I swear a real post will come at some point, but I needed something easy right now, so here is an end-of-the-year survey. I did it last year as well.
This is mostly real-life-hannah, if you're curious about her, but there's a lot of writing in here as well.
1. What did you do in 2010 that you'd never done before?
Wrote a fantasy manuscript--three of them, in fact. Took control of my health. Was single for the first time since I was 15, which *felt* like something I'd never done before. Wrote and sold two MG books. Wrote 4 books in a year, which I think is a record for me. Made new friends, which honestly feels like a new thing.
But all in all, not enough.
2. Did you keep your New Years' resolutions, and will you make more for next year?
I kept almost all of them, actually, and I have already made mine for 2011. Largely writing-related.
3. Did anyone close to you give birth?
4. Did anyone close to you die?
5. What countries did you visit?
I visited absolutely no countries, but I did go to the West Coast for the first time, and I'm leaving for Spain in a few days.
6. What would you like to have in 2011 that you lacked in 2010.
A new book on the shelves, obviously.
A new person.
7. What dates from 2010 will remain etched upon your memory, and why?
I honestly can't think of a single one.
8. What was your biggest achievement of the year?
Selling Zombie Tag and the other MG. And, honestly? Writing my magic gay fish book.
9. What was your biggest failure?
My answer is the same as last year's: College, college, college.
10. Did you suffer illness or injury?
The first one. Same old shit, really.
11. What was the best thing you bought?
Well, I paid to get my industrial piercing back, and I think that was the most exciting.
12. Whose behavior merited celebration?
Every single goddamn muser's.
And my mother's.
14. Where did most of your money go?
Clothes and food. Thank God I get most of my books for free.
15. What did you get really, really, really excited about?
Disney World. SCBWI. Christmas, like always, because I'm five. And when I knew the book deal for Zombie Tag was coming but it still took a few more days to actually get it...that was torture.
16. What song will always remind you of 2009?
When I Was a Boy by Dar Williams
17. Compared to this time last year, you are:
18. What do you wish you'd done more of?
Reading. Last year, I said my goal was 50 books in 2010. I clocked in at 28. Guh.
19. What do you wish you'd done less of?
Freaking the fuck out.
20. How will you be spending Christmas?
I quote myself from last year: "Christmas is done, saun." I had an amazing Christmas at home with my family. We watched movies and made whoopie pies and played board games.
22. Did you fall in love in 2010?
I did not.
24. What was your favorite TV program?
Queer as Folk is still my favorite, but How I Met Your Mother emerged as a new contender. I love, love, love sitcoms.
25. Do you hate anyone now that you didn't hate this time last year?
I wish my answer were the same as last year's. "Nah, I don't have time for that shit."
It will be soon.
26. What was the best book you read?
There are a few that need mentioning.
REAL LIVE BOYFRIENDS by E. Lockhart
WHEN YOU REACH ME by Rebecca Stead
THE DISREPUTABLE HISTORY OF FRANKIE LANDAU-BANKS by E. Lockhart (um, I love her.)
BEAUTIFUL by Amy Reed
THE DEATHDAY LETTER by Shaun David Hutchinson
HER AND ME AND YOU by Lauren Strasnick
27. What was your greatest musical discovery?
30. What was your favorite film of this year?
How to Train Your Dragon
31. What did you do on your birthday. And how old were you?
Nineteen. I remember my roommate put play-doh on every stair down from my room. And I honestly don't remember much else. I'm old. I got mocked on twitter for being old, I remember that.
32. What one thing would have made your year immeasurably more satisfying?
I honestly don't know. Maybe knowing would have made it more satisfying.
33. How would you describe your personal fashion concept in 2009?
Scrubby, in general, but I started wearing a lot of jewelry.
34. What kept you sane?
The Musers. Same answer as last year. But also my mother.
35. Which celebrity/public figure did you fancy the most?
Is Noel from the Ruby Oliver books a public figure? Let's say yes.
36. What political issue stirred you the most?
37. Whom did you miss?
I miss high school. And I sometimes miss who we used to be.
Friday, December 31, 2010
I swear a real post will come at some point, but I needed something easy right now, so here is an end-of-the-year survey. I did it last year as well.
Tuesday, December 7, 2010
In case you hadn't noticed, this blog has been, and will continue to be on, for at least another week, a little hiatus while I get my life together.
In the meantime, you should read my letter to my 15 year old self here.
See you guys later!
Tuesday, November 16, 2010
The excerpt two posts down is the first chapter of my NaNoWriMo project. Here's the beginning of chapter 2. Because I like how the bits fit together.
A few months ago, Micah started fucking my boyfriend. I'm secretary of the student government, and that plus lacrosse team meant I only had time for a date with Jackson once or twice a month. Meanwhile, we're turning eighteen in three weeks and Micah was still a virgin, so I figured pairing him and Jackson up was such a charitable act that I could practically put it on my resume.
It's worked out well. Micah's had a crush on Jackson for years, so he's as close as he ever gets to happy. And Jackson puts up with him, which is as close as anyone's ever come to liking him. He's known Micah and I since we were kids, so he knows enough about CIPA that nothing surprises him anymore, but it's still not his reality, so he can still laugh when Micah's watch timer tells him to use the bathroom and think of my brother, at least some of the time, as a superhero. To Micah and me, it's all just bullshit routine. So it's good that he has Jackson to be amazed.
And I'm not threatened. I know Jackson likes me more, and Micah would never, ever let himself love anyone.
It's the first Friday of the month, which is one of Micah's days with Jackson, but he comes up to me after school and says he's foisting Jack off on me tonight.
I haul my backpack out of my locker. “I thought you finished Hudson's paper.” It's a very easy paper, but most everything is now. We're in the same class as the fourteen-year-olds. Younger than that, there are hordes of them, but there just aren't that many kids our age left, and we all have this skinny desperate look of survived prisoners. The little kids only know the plague as the newest pages in their history books.
He says, “It took me five minutes.”
“Took me nine. I must be off my game.”
I look at him.
He shrugs his backpack strap up his arm.“Before Science.”
“How'd you fall?”
“Someone tripped you?” I'll fucking kill them.
“Tripped on my shoelace, Gwen, Jesus Christ. Ask Jackson, he was there.”
“He saw you fall?”
Micah says, “He said the fall was uncanny. That was the word he used. Uncanny.”
“That's not a good word.”
“Not for a fall, yeah.”
I reach out and touch his arm, and he lets me for maybe a second before he rolls his shoulders back to squirm away. He always does that—waits just long enough to flinch away that he can deny it was a flinch. It was just a shift in weight. A trick of the light. Something. It's never made sense to me. Touch is the only thing he can feel, and he does, as acutely as anyone else. And he squirms away from it. I guess that's Micah in a nutshell.
He clears his throat and says, “So I'm going to go to the hospital after school, I guess, just to make sure.”
I should probably offer to go with him. But I don't go back to the hospital, ever. When I need shots or antibiotics, I go to the adult hospital, even though it's two buses and half an hour. I don't think Micah's ever gone, even though he hardly needs this fall as an excuse to visit the children's hospital; he's there ever week, convinced he's dislocated a joint or contracted meningitis. Our uncle's mansion is next door. There's no reason for Micah not to know, every second, that he's safe. It's an addiction he never tries to fight. And I'm not going to be the one to encourage him to fight.
“Be safe,” I tell him.
“Yeah. Look, I got to go.” He backs away for a few steps, then turns around walks out of the school. I guess I should be happy. That's the longest conversation we've had in weeks. Really, fucking the same guy is the closest we come to communicating.
Sunday, November 14, 2010
NOTE: This post contains possibly incorrect spoilers of the following, many of which I know nothing about:
--Queer as Folk (US TV series)
--Harry Potter (the whole series
--Lord of the Rings (okay and I've only seen the movies but I'm pretty sure either format works for the example I'm using)
--Twilight series (which I have not read, but know enough about to perhaps erroneously cite)
--The Boyfriend List series by E. Lockhart (only very minor spoilers)
--The Great Gatsby (also minor)
--The Stranger (ditto)
You have been warned.
One thing I rarely talk about on this blog is--aside from my cries in the night for more strong male characters--what I like to see in stories, and how I try to write my stories. But when my dear friend Scott Tracey suggested I blog about Queer as Folk, I realized that the show (which is possibly my favorite show ever) highlights a lot of elements that can make or break a story, in my mind.
And they're all about promises you make your reader.
One True Pairing. This is a concept rooted, I think, in fanfic. (which, TANGENT: I adore almost as much as Queer as Folk, and even more if the two are combined. Some writers get all up in arms--and, in my opinion, up in their own egos--about it. Use a pseudo, don't try to make money, and write on, bitches.)
The concept of One True Pairing is that there is a couple you are rooting through throughout the entire book--or, commonly, throughout the entire series. This doesn't mean the couple is always obvious, or together through the entire work. There are bumps. There should be bumps.
But they should end up together.
I know a lot of people are going to protest this. They're going to talk about how books should resemble the real world, and the real world isn't always fair, and couples break up all the time regardless of how much they love each other, and it isn't fair to promote some kind of fantasy in our books, blah blah blah.
To which I say: bullshit.
I am 100% pro happy endings--see the next heading! But I don't think my definition of a happy ending is the same as other people's. Most of my stories have an ending that is bittersweet, but goddamn it, the couple stays together.
This togetherness doesn't have to be very overt, even. In Queer as Folk, Brian and Justin are set up from episode 1 as the One True Pairing. For the entire first season, they're not officially a couple. They go episodes at a time without seeing much of each other. Brian doesn't even like Justin that much, despite bringing him home in the first ten minutes of the first episode.
By season 2, they're as official as they ever really get. Neither of them is into monogamy or serious relationships, at least not for a while, so they are happy and very much, even though Brian would never admit it, in love. They break up twice over the series, and it's painful to watch, even though you know they will get back together.
And they do. You know why? Because the whole fucking thing would suck if they didn't. A book I really love broke this rule, and it was absolutely crushing. They spent the whole book trying to get together, then together and deliriously happy, and then they broke up in the last 5 pages. It was so sad, and the book lost so many points with me for that.
I want payoff. I want hope. I want promises fulfilled, and the biggest promise a lot of books give you is that One True Pairing. Your readers are trusting you.
Queer as Folk ends with Brian and Justin calling off their engagement (more on that later) and separating when Justin moves to New York for a while to work on his art. For me, this ending was not open. I was a hundred percent satisfied. They're still together, they're just living in different cities for a while. A lot of people didn't agree with me. There are huge sections of the fan base convinced that they ended the series broken up.
To which I say, again, bullshit! And recently, someone did an interview with the two creators of the show, one of which said, "I have no idea why people think they broke up."
So HA. One True Pairings win again. And I never had any doubt, because I trusted the creators the way I trust authors. I trust the good guys to win and the right people to make out. You never REALLY think Bella's going to end up with Jacob. If you're paying any attention at all, you never REALLY think Harry's going to end up married to Hermione.
And, to extrapolate a little on this point--
Give me a goddamn happy ending.
I get it, realism realism blah blah blah. But to quote Seinfeld, "If I want a long, boring story with no point to it, I have my life."
Your book has a goal. Achieve it. The ring gets destroyed, guys. Voldemort doesn't win. Even if Harry had died, which many people think he should have (holla) it would have been a happy ending because evil would not have triumphed. Guys. Evil can't fucking triumph. Come on now.
I'm crazy about books that make me think about life and the universe and the world at large. And I don't even everything to work out peachy keen. Think The Great Gatsby. Think The Stranger. Those are some of my favorite books, and both of them have someone kicking it at the end.
But there is hope. There is spirit. Evil isn't winning.
No evil winning. Your characters don't have to be making out in the sunset, but they have to at least be holding hands in the wreckage.
You're fulfilling a promise you're giving the reader. Don't be that asshole who's trying to teach the reader there are no promises in real life. You're like the Grinch right now.
The last few lines in the entire Queer as Folk series:
So the thumpa thumpa continues. It always will. No matter what happens. No matter who is president. As our lady of Disco, the divine Ms Gloria Gaynor has sung to us: We will survive.
Excuse me while I wipe my eyes a little.
But before we get all sappy, we have one more promise you make your reader, and it's one that Queer as Folk very badly fucks up.
Character consistency. On a larger scale, this is valid more in a series than in a stand alone, though it's valid as hell either way.
When you introduce a character with a certain set of traits and abilities, you make a promise to your reader. And that promise is--if this character is changing from this thing I've set up from you, you will know.
By all means, your characters should develop and morph throughout the story. But the reader needs to see it happening. They need to understand why and how, or they're going to feel like they're looking at a different character at the end of the work than they were at the beginning. And that's not good.
E. Lockhart's The Boyfriend List series does a fantastic job of this. Roo is Roo, through all of them. Yes, you can see her growing and maturing and learning new skills to cope with her ridiculous life, but she is still very consistently Roo.
Now. Queer as Folk.
In case you missed it in the OTP heading, Brian fucking proposes.
What the fuck is that shit? We get that they love each other. We know. We've got it. We don't need to hear Brian say it, or see him fucking plan a wedding. It completely destroys the image we have of who Brian and Justin are. If they'd both just started quietly wearing wedding rings, that would have been one thing. But the last season of Queer as Folk turned Brian into some kind of domesticated animal, and a looooot of people are unhappy about it. He sent out fucking wedding announcements. He bought a house. What is this shit? This is not the Brian we were promised.
So if you want the reader to follow through with reading your whole book, you have some things you need to do to deserve that. Or to make sure, if they do finish it, that they don't end up throwing it at a wall.
There are of course a million ways to do all the things I've mentioned and still write a wall-throwing-worthy book. And there are ways to ignore everything I've said (except maybe the consistent character one...but you never know) and write something phenomenal. And in all honesty, if you're writing something you want analyzed in English class, you're probably going to need a less happy ending.
But, looking back, there are very few endings I've read that I've read that I would consider altogether too depressing. The only ones that I think really fit the bill are ones where the One True Pairing fails.
So guys. Less realism, more making out. End scene.
Tuesday, November 9, 2010
It's long. Read as much or as little as you like.
This is the first chapter of my NaNo, which is called PLAGUE BABIES for the time being.
We were six years old, and it was the hottest day of the year. My mother had all her hair pulled back, except for her frizzy bangs that bowed over her forehead like a spiderweb. I was at the window, looking down at the bare streets.
Micah said, “You're going to hurt him,” which was what he always said.
I turned around and watched Roo slip his hand into Micah's. Their hands were small and identical. Like a china doll holding itself. But Roo's fingers had tiny scars radiating out from all of his knuckles, and Micah had a band-aid wrapped around his pinky, from where he burned it badly the other day. He didn't know the stove was on.
I was pristine.
“She's not going to hurt me.” Roo said. His real name was Reuben, but we always called him Roo, because he was a little kid. I don't know what we would call him now.
Our mother finished rinsing the cookie sheet and brought it to Roo in the reclining chair. He lifted his leg up and lay it across the sheet, and she used sleeves from two of his dirty shirts to tie his ankle and thigh to either end.
“How many lollipops?” Roo asked.
“Four,” Mom said.
Roo looked at his leg while Mom rifled through the kitchen drawer. “Five,” he called.
“Fine. Fine. Five.”
“I want to sit with Roo,” I said. It was the best chair.“It's my turn.”
“You don't get a turn.” Mom came with the hammer, licking her dry lips. “It's Micah's turn, really.” She looked at him.
Micah had to let go of Roo's hand to shrink back as much as he wanted to. So he did.
Roo said, “You can go, Micah. You want a lollipop?”
He shook his head.
“Green ones,” Roo said.
“What if it hurts?” Micah said. Micah talked more about pain than any little kid in the world. Definitely more than any little kid who had never felt pain, and never would.
I was supposed to protect them. I hated Micah's bandaged fingertip.
“Do me this time,” I said.
Mom said, “Gwen, I've told you,” in her warning voice, so I backed off. I like to think that I didn't really understand what was happening.
My mother knelt by the recliner and tested the bonds on Roo's leg. “Ready?” she asked him.
“Swear five lollipops?”
“I swear,” she said, and she gave Roo's knee two solid cracks with the hammer. His knee bent back limply against the cookie sheet, and his bones tinkled like a wind chime.
I winced. Roo leaned over to look at his leg. “Did you break it?” he said.
“I think so.” Mom pushed her bangs off her sweaty forehead and untied my brother. “Get up and try to walk.”
Roo climbed out of the chair and took half a step before his leg creaked and he fell over. He laughed.
“Let's go,” Mom said. She picked up Roo and nodded for Micah and I to follow. On the way out the door, she splashed Roo with some cold water from the sink, and I splashed Micah. It was the only way to keep them cool. I was already sticky underneath my arms and behind my unbruised knees.
Our apartment building was full of open doors and empty spaces where the looters had already been. Our best friend Carly used to live in the apartment on the ground floor, but she'd died a few weeks ago, at the hospital. Roo had cried so hard he had a stuffy nose all day.
The regular hospital was across town, big and silver with state of the art equipment and doctors with foreign last names. The children's hospital was two blocks from home. Small. Quaint. Little murals on the walls. Even before Mom thought of breaking Roo's bones, we were there all the time, when one of the boys took an awkward fall or started running a fevers, and they'd get MRIs and blood tests and two doctors and three nurses pressing on all their joints and junctions and lymph nodes, feeling for something out of place.
Back then, the hospital was full and loud. Nurses in masks rushed back and forth between children screaming and coughing in beds. They shouted names of medicines and doctors that they wanted. Now I wonder what the hell they thought they were doing, since they never figured out how to fix anyone.
I'm not sure why Micah and I never got sick. Good luck. Not good genes.
At the hospital, Mom got attention, a cast for Roo, and her dose of whatever medicine they thought was working this week. She got a sterile pat on the back from Dr. Jacoby, who told her, again, how impressed he was with my mother, what a good job she was doing, how she shouldn't feel bad. How he couldn't imagine trying to raise one child with CIPA, let alone two. Before we knew anything was wrong with Micah and Roo, everyone used to tell Mom how they couldn't imagine trying to raise triplets. After their bloody lips and dry eyes and high fevers had an explanation, I was suddenly easy.
I've always hated the hospital.
When we got home, Roo toddled around on his cast, his smiling mouth stained green, four more lolipops clutched in his fat fist. He held one out to Micah, who shook his head.
“You should go next time,” Roo said.
Micah shook his head.
“Why are you so scared all the time?” Roo asked.
“What if it hurts?”
“Hurting isn't even that bad,” Roo said. “Gwen does it all the time.”
Two days later, Roo woke me up in the middle of the night and said he was dizzy. I knew he had a fever, but when I went to wake up Mom, she was in the bathroom, throwing up blood.
I wasn't very scared. It wasn't anything very new.
I lay down with Roo in his bed and held him. He was as hot and dry as a gun.
He started crying, but he couldn't make tears. He coughed blood onto my pillow and shook. He'd probably been sick for days, but he couldn't have known. The main symptom of the plague, after all, was pain. They couldn't know. Micah's organs could have been turning to soup in the bunk below of us, and he would have no idea. But they weren't.
“It'll be okay tomorrow,” I whispered to him. I kissed him. I liked playing mom, sometimes.
Anyway, he was dead by morning. He went quickly, unlike Mom, who didn't die until a few weeks later. Everything happened very close together. They died, and somewhere in there Micah and I were whisked away and pushed into our uncle's house. I don't remember Micah saying anything the whole time. Even our ultrasound pictures, Micah and Roo didn't hug. It was like the second the egg split, they happily scooted apart, or wedged me between.
I don't know that I've stopped watching Micah since the night Roo died.
Somewhere in there the plague ended. Roo and Mom were some of the last ones, and Micah and I, now our rich uncle's children, were two of the first on the exam table in the now near-empty hospital, rolling up our sleeves for the vaccination hardly anyone else could afford.
Micah cried, writhed, begged, curled up inside his shirt. “It'll hurt,” he sobbed. “It'll hurt. What if it hurts this time?”
“It won't,” I whispered to him, while the doctors crossed their arms and didn't want to wait.
“What if it does? This could be the time.”
“It's just a shot. It doesn't hurt much at all.”
It didn't. It didn't hurt enough. They gave me my shot, and I barely felt it, and Micah still squirmed away from the needles, still pleaded and hid behind my shoulder.
“Give it to me,” I said. “Give me his.”
“It doesn't work that way,” the doctor told me.
“Why not? Give it to me again. It didn't hurt enough.”
Eventually, Micah got his shot. We were marked on a list, checked off as safe, sent back to our uncle's house. On our way out the door, I saw Micah's reflection against a wall, and I jumped.
Not my reflection, just his, and I didn't know why. I knew it was the first time I thought about the implications of having just one identical twin around. That was the first of a million reflections that would always make me wonder, maybe, maybe, maybe...
A lot has changed since then. We're no longer afraid of our uncle's creaky mansion. I've stopped wondering if I maybe saw Roo that day, or if I see him every time I catch Micah in the bathroom mirror or in a shop window. I've stopped listening when someone mentions that they were at the children's hospital the other night and they heard screaming of children they couldn't find. I've stopped believing the whispered word haunted means anything more than two triplets who still have nightmares.
The plague is gone. Micah doesn't cry, and we don't talk. Now both of us act like he's made of glass.
Two things have stuck around: my hunger to feel absolutely everything, and Micah's desperate, pathological need to feel nothing.
Friday, November 5, 2010
There's a lot of stress in this life. There are a lot of reasons to freak out. There are a few things that, pretty much without exception, suck. Full rejections suck. Bad sales suck. Bad dialogue sucks. There are things you can fix and there are things you just need to let push past and let go.
There are also things that you should not be worried about.
--People leaving publishing. I know that with Nathan Bransford's recent announcement, some of you are probably left feeling a little stunned. I am too! And remember how surprised we were when Colleen Lindsay told us she was going to stop agenting? And my second, incredible agent, Brendan Deneen, left to pursue a job as an editor (and is doing a fantastic job!) after we were together for just six months. (But glorious months they were, Brendan.)
It's jarring. It makes you afraid that someone's going to leave you in the middle of the process. It makes you wonder if publishing is going to shit.
Here's why you shouldn't worry. New agents are appearing all the damn time. My amazing agent, Suzie Townsend, has been in the game for just a little over a year, and she's made amazing sales since then (and seriously, if you don't know her name by now, you've got your fingers shoved in your ears). And she's not the only amazing agent we've gained this year. How about Mandy Hubbard or Taylor Martindale or Weronika Janczuk?
And there are still tons and tons of agents who have been at this for years and are showing no signs of stopping. And so what if they do? Just like there will always be new writers, there will always be new agents. Don't worry. Publishing might be changing, but it isn't going anywhere.
On that note...
--Paper books are dead, self-publishing is taking over, and it's the apocalypse. It's very easy to get sucked in to all the talk about how publishing is an outdated, dying model, and that if you have children in the next five years, they're never going to know what a book is. And they probably won't know how to write in cursive. Or how to read. Also books will be animated, Amazon will rule the world, and gay immigrants will start making out in our public schools.
Here's why you shouldn't worry. With the exception of that last one (which I am entrusting all you magic gay fish to ENSURE HAPPENS), none of this has to be your concern. Let someone else worry about all this shit. Shut up and write a book. They're not going anywhere.
--Celebrity books. They sell for huge advances. They're written by ghostwriters. They're not very good. They're cliche and pandering to an illiterate audience, so and so forth.
Here's why you shouldn't worry. Celebrity books sell for huge advances because they make huge amounts of money. Tuck away the jealousy and realize what this does for a publisher.
The more money they can make on sure things, the greater their ability to take a risk on new, unknown writers. In all likelihood, this means you!
Be proud of your publisher/a publisher you like when they buy a celebrity book. They're being fiscally responsible! It doesn't mean that the people there don't recognize good books. Trust me. They do. And if you don't like the celeb book, don't read.
--Twilight. It makes a lot of money, its merchandise fills the YA section, there are a million knock-offs of it, Edward is a pedophile, glitter sticks to your clothes.
Here's why you shouldn't worry. God, guys, this shit is old. No one cares anymore. We're the only ones talking about it. Move on.
--You get a small advance. So you're hearing about all these six figure advances, and even though you're freaking ECSTATIC that your book sold, you can't help but be a little disappointed by your three figure (for a small publisher), four figure or low five figure advance. You can't quit any day job for this kind of money.
You didn't have any delusions about writing making you rich, but you had a little inkling of a dream that maybe it would. And that's understandable.
Here's why you shouldn't worry. For a first book, a small advance can be a blessing. They're easier to earn out, and earning out gets you major props with your publisher, and they'll be more willing to take risks with you in the future. All that stuff about how hard it is to get off the midlist is scary, I won't lie to you, but it isn't a death sentence. You can always try out different age groups and genres, or you can win a bitchin' award, or you can chug away happily with your small advances and keep producing and producing and building a fan base. Your life is not over.
Hello, I'm Hannah Moskowitz, and I am midlist. And my life fucking rocks. So don't worry about it.
--Bad reviews. Son of a fucking bitch, it's not even that it's bad, it's that it's like they didn't even read the goddamn book. They spelled your characters' names wrong. They mixed up major plot points. They said they didn't get your main character's motivations, when nobody else had that problem. What the hell?
Or maybe it's a professional review, and they checked all their spellings and their plot points twice, but the guy who wrote the review must have been on his period or something, because he ignored all the best parts of the book and only focused on its faults.
Or maybe your book isn't out, or your book hasn't sold, but the idea of a bad review has you quaking in your shiny sexy writer boots.
Here's why you shouldn't worry. Yeah, they sting a little. But every book gets them, and everyone knows that. Go look up your favorite book on goodreads. There are people who hated it.
Then go look up books you hated, read the bad reviews, and laugh quietly to yourself. It happens. Learn to shrug it off and laugh at yourself. Don't respond, don't let it affect your writing, and, if you can--learn from them.
After a lot of reviewers commented on Break's weak ending, I started putting a lot more consideration into how I end my books. I hope it shows. And if it doesn't, well, fuck it. I can laugh it off. And then I can creepily go stalk books you liked more than mine and read all their bad reviews. It's a cycle!
Monday, October 25, 2010
So! National Novel Writing Month is coming up. I'm sure most of you know the gist already: 30 days, 1 book, 50,000 words. Details are here, and if you decide you're interested, you should hurry up and sign up! We're starting in 5 days!
This will be my 3rd year doing NaNo. For me, the challenge isn't writing quickly; it's getting a 50,000 word first draft. This is really, really long for me. A lot of my finished books clock it at around 50,000, and my first drafts are usually significantly shorter, somewhere in the 25-30,000 range. So even though people assume NaNo is easy for me because I'm a fast writer, it's actually a significant challenge for me as well. I won in both 2008 and 2009 (though in 2009 I cheated by adding 50K to an existing project. shhhh. But 2008 was legit).
If you're interested in NaNo but nervous about the idea of 50K in 30 days, here are some tips that you can take or leave as they suit you.
--Take a risk. I like to do something weird for NaNo. My planned project for this year is a ghost story, and hopefully (hopefully!) the first of a trilogy I have mapped out.
This is so astronomically far from anything I've ever done, but the good news is, I can't give up. I am absolutely positive that I'm going to start panicking and trying to jump ship 10,000 words in. And any other time, I probably would. But not for NaNo. For NaNo, you have to keep going. Or you LOSE. I don't like losing.
--Nail down the beginning. Choose your first line NOW. You don't want to be staring at a blank page. You can change it later, whatever, but give yourself a springboard. I have my first chapter all written up in my head. Then God knows what happens.
--Don't pace yourself. It doesn't work that way, at least not for me. Start strong. Write as many words a day as you can. Aim for 5K a day. Power through for as long as you can.
There will come a day where this gets absolutely impossible. You'll be lucky to get 1K out. And that's okay. Because you have a few days of writing 5K behind you, and you're already ahead of the game.
It will get harder to write as you get to the middle of your book. You will start doubting yourself and pulling out your hair, and the lack of sleep will catch up with you. Keep pushing as hard as you can, but give yourself permission to have some days when you're barely trickling out words. It happens. But don't try to slow down the part where you're buzzing and exciting because your book is shiny and new in hopes of saving your energy for later. It doesn't work.
--Get a support group. Physical ones work really well for some people; ask around and see if there are meetups in your area. You might be surprised!
If you're a hermit like me, there's always, thank God, the internet. You can find friends on the NaNo forums, or you can bully some of your existing friends into participating with you.
It's very, very helpful to have people to bitch to. If the Musers didn't do NaNo, I can't imagine I would. Most of the fun of this month comes from suffering together. It breaks up the loneliness we all feel sometimes, when it's just us and our laptops and our boyfriends complaining they never see us.
--Welcome help. Once you sign up, you'll get pep talk emails. Read them! Love them! They really DO help, if you let them. (And you might just find a quote from someone you know in there. I mean, maybe. You know a lot of people, right? I'm just saying it's possible. Stop looking at me like that. I don't know anything...)
People will reassure you. People who haven't read a word of your novel will tell you that it's brilliant and you can finish and you can do it. Believe them! Don't be a sourpuss. Sourpusses don't finish novels. I won't say what they do. This is a family-friendly blog. (Stop looking at me like that.)
So. If you decide to sign up, make sure to look me up. I'm right here. You can read a description of what I'll be working on, if you like. I'll put up an excerpt once the month has started. Add me as a buddy if you want to see how I'm doing, and leave links to your profiles in the comments so I can friend you back! And good luck!
Tuesday, October 19, 2010
I didn't mean to start researching zombies. Because right after Graham died, I was pretty much okay. I fell apart in a tidy way. I cried at the funeral and slacked off on homework for a few weeks, but I never unglued myself from reality like Mom and Dad did.
Then I started getting weird. I stopped closing the bathroom door when I was in there, which was kind of bizarre. And I had to know where everyone was all the time. I got antsy if my parents left the room, and I started begging to stay home from school every day, but whenever I did stay home, I’d get freaked out about all my friends at school and worry that they were sick or something. It wasn’t cool.
So after that, after I went as totally bananas as I ever did, I started doing research on bringing dead people back to life.
The truth is, I know way more about zombies that anyone would like me to. I even know how I’d go about bringing Graham back, if I were going to do it. There’s this thing, basically an alarm clock for dead people, but the internet says no one has any idea where it is. It’s probably buried in some cave and booby-trapped and explosive and covered in guns or something. And even though everyone knows there were zombies thirty years ago, no one saw them and no one has any idea what they were like or why they all dropped dead again before anyone ever saw them awake. When a kid at school begged Ms. Hoole to talk about them, she made a big point of reminding us that it was just a theory, that nobody can say for sure that they were really zombies. Yeah. They were just a bunch of people who were supposed to have already been dead, discovered above ground, dead again. Just a theory, sure.
The main point is that there are zero, absolutely zero real reports of what the real zombies were like, so there’s a good chance that if I brought Graham back, he'd be just as brain-hungry as I was last night.
Finding all that out for the first time really freaked me out. I updated my anti-zombie weapons just in case. I made sure I had a baseball bat put away, and a can of bug spray, a few of the really good spatulas. Just in case. Nothing online gave me any reason to believe the real zombies weren't just like the ones from the movies Graham and I used to watch, so I don't know why the techniques we figured out wouldn't really work. That's what Zombie Tag is, really. It's practicing all the methods Graham and I discovered. It's training.
And I can't tell my Dad without him wanting to arrest me, and it's probably never going to matter because Anthony says there's no way the zombies are coming back.
Friday, October 15, 2010
In Fall 2009, I started college at a certain Ivy League school that shall not be named. All that I will say is that I didn't have a good time there. And that it's a color.
For the semester I was there, I was enrolled as a "Literary Arts" major. I never really found out what Literary Arts is. I think it's a more pretentious version of an English major, but I'm not sure.
I was in a class called "Literature of Children and Young Adults." On the first day, our teacher had us go around and say why we were interested in children's books, specifically young adult books. When it got to me, I told them--"My first YA book came out in 2009. My next one is 2011."
I pretty naively expected to be congratulated.
What I got was an A on my first paper followed by a paragraph that had nothing to do with my paper and everything to do with the way I introduced myself the first day. Saying I was published was unprompted self-congratulation that set me up as a precocious kid with an attitude problem. And, my professor continued, the A on the paper should not be taken as a sign that my writing didn't need a lot, a LOT of work. I was young and naive and full of myself. I was all bark and no bite.
Later, when I asked the kids in my class what they were working on, one of them mentioned that children's books were just practice for him, and--by the way--he was so glad he wasn't planning on perusing publication for years to come, because good GOD he would be so embarassed to have anything less than his very best life's work out in the world.
I don't think I have to tell you guys how hard it is to have any self-confidence at all in this business. From the outside, it's probably very easy to see published authors as self-satisfied assholes who refuse any more growth. From the inside, I haven't seen anyone who fits this stereotype. Not to say some don't, but I think this is far, far from the norm.
We're still scared. We're still searching. We're still learning and editing and crying into our pillows. I don't have to tell you guys this. You know.
They didn't. I was surrounded by people trying to knock me down a peg, except I had nothing underneath me when they did.
I stopped going out. I couldn't write.
I went home.
That professor and those students were not the reasons I left Brown.
They didn't help.
(Oops, look at that. Said the name.)
I transferred to the University of Maryland, I started out as a Theatre major just to try to get away from the drama (ha ha ha) and the baggage. It worked, but it turned out I was a really shitty Theatre major. I started my sophomore year a month and a half ago, as an English major.
I was fucking terrified.
My plan was not to tell anyone I was published. No one. Lips zipped. It was going to be my complete and absolute secret.
And then the first day of Introduction to Creative Writing, my teacher has us go around and say what we write.
Everyone else in the class writes poetry, short fiction, doesn't write anything but wants to start. A girl is working on a sci-fi novel. Besides that, no longer works.
He gets to me, and I say, "I write children's books."
I don't think I'd ever said this sentence out loud before. I hadn't been intentionally avoiding it, but this was the first time I'd spoken about what I write since Zombie Tag sold in June. Before that, I wrote young adult books. Now I write children's books.
And then my teacher said, "Are you published?"
What was I supposed to say to that?
So I said yes and he acted impressed and I said to the class, "I'm normal. I swear. I'm normal."
And my professor said, "Don't worry. I'm sure you're not here to show off."
And that sentence cracked my whole world open and filled it with sunshine.
The moral of this story is that I would have to be beaten heavily with a stick before I'd take another children's book class.
I love being an English major. I am absolutely crazy about 20th century American Lit and literary criticism and a million other aspects of this world. I'm considering doing a second major in English Education so I'll be certified to teach those English classes down there, like, ferrealsies. Surprising no one here, I love books. I love learning about books and learning about writing.
I like that I am branded as a children's book writer.
There is still a ton of stigma around writing children's books as opposed to "real books." This is another thing you guys don't need me to tell you. But it's working for my advantage now, and I love it.
It feels a little like playing a game, because I'm pretending to check the children's books at the door. And it probably looks that way. They probably think I'm holding everything I'm learning in a separate vessel for the day I grow up and decide to write a Real Book. People see my writing as this slightly hacky side career I do while I'm not at school learning about Real Writing.
They have no idea I'm stealing all the Real Writing techniques and bending them and shaping them and hacking them into pieces and smushing them together and simplifying them and extrapolating them and plugging them into my zombie book.
They don't need to know. I'm not cheating. I'm learning. I'm enjoying myself. And I got to do it through being honest. And since I'm in classes for "real" writing, not children's writing, no one sees me as the girl who's there to show off. I'm the girl with the job on the side who's learning something totally new.
I have friends now.
It feels like I'm winning this game.
I can deal with being a hack.
Monday, September 27, 2010
Motif is easier than theme, and even less necessary. This is one that you can really ignore if you feel like it. But it's also a fun thing to play with if you like. It's something that I focus on a lot more in some books than in others, but it ends up creeping in most of the time anyway, and I bet it does in your stuff, too, more often than you might know.
The definition of a motif is really simple. It's a reoccurring element in a story that serves to tie parts of the story together. Cool?
A really obvious example of motifing (made that word up) is something like what I did in THESE HUMANS ALL SUCK, the manuscript that has been gently laid to rest. I did a lot with colors, particularly with the color blue.
If something was blue, you could pretty much bet that it was important. I didn't hit you over the head with it, I'd just casually mention that it was blue and move on. If you weren't looking for it, you probably wouldn't have noticed that blue was important. But it was there if you felt like it.
A more common example is a line or phrase that's repeated in the story. This is one I use A LOT. A character will say a line of dialogue early in the story that gets echoed in different ways--in the main character's thought process, in his own dialogue, something like that. And it immediately brings the reader back to the first time it was used.
Using your motif is like cross-referencing one part of your book to another. This is very much an English class element. If an AP English kid ever writes a paper on your book, there's a good chance he'll go in looking for motif. I'm not saying you should write your book with that goal or anything, but it's a good way to think of motif. It's something that works on an analysis level. If it's something that's very blatantly part of the story, it's probably too obvious.
I have weather as a motif in #magicgayfish. The mentions of the ocean are all in there to echo Rudy's emotional state. He projects his emotions onto the ocean (which is called a pathetic fallacy, if you're a fan of even more fancy terms). So if you were to go through and write down the different ways the ocean is described throughout the book, you would actually have written down Rudy's exact emotional arc through the book. Which is pretty cool, I think, and definitely not something I did unintentionally.
Almost done, but I want to do a quick reminder; I'm not writing The Great American Novel over here. I'm not writing anything that I could see a class analyzing in English. So this isn't something that you need to be writing literary fiction in order to worry about. Some of my YA books trend towards the more literary, and others towards more commercial, but they all have theme, motif, and allusions weaved into them, the same way they have plot and character and all that good stuff you're already used to thinking about.
Are these things I'm talking about comparable to plot and character in terms of importance? Well, it depends on the book you're writing, but almost definitely not. This is veering too closely to the literary/commercial debate for my taste (and I'm so, so sick of this debate) but just keep in mind that I'm not suggesting you stop writing dynamic, hooky plots and start writing stories of impotent old men staring out to the horizon or whatever. Write what you want. Be aware of your options.
Even my killing zombies with spatulas book has themes and motifs. And probably allusions, I can't remember. I'll talk about those next.
Tuesday, September 21, 2010
Hello, I am Ms. Moskowitz, and I will be your teacher today.
I'm fresh out of a long day of classes and ready to toss some words at you. Topics we will cover: theme, motif, and allusion. We're starting with theme.
Before I start, we have, as usual, a few caveats:
1. I am a sophomore in college. Just...yeah. I wouldn't be blogging this if I didn't know it, but it's something to keep in mind.
2. I'm sure people will have different definitions for some of these. They're words and everyone approaches them differently. These are my interpretations and my explanations, and God knows I have a weird way of explaining stuff.
3. The most important point: no one is making you think about these things. You don't need to think about theme or motif or allusion or anything else to write a good book. You don't even need to know what they are. There's a good chance that, even if you don't know these terms, this is stuff you've already been doing.
But knowledge is power. And whether or not you choose to use these things, I really do believe that you should be aware of them. It's good to have options, and if thinking about any of these things helps any of you (they help me) then I've done my job.
Let's begin! Class in session.
This comes first and foremost, because, in my experience, it comes first and foremost. Well, almost. Theme is the second thing I think of when I'm formulating an idea. I start with characters, proceed to theme, and then put together a plot. That's all I need to start writing.
To put it in the most naked of terms: Theme is the message of the book.
Most books have several themes. Let's talk about uhhhh I don't know. Romeo and Juliet. Here are some things you could legitimately say are themes in Romeo and Juliet.
--True love transcends societal segregation.
--Teenagers will choose their boyfriends over their families.
--True love leads to death.
--Teenagers are incapable of lasting relationships.
--Love leads to death.
--Teenage boys are full of hormones and fickle affections.
and there are a million other themes you could find in Romeo and Juliet. The truth is, if someone tells you that something is the theme of a work, it's very hard to prove them wrong. I could say the theme of Romeo and Juliet is "cats are better than dogs," and even though that's true, it's probably not one of the themes of Romeo and Juliet. Can you prove it?
And that's a very important thing about themes--they are very subjective. Because a theme is always, always, ALWAYS a full sentence.
For a theme to be a theme, it needs to be an opinion. It needs a verb. It needs to be something that you can find and identify and argue.
So "cat" could not be a theme. Cats are either in the books or they're not. No amount of arguing is going to change that. But I can argue that Romeo and Juliet has the theme "cats are better than dogs" until the cows get home, because theme is way more abstract than a simple world or two.
Let's talk about how this fits into your own writing. Your theme is the feeling that you want people to take away from the book. It's the question or the opinion or the decision that you want them to be rolling around in their brains when they close your book.
Don't worry if your theme sounds trite as hell. "Self-destruction doesn't work as a solution," is a theme in BREAK. Like, wow, hannah. Way to say something really fucking original, there. Here's your Pulitzer.
No. Themes are totally allowed to be simple, because it's still all about execution. If I were beating the reader over the head with my message (let's say for the sake of this argument that I did not do this) then it would be a different story, but if you have to suss out my theme from my 44,000 words, then I'm doing an okay job.
Theme's job is to answer the question so what? You have a nice story and some cool characters, but why do I care? What footprint are you leaving? That's your theme.
And please don't ignore that thing I hinted at two paragraphs up--you do NOT need to spell out your theme. At least 90% of the time, you shouldn't. At least 90% of the people who think they fall into the remaining 10% do not. Take out the part where you state your theme out loud, please. If your writing is strong enough, you don't need to say what your theme is.
Having a theme is NOT the same as having a moral. You don't have to be trying to teach you reader something, but your book should, in a sense, argue something. There's a reason you're writing this book. Sharing that makes the reader care too. But you've got to resist the urge to beat the reader over the head with it. Trust your reader!
Theme is your backbone, but you wouldn't go around smacking people in the face with your backbone. Keep that shit to yourself.
So class is over for today. I'll be back later with motif and allusion. They're simpler. But theme is first.
Now I have e.e. cummings stuck in my head--since feeling is first/who pays any attention/ to the syntax of things--appropriate, I think.
Anyway. I realize I'm spouting a lot of esoteric crap, here, so hit me with your questions/comments, please.
Tuesday, September 14, 2010
So one time we were camping in our backyard, and Graham said, “What do you think happens when you die?”
We used to do that sometimes. Lug our sleeping bags out and pitch our tent and lie there, pretending we had a campfire. We couldn't do it too much because Graham would always start wheezing from lying in the grass all night, but I loved it, and I was always pushing him to do it more often, which made Mom mad.
It was really late, but so loud from the frogs and the cicadas.
I said, “I don’t…think about stuff like that.”
“Everyone thinks about stuff like that.”
“Yeah, okay, but I don’t think you’re supposed to discuss it, you know? You’re supposed to think about it quietly to yourself.”
“Talking to you is like talking to myself.”
I hoped he didn’t see me smile at that, because it didn’t sound like a compliment, even though it felt like one. I think it was too dark for him to see, anyway.
He rolled over, and the grass crunched under him while he coughed. I stretched out. I was thinking about how good a s'more would taste right then.
He said, “Okay, so you die, and just…things keep happening without you?”
“That doesn't make sense.”
“Um...I think most people agree on that one.”
“But, like, how? Like...” He was quiet here for a long time. “Like I was just coughing, and then I stopped coughing, and everything was the same as it was before I started.”
“But coughing isn't dying. How can dying just be a thing?” He shook his head. “I don’t know, Wil. I don’t know. I don’t think things will go on without me.”
I laughed. “I can’t believe how self-centered you are.”
“It’s the curse of being the person the world revolves around. A blessing and a curse.”
“You're a drip.”
He said, “But seriously. No one can say for sure that the world keeps going after they die. Because how would you know? Maybe you're the one who the world can't exist without. I mean, there has to be someone, right? One person dies and the universe is like, that's it, straw that broke the camel's back, I'm done, peace, there's no point in doing this anymore if people are going to keep keeling over on me.”
“That’s so stupid.” I rolled over on the grass and looked at him. “Billions of people have already died, and here we are.”
“But it only takes one person.”
“And that person’s going to be you?”
“Hey, you don’t know me.” He laughed. His breathing was getting noisy.
I said, “Of course I know you. That’s the point.”
“Yeah.” His breath caught, and he coughed some more. “You’re pretty lucky to know me, let’s be honest.” He was wheezing pretty badly by then.
Saturday, September 11, 2010
I've written YA for a long time, and I've only seriously been writing MG for about six months. In a lot of ways, I'm still learning the ropes.
But MGs are my favorites to read. They have been ever since I was very, very young. Even while I was still reading picture books or early chapter books on my own, my mom was reading my sister and me MG books before we went to sleep. I know a lot of voracious readers who grew up reading the classics. They read Huck Finn and Jane Eyre when they were five. I didn't do that. (Hell, I still haven't read Huck Finn). I grew up with middle grade books.
By the time I was eleven, I'd switched mainly to YA, and that's still the bulk of what I read. And don't get me wrong. I love YA. Some of my favorite books are YA. But a lot of my very, very favorites are MG, which is why writing it has been this pretty amazing experience.
People have asked me lately what the differences are between writing YA and writing MG. Some of them are easy. But before I start...
I'M INVOKING THE EXCEPTION RULE: YES. THERE ARE EXCEPTIONS. FROM HERE ON OUT, EXPECT EXCEPTIONS. COOL? COOL.
--In MG, your main character's probably going to be 8-14 years old. In YA, you're looking at 15-18.
--Sex, drugs, cursing, those things that some people still think you can't do in YA? Well, you can't do them in MG.
--MG is probably shorter. This is way more relevant in contemporary (as is probably everything I'm going to say) than in fantasy. And if you're like me, they'll probably end up being about the same size anyway, because all my books are fairly short. BREAK (YA) is 43,000 words, INVINCIBLE SUMMER (YA) is 53,000, ZOMBIE TAG (MG) is 44,000. Not a huge amount of variation there.
There are other differences I've noticed that are harder to define, but that I think are really noteworthy and interesting.
MG books tend to be very focused on the main character's place in his community, whatever that may be. The MG protag wants to fit in. That doesn't have to be as literal as "I want the popular kids to like me!" though it certainly can be. You'll see a lot of "I want to be the son my father wants me to be," "I want to make the baseball team," "I want everyone to stop treating me like I'm a freak because I have cerebral palsy," or "I want my community to trust me despite this mistake I made a while ago." From there, conflict happens and things can get very confusing (though they can also stay focused on that initial motivation) but when the book starts out, very often the main character's primary goal is to find his place and slip into it.
I know it isn't a book (and I haven't even read the books. I suck) but I use the movie How To Train Your Dragon all the time when people ask me what a MG book is, because it's such a perfect example in my head. At the beginning of the movie, all Hiccup wants is to be a big strong dragon hunter like the other men in the village.
The themes in YA, on the other hand, tend to be focused on the individual alone or on her relationship with a very select group of people. "I want to get over my father's death." "I want to get into a healthy relationship. "I want to stop doing drugs." "I want to start doing drugs." "I want to get into a good college." "I want everyone to leave me alone."
Unlike MGs, which typically start wide (Hiccup's whole village) and later narrow somewhat (Hiccup's friendship with Toothless--though please keep in mind that the wider issue does not get left behind), a YA sometimes starts wide but almost always ends up very narrowly focused.
I can't use a book example for YA when I'm not using one for MG, so let's use My So-Called Life. Angela Chase wants a new life. She has all these people and they're all new and exciting. That's the first episode. By the middle of the first season, her conflicts aren't with the whole world around her anymore. They're with whether she's going to let Jordan Catalano keep copying her homework. The other people are still there, and she can still interact with them, but the individual bits of conflict tend to be on a very very tight basis. And the main conflict is definitely not how the whole school thinks of Angela, as it is for Hiccup and his village.
And before I go on--you guys know that "fitting in" or "getting a boyfriend" or "romance" or "killing dragons"...you guys know those things aren't themes, right? I saw a writer misuse the word "theme" the other day, and it broke my heart. Those are "thematic elements"--stuff the themes are concerned with--but they aren't the themes themselves. "Fitting in is impossible without altering who you are," or "Getting a boyfriend requires more persistence than most people are willing to put in," those are themes. Really depressing ones, but themes nonetheless.
Let me know if I should do a post on stuff like themes and motifs and the differences between them. I'm an English major. I can bring it if you want it.
The easiest way to define this is--in MG, you get to save the world. In YA, you don't.
And this is related to the last point. A typical plot arc in MG starts with the kind of conflict mentioned above and turns into something like...
MAIN CHARACTER wants X. Through doing X, he learns that he has to save the world from CONSEQUENCES OF X.
By trying to accomplish his initial goal, the protagonist might learn something or do something or figure out something that will cause him to have to save the universe, or whatever his version of the universe might be (His town, his school, his family, an actual universe).
How to Train Your Dragon:
HICCUP wants TO KILL A DRAGON. Through TRYING TO KILL A DRAGON, he learns that he has to save the world from KILLING ALL THE DRAGONS BECAUSE THEY ARE ACTUALLY NOT BAD.
WIL wants TO BRING HIS BROTHER BACK TO LIFE. Through BRINGING HIS BROTHER BACK TO LIFE, he learns that he has to save the world from ALL THE OTHER PEOPLE HE BROUGHT BACK TO LIFE.
In YA? Not so much. The climax is way more likely to be between the main character and her boyfriend, or the main character and her best friend, than it is to be between the forces of good and evil.
Are these set in stone? Nope. A YA fantasy is way more likely to have a world-saving element than a quiet, meandering MG. But these two rules *are* the reason I'm staunchly on the "They're all MG" side of the Harry Potter debate. Harry grows up, but the themes and scope don't. It's not like we're reading thousands of pages to see if he and Ginny are going to get it on, and it's not like we wanted the final showdown in Book 7 to be Ron and Harry fighting over Hermione. The rules are looser in fantasy, but I still think the Harry Potter themes stick them all into the MG camp. A lot of the fantasy we have in YA right now is paranormal romance. Not a genre I'm well-versed in, but even though there's that element of a bigger threat, most of the conflict is still interpersonal, right?
--DEPTH AND BREADTH.
I've been giving YA sort of a bad rap in this post, which...sucks, because it's not at all what I intended. I love YA. And maybe this point will help illustrate why.
Generally, word for word, page for page, not as much happens in a YA. You get to linger. You get to really sink into a main character's voice. The fact that you're focused on two or three important relationships and not the fate of the whole world is such a blessing because it lets you go into everything very, very deeply. You can have fantastically complicated relationships in YA--think about Angela and Rayanne's in My So-Called Life. You have time to really delve into them and explore them and do whatever the fuck you want with them. And that's the thing, if you ask me, that makes YA so damn cool. I think again, measuring proportionally, word for word, YA books do more for character development and exploration than any other genre. (Go ahead, kill me for that. I don't care.)
In an MG book, usually more happens. You have a lot more action and movement and excitement. You cover a lot of ground. You don't have as much time to pause and dive into things. Is there time? Of course, and an MG that doesn't give itself time to build strong relationships between the characters is going to fall completely flat. Even if you're drawn to a book because of a cool plot--and at this age, most of the readers are--you're going to stay because you love the characters. But MG does sometimes need to leave more to the imagination than a YA, simply because there isn't time to explore all the nuances of the characters' relationships.
I mean, you have to go save the world.
Tuesday, September 7, 2010
..Teaser Tuesday! (It's been a few weeks, yeah?)
How about...The Animals Were Gone!
This is Craig's point of view, and he's talking about two different boys--Lio, with whom he's hit a rocky point in their very, very tentative relationship, and Cody, the ex-boyfriend who is out of his life but not at all out of his mind.
Things I always liked about Lio:
The gaps between his canines and the rest of his teeth that make him look like a vampire or a really dangerous puppy.
His stupid multicolored hair that he never lets me see because of those hats he wears even though he isn't cold.
The fact that the teachers stopped making him take his hats off after the first week, probably because his hair is so fucked up.
The scar from the central line he had, and how he wears tank tops that let it show and acts like he doesn't give a shit who sees, and explains when people ask about it, with a small smile to show he doesn't mind that they asked, and plays with it, running his fingers across it and pinching the scar tissue when he thinks no one's looking.
His voice, low and gravelly, like he's always getting over a cold.
Things I now hate:
His stupid smiles he makes me work for.
His stupid multicolored hair that he never lets me see because of those hats he wears even though he isn't cold.
The fact that I probably won't be mad at him a few hours because he's so fucking charmed.
Cancer boy cancer boy cancer boy cancer boy, I get it.
So Cody's dad's death pretty much destroyed my boy, and as much as we didn't want it to destroy us, as hard as we worked, as hard as I worked...
God, I held on. I held on so hard.
When he was screaming. When he was crying. When he was telling me he hated me and why hadn't I died instead. That time he slapped me across the face and shrieked that I bring him back. The time he shoved me across the room and told me if he ever saw me again he'd kill me himself, and called me two hours later, baby I'm so sorry, baby I'm just so sad and I don't know what to do and my therapist says I BLAH BLAH BLAH
When he said he was going to buy a gun and get revenge himself, and I told him no--not because I thought that was wrong, but because I knew he wouldn't go to Afghanistan and I was worried he would go to me or his mother or his therapist.
So they eventually shipped him off, not to Afghanistan, but to some hospital and then some school, and I never visited him, not once, and it took so long before he asked me to visit, and it should be simple to say no, I can't, I won't do it again, I can't, but it isn't, because he fell asleep crying in my arms so many times, and he called me Lollipop, and he told me I was the only thing, the only thing in the entire huge bad scary world, that helped.
So fuck frozen cold hearts, because who are they helping?
Fuck you, frozen cold heart.
Friday, September 3, 2010
This post is more of a question than most of mine are. I fully admit that this is all speculation. But it's something I've been wondering for a while.
Has the internet community changed YA?
Am I right in thinking that YA writers are the most active online? We tweet word counts and deadlines and what our main character would eat for breakfast. We friend each other on Facebook and leave each other rep points on AW. We have blogs just for posting excerpts and shit like this. We know each other's names, agents, and editors like we're all related. We're The Contemps, the Debs, the Tenners, the Elevensies, the Musers.
The word "blogosphere," ugly though it may be, is so appropriate. We're our own little biosphere. We have staked out our little corner of the internet, and we're loud and social and crazy and God knows I'm part of the problem.
And lately I've been worrying that it really is a problem.
To put it plainly, I'm starting to wonder if YA is turning into something written by/for the internet community under the guise of writing for everyday teenagers, and that who likes you on the internet is more important to your career--or, if not to your career, to your psyche and your perception of your success--than if teenagers are picking up your book.
Is the gap between "successful" author and "author teenagers want to read" getting wider and wider as our main audience to impress becomes bloggers and librarians instead of teenagers themselves?
(For the record, I realize and acknowledge that some of us are teenagers ourselves. But if you're reading this, you're not the average book-reading teenager. You know too much. We've relinquished our right to be considered the average YA reading teenager.)
Are we getting too self-referential to be relevant?
I don't know. But recently, YA has started to look very clubby to me, and I'm wondering if that's really fair for the readers. If we're writing to be social, are we doing our readers a disservice?
We give each other biased Goodreads reviews because we don't want to piss anyone off. We tell people we love books we haven't read just because we're friends with the author. We're so loud about the books we love--which should be a great thing!--that we might be fooling ourselves into thinking that our tastes reflect those of a teenager.
We hear so much about publishing trends. Vampires are in, vampires are out, zombies are in, zombies are out, angels are in, angels are out. But a teenager who loves vampires wants to read more about vampires. She doesn't give a shit whether it's out or not. So is our perception of a "saturated" market affecting her? I'm not saying, obviously, that we should all be out writing vampire books, but wouldn't it make more sense if we did stuff steadily instead of in trendy slews? And wouldn't that be possible if we weren't so intent on responding to and competing with the authors we follow on Twitter?
I think the reason I'm posing these questions is that lately I've felt very disillusioned and overwhelmed. I still love YA. But when I'm writing stuff like #magicgayfish, I start questioning my own relevance really, really easily. I love that you guys are all over it, and obviously I hope that teenagers would have the same reaction, if the thing gets published.
But how closely does our taste reflect that of an actual teenager?
Are the boys we swoon over the ones THEY find hot?
Okay, I'm asking a lot of questions. So here's what I think.
What was initially cool about YA, in my opinion, was that it had the least adult influence from the shelf to the hands of the reader. YAs pick out and buy and read their own books. Their parents don't screen them first. And obviously [adult] publishers still have to decide to publish them (and that's a HUGE thing, but we really can't change that) and the bookstore or the library still has to decide to stock them, but it was still more direct than other childrens' books. It's the kid's wallet, the kid's choice.
And now for some reason, it looks to me like we're letting it become books about teenagers and for adults rather than about teenagers for teenagers, and the way we're going, I don't think that's going to change.
WE'RE the ones counting down the days 'til the next big YA comes out.
WE'RE the ones fantasizing about ourself and the Next Hot Boy.
WE'RE the ones trend-chasing and trend-hating and jacking up the Goodreads reviews.
I think in the future, people are going to equate expecting YA to be only for young adults to expecting science fiction to be only for scientists.
I don't know. I've had very many emotional crisises lately where I'm like I DON'T KNOW WHAT TEENAGERS WANT. So maybe I'm just projecting. But I still think the market shift is noteworthy and worrisome.
Tuesday, August 31, 2010
So I'm on the phone, holding my breath, and Agent 2 says, "I got a job offer as an editor."
"...Oh." Yeah. I knew what was coming, but I was still gripping to a tiny bit of hope. Maybe he was about to say, but I said, screw you, bitches, I'm staying with hannah!
But no. He said he'd decided to take the job and he was really excited. But he was quick to say, "I'm not leaving you all alone. We've had a lot of meetings here, and we decided the best fit for you would probably be Suzie Townsend--"
"Oh, I know Suzie."
I guess it made some sense that he was surprised, since at that point, Suzie was fairly new. But I'm a ho on the internet, as you know, and I already knew Lisa Desrochers and knew Suzie was her agent. But because Lisa was the only one of her clients I knew about, my mind jumped to paranormal romance and I went WHAT ARE YOU THINKING in my head because, lovely though it may be, paranormal romance is pretty much the furthest thing from what I do. Except for the magic gay fish book. But whatever.
But when Agent 2 said, "So, can Suzie call you?" I said "Absolutely." Because what harm could it do? If it didn't seem like we'd mesh well, I could always query other people.
And then I congratulated him, and I hung up and cried my eyes out.
And then Suzie called.
Suzie is lovely on the phone, guys. Like, she's lovely in all capacities, but I feel pretty lucky that my first introduction to her was on the phone, where I could actually hear how excited she was and how much she liked my work. She thought this was going to be a great thing for both of us. I thought she was a little delusional, but at least she sounded like she liked my stuff.
I realize this part of the story makes me sound like a total bitch. But imagine you've been dating this guy for six months, and you're crazy about him, and he dumps you out of nowhere. If someone new comes along, no matter if she's super super hot and awesome and sweet, are you really going to believe her when she tells you she's your one and only true love?
Well...maybe you just need to give it a few weeks.
So I did.
And I can't really remember what happened. We started working on different stuff and re-evaluating where my career was going. I dove into Invincible Summer revisions, and her love of MG encouraged me to try my hand at it. We went on sub together and sold together. But even before that, weeks and weeks before that, I was smitten.
I think it was her ed letters.
God, nothing gets me going like a good ed letter.
So Agent 1 promised me revisions and rarely gave them. Agent 2 barely revised at all. Suzie, as some of you know, gets out her scissors and cuts your ideas into pieces and puts them back together the way they were supposed to be, you idiot.
I'd never had an agent who'd done that before. I wasn't sure I wanted it. I wasn't even sure I needed it. But the first letter Suzie sent me, on a project I'd finished years before (remember the manuscript that got me Agent 1 and didn't sell? that one) hit me in a way no critique had. You know how usually you have to get defensive first, then deal with that, then open yourself back up, before you can really see the points a critter gives you? Suzie's invented some kind of crazy magic formula that completely bypasses your defensive zone and hits you straight in the OHHHHHH part of your brain. The second she suggests something that's going to make the manuscript better, it's like I can already see that improved version of the manuscript in my head. Like I can envision all the words I'll need to change or add or take out to get there.
Writing with Suzie is different from writing without Suzie. And I never would have known that, or suspected that I was missing anything.
I'm a better writer now. I'm a different writer now. If I'd stayed with Agent 1, I'd probably still be stalled at the gate. If Agent 2 hadn't left, I'm sure I'd still be wildly happy and would probably have met a lot of success as the two of us continued together, but I would have ended up a very different writer.
But I'm with Suzie.
And I really, really like the kind of writer that's making me.
So there you have it. The complete and total agent story.
In some ways traditional, in some ways not.
I'll take questions, as always, and thanks for following along.
Wednesday, August 25, 2010
I know you guys want Part 3, but we need to do this first.
One year ago today...
Though it had been spotted in the wild before...
BREAK was officially unleashed upon the world.
I celebrated in the usual ways...
Since then, BREAK has received reviews like THIS:
Hannah Moskowitz delivers a passionate debut about one boy struggle to make his world sane by being insane. It's a story that I'll never forget!
A Must Read!
And like THIS...
I thought this book was absolutely boring and stupid. I am not trying to be overly harsh, but I found that I was bored throughout most of the book.
And I've received so many emails that made me do this.
So I would like to offer up a big slice of
to all the lovely ladies (and men--I know you're there somewhere) of Simon Pulse who believed in a crazy book like BREAK.
And to all of you--
Who have read BREAK, especially if you reviewed it, especially if you told a friend about it.
Thank you so much. It has been an amazing year.
Happy birthday, BREAK.
Tuesday, August 24, 2010
So I left Agent #1 in May of 2009. I'd been wanting to split for a few months, but I had a book on submission with her and I wanted to wait and see how that turned out. But the emails slowed, then stopped, and no matter how many times I emailed and called, I got no response. I realized I had nothing to gain my staying. I terminated the contract on my way out the door to a restaurant. I felt great.
Immediately after the split, even before I queried again, I did two things.
First, I emailed the editors who, as far as I know, still had the book on sub. I pretty much groveled, asking if they knew the status of the manuscript. Most of them answered, and they were all very nice. They'd all passed, but my agent hadn't told me. So that was that.
Second, I emailed my Simon Pulse editor, who had asked for a manuscript of mine nearly six months earlier. My agent didn't think it was ready, and said we weren't going to do anything with it until I edited according to some notes she had. I asked about these notes every few weeks. They never materialized.
So as soon as we split, I emailed my editor, told her what was up, and asked her if she wanted to see the manuscript. She did. And I got to work finding another agent.
I seriously thought I'd have no problem drumming up another agent. I'd worked with an gent for over a year! I knew the drill! I had a book coming out in three months! Who wouldn't want to work with me?
It took about three weeks for that to get sucked out of me. When May passed, and then June, and then July with no new agent, I was terrified.
This was a busy summer for me. I was planning for BREAK's release, which was stressful but not time-consuming, since by that point the book's all done and completely out of your hands. I was getting ready to go to college in the fall and taking two summer classes. And I was querying essentially non-stop.
I decided to query INVINCIBLE SUMMER because it was my favorite, and really it was either that, a manuscript I didn't like as much, or the manuscript I loved that had been subbed all over the place my Agent #1, which I didn't think would make it a very attractive commodity to agents. In either late July or early August, I got one of the weirdest emails ever. Something like...
Hey Hannah. I finished reading INVINCIBLE SUMMER. Great job!
Great job? What the fuck does that mean?
I puzzled over that for a minute, then I wrote back thanking him and asking if he'd like to schedule a phone call. He said absolutely, and that's when I relaxed. Significantly.
I ended up with one other offer from an absolutely brilliant agent, but I went with the one who originally offered (hereafter Agent #2) because his vision of INVINCIBLE SUMMER meshed more closely with mine (meaning, he didn't make me do any edits. More on this later!
About a week after we signed, I got an email from my SP editor telling me she was halfway through INVINCIBLE SUMMER and loving it. Agent #2 stepped up to the plate, drummed up a mini-auction, and we ended up selling INVINCIBLE SUMMER back to my SP editor in a two-book deal. This was the week before BREAK came out.
(In case anyone's confused re. why SP didn't automatically get IS--IS was not my option book. SP had already turned that one down. Just clarifying.)
I was wildly, deliriously happy with Agent #2, and I have nothing but good memories from working with him. He didn't edit my manuscripts, but at that point, I didn't think I wanted that, since I'd gone through so much hell waiting for edits from Agent #1. He answered all my emails in a heartbeat and had a great sense of humor. I found out later that he way more clients than I ever would have guessed. I felt like I was his only one, and I never had any communication issues at all. I was in heaven.
He had great big ideas for my career as a whole, and he worked hard on subsidiary rights and encouraged me to branch out beyond YA. He's the reason I wrote an adult book. He's not the reason the adult book was a big big mess that didn't sell.
So...we're on sub with the big mess of an adult book, and he emails me and says, "Need to talk to you. Can I call?"
This is January of 2010. I'd just spent my first night in my new house. I thought this was big news. You know, one of The Calls.
I was completely jittery when he called and said, "So. I have news."
I said, "I love news."
And he said, "You won't love this news."
To be continued...
Friday, August 20, 2010
Okay. So I've had a lot of people ask me how the hell I managed to be nineteen and on my third agent. This is actually a topic I've been fairly quiet about, but I think it's helpful for me to be honest because my story is actually, in my opinion, a very good example of the kinds of problems and decisions you might have to make with regards to agents.
So. Here's what happened. I will not be naming every name, because the purpose of this post isn't to call out anyone but to take you through the thought process in choosing an agent, leaving an agent, and dealing with losing an agent.
This is a very long story, so I'm going to divide it into three posts.
I queried four different manuscripts for a total of a year before I got my first offer, which turned into four by the end of that week. It felt as if something had fallen from the sky and landed on my head. Something awesome.
I was sixteen and still fairly new in the online writing community (though not new to writing)
I talked to three of the four agents on the phone. I asked the fourth (actually, the first to offer) if she'd like to talk, and she said she didn't think there was any reason to do a phone call. The first phone call went well. The second went VERY well, and I was pretty sure that unless something unprecedented happened, I would be going with her. The third phone call was fine, but we didn't click, so I confidently went with #2.
Factors in my decision:
--My friend was with her and loved her.
--We clicked on the phone. She was talkative, gregarious, and completely enthusiastic about my work.
--She offered on another manuscript, while all the others offered on BREAK. I liked the other one more and liked the possibility of going out with that one first. We ended up going out with BREAK anyway, and the one she offered on never sold, so there you go.
Things didn't work out.
I feel like an idiot now, thinking about the stuff I let happen before the split. But my logic was really clear: I thought it was normal.
I thought it was normal that my agent didn't do a lot of contract negotiations or ask me for my input.
I thought it was normal that I had to send five to ten emails on a subject, spread out over a period of months, before I would get a response. I thought being on sub meant months of silence followed by, after extensive nagging, an email with every rejection she'd collected but not mentioned.
I thought it was normal that she'd promise edits on my manuscript and never send them.
I want to make two things very clear:
1. This was a legitimate agent. She did not charge any fees or do anything unethical. She didn't steal anyone's work or money. She successfully sold my first novel. She came from a well-known agency. She had many sales before mine and some after. Many of her authors have gone on to be very successful.
I was not cheated, victimized, or taken advantage of.
I just made a mistake.
Which leads me to point two:
2. I was not an idiot. I was young and naive, yes, but I was not in a bubble. I was an active member on AW and knew a fair amount of writers. The Musers existed even before I signed with this agent, and they were with me through this whole process. So the reason I thought this was okay wasn't because of a lack of information.
Really, it was the opposite.
Because this happens to so many people.
I know so many people who have signed with agents--agents that other people I respect have and love--and the relationship did not work for them. Many of them had the same problems I did: lack of responsiveness. There's a reason that I mentioned to both agent 2 and agent 3 that I was paranoid about them dropping off the face of the earth. It happens.
It happens more often than you'd think.
And people don't leave because they are so grateful to have an agent, because getting an agent is hard. And because everyone around them seems so fucking chipper, that they think the problem might be them. They have a great agent. They have the same agent as a celebrity or a friend of theirs or they have the agent that everyone's talking about over on AW. They do not have a bad agent. They wouldn't be that stupid.
No one wants to be the guy who leaves his agent.
When I was applying to college, one of my favorite teachers said to my class, a group of stressed out, hyped up, first semester seniors, "You know, you don't have to get it right the first time. Plenty of people transfer. It's okay."
And we smiled and nodded and uh-hmmed and in our heads we're all going, "Not me, no way, transferring is for other people."
I was the fucking queen of transferring is for other people. I applied Early Decision to the school I knew, absolutely knew, I was going to go to.
I left after a semester.
I am so, so happy that I did.
I left my first agent after 15 months. And I so, so wish I had done it sooner.
Which is why I want to run around spreading the gospel now.
I know what it's like to be happy with my agent. (Hey Suzie!) At the time, I didn't. I didn't know if it could get better.
If you're asking yourself if it can, it can.
Do not stay in a relationship that makes you unhappy. If you have an issue that you have broached that cannot be solved, it might be time to leave. If you two cannot see eye-to-eye on something important, it might be time to leave.
If you think it might be time to leave, it is almost definitely time to leave.
Obviously I appreciate the value of agents. Scroll down a post if you don't believe me. But all those things that I mentioned down there? I only realized they were true when I got with an agent who worked for me.
You need and deserve an agent who works for you.
And just because an agent is great does NOT mean she works for you.
The next post will go over what happened after I left Agent 1 and how I connected with Agent 2. I'll take any questions in the comments, as always, and please feel free to email me if you have any questions you don't want all over the internet (she says as she sprays her problems all over the internet).
Tuesday, August 10, 2010
There ARE real posts coming at some point. I promise. I even have ideas for them (okay, ideas for one). But I'm in Orlando until Friday, so for now, have a teaser! It's from Invincible Summer. It's the scene I read at the Muser reading last week!
“No love without a little innocence,” Noah says, completely still.
“I thought you were asleep. You’re so creepy.”
He shrugs. “So how was your lovely innocent night?”
“I kissed her.”
“What a man.” But he says it warmly. “How was it?”
My first thought is to relate it to soft serve ice cream, but I can already hear Noah laughing at that. “It was nice.”
“God. God, really, it was nice?” He sounds so earnest that I think for a minute that he’s making fun of me. He props himself up on an elbow. “God, I fucking miss when kisses were nice. I’m so jealous of people young enough to still have nice kisses.”
“Wait, kissing isn’t nice anymore?”
“No. It’s foreplay. Trust me, you get old enough, and everything is foreplay. Kissing is foreplay. Talking is foreplay. Holding hands is foreplay. I swear to God, Chase, I think at this point, sex would be foreplay.”
This would probably be a good time to ask if he and Melinda have really slept together, but I can’t make myself say the words. So I just say, “That doesn’t even make sense.”
“Sex is a to-do list where nothing gets crossed out.”
I find the passage Noah quoted in my Camus book. “No love without a little innocence. Where was the innocence? Empires were tumbling down; nations and men were tearing at one another’s throats; our hands were soiled. Originally innocent without knowing it, we were now guilty without meaning to be: the mystery was increasing our knowledge. This is why, O mockery, we were concerned with morality. Weak and disabled, I was dreaming of virtue!”
Noah looks at me and coughs, his eyebrows up in his bangs.
“What?” I say.
With a straight face, he recites, “I may not have been sure about what really did interest me, but I was absolutely sure about what didn’t.”
“Come on. It’s foreplay? Seriously?”
“You’re too young.” He flops backwards. “You wouldn’t understand. You are a fetus in a world of Camus and spermicidal lubricant.”
“And you’re an asshole.”
“I’m just cynical. And you have no idea how far that’s going to take me.”
“Neither do you.”
“Au contraire, little brother. I know exactly how this college game works. I will arrive, the dark horse in a band of mushy-hearted freshman. College will pee itself in terror of my disenfranchised soul.”
I roll my eyes. “Beautiful.“
“Look. Listen to my words of wisdom. College’s only role these days, for a upper-middle class kind going in for a fucking liberal arts degree, is very simple. Do you know what that is?”
“A diploma. A good job. Yay.”
“No. College exists only because it thrives on the hopes and dreams of the young and innocent. College is a hungry zombie here to eat your brains. It wants to remind you that your naivety is impermanent and someday, English major or no, you’ll wear a suit and hate the feeling of sand between your toes.”
It’s not going to happen to me.
Noah continues, in a low mutter, “Like that’s not already forced into our heads every single fucking minute of every winter.”
“So you’re, like, essentially already educated, just because you’re an asshole?”
“Because I’ve resigned myself to my fate, yeah. I’ve pre-colleged myself. I’m rocking the institution, entering it already all disillusioned and shit. I’m going to single-handedly change the world of higher education.”
I clear my throat. “I may not have been sure about what really did interest me, but I was absolutely sure about what didn’t.”
“Go to sleep. Asshole.”