Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Paranormalcy!!! It's OUT!!!

Hey guys, a really awesome book comes out today! No, not Clockwork Angel, though I'm sure that book will be plenty cool. I'm talking about my dear friend Kiersten White's book—Paranormalcy!

Have you checked out my contest yet? You should if you're a writer—it's not everyday you have a chance to win a full manuscript critique. A picture of Paranormalcy in the wild is your ticket to entry.

You might get tired of me talking about this, but I swear I won't go too overboard. It's just so exciting! Paranormalcy is OUT THERE—in bookstores! on real SHELVES! you can order it online and it's not a pre-order anymore!

It's amazing that it's finally here. I'm so happy for Kiersten. Having watched her work so hard, go through every up and down of trying to get published, I know how much this means.

Sometimes, getting a book published seems like nothing short of a miracle. So many things have to line up just right. There are so many steps—so many people to please—and all it takes is one thing to throw it all off. Every publishing story, even the "fairy tale" ones, come with a lot of hard work and waiting that people seem to forget about.

I met Kiersten before Paranormalcy was even a thought, before she had an agent, before she'd written the book that got her an agent. Two and a half years ago, we were both just two aspiring writers with nothing to show. Okay, scratch that, she had a novella published in Leading Edge. But I certainly had nothing to show.

We had a lot of crazy dreams—getting agents, getting published, hitting lists, and, yes, even going on tour together. It's amazing that even a couple of those have actually happened, because looking back I don't know if we really knew what we were getting into.

I remember reading Flash. I remember being awed by how good she was and knowing I had a long way to go. When she got her agent off that book, I cried I was so happy. She deserved it.

There's something about writing friends. They get this weird business, how hard and yet rewarding it is. She was there for me when my dragon book ultimately failed in querying. I was there for her when Flash ended up not selling. She was there for me during nine long months of revisions and the offer of representation that came after. I bawled again when she called to tell me about her book deal.

We've been through a lot together—good and bad, happy and sad. I think it's that roller coaster that makes this day so huge for me (uh, and for her). Today isn't just one day. It's the culmination of years of writing, working, waiting, and hoping. Today her dream is officially REAL. And I'm so happy to be able to share this moment with my dearest friend, because in a smaller way it was my dream for her as well. I wish I lived in San Diego so I could celebrate with her! Oh well, I suppose I can wait eleven days.

But I can't wait to go to the bookstore today, to see Paranormalcy there. I can't wait to pick it up, to flip through the pages. I will probably cry. Again. It's kind of what I do.

Congrats, Kierst. It's finally The Day! Enjoy it, okay? :P

Monday, August 30, 2010

Deadlines, Punishments, and Rewards

I like deadlines and goals. I know, crazy, but I really do. I'm the kind of person who works better when I feel that clock ticking, when I know I only have so much time to get something done. (Hey, editors out there, please take note. I'm just sayin'.) If I don't have a deadline, then I just put things off and actually work slower.

Usually I have no problem setting my own deadlines and pushing myself to reach them. I outline what I have to do, plan how much I need to accomplish each day, and follow my plan come rain or snow. Step by step, the work gets done. If I need a little extra push, I pick a reward I can have when the work is done. It's never anything huge—maybe taking myself out to lunch or a new pair of shoes. For getting an agent, it was an orange purse. And if I ever get a book deal, it'll be a real desk (I currently work at a card table, heh).

But lately, my writer self-esteem issues have been getting in the way of my goals. I've been ignoring my deadlines because sometimes it feels like accomplishing stuff isn't important like it used to be. Of course this feeling is false, but I feel it nonetheless. Funny how that works.

This is where punishment comes in. Oh, yes, punishment.

I ask my writer friends to give me deadlines and punishments for failure when I can't get my butt in gear. Kiersten told me I had to finish Transparent by a certain date or risk following Tweeters who consume your feed with endless and constant updates (no, I won't name names). Renee has finally warned me that if I don't finish reading her MS in the next two weeks I will be drawing her something (she knows how to punish, getting something else cool if I fail and all).

Not everyone works well with deadlines, but I highly recommend them, even if you don't have an agent or editor to give them. It's good practice, right? Finishing a novel isn't an easy thing no matter how many you've written or how long they are, and sometimes it's nice to have that extra push when things get tough.

Friday, August 27, 2010

Friday Sketch

Writers are weird, weird people. We spend a lot of time moaning and groaning about how freaking long it takes to finish a book or how much work it is. And then we finish (like I did yesterday), and what's our first thought?

"Hmm, what should I work on next?"

Seriously? Not "How long should my vacation be?" Or maybe "Let's not do that again for a while." Or "I should really clean my house, read all those crits piling up, and take a big chunk out of my TBR pile."

No, here I am thinking about the next project—what it should be and when I should start it and how I can make it the best thing I've ever written. I'm rather disgusted with myself, to be honest. I'm a freak of nature. So far I've decided to start my "first" round of edits on Transparent next week and to work on something new.

The new project isn't really that new. I wrote like five chapters a while back, but then forced myself to put it away and do my "real work." Well, after digging through my manuscript graveyard yesterday, I've decided that I want to pick this one up again.

This drawing is one of my MCs, Corbin Parr. I didn't have a good picture of him in my head, so I decided to draw him. I'm not totally happy with it, but at least I know he has brown hair and gray blue eyes. That's something.

Corbin is moody, restless, and more daring than his father would like. But he can't help himself—the Shepherds, an alien race now occupying Earth, took his brother, and he's determined to find him even if the chances are slim. That is, if he can escape his father's compound first.

I like him, even though he's kind of a pain in the butt. Anyway, those are my plans for the rest of the year (plus reading all these crits, sorry crit partners!). What are yours?

Thursday, August 26, 2010

The Rewrite: In Hindsight

Last night I did something I've been wanting to do for, oh, six months or so. I finally, finally finished rewriting Transparent! It's DONE. Okay, not done, but you know, the first draft is all the way written. There's a beginning, a middle, and an end. Some of the sentences might even make sense!


Right now I'm mostly feeling relief. I know I have lots of revisions left, but I did it. For a while I wasn't even sure I could finish, so it's nice to know that I could at least do that!

Rewriting—as in starting completely over from blank document—has been quite the experience. In some ways, it was easier than I thought, and in others much harder.

When I first began, I thought I'd be scared. I was starting over! I had to write the whole book again, after I'd spent the last six months editing it and the three before that writing it. The idea should have been daunting, but it wasn't.

Once I wrote my first chapter again, I knew the book would be better. It was exciting! You know how sometimes in life you wish you could have a do over? Yeah, it was like actually getting one! I had the hindsight of the old story. I knew how to make it better. I could just write it all over again and pretend the bad version never happened!

It was liberating in a way. Suddenly it felt like I could fix ALL my old books! Rewriting wasn't so bad. I mean, I had this outline for the new and improved version, I already knew the characters, I knew what mistakes to avoid. All I had to do was follow my outline until it was done, right?

Yeah...or not.

What I didn't expect was the emotional impact of rewriting. I mean, having to write your book again, no matter how you put it, implies failure. I failed so badly at the first attempt that not even six months of editing fixed it. I had to start over completely.

It hit me about 50 pages in—this feeling of utter incompetence. How was I supposed to know this draft was any better? What the heck did I know? Hello, I'd rambled on for 68k words, never thinking once that what I was writing might not ultimately work. Add in some other rather traumatizing writing events and, wow, I was a wreck.

I felt stupid. There's no way around it. I felt like the stupidest writer ever born. I doubted everything about my writing. How should I know if my outline was any good? What if my characters were as lame as ever? What if I put in all this time and just mess it up all over again? Obviously, I hadn't learned as much as I thought I had in the last few years—I couldn't even put together an acceptable book when I tried!

Not really the best mentality for writing. This is where alpha readers become vital, because if it weren't for Nick, Kiersten, AND Kasie (yes, I had to ADD an alpha it was that bad) I never would have finished. The only thing that really kept me going was their encouragement. Them saying it was good would give me just enough faith to get through the next chapter before I wanted to give up again. And sometimes I didn't even believe them, but their nagging pushed me through.

I wish I could say it got better after a while, but it didn't. It wasn't the book—it was me. My mentality got worse as I ventured into the middle. It felt like I was repeating myself (uh, because I kind of was). It seemed like there was no tension (though my alphas claimed there was). It felt like the book was the most boring, stupid thing ever. I didn't want to finish. It didn't seem worth it.

I stopped for about six weeks to work on another project. And though that work ultimately had its own challenges, the time away from Transparent was a godsend. It gave me a chance to step back from all those awful feelings—to see that it was me who had the problem, not the book.

I may not have been bouncing-off-the-walls happy when I got back to it, but I was pleased. I felt like maybe it wasn't so worthless. Maybe it would turn out okay, and that was enough to push me through the last 20k or so.

So now I'm done. I think I'm more proud that I got through it than anything. I know it needs a lot more work, but I'm glad I survived emotionally. That was the most unexpected challenge. It made all the others seem like cake.

If you're rewriting, my heart goes out to you. If I can do it, you can too! It doesn't mean you're a bad writer or that your story sucks. Sometimes you just don't know enough that first time around—I didn't truly know the conflict of my story until after the 8th edit! That's when I realized I'd skipped ahead and it was all messed up.

And to those of you who haven't rewritten, I guess be prepared for a serious roller coaster of emotions. You can get through it, that's what I learned, and no matter what you feel your book will be better. That, somehow, is worth it.

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Things I'm Loving

I'm totally stealing this from my friend Stephanie Perkins (If you haven't checked out her blog or the upcoming fabulous Anna and the French Kiss, please do. She's one amazing writer). She does a "Five Things I Love" post every month or so, and they always make me happy. I'm trying very hard to be happy right now. Sometimes it's hard to be happy, but like most things, I always believe in at least trying.

1. Yogurt and Granola
Hello, I want to eat you. Rawr.

I don't know what it is, but I can't get enough yogurt and granola these days. It's the perfect breakfast, filling and nutritious and even a little rich. I recently discovered a grocery store that sells Tillamook yogurt, and holy cow it's soooo much better than any other usual brand I've had. The Marionberry? Oh my.

Food just makes me happy. Good, real food. Which brings me to...

2. WinCo!
Yes, a good grocery store makes me happy. I'm one of those freaks who actually likes shopping for food. And good food? A must. AND cheap food? Even better! I'd been hearing a lot about WinCo since one opened just about ten minutes away from me. I heard it was cheap—cheaper than Wal-Mart. This didn't exactly impress me, because I buy a lot of produce and Wal-Mart produce basically goes bad in 1-2 days. I figured WinCo would be the same quality-cutter type store.

Oh, I was wrong. They certainly cut corners (you bag your items, there are no shelves like at Costco, and it's basically a big warehouse), but they don't cut corners where it counts. The produce section was incredible! They had DAIKON! Do you know how hard it is to find daikon in Utah? At an Asian Market, maybe, but not at a mainstream store. And it was affordable to boot.

This basically went for every section of the store—quality food (all natural meats not pumped up with salt and broth so they look okay, dairy products sans artificial hormones, aisles of bulk organic grains, baking goods, cereals, and granolas) at affordable prices.

Yes, I'm saying I'd marry WinCo if I could.

3. Paramore
I want Haley's hair.

Basically, this rewrite of Transparent wouldn't have happened without Paramore. Okay, it might have happened, but it would have been a lot harder. When I struggle finding the words, the soul, of my book, all I have to do is turn on some Paramore and the juices start flowing again.

It's funny how music can do that. With every book I've written, there's always been some kind of music that helps get the words flowing. Sometimes it's not what I expect (My fantasy/steampunk? Yeah...Green Day.), but I end up listening because the story just comes, the characters speak. I'm so glad I'm a writer and can say crazy things like that.

4. The Library
Libraries are amazing places. I gotta admit I can't concentrate like I used to—my kids demand most of my attention in their waking hours. And once they're in bed I'm exhausted and not motivated to work.

So I've been going to the library. My husband is amazing and watches the kids for a couple hours at night, and off I go. Being surrounded by books, in a quiet place, really helps me work. That, and it's like a race. How much can I write before they turn the lights out? I work better under pressure like that. Give me all the time in the world and I'll never get anything done.

It makes me sad that people keep saying libraries will die. It would be such a shame! Maybe they won't look the same in the coming years, but communities deserve a free place to go for information and access, for quiet and work. Not everyone can afford that on their own. We can't forget that.

5. Avatar: The Last Airbender
My sister-in-law let us borrow the first season of Avatar and DUDE. I love it. Must see more as soon as possible. It also doesn't hurt that Dino Boy loves it too. I might even be able to get away with shaving his head and painting a blue arrow on it for Halloween. You know I would so do that.

What I love most about Avatar is that it's the better version of a world I tried to create in my teenage days. I really wanted to do an anime/book with elements. Avatar employs "bending" in such imaginative and real ways. The world is soooo amazing. And the characters are too! Ack, I'm so in love.

So, what are you loving these days?

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Contest: Paranormalcy Party

You guys may have heard that I know a certain author named Kiersten White. She might be my friend or something (as long as I meet the deadline she gave me for Transparent, that is, otherwise she'll probably glare me to death).

You guys also may have heard that her debut novel, Paranormalcy, is coming out NEXT WEEK (August 31st, if you're living under a rock/in the Mockingjay haze). She has a contest starting today, and of course I can't help but hold my own in honor of this momentous occasion.
Hi, aren't I the prettiest book ever? (Yes, yes you are.)

I mean, c'mon, one of my best friend's book is about to be a REAL THING. We've talked about this, dreamed about it, worked for it for a long time. And even though I know it's not MY book, it's so incredible to see someone you care about meet that goal. So, lot's of happy, awe-filled feelings here. How could I not go all out? And besides, this coincides perfectly with my usual contest schedule anyway.

Kiersten is giving away Paranormalcy, an iPod Shuffle, and other awesome swag. Me? Well, I'm going for a more...useful (okay, cheaper, really) prize. But I PROMISE it's good. And if you're a writer, maybe you'll want it. You ready?

The PRIZE: A Full Manuscript Critique
Yes, the winner will get me for a reader. I hope you think that's a good prize, sorry if you don't. I promise to read your whole manuscript and provide the best critique I can. Should I throw in a drawing too? Yeah, I think so.

To Enter:
1. For one entry, take a Picture of Paranormalcy "in the wild." Kiersten wants it at home, but I'm gathering the other pictures. At a cafe, in the jungle, at a dojo, whatever. And it has to be the actual book (or ebook, as long as I can tell it's Para)—not an ARC.

2. For an additional TWO entries, provide proof of purchase. I'm not asking for your bank account info or anything—just the Amazon box, for example, or proof that it's at home with you, or a snippet of the receipt, etc. I just want to know that you actually purchased it.

3. Send pictures/proof to natalie (at) nataliewhipple (dot) com. The winner will be drawn randomly.

All entries must be sent before midnight, September 7th.

So there you have it! After Mockingjay rips your heart out, enter these contests. I promise Paranormalcy will fill the void with warm fuzzies and crazy paranormal creatures.

Monday, August 23, 2010

It Never Gets Easier

So I was reading Maggie Stiefvater's blog last night. She always has great advice, but this fabulous post about how to start writing a novel really hit home. It's supposed to be for those people just starting out, but I found it amazingly helpful even for the more "seasoned" writer.

You see, in some ways writing never gets easier. It's like this perpetual cycle of beginning from scratch. What you learn from book 3 may not work in book 4—in fact it might even RUIN book 4 and you'll have to rewrite large chunks of it. And then when you start your next project it's the same thing.

New story. New characters to figure out. New plot to construct. New ways to screw it up. New problems that require different solutions.

That's not to say writers don't grow and improve from practice. I'm just saying those feelings—of being overwhelmed, of not knowing how the story goes, of worrying about messing it all up—that happens to every writer with every book. And like she said, "real" writers push through it and finish the dang book. Then a lot of time goes into revising the mess.

As far as I can see, these feelings are fairly universal among writers both new and old, published and unpublished. Starting a novel is just plain hard. In fact, sometimes I wonder if it gets even harder as you go because you know that much more how big an investment it will be (often with little pay off). Try starting a book with that mentality and see how far you get, heh.

But if you want to write, sucking is part of the deal. I have to remember this constantly. I keep thinking that if I write long enough I won't make mistakes, but it's just not true. There will always be things to fix, stuff to learn.

We writers? We do hard things. We push forward when we don't feel inspired. We work when we want to play. We try when it seems like it'll never work out. That's how it goes.

But never fear, you have the whole of the writing community to comiser—I mean, uh, celebrate the joys of writing with. I think that's why, for the most part, we are very nice, understanding people, if I do say so myself.

Friday, August 20, 2010

Ninja Drawing & Characters I Can't Let Go

I actually drew this picture maybe a year ago, but decided not to post it because I thought it might be spoilery. Well, I can't hold on to it any longer, and I figure it's not that bad. They could be glowing for any number of reasons, right?

If you're a writer (and I assume most of you who read this blog are), you know there are some characters who won't let you go. Tosh and Amy are a couple of mine. No matter how long it's been since I've worked on their story, they're always there talking to me. Even when I wish they wouldn't. Even when I can't write more about them. Even when I should be working on other things.

I love them. I really do. Yes, I love imaginary people. I'm a writer so I can be insane like that.

I often wonder why some characters stay with me as a writer. Why does Keira, my dragon girl, still call to me though I abandoned her story almost two years ago (holy crap it's been that long? ack.)? Why do Gil and Adair still bicker in my head or explain more about their weirdo steampunky world?

I don't really have an answer. Maybe you could say these are the stories I should write. Or maybe that I like them best. Or maybe these characters were just important to me at the time—helped me through rough moments, taught me things—and it's like visiting old friends. Even though we don't see each other often, when we do it's like we never parted.

Which characters do you still hold on to? Please share if you can so I don't feel as crazy.

Thursday, August 19, 2010

Uhhh, Spoke Too Soon

So remember how I was all, "I'm going to finish Transparent this week! Wahoo! I'm awesome!"

Yeah...that's probably not happening now. Turns out I've been reminded once again that I am not, in fact, very awesome. I love eating my words like that. Yummy.

But it's okay! Well, mostly okay. You might have picked up a slightly "down in the dumps" vibe from yesterday's post. It's been a rough week for many reasons—funny how life can get in the way of writing like that.

It really all started Monday night. I'd finished the "third to last chapter" (which now might be more like the "fourth or fifth to last chapter" [arg]), when something started nagging at me. I'd planned how the end would go. I'd figured it out and outlined it and everything!

But at that moment, when I finally got to that point in the manuscript...I just knew it wasn't right.

All of the sudden I didn't have an ending! I was at the end and, bam, I suddenly couldn't write it the way I planned. Sure, I knew what was wrong (let's just say a sort of deus ex machina issue), but I didn't know how to fix it. So there I was wanting to be done SO BAD and not moving forward.

This writing thing is maddening, I tell you. Maddening.

Kiersten was all "Just write it and I'll tell you if it's bad!" Then I'd be like "But I KNOW it's wrong! It WILL be bad! I'm not wasting my time on wrong." And then she'd be all "But I want the ending! Wahhh!" (Okay, she didn't "Wahhh!")

And then some other stuff happened, which made it even harder to see how this ending was supposed to go.

Maybe a year ago I would have just written the ending I'd planned, knowing it wasn't right but not knowing how to fix it. "Oh, it's fine for now," I'd say to myself. "I'll figure it out later. Or even better, maybe no one will notice and I won't have to!"

But this pause, this patience in waiting for the answer, tells me that maybe I have grown as a writer. Maybe I am a little bit better. I have more instincts than I used to. Not that I'm anywhere near perfect, but I can more easily sense when my story is going off track. And instead of just letting it, I wait for it to come back or run after it and force it back. Either way.

Last night, my dear Fiona told me the beginning of the answer, and the rest kind of filled itself in. I'm letting it marinate a little, but I know this is the better choice, and I'm glad I waited for it.

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

"It's Not Fair!"

Remember when you were a kid and your sister got the bigger cupcake? Or your brother got to take karate but you didn't? Or that kid on the playground cut in the tether ball line?

Auto-response: "It's not fair!"

I don't know what it is, but every kid seems to have this built-in Fairness Meter. They seem to see everything and everyone as needing to be treated equally. Well, when they're the ones getting the short end of the stick at least. The kids with the bigger piece of cake never seem to bring that up...

But anyway, the adult's usual response is the ever-annoying-because-it's-true: "Well, life's not fair."

At which point the kid grumbles something along the lines of "It should be." And the path to disillusionment begins.

But I'm starting to wonder if we ever truly grow out of that impulse to cry "It's not fair!" I know I'm supposed to be an adult and everything. I certainly know that life is nowhere close to fair. I know what it's like to be on the losing team when the winners cheated. I know how it is to get left out for no other reason than "you're different." I know what it's like to work too hard for too long and not get the reward.

At times like these the child in my head still yells "It's not fair!" Then the adult in my head chides me with "Well, life's not fair." And it still doesn't make be feel any better. I still mentally ball my fists, standing there defiantly, thinking, "It should be fair."

And maybe that's part of the reason humans write stories (well, at least this human). In stories, things mostly turn out how they're supposed to. Good guys beat bad guys. People get what they deserve (eventually). Sacrifice and suffering are rewarded with happily ever afters. Love lasts, or at least gets found. Life is...fair.

Okay, so not all stories do that, but the ones I love do. And I think that's why I love them so much. They call to my inner child, the one who just wants the world to be fair for once.

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

You Have A Salty, Sour Pickled Plum On Your Back

First, SM Blooding interviewed me over at her blog. It might sound egotistical, but I highly recommend checking this one out, especially if want to know more about how I got my agent, how I survived querying, and how publishing is like a cat.

Onigiri: A rice ball wrapped with seaweed and often filled with something salty or sour or both. A common on-the-go meal in Japan.

So I've been watching (and reading the manga, too) this anime called Fruits Basket. It's funny and different and even a bit romantic, but what's surprised me the most is this exploration of how people work, how they see themselves and others.

In one episode (#7), there's an onigiri analogy I can't seem to get out of my head. As you can see from the picture above, onigiri can look pretty plain and uniform. But on the back they sometimes have a surprise:

Look! Umeboshi! Umeboshi are these intensely salty, sour pickled "plums." Though they aren't really plums, they're ume, which is in the plum family but is more like an apricot.

So on the front onigiri all look the same, but on the back there could be a plum or a ball of salmon or some toasted sesame seeds, etc.

The main character in Fruits Basket, Tohru, begins to notice how two certain boys envy each other's good qualities, while totally ignoring their own. They are so hung up on what they don't have, that they are blind to their own awesomeness.

Tohru compared them to onigiri. All they can see is their white, boring rice front, but they keep seeing the umeboshi in others when they turn around. Little do they know that they have a plum on their back, too. That they are just as special.

This, of course, got me thinking about writers. Admittedly, sometimes it's really hard to see all the amazing writers out there—some of them my own friends—who have these special umeboshi or whatever else on their backs. Sometimes I get discouraged, thinking all I am is this boring, white rice ball with nothing to offer. It's hard to believe there's something special on my back when I can't see it.

But Tohru was right—we all have salty, sour pickled plums on our backs (best compliment ever, right?). I see them all the time, and my friends often remind me that mine's there too. So there's no need to compare or to feel sad about someone else's skills. Even if we can't always see our own talents, they are there and other people see them all the time.

Monday, August 16, 2010

One Track Mind

Hey. Something is HAPPENING this week. Okay, a few things, but one in particular has me by the neck:

Transparent will be done.

And by done, I mean the rewrite will be finished. The first draft completed. (Which is really like the 8th draft, but let's face it, a rewrite is a whole new beast.) I'm three-ish chapters from "The End." Can I say it again? It will be DONE this week!

Obviously, this is very exciting to me (and probably only me, sorry about that). It's my first full rewrite ever, and for a while I wondered if I'd ever get there. I started in April—thought I'd easily be done by June's end—and here it is mid-August. Funny how that works.

Rewriting wasn't what I thought it would be, and maybe in a few days I'll attempt to put my thoughts into words. But for now I'm gonna be pretty useless and all around uninteresting. Working does that to me. (Also, I'm sick, but I'm pretending not to be in hopes that it'll just stop. I don't have time for this!)

In the meantime, I'd like to point you to a couple fun places. If you haven't seen on Twitter, I've gotten together with Molly Brewer to host YA Cinema, in which we watch movies and have a virtual slumber party, so to speak. Check it out.

Also, one of my best friends from high school, Kayley, has an incredible cooking blog. She's a professionally trained chef now stay-at-home mom, so she's decided to share her fabulous recipes! Her blog is called Le Cordon Q, and just looking over the pictures will have you salivating.

And once again, Cindy Pon is hosting a MASSIVE book giveaway. Eleven books—winner takes all. I can't resist that many books.... You should also check out the gorgeous art she's commissioned for her books. Sheesh, they're amazing pieces.

So go have fun with those links.

*dives back into rewrites*

Friday, August 13, 2010

Farewell Naps

I started writing seriously again about the time I got married. I was in college, working, and figuring out how to be a wife, but I always had time to write if I wanted it. Then I had Dino Boy, and suddenly my time wasn't my own. If he was awake, I likely had to feed, change, bathe, or play with him.

But it was all good, because there was still nap time.

Oh, nap time, you sweet hours of freedom. Dino Boy had two naps at first, like most babies, and so I had basically 4-6 hours to work. Plenty of time to write! Even when he went down to one nap, I could do a lot in three hours.

Then Ninja Girl came two years later. She was a PRO sleeper, like, the kind of baby you worry sleeps too much. She slept through the night (12 hours!) at 9 weeks, AND she still took two 3-hour naps every day.

Those were the glory days. During Ninja Girl's morning nap I'd pop in a movie for Dino Boy and write. And the both slept in the afternoon! For three hours!

No wonder I wrote almost seven books that year. I had a lot more free time, free time in which I couldn't leave the house.

Slowly, things have changed since then. First Dino Boy stopped napping—a sad day, indeed. Then Ninja Girl gave up one of her naps. But it was okay! I still had the afternoon nap. I could distract Dino Boy well enough to make some progress.

Well, today is my last day of nap time.

Tomorrow, we get bunk beds (so we can use the other room for a certain Pirate coming to visit), which means Ninja Girl is out of the crib and there's no way she'll nap during the day AND go down at bedtime.

Feel free to imagine me moping, because I kind of am.

I knew this day would come, but still! Writing during nap time was reliable—I could at least get in 1k words or finish a chapter or something. I suck at writing at night...I usually end up watching anime instead. But maybe I won't have a choice. I guess I could wake up early. *snarf* Yeah, right.

Basically I'm freaking out about how I'll get anything done now. Can you tell?

So I'm asking all the mommy writers out there—how do you write with no napping kids? I need a new plan of attack, and I'm not sure what that'll be yet.

Thursday, August 12, 2010

Antique Stores: With Donny Osmond and She-Hulk

I love antique stores. Even when I was younger, I didn't mind going to them with my mom. They're just so...weird. Seriously, I could spend all day digging around in antique stores and finding funny things. Old stuff is funny. And cool.

Before my flight left, Kasie happened to take me to this awesome antique store in downtown Clovis. It was this pretty historic area with old western stores and a farmer's market every week. I wish I could have explored more, but I did find some great stuff anyway:

The old school laptop. When Dino Boy saw this picture, he didn't know what it was of course. Try explaining a type writer to a techno-savvy four-year-old sometime. It's a blast. (Also, I have no clue what that dog/wolf/mutant/paper weight thing is in front of it.)

Old spice containers! Just what everyone wants! Also, please note the creepy old guy mug. Looking at it now, I kind of regret not buying it.

The title of this piece: "My Friend." Teehee. I mean, who would pay that much for a picture of someone else's dog? Okay, maybe a dog person would. I just found it funny.

Look! It's the Justin Beiber of the 70s! And he's even still in the box. I gotta admit I almost bought this, just because. Maybe I would have if it came with Donny's memoir.

She-Hulk! I can't imagine why they had practically the whole collection of this series...I mean, She-Hulk is dead sexy. I wish I could pull off an orange flower bikini like that.

Can you feel his pain? His determination? The best part of this statue you might not be able to see—it's titled "Fabulous Statue." Fabulous, indeed.

Hey! We're not antiques...yet. Okay, I just had to share the ONE picture me and Kasie got together on this trip. You know, the day I left, right before we headed for the airport.

And that concludes me talking about my trip. Sorry, had to milk it for all it was worth. I suppose I'll actually have to think of blog material tomorrow. Oh wait! I can do a sketch. Sweet.

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Looking Stupid

While on vacation, I tried wakeboarding for the first time in my entire life. In fact, it was my first time on a boat like that. My first time tubing. Yes, I'm 26. Shut up.

My wakeboarding pretty much consisted of me getting pulled by the boat, trying to stand, and then falling. Then I'd get to float in the water while they pulled the boat around so I could try (and fail) again. I didn't get up. I probably looked like an idiot. But I tried.

For me, that was the most important part.

You see, one of my major goals as a teenager was to avoid looking stupid at all costs. I'm not kidding. I didn't dance or sing in public because I didn't want to look stupid. Even if I knew the answer to a question, I didn't raise my hand in case I was wrong and didn't know it. I didn't make small talk or try to meet people for fear I'd sound like an idiot.

I never, ever tried anything new because I'd look stupid if I didn't get it right immediately. I mean, I live in Utah—some of the best snow on the continent—and I've still never tried skiing or snowboarding, etc.

I'm not proud of this, but it's the truth. I think it's the truth for a lot of people. Even now I still have lingering fears:

I'll make a fool of myself.

I'll fall on my face.

I'll never be good at anything.

People will laugh.

Everyone will stare at me.

They'll think I'm stupid.

But here's the thing—if you want to learn or grow or gain skill in anything you have to look stupid at some point. It's part of the process. Of course you don't know how to do it at first. Of course you're going to make mistakes. Yes, you ARE a n00b.

We were all once "n00bs," which is why it drives me crazy to see supposed n00bs treated harshly. So what if someone is brand new to writing, blogging, drawing, running, cooking, etc? Does that give us a right to laugh at their mistakes—some of the same mistakes we've made on our journeys? Who's to say they won't surpass us in time?

I'm not saying this for any reason except that I've been thinking about it since trying wakeboarding. Why did I find the courage to try? I knew Kasie and Jared wouldn't make fun of me, even if all I did was fall. And every time I did, they told me I was doing a good job, even though both of them were more seasoned and skilled. I can't tell you how grateful I am for that. Because with them I didn't feel stupid, even though all I did was mess up.

It reminded me that I always want to be that way—I want to be there for people who are learning. I don't want to be the person who intimidates or criticizes or otherwise makes a beginner feel like they should give up. I want to encourage and teach and help. I want everyone to feel like they can master something if they just practice, because it's true. Some may take more practice than others (hi, 12 finished "novels" here), some may take less.

In the end, trying is what matters. Trying is the only way to get better—the only way to eventually not look stupid. And it's much easier to try when people are cheering you on instead of laughing.

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Things I Learned in San Francisco

I'm back! Did you miss me? Don't answer if you didn't. Four days without a computer was extremely refreshing, and now I have blog material! Yay! There are lots of pictures ahead, so I promise this post isn't as long as it looks (though it's still kind of long).

Things I Learned in San Francisco: A Comprehensive List

1. The streets are narrow. I pictured them much wider in my head, but it totally works out because the jumping distance is that much easier for a ninja.

Tosh could totally clear that.

2. As is apparent from #1, I have a strange impulse to take pictures from the car. I got ridiculously excited just driving by things.
Look! A Building of no particular significance! IN San Francisco!

A trolley car thing! Just like the Rice-a-Roni commercial! It's REAL!

A random Private school in Pacific Heights! (Okay, this one is a little signicant because Tosh goes to a private school like this [but bigger] and it was PROOF my imagination was fairly accurate.)

Downtown! I'm Downtown! There's a lot of cars!

3. I freak out when I'm surrounded by manga. Like, FREAK OUT. I honestly had to restrain myself from squealing, and Kasie kept laughing at me.
Kid in a candy store face. "Am I in heaven? I think I might be." The Kinokuniya Bookstore was two-stories of Japanese books. I could have spent all day there (someday I will).

4. GPS does not work very well in Downtown San Francisco. The rest of the city? Not bad. Just Downtown.

Kasie's GPS had the voice of Homer Simpson, so it was like Homer was our tour guide. You need to keep that in mind because it makes everything funnier. It went like this Downtown:

"Turn right in 50 yards."

-Fifty yards go by-

Me: Uhhh, this is a one way street, we can't.

-Kasie drives straight because we have no choice-

-Homer freaks out, freezes, becomes entirely unhelpful-

"Turn around as soon as possible."

"Turn left."

"Turn right."

Kasie: Make up your mind, Homer!

Me: I think he might be drunk again....I know the Bay is to our left, just turn left as soon as you can.

Kasie: How do you know that?

Me: I'm a homing pigeon.

Kasie: Okay, if you say so.

(I was right, by the way. I totally kicked Homer's butt Downtown.)
5. There's a "Sekrit Beach" in San Francisco. Kasie's brother told us about it—that the locals go there instead of the more touristy one. Not only was it less crowded, but it had a waaaaaaay better view.
Hello, Sekrit Beach. I love you. You are beautiful.

Also, walking on the beach is some good exercise. Also also, I'm not in shape. Thank goodness I'm used to about 5k ft altitude; it gave me a slight edge at sea level.

6. Bangs and San Francisco don't mix.
What I'm Thinking in This Picture: Smile, even though you know your hair looks horrible. Also, why in there world are those two girls doing a photo shoot in bikinis when it's so dang cold out here? And their photographer is creepy...I hope that's not as shady as it looks.

What I'm Thinking While Taking This Picture: Dangit, why does Kasie still look cute? No fair.

7. Driving in San Francisco causes Kasie to randomly break into "air typing." An example letter follows:

Dear City of San Francisco:

You are very beautiful, but it's really hard to see those street lights on the corners. I know the cables prevent you from making lights more visible, so you can't blame me when I don't see them. Honk, yes. Blame? No way.

This also goes for stop signs.

8. They aren't kidding when they say there's no parking. We spent about 30 mins trying to find a spot remotely close to this gelato shop—never happened. We gave up (don't worry we got some in Fresno).

9. Golden Gate Park is truly ideal for ninja training. Also, it's prettier than I remembered.
I don't know what makes this water so green, but it's awesome. And Tosh could easily climb that cypress tree behind me.

Do you see the ninjas in this picture? It's okay if you can't. For the most part, only ninjas can see other ninjas.

Some of you might know why I took this picture. Hopefully someday all of you will know.

10. Last but certainly not least, Nathan is the nicest, coolest agent ever in the history of all time. Okay, I already knew that, but it was still nice to meet him for reals! I know it might sound weird, but sometimes I still find it surreal that I really have an agent.
Eek! It's real! When did this become my life?

I could probably go on longer, but I think we'll stop there! San Francisco was a blast, and I can't wait to go back. Kasie and I managed to do a lot in one day, but I'd love to have more time to really explore. Someday!

Thursday, August 5, 2010

City of Ninjas

Fast, useless post today, since I'm running around crazy in preparation for travel. Tomorrow I will be here:

I'm only a little excited. Okay, A LOT excited. Though I spent my childhood just across the bay in Fremont, it has been a very long time since I've actually been IN San Francisco. And this time it's even more awesome, because that's where Relax, I'm a Ninja is set. There's just something special about visiting the place where my characters "live." Imagine me taking lots of pictures and suspecting everyone of being ninjas.

I might also be on the look out for Hot Guys Reading. See? Guys read! Best. Blog. Ever.

Also, I have decided not to bring my computer. I know, hardcore. But I want real vacation time! That, and I'll be busy with Kasie watching the entirety of Escaflowne. So if you email me or whatnot, I may not see it until Tuesday. Don't feel neglected, I'm just gone.

Well, I better get back to preparations. There are important things to do—like pick reading material and figure out what to wear (and maybe I should clean the house and make enough food so Nick doesn't starve...). How many pairs of shoes can I get away with bringing? Like four? Tennis shoes, flats, sandals, and high heels. That's reasonable, right?

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Boy Friends

I've been thinking a lot about the boy friends in my life—those boys who were just my friends, despite the fact that I had cooties or whatever. I thought today I'd write about a few of them.

Age Six

My best friend was Ezra, your average boy right down to the bowl cut. He lived across the street, and my brother and I would go over there to play all the time. I can't even remember what we'd play, but it was fun. When I started kindergarten that year, Ezra was in my class! I was so happy because he was the only person I knew.

We played on the playground, sat next to each other for "rug time," ate lunch together—until Ezra met Michael. Michael wasn't a bad kid; in fact I thought he was pretty cool. I figured he'd be just another friend to our little group. But one day he pulled Ezra aside and the whispering began.

I ran over, thinking maybe they were planning a game. "What are we doing next?"

Michael glared at me. "We don't play with girls anymore."

"What?" I looked to Ezra, knowing he'd stand up for me. What did it matter that I was a girl? It wasn't like I made them play dolls. I liked tag and capture the flag, hide and seek.

But Ezra just stared at his feet, and I knew.

I spent the rest of recess alone. I spent a lot of recesses alone.

Ezra was nice to me when we played at his house, but it was never the same after that. I was a girl. And for some reason that meant we weren't supposed to be friends. I still don't understand why, but I haven't forgotten what it felt like when Michael passed out birthday invitations to all the boys in our class. I still remember how upset I was that he took my friend for no reason.

Age Ten
My brother and I practically lived at the Phan's house. Lam (12) and Phung (11) were technically my friends, since they were the girls in the family. And Guong (9) and Quoc (8) were my brother's friends because they were the boys. But really, we all hung out together for the most part.

We used to have these fights—I'm talking actual fights—where we'd wrestle each other on the lawn and practice Street Fighter moves in real life. It was always fun until Quoc (we all called him "Gookie," since Quoc in Vietnamese sounds more like "Gwuk") ran off crying to his mom. He had such a temper! He'd tackle you for just about anything, but then he was a softie inside.

And Guong, he was so mild-mannered, kind. I remember laying on the grass under one of our favorite climbing trees. Guong played with their parakeet, Tweety Jr. The conversation is long lost to my memory, but I remember knowing we were friends even if he technically was my brother's friend. We laughed. Took turns holding the bird. And then went inside to make some instant noodles with Sriracha (they loved to help us "build resistance" to their favorite hot sauce).

It reminded me that boys and girls can be friends—just friends. It reminded me that not all boys look down at their feet when they should be standing up for you.

Junior High
Anthony was probably the most popular boy in my grade. I wouldn't have met him at all if it weren't for 7th grade science. He got assigned as my lab partner, and I was nervous as all get out. Not because I liked him like that, but more because he was really popular and popular people were supposed to be jerks.

I mean, his girlfriend was in 8th grade and a cheerleader! He played football. He hung out with all the cool 8th graders because of his older brother. Half the girls had crushes on him. Me? I was in band. I had a raging love for Sailor Moon. AND I had, for reasons unknown, gotten really into calligraphy at the time. Talk about different circles.

But what surprised me most about Anthony was just how sincerely kind he was. We didn't just do lab assignments—we really talked to each other. He talked about how awesome his girlfriend was, and I didn't even care. I told him how the boys in band made fun of me. He asked about my calligraphy, said it was good, asked me to write his girlfriend's name and his. When our teacher told us we could switch lab partners—pick anyone we wanted—Anthony asked if I wanted to stay partners. Looking back, it was kind of this small, wonderful miracle in the torture that was the rest of my junior high experience.

The first day of eighth grade, I busted up laughing when I saw Anthony. Over the summer, he'd buzzed his lovely, wavy brown hair. And bleached it white. He looked embarrassed, but somehow we managed to stay friends. He was in my science class again and also algebra. He stayed popular (got more popular, really), and I turned into more of a dork. But we still talked.

I could tell he liked Allison, who sat in front of him in math (I sat behind him). I didn't really care because he was still my friend and that's all I really wanted.

Then it happened again. It was in algebra, and I was across the room handing in my worksheet. When I turned around, David whispered something to Anthony, who glanced at me, went bright red, and shook his head.

I don't know exactly what was said, but he didn't talk to me much after that. He took Allison to the 8th Grade Night Dance, and I spent the evening dodging a tuba player who'd asked me to dance.

This one didn't hurt like it did with Ezra. I think I already knew I was pushing my luck. We were never supposed to be friends in the first place, but I was grateful it happened and I'll always smile when I think of Anthony.

Age Seventeen
Drew was a real artist—the artist I knew I'd never be. We didn't have many classes together, but the ones we did we ended up sitting in close proximity. This happens when your last names are alphabetically nearby.

He was also a sponsored skater, deeply spiritual, and surprisingly funny. He'd be all serious one second, and the next he'd crack a joke out of nowhere, making it that much funnier. He took art classes at the community college because he'd practically out-paced our teachers. Everyone thought he was cool, and yet he wasn't one for cliques. He was himself, and it was awesome.

I can't even remember how we became friends. I think it just happened slowly over time, small conversations building into friendship. It was one of those rare teen connections. I felt like he got me, and at the same time I knew nothing "romantic" would ever come of it. We talked about what we wanted to do with our lives, about art, about religion. He'd give me rides home sometimes, since I didn't have a car and walked.

We went our different ways after high school. I haven't talked to him in forever, but somehow I know he'd be just as kind to me now as he was then. He's just that kind of person.

Age Twenty
I met Nick, who is still my best friend.

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

Those Blasted Trends

That's right, I'm talking about the T-word today. Oh, trends. What's the current one? What's the next one? The one after that? What should be the trend? Why aren't the trends more this or that and are people crazy?

Forgive my eye roll, but yeah, I pretty much revert to my resist-all-things-trendy teenage-self when I start thinking about trends. I try very hard to write different books, to explore things I haven't seen much, to write about what I love.

I'm doing the right thing, yes? That's what writers are supposed to do (I'm told), and I'm not about to change it because I honestly love what I write. I do want to share my take on stories. And yet...trends still tug at me.

There is no denying that most everyone will tell you—don't write to trends. What's in now might not be in when your book is ready. Or the market might get over-saturated and you'll have tough competition. Or your book will just blend in with everything else out there and never make an impact. Basically, trends don't really matter! Chill out!

I partially agree with this, but I've learned a bit this year about the truth of trends:

They DO matter, BUT there's absolutely nothing you can do about it.

Publishers want books that will sell. It is a known fact that when people finish a book they love, they will likely look for similar books. So if 4 million people read a certain book and are desperate for more, you better bet publishers will be looking for what those 4 million people want next! It's good business. People read in moods—I know I do. I went through a HUGE paranormal binge, then fell in love with contemporary, and now I'm in this fantasy/sci-fi kick and kind of craving a historical, too. But then I'm also starting to miss paranormal, so I'll likely cycle back.

When the big seller on the shelf is a post-apoc/dystopian, you better bet editors will be keeping their eyes out for something else like that, but a little different. Readers will want it, plain and simple. And while publishers are certainly in the business of publishing Good Books, they are also in the business of, well, making money. So if the book happens to be post-apoc/dystopian AND good? Yeah, it will likely win out over the epic fantasy AND good.

Sure, this kind of sucks. But it's not personal and not in your control, really. Either you get lucky and fit enough within a trend that things work out, or you get lucky and find an editor who wants to take a risk against the trend. Notice luck is a factor in both scenarios.

What can you do? Well, you can write a great book and hope you hit a trend. It might sell really fast. You can also write a great book and prepare yourself for the fact that it won't hit the trend. It might be a harder sell. It might not sell at all. Notice writing a great book is a factor in both scenarios.

A book dying in submission happens—a lot. I think we forget how often it happens. We also forget that it is not a reflection of our talents for the most part; it is simply an issue of a market with only so many slots. That's why you keep going forward, because it'll work out. The market is constantly changing, and if you keep trying you're bound to hit the mark sometime.

To sum up: Trends do matter, but they are so out of a writer's control that it does no good chasing them. I think that's why they're so stressful to think about. I also think that's why we like to think about them so much—we can blame the trend if the worst comes. Heck, I've done it. In the end all you can really do is write a fantastic book and hope for the best. Then write another fantastic one if that doesn't work out. Rinse and repeat.

Monday, August 2, 2010

Pulling A Story Out Of Nowhere

My friend Renee has recently mentioned that for the first time she got an idea for a character, but no story (yet). This was rather disconcerting to her, since she usually grabs a plot first and then characters.

I found it very interesting—I'm the character girl. The story never comes first for me. It's a character in my head that starts talking, then the story evolves from their troubles/life.

It seems like writers are split on this. I certainly don't think either is wrong, but what does happen when you get that character first and you're used to plots? What would I do if I had this awesome plot idea and no character to fill it? I think I'd feel like a fish out of water, that's what.

So I thought today I'd try to put down my process for building that plot when you just have a fun character floating around in your head. (Note: This comes natural for me, so I think it might be hard for me to put it in words. I'll be posing a lot of questions I ask internally, so don't imagine me at my desk writing it all down. I'm way more chaotic than that.)

Okay, here goes nothing.

• Get To Know Your Character
If you want to build a story around them, you need to know who they are. And I'm not talking favorite colors here (as nice as that is)—I mean motivations, histories, desires, fears. Find the answers to these questions, for example:

What does your character want most?

Fear most?

Hate most?

Love most?

What are the key moments in their past?

Best moment?

Worst moment?

Embarrassing moment?

Scariest? (Etc.)

You need to know these things first—the smaller details can wait if you want. Why? This is the information that can trigger possible stories. This is the beginning of conflict. Take away what they love. Give them what they hate or fear. Push them to obtain what they want most.

Yes, I'm telling you to figure out your character so you know exactly how to put them through hell. It's what we do.

• Make Your Character Explain Their World
This character is the only window you have to their world—for now. You have to be particularly wary of this, because they might not know the whole story. They are the start. Once they introduce you to places and other people, you can start expanding. Try questions like:

What's your family like? Friends? Enemies?

Where do you work? Go to school? Play?

Is this our current world or another? Past or present or future?

Are there fantastical elements? What are they? How are they set up? How do they affect they world?

Like I said, your character might not know all the answers. But thinking through these things can help inspire plot ideas—ideas that should be directly in conflict with your character's motivations.

• Mess Around
This might be my favorite part of writing—figuring out that budding idea, turning it into something real. There are so many ways to do it, but the key is exploring lots of options and putting together the ones you find most compelling/awesome/genius.

Personally, I look for that whole "inciting incident" thing first. The trigger that makes the story happen. I make notes on where I think the story might go from there. Sometimes I start writing. Sometimes I let it simmer for a long time. Sometimes I just go and write a whole first draft of meandering crap—THEN I realize how the story is supposed to go.

Oh wait, I pretty much do that all the time.

See? I don't really know what I'm talking about. I make mistakes constantly with this story building stuff. But the great thing about stories and characters is that they are malleable. Your first attempt is not set in stone, so it really is okay to figure it out however you want.

Sunday, August 1, 2010

Experimental Sketch

So apparently you guys like evil, because the vote was extremely in favor of Graham O'Connell, Fiona's oldest brother. As their crime lord father's favorite flying lap dog, Graham does whatever his dad orders, including hunting down Fiona and her mom when they try to escape. Suffice it to say, Graham is not Fiona's favorite person.

This is kind of an experimental sketch. Did I mention I've been putting myself through an art refresher course, so to speak? Well, I am. I'm trying to push myself to do things I don't think I'm very good at. Foreshortening would be one of those things.

Since Graham flies, I wanted to try some drastic foreshortening on the figure, as if we were looking down on him. You know, to give the feeling of height or whatever. I think it worked out better than I was hoping for, but it's certainly not perfect. I may do another, simpler, picture of Graham in color. I do like him, even if he's evil.