What THE WALLS AROUND US Means to Me

The Walls Around UsMy new book, The Walls Around Us, was published today! I would be so thrilled and honored if you considered buying it this week from your favorite independent bookstore or ordering it through your local library—first-week sales do help authors so much, that’s the truth. But most of all, however you may get your hands on it, from a good friend, from an enemy, from an amazon, or from a Dumpster, I do hope it speaks to you somehow. I hope you like it.

This is a book that I wrote for myself, wholly and completely. I wrote it for the girl I was, back some time ago, and the person I am today. I wrote it because I needed to.

I wrote it because I reached an ugly place inside myself full of itching doubts that made me question every single idea I was having and every single line I was writing, and I wanted to free myself somehow. How ironic, then, to write a book that takes place mostly inside a prison to make yourself feel free. But it did. It shook something loose in me.

Last night, if you happened to be at my launch event at my favorite local bookstore McNally Jackson, where I was being interviewed by one of my favorite authors and people, Libba Bray—damn, am I lucky, damn—you may have heard Libba call this my “middle fingers book.” She says this because she witnessed me at the café table talking about writing whatever the hell I wanted without boundaries or censors and raising my middle fingers high to the ceiling while saying so, a funny image, yes. But also, it’s true. That’s what this book is for me.

me and libba

(Libba Bray and me at the launch of THE WALLS AROUND US on March 23 at McNally Jackson)

Sometimes you have to stand up for yourself in the face of all that doubt and so-called expectation and write the book you most want to write. Even if—especially if—you’re scared to do it.

The book you’d go out with in a flash of fire and smoke if you could.

The book that has no regrets.

The book that is as weird and wild and yourself as can be.

That’s The Walls Around Us for me.

I risked a lot—and now here I am, with it out in the world and no take-backs, and I feel good, I feel proud, I feel pretty OK.

One of the strangest things to realize is: When I gave myself permission to write simply for myself… When I told myself to go wild, go crazy, go all-out and see what happens, THIS is the book that seems to get more attention than my previous books. It was named the #1 Kids’ Indie Next Pick by the American Booksellers Association for Spring 2015! An Amazon Best YA Book of the Month for March! It has gotten five starred reviews!

???

Isn’t that some kind of life lesson, you think? That we should be honest and brave and so completely ourselves with the novels we’re putting out in the world. That we shouldn’t try to write what we think other people want us to write, what the industry is looking for, what readers supposedly want from us, what the world at large says. We should tell our own stories, with conviction. We should be fearless and risky and wild and true.

Even when we’re scared.

I’m so grateful for everything that’s happened with The Walls Around Us so far. (And stunned. And flummoxed. And thrilled. And… and… and I could go on!)

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(My publisher shared this wall of WALLS today!)

 

For more about the book

Thank you so much to all the wonderful, wonderful people who have been so very supportive of me and this book. I will not forget. I am so thankful.

In another post, once I have more photos, I will share with you how my first-ever-ever launch event with special guest Libba Bray went! (SPOILER: IT WAS AMAZING.) But for now, I will breathe. And be grateful for every last moment.

And try to be brave again with my next book.

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(At my launch event with one of the cookies my publisher surprised me with, and a pillow my mom made for me!)

 

What to Expect at the Djerassi YA Novel Workshop

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I’m really looking forward to June, and not just because my new book will be out and I can finally relax, maybe. It’s because I get to go back to this beautiful place in the mist, the Djerassi Resident Artists Program in Northern California, and I get to take a group of fellow YA writers with me. My third Djerassi YA novel workshop will be running June 21–26, and you can still apply to join me: The deadline is February 26.

The view at Djerassi, with the fog rolling in. You can't see it, but the Pacific Ocean is out there.

The view at Djerassi, with the fog rolling in. You can’t see it, but the Pacific Ocean is out there.

I first visited Djerassi as a resident artist, where I spent a month writing and exploring ideas and finding great inspiration. I love sharing this experience with fellow writers of YA fiction—a small week-long taste with opportunities for critiques and a private meeting with me and good food and good discussion and a sculpture tour and what else can I say to entice you??

When the fog clears, look... There's the ocean.

When the fog clears, look… There’s the ocean.

I’ve been fielding some frequently asked questions lately from prospective writers, and I wanted to try to answer those here. Please, if you have more questions, feel free to ask in the comments or to email me privately.

Some of the studios, where some of the writers will stay.

Some of the studios, where some of the writers will stay.

As it says in the general description, this is a fiction workshop tailored for writers working on YA novels of any style and genre, featuring daily critique sessions and time to retreat and produce new work. Includes 75 pages (25 for group critique; 50 in private conference) of manuscript review… And if you’d like some testimonials, scroll down on this page for the wonderful things the 2014 Djerassi YA workshop writers said.

The artists' barn, where we hold workshops every morning.

The artists’ barn, where we hold workshops every morning.

But you have more questions, so here goes, a FAQ:

What are you looking for in writing sample?

I’m looking for good writing, of course, but also the spark that tells me I would be able to be helpful to you as a writing teacher—a connection to your writing that tells me we would work well together.

It’s not all about the writing sample, either: I am looking at that last question on the application carefully, the short statement where I ask “what you hope to gain from this workshop and what writing experience and classes you have taken before, if any.”

I’m looking at the person as well as the writer, so I can try to craft a good, supportive, dynamic group of writers who will click with one another, and who will come from differing perspectives and backgrounds and places in their careers.

Please know: The sample pages you send in for the application absolutely do not have to be the pages you send in for the actual workshop. So send your best work for the application, and know you can send far rougher pages later.

When will the pages for critique be due?

A month before our workshop starts, so you have a chance to read all your fellow writers’ work and write feedback before arriving at Djerassi (and so I’ll have time to read, too!): so May 21.

You’ll be able to workshop up to 25 pages with the group. You will also have the opportunity to send me up to 50 additional pages for private critique, which we will discuss in person when we meet.

These additional pages can be from a different novel, if you prefer, or from the same novel—up to you.

Inside the barn, before the writers arrive.

Inside the barn, before the writers arrive.

What kind of writers are you seeking?

YA writers with experience, though not necessarily publications. Though, of course, published authors are very welcome to apply.

This is not a workshop for beginning-level writers who have never written fiction before. You should also know what YA is, and you should be enthusiastically, passionately writing it.

Diverse writers are encouraged to apply. You must be 18 or older to apply.

Can I workshop pages from a middle-grade novel there?

You can send middle-grade fiction for your writing sample, but I’d like to keep the workshop itself just to YA fiction this year. Please only apply if you know you will have the opening pages of a YA novel to bring for group discussion June.

(You will be welcome to show me pages from a separate middle-grade project in our private conference, if you’re so inclined.)

Is this workshop for women only?

No! (This was a question really asked, so I’m including it here.) It was only coincidence that the great majority of writers who applied last year were women… Most of my readers are women, too. Male writers and non-gender-conforming writers are encouraged to apply. I’d love a diverse group of writers.

Workshop morning.

Workshop morning.

 

How many writers will you accept?

Nine. Though, if I can’t help it, certainly no more than eleven, due to housing constraints.

Are you choosing writers RIGHT NOW THIS VERY SECOND and is there a chance I will lose my spot if I wait to apply until the deadline? (i.e., Are there rolling admissions?)

No rolling admissions.

I won’t be selecting the writers until after the deadline, which is February 26. I admit that I have peeked at the applications and read some writing samples and I’m getting excited… But I really will be making the decisions after all the applications are in. Notifications will go out on or before March 12.

Here I am taking a break during one of the workshops, on the listening bench.

Here I am taking a break during one of the workshops, on the listening bench.

What is the daily schedule?

We will meet for workshop in the mornings, during which we will critique each writer’s opening pages in a constructive, honest group discussion led by me. At the end of discussion, you will have the opportunity to ask the group questions about anything you’d like clarity on, or anything that didn’t come up in our feedback.

After you’ve been workshopped, you and I will schedule a private conference in the afternoon, where we will talk about how you thought the workshop critique went and discuss your additional pages.

During one afternoon, we’ll go on a sculpture tour of the property, which is totally voluntary but highly recommended.

Otherwise the afternoons are yours to write, nap, think, read, chat, hike the sculpture trails on your own, or whatever you’d like. In previous workshops, sometimes the writers would meet together for writing sprints—and you are always welcome to write in your private studio. Your time is yours.

Breakfast and lunch are yours to make from the fully stocked kitchen, but every night we meet for delicious dinner in the main house, made for us by amazing Chef Dan. (Who is wonderfully accommodating for special diets, btw, if you are vegan or vegetarian or gluten-free. Everything he makes is so good. He’s my favorite chef, over all the colonies.) We share chores after dinner and clean up the dishes. It doesn’t take long.

In the evenings we will have readings—a chance, if you’d like, to share more of your work!—and we will try writing prompts if everyone is interested. We might have a movie night. I did a reading myself in previous years, but this year I might add in a craft talk. We might have an honest discussion about the publishing industry in a place where only we can hear. I take my cue from you, and will craft the week to be whatever you’d like it to be.

Sculpture tour (February).

Sculpture tour (February).

Sculpture tour (June).

Sculpture tour (June, in the mist).

Is there any required reading?

A month before the workshop, you’ll get your fellow writers’ pages to read and start critiquing so you have ample time to have everything done before you arrive. Other than that, there is no required reading before or during the workshop.

Is there an opportunity for you to critique my full manuscript?

I’ve added in this option due to requests from last year. You can see my new critique and mentoring service on my website, but for 2015 Djerassi writers, the fee will be heavily discounted if you want me to read and critique beyond page 75 of your novel.

Are there scholarships available?

I’m sorry to say that we don’t have a scholarship program available.

(Last year, I was amazed at one of the writers, who ran a successful Kickstarter to fund her trip from Australia!)

The old barn, a short hike into the woods.

The old barn, a short hike into the woods.

Here’s a question I’m not asked: What do I want from this week?

I want to give you a safe place to talk about your novel, among like-minded writers. A place to be honest on the page. A place to dig in and ask questions and be open to feedback that could help raise your story to new heights. I want to dig in to your novel with you and help you get to where you’d like to be.

I also love being up at Djerassi, so I can’t wait to go back, just selfishly.

If my last two Djerassi workshops in 2014 were any indication, this is going to be an incredible week.

Dessert, made by Dan.

Dessert, made by Dan.

If you want to get a sense of the experience in a way I can’t tell you, here are some beautiful blog posts from some writers who were there last year:

Yield to Whim — Susan Bishop Crispell

The Path to Inspiration: A Week at Djerassi — Rebekah Faubion

Summer Workshops: Lighthouse Meets Djerassi — Carrie Brown Wolf

Life After Djerassi — Zoë Harris

My Djerassi Experience — Shelli Cornelison

Djerassi Part I, Djerassi Part II, and Djerassi Part III — Courtney Leigh

(2014 Djerassi writers: If I missed your post and I can share it here, please send me the link!)

Sunset.

Sunset, looking out at one of the sculptures resident artists have left around the property.

I hope this FAQ answers your questions—but if you have more, please ask in the comments below or feel free to email me!

Most of all, I hope you’ll be inspired to apply and join me this June…

APPLY HERE!

What’s Happening with THE WALLS AROUND US

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Click this image to read a special free extended preview of the book!

I wanted to share some things. My new novel, The Walls Around Us, comes out in March, which is getting closer and closer, and if you want to get a taste of the book—and this is a good, long taste—my publisher has just released a seven-chapter extended preview of the book… and you can download it and read it right now on Kindle, Nook, iBooks, and Kobo…

I was so excited to see that this week it was featured on iBooks as one of the Most Anticipated Books of 2015—look for it in the “Our Picks” section…

If you’re on Goodreads, my publisher is giving away 35 copies of The Walls Around Us and you can enter the giveaway right now…

And yesterday, I was surprised by this post from my favorite local bookstore (the store I’ve been visiting since it opened, longingly browsing the shelves before I even published and wishing to one day find my books on them), McNally Jackson Bookstore, which said this about me, and I’m blushing to even type it in…

“We Declare 2015 the Year of Nova Ren Suma”

Can you believe that??

If you read to the end of that post you’ll see that McNally Jackson is hosting my launch event on March 23, the night before the book comes out, and Libba Bray will be my special guest! Please come if you’re local. Please help me celebrate.

And if you can’t make it to the event, you can pre-order The Walls Around Us from McNally Jackson and get it signed and personalized directly to you. There’s a box on that order page where you can write in how you’d like the book personalized. I’ll bring Sharpies.

I also have other events upcoming in the Hudson Valley (Oblong Books!) and Texas (The North Texas Teen Book Festival!) and possibly more coming.

Now I’m going to leave you with these amazing words about the book, from two incredible YA authors who generously spoke kind words about the book.

I am thrilled and honored by these words from two glorious authors I admire, Libba Bray and Michelle Hodkin

The Walls Around Us is a suspenseful tour-de-force. It is a ghost story of the best sort, the kind that creeps into your soul and haunts you with doubts about what you think you know and what you choose to believe. Above all, it is a thoughtful, heart-probing examination of innocence and guilt, friendship and betrayal, humanity and inhumanity, of the crimes we excuse and the prisons we create for ourselves, and the razor-wire-thin line that separates one from the other. When people ask me for my favorite authors, I always say, ‘Have you read Nova Ren Suma?’ She’s brilliant, and I would happily follow her to whatever strange and wondrous dark wood she imagines next.”
—Libba Bray, author of The Diviners and A Great and Terrible Beauty

“Fearlessly imagined and deliciously sinister, The Walls Around Us is an unmissable novel crafted by a spellbinding storyteller. Nova Ren Suma’s talent is on display in every sentence; her prose is hypnotic, luring the reader deeper and deeper into this original, shocking narrative with each artfully chosen word. Without question, this is the book of the year.”
—Michelle Hodkin, author of The Mara Dyer Trilogy

I am so honored by those words, my god.

I hope all this gets you excited to read the book! Well, I am so excited (and anxious) for the book to come out, but I’m also in that surreal place where I remember how happy I ended up being from writing it, and how much of myself I put into it, and now here it is out in the world and I can hardly believe it.

I don’t want to forget how that felt. It’s important, always, to remember, no matter how anxious you get about a book entering the world.

Don’t let me forget, okay?

The Obligatory Old Year / New Year Post

I came home from my writing retreat right before the New Year. I can’t spend that night apart from E.

Yaddo is a secretive place. I cannot post photos or give many details, but I can say I shared some inspiring conversations, laughed and learned many things, and slept with the light on because I saw a ghost (maybe) in my bedroom my second or third night. I wrote and wrote, too, which was the whole point of going. My writing studio saw me through the writing of almost 30,000 words. That was my goal for my stay, and though I was 1,448 words shy of making it, I am close enough that it feels successful. I left feeling good.

I found illuminations. I sizzled with inspiration. I felt on fire. I found myself at low points and then I found ways to raise myself up. I looked out the crisscrossed-diamond windows at the tall pine trees over the rooftop and thought of who had done the same, in this very studio, years and decades before. I went to town and visited a wonderful bookshop that didn’t carry my books, but I forgive them. I covered my entire desk in colorful sticky notes of ideas, plans, to-dos, and daily word counts. I ate dessert quite a few of the nights (so hard to resist) and carrot sticks at lunch every day.

There is magic there. You don’t have to believe in it for it to find you. The echo of everyone who came before you surrounds you in each room, through each hallway, heading up and down each set of stairs.

There is a quiet that contains the quick-quick panic of an anxious, deadlining heart.

And when real life intrudes, as it did on my last few days in the form of a blistering on/off headache and the stress of some worries waiting for me at home, there was still the quiet to escape to, the gift you were given to be here.

You are welcomed. You are not the only one awake in the night.

If you go down to the living room, Katrina will be there watching you. If she’s proud, her eyes will show it in the painting. If she wants more from you, her eyes will be honest and stare hard at you, telling you to go back upstairs and sit your butt in that chair. (She would probably say that more elegantly.)

On my last night, Katrina’s eyes were smiling.

It was a wonderful end point to my five-year chapter, as I wrote about in this blog before I left. It capped off my 2014.

I came home on the Amtrak, and E met me in Penn Station. We had talked on the phone every morning and every night, but I missed him, terribly. Seeing him there in the crowd made my heart leap. We spent a calm and quiet New Year’s Eve together as I’d hoped and I wrote down all my goals and dreams for 2015. Now it’s the morning of January 1, and I’m in my favorite morning place—my writing café, at a table near the outlet, my back against the wall—and it’s almost like my time upstate didn’t even happen. I’d been in a bubble, and the bubble has burst. Everything’s fading, which I guess is why I wanted to spend some time this morning writing that down.

This may be a stressful year, but I am also determined for it to be an amazing one.

So much is happening:

I am teaching a new online class that starts next week and beginning one-on-one mentoring with some talented writers who’ve already signed up to work with me. I am going to my first publisher-sponsored conference ever in my life in February. The book I put my all into is coming out in March.

I’m scared of what’s coming, I’ll admit it. I’m definitely on the edge of a new chapter in life and I have a big birthday coming up this winter.

But I’m also really proud of how far I’ve come.

My publisher posted this wonderful photo and I want to share it. 2015 is here!

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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.

Announcing Private Manuscript Consultations and One-on-One Mentoring

Image5_macroeditsI’ve been asked about this numerous times (thank you!), and so I am making it a reality:

In addition to the novel writing workshops I teach—such as the Young Adult novel writing workshop & retreat at the Djerassi Resident Artists Program in California coming up in June (applications now open and due February 26, apply!) and the newly announced Highlights Foundation workshop on writing horror and dark & twisty YA and middle-grade novels co-taught with Micol Ostow in September (apply before May 1 for a discount, it’s going to be awesome!)—you can also soon work with me privately on your novel on your schedule, from anywhere in the world.

Starting in the second half of January, I will be available for private manuscript consultations, shorter 50-page critiques, and one-on-one mentoring, for select manuscripts and writers. This would be a way to work with me privately on your YA or middle-grade or adult cross-over manuscript and gain detailed, constructive feedback on a draft to help you move forward with revision. If you prefer, it could also be a way for you to work with me on a first draft over an extended period of time, with deadlines that will help you finish the novel and gain feedback along the way.

We would work together online, so you could live anywhere in the world, and these consultations will involve a phone call or Skype session (or, if you’d like, an in-person meeting if you can get yourself to downtown Manhattan).

For more details about what this would entail, fees, and what manuscripts and writers would be the best fit to work with me, please visit my website.

And of course feel free to email me questions!

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.

Books with Bite Highlights Foundation Workshop with Me & Micol Ostow

I’m excited to announce that I’ll be teaching a new writing workshop in 2015—this time in the fall and co-led with a certain brilliant author I admire like crazy, Micol Ostow, author of the terrifically terrifying AMITY! So if you’re writing a horror or otherwise dark & twisty YA or middle-grade novel (spine-chilling horror! hauntings! ghost stories! psychological thrillers! dark magical realism! serial killers! suspense! Gothic tales! I could go on!) and if you’d like to go to the truly wonderful Highlights Foundation in Pennsylvania for a five-day intensive workshop next year, I hope you’ll consider taking ours!

I realize this photo isn't at all creepy, so it may not go with the theme of our workshop... But these are some of the cabins writers stay in at Highlights! Aren't they perfect?

I realize this photo isn’t at all creepy, so it may not go with the theme of our workshop… But these are some of the cabins writers stay in at Highlights! Aren’t they perfect?

The Books with Bite Workshop and Retreat at Highlights will run September 16–20, 2015, and if you like to plan your life way early, you can apply RIGHT NOW! For the full description of the workshop and the link to apply, please visit the Highlights Foundation website.

Plus, if you register by May 1, you will get 10% off tuition, so apply sooner rather than later… Writers will be paired with a mentor, either Micol or me, and will be workshopped in small groups, so spaces are limited. Admissions will be rolling, and we will be reviewing applications as they come.

…In fact, I heard we already got our first application this morning! Isn’t that amazing?

Feel free to ask me any questions here, in the comments, or via email.

And of course, if horror and dark fiction isn’t your thing, or if you’re closer to the West Coast, and you would still like to do a workshop with me, the deadline to apply for my upcoming June 2015 YA novel workshop & retreat at the Djerassi Resident Artists Program in California is February 26. Djerassi applications are now open, and spaces are limited!

That’s my news for now! Now back to writing my own book!

The Two-Month Countdown and the One-Track Mind

legs in san franToday is November 15. That means I have two months to finish* this Thing* and turn it in.

*Just finish the first draft—there will be revisions!

*See my previous post for why I feel safer calling it a Thing. For the TLDR lazypants who don’t feel like clicking: By Thing I mean my novel.

So I have two months to go. Two months. Much to do. Only two months. I’m keeping up the momentum as best I can, with other deadlines and work-ish commitments getting in the way, but I keep telling myself: This is only the exploratory draft. Doesn’t need to be right yet. Doesn’t need to make full sense yet. Doesn’t need to have everything you want in it yet, because you can’t know everything yet!

I am making choices and decisions in this draft simply to try them out—they don’t have to stick next draft. I’m not drawing my novel in a patch of wet concrete, so when it dries it will be stuck that way forever.

I am discovering my characters as I go. I am not sure what they’ll do next, or how they’ll react to certain things. But after this draft is done, I will know them far better than I did before.

And while, yes, I do revise as I go—chapter by chapter, going back to the beginning when I’ve come upon a significant change that then needs to be seeded in—because this is how my brain works and how my hands like to work, I am making progress. Every day I sit down at my desk, I’ve moved forward in some way even if the word count doesn’t show it.

Maybe I should be panicked at this point, but I’m not. I’m deep in it, enjoying the process. Because why write otherwise?

The only problem right now is the rest of life. When I have a good writing day (yay!), everything else is unequivocally a mess. And when I get on top of everything else (sort of), then my writing suffers. For someone as easily distractible as I am (hence the name of this blog and my way of using parentheses in the middle of sentences because I keep having more than one thought I want to get down) I have such a one-track mind.

I’ve been like this for a long time. I wanted to be a writer, and once I gave up photography to start my MFA in fiction I didn’t want to be anything else. No other creative pursuits or hobbies or real passion in my day jobs or really any side avenue to run along on when the writing’s not going well. And there are many days in life when the writing is just not going well. In my personal life, I don’t want a family, don’t want to be a mother, barely contribute to society, despise going to the gym though I’m trying to anyway, am a horrible burn-the-good-pan can’t-get-the-black-spots-out-with-scrubbing cook.

Being a writer is my one thing, and everything else suffers.

I can see the red warnings flashing.

I don’t want a hobby, though. I really do like being consumed like this. I like thinking about writing and talking to other writers and teaching writing classes and reading books written by other writers and yes, also sitting against the wall at this café knowing today’s Saturday and I have hours ahead to do my own writing.

I like it like this, but it’s also a very small world. I’m inside a tiny bubble. Very few people on the outside understand the panicked excited doomsday delirium that comes by saying a book deadline is fast approaching and I have to be creative-on-command, and why would they? I feel alone in this very often. I feel frustrated with myself on a regular basis. If this is all I’m doing, shouldn’t I be doing way better at it? That kind of thing.

Sometimes I think about taking a break for a short while. I went to a small, interesting college—Antioch College, very different from the entity that exists under its name now—where we had what was called the co-op program. Basically, three- or six-month periods spent working off-campus for course credit, and then you’d write a co-op paper at the end about what you learned. I co-oped for a symphony, an early attempt at an online newspaper, a literary journal, an activist organization in the basement of a church, a public-relations office, and as editor of the campus newspaper. Sometimes I think I need a co-op from my real life. I’d write a really great paper about it after.

But if I look back, I know I tried out a bunch of things to discover, deep into my thirties, that this is really all I wanted. I am content with doing only this. Being a writer.

So in the difficult moments, in the tear-out-your-hair and scratch-out-your-eyes moments, in the pits of despair and in the frenzied clouds of delirium, I guess I just want to remember that.

You like this. You chose this. You’re the one who feeds off deadlines, REMEMBER?

Some days I want a little cardboard sign around my neck, colorful and tied with yarn, the way my mother made me when I was in Kindergarten in Saugerties, New York, taking the school bus for the first time, so I wouldn’t get lost. Maybe all children in my Kindergarten class had these signs for them made by their parents. I think the signs had our names and our classrooms on them. I remember wearing my sign strung around my neck with yarn and knowing I was meant to be somewhere. I had a destination. The sign wouldn’t let me forget it.

Trying not to forget where I’m headed today. In two months, to the day, I have a new novel due. I’m on the bus now, but I’ll get there eventually.


Do you want to join me at my YA novel workshop-retreat at the Djerassi Resident Artists Program in Northern California this coming June? The first two workshops were a glorious success, so I’m thrilled to do it again in 2015. Now accepting applications!

And oh hey… Do you want a signed and personalized copy of The Walls Around Us? Well, unless you go to one of my book events this spring, there is only one way to get one: By pre-ordering through my favorite local bookstore, McNally Jackson. Preorder with a note for how you’d like me to personalize the book here!

Writing a Novel and Seeking the Magic Fix

My state of mind while writing lately.

My state of mind while writing lately.

I am writing what will be my fifth published novel. Five is a number I like, so you’d think this would be a glorious experience, but nothing is ever as easy as I’d hope it to be, most of all writing.

This novel I’m writing was originally slated to come out Spring 2016, a year after The Walls Around Us, but I’m still writing it, so maybe it will come out Fall 2016. I don’t know yet. It all depends on how this draft goes, and if I make this deadline in January, and what my editor thinks once she reads this Thing.

By the way, I feel calmer when I call it a Thing, rather than a BOOK.

A Thing is a hairy little monster. Ugly. Misshapen. It yowls. It drools. No one expects a Thing to be polished and proper and un-embarrassing.

A BOOK is expected to not spit up on the floor. A BOOK is contained. It makes sense.

Right now, I’ll keep working on my Thing, thank you.

So I’m thinking, what are the optimal conditions in which to write a draft of a Thing/BOOK quickly?

(Also note: I said draft. There will be many drafts. This is just the first one. I don’t have any illusions that the Thing will be perfect when I turn it in.)

Well, in an ideal world I’d be in a quiet place with my own writing room and we’d have no bills or student loans to worry about so I wouldn’t have to work on the side and stress over finding more work and there’d be pancakes made-to-order from phantoms in the kitchen every morning and I would be totally healthy and not so tired all the time and I’d have a kitten to play with, because hey why not, in an ideal world I wouldn’t be allergic, and I’d have an intern to deal with all my emails and other randoms on my to-do list like remembering to pick up the almond milk, and, best of all, the internet would be down for months. Seriously, months.

But I live in this world. I live in a shoebox in a very loud city. (And I kind of need the internet! I might be addicted, plus I have a book coming out in March and I don’t want you to forget me!)

So I need to create optimal conditions here at home, in my loud shoebox surrounded by the internet. We all have to find ways to write in the cracks and corners of real life, which is something I said once when I was trying to write during one of my demanding day jobs (the old post is set to “private,” and I’ll keep it that way). But if I did it then, how can I not do it now?

In order to finish this novel, I need:

  • To stay off the internet for large swathes of times like a mature adult with some semblance of self-control.
  • To organize my time so I reach all my work and other writing deadlines and don’t get overwhelmed.
  • To find quiet and isolate when needed. (I’ve talked about this need before.)
  • To have momentum.

That last one is key. Momentum. Really, it’s everything. Because once I have momentum, I don’t care so much about the internet, and I make way better use of my writing time because I am so very FOCUSED.

The way I get momentum is to force myself to write every day. Every. Single. Day. Even when I have work deadlines. Even when I have somewhere to be. Even when I’m sick. Even when I’m sad. Every day.

Some days I might get 500 words. (That’s my optimal—and realistic, if I’m even bothering to count words.) Some days, like yesterday, more than 1,200! And some days, quite a few days, I get 8 words. Some days—many days, since I edit as I go—I am in the negative.

But the point is that I’m keeping up momentum. I’m working on my Thing every day, even for twenty minutes. I’m keeping my Thing (it’s a BOOK, or it will be) always in my mind.

This is why watching NaNoWriMo from the sidelines always cheers me up. I tried to do it once and failed to reach 50K (and ended up not using any words from that draft… they were crap… not worth salvaging). Writing that fast is not for me, and not my process. BUT what works really well for me is the rhythm of writing every day, even a little. And that’s what’s at the heart of NaNoWriMo.

So this November, and December, and into January, I, too, will be writing every day.

I may be getting -8 words or 500 words at best, but I’ll be doing it. Because when I keep up the momentum, I feel inspired. I feel close to my characters and my story. I feel connected. I feel overtaken. I feel on fire.

That’s what I need to write this Thing in my loud, busy shoebox. That’s all.

The kind of quiet I'm craving. (Taken at the Djerassi Resident Artists Program, when I was teaching a workshop earlier this year.)

The kind of quiet I’m craving. (Taken at the Djerassi Resident Artists Program, when I was teaching a workshop earlier this year.)

Next month, though, I do have a bonus.

One lucky break that fell from the sky into my lap is that I got a residency from Yaddo in December, and I’ll be there for a little less than three weeks, which is pretty much the longest I can be off the grid at this point. There’s no internet in the bedrooms or writing studios at Yaddo, which is a true blessing, so I hope to stay away from the noise as much as I can. I want to try to stay off Twitter and Facebook and Tumblr and all else, if I can. (Unless there’s some news about my book I have the compulsive need to share.) I want to take a break from emails, unless they’re from my publisher or my agent. E will visit for the holiday, and I’ll attack him with pages and talk about the progress of my Thing—which always helps, he’s the only one I can talk to when I’m in this delicate first-drafting place—and then I’ll dive back in. I hope to come home for the New Year with many, many, many words. I hope. Because, once I get home, that deadline is days away.

But even so, I know that Yaddo, or any colony or retreat or residency or stay in a glorious hotel, isn’t the magic fix. All your problems and flaws follow you to a colony, you know. You still have to do the hard work once you get there.

The magic fix for me, no matter where I am, really is momentum. The fix—what will get me to deadline, and what will get me a worthy manuscript to show my editor—is putting in the time and effort and gaining forward movement every single day.

Even if it’s twenty minutes in a notebook, twenty minutes stolen in the cracks and corners of real life, like so many of us have to do.

What do you need in order to finish your novel? Bonus points for saying a kitten.