Wednesday, April 25, 2012

3-Second Memory: Or Looking Past Assumptions

It's said that goldfish (and other fish, even) have a 3-second memory. That their brains are too small to process much of anything. That's why they can live in bowls and not get bored—too stupid! That's why you don't have to care about them too much, because they can't really remember you anyway.

Well, guess what? That's not true.

No one really knows where the myth comes from. Some think it was created so people didn't feel as bad when their fish died (Goldfish, when properly cared for, can actually live 5-10 years.). Or maybe by pet store owners who wanted to sell "easy pets." But wherever it came from, it's a complete lie.

Goldfish actually have good memories. They can recognize their owners, especially the one who feeds them. Those that are blind can even recognize their owner's voice. They can be trained to press levers for food. And they have an excellent sense of time, being able to anticipate their usual feeding times and act accordingly.

I have been keeping goldfish since the beginning of the year (which has turned into research for a book, of course), and I can attest to this already. Our fish recognizes us. I'm not kidding. I can see him on the kitchen counter from my desk, and when he's alone in the kitchen he swims and rests and does whatever. But the second I come into the kitchen? He's right at the glass saying hi to me (and probably hoping for a treat). He's even gotten so comfortable with me that I could touch him if I wanted, and he'll follow my finger along the glass all the way around the tank. He doesn't do that with strangers.

Now, I'm not saying goldfish are geniuses or anything, just that they are capable of far more than people give them credit for. Fish in general get a bad wrap for being dumb or boring pets, when in reality aquarium keeping is as complex and interesting as the fish themselves. Before my own foray into the hobby, I definitely had tons of misconceptions.

This whole fish-keeping thing, oddly enough, has made me think a lot about the way I view other people. It's so easy to put humans in neat little boxes, just like we do fish. It's easy to assume they are a certain way, instead of digging deeper to find that the truth is far more complex. What is it John Green always says? "The truth resists simplicity." I think it's something like that, and it's very true. Groups of people. Individuals. They resist simplicity, no matter how much we want to make it simple.

It's easy to take a person you know online, for example, and assume that what you see is how they are. It's easy to assume a famous person is how the tabloids portray them. And it's even easy to assume that an entire group of people that is "different from you" possess all the same traits.

And that's just not true, just like it's not true that goldfish are in a perpetual state of "Uh, where am I?". Digging deeper always reveals more, whether it's fish or people.

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Messing Around

The goldfish are uneasy, but who wouldn’t be when their potential killer stares them down with such glee?

This is the first line of my new project. I'm not entirely sure what this project will be, but sometimes you just have to mess around, you know? Even now, when I have a contract and other ideas that might fit my "brand" better, I think it can be healthy for a writer to let go and just explore.

So I'm writing more contemporary. I love contemporary. Honestly, I read more of that than anything else! Maybe someday I'll be able to even sell one of my contemp projects—that's a dream I still have, another goal to reach now that I've sold once.

But anyway, this new distraction is fun and weird and delightfully unclear in direction, ha. It's been so long since I floated along in a story, and I'm really enjoying looking at all the pretty puzzle pieces, even if I don't know how they come together yet.

Friday, April 20, 2012

Inside A Year Post Book Deal

A year ago today, I learned that we had an offer for TRANSPARENT. It was the very first offer I'd ever gotten. I could hardly believe it as I listened to Anna give me the details, while driving down to an early morning dentist appointment. After a previous failed submission, it was hard to believe that I was actually hearing Good News.

I don't remember all the details, of course, but I remember smiling a lot and breaking into random laughter. I called a few friends and my mom while driving/waiting. I told the dentist receptionist, who probably thought I was nuts. I even told my dentist. On my way home, I broke down in tears when I realized I'd actually get to write acknowledgments (which I still haven't done, ha). I had so many people to be grateful for, and finally I could put them all in a BOOK that I WROTE that would be PUBLISHED.

It was a fun day, but like most things, fun also came with challenges and new lessons and a whole heap of work. Today I wanted to talk about some of the things I've learned, some of the things I didn't see coming, and hopefully a little about what it's like to be a debut writer.

The Totem Pole
The biggest thing I didn't expect in the first year was the range of emotions I would experience—especially the BAD ones! I know it was naive, but, having been a veteran of the query and submission trenches (two years in each, baby), I thought I would be immune to the envy and insecurity that I'd heard can plague a debut writer.

Oh, how wrong I was.

After the initial glow wore off, I was left in...well, a pretty significant depression. This is hard to admit, but it's true. I was suddenly very aware of the fact that I was now slotted in a totem pole of importance, which was a jarring feeling, one I didn't count on affecting me like it did.

It's not something a lot of people talk about, but the reality is that publishing does have a totem pole. There are people more important or less important than you. Books more marketable or less marketable than yours. It's just how it has to be. Of course a publisher has to prioritize. Of course they will give more to books with buzz or books selling well. Of course established writers are more important to keep happy than debuts. None of it is personal...the problem is it's easy to let it FEEL personal.

I totally fell into this trap. For about three months or so, I panicked over just about everything. Then one day...I just got over it, I guess. I realized that where I landed on the totem pole was completely out of my control, and that no matter where an author did land there was something to stress over. I didn't want to stress anymore—I just wanted to do my job and write books.

So yeah, my book deal was completely normal in just about every way, and that's how it is for most everyone. I know (really really know) that we all hope to be that one who gets fast-tracked with the big advance and all the buzz and fancy blurbs and marketing and whatnot, but that comes with its own frightening stressors. Not getting that doesn't make you any less valuable, even if it might feel like it sometimes. And where you're put on the totem pole isn't permanent—I think we forget that things are always moving and changing in publishing.

Because a lot of information goes "private" when you sell a book, it can be hard to get used to the timeline of publishing and the fact that yours is maybe longer or shorter than you want.

For example: I still have about a year to wait until my book comes out. I sold almost a year ago, and I still don't have a cover, official release date, blurbs, ARCs, and whatever. (Please note: I am not complaining, just stating the facts.) I think I had an idea that these things showed up sooner than they do, because it's just hard to tell from the outside when this stuff is actually happening (and most of the time it's announced publicly long after it happens!). Well, it seems it's different for every writer, depending on when the book is slotted and how the publishing house schedules that stuff.

And waiting? Yup, waiting is your forever-friend in publishing. It might sound harsh, but just...get used to it. I've been so much happier since I embraced the wait. This year has still been a ton of wait, wait, and some more wait.

That's not to say I haven't been working this year. Oh, have I been working! Whew. Here's a rough timeline of what I've been up to:

April 2011: Offer from HarperTeen

May 2011: Acceptance of offer from HarperTeen.

July 2011: I'm actually allowed to ANNOUNCE that offer.

September 2011: First Editorial Letter!

December 2011: Second Editorial Letter!

January 2012: Discussions about my 2nd novel that I cannot divulge

March 2011: Line Edits and some other news I am forbidden to talk about

April: Copy Edits

Please take note of the GAPS in time. Those gaps were filled with editing, yes, but also filled with just...waiting. I would usually finish my edits within 2-3 weeks and then have to wait about 6 weeks or more for the next round. Which was good! I needed that down time between drafts, and I certainly kept myself busy with other novels and life stuff. But I know in my more restless days I would have found those gaps frustrating. You have to remember that editors have pipelines, lots of authors to take care of, and it's kind of a miracle they do what they do as fast as they do it!

Nothing Changes...And Yet It Does
The weird thing about selling a book is how little stuff changes. I mean, there are some weird shifts, like the way people view you (both on- and offline) or the fact that you are working officially as a writer with real deadlines or that you have to file self-employment taxes. But the actual act of writing remains the same—it's still hard sometimes and magical at others. And publishing? Weirdly enough, that is still the same, too! Whether you are querying, on sub, OR published, it's still all about the next book.

It's funny, but that's the advice I end up giving and taking the most these days: Work On The Next Book. It's extremely comforting to me to know that this part of the process never changes. If you are a writer there is always another story to tell, and you should be moving on to that next one at all times. It takes the pressure off whatever stage you are in, keeps your focus on the potential instead of what you can't change.

Even though I have sold a book, I still feel very much the same as I always have. I still have the same insecurities and same confidences. I am still writing weird books. I still have the same friends (plus some new ones!). Selling a book didn't fix my problems or make my self-esteem suddenly sky-rocket.

Another thing that has change is my ability to be as open as before online (just not possible under contract) and, honestly, the desire to be. Which is rather ironic, seeing as now would be a better time for marketing than the past four years. But hey, I don't think I ever was in this whole blogging thing for the "platform" or the "marketing." It's always been my little corner to connect with others and share my thoughts with writers, instead of my poor family who gets tired of this stuff!

It's been a crazy, fun, trying, whirlwind of a first year in publishing, and I'm sure this year will be just the same. Being a debut—especially a debut who is still waiting for that book to actually come out—has been an educational "limbo place" to be. And then my book will finally be out and the REAL fun (and terror) will begin, I'm sure!

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

To The Edit Cave!

My first ever copy edits have arrived! I'm totally panicking over how fast I have to get them back to Harper! And, for added difficulty, I can't sit in a chair without labored breathing and numb legs! Woot.


Despite the crazy and hermit-ness to come in the next several days, I wanted to let you know that I have a very special post coming up on Friday, the 20th. Because it will be the 1-year Anniversary of the offer on TRANSPARENT, and you all know how I like to wax nostalgic about that kind of stuff.

If you are dying to know what the first year post-book-deal is like, please don't miss it. I will, of course, be far more candid than I should. And bonus! I'll be totally loopy from copy edits!

Thursday, April 12, 2012

Happy Writers: Embrace That You Are Doing Something Hard

It's been awhile since we've had a Happy Writers meeting, hasn't it? I'm sorry. Sometimes I go dry on topics, and March was particularly dry for lots of reasons. But I'm trying to get back into the swing of things! So let's enjoy the meeting and the clubhouse and the cupcakes.

Mmm, cupcakes.

A couple weeks ago I was talking to my sweet little sister, who is in grad school and also engaged. Her life is kind of crazy right now, and so of course she is having those mental struggles that come with that. She was video chatting with my mom about how hard school was, how she didn't think she could do it, how everything just seemed impossible.

I happened to be in the room, and my heart just lurched for her because I knew where she was coming from. I don't know if it made any difference for her, but it did for me when I said, "You are doing something hard. They don't call it grad school for nothing. But that doesn't mean you can't succeed or that your failures will spell disaster."

The idea hit me in that "Duh!" place after I said it. Having perspective on my sister's plight was easy enough from the outside, and we are all immensely proud of her because she is the first of my siblings to even go to grad school. I don't think I could have done it. I decided fairly quickly that undergrad was enough for me.

But it's harder to remember that you are doing something intended to be difficult when you are smack in the middle of it. I'm sure my sister looks at her fellow students and sees them doing well or having an easy time, much like I thought many of my aspiring writer friends had it easier than me while I was querying and on submission. It's so easy to forget that you are doing something intended to be hard, and that in and of itself is a bold and amazing thing.

Publishing is hard. Plain and simple. Writing a book is hard. Querying is hard. Submission, debuting, maintaining a successful writing career with all its sacrifices—these are all hard things to do. Honestly, I don't think a single part of this job was designed to be easy. The more I've learned, the more I know that for sure.

So when you crash into a road block or fail in some way, don't forget that you are trying to accomplish something difficult. I've failed so many times at this writing thing it's kind of ridiculous. I have almost a dozen trunked manuscripts. It took me 4 rounds in the query trenches to find an agent to take me on (nearly 200 queries!), and even then I spent 9 months editing for that agent before the official offer. When I finally managed to get on submission to editors, my first book failed for 15 long months. Then my agent left the business, and I had to get used to a new one. Then I went on sub for a second time and finally sold a book. This all took about 5 years.

That's a lot of fail, guys, let's be honest. And when you are going through all that stuff it's so, so easy to take it out on yourself. To decide you must suck. To feel like it'll never happen. To want to give up. To wish you had never started.

It's also easy to forget that you are doing something hard, especially when it looks easy for other people. You see other writers getting agents and deals and blurbs and glowing reviews left and right, and it can be tempting to think that they never had a difficult time trying to publish. Well, that's just not true. In my 5 years of pursuing publishing, I have never met a writer who hasn't struggled. They may hide it well online, but that doesn't mean they don't face the same harrowing path as the rest of us.

Take comfort in this truth: You are doing something hard.

In a world where it seems as if we're almost encouraged to take the easy way out, you are doing something to challenge yourself. You are pushing yourself, improving yourself and your craft. You are trying to achieve something that is no easy feat. Even if you stumble or struggle or take forever to get there, take pride in your courage and strength, even when it feels like you have none.

Because this whole writing thing is supposed to be hard, and once you accept that it's much easier to continually find the joy in the process.

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Sandwich Circles

When I was a kid my parents used to make me eat the crust on sandwiches. Like any normal kid, I hated the crust and this seemed like quite the demand. But I was also one of those kids who tried to listen to her parents, so I found a way to cope.

It was simple—I would eat the crust first, then I could enjoy my sandwich with the worst part over and done.

Funny thing is, even though my distaste for crust has long gone, I still eat my sandwiches like this. It's a habit I rarely think about, but sometimes a friend will point it out and I have to stop and explain the origin of my silly habit. It always reminds me that not everyone eats their sandwiches in a circle like weirdo me. And then I start thinking about just how many ways there are to eat a sandwich, which is ridiculous and yet telling at the same time.

There are so many ways to DO things. Not just something as small as sandwich-eating, but even big things like giving birth or making a living. And yet we as people constantly seem to forget that doing something in a different way doesn't mean it's wrong.

Could you imagine if people shunned me for eating my sandwiches in circles because they believed sandwiches should only be eaten from top to bottom? It sounds silly, but people fight over perfectly acceptable options/preferences all the time.

As a writer, I've come to find all these different ways of living to be some of the best story fodder out there. It's so interesting to dig in and figure out why a character makes the choices he does, whether it's eating a sandwich in circles or going completely vegan. Stories come out of these seemingly random choices. They build the fabric of character and thereby plot.

I think the best of writers are also the best of observers, the best of investigators, and people who seek to understand. I also think these are qualities passed on to readers. What we do, this creating of worlds in words, is a powerful thing in that it grants us a peek into different ways of living, and thereby broadens our understanding and empathy.

If only we could get more people to write and read, right? Or maybe I should start the Circular Sandwich-Eating Revolution instead. It is, of course, the superior way to eat a sandwich!

Monday, April 9, 2012

My Life In Google Searches

I thought I'd try a new feature on the blog, because heck, I have been running incredibly dry on the blog content lately. And time. But I want to keep up this blog and let you all know a little bit about what's going on with me (At least what I'm allowed to tell!).

So I thought it might be fun to post some of my Google searches over the past month. Nothing like a Google search to reveal what a person is doing with their life, right? Right.

Of course these aren't ALL my Google searches in March, but here are some highlights:

• When does Legend Of Korra come out?

• Xout

• I don't know what to name my baby

• Inigo Montoya quotes

• Diet Mountain Dew Code Red discontinued?

• Coconut Cream Pie Recipe

• Black spot on goldfish head

• Monterey Bay Aquarium

• Mika name meaning

• Koi AF Utah

• How to peel a hard boiled egg

• Cypress trees

Yup, that pretty much sums up my life right there, minus the sickness and Ninja Girl stitches and other writing-related things that cannot be mentioned. Ah, Google. Good times.

Monday, April 2, 2012

Ninja Girl & The Stitches Nightmare

So this happened. That would be my Ninja Girl in the ER awaiting stitches. She fell at grammy's house, bouncing around and excited to go to the park. Instead of slides and swings she got 15 stitches—5 in an underneath layer, and 10 on the top layer. (I hadn't even known about LAYERED stitches, but apparently when the cut is deep enough...)

You'd think that'd be enough trauma, right?

Well, when they took the stitches out yesterday things got...troubling. Her eyes and forehead swelled up like crazy (Which is why I'm posting pics for once because she hardly looks like herself!), and even though the ER swore this was normal it didn't SEEM normal for swelling to happen five whole days after and not on the day of.

Promptly after I took this picture, her scar burst open, oozing puss and blood like a giant zit. And it just kept going, clearly infected and NOT normal. Urgh, ER. I was not wasting more money talking to them, so I had to wait out the night with poor Ninja Girl and take her to her doctor this morning.

He was not pleased that they didn't acknowledge the infection, and now there isn't much we can do except keep the thing gauzed up and cleaned while the antibiotics do their work.

Ninja Girl is taking it like a champ, though, even if she looks like she's been in a fight. She's been shockingly cheery through it all, save the shots this morning. I think she cried more over those than anything else, which made me laugh. I mean, she's got this HUGE wound on her forehead that is swollen and infected and oozy, but those two needle pricks brought her to her knees! Ha.

Anyway, this has taken up a large bulk of my life this week, and it seems as if this will continue for the coming weeks. It's been a scary and weird thing to deal with, as it is the first time either of my kids has had an injury that couldn't be fixed with a kiss and a bandaid. It's been quietly stressful for me, I think, sucking the energy out of me (And I'm sick yet again, yay!). There's nothing quite so horrible as watching your children suffer, even when they do it with far more cheer than you ever thought possible.