Wednesday, March 31, 2010

RTW: You + $$$ = ?

I considered posting a video of me blinking one eye at a time to see who else can do that, but then I remembered that it's Road Trip Wednesday over at YA Highway, and I haven't participated in awhile (because I live in Crazy Town, Population 1), so I'm going to do that instead.

Today's question is: if you had the insane success of S.Meyer and JK (I talk about them like they're my homies), what would you do with all that $$$?

I am more prepared to answer this question than I should be, I think. Because I have a step by step list.

1. Buy a house. Also: get married. It's already part of the plan, but if we had major $$$, we could do it sooner. Anyway, when I say "house," I don't mean "giant monstrosity." I mean a nice little house with a nice little yard...possibly in Green Lake, Wisconsin...where the view out my windows would look like this...

2. Donate. I have an organization in mind. Particularly given some of the themes Divergent (briefly) touches on. And some of the problems the kids in my old high school seem to be facing recently. I will probably go into this more at a later date.

3. Invest. Yes, I really am that lame person who answers this question this way.

4. At that point, after all my sensible uses of money are done, I would do the following things:

A. Fill a pool with mini marshmallows and jump into it.
B. Rent out a cafeteria and have a GIANT FOOD FIGHT. Really.
C. Statewide scavenger hunt. A few groups of people, a few strategically placed clues in the wilderness of Illinois...funtimes all around.
D. I would go to this site and go totally nuts. For example, I would purchase this LED faucet light that changes color depending on the temperature of your water:


(Can you IMAGINE the ridiculousness? I CAN.)

But really, after all is said and done, what I would mostly do with a whole lot of cash is WRITE ALL THE TIME. Day jobs? Pshh. Who needs them? If I could just set up a nice little room in which I could write all day and supply myself with infinite tea, I'd be pretty much good.

Friday, March 26, 2010

Reasons Why Your Non-Writer Friends Think You're Crazy

I think the title says it all.

1. You spend most of your time in your bedroom/office with the door closed, which is what teenage boys do when they're watching porn. You, however, are not doing that. So what the heck are you doing? Building a bomb? Inventing a new kind of sticky tack?'re writing? Writing what? What's it about? Does it have a title? Why are you giving me that murderous look?

2. As you write, you slouch further and further in your chair, and lean closer and closer to the screen, and when people disturb you, you are irritable. In other words, you are beginning to resemble Gollum.

Just don't start referring to your manuscript as The Precious.

3. You read Young Adult books. Is this some kind of childhood regression thing? Are you trying to get in touch with your inner child? Can't you watch Disney movies instead?

4. At the end of a full day of writing, it would not be inaccurate for you to say some of the following things:

"I killed someone today."
"I made someone stab someone else in the eye with a fork today." (...Or maybe that's just me.)
"Well, you know, sometimes massacres just happen."
"Did you know that a traumatic brain injury inflicted on the back of the head can cause a person to lose their color vision permanently?" (...and it's called cerebral achromatopsia.)

Basically, you sound like an axe-murderer or a sadist or at least someone who knows a little bit too much about brain injuries. And the truth is, most of us are happiest when our characters are knee-deep in crap (figuratively speaking). What's sane about that? Nothing. (But if wrecking my characters' lives is wrong, baby, I don't wanna be right.)

5. You spend a lot of your time writing formal letters to people you don't know and have never met.

6. Some of those people you don't know, you follow on Twitter, so you feel like you know them, and if you ever see them in person, you're probably going to say something inappropriate like "Aww, how are your cats?" or "Your son sure is a handful." (If this has happened to anyone, tell me the story! I feel like it MUST have happened at least once, but I've never witnessed it.)

7. You obsessively refresh your inbox so much that you do it while talking to people, and when you do get an email, you have a tiny little aneurysm/panic attack until you realize that it's Northwestern University, telling you that the Frostbite Express bus line will be running tomorrow because it's negative 10000000 degrees in Chicago in January. (...)

8. Once upon a time, you wrote 300 pages in two months. Consequently, your roommates, who like any normal people don't even like to write a five page paper, think that you must possess magical powers or have a bargain going with a mustache-twirling devil or at least be some kind of savant who can't remember to tie her shoes or can't muster a Friday night social activity to save her life, but somehow manages to invent entire worlds within the confines of her brain. Which, by the way, sounds a lot like a delusion.

Which sounds a lot like crazy.

9. You're only 21, but you have carpal tunnel syndrome from all the typing and have to wear a brace when you sleep.

10. You go through periods of depression when you finish a project, because it's sort of like sending one of your children to college. ("If the kids make fun of you, come right back home and I'll revise you!")

And there you have it. Ten reasons why your non-writer friends or loved ones think you're bonkers. Nuts. Crazy.

Got any more?

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Two for Tuesday

Again, I am in the sad position of not having written anything new (well, that's not true. I've written a lot of new things for Divergent, but I think I've shared enough of that particular manuscript!), so I thought it would be fun to participate in the fabulous Kate Hart's Tuesday Thingy, also known as Two for Tuesday. In which I pick two things I like, be they videos or pictures or websites or whatever, post them, and find some way to relate them.

Item 1

25 English Language Oddities

Basically, this is a list of strange things some really bored guy noticed about the English language. My personal favorites are:

16. "The sixth sick sheik’s sixth sheep’s sick" is said to be the toughest tongue twister in English.

I am considering recording myself trying to say said tongue twister and posting it here. Wait, no-- I just tried it and I'm pretty good at it. It's only worth posting if I make an idiot of myself. (That's Rule Number 7 of this blog, by the way.)

10. Antidisestablishmentarianism listed in the Oxford English Dictionary, was considered the longest English word for quite a long time, but today the medical term pneumonoultramicroscopicsilicovolcanoconiosis is usually considered to have the title, despite the fact that it was coined to provide an answer to the question ‘What is the longest English word?’.

How the HECK do you say that? Noo-mo-ul-tra-mic-ro-scop-ic-sili-co-vol-can-ee-oh-sis. Yes, I JUST TYPED THAT OUT. BAM.

And this one is the best:

1. “Ough” can be pronounced in eight different ways. The following sentence contains them all: “A rough-coated, dough-faced ploughman strode through the streets of Scarborough, coughing
and hiccoughing thoughtfully."

Holy crap! I never realized that before! Stand back. My brain may explode.

Item 2

Why Do Women Love Sugar?

I have been perplexed for years by my boyfriend's casual disregard of desserts. He'll eat them, but they definitely don't matter to him, and if you gave him a choice between bacon and chocolate cake, I bet you a kazillion dollars that he would choose the bacon every time, whereas I would rather lose my pinkie finger than give up chocolate cake forever. (Okay, maybe that's not true. I'm fond of my pinkie finger.)

I also add about 3 teaspooons of sugar to my tea, and he adds half a teaspoon, and sometimes pokes fun at me in that "want some tea with that sugar?" way, although thank goodness he's cool enough to never say that phrase exactly.

BUT NOW, thanks to that article, I can feel secure in knowing that there are some biological reasons why I want sugar all the time. SCORE. To sum it up for you, it could be because:

A. We're trying to keep our weight up so we can sustain a pregnancy (Translation: Blame Estrogen)
B. We naturally have a lower serotonin level in our brains, and sweet foods help our brain produce serotonin (Translation: Blame Yo' Brain)

How Are They Related?

Gosh, I don't know. They're informative. There. TA DA! *jazz hands*

ETA: No, really. Jazz hands.

(PS: I am clever and pressed the "take picture" button with my toe. Again I say: BAM!)

Friday, March 19, 2010

Scoot On Over To...

Today, my thoughts are taking up temporary residence at Steph Bowe's blog, here.

Despite the fact that I somehow managed to write too little on the current MS rather than too much, I think I am generally an over-writer. So I thought I would share my manuscript chopping strategies.

I hope my axe doesn't get rusty while I revise Divergent. Bahaha.

Things I've Learned: Flashing. Wait, What?

There are varied opinions about flashbacks floating around in the ether, so feel free to disagree with me on any and all points if you so desire. But here is my opinion about them:

I think of flashbacks as rain soaked pants falling off your story's buns.

No, I'm not going to apologize for it.

Okay, maybe a little. Sorry.

Some people like to write stories in which the crap hits the fan during the course of the narrative (I am one of those people). But some people like to write stories that take place just after the crap has hit the fan, or perhaps several months or years afterward. And those types of stories generally require some sort of discussion of the past. That's where the flashbacks come in.

The problem with flashbacks? When left to my own devices, I skim them. I don't care if they contain huge explosions or unicorns or red velvet cupcakes raining from the sky. They don't usually hold my interest.

Last year, I wrote this novella, and the climactic moment of my story involved letting the reader discover a traumatic event that had happened in my main character's past. So the novella went into this huge memory sequence and then bounced back into the main narrative and unraveled.

My writing professor told me something I'll never forget, which was "do not locate the central conflict of your story in the past."

What that means to me is: if the central conflict of your story is in the past, then maybe THAT should be your story. There's no point in situating your story in the present if the real meat of it is in the past. Makes sense, right?

You can have a painful and/or complicated backstory, but that backstory should not be unloaded on the reader in large chunks. In fact, I think there is a perfectly acceptable way to let the backstory come into the main narrative, and that is in little pieces.

Memories are often triggered by sensory stimuli like distinct smells, sounds, or images. If your character runs into those stimuli from time to time, we can get little pieces of the memory without getting Saggy Narrative Syndrome.

Let me get a little funky with this. Here is the basic shape of a story:

The story has rising action that builds to a climactic moment/scene/situation, after which the action and tension gradually subside until the story ends. (Note: there are many exceptions to this rule.) Now, if you want to have a complicated backstory, the stuff inside the story can look like this:

Yes, that's right, a spiral. It continually returns to the same information, expanding each time.

Let's say you want your MC, Jimmy, to have gotten in a nasty marshmallow explosion six months before the story starts. (Mmm. Marshmallows.) In the first few pages, Jimmy watches Charlie and the Chocolate Factory and his inner monologue says: "Mmm. I haven't had one of those since the marshmallow accident."

The reader goes: "Wait...marshmallow accident? TELL ME MORE."

Awhile later, Jimmy encounters a candy bar and thinks, "I wonder what would happen if I stuck this in the microwave? Oh wait. That's what led to the marshmallow explosion."

We've got a little more information now. Jimmy caused the marshmallow explosion via some sort of microwaving tomfoolery. (I don't know why this would happen. Bear with me.)

Awhile after that, Jimmy finds a bag of marshmallows in his pantry. His throat feels tight and he backs away slowly. He thinks: "Remember what Doctor Snippetysnap told you about running into those marshmallows again. Just forget about the sea of stickiness all over the kitchen that you had to clean up with a toothbrush. Take deep breaths and imagine yourself in a Marshmallow-Free Zone."

I think you get what I'm saying. The memories return to us periodically throughout the manuscript, which means that we understand the backstory, but we remain focused on the main narrative. You get to keep the momentum of your story while retaining the complexity that makes it unique.

To sum up, things to think about when considering flashbacks:

A. Do memories really work that way? Are you ever sitting somewhere and you just go into this zone where you re-play an entire scene of your life in vivid detail from start to finish? Because that's not how my memory works. I remember little pieces of things and continually return to them, often with different details every time. Just something to think about.

B. Are flashbacks messing with your narrative momentum? You want your reader to be propelled forward by every part of your story. The last thing you want is to remove them from the main narrative, thus deflating the tension you've worked so hard to build.

C. Is the central conflict of your story located in a past event? This doesn't mean that a past event can't be of crucial importance to your plot. It's just that the aftermath of the event should be more important than the event itself. The act of remembering the event in greater detail should do something important for your character and influence their behavior in the main narrative, rather than just providing your reader with more information. The memories have to be for the character as well as for the reader.

And there you have it. My thoughts on flashbacks.

Flash forwards, on the other hand...

(Just kidding.)

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Put DOWN the Axe!

I have discovered what The Best Thing Ever is (at least in terms of writing), and it is this:

Adding things when you revise.

I know what you're thinking. "What is this adding you speak of? Are you confused? Do you perhaps mean subtraction?"

To which I say: "Why do you have a fake British accent in my head?" And also: "No, I am not mistaken or confused." I'm saying that you finish your manuscript, you get some revision notes, and you discover that instead of trimming the fat of your sorta chunky but still totally lovable manuscript, you have to beef it up. Feed it some cheeseburgers. Generally make it look more like a healthy, well-rounded...word document.

I know this sounds easier than the other way around (chopping the MS down). And it's so exciting! Because I get to sit here and think of new ideas and develop my characters more and build this world that I love, but here's the problem: I almost always write too much. Therefore I have well-developed axe-ing muscles. If you want me to, I'll flex them. Okay, no I won't, because they don't actually exist, but you know what I mean. I have put a lot of time and effort into developing my chopping abilities, only now they are completely useless. I'm sure they won't be useless forever, but still.

I am confident that I'll be able to add stuff to the manuscript. That isn't the problem. The problem is getting started. Right now I'm staring at this blank document thinking of my manuscript as a mostly-completed game of Jenga. If I add ONE MORE JENGA PIECE to the top of this thing, I feel like it's all going to topple. My mother says something along the lines of "the hardest part about art is knowing when to stop" (sorry if I butchered that, Mom!), and I think that has taken root in my mind even though it is currently not relevant. I thought I knew when to stop. I stopped too early. And it's not like I can't go back and take things out again.

So even though it's totally irrational, and even though I've made a list and I know exactly what needs to go into the manuscript, I am experiencing. Blank. Terror.

(AKA: the word document that just can't seem to be filled with words.)

My current plan of action is to go for a run, then come back and reread some of the manuscript, take a deep breath, brew some tea, listen to the Divergent playlist, and get over it already.

Anyone else have solutions to The Blank Terror that I should know? Or that the world should know? (You know. Because the World checks my blog. I promise.)

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Teaser Tuesday? No. Story Time.

I know it's Teaser Tuesday, but MAN do I have a story for you guys, and I think you'll find it more interesting than a snippet of my thesis, which is the only writing I've done for the past week. (Thesis FTL!)

How to begin. Ah, I know:

Once upon a time, I signed up for a writer's conference called Midwest Writers at Ball State University in Muncie, Indiana. Where is Muncie, Indiana, you ask? Why, it's smack dab in the middle of a corn field. Here, let me show you:

Yes, I took that while driving. No, I did not injure myself or anyone else.

While at Midwest Writers, I met several lovely and talented people, two of whom are currently my workshop buddies, Lara and Abby. I also signed up for a pitch session with an agent named Joanna Stampfel-Volpe of Nancy Coffey Literary and Media Representation. But we're getting ahead of ourselves.

After the first day, I hung out with this big table of people after all the old people left for the day. Joanna was one of them. We all talked about creative ways to give out business cards (my contribution was Spiderman-like business-card-spewing wrist attachments) and movies and whatnot, and I instantly liked her. Plus, she laughed at my Spiderman joke, and anyone who finds me funny is someone I want to keep around.

(Because I make a lot of jokes. And when people don't laugh at those jokes, I get nervous, so I make more jokes, and soon I'm trapped in this insane joke-making cycle where people are staring blankly at me and I want a big hole to open up beneath me so I can disappear and stop the MADNESS already.)

Later I pitched my book to her, and she requested a partial, and at dinner some chicken juice squirted on her shirt and she made some comment about chicken splashies, at which point I decided that we were destined to work together. Well, not really. I try not to make assessments about destiny. I did decide that it would be mega kickass if we worked together, though.

Long story short: partial in. Revisions requested. Revisions supplied. Manuscript ultimately turned down in what was possibly the nicest rejection ever. And my response?

I wrote another book. And when it was finished and as polished as I could make it, she was the first person I queried.

I want to handle this part of the story delicately, because it involves a difficult decision that made someone I really like sad. So suffice it to say that it wasn't all sunshine and rainbows, but I will tell you about the sunshine and rainbows part.

On Sunday, I got a phone call at about 9PM. Okay, so you know how, while you're querying, you spend a lot of time refreshing your inbox and irrationally convincing yourself that every unknown number that calls you is an agent who will tell you that all your dreams have come true? Well, sometimes that unknown number IS actually an agent, calling to tell you that she lost power, which is why she couldn't send you an email, and PS, she's offering you representation.

Sometimes you respond with a silent scream and some quiet flailing and a comment about being on the way to Steak 'n Shake that you later regret because it is your tendency to think you sound like an idiot at all times on the phone. I know Debra Driza is familiar with this feeling.

And sometimes that agent makes a remark about being sorry it was all so informal, and you say, "No. It's perfect." Because it really was.

I had a lot of thinking to do, though. So after not sleeping until the wee hours of the morning because I was thinking about what I was going to do, I woke up to some incredible revision notes and the stupid fire alarm testing in my apartment building. If you're anything like me, you often feel like you just can't quite reproduce the vision you have in your head for your book, like when you set out to draw something and you can see it really clearly but it never comes out right on paper. And when I read those notes, I was convinced that Joanna's suggestions would help me to match the vision I had for Divergent with my actual manuscript.

If there was a sound for that feeling, it would be BAM.

Then we had a great conversation, during which I shockingly did not feel like an idiot, and I decided I wanted this funny, smart, spot-on-critiquer and generally awesome person to be my agent.

And then I got off the phone and did this:

(That is a re-enactment of my happy dance. And that pained look is my dancing face. Don't make fun. Also: see? I am tall.)

And then I sent a very difficult email to a very gracious and kind person.

And then I signed the papers.

And then I spent the rest of the day feeling like a small child hopped up on sugar on Christmas Eve.

Oh. And this morning I woke up and made this list of all the scenes I must now write:

Because it's REVISING TIME, behbeh!

And that is the story of how I came to be represented by Joanna Stampfel-Volpe.

Saturday, March 13, 2010

In Defense of 1st Person

Recently I have noticed that there seem to be some misconceptions floating around about the ease with which people write in first person, and because I've (relatively) recently broken the barrier in my own head and started writing mostly in 1st, I figured it was time to talk about it.

Basically, my thoughts in a nutshell: 1st person isn't easy. And here's why.

Okay, so the opinion that 1st is easy is not without foundation. When I start a project in 1st, I can usually figure out the voice a lot faster, because I already have a sense of who the character is-- like if she's a snarky little jerk, the 1st person voice will sound like a snarky little jerk. If she's humorless and to the point (*cough*maincharacterofDivergent*cough*), the writing will be that way. I generally start with a character in mind, so I also start with a voice in mind. Therefore it is often easier for me to get the ball rolling in 1st. And even to complete the entire project.

But here's the problem: when I get feedback about my plot, either from inside my crazy head or from outside of it, my decision to write in 1st person usually bites me in the butt. Hard. Because if someone says "well, I don't think that this part of the world you created is fleshed out enough" and you've stuck the entire story inside a single character's head, whatever facet of that society that is missing has to be experienced by that character, or it doesn't have a place in the narrative. So how on earth am I supposed to navigate my MC to all corners of the earth in order to build my world?

Most of the time, my answer to that question is a blank stare.

Also, while you, the author, may know everything about your story, your MC doesn't necessarily know all those things, and you have to find a way to tell the reader about them without the MC doing the telling, which is EXACTLY as complicated as it sounds. In 3rd person, I could probably provide my reader with whatever information he or she needs to know, depending on how distant my narrator is. But in 1st...good luck.

Telling a story in 1st restricts that story to a certain viewpoint. Your reader lives in your character's brain, so you'd better be damn sure that your character's brain is a tolerable place to live, and you'd better be able to get all the pieces of the story together. Some people solve this with a roving 1st person POV (chapter 1, character 1. Chapter 2, character 2) but THEN you encounter the problem of your second character not being as interesting or likable as your first, in which case your readers might skip or skim the chapters told from that POV (I have done this.)

So...easy? NOT SO MUCH.

In summation: writers? Don't get all snooty toward your fellow men and women. Writing is hard no matter what POV you're in. That's why we're all in this together. know, sort of separately. (Because we're all hermits.)


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