Santa Barbara Writers Conference

In just under two months, I will be… attending the Santa Barbara Writers Conference! Six days of workshops, panels, lectures, and socializing with others in the writing world. So excited. Guest speakers include Sue Grafton, of the alphabet mystery series, and Stephen Chbosky, who wrote The Perks of Being a Wallflower, and also wrote and directed the film adaptation.

SBWC logo, from their website, sbwriters.com.

SBWC logo, from their website, sbwriters.com.

After completing Draft 4 of my novel, I told my mentor it felt very close to “done” (at least, I felt, I had written what I really wanted to write) and I thought after one more pass I’d be ready it send it out. He reminded me that while he gives me suggestions, the final choice is always mine as the writer. And if I really wanted to start putting it out there, one potential way to do so was to attend conferences. Meet people, get feedback. Meet more people.

Of course, upon deciding my manuscript was “ready” I immediately had severe doubts. No, I must revise it at least ten more times! Draft 5 is “done” and of course, now I am finally seeing the potential “triumphant” end. I see how I might be able to make it work, after so much tribulation. I think I should write it. I want to, I think. Of course right now I am revising my query letter again, and feeling like it needs more work than I know how to give. So, research!

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Option C: The Grave

I’ve been reading like mad. Here are some brief summaries of a few books I’ve recently read, in hopes of setting off some spark of thought for my own novel… *Spoiler Alert!!* Since I’m especially concerned with the END of my novel, I’m looking at the endings of these books. If you don’t want the endings spoiled, read no further!

LA CandyL.A. Candy, written by reality star Lauren Conrad of “The Hills,” is a story about two lucky girls from Santa Barbara who come to Los Angeles for college and work and end up starring in a reality TV show. Protagonist Jane Roberts is innocent, naïve, and awestruck by L.A. As she becomes a star, she traps herself in an awkward love triangle – at the end of the book she cheats on the guy she’s dating with his best friend, who happens to be the guy she liked first and would have fallen for if not for his on-again, off-again girlfriend. So, innocence to scandal. Yes, it was a bestseller, and yes, it was the first novel in a series.

How to Be Popular

Meg Cabot is the bestselling author of The Princess Diaries series, among other hits. In her novel How to be Popular, high school junior Steph Landry discovers a book in her best guy friend’s grandmother’s attic called <surprise!> How to be Popular. She uses the books’ tricks to organize her master plan: becoming popular, taking down the most popular girl in school (who has made the last five years of Steph’s life hell just because Steph spilled a Super Big Gulp on her white skirt in middle school), and get the most popular guy in school to like her. Her plan fails, she discovers the popular guy is a jerk, and she realizes she’s actually in love with her nerdy best guy friend, who’s been into her from the beginning. Cherry on top? At the end of the book, when Steph has found herself and come to terms with who she is, and is dating her nerdy friend, all the popular kids join them for coffee.

I Am the Messenger

Markus Zusak (yep, that’s right, author of The Book Thief)’s I Am the Messenger is the only book I read with a male protagonist, and it was definitely worth the read, despite being very different from what I’m writing. Protagonist Ed Kennedy is a 19-year-old cabdriver in love with a best friend who refuses to have sex with him. Life looks boring and hopeless until Ed stops a bank robbery, receives an ace in the mail, and becomes the messenger. End: he grows confident and believes in his own self-worth, and he accomplishes all the missions (messages) he’s been set. Oh, and he gets the girl. This book won the Michael L. Printz Award for Excellence in Young Adult Literature.

Delirium

In Lauren Oliver’s bestseller Delirium, love is a disease and everyone is cured at the age of 18. Lena is all about following the rules, can’t wait, even, to be cured. Until of course she falls in love. The books is perhaps more about Lena’s journey to learning how to think for herself than it is a love story. Though her lover dies at the end, it’s in the pursuit of escaping, which will grant her freedom and show the rest of the world that they’re blind and authority can – should – be flouted. A complex ending, because she loses him, yet she gains herself: freedom, independence, a mind of her own. Worth the risks? Yep. Triumphant? Definitely.

Gossip Girl

Book One of Cecily von Ziegesar’s bestselling series Gossip Girl is saucy and sexy. It shows us the characters, sets the scene, and begins our little love-hate relationship with GG herself. Do any of the characters actually grow in this book? Nope, but that’s all part of the game. There is no triumphant end, not even a conclusion, really. Just the beginnings of more drama. You know you love her.

 

 

 

Beautiful Disaster

Beautiful Disaster, the bestselling novel written by Jamie McGuire, is a romance set in college. Abby has carefully arranged herself to look like a good girl, despite her past. Travis is your classic bad boy with a soul – tattoos, amateur fighter, ladies’ man, until he meets Abby, of course. She’s determined to avoid a relationship with him, as he symbolizes everything she’s running from, but the story goes like this: Girl meets boy, boy meets girl. Girl and boy are “just friends.” Girl and boy get together. Girl and boy break up. Girl and boy get back together. Girl and boy get married in Vegas. The End.

Skinny

Ibi Kaslik has written Skinny in alternating chapters from the POVs of two sisters. Giselle, who just managed to complete her first year of medical school before being hospitalized, is a bisexual anorexic who believes their father never loved her. Holly, the younger sister, is a high school track star and all-around dare-devil, the father’s favorite. As the story unfolds we see the effects of the father’s death and Giselle’s anorexia on both girls. In the dark climax I’ve been waiting for, Giselle dies. She also, however, comes to terms with her relationship with her father, and with herself.

Touch

Written by bestselling author Francine Prose, Touch features Maisie, fourteen, at the center of an incident at the back of her school bus. No one is sure what happened, least of all her, for the majority of the book. At first she claimed nothing happened, wanting to protect her friends, and then, angry at them, she claimed more happened than did. The truth? She allowed her three male friends to touch her breasts. At the end of the book, Maisie drops the lawsuit and loses her best friends. The ending is sad, but the character growth is triumphant: Maisie learned about the importance of truth, her inner ability to deny it, and, ultimately, she learned to stay true to herself.

In a brief run-down, I can look at the books I’ve read and come to this simple conclusion: I need to either a) revise my ending to a triumphant one, in which the protagonist either gains true love or self-love, or b) turn it into a series. Of course, there’s always c) leave it as is and, as my mentor is fond of saying, go to my grave clutching the unpublished manuscript.

I’m not sure if I’m willing to change my ending the way it may need to be changed. I’m certainly not sure how. I’m not even sure I can.

There’s also another option – Send it out. And see what happens.

Of course, I may just wrack up a ton of rejections. In which case it’s back to options A, B, or… C.

A Little Love

So I’d meant to post this on Valentine’s Day, and then things got hectic. But it’s still February – we may as well call it the month of love – and it’s never too late for a little love, right?

A Little Book of Kisses

In the celebration of love of this month, I am reminded that I love my job(s) and I am incredibly lucky to lead the life I love. Love for my family and friends and fellow writers! Love for the wonderful people who encourage, support, and make my writing possible.

Happy Valentine's Day

A Valentine’s Day present I made for my amazing boyfriend. I’m all about embossing these days!

Valentine’s Day was a great reminder to celebrate all of the things and people that I love, not just one day a year, but every day.

Open Book of KissesI am chugging along reading the YA/NA books I picked up at the library. Three and a half down, six and a half to go… I am trying desperately to finish them before March begins, as that is the official NaNoEdMo and several members of my writers group and I are having a little competition to support each other in getting in as many hours of editing as we can, perhaps well beyond the 50-hour mark.

So far, I have had no brilliant ideas for my ending. The books I’ve read do have the common triumphant end, though I have seen lovers dying and series where the drama just drags out. For some reason I feel like if I manage to read all ten books (and maybe the two others I’ve got a library hold out for) then I’ll have what I need to make a miraculous revision when I finally get down to it.

I’ll admit, I’m frustrated by the time it seems to take in between each draft to get myself geared up and ready to revise. So far it’s worked well – each revision has been drastic and something I’m proud of – but I do wish I could shrink the process, the same way I’ve been shortening the time it takes to finish a draft. But since the subconscious doesn’t work that way, I’m working on relaxing and allowing it to do its thing, and in the meantime, devouring these books.

To finish my 12-book goal by March 1, that’d be approximately two books per day, and I’d have to do nothing but read, which isn’t going to happen. I’m sad about this. But I’m going to just read as much as I can before I jump into the revision and then see if I can’t read and write at the same time… Here’s hoping 50 hours in a month will be easier the second time around!

A Tricky Spot

Yesterday my aunt asked, “How’s the novel going?” And I had to answer, “Well… at the moment… it’s kind of… not.” I’m feeling incredibly frustrated about my ending. After finishing the last draft, I felt that I had gotten pretty close to writing what I wanted to write. But now I’m dealing with this central dilemma: writing what I want to write, versus what I want to read. Or versus what my readers want to read. This is another thing that hasn’t changed since I started writing this book.

Traditionally, young adult books have triumphant endings, where the protagonist overcomes, and when I put these down I have that warm fuzzy satisfied feeling. Often when I read literary fiction I find myself slogging through, sometimes forcing myself to digest the next word and the next word, but when I finish the book I’m left thinking, wanting to talk about it. As is common in literary fiction, the current ending of my book is very dark. So, the opposite of traditional YA.

As my sister put it, you’ve put yourself in a tricky spot. Do literary fiction and young adult overlap? Is it possible to write literary fiction about sorority life? Another question I’ve been asking from the beginning, with no clear answer.

A successful writer friend of mine told me about an emerging genre called “New Adult,” which apparently targets the demographic my novel is about/for, and addresses the coming-of-age between adolescence and true adulthood. (See the wiki article, a site for NA writers called NA Alley, and an article on the Huffington post.) She suggested I read best sellers in this genre, paying attention to how those authors did their endings. A trip to the library the other day produced a stack of books, still labeled YA (most of the best sellers were checked out, so I’m on the waiting list). Hopefully this will get the creative juices flowing…

Library Books

Did I mention it’s my birthday? I don’t like to think that another year has come and gone, and I still haven’t finished/published this book! But then again, there’s nothing I’d rather be doing than writing, rewriting, reading, rewriting… and I’m in this, no matter how many birthdays it takes. I’m celebrating with friends and family later on, but at this moment there’s nowhere I’d rather be than on my couch, at my computer, writing on my birthday.

happy bday

A lovely Valentine’s-themed birthday gift from my incredibly sweet and caring aunt, who remembers the special days of everyone in the family and always sends us holiday gifts, too.

Moving a Mountain

I had a mini-critique of my novel D4 last night (big THANK YOU to the committed, persistent writers who’ve been with me every step of the way). While there was some praise for changes well-made and some comments on changes that didn’t work, it is amazing how much of the central dialogue has remained the same since the very first draft – discontent with the ending. I have changed the ending three times, and while I feel I’ve gotten close to what I want to write, I still haven’t left with my readers with the satisfaction they crave. I don’t know what will change in the next draft, but it will soon be time to dive in again. I’m going to read D4 over to myself, give a few days to process, and then it’s back to work.

In the meantime, I was supposed to be researching agents. My mentor continues to tell me to focus on the craft, for I can’t pursue an agent without the draft that is the ultimate in what I’m capable of producing. But I feel like I’m floundering, meandering, getting lost in writing without any sense of direction or goal. He agreed it might be pertinent at this point to at least begin compiling a list of potential agents.

I find this task incredibly daunting. Perhaps that is why I’ve been procrastinating the research for so long. Where to begin? How to begin? Easier to put it off another day while focusing on my craft.

Agent Research

I’ve heard it’s useful to peruse bookstore shelves, looking for books like yours, and read the “acknowledgements” sections, since writers always thank their agents there. This is getting harder and harder to do, of course, as the bookstores keep disappearing. My mentor suggested that, just as it worked well for me to set up an amount of time, at the same time, every day, to write, I should also set aside a time each day for agent research, and I’m beginning to do this. I’ve brought up agentquery.com, and I’ve pulled my dusty Writer’s Markets from my shelves. As my grandfather used to say, “How does a man move a mountain? One stone at a time.”

D4 Done – Happy Holidays!

Holiday Snowmen

Did I mention I finished the 4th draft of my novel? Yes, I did, earlier this month. It took 5.5 weeks. This is amazing, especially since the previous drafts each took 6-7 months. NaNoEdMo is to account for this, of course, and also I think the book is actually, finally, coming together.

xmas tree!

After profuse congratulations, my mentor talks to me about “the next draft.” This is the cycle, again, and my reactions are the same. I don’t want to hear it. This draft is it, I think, it’s as good as I can make it. A friend of mine worked diligently with her writing partner on a television pilot for months – years? – and they would send out drafts and get comments over and over again. Eventually, she told me, their readers said, It’s good. It’s done. Send it out. I hope one day my mentor will say this to me. (The little voice in my head goes, but when? When? When?!) Of course, he may never say this. I’ll have to make that decision myself. How will I know it is done? That is a whole other conversation.

Yosemite snow

My mentor also suggested I watch “Gossip Girl” – this is homework I don’t mind. The main piece of advice he has given for this moment is to relax, recharge, and refill my creative cup. I am in Yosemite with my family on Christmas Eve, and the timing couldn’t be more perfect.

yosemite

50 Hours COMPLETE

It’s OVER! And yes, I did it. I completed 50 hours! The members of my writers’ group all hit the 50,000-word mark and then some, as well.

NaNoEdMo Minutes

I feel: accomplished, relieved, sad.

On the final day, I had 45 minutes left to go, and I finished in an easy and controlled manner somewhere around 8pm. It was somewhat anticlimactic actually. No insane stressful rush to complete by the deadline. But this was great, because it meant I’d planned well, worked hard, and created a workable schedule for writing. Once I got used to pushing past the hour, I could keep going easily. I still encountered moments of stress, of course, in working things out to get my hours, and in sacrificing other things – but this is part of being a writer, too.

In my minute-count, I allowed myself to include bathroom breaks (only short ones) and the moments where I might look, to an outsider, as if I were staring off into space but my mind was going full-throttle. There is a character who makes paper cranes, slow when she begins to learn and fast by the time she’s done hundreds, and I included the 2.5 minutes it took for me to make a crane, to see how fast I could do it. I did not include snacking, and when I went over my mark by 2-3 minutes I rounded down.

The process was highly effective. My first two drafts took 6 months, my third 7 months, and this one will take no more than 2. Likely less, especially if I keep up the hours/day I’ve been doing. Yes, by the fourth draft, I should be revising faster anyway. But the time commitment definitely had something to do with it.

Will I keep it up?

On December 1st, the thing I most wanted to do was not write. I took the day off, went to see “Lincoln” (fun fact: I was born on his birthday), and relaxed. On the second day I went to a Christmas party and blogged. But today I returned to an hour/day at least, maybe more. I wouldn’t know what to do with my time that’s more worthwhile than being entrenched in my novel.

Is November Over Yet?

At the suggestion of an accomplished writer friend, I picked up Goal, Motivation & Conflict by Debra Dixon. It’s a fast read and provides an incredibly useful way of developing characters. I created charts for my protagonist, antagonist, and an important secondary character. Following Dixon’s advice, I looked for what each character wants, why she wants it, and what is keeping her from getting it, both on an external and on an internal level. I discovered a couple of important things about my characters, and I saw where in my book I could focus on or enhance each character’s GMC. This is a brilliant tool, one that I will continue to use as I write.

Okay, let me be honest about something: I made those charts weeks ago. In the fury of NaNoEdMo, my blog has fallen to the wayside. I knew this might happen – I warned you – and indeed it has been hard to do much else aside from getting in my editing time each day.

When I very first decided to become a writer, I also decided, in all my fervent naïveté, that I was going to do it “like a real job” and write for 8 hours a day. My mentor (fighting the urge to laugh, I’m sure) told me that none of his successful writer friends wrote for more than 4 hours a day. Since then, that has been my goal.

Starting slow, a little at a time, is the way to build a habit. If you want to get up an hour earlier, begin in 15-minute increments. My sister told me that meditating for 5 minutes a day is better than half an hour once a week. This is how I began writing – one sentence at a time, ten minutes at a time – and it worked. I got up to an hour a day, and then an hour and a half.

But as I immersed myself in my NaNoEdMo, I found I was stuck in my pattern – after an hour and a half, it was like my brain shut off. It was a challenge to push myself for longer.

I became, dare I admit, a little burned out. I was afraid I couldn’t keep up the pace for an entire month, let alone my whole life. The charge of the early days in November, when I was writing more than the allotted hours, faded. My minutes dwindled until I was writing for only an hour some days, only half an hour, and once or twice even skipped a day completely. I discovered if I did two hours a day I could have a day off per week, but I couldn’t keep it up.

So I gave myself a break. Let my mind relax. Considered the possibility of not meeting the 50-hour goal. And then I jumped back in. Yes, I’m caught up. I am actually 20 minutes ahead. And I am determined to meet that goal.

I’m glad for the push that this has given me, glad to see that I can do more than I thought. And I will be glad when November is over!

Omit Needless… Chapters!?

We are eight days into the month of November, and I have done 15.5 hours of revision. This is 2.167 more hours than the requisite, if I am following a plan of doing 1.67 hours per day. I am trying to rack up extra now, knowing that I may need to skip a day or two around Thanksgiving, and I don’t want to be in a stressful crunch at the end of the month trying to make up hours.


I am following several famous pieces of advice. From the writer’s bible The Elements of Style, “Omit needless words.” Brilliance! Show don’t tell at its most succinct. I have been omitting needless words. Paragraphs. Pages. Yes, I have been omitting needless whole chapters.

My first step was to get rid of the first 50 or so pages. At my draft 3 critique, I asked my readers what they thought of my mentor’s suggestion to delete the first few chapters. General agreement ensued. Not everything, my readers said, but definitely a trim. One person’s favorite scene took place in the original chapter one. But I looked at the repetition, at what was necessary, at what would serve my story – and I went ahead and chopped, chopped, chopped.

Thus the second piece of highly-touted advice, this from William Faulkner: “Kill your darlings.” Sir Arthur Quiller-Couch spoke the original phrase “murder your darlings” when he said, “Whenever you feel an impulse to perpetrate a piece of exceptionally fine writing, obey it – whole-heartedly – and delete it before sending your manuscripts to press. Murder your darlings.”

So here I am, killing them one by one. It is hard – nearly painful. All the work and time that went into 50 pages of writing! I rewrote that original first chapter at least 20 times. But, it’s part of the job description.

Wordlove: Paris Review at the Hammer

Last week I went to a Hammer Reading followed by a Q&A with the editor of The Paris Review, Lorin Stein, and the editor of The Paris Review Daily, Sadie Stein. My overarching feeling as I sat there was, “These people are so articulate and have such wide vocabularies – I need to surround myself with more people like this!”

One of my favorite parts of the discussion was when an audience member asked the panel, “Where did your love of words begin? Or when did you first know/discover your passion for literature?”

Wordlove [wurd·luhv] n. a deep and enduring amorous emotion for collections of letters, or, an infatuation with grammar, spelling, story-telling, and all things word-related. (Kidding, I just made all that up. But you get the idea.)

Sadie had a mother with a certain discerning ban on any books she found too vulgar, and hence as a child Stein used to sneak off in bookstores to read Once Upon A Potty. (I used to love this book, in all its red, square, flowered, graphic glory.) The prohibition of some books only instilled in Stein a deeper love for all of them. The editors, though they have the same last name, are actually not related; Lorin joked, “We’re not siblings, but I believe we had the same mother.” Mona Simpson, by comparison, said she grew up reading all manner of “vulgar” books, and her love of words grew just the same.

As for me, two salient memories stick out in my mind: a certain bedtime story my father used to tell and the moment I learned to read.

My early wordlove was instilled, I think, by being read to every night before bed. My father, an architect, and a writer himself, used to read to my little sister and me, and also used to tell us stories he made up on the spot. Always, always, I wanted more. Another, I would plead, tell us another. Tell us a long one. Ok, he would say. “Once upon a time, there was a long, long, long, long, long snake. The end.”

And then – the moment I learned to read. There was actually an instant where everything clicked. I was in my aunt’s living room, with my grandmother, and she held the “I Can Read” book while I cried in frustration. How I hated that little boy in the book in his stupid red-and-white striped shirt! I tried, I cried, I tried and cried some more. My grandmother, with astounding patience, coaxed me back to the book, and I tried again. And miraculously, the letters came together, made sense, I could recognize and pronounce words, and I could read. I was voracious after that. Read Jurrassic Park in elementary school, things like that. Unlike other parents, who struggled to get their kids to read, my mom mandated that for every “fun” book I read, I had to read a classic. I scoured the shelves for something that looked of minor interest. Rose In Bloom promised young love, but this is Louisa May Alcott, who wrote about times when holding hands couldn’t be done without a chaperone. Luckily my mother’s mandate didn’t hinder my passion for words, and of course I began to write as much as I read (and you know where that went).

Sadie said that she does not want to see books treated as rare artifacts, like things held in museums, or treated with extreme caution. She loves the ubiquitous, almost disposable nature of books, and hopes this doesn’t change – she treats hers horribly, she admitted, throwing them into her purses, eating with them, bending covers and staining pages.

I, too, love eating and reading, and am guilty of staining many a page. I hope for my books to be read, stained, dog-eared – loved. Of course I have to write them first. So yes, I’ve officially decided that while my writers group does NaNoWriMo, I am participating in my own NaNoEdMo. Fifty hours in the month of November. This Thursday it begins! I’m filled with the usual: excitement and trepidation. Will I be able to do this? Is it crazy to try? There were several books I had intended to read before beginning the revision, which I have not read. I had also hoped to go through everybody’s notes in eager detail. Perhaps write an outline. My mentor suggested setting down a list of changes to make. I have three days to prepare… I’m stressed out all ready.