Thursday, September 30, 2010

letter to october

dear october,

you know you're my favorite. i've loved you best of all the months for as long as i can remember.

you make all the leaves turn colors back home.
you make apples taste better.
you chase away the awful arizona heat.
you bring me pumpkins and cider and campfires and open windows.
you give me a whole month of halloween prep, which you know is my favorite holiday to plan.

october 2010...
you are going to kick my ass.

i love remodeling. i love yard sales. i love vacations - especially to the happiest place on earth. and i love love love hosting the annual halloween party.
but, october, do you really expect me to do all of this in a single month?

i think you are getting greedy. i think you should share the fun with some other months. next year, let's let april have the yard sale and january take over the vacation. maybe july would like to try remodeling.

but let's not share anything with november, okay? november is for WRITING.
because as much as i love you, october, i also love it when you leave, and i can get back to the writing.

Monday, September 27, 2010

teen me

so, i had fully planned to participate in the rejectionist's awesome humiliation "uncontest" today, which involves digging into your childhood/teenage diaries and posting your most embarrassing entries and/or sharing some of your first ventures into writing.

but after an hour revisiting my teenage angst, i have to say - OH HELL NO! NONE OF THIS CRAP IS GOING ONLINE! my journals are mortifying. i'm tempted to burn them.

but i did learn a few things from the exercise, and some of you who kept journals and who now write for young adults might want to give it a try.

observation - teen me thought mostly about boys, friends, Boys, theater, boys, family, BOYS, how to be popular and OMG BOYS!!
lesson - if i ever write from the POV of a girl, it should probably at least somewhat involve her interest in ...boys.

observation - teen me had decent vocabulary and grammar skills.
lesson - don't write down to teen readers.

observation - despite said vocab and grammar skills, teen me liked to write in short. choppy. sentences. sometimes the thoughts changed at lightning speed from one short sentence to the next.
lesson - pace! teens think fast and feel fast. writing for them should reflect that.

if you, like me, are well past the age of the characters you write, it doesn't hurt to return to that teenage voice and tap into those teen emotions. however, i will say - thankfully - my characters are so much cooler and more interesting than i was!

finally, one bit of youthful writing i'm not afraid to share is my first "book." (AKA 'a 3rd grader's attempt at plagiarism')
in fact, i already posted it here. <-- link! click it!

happy monday.

Thursday, September 23, 2010

while on sub

while on submission to publishers, it's important to keep your mind off the process by finding other things to occupy your time.

the most common advice online is to write something else.

yeah, that's all well and good and probably what you should be doing, but for me - it's not a great distraction, because working on my WIP makes me think about writing.. which leads to thinking about other books i've written.. which leads to thinking about the book that's on sub.. which leads to obsessive email checking!

i find these distractions much healthier:

1) remodel your bathroom.
- start by planning just to paint. then, of course, notice some water damage that has to be dealt with first and proceed to hire a contractor to tear out a wall and part of your ceiling. hire another contractor to replace your skylights so the water damage does not return. after this, decide there's no point in painting without a new bathroom door to complete the look. have Handsome spend a week rebuilding the door and the entire frame. spend days and days repeatedly dusting up the debris left behind by this work. also, have Handsome photoshop the heck out of your bathroom, so you have a vision before painting. tape off the entire bathroom so it's completely unusable, then proceed to lose all interest in the project.
(because, um, how can you possibly worry about painting when your book is on sub and you have to go check your email?!)

2) take a vacation that requires 4 plane rides and two long car trips.
- be sure to get lost in the car on the way to your destination so that you have to concentrate on arguing with your family and navigating with your cell phone.
(turn right here. now turn left. uhhh... what's that? i don't know the next road. i turned off google maps to check my email. i'm on sub, you know!)

3) reprogram your tivo.
- use entertainment magazines to chart your fall TV schedule. settle on the couch, prepared to program, and notice Handsome has hooked up a PlayStation 3 to the TV. great! video games will be a perfect distraction! demand Handsome show you how to use it. then, naturally, discover the coolest thing the PS3 does is surf the web - turning your TV into the world's largest computer monitor.
(omg. do you know what website would look awesome on a 50-inch monitor? my email inbox.)

4) focus on your day job.
- pay particular attention to your email inbox at work. 600 emails a day is a lot to wade through. it's a great time suck to keep your mind off sub.
(and you'll get to it... right after you check the (1) message in your gmail inbox.)

Sunday, September 19, 2010

speak up


the literary blogosphere is alive this normally sleepy Sunday - alive with outrage over an editorial by some ass face in Missouri who is pushing for censorship of the much-loved book, Speak, by Laurie Halse Anderson... an article in which he not only slams Anderson but also - for good measure - my favorite author of all time (whose book was, in fact, removed from the school district's curriculum - sadly).

here's the bottom line on the controversy: the article implies that the rape scenes in Speak are akin to pornography. he further implies that no good Christian would condone such a book.

i wouldn't normally waste blog space even acknowledging such ignorance, but in this case, the author herself has called for help, and i'm inclined to answer that call and add my voice to the chorus of those "speaking up for Speak."

from Anderson's website:

I need your help.

Please share your experiences with SPEAK; your own response to the book, or the way you’ve seen it work in a school setting. Tahleen has already posted her thoughts on her blog. You can do the same. Please share links to your blog in Comments.

i don't have a personal story to share, but i wanted to guide you to some of the more eloquent posts i've read on the subject tonight, in case you haven't seen them:

- click here for a response from the author herself. the poem in the video moved me to tears.
click here for a response from a SURVIVOR.
click here for a response from a Christian.
click here for a response from a literary agent.
click here for a long-ass list of links to blogs by writers and opponents of censorship.
and aw, hell, click here for a link to the original article causing the uproar, because i'm a journalist down to my bones and believe you need to read both sides of the story to make up your own mind. (though i can't imagine anyone reading this guy's thoughts and feeling anything other than horror and embarrassment on his behalf.)

by the way, if you write grit and truth and things that teens NEED to read and talk about, even if it scares adults... then the best revenge on this guy is to write those books and make them sing.

because an army of teenagers toting around books like Speak screams a lot louder than the voice of a single fool.

Saturday, September 18, 2010

head Wall BANG

i went on a tear writing yesterday. i mean, really - i nearly set my laptop on fire!

want to see what i wrote? here it is:

aha! plot! there you are!

...about three thousand words of garbage before i got back to my plot thread. normally, that would make me want to bang my head against a wall and give up on the WIP - okay, actually i STILL wanted to bang my head against a wall - but i did not feel inclined to walk away from the book.

i am generally not of that clan of writers who say "it's okay to write crap." personally, if i'm writing crap, the story is probably crap too, and i get bored of my own crap and move on to something else.
but in this case, i feel deeply committed to the characters and the story. so even though i spent a whole day writing scenes that will probably not even make it to the beta stage of this MS, it doesn't feel like time wasted. in fact, i'm excited to finish and get into revisions, so i can go back and erase all that crap - or at least figure out how to condense it.

i think i've said this before, but for me, the only manuscripts that have any chance of going anywhere are the ones i know i'll be willing to go back and revise a thousand times.
garbage can be rewritten. crap can be erased. hell, plot line can be changed. as long as the story has heart and character, i know i'm still committed.

or maybe i just need to BE committed - because only a crazy person would spend an entire day of vacation writing crap and banging their head against a wall.

p.s. if this doesn't sound crazy to you at all... you are probably a writer too. ;)

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

master procrastinator

i got a question in the comments yesterday about how to get past writer's block that's not really writing or story related but more of a "personal motivation issue."

let's call it: Lazy Writer Syndrome.

the first rule of LWS is... it's not your fault!

what i'm going to say will probably be frowned upon by many disciplined writers, but i'm being serious here.
being a little lazy is a personality trait, just like being charming or kind. (this guy with a fancy medical degree disagrees with me, but whatever.) the point is, laziness is something that comes naturally to a lot of people, so i don't want anyone out there suffering from LWS to feel bad about themselves.

however, just like any less-than-desirable personality trait, it may be negatively affecting parts of your life... like say, your dream of finishing a manuscript.
so you need to find ways to combat it when necessary. and i have some tips/ideas/suggestions to do just that. but first let me tell you why i am qualified to make these suggestions:

i too suffer from LWS!!
i am a natural procrastinator. i'd even go so far as to call myself the Master Procrastinator.

it is part of the reason i obsessively make lists. if i didn't, i would simply never get anything done. i would put it all off until "tomorrow" - with the definition of tomorrow being the day after i die. but my desire to be a writer is much stronger than my desire to put things off, so i have had to come up with ways to get motivated to write.

and here they are.

1) my NUMBER ONE suggestion for combating LWS is to read - not just any book - your book.

back up a chapter or two and read up to where you left off writing. reading is free of obligation. there's no pressure to write. however, i find - 90% of the time - by the time i read up to where i stopped, i'm into the story enough that i'm now in the mood to write. i almost always end up writing at least a few hundred words on the nights i tell myself i'm just going to read.

2) as i mentioned in yesterday's post, sometimes the words are just flowing. TAKE ADVANTAGE OF THESE DAYS!

if you are having a moment when a scene just keeps writing itself in your head - but DARN IT you have other things to do! - this is when you should utilize your skill of procrastination by... putting off everything else!
the laundry and dishes can wait until tomorrow. TIVO will hold on to your favorite TV show for a few more hours. dump the entire "to do" list over to tomorrow and write those words NOW, while they are coming. if you bang out a few thousand words in one night, you'll have written as much as many more disciplined writers do in a week.

3) take a writing "staycation."

this worked wonders for me when i was doing revisions for agents who requested changes. i wanted to get them done on some sort of deadline, so putting off writing was not an option. i took a couple of days off work, cleared my schedule of any chores or obligations and forced myself to spend entire days writing. it definitely felt like "work" on these days, but the end result was a lot of satisfaction in my high word count!
(this worked for me because i am not one of those people who can write in the ten minutes i'm waiting for my takeout food order or in the 20 minutes it takes to get my car washed. i don't operate like that. much admiration for the writers who do. it's just not me. i need to be immersed.)

4) goals and rewards.

you need to muster up a little will power for this one, and i confess i'm not too good at it myself, but when i do it, it works.
real housewives of new jersey is on? set the TIVO and tell yourself you only get to watch it tonight if you write for an hour first (or finish the chapter you're on or whatever). just set a goal, and use the thing that would normally distract you from writing as your reward. this one works for me, because once i start writing, i usually get absorbed and forget all about the "reward." i generally end up spending even more time writing on these nights than i planned. for me, "goals and rewards" is really just about giving yourself a reason to get in the chair and write, when writing alone is not motivation enough.

5) finally, i go back to what i said yesterday - it might not be a case of LWS so much as a case of slumping story.

if you're really not AT ALL motivated to write, take a look at your manuscript and ask yourself if people would be motivated to read. you might be surprised to discover the problem was in the manuscript all along.

anyone else have ideas to share about getting motivated and making time to write? this master procrastinator can always use more help!

Monday, September 13, 2010

move along

note to self:
if the writing's not moving, neither is the story.

my first completed manuscript took more than a year to write, largely because i would hit a patch of disinterest and walk away from it for a loooong time (one break lasted 3 months).

my next completed ms took less than three months, because i never got bored writing it. the story kept propelling itself forward, to the point where it was moving so fast i had to write every day, or i wouldn't be able to keep up.

guess which book is better?

i didn't really make the connection at first, but i think the parts where i walked away for awhile as a writer are the same parts where a reader would walk away forever. if you, as the writer, aren't interested enough in what happens next, you can bet most of your readers will lose interest too.
i mentioned in an earlier blog post that i deviated from the outline in my current WIP, because i needed some action for the characters. before this deviation, i found myself writing a couple hundred words then walking away for a day or two... because i was bored. but once i changed the direction, i sat down and BAM! - 1500 words in an hour.

it made me realize my writing pace matches the story pace.
i know a scene is working if i spend an hour or two writing in the morning and still can't turn off the words. i'll dictate the next paragraphs into a voice recorder on the way to work. if the words are still coming, then i'll email myself a couple more paragraphs from work during lunch. then i'll transcribe all of it into the manuscript that night and probably write another thousand words or so.

that doesn't mean it's always good writing or that the whole chapter won't get deleted later, but it does let me know the story is moving.

this might not be true for everyone, but if you hit a point in your book that has you wishing you were doing the dishes instead of writing, it's worth asking yourself what's happening in the story - the answer may be "nothing."

Tuesday, September 7, 2010


it’s official. i am now ON SUB!
(or, for the non-writerly followers: “on submission” to publishers – the people who edit the books and give them pretty covers and get them into bookstores and who give authors moneystuff!)


naturally, i am totally taking this in stride. no biggie. ;)

now, don’t forget to enter the contest to win a Query Critique from FinePrint/Nancy Coffey literary intern extraordinaire, Gemma Cooper! (Link! Click it!)
the contest ends in 24 hours.

Monday, September 6, 2010

behind the curtain! and my first real CONTEST!

so many of us in the literary blogosphere are writers. but there are many out there who aspire to take on a different role in publishing.
if you’ve ever dreamed about being an agent (the power! the pleasure of reading and getting paid for it!) or if you’ve ever just wondered what the heck is happening on the other end of that query… then oh boy, do i have a treat for you today!

one thing i’ve gathered about getting a job in the publishing industry is that it often – i’d venture to say MOST often – begins with an internship. but believe it or not – it’s NOT EASY to get a job with long hours and no pay!

fortunately, if any of you ever apply for an internship, you’ll be armed with information – thanks to Gemma Cooper! Gem is fresh off an internship with FinePrint and Nancy Coffey literary agencies, and she graciously agreed to answer some pressing questions about what it takes to land – and then ROCK – a literary internship!

and Gem is offering more than her insight today. she’s providing the prize for my first-ever BLOG CONTEST! (but more on that later.)

so let’s put Gem in the hot seat and jump right in!

EJ - What was the application process like for your internship? How stiff was the competition?

GEM - From talking to a friend of mine who is a literary assistant, I found a great resource for internships - I’d been to the Backspace Writers Conference in November last year, and some of the people that impressed me the most worked at FP/NC (Joanna, Janet, Steph, Colleen). So, imagine my excitement when I saw they had a summer internship! For the initial contact, I had to write a cover letter talking a bit about myself and why I wanted to be an intern at a literary agency. Also, I sent my resume. This was a joint internship program to work at FinePrint Literary Agency and Nancy Coffey Media and Literary Representation and they had around 100 applicants. From these applicants, they interviewed 40. For the interview, we had to bring a short reader report on something we had read recently and be prepared to talk books (which is of course one of my favorite things to talk about!) I picked ‘Before I Fall’ from Lauren Oliver for my report, which was a great choice as agent Suzie Townsend had just read it. Reader reports are a HUGE part of an intern’s job, so they were checking that we could write a short synopsis and convey the strengths and weakness of a story concisely. I was lucky enough to be one of 6 that got the internship for the summer. (I love my fellow interns *waves*)

EJ - Walk us through the typical week of an intern for FP/NC.

GEM - A typical week means reading. Lots and lots of reading. We are the second eyes on client manuscripts, submissions, and queries. We also write reader reports for all the manuscripts we read. I used to be horrible at writing short synopses (when I think back years ago to my own poor attempts at queries... oh dear) but the more you practice the better you get.

EJ - What did you learn about the publishing biz that you never would have known without your internship?

GEM - I would never have known just how much everyone works! Having been on the writing side of publishing first, I always thought I was the only person slaving away until the early hours of the morning. But no, agents work long hours and even as an intern I would be reading very late - but that's okay, because I love books and I loved this internship. Which brings me to something else I learnt from spending time with agents - publishing is not just their job, it’s a big part of their lives. Agents are all genuine book lovers (who will even go to midnight book parties for books they don’t rep). And this is important because, if an agent signs you, you want them to have a breadth of knowledge of what’s going on in the industry.

EJ - Interns work for free, and from what I’ve heard – for the first few years at least, so do agents! What else should people consider before jumping into a career in publishing?

GEM - Well, you mentioned the main one – books need to be something you love, because initially you do have to get by on love of the job alone! I would also suggest that people research the different sides of publishing to see where their skills would be most suited – agenting, editing, film/foreign rights, marketing, sales – there are so many facets to publishing that you could rush into the wrong area just because you love books and not consider which area is the right fit. Also, you do need to realize that unlike some jobs, publishing is not 9-5.

EJ - I’ll bet one perk of interning is getting a sneak peek at some highly anticipated books – and some great stories we haven’t even heard of yet. Go ahead – make us jealous.

GEM - I have been very lucky to be interning just before the release of Personal Demons (Sept 14th) and The Duff (Sept 7th). It’s a very fun time at both agencies! I remember coming into the office one morning and seeing Suzie’s excitement when the first ARC’s of Personal Demons arrived. And last week I got to hold a hardback of The Duff – seriously the most beautiful thing you will put on your bookshelf this year. It’s so great to hold the finished books and see the culmination of all that hard work from so many people.

Talking about The Duff, I was super excited to meet Kody Keplinger during my internship. The first day she came in I only managed a ‘hi’ – instead of what I wanted to say which was, ‘I’ve been stalking your blog since I saw you on AW and I can’t wait to read The Duff, but I haven’t found a convenient time to ask Joanna to read the ARC yet, so I just keep staring at it every time I’m in the office.’ Fortunately for me, Kody came in a few more times after this and I reined in the crazy. She talked about her path from query to agent to book deal and was happy to answer any questions - so helpful to hear all about the different stages. And I was lucky enough to read The Duff in July and gush over her/it when she visited for the last time.

My other big highlight was reading some fabulous unpublished manuscripts – I have three that easily landed in my top 20 YA books of all time, and one that would make top 5! I love picturing the day when manuscripts I’ve read and worked on this summer eventually turn up as ‘real books’ in the office. I mean, how lucky am I that I can read these years ahead of their pub date?

EJ - What was the hardest part of the internship?

GEM - I found that when I was reading 3 or 4 MS’s a week, my reading for fun had to take a backseat. Sometimes I was desperate to read but my eyes would just not allow me to focus. I did however find a way round this by buying some audio books to read on the packed subways and while cleaning the apartment. I’ve never tried audio books before, but I really enjoyed them.

EJ - You’ve witnessed agents in action, rejecting fulls or making offers. From what you’ve seen, what makes them say “I want it” – writing? Concept? Hook? Marketability?

GEM - It’s a mixture of all of these, plus an amazing voice. A fantastic hook with a flat one-dimensional character isn’t going to work, and neither is a vivid main character in a boring story. However, I wouldn’t get hung up on all these things to start off with - just write the best book you can. Write a book for you, rather than worrying about the afterwards.

thank you TONS for your insight, Gem!
i hear the scratching of pens on paper and fingers on keyboards, as people add Personal Demons and The Duff to their “to be read” piles. i know they’re both on mine.

whether you’re looking to break into the business or just looking to learn more about the agenting side of the biz, i hope this interview was helpful. there was definitely a lot i didn’t know myself.

NOW – here’s a chance to get even more of Gem’s expert insight!
interns are a second set of eyes for agents on everything from queries to manuscripts. so how would you like the chance to have an experienced intern give you feedback on YOUR query? Gem has generously offered to give a query critique to one lucky winner! (and let me tell you – Gem is my beta, so i can say from experience – you want her input. It’s invaluable!)

To enter, just leave a comment on this post.
for bonus entries, let me know in the comments if you:
- follow this blog (+1)
- tweet or blog a link back to this post (+1)

the contest closes at 8pm Central Time Wednesday. the winner will be determined by a random drawing and will be announced this Thursday, September 9th.

thanks again to Gem for taking the time to give us a peek behind the curtain at the magic that is interning/agenting. if you have any additional questions for Gem, go ahead and ask in the comments. she'll be back by to answer any pressing Qs i didn't think of.
Good Luck in the contest!

Saturday, September 4, 2010

best lines and blog contests

i was starting to worry i'd never do a "best lines" post again!

i read two books recently, one YA sci-fi and one YA contemp, both of which left me with no memorable lines.

i am still on my spoiler-free kick about Mockingjay, and my favorite lines are spoilers, so sorry i can't offer my picks from MJ.

but YAY! the book i am halfway through now is so loaded with one-line zingers that i already have more than enough to share.
these are my faves - so far - from L.K. Madigan's "Flash Burnout":
  • "Fine. And hey, Garrett? Could you make sure to keep crushing my spirit under your boots of indifference?"
  • My monkey mind flings a piece-of-shit joke at me, and I catch it gratefully.
  • But I can't wait to get there and feel her up, I mean ask about her weekend.
  • I watch him for a minute, and sure enough, his glance flicks over to Cappie with the regularity of a lighthouse beacon.

actually some of the real laugh-out-loud moments in this book aren't one-liners at all. they're setups and punch lines, which is a clever format for the humor in this book, since the MC wants to be a stand up comedian.

if you've ever considered a career in publishing but don't know how to get a foot in the door, or if you've ever just wondered what really goes on at a literary agency, TUNE IN NEXT MONDAY! we're going to pull back the curtain and take a peek at the literary wizards who take your book from query to sold!
i'll have a Q&A with a fantabulous intern extraordinaire who spent the summer working with two highly coveted agencies.
PLUS - my first ever BLOG CONTEST! with a prize that could be invaluable to any writer in search of representation!

see you monday.