Friday, 16 August 2013

Sarah Dessen and Malaprops

This past Thursday I was so excited to go to Malaprops in Asheville to see Sarah Dessen! She's a Chapel Hill YA author whom I've written about before, and I skipped her earlier tour dates for her new novel, The Moon and More, because I knew I would be in Asheville and wanted to check out the local bookstore. I've spent some time in Malaprops, and I really love how cozy it is. They do plenty of author events too. Maybe one day I'll be speaking there.

Going to author appearances always strikes this strange chord with me. It's like watching someone sing:  I feel nervous for them. I get all jumpy and sweaty and anxious before, like it's me whose going to be up there in front of everyone. It's even worse when I have to read my stuff. I've only ever read little snippets, and I break out into cold sweats before. That kind of stage fright is something I'll have to get over if I want to be able to read my work in public.

However, Ms. Dessen was absolutely delightful. She's the kind of person you want to talk to, and she immediately put the audience at ease. At some points, she had us laughing in stitches. I think it's important to point out that authors are real people too. I felt the same surreal sensation when I went to a Stephen King book signing: authors are just like people you'd run into at the supermarket. We give them a lot of credit for their work, but it's refreshing when we realize that they also have lives which don't involve writing, they have doubts and failures, ups and downs, just like the rest of us.

This signing was short, sweet, and more intimate than others I've been to. Sarah answered plenty of questions from the audience, did trivia about her books and gave away prizes, and even had you sit down with her when she was signing books. I had a great time and instead of finding myself dumbstruck and mute, I babbled to her about what an inspiration she was, that I was a fellow Tar Heel, and that I've been following the same path she was on (writing and working in a restaurant) before she was first published. I just wanted to sit down, have coffee with her, and pick her brain!

Okay, getting a little fangirly over here so I'm going to stop, but here are a couple of pictures from the signing with Ms. Dessen and yours truly:

Can you tell I'm a little excited?

I need to practice my autograph so it's short like this. 


Tuesday, 16 July 2013

Gaining Perspective Through Setting

Recently, I spent a couple days in good old LA, which is my dad's tongue-in-cheek name for Lower Altavista, Virginia. He grew up in Altavista, a small little town about twenty minutes south of Lynchburg on highway 29. My grandmother still lives in the house my dad grew up in. They moved in the year Kennedy was shot.

I spent a lot of my childhood there discovering the same places my dad had frequented as a child. Often, when I write, those memories come back to me. I think finding something true to write about helps yield your work an authenticity that can be otherwise hard to find. I began a new Work In Progress (WIP) this summer, and the setting of the story is based on Altavista. I needed a small town, one that almost seems lost in time. You drive into town and step into a world where the world moves a little more slowly, where folks wave when you drive by, and everyone knows your last name.

My grandmother, Dodie, was a wonderful resource, acting as my official tour guide and Altavista's historian. I learned about Altavista's beginnings and how it has grown into the town it is today.

I hit a roadblock in my writing earlier, so I decided to take the trip to inspire myself with the setting. I was able to sit out on my grandmother's back porch and listen to the train whistle through town, a sound I will forever associate with Altavista. Without music or internet or anything to distract me, I watched the fireflies come out at dusk. I heard the soft crunching of something moving through the woods which begin at the end of the back yard and trail down into a ravine where the old football practice field is slowly being overgrown by vegetation. Sometimes as a writer, I feel you have to take the time to immerse yourself in your setting. You have to live it, breathe it, feel it.

A Watchful Summer (my working title) is going to be a personal novel, hopefully one where I can capture that feeling of magic and curiosity that so pervaded my childhood. In a way, this novel is for me to come full circle. When I was thirteen, I discovered a manual Royal typewriter in my grandmother's closet. We dusted it off, had the ink bands replaced, and I took it home with me where I was able for the first time to truly shut the door and write on my own time (this was before laptops - I didn't get a personal computer until I moved to college.) In fact, it's that typewriter that I found in Altavista that inspired the name of this blog.

Here's a couple of pictures to get you in the mood: 

The Avoca House (technically the back)

The front of the Avoca House  

Lovely Victorian staircase

Bedford Avenue 


Woods near the house  

Staunton River 

Railroad tracks 

Cemetery where my grandfather is buried. 


Tuesday, 11 June 2013

Querying Makes Me An Anxious Bitch

So I won't sugarcoat it; I know I've been terrible these last few months about posting anything. The sad truth is that after I finish a big writing project, I don't even want to write my name, let alone a blog post once or twice a week.

But I'm beginning to feel more refreshed and reinvigorated with my writing so hopefully, you'll be seeing me here more often, writing like I'm supposed to.

Since finishing the revision for Momentum, I spent some time dillydallying about the next step in the publishing process: querying literary agents.

Back in the day, you used to be able to send your Great American Novel as an unsolicited manuscript to the major publishing houses in hopes of hitting pay-dirt. Alas, this is no longer the way. Manuscripts ended up in the "slush" pile and were forgotten.

Nowadays, literary agents act as the "gate keepers" to the publishing world. They decide what is publishable and what is not, deciding which writers they'd like to take on. Agents maintain relationships with publishers and editors; they know the market. They're also the ones who pitch your novel and negotiate your contract once you've been offered a book deal. Basically, they're the author's advocate.

Landing an agent is my next task on the road to being published. It's not as easy as emailing someone and claiming you've written the next bestseller. It's becoming harder and harder to get noticed by agents. They receive hundreds of query emails (your book's "cover letter," like something that would be written on the back cover) a week and often are picky about what genres they're looking for and which books they'd like to take on.

I spent a week or so researching agents I hope will be interested in my book. I wrote my query letter, got together my sample chapters, and sent out my proposals.

Basically now, it's best to forget about it. Agents take several weeks to respond to queries, and more often than not, they only respond if they're interested in requesting a full or partial. Otherwise, expect radio silence. I still have a mini panic attack every time I check my email, but I'm learning to move on and if I hear from someone, then I'll celebrate. It's best not to get my hopes and take whatever response I get as a small victory.

Now I'm focusing on a new project! That's right: I have started another manuscript.

I'm actually expanding a short story I wrote last semester for one of my classes. It was well-received but during my revision, I knew the story wasn't finished. I saw the characters and the plot on a bigger scale than the 9,000 words I had already written. After finishing Momentum, it became clear to me that the story needed more.

It's always a wonderful feeling when I get The Next Idea. It is an exhilarating, singing sensation where I know - this is a Book Idea, not a short story, but a Book.

So for the time being I'm working on this new project, but I'll definitely be keeping you posted on any responses I get from my querying efforts.

Thanks for sticking with me.


Wednesday, 6 March 2013

Chapter 15 - Revision: Complete

Oh hey there. I'm back.

So I'm done with the revision to the WIP.

Kind of shell shocked about it right now.

At first I was like:

And then I did some:

 And then I was like: 

People were like, "How's the book?" and I was like:

Because I hoped it was like:

Everybody kept asking me about it and I was like:

Then I finished it and I was like:

But then reality set in:

And I realized now people will read it:

And I'm stressed about that because what if they're like:

So now I'm back to:

And done:

Okay, enough silliness. Here's some stats: 

First draft
 ~68,000 words
Started October 2011
Finished October 2012
13 chapters 
Working title: Thicker Than Water 

Second draft 
83,000 words (370 pages)
Started December 20th 2012
Finished March 5th 2013
14 chapters 
Working title: Momentum 

That's all I've got right now. Going to go wash my brain and hang it out to dry. 

Wednesday, 27 February 2013

I'm Not Gone, I Promise!

Just a quick update--I'll have more to say later--but just wanted to let you know that I am not meaning to neglect the blog. I'm at the tail end of the revision and have basically gone underground until I can get it done. I'll be back soon!

Here's a picture of Boo to hold you over:
She's asleep, by the way. 


Monday, 28 January 2013

The Weekly Wrap - Flu Edition - 1/21/13

Monday 1/21/13 - This week started off so well. I was doing just fine, right on schedule and then...

Tuesday happened. It's been blisteringly cold (which in NC terms means right around freezing) and basically awful. We've been getting sleet and mixed precipitation, everyone has been driving like a maniac because no one apparently understands how to operate a vehicle during inclement weather, and oh yeah, there's this apparent flu epidemic sweeping the nation. 

I opted out of the flu shot this year since I get sick no matter what. I was sick back in December and thought that was the worst of it, but this past week proved me wrong. Tuesday morning, I woke up with a slight headache and a sore throat. By Wednesday morning, I was ill and basically immobile on the couch, which Boo used to her full advantage. I called in to get off work (because sneezing and coughing around people's food probably isn't the best thing to do) and loaded up on the typical OTC stuff: Emergen-C, Mucinex, Sudafed, Dayquil, you name it. 

My problem is I have crappy lungs. I've had asthma since elementary school and while I almost never run a fever or get sick to my stomach, all the crud that builds up in my sinuses ends up in my chest, resulting in a scary do-you-have-tuberculosis kind of cough. The cold weather definitely wasn't helping. 

By Thursday, my inhaler wasn't cutting it and I was wheezing in all four lung fields. I dashed to the doctor's office as soon as it opened (since I was supposed to work at 11) in hopes of getting some sort of medicine. The doc had me do a nebulizer treatment (aerosol breathing treatment) to open up my lungs, which worked well. However, the deep controlled breathing combined with the fact I hadn't eaten anything in about 24 hours took its toll. I began to feel nauseous, got up to run to the bathroom to get sick, and promptly passed out in the hallway at the doc's office. Totally embarrassing. My BP had dropped too low (systolic around 80 when I normally run around 110) and I was shaking and white as a sheet. The nurses were helpful though; they had me put my feet up and breathe into a paper bag for a bit until the tingling stopped in my fingertips. 

So, after that fiasco, I stayed home again and finally got some prescriptions which have been knocking this bug out of my system. I'm feeling much better now. I'm back on my feet after being couch-bound for about three days, but still have that lovely barking cough, which should hopefully subside in the next week or so.

Needless to say, I have been a bad writer this week. I've been resting up and trying to get well, which doesn't do much for the revision. Or blogging. Or much of anything else, for that matter. I'm off schedule for finishing by the end of this month, but I'm back to it today and will keep everyone posted.

Hope everyone around here is staying safe on these icy roads!

Also, I think Boo enjoyed having me be her snuggle buddy for a couple days:

That is one spoiled dog!

Muse Food for the Week 
Being off my feet did make for some good reading (and movie watching). I finally finished King's Different Seasons, which I started back in December. I took this book in slowly because it is divided into four separate novellas.
First, we've got Rita Hayworth and the Shawshank Redemption (which the movie is based on). I read that in a morning. Absolutely loved the world of the prison and Red's telling of Andy's story. This isn't, to me, a "horror" story. It's a good story. Go read it! 
Next was Apt Pupil which explores a strange parasitic relationship between a Nazi war criminal and an adolescent boy who becomes obsessed with WWII. Totally strange, but interesting. It's a great character study and presents one of my favorite tropes, the morally ambiguous protagonist. Would Todd have turned out the way he did if he hadn't met Dussander? Hmm...
The third novella, titled The Body, tells the story of four boys who go off in search of, you named it, a dead body! Because strangely, that is what twelve year old boys do. I really loved this story. It has the same mythos that It held for me: that your childhood can be viewed through a much different lenses, that it was a cherished and strange time. 
Finally, King ends the collection with The Breathing Method which a story framed by an odd men's club that tells stories to each other. The story, this night, is of a young unmarried woman who discovers she is pregnant and the doctor who takes her under his wing. Not my favorite, but a solid story.  

Tuesday, 22 January 2013

The Weekly Wrap 1/14/13

Sorry this is a day late. There's a reason why (ahem, a book to blame), but here it is. Also, you'll notice the blog got another makeover because I am indecisive. 

Monday 1/14/13 - Today is gross and rainy which normally I would consider a perfect writing day: a moody atmosphere makes for good, moody writing which is basically my WIP in a nutshell, but I know that this gloominess is going to last for a couple of days. I'm not enthused. Thanks, graffiti, for summing it up:

I finally got my hair cut after six months though, so I guess that's an accomplishment.

Tuesday 1/15/13 -

"To be a writer is to be the very best of assassins. You do not sit down and write every day to force the Muse to show up. You get into the habit of writing every day so that when she shows up, you have the maximum chance of catching her, bashing her on the head, and squeezing every last drop out of that bitch." 
-Lili St. Crow 

Pretty much sums up my ideas on the world right now. In good news though, I hope to finish this revision by the end of January. I've passed the halfway point and if all goes according to plan, I should be done soon. These later chapters are tough though. They're the ones that need more work. You always start out so strong with a story; you've got the scene and the characters in mind. You've fallen in love and in obsession already of the way you want things to be that you even have a bit of the plot. For me, I'm aware of the ending, but I have to tease out the path there with my plot. This is where I get muddy and during revision, I have to clean up these spots.

Thankfully, my stories for my class aren't due until the end of February so I have plenty of time to finish this before starting something new. It's hard for me to split my attention between projects. Every thing I write ends up sounding the same. 

Wednesday 1/16/13 - Another bleak day! Although, they are calling for snow tomorrow night so there's that to look forward to.

This is Boo's "I'm adorable" face. She watches me and whines when I write sometimes. Unfortunately, I can't pet her ALL the time, but I do my best. 

Thursday 1/17/13 - North Carolina has SNOW FEVER! We're all running to the store to buy milk and bread for the coming snowpocalypse which will undoubtedly be half an inch of sleet and snow that will thaw out by noon. I'm hopeful though. Sometimes we get a nice dusting which always makes for some fun. It's a work day today, so I'm writing before running out the door and then driving back to see my parents for family dinner later tonight.

Friday 1/18/13 - This is what all that hoopla was about:

Terrifying, I know. 

A lackluster snowfall did give way to some awesome weather and I spent this afternoon and morning writing, writing, writing. I'm almost finished with Chapter 8. And you know what I've noticed? I'm falling back in love with my characters. I think this is why I've felt like I'm struggling. The beginning held me over because I (shamefully) loved the writing, but then the novelty of well-written prose falls away and I'm left with my plot and my characters. And they're starting to surprise me again. I thought I was done letting them say things I wasn't sure they would say, but they're growing right before my eyes. 

That's another piece of advice I can give to writers. You gotta learn to let up on the reins. Your characters are supposed to be real people, right? We're aiming for authenticity here. You have to give them the tools to move and room to breathe and really just sit back and let them do what they want to. Otherwise, you're forcing them into shoes that don't fit (or actions that aren't logical to their personalities) and your story ends up feeling contrived and awkward. 

Saturday 1/19/13

"Writing means not just staring ugliness in the face, but finding a way to embrace it."
-Veronica Roth 

And here is where I derailed for the weekend. I was doing so well, but then I cracked open a book and fell head over heels for it. 

Sunday 1/20/13 - Today I spent the whole day on my feet, slinging beers as Waitress Girl. I worked open (10:30 am) to close (11:00 pm) and make loads of money, but my tables had me run for it. It was insane, I don't want to do it again, and I'm happy it's over. After, I basically went home and collapsed. And, scene.

Muse Food For The Week 
Days of Blood and Starlight by Laini Taylor 
This book ruined my weekend for me in the best and worst of ways. In the worst way, it destroyed my productivity because I couldn't tear myself away from it. In the best way, I came home from work each night and HAD to stay up reading it because I couldn't stand not knowing what was coming next. That, dear readers, is how to keep your audience invested. 
This is the second in a series, the first being Daughter of Smoke and Bone, a lovely book about a girl who runs errands for the devil, Brimstone, a chimera. She collects teeth which he uses to make wishes. This girl, Karou, is amazing and she leaps off the page. Then, she meets and falls in love with the enemy, an angel named Akiva. In this second installment, Karou is dealing with her past life, which was revealed to her at the end of DAUGHTER, and Akiva is trying to thwart the war the seraphim are raging against the chimera. We've got lovely settings in Morocco, one of my favorite places, and Eretz, the world of angels and the chimera. I can't tell much more without spoiling it but if you want more on my take, my review can be found here. I finished it and now I can get back to work because goodness, I need time to recover. I loved this book! 

Monday, 14 January 2013

The Weekly Wrap 1/7/13

Monday 1/7/13 - Spent my work time today on Momentum. Chapter Five has needed some serious work, but I've found that I'm extending chapters as I rewrite. Looks like the second draft is going to be longer than the first.

"The first step - especially for young people with energy and drive and talent but no money - the first step to controlling your world is to control your culture. To model and demonstrate the kind of world you demand to live in. To write the books. Make the music. Shoot the films. Paint the art."
 - Chuck Palahniuk 

Tuesday 1/8/13 - Kicked ass today. Not gonna lie. I got a lot of revising done, adding about 2,000 words. That's a big writing day for me. Tonight I had my first class for this advanced Fiction Writing workshop I'm taking. It seems like it will be fun, but we've got a seriously limited word count. Under 4,000. Yikes! I know one of my first drafts of the stories I wrote last semester was almost double that and nearly all the revised drafts ended up being over 5K. I wanted to be challenged though and one of those challenges is learning to be brief. The short story is a much different game from novel writing. I have to adjust my brain to thinking in smaller, more sizable pieces. 

Wednesday 1/9/13 - I was doing double duty today, squeezing in some time for revision this morning before jetting off to work, leaving there to go to another job thing, and finally spending some time unwinding with friends.

It was a pretty day, if I do say so myself: 

Thursday 1/10/13 - Double duty again! Spent all morning working on a post at You Should, only to have it deleted right before I had to leave for work. Blogger can be good and it can be bad. It was definitely acting up today. Deleted an hour and a half of work. Bleh.

"Your intuition knows what to write, so get out of the way."
 -Ray Bradbury 

Ray helped me through it though. I went right back to it after I got off work and got the post figured out. You can check it out here, if you like. 

Friday - 1/11/13 - It is a perfectly awful day outside - raining and about forty degrees. This is what I like to call writing weather. 

Saturday 1/12/13 - Today was a lovely foggy morning. I finished two of the books I've been reading (We Have Always Lived in the Castle and On Writing) and did a lot of blog tinkering. I've gone blue! This is because my MC in the Work In Progress has synesthesia and loves the color blue. I wanted something bright and amorphous, therefore jellyfish. 

Sunday 1/13/13 - Another morning squeezed in before work all afternoon and night. Here's how I keep my routine. I nearly hit the halfway point in Momentum's revision today! Feeling good about it. This quote felt appropriate: 

"Nostalgia is inevitably a yearning for a past that never existed and when I'm writing, there are no bees to sting me out of my sentimentality. For me at least, fiction is the only way I can even begin to twist my lying memories into something true." 
-John Green 

This works in a lot of ways. The past really is subjective to your memory and how your mind twists it. My MC spends A LOT of time wrestling with his past, trying to decide how it informs his present and the future. 

Muse Food for the Week: 
We Have Always Lived In The Castle by Shirley Jackson 

This book is decidedly creepy. Mary Katherine Blackwood is part of the infamous Blackwood family. Her sister, Constance, was accused and acquitted of poisoning her family with arsenic, but the town isn't ready to forgive her yet. The family lives in seclusion and Constance cares for Uncle Julian, though his mind is somewhat addled by the poisoning. Mary Katherine spends her time burying precious things across their land and running with Jonas, her cat. Everything changes, however, when Cousin Charles appears on their front door. (You can check out a mini review of it on my 2013 Books page, which is sadly pretty empty right now)

And that's all for this week, folks! See ya on the flip side.