Keep Austin Weird!

This post will be brief because I just arrived in Austin, TX for the Austin Teen Book Festival and I’m tired from watching my husband drive. My husband is very kind to attend this with me as he himself is not so much a reader of YA, but a supporter of my desire to be a writer of YA (not to mention my fangirling of all things YA), and I am not a great driver.

Phew! I have not been to Austin since the Thanksgiving before we moved to New York. The Texas Hill Country is one of my favorite landscapes in the US to view. If you have never been to the Hill Country, you really, really should. Upon exiting I-35 for our hotel in Downtown Austin, we were greeted by a pack of peaceful petitioners for the legalization of marijuana in Texas, and the US overall. They also carried a sign for us to HONK if we agreed. Needless to say, in a city with a slogan about staying weird, and a major university, HONKERS abounded. Nice to know free speech still exists.

Tonight we’ll chill, for tomorrow I plan on absorbing as much knowledge and awesomeness as my brain can hold. (I don’t know if we come with an awesome threshold, I hope not.) I will also be working with the teens in the afternoon, so my energy must be at full-throttle. It’s a thrill for a YA writer to get to shoot-the-shit with a group of engaged readers in her target audience, in a city so completely strange and oddly old-school as Austin. I imagine much fun will be had by all tomorrow, the least of which, a humble, prospective author. Happy Friday to you, wherever you may be!

Some stuff about this week for me.

I’m still in Texas. This is what my sister-in-law Rebecca calls a creative sojourn. I am immersed in opportunity to write and explore the world I am creating, to change things that should be changed, and to comb through my mind for the best and brightest way to confront the issues in my world (both in construction and in theme) with almost no pressure at all. It is an amazing time.

But enough about me, and my glorious exploration into the uncharted wilderness of my own mind. This weekend, September 29, 2012 to be exact, I will be venturing from Denton to Austin for a wonderful (free!) event called The Austin Teen Book Festival. Check out the link here.

I will be volunteering in the afternoon tweeting, facebooking, and tumblring pics and info from the panels. In the morning, I will attend the Keynote speech by the uber-genius that is Neal Shusterman (author of Unwind), and the panel featuring Leigh Bardugo, Rae Carson and Sarah Rees Brennan (Shadow and Bone, Girl of Fire and Thorns, and Unspoken respectively) among other fabulous authors.

I’m excited about the opportunity to see all of these authors and hear what they have to say about where YA is and is to go. I also so appreciate that this festival exists, and is free, and that teens will get this opportunity to hear from the writers influencing the genre written for them. It’s a wonderful thing all around. If you are in the general area and are a lover of YA, please check it out. You can also make a donation to the APLFF, who are responsible for putting the festival on for free. Good stuff all around.

 

I’m the Map!

Map-Maker, Map-Maker, make me a map, build me a world, ink it all out!

Or draw it with a Wacom tablet and map-making software. Whatever, I just need one.

Today, after avoiding any tactile pre-writing, plotting, or the like, I finally broke down and bought myself a sketch pad. Now, I cannot stress to you how very poor an artist I truly am. I generally avoid graphite and paper without lines. (Who am I kidding? I generally avoid paper and pens, even the erasable kind.) In my manuscript there is a point where a map is presented to the protagonist. This map is described, in some detail, by the protagonist as she lays out the boundaries and scope of her journey.

I needed a visual of this map. My husband is an artist, both fine and of the tech-variety, but I am not. He may someday, should it become necessary, make me a map that looks way prettier and shinier than my own crude version. But my own version, for the purposes of storytelling and needing to make sure the image in my head is the image written in the manuscript, will do just fine.

Now, you are probably hoping for a the scanned sketch. Sorry, again, I am neither artistic nor super tech savvy. We are also in Texas where we have no printer/scanner/mind-reading devices at our present disposal, so my assurance that I have made a map and it is pretty bad will have to be enough. For now. When my book is published, I hope there will be a beautiful, clear and not-at-all smudged with my fingerprints map included in Chapter Seven where she (protagonist) first sees it herself.

Until then, here are some fun maps of fictional worlds that my map in no way resembles. Enjoy!

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Thumper

I realize I’ve been a little quiet the last week, which is unusual for me. I have been in Texas since last Saturday working on revisions and proofreading the revisions I have finished. It’s been exhausting and exhilarating. Why Texas? I am originally from the Lonestar State, and both sets of grandparents live in our former hometown. It’s a great place to occupy my son while I am pushing through to finish my novel. I am pushing through everything right now. Through my tired eyes. Through my aching shoulder. Through the other things I could be doing, and the missing my New York apartment and my sweet son who is happily engaged with his family.

Mostly, I am pushing through self-doubt. I think this is a normal emotion to struggle with in the face of rewrites, and the finish line. I had it nicely boxed up inside the corner of my mind reserved for those sorts of thoughts (my weight insecurities and parenting shortcomings also live there) until yesterday. Yesterday I had an experience I would rather not elaborate, but only say, I began to fear my own talent, the positive feedback I’d received from multiple sources, and the truth that I really, really believe this book is worth publishing.

The reason I will not elaborate is I refuse to be one of those people who wears their heart on their sleeve. I refuse to express my anger and frustration at an individual person in a blog that can be read by anyone. I think someone should put this person in line, but I will not be the girl to do it.

I will, however, be the girl to tell you that you can never allow one asshole’s opinion to affect you for more than a glass of wine and a good cry. I do think you should have that glass of wine and good cry, that is super healthy and smart. But after that, and I mean right after, get your ass up and keep moving. Remember what you know to be true. Remember that you can never please everyone. When I was a kid, my mom used to tell me — with her hands on my shoulders: “If everyone likes what you’re doing then you’re doing something wrong.” She was also the one to encourage me to remember what Thumper’s mother said: “If you can’t say something nice, don’t say anything at all.” I am still reminding myself of this today.

I am remembering it as I tell you to forget critics and remember only true critique. I am remembering it as I curse those who think they know more than Jesus, and may know a lot, but who can still be blind and foolish enough to make asinine statements in an offhand way. Those people are invited to bite me. I do realize that was not something nice to say and have chosen to say it anyway.

I think you have to find kindreds in your life and remember not everyone will be one. Not everyone is super creative or good at knowing their own mind. Some must be told what they like. Those are the ones who followed the popular girls around school and who now ride the coattails of someone else’s brilliance. There is need for those kind of people in life. I will readily admit that. I will also readily admit that I really, really don’t care to be one of them. But that is sort of off point. I am trying to be edifying.

If you ever find yourself in a situation where you too wrestle with self-doubt, remember that self-doubt can cripple you into never putting yourself out there. Don’t let it. Let it wash over you and remind you of your self-confidence, your self-worth, and your uniqueness. (Have a glass of wine and cry, too, if you like that sort of thing.)

I feel infinite.

Ok, so I have said before that I don’t particularly like to do reviews on this blog. I am not someone who feels books can necessarily be broken down by a reader for another reader. Reading is incredibly subjective. My agent friend and I recently discussed this in relation to my manuscript and her notes. So that is not what this is. At all.

A couple Road Trip Wednesday’s ago we had to write about our “best book in August”, and a bunch of the other carnival participants had read and chosen The Perks of Being a Wallflower by Stephen Chbosky. I had been planning to read it since the movie is coming out soon, but had been putting it off. All those who read it and discussed it on RTW did not necessarily encourage me to bump it up my Goodreads list anytime soon. I was actually dreading reading this book. I was actually terribly afraid of what I would find within the pages.

This week is back to school week, and almost on a whim, I decided it was time. (After thinking in detail about my high school years, both in and out of public school for the most recent Road Trip Wednesday.) I sat down yesterday evening after dinner with my Kindle and began to read. Around seven we had to go get my son diapers, so I had to take a break. We came back and I dove right back in. I didn’t much stop after that. My husband kindly played with Sam while I was absorbed into Charlie’s world. I couldn’t pull myself out. I was afraid of where this story was going, wracked with worry over Charlie and his open, exposed heart. I was torn up by the world he was watching unfold, and in love with it too. In love with him.

I will not give more information about the plot of the book, I will only say this: I cried for all the right reasons. That is all I can say because I don’t want you to miss out on the experience of feeling it all should you choose to read it. And you should choose to read it if you haven’t already. As I said on my Wednesday in response to the RTW question, my experience in high school was not a good one, and my parents took me out rather than subject themselves or anyone else to anymore turmoil.

This problem with school, both socially and disciplinarily, actually began much, much earlier than high school. High school was not the first time my parents took me out. After fifth grade I was home schooled with my best friend for two school years. When we moved to Colorado I went back to public school because I needed a way to make friends. I spent the first six weeks eating lunch with my eighth grade English teacher. She really encouraged me to find my way. I did not do well. I made friends, and enemies, I was a compulsive liar and troublemaker. I liked to create drama and intrigue wherever I went. I did eventually find comfort in the drama kids and a special grammar workshop my English teacher put me in. I loved my Community Service teacher (it was a weird elective, I know), and I terrorized my alcoholic science teacher. A man who never gave me detention even though I really, really deserved it. I made some good friends, and had some poetic interactions.

As I read about Charlie I ached. In my life I have had a few experiences like this with books. Overall I love to read, but not always does a book actually create something new in me. (To Kill a Mockingbird, Harry Potter, The Hunger Games, to name a few.) This book was published when I was in eighth grade. I wish I had found it then. I needed it then. Now is OK, but then would have been amazing.

For me, Charlie is a boy I know, and a piece of myself, and someone totally new. I think this book is incredibly relevant to the audience it targets because it is true. Yes, he is deeply intelligent and poetic, but his experience is also filled with honesty and sadness and hope, and that is needed. The concept of being completely present in life is a hard one to hold on to, whether you are fifteen or twenty seven. Charlie holds on to it, even when he comes up against something terribly bleak. This is worth taking to heart.

I am a mom to a son, and a sister to brothers, and a wife to a man who was once a high school wallflower-art-prodigy. I was also an outcast of my own creation. The Perks of Being a Wallflower touched on all those parts of me. If you have read it, I would love to hear your feedback. If you haven’t, do and then write me. For now here is the trailer for the upcoming film.

Road Trip Wednesday: # 146

Road Trip Wednesday is a ‘Blog Carnival,’ where YA Highway’s contributors post a weekly writing- or reading-related question that begs to be answered. We ,the bloggers who love YA Highway, post our response and then link it in the comments of the YA Highway site. Pretty fun!

This weeks topic is:  Back to school time! What’s your favorite book that you had to read for a class?

High school was brief in my case, at least, public high school anyway. When I was a freshman my family lived in Colorado right down the street from Lewis Palmer High School. My brother and I both attended, but for me, high school was a bad dream. I got into trouble. Not your typical teenage rebellion, the trouble I found for myself had nothing to do with smoking pot on school grounds or vandalism. Mine was about justice (or my fifteen year-old skewed perspective of justice, which usually had to do with my authorities messing with my plans) and it usually meant tense confrontation with teachers I had no interest in understanding. I was frustrated with my life, felt trapped and out-of-place in Colorado, and missed family and friends back home. One teacher really had it out for me though. He taught algebra and grouped me in with the vapid mean girls I would never associate with under any form of torture, let alone his stupid glass. I was more of a drama geek than a cheerleader type. I also didn’t like being boxed. When he then punished this group of girls, including me, a foe was created. I spent the rest of my (short) career in his class terrorizing him. I also landed in ISS and Detention more times in three months than I like to recall. And that was just one of the irons I had in the fire. Needless to say, my parents decided that I should be schooled at home.

In my home schooling I read a lot of books — what else did I have to do?— and wrote a lot of crazy plays and short stories. One book, the book I am choosing as my response, was also one of the first books I read in my private education. Nathaniel Hawthorne’s The Scarlet Letter, struck the outcast in me like lightening.

 

I remember feeling Hester was someone I could be, someone I could actually understand and relate to. A testament to the classics is their long-term relevance. That book was published 150 years before I was reading it, and yet is made me feel almost normal. No, I was not a woman branded by adultery and raising the illegitimate child that was a result, but I felt branded nonetheless. I felt like the part of me that was true was deeply misunderstood. I carried secrets, and had few real friends. The tragic ending also played into my overly-dramatic-hopelessly-romantic side. At that time the idea of dying for love was super appealing to me, a girl who had never been in love or anywhere near love’s neighborhood.

I spent a lot of time with the classics as a teen, especially once I entered my banned book phase. But The Scarlet Letter was one of the first times I truly felt kindred to a character, and it was a character written well-before high school algebra teachers were throwing girls in detention because they threw a ruler at their head when called “sweetheart”.

What about you? What high school required reading book stands out in your mind today?

P.S. The website I pulled The Scarlet Letter book cover from featured an article about fashions inspired by the book. It was awesome, here’s the link.

What to do? What To Do?

It sometimes takes a lot for me to dig myself out of my own mind. On days like this I find it difficult to do much more than coast. I am a bad coaster. I don’t like to feel unproductive, or directionless — and I really don’t like to be at the receiving end of my own disapproval. On those kinds of days — or weeks, or over-long months — I try to place this wandering mind on something to refocus it. Some of the ways I do that are as follows, in no particular order, with no discernible reasoning:

  • My son’s long black eyelashes. There is something mesmerizing about sapphire blue eyes curtained in charcoal lashes so long they can tickle your cheeks when he kisses your nose.
  • Real Estate. Not real estate in my budget were I looking to by a house or apartment. Not even real estate where I live or have lived before. Usually real estate in the most fantastic sense of the word.
  • Wander around the park (Central or Prospect) and pretend I’m in the woods. This is good for many reasons. Quiet. The location of the first third of my novel which I’m in revisions with. The chance to climb a rock or a tree. Running water. Playing pretend.
  • A nice glass of wine well before evening time. This may be counter productive since wine can also make you tired, but it definitely calms me down.
  • Default to reading some YA I need to familiarize myself with in order to be able to hold conversation with the rest of the YA writer/bloggers out there. I am behind. Sometimes this helps by merely triggering my longing to see my book in print and putting my brain back in the place it needs to make sentences someone might want to read.
  • Remember that everyone needs a break and then turn on an episode of Weeds because I am way, way behind on it.

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Being a writer, mom, and wife I forget sometimes to also be an individual person with many facets and needs. Sometimes I forget to place my mind on things beyond my need to finish rewrites. (To just get.it.done!) This can be a bad place to write from, because it can make you very selfish and one-sided. Writers revel in their solitude, but solitude and hard work is not the only way to create. And probably not the best.