planet he doesn't know something about. (seriously, you want this guy on your trivial pursuit team.) i constantly ask him, "how do you know stuff?" and he'll shrug and say, "i read."
but it's not just the reading, the knowing, it's the doing. he has skills ranging from art to home improvement that blow me away.

i envy his wide range, while he envies my commitment to writing. he thinks getting published makes me something of a "master" of the writing craft. i, of course, flat out reject that. to me, a master is somebody who wins the Nobel Prize in Literature or something dramatic like that. heck, i don't even write those types of books. i am far from being a master writer and further yet from even desiring that. but i guess putting a book out into the world does make me something more than just a jack of the trade.
similarly, in my other calling - journalism - i will never win, nor even strive to win, a Pulitzer. but i'm pretty proud of my two shiny Emmys - representing something in between jack and master.

the other loves of my life fall all over the jack-master scale.
- i'm no guitar pro, but i know the chords and can hold my own around a campfire.
- i’m pretty good at puzzles, but i’ll never be one of those people who can solve a rubik's cube in 30 seconds, blindfolded.
- i am, however, a master of Bear Claw. you know, those machines with the mechanical arms that pick up stuffed animals? i kind of rock at that.
(side story – i used to run a bit of a scam at the roller skating rink when i was young. kids would give me a dollar to win them a prize. i’d use a quarter to get the toy on the first try, then pocket the remaining 75 cents. i made a killing… for a 12 year old.)
to this day, Handsome will hand me a dollar now and then at the super market Bear Claw and ask me to win him something, just to see me do it. and I have to say, i’ve still got it. ;)

but aside from my mad Bear Claw skills, i’m really not aiming to be the master of any one thing or a jack of all things. i’m aiming for somewhere in between.
i want to try my hand at a lot of things… be passable at some of them... get pretty darn good at even fewer… and hope to come out -not necessarily a master- but at least REALLY GOOD at two or three things – a Jack Master, if you will.

that’s just my own personal goal.
but i will continue to be amazed by folks at both ends of the scale.
(side note: a great place to see both jacks and masters in action is on the show Pawn Stars, on the History Channel. it's astounding how much those guys know about history and cars and sports and just everything. and it's even more astonishing to see those jacks bring in the masters when they need a truly expert opinion.)

what about you? are you a Jack of all, a Master of one? or are you like me and aiming for the in-between?

Friday, December 10, 2010

write what you want to write

"I want to write a book about vampires, but all the agents say vampires are over."
"I want to write a contemporary YA, but all the 6-figure deals are for dystopian stories."
"I have this really great idea, but I just heard about a book with almost the exact same concept."

but.. but.. but NOTHING!

i see all of the above lines and many more from authors lamenting how the story they want to write, isn't what they should be writing, if they want to get published.
well, here is a huge, not-so-secret-but-hard-to-believe fact i have learned: the #1 way to get published is to write the best book you can.
and in my opinion, the best book you can write is the one you want to write, have to write - the one with the characters who keep you up at night. even if they ARE vampires.
that's the good news - freedom to write the story you want.
here's the bad news: you're right. it might not get published. this post is about why that's OKAY.

JM Tohline put together a great blog post today on the biggest mistakes writers make when querying agents. (when you're done here, go check it out. he got excellent input from tons of agents and compiled it all in one neat post for you.)

one of the agents JM quoted on his blog said something that really resonated with me:

Cameron McClure (of the Donald Maass Agency) added this: "Most writers query too soon – either before the book is really ready to be read by an industry professional, or with a book that is a learning book, or a starter book, where the writer is working through the themes that will come out in later books with more clarity, getting things out of their system,making mistakes that most beginners make, finding their voice."
the bold is mine. i wrote that book - that "starter" book - and it was everything McClure says. it was my training ground for the kind of themes i wanted to write about, for practicing plot and pace, for learning whether 1st or 3rd person worked better for me and above all, for finding my voice.

fortunately, i never made the mistake of querying that novel. during the year i spent pecking away at it, i also learned a lot about publishing. by the time i was done, i could see all the reasons it didn't work. so i recognized it for what it was - a book i had to write for me, and not for anyone else.

one of the first conversations i had with my agent was about this very thing - about the books you have to write versus the books you might actually want to sell. we were talking about my other WIPs/ideas, and i was asking what kind of stories she'd like to see... and she told me she would never discourage a client from writing anything, because there are stories in us that just have to be told - even if we only ever tell them to our laptops.

i guess it's impossible to know, when you start a new manuscript, whether it's one of the stories you'd be proud to put out in the world or one of the stories you need to learn something from. but i would argue: it's equally important, either way.

if i hadn't written LOSERS, i'm 100% certain i never would have been able to write BUTTER.
i have started taking lines and scenes from L and working them into new manuscripts. i basically stole one of the characters and made him the MC in BILLY D.
i will probably keep deconstructing L until there is nothing left but the concept, and then i might steal that too, and write the whole thing over again from scratch.
for all of these reasons, i know, without a doubt, that my time was not wasted on that first manuscript.

if you feel compelled to write something - write it. the story that never gets published may very well be the most important one you ever write.

Monday, December 6, 2010

forest for the trees...

...or something like that.

i figure the post-NaNo glow is a good time to talk revision.

first, let me say - i suck at it.
that is, i suck at doing it on my own. last year at this time, i was finishing up the first draft of BUTTER, which - to tell the truth - didn't look that much different from the draft i sent to agents. i used a few suggestions from early beta readers and did a serious line-by-line edit, but i didn't make any big-picture changes... because all i'd heard was that people liked it, and hey, i liked it too, so what's to change? (ha.ha.ha.)

it wasn't until i got revision notes from agents that i could really see what needed to be changed. i also got a serious beta who wasn't afraid to tell me when those revisions weren't working and to give me big-picture critique like "cut this entire boring chapter." (i'm paraphrasing. Gem is honest but much more eloquent than that.)

anyway, as much as i loved the praise of my alpha readers, i found my motivation to edit came from publishing pros and other writers who basically said, "i loved x,y and z, but these other bits really suck."
it worked for me, because it made my stubborn little writer heart say, "oh YEAH? well watch this!"
and suddenly i learned how to revise. i found the courage to press the delete key on an entire chapter. i managed to shuffle up scenes, change the timeline of major plot events and still sew everything back together. what a breakthrough! now i'll be able to hack up my next book all on my own!

not so much.

it turns out i still need that feedback. i thrive on the criticism. a one-line crit comment can cause an entire new chapter to explode open in my brain. But without that input, i stare at my chapters all cozily knit together and can't see how to rip them apart.
so i'm settling for my line-by-line edits on BILLY D, then rushing this baby to betas, so they can tell me what sucks and inspire me to start hacking.

...and i suspect my biggest revisions may still be to come, when i get my editorial letter for BUTTER.

what about you? at which stage do you do your biggest revisions/rewrites? and how many do you do? as varied as the writing process is from person to person - i'll bet we're even more diverse when it comes to revisions.

Friday, December 3, 2010

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

word count wednesday - fifth and final

it is the morning of December 1st, and that means some of you may still be sleeping off your NaNoWriMo hangover.
some others of you may be pointing and laughing at the folks with the NaNo hangover, saying "see? glad i didn't do that this year."

as for me, i hit my 50K on Sunday.
finishing a few days early is like drinking a lot of water and taking advil before you go to bed. it helps prevent the hangover, so i'm feeling pretty good. ;)

my final word count in the NaNo validator was 50,950 !!!

since i had written nine chapters of this book prior to november and because i went on a writing spree monday on my day off to finish the whole darn thing, my total WC for the full manuscript is almost 72,000, including these two words: "THE END."

so yeah, of course i'm feeling all kinds of cheery about that, but here's what i really want to say:
whether you have 72,000 words or 7,200... YOU should be celebrating too!
i've mentioned before that BUTTER was a NaNo novel last year, and i didn't even get halfway to the goal before it got derailed. and as you know, that all worked out okay.

so if you didn't hit 50K, i hope you will continue to work on whatever projects you started in november. if you DID hit 50K, i hope you'll come back to your MS after a few days or weeks off and sit down to revise Revise REVISE. because as we writers all know, the first draft is just the beginning.
we also know that november may be a whole lot of fun, but writing is a year-round job and a lifelong passion.

take that momentum from NaNo and use it to propel you into the new year. however many words you wrote... you are that many words closer to making a dream come true. keep the momentum going!

best of luck. you are ALL AWESOME, regardless of word count.

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

the return of... BEST LINES!

the best part of being done with the crazy writing spree that is NaNoWriMo is that i finally have time to READ again!
and i'm so glad the book i picked up first is one with lines worth sharing.

so after a long hiatus... i bring you more "Best Lines."

these are from the first third of "How I Live Now," by Meg Rosoff. (most are actually fragments of lines, as the writing style makes every sentence about a paragraph long, and i don't want to give away too much.)

...Davina the Diabolical, who sucked my father's soul out through his you know what and then got herself knocked up with the devil's spawn which, when it pops out, Leah and I are going to call Damian even if it's a girl.

Basically we couldn't believe our luck, and for a little while it felt like we were on some big train rolling down a hill, and all we cared about was how great it felt to be going fast.

...sitting in the jeep and bumping down a bumpy old road and the sun was streaming in the windows and it felt much nicer than usual to be alive even if it meant a bunch of fish were going to have to die.

Dad was one of those Never Mention Her Name Again type of fathers which if you ask me was extremely unpsychologically correct of him. Leah's father worked on Wall Street and shot himself one day when he lost $600 million of someone else's money and they never shut up about him in their house.

those are the most non-spoilery ones from near the beginning of the book, but there are some zingers later too.

if any of you are doing NaNo and motoring through the last day - GOOD LUCK!! see you back here tomorrow for a final "Word Count Wednesday."

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

word count wednesday 4


my word count: 42,845
words left to "win" NaNo: 7,155
estimated words left to finish the story: 11,000
words to erase and rewrite after NaNo: 10,000 ...at least.

that's a little secret no one talks about at the beginning of NaNo - how much you are going to write after november. all those words you wrote this month - whether it's 50,000 or 10,000 - are just a fraction of the words you will write before that book is done. whether you have more to write, lots to rewrite or just several waves of revision in your future, chances are you will write many more thousands of words - just for this one book.

but really, who has time to worry about that when we're still trying to finish THIS race, right?! so get typing; take a break for turkey; then get right back to typing!

i'm taking a little blogging break over the long holiday weekend. hope you all stuff yourselves silly. :)

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

the computer ate my chapter!

...and other blessings in disguise.

the first novel i ever tried to write died a horrible death. it caught a nasty incurable virus and when it finally went into the light, even the best computer doctors could not revive it.
this was ten years ago, and the pain of that loss was so raw, i did not write again for years.

i am being completely serious now.
i allowed a manuscript-eating computer virus to put me off writing... for years. even when someone very close to me - an angel really - produced the first ten thousand words or so from his own email archives, bless him, i could not be persuaded to pick up the story again. how could i possibly remember what the NEXT ten thousand words were? and i couldn't even fathom letting those words go and starting the story again from the middle. i was so stubborn.

but i took the ten thousand words from this angel, and put them in a folder at the back of my file box with a neat little tab labeled: Sammy Vegas. for almost a decade, every time i opened that box to file a utility bill or check a bank statement, the words "Sammy Vegas" would play peek-a-boo with me from the dark rear of the box... taunting me, reminding me that once upon a time i wanted to be a writer.

when i finally started writing again, the "Sammy Vegas" file got moved to a new filing cabinet - one filled with nothing but manuscripts, story ideas and publishing information. now, when i see the "Sammy Vegas" tab, i don't see a painful loss but a story that will someday be brought back to life. SV would have been the wrong first book for me. and maybe i needed to live a little more before i started writing for real. i truly think losing that MS was meant to be, so that all the stars could align for me to write a book some 8 or 9 years later that would actually be good enough to publish.

i tried to remember the SV tale this week when technology let me down once again.
this time, it wasn't a computer virus but a malfunctioning android application that ate my words. (oh, how time has marched on!)
my trusty little cell phone voice recorder app crashed and burned - taking with it an entire chapter of my NaNo project. in the sheer panic of losing those words, i forgot every single one of them, even thought i had dictated them into the voice recorder only that morning. Handsome and i made a few feeble efforts to recover the audio files, but they were lost. i wanted to crawl into bed and forget the whole manuscript.
but NaNo waits for no drama, so i knew i had to suck it up and write something new.

and you know what? the new scene is better. once it was all written, my thoughts cleared, and i could remember the initial scene, and it wasn't half as good as its replacement. losing that first chapter was probably the best thing that's happened to me since i started NaNo.
(but, um, Karma? if you're listening? that doesn't mean i want to lose any more chapters, okay? i AM on a deadline, here.)

i just wanted to share those stories for anyone who has hit a setback in their writing, whether it's:
- a computer virus
- a lost notebook
- an accidental 'delete'
- an identical scene in someone else's book that forces you to press 'delete'
- or just about any other uncontrollable factor that erases so much of your hard work.

words get lost.
but sometimes it's a blessing in disguise.
fortunately, we know where the words come from, and we can always make more.

Sunday, November 21, 2010

forget me not

tonight i finally filled up my virtual shelves on goodreads. i started by sitting in front of one shelf at a time (actual shelves, in my house) and typing titles into my laptop. this is tedious work, people! if any of you have actually entered every book you've ever read into goodreads, then i salute you. personally, i gave up after a hundred or so titles.

something struck me as i was going through my books, title by title - something alarming.
there were several books - not one but several - that i sat in front of thinking, "i know i want to give this 5 stars. i loved this book. i raved about it. look how the spine is all cracked and worn. i carried this book everywhere." but i could not give 5 stars, because for the life of me, i couldn't remember ONE SINGLE WORD of what was inside that beat-up cover.

now, i'm not talking about books i read this year or last but at least a decade ago. STILL. how can i not recall the stories? one book, in fact, by my beloved Kurt Vonnegut, i actually had to pick up and flip through. just looking at the cover, i could quote some of the lines - and sure enough, many of those lines were marked inside, by me - but even after reading the first few pages, i couldn't remember the plot.

i'm certain i'm not suffering from memory loss, so why is it i can't recall these books? was i not a careful reader for a few years of my life? or is it possible these books are just... forgettable?

that thought really scares me. i have too many books in the "to-be-read" pile to go back and reread all the ones i can't remember, but what if they are worth remembering?
i'm also afraid, ten or twenty years from now, i won't remember some of the amazing books i've read recently.
and scariest of all - i'm suddenly terrified my own books have to be more than smart or funny or moving or well-written. they must be memorable. but damned if i know the magic ingredient that makes a book memorable.
then again, if Vonnegut can write something forgettable, i guess i would be in good company.

Friday, November 19, 2010


i hear stories of writers who spend years researching a topic before starting a story - who interview experts, read text books, etc... to absorb all the facts they want to put into their fiction.

other writers i know make it all up as they go along in the first draft and save the fact-checking for revisions, which i imagine can mean lots and lots of rewriting, depending on which facts they got wrong.

i think i fall somewhere in the middle - researching as i go.

for my current WIP, i had to do quite a bit of preliminary work, because i knew before i started that one of my characters would have Down Syndrome. i had to compile medical notes, research family dynamics and do a lot of observing.
it's probably the most research i've done before actually putting fingers to keyboard.

what happens more often is a situation arises in the story that requires me to know what i'm talking about. if i can see this coming, i'll stop, do a day of research, then get back to writing.
(example: i had a quirky scene that required one of my characters to know a little something about small towns and geography. i decided to make that quirk a thread throughout the entire story, but i had already used up the limited facts i knew in one scene. so i had to stop writing and spend some time expanding my knowledge base in order to pull the thread through.)

occasionally, i'll fall into the pantser category, when the writing is just going too fast and smooth for me to stop. who can be bothered with research when the facts i'm making up work so well?!
i don't let myself get too far, though, because i don't want to rewrite thousands and thousands of words all based on a mistaken fact. what i'll do is stop at the end of the chapter and do some fact-checking. then, if i got anything wrong, i'll fix it. but sometimes even waiting a whole chapter is too long.
(example: i had an entire chapter and plot development that hinged on a certain type of government office being open at a certain time of night and operating a certain way. i did some vague research online, but it wasn't until the chapter was over that i actually contacted someone at this office to verify my facts. turns out not only is the office closed and its operations nothing like i described - but it doesn't even exist in the town where i put it! (*&$%$&^#). i couldn't bear to rewrite an entire chapter in the middle of NaNo, but you better believe i spent half an hour typing up a list of corrections and plot changes in my revision notes. the good news is, the changes will make this little piece of plot better anyway.)

since that incident, i've been very careful to check my facts every step of the way - whether it's placing a building on the correct street corner or confirming a state law. but i'm still doing the research as i go, letting the story tell me what it is i need to look up.

i'm curious what other writers do!
*if you do loads of research ahead of time, how much of it do you think goes unused - and do you think that time would have been better spent writing? or do you think having the knowledge still makes the work better/more informed in the long run?
*if you're a pantser and later find a factual error that requires changes in 23 chapters, does it make your revision process more stressful? or do you prefer rewriting later to stopping and starting while in the middle of a first draft?

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

word count wednesday 3 and a story

well, we’ve hit the halfway mark. NaNo sure makes November go by fast!

i’m at 29,519 words, and i’ve hit the climax of my story.. or the build up to the climax.. or the build up to the incident that triggers the climax.. or something. anyway, we’re getting somewhere.

so, today is the one year anniversary of the event that pretty much ended NaNo for me last year.
i came home that night planning to grab some dinner, let my dog out and get over to a write-in going on at a local bookstore. i never made it.
because when i got home that night, my gate was open and my door unlocked. a quick trip through my house - that made me want to throw up in a way i’d never quite felt before - confirmed that strangers had been there, had gone through my very personal items, had stolen my family heirlooms and plenty of other things.
i spent the next three days talking to police, insurance agents and security specialists. i replaced the locks, installed surveillance cameras and woke up terrified in the middle of the night. i did not write a word.

it was weeks before i realized everything that was gone and months before i stopped checking my closets with a huge kitchen knife in hand every single time i came home. i don’t remember when i started writing again, but i know that i wish i’d started sooner.

writing is therapy, escape, distraction and occasionally – revenge. (those chapters of a non-existent book are filed away on my hard drive, never to be seen by the public. they contain way too many curse words, but they sure made me feel a lot better!)
i was writing the first time my power went out after the burglary, and i’m grateful for that because i was so focused on finding a flashlight, pen and paper to finish my thoughts that i forgot to be frightened.

my point is... life can give us a lot of good excuses to not write, but you might find in those tough times that turning to your writing - instead of away from it - can actually help you through something... and that your life experiences (good or bad) can inform your writing in a way that makes it feel richer and more real.

now, as for this year - the only excuse i have for possibly falling behind on NaNo is the fact that the full version of "Angry Birds" was finally released for Android, and i am in a race with Handsome to see who can beat the game first. :p

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

fave features

i suspect the infrequent posting on the blog here might continue through the end of November, as i have not yet failed at NaNoWriMo. (one reason - choosing to write instead of blog)

but i don't want to be one of those bloggers who apologizes for my long silences, so i decided to be more productive than that and give you some places to visit when you find my blog dark for a few days at a time.

this is a collection of my favorite features in the blogosphere. they are either weekly or very regular, so you'll probably get addicted and keep checking back for them every day, just like i do. if you visit, be sure to leave comments and tell the bloggers who sent ya! :)

(the links are in green. click 'em!)

*my current fave feature and my go-to place for covers is at Naomi's inkcrush blog. her Cover Comparisons are so much fun to examine. she pulls covers from all over the globe for a single book and puts them all in one place, so you can study the subtle - or sometimes completely obvious - differences. i have no idea where she finds them all.

*Kate Hart's Field Trip Friday posts must take her forever to put together. she provides a collection of writing, publishing and otherwise entertaining tweets from the week. i used to love following this feature even before i caved and joined twitter. it's a great way to feel connected if you're not ready to start tweeting... and a great way to get caught up if you just haven't had time to tweet!

*i am loving the Trailer Talk on E.J. Wesley's blog. he shares two book trailers, generally very different from each other, then gives some insight into why they win or fail. it's been educational, as trailers are a total mystery to me. (says the girl who works in TV. haha.)

*finally, a great feature for readers on the run! check out Debra Garfinkle's Book Review Haikus. the link takes you to her blog's home page. if you scroll down her page, you'll see several of the haiku entries. they are indispensable for a reader who doesn't have time to read lots of long reviews. i think she always does 5 books... and you'll have her honest opinion on all of them in less than 5 seconds.

happy blog bouncing!

Thursday, November 11, 2010

now playing in an imagination near you

someone asked me recently how i would cast my novel. it's a fun game writers like to play when they dream of their books becoming movies... and i suck at it.
i guess i like to think of my characters as totally new, so i can't imagine them looking like anyone else. (i promise this isn't ego talking. i have a hard time picturing actors playing the characters in everyone else's books too!)

but in the interest of NaNo procrastination, i decided to kill some time on the internet, looking up hip young films to see if i could imagine any of the people as characters in BUTTER.
and i found some! they are perfect! score me a movie deal, because i am ready to start filming!

this is Butter:

this is Anna:

and this is Trent, Parker and company:

hmmm. i like this so much, i'm wondering how my editor will feel about me rewriting the whole book to make them all penguins...
okay then, i guess if i ever score a film rights sale, i'll just leave it up to the casting directors. ;)

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

word count wednesday 2

first of all, thanks to the cool people who posted BUTTER on goodreads! :D (and thanks to Susanne for letting me know about it!)
i signed up for the author program to "claim" the book, but i don't quite have GR all figured out yet, so we'll see how that goes. (i'm ejwriter, by the way, if any of you are looking for me on GR. i'm looking for you too!)

okay, on to word count wednesday! i am at... 17,230 words.

it's good, no? if you're following the suggested NaNo pace, you should be at about 15,000 words. so woohoo! i'm 2200 ahead!
however, i'm about 2K behind my own schedule.

see, at the start of the month, OCD EJ wrote out a chart/calendar for the month of november. i included all my appointments and plans that would keep me from writing and figured out about how much i could write on each day. since there are a few days coming up when i won't be able to write at all, i front-loaded my NaNo so i would be ahead and not playing catch-up later.
according to my little anal calendar, i should be at 25K by Saturday. yeah... not gonna happen.

a lot of folks thrive on the rush of catching up, but i am not the tortoise. i am the hare. i have to be the hare, or i'll get overwhelmed by how far there still is to go and give up.
also, i know how things can happen to derail your NaNo efforts entirely. i know - because this happened to me last year - that some really nasty stuff can go down that basically stops NaNo in its tracks. in fact, the anniversary of that nasty stuff is one week from today... so more on that next wednesday.
(in other words: ...to be continued.)

Monday, November 8, 2010

having it all...

...in your book.

one of the ongoing great debates i see among writers and publishing peeps online is the battle between writing and storytelling. which one is most important when trying to land an agent/editor/reader?

of course, the winning answer is always... both!

but that's not really where the discussion ends. if you cruise around the internet, you'll find agents and editors are looking for even more than prose and plot. any one of them might be looking for any or all of the following:
- concept! good hook! - if you can sell your story in one line, you can probably sell it to a publisher.
- characters! - the heart and soul of your story. agents and editors fall for them before falling for you.
- angst or grit or romance or humor or something that strongly defines your MS, makes it easy to categorize.
- originality!
- voice!
- pace!

holy crap, that's a lot of stuff to squish into a book! it puts pressure on a writer, no?

well, let me tell you a secret. i just scanned my bookshelf, and i can honestly say there is no book that excels at all of these. "Lord of the Rings" wows with characters and originality, but pace? ummm, no. history of pipe-weed. 'nuff said.
several books on my shelves have brilliant hooks but only 'meh' writing. in one book, a break-neck pace takes time away from characterization. in another, the incredible voice makes up for a not-so-original plot. all over my shelves, i see books shattering rules and still making readers smile.

i'm not saying don't reach for all of the things on the list above. i'm just saying don't punish yourself if some of them come through stronger than the others.
one of my books has a hook that probably helped it sell. the concept of the current WIP is harder to pin down in one line, but the characters are strong.

i'm trying not to get caught up in the pressure of fitting everything into one book. instead, i'm concentrating on showing off my strengths one book at a time. (at least, that's the goal. haha! i'll let readers be the judges.)

what about you? do the same strengths shine through in all your stories? or does the story itself dictate which skills come through?

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

word count wednesday 1

happy first week of NaNoWriMo!

at least, i hope your week is happy. mine is fairly miserable, as i've started NaNo with a nasty cold. all of my words are alternately fueled by fever and cold meds. although, being home sick has its upside - like plenty of time to write. that's why my word count is already....

5,568 words!

i know some folks out there have already blown that word count out of the water, but that's pretty great for me - especially considering all of those words are from Monday. (yesterday's elections required me to work 13 hours). but i'm back on the couch with my tissues and my laptop today, so hopefully i can bang out another few thousand words and stay ahead of the game.

observations from week one:

- for me, writing fast = writing sloppy.
(lots of little typos and missing or misspelled words)

- i must break the "don't look back" rule.
i just can't confidently move forward on a book unless i look back at yesterday's chapters and at least do a cursory edit.

- my outline is a jail cell.
it's a lot easier to write fast and furious if i'm not bound by my outline. when i hit a scene i don't feel inspired to write or don't know how to transition into, i slow down. i may be in danger of veering off the outline just to keep pushing forward.

it remains to be seen whether NaNo will work for BILLY D. the way it worked for BUTTER, and i may end up having to rewrite the whole thing from scratch. (yikes! i hope not!) but i just don't know if NaNo is right for every book... just as it's not right for every writer.
Phoebe North wrote this great post on her blog: "NaNo No More." (link! click it!) she makes some good points about NaNo and why it might not help you accomplish what you really want to accomplish. (and she writes from experience, having done NaNo several times, both "winning" and "losing.")

if you're still committed to making NaNo work for you, check out the NaNo word sprints on twitter. (link! click it and follow!)

don't forget to share your word count in the comments, and tell me your own week one observations!

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

no really, your vote counts

i don't care who or what you vote for. i only care that you vote.

i also respect your right to NOT vote. however, if you choose to exercise this right, i hope you will also exercise the right to quit your bitching.

happy election day!

Friday, October 29, 2010

happy halloween

i hope you are all reading something spooky this weekend.

however, if you are like me, you generally don't read horror, because your imagination is much more terrifying than anything hollywood can put on a screen, and you wish to sleep at night instead of stay up listening for spooky sounds you can't explain.
this is why i am about to give you a list of horror movies and not books.

on that note, i present to you my top 5 film picks for good halloween scares:

#5 - Poltergeist
good for folks who fear clowns and believe TV is evil.
personally, it's in my top 5 because i looked a lot like that little girl growing up, so of course i liked the movie when i was a kid, even though it was terrifying.

#4 - Exorcist
good for masochists or people who are lacking that part of the brain that feels fear.
i do NOT watch this movie. ever. i avoid channel-surfing in the month of October for fear i will stumble across a clip of this movie playing. i HATE this movie. if i were in Harry's class at Hogwarts, the girl from exorcist would have been my boggart. the fact that she is my biggest fear is what ranks this movie in my top 5 recs, even thought i hate it. HATE.

#3 - Scream
great if you're squeamish about true horror but like a good, "BOO!" surprise.
more campy than blood-curdling, the Scream films are fun for folks into all levels of horror. you can either laugh or hide under the covers. the closest thing to a cult classic since...

#2 - Halloween
hello! how can this not be on your halloween dvd list? the music! jamie lee curtis!
even if you're like me, and the stalker-serial-killer-who-keeps-coming-back isn't your thing, you have to see halloween just to say you've seen it.

and my number one fave horror film of all time is.......

#1 - The Shining
an amazing movie, regardless of genre.
i love the story telling and the build-up of intensity. i love how even the good characters are totally creepy. the setting is genius and the acting, well - Jack Nicholson - 'nuff said. this is an exceptional movie that just happens to be a horror flick.

whether you're watching movies, reading, partying or trick-or-treating... i hope you all have a happy halloween!

Wednesday, October 27, 2010


...word count wednesday!

i'm going to do a little feature every wednesday during november for everyone participating in NaNoWriMo. if you're still deciding whether to do NaNo, please see the post i did here for encouragement. (link! click it!)

on wednesdays, i'll post my running word count and invite you to share yours. (don't worry. if last year is any indication, my WC is bound to be embarrassingly abysmal. we'll lament our failures together. or celebrate your success or whatever.)

so right now, our word counts are a big collective ZERO. but that doesn't mean you can't be gearing up. folks all over the world are getting a head start on NaNo by writing outlines, making notes on characters, stockpiling M&Ms and stretching out their typing fingers.

personally, i am cheating a little bit. i am going to use my 50,000 words of NaNo to finish BILLY D. this is a project already started and fully outlined, but about 50K words from completion, so it works out. (i promise not to count a single word written before November 1st in my NaNo tally.)

my prep also involves finishing up any books i'm currently reading, because i know i will not have time to read... clearing my calendar of November commitments, particularly on weekends when i do the most writing... and researching local write-ins.

so i want to know - how are you prepping for November? do you know what you're writing yet, or are you a pantser to the core who's just going to wing it?

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

one flew over the hitchhiker's guide to the lord of the fear and loathing in harry potter and the catcher in the watership down

let's talk about favorites.

my favorite color as a moody teen was black. in college, it was blood red. now it is a simple clean white. i feel no guilt over changing my fave color and reserve the right to love yellow tomorrow.

growing up, my favorite food was chinese. now it's a tie between indian and my mom's spaghetti sauce. who cares if i change my mind about fave foods, right?

so why do i feel like i have to have a favorite book?
for a long time, my go-to answer was One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest. i still adore that book because of the feelings it evoked, because of the way Ken Kesey brought every single character to life, because of the beautiful way he used a first-person narrator who wasn't actually the MC. i could go on and on.

BUT! - is it really my favorite if i haven't read it over and over the way i did the Harry Potter books?
OR! - maybe Lord of the Rings is my favorite, considering it has - in my opinion - the best world-building i've ever read and one of my favorite characters ever created (Tom Bombadil. and curse you, Peter Jackson, for leaving him out of the movie!)
AND! - how can Kurt Vonnegut be my favorite writer and yet none of his books standing alone would make my top-ten list?

i stood and stared at my shelves for a long time last night, trying to find just one book that jumped out at me, that had absolutely everything i need from a story. i couldn't do it.
my eyes went from spine to spine, and each new title gave me something different - a shiver, a smile, a knowing nod - as i remembered the pages and what i got out of reading them. i just ended up wanting to hug my whole bookcase.

and that's when i decided - i don't have a favorite, and i probably never will.
i don't think it's possible for a single book to give me the horror of The Road, the deliciousness of The Devil Wears Prada, the wordsmithing of Hocus Pocus, the humor of Hitchhiker's and the adventure of the Golden Compass all rolled into one. and i don't think i'd want it all in one book anyway.

so i am resolved to not have a favorite. but tell me what you're in the mood for, and i'll have a recommendation.

what about you? do you have a favorite? a top 5? how do you know, without a doubt, that you love one book above the rest?

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

stuff i learned on sub

the one nice thing about publishing being such a slow business is you have plenty of time to absorb all of the lessons learned along the way - to really let them sink in. but rarely - very rarely - something will happen quickly, and instead of learning your lessons slow, you will suddenly get a crash course in publishing. this was the case with my submission process.
so i thought i would share some of the knowledge i acquired at hyper speed over the last month.

1) you want/need an agent!
at least, i certainly do. (perhaps you are a contract attorney with connections all over the publishing industry. this is more a lesson for the unknown, unconnected like myself.) i knew i wanted an agent before i set off on my path to publishing. it was always going to be my first step. but it wasn't until i went on sub that i truly appreciated just how much i need her. and here's why:
- agents know what editors are looking for. heck, agents know editors - period.
i am 100% positive that i would not have found my publisher without my agent. no amount of research would have landed me this editor at this house with this deal. i needed my agent to make the connection. a lot of people say you have to "know somebody" to get a foothold in publishing. well, that's obviously hogwash. but if you're lucky enough to get pulled out of an agent's query slush, like i was - well now you DO know somebody in the biz - your agent. and she knows everybody else.
- agents understand offers.
all i knew about offers going into sub was that they included an advance amount. i squealed when i heard "hardcover" - that was a term i could understand - but beyond that, i can't count the number of times i asked my agent: "okay, and what does that mean?" and every time she was able to cut through jargon and explain things to me in a clear, concise manner.
- agents are your cheerleaders.
if you read my post a few months back about choosing an agent, you'll know i stressed to the point of making myself sick. i never dreamed i'd have another difficult choice like that ahead of me. but this time i had my agent there to remind me this was all good news and good fortune. countless times she asked me, "are you happy?" - which reminded me to BE happy.

2) a LOT of people need to like your book before it gets published.
i had been researching publishing long enough to know about editorial boards and marketing folks and how they all had input in offers, but i sort of naively pushed those thoughts to the side and told myself: an agent has to like it, and an editor has to like it - the end. HA!
after an agent and an editor, it can go something like this: *editor gets second and third opinions from others (including, most likely, their boss). *all of those readers discuss the merits and drawbacks of the book at an editorial meeting with even more people. *editor takes the book to acquisitions, which includes possibly a whole new group of people who may or may not be more into business than books. they don't just have to like your idea. they have to decide whether they can sell it - and how much they can sell it for. now take all those people and multiply by the number of editors who are interested in the manuscript, and it's suddenly sort of crazy to realize how many people have already read your book!

3) that manuscript you were so sick of editing? yeah, now that you're on sub, you suddenly want to revise again!
that was the case for me, anyway. crazies started to set in like, "is this part realistic?" "did i take too much liberty with the real-life setting here?" and if you're lucky, as i was, to talk to amazing editors and be inspired by their ideas, you'll have to fight to keep yourself from jumping back into the manuscript and making changes right away.
i soothed this urge by starting a new document on my laptop with all of my possible revisions and tweaks - mostly based on my editor's awesome insight - to discuss with her when the time comes.

4) fourth, and finally, not everything in publishing is slow.
okay, that's a lie. everything in publishing IS slow - most of the time. but occasionally you luck out and something goes at lightning pace. i am so fortunate to have had a fast submission process. it saved some of my nails from being bitten down to the quick. it also, admittedly, was a heck of a lot of fun to have something new happening almost daily, which sure beats clicking "refresh" on the email inbox for days, hoping for news.
but the speedy sub also taught me to appreciate the slow periods - when i can stop and smell the roses and all that. and believe me, there will be lots of time for rose-sniffing over the next two years, but i plan to put aside my impatience and savor every minute, because you can only make your first trip down the path to publishing once... so i intend to enjoy the ride.

Monday, October 18, 2010

i'm back!

questions: where have i been? what have i been doing?
answers: Hogwarts. drinking butter beer.

sorry for the long blog break. i was on vaca in my happy place - Walt Disney World. i also spent a day in the Wizarding World of Harry Potter, which was shockingly packed with muggles. Voldemort would have been horrified by the sight.

so from now on, if anyone asks me what i did when i got my book deal, i'll be able to say, "I went to Disney World!" (i mean, the trip was already planned, so it was just good timing, but i'm still going to say it.)

i've also been reading reading reading. i don't know if this is the case for everyone, but one of the best little surprise benefits of being on sub for me was the stack of free books! and nothing like a few long plane rides to make a dent in that stack. i'll be working my way through the pile over the next couple of weeks, so i expect a few "best lines" posts are coming.

also to come: a post about the "stuff i learned on sub" and some NaNoWriMo fun!

i hope to post every day this week to make up for the blog silence. for now i'm off to unpack and do laundry. (in Disney World, these chores would have magically disappeared. le sigh.)

Sunday, October 10, 2010


...i have a small announcement to make.

because my book is getting published!

i am so excited to share this news: i am officially a Bloomsbury girl!

here is my fancy announcement from PM:
(click to make larger and less blurry)

"Erin Lange's debut BUTTER, about a lonely 423-pound boy who decides to eat himself to death live on the Internet, and the bullies who become macabre cheerleaders for his plan, to Caroline Abbey at Bloomsbury, by Jennifer Laughran at Andrea Brown Literary Agency (NA)."

this is so completely unreal that i don't know where to begin.
i know a longer post will be in order soon, but if i tried today it would just be gibberish, and i might get tears all over my laptop.

so for now, i just want to say:
my agent rocks. my editor rocks. bloomsbury rocks.
and all of you writers and readers are pretty freaking amazing too. i'm so blown away to be part of the publishing community.

and now i finally have to suck it up and join twitter, like... today.

UPDATE: here is my agent's post about the deal. (link! click it!) it gives a summary of our "path to publication" and a hint of how crazy our submission process was!

Saturday, October 9, 2010

NaNo Love

it's almost november, which means i am starting to see some variation of this statement pop up all over the internet:
"You can't write a good book in 30 days."

to which i say: Bullshit.

..unless someone says it directly to me, in which case i say, "oh, you're totally right, i personally can't write a good book in 30 days... but i can get one hell of a running start."

in fact, i bet i could write most of a book in 30 days.
i bet i could write enough to be motivated to finish that book.
i bet i could spend the next few months revising that book.
i bet i could land an agent.
and i bet a year later i could be on sub to publishers with that book.

you see where i'm going with this? BUTTER was a NaNoWriMo manuscript. and it's a lot better than the book i spent a year writing before that.

i did not finish a book during NaNo; i did not reach the 50,000-word goal; but i did learn a lot. for starters, i learned i write better when i'm fast and focused. i also learned NaNo is a great way for me to get back in the habit after my always-busy month of october, when i rarely write a word. finally, i learned feeling accountable to a community of writers is good motivation for me. i never wanted to show up to a NaNo group-write or log on to AW without a new word count.

every NaNo veteran has their own reasons for participating - or not participating, if it doesn't work for them. but this post is especially for the writers who haven't done it but want to try. i just don't want anyone to be discouraged if they see or hear: "You can't write a good book in 30 days."

maybe you can't. but maybe you can. or maybe that's not even the point. but if you want to give it a shot, you shouldn't let anyone else's opinion discourage you.

plus, i just don't like that word: "can't."
yes you CAN!

Friday, October 8, 2010

the never ending story

question for you writers:
when do you consider your book DONE?

i started thinking today about all the times i've called my stories "done" and had to chuckle.
i said, "i finished!" when i ended the first draft of my last book.
i said, "all done!" after red-lining the manuscript (before shoving it into the "trunk").

when i got to 'THE END' of Butter? - "i'm done!"
when i revised and polished and started querying? - "it's totally ready."
when i rewrote for agents? - "finally finished."

obviously, there will be more revisions ahead if this book is ever to become - y'know.. a book. but if i'm so lucky to have edits and copy edits and final drafts and final-final drafts, i plan to say "DONE!" at the end of each one, because it feels so good! every step is an accomplishment. every round of revisions is a project completed. and at every stage, the book really is "done"... until the next round.

and the truth is, if we're all lucky enough to see our books on shelves someday, we'll probably still flip through the pages and think of ways we could revise. because as long as our writer brains are clicking and whirring, there will always be new inspiration and new ideas. but once that book is packaged and sold and sitting on a shelf - we have to take that inspiration and put it into something else... because when a book becomes a book - it really is "done."

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

we interrupt this program...

...to bring you my favorite YouTube vid in a looooong time.

- if foul language offends you, do not watch this.
- if you are a die-hard defender of apple products, do not watch this.
- if you are an android-loving techie google geek who wishes the iphone would disappear off the face of the earth... then just make sure you don't have any liquid in your mouth when you watch this, or you might spit it out your nose.

Sunday, October 3, 2010

I before E.. and MG before YA

we have a special treat today! my often-mentioned beta reader and the much-praised literary intern, Gemma Cooper, has kindly agreed to guest post.

fresh off her internship with a New York agency, Gem is currently an intern at a children's lit agency in London.
thanks for guesting, Gem!

Writers of young adult books are often the most passionate readers of young adult books. And reading your genre is a great way to hone your skills. But you should also be reading outside your genre.

Many people take this to mean 'read adult books', but I believe that you can learn a lot more about voice, concise story telling and effective world building if you read middle grade, chapter/early reader and picture books.

Think about it. The authors of these books have fewer words to get voice across. Fewer words to make you care about the characters. Fewer words to immerse you in a new world. Fewer words to make a lasting impression.

What's prompted my new love of younger reader books? Well, the new internship I'm doing is much more focused on MG/early reader/picture books than YA, so I've read a ton in the last month. And this has lead to laughing. Lots and lots of laughing - something that as a YA reader, I don't do that often.

So, I put it to you to read some MG. My recommendations are the wonderful When You Reach Me by Rebecca Stead (an excellent lesson in voice) and Where The Mountain Meets The Moon by Grace Lin (impeccable world building).

Then read some younger MG/5-8. And if you only pick one, let it be the wonderful The Great Rabbit Rescue by Katie Davies. If a book was ever a lesson in pitch-perfect voice, it is this one. And it's hysterical.

Finally, don't forget to read some early reader/picture books. TRY to read them without paying attention to the pictures. Picture book texts should be stand-alone awesome without the need for the illustrations. My favourites are all by Mo Willems - the Pigeon series (especially The Pigeon Finds a Hot Dog) and the Elephant and Piggie (especially I Love My New Toy).

Read these books and have a laugh. And while you're laughing, think about the writing and how much skill the author has to get the voice, character motivation and world building acheived in so few words. I bet you'll see it's harder than you think.

Gem's rec is the reason i read "When You Reach Me" - a wonderful book that made me want to pick up more MG on my next trip to the bookstore.
thanks again, Gem!

Thursday, September 30, 2010

letter to october

dear october,

you know you're my favorite. i've loved you best of all the months for as long as i can remember.

you make all the leaves turn colors back home.
you make apples taste better.
you chase away the awful arizona heat.
you bring me pumpkins and cider and campfires and open windows.
you give me a whole month of halloween prep, which you know is my favorite holiday to plan.

october 2010...
you are going to kick my ass.

i love remodeling. i love yard sales. i love vacations - especially to the happiest place on earth. and i love love love hosting the annual halloween party.
but, october, do you really expect me to do all of this in a single month?

i think you are getting greedy. i think you should share the fun with some other months. next year, let's let april have the yard sale and january take over the vacation. maybe july would like to try remodeling.

but let's not share anything with november, okay? november is for WRITING.
because as much as i love you, october, i also love it when you leave, and i can get back to the writing.

Monday, September 27, 2010

teen me

so, i had fully planned to participate in the rejectionist's awesome humiliation "uncontest" today, which involves digging into your childhood/teenage diaries and posting your most embarrassing entries and/or sharing some of your first ventures into writing.

but after an hour revisiting my teenage angst, i have to say - OH HELL NO! NONE OF THIS CRAP IS GOING ONLINE! my journals are mortifying. i'm tempted to burn them.

but i did learn a few things from the exercise, and some of you who kept journals and who now write for young adults might want to give it a try.

observation - teen me thought mostly about boys, friends, Boys, theater, boys, family, BOYS, how to be popular and OMG BOYS!!
lesson - if i ever write from the POV of a girl, it should probably at least somewhat involve her interest in ...boys.

observation - teen me had decent vocabulary and grammar skills.
lesson - don't write down to teen readers.

observation - despite said vocab and grammar skills, teen me liked to write in short. choppy. sentences. sometimes the thoughts changed at lightning speed from one short sentence to the next.
lesson - pace! teens think fast and feel fast. writing for them should reflect that.

if you, like me, are well past the age of the characters you write, it doesn't hurt to return to that teenage voice and tap into those teen emotions. however, i will say - thankfully - my characters are so much cooler and more interesting than i was!

finally, one bit of youthful writing i'm not afraid to share is my first "book." (AKA 'a 3rd grader's attempt at plagiarism')
in fact, i already posted it here. <-- link! click it!

happy monday.

Thursday, September 23, 2010

while on sub

while on submission to publishers, it's important to keep your mind off the process by finding other things to occupy your time.

the most common advice online is to write something else.

yeah, that's all well and good and probably what you should be doing, but for me - it's not a great distraction, because working on my WIP makes me think about writing.. which leads to thinking about other books i've written.. which leads to thinking about the book that's on sub.. which leads to obsessive email checking!

i find these distractions much healthier:

1) remodel your bathroom.
- start by planning just to paint. then, of course, notice some water damage that has to be dealt with first and proceed to hire a contractor to tear out a wall and part of your ceiling. hire another contractor to replace your skylights so the water damage does not return. after this, decide there's no point in painting without a new bathroom door to complete the look. have Handsome spend a week rebuilding the door and the entire frame. spend days and days repeatedly dusting up the debris left behind by this work. also, have Handsome photoshop the heck out of your bathroom, so you have a vision before painting. tape off the entire bathroom so it's completely unusable, then proceed to lose all interest in the project.
(because, um, how can you possibly worry about painting when your book is on sub and you have to go check your email?!)

2) take a vacation that requires 4 plane rides and two long car trips.
- be sure to get lost in the car on the way to your destination so that you have to concentrate on arguing with your family and navigating with your cell phone.
(turn right here. now turn left. uhhh... what's that? i don't know the next road. i turned off google maps to check my email. i'm on sub, you know!)

3) reprogram your tivo.
- use entertainment magazines to chart your fall TV schedule. settle on the couch, prepared to program, and notice Handsome has hooked up a PlayStation 3 to the TV. great! video games will be a perfect distraction! demand Handsome show you how to use it. then, naturally, discover the coolest thing the PS3 does is surf the web - turning your TV into the world's largest computer monitor.
(omg. do you know what website would look awesome on a 50-inch monitor? my email inbox.)

4) focus on your day job.
- pay particular attention to your email inbox at work. 600 emails a day is a lot to wade through. it's a great time suck to keep your mind off sub.
(and you'll get to it... right after you check the (1) message in your gmail inbox.)

Sunday, September 19, 2010

speak up


the literary blogosphere is alive this normally sleepy Sunday - alive with outrage over an editorial by some ass face in Missouri who is pushing for censorship of the much-loved book, Speak, by Laurie Halse Anderson... an article in which he not only slams Anderson but also - for good measure - my favorite author of all time (whose book was, in fact, removed from the school district's curriculum - sadly).

here's the bottom line on the controversy: the article implies that the rape scenes in Speak are akin to pornography. he further implies that no good Christian would condone such a book.

i wouldn't normally waste blog space even acknowledging such ignorance, but in this case, the author herself has called for help, and i'm inclined to answer that call and add my voice to the chorus of those "speaking up for Speak."

from Anderson's website:

I need your help.

Please share your experiences with SPEAK; your own response to the book, or the way you’ve seen it work in a school setting. Tahleen has already posted her thoughts on her blog. You can do the same. Please share links to your blog in Comments.

i don't have a personal story to share, but i wanted to guide you to some of the more eloquent posts i've read on the subject tonight, in case you haven't seen them:

- click here for a response from the author herself. the poem in the video moved me to tears.
click here for a response from a SURVIVOR.
click here for a response from a Christian.
click here for a response from a literary agent.
click here for a long-ass list of links to blogs by writers and opponents of censorship.
and aw, hell, click here for a link to the original article causing the uproar, because i'm a journalist down to my bones and believe you need to read both sides of the story to make up your own mind. (though i can't imagine anyone reading this guy's thoughts and feeling anything other than horror and embarrassment on his behalf.)

by the way, if you write grit and truth and things that teens NEED to read and talk about, even if it scares adults... then the best revenge on this guy is to write those books and make them sing.

because an army of teenagers toting around books like Speak screams a lot louder than the voice of a single fool.

Saturday, September 18, 2010

head Wall BANG

i went on a tear writing yesterday. i mean, really - i nearly set my laptop on fire!

want to see what i wrote? here it is:

aha! plot! there you are!

...about three thousand words of garbage before i got back to my plot thread. normally, that would make me want to bang my head against a wall and give up on the WIP - okay, actually i STILL wanted to bang my head against a wall - but i did not feel inclined to walk away from the book.

i am generally not of that clan of writers who say "it's okay to write crap." personally, if i'm writing crap, the story is probably crap too, and i get bored of my own crap and move on to something else.
but in this case, i feel deeply committed to the characters and the story. so even though i spent a whole day writing scenes that will probably not even make it to the beta stage of this MS, it doesn't feel like time wasted. in fact, i'm excited to finish and get into revisions, so i can go back and erase all that crap - or at least figure out how to condense it.

i think i've said this before, but for me, the only manuscripts that have any chance of going anywhere are the ones i know i'll be willing to go back and revise a thousand times.
garbage can be rewritten. crap can be erased. hell, plot line can be changed. as long as the story has heart and character, i know i'm still committed.

or maybe i just need to BE committed - because only a crazy person would spend an entire day of vacation writing crap and banging their head against a wall.

p.s. if this doesn't sound crazy to you at all... you are probably a writer too. ;)

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

master procrastinator

i got a question in the comments yesterday about how to get past writer's block that's not really writing or story related but more of a "personal motivation issue."

let's call it: Lazy Writer Syndrome.

the first rule of LWS is... it's not your fault!

what i'm going to say will probably be frowned upon by many disciplined writers, but i'm being serious here.
being a little lazy is a personality trait, just like being charming or kind. (this guy with a fancy medical degree disagrees with me, but whatever.) the point is, laziness is something that comes naturally to a lot of people, so i don't want anyone out there suffering from LWS to feel bad about themselves.

however, just like any less-than-desirable personality trait, it may be negatively affecting parts of your life... like say, your dream of finishing a manuscript.
so you need to find ways to combat it when necessary. and i have some tips/ideas/suggestions to do just that. but first let me tell you why i am qualified to make these suggestions:

i too suffer from LWS!!
i am a natural procrastinator. i'd even go so far as to call myself the Master Procrastinator.

it is part of the reason i obsessively make lists. if i didn't, i would simply never get anything done. i would put it all off until "tomorrow" - with the definition of tomorrow being the day after i die. but my desire to be a writer is much stronger than my desire to put things off, so i have had to come up with ways to get motivated to write.

and here they are.

1) my NUMBER ONE suggestion for combating LWS is to read - not just any book - your book.

back up a chapter or two and read up to where you left off writing. reading is free of obligation. there's no pressure to write. however, i find - 90% of the time - by the time i read up to where i stopped, i'm into the story enough that i'm now in the mood to write. i almost always end up writing at least a few hundred words on the nights i tell myself i'm just going to read.

2) as i mentioned in yesterday's post, sometimes the words are just flowing. TAKE ADVANTAGE OF THESE DAYS!

if you are having a moment when a scene just keeps writing itself in your head - but DARN IT you have other things to do! - this is when you should utilize your skill of procrastination by... putting off everything else!
the laundry and dishes can wait until tomorrow. TIVO will hold on to your favorite TV show for a few more hours. dump the entire "to do" list over to tomorrow and write those words NOW, while they are coming. if you bang out a few thousand words in one night, you'll have written as much as many more disciplined writers do in a week.

3) take a writing "staycation."

this worked wonders for me when i was doing revisions for agents who requested changes. i wanted to get them done on some sort of deadline, so putting off writing was not an option. i took a couple of days off work, cleared my schedule of any chores or obligations and forced myself to spend entire days writing. it definitely felt like "work" on these days, but the end result was a lot of satisfaction in my high word count!
(this worked for me because i am not one of those people who can write in the ten minutes i'm waiting for my takeout food order or in the 20 minutes it takes to get my car washed. i don't operate like that. much admiration for the writers who do. it's just not me. i need to be immersed.)

4) goals and rewards.

you need to muster up a little will power for this one, and i confess i'm not too good at it myself, but when i do it, it works.
real housewives of new jersey is on? set the TIVO and tell yourself you only get to watch it tonight if you write for an hour first (or finish the chapter you're on or whatever). just set a goal, and use the thing that would normally distract you from writing as your reward. this one works for me, because once i start writing, i usually get absorbed and forget all about the "reward." i generally end up spending even more time writing on these nights than i planned. for me, "goals and rewards" is really just about giving yourself a reason to get in the chair and write, when writing alone is not motivation enough.

5) finally, i go back to what i said yesterday - it might not be a case of LWS so much as a case of slumping story.

if you're really not AT ALL motivated to write, take a look at your manuscript and ask yourself if people would be motivated to read. you might be surprised to discover the problem was in the manuscript all along.

anyone else have ideas to share about getting motivated and making time to write? this master procrastinator can always use more help!

Monday, September 13, 2010

move along

note to self:
if the writing's not moving, neither is the story.

my first completed manuscript took more than a year to write, largely because i would hit a patch of disinterest and walk away from it for a loooong time (one break lasted 3 months).

my next completed ms took less than three months, because i never got bored writing it. the story kept propelling itself forward, to the point where it was moving so fast i had to write every day, or i wouldn't be able to keep up.

guess which book is better?

i didn't really make the connection at first, but i think the parts where i walked away for awhile as a writer are the same parts where a reader would walk away forever. if you, as the writer, aren't interested enough in what happens next, you can bet most of your readers will lose interest too.
i mentioned in an earlier blog post that i deviated from the outline in my current WIP, because i needed some action for the characters. before this deviation, i found myself writing a couple hundred words then walking away for a day or two... because i was bored. but once i changed the direction, i sat down and BAM! - 1500 words in an hour.

it made me realize my writing pace matches the story pace.
i know a scene is working if i spend an hour or two writing in the morning and still can't turn off the words. i'll dictate the next paragraphs into a voice recorder on the way to work. if the words are still coming, then i'll email myself a couple more paragraphs from work during lunch. then i'll transcribe all of it into the manuscript that night and probably write another thousand words or so.

that doesn't mean it's always good writing or that the whole chapter won't get deleted later, but it does let me know the story is moving.

this might not be true for everyone, but if you hit a point in your book that has you wishing you were doing the dishes instead of writing, it's worth asking yourself what's happening in the story - the answer may be "nothing."

Tuesday, September 7, 2010


it’s official. i am now ON SUB!
(or, for the non-writerly followers: “on submission” to publishers – the people who edit the books and give them pretty covers and get them into bookstores and who give authors moneystuff!)


naturally, i am totally taking this in stride. no biggie. ;)

now, don’t forget to enter the contest to win a Query Critique from FinePrint/Nancy Coffey literary intern extraordinaire, Gemma Cooper! (Link! Click it!)
the contest ends in 24 hours.

Monday, September 6, 2010

behind the curtain! and my first real CONTEST!

so many of us in the literary blogosphere are writers. but there are many out there who aspire to take on a different role in publishing.
if you’ve ever dreamed about being an agent (the power! the pleasure of reading and getting paid for it!) or if you’ve ever just wondered what the heck is happening on the other end of that query… then oh boy, do i have a treat for you today!

one thing i’ve gathered about getting a job in the publishing industry is that it often – i’d venture to say MOST often – begins with an internship. but believe it or not – it’s NOT EASY to get a job with long hours and no pay!

fortunately, if any of you ever apply for an internship, you’ll be armed with information – thanks to Gemma Cooper! Gem is fresh off an internship with FinePrint and Nancy Coffey literary agencies, and she graciously agreed to answer some pressing questions about what it takes to land – and then ROCK – a literary internship!

and Gem is offering more than her insight today. she’s providing the prize for my first-ever BLOG CONTEST! (but more on that later.)

so let’s put Gem in the hot seat and jump right in!

EJ - What was the application process like for your internship? How stiff was the competition?

GEM - From talking to a friend of mine who is a literary assistant, I found a great resource for internships - www.bookjobs.com. I’d been to the Backspace Writers Conference in November last year, and some of the people that impressed me the most worked at FP/NC (Joanna, Janet, Steph, Colleen). So, imagine my excitement when I saw they had a summer internship! For the initial contact, I had to write a cover letter talking a bit about myself and why I wanted to be an intern at a literary agency. Also, I sent my resume. This was a joint internship program to work at FinePrint Literary Agency and Nancy Coffey Media and Literary Representation and they had around 100 applicants. From these applicants, they interviewed 40. For the interview, we had to bring a short reader report on something we had read recently and be prepared to talk books (which is of course one of my favorite things to talk about!) I picked ‘Before I Fall’ from Lauren Oliver for my report, which was a great choice as agent Suzie Townsend had just read it. Reader reports are a HUGE part of an intern’s job, so they were checking that we could write a short synopsis and convey the strengths and weakness of a story concisely. I was lucky enough to be one of 6 that got the internship for the summer. (I love my fellow interns *waves*)

EJ - Walk us through the typical week of an intern for FP/NC.

GEM - A typical week means reading. Lots and lots of reading. We are the second eyes on client manuscripts, submissions, and queries. We also write reader reports for all the manuscripts we read. I used to be horrible at writing short synopses (when I think back years ago to my own poor attempts at queries... oh dear) but the more you practice the better you get.

EJ - What did you learn about the publishing biz that you never would have known without your internship?

GEM - I would never have known just how much everyone works! Having been on the writing side of publishing first, I always thought I was the only person slaving away until the early hours of the morning. But no, agents work long hours and even as an intern I would be reading very late - but that's okay, because I love books and I loved this internship. Which brings me to something else I learnt from spending time with agents - publishing is not just their job, it’s a big part of their lives. Agents are all genuine book lovers (who will even go to midnight book parties for books they don’t rep). And this is important because, if an agent signs you, you want them to have a breadth of knowledge of what’s going on in the industry.

EJ - Interns work for free, and from what I’ve heard – for the first few years at least, so do agents! What else should people consider before jumping into a career in publishing?

GEM - Well, you mentioned the main one – books need to be something you love, because initially you do have to get by on love of the job alone! I would also suggest that people research the different sides of publishing to see where their skills would be most suited – agenting, editing, film/foreign rights, marketing, sales – there are so many facets to publishing that you could rush into the wrong area just because you love books and not consider which area is the right fit. Also, you do need to realize that unlike some jobs, publishing is not 9-5.

EJ - I’ll bet one perk of interning is getting a sneak peek at some highly anticipated books – and some great stories we haven’t even heard of yet. Go ahead – make us jealous.

GEM - I have been very lucky to be interning just before the release of Personal Demons (Sept 14th) and The Duff (Sept 7th). It’s a very fun time at both agencies! I remember coming into the office one morning and seeing Suzie’s excitement when the first ARC’s of Personal Demons arrived. And last week I got to hold a hardback of The Duff – seriously the most beautiful thing you will put on your bookshelf this year. It’s so great to hold the finished books and see the culmination of all that hard work from so many people.

Talking about The Duff, I was super excited to meet Kody Keplinger during my internship. The first day she came in I only managed a ‘hi’ – instead of what I wanted to say which was, ‘I’ve been stalking your blog since I saw you on AW and I can’t wait to read The Duff, but I haven’t found a convenient time to ask Joanna to read the ARC yet, so I just keep staring at it every time I’m in the office.’ Fortunately for me, Kody came in a few more times after this and I reined in the crazy. She talked about her path from query to agent to book deal and was happy to answer any questions - so helpful to hear all about the different stages. And I was lucky enough to read The Duff in July and gush over her/it when she visited for the last time.

My other big highlight was reading some fabulous unpublished manuscripts – I have three that easily landed in my top 20 YA books of all time, and one that would make top 5! I love picturing the day when manuscripts I’ve read and worked on this summer eventually turn up as ‘real books’ in the office. I mean, how lucky am I that I can read these years ahead of their pub date?

EJ - What was the hardest part of the internship?

GEM - I found that when I was reading 3 or 4 MS’s a week, my reading for fun had to take a backseat. Sometimes I was desperate to read but my eyes would just not allow me to focus. I did however find a way round this by buying some audio books to read on the packed subways and while cleaning the apartment. I’ve never tried audio books before, but I really enjoyed them.

EJ - You’ve witnessed agents in action, rejecting fulls or making offers. From what you’ve seen, what makes them say “I want it” – writing? Concept? Hook? Marketability?

GEM - It’s a mixture of all of these, plus an amazing voice. A fantastic hook with a flat one-dimensional character isn’t going to work, and neither is a vivid main character in a boring story. However, I wouldn’t get hung up on all these things to start off with - just write the best book you can. Write a book for you, rather than worrying about the afterwards.

thank you TONS for your insight, Gem!
i hear the scratching of pens on paper and fingers on keyboards, as people add Personal Demons and The Duff to their “to be read” piles. i know they’re both on mine.

whether you’re looking to break into the business or just looking to learn more about the agenting side of the biz, i hope this interview was helpful. there was definitely a lot i didn’t know myself.

NOW – here’s a chance to get even more of Gem’s expert insight!
interns are a second set of eyes for agents on everything from queries to manuscripts. so how would you like the chance to have an experienced intern give you feedback on YOUR query? Gem has generously offered to give a query critique to one lucky winner! (and let me tell you – Gem is my beta, so i can say from experience – you want her input. It’s invaluable!)

To enter, just leave a comment on this post.
for bonus entries, let me know in the comments if you:
- follow this blog (+1)
- tweet or blog a link back to this post (+1)

the contest closes at 8pm Central Time Wednesday. the winner will be determined by a random drawing and will be announced this Thursday, September 9th.

thanks again to Gem for taking the time to give us a peek behind the curtain at the magic that is interning/agenting. if you have any additional questions for Gem, go ahead and ask in the comments. she'll be back by to answer any pressing Qs i didn't think of.
Good Luck in the contest!