Death and Writing

Oooh where have I been lately?  It’s been forever since I’ve posted something new, huh?

Well for one thing, I’ve been working.  And that is tiring.

Secondly, I went to a regional SCBWI conference, which was much smaller than the one I went to in NYC, maybe forty attendees tops.  While there, I had the pleasure of meeting author Gina Damico and hearing her speak.  She was very funny and friendly.  I purchased a book she wrote called Croak, which is the first in a YA trilogy about a girl, Lex, who goes to live with her uncle only to discover that he is a grim reaper and she is, too.

After reading Croak – took me one day – I went to Barnes & Noble and purchased the other two books in the trilogy, Scorch and Rogue.  This is VERY big news.  Because lately the YA books I’ve been picking up have been leaving me disappointed, as you might know since I did write about a couple of them.  Fangirl was good, but not like this.  I knew I was going to blog about Damico’s trilogy, so I tried to come up with an adequate simile to describe the reading experience without giving anything away.  This is what I came up with:

Reading the Croak trilogy is like watching a person blow up a balloon.  At first you’re like, “Okay, that is a balloon.  I have seen hundreds of these in my life.”  But they keep blowing air into it until you’re thinking, “Okay, man, you can stop now.  At this point you can’t even tie it off.  You’re going to have to let some of the air out of it.”  But they keep going!  And then suddenly the balloon gets so huge that it bursts, and the person who was blowing it up – Damico I guess – turns to you and smiles and you realize you enjoyed the entire whirlwind experience.  You never expected her to go that far, but she did, and it was amazing.

So I highly recommend this trilogy.  That being said, I did have a couple small problems.  It was a bit kitschy at times, and at other points it got a little hard to suspend my disbelief.  But honestly Damico kinda made those things work for her.  Like that was her schtick.  Overall, it was a visceral, engaging, occasionally rage-inducing experience.  Look for a link on my Books I Recommend page.

Along with reading those three books, I have been busily working on my own.  In fact, I filled an entire notebook with The Dreamcatchers without even realizing it.  It wasn’t even a tiny notebook like the one I showed you before.  This one was big.

Large Notebook

See?  If you can read my scrawl then I guess that means you get a sneak preview.  And yes, because I’m nice, you can click for a larger view.

So I just about filled that notebook, which is cool.  I want to share my strategy with you for avoiding writer’s block, but this post has gone on too long.  Next time!  I promise.

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Different Point of View

It’s time for an update on The Dreamcatchers!  The update is that I was having trouble continuing with my paper rambling.  Mainly because I have trouble putting myself in the mindset of a teenage boy.  While the story is narrated by my main character, Shaina, she is not the only protagonist.  There are two others – Cady and Eric.  Although Eric’s name will have to be changed because literally every YA novel seems to have a character named Eric in it.  Apparently Eric is the only decent boy’s name in existence .  But for now he’s Eric.  And I have always had trouble writing Eric because my capacity for writing male characters extends to writing really cliche men or really effeminate men.

This led me to make a decision.  I have all the time in the world to write this book.  While I’m not planning on having Eric narrate any of it, I can still start the book over from his perspective in order to get a better idea of his character.  Even though what I write will probably never become part of the book, it would still be helpful for me.  With this in mind, I went to Panera and parked and realized I forgot my notebook so I had to make do with this really tiny one I found in my backseat.

See?

I took the picture using my dog’s fur as a neutral background. In case you were wondering.

And it seemed to work.  I wrote several tiny pages.  The only problem was that the Eric I wrote didn’t seem to match up with the free-spirited, no-holds-barred, act-first-think-later character I had wanted.  A completely different character formed instead.  One with a mind of his own.  And I don’t know if I’m going to keep him.  I might just start over and see where that gets me.  We’ll see.  For now I thought I’d share what I wrote.  Keep in mind that I have not edited a single word of this, so what you are about to read is extremely raw.  Anyway, here it is:

I could not express how little I wanted to continue having sex with this girl.  She kept asking me things like, “Will you miss me when you’re all the way across the country?”  And I kept saying, “Yes, of course, babe,” because everyone kept telling me we looked good together and she got along well enough with my dad and Colleen.  But seriously.  Talking about my future immediately after having birthday sex was not exactly my idea of great pillow talk.

“I have to go.  I’m meeting my dad at the Commons for dinner.”

I got out of bed and pulled on my pants.

“Call me later,” Sage said.

“Sure, yeah.”  Or maybe I’ll never call you again.  Maybe I’ll find a girl who isn’t named after a spice to have sex with for the rest of senior year.

Three lobsters, weird tasting butter, and a few sips of dad’s beer when he was in the bathroom.  It was Colleen’s idea.  She was actually pretty cool.

“I’m going to pretend that’s the first time you’ve tasted beer,” she said.

“Yeah, absolutely,” I said, smiling my most innocent smile.

She laughed.  “You are being careful, right?  You’re applying to a lot of great schools.  I’d hate for some stupid teenage rebellion to ruin your chances.”

“I’m being careful,” I assured her.

“Good.  Because you’re a real man now.  So don’t fuck it up.”

I laughed.  Colleen was always good at making me laugh.  I didn’t tell her that I didn’t feel like much of a real man since it was still illegal for me to steal some of dad’s beer.  Especially since my dad came back to the table right then.

“Have you heard from your mother?” he asked.

I shrugged.  “She texted me.  I think she was in a meeting.”

“Right.”

Dad’s eyes were getting all full of pity so I changed the topic.  My phone buzzed in my pocket.  One glance at the screen told me it was Sage texting.  I put my phone back.

Colleen insisted we get dessert, and I agreed on the condition that we not tell our waiter that it was my birthday.  I didn’t need a colorful candle or a choir of minimum-wage laborers serenading me.

After the bill was paid, Dad asked if I was going out with friends.  I told him Jeff, Sam, and I had made plans, leaving out the specifics.  He told me not to stay out too late.  School night and all.  After that, they said goodbye and I was free to wander aimlessly for a while.  I wasn’t due at Jeff’s for at least another hour.  The shops were all the same.  So were the mini gangs of preteen boys carrying skateboards.  Sometimes I felt trapped.  It was like an itching under my skin.  My life was too boring.  Too predictable.  That was my main reason for wanting to go to college on the east coast.  Maybe then I’d feel like I was really getting away.  Away from Sage and her insecurities, away from my statue of a mother and my ridiculous father who never once noticed when some of his liquor mysteriously disappeared. 

Something caught my eye, and I did a double take.  A new store?  I don’t know why I cared.  It’s not like I was a big shopper.  But this one just looked and felt different.  Especially since no one else seemed to notice it.  I went inside.  It was all kitsch and ridiculous nicknacks.  Part of me wanted to leave immediately, but my feet stayed planted.

Aaaaand that’s all I wrote.  It’s actually a lot longer than I realized, which is sad because I might be ending this particular Eric’s life.  He seems a bit too cynical, and I’ve already got a cynical character.  Eric needs to be someone who doesn’t take things seriously even when he should.  Maybe I’ll share the new Eric with you if and when I rewrite his part of the story.

That’s all for now!

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Hopkins and Rowell

You know what sucks?  Being sick.  I started my new, glamorous job at Applebee’s the other day.  I am a waitress there (if you’re super into being PC then replace “waitress” with “server”) and I got super sick just in time for my last couple days of training and my first day off training.  So that meant no reading, writing, thinking, breathing, or blogging.  It was the worst.

But now I’m all better!  And I’m getting slightly better at waiting tables.

I also read a couple books.

The first: Crank by Ellen Hopkins.  This one is going on the Books I Recommend list, so look for a link there if you’re interested.  It’s a really chilling, powerful book.  My favorite part is that it’s part poetry, part prose, and part artwork.  Like the words are arranged in patterns.  Sometimes certain words are isolated so that if you read just them it becomes an entirely new sentence.  Which is awesome because it makes me feel like I’m breaking a secret code and reading all these encrypted messages.  I had the pleasure of hearing Ellen Hopkins speak at the SCBWI conference in NYC and she was an absolutely fantastic person.

The second book: Fangirl by Rainbow Rowell.  It’s not going on the Books I Recommend list, but not because it was bad.  It was a really good book.  It kept me turning pages.  In fact, the only reason I’m not putting it on the list is because I have to be somewhat selective.  Otherwise that list is going to be ten miles long.  But I will recommend it here.  If you’re interested, it’s about a girl named Cath(er) who is a twin.  She’s starting college, but her social anxiety keeps her locked in her room writing FanFiction while her twin, Wren, takes the opposite approach to college life.  Cath’s also got some family problems, some boyfriend problems, and some school problems.

Reading Rowell’s book made me realize why I have so much trouble writing realistic fiction: Real life, especially real life for teenagers, is very boring and repetitive.  If you are a teenager in high school or college, this is the short list of real-life problems that you might face:

  • Parents
  • Siblings
  • Teachers/Professors
  • Classwork
  • Who is or isn’t kissing you
  • Alcohol/drugs
  • Sex

And it is really hard to make that list unique.  Like, you could add in something about how Sarah’s archery coach told her that she doesn’t have the eye for the bulls-eye like she used to.  Or Peter is going on a camping trip with his class and he is extremely worried about sleeping at night without his stuffed Zebra, Furkle.  But for the most part a lot of these books seem to boil back down to the above list.  And that’s a difficult problem to overcome.  It is.

So that’s the main issue I ran into with Fangirl.  It had this flavor of familiarity like I’d seen and read it all before, despite the characters’ names and hair colors being different.  But what’s an author to do?  If you suddenly veer off the course, people might start criticizing you for having unrealistic realistic fiction.  It’s why I have a great respect for realistic fiction writers, and why I feel like I hit a big, fat roadblock whenever I try it.  My biggest problem with rewriting The Dreamcatchers has been this block.  The Reality Block, I’ll call it.  I want my main character’s real life to factor into her dream world, and I also want the two other teenagers she meets to have their own lives and their own stories which also become apparent in the dreams.  That’s three different lives I have to create!  Three different realities that need to appear unique while still being believable, but without being cliche.  And that’s hard.  So my hat goes off to Rainbow.  She did a hard thing, and she made it entertaining.  Go ahead and read the book.  You’ll see what I’m talking about.

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Paper Rambling

As I said in a previous post, I recently began work on my newest version of The Dreamcatchers.  For those who are new here, you might want to go over to the convenient search bar I put in for you on the right side of the page and type “The Dreamcatchers” into it.  I’ve written about it a great deal in the past, so you should be able to become quite the expert on this particular book of mine.

Rewriting this book (again) has been a very difficult job for me.  I keep starting and restarting, never liking anything I write.  It seemed like I was never going to get my footing.  And then the SCBWI conference came.  I really do have to apologize to Nikki Grimes because I missed half her speech.  I also have to thank her because something about hearing her speech must have been what inspired me to start writing.  My notebook was open in my lap, my purple pen ready, and when inspiration struck, it struck hard.  I wrote nearly 5,000 words in a day, all in that notebook.  At first I thought I’d transfer what I wrote in the notebook to my computer and then continue the book on Word.  But I found that I was too tempted to edit when I was on Word.  I was even more inclined to overthink what I was about to type before I typed it.  So I went back to the notebook.  Lo and behold, more words came.

That is how I stumbled upon my strategy for getting this book written.  Write and write – by hand – without editing.  Get it out, get it on paper.  Don’t go back and reread until the whole book is done.

Paper rambling.

This is not my usual style.  But it seems to be working for me, and I’d be willing to share a bit of the process but it has to wait until the book is done.  Otherwise how can I do a Before and After?  In other words: I’m writing.  It’ll take a while.  But I’m going to share some of my writing when it’s done.

That’s all for now!

This comic took me hours to draw, so you’d better appreciate it.

Writer's-Block-Strip-40

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SCBWI

Recently I became a member of the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators, which turns out was a really good idea for me.  I just got back from their annual conference in New York City, and let me just say: Boy howdy!  There was a lot of good stuff there.  At this point I must note that part of my little welcome packet at the conference was a piece of paper all about what was and wasn’t okay to share on blogs.  Basically they said that sharing any pictures or videos would be a violation of copyright laws, and also that I shouldn’t write out any of the speaker’s speeches word for word.  They did say that some direct quotes with citations would be fine, and that’s great because I took down a lot of those!  And I’m going to share them here for you today.

First up is Jack Gantos, who was one of the funniest people I’ve ever had the pleasure to hear speak.  Therefore there are a lot of quotes from him.  He is an author.  I bought two of his books after hearing him speak.  They are Dead End in Norvelt and Hole in my Life.

“I don’t know about you, but the way I think is very, very random.”

Harriet the Spy is a handbook for writing.  Spying on people.  Who doesn’t love getting in other people’s business?”

“The reason you read books is to change.”

“The book is like an infection.  It’s a virus.  It gets in ya.  It’s good for ya.”

“My dad gave me a shovel for my birthday…and a handbook.”  The handbook in question was the Fallout Shelter Handbook.

Next was a panel of speakers.  They included Paul Aiken, the executive director of The Author’s Guild; Jean Feiwel, SVP Publishing Director of Macmillan Children’s Books; Jane Friedman, Web Editor, Virginia Quarterly Review; Abbi Glines, Author; and Timothy Travaglini, Director of Children’s Acquisitions at Open Road Media.  If they weren’t all quoted, it’s because I couldn’t write fast enough, not because they didn’t say anything of interest.

“We’ve lost sixty to seventy percent of our retail shelf space for books in the last ten years…fortunately there are other physical places for books.  Public libraries…and classrooms.” – Paul Aiken

“I catch my kids watching John Green videos on the computer.” – Paul Aiken

“When I released it, I got really bad reviews because it was bad.” – Abbi Glines, on self publishing her first book, Breathe.

“Writing a book is like a muscle: It gets better with use.”  Abbi Glines

“I don’t think you’re going to be as successful if you are reclusive…I think in this day and age that’s going to be a problem,” Jean Feiwel, on promoting yourself.

“What’s unfortunate about the self publishing model is it doesn’t represent all genres equally.” – Paul Aiken

“I think publishers have to acknowledge that they don’t know everything.” – Jean Feiwel

Finally I have a couple from author Kate Messner, who gave a lovely speech.  She has written picture books as well as YA.  I purchased one of her books titled Wake Up Missing.

“I say ‘yes’ to most things before I’ve really had a chance to think about whether or not it’s a good idea.” – KM, on agreeing to do a TED Talk.

“My husband was so disgusted with the Super Bowl he voluntarily switched over to Downtown Abbey at nine.” – This is not related to writing in any way, but I thought it was funny.

So there are those.  I hope you find them as amusing and/or informative as I did.

Something else important happened while I was at that conference.  I was listening to the engaging and talented Nikki Grimes – author of such books as Words with Wings and Planet Middle School – when inspiration struck me.  And it struck me quite hard.  I now have 4,745 words written for my second rewrite of The Dreamcatchers.  I guess I have Nikki Grimes to thank.  Her work sounded wonderful, so I’d recommend checking it out.  I do want to talk about the strategy I’ve chosen for getting this book written, but we’ll save that for another post.

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