Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Plot & Structure by James Scott Bell

A few people have mentioned this book on Twitter, and then yesterday, I saw an entire blog post on it (and I'm sorry, but I can't for the life of me remember where I saw it!). After work I had an hour or so to kill in Harvard Square, so I ran into the Coop and bought it.

Holy wow, what a valuable resource.

In the past, when I've written, I've sort of bopped along on this blind, "Weeeee I want my characters to go HERE and do THIS and then THAT THING will happen and it will be GREAT!" Sure, I thought about plot. I knew it was important. I thought, "Hey, I've got one of those!" But it wasn't until I started paging through Bell's book that I really became mindful of the elements of plot and successful structures.

I've been working on my shiny new idea, but hadn't actually started writing. I had my characters in mind, my setting, and basically what I wanted to convey and some scenes I wanted to write. But after reading the first half of Plot & Structure, I was actually able to sit down and figure out just what the hell I'm doing with this story. Using his LOCK method (Lead, Objective, Confrontation, Knockout), I was finally able to articulate just what I wanted to happen with this shiny idea without using ten thousand words, a few ums, and a lot of awkward pauses.

What I like best about the book is that he writes it with commercial fiction in mind. A lot of his examples come from folks like Stephen King, James Patterson, and Dean Koontz. Now, people pretty much universally acknowledge King to be .. well, the King of writing (I definitely recommend reading his book On Writing). But most writers will roll their eyes if you mention Patterson or Koontz. But those folks are writing books people want to read, so there's something going right there. I'll say it: I want to write commercial fiction! And I don't think that has to be the equivalent to saying "I want to have sex for money" (because let's be honest, lots of writers will recoil in faux-horror when you mention the c-word in relation to writing).

Bell takes a lot of the technical jargon you might hear in your average creative writing class and reframes it in a way that makes sense to me. His writing is very conversational, which makes it a fun read and not some technical snooze-fest that I find in so many other writing manuals.  So for anyone struggling with the mechanics of plot and/or structure (by the way, those things are different ... thanks James Scott Bell!), I definitely recommend picking this one up.

Saturday, March 26, 2011

Don't mind me, I'll just be in the corner hugging my Kindle

I am the proud owner of a wi-fi Kindle. My mom got it for me for my birthday, because she's amazing and has been a cheerleader to my voracious reading ever since I was a wee tot. Sure, the 3G one is better, but my bank account is not set up for constant access to I need some boundaries, people. Anyway, it seems like I can't refresh my Google Reader without seeing another blog post about the decline of books or some sappy poetry about the smell of the printed page.

It seems like the YA book blogging/authoring community have been early adopters of e-reading technology. Which frankly should say something, people. We WRITE books, and we're not overly obsessed with the physicality of them (don't get me wrong, I will still take great pleasure from walking into a bookstore and purchasing my own book ... I'll probably tell anyone who comes within 10 feet of me that I WROTE THIS BOOK! ME! THAT'S MY NAME! RIGHT THERE ON THE COVER!). Well you can now count me amongst the numbers of people are having a total love affair with their Kindle. And here's why:

An entire library in my hand
From the time I could read, I never went anywhere without a book. I'd even cram a paperback into my purse to go to church as a kid, and my mom used to have to order me to put the book down when we'd go out to restaurants. As I grew older, I found I was having more difficulty traveling with just one book. I needed something fun and frivolous (chick lit or a rom com or whatever fluffy name we're giving to beach reads), and something serious (more along the lines of American Psycho or Looking for Alaska ... two books that probably shouldn't be grouped together. Ever.) Instead of loading my purse down with two or three books (or giving up and going out on the town with a rolling suitcase), now I can have an entire selection of reading material in one lightweight place. This allows me to hop back and forth between Steve Martin's An Object of Beauty and E. Lockhart's The Boyfriend List.
Commuting with a free hand
I take the train in to work in the mornings. If any of you are familiar with Boston's MBTA (or The T, as it's known), then you know that it's often late ... VERY late. From switch problems to disabled trains, the average Boston commuter is endowed with a vast knowledge of public transit mechanical jargon thanks to the frequency with which America's oldest subway system breaks down. You know who doesn't care but AT ALL when the train is late? Me. It simply means I get more time to hang out in the station or trapped in the tunnel in my seat, sucked into whatever book I'm reading that day. Plus, the Kindle makes it easy for me to read if I don't get a seat (and still hang on to something while the train heaves and groans through the tunnels), or even use a free hand to clutch my precious grande nonfat iced chai from Starbucks.

I'm saved from heinous book covers
YA book covers are embarrassing. Don't believe me? Simply google the phrase "embarrassing YA book covers" and check out all the blog posts that come up. Just yesterday Forever Young Adult actually composed a song about the terribleness of the hot pink pink covers and close-ups on lips and eyeballs and warm embraces. Like I mentioned, my Kindle goes into heavy rotation when I'm on the train, and there are no shortage of tweets, blogposts, and eyerolls over what insipid trash people read on the T in Boston (I've ready some gut-busting tweets about how everyone and their dog is reading Stieg Larsson books). But with the Kindle, no one knows if I'm reading War and Peace or Hex Hall (though when I start laughing out loud on the train, I'm pretty sure they know I'm not reading War and Peace). Right now I'm reading Jenna & Jonah's Fauxmance by Emily Franklin and Brendan Halpin. It's freaking hilarious, a perfectly fun, hoppin' boppin' little book. But do I really need that hot pink cover, complete with hearts and the silly title, on display for the entire Boston commuter population to see? Um, no.

I was one of those people who was initially unsure, who would wax poetic about the smell/feel/taste of a book or whatever. But then I got the Kindle, fell in love, and got over myself. I love the damn thing. I'll still buy books. If I read something that absolutely bowls me over and becomes a new favorite/Lauren classic, I'll buy the actual book. This is why I have everything John Green's ever written and the entirety of Megan McCafferty's Jessica Darling series.

But seriously folks. Can we calm down with the gnashing of teeth and tearing of hair and just learn to love e-readers?

Thursday, March 24, 2011

I've moved! Meaning, I'm here now!

I used to host my blog over at Tumblr, and I absolutely loved the community over there. Sadly, their infrastructure is just waaaaaay too unstable these days, and I can't handle having my blog unavailable every third time I try to access it. Thus, I'm back on Blogger! I think this will ultimately be a pretty good move, since so many of my fellow YA authors make their home around these parts.

To get started, I put a couple of my old blog posts up here, namely the ones that are related to my little publishing journey. If you want to read all the old stuff, feel free to mosey on over there and check it out.

Going forward, though, all the action will be here! Looking forward to being a part of the whole YA world here on Blogger. Tell your friends!

I Wrote A Book

*This post was written on January 26, 2011 and originally appeared on my old blog

To all the authors out there who wax poetic about the beauty and joy of first drafting … what are you people on? What drugs can I get that will make the pain of staring at a blinking cursor and a blank page but a distant memory? I’ve been writing this book for months now, and almost none of it has been joyful.

Maybe writing a first draft is like a less-messy version of giving birth (though with the paper cuts, there’s certainly still blood). During, you think nothing could ever hurt worse or scare you more. You vow that you will NEVER. DO. THIS. AGAIN. and if someone could just make this stop and escort you to the beach, you would do anything for them, no matter how vulgar or inappropriate. ANYTHING. And maybe you’d let them film it. Then it’s over, and a day later you’re telling your friends it’s not that bad. No really, not that bad! Get a week away and you’re already giddy about doing it over again, forgetting about the wailing, the gnashing of teeth, the threats of violence to anyone who enters the room.

Talk to me tomorrow, and maybe I’ll be there. Today I’m just an empty shell of a writer. Perhaps it’s because I’ve gotten about 4 hours of sleep each night for the past four nights. When I finally do lay down in bed, exhausted and covered in paper cuts from editing, I can’t quite drift off like I want to. You see, I can’t make it stop. My brain keeps going, narrating away, quoting dialogue and cataloging action. It’s *gasp* telling, not showing!

Only it’s not narrating my book.

No, I have an inner narrator who clears his voice and starts narrating my life. He sounds like a mixture of Steve Martin in Father of the Bride and Daniel Stern in The Wonder Years. My inner narrator really likes to focus on all the things I’ve done wrong, all the mistake, pitfalls, and fails I’ve experienced. He likes to point out all the times over the last month when I could have been working, but instead was flitting about like a frivolous child. Remember that time you took a whole day off to play in the snow? Remember all those emails you sent? Remember that time you video chatted?!?! He likes to tell me all the shit I did wrong and all the shit I’m about to do wrong. And when he’s run out of those things, he likes to narrate me playing roller derby and getting annihilated for an entire bout.

My inner narrator is kind of an asshole, is what I’m saying.

So talk to me tomorrow, my first day post-deadline. Maybe then I’ll be hyped about the miracle of life that is the first draft. Today? Today I just want to drink ALL THE DRINKS and then sleep for days.

I got the call on Thursday night. Laura from Paper Lanter Lit had some news for me...

 *This post was written on November 4, 2010 and originally appeared on my old blog

“So we accepted an offer from Wendy Loggia. She’s a totally amazing editor and she loved it. We got a two-book deal, and why are you so quiet right now?”

Well, mostly because I was standing in the middle of my bedroom, pacing back and forth trying to figure out what to do with myself. I felt like I was going to scream, cry, and wet my pants all the same time. “I don’t know what to do with my self!” is what I think I ended up saying before dissolving into giggles (I tend to laugh like a mental patient when I get excited…). We chatted a bit more before she sent me off to tell some people (but not the Internet, because I had to wait until the official announcement) and have a little toast.

After the call, I walked into the kitchen, where Adam was making dinner. “They sold it to—” was about as far as I got before he hugged me and my laughter turned to joyful sobs. I felt everything you can feel when your childhood dream has come true. I still can hardly believe it’s real.

The best part is that I had to pull myself together in about 15 minutes because I had a VERY IMPORTANT meeting for roller derby. I managed to dry my tears and make my way to Cambridge Common to meet up with some fellow skaters (and yes, I totally spilled the beans, but I made them swear not to post it on the Internet!). On the way home I picked up a $3 mini bottle of champagne, then pulled out the Tiffany champagne flutes that my grandmother got us for our wedding (which we keep stored in that gorgeous blue box). The champagne tasted about as good as $3 champagne should taste, but I figure some day I’ll be able to splurge on something a little nicer. Right now I’m still a starving artist (ha ha)!

I still can’t believe I’m actually writing a blog post about getting that amazing call. Some day it’ll feel real (I tell ya, all the congrats via Facebook and Twitter are helping me get there!), but right now I still feel kind of floaty. Can’t celebrate for too long, though. There’s lots of work ahead of me. The deal is just the beginning!

What I Did

*This post was originally written on April 21, 2010 and appeared on my first blog

This is going to be a long one, folks. Bear with me…

Tomorrow, I will be returning from vacation to tell my boss that I’m leaving my job. I’ll give you a moment to process that

Yup, leaving my job. To become a full-time writer.


Ok, well only sort of. You see, this incredible opportunity fell into my lap, to take on a 17 hour a week gig in the admissions office at a local, High Fallutin’ College that shall remain nameless (though I’m sure you could guess). It pays well (broken down by the hour, I’m making $10 more an hour than I am at my current job, working almost a quarter as many hours). So I will have 17 hours worth of income rolling through my bank account. But beyond those 17 hours, I am an Author. Capital A. Author.

It’s a risk, I know. I’ve only been at my current job for a year, so I may very well be burning a bridge (aka a reference). I’m saying adios to a full-time salary (which, though not very good, is still a full-time salary…). I’m also stepping off the career path I’ve been on for the last five years (two years of a master’s degree and three years of employment). But it’s not the path I want to be on, and I’ve spent too much of my short life taking the path of least resistance. I’ll take the rocky road full of snakes and bullies with the big dose of professional satisfaction at the end, thankyouverymuch.

I started writing when I was in elementary school. I attempted my first novel in the sixth grade. I attempted several more throughout middle school and high school. I got seriously derailed by college, when I bounced from a journalism degree to a history degree, and then by my decision to apply to graduate school for education.

Then, during my first semester of graduate school, I started writing a novel I called “Preppies, Yuppies, and Movie Stars.” I was really in love with it. It was the first time I realized that I can be funny on paper while telling a story. I queried for it, and got some great responses. Stephen Barbara told me I almost made him spit out his drink while reading one of my scenes. More than once I was told I made people laugh out loud, but ultimately, I didn’t get representation. Why? Because while writing this novel, I was also taking a full graduate course load, working at an assistantship, and planning a wedding. On top of all that, I thought I had time to devote to writing and editing and editing and editing a novel.

Hey, stop laughing. STOP LAUGHING!

Preppies needed a lot of editing to get it ready for attempt #2 at submission, and I just didn’t have that kind of time. The novel went into a drawer (otherwise known as my hard drive, my external hard drive, and two flash drives, plus a hard copy printed out on my book shelf). I threw myself into grad school, then threw myself into the job search. And when I got into my first job, I was itchy. Restless. A little nervous that I wasn’t as blissfully happy as I thought I would be having accomplished my goal of graduating and moving up in the professional world.

So I started writing again. I went back and did some work on Preppies, then started outlining a new idea about a teenage romance novelist (which became I Was A Teenage Pseudonym). I was having a grand old time, but writing was still a crazy dream at that point, and I was still 100% committed to my career in education (which I kept telling myself would soon feel good, rewarding, fulfilling, or one of those other adjectives that career counselors wax poetic about). I thought maybe my unhappiness stemmed from that one job, and not the career as a whole, so I set out to get a new job. And I did. A very prestigious one with a great organization. I convinced myself that this was the dream job, the one that would take me great places and would make me feel like a happy, fulfilled professional.

Only it didn’t. Not at all. It was, in fact, a rather miserable experience. I’ll take ownership of that misery and say it was probably due to the fact that I expected this job to do too much. I expected it to make me happy, to make me feel fulfilled, to change my life. But in the end, it’s just a job, and a job can’t do all that. And so I spent a year in almost complete misery, wondering what the hell I was doing with my life and if I could ever make myself professionally happy … or even make myself like work. I hated myself for being unhappy in a job again. I don’t want to be a miserable, complaining person. I know there’s no such think as the perfect job, but I was getting kind of freaked out by the fact that I hadn’t even found the ok job.

While all this internal turmoil was going down, my relationship with Paper Lantern Lit began. You can read all about that process here, so I won’t rehash it for you. I will say that all those feelings of professional fulfillment, even when I was struggling to get words on a page, were there. I finally knew what those career counselors were trying to tell me. I’d found it.

To make a long story short, I couldn’t quite support myself on the writing alone. And about the time that realization came about, so too came this opportunity at High Fallutin’ College. I’ve spent the last five days AGONIZING over this decision. Seriously. I’ve asked anyone who would listen to offer up advice. After all of that, I finally decided. I’m doing it. I’m taking the leap.

It’s the scariest thing I’ve ever done, but I know this … I’ll never regret it. At least if it all goes up in flames, I’ll always know that I tried.

And if it works? Well, then this becomes one of those parables about great reward coming after great risk.

I have to thank my buddies Alana and Megan, who were my grad school confidantes and who are both working in the field I’m leaving. They told me not to freak out about my resume, and to take the big risk. They told me that even if it didn’t work out, I had enough experience and good will in the field that I could probably come back if I had to. They told me they would buy my book (in exchange for an acknowledgment, which they most certainly will get!). Alana, who is also currently stepping off the track by applying to law school, was a great inspiration, as was a former grad school classmate who left education to pursue her dream of being a wedding planner in LA. Cynthia has never been happier ).

I have to thank my mom, for giving me advice, even if I chose not to take it. My mom is highly sensible and I almost always listen to her, but I can’t be sensible right now. I need to be daring and adventurous and be a RISK TAKER for the first time in my life.

I’m actually going to take a page from my younger brother, who blew up his life by dropping/failing out of college after his first semester. He’s back now, after four years of doing not much, and is pursuing education AND a career in music. He (and his band) was recently featured in the New York Times. His experience showed me that life is long and you can bounce back from most anything, including a couple of arrests for reckless driving and vandalism (my brother is quite the graffiti artist).

I have to thank my guy, who told me he would support me (emotionally and financially) in whatever I decided to do. As long as I use some of the free hours to walk the dog. (Done and done).

And finally, I’m giving big ups to myself, for having the guts to do it. I’m still a little freaked out about having to deliver the news to my boss tomorrow. She’s going to be a little blindsided … but I knew it wasn’t all going to be daisies and roses when I picked this path. Here’s to hoping it’s a big damn bouquet when I get to the end.

And I'm SIGNED! Here's the story

*This post was written on March 14, 2010 and originally appeared on my old blog

Back in October, I was wandering around the Internet clicking on random things, when I found myself on Craigslist checking out the “Writing/Editing” jobs. I found an ad for a new literary production company looking for YA writers. The ad was funny and unique … and clearly written by someone with a mastery of the English language, so I wasn’t too freaked out about submitting for it. Though I have NO publishing history whatsoever … I figured it couldn’t hurt. I wrote a query letter and sent them the first ten pages of Preppies, Yuppies, and Movie Stars.

And then I promptly forgot about it.

Close to three weeks later, SURPRISE!,  I got an email saying they liked my pages. Not only liked them, but thought they were funny and thought my voice had potential. They wanted to send me some character sketches and a synopsis for a couple chapters that I would write, sort of like an audition.

Fast forward to Thanksgiving. I’m standing in the kitchen with my family, stuffed full of turkey and wine, when the promised pages finally arrive … I spent the next two weeks frantically writing, editing, brainstorming, writing, editing … rinse, repeat.

I sent it to them in early December, and just before Christmas I heard back. They liked it! Well, they liked it with some edits. If you go back and look at my entries, you’ll see that they wanted me to write in first person instead of third, and asked me to take a pass at the first chapter using their suggestions.

So I did. Cue more frantic writing and editing. I finished and sent it off in early January.

Fast forward to the end of January. I had just come home from a derby scrimmage, and found an email from the company. They wanted to call me and have a chat. I started screaming and dancing around my living room.

And that’s when I got the call from Lauren Oliver, author of Before I Fall. Not only did they love my sample, but they wanted to sign me and attach me to the project.

I’m not sure what Laura heard on the other end of the phone … probably lots of giggling and me saying “oh my gosh” and “wow” and “yay!” (Laura, please note that my writing is way better than the words I produced when reacting to this awesome news!)

I’ve been holding this news in since January 24th, as contracts got drawn up and things got finalized with the company. And now, with contracts in hand, I can finally announce to the world …


Paper Lantern Lit is a new literary production company run by Lauren Oliver, super awesome YA author, and Lexa Hillyer, super awesome YA editor (formerly with Razorbill). They are the greatest team and oh so supportive, and I’m so excited to be working with them. I really think they’re going to push me to be the best writer I can be, and I can’t think of a better situation for my first book.

So what happens now? The chapters I already wrote will get rewritten and polished, with a couple more added, until the whole package is ready to go out to editors as a proposal. From there, the hope is to get a contract with a publishing company, at which point I’ll write the rest of the book and dance around my house giggling until its publication.

For those that are wondering about a literary production company, check out Paper Lantern Lit’s FAQ page (their new website goes up this week or next, at which point that link probably won’t work anymore). The number one thing to know is that while the idea for the book was conceived by the company, I am the sole writer of the project. My name will be on the cover of the book. I am an author-for-hire. And I’ll still be working on my own stuff and sending it out for publication. Which is why I’m still moving forward with the new book while I work on the book for Paper Lantern.

So there’s my news! If you’re wondering what I’m doing to celebrate … right now I’m busy telling every corner of the Internet that OMG I GOT SIGNED WOW I’M GOING TO BE PUBLISHED! And then maybe something special for dinner … but for now, real life grinds on and I have to go to my day job tomorrow.

But maybe I’ll actually achieve my goal of writing full-time by 2011!