When the Book Stops Being Mine and Becomes Yours

I’m spending the month of August in limbo. Part of this is due to my Macbook breaking, which kind of derailed my plan to spend all of August offline at a café writing retreat of my own making, but I will restrain myself from complaining about that here. (And also, as of yesterday, E fixed it enough for me to be able to use Scrivener to write!! MS Word I can’t use, so I can’t freelance right now.)

Besides, my feeling of being in limbo is so much more than my computer blahs.

My newest book—17 & Gone—is about to slip out of my fingers. This very weekend is my last chance to look at the pages and make changes before it releases for ARCs. This is that frightening moment when the book is still mine and part of me doesn’t want to let it go just yet, and the other part of me wants to set it flying and share it and see what happens, and these two parts jumble up together to make me so conflicted and confused, I really don’t know what I want anymore except to carry the pages around with me all weekend.

I will have to let go, obviously. I have to give any final comments to my publisher on Monday. Then the interior will be released to make ARCs. And then I guess the terror, um I mean the excitement, yay!, sets in.

It’s different this time, for me. The first time, with Dani Noir, I wasn’t a part of any author community or connected to bloggers or reviewers or anything. (This was before Twitter was a big thing!) So when there were ARCs, I gave one to my mom and kept one for myself and just waited for reviews to come in from places like Kirkus and Publishers Weekly, and that was pretty much the extent of my nerves. Not much was made of the book, and barely anyone knew of it, so there wasn’t anything to expect or wish for. The first time I knew someone was reading was when a coworker came downstairs to tell me she’d reviewed it on Goodreads (and she liked it!), and that was handled all to my face and seemed small and contained, and easier to deal with.

There was the book. And there was me. And I was able to separate the two without much issue.

My second experience with ARCs was with Imaginary Girls, and this was far more intense. There were more expectations—on my part, because this was the book of my heart, and on the part of others involved because I had an agent this time and this time I had a publisher who was more invested in the book. More ARCs were printed, more people were paying attention. Then the reactions started coming, some awesome and blush-inducing, but also I guess maybe some people thought the book was one thing (more straightforward? Not paranormal… or more obviously paranormal? Easily able to fit into a certain kind of box? I am not sure) and their reactions were sometimes more about that than what the book actually was. Also, at this point, Twitter was in full-force, and I was a Goodreads Author, so the reviews were more in my face—like right there in my face, being rated and tweeted with me tagged so I couldn’t help but see—and this affected my experience and excitement. I felt steeped in it and unable to escape. Even the little things, like if I knew someone—an author I admired, for instance—had read the book and never said a word about it, I felt sure I knew what that meant and knew what s/he truly thought and I buried this and felt worse about myself. This changed my feelings of achievement of having a book published to something more conflicted and mealy and spotted and, yes, truly fantastic at times and other times kind of ugly because it exposed all my worst insecurities and silly ability to hear only the bad things, like that scene from Pretty Woman. It was an experience in extremes.

You see, this time there was the book. And there was me. And they were—to my detriment—one and the same.

And I guess I never got over it. Ever since those moments when Imaginary Girls entered the world and people started reading it—starting with the day ARCs were released and then through all the months that followed, with trade reviews and reader reviews and the months after the book came out—my writing was filtered through that noise. I questioned everything. About my writing. About my personal taste. About my style. About who I was. I lost my confidence and sense of self-assurance. I had an exceptionally difficult time writing, and I still am having a hard time. I lost the ease.

My writing suffered immensely from this, which is absolutely and entirely my fault.

So you can see why having 17 & Gone become an ARC has me full of nerves right now.

On a smaller scale, all this reminds me of workshops in my MFA program. I got off easily at Columbia University; some workshops were cruel, and more than once I discovered the writers crying in bathroom stalls after class. But for the most part during my time in grad school, people were constructive but kind to me—never cruel, never making me question my entire being and think of giving up writing, which happened to some students I know. (Aside from my experience with my thesis, which I’ll leave aside for now.) I was one of the youngest students in the program, fresh from my tiny college in the Midwest, and such a newbie and used to praise, so it’s surprising that I wasn’t crushed my first month there. But I remember one workshop where my piece was getting praised and good suggestions were being made around the giant rectangle table in Dodge Hall overlooking the beautiful university campus… until we came to the guy sitting beside me to my right.

He was usually a soft-spoken guy. But that day, he spat out his reactions with brutal honesty. He hated my piece. Hated it. Hated my voice. Hated the subject matter. Hated the title. Hated the character. Hated the setting. Probably hated the font, too, who knows. Really he hated it all, and he had quite detailed reasons as to why. I don’t remember the reasons. I don’t even remember the piece itself for sure. What I remember is his impassioned hatred for my writing, and how close he was sitting to me in the room, so I could feel this hatred radiating off of him in waves.

But then some other students in class passionately defended me, and stood up for my work, arguing with him on my behalf, for my piece and for me as a writer—my style, my voice. I remember one guy in particular, across the table from me, who loved the piece so much and thought it was the best thing I’d written all year. (I couldn’t stand up for myself at that point; we were not allowed to talk while being workshopped; only to take in and listen.) But afterward, I remember being just as stunned by the students who loved my work enough to defend me as by the person who hated it so much. It was the same piece. We were all in the same room. It was a lesson in extremes, one I know we authors face all the time when it comes to reviews.

Even so, after that jarring workshop, I kept on the way I was. I still wrote the way I wrote, about the characters and places I liked to write about. The voice I had when I was 22 and just starting out at Columbia has been honed and polished and grown as I’ve grown, I hope, but it’s the same root voice I had in the beginning. I didn’t let that guy’s hate affect my writing. I simply knew it wasn’t his thing, and that was fine. So what’s different now?

A year or so after that memorable workshop, I remember being at a party with the guy who despised my writing, and then taking a cab home. The cab was packed, and he was in the front seat. He was turning around in his seat, being nice to me and joking and kind of normal, like we were friends or something—because, maybe, to him, that first-year workshop was gone and forgotten, or at least not something he thought about every time he looked at me. Maybe because he was mature and could separate the writing from the person who wrote it. But the thing is, I hadn’t forgotten, so I was reserved with him and didn’t want to be friendly that night. I guess I’d taken it personally. Even now, when I hear about his published books, I don’t wish him ill or anything, but I’m not a supporter of his. I’ve bought many books written by my MFA classmates, pretty much every one I’ve seen in a store. But not his. I’ll always remember him for being my most impassioned hater, so I have no interest in reading what he’s writing now.

I think of this a lot when it comes time for my books to be read and reviewed. How there will be extreme reactions. How some people will hate what I’ve done just as much as some people might just love it. How I have no control either way. And how all I can control is my reaction and behavior—and my knowledge of reviews, by staying away from Goodreads, which I do, and Amazon, which I do, and not clicking blog reviews, which I do not click unless told by someone I trust to read it. But more, I should be like 22-year-old me. I can remember the bad reactions all I want.

But I should not let it affect my writing, or my confidence.

So this is where my nerves about 17 & Gone come in. Soon the book will be yours—no longer mine. Soon you can read it and see what you think, and I do hope you read it and are honest about what you think. And speaking of, if you want to request an ARC, here’s a place where you can.

Look… we are so close! The book is almost yours:

And while all that is going on, I just want to keep my eyes on my own paper and keep writing.

After writing this post and getting this all out, I’m weirdly excited to reach this next step. Which I’ll take as a good sign that I’ve grown as a writer and as a person.

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Post-Draft Delirium, Spring Previews, and the Two Sisters Reading My Book

I continue to put my all into revising 17 & Gone and I’m thrilled to say I finished my draft around midnight last night and then sent it in. My entire body ached. Every muscle. How this is even possible from sitting in various chairs (café chair, wheelie chair at writing space, wheelie chair at home) for hours on end is beyond me… It’s not like I’m writing and doing gymnastics at the same time… though it feels that way. EXHAUSTED. I felt like I was sinking into the mattress when I collapsed into bed last night, and I’m still in a daze a whole day after. But did you catch the good stuff?

I finished another draft of my book!

That means I’m that much closer to being done and on to copyediting and on to ARCs! (Which, if you are are blogger or librarian who reviews YA novels, you can still get on this list to request an ARC of 17 & Gone when they become available here.)

In my post-draft delirium I witnessed two exciting things happen today.

The first is that 17 & Gone was mentioned in Publishers Weekly‘s Spring 2013 Sneak Preview—scroll down and down until you come to Penguin/Dutton. (And just wait till I tell you about the book mentioned with mine—The Different Girl by Gordon Dahlquist—a manuscript I recommended to my editor because I fell in love with it after a train ride home from a writers colony! I’m so excited about Gordon’s book, you have no idea. I’ll save it for another post when the cover and summary are both out so I can tell you all about this amazing novel by my friend, but in the meantime add it to your Goodreads shelf. Thank me later.)

And the second thing that happened while I continued to be in a post-draft delirium this afternoon, was this odd piece of news someone told me about on Twitter: Malia and Sasha Obama went to the Strand Bookstore in New York City and bought some books to read. GUESS WHAT ONE OF THOSE BOOKS WAS. I am not kidding. I thought it was a joke at first, but here, it’s on People.com!

I really hope Malia and Sasha like Imaginary Girls. It’s a book I wrote for my sister—and I love more than anything when sisters read it. My sister and I are both so exciting about this!

What a delirious day, no?

Come to think of it… I’m so tired… my eyes can’t focus… I am actually not sure if I even woke up today? Do you think I’m still asleep, still dreaming?

17 & GONE Cover and Plot Summary Revealed!

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

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

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

Now I’m excited to reveal it!

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

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


!!!

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

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

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

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


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

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

The Isolating Writer

When I have a ton of work to do—like, for example, right now with freelance copyediting deadlines, teaching responsibilities for my writing class (which I think is going really well! I love my students), and novel revisions and a nice, solid book deadline I have noted in beautiful panic red in my calendar, among other things, because there are always other things—I do tend to regress and do this thing that helps me focus and get calm and breathe: I isolate.

Here I am writing in bed in my writing sweater, which I love wearing during isolation. Photo by Laura Amador, taken at the Djerassi Resident Artists Program.

It’s comforting to be in a cocoon of my own making, where my mind can find some quiet, and where my panic can slither away and leave me alone so I can get shit done. It’s comforting to avoid all social interactions and let my roots grow out because who cares what I look like. It’s comforting to sit on the floor of my dark apartment eating a tub of blueberries and thinking about the climax of my novel until the “aha!” moment comes. But this kind of behavior doesn’t help me keep friends. Truly, I don’t know if anyone understands when I do this. Sometimes it’s all I can do, you know?

The good thing about isolating in the face of deadlines is I feel like my mind gets sharper, which is a necessary thing for solving plot issues in a novel, and also for getting through freelance jobs. I’m just a usual introvert who needs some Alone Time, as we call it in my house, to recharge. And sometimes this Alone Time spreads out over weeks.

I hope no one takes it personally.

How do I explain this to people so they understand? Fellow introverts, let me know what helps you and how you keep your friends and families intact during and after times you need that comforting, and necessary, bout of isolation to keep your head on straight.


p.s. Change of subject. Do you want to win a signed paperback of Imaginary Girls? The paperback comes out next month and you’ll have chances to win a signed one here on this blog, but in the meantime here’s the first giveaway as a part of Laura Pauling’s Spies, Murder and Mystery Marathon (oh, how I wanted to add a serial comma!). I wrote about mysterious girls from books who catch my imagination… Comment and tell me the “mysterious girl” characters you love, and you could win a beautiful paperback of my book.

Enter the giveaway right here.

The new cover look is gorgeous. This picture doesn’t even show how glossy and delicious this paperback is in person. Wanna see?

(Pre-order links can be found on my website!)

Now back to isolating…

Confessions of the Overwhelmed

I’ve been apologizing left and right for not being able to keep up with plans for this blog, and I think it’s time for a more public apology here.

While I did plan to start up the Turning Points series again once I came home—full of guest blogs from amazing writers, many I solicited and many who reached out to me… I have to admit that this has proved harder than expected. Doing a blog series, especially with giveaways, is a lot of work, a lot more than I realized, and I think this all came to a head when I was putting up the debut interview series a couple weeks ago after I came home from Djerassi. I’ve also been doing freelance projects to bring in income while I’m between book advances, and I’ve started teaching that writing class with Mediabistro (which is such a joy! and it’s a priority now, so, yes, it takes up a lot of my time), and let’s not forget the books I have to write and their deadlines. So what you haven’t been seeing is me chasing everything and trying to catch up. While I focus on teaching and writing—and while I refuse to ever miss a freelance deadline because I need to be reliable—one thing has fallen by the wayside, and I’m afraid that’s this here blog. (And emails. Oh, emails.) I’m sure this all doesn’t sound like much to others, but I’m having a hard time keeping up, and that’s the honest truth.

I have some beautiful Turning Points posts that were sent to me before I left for Djerassi, and I will be putting them up to share with you. I just needed a break to get my head on straight. I’m making some plans and hoping to start posting those next week. And if you’re one of those authors, I will be emailing you.

And thank you to everyone for your interest in the series! I can’t take any more posts, I’m afraid, but thank you!

Finally, there were some author interviews I’ve planned, and they may be late, but I still hope to be able to do them.

And after all that, this blog may have to return to what it was once before, when fewer people were reading: Just me and the thoughts in my head.

Thanks for listening!

This Writing Thing Is SO HARD

The title of this post? I said those exact words yesterday. I’m a few days from finishing this round of revision and turning it in. I’m a mess. I’m trying so hard. I have no perspective anymore. I’m forcing myself to work at a pace that’s unnatural to me—in my natural state, it would take me five years to write a good novel because I enjoy spending all day on a single paragraph and I like to procrastinate and make excuses and wait for the so-called muse to hit—and working at this speedy pace involves fighting myself and pushing myself and by the end of the day I am flat-out exhausted and aching and can only collapse in bed thinking of what I still have to revise tomorrow.

And yet.

Because last night, out loud, I whined that writing is so hard. And then I heard myself. I heard myself. Hard? This writing thing is SO HARD? Really? It’s “hard” to spend all day writing a story I made up in my head full of things that fascinate and inspire and tickle and terrify me? It’s “hard” to be able to write instead of having to be at my old day job? It’s “hard” to push myself to finish the draft of a book I love so I can show it to one of the most talented editors in my field, so she can then read it and help me make it better? Really, now… That’s “hard”?

That’s a phenomenal moment to be in, is what that is.

So, yeah, I felt like a dope.

And yes, writing can be “hard”—but in the most rewarding way possible, which means it’s really not so hard after all now, is it? Back to revising.