October: Literary Blog Relay, Teen Author Event, and Blog Series All About “What scares YOU?”

 Before I vanish a train ride away from the city for a secret writing rendezvous, I wanted to tell you about some things coming up in October.

 

1: LITERARY BLOG RELAY

 I’m a part of a literary blog relay called “Transformation”—and it’s already begun! Go check out the first leg and read Christine Lee Zilka’s beautiful Chapter 1 and see the list of bloggers taking part. I’m next with Chapter 2, and my post will be up early next week!

2: TEEN AUTHOR EVENT

Okay, if you love teen books and live on Long Island and/or can get yourself to the Dolphin Bookshop in Port Washington, New York, on Friday, October 14, I really really really really think you should. There’s a great event going on called “Picking Up the Pieces: Why We Write” with Matt Blackstone, Christopher Grant, Michael Northrop, Gae Polisner, Lena Roy, Arlaina Tibensky, and… well, me. This is going to be a different kind of reading experience—that’s all I’ll say—and I can’t wait to be there for it. More about the event can be found here.

3: WHAT SCARES YOU?

Now this is something I’m really excited to do here on the blog, and it’s coming up in October, just in time for Halloween. Starting on October 17 and running for the next two weeks leading up to Halloween, I’ll be hosting a blog series on the topic:

          What scares YOU?

I’ll be featuring guest blogs by YA authors—MORE THAN TWENTY AUTHORS of creepy paranormals, dark dystopians and twisted contemporaries, as well as some special guests who aren’t YA authors—blogging about the scariest books they’ve ever read, scary memories that led them to write, and more.

So mark your calendars for October 17 and the two weeks that follow to get in the mood for Halloween—and for a chance to enter a big creepy giveaway on October 31.

And I want to say thank you so much to the authors who’ve agreed to write guest blogs for me. I’ve already gotten a couple and I’m so excited to put them up!

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Wandering the Streets of Manhattan, Thinking Thoughts

From the... WHAT? Photo from the streets of SoHo.


I’m back from wandering the streets.

Before I went wandering, in the morning my writing group met—I don’t know what to call it; it’s a “writing group” in the simplest of ways: We get together in a group once a week; we write. We’re each writing separate things—a nonfiction book, a screenplay, a play, an adult novel, a YA novel, a middle-grade novel (guess which two are mine). There are three of us who’d been at the MacDowell Colony at the same time who meet at a café once a week to write together. We talk some, then sit at the same big table and do some work. It’s not about sharing it afterward or critiquing. It’s simply about having another human body there with you who also needs to get writing done. It’s a good thing to look forward to every week.

After writing group, I started walking south, through SoHo. I had it in mind to buy this adorable silver gray mini travel suitcase I saw at Muji to take with me when I go away this weekend. (I LOVE Muji, so clean and simple.) It wasn’t that long of a walk, even with my backpack. But just as I set foot on the sidewalk, it began to rain. By some twist of disorganization I had an umbrella in my backpack only because I’d forgotten to take it out some days before. So I start winding my way through the streets, not in any rush, thinking.

What thoughts was I thinking?

About novels that are out of my hands and about novels that could be in my future.

About this weekend and what I may write on this little retreat I’m going on with a friend.

About how I seem to think better when it’s raining, and how I seem to think better when I’m wandering the streets, and how combined—wandering the streets in the rain!—I think the best out of all.

You’ve heard of treadmill desks, right? (Here’s my friend Joëlle about hers.) I could use a rolling sidewalk desk. Maybe a desk on one of those moving walkways they have at airports on beautiful graffiti-decorated Crosby Street.

Maybe I would have ironed out all the holes in this new novel idea by now.

Oh and I reached Muji, saw the price tag on the cute silver suitcase, and ran out of the store empty-handed. I guess “BONJOUR” (my Chinatown suitcase, which has the word BONJOUR all over it, and which caused me some small shame while wheeling it through the Latin Quarter in Paris some years ago when I went there with my sister) will be taking a trip with me this weekend after all.

The Unmuddying of the Idea

I know I only just finished the first draft of a novel, but while I take a break from working on that one, while I wait for revision, it’s the perfect time to play around on Tumblrkidding—it’s actually the perfect time to try to articulate ideas for another book.

It’s the articulation part of this process that always gets me.

When I first come to a story idea, one I think I want to try writing, I feel the idea, the vibration of it. I sense it in me, the tone and shades of it. I know it well enough to recognize its voice on the street. Yet if you asked me to describe it to you, like in plot order, I’d freeze up and flail my hands and stutter and if you have a heart you’d feel bad for me and we’d start talking about the weather instead.

Communicating the idea to someone else is always a great challenge.

So, before I can talk about it, I have to write it down. It always comes out wrong at first, but I have selective amnesia and seem to forget that each time. I want the idea to be perfect at its first stab on the page. It never is. I write the idea. Then I rewrite it and rewrite it and someday, we hope, the idea will smooth itself out into a pleasing shape. The mud will be washed away and it’ll be clear.

That’s what I’m working on this week.

Two different ideas.

This morning I met two writers in a café that had password-protected wifi (I made sure not to ask for the password) and bad cell phone service, so my phone had no bars. The other writers started writing and then there I was, me and my ideas. Somehow I wrote a whole new draft of the YA idea while I was sitting there. It needs more work, but it’s closer now.

Soon will come the scary part when I show the ideas to someone else* and see what he thinks.

_______

* My process for writing a book starts with showing my novel ideas to my agent before starting to write any words of the story. Basically a pitch for what I want the book to be, if I wrote it. I also show the ideas to my other half. They both tend to agree or say similar things without realizing—it’s uncanny—so in my experience if I have them both on board, then I know the idea has legs. This can be a dramatic process if I’m very attached to the idea, as I am now, but it saves the pain and suffering I might have at starting to write an inarticulate idea and then having to trash many pages.

There is such a thing, though, as overthinking an idea and ruining it before you even get started writing. So sometimes I feel like I’m handling explosives. I have to delicately set the words down and then take a step back. Will it blow to smithereens or will it hold still for me to write it?

_______

In the meantime, the idea and I continue to grow very, very attached. It’s whispering in my ear now, wanting me to write its first paragraph…

I’m holding back, for now.

How do you articulate your ideas?

I’m Auctioning a Manuscript Critique for Hurricane Irene Flood Relief

If you’re writing a young adult or middle-grade novel and would be interested in a critique from me on 30 pages—or your first two chapters, whichever you prefer—you can bid on the critique from me in the Read for Relief lit auction. Bidding starts now and ends Friday, September 16th, at 10:00PM EST.

The auction is organized by Read for Relief to raise money for East Coast flood relief from Hurricane Irene, including in the Catskills, where I’m from, and the towns devastated by flooding there, some of which were very close to where I went to high school, and even found their way into my novel Imaginary Girls. (More information about flood relief in the Catskills region can be found at this great resource.) Donations from the Read for Relief lit auction will go to the Red Cross. For more information about the auction and its wonderful organizers, as well as all the amazing other things up for bid, visit their website.

I’m excited to do this critique and I hope writers will consider bidding.

CLICK HERE TO BID. 

First Draft Aftermath

I finished the first draft of my new novel late last week and turned it in. This will be my second book with Dutton, but I’m going to keep myself quiet about what it’s called and what it’s about until I’m deeper into the process. We haven’t even started revising yet, so who knows… This book could become something entirely new by the end of this. It could reveal a whole new face to me. It could flip itself upside down and inside out and need to be entirely rewritten. It could illuminate itself in ways I haven’t seen yet, so once I have the feedback and start working with my editor, I’ll have a better idea of what’s to come. All I do know is this book needs a lot of work—a lot. I love revising, so I honestly can’t wait, but knowing there will be a lot of work ahead really is daunting. I’d be lying if I pretended otherwise.

This was a difficult first draft to get out, for many reasons.

Here was my status update on Facebook:

So now I’m looking into the future—my future—and I’m seeing a blank.

Will I be lucky enough to get the opportunity to publish another book after this one?

Should I go back to full-time work in publishing? (Though I’m realizing I can’t, until after I return home from my next writing residency this spring, so that decision will be prolonged for some more months.)

What should I write next?

Should?? Oh, I never listen to shoulds. What will I write next?

This weekend, after finishing the first draft, I had full intention of revising my two pitches-in-progress so I can show my agent and see what he thinks… and then I did something else. I slept. I mean I slept. I slept late, got up only to sleep again, got up to eat and then went back to sleep and slept and slept. I think my brain wanted a bit of a break, huh?

Rescue IMAGINARY GIRLS

…writing this post while also trying to finish the first draft of my novel and fdfdskl my brain can’t make the words sound pretty. This’ll be quick:

So you’ve heard about Borders closing, surely. If you live near a closing Borders, you’ve probably seen there are mere days left and the sale is now up to 60–80% off.

The thought of my book still there when the doors close for good makes me sad. Cheer me up and rescue a copy?

If you rescue IMAGINARY GIRLS from a Borders—or if you’ve gone through a successful Borders rescue mission already—just email me with a picture of your receipt and I’ll mail you some swag, like an IMAGINARY GIRLS card and/or bookmark, and also a signed bookplate to stick in your book.

Happy Rescuing!

Every Novel Is Its Own Distinct and Distinctly Flawed Animal

Actually, this novel might be a jellyfish. It’s slippery, gelatinous in shape, and it stings.


Writing a novel once—or twice, or four times if you count the adult novels I never published, or eight times if you count the work-for-hire novels written under fake names—does not necessarily mean you understand how to write a novel.

Writing workshops didn’t prepare me for writing novels. (Mostly we focused on short stories.)

Reading novels didn’t prepare me for writing novels. (A good novel should feel effortless. When I read a good novel I’m swept away and I’m not sitting there thinking of the mechanics the author used to put it together. When I read a bad novel, I usually put it down before finishing and try to forget it.)

Proofreading and carrying stacks of galley pages up and down the stairs to editors’ offices didn’t prepare me for writing novels. (Working in publishing showed me the behind-the-scenes view of what goes into making a book, but it didn’t show me how to write one.)

I think this is because writing a novel is so personal. To who you are as a writer—and to what the novel is as a novel.

The novel I’m writing now is giving me a hard time. I have 78,712 words as I pause to whine and spit out this blog post, I need to finish the book in mere days and I can’t seem to find a way to get it to a solid end, and the truth is, I’m afraid I have absolutely no idea what I’m doing.

At the low points I start to question if I should be a novelist at all. Shouldn’t this be easier by now? Was it a mistake to give up photography after college? Would I have been better at that?

I thought I’d have learned something about writing novels by this point, by Book #3 or Book #5 or Book #9, however you do the math, but all I’ve learned is that each novel wants to be written in its own way. It has its own flaws, and its own sweet spots. It sings to me in a different tune than all the others that came before. And it pains me in new places, in organs I didn’t even know I had.

Actually, this could be a good thing. I don’t want to write the same books I wrote before. I want to write something that challenges me. Something that scares me. Something new. That’s why I’m not writing Imaginary Girls #2.

Guess I’m on track then. Back to the gooey, unwieldy jellyfish that’s smothering me this holiday weekend.