Monday, October 31, 2011

Halloween Treat. Or Trick.

I figured since it's Halloween I'd share a little treat. Or maybe you'll think it's a trick. Whatever. Sometimes I get ideas that I lose interest in fast. I don't know why, but I'll pound out a few hundred words, and then my excitement fizzles in the realization that if I were to keep going I'd have to, like, WORK. This is one of those ideas. But who knows? Maybe it'll go somewhere eventually:

If I weren’t already dead, I’d be dying of boredom right now. The old woman “sleeps” in the hospital bed, her face pinched in discomfort. This has been her expression for the last four days. Her family members think she’s exhausted from the disease, but the truth is she just doesn’t want to look at me, her angel of death.

Reaper, technically. Death gets so worked up when his minions are confused for him. I figure it’s his own fault for not doing the dirty work, not that I’d say that to his face.

“Erline…” I say softly, trying not the rock the chair I’ve inhabited for too long. Don’t want a passing nurse to notice. “It’s not so bad. I promise.”

Her lips scrunch together.

“I’m telling you, you’ll like the Underworld. Once you get past the three-headed dog, it’s quite pretty.”

She raises an eyebrow.

I prop my feet up on the bed. “Okay, there’s not really a dog, but I wasn’t lying about the pretty. My favorite are the lavender fields, always in bloom and the most intense purple.”

Still no answer. I hate when they’re stubborn like this—it only makes it worse. “Look, do you want me to level with you? You have two choices in this: take my help or not. If you do, passing is a breeze, like walking from one room to another. If you don’t, it hurts, a kind of agony I cannot describe but promise I know all too well. And if you decide to haunt relatives, I’ll be forced to drag you there the hard way. You really won’t like the hard way. It involves chains and tiny, uncomfortable urns and…punishment.”

Like being stuck as a hospital Reaper.

Thursday, October 27, 2011

Q&A Day!

Hey guys! It's about that time again. Feel free to ask whatever you'd like—I will answer as soon as I can, which is usually within 15-30 mins if not sooner. And since I'm starting so late in the day, I'll answer questions asked tomorrow as well. Lucky you! Or something.

Friday, October 21, 2011

Step It Up

Today is supposed to be a Happy Writer day, and while I think this topic is integral to ultimate happiness as a writer it's not a fun or very...inspiring topic. It's the hard truth, and it's this:

It is extremely hard to break into publishing, no matter the route you take.

And worse, it's getting even harder.

And chances are, you are...not good enough yet.

Ouch, ouch, ouchity, ouch. But there it is, I said it. I said it because this is a realization that, as hard as it is to face, every writer must face it at some point.

My "Come To Jesus" moment was around March 2009. I'd sent my partial to Nathan Bransford and he totally asked for the full. I thought I was Big Stuff. I thought I must be freaking brilliant. I thought I'd have a deal by the end of the year for sure (Note: Actual deal happened April of 2011, so...majorly delusional).

What I got was a very long email. An email that was actually 9 or 10 pages long, not double-spaced, when I printed it out. It started something like, "This story is great! But..." And then for pages Nathan proceeded to tell me every single possible issue with my novel, from character development to plotting to prose to theme to world building. EVERYTHING.

I'd never had a crit like that before. I had faithful crit partners, who kindly pointed out issues with my books, but nothing like that. I mean, he layed it all out, and clearly, too. There was really only one conclusion to be drawn—I was not a good enough writer.

That is the simple truth. I was not good enough! I had NO IDEA that I was missing so much, that I was so far from the mark.

It was like getting dumped in a tank of cold water, this realization. How had I dared query when I was still so lacking? How had I dared to think I was ready to be published at all? All of the sudden I could see clearly just how much further I had to go, and that maybe I wasn't taking this whole writing thing as seriously as I should have.

That was the first time I really looked at my work critically. Sure, I pretended to be all serious about editing before that, but honestly I had no clue what I was doing. And my story was awesome! It unfolded organically, and surely that is how it should be so nothing could be wrong with it unless it was a difference of opinion (*hangs head*).

As cheesy as it sounds, my eyes were opened. There was a big gaping hole in my novel, and I could either try to fix it or give up. Obviously, I kept working. But I wanted to point out this moment because it was a major turning point in my journey towards becoming a better writer (note I said better writer, regardless of the publishing outcome). I improved greatly when I found a crit group, and then again when I worked with Nathan, who had more skill than I did and could push me that much further.

And, boy, did I get pushed. Do you know what I got after I finished all the revisions in that 10 page email? ANOTHER 10 page email. And another. Okay, and one more before I got signed...and another after. All on one book. I don't call it Writer's Bootcamp for nothing. I think Nathan was smart, to give it to me in pieces, so he didn't completely overwhelm me and my newbiness.

Ever so slowly, over the process of about nine months, he turned me into a good writer, not just one with a lot of good story ideas and potential. And I will be forever grateful for this investment in me, because he didn't have to do it and he did anyway.

I think every writer needs to have this kind of moment—this "Oh crap, so I'm really not good enough what do I do NOW?" realization. It sucks, but it's the beginning of the next leg in the journey, the leg that is SO MUCH BETTER because you start to see the results you've been wanting for so long. Sure, it may take a couple more years (it did for me), but the improvement is measurable and continued. Stuff clicks. It's at once trying and triumphant, as you see just how much further you can push yourself as a writer.

In the end, I guess what I'm saying is to keep pushing yourself and seeking out ways to improve. Never assume just because you got to a certain point that you have it made—there is always, always room for improvement. And right now, when things are so tough in the business all around, you can't afford to stop pushing for better. The competition is stiff. If you're on sub right now, you know that better than anyone. Gone are the days when you could get away with a good idea and decent writing. Everyone has a killer idea. Everyone's writing is getting better and better quality by the second. If you don't meet the mark, the stark truth is that there are thousands of others who do, and their books will be bought instead.

So step it up. Never stop pushing for that next level. Take writing and revision seriously, and be honest about the state of your work. If it's not where it needs to be, take it there.

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Caught Red-Handed

After years of strange happenings on our computer, I finally caught proof if the culprit. I knew our house was infested with mini-ninjas, but the exterminators refused to believe me.

My guess is they were just scared.

Getting rid of computer ninjas is nigh to impossible, especially the mini version. I suppose all we can really do is leave out cookies and hope he doesn't wipe the hard drive.

Monday, October 17, 2011

Smelling The Roses. Or Whatever.

I've been thinking a lot. About myself, about how I've handled things over the last five years I've been pursuing writing. And lately, publishing hasn't felt as important as it used to. Lest ye get all up in arms (Like I've said I hate arms!), let me explain.

I was WAY obsessed.

Driven is not a strong enough word. Maybe more like desperate. My desire to be published trumped everything in my life, and thus everything got out of whack. I didn't really know it at the time, but I put all my feelings of self-worth into publishing. I put all my energy into it, at the detriment of other things. Sure, I would say that I was fine if I never got published, and sometimes I even convinced myself to believe it. I wanted to believe it, because I knew that's how sane people should feel and I wanted to be sane very much.

Can we say denial? Inside, it felt like I would never, ever be happy if I didn't sell a book. If I couldn't succeed at this, then I would be settling. If I wasn't a writer, any other path would be meaningless.

Talk about dramatic.

Honestly? Selling a book didn't make me happy. Oh, it did for a second, but then I was right back to my destructive, self-loathing ways. Except this time it was obvious that it was MY problem, because I'd gotten what I wanted and I still wasn't happy. In fact, I was kind of miserable, and I felt horrible for being miserable, and I wanted to know WHY I was so miserable.

I wish I could tell you I had all the answers, but I'm still figuring it out. A big part, I think, was the hope I'd lost. I'd become a pretty negative person, and I'm still working on grasping that hope again.

I think another big part of the misery came in Watching The Clock. I wanted things to happen NOW, or at least fast. I had no concept of just how slow publishing is—and that it's actually a good thing. More and more I'm learning that time improves a story. You see things. You grow. The story grows. But I wanted my books out NOW. I didn't understand that Too Early can cause far more regrets than waiting.

I now shudder at the thought of TRANSPARENT's earliest drafts, before the rewrite. At the time, I honestly thought that was how the story should go. I believed it should be published the way it was. It wasn't until maybe the 8th draft that I realized a thread I was missing—a thread that ultimately made the book what it is today. If I hadn't had that time to think and reflect on what I really wanted my novel to be, I know it wouldn't have been as strong as it is now.

But at the time I didn't have that perspective. I just wanted to get there. It wasn't so much about making the book amazing—it was about making it good enough as fast as I could so someone would just BUY IT already. That, I think, ultimately had the opposite effect: it slowed me down.

I...was putting publishing before the book.

That sounds kind of weird, but I hope it makes sense. In a lot of ways, I stopped caring about writing. You could even say I hated it, because it was this thing I couldn't seem to master, and my apparent incompetence was in the way of getting The Deal. Ha, that sounds so stupid, but it feels true. I was so turned around that writing became the enemy.

Oh, 2010, I'm so glad you are behind me.

Things started to turn around for me when I put stuff back in the right priority boxes, and when I began to focus again on The Writing and not so much on The Publishing. When it wasn't so much about how fast I could write but instead about how well. When I told the stories I wanted to tell, regardless of how marketable they'd be. Basically, I started acting like an unagented, unpublished writer again.

And that's really the secret to this whole game. It always comes back to the writing. Yeah, I have an agent. Yeah, I have a book deal. But that doesn't mean my next novel will sell. It doesn't really guarantee anything. When I write, I have to write like I always have—as if I've got nothing to lose, as if no one's looking over my shoulder, as if it's all just for fun and yeah it'd be cool if something came of it but that's not really why I write.

If you can, try not to lose sight of that. It's not fun. Enjoy telling your story, exploring it, making it better. Take your time. Create, don't manufacture. Forget about the race and do what you do. Everything else has a way of working out whether you stress about it or not.

(And having written this on and off over the course of three hours, I really hope it's coherent. If not, oh well.)

Thursday, October 13, 2011

Monkeys & iPads

So today I asked twitter for a blog topic. This can be a dangerous thing, guys, but my brain is mush and I figured it could be an interesting, interactive experience. Maybe I'll keep it on as a new feature (aka: a new way to be lazy).

Matt Delman was the first to reply, and he requested monkeys.

The first thing I thought of was this news piece on orangutans using iPads. I know, right? It's kind of cool to think this technology could help animals have a better quality of life. Oh, Steve Jobs, did you know you'd be helping monkeys?

But then I can't help thinking, dude, a monkey can use an iPad. That's one seriously user friendly interface. Like, what if there's someone out there who can't figure out an iPad? Hmm. Except I doubt that, because my toddler could use it just fine as well. It's basically the most accessible computer EVER.

Even a monkey could use it! Haha.

But accessibility is an interesting thing, because it gives the illusion of expertise. Just because a monkey can use an iPad doesn't mean that monkey knows much about computers, networks, and technology in general. My husband is in tech support, and I can't tell you how many times he comes home frustrated about people claiming they KNOW HOW TO USE COMPUTERS (I use caps because I imagine them saying this in a very loud voice.). And yet here they are calling tech support, because their website isn't working like they want it to. Hmm.

See, the thing is, computers have become kind of like the English language to people. You hear it all the time—I KNOW how to speak English, so of course I know how to write. People think just because they can use Word, email, and Facebook that they know how to work a computer, when really it's those clever programmers who've made computer technology accessible enough that the average person CAN use a computer without having to deal with code and databases and networks and whatever else (I don't actually know—but at least I KNOW that I don't know.).

So I don't know what I'm really saying here. Don't be the monkey with the iPad? Don't confuse accessibility for real understanding? Hey, it was a random topic, we're lucky I got this far sounding moderately intelligent.

I guess if we're going for the writing bent I could say that knowing how to speak English is like being a monkey with an iPad (oh dear, that sounds both hilarious AND insulting). I mean, just because you can talk doesn't mean you have a complete mastery of writing and storytelling. There is much, much more to it, as I'm sure most of you clearly understand. And yet the irony there is that we as writers must make our novels accessible to even the monkeys among us, especially in genre fiction.

I suppose that's why people are always saying, "I could write that better. Writing isn't that hard. Even a monkey could do it!" They've made the same mistake some make with computers—they've confused accessibility with true knowledge.

Or something.

That was fun. We'll have to do this again sometime.

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Happy Writers: On Hope

From the dictionary:

1. n. The feeling that what is wanted can be had or that events will turn out for the best.

6. v. To look forward with desire and reasonable confidence.

I've wanted to write a post about hope for a long time, but every time I attempted it didn't come out right. Probably because I didn't fully understand how I felt about hope at the time, and I think now I'm starting to.

I had a lot of hope when I first started writing. You might even say more hope than a newbie writer ever should have. I will fully admit to daydreaming about being on the Today Show for my awesome future books, being a bestseller, winning awards, everything. At that point, it felt like everything was in my grasp if I just kept reaching.

And, well, it was true. I didn't know what my publishing road would hold, and who was to say I was aiming too high?

So I started with an extra full tank of hope, a lot of misconceptions about publishing, and an old school edition of Writer's Marketplace. I quickly learned that an agent might be a good idea, and a Google search or two taught me about them and query letters. I wrote one, had a friend who had never tried to publish (but he was a writer!) read it, and sent it to five poor agents.

All rejections.

That hope tank dropped a little. Not much, mind you, it was just five rejections, and I had no I idea then just how low I could get. But it was my first moment of doubt—the opposite of hope. Could I really do this? Was I kidding myself?

I bounced back pretty quickly, though. I wrote a new book. I found crit partners. I did more research and made a longer list of agents. I started blogging in sincerity. I turned my remaining abundance of hope into action, lots and lots of action.

But I kept failing.

I'm not proud of it, but those failures *did* chip away at my hope. As the years passed, as the books in my vault piled up (to TEN before I signed with an agent), as I watched friends find success, I slowly stopped believing in myself and my dreams. And then I did get an agent, but my novel sat on submission for fifteen months going nowhere. I am not kidding when I say I was one step away from walking away last year. I had so little hope in myself and my work that it didn't seem worth it anymore.

Trying to publish over the space of three years got me a heavy helping of depression and anxiety and pressure. The waiting chipped away at my lofty dreams day by day. I hated my hope. I attempted to blot out any shred left in me. It was hope's fault—if I hadn't had such high hopes to begin with, I wouldn't be in so much pain. I felt like such an idiot, chasing dreams I couldn't make come true. I'd fallen for the lie of hope, fallen for believing I could be more, fallen for reaching something I could never attain.

Then I was given the perfect out—my agent was leaving the business! If there was any time to leave, it was then. My sub project was basically dead in the water. I despised my WIP. And I didn't have to take Agent Anna's offer. I was off the hook, basically handed a Get Out Of Jail Free card on a golden platter.

But even then, a little niggling hope remained.

The hope I thought I despised was still there, despite my best efforts to murder it, and it said, "One more time. One more book. Keep trying. You can do this." I tried to ignore it, but it worked inside me. "Stop ignoring me. Stop putting yourself through unnecessary pain. I am not your enemy."

I didn't quite believe its claims, but one more try sounded reasonable. I was almost done with revisions on TRANSPARENT. I could stick it out another six months, and then if it didn't work out I could definitely say I gave it my all.

Well, it sold. It wasn't the Big Lofty Dream Deal. I know I won't be on the Today Show or the NYT Bestseller list. But the dang book sold! Hope was right, dangit, even if it took longer than I thought and didn't happen how I fantasized. I kept reaching, and eventually I grasped what I'd always wanted.

Strangely enough, though, my hope was still low. Heck, I'm still working on fighting the constant doubt and fear.

But I've learned something lately—hope was never the problem. All these years I've been blaming hope for all my pains, when really it was the loss of hope that caused my pain. When I faced rejection or setbacks, I hate to admit it, but I let them get to me. I set aside my hope for success and let doubt creep in, with its bosom friends frustration, bitterness, and impatience. The more time that passed, the more I allowed myself to hang out with doubt and feel sorry for myself.

I handled waiting in every possible wrong way. And the truth is, it's those times, when nothing is happening and you are just living normal, boring life, that you become the person you are. The Big Moments are just moments, and depending on how you handled the rest of the time either sweetens or embitters them.

Some people might say hope is foolish—I certainly would have said that last year—but it's a necessary part of the human spirit. Hope, reaching for more than now, more than we are, is what makes us grow and flourish and find happiness in an otherwise painful existence. I don't think I ever reached true hopelessness, but I did get close enough to put the fear in me. It was prison, pain, and a kind of despair I wouldn't wish on anyone.

And I was the one who put myself there.

Never let go of hope, no matter how foolish it may seem. It is hope that will get you through the worst of times. When you're one step from falling into an endless pit of darkness, it will whisper, "Keep trying. It'll work out. I believe in you." Don't listen to doubt, frustration, bitterness, or impatience. Listen to hope. It might feel like it will hurt you, but really it's the other things that are killing you.

My newest goal is to be hopeful, in everything I do. After a couple years of doubting myself at every turn, this isn't easy, but I can feel the weight lifting already. I hope it continues.

Friday, October 7, 2011

Happy Writers: Finding What Works For You

NOW I'm officially done with edits! I sent them off to my editor and everything! Eep. I am mostly excited and mildly sick at the thought.

BUT, I wanted to point you guys to a wonderful series on non-traditional publishing avenues on Sarah Lapolla's blog. My friend Michelle was featured today, talking about her experiences in both self-publishing and small press.

I truly believe there is a publishing path out there for everyone, and that all of them hold success and happiness if they're the right fit. I really hope in these changing waters that we can make room for everyone and enjoy the many ways we can get our stories out there, and that we can respect each person's personal choice in how they do that.

Thursday, October 6, 2011

The Casual Vegetarian

I don't think I've ever talked about this before, mostly because it's one of those things people tend to get all up in arms about. I don't like dealing with arms. It stresses me out. But I do want to talk about this, since it's become something I feel is pretty important.

It all started when I was pregnant with Dino Boy. For the most part, I had an easy pregnancy, which I was grateful for since I still had a semester of college to finish. At around 28 weeks I went in for the glucose test everyone has to take. I'd read about gestational diabetes, but I never thought I'd end up having it. I didn't have any of the risk factors—I was young, I wasn't overweight, I didn't have a family history.

Well, my glucose levels were so high that they didn't even bother with the three-hour test. Something like 194, when you're not supposed to be higher than 130 after a meal.

It was...a shock.

I was upset. I felt like I'd done something wrong, and I was scared as all get out, thinking I had diabetes, even if it was only temporary. They make a point of telling you that GD increases your risk of developing type 2 diabetes by up to 50%. That is not a fun thing to think about, especially when you're 22 and figure the big bad diseases are far away in the future when you're old and gray.

The first thing they try when you have GD is to control your glucose through diet (if that doesn't work, they whip out the insulin shots), so they sent me to a nutritionist. Let's just say I was NOT excited to have someone tell me that I was eating the wrong things and too much of them. It's kind of a humiliating experience, to be honest, especially when you're pregnant. Because of course there's this idea that you can "eat for two."

I learned that my morning breakfast of raisin bran and orange juice was basically a triple shot of sugar. So many people think diabetics have to avoid "sweets," but it's not like that at all. For one, it's ALL carbs that have to be counted (Including lactose-based carbs like milk. Did you know milk was a carb? I sure didn't.). And it's not about eliminating carbs, but about balancing them so you get an even amount all day.

I also learned about portion size. I learned that one serving of carbs is a measly 15 grams, and that I should only be having 2-3 servings a meal. You start looking on packages, and you see that most processed foods have closer to 2-3 servings of carbs. I learned that a serving of protein is only 5 grams, and that I only needed 15 grams a day. I learned the importance of having both protein and carbs in every meal, and how it kept blood sugar levels even.

In the end, I was eating more than double the carbs I needed, and more than double the protein I needed. And I had no idea. I thought I was eating healthy. I wasn't eating donuts all day or anything. But it was the portion size. I followed my diet, tested my sugar, and I was NEVER hungry like I thought I'd be.

Honestly, gestational diabetes saved my life. Nutritional education saved my life. Learning what my body needs and how much opened my eyes to how distorted food has become in America.

Because I will always have a higher risk at developing diabetes, I have continued to learn about nutrition. Having diabetes for even a short period sucked, and I'm determined to take care of my body. It's so much easier than having to deal with blood testing and medications and disease.

So I've turned into what I like to call "The Casual Vegetarian." I think a lot of people are intimidated by vegetarianism, and it can almost sound like a religion when you talk to some of the more zealous. If you eat meat, it can feel like a vegetarian or vegan is looking down on you for your horrible choice to destroy the planet.

This, well, creates some friction, though I think we could all agree that Americans could stand to see a little more green on the dinner plate and a little less meat/starch.

I probably eat a fourth of the meat I used to, and my reasons aren't the stereotypical "Don't kill animals!" kind. As I've explained, I think it's better for my health. Also, it turns out Dino Boy has never liked, and will not eat, meat. My family has sensitive digestive tracts, and meat often doesn't go over well. Sometimes we go several days without eating meat, sometimes a couple weeks. While at first it was hard to envision a meal without that piece of meat, I've gotten to the point that I don't really notice one way or the other.

And you don't have to start eating quinoa and wheatgrass, either. There are so many meals we make that don't actually need the meat. I grew up putting meat in pasta sauce—I don't anymore. Lasagna is fabulous with spinach ricotta instead of meat sauce, and there is plenty of protein in the cheese. Loaded nachos taste just as good with black beans instead of meat, as do burritos, etc. Stir-frys and curries don't need chicken to fill you up—the rice does that (Did you know rice and wheat both have protein? [I'm sure I'll get people saying they aren't complete proteins. I know, which is why I'm not anti-meat entirely]).

This is longer than I planned it to be, so I better finish up. I guess all I'm saying is that we have so much more control over our health than we think, as long as we're willing to go out there and get the knowledge. Eating better, no matter how you decide to do that, always improves quality of life. You have more energy, your brain works better, you feel better.

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

What It's Like To Tackle Your First Editorial Letter

Reading the letter: Whoa, so that's a lot of stuff to fix. Don't freak out. Don't freak out. Crap, I'm freaking out.

After a day or two: It's not so bad, and at least my editor pointed out every section that needs work! That's cool. Really takes out the guess work.

Starting edits: WHY did I write such a freaking long book? Seriously, 70k is a lot of words. What was I thinking? This is going to take forever.

While editing: This is hard, with all the cutting and changing and tweaking and expanding and fleshing out and whatnot.

Well, it's not SO bad...I forgot how funny that one scene was.

Hey! A page with no comments! Sweet. Oh wait, I still need to fix something on it because that sentence sounds stupid.

Aw, my editor liked that scene. I LOVE THAT SCENE NOW. I did something right!

Errr, except this next 50 pages needs major alterations. *dies*

Almost done! I haven't showered for three days and every room in my house is a disaster! But SO CLOSE.

When finished: YAY! *happy dance* *nap* *awaken* What the heck happened to my house? Oh yeah...but I'm DONE!


Wait. If I'm done, that means I have to send it back to my editor. And if she deems it good enough, that's it. No more big edits. This is basically what people will read...


What if I didn't do enough? It will be MY FAULT if people hate it! They will point out that flaw and the one over there. And there will be nothing I can do to fix it because it will be done and PERMANENT and how can I be done when I've been working on this novel for over TWO YEARS!?!?!

*frantically reads it again*