Dec 9, 2013

Riting

Feeling pretty brain-dead today, so I'm just going to leave you with this piece of awesomness from one of the giants in Roald Dahl's The BFG:

I has ritten a book and it is so exciting nobody can put it down. As soon as you has red the first line you is so hooked on it you cannot stop until the last page. In all the cities people is walking in the streets bumping into each other because their faces is buried in my book and dentists is reading it and trying to fill teeths at the same time but nobody minds because they is all reading it too in the dentist’s chair. Drivers is reading it while driving and cars is crashing all over the country. Brain surgeons is reading it while they is operating on brains and airline pilots is reading it and going to Timbucktoo instead of London. Football players is reading it on the field because they can’t put it down and so is Olympick runners while they is running. Everybody has to see what is going to happen next in my book and when I wake up I is still tingling with excitement at being the greatest riter the world has ever known until my mummy comes in and says I was looking at your English exercise book last nite and really your spelling is atroshus and so is your puntulashon.

Originally spotted here.

Dec 2, 2013

I ♥ YA

Tonight as I was writing up my bio for this blog, I got to thinking about why I like YA so much. I read a post a while back on Absolute Write, and I can't remember the exact phrasing, but somebody basically said, "I don't read to agree with a character's decisions/morals, I read to feel something." And that, to me, is the essence of why YA is so magical. It has that immediacy that pulls you straight into the story, drags you under and jams you inside somebody else's head.

The fact that you're in a teenager's head means all the feelings are intensified. Sadly, stuff gets mundane as you get older. Life gets less interesting because not as much is new. When you're a teenager you can spend a whole night driving around with your friends, doing nothing but listening to music and talking. Nowadays if I got into a car and just drove around my town for three hours, no matter how lovely my friends were, I'd lose my mind. But when you're young, there's always something waiting, something more, something fabulous and exciting or terrifying and horrible, and even as bad as things get, nothing is ever going to feel that vivid again. In YA lit, that feeling transcends all genres, whether the character is suffering through high school or piloting a space ship through distant galaxies.

I used to be a bit of a snob and only read Books of Great Literary Merit. Then several years ago, I discovered YA and I'm not gonna lie, it was kind of like crack. It brought me back to the way I felt when I read as a kid, when books immersed me in other worlds and didn't just dazzle me with their artful prose and clever devices. Don't get me wrong, I still love me some artful prose (I am seriously enamored with David Mitchell, for example). But YA pulls me instantly out of reality in a way that grown-up books don't.

As a category, YA is still relatively new, which means it can go anywhere. As crazy-frustratingly trend-driven as it can be at times, it's so exciting to be part of something that feels like it's writing its own rules. I'm so glad I discovered it and let go of my snobbery, and I can't wait to write more of it.

Nov 22, 2013

How to write with a baby

Today I thought I'd share some tips on how I've managed to keep up with my writing during these crazy busy three-and-a-half years since my kids were born.

Keep in mind, of course, that all kids are different and this is just what worked with my particular situation. I work part-time (three days a week), but if you work full-time, a lot of this applies to weekends and evenings, too.

Newborns:

OK, this might not be what you want to hear, but it's pretty darn impossible to write with a brand-new newborn. Even if you're sleeping a decent amount (which you probably aren't), the physical and emotional toll of giving birth is pretty intense and writing is probably low on your priorities list. But this isn't necessarily a bad thing. A month or two off from writing is scary when you're used to doing it every single day, but I think it's actually good for your brain to take a rest.

Use the time to catch up on reading, if you can. My son wanted to eat nonstop for the first two months of his life, and luckily I was able to prop a book up on the Boppy cushion while feeding him. Obviously this works less well if you have other kids to chase during the day, but is also great in the evenings when you feel trapped on the couch and sucked into crappy TV. If you have a Kindle app, you can sync it across all your devices and read on whatever device you can grab in a pinch while rocking, feeding, bouncing the bouncy seat, etc.

Taking a break ended up giving me a great brain reset. I came out of the first few months of my son's infancy with a ton of shiny new ideas and a new perspective on a revision that needed doing. And once you're less zombie-like, you can do micro-bursts of writing when you have time. Just don't put too much pressure on it. This is a great time to explore new, small ideas, maybe short stories or beginnings of longer pieces.

Littlies:

After a few months, once you get the kiddo sleeping a bit during the day, it's basically wonderful because: A) you can maybe take a shower, and B) you can sneak in writing sessions if so inclined. Again, if you're still not feeling it, I'm a firm supporter of not pushing it. Everybody is different, and some babies are harder than others. For a long time, my son would wake up every time I touched the keys of my laptop, even if he was in the other room. One of those weird mom/baby telepathy things, I think. That was frustrating.

Which brings me to my next point. Even if you can't write, you can still plot. There are a lot of mindless baby-related activities, especially before they can talk or do much. You can use that time to plan your story, dream up characters, work out sticky plot points, etc. Long walks are a godsend. The baby sleeps, you have time to think, and there's something about walking that really stirs up ideas. And hey, maybe when you get home, the baby is still sleeping and you can sneak out the laptop and get a few words in.

Toddlers/older kids:

This is the time when, hopefully, you can establish a solid naptime routine. I was really strict about putting my son down for a nap at 1pm, the same time as his sister's nap. He wasn't that into it for a while, but I just kept putting him down after lunch, and eventually it took. And bingo! Mama has at least an hour of quiet.

My daughter stopped napping at around two and a half, so I transitioned her to quiet time, which took a while and some adjusting, but works well now. I will confess to cheating a bit and letting her play with an iPod mini after she's done 30-40 minutes of playing on her own.

Now here's the key: Make sure to use this time wisely! Don't clean the house. Bah, that can be done when the kids are awake -- kind of. OK fine, my house isn't that clean. But I have my priorities and I am OK with them. I try to get as many chores done as I can when the kids are awake, because naptime is writing time. Some day I'll have more time to make things spotless. Just not now. If you can afford a cleaning person, I am so jealous of you.

Again, I try to use all mindless time (like keeping an eye on kids at the playground, walking) for plotting. I make a lot of random notes on my phone and email them to myself. And I try to limit my TV time after dinner. There are a couple of shows (Vampire Diaries -- don't judge me) that are sacred, but for the most part, I shut off the TV by 9 and write until bedtime. It sounds strict, but it works for me. Some people like to go to bed early and get up at 5, before the rest of the household wakes up, to write. That's a great idea if you're more of a morning person.


The bottom line is this: schedules are a good thing if you can make them work for your lifestyle. Not just for the kids -- for you, too. Scheduled writing time is a good way to keep yourself productive and on track.

Anyway, this all sounds very prescriptive and strict, but it's worked well for me. I'm just finishing up revising a 70,000-word book that I started in March, which I think is pretty decent. Of course I'm horribly jealous of my writer friends who post on Twitter about spending an entire Saturday writing. But I'm OK with my choices. And only having small windows of time to write works well for me, because I'm a terrible procrastinator and will happily spend two hours on Pinterest if I've got nothing else to do.

I'm sure there are a million other tips and tricks, but these are the big ones I can think of off the top of my head. Will post more if they occur to me.

Oct 18, 2013

Writing contest

Ooh, you know what's coming up? The deadline for the Writer's Digest Short Short Story Competition (yes, that's two "short"s). It's for stories that are 1,500 words or fewer, which, yeah, is really quite short. There is an entry fee but the prizes are pretty fantastic. Not only do you get money/gift certificates for placing the top 20, but if you win first prize you also get a trip to the Writer's Digest conference, which is just pretty much the awesomest prize ever.

This spring they paid for my train ticket down to NYC, plus a room at the Sheraton where the conference was being held for two nights, plus the whole conference admission fee. I never would have been able to afford that kind of trip for just myself. The conference was wonderful, inspiring, and really well organized and I met some amazing writers. Did I mention I have two kids under four and I got a whole hotel room all to myself? Yeah, that was crazy.

So anyway, if you write short stories, you should give it a shot. If it hadn't been for discovering this contest with such a close deadline to when I was writing my story, I probably never would have been motivated enough to finish it and send it out. So here's me giving you a little nudge. Send out your work -- if not to this contest, then to somewhere else! Do it! You never know what might happen.

Aug 14, 2013

WriteOnCon fangirling

Warning: Gratuitous, overenthusiastic gushing to follow.

For the past couple of days, I've been utterly addicted to WriteOnCon. It's a free, online conference for children's authors (YA, middle grade, and picture books, and even NA this year) with a ton of fabulous live feeds, articles, and videos. Twitter pitching with literary agents, chats with editors, tips and tricks from big-name authors, the list goes on. Did I mention it's all free? Crazy.

For me, the biggest lure has been the forums where writers can post their query letters and the opening pages of their manuscripts. Then people go through and critique each other's work, help them fine-tune their pitches and pages until they sparkle. This year I've been blown away at how kind and supportive everybody's been. And how fricking good so many of the entries are. Yesterday and today, the forum has been open to "ninja agents" who scour the forums and swoop in and request pages from the manuscripts that catch their fancy. So that's added a whole new level of excitement to the mix.

After spending hours upon hours critting and chatting with other writers, I'm exhausted but so happy. Writing is such a solitary pursuit, and it's refreshing to connect with other people slogging along on the same journey. I went to an in-person conference earlier this year, and it was equally delightful. I'm amazed by the writing community, how generous and just generally lovely people are. Awww, warm fuzzies. Like bunny slippers for my heart.

Just when I thought it couldn't get much better, I happened upon a thread where an illustrator named L.L. Tisdel was offering to sketch the main characters from people's books. Out of the kindness of her heart, she just decided to make original artwork for a bunch of people she doesn't even know. How incredible is that? I filled out a brief questionnaire about the main character, Nessa, from my work in progress, MINDSWEPT, and just look!



I mean, really. How cool is that.

Check out the artist's blog and DeviantArt if you're so inclined.

Anyway, the conference ends tonight, and I have the feeling tomorrow is going to be a bit like the day after Christmas. Major letdown. I won't know quite what to do with myself. Actually, I will. I'll get back to the manuscript revisions I've been neglecting. But it's been a great break, and I can't thank the organizers of WriteOnCon enough. You guys are amazing.

Jul 31, 2013

More YA gender crankiness

So there's a bookstore near my house that has a pretty decent YA section. But they've organized the books into "YA," "YA Fantasy," and a huge shelf of "YA Chicklit." Last time I checked, chicklit was a separate, adult genre that, by its very definition, has nothing to do with YA. On top of that, the store has lumped all the books with girly-looking covers and female protagonists into, you guessed it, "YA Chicklit." So you've got a bunch of contemporary YA (not chicklit, but I guess maybe kind of, sort of closer to it?), but also stuff like Lauren Oliver's Delirium series (dystopian) and Libba Bray's Gemma Doyle series (fantasy).

I asked why they'd decided to organize the books like that, and they looked at me like I had three heads. They said they hadn't had any complaints and that the section was very popular with customers. I gave a couple of examples of books that were straight-up fantasy and asked why they were calling them chicklit, and they just kind of shrugged at me. So I dropped it. But obviously I'm still harping about it months later.

Here's what gets me. Obviously, what they're doing isn't hurting sales, so they've got no reason to consider fixing it. But it all goes back to the maddening idea that books ABOUT girls are FOR girls and should be labeled as such.

I have to admit, I felt a little stupid arguing that Delirium was not chicklit when the covers of this gritty, action-packed dystopian series feature a blandly smiling model and a shit-ton of flowers. They're beautiful covers, but they scream "This is a book for girls!" And they aren't, necessarily. But I guess that's the way they were marketed.

Which brings me to my point. Apparently splitting out YA books as "for girls" and "for boys" is not a bad thing for sales. But I can't help but think it's a bad thing for readers. How many books are getting passed over by male readers because they feel alienated by covers and labeling? If we want inherent sexism in society to change, surely exposing young men more consistently to a female perspective is beneficial, right? But what boy is going to buy a book out of a "chicklit" section? We talk about this kind of stuff all the time, but it just seems like everything from toys to books to freaking office supplies is becoming more gendered and isolating.

If you haven't seen it, check out Maureen Johnson's Coverflip project. Sums it up nicely.

Jul 13, 2013

Angry

Yesterday I saw a list on Mashable of the 15 Young-Adult Books Every Adult Should Read.

I've read a bunch of these and they are, indeed, very good. But as I scrolled through the list, I found myself thinking, "These are all about boys. Hmm." It wasn't until I got to the tenth book on the list (I repeat, the tenth) that I came to one with a female protagonist. As it turns out, only three out of the 15 books featured female main characters. Three. Which is exactly 20%.

YA is often dismissed as drivel for teenage girls. Twilight has a lot to do with that, as it's the only YA book a lot of people have heard of. So you get articles like this by well-intentioned writers who are really just trying to get people interested in YA, but it's at the expense of all things girl-related. Look, YA is about boys too! Come on, won't you give it a shot now that you won't accidentally read about makeup/kissing/shopping?

Everybody loves a good coming-of-age story, right? How come all the famous coming-of-age, naval-gazing, important ones are about boys? What is it about a young woman's journey into adulthood that gets it dismissed as something that only applies to members of her own gender? The male experience is universal and valued, while the female one is specialized, a niche. 

And I know all this already, I really do. It's not news that women's experiences are not valued the same as men's. But you know, I really think we have something good here in YA. We've got a ton of female writers, a ton of amazing female protagonists, some supremely kickass books, and it feels good. But then somebody makes a list like this and it reminds me that I'm still living in a world where I'm the inferior sex. And maybe I'm just being an overly sensitive woman, but it feels like a kick in the teeth.

Feb 13, 2013

You just do

Once again, Chuck Wendig has totally nailed it with his writing advice. Today's blog post from terribleminds, called "The Hardest Writerly Truth of Them All," (warning: rather sweary) explores the subject of motivation and people looking for quick fixes to get themselves writing.

I have one answer for you.
It is not a nice, nor easy, answer.
That answer is: “You just do.”
How do you get motivated?
You just do.
How do you get inspired?
You just do.


I have such a platonic writercrush on this guy. People ask me all the time how I manage to write with a baby and a toddler and I mostly don't know how to answer it other than "I just do." I throw those kids into naptime and rush for my laptop and write like crazy until they wake up. After dinner, I write instead of watching TV (except for Vampire Diaries nights, which are sacred). It's actually not that hard for me anymore.

But here's the thing. I do it because I have to. I've gone and gotten myself hooked on writing and it feels bad when I don't do it. Even when I've got writer's block, it feels gross and horrible to sit around not writing. Maybe this is a positive side effect of having kids now. Maybe I don't know to be inactive anymore. But whatever it is, I'm taking it and running with it.

Here's my advice (not that you asked for it). Force yourself into a routine where you write at a set time every single day. It's going to suck for at least the first month or so, but once it sticks -- if it sticks -- you're going to get hooked. Just keep writing. That's all I can say.

Jan 2, 2013

Conversation with a baby

Tuesday night, 7:30 p.m.

Baby: WAAAAAAHHHH
Me: (comes in) What's wrong? Why aren't you sleeping?
Baby: Why am I lying on my stomach? This is awful!
Me: (rolls baby over) There you go. Goodnight.
Baby: --
Me: (leaves room)
Baby: (rolls onto stomach) WAAAAAAAHHHH
Me: (comes back) Did you roll over again?
Baby: OH HI, MOM! I'm on my stomach! Isn't this neat? Look how high I can --
Me: OK, let's roll back over and stay there this time.
Baby: Fine.
Me: Good night.
Baby: I'm just gonna, like (starts to roll)
Me: Hey! Cut it out. You're just going to make yourself cry again.
Baby: No, it's cool this time. I LIKE being on my ... WAAAAAHHH
Me: (rolls baby over and props with pillow, no doubt causing baby safety experts around the world to gasp in horror)
Baby: OK, I'm just gonna, hermh, ernhh, enhhh I CAN'T ROLL WAAAAAAHHH !!!
Me: Just lie on your back. I promise it's fine.
Baby: You are ruining my life, MOM!!!

(rinse and repeat)