Monday, January 30, 2012

The Rebirth of a Story

A photo of two street kids saved on my hard drive with no other story

My post last week on letting go has become a lesson in irony. Ever noticed the projects listed on the side of my blog? Depending on how you read my blog, you might never have seen them. I update it with my current projects, but also list two long-shelved projects because they're important to my growth as a writer.

Apparently, agents do read blogs and they do read those project lists. A lovely agent asked me about ANGELES OF ITHICA, a YA contemporary about homeless teens I hadn't opened in years. Over the weekend, I dug it out, dusted it off and dove into edits. And it is hard.

It's hard because ITHICA is the most personal thing I've ever written. While the stories aren't true, thousands of stories just like these ones play out on our streets every day. I spent some time as a teen working with kids in crisis and bringing awareness to the issue of homeless teens in America. I devoted an entire semester of high school on a research project about street kids. Those stories burned into my brain and I had to write them.

It's hard because after five years, I still feel all the emotions I poured into it. I still remember each character, each moment. I remember backstories and hopes and dreams.

It's hard because I'm a different person than I was when I began writing it. I'm harder now, more seasoned. I was a sixteen-year-old living in suburban Ohio when I first dreamed up these characters. Now I'm nearing 30 and live in Los Angeles, where I navigate through aggressive homeless men and women begging for change almost every time I leave the house.

It's hard because it's so different from my other projects. I like my happy, shinny, romantic fantasy worlds. I like bad guys who are bad (even if complicated) and good guys who are good (even if complicated). I like the magic and escape of fantasy. I like tackling real issues in totally unreal ways.

It's hard because ITHICA is real. It's dark and gritty. There is so much cussing (compared to the three h-e-double-hockeysticks in The Alterae) and while it's not graphic, it deals with drug addiction, child prostitution and abuse. I feel the burden to tell these stories honestly on behalf of the kids who can't and that means going to places I'd like to forget exist.

It's hard because I've grown so much as a writer. The current version is a mess, with the POV jumping all over the place and SO MUCH TELLING. It does not even begin to do justice to the stories.

So I'm digging in. I'm about 1/3 of the way through rewrites and I'm exhausted. This one is taking a lot out of me as I fight to breathe life into it again. But I think it's worth it. Years after letting go, I'm watching a story come to life again. Even it never sees publication, it's forcing me to grow and that is never a bad thing.

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Music Challenge

*I hit 50 followers last night! YAY! I'm trying to think of something to celebrate*

In the meantime, Jani over at Life Debateable issued a challenge today that I couldn't resist:

Blog about a song that reflects one of your main character's characteristics. I want to get to know your MC and what better way than to have some fun with it, right?
How much fun is that?

I'm still in the begining stages of my work in progress (I don't really even have a title yet) and I only have one song on that place list, so I'm going to use The Alterae. And since I can't pick just one, here are three songs - one for each main character and one for their relationship. Enjoy!

Ghosts by Sleeping At Last

If you listen just right, you can almost hear it.
The symphony of secrecy, love and fear.
(search for love, but finding fear.)

Like a moth to a flame, we become helpless
To the beautiful ghosts
That true love sheds.

We are all running our very own races,
Set out upon the most dangerous of places.
And through it all, we were left
With a void in our chests,
We're aching to fill.

The doves come
To gather our every need,
They lift them up to Heaven
Through the mouths from which we speak.

God, will you help us understand the meaning of it all?
Will you send your Angels down to us, at our every call?
Sometimes it seems the world is passing us
Faster than my eyes can adjust.

I can't decide
If I'm living or I'm dying.
So I test your love and I test your love, I test your love.

The doves come
To gather our every need,
They lift them up to Heaven
Through us now...
The doves come
To gather our every need,
They lift them up to Heaven
Through the mouths from which we speak.

Like a moth to a flame, we become helpless
To the beautiful ghosts
That true love sheds.

The Count by The Classic Crime

Be good to me as you once were when you pulled me from the brink of death
My enemies were frenzied for a taste of my flesh
And now I've got the same feeling again
The beasts are closing in their teeth are dripping with rattlesnake poison

So I will run into Your open arms I've got nowhere else to go

I don't want to live like this anymore
Trading truth for the simple things
I don't want to live like this anymore
Will You give me the will to sing out
When I'm filled with the darkest of doubt
When I'm down for the count

Protect me from mutiny
From those who miscarried your baby
From those who miscarried the truth
So they could selfishly do whatever they thought was pleasing
Protect me from insincerity
From between their teeth it's practically oozing
Their eyes are hollow and blind they're always wasting my time
And it's time that I'm losing

Alex & Emma's Relationship
Young Blood by The Naked & Famous

We're only young and naive still
We require certain skill
The mood it changes like the wind
Hard to control when it begins

The bittersweet between my teeth
Trying to find the in-between
Fall back in love eventually
Yeah yeah yeah yeah

Can't help myself but count the flaws
Claw my way out through these walls
One temporary escape
Feel it start to permeate

We lie beneath the stars at night
Our hands gripping each other tight
You keep my secrets hope to die
Promises, swear them to the sky

The bittersweet between my teeth
Trying to find the in-between
Fall back in love eventually
Yeah yeah yeah yeah

As it withers
Brittle it shakes
Can you whisper
As it crumbles and breaks
As you shiver
Count up all your mistakes
Pair of forgivers
Let go before it's too late
Can you whisper
Can you whisper
Can you whisper
Can you whisper

The bittersweet between my teeth
Trying to find the in-between
Fall back in love eventually
Yeah yeah yeah yeah
The bittersweet between my teeth
Trying to find the in-between
Fall back in love eventually
Yeah yeah yeah yeah

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

The Art of Letting Go

Cold Hearted by Healzo on deviantArt

I poured heart and soul into writing The Alterae, the manuscript I'm querying now. For the last three years, every song I heard, every place I visited, ever experience I had went through that filter. Those characters kept me up at night and prompted me to ignore living, breathing friends and family to bring their stories to life. In that time, I've written enough on that one book to fill two or three. I have bits and pieces of sequels. But every time I tried to write something new, it felt wrong.

For a long time, I thought it was because I'd used up all my energy and creativity on TA. I had good ideas (ideas that I think will grow with time), but nothing thrilled me. Everyone kept telling me to move on, write something new. First books never get published. But I couldn't. Writing felt like a chore - editing TA still felt new and exciting.

I learned so much through writing TA. I started writing it just to prove I could. My first draft was such a mess. Almost every major character or plot point has changed since I first typed it. My writing has gotten stronger, but I've also gotten better as a writer. There's a difference. I understand the value of beta readers and critique parters now. I have a better grasp on other books in my genre. I know more about how the publishing industry works (and doesn't work). I've learn to craft queries and pitches.

I've learn that sometimes it's okay to let go. And letting go isn't giving up.

I've been so afraid that if I loved another manuscript, I'd be giving up on Alex & Emma. I thought I'd let down everyone who read those early drafts. With a job and a home and a husband and a toddler, my time is really limited. I have find time to write and edit and critique and blog and query and research in the middle of managing everything else in my life. I didn't think I had time to love something else and still move forward with TA.

I LOVE the Alterae. I love these characters. There are scenes in my head for future books that are AWESOME and I want to write them.

And I will. But I'm also completely, totally, madly in love with a new work in progress. I started writing last Sunday night and I'm already over 10,000 words (TA is around 64,000 to give some perspective). I'm continuing to work on getting TA out there, submitting to contests, querying, etc, but in the mean time, I am loving writing something new.

While still a contemporary fantasy, this one is totally different from TA in tone. It's much lighter and the romance is stronger. It's also more epic - something I never thought I'd write again. I'm not writing it to prove anything or to fit any self-imposed expectations. I'm writing because I love it. Because words are pretty and I can paint pretty pictures with them. Because I can create characters that stick with me and make me want to follow their stories. Because I want to know what if?

I guess the point of all this is that I finally took the advice of EVERY OTHER WRITER and finally found something new to love. Because just waiting will never get me any closer to getting published. And I have stories to tell.

What about you? How to do know when to let projects rest? When do you let them go completely? How do you differentiate between giving up on a project and giving it space?

Friday, January 20, 2012

I'm Back! With a Blog Award!

It took me a week, but I am making my way back to my normal writing/blogging routine post computer crash. Thanks to my amazing boss, I have a brand new MacBook Pro - the kind with a backlit keyboard so I can type in the dark! (Which happens an awful lot...) Now I can finally get around to giving a big THANK YOU to Juliana Haygert for giving me the Kreativ Blogger Award!

The rules are 1.) I have to post 10 things you may not know about me and 2.) Pass it along to six other bloggers. I never know what to say for these things, so this will probably be very random.

1.) If I could magically have any talent, I would want to be an awesome bassist, like Nikki Monninger from Silversun Pickups. Totally have a girl-crush on her skills. Most guys can't play like that - the bass takes a lot of hand strength & I've never heard another woman play like her.

2.) The closest I've ever been to being in a band was a fake emo band called All's Well That Ends Well While Burning Out of a Falling Airplane into the Ruins of a Broken City Because My Heart Still Bleeds for You, Julie, Still. It was named after a girl who's name probably wasn't even Julie. We sat around a camp fire at a music festival coming up with album titles for an entire evening. I don't remember any of them, but I still remember the band name.

3.) I still wear kids size shoes. I mostly wear Chucks, but I have to buy them in the kids department.

4.) My favorite number is 4 because as a kid, I figured out it took the same number to count it as spell it. So when we played games like tag, I always knew where the bubble gum in a dish was going to land. Even if I was "it,"at least I knew. I was such a neurotic kid.

5.) I hated Cheetos (the crunchy orange kind) until I got pregnant with my son. I still can't get enough of them. Gross.

6.) I kind of love spreadsheets. And doing taxes. I'm a secret math geek. I like the order and predictablitiy. I like being able to take all the mysteries of life and reduce them to numbers. Sad, I know.

7.) One of my favorite books is translated from Turkish. Memed My Hawk was the first, um, adult book my mother knew I read. When she loaned it to me, it was as woman to woman, not mother to child. 

8.) I love tea. I made a pilgrimage to the Celestial Seasonings factory in Colorado a few years back. It was awesome. The mint room is what heaven must smell like.

9.) Due to having a toddler, however, I now drink coffee too. I always drank it if I was out at Starbucks with friends or something, but I never drank it regularly in the morning until after I had my little guy.

10.) I need a lot less sleep now too. I always needed 9+ hours to be a kind, decent human being. I now survive on about 6. I must have a 3 hour sleep cycle or something.

So there you go. Ten really, really random things about me.

And I'd like to pass the award along to Leigh Ann & Chessie because of frequency & diversity of their posts, Robin for her very informative posts on queries, Jamie for hosting an awesome first agent contest, Becca & Angela for assembling one of the greatest tools for writers on the web, and Brenda for her awesome Blogfests & contests. Thanks ladies for all you contribute to the writing community!

Thursday, January 12, 2012

Hiatus (because I chose my son over my laptop...)

So my 20-month-old son decided to climb on the back of the couch while I had my laptop out. His balance isn't as good as his courage leads him to believe. Faced with either letting him fall nearly 4 feet straight back onto the hardwood floors or holding onto my laptop, I lunged to grab the little guy's leg and my laptop skidded sideways off my lap. The corner of the display hit the floor with a gut-wrenching crack.

 My husband is kind of a tech genius (he's already talking about swapping out the display...) so I'm waiting for him to get home to tell me how bad it is. But I'm guessing I'll be offline for a bit while we figure it out.

 I made the right choice. Right?

Monday, January 9, 2012

Paying It Sideways?

pay it forward.
pay it forward. by buttonheart / Chloe Price on Flickr

You know what's awesome? I'm an unagented, unpublished, unknown writer and yet I have readers. Even a few (dare I say it?) fans. I have people I've never met in real life cheering for me. People who remind me my writing isn't terrible, I'm not delusional and I can do this.

It's been about a year since I started taking my writing seriously. I entered my manuscript in the Amazon Breakthrough Novel Award contest on a whim and much to my surprise, I made it through to the quarter finals. Aside from the huge confidence boost, an excerpt from my manuscript was available on Amazon as a Kindle download. At one point, it even made it to #45 in free Kindle downloads. I got some awesome reviews of excerpt and even better, I made some new writing friends.

Writing is often a solitary endeavor. I write alone, cut off from the real world and lost in my own imagination. But when I joined Twitter, threw up a Facebook page and started this blog, I began to realize novels don't happen in vacuums.

After a scathing review from Publishers Weekly (citing my poor proof-reading skills, "shallow characterization" and too many male characters "inexplicably orbiting" around my main character), I dove right into rewrites. And then the magic started to happen. I had people begin to ask for the rest of my manuscript. People wanted to know how the story resolved. I sent it out to a few trusted friends, got good feedback and went back into rewrites.

Over the summer, I reach a new level in readership - I had someone I'd never met ask to read the rest! Leigh Ann gave me my first line edits and really helped whip this thing into shape. Then I met Kaleen and she asked all the right questions about things that didn't make sense. Ladonna found the perfect opening line buried at the end of the manuscript. Megan showed me why & how I needed to fix my final, climactic scene. And Tracy gave me one of the best compliments I've ever received about my writing. Several more have sacrificed time and occasionally sleep or family obligations to read and give me feedback on my manuscript, my pitch (thanks to ChessieLyla, Maggie & Gina), my query and my synopsis (thanks to Jessica, Robin, Cassandra, KaiJani & Juliana). I've posted on AgentQueryConnect and QueryTracker, receving invaluable feedback about how to sell my story in a single page.

There are dozens more who have encouraged me and cheered me on throughout this journey (sorry if I forgot to mention anyone...). What makes that more amazing is that these writers are all in the same place as me. I suppose they could be viewed as competition. But instead, they're my comrades in arms. They are the ones who keep me going after (another) form rejection and the ones who share links for new opportunities to share my work/catch an agent/promote myself.

I am so grateful for the entire writing community that has welcomed me with such open arms. I want to pay it forward, to take what I've been given and pass it along, but really, it's more like paying it sideways. We're on this journey together. Some of us might catch that break we're all hoping for sooner than others, but it will be a shared victory when one of us signs with an agent or gets that book deal we all dream of. Whatever successes I find in my writing career, I hope I never lose (not loose - one of those typos my crit partners & beta readers are ALWAYS finding...) sight of that. I hope I never forget to pay it forwards or backwards or sideways. I love being a part of the writing community and I hope I'll be able to invest back into the lives and careers of my fellow writers now and in the future.

So thank you to everyone who has invested in me and my writing. I only hope I can do the same for each of you some day.

Wednesday, January 4, 2012

Bella vs. Buffy or Why I Hate YA Heroines

Okay, hate is far too strong a word. But I have been very disappointed with most of the YA heroines I've read lately. I so seldom find girls I would have actually wanted to be friends with as a teen. Swoon-worthy boys abound, but I usually find the girls unworthy of their affections. Can't anyone write strong but vulnerable young women?

In almost every YA book I've read in recent year, the heroines tend toward two extremes: passive, shallow characters who exists only to build up the stronger, male character (ie, Bella) or they are brash, untouchable characters who don't need a man, only to fall in love in spite of themselves (ie, Buffy). And both types seem to view the desire for marriage and family as a weakness. The girls I knew as a teen were smart, resourceful and sensitive. They loved easily and wore their wounds like badges of honor. They were complicated and irrational. They were so much more than the girls portrayed in YA books today.

In the interest of full disclosure, I read all the Twilight books and (mostly) enjoyed them. I watched (the first couple seasons) of Buffy and enjoyed that as well. But isn't there a balance between girls who can't walk straight on their own and girls more likely to give someone a roundhouse kick than the time of day?

I relate to the weak heroines. I'm clumsy, unathletic and much better at mental tasks than anything physical. But I am fully capable of taking care of myself. I have a strong sense of self-preservation. I've learned to make up for what I lack in strength of body with strength of mind.

And I do admire the ass-kicking heroines. I'd love to have hair-trigger reflexes and the skills to take out anyone who underestimates me. But inevitably, after a tearful breakdown, the kiss-ass heroine realizes she cannot live without some boy and lets her obsession with him define her from there on out.

Women are strong and not because they can do everything men can do. They are strong because they can do things men can't do. Like carrying children and giving birth. The very things these YA heroines reject as weakness are the things I view as strength. Only the strongest risk mind and body to protect someone vulnerable with no thought of personal gain. And what is wrong with demanding some level of commitment from a boy before giving yourself to him?

I would love to see more YA heroines who use their brains instead of brawn to defeat their enemies. Girls who don't need a boy to tell them who they are. Girls who are clever and confident. The kind of girls I've known and admired throughout my life.

I know I fail at this as a writer. It's too easy to fall into those established archetypes. But I've tried to create a heroine who is at least worthy of my hero. I've tried to create a character I'd be proud to have as a daughter. Because the girls I know are neither weak and passive nor brash and untouchable. They are both and they deserve better than shallow stereotypes.

So what do you think? Are you disappointed with YA heroines or am I overreacting? Any recommendations for YA heroines you do like? What are some stereotypes/plot lines that bug you?