Friday, December 31, 2010

I Feel Better Already

Farewell, Year of Suck. I don't want to be rude, but you should know that I won't really miss you. Thanks for the lessons and all. I'll use them to make next year better.

*skips off, singing like Annie*

Sun will come out tomorrow, indeed.

Thursday, December 30, 2010


Early Happy Writers Society Meeting! Since I won't be around tomorrow.

My mom used to be a travel agent. Do you remember those people? They planned vacations and set up itinerary and stuff in the days before Expedia and Travelocity, etc. While she stayed at home for most of my life, I do remember this time, even though I couldn't have been more than five.

Above everything, I remember the tangerines.

Helen, the woman who watched me and my brother, had a big tangerine tree in her backyard and one on the side of the house. I would climb the fence with Cindy, her daughter, and sit up there eating sweet, tangy tangerines as we watched the dogs wreak havoc on the yard.

Oh, the dogs. I'm not talking a couple cute, family dogs—I'm talking about NINE freaking Basset Hounds. Helen bred them, and there was one big old stud and eight frequently pregnant hounds running about. Actually, Cindy and I were up in the tangerine tree for a few reasons:

1. Those tangerines were tasty, and sometimes lunch felt forever away.

2. So we didn't get trampled by nine gigantic Basset Hounds. Have you seen a Basset Hound? If you have, you know they could plow a five-year-over right over.

3. Because Helen had sent us out there to clean up the dog poop, and we were avoiding the task at all costs. Take a moment to imagine just how much poop that is. And not little Chihuahua turds. This stuff was was nasty and not small. I'll spare you additional description.

Now that I think about it, this may be why I have never desired to own a dog.

But the tangerines! I'm telling you, there is nothing like picking one right off the tree, peeling it open, and spitting out seeds as you consume slice after slice. I can taste that memory, even through the Basset Hound mayhem.

When I think about the brief time Helen watched us, I am always surprised by how little things bothered me then. Not that is was a horrible place, but I remember standing in a cobweb-filled corner, watching a spider crawl up the wall, terrified this spider would decide to jump on me before my time was up (Hmm, this may be the origin of my spider fears. I feel like I'm in therapy.). I remember the smell, 80% Basset Hound pee and 20% old, dirty house. I remember being forced to nap, even though I was way too old for a nap.

But overriding those details is the time Cindy and I were "napping," but secretly watching the Olympics, the first I can recall seeing. It was a winter Olympics, because we watched the figure skaters, swooning over their pretty costumes and graceful movements. How amazing they were. How beautiful. I imagined for weeks after that I was a figure skater.

Helen had cool toys, too. A big, big room full of them. She had older kids, and she'd kept all their classic push cars and kitchen sets and rocking horses. There was always something to play with in there, hidden things just waiting to get used again.

And, of course, there were the tangerines, little, sweet treasures in the midst of a lot of crap. Literally. But that's how life is, isn't it? You can focus on the crap, or you can focus on the tangerines. One doesn't erase the other, but the one you focus on drastically changes your perspective and attitude.

Let's remember the tangerines.

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

At Least You Have...

...A finished manuscript.

...Partial requests.

...An agent.

...A book deal.

...A published book.

...A spot on the bestseller list.

...A nomination for a major award.

I'm sure you've heard many or all variations of the "At least you have" statement. Gotta admit, I kind of loathe it. Not to say I'm innocent, but let's think a little bit about what it's really saying.

I've come to a strange point in the writing world. Sometimes I feel like I'm straddling a state border line—I'm in two places at once.

You see, I'm not published, and I know a lot of great writers who are in the same situation as me. I know many aspiring writers, from those just starting out to the agented. BUT. I also know many published writers, some who are very successful, all who are my friends. I hear a lot of stories, guys, from both sides of the border.

And guess what? The stories are shockingly THE SAME. Whether my friend is published or not, I often talk them through writing struggles and doubts. Will this story ever come together? Will anyone care about it? Will this be the book that ruins me? The one that makes me? Do I suck as much as I think I do? Why does this agent/editor/reviewer hate me?

As far as I've seen, writing is writing no matter where you're at. And we all know how tough it can be. I'm reminded of a post by Sarah Dessen—an extremely successful author with a gaggle of published books—where she talks about some of her struggles. That's just one example, and I assure you there are many more.

So, is it really fair to negate Sarah Dessen's struggles because "at least she has a wildly successful career and several published books"? Yeah...that doesn't sit well with me. I know that when people say this, they don't intend to hurt people. In all likelihood, I'm sure they are trying to point out the silver lining, look at the positive, and all that. But having been dealt the "At least" statement a lot over the last couple years, I can tell you it doesn't quite feel like encouragement. It feels like "Oh, stop whining because you have no right to and there are so many, me included, that have it worse than you."

As I watch my friends get book deals, hit lists, and get recognition from prominent authors, I can see how easy it would be to think they shouldn't have anything to worry about. Oh, to be stressed over such things! Right? But here's the thing: Past success doesn't nullify current struggles.

In the end, writers are writers, and we of all people should acknowledge the pain and struggles of other writers, not marginalize them because we may see other situations as worse. I, personally, am trying to get rid of "at least."

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

A Short-ish History of the Book Known as Transparent

I don't talk as much about my work as I used to, mostly because I learned it's not very interesting to most people. It totally works when you have a blog circle in which you know most everyone (as I used to), but now? Not so much.

That said, I wanted to give you all a brief run down of my current project, Transparent, since many of you may not have been around long enough to know the sordid details. Now, when I refer to it vaguely you'll know what I'm talking about.

To the time line!

January 2009-April 2009
There's this voice in my head. It's a girl who's invisible. She keeps telling me all about what it's like to actually be invisible, from how it feels not to have a face to the logistics of hair removal. Also, secretly staring at hot boys.

May 2009
I can't take it anymore, so I write the first lines of Transparent. I name Miss Invisible Fiona, and things take off. It always takes off when I name them.

Summer of 2009
Transparent becomes my "getaway" project. At the time I was editing my ninja book for the agent who would eventually offer representation, and when I couldn't stand it anymore I'd go hang out with Fiona.

Most of Fall 2009
I don't even open Transparent. I go on submission with ninja book. I'm positive I will be the next big thing.

End of November 2009
Starting to think I will not, in fact, be the next big thing. Decide it might be good to get a "back up" book nice and polished. I have a whopping 9 written books to choose from, so I cut it down to 3 and send partials to my agent, telling him to pick. Transparent is the one.

December 2009-March 2010
I revise my butt off. I have crit partners rip and tear the book apart. I read it over and over until my eyes cross. I'm super proud of the outcome, so I send it off to agent.

March 2010
Agent is not exactly enthusiastic about some of my story elements—BIG elements. A rewrite is suggested.

April 2010
I freak out. Question my ability as a writer. Think long and hard about rewriting. Explore alternative plot elements. Give myself time to quell the panic. Gain 5 pounds.

May 2010
I decide to rewrite. It's been a year since I started the book, and here I am starting it AGAIN. I can slightly appreciate the tragic poetry in that.

Summer of 2010
I write Transparent AGAIN. It's better. I think it sucks more. I'm basically a walking paradox.

September 2010
I finish the 2nd 1st draft of Transparent. Yay! Or...holy crap I have to send it to people and it could suck and then all that rewriting would be worthless.

October 2010
After my own revisions, I finally cut the apron strings and send the dang thing to crit partners. I also go on anti-anxiety medication. Correlation? I think so.

November 2010
The crits trickle in. They don't hate it! Oh joy! But, wow, still some work to do. But at least the plot is okay! And no one said it sucked beans! And it might actually be a presentable story, even though I'm still skeptical!

December 2010
I print it out. Cover the pages with red (sometimes front and back). Get slightly overwhelmed about how much I still have to fix. Drag my feet. Play lots of Warcraft. Use the holidays as an excuse to do absolutely nothing. Also, start a random short-ish story in hopes to further avoid edits.

Finally, TODAY, I finish the paper edit.


There you have it! Did I mention writing is HARD? Because it is. As for the future of Transparent, I hope to finish entering edits in January and then send it off to my agent. I hope at some point this year it will be sent on submission. Hopefully sooner than later, but, well, I try not to assign dates to such things anymore. Unnecessary stress and all that.

I'm thinking I may add more to the description under the "Projects" tab. An excerpt? The opening? Something like that.

Monday, December 27, 2010

Fresh Starts

I remember the first time my parents told me we were moving. I was eleven turning twelve, about to start 6th grade. Up to that point, nothing had really changed in my life. I'd lived in the same apartment, gone to the same school and church, had many of the same friends. The idea of moving even 2 hours away seemed like the scariest thing in the world.

Note: For you youngins we didn't have internet back then—we were lucky to have a computer! I played a lot of Where In The World Is Carmen San Diego. So no, there really was no way to keep in touch with friends save the good ol' letter. And we all know how that turns out.

Sure, I was excited to finally have my own room. Sharing with two sibling was rough. And there were some people that, let's face it, I would be happy to never see again. Like Brian, the boy who stole my first kiss, though I still say it doesn't count. But it still felt like a death sentence.

Anyway, that move was my first official fresh start. It pushed me out of my comfort zone, brought good and bad things/people, and ultimately shaped a big part of who I am. I may have only spent three years in Brentwood, CA, before moving to Utah, but that fresh start taught me something:

Moving on can be a great thing.

I've had many fresh starts since that first one. Moving to Utah, finishing junior high and then high school, going to college, moving in with different roommates, getting married, having a baby or two. Each came with hard things, but also wonderful and happy things. I've come to really love the fresh start now, because it's almost like an adrenaline rush or something.

What will happen?

Who will I meet?

How will I handle what comes of this?

It's exciting! That nervous, scary, potentially awesome exciting we all know—anticipation. I used to hate anticipation, but now I've learned enough to know that things have a way of working out. Never in the way you imagine, but they do. Actually, it usually turns out cooler and crazier than you thought.

With the coming New Year, I've been thinking a lot about fresh starts, and I've decided it's time for another. New agent, new seems right to start with a new manuscript as well. As hard as it is to set a book aside after so much work, it's time. I feel really good about it, actually. Not that I'm super excited to begin the submission process anew—I certainly don't have rosy dreams of it anymore—but it's nice to have a blank slate, of sorts.

So here's to fresh starts and all the good and bad they bring.

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

How To Not Feel Guilty About Writing Breaks

I haven't edited this week yet, even though I am four chapters from the end and I kind of need to finish this project in a timely manner. I've started writing a random short story—a retelling of Snow White, of all things, because I've always felt bad about how often she's portrayed as pretty naive and all around stupid—and it's super fun and distracting and I basically love it already.

And guess what? I don't at all feel guilty about this.

Oh, last year I probably would have beat myself up for being so lazy or whatnot, but things have changed for me. While I still have goals that I want to (and will) meet, I also know when I need to step back and have fun with writing again.

I mentioned this on Twitter, and a lot of people asked how I got to this fairly chill state of being, as far as writers go. I'm not sure you'll like my answer.

Basically, I've been on submission for 15 months. Almost 16. Woot. No, in all seriousness, a lot of writers wonder when that nagging pit of angst will go away—if it'll ever go away. Good news! I does go away! ...after like 13 months on submission.

That first year on sub, it was a constant mental barrage of "Oh my gosh I have to sell the first year or I'll be a total loser and I will never succeed and I'll be one of those lame writers who spends years on sub with no bites." And then I hit the year mark, which was totally devastating and embarrassing. Worst fears realized. All that jazz.

It sucked for like a month, and just stopped sucking. It is what it is, you know?

I'd spent a lot of time worrying about something that, overall, wasn't that big of a deal. My life did not end. I don't entirely suck as a writer. I still had stories to tell. My agent did not dump me. People in the streets didn't point and laugh at me.

Shocking, I know.

After all that, I realized I was taking writing (and life in general) way too seriously. I'd lost the love. Writing had become a thorn in my side, something I considered removing from my life. So I took a long break—I took a few this year, actually—and I realized I had fallen prey to the publishing machine. Oh, I thought I was strong and doing fine, but I wasn't. I let rejections, etc., beat me down and suck out all the love I once had for telling stories.

I didn't want to feel like that anymore, so I went back to the beginning. I started writing for myself again. I decided that I would enjoy it no matter what came of it. I started the Happy Writers Society, mostly to remind myself that I don't have to be a tortured writer. I can be a happy writer at whatever stage I'm in.

And it worked, for the most part. I definitely still have my days, but I am also happier with my writing than I've been in a long time. I know when I start to feel crappy I need to step back and take a few days off. I am determined never to let myself get to that bad place again.

Monday, December 20, 2010

Always There

Sometimes people explode into your life and change it in an instant. I can think of a few in mine—a quirky friend in junior high, an influential teacher, a boss, a boyfriend. Then there are other people who are always there, like a foundation you build your life on.

My mother is one of those.

I wanted to write about some big bang moment between me and my mother, something huge that impacted or changed my life. To my horror, I couldn’t think of one! I began to panic as I racked my brain for some turning point, some compelling story.

But that’s not what my mother is in my life, and as I’ve reflected over this essay of sorts, I’ve come to realize she’s much more important than one of those people who has plowed through my life and then disappeared just as quickly.

It started early with my mother and me, on a cold December day when the doctor said, “Well, do you want to have your baby today or tomorrow?” Mom excitedly chose that day, though she’d already had other important things planned. Because that day wasn’t just any other day—it was her birthday. And she spent it in labor. Having done that whole giving birth thing myself now, I’m even more in awe of her sacrifice. She gave up her own birthday, for heavens sake, deciding forever to share it with me. That pretty much says it all right there (though I plan on saying a lot more, trust me, Mom).

I remember watching my mother create and craft. She’s good at making things beautiful. Even in our small apartment days, she found ways to make it feel like a home. She was my first art teacher, and in a small moment she taught the most important lesson in creativity.

“I can’t draw like you,” I said in tears.

“How long do you think I’ve been drawing?” she asked.

“A long time?”

She nodded. “If you keep practicing, you’ll get better and better.”

But it wasn’t all sweet moments like that, where we seemed to communicate and understand each other perfectly. I don’t how old I was, but I remember coming home from elementary school to find a five-foot pile of toys, clothes, and trash in my room. I’m not kidding—it was a huge pile. I couldn’t even get to my bed.

My mom had had it with her kids’ messy ways, and that day instead of cleaning up she put it all in our room to see how we’d deal with it. How did I take it?

I bawled.

Completely overwhelmed, I stared at that pile thinking there was no way I could make it go away. I didn’t know where to start. To my little mind, it truly seemed impossible. But my mom knew what to do—she divided up the work and showed me how to in the process. Find the trash and throw it away. Find the clothes, sort into dirty and clean. Find the toys, sort into keep, trash, and donate. Bit by bit, the work got done.

Not that I became a pro cleaner after that, but I’m pretty sure that’s when she taught me how to break down tasks into smaller pieces. I use that principle constantly in my life, and it’s all thanks to her.

Over the years, I’ve watched my mother give. Give to her children, her church, her neighbors. I remember how she visited a woman who most people avoided. The woman was a hoarder, and her place was smelly and unwelcoming. But every month my mother visited, usually with baked goods in hand. Even after the woman passed away, she helped clean out her house, giving to the last.

All I have to do is look to my mother for an example of service. Years of quietly quilt-tying and donating and making meals for others. From her, I’ve learned where the true rewards lie, I’ve learned how good it feels to make someone else smile.

Like most teens, I did not appreciate my mom. I am ashamed to admit I was often embarrassed of her, of how involved in my life she wanted to be. I have this image in my head of me, dressed in some fancy dress for some kind of event. My mother was trying to take my picture, and I didn’t want it. Then she wanted a picture with me, and I’m pretty sure I refused. She cried, and I was mortified. None of the other mothers were doing this. Why couldn’t I just go already?

My poor mom has been through far too many of these scenarios with all of her children. In hindsight I regret every time I turned my back on her, because she never turned her back on me. No matter how many times I decided insert-whatever-new-activity was my destiny, she backed me up. She believes in me—I know that for sure—and she will always be there for me, even when I act like I don’t want her there because it’s not cool to like your mom so much.

It’s these little moments, stitched together, that make me who I am. There are too many to name, more than I can even remember, patched across my life. My mother is the quiet miracle in my life, the one who taught me how to live and love and work. I love her for it, and I know I don't say it enough.

So happy birthday, Mom. Let’s celebrate many more together.

Friday, December 17, 2010

Happy Writers Society: Your Turn!

I'm giving the floor to you guys today—what makes you happy when it comes to writing? It can be little things or big things. Silly or deep. Whatevs. (Using slang makes me happy. It also makes me look lame. But, well, whatevs.)

A few of mine recently:

1. Finding a song that hits the exact right emotion for a particular scene. Like this one:

Yeah, I'm about to turn 27, but I love me some Jim Croce, thank you very much. And that stache? Dude.

2. Reading a passage from my book and realizing it's freaking GENIUS. Okay, that may be an overstatement, but still. I edited a crucial moment in Transparent yesterday, and it felt so good to see that it worked. Even on the 50 billionth read, that scene...guys, I really hope you get to read it someday. Really really.

3. Every single time Carrie Harris says I have awesome side characters. Never gets old. Ever. I have a lot of side characters, so I constantly worry they blur together or need to be made more distinct. Sometimes I love them just as much as my main.

Okay, take it away people! Let the happy things abound!

Thursday, December 16, 2010

A Rare Snippet: Sidekick

Do you ever get post remorse? I'm looking at yesterday's post and thinking "Dude, LAME post." Eh, it happens. Anyone who expects genius from me everyday (or every week) will be sorely disappointed.

But anyway, I'm in a sharing mood. Maybe it's the season. Maybe I'm being lazy. Maybe I need my ego stroked. *shrug* Take your pick.

So this is the beginning (first page) of that contemporary WIP I just finished, titled Sidekick. I don't know if it will remain the beginning—you know how that goes. It's still a cute, wrinkly rough draft, mind you. Insert more disclaimers here.

It's always the same pattern: Garret gets swarmed by girls; he picks one, dates her, gets bored, and breaks her heart. So when he sighs after Trina practically shoves her tongue down his throat, I know what's coming. It might not happen tonight, but it will happen.

I must prepare for the oncoming barrage. Since I am his best friend, all the girls campaigning to be the next trophy on Garret Taylor's arm will suddenly want to be my friends. I used to like the attention, but after three years of high school I'm sick of talking to hot girls who'd rather date him than me.

Before Trina gropes him in public, Garret stands and says something to her. I can't tell what it is over the blaring music, but it can't be the break up because she gives him that I'm-trying-to-be-the-understanding-girlfriend smile. Then she hugs him, and he pulls away first.

I give her a week tops.

He comes over to the couch where I'm sitting with a beer in hand, though I barely sip at it. I don't really like the stuff, but you can't be a football player without at least looking like you love to get drunk. Especially after smashing your rivals at Homecoming. Garret caught the winning touchdown. Of course.

He plops down next to me, running a hand through his shaggy blond hair. "This is boring."

"You haven't had enough to drink, then."

He laughs. "That's boring, too. Let's get outta here, Russ."

And there we go! Sidekick! I better hit publish before I chicken out. Sharing writing is harder now than ever. *hides*

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

I Kind of Hate Being Goal Oriented

I have a problem—I need goals to function in life. Some of you may not see this as an issue. Heck, some of you might be jealous because you make goals and then fail to achieve them all the time.

I'm jealous of you guys. I'm dead serious.

If I don't have a goal, man am I useless! I mope around the house, whining about how meaningless my life is and how I'll never amount to anything. I'm not over-exaggerating, either. Nick can attest to several of my pity parties over this. Sure, I could be enjoying some relaxation. Or reveling in having free time for excessive anime marathons. But no. All I can think about is the next goal that will give purpose to my life.

When someone sets a ridiculous goal in my face, I can't help but want to make it happen. It's like a drug. Maybe I just like a challenge, despite my whining. Take my stupid insurance, for example. Oh, I could stick it to the man, cheat, take the fine like a tough girl.

But...but...if I get under 29% body fat I can forgo the fine AND eat whatever I want! I'm kind of a cheap skate, which doesn't help me resist this ridiculous, dictator-imposed goal. Then there's the fact that I'd weigh less than I did in high school, and I secretly want to see if that's even possible.

Gah! See? Dangle a goal in my face and I go nuts.

My friend just said she wanted to take me to In and Out for my birthday next week, and I told her we needed to go somewhere else healthier. And I am going to the gym. A lot. I refuse to eat after dinner no matter how hungry I get. I know I'm doing exactly what this evil insurance wants me to, and yet I can't help myself! Who AM I? I don't even know.

Well, I do know—I'm a goal hunting freak. The same applied to school. I HAD to finish what I started, even if it practically killed me. And, seriously, AP classes? SO not worth it! (Parents everywhere are probably sharpening their pitchforks.) But do you know what AP classes got me? A bunch of stress and college credit that forced me to pick a major sooner, since I'd done like half my generals. Honestly, I kind of wish I could have stayed in college longer, taken more electives...but no, my elective credits were all taken away because of AP art (I passed twice, earning me 6 freaking credits). Go figure.

And, you guessed it, my obsessive over-achieving has dug its way into my writing as well. I can't write unless I have some kind of goal. Finish edits by this time. Write a chapter a day. Crit that MS by the end of the week. The worst thing you can do to me is say "Oh, do it when you feel like it" or "Take your time." No! Give me a freaking deadline! If there's no goal, I won't do it because, for shame, it's just not interesting to me anymore.

This makes me sound like a freak, doesn't it? Well, I am. You should know that by now.

All this to say that I realized this was the exact reason I was dragging my feet on Transparent revisions. There was no reason to finish. No goal to achieve. But now I have one, and it's ridiculous how obsessive I've become about it. Two weeks ago I could hardly convince myself to work on it. Now? I MUST work on it. At all costs.

My house is a disaster. Dino Boy has been playing computer games for the past two days. And dinner is a fend-for-yourself event. But I have a goal (or two)! All is right with the world!

Seriously...someone tell me how to stop this before I nix showering because it cuts into my goal-achieving time.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Taking Questions Today

I used to do a Q&A thing where I let people ask questions, and I'd answer them over the week or so. But last time I did an open questions day, where I answered all questions that day in comments. I rather liked that format, and I like to think that readers enjoyed a quicker response.

So, today is the day! Ask a question, and I will answer as swiftly as possible in the comments of this post. You can ask about anything, so long as it's PG-13. I promise to answer, though I can't promise you will be satisfied with my answer.

*sits on couch*


Monday, December 13, 2010

Why I Choose Not To Self-Publish

With my recent post about being on submission, I've received a lot of questions about why I don't try to self-publish my book. It's a valid question. If traditional publishing has been so hard on me and I whine so much, then why not just do it myself? I will say this:

I have absolutely no desire to self-publish—but probably not for the reasons you think.

It's not that I think self-publishing is a "cop out." It's not that I don't think my book will have the validation or the reputation necessary to sell. I actually don't have a negative view of self-publishing at all. In fact, I have a lot of respect for people who do all that work themselves.

It takes a certain kind of person to be a good self-publisher. You have to be willing to sell yourself, which personally makes me very uncomfortable. If you haven't noticed, I am very low key on "publicity." Besides tweeting my posts on Twitter, I do not attempt to gather an audience at all. The following I have? All thanks to friends and, well, Nathan Bransford, my previous, extremely popular agent. Other people talk about me, which I am grateful for. But I have never asked anyone to do so. If I had to go out there and sell myself? Ummm, I would freak out. Seriously. Just the thought of asking someone to read my book—BUY my book—terrifies me. Which is funny, but true.

Having a publisher tell people they should buy my book? That, I can handle. It would be much easier for me to talk about what my publisher is doing, or to support their marketing efforts with some of my own. As much as marketing has been a stumbling block for me this year in acquisitions, I also have a lot of respect for those who are in that line of work. Soooo not my skill set. I would be more than happy to share that burden with professionals who know better than I do.

Also, self-publishing is a lot of work! There are some people out there who think it's just as easy as uploading your manuscript to Amazon and—tada!—you're making money! But it's not that way, and it can take a long time to build a following. I learned this from my very close friend Michelle, who has self-published.

She put in an incredible amount of work. Not only writing the book, but making it beautiful. She shot the cover photo herself, edited and sought professional editing help. She had to research reliable publishing options, choose the book's size and font and all the details. She had to figure out how to obtain an ISBN, how to do taxes properly, and how to offer different formats of her book. She held her own debut party, planned it, got bookmarks and business cards, sent out invitations.

I...couldn't do all that! I hardly have time to write, let alone tend to all the other details of publishing. I think there are a lot of writers out there who would love to have that control, who would be so good at it. More power to them! But just looking at the list of things to do scares the crap out of me. I want to share that work with others, and I don't mind losing profit to do it. That's a personal decision and nothing more.

There is also a financial issue. Currently, writing and trying to publish traditionally doesn't cost me anything. I never even sent a snail mail query! Oh wait, it did cost me about 3 bucks to mail my agency contract, but that's it. Honestly, I am not in a position to fund my own publishing. That advance thing? Yeah, I would need that money, and I'm okay admitting that. But for those who are in a position to invest more money? Why not?

And finally, the most shameful reason I choose not to self-publish: I like not having to shoulder all the blame.

Oh yes, I said it. As hard as traditional publishing is on me, as hard as the waiting can be, as hard as it is to hear "no" over and over, I personally would be worse off doing it myself. Why? Because any lack of sales or bad reviews or whatever would be 100% my responsibility. Or at least that is how it would feel to me—I should have picked a different title font, or changed the cover, or done that signing in Costco even if the thought made me want to throw up it's so scary.

In reality, for me, it's easier to not be entirely in control. It's easier for me to say "Oh, the market is tough, and I can't control that. It's okay, I'm still a good writer." If I put my book out there on my own and it didn't do as well as I hoped? The only person I'd have to blame is myself. Some writers love that idea, but I just don't! I want a team. I love having others to rely on, and I love the idea of my book ultimately being a team effort.

So, yeah, I think self-publishing is great for some people and they can be super successful at it. But it's just not for me, and I'm not afraid to say it.

Friday, December 10, 2010

Happy Writers Society: Living The Dream

Quick one today—I have a feeling this will be a December trend. Oh, December. We have three birthdays (mine included) plus holidays this month. Crazy times.

Anyway, I was thinking about little teenage me, even little kid me. Back then, more than anything, I wanted to be a writer. But, even as a kid, I knew saying such things out loud would get me lectures about practicality, backup jobs, and keeping other options open.

So I learned to say something less "impossible." I wanted to be an English teacher. A linguist. Teach ESL. Teach Japanese. And so on and so forth. People would nod, deeming this a worthy and attainable goal. Not that any of these jobs are bad, and heck, I still wouldn't mind doing any of those. But in the back of my head I knew I wanted to write, and I knew it might never happen.

Unless I made it happen.

There have been a lot of "Letter to My Teenage Self" posts going around, and I have so enjoyed reading them. As I thought about what I would say to myself, there were a lot of silly things. For example, I'd warn myself about that really short haircut I decided to get my senior year in high school. I'm pretty sure it contributed to my lack of dates both that year and my freshman year in college, since growing it back out made me look like I had a mullet.

Oh, hindsight. Thank you for all the laughs.

But in all seriousness, there was one idea that I kept coming back to, one thing I really wanted to say to my younger self. It was this:

You go for your dreams. You get over the fear of rejection, the worry that others will disapprove. You fight your own insecurities, and you throw yourself into your dreams full force.

It's not exactly as you imagined—sometimes it's so freaking hard you want to quit—but you are a writer. Okay, I admit I don't know when you'll get paid for it, but you ARE doing it and actually doing it pretty well. You get stronger. You learn a lot. You write A LOT. You don't regret any of it.

You live the life you always wanted to live, so keep going.

When I realized this was what I wanted to tell my young, nervous self, I actually started to cry. I mean, what more can I ask for? I'm doing what I love. I'm doing something I never thought I could do. I'm living my dream already—right now. I live it everyday. I'm a writer.

That, my friends, makes me happy.

Thursday, December 9, 2010


Some nights I can't sleep. Or don't sleep very well. Last night was one of those.

My mind wanders when this happens. The voices start talking, which sounds really crazy but I'm a writer and most of you are, too, so you get that, right? And it's always voices that inevitably make me sad, because they're from old books that might never see the light. Tonight it was Adrie, a broken girl from a book I called Sealed. It also has elves in it.

Adrie was all, "You could rewrite me. It was a good idea. The mood is totally in line with Transparent. At least keep it in mind, will you?"

Yes, Adrie, thanks a lot for that. Because rewriting is SO FUN, and I have a lot of time laying around unused.

Then I started thinking about Beth Revis' dust jacket. Not. Kidding. Have you seen it? Seriously, go look. That is some freaking brilliant stuff, people. I've written male MCs, and I have to admit it now seems like it wasn't the smartest idea in a YA market heavily geared toward girls. This jacket? Dude. That Elder side is sweet, and a guy could carry that anywhere without shame. I'm so happy to see a book being geared to BOTH genders. The covers are amazing, and I think it was a genius move on her publisher's part.

I know, this is what I'm thinking about in the middle of the night. I like books, okay? Leave me alone. I'm tired and cranky.

And then I finally moved on to something kind of useful—Transparent edits. I'm at that point where you just want to stop, you know? At least that's how I get when I'm really close to getting a book where it needs to be. I get tired and lazy (I'll just do one chapter tonight...Do I have to press delete again? It's so exhausting to press these keys! Wahhhh.). The book is good enough, right?

Wrong. I mean, the story is good. Great, even. I'm really proud of all the work I've put in, and I think its paid off. But there's still more to do. Dude, I was editing Transparent at this time last year...before I rewrote it all. Can I be done now?

I know the answer to that. sleep, remember? I'm starting to get into the book again, starting to find the love under all that emotional junk I've heaped onto it. Poor book, it absorbed my anxiety like a sponge. Trying to squeeze it out.

Dangit, my kids are up.

I think I might try to go back to sleep know, after I change a diaper and feed them and stuff.

I probably shouldn't blog when I'm sleep deprived. But I'm curious, what do you think about in those wee hours of the night? You know, if you're up. If you sleep like death, I don't want to know because I'll just glare at you.

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

The Guy Friend I Wished Was More

Oh, the crush. It's an integral part of growing up, right? I can remember every major crush I had from elementary on up. As I've thought about each one and even read over some of my old diaries, I've noticed something rather interesting about my crushes.

For the longest time, I had crushes on boys I barely even knew. There was the beautiful older brother of my close friend, the cute boy who played trombone in band. I can't forget the totally hot guy in my 6th grade art class, with his long hair and upper lip mole. He was disgustingly hot. Too hot, and he knew it. Then came my streak of gorgeous older boys at church. I always crushed on the older guys. Sheesh.

Have you noticed yet that there's one theme?

Yeah...they were all "hot," however my teenage mind determined that. At the time, I remember being madly "in love" with these guys. I would watch them, more like stare at them anytime I had the chance. I would daydream about them talking to me, of the day they would finally notice my undying love and ask me out. I didn't know a single real thing about these guys outside of the obvious, and yet they were all my little hormonal mind could think about.

Because, really, that's what a crush is for a girl. It's the easier, less controversial way to say, "Every time I see that boy I want to do things I shouldn't be thinking about." Like kissing. Oh, the scandal.

(Side note: This is also why it kind of pisses me off when people rag on books where the girl is only attracted to the guy because he's hot. Please, let's remember that oftentimes that is completely realistic, even if it's not ideal. The "get to know you" sometimes comes after. Chill out.)

This went on a lot longer than you'd think, too, but I think it was supposed to be like that. These boys were unattainable to me, which meant they were a safe way to act out my raging emotions. Deep down, I knew these guys would never actually notice me, and I don't know what I would have done if they did. I probably would have been scared, because I wasn't ready for a real relationship. I was only ready to imagine myself in one. A really twisted, fantastical version of a real relationship, mind you.

But I did change. I did grow out of crushing on the hot boy. It happened in 11th grade. It happened when I met Ty. (Not his real name—I'm not stupid enough to completely embarrass myself. Just mostly embarrass.)

Ty was just a boy to me for a while. A friend. I'd always had boy friends. They were a different kind of safe boy—the ones I couldn't be attracted to. Like my younger brother's buddies, who I often played video games with. Or the not-so-cute boys I did school projects with. Or the ones with girlfriends, so I didn't have to worry about where it was going.

Ty was one such guy. He was in one of my classes. I worked with him during some extracurricular activities. He was short and funny and just plain normal. I liked being around him, but not in that way. I still had my wild, ridiculous crush thing going on.

After knowing him for almost a year, there was a dance coming up that I decided I did not want to miss. I also knew I wouldn't get asked, since there was only like two weeks until it happened and everyone had dates already.

But Ty didn't. I knew that. So when I sat next to him in class, I said, "I've decided that you're taking me to the dance."

He blinked a few times, then laughed. "Way to ruin the surprise."

I smiled. So he was planning to take me? This little flutter shot through me. I hadn't been to many dances...okay, I'd been to ONE. It was the Valentine's Dance my sophomore year, with a guy I didn't really like. Let's just say awkward isn't a strong enough word. This was different—I liked being around Ty, and this kind of proved he liked being around me. Maybe not in that way, but it was the first time I looked forward to a date. I knew it wouldn't be weird. It would be fun. Ty and I always had fun together.

And it was fun! We grouped with his best friend and date. I liked how it wasn't a big group—here in Utah the group dates can get crazy. We went out to eat and made fun of the "popular" kids we saw there. At the dance, we goofed off. Slow dancing wasn't weird, it was just nice. I knew Ty wasn't one of those guys who'd try to be skeevy. Even the whole picture thing was a laugh. It's still my favorite dance picture. At the door, he hugged me goodnight, and that was the end of it.

Then stuff got...weird. Ty didn't talk to me much for like three weeks after that. I didn't understand, but it was almost like he was trying to make sure I knew we weren't a couple or anything. I was so mad. I didn't expect to be a couple! I didn't expect anything, really. I just wanted things to be like they were before. I wanted my friend back. I missed him.

Which was when it hit me. I did like him. And more than just friend like.

This revelation scared the crap out of me. I didn't want to confirm his apparent fears. I didn't want to change things. I had no idea what to do with myself, with what I felt.

Ty and I stayed friends. I continued to "secretly" like him, though I often wonder if it was completely obvious. Sometimes it was perfectly normal. But the awkwardness crept in here and there, whenever the line between friend and more blurred just a little. Then it would be back to silence and distance until it was clear nothing would happen.

He was the first guy I can honestly say I loved. I didn't just think he was hot (though he was so cute). I knew him. I'd spent time with him. We got along, and we had a lot of fun together. Even if it wasn't a boyfriend/girlfriend relationship, it was a real relationship.

Nothing ever happened with Ty, at least not in the romantic sense. We stayed friends. I loved him. I kept as quiet as I could about it.

Looking back, though, I don't regret a minute of it. Loving my friend was as much part of my adolescence as all those silly crushes. It taught me what a relationship was supposed to be, showed me that caring about someone was so much more than being attracted to them.

And, go figure, I married my best friend. He's still my best friend. Sometimes I wonder if I would have looked over Nick had I not known Ty, had I not learned what to look for when I did finally find someone to be with.

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

In Which I Brag About Friends!

I love friend news, guys. Like, I love it as much as I love news for myself. Friend news has kept me going through querying and submission. If I can't grasp it myself, what's better, right? Sharing this journey with my friends has made it so much easier to manage.

And today I want to brag about a few of these people I like so much.

First off, one of my first crit partners and dearest friend Renee Collins now has an AGENT!!!!! I am SO EXCITED!!! There will much capitalization and exclamation points! Renee was one of the first people I met and connected with through blogging. We have since become fast friends, and every time she comes to town I wrestle her away from her family for lunch if I can. Her family really likes her. I can't blame them.

I mean, look how pretty and tall she is:
This picture is from August 2008, the first time I met Renee and Kiersten (yes, THE Kiersten White. I have freaking cool friends. It's ridiculous.) (Also, holy crap my hair is short. And I had a baby that year, so dude, not my best!) Ah, we were all so green and full of hope, and rightly so! Kiersten kicked off the good news that November with her agent announcement. I came in 2009. And now Renee in 2010! Woot!

This just goes to show, sometimes the journey is long, but stuff happens when you keep going. Ren, I know sometimes you thought this day would never come, but I TOLD YOU SO. I am so, so happy and lucky that I get to share this day with you. I couldn't have made it without you. Thank you so much for being there for me all this time. I saved you a seat in submission land right next to me. Don't worry, I will protect you. I am a submissions NINJA now.

Okay, secondly, I need to tell you guys about Stephanie Perkins. I fully intended to talk about her incredible debut ANNA AND THE FRENCH KISS last week, but then I wrote this article that exploded my inbox and yeah...sorry, Steph!
Forget subliminal messages—BUY THIS.

This book? One of my absolute favorites. Particularly if you love contemporary YA, you NEED to read this book. It is not only funny and romantic, but truly beautiful and real. I loved it so much I made this:
If you've read it, you get the quote and such. And don't you love the model? He's cute, too.

Stephanie is so genuinely kind it's shocking. I feel privileged to know her, and anytime she asks me to read I squeal like a kid on Christmas. Did I mention yet that I have amazing friends? I do. I have no problem bragging about them.

And finally, we need to discuss Julie Halpern. Okay, I don't know Julie as well, but I adore her and she has been so nice to me I've decided we're kind of friends. Besides, she gave me THIS:
When she asked me if I wanted an ARC of her upcoming novel, I spent the rest of the day jumping around with a huge smile on my face. I LOVE her books, guys. Like, love. Quirky, fun, and full of voice. I always laugh so much Nick has to read it so he knows why.

DON'T STOP NOW is just as awesome as her first two books. I practically ignored my family as I read it Thanksgiving Day. It's a fast, funny, sweet road trip adventure featuring Josh and Lillian—"platonic" best friends—who are in search of Penny, a girl who faked her own kidnapping.

There was so much to love about this book, but I think what I adored most was how Julie captured the summer after high school graduation. The pending future. The last hurrah. The fear and yet excitement for life ahead. Man, it brought me back! Julie does an amazing job of tackling such things with great subtlety and realism.

You want this book, too. It comes out June 2011, but stay on the look out for a contest. As much as I don't want to, I will probably be giving away the ARC at some point. I mean, I'm so going to buy it in hard cover, but I am attached! I struggle giving away my books...maybe I'll buy you a pre-order...we'll see.

And with that, the bragging must end. For now.

Monday, December 6, 2010

I Still Write Crap, And I'm Okay With It

I finished a rough draft in November, the first I've finished in a really long time, actually. As I was writing it, I noticed something:

I still write like crap. This is like the 12th or 13th rough draft I've written, and yes, I still write like crap.

No, don't go leaving comments about how I am being too hard on myself and whatnot. I'm not fishing for compliments here. I'm being honest. All the time I typed up this book, I was like, "Oh gosh, that's a cliché, but I need to get this scene out so it'll just have to wait. Noooo, an adverb! Crap, I just typed 'suddenly' for the third time this page...I'm pretty sure my MC sighs more than humanly possible..." And so on and so forth.

I know I am writing crap sometimes. I know I'll have to go back and edit my prose into the ground. But you know what? I'm cool with that. For me, the rough draft isn't the place for getting super picky with words. I can only focus on one thing at a time, and in the rough draft it's mostly the plot that I'm concerned with. I have to string together a series of events that leads to an awesome climax, and that's kind of hard! I can barely do that AND develop 3D characters at the same time. Why should I expect myself to get every sentence right on top of that?

Well, I don't expect it. I write crap, knowing it'll get fixed later when I have the story and characters right.

Not that I go out of my way to write horribly, I just don't obsess over a bad phrase or cruddy description. I do reread my chapters, fix typos and other things that bug me. But I don't heavily edit until later drafts, not until I'm confident the story is in fairly good shape.

I know other writers work differently, but I'm finally getting to a place where I'm okay with this part of my process. I can own the fact that I write crap sometimes...or often. It's a good thing I'm a pretty decent reviser.

Saturday, December 4, 2010

Saturday Story Fodder

Great writers pull story material from real life, right? I figure every once in a while I'll give you something to think about, something to remind you that our stories aren't as far off reality as we think.

Today—I'm talking about my insurance, baby.

No, I swear it'll be entertaining, because I have the MOST EVIL INSURANCE IN THE WORLD. I kid you not. Let's start with the basics.

To get decent coverage, they require you and your spouse to pass SIX tests. If you do not pass these tests, you are fined an amount of the premium (about 40 bucks per fail, which on our income is like half our groceries for a week).

The SIX Tests:
Weight: You must be under 29% body fat or lose 3lbs a month. (At 138lbs, I am still considered too fat, as I am an EPIC 32% body fat.)

Exercise: You must either 1) strap a pedometer (aka leash) to yourself every single day and get 10k steps (which is about 5 miles), 2) Exercise at home at least 12 times a month and keep a detailed log of how long and what you did, or 3) Join a gym and exercise 12+ times a month and make them print out proof that you went.

Cholesterol: You must be under a certain number or "show improvement" after each test.

Glucose: You must be under a certain number or "show improvement" after each test.

Blood Pressure: You must be under a certain number or "show improvement."

Vitamin D (newly added! because we weren't doing enough before!): You must have more than a certain amount or "show improvement."

Seriously. I am NOT making this up. Every month I get to drive to my husband's place of work, stand on a scale, and be told how much I weigh and how fatty my body is. Then they strap the blood pressure thing on, all the while smiling like they are doing me a favor...

Every quarter, we get the blood tests for cholesterol, glucose, and vitamin D. It's recommended that we fast...and I'm hypoglycemic, which makes that SUPER fun. And if we can't get an early appointment? Yeah, I have to eat, and then when they weigh me that day I'm FATTER because that's just what happens over the course of a day!

*deep breath*

Sorry, the rage was coming on. The number one thing people say to me when I tell them about our Evil Dictator Insurance is: "That's legal?"

To which I begrudgingly have to say yes. Why? Oh, this is where it gets really evil, guys. Be prepared. The reason it's legal is because this "Health Incentivised Plan" is technically optional. Except it's not really optional, because the "default" company insurance is a piece of crap. If we were not on this plan, our family deductible would be $3000 dollars a year. That means the insurance company would pay nothing until we racked up 3k in medical bills...and after that they would graciously pay 80/20.

For reals.

We're a healthy family. We rarely get sick. But I do have two young children who need shots and at least yearly health exams. I do have to go to the dermatologist yearly, because I have a large birthmark that needs to be watched closely. I do have to buy contacts. And visit the dentist. We can't afford to pay for all that out of pocket, even if it doesn't add up to 3k. We're, well, kind of poor.

So we have to do the "Health Incentivised Plan" to actually get insurance. And guess what? Even that coverage is not that great. You'd think we'd get the freaking moon for all that, but nope, we just get normal insurance a lot of people don't have to work for. Thirty-dollar co-pays on regular visits. One fifty on emergency room. 80/20. 5k deduct on maternity. Nothing full coverage, and let's not forget the fines if we fail...

Here I am, being appraised and poked and tested like an animal just so I can earn the right to affordable doctor visits. Every time I go in there, I feel like a big part of my privacy has been invaded. I feel like this company has put a security camera in my home, my fridge, hell, in my body. I feel trapped and angry, because they've cleverly made it so I can't fight back and cry foul. All they'll say to that is, "Well, you don't have to do the program. Just pay the 3k deductible."

Which I can't afford. Which is basically like having no insurance at all.

To the people who say America doesn't need health care reform, I say wear my damn pedometer for a month, stand on a scale to be told you are fat (when I AM NOT), have your blood taken just so a company that's supposed to help you can find a reason to fine you instead. Then tell me how you feel.

I am not saying I am for a government health plan—I'm just saying there IS a problem. I'm tired of this company running my life. For me? So far the choice has been between one dictator or another. And that, for this country, is just plain sad.

Also, if that's not dystopian book fodder, I don't know what is. Go forth. Write.

Friday, December 3, 2010

Happy Writers Society: CHEAT

Wow, guys, what a week this has been! Who knew airing my dirty laundry would garner such a wonderful response from so many writers? I've been busy reading all the wonderful comments, emails, and response posts, and Writers are the bestest people ever. Thank you all for making my week!

Now, since we've been serious for a couple days, it's time to lighten up the mood around here, don't you think? I have some advice:

Don't be afraid to cheat on your manuscripts.

I know, I sound evil. Writers are supposed to finish their WIPs before they start another one. That's responsible. It's the right thing to do. That's how you get books done and pretty and ready to show off.

But sometimes that's not

Especially for writers who do have agents or are under contract, it's so important to keep the fun alive! Give yourself a day to tinker with that shiny new idea. Let yourself play around in a new genre. Pound out a short story.

Let's face it, sometimes the writing we have to do gets boring. Or we get overwhelmed with it. Or we start to hate it and all its suckiness with a bitter passion. And then we want to not only delete it, but fry our hard drive so we'll never be tempted to open it ever again. You know, rational things like that.

When I get like that, I've found the quickest cure is to cheat. I have sekrit projects. I don't work on them all the time, just when I can't take one more second of editing or ohmygoshIwillscream.

The sekrit project? Oh, how I love the sekrit project. There's no pressure. No one looking over my shoulder saying "Is that really a book that fits in your 'brand'?" No, it's just me and the words, like it used to be when I was 13 and I'd hole up with the old Mac in the basement. I get to write for writing's sake. It's for me. It doesn't have to be perfect because no one will ever see it.

The best thing I did this year was finish a "sekrit project." It boosted my confidence, to actually finish a book and enjoy doing it. It sparked my imagination. It reminded me how much I do like writing. And most importantly, it has motivated me to get back to that book I need to edit. Because I feel like a good writer again, and that was worth the detour.

Thursday, December 2, 2010

What I've Learned From Being On Submission

First of all, I am so overwhelmed by the outpouring of encouragement and sympathy concerning yesterday's post! I wish I could figure out how to really express my gratitude, but all I can say is a humble thank you. I absolutely adore the online writing community, and this just made me love you all more. Cookies for everyone!

Since my submission story is finally out in the open, today I wanted to take the more positive, helpful route (hopefully, none of this is easy to address). I want to talk about what I've learned so far. Not that it was fun, but I have learned. I can't say I think all this happened for a reason. I don't think crap happens to us for a reason—I think it just happens and it's up to us to figure out how we'll let it change us, for better or worse.

Submission isn't something a lot of writers talk about, and I want to put some things out there. I want to help prepare writers who will face this stage, because I went in without really knowing what to expect. I'll start with having an agent/being on submission in general, then move on to the particular struggles I've faced and what came of those.

The Other Side of the Fence. AKA: More Waiting
When I was querying, it felt like the hardest, most impossible thing in the world. And it was. I'd queried over 200 agents. I'd tried 4 different projects (out of the 8 books I'd written). I knew I "wasn't there yet," but no one would give me the specific advice I needed to get there! Every minute of my day was spent thinking about my email inbox. Will there be a rejection in there? A request? WHEN WILL IT HAPPEN I AM DYING HERE?!?!

And then it happened, and it was nothing like I expected. I did 4 or 5 revisions before the offer of representation. Which was torture at the time, but in hindsight really helped me build a relationship with my agent. When he offered? I knew without a doubt we could work together—we'd already been working together for 9 months. Now I can't imagine how some writers pick an agent based on a few phone calls. Wow, hard.

I'd heard things about submission. I had friends who'd been on sub, and it was hard to watch them go through agony I couldn't really understand. I mean, I was kind of jealous they even had an agent. How in the world could it be worse than being at the bottom like I was?

Well, I've learned that submission is basically the worst time you have as a writer. It's true limbo. You are in between not-published and published. Submission isn't something you want to STAY in indefinitely. Pre-agent, at least you are firmly in the "not published" category. In submission, you could be published soon...or not. It's closer and yet further away than ever.

Don't get me wrong, having an agent is as wonderful as it is terrible. Does that make sense? I felt reassured that someone in publishing had faith in me, but also terrified that they'd be the only one. I was so excited to be at the next phase, but also scared of disappointing my friends, agent, and myself if I failed. Very conflicting feelings in this phase.

What I was least prepared for was the loss of control. It was easy to have faith in my agent, but at the same time it was strange not being able to do anything. I just have to...wait. In querying, when you get a rejection you can send another letter out. You can decide who to send to, when, and what. That all goes away, and while it's nice it's also weird. I was so used to working for myself, and now my writing fate is out of my hands.

And the waiting...oh, the waiting. Writers are pro waiters, aren't we? Hate to say that one never ends. It's something you just have to learn to accept. You think agents take a while to respond? Well, editors are even busier, so busy it's insane and I don't know how they do it.

But, as the responses to my post yesterday proved, this is all NORMAL. It's part of the game. You are not alone if you struggle during submission. For a while I did think I was the only one "sucking it up." Then I started to connect with a lot of other writers on sub, and their stories weren't all three-book-deal-in-a-week stories either! Heck, even those fast deals? I promise most have an epic, hard journey behind them. Years of writing, of failing.

It's NORMAL to have your first manuscript die. Normal to get rejected after revisions. Normal to feel terrible about it all. If this stuff happens to you—it doesn't make you a sucky writer. You're just plain old normal, and there are so many people who get it. I've taken a lot of comfort in that.

You know, it's the "dream" stories that get you started in writing. Oh, I've had my wild dreams and I don't regret them at all. I needed to believe. Now it's the "hard knocks" stories that inspire me to keep going. I need them to remind me that writing is plain hard for everyone. We're all in the same boat, no matter what stage. Writing is wonderful, but it never gets easy.

Would it even be worth it is it was easy?

The Complete Rewrite, A Study In Psychological Endurance.
I've revised a lot, cut out chapters and characters and whole plot lines. I was not afraid of revising. But restarting a book? Opening a blank document and writing it all over again? Scary.

But when I received feedback from my agent on this particular book, I knew it was either start over or put it on the shelf. There were too many BIG changes. And, well, my agent was right. As I read that letter, I bawled not because it was mean, but because he was right. I agreed with him on almost every point, which meant I'd spent about nine months of my life writing the wrong story for my characters. Not a good feeling.

I thought about that letter for a long time before starting. A month. I didn't take notes. I didn't open up the doc. I just let it all sink in. I let myself calm down and really think about what I wanted to do with this book.

In the end, I decided to go for the rewrite.

It was hard. And not in the way I expected. It wasn't the actual writing that was difficult. I already knew the characters, world, and story. I had outlined my plot. All I really had to do was write it all down, but my confidence was shot. I doubted every word I wrote. I mean, how could I know if it was right when I'd messed up so bad before? I thought the other draft was great! What do I know? I'm an idiot.

It's really, really hard to write when you don't believe in yourself. I had to trust in my crit partners, because I couldn't see for myself at that point. I love my crit partners, and this was just more proof of how important they are. I learned that just because I didn't think the book was good didn't make it true. Just because I didn't think I was a good writer didn't make it true. A lot of great writers feel like they suck sometimes—writers go in phases like that.

It's okay. Those phases end. The confidence can come back if you let it. Don't be so hard on yourself.

Editor Revision and Pass, Losing What Might Have Been
I talked a lot yesterday about how this hurt me, but not much about how I've healed over since. It's been about 5 months, and while sometimes it still sucks, I'm okay. I am happy, even. I take a lot of comfort in knowing there was an editor out there who understood and loved my book. I know it wasn't that editor's fault she couldn't buy it. I know that she is probably sad, too. She put work into my book, made it better, and for that I will always be grateful.

I learned a lot about the reality of publishing from this pass. I learned that, as much as people don't want to say it, the market plays a BIG role in what books get picked up and what books don't. When your book doesn't fit in a clean cut box, it can be really hard to get support for it in house. Publishers print good books, but they must print good books that will make them money. The easiest way to guarantee a return is to market a book to a specific audience.

It's kind of a weird contradiction. Because after all this I will still preach Write What You Are Passionate About, even though sometimes that means you won't get published. You have to write what you love. You have to stand by it. What's the point in publishing a book you aren't passionate about?

I learned that, despite rejection, I still want to be myself. I write weird books. That's okay. It might take a while for one of my weird books to stick, especially in such a tough market. That doesn't mean I'm a bad writer. There are so many great writers out there who can't sell books right now. Sad, but normal and true. It's not anyone's fault, really. It's just a tough business for everyone—writers, agents, and editors.

Losing Your Agent and Stuff
I'm still getting used to having a new agent. I miss my old agent. I love my new agent. I sometimes forget I have a new agent. Basically I'm all over the place. Happy and a little sad at the same time. Because, dude, my old agent was awesome.

But something cool has come of having to move on. I was starting to think that no one else would like my writing. After this year, yeah. How could I not? Hearing a different agent—one who didn't even really know me—say she loved my book, my writing? It was like being thrown a life preserver. Wait, you mean I'm not crazy? I am still a good writer?


That feels good. Really good. My new agent is awesome, too. She believes in me. It wasn't just a fluke that I got an agent in the first place. Maybe I do have some talent. Woot.


While I would never want to do it again and hope to avoid crap in the future, I will take the lessons I've learned and run with them. I try to see the good in things, even when it's hard. I try to laugh at myself. It's all in how you choose to see it.

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

What Happens When It IS You

Today is a serious day. I'm going to talk about things I've kept off this blog for about 15 months. I'm going to talk about being on submission—more specifically about what it's like to experience all those things writers dread happening.

Because, really, no writer wants to be that person. The one who has to go through hell just to get a book on the shelf. You hope with all your being that your journey won't be too horrible. And you should. Without that hope? I don't know how I'd be where I am, even if it's not entirely where I want to be.

But what happens when it is you? What happens when writers list off "horror stories" about their publishing journey and you realize you've basically been through all of them?

If you want to know, read on. If not, stop here and go eat a cupcake. Actually, everyone should eat a cupcake while reading this. It'll take the edge off.

Now, I told myself that I wouldn't talk about submissions on my blog when I was out. I didn't want editors to know how long I'd been out or if I was struggling. But after 15 months? Heck, I think I've earned a little bit of a right to talk about it. And what does it matter that anyone knows how long I've been out? Does it make me less of a writer? Do I suck because my book hasn't sold?

Might be cocky, but I'm gonna say no. I can't control the market (let me know if you can).

This is the silent torture of those who've been out on sub for a long time. You're not supposed to talk about it. You're not supposed to admit to people how much it hurts. You can't complain, because you have an agent and you should be grateful and so many authors would kill to be where you are.

So you end up feeling guilty on top of sad, because as those passes pile up it does hurt. It shouldn't, but it does. An editor rejection is not like an agent rejection. With agents, you can keep trying with a project. Revise, try again. With an editor? Most of the time you get one shot. And each time someone says no, it feels like your book gets closer and closer to never happening. Because, well, that's what happens to books that don't get bought.

At that point, it's over. You have to walk away from that story maybe forever. That is incredibly scary and heartbreaking.

Submission messes with your head in big ways. It's either "Yay! You have finally got that deal you always dreamed about!" Or "Sorry, not for me." Over and over, such a high and such a low.

It's no secret that getting an agent was a tough road for me. I queried for about two years. When an agent finally was interested, I revised for nine months before the offer of representation, all the time wondering if it might fall through. But it didn't, and I snagged an amazing agent I could work well with. All that work was hard, but ultimately worth it.

I figured, you know, since it was so hard to get an agent, that selling my book should be easier. I'd already been through hard stuff! A lot of hard stuff, actually. The Universe owed me an easy time, or at least easier.

Yeah...don't expect The Universe to be "fair."

Fifteen months, and I have not sold a book. I have watched some of my friends get agents and deals within this time. I hate to say it, but it hurt occasionally. And soon I will be seeing these books also come out before I sell. You start to wonder if you're any good. You start to wonder if you made the right choice writing something different. You wonder what more you could have done when you've already worked so hard.

But I've been a "good writer" all this time. I worked on a new project as advised. I got many crits, edited it for half a year. I sent it to my agent, thinking this would be my "back up," my "safety net" if worse came to worst with subs.

That safety net book became the book my agent politely recommended to be completely rewritten. Which, ouch. Seriously. We'll get back to this in a second.

The rewrite news came at the exact same time I'd finally made it to acquisitions at a big publisher—a dream publisher. Said publisher ended up asking for a revision, and I agreed because the editor really seemed to get my book. Finally, someone understood what I was trying to accomplish and they LOVED it! I could hardly believe it after so long (six months then). They asked for an exclusive, which seemed a pretty serious commitment to me (oh, naivety). It was exciting, and I had a lot of hope.

But I couldn't do the revision immediately because of the exclusive. There were other editors we had to wait on, and so for two months I waited to find out if any other editor wanted it or if I would do the revision with the dream publisher.

During that very stressful time, I worked on my rewrite of the "back up" book. It wasn't pretty. I was not in a good place. Stressed, anxious, scared, jaded, and yet secretly so hopeful it hurt. The rewrite absorbed all of that pain, to the point that just opening the document gives me a panic attack. Still.

We finally got the go for the revision after all the other editors passed. "Yay!" I thought. "Finally we can move to the next step!" Within a month, I got a wonderful editorial letter from the amazing editor at dream publisher. The revisions were brilliant, doable, and totally in line with my vision. I couldn't have been happier with how amazing that editor was! I worked my tail off, did everything I could, and the book was (and is) in incredible shape. I'm still proud of it.

The good news? The editor loved the changes! Enthusiasm abounded when I was informed that it would be taken, once again, to acquisitions. After all that work, and such excitement from the wonderful editor, I thought surely it would happen now. I did my job. I wasn't too proud for edits. I put in my time. When you put in your time, you get results.

But the editor was not allowed to buy my book. Six months of waiting and hoping and working...gone with one email. I can't lie, it was devastating. How could it not be? When you work that hard for something, losing it is like this hole. I hadn't even realized just how much I'd expected it to happen until it didn't. My mental state since then has been shaky, as is my confidence.

All I could see in my writing after that was a big fat FAIL. Fail fail fail. You're a freaking failure. You lost the only chance you had. You can't write a second book without having to scratch it all and rewrite. I didn't even have another book good enough to sub! There I was at the end of the summer with nothing to show for a whole year on submission. And then, well, you know that my agent had to leave the business. Luckily, I didn't have to query again (and I'm very happy with my new agent!), but it did kind of round out 2010: The Year of Suck.

The Complete Rewrite.

Editor Revision and Pass.

Losing Your Agent.

I think most writers can agree that they would not want to step within a mile of any of those events, and yet they seem to keep popping up for me. (At this point I can almost see the comedy in it all. Laugh or cry, right?)

So what do you do? What happens when all the things you fear as a writer happen?

Oh, I've wanted to quit. Sometimes I still think about it, how easy it would be to just disappear and pretend none of this ever happened. All I'd have to do is delete this blog, shut down my twitter account, and in a couple months no one would remember that one writer who used to blog and never sold a book. I could just stop writing, or at least stop trying to get published. When you're so stressed you start losing your hair? Yeah, it's time to consider alternatives.

It's also easy to think the whole industry is out to get you. It's very easy to let the utter unfairness and illogicality of publishing turn you into an ogre of hate. They say you should write a "different" book, but then all they really want is what's in vogue. They say your writing is great, and yet they pass. They buy some books for six figures, and yet can't spare a few thousand for yours. Bitterness can easily sink in—the internet and all its news of deals and bestsellers and cover announcements doesn't help.

Basically, you feel entitled to be angry and envious and jaded. I guess you are. But really all those emotions are a cover for what you actually feel—you feel like the biggest loser of a writer on the entire face of the planet. You've tried, and you've failed. Miserably, even. Maybe it is you that's the problem. You suck, that's why you can't sell a book.

It's a low place, and I wouldn't wish it on anyone. Writers have a reason for fearing it, for hoping that they won't have to face any or all of these things.

You're backed into a corner. At this point you honestly have two choices—fight or flight. If you wanted to run, I don't think anyone would blame you. I mean, you clearly tried and tried hard. You did your absolute best, and that's nothing to be ashamed of.

But because I'm way too stubborn for my own good, I'm still fighting. It hasn't been pretty, clawing my way out of this pit, but step by step I'm getting there.

I had to go back to the beginning and try to figure out why I liked writing in the first place. I had to isolate, so I couldn't see what I was "missing." I had to remember what it was like to write a story just because it was one I wanted to tell. I had to admit that my anxiety was out of control, and I needed help to get it back in check. I had to slowly rebuild faith in my ability to write.

Actually, I'm still doing all of those things.

When the bad stuff happens to you, it's time to make a choice. I won't be the one to tell you to keep going—the only one who can decide that is you. But you must choose a path. When you get here, to the really hard stuff, you can't stand at the fork in the road without losing it. Choosing a path makes it a little easier, because you're going somewhere again. Maybe it's not how or where you want to go, but it's something. And sometimes that something can turn into loveliness.

Also, whatever you choose, make a point to celebrate the little good things along the way. I've come to savor the small miracles. They might be the only ones I get! Even if the Big Stuff doesn't happen, there's a lot of beauty and satisfaction to be found in the work of writing.

More than anything, I think this Year of Suck has shown me just how much I can survive. I always think, "Surely, I can't endure anything else or I'll DIE. No, really die this time." Then something even worse happens and guess what? I'm still alive! Look at that. It was in no way fun, but I'm still here and I'm still writing.

It might take time to heal, but you don't have to let the bad stuff stop you. Somehow the hope survives, even if you look like a masochist. Hope's plucky like that.

Besides, the only way is up, right?

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Back To Business

I took my vacation very seriously. I ate lots of pumpkin pie (and then went to the gym to work it off). I slept in. I played Warcraft in copious amounts (the new Cataclysm lowbie stuff is awesome!). I even read an ARC of Julie Halpern's DON'T STOP NOW, which was amazing and fun and I will talk about in more detail soon. Vacation rocked. So much so that I am struggling to convince myself back into working.

But to work I must go. There is a book to be edited—Transparent. This book has been my nemesis this year, so the thought of going back into it kind of makes me want to rip my hair out. That's not to say it's a bad book—I actually think it's one of my best—we just have a rocky emotional history. I'm sure many of you know exactly what I'm talking about.

And if you didn't know, TWO of my friends have books coming out this week! You may have heard about a little book called MATCHED? By Ally Condie? Yeah, out today! Then there is my dear friend Stephanie Perkins' ANNA AND THE FRENCH KISS coming out December 2nd (though I've heard it's already shipped from B&N and is in many stores already)! Guys, you want these books. Trust me.

Also, it's the last day for NaNoReaMo! I, uh, didn't finish my goal of 12 books read, but I did finish 8! I'm pretty happy with that, seeing as I also wrote more than half a book this month. All in all, a very productive and good November for me. I'm on a mental high (which is also why I dread opening up the revisions...ack).

I will be back to regular posting this week. I'm sure you are SO excited, because your life was basically meaningless without my posts to read everyday. Sorry about that. Wait...what? You didn't even notice or care? Oh, well, okay. I guess that's...healthy.

Friday, November 26, 2010

Happy Writers Society: Live Life

Hey guys! Hope you Americans are having a lovely holiday. Thanks for bringing your Thanksgiving leftovers—really takes the pressure off me having to provide decent treats. I do have a whole pumpkin pie left, though, so feel free to dig in. Just save a few slices for my husband otherwise he'll be surly.

We'll make this short, so you can get back to your shopping or whatever else you are doing today.

I want to talk about life. It's really easy as a writer to get caught up in other, imaginary lives. Even the internet "life" you have can become all consuming. It's kind of part of the job, right? I know when I'm writing, sometimes the people in my head feel more real than anything. And then when I look up from the words, it's hard for me to remember that those people don't actually...exist. You can only live in that imaginary world so long, and then you have to go back to your real life.

Wow, that sounded a little depressing! No, this is HWS! I have a point, and it's a happy one. I swear.

As wonderful as those imaginary worlds and people are, your life is just as magical. It might not feel like that, but I promise it is. Living life is the best way to find new stories, to learn new things that will filter their way into your writing. I've been on a serious contemporary fiction kick (which shouldn't be a surprise, since I just finished writing my first), and something very surprising has resulted from all my reading:

I appreciate my own, real life more.

Don't get me wrong, I love me some fantasy/sci-fi. But I've noticed a subtle difference in my mentality when I read that versus contemporary. When I read fantasy/sci-fi, I often find myself feeling like my little life is so...boring. I wish for more. I want to be bigger than I am. That's not necessarily a bad thing. I think that mentality helps me push for my goals, reach for the stars and all.

When I read contemporary fiction, I find myself marveling at how such "small things" can be meaningful, magical, and all around HUGE. I start to think about my own small life, and I realize that, little as it is, it's wonderful and fulfilling and special. Contemporary fiction reminds me to live my own life, to look for the magic in every day.

I honestly think you need both sides to be a good writer. You have to think big and small. You have to live your life and imagine others. If you aren't out there living, you're forgetting to do half your job.

You are not "wasting precious writing time" by having a life. You should never, ever feel guilty for doing things other than writing. You should never forget that living life will make you a better writer.

Take time away from that WIP. Go on a walk in the cold, just to feel that nip on your nose. Try a new restaurant, a new dish, just to see if you like it. Hug your kids, just because you can. Be adventurous. Observe those around you. Absorb life so you can imitate it on paper.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

In Which I Get Giddy About First Drafts...

Hey guys! Remember that book I was writing? Yeah, I finished it today. I mustered my inner ninja cyborg and hammered out about 37k words in 2.5 weeks (total word count = 58k). I totally could have rocked NaNoWriMo if I had more book to write. (This is actually why I don't do NaNoWriMo—I do not have a problem getting a first draft down. All the editing after that? Yeah...maybe I should do NaNoEdMo...)

That First-Draft-Done high is awesome. I'm basking in it, guys. Oh, I know the book needs a lot of work, but it's there. I have a whole book, start to finish. It even has a plot this time! Actually, I'm pretty proud of this plot. But I have been working on this book on and off for a year (not to mention I tucked the idea into my "you can't write that yet" pile like three years ago), so it had a lot of time to marinate.

I know we all have different relationships with the first draft. Heck, we have different relationships we every first draft we write, don't we? But I gotta say I still love finishing a book for the first time. I guess it's the closest a writer can get to reading their book like a reader—there's a discovery and excitement you can't quite get back in revisions. Oh, revisions can be rewarding, but it's not the same feeling, it's not holy-crap-I-just-wrote-a-WHOLE-BOOK. It's more like holy-crap-this-book-finally-looks-SHINY.

Do you want to know stuff about it? I've kept this book pretty close to my chest, especially in comparison to some of my other ones. I should at least throw out a few random facts:

• It's contemporary YA. Yes, I wrote a book with no creatures, special powers, or even explosions. I'm kind of questioning my identity, actually.

• There is a car named Puke.

• The MC secretly listens to James Taylor.

• There is a good girl, a bad girl, and a girl in the middle.

• There is a weekly Anime marathon night. And cat ears.

• Also, the MC plays football. He's a running back.

• Basically, it's a weird book, but what else would you expect from me?

*Happy sigh*

Did I mention I finished writing a book today? Oh, I did, huh. I really didn't think I'd be able to say that this year, and I am so, so thankful that I get to. I love my little, misshaped book baby, and I kind of hope that someday you'll get to see it all growed up.

Monday, November 22, 2010

Why Grammar and Punctuation MATTER

It's time for another rant. Sure, I like to bring the happy with HWS, but I also enjoy laying down the law. all worked up over things that most people don't care about. Today on the menu? Grammar and punctuation.

Yes, I'm looking at YOU. I know how you feel about the blessed G&P. You think it's a waste of time, perhaps. Or maybe that it doesn't really matter. "Oh, it's not as important as writing a good story," you say. "I don't need to know all the rules. That's what copy editors are for!"

YOU are wrong. Hopefully by the end of this post, YOU will reconsider your stance. Because your stance is LAZY, and it's not helping you, honestly.

I will be the first to admit that I am not perfect in this area. I am not asking for perfection, only a solid understanding of the English language and how to use (and even abuse) it. As a writer, I believe it is your duty to learn these principles. Writing is your craft, and the job only gets harder when you have dull tools.

Time for the handy dandy list! Why G&P matter:

1. Knowing Grammar = Knowing The Language
This is coming from an English linguistics major, so keep that in mind when I get all crazy about this. Grammar isn't just a bunch of rules—it is the foundation of our language. Grammar is a word that encompasses the syntax and morphology of a language. Sometimes even phonology and semantics.

How can you really write unless you understand, in detail, the makeup of the English language? Yes, you might be a native speaker, but I promise you that learning more about the actual English language will never, ever be a detriment to your writing. In fact, you should know more than the average person. As a writer, words are your medium, your way of expressing ideas. Not understanding grammar is like being an artist who uses oil paint but never actually learned how to manipulate that medium properly. It labels you as a novice. Harsh, but true.

2. Knowing Grammar = Knowing Where To Put Punctuation
Most people make punctuation errors because they don't understand grammar. Punctuation is simply a tool to clarify grammatical structures. So when you know grammar, the use of commas, semi-colons, dashes, periods, quotations, etc. becomes about a bajillion times easier.

In very basic terms, punctuation sorts out and organizes a language. In some languages, they use declensions and morphemes for this. Like in Japanese, the subject, object, and verb are labeled by a sound ("wa," for example, is a tag for "subject"). In English? Our subject, object, and verbs are largely dependent on sentence location (the subject first, verb second, and object third, in a basic sentence). When ideas get more complex, punctuation is needed to clarify English grammatical structures.

If you know the difference between an independent and dependent clause, you will know where to put a comma, period, or semi-colon. If you understand the difference between a gerund, prepositional, and infinitive phrase, you'll know how to use commas. G&P go hand in hand.

3. Using Proper Punctuation = Looking Professional
Since proper punctuation indicates a mastery of English grammar, it makes your writing look professional. It makes you look like a writer who knows his or her stuff. I know you want to think that a good idea will be enough to get you an agent or editor, but with competition so high it might not. Knowing G&P gives you an edge. It shows an agent/editor you are serious about this. It indicates that you have studied the craft.

4. Understanding G&P = Increased Ability To Express Yourself In Words
If you don't know the rules, you can't mold your writing into something beautiful. Well, maybe you can, but it takes a lot more trial and error. Sentence, paragraph, and word variation is key in creating interesting prose.

Let's look at a paragraph that has no sentence variation:

I went to see Harry Potter. I sat in the the theater. The theater was packed with people. A kid put his feet on my chair. I didn't like his feet on my chair.

That reads simplistic and boring for a reason. The sentences are all the same, essentially. Same structure and roughly the same length. Simply by varying structure, I'm sure all of you can make this into several different paragraphs.


When I went to see Harry Potter, people packed the theater. Some punk kid put his feet on my chair, which made my experience less than desirable.

You could write that a bunch of different ways, right? Now imagine if you knew the tools. I used a prepositional phrase in the first sentence. What if I changed that to an infinitive phrase?

To see Harry Potter, I had to push my way into a packed theater.

See how that changes it just a bit? Same basic idea, but a different emphasis. Ah, variation. It's the spice of writing, and G&P is the key. Why in the world would you deprive yourself of those skills?


Hopefully you are convinced that G&P might be something you want to learn or revisit. But what now? Where do you go to learn?

Well, you could take a class, of course. But for those who can't, you need to learn on your own, through books. When it comes to a grammar book, most are going to be roughly the same. I will not pretend grammar is super fun and entertaining. I learned grammar in college from a linguistic approach, which I found much easier than the traditional. For example: A noun isn't a "person, place, thing, or idea" in a linguistic approach, it's simply a morpheme that can accept a possessive or plural (monkey's, monkeys).

Find a book you can stand (hehe). There are all sorts of grammar books, from the humorous to the we-take-ourselves-way-too-seriously. There are also a ton of online resources a Google search away.

Once you have a decent grasp of grammar, I would recommend The Writer's Options. Please take note that this book isn't so much for teaching G&P—it is for applying and practicing. It teaches you how to vary your sentences, etc. Yeah, it's a pain, but most practice is.

Again, I encourage you to get serious about grammar and punctuation if you haven't already. It matters. A lot.