Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Guest Post on Balancing School and Writing

Hey! Just a heads-up that as part of her Back to School series, the lovely Jamie Adams invited me to write a guest post discussing the delicate balance involved in writing as a student.

You can read that guest post on her blog, To Taste Life Twice, here.

Hope you enjoy it!

And if my blogging gets scattered, just assume that means I might be struggling with my own advice!


Sunday, August 17, 2014

An Undefinable Something: Thoughts from Revision Process

My fabulous Critique Partner, KT Simpson, has read three of my novels so far.

She recently tore through what I refer to on Twitter as #FairyPrisonBook, staying up late into the night to finish within a few days of receiving it, sending all-caps reaction texts at two in the morning.

She’s now reading a different novel, and it’s going slower. No reactionary texts to speak of.

This is understandable to me, considering I wrote the last 30k of #FairyPrisonBook in three days, careening through the latter half easily, and excitedly—

While this other novel rewrite dragged.

I recently saw KT’s face LIVE AND IN PERSON FOR THE SECOND TIME EVER (I’ll try to refrain from bragging) and at one point we stumbled into a conversation about this, and the tangible difference between #FairyPrisonBook and the other projects she’s read for me.

When I searched around for words and landed on “It has a heart that the others don’t yet,” she knew exactly what I meant, and agreed.

Now, to a certain extent, this feeling rises up every time I switch to actively work on a new project. Whatever I’m working on at the time feels like it’s becoming the best thing I’ve ever done. This is the project that will make it, this is the one that readers will adore and agents will fall over each other to represent.

I could refer to it in any number of ways that we’ve all heard before—heart, inspiration, spark, it-factor.

But none of those words entirely encompass the feeling in my gut.

Frankly I feel kind of ridiculous writing a blog post about something so undefinable and vague and impossible to replicate.

I just want to document this feeling right now, because it feels like something different.

The fact that KT felt it too, that there is something separating #FairyPrisonBook from the other things I’ve put before her? It feels like confirmation that there is something there.

I’ve managed to start scraping some of that something that was missing onto the page.

I feel this way so strongly in some parts of the book that I can spot certain places where it’s not there. And then after tweaking sentences again and again, I can feel it start to come back. It’s like that quote about carving away every bit of stone that’s not a statue…

Which of course does not mean that this is definitively The Book.

There’s no guarantee #FairyPrisonBook will get published. For all I know, this feeling’s all in my head.

But I do know where I’ve stumbled across the spark before—often enough to know that it was missing in my own work.

Certain published books I’ve read have it. Not always the most well-crafted, not always the most profound or the most ambitious. And it’s not always there for everyone else.

But certain books, I love. I gush over. I connect for no reason I can put words to, other than this undefinable something.

I’m not saying #FairyPrisonBook is to that level, obviously. Not yet, though it’s closer than I’ve ever come before.

And I know a big part of this is that it is a newer project, crafted after everything I’ve learned from those other drafts. Pacing, tension, balance, character—all the other individual elements that make up a book. I’ve gotten better at handling them the longer I write, and some of that improvement might just finally be making it into the draft as a whole.

But it’s not just that, either.

Is it improvement in craft? Is it just passion for the specific themes in this particular project? Or is it all my imagination, something to look back on in fifteen years and laugh over how close I thought I was back when I didn’t really know anything?

I have no idea what it is.

But it’s here, or it’s starting to be, and I hope I can keep the feeling going.

*more on #FairyPrisonBook here, and earlier today I happened across this post "Finding My Voice in Fantasy" by Lev Grossman that kind of reminded me of the feeling I'm talking about*

Saturday, August 9, 2014

Nostalgia is my Weakness

As I type this I listen to my Spotify playlist of songs from childhood movies, specifically a song from Spirit: Stallion of the Cimarron (which I have been dying to rewatch, along with Lilo & Stitch, and Atlantis: The Lost Empire).

I am a sucker for the joys of my youth. I obsessively memorize movie dialogue. I would happily reread the ancient books of questionable quality that I dug out of basement boxes as an eight-year-old. I’m filled with joy every time I rediscover a childhood location that I remember too vaguely to even ask my parents about (ex. that one specific playground with that one specific thing that made it the best playground).

Going to college in a town where I lived for two years when I was younger means that friends have let me show them my old house and reminisce about things with escalating excitement (and confusion as I realize that the house aaaall the way down the street was actually right next door). Friends have taken to me to a neighborhood park and listened to me gush about it as couples smooched nearby (going after ten at night was not a good idea in retrospect, but it was my first week at college).

I love revisiting childhood memories, and the physical places where they occurred. I love figuring out what’s changed, what’s the same, what I remembered completely wrong in the first place.

But I’m about to experience kind of the opposite of that.

Tomorrow, we sally forth to perhaps my favorite childhood place of the five places I lived growing up.  Michigan. A land I associate with shade and sand and warm, free summer evenings.

This is not our first time back, since Mom’s parents live in Michigan, but my reasons for this trip are twofold:

1.       I get to see my fabulous Critique Partner, KT Simpson, in real life for the second time ever. We shall meet in the town of my youth, Holland, and she is going to let me run all over the place looking at THINGS that I LOVE.

Including, but not limited to:

  • The freaking fantastic library
  • the beach
  • a notable nautical-themed ice cream place
  • the former location of my house
  • the location that they moved my physical house to after we left
  • the downtown streets where we used to window shop
  • the park that we’d go for evening walks in.

It is going to be quite an event.

2.       My grandparents are moving to Tennessee. Which means I probably won’t have an excuse to return to Michigan for quite some time.

They’ve relocated within the state before, they’ve wintered in Florida, but they’ve lived in their current house for a good chunk of my childhood. And it feels like not that long ago that we heard about their decision to move.

They’ve already started packing. Which means their house is already in the process of turning into something other than what I remember.

Meanwhile, my Dad’s mom may also have a move imminent, as some recent health issues have led to her recovering in a nursing home…and potentially staying there. Things have leaned that way for some time, but now it’s like everything lurched toward the ground. Expected changes came suddenly.

Her house has been around for my entire lifespan. And due to some recent basement flooding, this childhood staple has also begun its transformation into something different and irretrievable, before I ever expected it to.

Obviously, my melancholy nostalgia is nothing compared to what Grandma must be feeling, but it’s still strange. And it just gets stranger and stranger, how fast things can shift.

There’s no significant, drawn-out goodbye (or if there is, it won’t happen until the houses are empty). These places don’t linger. Very soon now, we can’t go back.

No more walking around my grandparents’ yard in Michigan, remembering when it was all sand instead of grass, and when we built cities and called them Oz.

No more flopping onto the decorative boulder in Grandma’s front yard and lamenting when it was our grand and majestic Pride Rock.

The rooms we spent so much time in are going to belong to somebody else. They’ll be used for other things. These pieces of my childhood are going to be chipped away, emptied out, turned into something other than what they were.

From now on, there won’t be a baseline to compare my memories to. Those markers—a larger equivalent of marking your height on a doorframe—aren’t going to exist anywhere but in my head.

I hope that doesn’t sound resentful, because I’m not.

Just…contemplative. Wistful.

This feeling has increasingly been on my mind in the last few years, and I’m trying to pin it down. Put it into the right words. I want to capture it. Because along with it is the feeling that I’ll eventually run out of these childhood places.

I’ll find new ones, but they’ll have a different magic to them
The places I grew up, the things I grew up with…

In some ways, they’ll always be irreplaceable.

Saturday, August 2, 2014

Revising Every Day: the Struggle in Starting

As mentioned in this post on my writing process, I've written 15 books during the 20 years I've lived so far, and approximately 8 of them seem salvageable. More than salvageable, some of them seem good.

This begs the question, “Why haven’t I tried to query yet?”

In the afore-linked-to post, I gave the short answer to this:
I have the horrible (yet still productive) habit of leaping on to the next idea, diving back into the drafting phases with either new stories or complete rewrites of the old.

The long answer is something I’ve grown more and more aware of in the last week or so as I try to revise the project known on Twitter as FairyPrisonBook.

I can write every day (usually).

I can do NaNoWriMo.

As I’ve recently discovered, I can write a book in a week.

But revising every day? Super hard for me. Even if I see a bunch of problems and have ideas how to fix them, even when I’m just reading through the draft to look for more problems and solutions.
Something about the revision process—maybe just the yawning, vacuous space of everything that needs to be done and the impossibility of gauging whether I’ve made things better or worse—makes me lag.

And once I’ve skipped one day, it’s too easy to settle into a rhythm of procrastination, doing everything except revisions. It’s too easy to poke at a few words and settle back like that’s enough for the day, the rest can wait for tomorrow, or maybe the next day, or next Monday for sure if I have time.

And then NaNo is around the corner or a Shiny New Idea carves itself into my gray matter, and next thing I know, I’m 10k into a new draft while whatever I’d been revising collects dust.

By the time I get back to that dusty old draft, it seems just as easy to do a full rewrite.

And then I’m back where I started, with essentially another rough draft, nowhere near ready for querying.

I tweeted about this recently, how hard it was to make myself sit down to revisions....

...before I stayed up until 4 am revising because it was going so well, I had so many ideas, I didn’t want to stop.

So it’s not that I can’t have fun revising, though it’s by no means always a walk in the park.

The struggle is in starting.

In sitting down, every day, and remembering that “every day” rule doesn’t just apply to drafting, but to poking  around, rereading, and tweaking the same paragraphs over and over again

*and in not writing blog posts to put off that poking around, shhhh*
Anyone else stuck in the revision cycle? Got any words of wisdom on how to move forward with it?

Saturday, July 26, 2014

Book in a Week: Numero Dos

So this topic is a little overdue because I had a blog tour tag and some urgent fangirling to accomplish, but as I mentioned in my first Book in a Week sum-up post, I tried to rewrite a beloved old novel during the first week of July.

Perhaps some of you were wondering, “Well, how did that go?”

And the answer to that is: NOT as well as my first attempt at Book in a Week.

I made it to 50,000 words by Day 7, but I’m going to have to rein in some of the enthusiasm I’d had during my first try, in which I wrote 30,000 words in 3 days, when I said it was so easy etc.

I made it. But it took a lot more forcing myself, and went way slower than last time, which I guess just proves that the process of writing every book is different. Some stories flow off your fingertips, others cling to your knuckles for dear life and require some…persuading.

It actually got so blah during one part of the middle that I stopped keeping tangible records, for which I am terribly sorry. I know you all looked forward to that detailed list.

Instead, here are the total word counts for each day, taken from the Camp NaNoWriMo website (which I think I kept updated…

Day 1 – 7,641
Day 2 – 13,895
Day 3 – 20,544
Day 4 – 28,380
Day 5 – 34,445
Day 6 – 42,210
Day 7 – 50,481

And then I moped around and finished the draft a few days ago at 62,628 words total.

All in all, I wrote about 7k a day, but some days those words really scraped…

Probably in part because the WIP is something I’ve been struggling with since 2009 anyway, and by its very nature it resists being awesome.

That said, I still wrote—I would go so far as to say—a frick ton compared to what I usually write daily, and I got a new draft of a nagging story out of the way quickly, freeing me up to revise other things.

All in all, for the purposes I wanted it for, I’d call my second Book in a Week successful.

Other than the record-keeping part, I mean.

Saturday, July 19, 2014

The Flailing Returns: Meeting Maggie Stiefvater

Ok, so on July 10, Maggie Stiefvater was in Iowa City.

And since Maggie Stiefvater is my favorite author and not many authors come within two hours of me, this means that I was also in Iowa City on July 10.

It was my first non-ALA signing since Gordon Korman when I was about ten years old.

If you don’t care about anything but the actual act of seeing a Stiefvater, please scroll to the first picture.

Me and my sister made a day of it, me journeying to her apartment about twelve hours in advance, after which I napped, ate lunch and watched more of Breaking Bad, and played with the overgrown kitten she is taking care of for the summer.

Then we trekked to Iowa City and went shopping for some beauteous clothing and ate ice cream and strolled past a fountain I could not run through with the little urchins of Iowa City because I was holding like four books at the time.

Then there was the bookstore (Prairie Lights).

And there was my sister trying to keep me from audibly squealing in public, and me trying to get my sister to stop browsing and follow me upstairs to the location of the sighing because I was antsy and wanted a good seat.

We wound up in the second side row, which provided the perfect angle to crane my neck and see one of the bookseller’s counters behind the other section of seats. Which means—that after a good amount of fangirling about Maggie Stiefvater to my sister and listening to other people fangirl about Maggie Stiefvater and talk about her blog, her Camaro, her goats—I was probably one of the first to see her arrive and talk to the bookseller.

 Maggie Stiefvater was everything I had hoped, hilarious and well-spoken and really engaging to listen to. Of all my favorite authors, I’d felt like she would be among the more entertaining to meet in real life—and I guess I will not know if that is accurate until I meet the others. O v O
She talked about the process of writing Sinner, she answered questions about writing (I referenced one of her answers in last week’s post), and was—in general—amazing. I couldn’t keep the grin off my face.

Afterward, as per her Shy Introvert’s Guide to Stiefvater Signings, I decided to hang around at the back of the line with my seven books (I know I said four earlier, but I accumulated three more after entering the store). I chatted with the person in front of me and stared creepily across the room as Maggie Stiefvater signed for others.

I may have eavesdropped a bit.

And then it was my turn.

And when she saw my first name scrawled on a post-it on the cover of one of the books, she was immediately like,


I have never been so happy about someone ALMOST getting my name right.

She recognized me from Twitter! Possibly just because of the sheer quantity of tweets I tagged her in beforehand/in general! I had hoped but had not wanted to assume but she had recognized my name without prompting!


Because I was at the back of the line, there was no pressure, so we miiiight have chatted for a longer duration than some of the others? At least that’s what it felt like. Maybe time slowed down a little bit. It was awesome, and felt like a way more natural conversation than some of my awkward interactions at ALA.

She signed my seven books. I mentioned that Dad wanted me to take a picture of Loki, the famous Camaro, and she grimaced apologetically and said it was in a parking garage on street names that now escape me.

Sis and I walked away, me still giddy, and we glanced at a parking garage we passed but did not see it anywhere. Resigned to that being the [not very] low point of the trip, we returned to the parking garage where we’d left our own vehicle.

“Wouldn’t it be funny if she parked right next to us?” Sis asked.

And then we both caught a flash of blue and we stopped dead.

Because Loki was parked literally 15 feet away from us.

We immediately took THIS picture (note the awed joy on my face):

And this one (note me pointing to the red car in the background, which is ours):

Basically, it was the perfect way to end the day.

So please, please, please, if you know of any signings in Iowa, let me know. Especially if they involve a Stiefvater.

(oh and buy Sinner etc. wooooooo)

Favorite book signing experience? Who do you want to see in person?