Turning Points: Guest Post by Alyssa B. Sheinmel

This guest post is part of the blog tour for The Stone Girl as well as the Turning Points blog series here on distraction no. 99—in which I asked authors the question: What was your turning point as a writer? Here is Alyssa B. Sheinmel revealing hers…


Guest post by Alyssa B. Sheinmel

When asked, I always say that my favorite part of writing is revising. I don’t think of a project as a book until I’ve revised it. Of course, I love the sense of possibility that comes with writing a first draft, love the sense of achievement that comes with meeting a daily word-count-goal, love writing scenes that I knew were coming when I began telling the story. But, once I’m sitting on a first draft, I don’t really have much satisfaction about it. I don’t even call my first draft a “first draft.” It’s just this nameless thing taking up space on my computer—until I begin rewriting it.

I wasn’t always this way. In school, I wrote my short stories speedily: one draft, read over for spelling errors and finished. Sure, I’d revise a story in one of the many workshop classes I’d attended in high school and college, but I’d never really dug into something on my own; I’d never really split a first draft into pieces and done the work of putting it back together again.

Until the first semester of my senior year of college. I had an amazing writing teacher and mentor named Mary Gordon who broke my stories open for me and forced me to paste them together into something different. The first story I wrote in her class was called “Class Anorexic” and was about one of my classmates who was severely anorexic. (This was deep in the period of my own body-obsession, the inspiration for The Stone Girl.) My first draft was three pages long; after Professor Gordon and I were done with it, it was nine pages long. In one of our many discussions about the story, she asked me how I could tell that the girl in the story was anorexic and not just naturally skinny. After years of having been fascinated by eating disorders, I’d become something of an expert at telling the difference. It was her face, I explained: her hollow cheeks, the lips that seemed a size too large for what was left of her face. I spoke enviously of her collarbones and shoulder blades, popping up from underneath her tank top as though they were battling her skin for more space. I’d thought that what I saw was obvious on the page; my teacher told me that it wasn’t. And so I wrote the story again, a second draft, with more detail than my first. I discovered that I had to slow down in order to show the painstaking aspects of her thinness.

I brought it back to Professor Gordon expecting a glowing review, but she wanted more. I had to dig deeper, closely examining the emotions this girl’s thinness brought out of the narrator—out of me. I had to explain why I was so uncomfortable, so terribly tongue-tied and red-faced around this girl. Was it because I was worried about her, shaken up by how sick she looked? No; it was because, at the time, I was jealous. I felt inadequate around her because she’d managed to succeed at what I had failed at, she’d managed to starve herself when I always gave in to my hunger.

I can’t remember just how many drafts the story went through, or which draft my teacher finally accepted as complete. I’d never worked so hard on anything I’d written before, and I’d never liked anything I’d written more. In fact, pieces of that story found their way into a scene in The Stone Girl.

I don’t think I ever would have finished a novel if not for the lessons Professor Gordon taught me. Writing a novel, I make tons of mistakes. I usually know when I’m making them: I know when something on page 150 doesn’t line up with an idea I began on page 10; I know when I introduce a new theme in the final chapters that should have been included from the very start. If I felt like I had to fix all of those errors as I wrote, I don’t think I’d ever get the last scenes down on paper. Knowing that I can go back in and fix whatever I missed later, knowing that I can go back in and completely rework entire scenes, chapters, characters—is what allows me to write in the first place. If I didn’t know that, honestly, I think I’d be too intimidated to start anything.

It’s not, I know, like this for every writer. Some people’s final drafts are almost identical to their first drafts. For me, though, it’s the freedom of knowing I can and will re-work everything from the most minute of details to the most encompassing of themes that gets me from page to page. And, it’s the part of writing to which I look the most forward; going back in and making it better, stronger, more cohesive, and deeper is like solving a puzzle to me. I’m very big on editing myself—I go through multiple drafts of a novel before I’ll share it with anyone. And, I give Mary Gordon much of the credit for that. Her classes were without a doubt a turning point in my life as a writer. I can still remember word for word lines from most of the stories I wrote in her classes.


Photo by JP Gravitt

Alyssa B. Sheinmel is the author of two previous novels, The Beautiful Between and The Lucky Kind. She grew up in Northern California and New York, and attended Barnard College. Alyssa lives and writes in New York City. Her new novel, The Stone Girl, is now on sale.

You can visit her on the Web at AlyssaSheinmel.com.


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

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Turning Points: Embracing Fear by Meagan Spooner (+Giveaway)

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


Guest post by Meagan Spooner

Fear is a terrible thing for a writer to deal with—and yet it’s probably one of the most universal things we face. Fear of failure, fear of ridicule. Fear of having our dreams taken away by rejection. Fear of being told we’re not good enough. Fear of being told there was some kind of mistake, we don’t deserve our successes. It can be crippling, sticking in the front of your mind like a big gummy blob clogging up the flow of creativity. And as a wise little green guy once said, fear can lead to anger—fear makes us bitter, jealous, looking around at every other writer who has everything we wish we had.

I began writing the novel that would become my debut, SKYLARK, in spring of 2010. I’d quit my job the year before to attend a writing workshop that changed my life, and was living with my parents, trying to “do the book thing.” But the thing is, I wasn’t, not really. I poked at short stories now and then, I wrote random chapters of random book ideas, I meandered from project to project. I never finished anything—because what would I do if I finished something? I’d have to send it in to someone. I’d have to get rejected. Because while the workshop I attended taught me years’ worth of craft in a matter of weeks, it also showed me every one of my inadequacies as a writer.

Sometimes the fear is illogical—what if my best friend reads this and realizes that I can’t write, and that somehow translates into me being a terrible person, and she decides to hate me? But sometimes the fear is all too possible—what if I send this out and it gets rejected, and the experience is so terrible that it kills my love of writing? What if by trying to reach for this dream, I destroy it?

I knew I was afraid. And I felt guilty for being afraid. I tried to push my fears away, to say they were all ridiculous, that I was better than that, that I wasn’t going to sit here and worry my life away. But denying my fears only turned them into a sort of red-eyed monster under the bed, just waiting for me to let my guard down, waiting for me to have one bad day so that the fear-monster could jump on me in my weakened state.

But then I got the idea for SKYLARK, which at that time had the working title of THE IRON WOOD. And that was when everything changed. All its other themes and stories and arcs aside, SKYLARK is a story about fear. It follows a girl who’s lived her entire life inside a dome, and when she escapes, she finds that she’s an agoraphobe, and is afraid of wide open spaces—more specifically, she has ouranophobia. She’s afraid of the sky.

I decided that it was the right story to write. It was worth writing, and it was worth finishing. Even if it killed my dream, it was the story I wanted to write. Because I wanted to write about someone afraid of something so ubiquitous, something we take so much for granted. Something we hardly even notice. Something she has to see, and has to face, every day.

When I first began writing, I intended for my main character to overcome her fear completely through the course of the novel. Her name is Lark—she’s named after a bird. She belongs in the sky. She and I would embark on this journey together, and we’d face our fears together, and she’d be cured and I’d be cured. I’d come out the other side with a finished work, and it’d be daunting and exciting to send it out into the world, but I wouldn’t be afraid.

What I learned instead is that the fear never goes away. But I also learned that fear is important. We feel fear for a reason. Evolutionarily speaking, fear is a reaction that kept our ancestors alive—it made us run faster and farther to escape predators, to think more quickly to evade them. In SKYLARK, Lark’s fear keeps her alive too. She keeps to the ruins, to the forests, to the caves—she evades the horrors searching for her in the wilderness beyond the Wall. Over the course of writing the book, and of wading into the writing community at the same time, I came to understand that the fear is valuable.

Fear isn’t bad. Being afraid doesn’t make you a bad person. Acknowledging your fears doesn’t mean you’re a coward.

Fear led me to prepare my query letter to within an inch of its life. It meant that I could do nothing else to do improve it, and it stood the best possible chance of getting agent attention. Fear made me examine every line, every word of my manuscript, so that the version I sent in response to requests was as good as I could possibly make it. And even after I had a book deal, even after I’d gone through the entire revision process, fear made me pore over the final pass pages, my last chance to make changes to the manuscript, searching for one tiny punctuation mark out of place or a word that shouldn’t be there. But the most important thing is to be able to put your fear aside at the end of the day, to be able to take deep breaths, to not be so afraid that you stop.

Even now fear is my strongest motivator. While writing the second book of the SKYLARK trilogy I was terrified that I wouldn’t live up to whatever promise I’d made in the first one—that I was a one-trick pony, and that now everyone was going to find that out. I was afraid of failing all over again. But I was more afraid of letting down my editor and my agent—I was more afraid of not finishing. And so I did finish. And it was the hardest thing I ever did.

By the end of SKYLARK, Lark isn’t cured. And by the end of writing it, neither was I. But she comes to understand her fears—when to listen to them, and when to acknowledge that she has to move through them. She learns how to live with them. You don’t defeat fear in some climactic battle or single decision—it’s an ongoing struggle, every day, wherein you look the red-eyed monster in the face and say “Yes, I see you. But you can’t stop me.”

The very last line of the book reads:

We left the field of metallic corpses behind and walked on across the valley, beneath the vast and terrible beauty of the dawn.

The sky is beautiful—the sky is terrible. And this is the true nature of fear.

Because bravery isn’t the absence of fear—it’s action in spite of fear.


Meagan Spooner grew up reading and writing every spare moment of the day, while dreaming about life as an archaeologist, a marine biologist, an astronaut. She graduated from Hamilton College in New York with a degree in playwriting, and has spent several years since then living in Australia. She’s traveled with her family all over the world to places like Egypt, South Africa, the Arctic, Greece, Antarctica, and the Galapagos, and there’s a bit of every trip in every story she writes.

She currently lives and writes in Northern Virginia, but the siren call of travel is hard to resist, and there’s no telling how long she’ll stay there.

In her spare time she plays guitar, plays video games, plays with her cat, and reads.

She is the author of SKYLARK, coming out August 1 from Carolrhoda Lab/Lerner Books. She is also the co-author of THESE BROKEN STARS, forthcoming from Disney-Hyperion in Fall 2013.

You can find her online at www.meaganspooner.com, follow her on Twitter at @MeaganSpooner, or on Facebook at SkylarkTrilogy


GIVEAWAY WINNER ANNOUNCED…

Congratulations to the winner of a *signed* first-edition hardcover of Meagan Spooner’s debut novel Skylark! The winner is…

Katrina

Congrats, Katrina! I will email for your mailing address. Thank you to everyone who entered and to the author for providing her book for a giveaway!


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

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

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


Guest post by Leigh Fallon

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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


GIVEAWAY WINNER ANNOUNCED! 

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

Samantha S.

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


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

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

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


Guest post by Rebecca Barnhouse

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Until that dragon came along.

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

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


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


GIVEAWAY WINNERS ANNOUNCED!

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

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

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

Winner #3: Erika, who won Peaceweaver

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


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

Turning Points: Guest Post by Tara Kelly

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


Guest post by Tara Kelly

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

For more about Tara, visit thetaratracks.com

For Harmonic Feedback: harmonicfeedback.com

And for Amplified: amplifiedthebook.com 


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

Turning Points: Guest Post by Beth Revis

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


Guest post by Beth Revis

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

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

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

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

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

I was seriously considering giving up writing.

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

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

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

And I couldn’t give up.

And that was the book that changed my life.


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

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

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

Turning Points: Guest Post by T. Michael Martin

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


Guest post by T. Michael Martin

This poor Capitol Tour Guide, I am petrifying her.

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

“Is this glass bulletproof?”

*

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

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

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

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

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

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

clinical depression

The compass broke and the lights went out.

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

Danny…sing that thang.

*

But you know that something Turned.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A perpetual and flexible motion

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

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

*

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

Armed with a new outlook, I

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

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

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

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

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

Of, like, fiction.

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

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

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

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


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

You can follow Mike on Twitter @_mike_martin.


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