Friday, December 30, 2011

resolutions in review

i don't really do resolutions, but i did start this year with some loose goals in mind, and i blogged about those goals in this post.
and because i'm masochistic, i thought i'd review those goals and share how i failed or succeeded.


*i will read more adult books this year.
-- okay, i didn't exactly rock this goal, but i DID just finish the adult book, World War Z, so i'm giving myself a pass on this one.

*i will read outside my favorite genres.
-- score! i read a lot more contemporary YA this year and took a dive into the world of zombies (currently reading my 3rd zombie tale of 2011 right now) and also picked up a few contemp books with magical realism or paranormal twists.

*i will read more ...period.
-- it was not looking good for this resolution for the first 3/4 of the year, but thanks to some NaNo-Fail, i cleared out an entire month to go on a reading spree, and i definitely made a dent in the TBR pile.


*i will try writing something outside of my comfort zone.
-- well... i tried. i guess i'm still trying, but i haven't gotten very far. the NaNo project is definitely outside of my comfort zone, and it's not totally abandoned... yet. we'll see what comes in the new year.

*i will write something without curse words...
-- again, i point to the manuscript in limbo. it's F-bomb free. also, i spent a decent amount of time editing curse words out of BUTTER while working with my editor.

*i will edit edit edit! ...without sacrificing writing.
-- hmm. 50% success on this one. i certainly finished all of my edits, but i did not spend as much time writing something new as i had hoped. however, it did take months and months to basically REWRITE all of Billy D, so i suppose that counts.

i thought of writing a new blog with new resolutions, but looking at this list, i see the goals would be exactly the same. read more. write more. try to break out of my own box.

what about you? did your resolutions stick?

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

books to read before you die

one of the reasons i still love paper books over e-readers is this:

bookmarks! i got this pile of beauties for christmas, and i particularly love the one in the middle.
it's engraved with a list of 50 books to read before you die.

here they are, with the ones i've read in bold:

The Lord of the Rings trilogy - J.R.R. Tolkien
1984 - George Orwell
Pride and Prejudice - Jane Austen
The Grapes of Wrath - John Steinbeck
To Kill a Mockingbird - Harper Lee
Jane Eyre - Charlotte Bronte
Wuthering Heights - Emily Bronte
A Passage to India - E.M. Forster
The Lord of the Flies - William Golding
Hamlet - William Shakespeare
A Bend in the River - V.S. Naipaul
The Great Gatsby - F. Scott Fitzgerald
The Catcher in the Rye - J.D. Salinger
The Bell Jar - Sylvia Plath
Brave New World - Aldous Huxley
The Diary of Anne Frank - Anne Frank
Don Quixote - Miquel de Cervantes
The Bible - various authors
The Canterbury Tales - Geoffrey Chaucer
Ulysses - James Joyce
The Quiet American - Graham Greene
Birdsong - Sebastian Faulks
Money - Martin Amis
Harry Potter series - J.K. Rowling
Moby Dick - Herman Melville
The Wind in the Willows - Kenneth Grahame
His Dark Materials trilogy - Philip Pullman
Anna Karenina - Leo Tolstoy
Alice's Adventures in Wonderland - Lewis Carroll
Rebecca - Daphne du Maurier
The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time - Mark Haddon
One the Road - Jack Kerouac
Heart of Darkness - Joseph Conrad
The Way We Live Now - Anthony Trollope
The Outsider - Albert Camus
The Colour Purple - Alice Walker
Life of Pi - Yann Martel
Frankenstein - Mary Shelley
The War of the Worlds - H.G. Wells
Men Without Women - Ernest Hemingway
Gulliver's Travels - Jonathan Swift
A Christmas Carol - Charles Dickens
Huckleberry Finn - Mark Twain
Robinson Crusoe - Daniel Defoe
One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest - Ken Kesey
Catch 22 - Joseph Heller
The Count of Monte Cristo - Alexandre Dumas
Memoirs of a Geisha - Arthur Golden
The Divine Comedy - Alighieri Dante
The Picture of Dorian Gray - Oscar Wilde

only 17 out of 50 for me. a pretty sorry showing.
some of the books, like To Kill a Mockingbird, have been on my bookshelf for years and just never make it into the to-be-read pile.
others, like The Lord of the Flies, i gave up on reading after seeing the movie. (shame on me.)
several, like The Bell Jar, i read for class in high school or college and can't remember very well.
i'm ashamed to admit there are a few i've never even heard of, like A Bend in the River.
but more than a handful of these are among my all-time favorites, like One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest.

personally, I would add a few titles to this list:
The Outsiders - S.E. Hinton
The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy - Douglas Adams

how many have you read? and which titles do you think are missing?

Saturday, December 24, 2011

happy holidays

Just a quick note today to say happy holidays!

After being stranded (twice!) by the storm that devoured New Mexico, my parents (who insist on driving 2,000 miles b/c they don't trust the airlines during the holidays) have made it through that snowy beast into the sunshine of Arizona... which means I am getting all I want for Christmas.

I hope your holidays are just as bright. :D

Thursday, December 22, 2011

better sorry than safe?

it is 7am on my first day off for the holiday, and i have already been up for an hour.
i am sitting in my quiet kitchen with a cup of coffee when i should be loading my snowboard into the back of someone's truck and hitting the road for a day on the slopes.

why am i in my kitchen instead of off on an adventure?
because i tend to live by the motto "better safe than sorry."

it's snowing in flagstaff today, which could mean great conditions on the slopes but not so great on the road. so even though the weather isn't supposed to get bad until tonight, i decided to stay home and "not risk it."

but i'm sitting here thinking that decision is a risk as well - a risk that i will miss out on a fun day with friends, that the winter weather advisory will fizzle and i'll wish i had gone, that there won't be another opportunity this season to snowboard during the week when lift lines are short.

every time i'm "better safe than sorry" -- a little part of me ends up sorry anyway. sorry that i didn't take a chance.

that may be part of why i write - to create characters who take the risks i don't, to live vicariously through them, to explore "danger" from the safety of my own living room.

but on quiet mornings like this, when i'm a little disappointed in myself for being too careful, i'm painfully reminded that writing about the smell of pine trees and the breathtaking view and the wind on your face as you soar down the slopes... can't hold a candle to actually experiencing those things.

photo courtesy of

so writers, while i hope you create characters who feel truly alive... i also hope you get outside and live a little yourself. sometimes risks are worth it. and maybe sometimes it's actually better to be a little sorry than safe.

Friday, December 16, 2011

deja vu deja vu

today, i am participating in the deja vu blogfest! (however, unlike many of the other participants, i can't figure out how to make the fun marks over the e and the a in deja.) Lydia Kang has a list of all of the blogs in the fest, and you can play along too! just re-post one blog entry that you would like to see the light of day one more time.

my contenders were:
the evolution of my query letter from suck! to success!
a vlog about my favorite book covers
or thoughts on my favorite literary couple -- Fred and George

but in the end, here is the entry i chose to repeat:

write what you want to write. (original post 12/10/10)

"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 on
the biggest mistakes writers make when querying agents. one of the agents JM quoted on his blog, Cameron McClure, said something that really resonated with me:
"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.

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

copy edits, a lesson in humility

every author fantasizes about some moment along the path to publishing. maybe you daydream about a 6-figure deal or a starred review or a cover that makes people swoon.

me? i used to dream about the day my copy edits would arrive. the manuscript would have a big STET stamped right on the front with a note from the copy editor saying it was the cleanest ms she'd ever read.

haha. haaaHAHAHAHAHA!!!!
joke's on me.
there is a reason we have copy editors, folks.

i think i can still hold my head up high and say i have pretty darn good grammar, but it's certainly not perfect. and no matter how many times you read your story - no matter how many other people read it - there are errors that slip by.

i am halfway through my copy edits, and so far, my character has:
- demanded to speak to the manger at a restaurant.. (and mary and joseph too!)
- eaten two entire deserts.. (can i get some chocolate sauce on that cactus?)
- let out a peel of laughter and peaked over something.

the good news is, my copy editor is almost as fond of em-dashes as i am and even more fond of commas. it's been educational and humbling to read through her marks. and above all, it makes me so grateful for absolutely everyone who has a hand in making BUTTER the best book it can be.

it really does take a village.

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

oh yes, she did!

today, i give my blog over to my crit partner and friend, Gemma Cooper, for two huge announcements that will knock your socks off! take it away, Gem!

I've announced two big/massive/gigantic bits of news this month.

Gigantic news 1:
I am now a literary agent at The Bright Literary Agency, representing children’s books - picture books, chapter books, MG and YA. Further info here and here.

Gigantic news 2:
I have accepted an offer of representation from the amazing Joanna Volpe of Nancy Coffey Literary for my scary MG book, 'The Sinister Mr. Smythe.'

I did consider making these announcements a few weeks apart or not making one at all about my wonderful agent. I thought it might be better to keep my writing life separate from my work life....but then I realised the two have never been separate.

These strands of my publishing career are intertwined. As I’ve learnt and developed skills in one, I’ve polished and honed skills in the other. So this isn't a typical 'how I got my agent story'. It's a ‘how I got into publishing story’ or more correctly, ‘how I achieved my dreams.’ (Warning, as Erin will tell you, I don’t do short stories, so settle down with a cuppa for this one!)

The story begins in a rather lovely drinking establishment in a magical land far far away (read this as an Irish pub in New York City, my home at the time). I was drinking with my bestest friend and we were having one of those conversations you only have after the second bottle of wine. Those conversations where you share your secret hopes and dreams.

“I've always wanted to write a book,” I said.
“Why don't you?” awesome BFF said.
And in the harsh light of day, after a coffee and my hangover cure of chips and ice cream, I thought, “Why don’t I?”
So I did.

Time passed, as it does. I wrote, researched, critiqued and booked a place at a writer’s conference. The name of one particular agent at the conference stood out, that of Joanna Volpe. This was because I’d followed the exciting, ‘how I got my agent and book deal story’ from her client, the talented Kody Keplinger.
“Brilliant,” I thought. “Kody is the perfect conversation starter.” Talking to Joanna became my main goal of the conference.
So I did.

I told her how excited I was to read THE DUFF (by the aforementioned amazing Kody) and then pitched my first novel - a YA UF. Joanna said, “Sure, send me a query,” and then we said goodbye, and walked away probably both thinking we’d never meet again.

(and this would be a rubbish story if that'd happened!)

I sent Joanna my first ever query letter. She did request a partial, but ultimately passed. But it was okay as that same week, I got a revise and resubmit from a renowned UK agent.

The conference was amazing as I met my first critique partner and now friend for life. And l learnt more about publishing, including more about the role of a literary agent. I'd worked in sales for eight years by this point, and I loved books. So how did I not know that there were people who got to sell books? And why was I not doing this job?!

Cue epiphany.

I had to become an agent! So I researched how I could make that happen. I stalked writers online and offered to beta books to hone my editorial skills - which lead to me finding the incredibly talented Erin (and we would need a blog post double this size for all the gushing I could do about her editing skills and amazing friendship over the years).

My research showed I could get into publishing by doing an internship.

Cue heaps of coincidence with a dash of fate.

The first and only internship I found and applied to was a joint one with FinePrint Literary and Nancy Coffey Literary. The application said to write a cover letter to Joanna Volpe.
So I did.

And after talking Suzie and Joanna's ears off about books during my interview, I got the internship. My first day, I heard back from the UK agent who was considering my R+R.

It was a no.

I threw myself into my work, reading sometimes until the sun came up. If I couldn't be a writer, then damn it, I'd learn to be the best agent there ever was!

The internship was awesome, but eventually I had to move back to the UK. Fortunately, fate played its hand again. I'd happened to mention to the wonderful UK agent who'd rejected my R+R that I was interning, and she suggested I contact her when I moved back.
So I did.

And two weeks later I was back in publishing again, learning from some of the best agents in the country. The long commute to work also gave me time to start writing a new book based on an idea I’d had after finding a black and white photo my dad. The book was very different from anything I'd written before. And it felt like THE book.

Time passed, as it does. I moved again and started doing some freelance editorial work. I finally finished THE book and mentioned it to Joanna. She read it and liked it, and along with Sara (assistant extraordinaire), gave me some amazing editorial notes.

Cue light bulb moment.

It took a while, but I finished the revision and sent it back to Joanna. That week I attended a SCBWI event and ended up catching the train home with the lovely Assistant Regional Co-ordinator. I talked his ear off about books the whole journey and he recommended me for a job at The Bright Literary Agency.

I interviewed at Bright. They offered me the job. My first week, Joanna offered me representation.

So this is me. Literary Agent. Writer. Lover of wine and chocolate.

I’ve lucked out joining the experienced team at Bright and will be working closely with Vicki the MD and the other agents in the office. Our key focus is to develop new talent and as a new agent, I have more time to spend with my clients and can offer my editorial experience to make your manuscript polished and ready for submission.

We are currently renovating the literary website, but please check out the link to Bright Group International. I only accept email submissions, so please send the first 3 chapters plus a synopsis or the full text if your submission is a picture book to

To pre-empt one question, ‘why does an agent need an agent’?
An agent is your advocate. They fight for you. They stay rational when helping you make the tough choices. They give you honest feedback. They empathise, sympathise and encourage. I know I can do this for my authors, but it would be impossible to do for myself. Luckily I've signed with a person who I've seen do all these things.
Yes I did!

I'll answer any and all questions in the comments.

Friday, November 25, 2011

black friday books

hello shoppers!

i hope you have a grand time today working off that turkey dinner with your mall walking. just one thing before you head out. when you are making your list and checking it twice, can you consider adding a few items? i know flat screen TV deals are top priority and that the food processor is more than 50% off (or so my black-friday obsessed BF tells me. hi Bec!) - but there are some always-low-cost, always-available products that are too often left off shopping lists.

i'm talking about books, naturally.
and i want to recommend a few.

For the teenage girl who loved Twilight: Matched, by Ally Condie or Divergent, by Veronica Roth

For teenage boys: The Maze Runner, by James Dashner or Ship Breaker, by Paolo Bacigalupi

For the middle-grader reader, who is reading up for his/her age: When You Reach Me, by Rebecca Stead

For the reluctant teen reader: The Line, by Teri Hall

For people who "don't have time to read" (fast reads): The Road, by Cormac McCarthy or The Children of Men, by PD James

For fans of Dan Brown: The Rule of Four, by Caldwell & Thomason or The Dante Club by Matthew Pearl

For children of the 1980s: Ready Player One, by Ernest Cline

For women who like historicals: Memoirs of a Geisha, by Arthur Golden

disclaimer: all links are to Am*zon for easy one-clickability. but i highly suggest buying books directly from your local independent bookseller or online from IndieBound.

full disclosure: i have read all of the above books, with the exception of Ready Player One. some are among my favorites, and some were not my cup of tea, but i see how they would appeal to others.

happy shopping!!

Saturday, November 19, 2011

scrivener so far

one of the things that helped derail my NaNo plans this year is the purchase of the writing software Scrivener.
not that Scrivener ate my NaNo project or anything, but it was just so distracting to have a new toy to play with!

i spent 3 days diligently going through the tutorial (which Scrivener claimed would only take an hour. on what planet is that only an hour-long tutorial? ha!), and then i spent another few days plugging in a manuscript to take the software for a real test run.

and i thought i'd share my thoughts on Scrivener so far.

major pros:
- ability to compile everything you need into a single source - outline, actual text, character notes, research (including photos and web links!), etc... all available at the click of a mouse without scrolling or toggling through different Word documents.
- easy export. it takes less than 5 seconds to convert your Scrivener binder and all its contents into a properly-formatted Word or PDF or any other kind of document for easy reading and sharing with others.
- user interface. most of the basic-functions are self-explanatory, and there are at least 2 or 3 ways to do everything you want to do (select from a menu, click an icon, keyboard shortcuts, etc...) so you can make the program work the way YOU like to work.
- easy recovery of deleted material. (you can move an entire scene to a trash bin or take a "snap shot" of it before you start tinkering. both things can be brought back in an instant.)

minor quibbles:
- importing is not as simple as exporting. if you have a partial manuscript in Word or any other format, you can pull it into Scriv easily enough, but then you have to manually break it all up to create your binder. this is a simple but time-consuming process.
- saving is not so simple. the first time i reopened Scriv after a save, all of the work i'd done appeared to be ERASED except for the last chapter i'd been working on. this is because if you simply open the Scrivener program to start working, it will take you to a sub-document which shows only your work since the last save. you have to actually locate the primary program file in your folders in order to open the complete project. (full disclosure: this could absolutely be the fault of my own computer-challenged brain, but i thought it was worth mentioning after i found a few dozen online forum threads with questions from panicked authors about how Scrivener ate their work!)

who would benefit from Scrivener:
i can see how this program would work for both plotters and pantsers, but i'm still figuring out if it's the best software for a plantser like me. (click here for my definition of plantser.)

- the use for plotters is clear. Scrivener can get you organized like nothing i've ever seen. you can divide and subdivide that manuscript into as many pieces as your little plotting heart desires. you can color code your chapters by characters, setting or anything else you can think of.

- it doesn't look like a system for pantsers, but i see potential. people who like to write by the seat of their pants can jump in and start typing away. then, at the end of a scene, they can use Scrivener to attach notes (virtual index cards) to the scene to remind them what's in it. in a way, this is Scrivener outlining and organizing for you as you go along.

- but will Scrivener work for a plantser? hmm. only time will tell.
at first, i relished creating my Scrivener "binder" - a feature that allows you to break your novel down into chapters and scenes much the same way Windows folders work. it's all very tidy and will keep me from scrolling through hundreds of pages to "find that one scene where character X says that one thing" (my current, inefficient method of locating scenes in Word.)
once i started actually writing, i discovered a problem.
after every scene - or sometimes in the middle of a scene - i would stop writing to make notes on my Scrivener index cards.

writingwritingwriting.. oh! character Y is in this scene?!.. stop writing. open index card. make note about character. make sure it's color-coded. study outline to make sure it works with all the other scenes this character is in. spot continuity issue. rework outline to fix.
time spent writing: 10 minutes.
time spent updating Scrivener to make sure the outline stays organized: 25 minutes.

this is not Scrivener's fault but my own. i just need to figure out how to make it work for me so that i don't spend more time plotting/organizing than actually writing!

any Scrivener aficionados out there want to share a few tips with a newbie like me?

Sunday, November 6, 2011

best. lines. ever.

i finished reading A Monster Calls, by Patrick Ness (inspired by Siobhan Dowd) on a rare stormy night in Arizona.
it was appropriate timing, as this very special novel itself is stormy.

it's hard to share some of the best lines from AMC without spoiling anything. my very favorite lines make little sense without giving you the full passage for context, which would also give away some of the secrets. so i am sharing only my favorite lines from the first 40 pages, to make sure i don't spoil.

The monster showed up just after midnight. As they do.
You really aren't afraid, are you?
"No," Conor said. "Not of you, anyway."
The monster narrowed its eyes.
You will be, it said. Before the end.
On the first day of the new school year, Harry had tripped Conor coming into the school grounds, sending him tumbling to the pavement.
And so it had begun.
And so it had continued.
I am the snake of the world devouring its tail! I am everything untamed and untameable! It brought Conor up close to its eye. I am this wild earth, come for you, Conor O'Malley.
"You look like a tree," Conor said.
Stories are the wildest things of all, the monster rumbled. Stories chase and bite and hunt.

i highly advise buying this book to read all of the amazing lines that come AFTER page 40 as well. it's killing me not to share some of them with you here.

Friday, October 28, 2011

a very scary research trip!

last night i went on my first official "research outing" for writing.

i confess, my research often involves me sitting at my laptop doing video, photo and map searches... and scouring "How Things Work" websites. as a writer, the internet has saved me a lot of time and money when it comes to researching my stories.

but i recently realized i needed some information for the Work In Progress (aka next month's NaNo project) that no amount of googling could help me find. i needed to see/experience it for myself. so i was THRILLED when The Nest Haunted House here in Arizona agreed to give me a behind-the-scenes tour!

i am only one short chapter into GRIM (the WIP about a group of teenage boys working at a haunted house), and i have already run into questions about logistics (how do they communicate inside the haunt?), costumes (what are the fake vampire teeth made out of?) and layout (how does mad scientist get into his lab, and where does he go if he has to take a pee, for crying out loud?!)

all of these questions are just background for the actual story, but they have to be accurate for authenticity.




i also had a ton of questions that ARE pertinent to the story, but this is a spoiler-free zone. thanks so much to Brooke Rodda of Angles PR for answering many of those questions and for spending the evening with me.

and thanks especially to Josh Burdi and Skyler Wright, the teenage actors who gave me incredible insight into what it's like to be a teen working in such a wild business. (The Arizona Republic has a great shot of Skyler getting into his makeup here. - link! click it!)

if this book gets published, by the time it comes out, those guys will no longer be teenagers, but i hope they'll still be hanging around haunts like The Nest, giving guests a good scare. in any case, they sure gave me a lot of inspiration. i can't wait to start writing the rest of GRIM, thanks to them.

Monday, October 24, 2011

organized chaos

NaNoWriMo starts in one week, and i have to admit - i didn't sign up until today.

there's been a lot of revising this year - rewriting Billy D and going through the editorial process with Butter. i haven't written anything new in so long, i wasn't sure i was ready to dive head first into another rough draft. so i was considering skipping NaNo, to give myself a break.
but then i thought - a break from WHAT? - a break from my favorite part of writing? from the pure freedom of rough-draft creativity? i don't need a break. writing a new manuscript IS my break - from editing!

so i'm going for it again this year, but now i only have a week to prepare. and preparation is key.

here is how i get organized for the mad-dash chaos that is National Novel Writing Month:

step 1 - story idea.
dude, ya gotta have an idea. otherwise that blank page can kick your butt on day one. for me, that idea has to be fully formed, which means:
step 2 - outline.
it's not cheating! you can outline your whole book - just don't count those words in your November tally. in fact, i go beyond outlining and fully recommend:
step 3 - write a first chapter.
again, i don't count it when i'm adding up the November sprint. chances are, your novel will be longer than 50,000 words - so it doesn't hurt to have a few thousand written ahead of time and a few thousand still to write afterward.
step 4 - make adjustments.
you have an outline and a first chapter. if you're not feeling it, you may want to switch gears. the point of the outline and the first chapter, for me, are to get me revved up for NaNo - to make myself WANT to write the next page so bad i practically can't wait for the madness to start. if you're not feeling that urge, you may want to look at your chapter and your outline and see if this is really something you want to spend 30 days of your life with. if not - go back to step 1 and start again. (if i were clever with PhotoShop, i would build you a little flow chart here, but i am so not talented in that way.)
step 5 - clear your schedule.
clean your house; get your doctor's appointments out of the way; finish up whatever other projects you are working on. these things, if left undone, will become distractions, at best, or give you a guilty conscience, at worst. i know i personally struggle with NaNo if i have a long "to do" list hanging over my head in November.
step 6 - do. not. write.
if at all possible, give yourself a few days or a few weeks to rest your brain and recharge the creative batteries. spend quality time with important people (in case you accidentally ignore them while immersed in NaNo), and do something FUN (there will be very little time for fun in November).
step 7 - strap on a good attitude.
despite what i said about the fun, that's actually what NaNo is all about. it's permission to have FUN writing. have fun staying indoors, unwashed and anti-social. have fun sitting on your butt for hours on end. have fun meeting new friends at local write-in events. however you "NaNo" - make sure you have fun while you're doing it.

personally, i plan to have fun writing something out of my comfort zone. it may end up getting tossed, if it doesn't feel like "me" in the end, but i will still get a kick out of trying.

oh, and part of my fun is in the preparation this year. i have a "research outing" planned for this week that should give me some GREAT inspiration. if i get permission from my outing "hosts," i promise to blog all about it.

Monday, October 17, 2011

The Revision Diaries (5)

sometime late last night, i tweeted something that looked a little like this:

I fixed it I fixed it IFIXEDIT!!!

except it wasn't bold or in massive type, because - dang it - twitter doesn't allow us to express ourselves through font!
but big and bold is how i felt after getting past a major hurdle in my line edits.

and really, "line edits" is a bit deceptive here.
often, at the line edit stage, and editor will have a few additional suggestions for revision. one such suggestion, for me, required a lot of pacing around the house and muttering to myself. i avoided the scene for a couple days - if you can call obsessing about it, emailing about it and jotting down notes on it avoiding. what i mean is, i didn't touch the scene in my manuscript. i worked on everything else - the actual line edits, the moments that needed rewording and other minor fixes that were easier to tackle. but i was afraid to mess with this one scene for fear of screwing it up.

over the weekend, i finally ran out of other edits, and i knew i had to face my fear. today, i want to share with you how i faced it and what i learned from it.

face the fear:
- my paralysis came mostly from the fear that the manuscript is pretty well polished, and this edit would require me to tear apart some of those polished pages. to help curb that fear, i took the chapter that would be mostly changed and copied it into a new word document. this way, i could mess it up all i wanted, and the original chapter would remain untouched in my ms. - a small, obvious, solution probably... but it really helped me relax.
- in fact, i liked working in this new document so much, i made THREE of them. and i started to write 3 different scenes - each with a different approach to the "FIX." one scene fell apart so fast and furious, i deleted the whole document. it wasn't even worth archiving under "experiments." the other two scenes worked a little better, and i treated them both like rough drafts - i gave myself freedom to make mistakes ranging from typos to total character revisions.
- then i did what i would do with any rough draft. i sent the scenes to one of my crit partners. with her notes, i was able to see which scene was working. i rewrote that scene, revised it again, then took the now-polished chapter and plugged it back into the manuscript.

lesson #1 - the domino effect:
- as polished as that chapter was, i had created changes that required me to now go through the rest of my clean ms and start mucking things up again - the one thing i wanted to avoid!
but now that i knew i had "fixed it," the other changes weren't so scary. i went backward from the scene to plant some clues of the scene to come, and i went forward in the manuscript to create a few moments that would be altered by the new scene.
- the lesson for me was - no matter how much i tried to isolate the issue, to make it this one small fix in this one small corner of the story - the fact is, any important change will have a domino effect throughout your story, even if the change is small and at the almost-polished stage of your revisions. if the change doesn't ripple through the entire manuscript, it probably wasn't that important to begin with.

lesson #2 - don't be afraid to TRY:
- i agreed with my editor that we needed this "fix," but i wasn't sure if her suggestion for fixing it was the right way. i got it all stuck in my head that i could fix it another way - a way that i had already tried and that wasn't working but that i was sure would have a different result if i kept doing it. hello, definition of insanity!
- the scene i wrote first was my own solution. i wasn't happy with it, but i couldn't figure out how to fix it. so i told myself, just TRY to do what your editor suggested.
well. yeah. my editor - she's a pretty smart cookie.
i liked the second scene so much better. i knew this before i even sent the scenes to my crit partner, but i wanted an outside opinion. ...and that opinion was a clear smack down on scene one and hearts for scene 2. lesson learned: even if an idea doesn't sound like the right solution, just try it out. you may surprise yourself.

so i tweeted to the world that IFIXEDIT! and now i can start my final pass through the manuscript, making sure everything is still polished. of course, it's always possible my editor will say:

Yo. You SO did NOT fix it.

(well, no, that's not actually possible, because my editor is much more eloquent than that - but you get the idea.)
if that happens, you'll know, because i'll be back here with another round of the revision diaries.

but for now:
Line Edits. Conquered.

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

The Revision Diaries (4)

i got my line edits this week, so you know what that means...
we're in for another round of:
The Revision Diaries: Confessions of an Author on a Deadline!

first, a brief word about line edits, for those not in the know. (those of you who are in the know, feel free to nod your head all, y'know, knowingly as we go along.)

line edits come after an author has done most of the major revisions. instead of big story or character suggestions, your editor will focus in on smaller moments on the page - bits that aren't working or need rewording, beats that are missing, moments that need to be amped up, and of course, lines that need fixing.
the accompanying editorial letter is probably shorter, but the manuscript pages probably have more marks. it's the detail work.

so i have had my line edits for all of 24 hours, and of course, i have already busted out the colored Post Its, consulted with my crit partners and sent one - possibly deranged and definitely way-too-long - email to my editor.
now i am ready to begin the work.

here's all i know for sure about the work that is to come:
it doesn't necessarily get easier.

when you are revising a rough draft, you can take a sledgehammer to that thing. you can go all demolition derby on it and rebuild from scratch.
when you get to revisions with your editor, it's more like tearing down a single wall and building it back up in a different spot, with better support beams and a fresh coat of paint.
and now i'm learning, when you reach line edits, you have to trade that old sledgehammer for a scalpel.

(yes, i know my architectural metaphor just turned surgical. i would fix that, but i'm saving all of my editorial skills for the manuscript right now. thanks for your understanding.)

what i'm trying to say is this step in the editorial process is all about being careful. there may be a scene to add or rework here and there, but mostly my job is to make the fixes without mucking up the manuscript too much, since it's so close to being done. it's making me just a little bit afraid to touch the page, for fear of smudging what is already polished.

as soon as i get over that fear, i'll be back with another installment in the revision diaries!

Tuesday, October 11, 2011


"I cannot go to school today" Said little Peggy Ann McKay. "I have the measles and the mumps, A gash, a rash and purple bumps.....

i can still, to this day, recite that entire poem from memory. in fact, i startled myself driving to work yesterday by trying it out loud, sure i would have forgotten some of it, but suddenly i was at the end. it had stuck with me all these years.

Shel Silverstein's poems have a way of doing that - of sticking with you.

that's why i snatched up his new collection, Every Thing On It, even though i sometimes have reservations about books published posthumously. i am going to read it piece by piece, to make it last, but i am already impressed by the arrangement. it feels 100% Shel.

it eases you in with a reminder that, while he's gone, these words are still his.

Although I cannot see your face
As you flip these poems awhile,
Somewhere from some far-off place
I hear you laughing--and I smile.

and it ends with a note that will soften even the hardest-hearted writer. if you don't want the final poem spoiled, stop here. but if you want to read the four lines that gave this writer goose bumps, scroll down...
When I am gone what will you do?
Who will write and draw for you?
Someone smarter--someone new?
Someone better--maybe YOU!

Friday, October 7, 2011

best lines, A.S. King edition

last night i attended the west coast launch party for A.S. King's "Everybody Sees the Ants."
and since i am currently reading her Printz Honor Book "Please Ignore Vera Dietz," i thought it would be a good time for another episode of... BEST LINES.

first, though i haven't read it yet, i have to share a line from Ants. this showed up in King's reading last night and really struck me:

Mom told me once she thinks she's a reincarnated squid. Maybe she thinks being a squid means she won't be swallowed by the hole in our family.

and here are some of my favorite lines so far from Vera Dietz:

"Ew," I said. "I think we should tell my parents." I knew his wouldn't believe us or care. There was a reason Charlie was such a bright blazing sun. He came from endless cold, black space.

There are still children starving in Africa, right? There are still children starving right here in this shitty little town.

this line comes after an encounter with the mean kids:

Seeing it makes me feel delayed embarrassment. I wonder did I handle it okay? Did I look like an asshole?

normally, i don't like to comment too much on "best lines," because i don't want to detour into review territory. but i have to say something about this last quote.
if nothing else of interest were to happen in the rest of the book, i would still like it for that one quote and the entire passage in which it sits. that moment would have spoken to me as a teen more than anything i've ever read.

here are these kids who are mean to you, whose opinions you shouldn't give a damn about, but you can't help hoping you still looked - i don't know, cool maybe? - while they were torturing you. because maybe if you handled it well, they won't torture you again. or at least they won't know they got to you. and the feeling that accompanies all that is an inexplicable shame. it's a very hard - very uniquely teenage - emotion that is hard to capture. and King did it in a few spare lines.

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

the great cat invasion of 2011

feral cats have taken over my neighborhood.

and my backyard is their home base.

i've never been a big fan of cats. i'm a dog person, through and through. but i don't hate cats. i don't hate any animal with a cute little face. at least i didn't until the great cat invasion of 2011.

it started with 3.
a black and white scrappy little guy (or gal) who prowled the wall around our yard..
a nervous cat always looking over his shoulder and sprinting at the sight of any human..
and a too-well-fed fluffy gray beast that would sit on a post perfectly still for hours while the other cats bowed before him.

i didn't mind that trio so much. they left my dog alone, stayed out of the yard and generally minded their own business.

the night the first litter was born, it was raining. Handsome and i heard this tiny terrified mewing sound coming from the neighbor's backyard. we peeked over the wall and even in the rainy darkness, we could see there was a little pile of newborn kittens struggling in the cold, without a mother cat in sight. it was sad. i felt pity for the little guys, knowing they wouldn't all make it.

fast-forward a few weeks. the black and white is roaming the walls, but wait! she's much much smaller than before. in fact, she is one of the kittens. "oh yay!" i thought. "one of them survived."
no, not one. all of them.

soon, there were half a dozen kittens on our walls at a time. and this generation was much bolder than the last. they didn't run from my dog's barking, and even when they ran from me, they would retreat only for a moment, then quickly return, challenging me.

after that, the cats started multiplying. this new litter had a litter of its own. a few more strays joined the colony. and either there is strength in numbers, making them more bold... or there simply isn't enough room left on the walls for all of them, because they have started to spend their nights in our backyard. if we step outside to take out the trash, it's a good bet we'll see three of them lounging in the grass, another two circling the firepit, one on the wall as a lookout and one more - usually old black and white - prowling the perimeter of the house.

most of them still run, but a few boldly hold their ground, not scared off even by my dog's yapping. one of them even perches on the wall, pretending to take swipes at my poor stressed-out puppy. because this is their headquarters. my backyard has become the HQ for the evil cat posse, and they feel as much ownership of it as i do.
too bad they don't help pay the mortgage.

and if you thought all that was a pain, get this:
it costs $25 bucks a pop to have the little jerks trapped, neutered and returned.
or worse - you can trap them yourself, take them down to animal control and pay $96 per cat just to TURN THEM IN!

i did a count this week and figured, at $25 a head, i'm looking at at least $300 just to have them fixed and brought right back to my backyard. and that will fix the problem ONLY if we catch every. single. one.
no thanks. i'm not betting $300 with those odds.

if anyone has ANY alternatives, please share before we become overrun by the feral felines!

Tuesday, September 27, 2011


a friend of mine here in Arizona - a fellow transplant from the land of 4 seasons - posted something on facebook today that made me absolutely sick to my stomach... something about wanting to take a hay ride and drink a hot cider.

yes. yes yes yes yes yes! this is exactly what i want too.
apples and orange leaves and hay and cooler weather and all things AUTUMN.

any mention of those things this time of year opens up a gaping hole of longing inside me - a feeling that literally makes me sick... homesick.

View from the back of my parents' house this time of year.

i try to find a reason to be in the midwest every year during the fall, but this year, i'm going to miss the entire season sweating it out here in Arizona.

i love the desert, i do. and i cackle with evil glee every winter as i sit around a camp fire in the middle of January enjoying a pleasantly cool breeze and clear skies. i can't remember the last time i owned a winter coat or scraped ice off my windshield. if i want snow, i'll just drive 2 hours up to the mountains and set my snowboard down on it for a day, then come back home and trade my snow pants for shorts.
that's the trade-off, and it always seems worth it in the winter.

but two months out of the year - September and October - i forget all about that winter-weather blessing and focus on what i'm missing. Autumn.

so if anyone knows of a place that's warm in the winter, with plenty of sunshine year-round, preferably within reach of both mountains and ocean, AND has a nice colorful autumn, please let me know. i might have to go live there.

Wednesday, September 21, 2011


this is less "blog post" and more "too long for twitter."

let me preface this with:
i have been watching All My Children with my mom since i was a kid. i've been less interested in it over the last few years, but i still TIVO it and catch up with the characters every once in awhile. of course, when i heard the soap was getting canceled, i committed to seeing it through to the end.

well as far as i'm concerned, it already went out with a bang. i could pretty much stop watching it and die happy after this scene today:

Sarah Michelle Gellar (ex-Kendall, now appearing as random crazy girl in hospital)
Dr. Maria Santos

SMG: So, I see vampires. That doesn't make me crazy.
DrM: No, vampires are very, uh, popular.
SMG: I saw them before they were trendy.


Wednesday, September 14, 2011

again and again and again

it's another road trip wednesday with the YA Highway gang! i always seem to miss these, so i'm happy to be playing along this week.

today's RTW question is: What themes, settings, motifs, scenes, or other elements do you find recurring in your work?

for some reason, this question makes me feel like i should recline on a couch and say, "well doctor..." - because it seems like recurring ideas/elements in a writer's work must say something about the writer herself.
so i thought i'd put that to the test with a mini-analysis of the common threads in my own writing:

only children
my MCs are often, if not always, only children.
okay, that's easy. i am an only child. it could be a case of "write what you know," and i know about only children and their relationships with parents. yep, this recurring element certainly does reflect me.

distant fathers
all of the books i've written so far and even the one i'm plotting next have fathers who are absent, emotionally distant or just straight-up bad guys.
well hmm. my dad and i are as close as can be. he's both my friend and my father, and we have no family dysfunction. so this recurring idea has nada to do with me. it's just something i apparently like to write about. huh.

socioeconomic status
whether rich or poor (often very rich or very poor), the social and economic situation of my characters' families often plays a role in their stories.
this recurring element probably has less to do with me and more to do with my observations of others. having always fallen pretty squarely into the middle class, i haven't lived either extreme, so maybe i write about those socioeconomic extremes because they fascinate me.

the internet
i write contemporary novels about teenagers. they use the internet. they practically live there.
this one has nothing to do with me and everything to do with reality.

fun topic! what are your recurring story elements? head on over to the YA Highway to play along! (link! click it!)

Friday, September 9, 2011

so much social media

this post is a call for opinions!

i've seen a lot of chatter lately about the eventual demise of facebook and the apparent slow-down in blogging and blog commenting. i've also noticed some of that chatter includes guesses about what will be the next "big thing."

it's not really a secret that i am a reluctant participant in social media.
it all started for me a few years ago, when i got a call from my good friend Julia telling me to get on MySpace. i had heard of it, but i wasn't interested.
No, she insisted. You don't have to make a page. You can just sign up and SPY ON PEOPLE!
well hello! that sounded like fun!

and it was. MySpace was the beginning of social spying - looking up people you hadn't seen in forever. online voyeurism wasn't new, but keeping tabs on people you actually knew? - that was still a pretty fresh idea.
of course, the spying got old fast, and i ended up making a page.
that was my gateway to social media.

these days, i am far from a social media expert, but sure, i play.
and now, as an author looking to connect with readers and other writers, i'm conscious of what is the hot spot of the moment. so i'm looking for opinions.
where are you all gathering online these days?

i'm here:
personal facebook (mostly private and non-writing-related stuff)

should i also be here?:
linked in (i quit this, losing all of my links in the process. maybe that was a bad idea?)
professional facebook (separate author page - something more public?)

if you could only pick 3 social media to participate in, which 3 would you choose and why?
in your opinion - What's Next?

Monday, September 5, 2011

bunches of books

i am just back from a quick trip to Portland and staring down a very busy week ahead, so i thought i ought to squeeze in a blog post, but i'm just. so. tired.

so we're going to do this the lazy way - with pictures!

these are all from the trip, but in keeping with our writing/reading/book-loving theme here, every shot i'm sharing has a book in it. so this totally counts as a blog post, okay? okay.

surrounded by miles of books:

inside the rare book room:

our hotel had a library overlooking the lobby:

and every book in the library was signed by the author, including this one:

may all your own travels include a few books as well...

Thursday, September 1, 2011

let's get loud

you know what you should do when you just finished revisions for your editor and probably have another round coming soon? when the next item on your list is to polish up your newest manuscript so your agent can submit that baby? when you're way behind on chores and have been neglecting your boyfriend and your dog and your friends and especially neglecting that alleged "next" book idea that you've been sitting on for over a year? YOU KNOW WHAT YOU SHOULD DO THEN??

you should totally start writing something new.

...and by should, i mean absolutely definitely should NOT!
but inspiration is a pain in the ass like that. it comes up at the most inconvenient times, and for me, it usually comes in screaming.

there's an idea that's been cooking in the back of my brain for awhile, but i've been ignoring it, because it wasn't part of the plan. (the plan being to dutifully edit BUTTER, then revise and submit BILLY D, then hopefully spend my beloved NaNo month drafting GRIM and then pay attention to the voices in my head.)

i like things to be linear, see. i like to be on a schedule.

but the left and right side of my brains are always warring on this point, and sometimes the creative voice wins out over the logical one.

so despite my best efforts to ignore the voices... i somehow ended up with 20 minutes worth of voice recordings, 3 lined sheets of paper packed with notes, a scene-by-scene outline and a brand new book file on my laptop.

that seems to have silenced the cacophony in my brain for now, but i'm really looking forward to a time very soon when i can return to this story and say to my characters - let's Get LOUD!

Friday, August 26, 2011

The Revision Diaries (3)

this week's installment of the revision diaries (confessions of an author on a deadline!) reads a little like a Goofus and Gallant episode.

side note -- Goofus and Gallant, for those who did not grow up with Highlights magazine, are two boys who get placed in a situation with choices. Goofus always chooses the irresponsible path, while Gallant is more thoughtful.

side note to the side note -- as a kid, i always pronounced it Goofus and Gal-AHNT, because i'm fancy like that.

totally off-topic tangent -- when i was growing up, G&G were drawn with pencils in black and white. but i just checked out the website for Highlights magazine, and those boys are full-color computer graphics now! and guess what else? you can totally play a G&G "choose your own adventure" game online! i played it... twice.

okay, back on topic!

Friday, i was oh-so GalAHNT. i wrote and revised and wrote and revised again. new scenes. reworked scenes. continuity checks. word choices. i stayed on schedule and did not get distracted. very responsible author this day.

Saturday, i woke up a Goofus. i was exhausted from two full days of revisions and decided to put off writing until the afternoon. i ran errands, did chores, chilled out with Handsome. typical Saturday stuff. except this was not supposed to be a typical Saturday, because the Tic-Tock-Deadline-Clock waits for no weekend!
of course, my day got away from me until only the evening was left. at that point, i had to choose between revisions and poker night with friends.
i won the first game, lost the second. net gain: fifteen dollars.

Sunday, the Gallant on my shoulder came to the rescue. i wrote from practically sun up to well after sundown.
and... i finished.
i know! crazy! i so didn't deserve the satisfaction of being done after my Goofus Saturday, but there it is. i reached The End - again. and then i panicked. Goofus and Gallant were perched on each of my shoulders, having an argument:

Goofus: we're done! press send and let's go celebrate.
Gallant: maybe we should have a crit partner look at those scenes we're still concerned about first.
Goofus: naw! we're tired of revising. let's play some more poker.
Gallant: but we haven't fully addressed that one issue our editor mentioned. let's go back to page one and --
Goofus: you're boring!
Gallant: maybe i am, but if we work just a little harder, hopefully no one will say the BOOK is boring.
*poof* Goofus disappears in a ball of smoke.

actually, i compromised. Gallant isn't always right, and he is a little boring sometimes. so i sent the questionable scenes to a crit partner and took Monday and Tuesday to be a Goofus. i hit the gym, hung out with my gal pals and relaxed with Handsome.

Wednesday, i spent all night dealing with that issue Gallant had mentioned until i was satisfied.
Thursday, i thought long and hard about a possible big change i had proposed to my editor and ultimately decided against it (because, among other reasons, i realized my editor is much much smarter than i am.) i tossed out my outlined changes and polished up the newly revised manuscript instead. and THEN i pressed send. Goofus and i are going to have a blast this weekend.

so that's the end of the Revision Diaries for now.
i'm in uncharted waters on this path to publishing, but i hear there are often several rounds of revisions, then copy edits, then bound pages, ARCs, etc... so i expect this "author on a deadline" will have more confessions to come.

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Best! Lines!

i am kicking myself right now, because i wanted to do a "best lines" post with all of the golden nuggets i read in the ARC of the upcoming ASHES, by Ilsa J. Bick.

unfortunately, i had to send that ARC along to another reader, and i forgot to jot down my favorite lines.
do yourself a favor and buy ASHES to discover those nuggets for yourself - just be sure to read it with the lights on!

fortunately, i just finished another book packed with great one-liners, so we still have a blog post today. :D

here are a few of my favorite lines from CRACKED UP TO BE, by Courtney Summers:

I take a deep breath. It smells suspiciously like bullshit in here.

(Jake questioning Parker about drinking)
"Do you have, like ...a problem?"
"Yeah, and that was my solution."

Next time Chris tells me to loosen the fuck up, I'm going to tell him to fuck the fuck off.

(there's another set of lines i LOVE but won't share here to avoid spoilers, but if you have this book, flip to chapter 16 and read the very last lines. most powerful moment in the story for me.)

see you at the end of the week with a new entry in the Revision Diaries!

Friday, August 19, 2011

The Revision Diaries (2)

...week two in the chronicles and confessions of an author on a deadline!

so, as promised (to, um, myself), i truly began revising on Sunday. it was going great. i was trucking along, knocking down those skinny little post-its page by page for a couple days - until i hit a scene that stopped me in my tracks.

this scene needed a fix similar to a scene i'd already revised, so i attacked it in the same way - trimming back paragraphs here and rewriting the language there. but it wasn't working the same as it had worked for the other scene. and no amount of shaking my laptop could shimmy the words into their proper place.
so i got up and walked away for the first time since i'd really started revising.

but unlike with first drafts, or even revisions for my agent or crit partners, when i can walk away for as long as i need to... i knew i couldn't pause for too long. when writing/revising on a deadline, you can only let something sit and stew for so long before - in the immortal words of Tim Gunn - you have to "make it work."

so even though i wasn't sitting at the laptop, whatever i was doing, i forced myself to be thinking/scheming/mentally revising. i schemed while i played iSlash on my phone. i thought hard while watching the Real Housewives of who-knows-where. and i mentally revised while making dinner with Handsome.
(isn't it funny how much thinking/scheming/mentally revising all have in common with procrastinating? huh. wierd.)

but seriously, it was during one of these moments of obvious procrastination that the lightbulb went off. i knew how to fix the scene. i had to completely rewrite it - my first big full-scene makeover in this revision.

but AH! here was a new problem.
i am not one who can edit a single scene in multiple sessions, bouncing in and out of the chapter over the course of a few days. i have to do things in chunks. i needed a good block of time to write the scene AND make sure it was polished, so it wouldn't read like a first draft. but at this point, i was thick into my work week with other obligations looming, and i had not budgeted my week-day writing time for a marathon session - merely for a few sprints.

so with that deadline clock Tic-Toc-Taunting me, i set aside the manuscript for two whole days.

fortunately, i was able to use vacation days from work during this revision period, so i started again Thursday, with 4 full days of nothing but writing time stretching out before me.
and oh boy, did i rewrite that scene! it took the better part of my Thursday and kept me away from the gym and other chores i had hoped to slip in on my day off. but i got it done, and then i went back to sprinting - and smashing those post-its.
today i have a new scene to write and another scene that needs a big re-write, so i hope to be as productive as yesterday.

the only hiccup in my plans will be the carpet cleaners i scheduled to be here this afternoon.
but even if i only write 5 words while they are here, i'm sure i'll still get more done than if i had spent the entire day off cleaning the carpets myself.

i'll be back next week with another installment. (and probably sometime before that when some other random blog post inspiration strikes - i.e. when i need to walk away from the revisions again.)

Sunday, August 14, 2011

The Revision Diaries (1)

OR: Confessions of an author on a deadline!

you know what you should do when you get your editorial letter? you should totally, ABSOLUTELY, commit to a new blog mini-series.
because that's responsible.
and a good use of your time.

here's the deal. i thought it might be fun to share my editing crazies with all of you here on the blog. this is partly to make sure i AM, in fact, blogging during this time and not letting the space go dark. it also gives me an excuse to blog exclusively about revisions, which will be all i can think about for awhile. prepare for the descent into madness.

The Revision Diaries, Week 1:

my ed letter arrived on a friday, while i was at SCBWI. everyone told me you should let the letter sit and sink in for a few days, so i figured that was perfect timing. i'd just get started when i got home.

48 hours later, i was skipping the one free meal at the conference and an entire afternoon of sessions in order to sit in the lobby for a few hours, reading my manuscript and taking notes. (guess i'm not one for sitting and stewing!)

i spent the first few days back at home doing the same thing - reading and taking notes. all of this prep work is good, i told myself. i'll really be organized and ready when i actually start to edit.

eight pages of handwritten notes later, it was time to get back into the book and really start to work. BUT WAIT! the manuscript pages with my editor's notes had just arrived. naturally, i had to write out all new notes for myself based on those pages. really, you can't be too prepared.

the next friday, i talked to my editor on the phone to discuss revisions and bounce ideas back and forth. it was a great convo. i took lots of notes. i am so ready to start working, i thought.
(meanwhile, somewhere in the background, a deadline clock is ticking away. one week gone.)

finally, saturday arrived. my first full day to devote to editing. but i was TOTALLY UNPREPARED! i simply HAD to rush over to the office supply store to stock up on multi-colored Post-Its in all sizes. and as long as i was there, it made sense to pick up a 3-ring binder and new red pens and highlighters.
now i could REALLY get organized!

i spent a good half hour using a hole-puncher on my pretty manuscript pages. then i used my fancy new Post-Its to color-code my manuscript, page by page, with each color representing a different thread of things that need to be changed.

look how pretty! you can see how much work went into all this, right?

and do you know how many words i had actually edited in my manuscript at this point?

on the one hand, i do think it is CRITICAL to organize and prepare. at this point, i have my letter and my notes memorized, which should make the writing part much easier.

on the other hand, i confess, this first week was partly an exercise in procrastination. i find it very difficult to START revisions, because it means taking that polished manuscript - the one with every word spelled right inside of its perfectly-formatted one-inch margins - and tearing it apart. it's hard to take the thing you once called "done" and go back to calling it a "work in progress."

but it's time. i could not possibly be more organized. today, the REAL editing begins.

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

SCBWI in pictures

i apologize in advance if this post makes the blog load slow on mobile browsers or anywhere else. there are quite a few pics.

here are a few of my favorite (and only!) shots from SCBWI-LA. i have to start, of course, with my AWESOME roomie, Emily Hainsworth - fellow Apocalypsie and author of THROUGH TO YOU.

next up, my agent sisters! meet a few members of the literaticult: Whitney Miller, Jo Whittemore and Kristen Kittscher!

sorry, cell phone shots.

now, here is my prize photo from the conference! me and the LA girls (Melanie Abed and Kristen) posing with Judy Blume!

again, cell shot. sorry.
Judy Blume was kind and patient with all of us drooling all over her. i thanked her for all of her books, but mostly for BLUBBER. and i don't even think my voice shook too badly!

the winners of the PJ party!

the Steel Cage Pitch Match in action! writers and illustrators had 30 seconds to impress ABLit agent Mary Kole. hosted by - a brand new blog you should absolutely be following.

SCBWI was exhausting, educational and inspiring. i can't wait to go back someday.

oh, and psst! - i got my editorial letter for BUTTER while at the conference, so i am about to be a busy girl! (read: neurotic, over-caffeinated, obsessive mess)
it's possible the blog will go quiet after this.

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

quotes from SCBWI

here's the thing about an SCBWI conference...

you talk. a lot.
sometimes from 6am to after midnight. wonderful, thought-provoking, inspiring conversations with amazing people.
but the talking - whew! let's just say i'm running out of words.

so i thought i'd share some words from OTHER people today.

maybe it's the journalist in me, but i noticed almost all of my notes from the conference are exact quotes from the fabulous speakers and presenters. here are a few of my favorites:

Bruce Coville:
(remembering a letter he got from an adult who had been deeply changed by reading one of Coville's books as a child. the book was a quiet, unreviewed, fourth-in-a-series paperback)
"Everything you do ripples outward. You don't know what kind of difference you're going to make."
(on taking a break from a book)
"Sometimes the best way to get back INTO the work is to get AWAY from the work."

Libba Bray:
(on the pain of first drafts/rough revisions)
"Embrace the suck."
(on writing characters who are gay or minority or anything else that might be different from your personal experience - and not making them PSAs)
"Write from the outside in."

Judy Blume:
(on the WSJ writer using Judy as an example to make the writer's point in that infamous article)
"I was so pissed!"
(on the popularity of children's writers today)
"We are so hot."
"We're the money-makers... I mean for the publishers."
(other insights)
"I start a book on the day something different happens."
"You know what? I've never really understood the creative process."
"Everybody needs somebody who's supportive."

Gary Paulsen:
(on the publishers who rejected Hatchet, which has now been a best-seller for 21 years)
"It must sting."
(on money)
"I don't give a good goddamn what they pay me for it, as long as I get to do that dance."
(on enriching the lives of children)
"Do the best you can for the young people."
(on passion and a message for young readers)
"Read like the wolf eats. Read when they tell you not to read. Read WHAT they tell you not to read."

Laurie Halse Anderson:
(on discipline and having a writing routine)
"Order is required so the chaos of art can unfold."

tomorrow i'll post some pictures and share the moment that might just have made the whole trip for me!

Friday, August 5, 2011


hello from SCBWI!

full report here on the blog when i get back, but just taking a quick time out to say:

check out my interview over on the Writer, Writer, Pants on Fire blog! - all about being on submission and selling Butter!

Thursday, July 28, 2011

stranGe thinGs at stopliGhts

strange... and AWESOME... things at stoplights!

i spotted this golden snitch glittering atop the antenna of the car next to me on the way home tonight.

love it! wish i had one.

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

ready, set, SCBWI!

in one week and two days, i am leaving for SCBWI.
and here's the thing - i'm very nervous!

so i thought i could exorcise that demon of nerves by confessing it here.
(by the way, for the longest time, i thought that expression was "exercise your demons" - like, put them on a leash and take them out for a jog around the block. makes a lot more sense now that i know the right spelling.)

anyway, i usually fight nerves by being uber-prepared. i do research and make lists. (and then i rewrite the lists in charts with perfectly symmetrical rows and columns, because that calms me down. thanks, OCD!)

but it's hard to prepare for the unknown, and writing conferences are completely foreign to me.
what do you wear? is it okay to march up to people and introduce yourself? what if you're not a march-and-introduce sort of person? do i haul my laptop to all of the sessions, or is that nerdy? is it okay to just be myself and admit i AM kind of nerdy? will my roommate care if i make coffee in the room every morning, afternoon and night? will anyone sit with me at lunch? when is it the right time to hand someone a business card? what should be ON my business card? and seriously... what do you WEAR?!

some of these questions i've tackled. for one, Handsome made me these:

can't wait to hand them out! :)

other questions, well - i guess i'll just wing it.

but i did get some helpful advice from other writers who have been around the conference block, and i thought i'd share the wisdom here, in case any of you are as nervous as i am.
1) practice your elevator pitch.
this isn't just about pitching to agents or editors. it's about having one or two lines in your pocket that you can pull out whenever someone asks, "hey, what's your book about?" (and by pocket, i mean a mental pocket in your brain. don't actually write this stuff down and pull it from your pocket - although, that would be a great comfort for when i get tongue-tied. hmmmm.)
1-a) be prepared to talk about what you're working on now.
in other words, have an elevator pitch for your finished book, your WIP and whatever you plan to write next. know your own work and be ready to talk about it!
2) read!
specifically, read something everyone will be talking about.
now, i always say reading is for pleasure, and you should read whatever you want. but i also think you should be well-read in the genre you write. if you write dystopian YA, people may expect you to have an opinion about Hunger Games. Haven't read HG? that's fine, but maybe you just picked up the new book Divergent that everyone's hot for, and you can talk about that! you don't have to read it all, but yes, READ!
-- the reading challenge i gave myself was to read novels by the keynote speakers and other authors who will be presenting at the conference. i won't be able to finish the entire pile of books i bought, but it's been fun trying!
3) be friendly.
i really like this bit of advice, because it can mean anything from bellying up to the bar and ordering a round of drinks for soon-to-be friends... to simply returning a smile and a hello from a stranger. if you're not the type to approach - at least be approachable.

so i'm packing all of that advice with me when i head to LA next weekend. if you're flying west too, be sure to look for the very short blonde playing with her hair and chewing on her fingernails. i promise if you smile and say hi, i'll smile and say hi back. :)

by the way - i just noticed all of the above pearls of wisdom are about who i am, what i read and what i write... and not at all about what i should WEAR. maybe that's my first conference lesson learned. ;)

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

what makes you put a book down?

so that whole thing i said last week about making time/sacrifices for your writing?
yeah, i forgot to mention - i also sacrifice internet time for writing. that's just my little way of saying, between BILLY D revisions and BUTTER edits (and hopefully writing GRIM or something new), i'm probably going to be down to 1 or 2 blog posts per week throughout the summer. but i'll be around on twitter, so say hi! :)

on to today's post:

i want to know: What Makes You Put a Book Down?

i was asked that question the first (and only) time i ever attended a book club. i embarrassed myself by misunderstanding the question and said something like, "oh, you know, when i have to go to work and go to sleep and stuff..." o.o
what they meant was, of course, when do you put a book down FOREVER and decide not to finish it?

this question shocked me at the time. i was very much a "finish what you start" kind of gal, and it seemed wrong somehow to not see a book through to the end, even if you were reading it for pleasure and not enjoying it.
but that's the whole point, isn't it? pleasure? enjoyment?

i've since learned it's okay to not finish a book. or at least, i've gotten better about setting aside stories i'm not enjoying.. for now. some of the books in my "to be read" pile could easily be added to a "try try again" pile. i always tell myself i'll pick up the book again later and give it another shot. however, i rarely do this.
that's probably part of the reason i badgered my beta reader, K, to tell me any and all points in the current WIP where it could be put down - put down for now or put down forever - because we all want to write a page-turner, right?

and it got me thinking about what makes ME put down a book for good.
#1 - sloooooow pacing. maybe it's because i read so much YA these days, but i have little patience for a turtle's pace. if one page doesn't pull right into the next, i'm likely to fall asleep or get distracted and, ultimately, put the book down.
#2 - boring. not in pace, but in storyline. if it's not something new and unpredictable, or if the characters are just ordinary with ordinary things happening to them, i tend to walk away. i mean, if i want ordinary, i'll just look at my own life. why read about someone else's?
#3 - lack of plot/tension. i may love the characters, but if i'm not on the edge of my seat yearning for them to get what they want, then why would i keep reading? i have cool "characters" to hang out with in the real world. i need a story too.
***disclaimer: i may or may not personally struggle with one or all of the above issues in my own writing. (hence the badgering of my beta.)

other things that could lead to me skimming or altogether skipping the rest of a book i've started:
- unlikeable characters
- poor writing, small vocabulary
- elements or scenes i find personally disturbing (everyone's got their thing they'd rather not read about.)

and there are exceptions to my own rules, naturally. Vonnegut, Kerouac and Thompson have all sucked me straight through stories despite a lack of plot (#3), thanks to amazing writing.

so, as those book clubbers once asked me, What makes YOU put a book down?