And…done!

Last Tuesday afternoon I had the immeasurable pleasure of texting both my agent friend and my husband (who had already returned to New York) that my revisions were finished. A whole bunch of Awesome! and Wow, well done! followed. Then the panic set in. What had I done? I finished!!!!!!!!!! My OCD rose up and began to line-edit (again!) and beg for mistakes, work needed, moments with my characters to fill me up until I begin the sequel. All of these things are, of course, completely unnecessary. There will still be work because I am not a copyeditor, an editor, or my agent friend. I am just the lowly, obsessed author with a brain that won’t be still.

Today, after reveling in my rechecking, I sent my manuscript to my agent friend for a read. I’ve been spiraling since, and excited. Revisions are a funny friend. They make you feel like you are losing your mind, lost in your own world and out of control. This revision has seen me scrutinizing every scene to the last word, asking myself the hard question that no writer wants to ask: is this moving the plot forward? My answer was sometimes no, and sometimes for scenes I truly, absolutely loved.

I have had the question asked, over the last month of revisions, what is my next step?  My simple and untempered answer is: I don’t know. I have ideas, a swirl of ideas in a brain filled full. I have plans, and hopes, and scope, but I can’t tell you the order. I can’t be in control of that and I am utterly grateful for that fact. For now, I sit in a place of completion. This revision feels like a real end. And I feel like Winnie-the-Pooh here (only sub in my manuscript and a glass of wine):

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!

Some stuff about this week for me.

I’m still in Texas. This is what my sister-in-law Rebecca calls a creative sojourn. I am immersed in opportunity to write and explore the world I am creating, to change things that should be changed, and to comb through my mind for the best and brightest way to confront the issues in my world (both in construction and in theme) with almost no pressure at all. It is an amazing time.

But enough about me, and my glorious exploration into the uncharted wilderness of my own mind. This weekend, September 29, 2012 to be exact, I will be venturing from Denton to Austin for a wonderful (free!) event called The Austin Teen Book Festival. Check out the link here.

I will be volunteering in the afternoon tweeting, facebooking, and tumblring pics and info from the panels. In the morning, I will attend the Keynote speech by the uber-genius that is Neal Shusterman (author of Unwind), and the panel featuring Leigh Bardugo, Rae Carson and Sarah Rees Brennan (Shadow and Bone, Girl of Fire and Thorns, and Unspoken respectively) among other fabulous authors.

I’m excited about the opportunity to see all of these authors and hear what they have to say about where YA is and is to go. I also so appreciate that this festival exists, and is free, and that teens will get this opportunity to hear from the writers influencing the genre written for them. It’s a wonderful thing all around. If you are in the general area and are a lover of YA, please check it out. You can also make a donation to the APLFF, who are responsible for putting the festival on for free. Good stuff all around.

 

I’m the Map!

Map-Maker, Map-Maker, make me a map, build me a world, ink it all out!

Or draw it with a Wacom tablet and map-making software. Whatever, I just need one.

Today, after avoiding any tactile pre-writing, plotting, or the like, I finally broke down and bought myself a sketch pad. Now, I cannot stress to you how very poor an artist I truly am. I generally avoid graphite and paper without lines. (Who am I kidding? I generally avoid paper and pens, even the erasable kind.) In my manuscript there is a point where a map is presented to the protagonist. This map is described, in some detail, by the protagonist as she lays out the boundaries and scope of her journey.

I needed a visual of this map. My husband is an artist, both fine and of the tech-variety, but I am not. He may someday, should it become necessary, make me a map that looks way prettier and shinier than my own crude version. But my own version, for the purposes of storytelling and needing to make sure the image in my head is the image written in the manuscript, will do just fine.

Now, you are probably hoping for a the scanned sketch. Sorry, again, I am neither artistic nor super tech savvy. We are also in Texas where we have no printer/scanner/mind-reading devices at our present disposal, so my assurance that I have made a map and it is pretty bad will have to be enough. For now. When my book is published, I hope there will be a beautiful, clear and not-at-all smudged with my fingerprints map included in Chapter Seven where she (protagonist) first sees it herself.

Until then, here are some fun maps of fictional worlds that my map in no way resembles. Enjoy!

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

I feel infinite.

Ok, so I have said before that I don’t particularly like to do reviews on this blog. I am not someone who feels books can necessarily be broken down by a reader for another reader. Reading is incredibly subjective. My agent friend and I recently discussed this in relation to my manuscript and her notes. So that is not what this is. At all.

A couple Road Trip Wednesday’s ago we had to write about our “best book in August”, and a bunch of the other carnival participants had read and chosen The Perks of Being a Wallflower by Stephen Chbosky. I had been planning to read it since the movie is coming out soon, but had been putting it off. All those who read it and discussed it on RTW did not necessarily encourage me to bump it up my Goodreads list anytime soon. I was actually dreading reading this book. I was actually terribly afraid of what I would find within the pages.

This week is back to school week, and almost on a whim, I decided it was time. (After thinking in detail about my high school years, both in and out of public school for the most recent Road Trip Wednesday.) I sat down yesterday evening after dinner with my Kindle and began to read. Around seven we had to go get my son diapers, so I had to take a break. We came back and I dove right back in. I didn’t much stop after that. My husband kindly played with Sam while I was absorbed into Charlie’s world. I couldn’t pull myself out. I was afraid of where this story was going, wracked with worry over Charlie and his open, exposed heart. I was torn up by the world he was watching unfold, and in love with it too. In love with him.

I will not give more information about the plot of the book, I will only say this: I cried for all the right reasons. That is all I can say because I don’t want you to miss out on the experience of feeling it all should you choose to read it. And you should choose to read it if you haven’t already. As I said on my Wednesday in response to the RTW question, my experience in high school was not a good one, and my parents took me out rather than subject themselves or anyone else to anymore turmoil.

This problem with school, both socially and disciplinarily, actually began much, much earlier than high school. High school was not the first time my parents took me out. After fifth grade I was home schooled with my best friend for two school years. When we moved to Colorado I went back to public school because I needed a way to make friends. I spent the first six weeks eating lunch with my eighth grade English teacher. She really encouraged me to find my way. I did not do well. I made friends, and enemies, I was a compulsive liar and troublemaker. I liked to create drama and intrigue wherever I went. I did eventually find comfort in the drama kids and a special grammar workshop my English teacher put me in. I loved my Community Service teacher (it was a weird elective, I know), and I terrorized my alcoholic science teacher. A man who never gave me detention even though I really, really deserved it. I made some good friends, and had some poetic interactions.

As I read about Charlie I ached. In my life I have had a few experiences like this with books. Overall I love to read, but not always does a book actually create something new in me. (To Kill a Mockingbird, Harry Potter, The Hunger Games, to name a few.) This book was published when I was in eighth grade. I wish I had found it then. I needed it then. Now is OK, but then would have been amazing.

For me, Charlie is a boy I know, and a piece of myself, and someone totally new. I think this book is incredibly relevant to the audience it targets because it is true. Yes, he is deeply intelligent and poetic, but his experience is also filled with honesty and sadness and hope, and that is needed. The concept of being completely present in life is a hard one to hold on to, whether you are fifteen or twenty seven. Charlie holds on to it, even when he comes up against something terribly bleak. This is worth taking to heart.

I am a mom to a son, and a sister to brothers, and a wife to a man who was once a high school wallflower-art-prodigy. I was also an outcast of my own creation. The Perks of Being a Wallflower touched on all those parts of me. If you have read it, I would love to hear your feedback. If you haven’t, do and then write me. For now here is the trailer for the upcoming film.

A Quandary in Exposure

Image by mikerigel

There’s an issue that’s been weighing on me lately, one that I think may or may not press on the minds of other writers seeking publication. It’s something I wonder about, I question, and then I throw out the window to hopefully see it splat against the wall because that’s how annoying I find this issue.

The issue? What people learn about you when they read a novel you wrote, and how much you cannot control the perception of you created by that novel and its moral or world view.

I think this accompanies the reality that when we write, the very cultivation of the words digs into our soul and pulls pieces out. I think this part is freaky and also exciting. It comes from the same part in us that rubber-necks alongside a car wreck and secretly smiles when a celebrity is arrested. It’s that kind of morbid fascination we have with pushing our boundaries, social or otherwise. It also lets us get to know ourselves and our world better, which is good, though can be a little embarrassing. But when you are writing in the hope of being published, this excavating also reveals the bones of the author to the reader (critics, friends, and bullies, alike) and that is the part that makes us recoil.

I recently did some work on my manuscript. Some necessary exposition, so to speak. This work will appear largely in the first third of the book. It deals in an aspect of the protagonists backstory that I have fought with putting in for every rewrite up to this point. I have lost the fight. My agent friend, in her editorial feedback, wanted to see this particular experience is technicolor. I wanted to hide from this particular experience. I wanted to hide from it, and yet I could neither change it nor make it less gut-wrenching.

This fact made me feel immediately exposed, like I am in front of a camera with noonday sun overhead. Whenever you write anything, it comes from a place in you. Either a place where you have been , or a truth you understand. We cannot be separate from our words, and therefore, when our words are read by others we cannot pretend it comes from a foreign place. It doesn’t. And owning that is what make this so hard. It’s also what makes it so rewarding for the reader.

Road Trip Wednesday #141

For this weeks Road Trip Wednesday the question is: What was the best book you read in July?

I read two books this last month, excluding my own manuscript twice, one was Literary Fiction and the other YA Fantasy. The first, Bridget Asher’s (one of the pen names Julianna Baggott prints under) The Provence Cure for the Brokenhearted, and the second was Shadow and Bone, by Leigh Bardugo. For me there was no better, but only completely and utterly different. How do you quantify the value of two things that in no way relate to one another? Let’s see if I can.

Time it took to read:

The Provence Cure for the Brokenhearted was a slower ride. It wasn’t something to consume quickly. It was like chocolate — or one of the French pastries she talks about in the book. I had to savor my time with it.

Shadow and Bone took me two days. It was rich and full, but the pace was active and the story filled with intrigue.

Narrator:

Both books were written in first person, past tense. The Provence Cure for the Brokenhearted is composed in the frazzled voice of Heidi Bartolozzi, a young widow. Shadow and Bone is told from the perspective of Alina, an orphan girl living in a magical offshoot of Russia. Both are strong, flawed, funny women with a lot going on in their lives. Both made me smile. Only one made me cry.

Plot:

The Provence Cure for the Brokenhearted follows Heidi to France with her son and niece, on a mission to salvage the families home there and rediscover herself separate from the loss of her husband. Heidi wars with these tasks, often times unwilling to let go of the loss and equally feeling to pull to be renewed.

Shadow and Bone is about the country of Ravka, and how Alina may be the key to saving it from the magical darkness that surrounds it. Her awkward rise to the top, and her sexy though foolish romance with the man who discovered her gift, is captivating.

Character:

The Provence Cure for the Brokenhearted is cast beautifully. From Heidi, a ruffled woman in her mid 30s, to Charlotte, the sixteen year old niece with a secret. Her young son, the neurotic and curious Abbott, is deeply compelling. (I am a sucker for sweet, wounded children.) Her romantic, though cold, mother — the matriarch that forces Heidi to confront her loss— is alive on the page. But for me, a woman who really loves her husband, Heidi’s long-dead husband really hit home for me. He’s beautiful, strong, and slightly nerdy. Their romance was genuinely heartbreaking to experience in the context of knowing he was dead.

Shadow and Bone is filled with characters that immediately feel fantastical but human. Alina, as a heroine, is incredibly compelling. Her perspective is sort of cynical, and I kind of love that. Mal, her best friend, is a cunning and genuinely selfless boy she has loved for years in secret. I was drawn the most though to The Darkling, the most powerful man in the kingdom next to the King, and also the most dangerous. Everything about him is sensual and mysterious. There’s also the funny, beautiful friend and the boy she loves. A crazy old woman, beautifully illustrated, as well as a combat teacher modeled — it would seem — after Jackie Chan.

So, overall, which is the best? I’m still undecided. They serve very different purposes and create totally different emotions in me. It’s an example of why it’s so important to read in different genres. Each genre has something brilliant to offer.

You might also like:

Pure Baggott

This post is really about two things, but they overlap, so it will be written as one. I recently read a YA book called Pure, by the New York Times Bestselling author, Julianna Baggott. I don’t know if I would have known about the book if not for my agent friend Julie. I read YA, and more so now that I am writing YA, but a lot of really amazing stuff gets by me because I don’t always have the drive to search. Pure could have been one of those.

I read it a few weeks ago while I was finishing my novel. In some ways, I think this was a mistake. I was in the throws of romance, all hot and sweaty for my own story, not necessarily absorbing what I was reading. That said, I still think about it with an eye twitch and ache in my chest. I will not review it. I do not feel qualified. I will tell you, if it is not on your radar, let this blog post put it there. Pure was stunning. It was written in third-person, which is not widespread habit of YA writers. It is a lot more literary than some of the YA we may all be used to. It also deals some pretty loaded hands, paints some pretty graphic pictures, glares at some pretty real issues. Some of the description required multiple reads (again, this may be because my head was full of my own book) and even then sometimes the result was more of a brow knit. Don’t let that deter you, because upon another read (now that my head is clearing) I am feeling very differently.

I was perusing the web for blogs on writing, wanting to build my knowledge of what other writers are saying, reading, coloring, and I came across Julianna Baggott’s blog. Baggott writes under three names: Julianna Baggott (her legal name), Bridget Asher, and N.E. Bode. She has published over seventeen novels and poetry anthologies. I chose to check out her blog, and that is what this post in really about.

As a writer, Baggott is prolific. She is not only renowned in publishing, but she is a scholar of books and teaches that craft to future writers by way of Florida State University. She is long married with four children (ahh!). I set about reading some posts and promptly fell madly in love. Her voice as a human being is really bold, full of ballsy goodness and knowledge. And better, she writes not only about writing (publishing, agents, books, authors) but about real life. She writes about herself, her kids, and her vulnerability and humor befits a person that has seen many things of the world and still believes in it.

I have just been clicking through her blog, absorbing her words, laughing, nodding. In one particular post, I found myself nearly tear up. Not from sadness, but solidarity. The link to that post and the rest of her blog is here. She beautifully describes the road to a publishable manuscript as being gutted. I also have described it this way, and I was shocked by it. I will continue to feel completely vulnerable, all exposed nerves and blazing skin, for years to come I hope. And I know, Baggott would agree with me. I also hope for it to all be worth it. Not by monetary calculations, but by the assessment of worth in readers. For all our scowling, we really want to connect.

I highly recommend you peruse her blog. It’s a good read. And, as she says at the end of many of her posts: go buy Pure!