Five Years After the Leap

yaddo coffee 2010

About five years ago, I was under deadline to complete the first draft of a contracted novel and stressing the hell out over how I would finish on time while working my full-time job as a senior production editor at HarperCollins Children’s Books. I had somehow sold my novel on proposal and agreed to a deadline that had seemed very doable at the time (in my haze and shock and delight, when the book was sold). But this was a serious, demanding day job that required eagle eyes and a very sharp mind, and I am a perfectionist at my jobs, so I could not phone it in. By the end of each week, I was exhausted and had little interest or energy in looking at any more words, even and especially my own. At the rate I was going, I would finish my novel in three years, and it was due in about four months. And to top it all off, after years of slowly working my way up in the publishing industry, the company had to consolidate offices and the children’s department moved into the same building with the adult imprints, giving us far less space than we had before. For me, this meant I had just lost my window office for a cubicle, which somehow made the job feel even harder.

I was facing a terrifying decision: Should I quit this day job so I could finish the book on time? Was that stupid? Too much of a risk?

While I was contemplating this and holding it in quietly in my new cubicle, I got a letter in the mail. It was from a famous artists’ colony up north that I had applied to on a crazy what-if whim, never expecting to get in: Yaddo. They had accepted me, to my shock, and given me a month-long residency.

I remember thinking this was a symbolic form of communication from the universe. My day job would not allow me to take four weeks off to go away to write. If I went to Yaddo for those four weeks, I could not have this job.

Was the decision made for me?

Is this stupid? I asked myself again. Is this too much of a risk?

I knew what I wanted. And, deep down, I knew that I would not be able to keep myself from taking what I wanted. It was a now-or-never moment, and if you know me at all you know I took the leap.

mansionfarther copy

Let’s be honest. It was stupid, and it was too much of a risk, but I did it anyway and gave my notice at HarperCollins a week later. By the next month I had become a full-time writer (who still did some copyediting freelance work on the side), without health insurance and without a net. I wrote my heart out for the novel that you may know as Imaginary Girls, and I did turn it in on time, and I did go to Yaddo, and health insurance did come later, as did other opportunities, wild and exciting, including other artists’ colonies and books to write and teaching opportunities, and I know, looking back, that I would have done it again.

My life has been a series of leaps like this: chasing dreams, chasing better situations, falling flat on my face, getting up again, thinking I would regret it more if I didn’t try. It’s been kind of romantic and, I’ll admit, very irresponsible. But I’ve had these five great years, and I’m grateful. No regrets? Well, mostly no regrets.

I remember going to my first Teen Author Drinks Night here in New York City and sitting at a picnic table in the outdoor patio of a bar, admitting to some authors that I had just quit my day job. This was my first time meeting all of them. Barely anyone knew me. I’d published one book before this that no one had read. I don’t drink, so I sipped a nonalcoholic glass of juice and ice I’d snuck at the bar, feeling like a child at the adults’ table. One author, a successful male YA author with many more books under his belt, said he didn’t quit his day job until he’d published three novels, and the undercurrent of the conversation was that I’d done the most idiotic thing in the world.

I asked myself: Did I just do something horribly stupid?

I had a growing sense that I did.

Then I remembered Yaddo. It made quitting seem a little less insane, and I know how insane that sounds.

As I write this post it is a little more than five years after I gave my notice at HarperCollins, and I am about to leave for another residency at Yaddo, just like I was then. I haven’t been back there since. Going back now, of all moments, feels strangely, frighteningly symbolic. I feel like a chapter of my life opened with that first Yaddo letter, and I am not sure if it’s now about to close and a new chapter is getting ready to start.

Yaddo is in Saratoga Springs, New York, a city I slipped into The Walls Around Us before I knew I would be going back. Did you know “Yaddo” is meant to be pronounced like the word shadow? One of the founders’ young children named the estate this nonsense word, before dying soon after, which makes it seem all the more like a dreamland to me.

That’s where I’m headed, as of early in the a.m. on Thursday, for the rest of December. I will be trying to stay offline as best I can. This will be easy, because there is no wifi in the rooms or studios. I will be trying to keep a quiet space in my brain. If I don’t answer emails, please wait for me to return to the real world in January.

The Calm Before the Who-Knows-What: 110 Days to Publication

walls arcs 400I write this to you from a quiet moment in my publishing life. It is December 5, the year 2014, and I am in the room at the rear of the café at a table beside the outlet where I can safely sit with my back against a wall. I am all alone in a room full of noisy people, which is both literal and symbolic at the same time. I write this nervously, of course, and with hope, always, about what the future might bring. My new book comes out next year, and next year is close. The pub date is March 24, to be exact, which I can see ahead on the calendar and which feels breathlessly about to happen and also at the same time safely still far away.

The moment is quiet still, because nothing has happened yet. There have been no trade reviews yet. It is too soon to do much promoting, or to weigh any reactions. I haven’t had to dress up at an event for this book yet and talk about it in front of people. Anything is possible at this point. The book comes out in 110 days.

There are 110 days to go, and the book is mine still, even though some people have been reading it and kindly telling me so on Twitter.

Today, someone tweeted me something I said a while back. I guess I said, “When I was writing The Walls Around Us, I decided to be simply and only myself.” And that’s true. I want to remember that, no matter what happens.

Everything is about to be up in the air next year. Where I’ll live. What work I’ll be doing. What will happen with my writing career. How this book will do out in the world. How that will determine everything else, including, though I’d hate to let that happen, my self worth.

I don’t know yet. I can’t know yet. We’re waiting on news about our apartment. I can’t do much to figure things out for next year because I’m about to go away and be offline for three weeks. The book I’m writing now is due next month, and it’s the last book on my contract. I don’t know what I’ll write next.

The best thing I can do for myself is have no expectations. To look ahead into the future and see a complete and total blank. When I get my hopes up, it’s dangerous. When I skew too negative, it’s far worse. When I keep myself busy, and try not to think about anything beyond next week when I’ll take the train upstate to finish my novel, it’s okay.

So let’s just be okay today.

I wanted to write to you from this moment in my life. From before.

If you, too, are on the edge of something and want to imagine someone sitting next to you in the noisy waiting room crowded with other people all going about their lives, I’m here. I’m feeling quiet. But I’m here.

p.s. I’m too tired to check my math. If it’s actually less than 110 days, don’t tell me.

The Book of My Heart: Imaginary Girls

thebookofyourheart-eThank you for reading the Book of Your Heart series this week, and special thanks to the authors who let me share their beautiful posts about their heart books. Today, on the three-year anniversary of Imaginary Girls, I wanted to tell you why I consider this book the “book of my heart” apart from all books I’ve written or will one day write.


secretsneverstay

In December of 2006, I was working as the senior production editor at Grosset & Dunlap / Price Stern Sloan, managing the copyediting of a great many mass-market children’s books and movie tie-ins and every known version of Mad Libs, and I was also quietly, in my downtime, a writer. I would get up early before work and write at a coffee shop near the office until it was time to go in. That December, I started writing a short story called “Werewolf.” (I may or may not have been listening to this song on repeat, from an album and artist my little sister introduced me to.) The story was about two sisters, the older one who lives with a violent, rageful man and the little sister who lives with her because she can’t live with their parents. The sisters dream of escaping to Paris. Instead they rarely leave the house. There wasn’t actually a werewolf in the story, but just go with it.

I wrote this short story on the side, cheating on the adult novel I was telling myself I should revise, again, and try to query agents with, again. The story started off as a diversion, a simple piece of writing that was entirely separate from the disappointment and hope and years of work that had gone into the novel. Untainted. Fun.

The original sketchy, unfinished file of “Werewolf” from December 2006 contained this paragraph from the POV of the little sister, Chloe, about her older sister, Ruby:

“I knew her another way. She did have a tongue, and she used it to lick peanut butter off a spoon, her most favorite snack. She was beautiful, truly, what I wouldn’t give for the way our collective features arranged themselves on her face, for the greener eyes, for the silkier hair, for the five distinct freckles that cast themselves over the bridge of her straighter, smaller nose. But he hadn’t seen her when we hennaed our hair, the mud we’d mixed for the most copper color dripping down her face and turning her ears orange. he hadn’t seen her after a crying fit, hadn’t seen her throw the rocks at our parents minivan when they picked up and drove it away. No one else had seen her that way, only me.”

I wrote that and sat up straight in my chair—or let’s say I remember I did. Let’s say I knew something important had happened. Let’s pretend.

In truth, I worked on that short story—changed its name from “Werewolf” to “Mythical Creatures,” but never changed the heart of the story between the two sisters, Ruby and Chloe, never ever let go of that—from the end of 2006 through 2008. I brought it to a short-story workshop with the full intention of polishing it up and sending it to a literary journal. That was its fate, if I were lucky, I figured.

I didn’t know it would become a novel.

I didn’t know it would become a YA novel, and that I’d become a YA author.

I didn’t know it would become the novel of my heart, the most true piece of writing I’ve ever set down on the page. The novel about my hometown. The novel about two very close sisters. The novel that became a love letter to my own sister—and though my sister is really the little sister, and I’m the big sister, pieces of us are tangled up in both Ruby and Chloe.

The novel that was wishful thinking. The novel that would become very important to me, in a whole other way.

Imaginary Girls hardcover coverImaginary Girls was published on June 14, 2011, three years ago today. Though Imaginary Girls wasn’t my first published novel (haha, you think that I’m talking about Dani Noir, don’t you? My first published novel was actually a paperback series novel written under a pseudonym, on assignment), and though Imaginary Girls wasn’t the first original novel I wrote (that was a novel called Bardo, which got me my MFA, but not much else), Imaginary Girls was my first true novel. The first novel that was really me and felt worthy at the same time. If I die tomorrow, the creative part of my life will have been complete because I wrote this book. I would have no regrets.

It’s the book of my heart for this reason, yes, and another. I’m going to tell you about the other.

I always knew that it was a book dedicated to my little sister, but something happened during the writing of this book. Something that feels so connected to everything the book is that I can’t now separate it.

While I was writing Imaginary Girls, she was going through some health problems and having difficulty getting a diagnosis. She was having trouble with her eyes. She kept getting tests. I was aware of this, and concerned, but it didn’t truly hit me until she called me one day with the news. I was under deadline, frazzled, a mess, doing revisions and unable to focus on anything else. But I remember stopping everything and sitting on my bed while she told me over the phone from where she lives in Philadelphia.

She told me that the test results had come back. She had been diagnosed with MS.

It was the summer of 2010. She was just about to turn twenty-six years old.

What can I say here to explain how I felt about my little sister so you can sense the impact? How much I love her? How when she was born, when I was nine and a half, it felt like she came into this world for me and only me? How can I explain how after that phone call it all came down on me and I didn’t know what to do and there was nothing I could do and my heart felt broken and I cried for two solid days? Why I had to suck it up and tell my agent what was going on, and ask him to please tell my editor, and that I wasn’t going to make the deadline because I couldn’t word an email to explain it myself? Because how could I work on a stupid book? How could I think anything I did was important when my sister, at not even 26, was facing this? How can I explain how I Googled “multiple sclerosis”—the symptoms, the treatments, the reality, the possible future—and how until that moment I didn’t realize what exactly this degenerative disease was, and that there is no cure? There is no cure. How can I even put to words how it felt to be so helpless, apart from my sister, knowing I couldn’t do a thing, realizing I had no true sense of what she was going through, and I didn’t know how to express to her how I would always be there for her, forever forward, until we were both old ladies, and how empty those words sounded? How much I loved her, how much I meant those words?

Oh, maybe you know. If you’ve read Imaginary Girls, it’s there. The way Ruby loves her little sister, Chloe? What Ruby does and would do for Chloe to keep her safe?

It’s there. It’s all right there. It’s in the book.

That’s why it’s the book of my heart. For that reason and all reasons beyond it. Because it felt like the first real piece of me I published and put out in the world, because it features my hometown in the way I sometimes remember it, but mostly because the beating heart at the center of the book is really my heart beating.

It’s what I didn’t know how to say to my sister—before I even knew I’d need to say it.

I’d written it down already. It was in the book all along.


To celebrate the three-year anniversary of the book of my heart, I gave away signed copies of the book to three readers. Congratulations, Jessi S., Alessa, and Penny! I’ve emailed you for your mailing address.

Imaginary Girls hardcover cover

(hardcover)

Imaginary Girls paperback cover

(paperback)

If you would like to order a copy of Imaginary Girls, some buying links are below.

 

The posts in the Book of Your Heart series:

 

 

 

5 Things I Learned from Losing Another Hard-Drive

Part of my story as a novelist goes like this: It was the winter of 2008. At least I think it was 2008—my memory and sense of time passing has been going lately, so let’s just assume I know what year it was. It was the winter of 2008 (probably). I’d written a quick-and-dirty draft of a novel during November, my first-ever attempt at NaNoWriMo, and I didn’t “win,” and I didn’t like the experience because I’m a revise-as-I-go kind of writer, but it wasn’t a complete waste because I had about 200, 220 pages. Sure, I found those rough pages shameful. Still I had a draft. A physical something. A start.

Then my laptop died. The hard-drive turned on itself and ate its own head. All data was lost and not even the angels of Tekserve (an Apple specialist computer shop in New York City, known for data recovery) could recover it.

I lost the draft.

I mourned.

I raged.

But the good news is I would then go on to completely rewrite the book from scratch and that book turned into Imaginary Girls, and while I’m sure losing the first ugly draft was all for the best, creatively, it was still a painful way to get some good words down, you know?

I lost other pieces of writing in that hard-drive crash, too.

Not to mention photos, songs, diary entries, notes to myself, stuff. Lots of stuff. I lost A LOT.

Because I hadn’t been backing up very often.

You’d think a writer such as myself would learn a lesson from the Terrible Winter of 2008: The lesson that computers are flimsy things that cannot be relied on. The lesson that you can count only on yourself, if your self is smart enough to back your shit up.

Well, since the big crash in the winter of 2008, I went through a whole other laptop. (Which died and is a whole other story.) Now I’m on another new one, a shiny new Macbook Air that is less than a year old.

This shiny, new, practically perfect Macbook Air that is less than a year old died on me a week ago today.

It froze while I was reading an article on the New York Times website, and with that, in a blink, it was dead.

That morning—after a visit to the Apple Store, then to Tekserve (because the Apple Store won’t even attempt to try to recover your data), I learned that the hard drive and had turned on itself and melted to oblivion and was gone to the world. Gone.

The replacement would be covered by warranty, as the laptop is so new.  And the tech at the Apple Store, and the tech at Tekserve, they both said to me, “But you’ve been backing up, right?”

And oh.

And ugh.

Because I remembered that I hadn’t been backing up as regularly as I’d meant to.

Because I’d gotten comfortable.

I’d gotten too trusting.

I thought for sure a bad hard-drive crash like the one in the winter of 2008 would not happen to me a second time… surely.

I thought Apple wouldn’t make a laptop so defective that it would die so horribly less than a year after I bought it.

I was dead wrong. And the writing I lost will be gone to me forever.

And the people who said, “Don’t you have Dropbox?” made me want to hurt them. (Because, yes, I do have Dropbox, but, no, it wasn’t set up to automatically back up for me.)

And the people who said, “Blah blah I back up every day” made me want to scream. (Because I used to do that and lately I’d been forgetting.)

And the person who did not back up every single day (me) is the person I am most angry at.

(My laptop returned to me, repaired and with a factory-fresh, blank hard-drive.)

(My laptop returned to me, repaired and with a factory-fresh, blank hard-drive.)

Here is what I learned from losing yet another hard-drive:

  1. Never get comfortable. Assume your laptop could break tomorrow. Could break in the next five minutes. Back up every chance you get, like a paranoid backup fiend. Do not trust anyone—least of all a soulless machine.
  2. Do not expect sympathy if you lose your writing because you were not backing up every day. No one cares as much as you do. No one but you even knows what you lost.
  3. Tell yourself the writing you lost was needing to be lost in order to become what it was truly meant to be. And prove it, by writing up a storm. Prove it by being better than you ever thought you could be.
  4. Sometimes there is joy in writing from memory. It’s even better than it was before, I know it. (And don’t let your doubts tell you different.)
  5. Oh, and buy a Time Capsule or sign up for some kind of automatic backup service if you’re okay with your files being out in a cloud somewhere. Now I am backed up every hour on the hour, when I’m connected to home wifi, so I can do an easy Time Machine restore if (face it: when) this ever happens again. Plus yes, yes, I know: Dropbox Dropbox Dropbox.

None of this is news. It was only a hiccup. A setback. And now I’m off and running and I’ll get everything back that I lost, everything and more.

PSA: Have you backed up your writing today?

How the Shyest Person You Know Found a Way to Talk in Front of People: A Great Mystery

I used to be painfully shy.

I know I’ve spoken about this before—maybe here on the blog, maybe at events—but I used to be a really, really shy person. Horribly shy. Talking in front of groups of people, being made to speak, to answer questions, to say what I was thinking, being looked at by people who knew me and by strangers, being judged, was terrifying. So painful, I strove to never have to do it. I was the quiet one in class and in groups, and I still am for the most part. But as we all know, doing events is part of being an author… and recently, I discovered to my shock that I somehow have been able to move past my true shy nature.

My nerves are—mostly—gone before events now.

I find myself able to talk in front of large groups of people now.

I don’t get a splitting headache after events anymore and have to hide myself in a dark room, alone, until it goes away.

The last couple events I had were actually kind of… fun.

HOW did this happen?

It’s a mystery I’m trying to figure out. All I know is I noticed this change in me this spring and summer, after 17 & Gone had come out. I’d hit a bottom with my confidence after Imaginary Girls was published, and during the writing of 17 & Gone in the months after that, but maybe part of hitting bottom is coming to see yourself as you really are. Down there, I found some scraps of confidence that had been there all along. Or… to be blunt… I stopped caring so much about what everyone else thought, or didn’t bother thinking, about me. By the time 17 & Gone had come out, I’d reemerged inside myself with a little bit of defiance, and with far more tempered expectations this time around, and I just thought: This is who I am. This is the book I wrote. And I have things to say about it.

I guess what I’m saying is I discovered my own worthiness. And in doing so, I stopped being so terrified of being in front of people and taking up space in the world. I guess I wrote through my shyness and emerged here, on the other side.

I also started realizing what I could and couldn’t handle from book events.

So here are some things I learned from doing events… a few little tips for shy writers like me:

Not being alone up there makes all the difference. I prefer doing events with other authors. At least three authors on the bill is ideal for me. It helps to not have to be the one person standing up there at the head of the room—it makes for a more dynamic event, and conversation between authors often brings up something interesting that you couldn’t have brought by yourself (especially if you are shy and easily embarrassed like me). But preferring group events is not because I wouldn’t know what to say by myself, it’s mainly because the stress of drawing in enough of an audience just on my lonesome is too much for me. If there are other authors with me, the pressure of filling enough seats to avoid embarrassment is not all on me. That’s because…

The worst part is worrying no one will show up. This, I’ve learned, has become my main source of stress in the days leading up to an event. And connected to this—stressing over not selling a single book in the signing after. I’ve never done an event where I haven’t sold books, or where no one showed up to see me, but I did get close, at an event at a small bookstore near where I’m from. And I learned that if the bookstore is depending on me and only me to spread the word about an event, and it’s somewhere I don’t live now, I can be assured the event won’t be worthwhile. It’s important to only visit stores and libraries that have a circle of readers who regularly attend their events—and stores and libraries that have a proven network to publicize the events as best they can beforehand. My little tweets, blog posts, and Facebook updates about an event aren’t enough.

Don’t assume your friends know you wish they would go. The last New York City (my hometown, now, since 1997!) bookstore event I did I was hoping I’d look out into the audience and see the supportive faces of friends and former coworkers and just people I know here from various ways. But when I looked out into the—not very big at all—audience, I saw one such face: E’s. And no others. Not one person in my life besides my husband had shown up. I didn’t realize how badly I’d wanted people I knew there for support until I saw that no one had come. I never really expressed how much I wished people I knew would come, either. I guess I’d hoped they’d psychically, subconsciously know…. and how is anyone going to do that? I should have asked. But the point is, I learned I can’t depend on other people to make the event okay for myself. I have to make the event okay. Maybe there is someone in that audience who hasn’t heard of me before who will be intrigued enough to pick up my book. Maybe I will say something that will resonate with a stranger. All it takes is one person. That’s why I’m there doing a public appearance, not to fill seats with people who already know me. Besides, I usually do have one supportive face in the audience, and that’s E, my dedicated other half who goes to every event he possibly can. If you have that one person, it can make all the difference.

A new outfit can be a nice distraction. This is very superficial, but it makes the preparation for an event feel a tad better if I get to wear something special to it, something I haven’t worn anywhere else before. I can be uncomfortable in my own skin and don’t like people looking at me, so the outfit choices always have to be comfortable ones. It’s most important that I feel at ease, and this usually involves my wearing my comforting colors of black and dark blue and not wearing jewelry apart from a simple necklace. I have to be myself up there if I want to be able to act like myself. And I’ve learned that the best events are the ones when I do act like myself—I seem to connect with more readers that way.

Try to know what to expect of the event. But always prepare for multiple scenarios. I always ask what I’ll be doing at the event: Reading a section of my book, and for how long? Talking about my book and not reading? Sitting on a panel and answering moderated questions? I really like to know before I get there. But here is something I’ve learned: It doesn’t always go the way the bookstore manager or whoever it may be says it will. For example, I’d prepared a reading for a recent event only to arrive and discover we weren’t reading at all and were only taking questions. The event turned out to be a blast, and I think it helped that, as soon as I discovered we weren’t reading the day before, I thought of all possible questions that could be thrown at me and how I’d answer. I even practiced my answers in my hotel room, yes, embarrassing though that may be. And it turned out that none of the questions I’d anticipated were asked, but by practicing, I had some go-to topics I could speak on if my mind went blank. And that’s the thing…

There is always one panicked, icky moment. I say I don’t get nervous before events anymore—and I don’t, really—but I’ve noticed there is always one nervous, heart-pounding moment during an event and that’s okay… I can live through it. I’ve survived before. I’ll fumble over something I’m saying. I’ll look out at a series of blank faces and feel a rise of panic. I’ll be asked something I absolutely don’t know how to answer… There’s always something. And it’s okay. Oftentimes, the audience doesn’t know how badly you panicked—they see a pause, and then they see you pick up again. The worst freeze I ever had was during a conference workshop, when I started talking and realized I had nothing to say, and kind of circled in on myself like a vulture until I stumbled and stared out at the audience utterly dumbfounded. I will always remember that terrible moment because, for one, it felt like it lasted an hour, and for two, because I know why it happened: Because I hadn’t prepared to talk on that topic. I know myself now, and I know I need to prepare as much as I possibly can.

So back to the multiple scenarios. Because it just helps to be prepared. If I have to do a talk on my book or a reading, I’ve started preparing two ways I’ll approach each event, and it all depends on how the authors before me go. I’ll change, depending. I prepare two readings: one longer; one shorter. Or one serious, one more lighthearted. I’ll think of two ways to approach a talk and I’ll prepare both options. I started doing this after a group event where I went last on the panel, after an author who was VERY funny and who had a great many fans in the audience there to see her. She was hilarious. She talked, casually, and the whole room was laughing and with her and loving her, and then it was my turn. I’d prepared a talk about writing, for writers, that was dry and serious and not funny in the least. I also hadn’t eaten a thing out of nerves and was feeling light-headed and my stomach was growling. This audience was in a cheerful, happy mood, and they were also tired of listening to the five or six authors who had come before me, and they probably wanted me to be light and entertaining and… fast. But I had nothing else prepared. So I went into my spiel, and it took a while and it fell so flat I could have heard the smack. What I should have done is adjusted my presentation on the spot, after knowing I’d come after the funny, delightful author. But now I know: I get too nervous to adjust on the spot—so I should prepare two versions, and then decide on the spot which one to do.

Try to eat, even if you can’t stomach it. I mentioned that I did that event without eating. I have often been too nervous to eat before events, but this did not help me be coherent. I’ve now learned to eat something small, just a little something, beforehand. But to not drink any liquids too much before, so I’m not stressing about having to pee during the signing. (Hey, I’m just being bluntly honest here!) Then, after, I can eat a big dinner and treat myself to Thai food, my comfort food.

Allow yourself a dark, quiet room after it’s all over. When I was doing events for Imaginary Girls, I would always have to excuse myself after, and go lie down, even if it meant missing a group dinner with all the authors who were a part of the event. I’d get splitting, horrible headaches from having been “on” and needed time, after, to recover. Now I know that I might need this recovery time. I haven’t, for the last series of events I’ve done. After, I’ve been able to talk and hang out with authors and be personable. But I know it could happen, and I have to be okay with being antisocial and taking the time I need to regenerate.

Don’t dwell on the one stupid thing you said. Listen, if you’re not a natural public speaker, odds are, you will say something that makes absolutely no sense at some point during your event. Words you wished you didn’t say. Or maybe, after, you will run over and over all the smarter things you could have said. It’s not helpful… It doesn’t make the event feel good to dwell only on the negative moments. It happened. It’s over. Think of the good things: You stood up in front of a room full of people and you didn’t run away or collapse! You spoke intelligible words! You signed books! You made it through, and you smiled, and you appreciated the fact that you were allowed to be there.

Know what you like doing at events, and what you don’t. I like doing readings—that’s my favorite thing. I think because the words are down there on paper already and I don’t have to think on my feet. Also because I like the sound of my words out loud, the feeling of them on my tongue. I like reading my own words, and I like reading other authors’ words aloud, and I like listening to a good reader… it will often make me want to buy a book. So I’m usually more inclined to say yes to an event if it involves a reading. If it’s a “talk,” I am more inclined to say no. I just know what will make me the least nervous, and what I think I’m better at doing in front of people.

* Just a quick note: I am doing a reading in New York City on August 21!

Don’t be afraid to say no. Doing an event can take a lot out of you, if you’re shy. When I first started doing book events, I realized that the two or three days leading up to the event were an absolute wash, due to nerves. I couldn’t relax. I couldn’t write. I couldn’t do much of anything. I was that nervous. Now, I am somehow okay, and am grateful for it, but having had that experience and knowing how much events can cost me, I want to be very picky about what I say yes to. This will mean having to politely and kindly decline sometimes—and that may mean you won’t be asked by that organizer, or venue, again. That has to be okay. Your sense of self-preservation—and your time to write—just has to come first.

Appreciate every single person who comes to see you. I remember all the people who said kind things to me at my book events. All of you who have come up to me, all of you who have been there to support me (for example: Logan, who came to see me in Asheville! And the girl who sidled up to me at my Irving Public Library appearance and told me I was her favorite author!), I will never ever forget. You are the people who make these events worthwhile. So to the shy authors: remember these faces. If you’re feeling stressed about an event, remember there actually are people who have come to see you in the past and will come to see you in the future. And how wonderful and miraculous that feels. I remember one event I did where I felt I just wasn’t connecting with the audience—that my non-funny, too-voicey book just wasn’t up their alley, and they wished I could have been someone else. But after, at the very end of the event, a teenage boy who’d been hiding in the very back of the room slowly came up to the table of authors and went straight to me. He was holding one of my bookmarks from the free table and shyly asked for my signature. He said he liked what I read and he couldn’t wait to read more and that he’d get it from the library. He could barely meet my eyes. But I smiled and told him how much it meant to me that he came up to tell me—and it did, it still does. I never got his name, but I won’t forget him. He made the entire event worthwhile to me.

If you are a shy author who has learned coping mechanisms for doing public appearances, please share in the comments!


And, I have one more upcoming event on my calendar… I’ll be reading with Libba Bray in the Fantastic Fiction at KGB reading series on August 21, in New York City at the KGB Bar! Come be a supportive face in the audience for us both!

More info about the reading series here.


Now, here are some photos from my recent book event at the amazing Malaprop’s Bookstore in Asheville, North Carolina…

The window of Malaprop's Bookstore, before the event.

The window of Malaprop’s Bookstore, before the event.

Walked into the bookstore, and saw this!

Walked into the bookstore, and saw this!

Q&A at Malaprop’s, with Beth Revis, me, and Stephanie Perkins. Wish we’d gotten more photos of the three of us! (Photo by Logan)

And here I am from a fantastic recent visit to the Irving Public Library in Texas, to be a part of the “Beneath the Surface” YA author panel…

The panel at the Irving Public Library in Texas. (Photo by OhMagicHour.)

The panel at the Irving Public Library in Texas. (Photo by OhMagicHour.)

Talking on the panel at Irving!

Talking on the panel at Irving!

Authors after the "Beneath the Surface" panel! Here, from left, is our moderator Jenny Martin, Rae Carson, me, Tessa Gratton, Tahereh Mafi, Ransom Riggs, and Aimee Carter.

Authors after the “Beneath the Surface” panel! Here, from left, is our moderator Jenny Martin, Rae Carson, me, Tessa Gratton, Tahereh Mafi, Ransom Riggs, and Aimee Carter.

Writers Colony Diary: The Hambidge Center June 2013

Sometimes, when I’m writing and barred from Twitter and blogging and all manner of distracting things, I keep a journal in which I talk to myself. I did this while I was away for a short residency at the Hambidge Center in Georgia, and I wanted to share selected bits with you. Some of the more personal things—and all the specific thoughts about my novel-in-progress—have been removed. But there’s a lot about process and being at a colony.

Here are some selected bits from my journal…

(This is my studio! It's called Foxfire, and is up a little hill. It's bigger than my apartment at home.)

(This was my studio! It’s called Foxfire, and is up a little hill. It’s bigger than my apartment at home.)

Day 1: June 12, 2013

I am happy to say I was able to sleep last night without any tricks beyond keeping the bathroom light on and closing all the blinds so no night creatures (more about creatures later) could look in and watch me sleeping. Usually at colonies I have the most terrible time sleeping. But for some reason here in this place I could sleep. I also made sure to lock all the doors and lock the screen doors. I slept. I woke up to a headache, but I slept.

Headache from all the travel yesterday. And lots of talking to the other artists once I got here, and I’d taken a Dramamine and I just don’t think I’d recovered. After dinner I went back to my studio in the trees (Foxfire), and my ears were buzzing and I started reading a book: Tell the Wolves I’m Home.

Wow.

There are six other artists here, but I can tell already that they are far more social than I want or can be while I’m here. This is a work retreat for me, really, and I have to focus. I can’t fuck this up. But it’s a short time and I’m sure people will understand.

The thing about being at a place like this is you can be as social as you want to be—or not be. You can spend all day sleeping. Really, the time is yours.

The time is mine. Mine!

This weekend I want to hide away and focus and get so much done that I’ll look back on this and know it saved me.

This is a boring update. I should tell you what the place is like. Foxfire is a little studio house hidden in the trees, but very close to the main house and the main office. The walk to dinner is maybe five minutes, seven tops down a dirt driveway and then a dirt road. The studios seem really close together, but I don’t see anyone from my windows. It feels private enough (though I can’t let myself think I’m alone; I still remember when I was at MacDowell the last time and two people, an artist and her guest, wandered in front of my window while I was writing, and it was a good thing I had clothes on). It’s nice to have a kitchen and food here, it’s nice to have a shower here, it’s nice to not have to go anywhere until dinner. That makes me feel like I will get some work done here. I mean how can I not? If I can’t here, then I don’t deserve to be anywhere.

Fuck.

I fell asleep.

And I had a weird dream that ended up with two girls outside my door trying to get in and then rescuing food and messages left for me from a tall pole, and a dying cat thrown into the road for mercy.

Hambidge has this in the welcome booklet:

“Know that the time is yours to use in any way that supports your creative journey. After all, creative ‘work,’ as we all know, is not always recognized in terms of Mr. Webster’s definition. Above all, be kind to yourself, honor the muse that guides you and believe in your talent.”

(I wanted to see what people could see of me from the road. That's the view of my studio through all those trees. I was surrounded by green.)

(I wanted to see what people could see of me from the road. That’s the view of my studio through all those trees. I was surrounded by green.)

Day 2: June 13

I shouldn’t have taken that Benadryl so late last night. (I started having some weird panicked, nervous reaction before I left, and I think the heat here is making it worse, so I took a Benadryl, hoping the antihistamine would help… only I took it past midnight.) I kept waking up every two hours, sounds jolting me awake, like reflexes, like someone was in here or right outside and I had to defend myself. It was nobody and nothing. (Though I killed a great big enormous bug in the bathroom around 4am. I’ve noticed that the bugs here seem to be generally even larger than the ones I’m used to in the city… there was a moth that first morning that clung to the kitchen window and I swear was as big as a bird.)

Georgia blueberries aren’t as good as New Jersey blueberries, just so you know.

Goal today is massive work on the outline. I’d like to email a chunk to E.

I should shower soon.

It’s good to be here with a deadline. It really pushes you along. Otherwise, I can’t be trusted not to sleep in even later and spend my whole time just reading every book I brought on my e-reader.

I don’t know. I have to say this. I’m sitting here working on my novel’s outline, adding in a new character, thinking hard on the arc and playing with the reveals, and the fan is going and there is a nice breeze and I’m wearing these new red soft shoes and a striped tank top, and there’s a fresh crunchy green apple beside me, and speaking of green, I look out this wall of windows outside my studio and it’s all green: the trees are filled with color, and the wind makes the leaves move, and I can’t be dallying about on the internet, and I don’t have to get dressed for dinner for two hours, and I can hear the rush of the wind and it’s so nice I don’t even have music on, and this novel is coming alive under my fingers, each new hour put in helping me see more and more into it, all these scenes begging to be written in this sweet exciting little thrill of a way… and hey, this is nice, being  here. This is great.

There are the weeks of stress that always happen before I head away to a colony—mostly traveling, which I am just not good at, especially when it involves a plane or a car, and this involved both. And the being away from E … But even so, even with the stresses of being apart and the anxiety that I had in getting here (which I still have a rash from, I think), even from that, I’m glad I’m here.

I know I will have to be antisocial with everyone over the next week, and I am sorry for that because it does take away some of the creative inspiring aspects of being at a colony with other artists. But this deadline awaits, and I kind of love that it awaits. It pumps through my blood. It makes me sit up straight and drink another cup of jasmine tea. It makes me love this novel even more than I did just yesterday.

I really don’t mind all this time to myself. I actually thrive on it. This just cements that the colonies where you live in a house with all the other artists and cook and clean together like on some warped socially awkward reality show are not the best ones for me. I like the solitude of this live-in studio. I know I am here for free thanks to the NEA grant, but I even think this is worth paying for: the $200 a week. I wonder if, in the future, I might come again and just go ahead and pay for it. This studio is kind of perfect for me, and the quiet is even more perfect for me… and I love being alone with myself. I am, more and more, loving alone time, especially alone time that keeps me disconnected from the rest of the world. It’s the internet, on the outside, that really murders me and makes me less of a person and a terrible writer. I wish I could find a way to have this more, in shorter bursts and with E a part of it—but I wish this could be a part of my real life, instead of a special present I can get once a year if I’m lucky.

It rains. Faint rolls of thunder in the distance. Birds calling. Rain pattering the leaves of the trees, so not all of it hits the back deck of my studio. That sound. The warm drops on my bare shoulders. I stepped outside for a bit.

(Only residents allowed past here. My studio was a little ways away.)

(Only residents allowed past here. My studio was a little ways away.)

Day 3: Friday, June 14, 2013

I didn’t reach my first goal. Which was to write to a certain point by last night and send it off to E. And I know it was because I wasn’t sure of my character O., like how I can’t get my finger on her somehow. Then, sometime in the night or in the haze of the morning, when I wasn’t sure where I was and had ignored my alarm and wasn’t out of bed yet, so kept drifting off with confused dreams putting me here and also there, in the city, until I remembered where I was again, which was here, I thought of her. O. And a click.

Something wonderful: There is a composer right now in the studio down the hill, the one I think I can see the door of through the trees, and I can hear the piano rising through the air to reach me through my windows. It’s a wonderful sound, distant but touching me all the way up here. (That was not meant to sound gross.)

Voices carry here. I can hear—though I can’t make out their words really—two artists talking in the road.

Today is June 14. When I saw the date this morning, I immediately knew what it signified. It’s my IMAGINARY GIRLS pub date. This was the day, in 2011, that the hardcover came out, and this was also the day, in 2012, when the paperback came out. Now, it’s no day and nothing comes out for 2013, but it will still be a special day for me. That book meant everything to me, still does. I wish more people had read it… but hey, I wrote it, and isn’t that all that matters?

(This is Rock House, where the artists in residence could go to check email, do laundry, make phone calls, and where we gathered for dinner 4 nights a week.)

(This is Rock House, where the artists in residence could go to check email, do laundry, make phone calls, and where we gathered for dinner 4 nights a week.)

Day 4, Saturday, June 15

Last night I couldn’t sleep. Or I couldn’t STAY asleep. I did send stuff off to E, but it wasn’t nerves. It was that annoying fear of sleeping in a strange place all alone.

E and I talked on the phone. Mostly we talked about how what I have so far is jam-packed full of stuff. Too much, maybe, and maybe too many stories I want to hit. Sometimes it feels like this is the last novel I’ll ever get to write and I want to shove every single last idea I ever had into it… like the world is about to end or something.

I need to focus, and make choices.

And I need to remember: This won’t be the last novel I get to write. I have a two-book contract! There’s a whole other novel after this and we haven’t even talked about what it might be! I don’t have to cram everything and the kitchen sink into this. I can save some things…

How to wake from an illicit nap:

Roll over and happen to look, woozily, out the window at the head of the bed. Find a strange brown Georgia beetleish-roachlike insect staring at you, its antennae pointed skyward, its bug eyes settled on you. Leap out of bed with the reflexes of a much younger you. Smash bug with nearest, hardest shoe.

I always go through these humps after I get feedback on something. I’m going to start calling it a hump. Because it slows you down, because sometimes you have to stop altogether and find a way to climb up and over in order to keep going. And also because sometimes you want to stand up there at the top and you’re afraid to leap back down and keep going, because fear is always there.

I guess I just need to think for a while. So much thinking goes into the writing of a novel, gah!

But, hey, listen: It’s Saturday night—and you don’t need to go anywhere. You even napped (woke up by beetle/roach) and so that means you might just be alert enough to work through the night until bedtime. And also: You finished your book, and maybe you shouldn’t start a new one just yet… Short stories only maybe. That way, reading can’t be such a distraction, because the last book (Where You Can Find Me by Sheri Joseph) was so phenomenally good.

Listen: You have tonight. And listen: You have all of tomorrow and Monday. You don’t have to call the office about the photograph on Monday… you can wait till Tuesday. And I think you can wait to do laundry on Wednesday, though it will be dire on Wednesday and you’ll really have to be sure to make it happen. But you can maybe not wear socks Sunday and Monday, if you’re staying home anyway, right? I think we have enough underwear; it’s more the socks. (Can’t use laundry machines on Mondays or Tuesdays.) If you start getting stressed out about this tomorrow night, you can do laundry, but only if the writing is going really well.

So listen. Stop writing ABOUT being here and write WHILE you are here.

(This was my favorite part of Rock House: the porch, and the rocking chairs! We'd gather here before dinner to talk.)

(This was my favorite part of Rock House: the porch, and the rocking chairs! We’d gather here before dinner to talk.)

Day 5, Sunday, June 16

Today is a day I get to spend all by myself. I don’t even know the last time I did this. I don’t have to dump out the garbage today if I don’t want to. I don’t have to do the laundry today. I don’t have to go anywhere at all. It’s funny how my natural instincts come out when I’m left alone in a place: I eat. I read. I isolate. I write some. I talk to myself in these journal entries. I don’t even want to sleep all day. I want to wake up and be alone with myself. And I love the idea that I don’t have to go to dinner at 5:55, or whenever to be there at 6, for two whole days. I don’t have to do anything at all except be here and be alone with myself, if that’s what I want.

I started reading Wonder Boys by Michael Chabon last night. I know I should be sticking to the short story collections because they are easier to pick up and put down, and so I won’t get distracted wanting to swallow a whole novel instead of working on my own today, but I kind of remember what happens because I saw the movie, so maybe the urgency of needing to finish to find out won’t overtake me this time. and also it’s all about writing, the protagonist and narrator is a writer… and the particular miseries and circular thoughts of being a writer working on a novel and feeling like the novel has gotten way ahead of you and beyond your capacities as a human and certainly your small talents as a writer. There’s a lot to recognize here. And some of it amuses me, makes me laugh.

I should shower. There were so many bugs—beetles, spiders, and daddy long legs—in the bathroom today. I squashed some, ran some down the drain, and saved some with a glass and a magazine to let loose on the back deck. But so many. I’m kind of on edge still, thinking of them all.

Is this what it’s like to live in the country? Bugs galore first thing you wake up in the morning? Do they gather around and fester in every night?

Bugs… I should add that to my novel. Write that down somewhere you’ll find it later.

Today is Father’s Day. I have no comment on that.

I am here. I have all night. I have at least four good hours, possibly five. I can do sprints of bits. I can write forward. I can plan. Then I can take chapter-reading and snack-eating breaks as motivation.

But it really is true that I am coming into my true self here. I don’t want to go outside. I don’t want to get bugs on me or have to get dressed or put on actual shoes. I want to eat whenever I’m hungry and whatever I want when I’m hungry and I don’t want to have to follow mandated mealtimes. I want to take breaks to read—and, boy, as if my true childhood self is rising through the mush and haze of adulthood, I sure do want to read A LOT. This is how I used to be as a kid, as a teenager, as a college student, and then… I guess I grew up and my true self got crushed. I have to go out all the time at home because we have nothing there: my morning stuff is out. The mocha (which I’ve just been enjoying green tea, and have to say, I’ve been fine) and the bagel (and we don’t have a toaster at home), but as I was telling E, I think my true natural state would be to stay in if I could. If I had a writing room at home, if we had a house and food enough to last a week, would I ever leave? He said he’d be afraid I’d become a recluse. I am thinking my actual natural state is that of the Writer Recluse. I wonder if I’ll become more myself as I age into my forties and turn into that.

Staying silent online has been pretty nice, too. It feels good to not insert myself into insignificant conversation. To not pay attention, and also to not be paid attention to. Probably no one is thinking of me. Probably no one notices I’m gone. In a way, that’s nice. In a way, really, I like disappearing. I’ve always loved the idea of disappearing, haven’t I? I always like to slip out of places unnoticed if I can—how many times in life have I done just that at crowded parties? And Twitter is like a crowded party in which most of the time no one wants to really talk to me anyway.

Oh blech, I sound like I’m feeling sorry for myself. I’m not. I’m feeling good. I’m feeling happy. I’m feeling like I’m having a good weekend here—except for having trouble sleeping and missing E, especially at night, and hoping he is okay up in New York right now.

SIX DAYS LEFT!

You have to be better at working. You have to be better at forcing yourself to work. You need to try tomorrow—and you need to carry that discipline home with you to New York, where the internet and the distractions and the home and the people and the copyediting projects await you. serious.

And you have to be a better writer. You have to be better. You are not good enough yet. You are not good enough yet. You need to be better.

You have to change who you are and how you act. There’s no time for all the self-doubt and small-making. I mean: fuck you. are you trying to sabotage me? I think you are sometimes.

(My back porch. Where I liked to go to "think.")

(My back porch. Where I liked to go to “think.”)

Day 6, Monday, June 17

I am very, very aware of what little time I have left here.

Today, I woke up and it must have rained last night. I tried to get a big moth out of the studio, but it just wouldn’t go out the door I kept opening and pointing the broom to, I lost another moth, I relocated a spider out to the back porch, and I had to kill a little crippled moth that was living in the bathtub and wouldn’t leave.

I don’t have a book to read today. I keep looking longingly at the reading chair… but that’s not what I’m here for. I read a bunch of books. I have them in my mind now. But now, today, I need to finish what was I was supposed to finish, according to my schedule, I think on Friday! I’m really behind. I had a whole plan for what I’d accomplish here and I’m not following it.

But I have today. And I think maybe it helps with the panic if you think of one day at a time—one task for the day that you want to accomplish. One goal in mind—and have your eyes set on it all day. I know what my goal is for today. It’s doable.

(Here is where the artists gathered for dinner on the nights the chef cooked for us.)

(Here is where the artists gathered for dinner on the nights the chef cooked for us.)

Day …. 7! Already Day 7! Tuesday, June 18, 2013

Should I be surprised at how slow I am? I am always so surprised—and yet I am always so slow… and the funniest thing is how much I believe in myself in those initial moments of giving myself a crazy deadline.

I’d wanted to finish the whole thing this weekend—by Sunday night. (Even though I kept pushing it out.) But I gave myself till Sunday night when I was trying to be realistic.

Ha ha ha ha ha. And ha.

I panicked while falling asleep. I woke up, occasionally, in the night, to panic. And I got out of bed instead of letting myself drift with sleep because 1) had to pee and 2) couldn’t help but panic.

(But you want to see the food! The chef, Rae, made utterly delicious and amazing vegetarian food for us 4 nights a week. I devoured the divine mac and cheese she made before photographing it. But here is another favorite dinner: Clockwise from top left: biscuit; roasted new potatoes; fried okra; black-eyed peas; corn; dandelion greens and tomatoes. YUM.)

(But you want to see the food! The chef, Rae, made utterly delicious and amazing vegetarian food for us 4 nights a week. I devoured the divine mac and cheese she made before photographing it. But here is another favorite dinner: Clockwise from top left: biscuit; roasted new potatoes; fried okra; black-eyed peas; corn; dandelion greens and tomatoes. YUM.)

[No entry Day 8—must have written up a storm!]

(Did we get dessert? Oh hell yeah did we get dessert. Here's a photo of Rae's banana pudding.)

(Did we get dessert? Oh hell yeah did we get dessert. Here’s a photo of Rae’s banana pudding.)

DAY, WHAT IS IT DAY 9? 10? THURSDAY JUNE 20

Something clicked in my mind, suddenly, or I should say finally. Last night it was eating at me, last night I needed it to come and I felt like I was forcing it, like the army of moths that slam at bat at the window screens at night, trying to get in to where the light is, and they were going insane last night, as was my imagination, trying to form into an orderly line and get these ideas articulated onto a page in words in English. I mean, what the fuck, why is creating a novel so hard? Why is every stage so hard? Why do I try, each new time, with each new novel, to make this easier on myself and each time I seem to fail?

There is no way to make this easier. It is always going to be hard. Why can’t I learn this.

Anyway, here I am today, and the ideas are flowing and the words are moving and I will tell you the secret because hey, it’s an obvious one and I think it will be recognized by writers (and artists) the world over.

COFFEE.

I MADE A POT OF COFFEE.

I mean, damn, I’ve been doing 2, 3 cups of green tea a day, but I ran out of my favorite jasmine tea and the green tea substitute I have tastes kind of muddy and I was beginning to suspect there was no caffeine in it at all because I felt so woozy this morning and then it hit me: I had an emergency bag of Starbucks coffee I could brew in that little coffeepot. And I also had hot chocolate packets I could sprinkle in.

And voila.

FUCKING COFFEE WHY DIDN’T I MADE COFFEE BEFORE THIS?

Including today, I have just three days left before I leave here for Asheville.

Not to panic.

Back to it.

Hello, coffee.

(I saw a lizard! On the porch! I freaked out but somehow was able to take this photo! At least I think it was a lizard! Maybe it was a salamander! I have no idea!)

(I saw a lizard! On the porch! I freaked out but somehow was able to take this photo! At least I think it was a lizard! Maybe it was a salamander! I have no idea!)

DAY 10 I think, FRIDAY JUNE 21

There is a married couple here now—they met at another artists’ colony, but have separate studios in which to do their own work. I am hyper-jealous because I wish E were here with me. This is what happens when you’ve been with someone and grown up with someone and changed and grew and came into yourself with someone over a span of almost twenty years. Also he reads every word I write and is very helpful, actually essential, no one even realizes how essential, and I guess not all writers can live in an isolation tank away from close feedback from people who know your work best and he’s my Someone and I’d like him to be in the tank with me. (Also, he’s home and not feeling well and I am worried about him.)

I took a slice of cake home from dinner last night and I’m so going to eat it today. It’s coconut. E hates coconut. I feel like I’m doing something illicit.

I have not allowed myself to read a book in days. Punishment.

E told me to go out and get some sun. I don’t want sun. I want words!

I am running out of food—well, food I want to eat—and I have no way of getting to the grocery store on my own.

But I leave Sunday at noon, so there’s nothing to worry about.

Basically, I have: some Rice Krispies. Some black beans. Some frozen corn. And peanut butter and bread I froze in the freezer. An old mushy apple. And a bunch of chocolate I hid from myself.

(This was the view from my writing desk. No wonder I wrote a forest into my novel.)

(This was the view from my writing desk. No wonder I wrote a forest into my novel.)

DAY 11, SATURDAY JUNE 22

TODAY IS MY LAST DAY.

I realized last night that sometimes, when I am falling asleep, I imagine the sound of sirens and it calms and soothes me and lets me drift off. The fan, when heard with my ears at a certain angle, can sound like faraway city sirens in the strangest way.

If this was meant to be a diary about being away at an artists colony, I’m afraid it’s turned into a diary of deadlines and panic and being a working writer trying desperately not to disappoint your new editor. A diary of a recluse. A diary of how utterly boring and painful it can be at times to write a novel.

I mean, it’s supposed to be romantic, yeah? Magic?

The lesson here could be that you don’t want to go to a colony stay when you have a deadline because you don’t want to spend your time panicking. Then again, the best way to make a deadline is to have all this time ahead of you and no distractions, and the colony stay, for me, came at the perfect time. Except it was too short. I could have used another week, I think—only, I’m  missing E too much for a whole other week.

I don’t have any colony stays planned after this. This is it. I don’t know if I’ll ever get invited to one of these again. And I didn’t get to see a bear. I had a bell to ring on my keychain if I saw one on the path, too—apparently the noise will alert them that you are there? And then they’ll leave you alone? I don’t know, the little tinkly bell sounds very enticing…

Either way, no bears.

I’m feeling reluctant to go back into the real world where the internet lives. So I need to find a way to carry this experience with me. Well, everything except the bugs. If I carry a big spider back in my suitcase I will freak the fuck out, let me tell you. I am going to shake that thing out before I start packing. Wish me luck.

This colony stay was different than others I’ve had: More time with myself, which I loved more than I expected. No game-playing (I miss pool-table PIG, though I lost every game). And a constant sense of the ticking clock, which I think is mainly because I was only able to come for two weeks. But that’s the beauty of colonies: You make the experience into what you want. I did that. My only reget is not taking leftovers back to my studio of Rae’s mac and cheese.

Yeah, I’d come here again. Hey. How soon can I come here again?

(Here's the desk I liked to write on—there were actually two desks in the studio, but this was the one I liked best. I should mention that I don't usually write with my last novel nearby—that's weird. It's only there because I was preparing for a reading at Malaprop's... and I didn't even end of reading at the event anyway!)

(Here’s the desk I liked to write on—there were actually two desks in the studio, but this was the one I liked best. I should mention that I don’t usually write with my last novel nearby—that’s weird. 17 & GONE is only there because I was preparing for a reading at Malaprop’s… and I didn’t even end up reading at the event anyway! Note also: my writing sweater. That’s a colony essential.)

___

The next deadline to apply for a residency at the Hambidge Center in Georgia is September 15. APPLY! 

Haunted at 17: A Giant Link Round-up and a Huge Thank-you

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Thank you.

Just thank you.

Thank you to everyone who wrote a Haunted at 17 story and shared it online. I was kind of floored at the response. I spent the week sharing five Haunted at 17 stories here—all five from people who reached out to me and offered their stories to share in full on this site. Here are the five I featured:

Cordelia Jensen: “When I was 17, in 1993–94 Manhattan, I was haunted by AIDS. My father’s sickness an omnipresent force in my life. I tried to push it away with Yearbook, with partying, with Phish shows, and with ’80s movies, but it was there, no matter what.”

Jennifer Gennari: “Seventeen was the sex year.”

Madeline Claire Franklin: “The past haunted me. A moment in time haunted me. Being silenced haunted me. Being silenced still haunts me.”

Courtney Leigh: “…When the priest said homosexuality was wrong, there was a hitch inside this girl inside me. Slowly I began to notice her more and more. Soon she couldn’t keep as quiet or as still.”

Melissa Montavani: “By the time I turned 17, death had been haunting me for years. I was convinced that I wouldn’t make it into my 20s or 30s because I’d found a lump at the back of my neck.”

There are so many more. I want to share them all with you, every last one. So I spent today capturing quotes, collecting links, and making a list…

What Haunted YOU at 17:

Will Ludwigsen: “What haunted me was the possibility of inheriting my father’s glib charisma, his zeal for seizing opportunity, his anxious aggression and temper in a full-tilt battle with the world. What haunted me was the possibility — the probability — that I had sociopathic blood in my veins.” Read more here.

Samantha Mabry: “What plagued me was a narrow-minded, irresponsible determination that prevented me from seeing the joy of the present—the journey, as they say—and always had me hurtling towards the future.” Read more here.

Vanessa Barger: “I was haunted by my inability to look at them and say, ‘If you don’t want to be seen with me all the time, then why bother being friends with me at all?'” Read more here.

Kelly Jensen: “What haunted me at 17 … is the very thing that now I can finally and truthfully own. I guess this is the first time most of the people in my life, if they read this, will learn.” Read more here.

Natalie Whipple: “By the time I was 17, I was desperate for recognition and wanted so badly to scream, ‘Look at me! SEE ME! I’m right here!'” Read more here.

Singularly Em: “At 17, what haunted me, consumed my every waking hour… was my obsessiveness, my self-destructive love for my abusive girlfriend, my depression, and most of all… distance.” Read more here.

Beth Fred: “I really didn’t know the one word answer to what haunted me, but I’ve found it. The fear of being unlovable. The fear that the adults in my life were right about my lack of worth.” Read more here.

Susan Adrian: “I had no belief that I could do it. I didn’t have a lot of self-confidence, and what I did was fragile, and false.” Read more here.

Mame: “My seventeenth birthday was spent on a New Orleans street corner.” Read more here.

Marisa Reichardt: “By 17, I was afraid of falling asleep at night and not waking up in the morning. I was afraid of dying without having left something worthy in my wake.” Read more here.

Rebecca Barrow: “So what haunted me through 17, that year of parties and older boys and getting far too drunk in the warm safety of my friends’ homes? What haunted me was the idea that it would all go back to before.” Read more here.

Sarah Wedgbrow: “I don’t remember being haunted at seventeen, but I am often haunted today by my seventeen year-old self. And I’ve been systematically trying to destroy her.” Read more here.

awholehandful: “What haunted me at seventeen was my quest to not be alone, and my obsession with finding the perfect person to settle down with. Of course, when I was eighteen and decided I needed to stop looking for a guy and just enjoy my life, I met my husband.” Read more here.

Elana K. Arnold: “I tried to become a ghost, starving the fat from my bones, floating my thoughts away on exhalations of smoke.” Read more here.

Katie L. Carroll: “As winter and basketball season approached, I struggled to keep my mini panic attacks from becoming noticeable. What if my one poor grade in pre-calculus junior year tarnished my transcripts? What if I didn’t get into my top college? Or any college? What if my relationship was too good to be true and he dumped me out of the blue?” Read more here.

Takayta: “So, what’s haunted me at 17? Well, for starters, I’m actually 17 right now… I think what haunts me now is just the fact that I’ll be going to college next year, and the fact I’m almost an adult… I just have to brace myself, be prepared, and be positive no matter what happens.” Read more here.

Adrianne Russell: “On the surface, 17 looked awesome. A cute running back called me his girlfriend, I had my own car, lived in a big house in an economically uplifted suburb, made good grades, and was well on my way to being voted one of the Most Popular Seniors in my all-girls private high school. But underneath? Utter fear.” Read more here.

Elena: “I was in love with the idea of being seventeen thanks to pop culture. Ladytron sings ‘they only want you when you’re seventeen’, Broken Social Scene has ‘Anthems for a Seventeen Year Old Girl’,  Stevie Nicks talks about the edge of seventeen, the list goes on. Braces crushed my dreams.” Read more here.

Jennifer R. Hubbard: “At 17, I thought it was all behind me. I didn’t see how much I still carried with me.” Read more here.

Lindsay Leggett: “When I was seventeen I thought of myself as somewhat of a ghost hunter. I wasn’t actively searching, but I never turned down an opportunity to go somewhere creepy.” Read more here.

Reynje: “I think I wanted someone to ask. Part of me wanted them to say: “Are you okay?” so I could say “no.” I wanted to grab their hands and push them against my chest so hard they would break through my sternum, snapping my ribs like dry sticks.” Read more here.

Katie: “At seventeen, I was haunted by desire. Not only desire to be loved and touched and wanted, but desire to make a name for myself, to be wild, to be known. I was desperately afraid of not being known.” Read more here.

pdxjess: “When I was 17, I was still haunted by the death of the first boy I ever slow danced with. He had reddish brown hair, freckles, the biggest smile, and an even bigger temper.” Read more here.

Jody Casella: “When I was seventeen I punched a girl in the face. Even now, many many years later, I can see her expression, her wide eyes, her mouth falling open, and her hands flying up in surprise. ‘You hit me,’ she said. ‘I can’t believe you did that.'” Read more here.

Alexandra: “At seventeen-years-old I was on average a year and a half younger than other college freshmen, which I never thought too much about. …For the majority of my life, I had been living the sort of life that those that are almost two years older than me live.” Read more here.

Jessica R: “I know what haunted me at 17 because it still haunts me today. I’m not haunted by ghosts. I am the ghost.” Read more here.

xdanigirl: “I was haunted by fear. Fear that I wouldn’t get into to the school I wanted…fear of leaving everything I knew to chase my dreams. Then it was fear of being a single mom, fear of not being a good mom, fear of failing myself and my unborn child.” Read more here.

Janet Fox: “Because, at 17, secure and happy with Mike, I decided one day to drop him like a hot rock. And I dropped him for his at-the-time-but-not-to-continue best friend. Stupid, stupid, stupid. But only in hindsight, from way down life’s road.” Read more here.

K. Ashley Dickson: “I was haunted by the discovery that the larger world was spinning at a dizzyingly fast speed, and I suddenly launched into that world, desperate to catch up with it and make myself part of it.” Read more here.


These are all amazing stories, each one true to that moment, that memory, that place, the truth of being 17, because we all have so many truths. I read every word—and I hope you will, too.

I tried to leave comments on all these posts—when comments were open—or contact everyone if I could find a way to contact you to see if you’d like some 17 & GONE swag in thanks. Please get a hold of me if I missed you, or if I missed your post.

I’m truly honored—humbled, really; surprised, also; plain thrilled—that so many people took part in this and shared their Haunted at 17 stories. Thank you for writing them and thank you for reading them and thank you for helping me celebrate the release of my haunted little book.

Haunted at 17: Featured Story #5

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Thank you so much for reading the Haunted at 17 blog series to celebrate the publication of my new novel, 17 & Gone! To mark the release of this story about a 17-year-old girl haunted by the missing, I asked some authors I know to join me in answering this question: What haunted YOU at 17? They answered, and now it’s your turn. 

Today I have the last featured Haunted at 17 story sent my way. It’s by Melissa Montovani. Read on to see what haunted her when she was 17 years old… and thank you again for reading all the stories.


Guest post by Melissa Montovani 

(Melissa at age 17.)

(Melissa at age 17.)

Saying that few things haunted me at 17 wouldn’t be completely accurate. The truth is closer to the exact opposite. While I had a small group of great friends, I still felt like I didn’t fit in, that my small town was just too small. One look at the baggy, figure hiding clothes that I wore, including the never-wear-shorts-or-skirts rule, and I remember how uncomfortable I was with my body. Yet all of these hauntings were merely floating on the surface of who I was back then. They didn’t define me. Or, if they defined me at all, it was only in part.

Because by the time I turned 17, death had been haunting me for years. I was convinced that I wouldn’t make it into my 20s or 30s because I’d found a lump at the back of my neck. Cancer was the bogeyman in my closet as a child because most of my grandparents died of some type of it. Entangled up in my worry about the lump was my equally weighty fear that when I did die, I wasn’t someone that people would remember. I figured that if pressed to do so, then some of my peers would say that I was a very quiet, shy, and possibly, stuck up girl with a great smile (maybe they’d mistake a painfully shy girl with snobbishness), but they certainly didn’t know the real me. And as much as I wanted them to, I didn’t know how to share the person I was with them.

However, it wasn’t just my own death and its threat to the shy girl I was that haunted me. A few years earlier, one of my favorite aunts died suddenly and left me with a lot of questions that still haven’t been completely resolved. Unlike everyone else in my life who’d died up till then, she hadn’t been ill, and at 31, she was younger than I am today. All that I really knew was that my aunt, who let me drive her car at 14, who introduced me to some of my favorite bands, and who stood up for me time and time again, had killed herself. None of “the reasons why” explained why I’d never see her again and the words about a knife didn’t explain how it occurred. I may have been a few weeks shy of 15 when she died, but at 17, the horrifying things I imagined happening with that knife still haunted me.

While a lot of time has passed, some of these ghosts haven’t gone away. I learned long ago that the lump wasn’t anything serious. I’m still shy, but nothing like I once was. I haven’t lived in that too small town for a long time, and over the years, I’ve developed more close friendships and come to love my body. But, sometimes, when I least expect it, the ghost that’s haunted me the longest—my aunt’s death—feels like a dull ache.


Melissa Montovani is the founder of YABookShelf.com, a young adult fiction book blog, where she has been writing content about YA authors and books since 2010. She writes freelance reviews for Canadian Children’s Book News and is the Toronto Young Adult Fiction Examiner for Examiner.com. She has an M.A. in English Literature and lives and works in Toronto, Canada.


MORE HAUNTINGS

Don’t miss all the posts in the Haunted at 17 series, in which YA authors revealed what haunted them at 17… (Thank you to these generous authors for taking the time to write these stories and be a part of this!)

Thank you again for reading all the Haunted at 17 stories, here and elsewhere! I’ll be putting up a post featuring all the links that have been sent to me—and I’ll be contacting everyone who wrote a post to see if you’d like some 17 & Gone swag in thanks!

Haunted at 17: Featured Story #4

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Thank you so much for reading the Haunted at 17 blog series to celebrate the publication of my new novel, 17 & Gone! To mark the release of this story about a 17-year-old girl haunted by the missing, I asked some authors I know to join me in answering this question: What haunted YOU at 17? They answered, and now it’s your turn. 

Today’s featured Haunted at 17 story is by Courtney Leigh. Read on to see what opened her eyes and haunted her when she was 17 years old…


Guest post by Courtney Leigh

(Courtney at 17, in the black dress.)

(Courtney at 17, in the black dress.)

When I was 17, I was haunted by the girl living beneath my skin.

Up until then I didn’t know she was there. I thought I was everything I appeared to be. A blonde-haired, blue-eyed, fresh-faced, top-ten-percent cheerleader, thespian, band nerd, and tennis player. I loved my family, hated breaking the rules, had the best and most beautiful friends. With only 90 students in my graduating class, “small town” almost isn’t small enough to describe it. We were sequestered, secluded, and protected somehow from that harsh, unforgiving rest of the world. I lived next to a creek which connected to a river, and my brother, my sister, and I would traipse up and down the shallow liquid lengths for fun in the summer. We worked with our parents in a 2-acre “yard” almost every weekend when the weather allowed. The land we lived on had been in the family for hundreds of years. It still is. I could breathe in the wholesomeness. I could feel it under my hands and on my face and in my bones. It was so warm and soft and easy.

That’s what I remember most, how easy it was. It was the simplest thing, the simplest truth for us to say, “I can’t believe we live here. We are so lucky to have this place—this town and these people. Things are good here. Things are deep down good here.” I believed it for a long time. Longer than I like to admit. Sometimes, even now, I feel a deep burning shame for how long I let myself believe these things.

Luckily for me, there was the other girl, the one under my skin. She had ears under my ears that heard other things. Her ears heard the quiet, unsaid words. The way no one protested at the use of racial slurs. The way no one argued when a boy in my computer literacy class said there are no important women in history. Her ears heard the silent existence of varsity athletes hazing the freshmen, domestic abuse next door, child molestation in our school system.

The girl had eyes under my eyes. She saw the way her friend’s boyfriend pushed her out of his truck or yanked her by the wrist and then how her friend wouldn’t break up with him. She saw that there were no black students in the hallway, nor any Asians. She saw how the white students rarely acknowledged the brown ones and vice versa. Her eyes didn’t always understand what they saw, but they did see.

Every Sunday I went to mass with my mom. This girl went, too. Her heart beat beneath my heart, and when the priest said homosexuality was wrong, there was a hitch inside this girl inside me. Slowly I began to notice her more and more. Soon she couldn’t keep as quiet or as still. One day she got her voice under my voice, and she said, We have to leave. We have to go somewhere else and be someone else. I didn’t know why she said this or why she sounded so sad when she did. Because I was happy. I was lucky. Everything was good. And yet she said this and I had to listen. Seventeen was the year I quit volleyball. It was when I dropped out of math. When I cut my silky golden strands up to my ears and dyed them almost black. I kept my thoughts more and more secret, twining them with hers. I turned inward, toward the girl under my skin. Until I couldn’t stand it anymore. Until I was so brittle that I needed to pick and peel away at everything the girl beneath my skin heard and saw and felt. Seventeen was the year I began to molt.

Not soon after, I left my too-small town. The girl who’d been living under my skin blossomed and grew and strove. It took her, now me, a long time to forgive the place I grew up in. Now, the only girl that haunts me is the one I could have been, that shining golden girl, the one who didn’t listen or see or feel the truth around her.


Follow Courtney Leigh at @CourtLeighLove.


MORE HAUNTINGS

Don’t miss all the posts in the Haunted at 17 series, in which YA authors revealed what haunted them at 17… (Thank you to these generous authors for taking the time to write these stories and be a part of this!)

Haunted at 17: Featured Story #3

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Thank you so much for reading the Haunted at 17 blog series to celebrate the publication of my new novel, 17 & Gone! To mark the release of this story about a 17-year-old girl haunted by the missing, I asked some authors I know to join me in answering this question: What haunted YOU at 17? They answered, and now it’s your turn. 

Today’s featured Haunted at 17 story is by Madeline Claire Franklin, and was originally posted on her blog. I’m reposting it here so everyone can read this powerful story about what haunted her when she was 17 years old…


Guest post by Madeline Claire Franklin

(Madeline at 17, on the right, wearing, in her words, "that inexplicable polyester shirt.")

(Madeline at 17, on the right, wearing, in her words, “that inexplicable polyester shirt.”)

Being 17 wasn’t a bad time really: I was dating an older boy (+1 cool point) from a different high school (+1 cool point), who was the lead guitarist in a decent rock band (+100 cool points). I had my night license and a hand-me-down $500 car from my older brother, so I could drive anywhere, anytime, and that’s what we did most weekends. We’d drive out to haunted roads and cemeteries, or to rock shows downtown, or to out-of-state Denny’s where we would sit in the smoking section burning through soft packs of cheap cigarettes, drinking bottomless cups of coffee, thinking we were so damn cool.

So what haunted me at 17, you ask, when I was so clearly living large and loving life? Well, like most hauntings, it was complicated, vaporous, and hard to define. The past haunted me. A moment in time haunted me. Being silenced haunted me.

Being silenced still haunts me.

A little back story: I’m the youngest of three (well, 3.5 but that’s a tale for another day), and one of the most unobtrusive people you’ll ever meet. I learned from a young age that if I wanted to get a word in edgewise at the dinner table I had to shout, or cry, which itself never produced any desirable outcomes. Instead, I learned to be quiet and patient, and to bite my tongue instead of raise my voice. Among my friends, I was known as the quiet one–the shy one. I disappeared in the classroom, in the halls. And in high school, even with dreadlocks and piercings or bright green hair, I somehow managed to pass unnoticed, unheard.

I filled notebooks with the words I didn’t say. I wrote essays to give voice to the thoughts I never spoke aloud, and novels to tell the stories that my friends and family didn’t have the attention span to hear. By the time I was in high school I was used to my words going unheard. But there came a point when being unheard became absolutely unsustainable–only, I wouldn’t realize that for nearly a decade.

I was 15, and I’d just broken up with my first longterm boyfriend. And, as 15-year-old douche bags are wont to do, he was telling people we’d had S-E-X, because at 15 nothing is more interesting to others after your breakup than that one big question: did you guys do it?

I was so angry, but I was powerless to do anything but refute it–as if they’d believe me, the girl, who would of course not want anyone to know what a slut she was, because that’s what everyone thought (/still thinks) of girls who had (/have) sex in high school. And there I was, the girl no one ever noticed, suddenly the topic of scandal.

I had to tell someone, I had to make somebody hear me, because I hadn’t spoken back when everything happened, back when I should have broken up with him, back when my life fell apart for the first time in a long series of breakdowns. So I told my best friend, in the locker room, after gym class. I told her the hardest thing I’d ever forced myself to give a voice to: “The truth is, we did have sex. But I said no. And he didn’t listen.”

“So what?” she said, dismissive, shrugging, looking away, turning and talking to someone else like I hadn’t just carved out my guts and held them up for her appraisal.

At a time when I needed to speak, and to be heard, more than ever before in all my life, I had never felt more silenced. And I wondered if…maybe she was right? Maybe it was no big deal, after all? Maybe he hadn’t heard me. Maybe I was a slut. Maybe it was my fault. Believing that felt slightly better than believing I was someone else’s victim. Blaming myself, and hating myself, was infinitely easier than accepting the truth.

He transferred schools shortly after, and I didn’t dare mention it to anyone again. Those awkward days when I ended up in the guidance or social worker’s office at school, I told them my “irrational crying” was just stress, hormones, that I’d been sleeping poorly–anything but the truth, or what might have been true, or even an approximate version of the truth.

Then, the summer before our senior year, he came back to town. 17 would be the last year of my life that I would have any contact with him, but it was a hard and bitter year of silence, shame, and insidious ghosts. I ran into him at parties, his pupils dilated, tripping on cough syrup or god knows what. He tried more than once to corner me and talk to me, ask me about my new boyfriend, tell me how much he missed me. When fall came, he was back at school, sliding notes into my locker that told me in excruciating detail about his time in the psychiatric hospital, his drug-induced suicide attempts, his visions of God telling him how I still loved him, that I would be with him again in time. And even then, I was haunted by a kind of guilt–guilt that he was destroying himself under the guise of loving me, and guilt that I honestly felt he deserved to suffer.*

I survived. I graduated, and life went on. I fought hard to forgive him (yes, I did forgive him eventually), so that I could have my own life back. But in the end, as life after high school changed everything about my world, I realized it wasn’t a loss of innocence that haunted me at 17, or the ruins of a boy I once loved falling at my heels. It was the years and years of allowing myself to be silenced, of allowing my anger and sadness to go unheard. It was his betrayal, yes, but it was also the betrayal of the friends I had given my heart to as well, and a family that didn’t realize they were nurturing my silence. Every time my friends joked with him in class and I had to hold back my anger, every time he scared me with his horrific notes in my locker and I wanted to tell someone, but couldn’t–every time I wanted to shout or cry out, but didn’t–that was the thing that haunted me the longest, the deepest.

And on my darker days, it still does.

But, true to form, I don’t like feeling like a victim. And I’ve realized, finally, so many years later, that it was my own betrayal that hurt me most of all. I betrayed myself by buying into the silence, by buying into the lie that what I had to say was not worth saying, not worth taking up the lesson I had learned as a child, at the dinner table: that I could be heard if I shouted, if I cried. But learning to raise my voice–allowing myself, now, to be seen and heard–that’s probably the hardest lesson I’ve ever had to learn.

(So that this doesn’t end on a totally dark note, enjoy the caption my husband gave me on this picture of me climbing through a window when I was 17.)

(This is some “Clarissa Explains It All” shit right here.)

(This is some “Clarissa Explains It All” shit right here.)

*I haven’t seen him since I graduated from high school ten years ago, but I did hear, about 7 years back, that he’d been shot point-blank in the chest during a drug deal (or a robbery because of drugs? I don’t remember/care), and I actually laughed. He survived, but… I didn’t know that when I laughed.

(Originally posted on Ink, Blood, Magic.)


Madeline Claire Franklin has been writing, making movies, telling lies, and otherwise creating stories for as long as she can remember. She holds a BA in Media Studies/Production with a minor in Anthropology from the University at Buffalo, where she further expanded her storytelling capacity through film, animation, and the study of the human race.

In addition to her love of telling stories and researching dead people, Madeline is an avid traveler and lover of foreign cultures. She has contracted salmonella in Costa Rica, was bitten by a goat in the Sahara Desert, got salt in her eyes at the Dead Sea, and her pants once caught on fire while she was walking down a street in Spain. None of this deters her.

She currently resides in Buffalo, NY, with her husband and their growing menagerie of pets.


MORE HAUNTINGS

Don’t miss all the posts in the Haunted at 17 series, in which YA authors revealed what haunted them at 17… (Thank you to these generous authors for taking the time to write these stories and be a part of this!)

But wait. I’m not done yet!

…Do YOU Have a Haunted at 17 Story You’d Like to Share Here?

Feel inspired and want to share what haunted you at 17? If you write a post on your blog, leave a link or tweet it to me. I’ll send you some 17 & Gone swag if you’d like it, and I’ll be listing all the posts in a round-up this weekend.

Even better, as you can see from today, I’ll be featuring five of your Haunted at 17 stories here in full next week. So if you don’t have a blog—or even if you’d already posted yours and want to include it here—email your story me.

And remember: You don’t have to be a writer to take part in this. All you have to be is someone who was once 17.


GIVEAWAY! 

Want to win a signed hardcover of 17 & Gone, some swag, and a signed hardcover of Imaginary Girls to keep it company? Every commenter on this Haunted at 17 post will be entered to win. You can also enter by filling out this entry form.

The giveaway is international. Closes 11:59 p.m. EST tonight!, Thursday, March 28. Two winners will be chosen.