Pit or the Palace?

It’s been a few weeks now since I finished my manuscript revisions and set about not editing anymore while it’s being read by an agent (and friend). Thanksgiving has come and gone, Christmas races after it undaunted by my ill-preparedness. I’ve recovered from carb overloads and booze headaches, from family togetherness and separations. I’ve flow from Brooklyn to Texas and back again with a three year old boy and a yorkie.

Before that, on the dreaded and beloved Black Friday, we went shopping. It had been about an hour when I lost my will to live. (I have a low threshold for retail warfare, I’m aware this is lame.) Not sure if it was the 100th over-priced sweater that made me itch or the sunny shopgirl that tried to sell me a pair of jewel-toned skinny jeans with a matching beret. But something sent me spiraling into my own form of introspection that involved a skinny margarita and queso, and a diatribe about why I don’t have a second child. I emerged feeling uncertain and inadequate, slightly bloated and a tidbit vindicated.

This is me.

Then the inevitable pining began. The one I seem to be falling into lately when I realize I’m mostly done with my manuscript and I don’t know how to be away from that world and those characters.

A writer friend of mine told me recently that every writer rides some form of emotional roller-coaster upon completion of a major project. His advice? Begin something new. When he said this, I felt entirely certain he was kidding. And entirely sure that was impossible. So I made him clarify. He said, “Even if it never turns into anything, beginning a new project and distancing yourself from the one out for query, will ultimately help with the mountains and valleys.”

I thought about this for a while. My brain felt zapped. My emotions were ragged. Part of me felt so done with the pressure of characters not letting me sleep, and words not being perfect, and the other part felt voided. As a writer, characters voices, their arguments, their journey provides a certain sense of purpose that nothing else really can.

When I was in my early 20s, I was a receptionist at a title company in Texas. I loathed this job. (I was thankful for stable work and benefits, etc., but overall just really didn’t excel at service oriented work.) When my husband was finishing up his bachelors though, it was that job that paid the bills. After two years of it I began to wonder if my life would only amount to this: a series of jobs and paychecks and living for the weekend. That’s when I began to write again. It was writing that led to accept my job, and then my son’s birth which led me to want more from writing. When Sam was born, I discovered a new part of me. A part willing to try harder for the things she desired, and a part able to define those desires more clearly.

In the years since Sam’s birth,I have taken a lot of the steps necessary to do just that. I have discovered who I want to be and who I don’t want to be. As this year wraps up, the person I am has had to accept she can’t live without characters chattering to each other, or worlds forming, and in turn my loved one’s can never be without them either. I will never be far from the tap of a keyboard or the scribble of a pen. I will never be far from the ebb and flow of creative pursuit. I would encourage you — whatever you endeavor to achieve — to first accept this simple truth. We become the best version of ourselves not by following our best laid plans, but by taking chances on the things we really want. Moving to New York was like that. Having my son was the same. Everyone has those catalysts, and everyone makes those choices. Begin something new, no matter where it leads you. (Or, in other words, get your groove on.)

Groove.

Life Grades

It’s important, in the grand scheme of life and the American-way, not to lose sight of your standards. In NYC, every restaurant is required by law to display an A through C health and sanitation grade. Here is a link explaining how it works, and why it’s awesome and should be taken seriously. In our neighborhood alone there are multiple restaurants with a B (marginally offensive) and a C (terrifying!). As a person who respects my body (though I inject it with way too much caffeine, but we all have our vices) I refuse to eat somewhere that garners such a low score. I also really, very much, hate to throw up.

There is a funny episode of How I Met Your Mother from season six where Marshall and Lily insist on eating at a restaurant with a D (this is not a possible score now, but was at one time) and they both get food poisoning. Of course, turns out, Lily is pregnant — but really, standards people!

Standards are an important aspect to every part of life, not just food, but we’ll get there. I promise. I am always shocked — not necessarily to the point where I stare through the window at the grease smeared counter with a scowl, shaking my finger reproachfully at the non-hairnet wearing cook with his finger up his nose, but almost — by the patrons of establishments shitty enough to get that kind of grade. In a city literally bursting with delectable eateries, why would you submit yourself to a place where you’ll likely get the runs? (It should be noted that these restaurants aren’t any cheaper, though sometimes they have deals on liquor.)

Standards, expectations, imagination. And here I bring in my point. Ready? Have you guessed it? We achieve what we believe ourselves to be capable of. If you decide you are only able to do one meal a day and the rest are peanut butter sandwiches or cereal that’s OK. If you think your kid incapable of sleeping through the night, they won’t. If you believe your craft worthy of publication, and you raise your expectations, you educate yourself, you work really hard, you can do it.

Often, we begin with a grand plan and somewhere in the execution we lose sight of the goal. We let our expectation for success be thwarted by the hardship of the journey. We stop breaking open our imaginations to find the best route to our goal. We give up. We lower our standards to a place that is manageable and comfortable. We eat at the restaurant with the C grade and the waitress who just sneezed in your coffee.

To Prologue or Not? (And other thoughts.)

Sometimes my brain, my plot, and the route to a decision, look like this.

During this last revision process I began to think a lot more about the techniques of storytelling I was employing in my manuscript. In the first draft — which I completed in May 2012— there was no prologue, however there was a brief and vivid flashback which ran rather long. I had this idea that if I did a prologue I would be taking the easy way out, doing something I was seeing in a lot of YA fiction I was reading. I wanted to find a new way to give this aspect of the story to the reader.

In my second draft — which I completed in late July — I wrote a brief prologue. I was never satisfied with it, but it felt necessary. I felt trapped by this convention, a feeling I really hate. For that draft though, there were other, more pressing issues to address.

Come around to the third revision — which I completed in the first weeks of October — and I found myself at a crossroads. Something about the prologue (I couldn’t tell you, maybe the tone?) felt wrong. I couldn’t help it. It read well, it operated as a prologue should operate, but I found myself dissatisfied.

In the midst of this dilemma, I was also trying to steer the novel away from comparison to a certain massive trilogy many of us love and read. The reason for this was twofold: 1) The comparison was being drawn because of setting, and 2) No one needs to try to live up to that. One of my readers helped me understand, in her very brilliant teenage way, just what was doing this in the early pages of the manuscript. Thankfully, I was happy to listen to her critique. (An aside, finding really awesome readers is maybe the most important thing about revising efficiently.)

Solving my prologue issue as well as the unwanted comparison problem turned out to have one and the same solution. I reworked the lay-out of the book and added a world-building scene to set the tone I was looking to set. Now, will there always be comparison’s we don’t want from readers and critics and people who read what other readers and critics say? Yes. Will I ever be utterly satisfied with every decision I make as a writer? Not likely. Can I accept both of those things? With a healthy dose of petulance, maybe, and a full glass of wine, maybe more.

Description begins in the writer’s imagination, but should finish in the reader’s.

— Stephen King, On Writing

In the end, I hope future readers will manage to see beyond the imperfections that are unavoidable, to the great stuff inside. I believe in my story, my characters, and the world in which they reside. I have done my best to convey that. Now I have to wait to see if I’m right.

Road Trip Wednesday #155: Best October Book

Road Trip Wednesday is a ‘Blog Carnival,’ where YA Highway’s contributors post a weekly writing- or reading-related question that begs to be answered. We ,the bloggers who love YA Highway, post our response and then link it in the comments of the YA Highway site. Pretty fun!

This Weeks Topic: What’s the best book you read in October?

October found me at the end of my third revision on my manuscript and breathing a sigh of relief. I was also breathing to maintain my composure, to wait for my feedback, and to focus my inner critic. Since I had all that breathing room, I also consumed as many books as my schedule (as a Brooklyn Mom, Wife, and writer the schedule can get a little tight sometimes) would allow. These are the books I read during October:

In my opinion the best book I read of the lot was The Crown of Embers. I think Rae Carson did a phenomenal job with her sequel. The addition of the creepy Inviernos guide and the deeply moving love story really kept me interested. But, if I’m being totally honest — and why not be? — the make-out scene sealed it. I don’t want to spoil it for anyone who hasn’t read the book yet, so I won’t go into detail. However, it made my toes curl. I read it three times. I can’t fully even explain why. Maybe because of how well she built the tension between the characters, maybe because I have a soft-spot for war-hardened men, or maybe because I think Elisa just needed to be kissed, but it was good. Highly recommend this book, and its predecessor, The Girl of Fire and Thorns. Some of my favorite right now.

Here is the Goodreads:

In the sequel to the acclaimed The Girl of Fire and Thorns, a seventeen-year-old princess turned war queen faces sorcery, adventure, untold power, and romance as she fulfills her epic destiny.

Elisa is the hero of her country. She led her people to victory against a terrifying enemy, and now she is their queen. But she is only seventeen years old. Her rivals may have simply retreated, choosing stealth over battle. And no one within her court trusts her-except Hector, the commander of the royal guard, and her companions. As the country begins to crumble beneath her and her enemies emerge from the shadows, Elisa will take another journey. With a one-eyed warrior, a loyal friend, an enemy defector, and the man she is falling in love with, Elisa crosses the ocean in search of the perilous, uncharted, and mythical source of the Godstone’s power. That is not all she finds. A breathtaking, romantic, and dangerous second volume in the Fire and Thorns trilogy.

And my rating when I finished it:

Road Trip Wednesday: #153 Book-to-Film

Road Trip Wednesday is a ‘Blog Carnival,’ where YA Highway’s contributors post a weekly writing- or reading-related question that begs to be answered. We ,the bloggers who love YA Highway, post our response and then link it in the comments of the YA Highway site. Pretty fun!

This weeks topic: It isn’t surprising that this month’s Bookmobile selection, Leigh Bardugo’s Shadow and Bonehas sold film rights; the darkly magical world of the Shadow Fold begs for an on-screen translation! But that got us wondering. We’d like to know, in your opinion, what is it that makes some books seem ideal for a film translation?

I am inspired by this topic for a couple of reasons:

1) Like most readers, great world-building and character development are the food for my imagination. Envisioning the world, and “casting” a book I love is one of my favorite parts of reading.

2) With my screenwriting background, editing a book for movie translation is something I never seem to be able to avoid. Some books are easy (like when I read The Hunger Games, but Suzanne Collins used to be a screenwriter) some are hard (like Pure, with it’s multiple plot lines and sensory overload), all are fun.

I agree with the author of this topic, Shadow and Bone will lend itself well to film. It’s ripe with vivid images and told in a straight line by the narrator. Finding the visual narrative thread, and knowing what perspective to shoot in, should not prove too complicated for the writer tasked with adapting the screenplay. And that, in essence, is my answer. Book to film translation is so tricky for those very reasons: narrative voice and scope. When you read a book, the author has pages and pages of time to build and fill and maneuver the characters into the heart of the reader.

When writing a screenplay, every page (which is made up of minimally described scene, action and dialogue) has to do a lot of work. Each page of a screenplay is the equivalent to one minute of screen time. Most screenplays are 120 pages, (2 hour films) with some being much shorter and some being much longer. The Hunger Games screenplay, for instance, would have been roughly 142 pages for its 142 run-time. The book was 382 pages, a 140 page gap. This is not even taking into account the difference in word count per page.

My point? A book to screen adaptation is reliant largely on how easy the information given in the longer novel is to translate into action. Screen time is action driven, even if its a character piece. This is where the breakdown happens, I think, with a lot of books turned to film. For a book to work as a film there needs to be a strong action thread (By action I do not just mean running, fighting, or killing. Action is just anything that pushes the plot forward.) and one that is easy to show on film.

To drive this point home: the seventh Harry Potter book made a horrible movie. The last half of the book, as well as the second film, was easier to interpret because it was pretty purpose driven. The first part of the book, and the first film, was plodding and pushed forward by sheer will. We got through both because we were all fully vested in the characters. This will not happen for every book-to-film adaptation.

Divergent should make a pretty compelling film, as long as they remember Tris’ energy and don’t get too bound up in being overly-clever with storytelling. With first person POV translations, the trick is finding a new narrative voice (why I think Twilight was such a massive failure) to help the audience into the story.

All of this to say…book to film is always difficult because as a medium they are completely different. The best adaptations are ones with clear purpose, clean storytelling, and images that lend themselves well to screen.

One of the best book-to-film interpretations ever.

RTW # 150 — There is a season, turn, turn, turn

Road Trip Wednesday is a ‘Blog Carnival,’ where YA Highway’s contributors post a weekly writing- or reading-related question that begs to be answered. We ,the bloggers who love YA Highway, post our response and then link it in the comments of the YA Highway site. Pretty fun!

This weeks topic is: How does your writing (place, time, inspiration) change with the seasons?

First, I want to say I had a wonderful time at the Austin Teen Book Fest and will try to do a post about it by the end of the week. Look forward to that!

Now on to the question. I like this question. I have always been highly susceptible to change in weather. When it’s sunny, I feel happy. When it’s gray, I feel introspective and gloomy. When it’s cold I imagine myself burrowing into a cave like a bear and emerging with a renewed vision come spring (also thinner because I’ve been hibernating and not eating). I love the colors of fall, and the romance of winter, and the clarity of spring, and the laziness of summer.

When I began working on my novel — exactly one year ago this week — fall was upon New York City. Fall in the northeast is a rhapsodic time. Poems can (and have) been written about it. Painters flock to the city and the surrounding land to capture the brilliance, this tangible proof that beauty can and always will be possible. The world is transformed, by leaves aglow from light like fire, by softened sunlight, or even by the reemergence of sweaters, stockings, and little wool caps.

I was very influenced when creating my world by the atmosphere of fall. I still am. My book takes place in late fall in a woods much like you would find sprawling across New England. Even as winter, spring, and summer have come and gone since I’ve been writing, in my mind I’ve tried to hold on to autumn.

So, I guess, to answer the question completely: I am not very influenced at all. I carry a season around with me as long as the project lives in that season. My manuscript is over 300 pages, but still it is just barely winter when it ends. As I come to the end of these revisions (my third round) I also come to the beginning of fall. Full circle, maybe even completion.


Keep Austin Weird!

This post will be brief because I just arrived in Austin, TX for the Austin Teen Book Festival and I’m tired from watching my husband drive. My husband is very kind to attend this with me as he himself is not so much a reader of YA, but a supporter of my desire to be a writer of YA (not to mention my fangirling of all things YA), and I am not a great driver.

Phew! I have not been to Austin since the Thanksgiving before we moved to New York. The Texas Hill Country is one of my favorite landscapes in the US to view. If you have never been to the Hill Country, you really, really should. Upon exiting I-35 for our hotel in Downtown Austin, we were greeted by a pack of peaceful petitioners for the legalization of marijuana in Texas, and the US overall. They also carried a sign for us to HONK if we agreed. Needless to say, in a city with a slogan about staying weird, and a major university, HONKERS abounded. Nice to know free speech still exists.

Tonight we’ll chill, for tomorrow I plan on absorbing as much knowledge and awesomeness as my brain can hold. (I don’t know if we come with an awesome threshold, I hope not.) I will also be working with the teens in the afternoon, so my energy must be at full-throttle. It’s a thrill for a YA writer to get to shoot-the-shit with a group of engaged readers in her target audience, in a city so completely strange and oddly old-school as Austin. I imagine much fun will be had by all tomorrow, the least of which, a humble, prospective author. Happy Friday to you, wherever you may be!