Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Links That Made Me Think

One thing I've always loved about the online writing community is that you guys make me think. I've learned so much from hanging out here for 4+ years. And since this morning turned out far more pukey than planned, I thought I'd share a few links I enjoyed while tucked in bed with my iPod.

First off, Kristan Hoffman has a lovely post about books meeting one of two goals: a book you want to read or a book people need.

I totally agree, and I think there's a particular sweet spot where you can meet BOTH. I think that might be why I'm so attached to SIDEKICK, which I just started editing yet again. It's a book I wanted to read AND thought might be useful for teens. No wonder I'm so passionate about it! I wish I could always meet those two in one book, but I think that's hard to do all the time. Both ends have great rewards, though, at least from what I've seen.

Second, Kirsten Hubbard posted a great article at YA Highway about Why Authors Disappear after that book deal comes.

Let's just say it totally resonated with me, since I am right there, flailing about in new waters and trying to figure out how to swim again. I worry constantly that people will be upset with me, when all my "issues" really have nothing to do with anyone but myself. I like to compare it to going to college—it's not that selling a book is a bad thing (Obviously it's good!), but it comes with a lot of new adjustments. I'm a freshman again. There's a learning curve, and I'm not exactly performing at the top of my class when it comes to figuring it all out. I really hope I find my comfort zone sooner rather than later.

And finally, Lisa Schroeder posted a really interesting article on her experience with Goodreads ads.

I must admit that Goodreads kind of freaks me out, and I have yet to join because I hear a lot of stuff about the mean reviews and such. But I really appreciate Lisa's positive outlook on the site, and her explanation that it really is one of the few bigger places for readers to gather. Why not take advantage of that? Maybe the pros do outweigh the cons. It was so cool to see that her one ad seemed to have some impact on her newest novel's visibility, and for the affordable price it really felt worth it to me. I might have to toss my fears aside and take the plunge into Goodreads sometime.

So there you have it. Thanks for making me think today, guys!

Monday, November 28, 2011

Storymakers! (And The Importance Of Asking)

LDStorymakers is one of the biggest writing conferences in Utah. I have never been, but I have heard nothing but good things about it. They have fabulous guests, master classes, and an all around solid schedule of helpful courses. I can't tell you how excited I am to be team teaching two classes at the 2012 conference!

The line up this year is pretty amazing, with bestselling author Kevin J. Anderson being there, along with editor Molly O'neill, as well as agents Weronika Janczuk, Holly Root, Michelle Wolfson, and Kathleen Ortiz. And that's not all—Kiersten White, Jannette Rallison, Elana Johnson, and many other amazing authors will be teaching classes. It's like an awesome overload, and I'm still kind of floored that I'm even part of it.

The conference isn't until May, but I wanted to let you all know now because registration starts beginning of December and there is a cap on attendees (of 450). So please see the website for more information on classes and dates, and I hope to see you there!


Now, I wanted to talk briefly about the fact that I am actually teaching at this conference (with my dear friends Jenn Johansson and Kasie West) because it taught me an important lesson about how these opportunities really come about. I previously assumed that conference officials just extended invitations to those who they wanted to teach, but that's not entirely the case.

You CAN ask. And we so asked if it might be possible to present classes. We knew it was probably a long shot, since Storymakers is pretty significant around here and the three of us are 2013 debuts (thus we won't even have novels out), but we decided to give it a shot anyway. We contacted conference officials, they told us to write up a proposal for the classes we'd teach, and they'd let us know what they decided. So we did, and I figured, hey, at least we tried and it's okay if they don't take us. But they did! And it was exciting and awesome and all that stuff.

This was yet another reminder to me that this business is a lot about asking nicely and being okay if people say no. That aspect really never ends. Once you make it past the queries, you do that with editors. Once you make it past editors and get a book deal, you're asking for conference opportunities or bookstore signings or reviews or blurbs or, in reality, readers. And people still say no. Rather frequently, from what I've seen. And that's okay, because sometimes you get a yes, and you make the best of that yes and get excited about that yes and it always opens up more opportunities.

So don't be afraid to ask. In all honesty, you usually hear no a lot more than yes, but that's how it is for most everyone. Even most every published author that is not Neil Gaiman. You can't let the rejections stop you from asking, because you never know when someone will say yes and what that yes will do for you.

Monday, November 21, 2011

Japanese Ramen Escapades

I've decided, as part of my "What new paths will my blog be taking?" meditations, that I want to share recipes and food on my blog. Now, I'm no gourmet chef or anything, but I love to cook and eat and try new things in the kitchen. But the thing is, I usually create recipes and then never write them down because I know how I made it. Then people ask me for a recipe, and I end up sounding snooty or recipe-hoggy when it's really that I eyeball amounts and do things to my taste.

So, all that to say I think writing down recipes for the blog could be a good way to keep track of my kitchen adventures, and maybe a few of you might enjoy trying them out. I know this has nothing to do with writing, but if you search this blog you'll find I've talked myself into a corner on that subject and it's time to throw a few other things into the mix.

Okay, on to the Ramen. I should have probably gotten more pictures of the process, but I wasn't planning to do this when I made it. Next time! I will get fancy like that.

To many Americans, ramen is looked at as this cheap food only fit for desperate times or college students. When we think ramen, we think blue package with dried noodles and powdered sauce thing. Poor ramen. In its native land this dish is a beautiful bowl of noodles served in all sorts of broths and topped with a variety of ingredients.

Mmm. Ramen. It's served spicy, mild, with pork or egg or both. It can come with onions or bamboo shoots or daikon or bean sprouts. It even comes cold in the hot summer months.

Alas, it's not easy finding Ramen like this where I live in Utah. I can't speak for the rest of America, but I'm willing to bet there are very few ramen houses here in general. And if your local Japanese place does serve ramen, it only comes one way.

So what do you do if you want some real ramen on a cold winter day? Well, in Utah you search out the one decent Asian market in the county, buy the ingredients you need, and make it yourself.

On to the recipe! (And disclaimer: This isn't like the be-all-end-all of how to make ramen. This is just how I made it, and I probably did stuff wrong and I know there are even better ways to make it if you have time to make the stock from scratch. But I liked how this turned out, and it was pretty easy.)

Ingredients (For the ramen at the top of post):

• 3 cups water mixed with 1 1/2 tsp Hondashi (This is a Japanese fish broth stock, basically, and is the key to that distinct flavor you find in Japanese soups like miso, udon, and ramen).
• 3 cups vegetable broth (or chicken or pork, if you like)
• 2-3 tsp minced ginger
• 1-2 cloves minced garlic
• 1/3 cup soy sauce
• 1/3 mirin (or apple juice if you don't do alcohol [mirin is a Japanese cooking liquor])
• 1 tsp chili oil
• 1 tsp sesame seed oil

• Add all ingredients to a fairly large pot and bring to a boil.

• 3 Packs fresh "yakisoba" noodles. (These are about the same as ramen. I couldn't find fresh noodles labeled as ramen around here, but it may be different where you're at.) Wash these noodles under warm water until they are loosened, keep moist until ready to assemble.


• Dried, actual ramen noodles. (Not from a cheap pack at the store, though I suppose you could go that route if you wanted, but dry ramen you'd find at the Asian market. They are straight, not all crinkled.) Cook these noodles for 4-5 minutes in a separate pot of water, drain, keep in cool water until ready to assemble.

• 3-4 green onions, sliced
• 1 cup bean sprouts, rinsed
• 1 cup spinach, rinsed and chopped
• 2 shitake mushrooms, sliced

1. Get a large bowl, put desired amount of noodles in.
2. Ladle broth over noodles until they're covered.
3. Add desired toppings, submerging in broth so they cook.
4. Let rest a few minutes while vegetables get tender.
5. Devour.

Note: If you like more heat, I add a little sriracha to my bowl, but I make it fairly mild so my kids can eat it. You can also add any type of meat you like, but I make it vegetarian because my husband is.

Hope you enjoy it if you try it!

Friday, November 18, 2011

Happy Writers: Using What You Love

My books are riddled with stuff I love. TRANSPARENT, for example, sprang from my love of "superpowers" and a childhood adoration of X-men. I always wondered what it might be like if the majority of people had genetic mutations, how that would change our world, if it would normalize them to some extent or create chaos.

That's not the only thing in that book that has my little Natalie Stamp on it, of course. Fiona has an intense love of freckles, which I've always adored. She loves Pop Tarts, and I might have been the President of the Pop Tart Club my sophomore year of high school (But she likes blueberry ones, which I've never cared for.).

And then there's the Taco Bell scene, which is based off my brother's amazing ability to consume food. And the community pool is taken straight from the one I went to as a child. There's even one character I named because I love that name and my husband hates it, so I knew I'd never get to have a child named that.

To get a little deeper, I've always felt invisible, and on more than one occasion I've wanted to really be invisible. So writing a character that was literally invisible was a kind of nod to that part of me that always felt unseen, unwanted, and lost.

I think sometimes as authors we are afraid to admit how much of ourselves goes into a novel because then we'd get accused of the dreaded Mary Sue Syndrome (If you don't know what that is, it's when someone claims an author has inserted themselves into the novel and the story is basically wish fulfillment). Well, today I'm here to say, so what? Yes, there are many pieces of me in my books—how could it be any other way? How could I make my work stand out without using my unique voice and interests? If I didn't write about what I liked, what I wanted to explore, what I wondered about, what I was most scared of, how could I find passion in my work?

No, my characters are not me, per se, but they are certainly created out of the things I find interesting. They inherit problems I have always wished I could answer. They sometimes have my passions, and sometimes they have passions I wish I had. And, yes, sometimes they like things I don't know anything about. Those characters are punks, making me research like that.

I write about worlds and topics that suck me in—whether that be ninjas, mutated crime bosses, witches out for vengeance, or just a boy who is tired of being second best to his best friend. I focus on the aspects of those worlds that I would care about. I develop worlds based on my own experiences.

I'm not sure how else to do this writing thing. To me, it wouldn't be fun if I took myself completely out of the book, and I have a feeling the book would be flat as a result. When I'm writing about things I like—whether it's an anime club or magic or linguistics—I am happy. More than anything, I've learned that enjoying writing is one of the most rewarding things a writer can experience. Everything else is tainted if you're not having fun.

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Time Distortion

How the heck is it already Wednesday?

No seriously.

Thanks to publishing, my concept of time has completely gone out the window. This is both a good and bad thing. On the one hand, I have trouble gauging when I need to get up and how much time it'll take to get my kids ready for school. It's usually a hectic whirlwind in the morning. And then there's the fact that I promised to beta a book in a week, and it's Wednesday and I have read all of two pages. I generally forget events that aren't immediately important, like church activities or book signings or really anything that requires me getting dressed. Then people are like, "Where were you?" And I stare at them blankly, desperately trying to remember where I was supposed to be.

Things just come up too fast! They're over before I can remember to make a big deal out of them.

Maybe it's the sleeping. I swear I sleep like 16 hours a day. I'm like a cat. Sleep, eat, whine. Sleep, eat, whine.

But there are good things, too. Like the fact that the six months until my due date sounds SUPER short now. I remember when six months sounded like an eternity. When I first started writing, heck, I thought you could get published in that amount of time! Now I'm like, "Six months? Oh, that's right around the corner. A year? That's SOON."

I used to wonder if that restlessness would ever go away, if I'd ever find a measure of patience. I wouldn't say I'm totally zen, but I have come to accept publishing time. That's a miracle, considering I spent many years determined to hurry the process along—essentially trying to rush a glacier down the mountain. Or something. That's a horrible comparison.

I'm such a good writer.

Anyway, I don't know what I'm trying to say here. Maybe that for the first time in...okay for the first time EVER, I'm not in any rush. And it's nice. And I'm wondering why I spent so much time running around frantically and trying to force things to go faster. And why did I sink all that time into querying instead of honing my craft? And why did it take me so long to realize making my writing better was the only way?

Oh, so much hindsight up in here lately. Funny how that works.

Friday, November 11, 2011

Happy Writers: Getting Lost

Obviously I love stories. I'm sure we all do. There is nothing like being completely swept away in a story. Whether it's in a book, comic, video game, TV, or movie—whatever it may be—that feeling is one of my most favorite parts of being a human being and a writer.

Getting lost in them has been a past time of mine since I was a child. I would absorb stories and take them outside to play with. I remember reading about Narnia and searching for portals everywhere I could think. After hunting down Carmen San Diego on my computer, I'd play that with my friends, make clues, red herrings, villains and everything. I'd act out The Oregon Trail. Heck, I even convinced my friends to summon Captain Planet. And there was that one time, after seeing Fern Gully, that I convinced my brother the tree out back was bleeding and we had to save it.

It's hard to put into words what I've gotten out of stories all these years, but I know they are good things. Stories have given me courage, understanding, hope, sympathy, knowledge, respite, joy, peace, and something more to reach for.

I try to absorb as many stories as I can from as many different places as I can, and when I get lost? It's all the better.

Right now I'm drowning in a Korean drama called Boys Over Flowers, which is classic teen drama in every way possible, but somehow the most engrossing thing ever. Seriously, thing series could be on the CW and feel right at home (except it's MUCH cleaner, and yet manages to maintain a level of intense drama).

Boys Over Flowers was an extremely popular show, I've come to learn. In the height of its production, the show garnered 30% of TV viewers in Korea, which is HUGE. And it's not just Korea. The story is originally from a Japanese manga, which then was adapted for anime, and THEN a live-action in Japan. Then Korea snagged it. And Taiwan. That's some serious success.

What this show has taught me is that the "cliches" can work. We tend to criticize certain tropes in novels, but now I wonder why when they can be so effective. Is there an average girl from average circumstances? Yes. Is there a love triangle? Oh yes. A bad boy and a sensitive, good one? Yup. A sweet best friend? Mean Girls? Fighting turned affection? Yes, yes, and yes. And I am totally eating it up.

I love how engrossed I am, too. So there.

As storytellers, I think sometimes we can get a little story-fatigued. They all start to look the same or something. So when it truly hits us, it's even more of a treasure, and I've learned to appreciate those moments wherever they come from. And trust me, they often come from the unlikeliest of places.

Of course, the best thing of all is getting lost in my own stories. I gotta admit it doesn't happen as often as it once did, but the moments when I'm living and breathing my stories are intoxicating. They keep me going when times get hard. Right now, though I can't really work as I'd like, I'm craving that feeling. I want to dig into one of my stories and write and explore and make something that, I hope, other people can get lost in, too.

Monday, November 7, 2011

The Truth Is...

Usually in November I do a NaNoReaMo (Natalie Novel Reading Month) thing to catch up on my massive TBR pile, but if you've noticed so far I've written all of one post in November. It wasn't about reading.

You see, I'm being honest with myself—the chances of me reading anything this month are extremely low. Heck, the chances of me writing anything this month are extremely low. Or editing. Okay, I probably will be doing very little to make myself a useful human being.

Because I'm sick. All day long. But don't worry! I want to be sick, and I hope I remain sick for a few more weeks. Yes, yes, if you haven't figured it out by now, I'm going to have a baby.

I don't usually talk about my family on this blog, but I'm very excited. I love, love, love my family. My kids are beautiful and the most important of everything, even when they render me useless on the work front. Or maybe especially when they do.

So if you will excuse my sparse posting and correspondence, I would very much appreciate. Horrifyingly enough, I can honestly say words make me nauseous right now!

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

The Price Of Putting Monetary Value On Your Creative Work

This is one of those things I probably shouldn't talk about, which means OF COURSE I can't stay away from the topic. This is kind of how I write, too. Is it unmarketable? Weird? Genre-bending? Sure! That's what I'll write!

Since having sold TRANSPARENT, there have been a few things about being a future published writer that have thrown me for a loop. One of those things was the mental/emotional impact of having a price tag put on my creative work.

Now, I know that every writer dreams of being paid for their words. I certainly dreamed of it! To have someone care enough about your work to publish and pay you for it? Very cool. Surreal. All that stuff. I'm not saying it's this awful thing, just that it has had more of an impact on me than I ever thought it would.

I'm going to get a little honest here, only because I feel like it would help people understand more how it feels. I really don't like talking about this because it probably comes off ungrateful, but I do want to give you the reality of things.

So, the truth: I have a lot of friends who have sold novels or who are published. And of those I know well enough to know numbers, I got one of the smallest advances. BUT, on the other hand, I got an advance. I'm very well aware that most small publishers or those who are self-published don't get such a luxury, even when that luxury is on the modest side. I also have friends who put money into their work and are still waiting to break even. In the end, I feel like I'm kind of in the middle of the spectrum, and right now I am happy with it all.

Except I wasn't always happy, if I'm being honest.

Because something weird happens when you first get your deal—all of the sudden you are hyper-aware of everyone else's deals. And you know what? In my case a lot of those deals where more "noteworthy" than mine. In some other cases, I imagine writers notice that their deal is getting more attention than they ever imagined. Sometimes, I bet a deal is just glanced over as another on the list.

The comparing begins in a new and horrible way.

You start to read into everything. This writer got three books, that one only one, that one sold in a significant deal, that one sold world rights, that one retained rights, that one got their deal announced in the bigger outlets, etc. and so forth.

The money makes things...weird. In our culture, we're so used to seeing price as equivalent to value. An expensive car costs more because it is nicer—it has more features and luxury than a less expensive car. A nicer piece of clothing costs more because the fabric is finer, the stitching is better, it is more tailored, etc. A more expensive restaurant has better food, rarer ingredients, more seasoned chefs, better service, and on and on. So logic would follow that a novel bought for a million-dollar advance is better than a novel bought for a fifteen thousand-dollar advance, right?

Okay, so we know that's not necessarily true (because art is art and value is not often equivalent to price), but this can be what it feels like at first. You can't help but ask:


Why is my book only worth this much, when that one is worth ten times more?

Why is that author getting so much marketing, when I'm getting half that?

Why does that book get co-op, and not this one?

Why why why? (Hint: There aren't any real answers. At least not satisfying ones.)

All those whys can lead to some pretty disconcerting realities AND illusions. It's easy to feel like maybe your work isn't as good as someone else's, or maybe that your publisher doesn't value you as much as they do another person. It can start to feel like the work you care so much about and put so much time into has been predetermined to fail before you even get started. And you start to associate that number with the value of your book, with its projected success, and maybe even your worth as a person.

Then there's the flip side, which can be equally as scary, though I think people tend to down play it. Say you DO get a big advance—that means you have an incredible amount of pressure on you. And in some cases a huge amount of what I will call "survivor's guilt." I have seen this pressure on friends. They ask themselves why they got so lucky when another's work they adore isn't seeing success. They worry people will say, "They paid HOW MUCH for this?" Because seriously, how can you live up to such high expectations at times? Add to that the pressure of wondering if they will ever earn out their advance. Yeah, those advances might look pretty, but the truth is some authors don't earn out, and that will be viewed as a bad investment. And those who do earn out? It takes years. Years of hoping and worrying and pressure that affects the way they write and live. Not to mention not seeing a single bit of royalty in all that time.

And to the small or self-publishers, there is still this pressure and worry about value. More than that, I've seen my self-published friends stress over how much to sell for, if they could be making more money if they only tried harder. It's all in their control—why can't they make it happen? What are they doing wrong? Nothing, of course. But the doubts are there. Doubts seems to follow every writer I know.

But the truth is, if you got an advance, your publisher took a risk on you. Heck, even if you didn't get an advance. And that intrinsically implies that they believe in your book and are realistically invested. They want to make a profit—no matter the book. And publishers don't buy books they don't believe in. Trust me. They go through so many steps to acquire a novel, it's crazy to think they don't care about it just because of the monetary aspect.

The money? Let's be real about it. It reflects a lot of things, but artistic value is not one of them. You can't really put a monetary value on a piece of art. Yes, if you get an advance, it does represent a publisher's estimation of how much they hope your book will sell. It can be a measure of how marketable your book may be. But it's all guess work. And on top of that, in most cases it's a very modest number because they WANT to make back their money and then some. Unless they have to pull out the big numbers to get a book (as in a pre-empt or auction), the offers will be average and safe and sure bets. There is nothing wrong with that. It's a good thing for you to be able to make back your advance.

So I will fully admit to getting a little caught up in the comparison battle earlier this year, and it was just awful. I felt like a horrible human being for being so petty, and I felt like a horrible writer for no reason. For awhile, I did let the money get to me, and I'm glad that I've pulled out of that because it's not a fun place to be. Because you want to be grateful and you know you're lucky and yet there's this ugly place deep inside that doesn't feel that way at all.

Well, what got me out of that was finding the value in my own work again—regardless of the money. When I was a noob, I used to say all the time that I wouldn't care about the money. That I'd be happy with anything as long as I got to share my work. It was...humbling to find myself a liar when things came down to it. I've had to do a lot of soul searching to understand my reactions and to discover how to change them.

The more I search, the more I learn that getting back to the basics always helps me. Writing what I love, regardless of market or money or genre. Improving what I write the best I can. Loving what I write and where I'm at. Treating it all like a journey with friends instead of a competition. Writing for the sake of writing. Sharing with joy instead of dread. All that good, pure stuff.

The money doesn't have to mess with you. It might be hard to get past at first, but it's possible and so much better when you do. Your work is valuable and worthwhile, no matter what the price tag ends up being.