one down, one up #1

This week, I decided to blog more often (which shouldn’t be difficult because I had only been blogging once a month. I know, I know, I’m a slacker). What better way to keep the posts going than to join up with a weekly blog linkup that my good friend ChrystinaNoel started? (Is it a weekly meme? Maybe? I don’t know what a meme is. That knowledge is beyond me. This might be a meme.)

Basically, with #1down1up, you tell the best and worst things that happened to you this week. Worst first, best for last. So, here goes:

one down

This didn’t happen to me personally, but I feel that it affects me. A women was almost mugged on my street the other night, in a neighborhood that I consider very safe. Someone drove by and tried to grab her bag, and I think she had to run along beside the car because the bag was on her shoulder. I heard her screaming from my apartment and was worried, so I went out. It’s very scary to realize that you can so easily become the victim of a crime. The good side of this? Ten+ other neighbors went out to check on her too. No bystander effect in this neighborhood, thank you very much.

one up

I felt optimistic about writing this week. Not quite sure why, but I’ll take it. When I feel this good about writing, I believe I’ll never be discouraged about it again. When I’m discouraged, I believe I’ll never feel good about it. Both beliefs are wrong. There are ups and downs. Some weeks, my one down will probably be writing-related. Right now I’m up, and I’m grateful for it.

YOUR book could be the next big thing

Last night, I was watching Catching Fire, and my husband wondered if The Hunger Games trilogy had sold as a trilogy or first as a standalone. I recently subscribed to the handy dandy Publishers Marketplace so that I could look up agents, but I can also look up authors there and see their deals. So I looked up Suzanne Collins, clicked back through a bunch of pages of foreign rights deals, and found this:

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I promptly forgot all about the trilogy question and stared at this little snippet of information. Eight years ago, the world’s knowledge of The Hunger Games was just this tiny little blurb. And even that, very few people would have known about unless they followed the publishing industry. I had just graduated high school mere days before and wasn’t reading much for pleasure anymore. Suzanne Collins wasn’t even on my radar.

Jump forward to now, and EVERYONE has heard of The Hunger Games. YA readers, adult-novel readers, non-readers. It’s nothing short of a phenomenon. But Scholastic didn’t know it back in 2006. They bought the trilogy in a “significant deal,” which means $251,000-$499,000. While that is a lot of money and most authors don’t earn that much, it’s nothing compared to what Collins has earned by now. Which means Scholastic couldn’t predict how popular the books would be.

That’s because no one can predict such things. Through some combination of great writing and magic, a book or book series takes off and becomes the thing everyone wants to–has to–read. Do you think Suzanne Collins thought she’d be where she is now back in 2006? Granted, The Hunger Games wasn’t her debut (she already had a middle grade series out), but nobody expects such massive success. She was writing a book about kids killing each other. She probably worried nobody would pick it up at all, they’d be so turned off by the premise. But people did pick it up. A lot of them.

As hopeless as you might feel as an unpublished, unagented writer sometimes, you have to remember that no book is a guaranteed success, and may successes sneak up on the author. I know most authors will never see the kind of success Collins has seen, or even close to it. But some will. And how do you know it won’t be you? How do you know the long and winding unfinished manuscript on your hard drive isn’t destined to be the next big thing?

You don’t. And the only way you’ll find out is to keep writing.

Act Breaks

I posted a couple of weeks ago about how September was my most productive writing month ever (word count-wise). The words were flowing. My total word count leapt up by 1,200+ words almost every weekday. I was zipping through my WIP like it was nothing.

Fast forward two days from that blog post: Screeching. Halt.

I’d hit it again–the end-of-act-one slump. There’s just something about that act break between acts one and two that leaves me feeling like I’m lost in the woods without a map. Where did I come from? How did I get here? And where the hell was I going?

I needed a break myself.

This had happened to me two times before. For each of my first two books, I hit a similar wall around this point in the story, so I don’t know why it surprised me. And both times before, I beat myself up over it, wondering why I hadn’t outlined more extensively. Or why I couldn’t just push push push forward until the got my flow back. That’s what you’re supposed to do, right? Don’t wait for inspiration–write! Write even when you don’t feel like writing!

To some extent, I agree with that, because writing is excruciating 99% of the time. But this time, I decided to look at my between-acts break differently. Rather than sit at my computer and stare at the ever-blinking cursor as some kind of punishment for my lack of inspiration, I stepped away from Scrivener. I considered it a necessary pause in my writing. I let the fantasy world I’m writing squirm around somewhere at the back of my mind, spending no more than an hour a day “actively” brainstorming on paper. I just let the ideas be.

It worked. Twelve days of not writing later, I have a much better image in my head of the world, a bunch of names and terms for things that were just blanks before, and a new, better idea for the climax. Some might call those 12 days unproductive because my word count didn’t budge, but they were invaluable to me and to this story.

So maybe this is just my process. Maybe I’m not a “plotter” or a “pantser,” but something in between. I like to plot the first act in detail, then have some signposts along the way for the rest of the book. It works for me. It makes the process as un-agonizing as possible. And, most importantly: I kind of enjoy it.

Everyone knows women can’t bust ghosts

Today, I read a blog post about the Ghostbusters reboot that’s in the works. Have you heard of it yet? You might have. It’s making big news because the Ghostbusters are all going to be women. The writer of the blog post I read isn’t thrilled about that:

“And how do you even begin to explain an all-female Ghostubsters [sic] team in a script? Are they going to have a sign on the front door that says, “Female applicants only?” What would be the logic in eliminating males from becoming Ghostbusters? I suppose you can write it in that the three main characters are friends from graduate school, just like the original Ghostbusters, but this setup is already feeling a mite forced.”

Source: Scriptshadow

I have to say, the guy has a point. I mean, how in the world is Hollywood going to come up with a good script for this if all the Ghostbusters are women? Women can’t bust ghosts. What are they going to do–squirt breast milk at them? Twirl around bloody tampons and fling them at the ghosts like modern-day feminine maces? Flash a little cleavage and flip their hair to distract the ghosts, then catch them while they aren’t looking?

Absurd! Hollywood is taking us for fools. I mean, come on. We all know women can’t fight gho–

Oh. Wait. GHOSTS AREN’T REAL.

If your biggest problem with the Ghostbusters reboot is that the Ghostbusters are women, you need to take a step back. You’re willing to believe in ghosts and a group of people who are hired to fight them, but not that those people could possibly all be women. At least not without some explanation.

Suspend your disbelief. There are a lot of women in the world. Sometimes, we bust ghosts together. Get used to it.

writing/reading/watching update #2

It occurred to me today that it is September 30th, and I have not written one blog post this whole month. I don’t know if I’ve ever skipped a whole month in my nearly 3 years of blogging, so I thought I better get my butt in gear and stop neglecting this poor blog.

As a way to jump back in, here’s another writing/reading/watching update…

What I’m Writing

Normally, lack of blogging means that my writing isn’t going well and I’m too miserable about it to share on the ol’ blog, but that actually isn’t the case this time. I started (or rather, restarted, because I wrote 10k over the summer and scrapped it) a new book, a YA high fantasy, this month. It’s an idea that has evolved in immeasurable ways since I first had it 2 1/2 years ago, and it still evolves every day as I write and brainstorm. The world is expanding in my mind, and I just hope I can capture that on the page. We’ll see.

I’ve set a new writing goal of at least 1,200 words per weekday, up from 1,000 for my last book. I wanted a little extra challenge, but nothing that would make me too discouraged or seem unmanageable. I hit that goal on 17 out of a possible 21 days (not counting today, because I haven’t written yet). Not too shabby. Once, I deleted all 1,200 words the very next day, but shhh, it still counts. Excluding the deletions, I wrote 21,700 words this month. With the deletions, more like 24,000. That’s as much as I’ve ever written in a month, and I still have today. I’d say I’ll aim for more next month, but 20-25k will yield a first draft in 4-5 months, and that is totally acceptable to me.

What I’m Reading

I’m reading–gasp!–two ADULT books! I tried to throw in a few more adult this year, and I also read a bunch of middle grade, so my reading list hasn’t been quiet as limited to YA as in past years. The two books right now are Rooms by Lauren Oliver and The Miniaturist by Jessie Burton. So far, so good! But I’ve got to finish them fast, because October will see the release of Marie Lu’s The Young Elites, Cat Winters’ The Cure for Dreaming, and Maggie Stiefvater’s Blue Lily, Lily Blue. I guess the 22 unread books sitting on my shelf will have to wait a while longer.

What I’m Watching

I’m behind on Masters of Sex and trying to catch up, but I’m just not enjoying this season as much as the last. The most recent episode I watched had a bunch of time jumps, and I found it disorienting and, frankly, boring. I’ll probably finish the season, but if it doesn’t get better, I don’t know that I’ll watch next season.

My husband and I are watching season 1 of The West Wing and loving it. I know, I know, I’m like 15 years behind the times, but I was 11 when it started so give me a break. It’s a little intimidating to start now because there are 150+ episodes, so it’ll take us a while to get through them.

As for movies, I watched The Shining the other night. I generally hate scary movies because I’m easily scared and the freaky images stay with me for too many days afterwards, but for some
reason, I’ve seen The Shining many times and can handle it. I think I have new appreciation for it now that I’m a writer myself. It also made me very glad that my writer husband and I don’t go at each other with an axe when the writing isn’t going well. See, it’s the little things in life.

Used bookstores: Whitlock’s Book Barn

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I was visiting family in Connecticut in July and remembered this weird used bookstore that my mom used to drag me to as a kid. I say drag because I hated it back then. It only kept my attention for about 10 minutes since there wasn’t a very extensive children’s section.

But hey, I’m an adult now, and I thought I’d give it another try. So my mom and I drove to Whitlock’s Book Barn in Bethany, CT, one sunny afternoon, hoping to find some cool/cheap books. Whitlock’s is aptly named because it is, in fact, in a barn. Two barns, actually.

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Upper barn

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Lower barn

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Front of lower barn

I liked it considerably more than when I was a kid. I only bought a few books, but I loved browsing all the old books, seeing what covers used to look like and feel like. Here are some more photos…

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Creepy Little Golden Book that my mom bought for some odd reason

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Side by side covers from two different years (one in 60s, one 70s I think)

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British edition of Harry Potter! I’ve always wanted to see what’s different.

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Just…weird

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On the off chance that you wind up in or near Bethany, CT, I highly recommend this strange little book barn. I got Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone, The Road (hardcover!), and Never Let Me go for only a few bucks each. If you avoid the lower shelves where the books are covered in dust and dead bugs, you can get some great used books for cheap!

Fantasy binge

I’m happy to say that I broke ground on my YA high fantasy this week! I’ve got about 3,300 words, which is nothing compared to the 90,000 it will probably be. Yet the distance from 0 to 3,300 seems so much greater than from 3,300 to 90,000 in some ways, so I’m grateful to have started. It already feels more possible now than it ever has.

The Fading Hour, the book I’m querying now, is a historical fantasy that takes place in a sort of alternate version of 1920s America. Though it’s not actually America and our world, it doesn’t really have other features of second-world/high fantasy, so I wouldn’t call it that. That means my new WIP is my first high fantasy novel, so I’m nervous about how I’ll pull it off. Because of that, I’m going on a fantasy-reading binge. I finished The Golden Compass and am well into the second book in the series, The Subtle Knife (fun fact: I think Will Parry as depicted on the cover of the paperback that I have was my first literary crush). Then on deck, I’ve got (in no particular order):

The Queen of the Tearling by Erika Johansen
(not YA, but has a teenage protagonist)

Midnight Thief by Livia Blackburne

The Glass Sentence by S.E. Grove
(middle grade)

Sea of Shadows by Kelley Armstrong

Seraphina by Rachel Hartman

One thing I’m paying particular attention to is the use of third person vs first in high fantasy. Based on books I’ve already read, I find that I prefer third person for fantasy. I’ve started my WIP that way for now, though who knows if I’ll wind up changing it. I like the freedom that third offers, and I think I like my writing voice better in third. I know some people find it too detached, but I think first person in fantasy can be tough since the tendency is for it to be more conversational and therefore feel too much like a person in our own world narrating. I don’t want my MC just to sound like a teenager plucked out of high school and dropped into a fantasy world. That said, I’m leaving my options open in case I realize third isn’t working out.

Do you have any high fantasy (YA or otherwise) recommendations for me? I have many more on my list, but the ones above are the ones I’m planning to read soonest.

writing/reading/watching update #1

First of all, thank you to everyone who has critiqued my first 250 words for the MSFV #blogpitch contest (post found here). I really appreciate the feedback, and I’m relieved to see that much of the information I wanted to convey in those first 250 did actually come across!

I hadn’t blogged for a while before that blogpitch post, largely because I wasn’t feeling very inspired. I haven’t had much to offer in terms of advice or encouragement, so I just stayed away (the internet can be exhausting sometimes, can’t it?). I do want to get back into blogging though, and I thought I’d start with a kind of general update post. So:

What I’m writing

For a couple of months, I was working on a MG fantasy, but I’ve kind of stalled on that. Something wasn’t quite working–it might have been too simplistic with not enough subplots–so I’m taking a break from it for now. I definitely want to get back to it at some point, because I feel like there’s something there. Just not yet.

Instead, I’ve been planning out a YA high fantasy idea that I’ve had for years. Really, years. The very first kernel of the idea came in fall 2009. Needless to say, it’s intimidating to work on something that’s been in my head for so long because I don’t want to screw it up. It’s evolved so much since 2009, and I’m dying to get started and see the world come alive, but I don’t have enough details yet. Still working on plotting. I’m hoping to break ground on the actual writing some time in August. On the bright side, I have a few character names set, so that makes it feel more real. I don’t really feel like I can get to know a character until s/he is named.

What I’m reading

I‘ve been reading fantasy in preparation for starting my new book. I finished Bitterblue recently, the third book in Kristin Cashore’s Graceling series, and I LOVED it. It’s a long-ass book (about 600 pages), but I couldn’t put it down and read it in only a few days. I’m currently re-reading The Golden Compass for the first time since I was like 12, and it’s even more amazing than I remembered. I already feel emotional knowing what’s to come for the characters (though I forget a lot of what’s to come as well, so I’m eager to keep reading).

 

What I’m watching

I’ve seen so many movies recently that I’ve loved, it’s hard to pick favorites. Most recently, I saw Begin Again, a sweet movie in which Keira Knightley plays an unknown musician and Mark Ruffalo plays the washed-up record label guy who produces her first album. It’s one of those movies that makes you feel good and leaves you smiling, which I always appreciate.

If you want something a little darker, go see Snowpiercer! You might think you’re sick of anything remotely dystopian, but you haven’t seen this movie yet. It takes place in a world that has frozen over, and all survivors live on a train. But there’s a rebellion–led by Chris Evans’ character–brewing, and the poor class at the back of the train is determined to make it up front to the engine. Weirdness ensues, and I was freaking riveted the whole time. (It’s in English even though that poster isn’t.)

Also, last month I saw the underrated Edge of Tomorrow, a sci-fi movie where the main character (played by Tom Cruise) relives the same day over and over again as he tries to figure out how to defeat the aliens who’ve attacked earth. Even better–the experienced soldier training Tom Cruise is a woman, played by Emily Blunt. The movie is surprisingly funny for something set on the verge of an alien apocalypse.

As for TV, I’m just finishing up season 2 of Orange is the New Black, I’ve got a couple of episodes left of Penny Dreadful, and I can’t wait for Masters of Sex to start up again on Sunday! So much entertainment to consume, so little time.

That’s all I’ve got for today. What have you been writing/reading/watching lately? Any recommendations?

Miss Snark’s First Victim #blogpitch entry

I’m excited to say that I was chosen to participate in Miss Snark’s First Victim’s BLOGPITCH contest! I don’t usually enter online critique contests, largely because I’m a wimp and don’t know if I can handle getting my writing critiqued in such a visible space like the internet. But I’m always tempted to enter Miss Snark’s contests, and I finally did.

Don’t know who Miss Snark is? Well, you need to check out her blog, Miss Snark’s First Victim, especially if you’re a querying writer (or one who will be querying in the future). It has a ton of fantastic resources for writers, including frequent contests that can get you critiques for your work as well as agent attention.

As one of the winners of the BLOGPITCH contest, I’ve agreed to post my pitch and first 250 words here to be critiqued. So, here they are…

Title: THE FADING HOUR

Genre: YA historical fantasy

Twitter Pitch: Dava must find the boy who tried to bump off her crime-boss father before he returns to finish the job. GODFATHER meets DIVINERS.

First 250:

It was an open casket.

Dava Blackburn gazed into the cherry-wood box without flinching. She knew how a dead body really looked, and it wasn’t like this. The old man took on a wax-like appearance, so stiff he seemed more like a dummy than a person. He’s preserved, Dava thought. Like a taxidermic bird. And she couldn’t help but wonder, why bother putting eyeglasses on a corpse? It wasn’t like Silvio Serpa would ever look through them again, his eyes dead and sightless. It seemed foolish.

Dava bowed her head, feeling obligated to pray. Dear light moon, please claim Mr. Serpa as your own. Don’t let the dark moon have him even though he may have done bad things. We all do bad things sometimes.

Kissing her palm, she held it skywards before stepping away so the snaking line could keep moving. She forced her way through the tight crowd, bodies pressing in from all sides. There was always high turnout when even a peripheral member of one of the four families died. With a head like Silvio Serpa dead, it made sense that the mourners lined up for blocks. It couldn’t hurt to be on the good side of the families.

“You’re Cyd Blackburn’s daughter, ain’t ya?” said a voice behind Dava.

She spun in her Mary Janes to face a man she didn’t recognize, his double-breasted jacket overwhelming his wiry frame. “Who wants to know?” she asked, tilting her chin up and setting her jaw.

———-

Critique away!

Want to win a 15-page critique from Authoress Edits? Contribute to this blog critique tour! More details here, as well as links to the other 9 participating posts>>

Writing outside your comfort zone

My first book was YA light sci-fi.

My second book was YA historical fantasy.

My third book (drafting now) is a middle grade fantasy.

All three are very different, but they have one thing in common: they don’t take place in the real world. Their respective worlds don’t resemble each other in the slightest, but for all three I got to make a lot of stuff up. I know, I know, all fiction writing is making stuff up, but not setting a book in the real world gives you so much freedom.

I read a ton of YA and pretty much like every genre (fantasy, sci-fi, thriller, contemporary romance, etc). I therefore kind of what to write every genre. And I’ve tried to start a couple of contemporary, realistic YA books before and they just…sucked.

Something about it doesn’t work for me as a writer (or at least, hasn’t worked yet). I start and then I think, But…but…where are the creatures? Where are the memory-readers? Where are the people with violet skin? I get stuck. Really stuck. (I did make it 30k into one idea, but that was a horrendously terrible idea that I will never speak of again.)

But then…I got this idea.

It might sound silly to say it came to me in a dream, but guys, it came to me in a dream. It was a Sunday morning, and my early-rising husband was trying to wake me up. For me, waking up is about a 45-minute process that involves periods of dozing after the initial wake-up. It’s rough. Wakefulness is not my natural state (no, seriously. I have mild narcolepsy). So on this particular Sunday morning, my husband left the room, foolishly believing I was awake for good. But I dozed.

For some reason, most of my dreams come in this dozing state. Maybe it’s just that those are the ones I remember, I don’t know. But I had a dream that morning. And toward the end of it, it became lucid, and I thought, Hey, that’d be an awesome premise for a contemporary YA book. (Well, maybe my dream self didn’t think it as coherently as that.)

When I finally got out of bed that day, I wrote. And I wrote and I wrote. I had my highest word-count day EVER (2,800 words). I was one of those crazy writers saying her characters were speaking to her. It was like I was channeling the protagonist, not creating her. And then I had to ask myself the question:

Now what?

What do I do with this idea I really like? I haven’t written much of it since that Sunday a few weeks ago, largely because I’m committed to my MG fantasy and refuse to get distracted by a Shiny New Idea. But I think that I might want to write this book. The whole book. And I don’t know how.

For some reason, fantastical or otherwise non-real settings help me with plot. Or I guess it’s the other way around–I think of a premise and vague plot, and the world is shaped by that. With a realistic contemporary, that’s not the case. Even though I’ve read plenty of them, as a writer, I just can’t get my head around it. What does the character do? What plot points do I have to hit? Maybe it wouldn’t be so hard to figure that out if it was a thriller or a mystery, but it’s not. It’s about relationships (romance! friends! family!). It’s about grief. It’s about a strange little habit that this girl has. But how do I build a book around that?