All the Dreams

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I’m going to tell you a story about why I write for young readers. Years ago, before I had my son, moved to Brooklyn, or ever wrote a YA novel, I wrote one act plays for kids. They were produced locally, and I always ended up directing for lack of anyone else stepping up. During that time, I met and worked with a slew of 7-12 year olds who had never acted or read a script in their young lives. They didn’t know they could or should.

When I was a little girl I wanted to be famous. My mother and father were familiar with big dreams, so they encouraged me, but parents are usually the last person you want to hear from when you’re young and ambitious. It would have been something to have a teacher, or a cool, successful artist, a someone other than my parents tell me I should keep shooting for the stars. In spite of that, I never lost my drive, though occasionally it did get waylaid.

While writing for and directing these kids, I uncovered heaps of hidden talent — kids who went on to become YouTube famous, stars of high school plays, dreamers of other big dreams at top tier colleges.

A few months ago, while visiting Texas, I ran into one of the girls I’d plucked from shyness and set center stage. She’d been twelve at the time, with long brown hair and a tiny button nose, and she’d never been asked to sing in public before, never been under a spotlight. I had a gut feeling she could sing, and so I promised her she wouldn’t regret singing during her audition. She landed the lead role in the play. A lead role with a difficult (original) solo. She’s now a senior in college, a stellar violinist about to graduate with a music and vocal major.

As we talked, reminiscing about that special time all those years ago, she said, “I just want you to know, if you hadn’t made me play that role and sing that song, I would never have studied voice in college. You showed me it was an option.”

Even writing this now, I’m tearing up. I’m thinking how my certainty we should always do the very scary, big thing created an opportunity, her trust that I would protect her in the room gave her the confidence, but her talent carried her onto the stage. She was always gifted, she just needed someone to provide a spotlight.

I am not a teacher. I know teachers must know how this feels, much more profoundly than me. But in that moment I knew, my investment in that child had paid off in ways I never imagined. And it was so incredibly worth it.

This weekend I spent time with my friend Sara Biren— a fantastic writer and award nominated author —and her two kids. Actually, mostly her two kids. I was in town for a Book Awards ceremony to honor Sara, but now that I’m homebound, I wonder…maybe I was in town for her kids, too.

I talked to her daughter about the possibility of traveling the world, of never limiting yourself to a safe and obvious path. We filmed a YouTube video. I talked to her son about becoming a filmmaker, discussing themes and shot composition. How he’s not getting off with any excuses that he’s too busy or it’s too hard. How his love of movies is more than entertainment.

We are never too old to pursue our dreams. We are never too young to believe they can one day be real.

We sometimes do need a push in the right direction.

Cusp

Everyone gains perspective at the end of a year. This time is tailor-made for reflection, soul-searching sipping chamomile, curled in a sweater, tucked under blankets. When you live in Los Angeles, it looks a little different. It’s sunny, with flip flops and frayed shorts, a chilled glass of bubbly, and a pair of sunglasses slipping down your nose.

The feeling, though, is very much the same.

Every year we are alive, we face new challenges to our way of life. If we are lucky. If we are really living. We make gut-wrenching choices. We take dangerous steps, make bold moves on the living chess board of existence. We do and feel and touch moments we never have before.

2017: I woke a beast.

In January, I broke my knee cap. It was my breaking point. Faced with confinement, I faced off the secret, quiet, creeping feelings my insides had refused to divulge to me until that moment trapped on a bed with a planet for a knee.

There was a certain writhing beast that I had never let loose. It awoke in that quiet place and did not go back to sleep. Not for most of the year. Not until I made a sudden, painful, life-altering choice in the middle of December. Not until, finally, I was brutally honest with myself, unafraid to look away from what I knew I really felt. Only then did the beast bow it’s head, subdued for another season.

2017: I fought for my future.

In November a longtime friend asked me, does Los Angeles feel like home?

No. I said. Nowhere does. Nowhere can.

This is the truth about being restless: you are always, forever, in search. It is not unhappiness, though it feels that way sometimes. It is a quest.

When you believe you are made to do more, you cannot live with anything else. It makes you unbearable. The person in the room that never sits down. The one with a million ideas. The one with a drink in their hand. The one looking out the window, or over a shoulder. It is never about where you are, it is always about where you could be.

For me, the search has to stop. For a moment, at least, I need to be right where I am, living without running. The way to the future is wriggling to life today. I don’t want to miss it.

2017: I let people in.

I wrote a book this year that felt like putting my heart on a page. It felt violent and vulnerable. It revealed me. It contained me. It was me.

I took an acting class that was a stare down with the past. It was me in a room with strangers living for a moment without a shield. It was terrifying and altering.

I fell in love with my friends. Women who saw me and loved me and listened. Women who would not let me settle. Women who are my allies and confidants and partners.

I listened to my son cry and my husband fume as my family leaped toward a new life. I let them be who they needed to be and I learned to live with myself while they did.

2017: I made choices.

Hard ones. Fast ones. Painful ones. I am living with every single one. I am still alive.

Soon we turn over the calendar. We countdown. We sing and cheers and make commitments to next year us. If you asked me what 2017 would look like last year I would have given you a very different answer.

What do we know, then, about our future?

All we know is today.

Therefore:

Live mindfully, with purpose. Let yourself believe in magic. Let others in on the journey.


What about you?IMG_4983

 

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Author Mentor Match: That’s a Wrap

Keep-calm-and-write-on-e1390258489967What a wild ride that was. When the Author Mentor Match submissions window opened it felt more like a floodgate had broken. There was a wealth of brilliant ideas, kernels of genius, clever characters, and inspirational concepts. There was a lot to work through and a very hard decision to make.

We conferred behind the scenes about how hard it was going to be to actually PICK one when it came to that time. It was the first time I feel like, as a writer, I could put myself in an agent’s shoes for a minute and understand the conflict of weighing out the love of a submission against your knowledge of the industry and the strength of other submissions your pile.

I would have loved to take on more than one, but since I can’t, I do want to offer some feedback (super general) and shed some (hopefully) welcome light on this process.

First, I must remind every writer out there — whether you submitted to Author Mentor Match, are in the querying trenches, or are on submission — reading truly is a subjective experience. It is not line we’re feeding you. What works for one reader (editor, mentor, agent), might not work for another. What makes me fall in love is not always as predictable or as easily explained as I would like. What I fall in love with, you or someone else might loathe.

Query widely. Get a lot of feedback. Make your own choices about who you listen to.

Now to my thoughts.

Query letters/description:

This is the hardest part to get right in a submission. Learning to write a brilliant pitch, and also subtly pitching yourself as the author, is a craft in and of itself. These pitches were not expected to be perfect, but I did read the pages faster for the ones that felt more polished.

  • Length: I believe in 250 words max to talk about your book. It’s clean. It means you have boiled down the concept and understand the story at it’s foundation. As a screenwriter, the logline (which is one single sentence) is the king, and so I am particularly hard on this element. If the description needs too much lead in or meanders in the pitch, then you probably have a problem in the pages.
  • Concept: I am a commercial writer. I look for something I think will sell. I am looking at the story concept. I am looking at the author concept(who you are and why you wrote this story). I know very well how much both must line up to make a project viable.
  • Passion: I am a Gryffindor. Passion is my middle name. (Not really, it’s Faith. But close enough.) If I can feel the author’s heart pulsing in a pitch, I know it will resonate on the page, and that is something I can work with.

First Page:

The most critical moment in the submission process. Does your first page make me (an agent, an editor) want to keep on reading?

  • Starting in the wrong place: By far my most common hang up when reading submissions. There were submissions where I felt the first page was confusing, either because of opaque writing or character’s voice not feeling defined enough to carry me through. I was more inclined to read when it started too late rather than way too early.
  • Prologue: Please take caution when using a prologue as your first chapter. I encountered this a few times, and it was frustrating. Please take caution when writing a prologue at all. It must be deeply vital to the story and just as gripping as your main story pages.
    • Try cutting the prologue and then having a fresh reader take a look at the first chapter on it’s own. If they can read on without the prologue, find a way to integrate the most boiled down, crucial information from the prologue into the first few chapters.
  • Voice: This is so frustrating and I genuinely am sorry to include it! Voice is critical. The voice has to be right, or there has to be proof that it can be revised, and that is a fine line.
  • Hook: The hook needs to be on the first page. This sounds impossible, but I promise it isn’t. No matter your genre — I write fantasy, horror and contemporary— there must be something on page one that makes the reader need to know more. Commonly in my submissions, the hook didn’t come for a many many pages and by then I was starting to lose interest.

Plot/Pacing/Structure:

As a screenwriter, these elements of story rule my world. If I can see there is a plot buried inside, then I am much more inclined to read or want to work on something.

  • If you are in the second act and your story still hasn’t taken off, you have some problems. BE BRUTAL in the first thirty pages.
  • I see story as a series of tiny shifts in the character’s life until BAM the inciting incident throws them into a new reality. Those first twenty or so pages are doing a lot of work, and if they aren’t, then ask yourself why.
  • All stories take on a similar structure. Whether you are telling a non-linear literary character piece or a punchy action adventure, you are working with the same story moments. When too many are missing or misplaced, the plot will not work. Very often I found this with submissions and ended up having to weigh what WAS working against what WAS NOT.

Character:

The part of the story that makes us care.

  • Character is so closely connected to voice that it almost feels like the same thing. When one is lacking, the other can’t shine. I had a lot of submissions where voice oozed but character didn’t grab me, and vice versa. I am going to go with character every time.
  • Secondary characters are VITAL. There were some submissions that I LOVED, that had so much of what I was looking for in the main character and the plot, but the rest of the characters felt flat.
  • Along the same lines, there were some stories where I felt like too many character personalities were at play or that the dynamics were wrong. It made reading the pages harder as I went along.
  • Often, I would love a concept and even like the characters, but then just couldn’t find a personal way in to the story. To work as a mentor, much like it is with an agent or editor, I really need my own way in. I need to see that I can add something to your pages.

I hope this sheds a little light on the submission process — even if you did not submit to me or to Author Mentor Match at all. This will not be the last time you submit your work and receive a pass. That is a hard reality that I am sure you are aware of.

There is a saying the screenwriting (or that’s where I’ve heard it):

Throw work at it. Rejection, feeling blocked, discouragement, fear, whatever. Throw work at it.

Or, as I like to say: Throw writing at it.

Keep writing no matter what.

 

 

 

 

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Author Mentor Match: Seeking Unicorns

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In the YA and MG (that’s Young Adult and Middle Grade, for those accidentally wandering onto this blog) community, helping other writers find their voice and reach their potential is a common, time-honored tradition. This community is one built by readers, and many writers working to be a part of the published YA or MG world, believe that the more strong, beautiful voices, the better.

Author Mentor Match is not a competition. It is a space to link a more seasoned or further along in the journey author with one getting ready to dive into deep waters. I am excited to be a part. To find a writer to mentor and help flourish on their way to greatness. (Just like Slytherin House could have helped Harry embrace his dark Horcrux.)

Below is the link to my personal mentor page, where you can find more about what kind of manuscript I am looking for. I am also linking the main page, because you may not want to submit to me. There are AMAZING mentors all around and so much opportunity, peruse and find your perfect fit. Plus, all the rules and details can be found on the website.

You can also follow me on Twitter and Instagram for more #MSWL (Manuscript Wish List) as they come to me.

My Mentor Profile || Author Mentor Match Main Page || Twitter || Instagram

Taylor Swift has a Reputation

reputation album
Credit to whoever made her album art. It’s not me.

There is something that has been spawning in my brain all day — ever since I listened to Taylor Swift’s new single. I should probably begin by saying, I am a reluctant Taylor Swift fan. There is something about her I love to love, that also nags at me until I decide I actually can’t stand her, until I can again, and then I begin the cycle all over. It has been this way since I listened to her album on Spotify a few years ago. (Before she removed everything from Spotify, and then put everything back on Spotify.)

The narrative of Taylor Swift, Icon, is that of a privileged, white female with no quarry of relatable pain (Notice how I don’t say real, all pain is real, all pain is valid.) Taylor mines the only thing she can: her heartaches and feuds. And because society has told her — and women, overall, as a gender — that flaws are for the supporting characters and not the ingénue, Taylor continues to play victim in the story of her celebrity life. (Notice, also, I do not say actual life. What she is behind closed doors isn’t up for debate here. I can’t speak to it.)

Last year, I had a falling out with a friend. It was the worst few months I’d experience in a long, long while, and it came on the heels of a very painful injury that had me out of whack for weeks. During the friendship break-up, I wanted to bad-mouth this woman. I longed to spit fire in her general direction. Poke her like a bear in hibernation. I wanted to blame her for my pain, and the subsequent threat to my reputation. But I didn’t. I never once spoke to our mutual friends about the falling out until the relationship ended and I had to explain why I could no longer be in a room with her. When someone is dead to you, they become a ghost on the edge of your life. No reason to live with ghosts.

I was at fault. So was she. There is always fault on both sides of a feud.

Today, as I listened to Taylor’s song “Look What You Made Me Do”, I realized that what Taylor hasn’t done — and may be incapable of doing — is wearing the cloak of her choices into the battle for her image. She has drunk the white, female, ingénue Kool-Aide, and right now, in our current world climate and culture, that is alienating.

The world is a shit show. There is real hardship facing not only individual people, but our nation as a whole. Taylor’s narrative needs to dig deeper. To extract jewels of real humanity from the depths within her soul, and not the superficial vengeance dialog she has thus far been intent to sell.

Last year, her image tanked. Thanks to reporting about how she was a “fake feminist” and a “liar” and on and on. The weird romance with Tom Hiddleston we all know had to be staged. The shit with Kanye and Kim. But something hit me today as I — annoyingly — couldn’t stop thinking about Taylor and her single.

How different, really, is the way Taylor handles her public image from the way Trump does? (Though with very different stakes.) Both are debilitatingly aware of who actually writes their checks. And when you are in the position of answering to a majority, it has a tendency to make your tongue double-sided. It makes you duplicitous. It makes you stay silent in the face of a chance to speak from your heart. It makes you choose your place in the spotlight over your conscience. The idea that anyone in power can speak their absolute, genuine truth (without violent repercussions) is something created in fiction.

I would venture to say that almost every person in a place of power – celebrity or political or whatever— has experienced this duplicity.

So, what can Taylor do to prove she’s not just another out of touch white performer?

Think bigger. Take a page out of Angelina Jolie’s playbook — master of manipulation that she is. Look at Adele, who left the blame behind and became a woman of meaning and consistent vulgarity. Become more than a white ingenue who thinks being a perfect victim and being a spotless hero are the same thing.

Remember that, among the Taylor Swift fanbase, there are people who want real honesty, dangerous vulnerability, actual transparency. And then, Swifties, realize this is never going to happen to the degree we deserve as her fans because even Taylor answers to somebody. Our celebrities, or heroes in most cases, are rarely who we wish they were, but that does not make them bad. It does not mean they are unworthy of our love.

It means they are human, just like us, but richer and hotter and with their name up in lights.

(Just to be clear: I am a Swiftie. Not a Trump supporter.)

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San Diego Comic-Con: Reflection

Four years ago I decided I would one day go to San Diego Comic-Con. Sparked by a story idea and bundled with my own singular desire for adventure, I stated to the entire universe, God in his infinite wisdom, and my husband in his introverted manliness that I was going and I they all needed to help or get out of the way.

I was cute, a doe facing hunting season. I didn’t know that to visit the magical unicorn that is Comic-Con you must first be proven worthy as a fan. Thankfully, I am a writer and therefore skilled in the art of RESEARCH. I quickly uncovered the reality of Con. To go I would need: A member ID, a hefty dose of luck, and a winning number in the registration lottery.

I would also need a partner in crime.

sdccsteph

(Man, I love my hair pink.)

Stephanie and I banded together to make the Comic-Con dream a reality.  I don’t have time to tell you that whole story, but be assured, the epicness of our first SDCC has been documented here and if you’re curious you should totally check it out.

It includes:

The Game of Thrones panel

Me losing my wallet and ID

Nathan Fillion

Tom Hiddleston

My wallet being turned in to the security team unscathed

Steven Moffat

And a Jedi Master Fairy Godmother who shall henceforth and forever remain nameless.

This Comic-Con is different. And that is why, today, on the eve before Con opens, I am writing this while I drink wine in my new LA apartment.

A lot has happened since I had the dream to go to Comic-Con. I moved to LA with my husband and son. I left my Con-Partner in Texas, ripe with her third little Wonder Woman baby. I am an author on submission with a novel. A screenwriter looking for a break. I’m a woman who broke her knee-cap and then decided to put her house on the market. A woman with big flaming terrifying dreams.

We become new things when we take be risks.

We make room for the righter version of us.

Tomorrow, I will drive to San Diego with my suitcase and my space backpack, a blanket and snacks and card games. Some wine in the trunk. I will be on my own. I am meeting friends, staying with a girl I just met — a Comic-Con virgin. But this is a new Con for me.

This is a brand new scary leap.

If you have never been to Comic-Con you may not understand what I am about to say, so I am sorry. I hope one day you get to go.

Comic-Con is a touchstone. A way for me to find myself in a crowd. To learn. To be inspired. To be reunited with the wild imaginary ramblings of my youth.

Comic-Con is more than an entertainment mecca. It is more than merch and parties and celebs. Comic-Con reminds me, every year, that I am a girl who, one time, had a dream that seemed impossible. I am a girl who makes her dreams come true.

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Three Ways Critique Partners Are Unicorns

There are so many articles and blog posts out there detailing the publishing road, it’s various ups and downs, twists and turns, plummets into deep holes of revision malaise and rejection induced cookie-binges. But tucked into those stories of woe and perseverance, are characters many of you will recognize.

Critique Partner(s): an enchanted creature one meets on their journey to publication endowed with the magical power to inspire, encourage and enrich the writers quest.

But in order to gain the magical being Critique Partner on your journey, you must first be able to recognize the value of honest, thoughtful, layered critique— both how to give it and how to receive it.

My first experience with critique was actually a literary agent that I met at my local city park in Brooklyn, NY. Looking back, I recognize the disaster that could have transpired. She was a pro, I very much was not. But this agent — who quickly became one of my close friends in the City— offered to read my manuscript and give me feedback. It helped that she didn’t represent my genre, and that we had met wearing our mom and people hats, not writer and agent name badges. It helped that she was gentle. With her feedback and encouragement, I revised, I revised, I got very close to getting agented with that manuscript. Without her feedback, I would have hit send too soon. I would have done all the wrong things.

Unlike Unicorn Critique Partners, my agent friend felt more like a fairy godmother. She taught me industry protocol. She taught me about critique. She sent me into the world to find my own heard of magical beasts.

Critique Partners believe when you can’t.

Last year I hit a rough patch in my writing journey. I wrote about it extensively on my blog, which is the equivalent of screaming into a pillow at the top of your lungs. Cathartic, but ultimately useless. I had experienced the ugliness of the query trenches. I’d been rejected, I’d been hopeful, I’d been the recipient of the form letter and the thoughtful rejection. It had taken it’s toll on my creative well. I desperately wanted to give up. I couldn’t face my manuscript, let alone stomach doing another revision or sending another query letter.

In swooped critique partners, rainbow tails swinging, hooves of faith clomping.

I am part of a big tribe of young adult writers, so I want to stress that this sense of community and magic is not limited to the writers I count as critique partners. But when doubt creeps in, the best defense is a person that has read your book and believes in it. My critique partners were unrelenting in their support that someday, somehow, this thing would find an agent, a home.

courtdjerassi

Countless emails. Countless texts and Facebook chats. Many days of me veering off course, detouring and wandering and spazzing. They still encouraged me to go back to the story. To give it another chance.

When I was finally ready to revise again, they were there to encourage and advise. They cheered for the story. They told me they never doubted me.

But I did doubt. I wasn’t as certain as I needed to be. Anyone that has endured rejection will understand my behavior. I was inclined to believe the many no’s. I actually think, maybe, I had to believe it for a while to find my way back to my story. But without the faith and insistence of my Unicorns, this little writer would have never found her path because she would have given up.

Critique Partners don’t belittle the struggle. 

Something that becomes increasingly clear the longer I pursue publication is this: the loneliness is real.

The journey to a book in hand, while something many writers will one day likely take with varying results, is ultimately still not a well understood process to those not in the midst of it. For the first few years of mine, I knew a grand total of two people that understood the arduous task of trying to get published.

I count two separate but equally significant plot points in my own writing saga as the game changers for me.

  1. Befriending a local author— Over three years ago Lindsay Cummings followed me on Twitter. At the time, I was still living in Brooklyn. When we decided to move back to Texas, I direct messaged Lindsay and asked to meet up for coffee. This was a gamble for both of us, and after Lindsay researched me online to make sure I was a legitimate  human writer, we met up for dinner. Not only did she become one of my best friends in real life, but she became my ally in the book world. She read, critiqued and loved my writing. She helped me meet other writers in our area. She helped me not feel so alone.
  2. Taking a writing workshop online — I signed up for an online class taught by Nova Ren Suma. Not only did I gain an incredible advocate and teacher (and now, friend) in Nova, but through her class I connected with five of my critique partners. After class, we embarked on the organic process of emailing each other pages and tentatively giving feedback, then more boldly responding, asking for help and thoughts on more than just pages, but idea seeds and life twists, until we found a rhythm unique to our tribe and needs. These writers have become some of my favorite humans.

On the writing journey, critique is the key to support.

Through critique, I found people capable of walking through this with me. We’ve lived in the trenches together. We understand the sting of rejection and the swell of pride that comes with a request, a yes, that phone call that leads to an agent…or doesn’t. That moment when you have to start over, go back in, move on. And we know that the pain from the publishing journey hurts just as real as other pain, can cause just as many problems as marital issues or job hell, and is not for the faint of heart.

Critique Partners make you better.

Words are hard. Writing is bad, and then it’s a little less bad, and then a little less, and every time you chip away a layer of bad the promise of beautiful begins to emerge. There is only so far you can take your own words. No matter how skilled, critique is often the key to making a decent story great, finding plotholes, worldbuilding issues, character development flaws, and so on. Without clever eyes on your work, you must rely of your own mind. The closer you get to a particular story, the harder it gets to see the issues as they arise.

Getting a good group of readers that you can turn to at different stages in revision to help you clarify, hone, polish and shine, is an important step in preparing your manuscript for query, and later, publication. I am a firm believer that reader feedback should be taken seriously. Yes, this is your story, but at some point it needs to make sense to the rest of the world.

Critique partners can come in and unicorn-horn slice through the crappy words in your manuscript better than you. Then, they come back to you with ways to improve, with glowing praise and passion, and it’s often the push back into the story that you need.

Every time I’ve felt lost in a work in progress, I’ve emailed one of my critique partners with pages or plans or scene ideas, and they’ve helped me find my way.

Find your unicorns and hold them tight. Stroke their mane and give them sugar. They are invaluable to the quest!

If you’re not sure how to go about doing that, some of my critique partners and I have decided to pay back the writing community that helped us find each other. We’ll be hosting a live critique workshop called Manuscript Crit-Chat, scheduled to take off this fall. Whether you’ve been critiqued before and want a new set of eyes on your pages, or you’ve never been critiqued, but want to get your feet wet, we want to give a taste of the magic. Over the next month we’ll be revealing more info, so stay informed by following us on social media. We can’t wait to meet you and have you join our tribe!

manuscript-crit-chat-logo

To engage with the Manuscript Crit-Chat gals:

Facebook :: Instagram :: Twitter

To Tweet at the individual masterminds behind all the fun:

Susan Bishop Crispell :: Courtney Leigh :: Jessica Fonseca :: Rebekah Faubion 

And do check out Courtney and Jessica’s posts on their personal blogs!

4 Reasons Why Critique Partners Saved My Writing Life

Five Reasons Every Writer NEEDS a Critique Group