The Modern Author Life

Things Writers like JK Rowling and Anne Rice and Stephen King didn’t have to worry about when launching their careers:

Twitter

Facebook

Instagram

Immediate Human Contact

Things authors need to worry about when launching their careers now:

Twitter

Facebook

Instagram

Immediate Human Contact

And, oh, GIVEAWAYS.

After the giveaway drama of yesterday I wrote my friend and told her I would never do it again. I didn’t like the pressure. I felt powerless and unsafe and nauseous and my fingernail polish was all chipped off from panic. And if it’s like that on a small scale, how will it be when people actually care later on?

She suggested that giveaway’s were essential to our chosen career path. That they are expected of authors, especially Young Adult authors, and never say never. She encouraged me not to worry.

And there’s the rub: I worry a lot.

Writers as a species are over-thinkers. We humans created to write stories tend to have over-active, vivid, and often, dark imaginations. We are good at thinking up elaborate scenarios for failure and malady. We are designed to do this so we can get our characters into circumstances that require heroism. You need us to be this way so you get stories that make you feel things.

Take a person like that and throw them into any situation where the outcome is unknown and they will start to devise schemes for failure or triumph. We’re not always dark, sometimes those imaginations that create detailed worlds and intricate plots also dream up wild success stories. We can sort of be like the mirror of Erised. Like, look at me with the House Cup and being a glorious Head Girl and my mom is crying tears of joy…

I’m veering off topic.

The changing landscape of the publishing world means we as authors have to become more comfortable with a whole heap of things outside our control. We have to roll with punches and we have to guard our words and we may need to drink at night or take up a spin class to deal with that anxiety of ALL THE UNKNOWN and HOW WE CAN FAIL and IT’S ALL SO PUBLIC NOW.

We also need to be honest. We need to let people in on our not okay all the time-ness. We need to be allowed to say we don’t know what we’re doing and we are making it up as we go along and we do yes please need a well-timed gif of a kitten in a coffee cup tweeted at us.

As difficult as

Twitter

Facebook

Instagram

Actual human contact

Can be

It can be so very wonderful,too. Super rewarding. But not if it feels unsafe. Not if we think we HAVE to. Not if we aren’t authentic.

Giveaways will happen. But not because I think it’s my responsibility as an author. I can be an author without that. I am very clever. I could find my way around it.

But my responsibility to future fans (Hey, you guys are so fancy and bad ass and I love you. ❤ Future Me) is to make the internet as it relates to my books and my chosen path of Young Adult Book Pusher accessible and fun and shiny. That is something of value, and I like adding value to lives.

I agree with my friend: Giveaways are useful. Readers and writers alike enjoy them, but they are scary and stressful for me.

So is publishing my stories. It’s scares me, but it’s worth it. It’s worth it to me to do the things JK and Anne and Stephen didn’t have to if it means I’m doing the best for my fans and my book.

I will always worry. I will never be cool. My brain will inevitably veer into dangerous territory any time I face a situation outside my control. I think it’s better to deal with all that, and also do something I love, than to be sitting alone in my office writing into a vacuum and never trying anything that scares me.

Fear means you’re alive. Fear means you’re doing something right.

 

 

 

 

 

Road Trip Wednesday: #165 Bossypants

rtwRoad 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: Good for a laugh: who is your favorite comedian or funny book and/or movie?

I have been a little hectic this last week, for personal reasons, so I apologize for not being more active on the internet. I do have a response for this weeks Road Trip Wednesday question, however, and I do not think I will be alone in my choice.

TinaFeyBossyPants

If you haven’t read this book, and you are a professional/parent/ female or gay man, you are doing yourself a disservice. I read it on an airplane to New York. I don’t know how many of you do a lot of comedy reading on airplanes, so I don’t know your experience, but I can attest that mine was not a dignified one.

I snorted my wine through that space that connects your mouth and nasal cavity. It trickled to my upper lip and didn’t have the same flavor going back in.

This happened more than once.

Whatever you think of Tina Fey, whatever your politics, you will forget that when you read this uncensored and oddly comforting memoir. It’s really more of a guide to life for the slightly awkward, brunette, or Polish, but transcends even those labels.

Here is an excerpt from the largely publicized, Mothers Prayer for Her Daughter:

Lead her away from Acting but not all the way to Finance.

Something where she can make her own hours but still feel intellectually fulfilled and get outside sometimes

And not have to wear high heels.

What would that be, Lord? Architecture? Midwifery? Golf course design? I’m asking You because if I knew, I’d be doing it, Youdammit.

May she play the Drums to the fiery rhythm of her Own Heart with the sinewy strength of her Own Arms, so she need Not Lie With Drummers.

Grant her a Rough Patch from twelve to seventeen.

Let her draw horses and be interested in Barbies for much too long, 

For Childhood is short — a Tiger Flower blooming

Magenta for one day — 

And Adulthood is long and Dry-Humping in Cars will wait.

There’s so many points in here where I laugh-cried and then spit coffee at the airplane seat in front of me. Where I wished I could kick someone for my simultaneous humor and inability to express that humor, because that cloistering of emotion should be punished.

I have aften gone back to reread chapters about Brooklyn Moms or Television Writing, because I find they resonate and educate more than a college textbook.

As an actress, she isn’t always my favorite, because sometimes I think she forgets America isn’t Manhattan. But her book is more than worth a read. It’s worth snorting wine through your nose and freaking out fellow travelers for.

As a fellow Bossypants, and woman who has been told many time over how unattractive that is, and why don’t I just keep my mouth shut, I recommend this book. There is something in it for everyone.

I am not going to list all the stuff on TV and in Film that makes me snort various drinks and kick various friends because I’m so amused. I will not subject you. Here are some highlights:

nick

Also, pretty much any episode of Arrested Development. Ellen Degeneres just has to look at the camera and I expect to be doubled over. I apologize that I cannot sufficiently answer this question because I am now LMAO at the truly funny people writing and performing today.

Happy Wednesday!

Road Trip Wednesday: #164 If I had a bookstore

rtwRoad 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 Week’s Topic is: Imagine you get to open your own bookstore. What would it look like? What kinds of books would you sell?

My son got present obsessed during Christmas, a totally normal and completely enraging pastime for three year olds. After the initial panic that present time was over wound down, Sam began to ask, “What present do you want?”, whenever he got bored. Whoever was around had to answer him, and then ask him the question in return. His answers range from a Spiderman bounce house, to a trip to the moon, to a puppy, etc., etc., etc..

I felt the only appropriate way to answer this was by looking inside for what I would have wanted as a little girl. Other than a window-seat and “to be a Newsie”, there was one lingering, unattainable desire I carried. Upon introspection I realized, I still carry it. So I said, “I want a library.” He furrowed his brow at me, “A library?” I grinned. “Yes, like the Beast gives Bell.”

The truth is, I have always dreamed of a room with books lining walls. When I was in my early teens the movie You’ve Got Mail was released. I wanted that bookstore. That home for books, where quirky people found not only a wonderful new companion made by words, but also answers and true friendship.

This makes me sound like a romantic, which I guess I am, to an extent. Or maybe I’m an idealist. Maybe my fantasy bookstore only exists in a movie, but it’s a fantasy, so that’s OK.

recycled

source: Mary Beth Butler

books

source: Project Vinyl

In my hometown of Denton, TX, there is a wonderful place called “The Recycled Bookstore”. It’s housed in the old Opera House, and jammed full of thousands of books, vinyl records, DVD’s and even VHS’s. When I was young, I thought the place was haunted. My friends and I would go there to get Nancy Drew books and search for wandering spirits.

My bookstore wouldn’t only be about the books, it would be about the atmosphere. It would be a place to go, not just to buy. It would be a retreat from the normal world because that’s what books are. Books are our way to more.

The other day Sam came to me in the kitchen while I was cooking. He and his dad had been playing “store”, and he had bought me a present. In his hand was my library.

read library lights

Road Trip Wednesday: #161 What’s in a name?

rtwRoad 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: The list of top baby names in 2012 had us talking about naming characters. How do you decide on names? Would you ever name a character after a friend/family member/ex?

I have always loved the meaning of names. Not because my name has the most awesome meaning. Rebekah means, almost everywhere you look, “to bind“, although the link I’ve included does try to improve the connotation a little bit. I’ve accepted this over the years. When I was pregnant with my son, there was never another name option other than Samuel. Samuel means “God heard”. He did hear when he gave me Sam, so it fits.

Naming characters in my writing is a different process, for me. The name of a character isn’t always a choice, or something I plot out. I tend to get a name stuck in my head in the early incarnation of the idea, and getting it unstuck is nearly impossible later on.

As the character develops, the name begins to feel like a part of their identity. Sometimes the name meaning turns out to be  ordained, connected to who that character is or what they represent in the story. I love when this happens organically. I also love when I begin to understand the character more because of their name. When you meet people in life, they introduce themselves to you with a handshake. You see shades of who they are, you know pieces of what their life has been, and you know their name. Over time, you get to know a person better and their name becomes synonymous with who they are to you. My relationship with my characters is very much this way.

In the case of my novel, some of my characters names are not actual names at all. This is always a fun thing to have happen because it feels like you’ve discovered something no one else could, and you’ve gone to a place truly separate from the framework of your own world.

There are different kinds of writers out there, this is true of every art form. I’m the kind who doesn’t plan much, at least not in the first draft. I don’t always know who a character is, or is going to become. I don’t always expect the character to turn out the way they do. I think this makes my discovery of the movements in my work a lot more exciting for me. It also means I have to do a lot of  revisions. That’s fine, I’ve accepted this is my writing personality and it will never change. Just like I’ve accepted I don’t really have any power over how my characters are named.

Road Trip Wednesday: #160

rtw
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: About how many books do you read in a year? Do you want to read more? Or, less?

I find the answering of this question a little maddening. In years past I read…some. Some is to say, I made time for reading when I stumbled across a good book. I didn’t seek out books so much as occasionally find them. In fact, I relied largely on friends recommendations and I didn’t ask friends for many recommendations.

Then I started reading young adult. I can read adult literature, don’t get me wrong, and occasionally I still do. (Like when a friend wants to have a book discussion at a fancy restaurant with cocktails.) But now that I’m reading YA, I read as much as my life allows. I read in the morning. I read in the bathroom. I read on the train. I read with coffee, and wine, and nap time.

This brings up another reason I have read more this year than any year before. Writing. When you are writing, you read more. Or, at least, I do. It encourages you to hone your craft. It fills you with confidence and understanding. It also makes you hungry for the art form you’ve chosen to express yourself in. Writing YA just means I have an excuse to read more YA.

I tell people it’s for my job.

So, not every year, but this year I have so far read 30 books. Could that number be improved? Absolutely! I hope it keeps on climbing. There is so much out there to read, so much of quality, and interest, and relevance. So much, in fact, for anyone to ever complain they are bored, or have nothing to read, or have nothing to do, is just laziness.

FYI if you follow this blog, you may think I’ve been complaining of boredom. That is not the case. I’ve been complaining of missing my son. There is always something to read, but in life you must have variety. Once I’ve written for six hours, and read for a few more, my eyes start to ache and I have to find something else to do. When my son is around, this is not a problem.

donnie darko

I’ve read 30 books this year, and next year, I hope to read more.

That sick feeling is normal.

This morning my son traipsed off in a taxi toward LaGuardia Airport with a handful of my family. He’ll be in Texas for a week, at which point my husband and I will follow to spend the holidays. I wasn’t hesitant in the least about allowing him to stay with family. It was his idea. Even with a cold this week he was still game for the journey. The night before he was supposed to fly arrived, and with it my own hidden anxiety surfaced. It began with him, very normally, saying he didn’t really want to go. Why?, my husband asked. Because I don’t want to be away from Mommy. 

Crack! The sound of my rapidly breaking shell of composure.

We talked for a bit about his feelings, my loving feelings toward him, and ultimately, the fact he wouldn’t feel that way once the opportunity had passed. I explained why I wasn’t going (I have engagements this week in the City). He understood, and then, just like that, he was over his reluctance with a kiss.

My composure lay in pieces on the ground he walked on with his cousin.

I spent the better part of Thursday evening pretending I was fine. We had dinner, started gathering his stuff, played, watched Spiderman. By the time I was laying him down for bed we were all tired. He passed out in my arms, and I proceeded to cry. I cried for about fifteen minutes. This morning when he happily left — still a little under the weather, but in good spirits — I cried again.

This is not my first time away from Sam. Before we moved, Nathan and I came to New York twice on our own. Once was for almost five days. I’ve spent nights away from him. I’ve had a few days in New York away from him. This is not our first major separation, but it is our first initiated by him. It’s first time he chose to go.

When I threw myself into drafting my manuscript last October, writing became a huge presence in my life. Sometimes an even bigger presence than Sam. I’m not apologizing for this, but want you to understand something from it. For anything to fill my mind more than Sam means that something has to be of incredible value to me. Sam has been the mark by which all things are judged since he was born. Should I do this? I think of Sam. Is this best? I think of Sam. He is the excuse and reason for a lot of my decisions.

Writing is important to me, sometimes so important it feels most important. But it’s not. I write this blog post now because my heart is being wrenched away and carried to Texas. I write in general because nothing will ever be as important as Sam, but there must be more to me than him. He just got on a plane to Texas without me at three years old. Someday, it may be a plane to another country, or to college away from home, or a spaceship to the moon. I savor him now, this time so short and sweet, but I follow my own path too.

As mothers, we find a lot of fault within ourselves for the pursuit our own desires. Or, for the pursuit of any desire that doesn’t directly benefit our children. I don’t think I’m alone in feeling this way and I don’t think it’s easy to admit. I think we all sense it within ourselves when we make a choice that looks selfish, or one for our career, or one to feed another part of us other than mom. It’s a tightening in our chests, or a sick spreading through our stomachs. It wells up like a geyser, or festers like a wound. It is essential to the art of motherhood, just as it is essential to every other art form. We must feel it all in order to produce anything of value.

I intend to produce a child and a novel (many!) I’m proud of.

There is no happiness when in pursuit of something worth pursuing, only the joy of the journey, the heartache of the pilgrimage, and the belief that it will be worth it. Even if we have to steel ourselves as our baby says goodbye with a smile. Even if we cry the moment we shut the door. Even if we enjoy the time apart a little too.

Rainy Day Sam

I love rainy days with my son. Not all rainy days. There are the inevitable rainy days when Samuel refuses to engage in imaginary play, or do a craft, or read for large chunks of the morning. Those rainy days fill me with dread. When you’ve been a mom for a little while, you learn to pick up on the cues in your child’s demeanor that warn you’ll have a long day. One filled with arguments, then weighted down by unreasonable requests, and ending in the bedtime battle. When those days also fall on a rainy day, being trapped with your child inside can lead a person to drink in the afternoon.

Today, as slushy rain falls from the sky above Brooklyn, is thankfully not one of those days. Today he woke with wide eyes and eagerness. He discussed the finer points of Spiderman’s origin story with me over a banana and pb & j. (I had oatmeal. If I’m to survive the holidays without a meltdown, dry oatmeal and raw veggies have to become my new best friends.) We read through a plethora of books and sang. We made a birthday card for our upstairs neighbor, Sophia. He dictated a message to me with enough inflection to warrant this — !!!!!!!!!!!!!!!— type of punctuation.

And for the first time in a while we just reveled in the pleasure of each others company. Sometimes I am not the best about this. I can be either too involved, or too distracted, too aloof, or too emotionally available. Striking a balance with my son is sometimes harder work that writing 3,000 words ever thought about being. So when it happens, it’s something to treasure.

However, capturing the moment on camera has mostly illuded me.

Pit or the Palace?

It’s been a few weeks now since I finished my manuscript revisions and set about not editing anymore while it’s being read by an agent (and friend). Thanksgiving has come and gone, Christmas races after it undaunted by my ill-preparedness. I’ve recovered from carb overloads and booze headaches, from family togetherness and separations. I’ve flow from Brooklyn to Texas and back again with a three year old boy and a yorkie.

Before that, on the dreaded and beloved Black Friday, we went shopping. It had been about an hour when I lost my will to live. (I have a low threshold for retail warfare, I’m aware this is lame.) Not sure if it was the 100th over-priced sweater that made me itch or the sunny shopgirl that tried to sell me a pair of jewel-toned skinny jeans with a matching beret. But something sent me spiraling into my own form of introspection that involved a skinny margarita and queso, and a diatribe about why I don’t have a second child. I emerged feeling uncertain and inadequate, slightly bloated and a tidbit vindicated.

This is me.

Then the inevitable pining began. The one I seem to be falling into lately when I realize I’m mostly done with my manuscript and I don’t know how to be away from that world and those characters.

A writer friend of mine told me recently that every writer rides some form of emotional roller-coaster upon completion of a major project. His advice? Begin something new. When he said this, I felt entirely certain he was kidding. And entirely sure that was impossible. So I made him clarify. He said, “Even if it never turns into anything, beginning a new project and distancing yourself from the one out for query, will ultimately help with the mountains and valleys.”

I thought about this for a while. My brain felt zapped. My emotions were ragged. Part of me felt so done with the pressure of characters not letting me sleep, and words not being perfect, and the other part felt voided. As a writer, characters voices, their arguments, their journey provides a certain sense of purpose that nothing else really can.

When I was in my early 20s, I was a receptionist at a title company in Texas. I loathed this job. (I was thankful for stable work and benefits, etc., but overall just really didn’t excel at service oriented work.) When my husband was finishing up his bachelors though, it was that job that paid the bills. After two years of it I began to wonder if my life would only amount to this: a series of jobs and paychecks and living for the weekend. That’s when I began to write again. It was writing that led to accept my job, and then my son’s birth which led me to want more from writing. When Sam was born, I discovered a new part of me. A part willing to try harder for the things she desired, and a part able to define those desires more clearly.

In the years since Sam’s birth,I have taken a lot of the steps necessary to do just that. I have discovered who I want to be and who I don’t want to be. As this year wraps up, the person I am has had to accept she can’t live without characters chattering to each other, or worlds forming, and in turn my loved one’s can never be without them either. I will never be far from the tap of a keyboard or the scribble of a pen. I will never be far from the ebb and flow of creative pursuit. I would encourage you — whatever you endeavor to achieve — to first accept this simple truth. We become the best version of ourselves not by following our best laid plans, but by taking chances on the things we really want. Moving to New York was like that. Having my son was the same. Everyone has those catalysts, and everyone makes those choices. Begin something new, no matter where it leads you. (Or, in other words, get your groove on.)

Groove.

Life Grades

It’s important, in the grand scheme of life and the American-way, not to lose sight of your standards. In NYC, every restaurant is required by law to display an A through C health and sanitation grade. Here is a link explaining how it works, and why it’s awesome and should be taken seriously. In our neighborhood alone there are multiple restaurants with a B (marginally offensive) and a C (terrifying!). As a person who respects my body (though I inject it with way too much caffeine, but we all have our vices) I refuse to eat somewhere that garners such a low score. I also really, very much, hate to throw up.

There is a funny episode of How I Met Your Mother from season six where Marshall and Lily insist on eating at a restaurant with a D (this is not a possible score now, but was at one time) and they both get food poisoning. Of course, turns out, Lily is pregnant — but really, standards people!

Standards are an important aspect to every part of life, not just food, but we’ll get there. I promise. I am always shocked — not necessarily to the point where I stare through the window at the grease smeared counter with a scowl, shaking my finger reproachfully at the non-hairnet wearing cook with his finger up his nose, but almost — by the patrons of establishments shitty enough to get that kind of grade. In a city literally bursting with delectable eateries, why would you submit yourself to a place where you’ll likely get the runs? (It should be noted that these restaurants aren’t any cheaper, though sometimes they have deals on liquor.)

Standards, expectations, imagination. And here I bring in my point. Ready? Have you guessed it? We achieve what we believe ourselves to be capable of. If you decide you are only able to do one meal a day and the rest are peanut butter sandwiches or cereal that’s OK. If you think your kid incapable of sleeping through the night, they won’t. If you believe your craft worthy of publication, and you raise your expectations, you educate yourself, you work really hard, you can do it.

Often, we begin with a grand plan and somewhere in the execution we lose sight of the goal. We let our expectation for success be thwarted by the hardship of the journey. We stop breaking open our imaginations to find the best route to our goal. We give up. We lower our standards to a place that is manageable and comfortable. We eat at the restaurant with the C grade and the waitress who just sneezed in your coffee.

To Prologue or Not? (And other thoughts.)

Sometimes my brain, my plot, and the route to a decision, look like this.

During this last revision process I began to think a lot more about the techniques of storytelling I was employing in my manuscript. In the first draft — which I completed in May 2012— there was no prologue, however there was a brief and vivid flashback which ran rather long. I had this idea that if I did a prologue I would be taking the easy way out, doing something I was seeing in a lot of YA fiction I was reading. I wanted to find a new way to give this aspect of the story to the reader.

In my second draft — which I completed in late July — I wrote a brief prologue. I was never satisfied with it, but it felt necessary. I felt trapped by this convention, a feeling I really hate. For that draft though, there were other, more pressing issues to address.

Come around to the third revision — which I completed in the first weeks of October — and I found myself at a crossroads. Something about the prologue (I couldn’t tell you, maybe the tone?) felt wrong. I couldn’t help it. It read well, it operated as a prologue should operate, but I found myself dissatisfied.

In the midst of this dilemma, I was also trying to steer the novel away from comparison to a certain massive trilogy many of us love and read. The reason for this was twofold: 1) The comparison was being drawn because of setting, and 2) No one needs to try to live up to that. One of my readers helped me understand, in her very brilliant teenage way, just what was doing this in the early pages of the manuscript. Thankfully, I was happy to listen to her critique. (An aside, finding really awesome readers is maybe the most important thing about revising efficiently.)

Solving my prologue issue as well as the unwanted comparison problem turned out to have one and the same solution. I reworked the lay-out of the book and added a world-building scene to set the tone I was looking to set. Now, will there always be comparison’s we don’t want from readers and critics and people who read what other readers and critics say? Yes. Will I ever be utterly satisfied with every decision I make as a writer? Not likely. Can I accept both of those things? With a healthy dose of petulance, maybe, and a full glass of wine, maybe more.

Description begins in the writer’s imagination, but should finish in the reader’s.

— Stephen King, On Writing

In the end, I hope future readers will manage to see beyond the imperfections that are unavoidable, to the great stuff inside. I believe in my story, my characters, and the world in which they reside. I have done my best to convey that. Now I have to wait to see if I’m right.