Friday, April 29, 2011

Happy Writers Society: It's Coming Together

Hello! Happy Friday! I hope you are all doing well. If not, the clubhouse has a chocolate bar. Oh yes, right over there. *points* You're welcome.

As you know, I've been working on a new book called House of Ivy and Sorrow. I hit 60k yesterday, which means I'm in the last 15k or so. Maybe 20k. Who knows? I know the rest of the story, and I'm writing scenes that I've been thinking about since the beginning. I can't believe I'm already here.

I love/hate this part.

I love it because I can finally see this book coming together. Not that it's perfect, but all those elements I laid out in the beginning are almost weaved together, and the result is much better than I hoped it would be at this point. It's so satisfying to see that, wonder of wonders, you have a real live story in front of you.

But I hate that it's almost over. I always end up dragging my feet through the last part just because I want to hang on to the characters. I'm starting to realize our first journey together is practically finished, and I love them and I don't want to leave them and WHY is this only one book because I just want to be with them FOREVER.

What can I say? I'm a first drafter. I do enjoy going back to the book and revising, but there's nothing like that first time. For me, it's the closest I can get to "reading" my own work. I love figuring everything out, getting to know my characters, seeing it all come together seemingly out of nowhere. It's magical, even if it's also frustrating at times.

That's all I got today. Time to get back to the story and revel in all that coming togetherness stuff. I know, I'm so eloquent.

Thursday, April 28, 2011

The Truth About Blogging

So I was whining on Twitter that I couldn't figure out what to blog about, and the lovely @LunaCatBooks said: Blog about blogging and why it is important for a writer to be involved in social media :-).

Oh, Luna, that is quite the topic, and as usual I shall address it with utmost honesty.

Truth #1
I've been blogging about 3 1/2 years now. Which, wow. In those three years this online community has changed so much. I've changed so much! And this world will continue to change, probably a lot faster than we realize.

I love the blogging community. I love seeing people passionate about reading and writing. I love learning and growing with this community. I love the discussions and support and insert-more-gushing here. Seriously, blogging has done so much for me. I met my crit partners online. I won a contest that ultimately led to getting my first agent. I've had the chance to interact with amazing writers I never thought I'd know personally.

There is no denying that blogging has a lot to offer a writer. It's an outlet, and, of course, a way to build what some people call a "fan base," but I think that sounds so...shrewd. As social media has exploded, people seem more concerned with the "Like" button than earning real approval. I personally get turned off when people go "Follow" crazy. You know what I mean—"Follow me and win this! Spread the word so more people will follow me and you'll get a better prize!" For me, that smacks of gathering followers just for the sake of having a nice big number. A "fanbase."

But are they really interested in you? Or do they want the prize? Will they ever read your blog again?

Blogging is not about the numbers; it's about people. I prefer to think of it more like moving into a neighborhood, becoming part of something, caring and being cared for in return. Whether that neighborhood is big or small, you treat it with respect and love. So you know, I don't see any of you as my fan base—you are my colleagues, my friends, my mentors. There is no difference between us, save the fact that I may be ahead or behind you in the journey.

Honestly, it irks me that some people look at blogging and see dollar signs, potential readers, etc. It's like having one of those neighbors who constantly tries to sell you some miracle juice he invented. You're not a person to him—you're a buyer. I don't like people coming into my place and treating my friends like that, either.

The people who see success through blogging never intended it to happen. They came here, got involved, gave back, and became part of a very supportive community over a long period of time.

Truth #2
Sometimes it seems that people forget the blogging community is just that—a single community. Not the entire world. Not even the entire industry. And honestly, a very small percentage of our actual target audiences.

Yes, being active in blogging can help you, but we have to remember that it is not the be all end all of publishing success. I mean, I have more followers than some extremely successful and amazing PUBLISHED authors. Their audience is far, far more than this community, and it's that audience, out there, that is really the most important one.

That should put things into perspective, because that's how skewed things are. If you think the online writing community is a perfect representation of this business, then you'd think 90% of writers write YA, 99% of writers are female, that the only good agents are the ones who are active online, and same goes for editors. All of which is not true.

We can't forget that this is a great community, but it's not everything. Let's not get so focused on ourselves that we can't see what's outside.

Do I want you guys to approve of me? Of course. I like you, and I hope you like me. But at the end of the day I don't write books for other aspiring writers—I want to write books for teens. Who don't read my blog en masse. Who couldn't care less about it. Who have no clue who I am. (Yet;P) I am SO happy that you support and root for me (and I hope you'll continue even after this post), but they are the readers I aspire to grab. Like I said, you are my teammates.

It's so easy to get caught up in the daily dramas of our community, but the vast majority of it won't destroy careers or, conversely, propel you to major bestsellerdom. So be involved, but don't sweat it too much. Enjoy yourself.

Truth #3
People are constantly spouting out rules. How to blog, what to blog and what not to blog. What to write and what not to write. Be happy all the time. Be funny. Be this and that ALL AT THE SAME TIME.

The truth? Good bloggers follow their own rules. In fact, sometimes they rebel against The Rules altogether. They carve a place for themselves by being unique, by creating an honest, appealing persona.

BUT. That doesn't mean you're seeing 100% authenticity.

Yup, the girl you see on this blog isn't exactly who I am. If you met me, I'd be nervous and short on words. I'm horrible at small talk, and large crowds in particular freak me out. I would likely gravitate to corners and people I'm familiar with, which might make you think I don't like you but really I'm afraid YOU won't like ME.

I don't run around revealing my honest opinions to everyone, or my struggles, etc., like I do on my blog. I don't look like my pretty profile picture all the time...or even most of the time. I'm not very funny—I'm the one who thinks of all the funny replies AFTER the conversation is over. Luckily, you don't see my truly horrifying and irrational freak outs. You don't see my pity parties (in all their glory, at least), either.

These are GOOD things. There should be a barrier between your public and personal life.

You know me, but not all of me. Does that make sense? And I don't know you completely, either. I know your public, online face and vice versa. And your faces are all so pretty (or handsome).

Those are my blogging truths today. Again, I adore this community, and I hope to be part of it for a long, long time.

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

5 Things I'm Loving

Stealing from my dear Steph today, since I always love her 5 things posts. I like happy posts! I feel like I've been too serious lately, tense. Okay, I HAVE been tense. But I've also been having fun, so maybe I should show it a little.

1. The Downtown Fiction—I Just Wanna Run

I know, I'm 27, but I don't think I'll ever stop liking this kind of music. And this song? PERFECT for Transparent. It's cool to find music that reminds you of your book, even after you've finished writing. This has Fiona written all over it.

I will not tell you how many times I've watched this.

And I certainly won't confess to imagining a character in House of Ivy and Sorrow looking almost exactly like the lead singer.

And, no, I don't know that the lead singer's name is Cameron.

Great, now I sound creepy.

2. Moribito: Guardian of the Spirit

Kick-A female lead? Yes, please. Balsa, a mercenary bodyguard, is charged with guarding a very important person—the second prince, who carries something very valuable inside him.

Love the animation, and the story is fabulous so far. I have about 10 episodes left. It's based on a novel, which is SUPER cool. Usually it goes from manga to anime to, occasionally, a novel. But yay for novel to anime! Dude, if any of my books were turned into an anime series, I would die of happiness.

3. The Voice
Dude, I loved it. I loved the blind auditions. I loved them fighting over the singers. I loved the whole last chance at the dream thing. Yes, I'm cheesy. I don't care.

4. X-Men: First Class

I have always loved X-Men. I grew up watching the cartoon. It was my favorite part of Saturday morning. This move? SO EXCITED FOR IT. I mean, James freaking McAvoy as young Professor? It's like they reached into my brain and made its dreams come true.

5. Making Pretty Cupcakes
I totally made these for Easter. They went over well.

I like cooking more than baking, but I've taken to messing around with cupcakes lately. They're fun. I like pretty things. I like EATING pretty things. And besides, homemade frosting? Way better. If I'm gonna be bad and have dessert, I figure it better be GOOD dessert.

What are you loving today?

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

When To Rewrite

It's no secret that I have a lot of novels stuffed in my drawer of Things That Didn't Quite Work. House of Ivy and Sorrow is my 13th novel (I kind of love that it's #13 because it's all about witches and unpleasant magic and sad things. It seems so serendipitous and appropriate), and that's just the completed ones. With so many novels just hanging out in my hard drive, I often get asked, "Do you ever think about revamping one of those old ideas?"

The short answer: Yes, I do.

The long answer: Yes, I do, and then I remember how freaking hard it was to rewrite Transparent. If you didn't know, I spent the majority of last year completely re-imagining, re-plotting, and re-writing that book. My agent didn't like it—yes, it happens and it's hard but you get over it because they're right—and I had to make the decision to either put it away or redo it all.

It was a hard decision! It took me about a month to decide. I would essentially be throwing away a year's worth of work. This was NOT an oh-I-can-save-a-lot-of-this kind of situation. I am talking blank document, starting all the way over, I might be lucky if 3% of what I wrote makes it into this version kind of rewrite.

That is not an easy thing, and sometimes I still can't believe I made the choice to do it. And I especially can't believe I finished it. Again. Of everything I've been through on this writing journey, that was, by far, the hardest thing I've done. First, having to admit that I botched the story—botched it so badly that I had to toss most everything. Then having to wade through the mess and figure out what the real story was. Then having to actually type it all out, not knowing if any of it would be worth it.

It was mentally and emotionally exhausting. And I took it on at a time that was already stressful—during my first time on submission. But I made it through, and I am proud of the work I did and how the story turned out. Though sometimes I get stressed just thinking about that book, it is better. I know that.

And because I know that, I can't ignore the potential of a full rewrite, despite how difficult it is.

Things To Consider Before Rewriting
The thing is, you can't just rewrite every idea you've ever had. Well, you could, but you know what I mean. I have a ton of old books, and I have thought of going back to some of them now that I have more skill. I know where I failed them. I know how I could make those ideas shine. But I also know it would be freaking hard.

The pros have to outweigh the cons when you're thinking about embarking on a rewrite. Honestly, it's much easier to write a fresh idea than to battle a full rewrite that will be difficult and, well, pure, boring work much of the time.

The idea has to have particular merit, something about it that you think is worth the work. Maybe it's super marketable, or the hook is unique, or, like me, your agent believes in the elements of the story and wants to sell it.

But more than that, you also have to love the story. I'm not talking regular love, either. I'm talking, passionate, devoted, undying obsession. I'm talking love that would make Edward and Bella's look normal. You have to love this story enough to suffer. I know that sounds awful, but if you've ever done a full rewrite you know exactly what I'm talking about.

Sometimes, okay, most of the time, that stubborn love will be the only thing that keeps you working. You'll hate everything about it, but somewhere in there you also know you love the story and it deserves to be told properly. I know, it's totally messed up and crazy.

Of all my stories, I have maybe two besides Transparent that I could put in that category. I do think about rewriting them someday, but I have a feeling it won't be anytime soon. I'm still recovering from the last rewrite.

So if you are thinking about redoing a novel, really think about it. And if you decide to embark on the rather unpleasant journey, I wish you luck and perseverance.

It is worth it. Barely;P

Sunday, April 24, 2011

Sharp Tools

I like to cook. I am certainly no trained chef, but it has become a hobby of mine. I like to learn about food, experiment, and of course eat yummy stuff. As I've learned more about cooking, I've discovered just how important it is to have good tools.

When Nick and I first got married, we received two knives. Two—a regular chopping-type knife and a pairing knife. That's it. They were decent knives, new and sharp, but still it was just two knives besides our butter knives.

I only had two knives for...almost five years. I made do, you know? We aren't rich by any means, and the knives were knives, even if they had gotten dull from lots of use and didn't really get the job done. But then one day I saw this beautiful knife set for a STEAL, and I was like, "You know, we've been married for five years and maybe it would be okay to splurge and get some real knives. Complete with a knife block! And scissors! And a sharpener!"

Guys, I love these knives.

They are sharp. They make my job so much easier. In fact, I hadn't noticed just how dangerous a dull knife was until I had good ones. Dull knives slip, plus they encourage you to press down harder than necessary—not a good combo for keeping your fingers. With my new knives, I get things done faster.

This goes for the amazing Calphalon cookware my parents bought me for Christmas, too. Oh man, those things cook so evenly and heat up quickly. I have a cruddy old stove with two broken burners, and sometimes it would be a battle just to get it hot enough to boil water. With the pots? Don't have to worry.

So yeah, TOOLS. They are important.

But they aren't everything, right? I mean, is someone a photographer just because they have a nice camera? Is someone an artist just because they have nice paint brushes? No, of course not. Good tools don't make an artist, but they facilitate the creation of art. The relationship between an artist and their tools, how they treat them, says a lot.

Since I've gotten into cooking, I've noticed one easy way to tell if someone isn't—their knives suck. No offense to my dear friends and family with dull knives, cooking isn't for everyone and that's fine. But I've found it an interesting sign. I'd never thought of it before. The tools of the trade go neglected or are only used if necessary. And then when they are used they aren't efficient at all.

Of course I'm going to compare this to writing. You all better have seen that coming. It seems to be true in every art form. As an artist, I treasure my Prismacolor pencils, I care for my tablet, I clean my brushes and make sure they don't get frayed. I get the best tools I can afford, because I know good tools will help me make better art. Just like good knives help me make better food. Etc. and so forth.

But what are our tools in writing? I guess you could say pens and pencils, notebooks, computer, printers, which do help. I'm thinking more of mental tools, though, things that we use to craft stories: grammar, punctuation, plot, character, setting, theme, etc.

When I first started writing seriously, oh, five years ago, I must admit I was a writer in spirit, but I essentially had a spoon and one pot when it came to writing tools. Could I make a meal with those tools? Sure. Was it a good meal? Eh. My novels lacked finesse because I didn't have what I needed—I had to learn and work and practice. A lot. I had to sharpen my tools and get new ones to help me do my job better.

I'm still learning. I'm still adding tools to my drawer. But there's one thing I do know: Take your tools seriously. Sure, you may not think you need it. You might think you can make do with those two knives. Trust me, you will be so much happier when you have a full set. Not only will you be able to write more easily, but it will also be better writing. Which we all want, right?

Monday, April 18, 2011


1. I really do have bad luck. Painfully bad luck.

2. The internet is not good for me.

3. I need to go away. I don't know how long, but I need a little break.

Take care. *leaves a heaping plate of cookies*

Friday, April 15, 2011

Happy Writers Society: Eyes On Your Paper

I've never cheated. In school, I was terrified to be accused of such a heinous crime, so I would stare at my paper like it was the only thing in existence. Even the clock was forbidden, because what if I looked up to see what time is was and the teacher thought I was looking at my neighbor's test? Or what if I sneezed and she thought it was some kind of diversion tactic? Or what if I stared at the ceiling trying to remember why, exactly, the Red Scare happened, and she thought I was reading a secret message in the popcorn texture?

I was a little paranoid.

But I really hated the idea of cheating. Both doing it and having other people trying to cheat off me. Maybe that came from years of being the "smart kid." I did get asked by kids if they could cheat off me. I really did. And it ticked me off because I put in a lot of work and I didn't want others taking credit for it. It seemed like they constantly overlooked or devalued my efforts, asking to have them as their own.

Heck, even when I didn't put in the work I had no desire to cheat. I felt like I should take responsibility for what I did and didn't do, and if that got me a B (yes, that was a disastrous grade at the time) then it was my own dang fault.

Have I ever told you that I was the most boring teenager alive?

I'm not sure what happened to my staunch practice of keeping my eyes on my own paper, because the second I got involved in the online writing community it was kind of like I became the biggest cheater ever. I was constantly looking at other people's papers, constantly in search of other people's answers in hopes that they matched mine.

"Oh, she's doing THIS with her blog/twitterfeed/Facebookpage/etc. Maybe I should do that too? But what if I don't want to? Is what I'm writing on MY paper wrong? It's different from that person's, and that one over there, and it's certainly not as good as Nathan Bransford's. How does he DO that?"

"Dang, that writer only had to query ten agents before she got an offer! I must be doing something wrong...I obviously didn't study enough, having done more like two hundred. Do I suck or what?"

"A book deal in a WEEK? Are you friggin' serious? I thought people said the publishing industry was slow! It was slow when I was on sub...probably because my book was stupid. That must be it. If they really loved it, they'd have read it and given me an offer in a week, too."

You might say, "But, Natalie, that's not really cheating. You're basically saying that reading any publishing news is cheating, but it's just staying up on the business."

Okay, yeah, the analogy isn't perfect, but here's where I attempt to get deep. I may not be cheating off anyone else by thinking these things, but I am cheating myself. Out of joy. Out of pride in my own accomplishments. Out of time spent on my book. And more.

It makes me wonder how I'd have felt if I had cheated when I was younger. Would it have made me feel stupider, seeing what I was missing on the test instead of just trying to answer as much as I could? I bet yes. Would I have spent months tormented by feelings of guilt and inadequacy? Probably. Would I look at my classmates differently, judge them unfairly, having seen how they "measured up" to me but not knowing how much effort got them there? Maybe.

Lately, I've gone back to my uptight teenage roots. I keep saying to myself, "Keep your eyes on your paper. YOUR paper. It's the only one that matters."

I can't tell you how helpful that's been. Not that I have completely cut myself off from the publishing world, but let's just say that I've gone from "cheating" off other writers to "studying" with them. We all know Study Groups can be fun AND educational—and so not cheating. We have so much to learn from each other, and sharing and discussing doesn't equal cheating, as long as when you go to take the test it's all you.

And the biggest secret of all? Unlike the educational system, each test is designed specifically for the taker. Designed to challenge you, teach you, and yes, even make you shine. So in reality, your only competition is yourself.

Now, say it with me: EYES ON YOUR PAPER.

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

All Day Q&A

It's about that time again, no? Ask away—anything you want. Need advice about querying? I can so make some up. Want some anime recommends? I got your back. Dying to know my recipe for pizza dough? I *might* give it away. If you're nice.

Now that I'm not blogging as much (which I seriously miss, but it's good for me right now), I feel compelled to point you to some of my favorite posts I've read recently. So if you don't have any questions, go enjoy these gems.

The first is from Laini Taylor, some excellent writing advice. It totally helped me breathe new life into a WIP that was slipping away from me. Not only are her books achingly gorgeous, but her blog is constantly full of eye candy. I scroll through her beautiful pictures more than I should admit.

Then you have to check out Kiersten's post about how to become a bestseller. True as true, that one. The more I write, the more I realize it's about the writing. That might sound weird, but I think many people will understand what that means. All the success in the world can't replace a love for the work.

And finally, Sara Zarr wrote an incredible article for Image, about creativity and the battle it sometimes can be to nourish it. Coming from a family with depression, anxiety, and addiction, I so identified and am grateful for her words.

Saturday, April 9, 2011

Friday, April 8, 2011

Happy Writers Society: Keep Dancing

Today we have one of my favorite people on the web, K. Marie Criddle, who will delight us with her awesome illustrated post. I found her blog when I was stalking my potential agency back in the querying days (yes, I confess I'm that person), and I still get excited for each and every hilarious post. Marie is not only an agency-mate now, but a good friend with excellent taste in mythical creatures. And I'm pretty sure that if we grew up in the same place, I would have been in a perpetual state of jealousy over her drawing skillz.

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Hardcore Self-Esteem

A bit of news before I start!

My wonderful friend Jenn Johansson has announced that she has an agent! Which, you know, I totally saw coming way back when she told me about her idea, but that didn't stop her from worrying (never stopped me with my books either, heh). Go congratulate her if you have the chance.

Get excited, because Julie Halpern, one of my favoritest authors, is holding a contest for her hilarious book INTO THE WILD NERD YONDER. It's out in paperback on the 7th, so if you don't win you have NO excuse not to buy it. While you're at it, you may as well pre-order DON'T STOP NOW, her next book coming out in June. I've read it; it's freaking awesome. Go. Click.

Finally, I'm sure you all read Nathan Bransford, former agent and awesome author, but I really wanted to point out this post on Virtual Witch Hunts, anyway. I talked about kindness last Friday for HWS, and this is exactly what I mean. As always, he said it very well.

And now, on to the post!

This is my daughter, who you all know as Ninja Girl. Her real name is Kora, and as you can see from this picture, she has quite the little personality. She is probably the most self-assured little girl I have ever met. Every day she reminds me that being myself is the best possible option.

You see, Kora is nothing but Kora. This is one thing she is very adamant about. She knows who she is and what she wants and she always has. One day, I can't even remember how old she was save she could talk fairly well, I said to her, "Kora, you're beautiful."

She gave me that face in the picture above, as if I'd insulted her deeply, and then said, "No! I'm Kora!"

I laughed, but at the same time I was proud. I loved that even a compliment that put her into a category was insulting to her. She is simply Kora. And it didn't stop there:

"You're three years old."

"No! I'm Kora!"

"You're silly."

"No! I'm Kora!"

"You're smart."

"No! I'm KORA!"

Sometimes she even adds a very cute "hmph" for emphasis. Her sense of identity is hardcore. She only wants to be herself. She is confident in who she is. In fact, I'm pretty sure she thinks she's the most awesome person on the planet. I dread the day she loses this—I want her to hold on to loving who she is as long as she can, but I know what growing up means and how hard it is for girls. I know that someday I'll have to remind her about her "No! I'm Kora!" moments, and they might mean nothing to her as she figures out how to balance being herself and belonging.

But for now I will treasure every "No! I'm Kora!" I get to hear, and I'll remember that I need to have more "No! I'm Natalie!" moments. Because I do like myself, and that's more important than I think we realize.

Sunday, April 3, 2011

Weekend Sketch: Lucy & Parrot

So this picture has been a LONG time coming. Poor Carrie Kei Heim Binas won a contest of mine last year, tried to cash in on her prize sometime this fall, and it took me until now to finally finish!

This is Lucy and her parrot from a short story she wrote. I don't know much about the story, save the fact that Lucy is the fallen angel in charge of Hell. Sounds cool to me!

I hope you like it, Carrie! I'm happy with how it turned out. (P.S. I know the background isn't fiery, but I wanted her to stand out. Hope that's okay.)

Friday, April 1, 2011

Happy Writers Society: Really Good News...

...I can get you guys all excited just with a title like that. Yeah, that's the extent of my April Fools attempt. I was going to make up this whole post so it sounded like I got a book deal, but I just couldn't bring myself to do it. I'm not a practical joker. I hate getting tricked, so my stupid empathy has spared you. Or is it sympathy? Whatevs.

I've been thinking a lot about sympathy lately, about being kind to people. Treating others kindly is something that makes me happy as a writer. Celebrating with those who meet success, having a heart-to-heart with someone who's walking a tough writing road, and helping newer writers—these are all things that make my own writing journey more fulfilling.

So, I'll be honest, it concerns me when I see people being treated harshly. I'm sure you can think of at least one instance that falls into this category, and it just doesn't give me warm fuzzies. It scares me, even, how easy it is to fall into crowd mentality on the internet. It's so easy to spread a link, to talk about someone you don't know in a poor light (aka: gossip), to leave anonymous, unfair reviews, etc.

I am not above any of this—I have certainly participated here and there, but in the long run I've realized that it makes me feel horrible and sad. Not at all happy. The writing world has its politics, and I've found the less I get involved in them the more productive I am. It's so easy to get sucked in, and I don't think we realize at times how ooky it makes us feel. Some describe these events as "watching a train wreck," as in you can't take your eyes off it. My question: If you're watching that so closely, how are you going to concentrate on your writing?

Maybe I'm just not that great at multi-tasking thoughts. I'm a bit of an obsessor (hello, understatement), so it's either thinking about my story or thinking about something that makes me sad or angry or frustrated. I will take my story, please.

There's been a lot of talk online lately about being nice, but it seems like we sometimes forget that kindness not only is due to the bestseller or the traditionally published or the agent or the editor (aka: the people who can technically advance your career). Personally, I believe kindness is also due to the beginners, the self-published, those in the query trenches, and those who are still learning how to manage this unruly thing we call the publishing industry.

Which is all of us, isn't it?

I've made so many mistakes. My first query was the embodiment of what not to do. I literally did not understand what editing meant for a long time—and I minored in it in college! I've said things I regret. Done things that make me blush or laugh at how naive I was. And I am eternally grateful not to the people who laughed at me, but to the people who took me by the hand and taught me. They helped me understand that sympathy and patience cure much more than mocking. True lessons are given with love.

So I encourage everyone to look outside themselves and see where or who they can help. Giving, helping, sharing, and sympathizing has made me a much happier writer.