Oh, Just a Little Creative Breakthrough

On the outside, this happened:

I revealed the cover and plot summary for my new novel 17 & Gone—and I have a pub date: March 21, 2013!

If you are a librarian or a blogger or reviewer, you can request an ARC here, for when ARCs are available, which thankfully isn’t today.

And I need to update my websites once I get a moment.

But on the inside, I’m a strange jumble of nerves and yes excitement but more nerves, come from having something kept private for so long now being pulled up into the light. Do any other authors get this, too, or am I a complete weirdo?

I am also in the midst of a creative breakthrough that I can’t talk about yet. Partly it came from failing utterly at this writing experiment (which deserves a whole separate blog that I will get to) and also from needing to follow my heart right now. Needing to write what I want to write, and—no offense—not care what it is I think YA readers and the market and critics and anyone else might expect or want from me. 17 & Gone is very much me, it’s kind of ridiculous, and I love this book all the more for that, so I might as well fling myself off the deep end and keep going instead of wishing I could be more commercial, which is a flaw I have, like wishing I could be a flamingo when I’m actually an ostrich. I’m an ostrich, damn it!

I didn’t build this semblance of a life to try to be anyone other than who I am.

And thus ends the cryptic talk about my behind-the-scenes creative breakthrough! How many of these does a writer have to go through before it sticks?

Turning Points: Guest Post by Leigh Fallon (+Giveaway)

This guest post is part of the Turning Points blog series here on distraction no. 99—in which I asked authors the question: What was your turning point as a writer? Here is YA author Leigh Fallon revealing hers…


Guest post by Leigh Fallon

I haven’t been writing all that long. The first “real” thing I ever wrote was my debut novel, Carrier of the Mark.

For me, this Turning Points series has been a real eye opener. I’ve been reading of the struggles and major moments that became turning points in the careers of some of my favorite authors, and it’s been amazing. But I haven’t been writing long enough to have yet experienced those epic moments. The ones that make the light bulb start flashing above your head. This writing game is a rollercoaster of mind-blowing highs and stomach-clenching lows. I’ve had a taste of what’s to come, but I know it’s been just that, a taste.

I’ve only dipped my toe in the murky waters of the publishing world, but I did have a first turning point moment that urged me to take off my shoe, pull down my sock, and tentatively test the temperature. And that moment happened to me around this time three years ago.

I was living in the small fishing village of Kinsale, Co Cork, Ireland. I’d just had my twin boys, bringing my total number of kids to a whopping four. I was on an extended career break from my job in corporate treasury, and pining the loss of my independence. I was your typical harassed, stressed-out mom, trying to juggle too many pies. My two daughters were in ballet class, and my boys were in the back of the car screeching their little lungs out from boredom, and it was lashing rain. The windows had fogged up, obscuring the world outside. The sound of two babies crying and the pounding of the rain on the car roof became overwhelming, and I felt trapped in my foggy mommy bubble. And that’s when it happened, my turning point moment. I sought an escape.

I picked up a pen and a scrap of paper from the floor, and I started to write. It was the beginning of what would eventually become Carrier of the Mark.

The chapter that I scrawled onto the back of receipts and kids drawings would never make it into the final version of Carrier, but it was the pathway to the rest of the book, and it would launch a career I’d never even considered.

That was my big turning point. I suddenly realized, that hidden away under years of repressed imagination, bad advice from teachers, and strange career choices, I was a writer—though I use the term loosely.

Now that I look back on my life, there were clues, little hints of what was lurking below the surface. I used to do this thing, where if something annoyed me, I’d write my feelings and frustrations in a letter. It wouldn’t be to anyone in particular, and it would never be sent. I’d be mouthing out the words as I wrote them. A good letter-writing session would leave my face sore from all the angsty facial expressions I’d be making. But it delivered me to a happier place. I needed the release of the writing. It made me feel better. I never thought anything of it. Everything I wrote was for purely therapeutic reasons. As soon as it was out of my system it would be ripped to shreds. Gone. Done.

People used ask me for help with their communications. I’ve written letters of complaint, of praise, of love, and of resignation. I’ve dictated speeches, and fleshed out whole conversations for people over many a long-distance phone call. People came to me looking for words and the right format to put them in. I’d been writing all these years for other people, but never for myself.

Things changed on that rainy day in my car three years ago. I suddenly started writing for myself, and it was different. Because I wanted to share it, and to my surprise, people liked it, they wanted more. I sold the book, then the sequel.

So that’s my turning point, realizing I was a person who liked to write, and I had for many years. The problem now is accepting the label that goes with it. Whenever anyone asks me what I do, I hesitate and lower my voice before I tell them. I’m conscious that I blush when I say “I’m a writer.” I hear the words and they sound pretentious to me. In many ways I don’t feel I’ve earned the title yet. Yes I write, but I’m busy learning the craft of writing now, figuring it all out, honing my skills. I’m still finding my way.

So for now, I’m a person who writes books. I don’t know if I’ll ever arrive at the point where I’ll feel comfortable with the title that goes with that, but I’m sure having fun working towards it.


Leigh Fallon was born in South Africa, raised in Dublin, Ireland and moved to Cork in her twenties. While living in beautiful Kinsale, her novel, Carrier of the Mark, was conceived. She promptly abandoned her “riveting” career in corporate treasury and discovered Inkpop, a website for budding writers of teen fiction. Within weeks her manuscript hit the coveted top-five spot and was reviewed by an editor at HarperCollins. A few emails and some hysterical screaming later, she signed her first deal. Leigh and her family now share their time between Ireland and the US. You can visit her online at leighfallon.com.


GIVEAWAY WINNER ANNOUNCED! 

Congratulations to the giveaway winner of a *signed* copy of Leigh Fallon’s debut novel Carrier of the Mark! The winner is…

Samantha S.

Congratulations, Samantha! And thanks to the author for offering up her book for a giveaway. I’ll email the winner soon for her mailing address!


There’s more in the Turning Points series. Catch up with any posts you may have missed here.

17 & GONE Cover and Plot Summary Revealed!

Will you strangle me if I write one of those giddy, long-winded blog posts authors sometimes write saying I have a new book cover to show you and then it takes, oh, 17 paragraphs to get to the actual cover and you just end up scrolling down to see it anyway?

Don’t strangle me. I have a new book cover to show you!

I’m so thrilled to be able to tell you about my next YA novel coming out with Dutton on March 21, 2013. It’s called 17 & Gone—and the title and this Pinterest inspiration board are pretty much all I’ve told the world about it so far… until today.

Now I’m excited to reveal it!

The cover of my new novel, 17 & Gone, and the plot summary:

Seventeen-year-old Lauren is having visions of girls who have gone missing. And all these girls have just one thing in common—they are 17 and gone without a trace. As Lauren struggles to shake these waking nightmares, impossible questions demand urgent answers: Why are the girls speaking to Lauren? How can she help them? And . . . is she next? As Lauren searches for clues, everything begins to unravel, and when a brush with death lands her in the hospital, a shocking truth emerges, changing everything.


!!!

There is so much to this cover that strikes me and speaks to me about the book that I can hardly contain myself: the haunting figure of the girl, the fiery color scheme, the abandoned building, the distressed and water-stained type, and the ghosted “missing poster” and stats for a runaway named Abigail Sinclair… all of these things are significant.

This is the book that has been haunting me, begging me to do it justice. And all throughout the madness and dark places I had to go to write this, I had this amazing editor to work with, Julie Strauss-Gabel, who has this way of seeing into me and knowing just what I am trying to say before I can fully articulate it into, you know, a working plot. Her powers as an editor are uncanny… supernatural even. I can’t imagine writing this book without her.

I know I’ve been so secretive about this book for so long, so tell me…

What do you think of the cover for 17 & Gone? I hope it entices you to read the book!


p.s. If you’re wildly excited to read 17 & Gone (coming out March 21, 2013, from Dutton!) you can pre-order it from your local indie or from Amazon (I’ll insert B&N and more indie links when they are active)—and you can add it to your shelf on Goodreads.

Bloggers, reviewers, and librarians: I’m not sure when ARCs will be ready, but you are welcome to fill out this form to request an ARC of 17 & Gone here.

Turning Points: How I Tricked Myself into Writing Fantasy by Rebecca Barnhouse (+Giveaway)

This guest post is part of the Turning Points blog series here on distraction no. 99—in which I asked authors the question: What was your turning point as a writer? Here is author Rebecca Barnhouse revealing hers…


Guest post by Rebecca Barnhouse

This is me at fourteen, skinny legs splayed Gollum-like on the living room floor as I hunch over my artist’s pad, drawing creatures which might appear in the fantasy novel I want to write. One-eyed creatures, like the Cyclops (of which I am yet ignorant); one-legged creatures, like C. S. Lewis’s monopods (of which I am not); small creatures, large ones, some from named species, some as yet unclassified. Even as I draw them I am ashamed of how foolish they are, how derivative. How lame.

At fourteen, I read fantasy all the time. I write fiction all the time, too. My best friend and I are the bookish kind of girls who give each other as gifts new words (draconic!) and stories featuring the two of us and other characters you might recognize: Luke Skywalker, Han Solo, The Man from Atlantis. So why can’t I write fantasy, my favorite genre?

Several years later, the two of us collaborate on a realistic, contemporary YA novel. It’s not publishable, but it’s not meant to be; we’re only writing it to amuse ourselves. Yet for me, it opens a door I hadn’t realized was shut. Finally, I think I’ve found my genre: the contemporary YA novel. I write four of them and begin assembling my impressive collection of rejection letters.

In the meantime, I keep reading fantasy, along with a lot of other genres, and every now and then I feel a twinge. What is it about me that makes me unable to write this genre that I love? I’m visited by those same feelings of shame that I felt as a teenager sprawled in the living room. I am unworthy.

At some point, I go to graduate school and learn to be a medievalist. You would not believe the things you can get academic credit for. At the British Library, I am shocked every time I am allowed to touch a manuscript made a millennium ago, of which there is only a single copy in the entire world. I look furtively around, fill out a request slip, and yet another priceless codex is brought to me. Apparently I am the only one who recognizes that I am a fraud. My professors even award me my doctorate, although I suspect it’s just to get rid of me. Ten years in grad school is enough.

After I get a teaching job, I attend an SCBWI conference where someone asks me why I don’t write about the Middle Ages. Ha. I know way too much about the medieval period to set fiction there. All I would be able to see would be my mistakes. You would not catch me going down that road. Still, I marvel at the people who have never studied the Middle Ages from a scholarly perspective, yet who write captivating tales about it that get the details mostly right. (I don’t feel this way about all of them: I write an academic book that takes YA writers to task for all the errors they make in historical fiction about my beloved era. Clearly, I am working out some psychological problems of which I am unaware at the time. To those authors, I apologize.)

Then a funny thing happens. I teach a fifteenth-century text, The Book of Margery Kempe, over and over again, rereading it countless times. Every time I do, I am struck by the way the servant girl in the story is treated. I imagine her life when I’m crouching in front of the fireplace, blowing on the ashes. I think of her when I venture outside in this cold, bleak northern city in which I’ve found myself. Words start arranging themselves in my head. I compose a page mentally, then a chapter, even a plot, but my job keeps me far too busy to allow me to write them down.

Then, magically, it’s summer and school is out. The words rush forth. How could they not, when I know them so well? I don’t think about the genre (which I can’t write), just the story I want to tell. When I finish, I get some of the nicest rejection letters you can imagine. Robbie Mayes at FSG writes, “I hope you will try and try until you find a publisher for this.” Wow. You bet I will.

Yet when I finally have the time to give the novel the complete rewrite it needs, a different story is pushing to get out. Beowulf is another text I teach regularly, and I love the story of Wiglaf, the young warrior who comes to King Beowulf’s aid in his most desperate hour. I want to tell his tale—but I can’t; I’ve promised myself that I will do that rewrite. (Happily, it works and The Book of the Maidservant becomes my first published novel.)

Yet the instant the revision is finished, I turn to this new story, about Wiglaf. I’m okay writing about the Middle Ages now, because I’ve just done it and nothing terrible happened. But can I write convincingly from a boy’s perspective? That I’m not sure of. I’m so worried about it that I’m halfway through the scene with the dragon fight before the lightning bolt hits me: if there is a dragon, I must be writing fantasy.

But it doesn’t feel like I’m writing fantasy. The texture of daily life in sixth-century Scandinavia, the interior lives of my characters, the research: all of that tricked me into thinking I was writing historical fiction. The concern about whether I could write from a boy’s point of view distracted me, too.

Until that dragon came along.

When I decided I wanted to write another book set in the same world—the novel that would become Peaceweaver—it was because I wanted to tell the story of a girl whose uncle punishes her by sending her to marry into an enemy tribe. The fact that dragonsmoke drifts through her dreams, that she’s far-minded, or that monsters impede her progress? Those are just facts of her life. The poem Beowulf, which informs both Peaceweaver and The Coming of the Dragon, blends history and fantasy to tell a story. So do my novels.

But now I know what I didn’t understand at fourteen, when I was trying to invent a fantasy world to write about: it’s the story that matters. The genre will take care of itself.


Like Christopher Barzak, her former student, Rebecca Barnhouse is an English professor in Ohio. Her most recent novel, Peaceweaver, was released by Random House Children’s Books in March 2012. She’s currently working another novel, tentatively titled Ring-Giver and scheduled for a Fall 2013 release. Like her previous two books, it’s fantasy set in 6th-century Scandinavia. You can find her at www.rebeccabarnhouse.com.


GIVEAWAY WINNERS ANNOUNCED!

Three winners have been chosen! Each wins a *signed* copy of the Rebecca Barnhouse book of his/her choice. Here are the winners…

Winner #1: Will Klein, who won The Book of the Maidservant!

Winner #2: Lauren, who won The Coming of the Dragon

Winner #3: Erika, who won Peaceweaver

Congrats to all the winners, and thank you to Rebecca for donating her books for the giveaway. Winners will be emailed for their mailing addresses.


There’s more in the Turning Points series. Catch up with any posts you may have missed here.

On Chasing Ambition and Being a Girl and a Woman

I sometimes look around and realize I’m living a strange life—well, “strange” by the standards of what a woman in her thirties (I refuse to say the number out loud or write it down) might be living. I haven’t given my mom grandchildren. Every time I see her and I think of her with her friends who all have grandchildren, I feel a pang of guilt—even though she assures me she wants me just the way I am and that I’ve given her two “grandchildren” so far: Dani Noir and Imaginary Girls, with a third on the way this coming winter.

I don’t feel the need or desire to have children. It’s just not in me to be someone’s mother; there’s no biological clock in there, and I’ve tried to listen for it. No ticking. I say I don’t want children every single time I go to doctor visits, because they keep asking. But I also know they’ll stop asking me soon. My window is soon closing, and I’m fine with that.

I’m not such a successful grown-up either. I haven’t bought a house or an apartment—and I will never be able to do that. In fact, I own nothing of value at all. I’m married, but I don’t fit the standard definition of “wife” —I don’t cook; I barely clean; I don’t even do my own laundry. In fact, sit down because you might find this too romantic—I got married to give my boyfriend health insurance after he finished grad school. I took a personal day from work, we went to City Hall, and the next day I went to work and signed him up for my insurance with HR. We’d never intended to marry before, even though we love each other and have been together since we were eighteen. But I insisted. For health insurance, I told myself. Ironically, I no longer have that job. So it goes.

I don’t have a work career anymore, beyond freelancing. I don’t have many friends—I lost touch with so many of them over the years—and the only ones I do still have are writers too. I don’t like holidays. I don’t understand why people stay close with family just because you share blood. I keep close with certain members of my family, a tiny circle who I love, and I don’t need anyone else. I don’t have a social life. I don’t have hobbies. I don’t have savings. I enjoy spending time alone, with only myself. Very much. I look around lately—with so many people I know having children, and moving out of Manhattan, if they ever lived here to begin with, and doing things with family and going to weddings and going on vacations—and I see how odd I am. I am writing this alone at a café table on a beautiful weekend morning when most people seem to be outdoors, and I’m perfectly content staying right here.

I have and want one thing, and I’ve been single-minded about it since high school: I write. I’ve always wanted to be a writer, to the detriment of everything else.

When the writing is going well, I’m happy, I’m alive, I’m more pleasant to be with—and when the writing isn’t going well, I’m destruction on short legs. I’m a nightmare. I’m all or nothing. I’m that self-centered, temperamental artist no one wants to live with. When I want to go away for a month at a time for an artist colony, I jet off and go. When I want to stay home for days at a time revising and not cleaning or doing dishes or picking up things I drop on the floor, I do it.

I’m everything I always wanted to be—because I only ever wanted this one thing. And I’m also a bit of a monster, because when you have only one thing, you have quite a lot to lose.

I’m thinking of all this now because of this beautiful post I came across last night, “What I Did the Summer After I Graduated” by the Rejectionist. It’s this quote that resonates with me, this one I shared on Tumblr last night:

“When you are a woman or a girl or female no one says to you Look, artists who are great take without asking and take and take and do not apologize because when you are a woman or a girl or female the only thing you are supposed to take is a lot of other people’s shit. No one says to you Be sure you are strong enough to take and not apologize and keep going when the taking leaves you nothing to go back to. Be sure you are strong enough to steal and live alone with what you’ve chosen to make yours.” —The Rejectionist

You see, that post speaks to me. It speaks to me about ambition. About having this kind of larger-than-life ambition as a girl and now a woman. I know so many of us have it, but I also know it’s all I have. It’s all I want. My life is made up of this and nothing else.

Which is dangerous.

That beautiful post makes me think of all I let go and thought I didn’t want and so lost, over the years. About being this strange kind of creature who’s filled with only this WANTING to become something she may never get to be because it’s never good enough, where I am, it’s never the best I can do. What will be left of me if I never reach the heights I see in my dreams? And does it even matter if I know I’ll never stop reaching?

Recently, on Twitter, I asked, cryptically, if it ever ends. If, for authors, you ever stop and think what you’ve done is good enough. Authors said no, so I must not be alone in this.

I know in my heart it won’t ever be enough. I will never have written enough. Having aspiration this enormous means it can never be fed.

I have a memory of being eighteen, the summer before I left for college and met the boy I dragged to City Hall. It was night. We were in the woods, some boys, some girls, and of the friends I was with that night, I was the only one headed off to college in a week or two. Three of them would go on to become heroin addicts and one would be murdered over a drug dispute before she turned thirty. But at that moment, the summer nights smoking innocent bowls and running naked into the reservoir and hanging our arms out the open windows of speeding cars down long, dark roads seemed to be the only thing worth having in the world. A friend was talking of all I’d miss. All we had here. How much he wanted to stay and how he couldn’t fathom how anyone would want to leave. And it was a beautiful town, yes, where people still go on vacations. But it was so not enough for me.

We were on the edge of a cliff, looking off into the dark night and there was no way to know how far we’d fall if we jumped. I remember looking into the darkness of my hometown and feeling it in my bones, this thought: I have to get the fuck out of here. I couldn’t stay. I had so much more to do. I’d barely written anything beyond amateur poems and stories at that point, and I didn’t even know what being a “Writer” even entailed, but I knew I had to be one. I was going to be a writer. Somehow I felt sure I had to give up everything and anything to do that. I looked into the darkness and swore to myself I would.

It’s a promise I kept. I did go off to college. And I never did look back, though I mourned my friend who died, who was so talented, she should have gotten out, and away from drugs, herself. She would have become an artist whose name you would have known.

I’d miss my chances at trying heroin with my friends—I thank the universe for this every day—and I’d move to the city, where I always wanted to live, and I’d stay far away from drugs and I guess I’d become this thing I wanted to become. An artist. A writer. A cold-hearted person who cares for nothing else. Somehow I got it in my head that this is how I had to be and I whittled down my life to only this.

This is a strange life, the kind of life—decades ago—only men were supposed to live.

Ambition. Why did I let go of so much while chasing after it to get here? And if I hadn’t, would I have made it anyway?

Is this where I thought I’d end up when I looked off the cliff into the darkness?

Complicated questions I ask myself. Complicated answers I can’t ever hope to know.

Turning Points: Guest Post by Tara Kelly

This guest post is part of the Turning Points blog series here on distraction no. 99—in which I asked authors the question: What was your turning point as a writer? Here is YA author Tara Kelly revealing hers…


Guest post by Tara Kelly

I’ve been writing stories since I can remember. I was a head-in-the-clouds child, always living inside my imagination. Dreaming about a different world. A better world. My adult self realizes this was my escape, my way of coping with a pretty brutal childhood. I could talk about how writing helped me survive abuse. Being bullied. The wrong friends. I could talk about college and how my writing got torn to shreds by a couple professors. One of them even told me to just…give it up. And I did for a while. I figured I’d never be good enough to be published…so why bother to try for it? (Clearly I did bother.) But this post isn’t about my past. It’s about the now.

I have this funny relationship with writing. It can be thankless. It smacks me around. Breaks me down. Makes me feel exposed, vulnerable, and insecure. But it also brings me joy. Keeps me going. Gets me excited about this strange thing we call life. I’m forever chasing brilliance. The killer line. An unforgettable character. A timeless story. I want to make others feel how my favorite writers make me feel. Changed. Inspired. Ecstatic. Broken. Basically—I set high expectations for myself. So I edit every line I write as I write it. I kill way too many darlings. I overthink…everything. You know what I realized this year? I need to stop doing that. My quest for perfection—to please those who’ve made negative comments throughout my life—is killing my joy. I’ve let those people kill my joy for way too long.

My writing career isn’t where I’d hoped it would be after releasing two books. In fact, this last year has been especially painful. That’s not to say good things haven’t happened. Hello? People, other than my family and friends, have read my stories. These characters living in my head—who I have very little control over by the way—are now living in other people’s heads. I’ve gotten letters that almost made me cry (okay, maybe I cried a little) because some kid out there finally felt understood. My first book inspired a group of kids to spend their summer vacation making a movie. How amazing is that? This is why I write—to inspire. To connect. To learn.

On the other hand, my first book didn’t make it to paperback. I kept hearing that “numbers” thing a lot—and not in a good way. The book I spent three years writing didn’t sell. All of my books mean the world to me, but this book…this book is personal. This story is the one I’ve been trying to tell since I was a teenager.

I’m not going to lie—I was disappointed. And then I was angry. And then I was sad and heartbroken. Name a step, I probably went through it. Then I realized I needed to move on. I needed to throw myself into an entirely new project. A project that made me uncomfortable. Tested me in every way possible. Something completely different from my previous books. Those risks I’ve always wanted to take? I needed to start taking them. Straight up? I needed to stop questioning my worth as a writer and start fucking writing.

Am I succeeding? Well…I’m a work in progress. I’m making steps every day. Every time I force myself to keep going, to not obsess over some description or whether or not my MC is coming across as a jerk. Screw it. Maybe my MC is a jerk. This is her journey. Let her figure that out on her own. Let the ugly out, baby, and let it out hard. I’m capable of so much more. I’ve got a lot of potential left in me.

And that book that didn’t sell? The one that was so personal? I’m glad it didn’t sell. Yep. You read that right. GLAD. It wasn’t the story I wanted to tell, after all. It was too controlled. Too tight. Too afraid to go there. And now I have a second chance. A chance to give these characters the story they deserve. The voice they deserve. I can’t think of a better outcome than that.

The thing about writing for publication is…you get knocked down a lot. You face a lot of rejection. You have no idea what will happen once your book is out there—sometimes it takes off…sometimes it fades into nothing. Sometimes it’s just plain hard to find a reason to keep going. You have to love it. There’s just no way around that. This year I realized I love writing. I can talk about quitting. I can whine and moan about how unfair the industry can be all I want. I might even walk away for a little while. But I’m not going to stop, regardless of what happens next. Put that in your pipe and smoke it, Mr. Professor.


Tara Kelly loves variety in life. In addition to being a YA author, she is a one-girl-band, a marketing manager, an editor, and a designer. She lives in Portland, Oregon with her ten guitars, her supercool bf, and a fluffy, orange cat named Maestro.

For more about Tara, visit thetaratracks.com

For Harmonic Feedback: harmonicfeedback.com

And for Amplified: amplifiedthebook.com 


There’s more in the Turning Points series. Catch up with any posts you may have missed here.

Turning Points: Guest Post by Beth Revis

This guest post is part of the Turning Points blog series here on distraction no. 99—in which I asked authors the question: What was your turning point as a writer? Here is YA author Beth Revis revealing hers…


Guest post by Beth Revis

I think I’ve had two turning points in my life concerning writing. The first happened when I was very young. I was a reader—I devoured books. If there were no books, I read the back of the cereal box or the tube of toothpaste. I read all my textbooks for fun—and then I read all my brother’s textbooks, too. (Except math. Math sucks.)

But one summer I went to the library (as usual) and hid under the stairs with a stack of books (as usual) and cracked one open to begin reading (as usual) and then I started to discover that the book was…different (not usual). I read stories the same way I ate candy at Halloween: devoured them as quickly as possible, then turned to the next one.

But this book—The Lion, The Witch, and The Wardrobe—was different. As I was reading, I realized there was this whole other story inside it. It’s kinda obvious now, as an adult, when I read that book. It’s clear there’s another story in the subtext. But when I read it then, as a kid, it was like discovering a whole new world within a world (appropriate for a book about a world in a wardrobe).

This led me on the path to a lifelong love of books. And it was as different as eating too much Halloween candy and taking the first bite of a perfectly made crème brulee.

My second turning point happened just before I wrote Across the Universe. I was in a very dark place. I’d been writing for ten years, during which time I’d written ten books…and not a single one sold. Not. A. Single. One. I had a decade worth of failure: and the hundreds of rejections to go with it.

I was seriously considering giving up writing.

I had spent so much time…so much money…so much effort…and had nothing to show for it but a pile of rejections. Was it worth it? It didn’t seem to be.

I decided to try one last time. One last book. And I started writing this weird little sci fi book that I figured would never sell, but who cared? It was my last try anyway.

But somewhere—I cannot pin down exactly where—I started to fall in love with the story. And there was a moment when I leaned back in my swivel chair—I can picture the moment exactly—and I realized that I had just written the best book I’d ever written. The magic was still there.

And I couldn’t give up.

And that was the book that changed my life.


Beth Revis is the author of the NY Times Bestselling Across the Universe series, published by Razorbill/Penguin in the US and available in 17 countries. The first book in the trilogy, Across the Universe, is a “cunningly executed thriller” according to Booklist, and the second book, A Million Suns, was hailed by the LA Times as “a fast-paced, action-packed follow-up.” The final book of the trilogy, Shades of Earth, will be released in early 2013.

A former teacher, Beth lives in rural North Carolina with her husband and dog. Her goals include travelling around the world in 80 days, exploring the moon, and finding Narnia.

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There’s more in the Turning Points series. Catch up with any posts you may have missed here.

Turning Points: Guest Post by T. Michael Martin

This guest post is part of the Turning Points blog series here on distraction no. 99—in which I asked authors the question: What was your turning point as a writer? Here is upcoming debut YA author T. Michael Martin revealing his…


Guest post by T. Michael Martin

This poor Capitol Tour Guide, I am petrifying her.

Because—there is no getting around this—I am breaking a law. Not a “real one” written in leather Congressional ledgers, but rather a truer law—a natural law—inscribed no place save the beating heart of every good American. There are universal decrees, and they catalog the virtue of American moxie, and the eternal validity of Western hope, and also the question that you should never never never ever ask during a tour of a state Capitol building. A question that, alas, I have just flagrantly flung.

“Is this glass bulletproof?”

*

Which marked the first and final of my experiences of being mistaken for a guerilla. And—more importantly—an instant of my Turning Point.

When this happened— November 2008—I’d been out of film school for more than a year. A strange year it had been, too, for it had turned out to be the last thing I’d ever expected, which was: “freaking terrible.”

The spiral came so swiftly. My final semester of school had been what I can only describe as a kind of glittering rocket ride, a time in which all of all of my sacrifices (eschewing parties) and my faith (waking at five to place My Butt In the Chair before class; ignoring criticism or doubt) paid off in one breathtaking streak.

My screenplays got optioned; a famous agent worked with me on my first novel; and I landed representation from an incredible film manager who called me—with terrific enthusiasm—“Big Daddy.”

(It is difficult for me to describe just how not-ironic he meant this to be.)

But then arrived a three-day gulag when those grand things, every one, tipped their hat and said so long. And while I may not be able to find the words to capture the stone-faced bromancing from my former manager, it’s simple, sitting here, to sum up how I felt when my prizes vanished:

clinical depression

The compass broke and the lights went out.

I had disbelieved, before, in the existence of true helplessness. But now I struggled to wake and breathe. Now my life had become a foggy and persistent nightmare. I had run—headlong, heedless—through so many years, guided by things we all know are true, yet I’d struck the outer borders of my potential and those borders did not extend to the land my faith had promised. I found myself within a shadowed forest, for I had lost the path that does not stray. Dante said that. And with all respect to Mr. Alighieri’s literary grandeur, may I reply:

Danny…sing that thang.

*

But you know that something Turned.

I’m here on a blog about writing, writing. So I will tell you that it’s true that I fled those black woods, and came gasping back to life, and—through the kindnesses of friends and, eventually, a therapist—found again a grip on everything I knew to be true.

And, yep: For another year, I woke pre-dawn, and then I had a second novel, and every word of it felt like a spit in the eye of despair.

But I must here interrupt the narrative to issue what we in the biz called a Spoiler Alert, because that heartbreak? and that attendant rededication? Were not my Turning Point.

When I read my new novel, I knew three things: The book was good—maybe excellent—and it would not in seven gillion years ever get published.

I was running again, which was a bravery; but my error was that I had fought my way back to the same path. I had done what we are supposed to do, what I had always known would work: keep scribbling, Butt-Chair, et al.

But I have a sense-memory—in my cold bedroom, my feet on an oak bench my father made—of realizing that obeying the Writer’s Commandments would never be enough for me. That’s a frightening notion. Because: If you do not trust the Universal Laws, then what do you trust?

Wasn’t sure. Actual fact: had no idea.

But I could not deny that clinging to “what I knew” would not be faith: It would be dogma, which Progress will always detest.

It was vertigo-making to understand that my old arithmetic was wrong: that A plus B did not necessarily equal Dream Come True. I couldn’t tell, sometimes, if saying “I will keep doing this, even if there are no guarantees” was just another way of announcing “I’m not strong enough to believe in myself, and I am now in an embarrassingly elongated process of quitting.”

But just as courage is not “action without fear” but “action in spite of fear,” I know now that my Turning Point came from one single moment. The moment when I realized that the only weapon I had—that any of us have, to do anything—is this:

A perpetual and flexible motion

Always motion, yes, and even hope and faith—but also the inner strength to acknowledge that This or That may not get me where I wish to go.

Because (and how freeing this thought is! how frightening!) maybe no law really is universal.

*

So alright, okay, back to the story (me, exiting Dante’s spooky bushes), which I’ll deliver in Rocky Training Montage Format:

Armed with a new outlook, I

  • analyzed, beat-by-beat, the emotional & thematic & dramatic structure of dozens of YA novels,
  • & analyzed two-hundred-and-seventeen screenplays,
  • & applied to grad school, and got rejected
  • & took part in a clinical drug trial to pay for Robert McKee’s STORY seminar instead,
  • & tried joining crit groups, which never worked,
  • & sold plasma to pay for a charity auction manuscript critique from Sara Zarr (which did work, well),
  • & mined my hopes and shames and my daring to make my third book everything my first two had never been,
  • & began to understand my strengths (language, set pieces) and weaknesses (genre structure, research)
  • & consequently committed to knowing everything possible about my subject matter.

And that brings us, you and me, back to the State Capitol Tour.

Where I ask That-Which-Must-Not-Be-Asked.

And my keen novelist’s observation of human behavior kicks in when the Tour Guide starts looking like screaming would just be a wonderful idea.

Crapohnocrapno! I say. No it’s cool! This is research—I’m a writer.

Of, like, fiction.

And in defiance of the supposed universal decree, I am not, in fact, pepper-sprayed or tazed, although my Guide’s continued skepticism does lead her to ask what my book is about. I tell her that it’s about two brothers—ages seventeen and five—trying to survive the apocalypse in West Virginia. That question about bulletproof glass came because I had wondered if the brothers would be able to shoot monsters in the Capitol from outside, or if they’d have to drive their Hummer through the windows instead. She goes, Oh.

And… is that going to be published? she asks.

I said the true thing: I didn’t know. She hoped it would be. Me, too. But not me anymore.

Because Balzer+Bray will publish that novel, The End Games, in the summer of 2013. And when they do, yes, I’m sending the first copy to the Tour Guide.


T. Michael Martin’s debut novel, The End Games, will be released by Balzer+Bray in Summer 2013. It was recently described in Publishers Weekly as “The Stand meets John Green.”

You can follow Mike on Twitter @_mike_martin.


There’s more in the Turning Points series. Catch up with any posts you may have missed here.

The Experiment, the YA Panel, the Failure, the New Cover, and the Attempt at Making Some Goals

My writing productivity experiment is delayed—I just have too much freelance work to complete in the next few days, so I can’t count these as normal writing days. Maybe I’m procrastinating because I’m scared, or I expect to fail, or I don’t want to push myself too hard. Who knows.

Friday night, I was part of a “Juicy YA Reads” panel at Inquiring Minds in New Paltz, New York, with Jennifer Castle (author of The Beginning of After, who I hope you’ll soon see here on this blog) and Kim Purcell (author of Trafficked, who wrote this beautiful Turning Point), and we had such a great conversation about the YA community, our book covers, working with editors, writing contemporary fiction, and so much more. We had a fabulous panel moderator, the awesome book blogger Nicole from WORD for Teens—and she really knew how to give us questions that got us talking. Thank you so much to Inquiring Minds for inviting me! Such a wonderful bookstore, and such a great night!

So there is the good. The bad is that I’m very sad to say that I failed in a secret goal I had this month: to submit a short story to One Teen Story before their submissions closed for the year. I switched gears and changed short stories in the last week, and that was my downfall. I was one scene away from making yesterday’s extended deadline… and I couldn’t get it finished in time. I’m really disappointed in myself.

But even though I have no hope of being a part of it, I can still be a fan. I can’t wait to read One Teen Story when it comes out. There aren’t enough short-story venues for YA fiction.

And this week I saw the latest—and I think maybe final?—version of the 17 & Gone cover. I am so in love with it. You hear that all the time from authors, I know. It’s sort of rote and maybe you think we have to say it, but oh wow am I happy. I can’t wait until I have permission to show you.

So this week, after a freelance deadline and a family visit, I will try very hard to do this experiment, and—most excitingly—I will try to finish up the latest version of the proposal for my next YA novel. You can see a peek of its inspirations on Pinterest. Or maybe I’ll finish that short story anyway—because I hate the idea of giving up on it just because I missed a deadline.

It’s a new week. Maybe I’ll accomplish what I wanted this time. And hey—if anyone tried that writing experiment and it’s going well, let me know!

Turning Points: Turning the Page by Joëlle Anthony (+Giveaway)

This guest post is part of the Turning Points blog series here on distraction no. 99—in which I asked authors the question: What was your turning point as a writer? Here is YA author Joëlle Anthony revealing hers…


Guest post by Joëlle Anthony

I’ve had so many turning points in my writing life that I think I might actually be going in circles, but this is a blog post about a big one. Almost from the start, editors responded to my voice, but I couldn’t seem to land that book deal. After ten years of interest but no book sales, I decided I needed to make some sort of change. I contemplated things for a while and came to the conclusion that many of the successful writers I knew had a lot more education than I did, so I immediately determined that’s what I needed—someone to tell me how to do this writing stuff. After all, my degree was in theatre, not literature or English.

Not surprisingly, all the writers I asked chimed in about the merits of Vermont College’s MFA in writing for kids. I decided that’s what I needed. Unfortunately, what I also needed was the twenty grand to make it happen. When I realized the money wasn’t going to miraculously show up in my savings account, I knew I’d have to move on to Plan B: I’d get all those Vermont College graduates to simply tell me what they learned and it would be almost like going myself.

Right?

Yeah…not so much.

However, when I asked for more information about the program, one writer answered me in specifics that changed my life. She told me about the coursework, which sounded interesting, and the guest writers who came in to lecture, which I really wanted to hear, but then she offhandedly mentioned that they also “require participants to read 200 books in their genre.”

Read a lot of books? That’s it? That’s all I had to do? I loved to read!

I could do that.

For free!

Now, you might think someone in my position would already be reading a lot—I didn’t have a real job, my husband was perfectly capable of taking care of himself, I have no kids, and I already said I love to read. But if you thought that, you would be sadly mistaken. You see…I rarely read at all!

I was a voracious reader as a kid, but then my interests turned to acting, and the theatre ate up all my time. After university, I had to do that grown-up thing…get a job (or two or three) and what little time I had to myself I wanted to spend writing. Reading used up precious writing time. Or so I thought. By my mid-thirties, I’d been pursuing a writing career for a decade, but had read only a handful of books in all that time.

I made a simple plan. Since the MFA was out, I would hit the library and read 3-5 novels per week, in my genre (YA), preferably published in the last three years. I kept a card file with the title, author, and publisher’s info on one side, and my reaction to it on the back. Most importantly, I counted all of this reading as “writing” time, so I didn’t have to try to justify it (if only to myself). And I started a book review blog (no one was really doing that back then).

Over the next three years, I read more than 450 books, most of them YA, almost all contemporary and recently published. The first thing that happened was I began to see patterns in books—things that show up over and over in YA writing. Not surprisingly, most of these things were in the manuscripts I’d been submitting to publishers. This reading led to my most famous writing achievement so far—The SCBWI article, Red Hair is Not as Uncommon as You Think – 25 of the most overused things in MG and YA. And also the follow-up piece a few years later. Now if I could just write a book that gets me that much attention…but I digress.

The next thing that happened was I began to use what I was learning about pacing, plotting, and structure in my own writing. My voice was always my strong point, but my plots were either convoluted or boring. And pacing? What was that exactly? I’d like to say reading magically fixed all my problems, and while it did help tremendously, most of what I know about those things I ended up learning from my editor, Stacey Barney, when we worked on Restoring Harmony. Still, I strongly believe I never would’ve gotten to the point of having an agent, or an editor, without reading all those books. Today, my reading is more varied and not quite so voracious. I get through 100–125 books a year, and I’ve mixed in a lot more nonfiction and adult novels. But as Chris Crutcher says: If I don’t read, I don’t write.

I couldn’t agree more.

What are you reading?


Joëlle Anthony currently lives on a tiny island in British Columbia with her musician husband, Victor Anthony, and two cats, Sophie & Marley. As for the future, their only plan is to avoid real jobs, write and play guitar in front of the woodstove, and live happily ever after. Her debut young adult novel, Restoring Harmony, was published in the spring of 2010, and her latest release, The Right & the Real is available now, both from Putnam.

Visit Joëlle online at joelleanthony.com.


GIVEAWAY WINNER ANNOUNCED… 

Congratulations to the giveaway winner of a *signed* copy of Joëlle Anthony’s new YA novel The Right & The Real! The winner is…

Rachel

Congrats, Rachel! I will email for your mailing address. Thank you to everyone who entered—and to the author for the prize.


There’s more in the Turning Points series. Catch up with any posts you may have missed here.