Friday, December 30, 2011

resolutions in review

i don't really do resolutions, but i did start this year with some loose goals in mind, and i blogged about those goals in this post.
and because i'm masochistic, i thought i'd review those goals and share how i failed or succeeded.


*i will read more adult books this year.
-- okay, i didn't exactly rock this goal, but i DID just finish the adult book, World War Z, so i'm giving myself a pass on this one.

*i will read outside my favorite genres.
-- score! i read a lot more contemporary YA this year and took a dive into the world of zombies (currently reading my 3rd zombie tale of 2011 right now) and also picked up a few contemp books with magical realism or paranormal twists.

*i will read more ...period.
-- it was not looking good for this resolution for the first 3/4 of the year, but thanks to some NaNo-Fail, i cleared out an entire month to go on a reading spree, and i definitely made a dent in the TBR pile.


*i will try writing something outside of my comfort zone.
-- well... i tried. i guess i'm still trying, but i haven't gotten very far. the NaNo project is definitely outside of my comfort zone, and it's not totally abandoned... yet. we'll see what comes in the new year.

*i will write something without curse words...
-- again, i point to the manuscript in limbo. it's F-bomb free. also, i spent a decent amount of time editing curse words out of BUTTER while working with my editor.

*i will edit edit edit! ...without sacrificing writing.
-- hmm. 50% success on this one. i certainly finished all of my edits, but i did not spend as much time writing something new as i had hoped. however, it did take months and months to basically REWRITE all of Billy D, so i suppose that counts.

i thought of writing a new blog with new resolutions, but looking at this list, i see the goals would be exactly the same. read more. write more. try to break out of my own box.

what about you? did your resolutions stick?

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

books to read before you die

one of the reasons i still love paper books over e-readers is this:

bookmarks! i got this pile of beauties for christmas, and i particularly love the one in the middle.
it's engraved with a list of 50 books to read before you die.

here they are, with the ones i've read in bold:

The Lord of the Rings trilogy - J.R.R. Tolkien
1984 - George Orwell
Pride and Prejudice - Jane Austen
The Grapes of Wrath - John Steinbeck
To Kill a Mockingbird - Harper Lee
Jane Eyre - Charlotte Bronte
Wuthering Heights - Emily Bronte
A Passage to India - E.M. Forster
The Lord of the Flies - William Golding
Hamlet - William Shakespeare
A Bend in the River - V.S. Naipaul
The Great Gatsby - F. Scott Fitzgerald
The Catcher in the Rye - J.D. Salinger
The Bell Jar - Sylvia Plath
Brave New World - Aldous Huxley
The Diary of Anne Frank - Anne Frank
Don Quixote - Miquel de Cervantes
The Bible - various authors
The Canterbury Tales - Geoffrey Chaucer
Ulysses - James Joyce
The Quiet American - Graham Greene
Birdsong - Sebastian Faulks
Money - Martin Amis
Harry Potter series - J.K. Rowling
Moby Dick - Herman Melville
The Wind in the Willows - Kenneth Grahame
His Dark Materials trilogy - Philip Pullman
Anna Karenina - Leo Tolstoy
Alice's Adventures in Wonderland - Lewis Carroll
Rebecca - Daphne du Maurier
The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time - Mark Haddon
One the Road - Jack Kerouac
Heart of Darkness - Joseph Conrad
The Way We Live Now - Anthony Trollope
The Outsider - Albert Camus
The Colour Purple - Alice Walker
Life of Pi - Yann Martel
Frankenstein - Mary Shelley
The War of the Worlds - H.G. Wells
Men Without Women - Ernest Hemingway
Gulliver's Travels - Jonathan Swift
A Christmas Carol - Charles Dickens
Huckleberry Finn - Mark Twain
Robinson Crusoe - Daniel Defoe
One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest - Ken Kesey
Catch 22 - Joseph Heller
The Count of Monte Cristo - Alexandre Dumas
Memoirs of a Geisha - Arthur Golden
The Divine Comedy - Alighieri Dante
The Picture of Dorian Gray - Oscar Wilde

only 17 out of 50 for me. a pretty sorry showing.
some of the books, like To Kill a Mockingbird, have been on my bookshelf for years and just never make it into the to-be-read pile.
others, like The Lord of the Flies, i gave up on reading after seeing the movie. (shame on me.)
several, like The Bell Jar, i read for class in high school or college and can't remember very well.
i'm ashamed to admit there are a few i've never even heard of, like A Bend in the River.
but more than a handful of these are among my all-time favorites, like One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest.

personally, I would add a few titles to this list:
The Outsiders - S.E. Hinton
The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy - Douglas Adams

how many have you read? and which titles do you think are missing?

Saturday, December 24, 2011

happy holidays

Just a quick note today to say happy holidays!

After being stranded (twice!) by the storm that devoured New Mexico, my parents (who insist on driving 2,000 miles b/c they don't trust the airlines during the holidays) have made it through that snowy beast into the sunshine of Arizona... which means I am getting all I want for Christmas.

I hope your holidays are just as bright. :D

Thursday, December 22, 2011

better sorry than safe?

it is 7am on my first day off for the holiday, and i have already been up for an hour.
i am sitting in my quiet kitchen with a cup of coffee when i should be loading my snowboard into the back of someone's truck and hitting the road for a day on the slopes.

why am i in my kitchen instead of off on an adventure?
because i tend to live by the motto "better safe than sorry."

it's snowing in flagstaff today, which could mean great conditions on the slopes but not so great on the road. so even though the weather isn't supposed to get bad until tonight, i decided to stay home and "not risk it."

but i'm sitting here thinking that decision is a risk as well - a risk that i will miss out on a fun day with friends, that the winter weather advisory will fizzle and i'll wish i had gone, that there won't be another opportunity this season to snowboard during the week when lift lines are short.

every time i'm "better safe than sorry" -- a little part of me ends up sorry anyway. sorry that i didn't take a chance.

that may be part of why i write - to create characters who take the risks i don't, to live vicariously through them, to explore "danger" from the safety of my own living room.

but on quiet mornings like this, when i'm a little disappointed in myself for being too careful, i'm painfully reminded that writing about the smell of pine trees and the breathtaking view and the wind on your face as you soar down the slopes... can't hold a candle to actually experiencing those things.

photo courtesy of

so writers, while i hope you create characters who feel truly alive... i also hope you get outside and live a little yourself. sometimes risks are worth it. and maybe sometimes it's actually better to be a little sorry than safe.

Friday, December 16, 2011

deja vu deja vu

today, i am participating in the deja vu blogfest! (however, unlike many of the other participants, i can't figure out how to make the fun marks over the e and the a in deja.) Lydia Kang has a list of all of the blogs in the fest, and you can play along too! just re-post one blog entry that you would like to see the light of day one more time.

my contenders were:
the evolution of my query letter from suck! to success!
a vlog about my favorite book covers
or thoughts on my favorite literary couple -- Fred and George

but in the end, here is the entry i chose to repeat:

write what you want to write. (original post 12/10/10)

"I want to write a book about vampires, but all the agents say vampires are over."
"I want to write a contemporary YA, but all the 6-figure deals are for dystopian stories."
"I have this really great idea, but I just heard about a book with almost the exact same concept."

but.. but.. but NOTHING!

i see all of the above lines and many more from authors lamenting how the story they want to write, isn't what they should be writing, if they want to get published.
well, here is a huge, not-so-secret-but-hard-to-believe fact i have learned: the #1 way to get published is to write the best book you can.
and in my opinion, the best book you can write is the one you want to write, have to write - the one with the characters who keep you up at night. even if they ARE vampires.

that's the good news - freedom to write the story you want.
here's the bad news: you're right. it might not get published. this post is about why that's OKAY.

JM Tohline put together a great blog post on
the biggest mistakes writers make when querying agents. one of the agents JM quoted on his blog, Cameron McClure, said something that really resonated with me:
"Most writers query too soon – either before the book is really ready to be read by an industry professional, or with a book that is a learning book, or a starter book, where the writer is working through the themes that will come out in later books with more clarity, getting things out of their system,making mistakes that most beginners make, finding their voice."

the bold is mine. i wrote that book - that "starter" book - and it was everything McClure says. it was my training ground for the kind of themes i wanted to write about, for practicing plot and pace, for learning whether 1st or 3rd person worked better for me and above all, for finding my voice.

fortunately, i never made the mistake of querying that novel. during the year i spent pecking away at it, i also learned a lot about publishing. by the time i was done, i could see all the reasons it didn't work. so i recognized it for what it was - a book i had to write for me, and not for anyone else.

one of the first conversations i had with my agent was about this very thing - about the books you have to write versus the books you might actually want to sell. we were talking about my other WIPs/ideas, and i was asking what kind of stories she'd like to see... and she told me she would never discourage a client from writing anything, because there are stories in us that just have to be told - even if we only ever tell them to our laptops.

i guess it's impossible to know, when you start a new manuscript, whether it's one of the stories you'd be proud to put out in the world or one of the stories you need to learn something from. but i would argue: it's equally important, either way.

if i hadn't written LOSERS, i'm 100% certain i never would have been able to write BUTTER.
i have started taking lines and scenes from L and working them into new manuscripts. i basically stole one of the characters and made him the MC in BILLY D.
i will probably keep deconstructing L until there is nothing left but the concept, and then i might steal that too, and write the whole thing over again from scratch.
for all of these reasons, i know, without a doubt, that my time was not wasted on that first manuscript.

if you feel compelled to write something - write it. the story that never gets published may very well be the most important one you ever write.

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

copy edits, a lesson in humility

every author fantasizes about some moment along the path to publishing. maybe you daydream about a 6-figure deal or a starred review or a cover that makes people swoon.

me? i used to dream about the day my copy edits would arrive. the manuscript would have a big STET stamped right on the front with a note from the copy editor saying it was the cleanest ms she'd ever read.

haha. haaaHAHAHAHAHA!!!!
joke's on me.
there is a reason we have copy editors, folks.

i think i can still hold my head up high and say i have pretty darn good grammar, but it's certainly not perfect. and no matter how many times you read your story - no matter how many other people read it - there are errors that slip by.

i am halfway through my copy edits, and so far, my character has:
- demanded to speak to the manger at a restaurant.. (and mary and joseph too!)
- eaten two entire deserts.. (can i get some chocolate sauce on that cactus?)
- let out a peel of laughter and peaked over something.

the good news is, my copy editor is almost as fond of em-dashes as i am and even more fond of commas. it's been educational and humbling to read through her marks. and above all, it makes me so grateful for absolutely everyone who has a hand in making BUTTER the best book it can be.

it really does take a village.