Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Picking Off Right Where We Left Off

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 fell.”

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

NaNo excerpt

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.

Just Roo's.

“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

Things Not To Worry About

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!