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.

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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.

The Writer, Long Emerged

Last month I went to see a reading at the HammerMichael Chabon, Pulitzer winner and best-selling author, was reading from his most recently published novel, Telegraph Avenue.

At the following Q&A, led by Mona Simpson (an accomplished author herself), Chabon and his wife Ayelet Waldman (note: also a best-selling author) discussed the writers’ life and process, their lives together, raising children, editing each other’s work, their differing writing habits and reading tastes. This, I think, is one of the moments young writers fantasize about – being on stage, among other successful writers, with an audience clinging to your spoken words as well as your written ones – this is one of those moments where you know you’ve emerged.

I’ve been to other readings where I’ve shown up right before it’s supposed to start, gone in, and found a seat a few rows from the front. At this event, I arrived half an hour early to stand at the back of the box office line, which was shorter even than the entrance line. I ended up getting in, so to speak – aside from the main room, where you get to share breathing air with these literary adepts, there is a second room for the overflow of eager listeners, where you watch the goings on of the adjacent room projected on a slide screen. (I heard that for the Lakers’ major away games, they sold tickets at astronomical prices for fans to come to the Staples Center and watch the game on huge television screens. And they sold out. Being in the slide room was like that, I imagine – not the same as actually being there, but almost as good, and still surrounded by the energy of fellow fans.)

I was surprised by the couple’s ease, by the way they sounded like real people. They joked, laughed, swore. Ayelet had a head cold. Just like everyone else, they have to figure out who’s doing the cooking and how the kids are getting looked after while the parents need creative space. (They take turns, I understand, getting away to just write.) No minor feat, to make a living as a novelist. Let alone to raise a successful household, when both parents are creative writers.

I think about my own future and how badly I want to be able to make a living purely with my fiction. How my boyfriend is also an artist. How you have to create a dance with each other, to support each other and each person’s respective passions. For the last seven months while I participated in an incredibly consuming leadership program, my boyfriend was the one who cooked for me when I got home starving at midnight, who worked extra on the days when I couldn’t, who told me I could do it when I thought I couldn’t. Now, with my program complete, my boyfriend is completing his degree in an intensive animation program, and it is my turn to do the extra dishes, remind him to go to bed early, and tell him that he can do it.

It is hard enough to be an artist alone. It is harder, sometimes, to be two artists together, and sometimes having an artist partner makes it easier. Becoming two successful artists together, long-emerged artists, now that’s a trick. Watching Michael Chabon and Ayelet Waldman, I wanted to point and say, I know, I know, they are rare. How often does this happen? But see, it’s possible! It is!

On Being Bestselling

I typically think of the New York Times Bestseller list as a reliable source for good books. “Good” being a relative term, including the literary, pithy, meaningful, and the suck-you-in page-turners. Sometimes the two overlap. Occasionally I’ll wonder how a book ended up on that list.

In two recent reads, I can easily see how they earned their places as NY Times Bestsellers. Markus Zusak’s The Book Thief, set in Nazi Germany, told from the POV of Death, explores a young girl’s relationships to her parents, close friends, and – books. And as for Before I Fall, written by Lauren Oliver: In reliving the last day of her life seven times, a teenage girl discovers that there is more to life than being popular.

Both are about life, what is important in life, and what it means to live. Both feature strong young female protagonists. With The Book Thief, I was skeptical at first. My sister had given it to me, with high recommendation, and my instinct of elevated expectations was to be skeptical. This book, I thought, is only so acknowledged because of the subject matter – Nazi Germany, the girl’s relationship with a Jewish man at the height of WWII. And Death as narrator? How contrived.

By the end, however, I’d been won over. It was a good book, and incredibly well-written. I thought about it long after, and was touched. And what writer wouldn’t love a book about the power of books? Yet, I was able to put it down.

Before I Fall, on the other hand, I stumbled upon while doing research for my novel in the Teen Fiction section of Barnes & Noble. It’s not high-brow literary fiction. The writing wasn’t revolutionary. Maybe I got so attached because its themes overlap the themes of my novel. But here’s what happened: I picked it up, got sucked in immediately, bought it. It was the kind of book I stayed up late to read (and those who know me know how I hate to lose sleep). I would arrive at appointments early just so I could spend five extra minutes reading it in my car. The kind of book that I couldn’t wait to finish doing whatever else I was doing so that I could read it.

Ideally, yes, I’d like to write books that are both revolutionary and page-turners. It’s so easy to get caught up in wanting your work to be high-minded. As my mentor reminded me, the greats were writing popular fiction. They didn’t become classics until later. If I could have people unable to stop flipping the pages, I’d be incredibly proud.

Hammer Reading

 Last week, I went to see a reading with a fellow writer friend, at his invitation, at the Hammer Museum. It just happened to be Aimee Bender (I just finished reading The Particular Sadness of Lemon Cake a couple weeks ago). The other reader was Etgar Keret. I hadn’t heard of him but he turned out to be quite entertaining. He is from Israel and apparently revolutionized literature there. The two of them played off each other well, particularly during the Q&A section.

            Keret explained his impact on the literature in Israel somewhat like this:
            The written word has not changed in Israel in thousands of years. Authors who write in English worry about seeing their book up on a shelf next to Shakespeare. Israel’s authors worry about seeing their book next to the Bible. (Also, as I learned while in Israel, anything with Hebrew writing on it does not get thrown away, rather archived or buried.) Yet, while the written word has carried through, the spoken language has changed. It is common in Israel, when saying something like “see you later,” to say, “Tov yalla bye.” This phrase is a combination of three languages: Hebrew, Arabic, and English. (Tov meaning “good,” yalla meaning “come on” or “hurry up.”) Keret incorporated Hebrew slang into his writing, which was unheard of, and caused quite a reaction in the Israeli community.
            This was an incredible story, especially since I recently went to Israel, but mostly because this is so different from writing in English. When studying creative writing I have always been told to get the dialogue as close to what people actually say as possible. A common writing exercise is to go to a public place and just listen to people, recording it all down, because this informs the veracity of the writing.
            Not to mention their reading selections were fabulous.