Nov 16, 2012

Wasted time

Lately I keep hearing about all these young writers who are still in college or recently graduated and already working on like their fourth manuscript. Or they're already published. I'm just so blown away by that. The fact that someone could have that kind of drive so early, and devote so much of their life to such an enormous project, is really damn astounding.

I'm thirty-four right now. I didn't start writing seriously until two years ago. I always loved writing but was convinced I had nothing to say, not enough ideas or creativity to fill up an entire book. When I was a kid, I used to write like crazy: stories, plays that kids in my class would put on, even an extremely ill-thought-out, thirty-ish-page book in fifth grade about a Holocaust survivor (don't even ask). In high school, I was tied up with a busy honors/AP schedule and a million extracurricular activities so I could get into my Dream College. Those years were mostly devoted to writing horrible poetry and short pieces because A) bad poems take very little time to write, and B) ALL THE TERRIBLE HEARTACHE AND ANGST.

By the time I finished college, I had pretty firmly decided that I wasn't creative enough to write a whole novel. I majored in French and decided to take a translation workshop, with the hope that I could turn that into a career. I still had an intense love for writing, but I figured working with somebody else's story was the best I'd ever manage. I hoped I could use my love of words to turn already beautiful French text into beautiful English. Looking back, this makes me sad. Not because I think translating isn't an amazing thing to do, but because I sold myself short.

Translation led to an editorial assistant job in a small publishing company, which then led to a corporate editing job. And don't get me wrong, I like my job a lot. I love that feeling of knowing exactly how to tweak something until it pops. I like being able to help people. The anal side of me feels great about fixing every tiny thing until the writing is perfect. Heck, I even enjoy grammar arguments. But job or no job, I wasted like ten years of my life that I could have spent honing my writing. Whether it ended up getting published or not doesn't matter. The fact that I let it sit for so long does.

So if you're one of those crazy kids writing books, all I can say this: You're amazing.

Oct 19, 2012

Amanda Todd

I know I'm a little behind the times on this, but I just watched Amanda Todd's YouTube video. It made me cry at work.




This kills me on so many levels. I don't really know how to talk about it without getting all preachy, so I'll keep this short. If you think looking at pictures of underage girls online is a victimless crime, watch this. If you think it's OK to write things like "I hope you die" about some kid you don't like at school, watch this.

This girl is dead. Because a bunch of people thought she was disposable, some trite thing they could look at or talk shit about or abuse. It's sick and sad and it makes me lose just a little bit of faith in humanity.

I hate that that it takes kids killing themselves for these kinds of issues to get seriously addressed. It makes me think of those monks who set themselves on fire. I don't know if putting a suicide note on YouTube is the ultimate act for a cause or a desperate plea for attention, but God, why does it even have to come to this?

Aug 15, 2012

Why I haven't been blogging lately

Alternate title: Why Mama Needs a Stiff Drink at the End of the Day

Here's an hour-long excerpt from yesterday.

Wake up Child #1 from nap. Discover she has taken her diaper off and pooped in her bed. And all over a book. Put Child #2 down to clean up. Child #2 starts to cry because Child #2 is teeny tiny and requires being held at mostly all times.

Pile the 4 million toys/pillows/blankets/knicknacks from Child #1's bed on the floor, inspecting each item for random poop. Strip blankets and sheets. Cram enormous comforter into washing machine and hope the label is lying when it says to dry clean only. Wipe Child #1 down once again to make sure no poop is lingering anywhere.

Give Child #1 her snack. NO, NOT THAT SNACK!!!! Give Child #1 the option of THAT SNACK or nothing. Sit on the floor feeding Child #2 while Child #1 yells/cries for a while and eventually eats snack.

Start dinner to go in the crockpot. Put apron on Child #1 so she can "help cook," pull chair up to counter, give her a butter knife and mushrooms to mangle. Move items away from grabby hands. Move other items away from grabby hands. Pick Child #2 up so he'll stop crying. Put Child #2 in bouncy chair. Give Child #2 a pacifier.

Chop one-third of an onion. Put pacifier back in Child #2's mouth.

Chop two-thirds of an onion. Put pacifier back in Child #2's mouth.

Chop final piece of onion. Put pacifier back in Child #2's mouth.

Give rapidly burning beef a quick stir, put pacifier back in Child #2's mouth.

Discover Child #1's poop-covered book is still sitting on kitchen counter. Alternate stirring beef with wiping down pages of book with disinfectant spray and paper towel.

Child #1 sees disinfectant spray and wants her "spray." Fill old spray bottle with water and give sponge and bottle to Child #1. Let her spray whatever the frick she wants as long as she's quiet.

Give up on pacifier, pick up Child #2. Slip in puddle of water on floor from Child #1's cleaning efforts.

Finish putting items in crockpot, turn it on. Wash dishes. Child #2 screams throughout, resulting in twitchy eye.

Finally give in and turn on TV for Child #1. Feed Child #2 again while listening to Child #1 demand over and over that people on TV DANCE! DANCE!. Explain to Child #1 that they can't hear her. Rub twitchy eye and fast-forward until TV people are dancing. Burp Child #2 and get spat up on.

Count the minutes until 6:30 and pray that Daddy doesn't get stuck in traffic on the way home.

Did I mention this was just one hour from my day? Yeah.

Thank God for bedtime and booze.

Jul 23, 2012

AWOL

Apologies for the complete lack of posts. My son is four weeks old today, and I'm just starting to crawl out of the cave I've been living in.

(If only there were such a cave you could hide in with a newborn. It sounds kind of pleasant and low-stress. And cool. Did I mention it's damn hot around here lately?)

New motherhood is definitely easier the second time around, and this week I've even started a brand-spanking-new writing project. I'm not exactly well rested in the physical sense, but I'm emotionally refreshed, in the sense that I've got a whole new jumble of ideas floating around. We'll see if anything decent comes of it, but for the moment, things are looking pretty darn OK.

We'll see how pretty darn OK I feel tonight at 4am, but I'm sticking with it for now.

May 31, 2012

Writer's Digest contest

So, um, this happened.

Last fall, I got into a bit of a lull on my writing. I got pregnant, felt like absolute crap all the time, was in the middle of a manuscript revision that felt like pulling teeth, etc, etc, etc. So I started writing short stories to give myself a break. I'm a huge fan of Laini Taylor, and I saw that she and her friend Meghan Genge had started a site called Sunday Scribblings with a weekly writing prompt, so I started going there to pick up inspiration.

Underneath each weekly prompt, people post links to their writing for that week, whether it's poems, short stories or whatever, but I was always too chicken to actually post my own stuff. I've been an editor for over ten years and have had some of my nonfiction writing published for various work-related things, but I was terrified to put my fiction out in the wide, wild interwebs. It felt too much like spilling my brains out for the world to see or going outside naked or something. So I'd just write little stories or snippets or whatever and keep them in a file. I figured one day I'd pretty them up and submit them somewhere or maybe even get a new book idea.

At any rate, one week the prompt was "The call," and since writing about a phone call didn't seem frightfully exciting, I decided to let my brain wander and see what else popped up. And for some reason, I thought of birdcalling. Don't ask me where it came from -- I'm a little random sometimes. I'd heard vaguely about birdcalling competitions but knew absolutely nothing about them, so I just started making stuff up. After a bit of Googling, I determined there wasn't really any kind of competition circuit like the one I was imagining, so I just went with the idea and let it run. I found a couple of websites where you could listen to birdcalls, and then I picked them at random to include in my story -- either birds with great names like the black-capped gnatcatcher or calls that sounded really cool and I thought would be fun to describe in writing.

After a couple of evenings, I had what I thought was a pretty fun little story, and into the file it went. A few nights later, I started poking around on the internet to see what I could possibly do with the story, and I discovered that the Writer's Digest Short Short Story Competition deadline was only a month away. It seemed like too good of a coincidence. So I polished up my story, took a deep breath as I sent my very first piece of fiction writing out into the world, and submitted it. I knew the contest got an absolute ton of entries and didn't really put much hope into winning but figured it was good practice to start sending stuff out.

I can't even tell you how shocked I was when I got an email this February telling me I'd won first prize. I was home with my daughter when I got the email, and I immediately started laughing/shaking. I called my husband at work, and I sounded so freaked out when I asked him if he had a minute to talk that he thought something terrible had happened to our kid. Then I cried for a bit and laughed most of the rest of the afternoon. I truly didn't expect this kind of reception for my first attempt. I'm pretty sure it was beginner's luck, but everybody I say that to tells me to shut up.

My story is now up on the WD website and will be published in an anthology this summer. And I'm just pleased as punch.

May 8, 2012

Conversation with a two-year-old

Me: What should we name your baby brother?
Isla: (mumbles something unintelligible)
Me: How about Desmond?
Isla: No.
Me: You don't like Desi? You liked it yesterday.
Isla: Ehhhhhhh. No.
Me: How about Neil?
Isla: No.
Me: Hayden?
Isla: No.
Me: Bob?
Isla: No.
Me: Frank? How about Frank?
Isla: NOOO!
Me: How about John? Come on, it's so simple.
Isla: No.
Me: Don't you like any names at all?
Isla: No.
Me: How about Elliot? Ehhh-leeee-otttttt (points finger, E.T.-style)
Isla: Hahaha. No.
Me: OK, what do you want to name your brother?
Isla: Sandwich.

Apr 30, 2012

Right and wrong character types

Lately I've been reading a lot of stuff in the YA sphere about people's pet peeves with characters. Stuff like "I hate characters that are X" and "I don't like [character type]." Let me preface this by saying that everybody is entitled to their own opinions. I'm fine with that. But sometimes I feel like there's this group-think mentality where everybody is supposed to agree that certain types of characters are right and others are wrong.

Some of the big ones seem to be weak female characters (a la Bella Swan) and bad boy love interests (Noah Shaw, Edward Cullen, etc, etc). I can see where people are coming from with these opinions, but to me, those characters are unlikable because they're not terribly well developed, not because of their personality traits. (I should also add that I think Noah Shaw is going to end up with more development as the trilogy goes on, but I could be wrong.)

My issue is mainly with blanket statements that these types of characters shouldn't be so pervasive in YA literature. It's not fair to say they shouldn't exist or that no more books about them should be written. I don't agree that writing always needs to have some kind of moral or message. I think its purpose is to entertain. Would I ever date a raging bad boy in real life? Of course not. But would I like to read about one? Hell yeah. The same goes for the introverted girl who struggles to stand up for herself. Sure, maybe she's not as good of a role model as somebody who knows exactly what she wants and goes out and gets it, but I actually find that weakness intriguing. A female main character doesn't have to go out and kick ass all the time (although I will admit to being a huge fan of Graceling, and man, that Katsa kicks some serious ass).

I also wonder why this debate seems to be limited to the YA sphere. I can only assume it's because YA tends to be a bit more trend-oriented, as opposed to grown-up fiction. So the kinds of trends you might see within a certain genre of adult fiction wouldn't necessarily be used in an argument about all fiction in they way they are with YA.

I hope this becomes less of an issue as YA becomes more and more mainstream, because it kind of stresses me out as a writer. I often wonder if people will judge my characters and put them in categories of things they like/don't like instead of just reading the story. I'd like to think I'm writing outside of stock characters, but I guess I'll never be able to control people's opinions and reactions.

And to be honest, that's the best thing about books. There are just as many different characters as there are different kinds of readers. There are some characters who do things you agree with and some who don't. I'm thrilled to pieces that there's a huge range to pick and choose from anytime I like.

Mar 26, 2012

Fuming

A bunch of racist Twitter reactions to the black actors in The Hunger Games movie are making the news rounds today. To paraphrase, several people said they hadn't pictured Rue and Cinna as being black when they read the book, and it ruined the movie for them. One person went so far as to say that once he saw that Rue was black, he wasn't sad when she died.

I'm struggling to express just how angry this makes me. It makes my teeth ache.

First of all, Rue is mentioned in the book as having "dark brown skin." Were they picturing somebody with a Snookie fake tan? More likely, these mouth-breathing cretins, with their first-grade reading levels, lurched ponderously and ignorantly through the book, skipping all the words that were too hard for them (i.e., longer than four letters). Actually, no. First graders would have understood that. Jesus.

What kills me, though, is that in addition to having disgustingly racist thoughts in the first place, instead of just keeping them to themselves, these people thought it was acceptable to post them on Twitter, where the whole world can see them along with their personal information. Are you kidding me, people?

I'm glad the site I linked to above has posted their usernames and pictures. I hope these people get an earful. I'm guessing they'll never change their ways, but at least they'll get hell for it.

And now I need to go hit something inanimate.

Mar 2, 2012

Book imitates art

The main character in the novel I'm working on is a painter. I can't even remember how it came about, but I started trawling through the online collection of the MoMA for general inspiration, and I came across some drawings by French symbolist painter Odilon Redon. Something about his art really spoke to me, and the moods he created seemed similar to the dream world I was creating in my manuscript. I didn't know much about him, so I started searching the interwebs for more of his art.

Obviously, seeing the paintings in real life is far more ideal than looking up prints online, but I had so much fun looking at all of his work and letting it inspire scenes in my book. I was particularly drawn to the solitary female images like this and this. And Vierge nimbee inspired an entire scene. Some of Redon's more bizarre charcoal pieces just plain tickled my fancy. Nothing was directly based on those, but they helped set my mood when I sat down to write various parts.

Another artist I borrowed from to create scenery was cubist painter Lyonel Feininger. The town and inhabitants of Nod were inspired by his paintings, and I used some of his other pieces (seascapes, bridges, moonlight) as general mood material. I pictured the cove where Jared's house was set as looking something like this.

It truly is a luxury to have access to all of this art at your fingertips, and I'm well aware that the online versions are nothing compared to the originals. I hope to see some of these paintings in person one day. Maybe once the kids are older and this is a practical kind of trip. In the meantime, I'll be keeping my eyes open for local exhibitions.

Jan 12, 2012

Retail inspiration

Sometimes inspiration arrives in the most unlikely places.

I was in a mall a few months ago and wandered into a shoe store to look for some boots. I quickly realized that I was far too old for this particular shop, but they were playing a great song by PM Dawn that I hadn't heard in probably more than ten years.





And voila! A scene for my book popped into my head, one where the main character dreams she's been turned into a row of paper dolls. Sounds weird, I know, but I really dig it.

So there, you just never know where stuff will come from. Thanks, teenybopper shoe store!