Tuesday, August 31, 2010

things are not always what they seem

stick with me. this post really is about writing.

so, about ten years ago, i took a whirlwind trip to Europe and was most excited to see Venice, Italy. it's the closest city to where my ancestors came from, and really - who can't fall in love from afar when they see pictures of a place like that?

but arriving in Venezia shattered my enthusiasm.
we got off the train late at night, and the first impressions to assault our senses were neon lights and a foul smell. that arrival was followed by more disappointment the next day. the maps we were using to get around were completely worthless. (i mean, i literally thought someone was playing a prank on us. there were streets on the map that didn't exist and streets in real life that didn't exist on the map.) that night, we were physically chased down the street by people grasping for our purses or pockets and were frightened to see police shouldering some extreme looking guns.

by the end of that day - and i will never forget this moment - i was sitting at a sidewalk table outside a pizzeria waiting for my parents to place an order and feeling like i might cry. i felt frightened by the heavily armed officers coming down one side of the street and the filthy homeless man shuffling up the other side. i was squinting my eyes, trying to block out the garish carnival lights that had lit up the streets with neon everywhere we'd been.

and that's when i heard it.
the most beautiful operatic voice i'd ever heard - a tenor and pitch perfect - singing something sweet and slow that echoed all the way down the stone street. i opened my eyes to look for the source of the sound, and the first thing i noticed is that the lights around me were not actually neon. in fact, there were few lights on this street at all. the only illumination came from the reflection of twinkling lights bouncing off the water across from me.
that water lapped over a set of stairs that descended mysteriously from the street right down under the surface - a path that once led somewhere no longer accessable - a history now buried under water.

the singing continued, grew stronger, taking advantage of the perfect acoustics on this street. i studied each passerby, but no one appeared to be singing. i checked the officers. no music there, but i did hear their laughter now, their friendly greetings to others on the road - including me.
i looked back to my magical stairs that disappeared into the water and saw the homeless man stop to rest there on those steps. and that's when i realized... he was the tenor.
the most beautiful sound i'd ever heard was coming from a man who sheltered, ugly, american me had automatically been afraid of. watching him effortlessly make music that filled every space around me, in a setting that i now saw as romantic, not garish at all, i suddenly felt my whole perspective shifting.
the story i'd been telling myself about this street wasn't the true story at all. i just wouldn't allow myself to step back and see the beauty that was really there, because i was already in the wrong mindset and trying to impose my negativity on everything.

after that, we tossed our maps in the trash and embraced Venice for what it is - a place to get lost in - because everywhere you go in that city feels like a secret discovery, and there is no ugly, really. there is only different lighting and different colorful characters to make every corner feel unique and special.
it is - and probably always will be - my most favorite city in the world.

nothing will ever compare to that revelation there outside the pizzeria, but i occassionally have similar breakthroughs that remind me of that moment. breakthroughs in which i realize i've been trying to mold the facts into my predisposed notions instead of letting the facts shape my ideas.
i had one of these moments last night with my WIP.

- i wrote an outline. i know where i'm going. so how can i possibly be this lost?
- ah! because i'm going the wrong way. i am following a map that doesn't accurately reflect the streets around me. i am trying to force a path that doesn't exist and failing to see the opportunities right in front of me.

so i deviated from the outline. i deviated in a way that changed the whole nut of the story. i deviated in a way that allowed my characters to breath and gave them something to do. and i heard that opera singer's voice in my head and knew i was really seeing my story properly for the first time.

and then, of course, because i am still OCD me - i rewrote the entire outline. ;)

Monday, August 30, 2010

every picture tells a story...

...don't it?

the folks over at wordle have come up with just what writers need - a new online distraction to help us procrastinate writing!

actually, i think this particular diversion has been around for awhile, but i've only just discovered what a time suck it can be.

here's how it works: you paste a large amount of text into a box, and wordle will create a collage of the most common words, showing you which ones feature most prominently in your manuscript (or blog or whatever you choose).

Here's my wordle for my WIP, Billy D. and the Bully:
Wordle: wip
(click to enlarge)

it's a fun toy, obviously, but it's also educational. notice two of the most prominent words in my jumble are "just" and "like." the same was true when i created a wordle for Butter.

i guess i just, like, can't help myself, y'know?

so you can use this as a tool to see which words you might be over-using, then do a search and destroy in your MS. or you can use it as a guide for which themes or characters are emerging in a significant way.

(i mean, whatever you have to tell yourself to rationalize the time wasted playing around on the site. that's what i'm doing. rationalization is my friend.)

now excuse me, i have to go wordle this blog post...

Monday, August 23, 2010

learn as you go

my dad (AKA the blogging police) pointed out i've been slacking here.

perhaps that's because i'm in a bit of a "path-to-publishing" lull. the agent search is over; the submission nail-biting has yet to begin. i just don't have a lot of insight to share during this brief limbo stage.

instead, i've been studying and learning. and by that - i mean writing.
i learn something new with every book, and i thought i'd share a few of those lessons here.

Sammy Vegas
the first real novel i ever attempted to write taught me:
  • without an outline, my stories amble off course and never get finished.
  • writing a book is time-consuming and requires some sacrifices to find that time.
  • most important, it taught me: maybe i don't suck at this, and maybe i kind of love it... a lot.
Losers (Rebel, Bully, Geek, Pariah)
the first novel i ever finished taught me:
  • a good hook/concept is nothing without a well-planned plot.
  • third person with multiple MCs is not the right format for me.
  • most important, it taught me: i can get to "The End," and even then the book might not be good enough... and that's actually okay, because i have this other idea...
the first novel i ever queried taught me:
  • how to edit - really edit. cut scenes, re-order chapters, insert new story elements and completely rewrite multiple chapters from scratch... all after i thought i was "done."
  • what kind of stories i want to write and what i really want to say.
  • most important, it taught me: finishing a book is really just the beginning. and with any luck, this one's not done yet.
Billy D. & the Bully (working title)
the book i'm writing right now taught me:
  • not every book gets written at the same pace; not every book is built via the same process (for me anyway).
  • writing is the best distraction from all that "path-to-publishing" neurosis.
  • most of all, it taught me: ....well, i don't know the "most of all" yet. i'll let ya know when i'm all done. ;)
one of the many things my agent and i talked about before signing was how every book you write is important. maybe it's not the book you query; maybe it's not the book that sells; but you had to write it for a reason. sometimes you just don't know what that reason is until you're done.

what about you? what have you learned from your own writing?

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

donde esta el bano?

i didn't always know what i was talking about.
oh, let's face it - i still don't know what i'm talking about most of the time. i'm just a newly agented wannabe trying to break into a biz full of real authors.

what i mean by "i didn't always know what i was talking about" is... when i first jumped into the online writing community, i didn't know what everyone else was talking about.
what's a WIP? what's a beta? what's a query?

i still run into acronyms i can't decode and sheepishly have to ask someone to interpret.
and don't get me started on text-style chat symbols that run rampant on twitter and forums.

do you realize i thought <3 meant "boobs" for months?!
seriously, i saw those little hearts everywhere and thought i was just completely out of touch and that apparently "boobs" was the new way to say "cool!" or "i like it!"

oh, and i finally had to get on a forum and just ask straight up what this meant:
thanks to the folks who let me know it meant blank stare or shock and not "heads will roll."
(it's good to know now that one of my early betas who used that symbol often was not actually threatening me.)

the point is, publishing has its own language, and the online community has its own hieroglyphics! unfortunately, there is no rosetta stone to interpret either, so you have to get what you can from context and suck it up and ask for help figuring out the rest.

i just thought i'd throw that out there for any writers new to the web community and trying to decipher the codes. i don't claim to speak the language fluently, but i can promise you there are kind interpreters over at Absolute Write ("AW") who can help. in the meantime, concentrate on writing a good book and worry about the lingo later.

that's all for tonight, because i have to get the WC up on my WIP and file away the old Rs and R&Rs from the Qs for my MS now that it's REPPED.

Thursday, August 12, 2010

a rare rant

true story.

about 10 or 12 years ago, i was home from college on a holiday break, enjoying some much-deserved time reading for pleasure instead of reading for school. i was happily toting around a different book every day. one book in particular would one day be ranked among my top three.
one evening, a family friend (we'll call him "BS" for "the book spoiler") saw me clutching future favorite book and commented how much he liked it.
what follows is a very real conversation:

BS: it's so good because -
Me: no, wait! don't say anything! i'm not even halfway through it yet.
BS: ok, it's just that -
Me: really, i don't want to know anything.
BS: i understand. i won't give anything away. it's just that character X is the worst villain in -
Me: i know, but don't tell me!
BS: i won't. it's just, you think she's evil now?
Me: please.
BS: wait until -
Me: no, please..
BS: - you see how she reacts when character Y ...dies.
Me: (mouth and eyes wide open, too shocked to cry)
BS: what?
Me: you just ruined it.
BS: no i didn't.
Me: yeah... yeah, you did.

i cannot stand book spoilers.

now, that's not to say i object to people putting book spoilers up on the internet ever at all. freedom of information and all that.
but i do appreciate a nice big flashing *spoilers ahead* warning, and it doesn't hurt to resist putting up spoilers until a book has been out in the world for at least a few days.

i also don't really mind movie spoilers. if i know the ending, see the flick anyway, and it ruins the movie for me... what have i really lost? two hours of my time and 20 bucks for the ticket and popcorn? meh. i'll survive.
but i think we invest a lot more in reading. not just more time, but more heart, more imagination. we go somewhere when we read, and spoiling a book spoils the whole trip.

i eventually forgave our family friend. he was inconsiderate but not evil.
but i hate.. i detest.. i LOATHE.. the young man who stood outside the Harry Potter book 6 midnight release party, skipped to the last few chapters and shouted - literally shouted - the climactic ending to everyone who walked out of Borders that night.
i managed to convince myself he made it up and was just trying to be funny.
but for all the children who might struggle to read a book as big as Harry Potter... for all the families looking forward to sharing the big "gasp" moments in the story... for everyone who loves HP enough to show up at midnight on a school/work night... for all of them, i hate that guy.

now, many of you may have seen the plea this week by Suzanne Collins to not post Mockingjay spoilers on the web - or at the very least, to wait a few days. if you haven't seen it yet, here is the link.
i hope readers will respect this fine author's wishes and try very hard not to spoil the plot twists - intentionally, accidentally or otherwise.
her plea hits close to home, because now i will confess:
recently, my mom was reading Hunger Games, and in my effort to convince her to read the next book, Catching Fire, i said something about the 2nd book plot that gave away a huge part of the ending of Hunger Games. my dad, who already read the 1st book, spotted my faux pas and gave me a look similar to the one i gave our family friend all those years ago.
when i realized my error, i wanted to cry. my mom instantly forgave me, but i was miserable for my mistake.
so i, for one, am keeping mum about Mockingjay.
and i hope you all will too.

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

reading, writing and...

...well that's it.

i've been thinking a lot about what writers read versus what they write.

the advice all over the interwebs is clear: be well-read. be especially well-read in your genre.
and i thought i was! surely, i read more than almost anyone i know. but when i see the virtual bookshelves of some folks on goodreads or see the looooong lists of recommended titles by people on blogs or witness other writers taking on challenges like "100 books in a year," my brain goes spinny.

i have never read 100 books in a year. i'm lucky to read a dozen in a single summer, when i cram in the most reading.
and because my reading time is limited (and therefore precious), i confess to reading more of the genres i DON'T write in than the one i do. why? because i enjoy them more.

for me, the best books to lose myself in are Dystopian or Paranormal. they are nothing like what i write, so i give myself permission to just enjoy them - not look at them with a critical eye or compare them to what i'm writing. immersing myself in someone else's made-up world is the greatest form of entertainment.

but i get much more excited writing contemporary teenagers in real-world situations. i like to think, when i write, this could actually be happening to someone somewhere right now.

so it's surprising to me that i don't like reading contemp YA as much. i've certainly read a lot more of it since i started writing it, but i admit that is partly because i am following the excellent advice of others who say to be well-read in your genre - and not because those books actually jumped off the shelf at me.
granted, i have discovered some luscious stories this way and now have many favorites in the contemporary YA genre that i otherwise would not have read. but still, when i walk into a bookstore, i am drawn to the shelves stocked with fantastical beasts and imaginary places. no matter what i write, these books will always be the ones i want to read.

i'm curious to know whether this is true for other authors as well. any of you sci-fi writers out there die-hard fans of a good romance? any horror writers whose favorite books are westerns? and why do you think that is?

Thursday, August 5, 2010

everything you ever wanted to know about...

...my agent!

my agent, Jennifer Laughran, is the star of this week's Agent Spotlight over on Casey McCormick's blog, "Literary Rambles."

(by the way, if you are in search of an agent, bookmark Casey's blog immediately. whenever i was researching an agent, i always had 5 web tabs open on my computer at once: Absolute Write, QueryTracker, Publishers Marketplace, the agent's website and Casey's website.)

hop on over for a wealth of info about Jennifer and other fabulous agents who rep YA!

i'm sorry for the short blogs the last couple of days.
pssst. it's because i'm writing! yay. :)

i'll have a longer post soon. in the meantime:

1. i was once a subway sandwich artist.
2. i was a half-time dancer in high school.
3. i can write in cursive with my freakishly long toes.
4. i can spin 3 hula hoops at once for four minutes straight.

which one is the lie?

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

mi beta es su beta!

today is the day!!!

this is your chance to win a query or 5-page critique from my beyond-awesome beta reader and FinePrint super intern, Gemma Cooper!

to win, enter the EPIC SUMMER CONTEST hosted at the links below.

also, absorb tons of good advice from both Gemma and Meredith Barnes (assistant to uber-agent Janet Reid) in a spectacular two-part interview!

part one is HERE. link! click it!

part two is HERE. link! click it!

Sunday, August 1, 2010

the trouble with twitter

i am always one step behind when it comes to social media.

i was late to the MySpace party – like, so late that by the time i got there everyone had already switched to Facebook.

i resisted FB because, geez, i had just found my way around myspace and posted all these pictures and found a cool background and made friends and OMG WHY IS EVERYONE LEAVING ME??
i finally made the switch in protest. i hated FB at first, with its non-user-friendly interface and its no-frills design, but that’s where the party was, so i went. eventually, i warmed up to its merits. hey! i haven’t seen that guy since high school! whoa! my BFF from 10 years ago! my aunt! my cousins! Facebook is the best!!

i’m less gung-ho now, but i still use it to share photos with folks who are far away and to keep up with people i otherwise would lose touch with. mostly, i use it much like folks use Twitter – to say something really quick on the move or to post a quick link or pic.

so why am i so resistant to the ACTUAL Twitter site?
well, for starters, the first and only time i ever tried Twitter was a disaster. how am i supposed to find people i know with all these crazy handles? who are these people following me when my account is 5 seconds old? and OMFG HOW DO I MAKE MY CELL PHONE STOP TWEETING ME EVERY 16 SECONDS??!

account delete.

that experience put me off Twitter for quite awhile. in the meantime, i took up blogging.
this was a game i could play. blogging was the first online medium i fully embraced from the beginning. no pressure to post every day, let alone every 5 minutes. when i have something to say, i can actually say something, without trying to keep it to 140 characters. for the most part, i can limit my blog to writing about writing instead of feeling so pressured to say something – anything – that i end up telling everyone i’m wearing my Monday panties on Thursday or that the chorizo burrito i just ate made me spend 20 minutes in the bathroom.

seriously. these are the things i’m afraid i would tweet if tweeted. twatted?

my fear of Twitter is partly due to something i know about myself – i’m not going to half-ass it. if i join the Twitter ranks, i will feel compelled to fully participate – to build a following, to post multiple times a day, to keep up with my fellow tweeters.
and that is a time suck.

i abandoned MySpace a long time ago, but i still maintain my blog and my Facebook (which means spending time reading the other blogs and facebook pages I’m connected to). those things, combined with keeping up with all my favorite threads and friends on the Absolute Write forums, probably suck up one or two hours of my day… almost every. single. day. i can only imagine the time i would invest in Twitter.

and that is time not spent writing, which needs to be my focus. So for now i am staying off Twitter.
now that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t tweet. quite the opposite! the more people on Twitter, the more writers and pub peeps for me to stalk follow. i check Twitter daily to see what people are talking about in #askagent and #yalitchat. i’m learning about hashtags and tiny urls. i’m observing how others successfully use Twitter to network and promote and just keep up with their buddies in general.

so when (not if, but when) i join Twitter, i will be ready to jump in with both feet. it’s just a matter of time.