Saturday, December 31, 2011

New Year, New Phase

So 2011 was pretty good to me. After five years of flopping around in the publishing waters, I finally sold a novel. There were other lovely things, but I'll always remember this year for that one event.

2011. The year I sold my first book.

The year I reached a lifelong goal.

The year that one phase ended, and another began.

Funnily enough, 2012 is probably going to be my quietest year in the publishing business in a long time. It's so weird, to think I really have no major goals for myself on the writing front this year. Mostly, I get to chill out as all these amazing people at HarperTeen put my book together. I can't wait to see how it all turns out!

So what will I be doing in 2012? My biggest goal is to make a point to be happy every day. I spent most of 2010 miserable, and even a fair part of 2011 has been coming to terms with all the emotions left over from 2010. This year—this year is a year for good things.

I get to be a mom again. I'm pretty excited about that. Nervous, of course, since it's been four years since we've had a baby in the house, but very excited.

I really hope at least one story will sweep me away, cart me off into its world and chain me there until the book is done. But if it doesn't happen, I have plenty of editing and work to keep me busy. I'm okay with that.

With how extremely ill I've been with this baby, I'm really, really looking forward to getting healthy again. I never thought I'd say that, but I miss the strength and stamina my body used to have. I miss the energy it gave me. I miss feeling like I could totally out run the zombies in the apocalypse.

2012. It's gonna be a quiet year. A wonderful year. I just know it. I'm saving all the debut freak out for 2013;)

Monday, December 26, 2011

When You're Bad At Something

I am genuinely bad at things. And don't give me that, "Oh, come now, you're really good at _____," stuff. I'm not looking for compliments here. I just feel like it's important for people (especially kids and teens) to know that most things don't come naturally, and just because you're bad at something doesn't mean you always will be.

I still remember my first endeavor to cook solo—I was around eleven, and I was going to make myself a grilled cheese sandwich. Well, it was the saddest sandwich ever. I put the butter on the inside. I cut the cheese too thick. I had the stove on too high, so it burnt before the cheese even got warm.

I wasn't a great writer growing up. I enjoyed writing, for sure, but my writing was hit and miss. I was a terrible speller (I even wrote "I'm a good speler" in a list of attributes about myself in 2nd grade, ha.) (I'm still a really shaky speller, even after my minor in editing). I never got my paper read in front of the class by the teacher, etc. and so forth.

Art was the same way. I was never the best in my class. I never got first place in a show. To this day I am not strong with any kind of paint. Me and paint don't get along at all. And even when I try realism it still looks like a cartoon.

I could go on, but I think that's enough. The truth is that I don't really have any natural talent. I've tried a lot of things, and it's never been one of those moments where I just magically had skill. Not with the flute. Not on the swim team. Not singing. Not running. Not acting. Not gymnastics. Not playing Go. Not blogging. Nothing. And yet I've always had this dream or hope or whatever that there's something out there I'm "meant to do." You know what I mean—that thing that is so entwined with my destiny I know immediately that this is my future and I will be amazing at it.

This probably sounds totally ridiculous, but I remember very vividly how it seemed like that growing up. I'd see my peers doing amazing things, and it seemed that talent sprouted out of their very being with no effort whatsoever. I thought maybe if I found my own talent I'd be amazing like that, too.

But everything was hard. I have a suspicion it was hard for most of the people I admired as well, though it didn't seem like it back then. It felt like all I did was fall on my face a lot. Some things I stuck with because I just loved them so much, like art. Drawing was, oftentimes, my refuge. I got better only because I drew literally every single day. I have the 13+ notebooks to prove it, not to mention all the portfolios from classes still taking up space in my parents' storage.

Shockingly enough, I didn't make leaping improvements in my writing until I started working on it everyday either. Take a guess on what made me a better cook—I'm sure it's obvious.

The things that I am good at now are a result of loving that thing and then working really hard to do it well. Actually, not entirely true. I didn't like to cook, but had to because there's no way we could afford to eat out often. If I wanted good food, I had to learn to make it myself. It was a skill that came out of necessity and then turned into something I really love. But anyway, the common denominator here is work.

Work sucks sometimes. I can't tell you that if you work harder than anyone else you'll be on top. If that were true, I would be way further ahead than I am. But alas, I'm still up against some people who have honest-to-goodness talent. It's hard to deal with sometimes. I won't lie and say I'm totally fine when someone who has put in half the work and time I have gets twice the reward I do. It's hard to accept—important to accept—but hard. It's hard to have to start so far behind the pack at times. It's hard to face so much failure, to not be able to learn and improve as quickly as others. And it's especially frustrating when a Natural Talent doesn't even TRY and still does better than you, and worse, doesn't even care or appreciate the thing they're so good at.

When I think about how hard it can be sometimes, it isn't any wonder I keep looking for that Magical Thing I'm Good At.

But on the flip side, there are some comforts in all this sucking at stuff. For one, I do believe with all my heart that anyone can improve in something if they want to. It doesn't matter what it is—you can go after it and do it well. It might take twice as long. You may never be as good as a prodigy. But you as a human being have the potential to succeed. It is part of all of us.

Work, practice, determination—these things put us on an even playing field. Of course, the field might not look even (it often doesn't to me), but it is, because those who have to work harder often gain secondary skills the naturals don't. I mean, I don't love that I know how to work out of pure necessity, but it comes in handy. When the going gets tough, I don't stop. Sometimes those who've had it easier do. When you are naturally bad at stuff, you are also more likely to continue pushing yourself, never quite trusting that's you've "made it." Whereas someone with natural talent runs the risk of resting on their laurels and not going outside their comfort zone.

Basically, I'm saying my extra experience in the Field of Sucking helps me come out on top at times. Who knew?

Eventually, all the work you do starts to look a lot like talent to people on the outside. Lots of people tell me I'm talented at certain things now, but I know the truth and am mostly proud of that truth. There was very little talent involved, and nor is there likely to be a random sprouting of it in the future. If I want to be good at something, the only way for me to get it is through hard work and endurance.

At this point you might want to say work is my true talent, but even working hard took me a long time to learn. I used to give up rather quickly, until I realized that the things I did often were the things I was best at. The "doing often" brought on the "best at," not the other way around.

So if you're bad at stuff, take heart and realize you're actually in the majority. The older I've gotten, the more I've realized that "natural talent" is kind of a myth. And even if it isn't, talent is nothing without the work part. Better to put in the effort at something than spend your life waiting for that one magical talent.

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Edits! More Edits!

There's nothing quite like your book showing up on the doorstep, all marked up with edits. Like most things in publishing it is a strange cocktail of feelings.

At this point it kinda feels like a countdown—one more task closer to that publication date. Right now my book being "out there" still feels pretty far away, but I hear stuff speeds up the closer you get.

It's weird, this post-book-deal thing. I don't think I was really prepared for the...waiting. Ironic, I know. I've done a lot of waiting! But I guess I just pictured all that "fun publishing stuff" happening fairly soon—you know, the new stuff like a cover or blurbs or selling foreign and what not—when really there's this whole editing pipeline you have to go through first. And frankly, that editing pipeline is a lot like what I've been doing for my crit partners and my agents for the last few years, except with even higher stakes.

Maybe that's why it still doesn't quite feel real yet. I don't know. It's kind of like watching a picture develop. The image of me as Author Person is slowly showing up on the paper, and I'm squinting to try and make out what I (and my work) looks like. Except I still can't quite see it. The darkest spots are coming in. There's certainly something there, but I still have to wait to see the whole picture.

I really should be better at waiting by now!

Anyway, I am excited for these edits! Excited to be making some kind of progress. I am hoping it'll help me see yet another facet of this developing picture.

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Monday, December 19, 2011

What's For Dinner: Bleu Cheese Salad

It's time for another recipe! As you may have seen on Twitter, I officially have gestational diabetes again. Third time. I'm a veteran here. What that means is that I basically have diabetes until the baby is born, and I manage my glucose levels through my diet (The goal is not to have insulin if you can, and so far I've been able to do that). Managing through diet simply means that I eat a measured amount of carbs in each meal, so my levels stay even. I can still eat whatever I want, just so long as I stay within my limits.

So for instance, tonight I really wanted to eat some clementines. Because that's how I wanted to get my carbs, I needed a low carb dinner. Salad is great for that! And there are so many ways to make a salad filling. This is definitely NOT the healthiest salad calorie-wise, but it's packed with protein and veggies which equal nutrients. That's how I think of healthy. Here's the simple recipe, which you can adjust to the amount of people you're making it for:

Bleu Cheese Salad

• Romaine Lettuce, chopped
• Red cabbage, chopped
• Carrot, shredded
• Cucumber, sliced
• Tomato, sliced
• Red onion, sliced
• Black olives, sliced
• Almond slices
• Cubed grilled chicken or chopped bacon (or both!)
• Bleu cheese crumbles
• Balsamic vinegar reduction
• Your choice Bleu cheese dressing

• Clean, cut, chop, and slice all vegetables and place in a large bowl and toss.

• Cook bacon/chicken as desired. For the chicken, I do a simple grill with olive oil. I season the chicken with garlic salt, pepper, and italian seasoning.

• In a small pot, pour balsamic vinegar and set on medium heat. Bring to a boil and let it reduce until the liquid is syrup-like (a good indicator is if it nicely coats a spoon). Let reduction cool while assembling the rest of the salad.

• Divide salad into desired portions, add almonds, chicken/bacon, bleu cheese crumbles as you'd like. (You can also add croutons, but I don't because of the diabetes thing, obviously.)

• Lightly drizzle dressing and a couple spoons of the balsamic reduction over the salad. Serve and enjoy.

Simple, right? I'm all for simple. Cooking doesn't have to be complex to be good.

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Think, Think, Think

I wrote a novel earlier this year called House of Ivy and Sorrow. I'm quite fond of it, as are my crit partners who've read it, but there has always been an...issue.

That's the thing with first drafts, of course. They can't be perfect. I'm well aware. But the thing about this issue was that it was pretty important to the book, and I knew I hadn't hit the notes I wanted to. I knew there was something missing. I knew that the biggest revisions would be surrounding this one thing.

Problem was, I didn't actually know how to FIX it.

I could have gone in there and tinkered around, edited it a few times to see if I got closer. This time I didn't do that. House of Ivy, seven months later, is still essentially a first draft. I've cleaned up about 50 pages of it, but that's all before the Big Stuff that needs to change more drastically. For the first time in like...okay, ever...I just let the project sit, having faith that it would reveal itself eventually.

And it did! This month I've been thinking a lot about the book. Not making notes. Not rereading. Just thinking about it, about the issue, about all the different ways to fix it. Time is an amazing thing, because the perfect solution has presented itself, one I'm sure I wouldn't have thought of seven months ago.

I used to be afraid of time. If I let a project sit, the opportunities would pass me by. Or I wouldn't like it much when I came back. Or my voice would have changed too much to keep working on it. Well, I was wrong. My voice and writing always improves, but that's a good thing, and bringing that extra skill to a manuscript never hurts. When I take the time a book needs, I've never been disappointed by the results. Only when I've rushed have I found myself cursing hindsight.

I am SO excited about House of Ivy and Sorrow, especially now that I have those puzzle pieces I felt were missing before. I feel like I won't be going into the revision blind. I feel like I finally know how to make this book what I wanted it to be. And I'm so very glad I waited for that spark of inspiration, even if it took longer than usual to find.

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

All Day Q&A

It's that time again! Ask me anything you'd like. It can be about writing or my books, but it definitely doesn't have to be. I know you are all dying to know which Korean dramas I'm watching and what I'm doing for my upcoming birthday, too. Or not. Whatevs. I'll be here all day. All questions asked before I wake up tomorrow (usually like 10 Mountain Time) will be answered.

Monday, December 12, 2011

Writing Beginnings Part 3: World Building

Okay! Sorry for the little time gap in posting the rest of the series, but here we are! I think this might be the last one, unless I decide I have more to say. Who knows?

I think one of the hardest things to do in the beginning is get a reader settled in a world. Even writing contemporary, you still have to lay down a setting and world that makes sense and feels real, not like we're watching people on stage. The faster you can make a reader feel comfortable with your world, the easier it will be for them to get sucked into a story.

No matter what type of book you are writing, there's probably a setting. Maybe it doesn't play a huge role, or maybe the setting is almost a character itself. Either way, you need to make sure the setting is understood. Readers don't like to float in the nether too long—grounding a reader in your novel is essential.

So how do you do that? Well, there are lots of ways. There are also lots of way to confuse a reader, too. As with most things in writing, there needs to be a balance (which is why we spend so much time editing).

Focus on setting details that are "important." As a writer, we tend to know most everything about our novels, right down to what things look like. But that can also mean we might go over board in description. Now, don't get me wrong, having a lot of description isn't necessarily bad, but you have to think about what matters most. When you choose to describe something, you're saying that it has significance in some way. Be mindful of that. Describe what matters most to your characters, what stands out in the scene, what might foreshadow future events in the book.

Let's try a random example. Say you're describing a street lamp. This description can be either important or superfluous depending on your story. If it's just your ordinary street lamp, maybe it doesn't merit extra description, but what if it's your character's first time in a new city? What if she notices how bright the lights are in comparison to the country? Or how strange the craftsmanship is compared to where she is from? Then it might be something to signify to the reader that this place is foreign, a setting detail worth talking about.

Another major thing to always consider is what I call "immediate relevancy." (I will likely be repeating this in the other sections because it is that important.) When building a world, the information you give must always be needed at that moment, otherwise it has great potential to confuse or bore a reader. Like say you're talking about these weird street lamps when the MC has not seen one yet—instead of being interesting, it'll be, "Uh, what's with the street lamp conversation? Weird." You don't need to "prep" your reader for these uber weird street lamps, just mention them when they get there. In fact, you'd be surprised how littler prep a reader needs—trust that they will follow you just fine.

World Rules
Writers of fantasy/sci-fi/paranormal, etc. have a special task in building a world that is different from our own, and that world comes with rules the reader must understand, and hopefully understand quickly. If there is magic, the guidelines must be explained. If there are flying ships, there must be a feasible reason. If there's time travel, it has to be believable in that world. It can be a challenge to have a reader buy your world, to believe in it.

Again, here it's important to give information as it becomes immediately relevant. Listing off all the rules to the magic system in the first chapter just isn't going to cut it. First, it'll be boring, and second those rules will be forgotten because they'll have no significance to the reader yet. Not to say you can't have rules in the first chapter, but just like introducing characters, it should be a gradual thing.

If possible, showing the rules and world should be the go to. Don't just say "These are the penalties for using this type of magic." Show your MC losing her eyesight for a day because she cast a certain curse. That makes the world memorable and the rules clear.

But in this showing, you have to be careful to avoid the "As you know, Bob" pitfall. This is when characters explain things they should already know, and it's pretty obvious that it's being explained for the reader's sake only. It can be tricky to avoid these moments (and you'll notice a lot of characters are novices at something because it makes things easier to explain since you learn along with them), but doing so makes for a stronger beginning and a more authentic world/character set.

Lots of people are afraid of backstory (Thanks to the criticism of the flashback, I think.), but no story is complete without at least a little. Stories don't happen in a vacuum, and no matter what your world is like, something happened before your story and something will happen after. Sometimes the things that happened before are a surprisingly vital part of the characters' current struggles, and you need back story to get across the full impact of your novel.

Again, I will repeat the importance of immediate relevancy. With backstory it is most important, otherwise readers will ask, "Why are you telling me this?" It has to be clear why, and usually then the reader won't even notice that you've stopped the forward motion to tell them about the past. I've seen very long passages of backstory that work just fine in novels because that information was essential to understanding either the plot or the characters' motivations.

But like most anything in a story, backstory can go awry as well. It's one of those things that we as writers can get carried away with if we're not careful. I personally try to use it sparingly; usually if you only use it when absolutely necessary, you won't go overboard. It shouldn't be an excuse to add extra detail—it should be used as a tool to move the story forward.

Ultimately, world building in the beginning should make a reader "comfortable" with your world. That's not to say that the story has to start off calm, only that world details should always be clear and concise and helpful to a reader. Confusion can be not only frustrating, but it can cause distrust in you as an author. If something doesn't make sense, or if an obvious question isn't answered, a reader loses faith. I wish it weren't true, but it is. Having a solid world, whether it's on a magical plane or in Clovis, CA, is an essential part to a solid beginning.

Now, that ends the series, but if you have any questions feel free to ask in comments. I'll be checking often.

Thursday, December 8, 2011

Writing Beginnings Part 2: Introducing Characters

Yesterday I talked about the bare bones plot every beginning has, and today I thought I'd go on to characters because I like them the best. For me, characters are what make a book unique, and they are a big factor in hooking your reader from the gate. As you saw, beginning plot is basically variations on a theme (event/choice that changes character's life), but that plot may not strike the right chord if the reader lacks sympathy for your main character (MC).

Tips & Pitfalls:

• TIP: When helping the reader get to know your MC, focus on what I like to call "universal human characteristics." This might sound boring up front, but what I mean is—focus on helping the reader understand your MC's fears, hopes, desires, etc. Desires can be especially endearing/sympathetic. If we know your character has always wanted to be a pilot, and that something is keeping them from that goal—bam—we're instantly rooting for them (and notice that will make for good future plot elements). These characters traits are what suck readers in because they can relate.

• PITFALL: Be careful not to give unnecessary information about your characters. If the MC has always wanted to be a pilot, but it has NO bearing on your story whatsoever, it will misguide the reader to care about something that doesn't get answered. Frustration will ensue.

• TIP: Save some information for later. Sometimes we feel like readers need to know everything about our characters the first time we meet them (Because how could a reader understand our story otherwise?). But really readers just need to know enough not to get lost. Trust them—readers are smart. Personally, when introducing new characters, I try to pick a few memorable things and leave the rest to the character's actions. Much more is said through how your characters interact than what you can say about them in an intro. Plus, saving info makes for great future plot twists. The beginning is for laying a foundation, not giving a full picture.

• PITFALL: The dreaded character soup. I tend to have large casts in my novels, and it can be tricky when introducing all the characters. The key is to do it gradually. Of course there isn't a right or wrong number, but personally I feel it gets confusing if you have more than three intros in one scene. Even then, they have to be very distinct characters so people don't lose track.

• TIP: Make characters stand out with specific, yet succinct, details. And not only in appearance, but in motives, beliefs, and attitudes. If your MC has three best friends and they all like cheerleading and watching the CW, I can guarantee you no one will really remember them. If you make one of them a raging environmentalist who constantly complains that they should have "green" pompoms and 100% cotton uniforms, I bet you every reader will remember her over the others.

• PITFALL: Don't get carried away in character building. This can be an issue for me, at least. While it's fun to have characters bantering back and forth and being funny, it's important that they are also always moving the plot forward. Characters shouldn't just be "hanging out." They need to be doing. Acting and reacting. Their conversations, interactions, and choices should contribute to a general forward motion and purpose.

Now, those are character specific tips/pitfalls, now I'll try to relate this to the plot information of last post. Every character has an arc just like the plot, and ideally the plot arc and MC arc are really quite intertwined. That's why your hero/heroine is the MC, after all. When talking about that "changing moment" and resulting choice all beginnings have, I'm talking about the MC.

But don't forget the other characters! If you want to breathe real life into your novel, take a look at those other characters. Do they exist for the sake of the MC alone? Are they plot devices? Or do they have their own lives? Of course their arcs aren't as large as the MC, but every character in a novel should be growing and making their own choices—not just choices that are convenient for the story, but real, logical choices. The events of your novel should have just as much impact on those characters (and their relationships with each other), and that impact should vary as much as people do.

Let's take a quick look at Harry Potter again. How does the beginning change the characters? Of course Harry is empowered—he's a wizard and feels important, though probably apprehensive and curious, etc. The Dursleys? Well, they change, too. They continue their cruelty and hatred of him, but they are more frightened of Harry and that alters things—he eventually gets a real room and everything. That event not only changed Harry, but them as well.

The web of characters and their reactions, motives, and relationships can get pretty overwhelming to keep track of, especially as you go along in a story, but that's part of what makes a novel sing. Real live characters—not just a vibrant main character—bring a story to life. Establishing those characters throughout the beginning is essential to building a story that readers can get behind.

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Writing Beginnings: Part 1

It's been a while since I've given out some writing advice, but recently I've been thinking a lot about beginnings. If there was one part of writing I would say I'm okay at, I would say it was beginnings. Not that I write a perfect beginning every time, it's just that "setting up a story" seems to be something my brain understands. Everything after that? Well, it gets a little shaky from there.

But I figured maybe I could share some of the ways I approach the beginning of a novel, some of the common threads in all beginnings, and also some of the pitfalls. Today I'll cover the plot aspect.

Part 1: Getting The Plot Moving
I've been told some writers get ideas for super awesome endings, and they have to write the rest of the book to get there, not really knowing what the rest might be. Well, I'm the opposite. I rarely know the climax of my books when I start. What I get is, essentially, a beginning. Something happens to my character that is like that first domino—it sets off a chain reaction.

This is a common denominator in every beginning ever written. Something changes for the main character. Some call it the Inciting Incident, but I'm not going to get too technical here. Look at any book and you will be able to find this change somewhere in the first, oh, 100 pages (though I personally think it should be WAY sooner than that, but I'm gonna be generous and consider genres with much bigger word counts).

I'll name a few that might ring a bell:

• A boy gets a curious letter from a giant.

• A boy gets a curious ring from an uncle.

• A girl falls down a rabbit hole.

• A group of siblings walk through a wardrobe into a strange world.

• A girl sees a beautiful, mysterious hot guy across the cafeteria.

• A girl watches her sister be picked for a horrible game.

Of course, the thing about that life-changing event is that a lot can be debated. I've seen actual fights over what the true Inciting Incident of Harry Potter is. Not even kidding. So maybe you don't agree with the changes I chose, but that's not really the point. The point is that there IS a change in your character's life—a significant one that puts them outside their comfort zone. Maybe an old lover shows up in town after ten years. Maybe an army burns down their home and kills their parents. Or maybe it's as simple as moving to a new place.

Stories are inherently a string of conflicts and choices, so when you're thinking of how or where to start a story, think of that moment where the dominos start toppling. That moment that takes your character from stasis to action.

Now, the changing moment is only half of the basic beginning plot equation. The other half is your character's choice. No beginning is complete until your character not just blindly reacts to the moment of change, but decides to DO something about it.

• Harry Potter decides to go to Hogwarts.

• Alice decides to eat/drink and goes through the door.

• Katniss decides to take Prim's place.

That decision, in my opinion, is the marker for the end of the beginning. It can happen a chapter in. It can happen 50 pages in. This is when you enter the middle territory, where your character goes through a series of try/fail as they live with their decision and try to accomplish their new goals. (This is usually where I stop writing and go, "Well crap, what now?" It never fails.)

Pitfalls in the plotting category are pretty straightforward—either you start too soon or too late. While it is important to establish the character's normal life pre-change, there is such a thing as too much. Of course, that depends on the story, and there isn't really a formula. But in TRANSPARENT, for example, I wrote a new first chapter because I started a little too late and had a bunch of backstory that could have been better explained in a scene than the way I did it. I've also started too early and had to cut first chapters.

You also have to be mindful of the gap between that changing moment and when your character makes their decision. Again, every story is different, but you can only drag out that choice so long. There's a point where it runs the risk of stagnating or frustrating the reader. On the other hand, a decision can be too hasty as well. Basically, it has to fit your story just right, and that can take some tweaking for maximum impact.

It sounds simple enough, right? Something big happens to your main character, and they make a choice about what to do. Well, let's not forget you have to do that while establishing setting, character, and backstory, not to mention laying the foundation for future conflict. SO EASY. Ha. I'll be talking about these issues throughout the rest of the week, so be sure to stay tuned!

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

I Have A Raging Inferiority Complex. Not Surprising, Right?

I'm thinking it's about time for me to go on what my friend Renee calls a "Philosophical Journey." Like most people, I have some issues to resolve, and they need to be resolved before my book debuts.

Because if I'm being honest, I have a lot of very mixed feelings about TRANSPARENT.

But let's start way back in my life. Put simply, I was bullied. The reasons weren't always clear to me as a child. Sometimes it seemed to do with my being Mormon. Sometimes it was that I was smart. Sometimes it was that I wore my aunt's hand-me-downs and looked poor and scraggly. At one point it was because I liked a certain guy. Whatever the reasons, the message I got very early on from people was that I wasn't good enough. I was lesser. And because of that I didn't deserve friendship or kindness.

It hurt. I couldn't show that it hurt, of course, so I had to over compensate. I worked harder in school and became smarter. I poured myself into the few things I did feel like I was good at. I held on to my few friends with a death grip (though they always eventually left or I moved or whatnot). I acted like the toughest, strongest person I could in hopes that no one else would hurt me.

But I was already damaged. Nothing I did was ever good enough. If I didn't get the top score, I was humiliated. If I didn't get the award, it was proof that I still wasn't enough. I was second best. Below. Lesser.

This feeling was so intense that I couldn't even participate in sports. Losing made me feel more horrible than you can imagine—out of control, irrationally horrible. I had nothing resembling sportsmanship, and I was incapable of having fun doing something that could result in my losing. Thus, even though I was a pretty active child, I ended up gravitating to the arts. No clear cut winners or losers, for the most part. It was easier on my damaged mind to remind myself that the art show or essay contest was subjective.

All this to say I had a pretty healthy, if not thriving, inferiority complex growing up.

And every time I wasn't the best—which was often because of course you're not always the best—I fed that complex. "See? Second again. Never first. You will always be below. Why even bother trying?"

I stopped really trying. Not that I was failing classes, but by high school I never put my all into anything anymore. It was easier that way. Then I could say I didn't do my best, so of course I didn't win. I still did well. I even enjoyed with great humor that I was #29 in the top 30 of my class. That was me—the bottom of the overachievers. Good, but not good enough.

I'm not sure I ever really got over my inferiority complex, but it did lessen in college when I was on a bigger campus and it felt like everyone had their own thing. And it lessened again when I met my husband, who loved me so completely and unconditionally that I'd never felt like a more worthy human being. And once again when I had my first baby, and I marveled at what my body, which I had always taken for subpar, was capable of. I felt powerful after that. I really did.

I'm guessing that's why I started writing in earnest again after that. I'd stopped writing stories when I was 15, after a friend of mine read my stuff and gave me a look I knew said, "How do I put it nicely that I didn't like it?" Yes, it hurt so much I didn't try to write creatively until I was 22.

But I did start again, determined this time to keep going because it had always been a dream of mine since I was a little girl. I thought it was only fair to give that dream a try.

It all started out okay. I was stuck in my habits of not really trying, but I was learning and improving every day. And what was even cooler? The MORE I tried, the MORE success I saw. I think it was one of the first experiences in a long time where I saw marked improvement when I put in effort. Each book I wrote got better, and in turn got me more requests, which eventually led to an agent and being on sub.

Everything up to that point was kind of like healing for me. If I put in the work, I saw that I would get results. Maybe I wasn't the best, but I was getting better and maybe I could get there eventually.

Then 2010 happened. TRANSPARENT happened. I started writing the book in 2009, and I was determined to make this thing super, SUPER clean so my poor agent didn't have to go through so many revisions like he had to for my book on sub. Honestly, I probably fell into my over compensating ways again (aka: perfect way to set yourself up for failure). I went through at least four rounds of beta readers. I even asked a writer whom I greatly admired to read my work for the first time, and she agreed. I printed it out, went line by line. I read it out loud. I did absolutely everything in my power to make this book "perfect." I tried. Really, truly tried.

And my agent told me it should be completely rewritten.

I was devastated. Shocked. You mean all that work I did? It was that bad? My full effort still led to a complete failure?

Not to mention this all happened while my other book was failing on sub. TRANSPARENT was supposed to be my back up book, the one I could switch to quickly if my other book died. Now it was the book that was so bad I didn't even have a safety net. And worse, if it was that flawed, then surely all my other books were even WORSE. I felt like I had nothing. Was nothing. And back came the inferiority complex with a vengeance.

For reasons I still can't quite pin down, I did decide to rewrite TRANSPARENT completely, to the extent that at least 95% of the book was new words. I think maybe I felt like I couldn't write something new, because I'd probably just screw that up. I was obviously incapable of writing anything decent on my own (this is what my complex told me, at least).

Well, every page was...kind of torture. Each moment of rewriting that book was a reminder of my failure, of my inferiority. That year I watched friends debut while my book on sub finally bit the dust, thus cementing my failure more. I watched writers get agents, sell their books, AND come out in the time I was on sub. I had to say goodbye to my agent, who surely had to leave the business because he didn't sell my book and it was ALL MY FAULT FOR SUCKING SO MUCH. Literally the only thing that kept me going were my friends Kiersten White and Kasie West, who read each chapter as I wrote it and professed that it was really good, better than before.

I didn't believe them, but I knew I was messed up enough that I had absolutely no gauge of my own ability. All I could see was how horrible I was. How inferior. But I had to finish the "stupid book" because I had absolutely nothing to sub and a new agent waiting on me.

Well, this is epically long, so I'll cut the part where I had to go on medication for anxiety and depression. But it did get that bad. My inferiority complex almost consumed me whole, and I'm still healing from it.

So, truth be told, every time I get a crit for TRANSPARENT I have a panic attack. I have to fight these overwhelming feelings of pain and loss and inferiority. And yet at the same time, somewhere in all this I do know the book is good. I mean, it did sell, for goodness gracious! The work I did, like all the work I did before, ultimately paid off.

But it's still so very muddled. Even though I've had very positive feedback from my editor and from new readers, I still struggle seeing the book or myself as a writer as having merit. Heck, I can't even call myself an author and I don't know if I'll ever be able to. I find myself reading into things to MAKE them sound like others think the book is inferior, too. Sometimes, I'm so scared for this book to come out that I wish I never did this. Or I decide not to have a launch party. I just want to hide, hide, hide and not give anyone else the chance to decide I'm a loser and a horrible writer. I'm pretty good at doing that to myself.

I've been fighting back, baby step by tiny baby step. I know I can find the strength I once had again, hence the need for a Philosophical Journey. Writing hasn't been very easy since all this went down, but I have been writing. And you know what? Writing has been healing. Writing SIDEKICK in particular was my first step on the path back out of this.

I still have a lot of steps to go, but my goal is to be able to stand up at my launch and honestly say that I'm proud of TRANSPARENT, that it's a good book I love. I have like a year and a half to do that, and I think it can be done.

I guess today I wanted to tell you this because people often say bullying isn't that big of an issue. Well, I'm not proud of it, but I've dealt with the repercussions of others' cruel words my whole life. It did shape part of the way I see myself, and I have to fight to change that perception constantly.

Also, people always say you have to be a tough person to be a writer. Clearly, I'm not so tough. I cry a lot. You don't have to be tough to be a writer or any kind of successful person—you have to have endurance. In Japanese they say "Seven times down, eight times up," meaning you always get back up no matter how many times you get knocked down. You can't be so tough you won't get knocked down sometimes. Getting back up is what matters.

Monday, December 5, 2011

What You'll Really Get Out Of Blogging

Lately I've seen several veteran bloggers come out of the woodworks with honest posts about how they're feeling these days. To sum up: A little fatigued, a little lost, and perhaps a bit disenchanted.

I so get this.

I have been at this blogging/online networking thing for over four years now (which is longer than Ninja Girl has even been alive), and I can certainly say that things have changed a lot in those years. Not necessarily in bad ways,'s different and change takes adjusting to. Let me try and give a little picture to what blogging was like back then (I say this as if it were eons ago, but hey, four years is a while in technology time):

• There was no followers icon.

• Google Reader and the like were fairly new and under used.

• The only way you could really tell that someone read your post was if they commented.

• You could guess your readership by one, slightly inaccurate method—Sitemeter (or similar services). (Now even Blogger gives you detailed stats of most-visited posts and keyword searches by week, day, month, and all time.)

• Twitter was practically brand new, and not very popular yet. Tumblr? Yeah, not around really.

• The easiest way to see if your favorite bloggers had updated was to have a link list on your site and click them obsessively all day in hopes of new content.

• The writers' corner of Blogland was much, much smaller, and most everyone was fairly new to it all.

• No one really knew what blogging would do for us or for our careers (Okay, hopeful future careers).

• But we all had very high hopes anyway.

I honestly get a little nostalgic for the "old days" of blogging. And I have high hopes that new bloggers out there are experiencing that high I did in meeting new people and learning new things. I know that they say blogging has taken a hit, since Twitter and other, shorter media outlets make it seem old and long-winded, but I still think there is a place for blogging. And I think it can be a huge help to writers.

But. There's always a "but," isn't there? For me, I think some of my blogging fatigue has come from facing the reality of what blogging can really do for you. Because while blogging has given me so much, it's not some magic wand that can give you all the things you want out of publishing. It can't give you the control over your career that we all so desperately crave. And now I think it's really important to be realistic about what a blog will do for you.

First of all, blogging can't make you a bestseller. It can't. Yes, there are popular bloggers that have become bestsellers, but it's not all or even much related to the fact that they have a blog. I know, I can't know this for sure, but as I've learned more about this business I've found that there's a lot that is completely out of an author's hand.

In reality, becoming a bestseller is a crazy lucky mash of things, especially for a debut. First it requires at minimum that your publisher labels you a lead title—which means they will print enough of your book to even get close to bestsellerdom. Throw in a perfect cover, good sales to chains and independents, not to mention big backing from their sales force, marketing on a national scale and probably tours, good reviews in visible outlets, high Amazon presales, Rick Riordan/another mega-bestseller not taking up 5 spots on the list, and on and on. Even then? Not often is it guaranteed.

Blogging and online presence is a drop in that bucket, but if you don't have the "big things" you can't magically make it happen (Of course there is still the luck factor, but it's rare as most luck is). There is, truthfully, a lot that is out of your control. And that goes for any writer, no matter what publishing path they take.

You may not be able to turn yourself into a huge seller, even if you are a fairly popular blogger, but that doesn't mean you have no impact. It's important to be realistic about this impact, though, so as not to be disappointed. Meeting people, putting yourself out there even if it is just online, surely will grab you at least a few more readers. That number is hard to nail down, but it will be MORE, and more is always good, right?

I honestly assume that less than half my blog readers will buy my book. Not because I think you are disloyal people who secretly hate me or anything, but come on—there are a lot of books out there! And mine is not for everyone. And money is tight these days. And and and. I will never be offended by someone not buying my book, because I also have to make that choice when purchasing and I can't buy or read all the ones I'd like to. That's just how it goes.

Visibility, not sales, is what we need to remember when we approach online activities, I think. We need to be aware that not every reader will buy our book, but maybe at some point they will. Or maybe someone that person knows will be looking for a book like ours, and they'll be able to recommend it because they KNOW about it.

If someone wants to know about me or my book, I'm here, you know? Just a Google search away. If not? Okay, that's fine. I feel like I'm doing my part at least, but I also know (now) that it's not necessarily integral to my overall success as a writer. (Which is why it's a myth that you HAVE TO blog to be a successful writer, and why I think you should do what's best for you and always make sure your writing comes first.)

So if you're here for sales, I'm afraid you might find blogging a little frustrating, as it is hard to gauge its impact. And honestly, I guess I can't say just how much my blog will impact mine, since my book is still a year and half or so from debuting.

But there are better treasures in this online community, I think, and going after those is what has made all this worth it to me.

Blogging didn't make me friends with John Green or Cassandra Clare or Sarah Dessen, alas. And the truth is, they'd probably still find me a little creepy if I sent them emails about how we should be best friends (No one likes to be told they should be friends with someone, it turns out.). But I have made a lot of friends over the past four years, and watching those friends find success has been one of the most rewarding parts of this process. I mean, if I can't have good news (and I did have a 2-year Good News dry spell), it's fabulous to be able to celebrate the triumphs of your friends. Friends that started out just as green as you. Friends that you've grown with as a writer. Their success is as sweet as my own, if not more (because I didn't have to go through their hard parts).

And the wealth of knowledge online! Man, it's insane what you can learn about writing and this business with just a few clicks. I can tell you that the majority of my writing "education" happened right here, through this blog and the blogs of others smarter than me. People frequently ask me if they should invest in writing classes, and I usually say no because there is SO MUCH right at your finger tips for free. Not that writing classes are bad, but if you're strapped for cash (as I am and might always be), this community is so helpful. The resources are everywhere. Crits are available at so many venues.

To me, this community has always been a place of learning, and I hope it continues to be so because that has been one of the most valuable things I've taken away from this experience. It's why I've tried to give back and hope to continue giving back, because I am grateful to all of you who taught me. I've put those lessons into my writing, and I can safely say that I found success through learning to be a better writer, and I couldn't have done that without you.

That's the true value of blogging right there. It's not the sales or the possible blurb connections or whatever—being online, participating in this community, finding crit partners, can make you a better writer. And that is the best and most lasting kind of success. What comes after that is all gravy.

Thursday, December 1, 2011

Out Of Habit

I'm extremely rusty on this whole working thing. After about 6 weeks of intense morning sickness, it's like I've completely forgotten how to be a productive human being. But I was feeling better earlier this week, so I started the edits I need to finish for my agent.

And then Ninja Girl and I got food poisoning. That was fun.

I don't know, I have a feeling it was like some kind of subliminal message my body was trying to send. "Don't work. Working sucks. Just keep being lazy and take many more naps. Forget the writing and housework and cooking. Sleeeeeeep."

It's so easy to continue being lazy. At least for me. This is why I try to continue working on something at all times. Sometimes people call me crazy or too driven or, heaven forbid, dedicated. But the truth is that I know the second I stop it's all downhill. Three months will go by and I'll have nothing to show for it.

I'm really not dedicated at all—quite the opposite. Now that I've taken such a long break, I guarantee you it'll take me a good 3-6 months to get back some momentum in the work department. If not more. Because I'm going to have to battle against the full force of my extreme laziness. I'll have to start with baby step goals, slowly building up my tolerance for lots of work. I feel like I'm back at the beginning of...something.

So I guess what I'm saying is that good habits are priceless, they don't take long to lose, and I hate that I lost mine. They sure take a long time to redevelop, that's for sure. It's the same with writing and cleaning and exercising and eating well, etc.

At least I know from past experience that it's worth it to get back in the habit. I always feel better when I have accomplished things, when I'm full of energy and life. Sadly, I've been weakened in just about every way in the last six weeks, but I'm looking forward to reclaiming some amount of strength and productivity. Heck, maybe I'll even find more things to blog about, now that I'm starting to be more coherent and stuff. Just what you hoped for, right?

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Links That Made Me Think

One thing I've always loved about the online writing community is that you guys make me think. I've learned so much from hanging out here for 4+ years. And since this morning turned out far more pukey than planned, I thought I'd share a few links I enjoyed while tucked in bed with my iPod.

First off, Kristan Hoffman has a lovely post about books meeting one of two goals: a book you want to read or a book people need.

I totally agree, and I think there's a particular sweet spot where you can meet BOTH. I think that might be why I'm so attached to SIDEKICK, which I just started editing yet again. It's a book I wanted to read AND thought might be useful for teens. No wonder I'm so passionate about it! I wish I could always meet those two in one book, but I think that's hard to do all the time. Both ends have great rewards, though, at least from what I've seen.

Second, Kirsten Hubbard posted a great article at YA Highway about Why Authors Disappear after that book deal comes.

Let's just say it totally resonated with me, since I am right there, flailing about in new waters and trying to figure out how to swim again. I worry constantly that people will be upset with me, when all my "issues" really have nothing to do with anyone but myself. I like to compare it to going to college—it's not that selling a book is a bad thing (Obviously it's good!), but it comes with a lot of new adjustments. I'm a freshman again. There's a learning curve, and I'm not exactly performing at the top of my class when it comes to figuring it all out. I really hope I find my comfort zone sooner rather than later.

And finally, Lisa Schroeder posted a really interesting article on her experience with Goodreads ads.

I must admit that Goodreads kind of freaks me out, and I have yet to join because I hear a lot of stuff about the mean reviews and such. But I really appreciate Lisa's positive outlook on the site, and her explanation that it really is one of the few bigger places for readers to gather. Why not take advantage of that? Maybe the pros do outweigh the cons. It was so cool to see that her one ad seemed to have some impact on her newest novel's visibility, and for the affordable price it really felt worth it to me. I might have to toss my fears aside and take the plunge into Goodreads sometime.

So there you have it. Thanks for making me think today, guys!

Monday, November 28, 2011

Storymakers! (And The Importance Of Asking)

LDStorymakers is one of the biggest writing conferences in Utah. I have never been, but I have heard nothing but good things about it. They have fabulous guests, master classes, and an all around solid schedule of helpful courses. I can't tell you how excited I am to be team teaching two classes at the 2012 conference!

The line up this year is pretty amazing, with bestselling author Kevin J. Anderson being there, along with editor Molly O'neill, as well as agents Weronika Janczuk, Holly Root, Michelle Wolfson, and Kathleen Ortiz. And that's not all—Kiersten White, Jannette Rallison, Elana Johnson, and many other amazing authors will be teaching classes. It's like an awesome overload, and I'm still kind of floored that I'm even part of it.

The conference isn't until May, but I wanted to let you all know now because registration starts beginning of December and there is a cap on attendees (of 450). So please see the website for more information on classes and dates, and I hope to see you there!


Now, I wanted to talk briefly about the fact that I am actually teaching at this conference (with my dear friends Jenn Johansson and Kasie West) because it taught me an important lesson about how these opportunities really come about. I previously assumed that conference officials just extended invitations to those who they wanted to teach, but that's not entirely the case.

You CAN ask. And we so asked if it might be possible to present classes. We knew it was probably a long shot, since Storymakers is pretty significant around here and the three of us are 2013 debuts (thus we won't even have novels out), but we decided to give it a shot anyway. We contacted conference officials, they told us to write up a proposal for the classes we'd teach, and they'd let us know what they decided. So we did, and I figured, hey, at least we tried and it's okay if they don't take us. But they did! And it was exciting and awesome and all that stuff.

This was yet another reminder to me that this business is a lot about asking nicely and being okay if people say no. That aspect really never ends. Once you make it past the queries, you do that with editors. Once you make it past editors and get a book deal, you're asking for conference opportunities or bookstore signings or reviews or blurbs or, in reality, readers. And people still say no. Rather frequently, from what I've seen. And that's okay, because sometimes you get a yes, and you make the best of that yes and get excited about that yes and it always opens up more opportunities.

So don't be afraid to ask. In all honesty, you usually hear no a lot more than yes, but that's how it is for most everyone. Even most every published author that is not Neil Gaiman. You can't let the rejections stop you from asking, because you never know when someone will say yes and what that yes will do for you.

Monday, November 21, 2011

Japanese Ramen Escapades

I've decided, as part of my "What new paths will my blog be taking?" meditations, that I want to share recipes and food on my blog. Now, I'm no gourmet chef or anything, but I love to cook and eat and try new things in the kitchen. But the thing is, I usually create recipes and then never write them down because I know how I made it. Then people ask me for a recipe, and I end up sounding snooty or recipe-hoggy when it's really that I eyeball amounts and do things to my taste.

So, all that to say I think writing down recipes for the blog could be a good way to keep track of my kitchen adventures, and maybe a few of you might enjoy trying them out. I know this has nothing to do with writing, but if you search this blog you'll find I've talked myself into a corner on that subject and it's time to throw a few other things into the mix.

Okay, on to the Ramen. I should have probably gotten more pictures of the process, but I wasn't planning to do this when I made it. Next time! I will get fancy like that.

To many Americans, ramen is looked at as this cheap food only fit for desperate times or college students. When we think ramen, we think blue package with dried noodles and powdered sauce thing. Poor ramen. In its native land this dish is a beautiful bowl of noodles served in all sorts of broths and topped with a variety of ingredients.

Mmm. Ramen. It's served spicy, mild, with pork or egg or both. It can come with onions or bamboo shoots or daikon or bean sprouts. It even comes cold in the hot summer months.

Alas, it's not easy finding Ramen like this where I live in Utah. I can't speak for the rest of America, but I'm willing to bet there are very few ramen houses here in general. And if your local Japanese place does serve ramen, it only comes one way.

So what do you do if you want some real ramen on a cold winter day? Well, in Utah you search out the one decent Asian market in the county, buy the ingredients you need, and make it yourself.

On to the recipe! (And disclaimer: This isn't like the be-all-end-all of how to make ramen. This is just how I made it, and I probably did stuff wrong and I know there are even better ways to make it if you have time to make the stock from scratch. But I liked how this turned out, and it was pretty easy.)

Ingredients (For the ramen at the top of post):

• 3 cups water mixed with 1 1/2 tsp Hondashi (This is a Japanese fish broth stock, basically, and is the key to that distinct flavor you find in Japanese soups like miso, udon, and ramen).
• 3 cups vegetable broth (or chicken or pork, if you like)
• 2-3 tsp minced ginger
• 1-2 cloves minced garlic
• 1/3 cup soy sauce
• 1/3 mirin (or apple juice if you don't do alcohol [mirin is a Japanese cooking liquor])
• 1 tsp chili oil
• 1 tsp sesame seed oil

• Add all ingredients to a fairly large pot and bring to a boil.

• 3 Packs fresh "yakisoba" noodles. (These are about the same as ramen. I couldn't find fresh noodles labeled as ramen around here, but it may be different where you're at.) Wash these noodles under warm water until they are loosened, keep moist until ready to assemble.


• Dried, actual ramen noodles. (Not from a cheap pack at the store, though I suppose you could go that route if you wanted, but dry ramen you'd find at the Asian market. They are straight, not all crinkled.) Cook these noodles for 4-5 minutes in a separate pot of water, drain, keep in cool water until ready to assemble.

• 3-4 green onions, sliced
• 1 cup bean sprouts, rinsed
• 1 cup spinach, rinsed and chopped
• 2 shitake mushrooms, sliced

1. Get a large bowl, put desired amount of noodles in.
2. Ladle broth over noodles until they're covered.
3. Add desired toppings, submerging in broth so they cook.
4. Let rest a few minutes while vegetables get tender.
5. Devour.

Note: If you like more heat, I add a little sriracha to my bowl, but I make it fairly mild so my kids can eat it. You can also add any type of meat you like, but I make it vegetarian because my husband is.

Hope you enjoy it if you try it!

Friday, November 18, 2011

Happy Writers: Using What You Love

My books are riddled with stuff I love. TRANSPARENT, for example, sprang from my love of "superpowers" and a childhood adoration of X-men. I always wondered what it might be like if the majority of people had genetic mutations, how that would change our world, if it would normalize them to some extent or create chaos.

That's not the only thing in that book that has my little Natalie Stamp on it, of course. Fiona has an intense love of freckles, which I've always adored. She loves Pop Tarts, and I might have been the President of the Pop Tart Club my sophomore year of high school (But she likes blueberry ones, which I've never cared for.).

And then there's the Taco Bell scene, which is based off my brother's amazing ability to consume food. And the community pool is taken straight from the one I went to as a child. There's even one character I named because I love that name and my husband hates it, so I knew I'd never get to have a child named that.

To get a little deeper, I've always felt invisible, and on more than one occasion I've wanted to really be invisible. So writing a character that was literally invisible was a kind of nod to that part of me that always felt unseen, unwanted, and lost.

I think sometimes as authors we are afraid to admit how much of ourselves goes into a novel because then we'd get accused of the dreaded Mary Sue Syndrome (If you don't know what that is, it's when someone claims an author has inserted themselves into the novel and the story is basically wish fulfillment). Well, today I'm here to say, so what? Yes, there are many pieces of me in my books—how could it be any other way? How could I make my work stand out without using my unique voice and interests? If I didn't write about what I liked, what I wanted to explore, what I wondered about, what I was most scared of, how could I find passion in my work?

No, my characters are not me, per se, but they are certainly created out of the things I find interesting. They inherit problems I have always wished I could answer. They sometimes have my passions, and sometimes they have passions I wish I had. And, yes, sometimes they like things I don't know anything about. Those characters are punks, making me research like that.

I write about worlds and topics that suck me in—whether that be ninjas, mutated crime bosses, witches out for vengeance, or just a boy who is tired of being second best to his best friend. I focus on the aspects of those worlds that I would care about. I develop worlds based on my own experiences.

I'm not sure how else to do this writing thing. To me, it wouldn't be fun if I took myself completely out of the book, and I have a feeling the book would be flat as a result. When I'm writing about things I like—whether it's an anime club or magic or linguistics—I am happy. More than anything, I've learned that enjoying writing is one of the most rewarding things a writer can experience. Everything else is tainted if you're not having fun.

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Time Distortion

How the heck is it already Wednesday?

No seriously.

Thanks to publishing, my concept of time has completely gone out the window. This is both a good and bad thing. On the one hand, I have trouble gauging when I need to get up and how much time it'll take to get my kids ready for school. It's usually a hectic whirlwind in the morning. And then there's the fact that I promised to beta a book in a week, and it's Wednesday and I have read all of two pages. I generally forget events that aren't immediately important, like church activities or book signings or really anything that requires me getting dressed. Then people are like, "Where were you?" And I stare at them blankly, desperately trying to remember where I was supposed to be.

Things just come up too fast! They're over before I can remember to make a big deal out of them.

Maybe it's the sleeping. I swear I sleep like 16 hours a day. I'm like a cat. Sleep, eat, whine. Sleep, eat, whine.

But there are good things, too. Like the fact that the six months until my due date sounds SUPER short now. I remember when six months sounded like an eternity. When I first started writing, heck, I thought you could get published in that amount of time! Now I'm like, "Six months? Oh, that's right around the corner. A year? That's SOON."

I used to wonder if that restlessness would ever go away, if I'd ever find a measure of patience. I wouldn't say I'm totally zen, but I have come to accept publishing time. That's a miracle, considering I spent many years determined to hurry the process along—essentially trying to rush a glacier down the mountain. Or something. That's a horrible comparison.

I'm such a good writer.

Anyway, I don't know what I'm trying to say here. Maybe that for the first time in...okay for the first time EVER, I'm not in any rush. And it's nice. And I'm wondering why I spent so much time running around frantically and trying to force things to go faster. And why did I sink all that time into querying instead of honing my craft? And why did it take me so long to realize making my writing better was the only way?

Oh, so much hindsight up in here lately. Funny how that works.

Friday, November 11, 2011

Happy Writers: Getting Lost

Obviously I love stories. I'm sure we all do. There is nothing like being completely swept away in a story. Whether it's in a book, comic, video game, TV, or movie—whatever it may be—that feeling is one of my most favorite parts of being a human being and a writer.

Getting lost in them has been a past time of mine since I was a child. I would absorb stories and take them outside to play with. I remember reading about Narnia and searching for portals everywhere I could think. After hunting down Carmen San Diego on my computer, I'd play that with my friends, make clues, red herrings, villains and everything. I'd act out The Oregon Trail. Heck, I even convinced my friends to summon Captain Planet. And there was that one time, after seeing Fern Gully, that I convinced my brother the tree out back was bleeding and we had to save it.

It's hard to put into words what I've gotten out of stories all these years, but I know they are good things. Stories have given me courage, understanding, hope, sympathy, knowledge, respite, joy, peace, and something more to reach for.

I try to absorb as many stories as I can from as many different places as I can, and when I get lost? It's all the better.

Right now I'm drowning in a Korean drama called Boys Over Flowers, which is classic teen drama in every way possible, but somehow the most engrossing thing ever. Seriously, thing series could be on the CW and feel right at home (except it's MUCH cleaner, and yet manages to maintain a level of intense drama).

Boys Over Flowers was an extremely popular show, I've come to learn. In the height of its production, the show garnered 30% of TV viewers in Korea, which is HUGE. And it's not just Korea. The story is originally from a Japanese manga, which then was adapted for anime, and THEN a live-action in Japan. Then Korea snagged it. And Taiwan. That's some serious success.

What this show has taught me is that the "cliches" can work. We tend to criticize certain tropes in novels, but now I wonder why when they can be so effective. Is there an average girl from average circumstances? Yes. Is there a love triangle? Oh yes. A bad boy and a sensitive, good one? Yup. A sweet best friend? Mean Girls? Fighting turned affection? Yes, yes, and yes. And I am totally eating it up.

I love how engrossed I am, too. So there.

As storytellers, I think sometimes we can get a little story-fatigued. They all start to look the same or something. So when it truly hits us, it's even more of a treasure, and I've learned to appreciate those moments wherever they come from. And trust me, they often come from the unlikeliest of places.

Of course, the best thing of all is getting lost in my own stories. I gotta admit it doesn't happen as often as it once did, but the moments when I'm living and breathing my stories are intoxicating. They keep me going when times get hard. Right now, though I can't really work as I'd like, I'm craving that feeling. I want to dig into one of my stories and write and explore and make something that, I hope, other people can get lost in, too.

Monday, November 7, 2011

The Truth Is...

Usually in November I do a NaNoReaMo (Natalie Novel Reading Month) thing to catch up on my massive TBR pile, but if you've noticed so far I've written all of one post in November. It wasn't about reading.

You see, I'm being honest with myself—the chances of me reading anything this month are extremely low. Heck, the chances of me writing anything this month are extremely low. Or editing. Okay, I probably will be doing very little to make myself a useful human being.

Because I'm sick. All day long. But don't worry! I want to be sick, and I hope I remain sick for a few more weeks. Yes, yes, if you haven't figured it out by now, I'm going to have a baby.

I don't usually talk about my family on this blog, but I'm very excited. I love, love, love my family. My kids are beautiful and the most important of everything, even when they render me useless on the work front. Or maybe especially when they do.

So if you will excuse my sparse posting and correspondence, I would very much appreciate. Horrifyingly enough, I can honestly say words make me nauseous right now!

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

The Price Of Putting Monetary Value On Your Creative Work

This is one of those things I probably shouldn't talk about, which means OF COURSE I can't stay away from the topic. This is kind of how I write, too. Is it unmarketable? Weird? Genre-bending? Sure! That's what I'll write!

Since having sold TRANSPARENT, there have been a few things about being a future published writer that have thrown me for a loop. One of those things was the mental/emotional impact of having a price tag put on my creative work.

Now, I know that every writer dreams of being paid for their words. I certainly dreamed of it! To have someone care enough about your work to publish and pay you for it? Very cool. Surreal. All that stuff. I'm not saying it's this awful thing, just that it has had more of an impact on me than I ever thought it would.

I'm going to get a little honest here, only because I feel like it would help people understand more how it feels. I really don't like talking about this because it probably comes off ungrateful, but I do want to give you the reality of things.

So, the truth: I have a lot of friends who have sold novels or who are published. And of those I know well enough to know numbers, I got one of the smallest advances. BUT, on the other hand, I got an advance. I'm very well aware that most small publishers or those who are self-published don't get such a luxury, even when that luxury is on the modest side. I also have friends who put money into their work and are still waiting to break even. In the end, I feel like I'm kind of in the middle of the spectrum, and right now I am happy with it all.

Except I wasn't always happy, if I'm being honest.

Because something weird happens when you first get your deal—all of the sudden you are hyper-aware of everyone else's deals. And you know what? In my case a lot of those deals where more "noteworthy" than mine. In some other cases, I imagine writers notice that their deal is getting more attention than they ever imagined. Sometimes, I bet a deal is just glanced over as another on the list.

The comparing begins in a new and horrible way.

You start to read into everything. This writer got three books, that one only one, that one sold in a significant deal, that one sold world rights, that one retained rights, that one got their deal announced in the bigger outlets, etc. and so forth.

The money makes things...weird. In our culture, we're so used to seeing price as equivalent to value. An expensive car costs more because it is nicer—it has more features and luxury than a less expensive car. A nicer piece of clothing costs more because the fabric is finer, the stitching is better, it is more tailored, etc. A more expensive restaurant has better food, rarer ingredients, more seasoned chefs, better service, and on and on. So logic would follow that a novel bought for a million-dollar advance is better than a novel bought for a fifteen thousand-dollar advance, right?

Okay, so we know that's not necessarily true (because art is art and value is not often equivalent to price), but this can be what it feels like at first. You can't help but ask:


Why is my book only worth this much, when that one is worth ten times more?

Why is that author getting so much marketing, when I'm getting half that?

Why does that book get co-op, and not this one?

Why why why? (Hint: There aren't any real answers. At least not satisfying ones.)

All those whys can lead to some pretty disconcerting realities AND illusions. It's easy to feel like maybe your work isn't as good as someone else's, or maybe that your publisher doesn't value you as much as they do another person. It can start to feel like the work you care so much about and put so much time into has been predetermined to fail before you even get started. And you start to associate that number with the value of your book, with its projected success, and maybe even your worth as a person.

Then there's the flip side, which can be equally as scary, though I think people tend to down play it. Say you DO get a big advance—that means you have an incredible amount of pressure on you. And in some cases a huge amount of what I will call "survivor's guilt." I have seen this pressure on friends. They ask themselves why they got so lucky when another's work they adore isn't seeing success. They worry people will say, "They paid HOW MUCH for this?" Because seriously, how can you live up to such high expectations at times? Add to that the pressure of wondering if they will ever earn out their advance. Yeah, those advances might look pretty, but the truth is some authors don't earn out, and that will be viewed as a bad investment. And those who do earn out? It takes years. Years of hoping and worrying and pressure that affects the way they write and live. Not to mention not seeing a single bit of royalty in all that time.

And to the small or self-publishers, there is still this pressure and worry about value. More than that, I've seen my self-published friends stress over how much to sell for, if they could be making more money if they only tried harder. It's all in their control—why can't they make it happen? What are they doing wrong? Nothing, of course. But the doubts are there. Doubts seems to follow every writer I know.

But the truth is, if you got an advance, your publisher took a risk on you. Heck, even if you didn't get an advance. And that intrinsically implies that they believe in your book and are realistically invested. They want to make a profit—no matter the book. And publishers don't buy books they don't believe in. Trust me. They go through so many steps to acquire a novel, it's crazy to think they don't care about it just because of the monetary aspect.

The money? Let's be real about it. It reflects a lot of things, but artistic value is not one of them. You can't really put a monetary value on a piece of art. Yes, if you get an advance, it does represent a publisher's estimation of how much they hope your book will sell. It can be a measure of how marketable your book may be. But it's all guess work. And on top of that, in most cases it's a very modest number because they WANT to make back their money and then some. Unless they have to pull out the big numbers to get a book (as in a pre-empt or auction), the offers will be average and safe and sure bets. There is nothing wrong with that. It's a good thing for you to be able to make back your advance.

So I will fully admit to getting a little caught up in the comparison battle earlier this year, and it was just awful. I felt like a horrible human being for being so petty, and I felt like a horrible writer for no reason. For awhile, I did let the money get to me, and I'm glad that I've pulled out of that because it's not a fun place to be. Because you want to be grateful and you know you're lucky and yet there's this ugly place deep inside that doesn't feel that way at all.

Well, what got me out of that was finding the value in my own work again—regardless of the money. When I was a noob, I used to say all the time that I wouldn't care about the money. That I'd be happy with anything as long as I got to share my work. It was...humbling to find myself a liar when things came down to it. I've had to do a lot of soul searching to understand my reactions and to discover how to change them.

The more I search, the more I learn that getting back to the basics always helps me. Writing what I love, regardless of market or money or genre. Improving what I write the best I can. Loving what I write and where I'm at. Treating it all like a journey with friends instead of a competition. Writing for the sake of writing. Sharing with joy instead of dread. All that good, pure stuff.

The money doesn't have to mess with you. It might be hard to get past at first, but it's possible and so much better when you do. Your work is valuable and worthwhile, no matter what the price tag ends up being.

Monday, October 31, 2011

Halloween Treat. Or Trick.

I figured since it's Halloween I'd share a little treat. Or maybe you'll think it's a trick. Whatever. Sometimes I get ideas that I lose interest in fast. I don't know why, but I'll pound out a few hundred words, and then my excitement fizzles in the realization that if I were to keep going I'd have to, like, WORK. This is one of those ideas. But who knows? Maybe it'll go somewhere eventually:

If I weren’t already dead, I’d be dying of boredom right now. The old woman “sleeps” in the hospital bed, her face pinched in discomfort. This has been her expression for the last four days. Her family members think she’s exhausted from the disease, but the truth is she just doesn’t want to look at me, her angel of death.

Reaper, technically. Death gets so worked up when his minions are confused for him. I figure it’s his own fault for not doing the dirty work, not that I’d say that to his face.

“Erline…” I say softly, trying not the rock the chair I’ve inhabited for too long. Don’t want a passing nurse to notice. “It’s not so bad. I promise.”

Her lips scrunch together.

“I’m telling you, you’ll like the Underworld. Once you get past the three-headed dog, it’s quite pretty.”

She raises an eyebrow.

I prop my feet up on the bed. “Okay, there’s not really a dog, but I wasn’t lying about the pretty. My favorite are the lavender fields, always in bloom and the most intense purple.”

Still no answer. I hate when they’re stubborn like this—it only makes it worse. “Look, do you want me to level with you? You have two choices in this: take my help or not. If you do, passing is a breeze, like walking from one room to another. If you don’t, it hurts, a kind of agony I cannot describe but promise I know all too well. And if you decide to haunt relatives, I’ll be forced to drag you there the hard way. You really won’t like the hard way. It involves chains and tiny, uncomfortable urns and…punishment.”

Like being stuck as a hospital Reaper.

Thursday, October 27, 2011

Q&A Day!

Hey guys! It's about that time again. Feel free to ask whatever you'd like—I will answer as soon as I can, which is usually within 15-30 mins if not sooner. And since I'm starting so late in the day, I'll answer questions asked tomorrow as well. Lucky you! Or something.

Friday, October 21, 2011

Step It Up

Today is supposed to be a Happy Writer day, and while I think this topic is integral to ultimate happiness as a writer it's not a fun or very...inspiring topic. It's the hard truth, and it's this:

It is extremely hard to break into publishing, no matter the route you take.

And worse, it's getting even harder.

And chances are, you are...not good enough yet.

Ouch, ouch, ouchity, ouch. But there it is, I said it. I said it because this is a realization that, as hard as it is to face, every writer must face it at some point.

My "Come To Jesus" moment was around March 2009. I'd sent my partial to Nathan Bransford and he totally asked for the full. I thought I was Big Stuff. I thought I must be freaking brilliant. I thought I'd have a deal by the end of the year for sure (Note: Actual deal happened April of 2011, so...majorly delusional).

What I got was a very long email. An email that was actually 9 or 10 pages long, not double-spaced, when I printed it out. It started something like, "This story is great! But..." And then for pages Nathan proceeded to tell me every single possible issue with my novel, from character development to plotting to prose to theme to world building. EVERYTHING.

I'd never had a crit like that before. I had faithful crit partners, who kindly pointed out issues with my books, but nothing like that. I mean, he layed it all out, and clearly, too. There was really only one conclusion to be drawn—I was not a good enough writer.

That is the simple truth. I was not good enough! I had NO IDEA that I was missing so much, that I was so far from the mark.

It was like getting dumped in a tank of cold water, this realization. How had I dared query when I was still so lacking? How had I dared to think I was ready to be published at all? All of the sudden I could see clearly just how much further I had to go, and that maybe I wasn't taking this whole writing thing as seriously as I should have.

That was the first time I really looked at my work critically. Sure, I pretended to be all serious about editing before that, but honestly I had no clue what I was doing. And my story was awesome! It unfolded organically, and surely that is how it should be so nothing could be wrong with it unless it was a difference of opinion (*hangs head*).

As cheesy as it sounds, my eyes were opened. There was a big gaping hole in my novel, and I could either try to fix it or give up. Obviously, I kept working. But I wanted to point out this moment because it was a major turning point in my journey towards becoming a better writer (note I said better writer, regardless of the publishing outcome). I improved greatly when I found a crit group, and then again when I worked with Nathan, who had more skill than I did and could push me that much further.

And, boy, did I get pushed. Do you know what I got after I finished all the revisions in that 10 page email? ANOTHER 10 page email. And another. Okay, and one more before I got signed...and another after. All on one book. I don't call it Writer's Bootcamp for nothing. I think Nathan was smart, to give it to me in pieces, so he didn't completely overwhelm me and my newbiness.

Ever so slowly, over the process of about nine months, he turned me into a good writer, not just one with a lot of good story ideas and potential. And I will be forever grateful for this investment in me, because he didn't have to do it and he did anyway.

I think every writer needs to have this kind of moment—this "Oh crap, so I'm really not good enough what do I do NOW?" realization. It sucks, but it's the beginning of the next leg in the journey, the leg that is SO MUCH BETTER because you start to see the results you've been wanting for so long. Sure, it may take a couple more years (it did for me), but the improvement is measurable and continued. Stuff clicks. It's at once trying and triumphant, as you see just how much further you can push yourself as a writer.

In the end, I guess what I'm saying is to keep pushing yourself and seeking out ways to improve. Never assume just because you got to a certain point that you have it made—there is always, always room for improvement. And right now, when things are so tough in the business all around, you can't afford to stop pushing for better. The competition is stiff. If you're on sub right now, you know that better than anyone. Gone are the days when you could get away with a good idea and decent writing. Everyone has a killer idea. Everyone's writing is getting better and better quality by the second. If you don't meet the mark, the stark truth is that there are thousands of others who do, and their books will be bought instead.

So step it up. Never stop pushing for that next level. Take writing and revision seriously, and be honest about the state of your work. If it's not where it needs to be, take it there.

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Caught Red-Handed

After years of strange happenings on our computer, I finally caught proof if the culprit. I knew our house was infested with mini-ninjas, but the exterminators refused to believe me.

My guess is they were just scared.

Getting rid of computer ninjas is nigh to impossible, especially the mini version. I suppose all we can really do is leave out cookies and hope he doesn't wipe the hard drive.

Monday, October 17, 2011

Smelling The Roses. Or Whatever.

I've been thinking a lot. About myself, about how I've handled things over the last five years I've been pursuing writing. And lately, publishing hasn't felt as important as it used to. Lest ye get all up in arms (Like I've said I hate arms!), let me explain.

I was WAY obsessed.

Driven is not a strong enough word. Maybe more like desperate. My desire to be published trumped everything in my life, and thus everything got out of whack. I didn't really know it at the time, but I put all my feelings of self-worth into publishing. I put all my energy into it, at the detriment of other things. Sure, I would say that I was fine if I never got published, and sometimes I even convinced myself to believe it. I wanted to believe it, because I knew that's how sane people should feel and I wanted to be sane very much.

Can we say denial? Inside, it felt like I would never, ever be happy if I didn't sell a book. If I couldn't succeed at this, then I would be settling. If I wasn't a writer, any other path would be meaningless.

Talk about dramatic.

Honestly? Selling a book didn't make me happy. Oh, it did for a second, but then I was right back to my destructive, self-loathing ways. Except this time it was obvious that it was MY problem, because I'd gotten what I wanted and I still wasn't happy. In fact, I was kind of miserable, and I felt horrible for being miserable, and I wanted to know WHY I was so miserable.

I wish I could tell you I had all the answers, but I'm still figuring it out. A big part, I think, was the hope I'd lost. I'd become a pretty negative person, and I'm still working on grasping that hope again.

I think another big part of the misery came in Watching The Clock. I wanted things to happen NOW, or at least fast. I had no concept of just how slow publishing is—and that it's actually a good thing. More and more I'm learning that time improves a story. You see things. You grow. The story grows. But I wanted my books out NOW. I didn't understand that Too Early can cause far more regrets than waiting.

I now shudder at the thought of TRANSPARENT's earliest drafts, before the rewrite. At the time, I honestly thought that was how the story should go. I believed it should be published the way it was. It wasn't until maybe the 8th draft that I realized a thread I was missing—a thread that ultimately made the book what it is today. If I hadn't had that time to think and reflect on what I really wanted my novel to be, I know it wouldn't have been as strong as it is now.

But at the time I didn't have that perspective. I just wanted to get there. It wasn't so much about making the book amazing—it was about making it good enough as fast as I could so someone would just BUY IT already. That, I think, ultimately had the opposite effect: it slowed me down.

I...was putting publishing before the book.

That sounds kind of weird, but I hope it makes sense. In a lot of ways, I stopped caring about writing. You could even say I hated it, because it was this thing I couldn't seem to master, and my apparent incompetence was in the way of getting The Deal. Ha, that sounds so stupid, but it feels true. I was so turned around that writing became the enemy.

Oh, 2010, I'm so glad you are behind me.

Things started to turn around for me when I put stuff back in the right priority boxes, and when I began to focus again on The Writing and not so much on The Publishing. When it wasn't so much about how fast I could write but instead about how well. When I told the stories I wanted to tell, regardless of how marketable they'd be. Basically, I started acting like an unagented, unpublished writer again.

And that's really the secret to this whole game. It always comes back to the writing. Yeah, I have an agent. Yeah, I have a book deal. But that doesn't mean my next novel will sell. It doesn't really guarantee anything. When I write, I have to write like I always have—as if I've got nothing to lose, as if no one's looking over my shoulder, as if it's all just for fun and yeah it'd be cool if something came of it but that's not really why I write.

If you can, try not to lose sight of that. It's not fun. Enjoy telling your story, exploring it, making it better. Take your time. Create, don't manufacture. Forget about the race and do what you do. Everything else has a way of working out whether you stress about it or not.

(And having written this on and off over the course of three hours, I really hope it's coherent. If not, oh well.)