Friday, March 29, 2013

When You Should Stop Drafting & Revise

I am in the camp of "Don't Stop Writing Until The Draft Is Done," and yet at this very moment I'm putting my majorly secret project under a pretty massive revision. Mid. Draft. 

This is something I never imagined I would do. In some ways I feel like I'm "betraying" my process, or at least my process as I've known it for the last, oh, 15 novels. Sure, I've gone back to reread in the middle of the writing, maybe make a few tiny changes. But this time I'm doing some pretty huge things—like deleting 4 characters, completely altering my MC's character arc, cutting scenes (entire chapters, even), and adding new ones.


I've been asking myself often why this couldn't wait. Usually while I'm drafting I'm aware of problems, and I note them to fix later. I'm fine going on knowing things aren't perfect. But this was driving me crazy. Maybe I can take this as a sign that I'm growing as a writer, because I can more readily see my mistakes. Or maybe I'm just getting more neurotic and paranoid. Total possibility.

But I did have reasons, and as I approach the end of my mid-draft revision I don't regret it in the slightest. It needed to happen. So I thought I'd share my thinking on this in case any of you have ever wondered whether or not you should stop drafting to revise.

140 pages seemed a lot easier to manage than 300. As I saw these issues piling up, I knew that continuing on that path would only exacerbate the problems. What were considerable changes now would have become insanely unwieldy had I continued.

Character arcs are hard to change. I realized last week that I had written my MC's motivations as I wanted her to be at the end of the book. Which means if I'd continued, she'd have experienced little growth during the book and I'd get called out on that. I had to shift it now so that I could write the rest of the arc the right way.

Major Case of Character Soup. I tend to write big casts, and by mid-draft I could already see it was out of control. Characters were becoming stick-figures—completely interchangeable. They were cluttering the story and adding confusion. And I hadn't even brought in all the characters I'd planned on! Bad news. Minimizing the cast has made it less clumsy.

Neglecting Important Sub-plots. While focusing on the main plot, I'd dropped a lot of elements I needed to have for the latter half of the book to make sense. Adding that now will save me work later.

Notice that none of these have anything to do with punctuation, grammar, or prose in general. It can be really easy to fall into that kind of polishing mid-draft and never actually finish anything. But I think if there are big story-related issues you are already aware of in the middle of drafting, it might not hurt to revise those if you want.

What this has taught me is that my process isn't a permanent thing. And that's okay. You have to do what works for the book at hand, and it's never quite the same as the last novel. This is both frustrating and oddly invigorating.

Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Kirkus Weighs In On TRANSPARENT

Honestly, I've been pretty terrified to get my first trade reviews. To the point that I kept telling myself they wouldn't come at all. "Oh, I'm just a paperback debut—I'm not big enough for them to review." I almost convinced myself to believe it until I saw an email in my inbox yesterday that was titled: Kirkus Review Of TRANSPARENT!

At which point my stomach dropped to the floor, and I seriously considered maybe not opening it. But curiosity won out and I read it and I can't believe they were mostly NICE. That's, like, crazy awesome for the notoriously critical Kirkus.

So, full review below! I'm gonna go celebrate surviving my first trade review by...editing more! Of course.

An invisible girl finds it hard to hide in this X-Men–meets–The Godfather debut.

Ever since Radiasure was invented as an anti-radiation pill during the Cold War, genetic mutations have become widespread, and 16-year-old Fiona is the world’s first invisible individual. She has been living in Las Vegas as a spy for her crime-lord father. When he decides to upgrade Fiona’s status from spy to assassin, the teen and her telekinetic mother run away to a small town in Arizona. Despite a few improbabilities (most notably, presuming that a world-renowned celebrity would not be turned in to the media), the quick-paced story, set in the present day, ticks along. Attention to worldbuilding gives interesting details of Fiona’s lifestyle, such as the way she accessorizes to draw attention to the outlines of her body. Even as she constantly worries about her father and her brother, his henchman, catching up with her, she begins to trust and befriend fellow classmates with equally impressive and secret powers of their own. The slow buildup of romance with blue-eyed Seth and the revelation of his special ability heighten the tension and leave Fiona wondering if she’ll ever have a chance at a normal life.

A great fit for fans of unusual love interests, happily free of all the brooding of Twilight. (Science fiction/romance. 13 & up)

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Haunted At 17

I can't help it—I've gotta do a post for Nova Ren Suma's 17 & Gone out tomorrow. She's been running this series featuring authors talking about what haunted them at 17, and I've loved reading it so much I have to play copy cat.

A bright orange belt. A large, round Chinese pointed hat. A ridiculous, second-hand, brown leather coat that smelled like death. Neon yellow pants with giant flowers on them. These were just a few of the strange things I wore to school at 17. Because as quiet and shy as I was, what haunted me at 17 was the gnawing feeling that I was invisible. (Which probably explains a lot about why I wrote a literally invisible main character in Transparent.)

More than anything, I wanted to be seen. And I think more importantly I wanted to be remembered. If that took going to school in polyester hand-me-downs and mumbling under my breath in broken Japanese, then so be it. At least I'd be known for something, and that was better than dissolving into the background and being forgotten.

Where this need came from, I'm still not sure. All I know is that it's always haunted me. I remember sitting alone at lunch or on the playground, hoping someone would just see me and sit by me and say hi because I felt incapable of going up to people without melting down in a fit of anxiety. I remember the all-consuming desire for the boys I crushed on to notice me in the same way I noticed them (they never did). I remember how badly I needed my teachers to acknowledge that I was something special, that my success would someday lead to me being pulled out of obscurity and SEEN by the world. Because that was the only way to be important—others thinking you were.

Nothing was ever enough. I never felt more than the fleeting sense that people saw who I really was and valued me for it. By the time I was 17, I was desperate for recognition and wanted so badly to scream, "Look at me! SEE ME! I'm right here!" I never said those words out loud, but they came out in my actions.

Except I was always "second best." Which at 17 was just as good as being invisible. In art, I had a friend who could draw better than anyone I know personally even now. He was truly amazing, gifted. No matter how hard I tried to get better, all I had to do was look over at my friend's work to be reminded how far behind I was, how greatly others eclipsed me, how I'd never truly stand out. I often felt like Salieri in the movie Amadeus—full of both envy and awe for my friend's talent. If only I could have that, then I would be seen and remembered and loved.

I guess you could call it fame syndrome. And it's a sad thing to have at 17 because nothing I did was ever good enough for myself. People never noticed—at least not to my satisfaction. Compliments I did get barely registered, because I was always looking at what I hadn't achieved yet. My whole life began to circle around the acknowledgment of others. I needed recognition. Not approval, mind you, but a nod my way, someone saying, "I see you and what you're doing."

I'm not sure I've conquered my haunting sense of invisibility even now. There are still days when I want to scream to the world, "Look at me! SEE ME! I'm right here!" When really I should be looking to myself and asking, "How can I see myself better?" The answer to that question changes everyday, but the more I ask it the less haunted I feel.

Friday, March 15, 2013

Yay You Signed With An Agent! ...What Now?

A question from my Q&A on Wednesday got me thinking about the time when I very first signed with an agent. It was so exciting! But it was also completely new territory. I didn't know what to expect exactly, and unfortunately my agent didn't give me a pamphlet detailing how he works and what I should do as a newly signed writer. That would have been handy.

Since then, I've actually had two more agents supporting my career. I promise I'm not an agent killer—they left the business of their own free will, and I was lucky enough to have other Curtis Brown agents ready to support me. But I say this because each agent I've worked with has been different from the last, and yet all of them were absolutely wonderful to work with. This has taught me that the idea of an "agent soulmate" isn't really true. A good working relationship can be fostered through flexibility and communication.

So I thought I'd offer up some tips for those who have just recently signed or will soon be signing with an agent.

Sit Tight
Stuff usually slows down after you sign with an agent. Whether you are on sub for a long time, or in revisions pre-sub, or perhaps you sell fast but then are in the waiting-for-editorial-letter phase—it just goes slower. Your agent has taken the reigns on submission, and thus you will have "extra" time on your hands. You know how in school, when you'd finish the year but there was still that sense you maybe forgot to turn something in? It's kind of like that. You might have the jitters—like you need to be  doing something and yet there's nothing for you to do.

This is normal. It also a good time to write for "fun" or do something new. Querying is such a frenzy that the white space after can be jarring. Fill it up with trying a new hobby or giving more time to the things you may have ignored while querying.

Your Agent Doesn't Mind Being "Bothered"
When I first signed with an agent, I often felt like I was pestering them every time I had a question or felt like I needed a little self-esteem boost. I didn't want to be that client, the one they secretly regret signing on. I wanted to appear sane.

Well guess what? Agents know writers are crazy, and they still love them anyway. That's why they are in this business! A good agent is happy to communicate with you—they signed you because they like you and your work. I know it's hard, but have confidence in that! If you are afraid to communicate with your agent, how will they ever know what you need? Which brings me to...

Your Agent Isn't A Mind Reader
It would be awesome if my agent could pre-emptively comprehend all my needs as a writer, but unfortunately superpowers are reserved for fiction. While my three agents all worked very differently, one thing remained consistent: They were all happy to try and meet my needs when I told them what they were.

Agents are people, with lives and interests and other clients. They are busy, busy people, but I assure you a good agent has the best of intentions. If you start to feel "ignored" or if you feel there's an "expectation" you're not meeting or if you just plain feel insecure about your writing, tell them! If you aren't happy about how submission is going, or you don't feel like they are on board about your next novel, or whatever else, tell them!

Open lines of communication go both ways. It's as much your responsibility to be professional about facing the hard parts of a working relationship as it is your agent's. Don't let issues that bother you fester. Festering is never a good thing to do with emotions.

Be Flexible And Open Minded
You can ask a million questions before you sign with an agent, but there are things you just can't know until the process begins. Going on submission is such a book-specific process, and the strangest scenarios crop up. I've been through many now I couldn't have foreseen. By now, I've come to expect that nothing will go as I expect, but earlier on I was constantly freaking out at every new curveball I hadn't seen. In my head I'd be going, Is this NORMAL???

If you are flexible and prepared for publishing to not fit any pre-determined idea you have of it, then you'll be a lot better off as you jump into the thick of it. Your agent will be there to guide you—let him or her do that for you. Trust that they have been through the waters several times before. Go with the flow as much as you can.

It Doesn't Get Easier
I wish it did, but publishing is a challenging industry. When I first started out, I thought everything would be smooth sailing after I got an agent. But really? It's just the beginning. Whether you sell fast or slow, stay with your agent forever or have three before your first book debuts, whether your publisher rejects or accepts your next book...there's always something hard to deal with. And that's okay. Also, totally normal. In a lot of ways, it's fitting that such a difficult profession like writing has an equally trying industry to support it. Publishing—in any form—isn't for the faint of heart.

And those are the things I can think of right now. If you have any more questions about the post-agent existence, I will be happy to answer as best I can in comments.

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

All Day Q&A!

I just realized I didn't do a Q&A in February! Bad, Natalie. In recompense, I will also be taking questions on Twitter today. But if you want a longer answer, please comment on this post so I don't have to send a million tweets to you.

I take any question on any topic.

You may ask multiple questions.

All questions will be answered in some form TODAY as soon as I can.

Friday, March 8, 2013

TRANSPARENT Countdown Widget!

I finally got around to making a cute little countdown widget for TRANSPARENT. Feel free to add it anywhere you'd like! Notice it says like 73 days...whoa. After waiting almost two years, that seems like nothing. I'm still trying to process that this is actually going to happen soon. For so long I've been trying to put it in the back of my mind and do other things. Now I need to actively think about and prepare for my debut. Crazy.

Wednesday, March 6, 2013

When You Don't Look "Right"

Today I'm gonna get a little personal, and on a topic lots of people shy away from for fear of offending people. I want to talk a little bit about race.

I'm posting this picture because many of you may not know I'm actually blond. This is my complete natural hair color with no dye—it was even lighter than this when I was a kid. I have green-blue eyes. I am very pale. By all counts and measures, I couldn't look much whiter.

And yet I'm Maori (the native Polynesian people of New Zealand).

And this is my family:

They all have dark hair. They all tan much better than I do. My mom has the wiry Polynesian hair of her heritage, as does my brother and one of my sisters. When my siblings say they're part Maori, people nod and say, "Yeah, I can see that."

When I say I'm part Maori? I've literally had people laugh in my face. I remember as a child, dressing up in my grandmother's traditional Maori dress for Halloween. The kids at school didn't believe I was part Polynesian because I didn't look like what they expect from the word "Polynesian." It made me a phony, like maybe I really wasn't.

And at the same time I knew my grandmother was from New Zealand. She sang in her local Polynesian choir. She had an accent. She could dance and spin poi balls. She would sing lullabies to me, and some of them were in Maori. We had this picture of our chieftain ancestor, face tattoos and all, who my mom would say over and over I was related to.

Still, I never felt like I was allowed to "claim" this part of my heritage. As much as I wanted to, my appearance made me...reluctant. I would get strange looks from other Polynesian kids, like, "You don't belong here, look at you. You can't understand because no one judges you." Which is true in a lot of ways. And on the other side, white kids thought I was trying to take advantage of claiming a different race. Or they just flat out didn't believe me.

The worst instance I can remember was in college. There was a guy in my church congregation who mentioned he was going to New Zealand for field work in his major. I excitedly said, "My grandmother is Maori! She was born there!" He gave me this look that made me want to crawl under a rock, and he said, "Yeah right." I insisted, but the more I did the less he believed me until I was practically in tears.

Because my grandmother meant everything to me, and so did her culture. The idea that I wasn't allowed to be that part of still hurts more than I like to admit. Culture goes so much deeper than appearance—and people often make the mistake of judging people to be a certain way based on what they see. And it is a helpless feeling, to be told you are one thing and one thing only just because you happen to look a certain way.

No instance of people laughing about my Maori claims ended with an apology—except this one I just recounted. When that guy came back from New Zealand, he apologized for not believing me. He said he could see the Maori in me now that he'd spent more time around them, and he was wrong to judge me that way. I appreciated that apology. Since then, one of my sisters told me another boy I went to high school with mentioned how bad he felt about laughing when I said I was Maori.

Still, it's hard for me to say it sometimes, because I never know how people will react. Even now I'm wondering whether or not I should post this, dreaming up the kind of backlash I might get. But I learned something in college, when my mom's cousin encouraged me to claim my heritage and work at the campus multicultural center. I felt like I didn't have a right to do that, but Uncle Vernon asked me how I thought my grandmother would feel if she knew I wasn't proudly saying I was Maori.

She'd be ticked, was the first thing I thought. She'd march into the office and yell at everyone while simultaneously giving them my lineage. And that would be mortifying, but it made me realize that whether or not I looked "right," this was where I came from and no one could take that from me. And I will teach my very blond children the exact same thing, so that when we video chat with their much more Polynesian-looking cousins in New Zealand they'll know they come from that place, too.

This is why race "issues" are important to me. It is why I try to include diversity in my novels, because everyone deserves to see some of themselves in fiction and to be respected. I may "write it wrong" sometimes, but I'd rather try than be accused of not including other cultures at all.

Monday, March 4, 2013

Book Stuff I'm Excited About

Maybe this will be a new feature, maybe it won't. You know me. The only consistent thing I can manage is the Q&A. But I keep seeing all this cool Book Stuff, and I thought I'd share a few of the things I'm particularly excited about from time to time. Because why not? Cover reveals, contests, trailers, event, sales, and more, this will be the place I mention them.

• My dear friend Renee wrote a really cool magical western called RELIC. And now it has a cover! A pretty, pretty cover. Go check out the epic glory of it.

• I loved Lindsey Leavitt's SEAN GRISWOLD'S HEAD like whoa, so naturally I'm pumped for GOING VINTAGE coming out March 26th. For a hilarious trailer about the book, featuring Lindsey and the amazing Brodi Ashton, head here.

• Jenn Johansson is one of the kindest people I know—and she also writes some of the scariest stuff I've read. INSOMNIA rocked my world, and now you have a chance to win an ARC plus swag! Go! You don't want to miss this!

• And if you are in the Utah Valley area, there are TWO fabulous events you don't want to miss. First, my friend Michelle Davidson Argyle will be at the Orem Library on March 5th at 7PM. And then on March 6th, the Dark Days Tour will be at the Provo Library at 7PM—that means Debra Driza, Claudia Gray, Lauren Oliver, Dan Wells, and Kiersten White will be signing (plus a special guest, the one and only Brodi Ashton).

So much awesome this week. I'm not sure if I'll be able to handle it.