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

My Two Cents on Starting

Most days I think I’m a good mom, and an improving writer. I think I can cook, but I can mix drinks better. I think I am pretty, but only now that I’ve grown my hair out. These parameters keep me from being too wrapped up, too vain, or too emotionally stunted. I sharpen because I believe I am not perfect, nor am I a train wreck.

I recently read an article by author Julianna Baggott. Now, it should be said, that I have a girl crush on Julianna. Maybe I should call it a writing crush, since it stems from how deeply I identify with her voice. Her communication style. Her writerness. Whatever I call it, I heart her.

In the article, which you can read here, Julianna puts forth a method for writing your first novel. She calls it a loophole. It began for her as a way to trick herself into writing by pretending it doesn’t matter. It wasn’t about creating a masterpiece, it was about getting fifty pages done and out. She suggests writing is about wanting to turn the page, for the writer and the reader.

This rang very true for me. I have discussed before that this is my first novel, the MANUSCRIPT I am revising now but not forever. Before writing the manuscript, I had mostly worked in the medium of screen-or-stage playwriting. I had attempted, after completing a feature length screenplay and then not knowing what the hell to do with it, a novelization of my screenplay. Ultimately, I was burnt out on that story and needed something new.

When I sat down at my computer sixteen months ago with a voice in my head, I didn’t know what I was doing. There was no plan. There wasn’t even a concept. There was an inkling. A whisper.

I don’t consider myself a naive person. I live in Brooklyn and haven’t died yet, for goodness sake. But about this I was. I believed I could do it. And why not? It was just a novel. Geez. I had written a screenplay, so a novel couldn’t be much harder.

Had I read anything about writing a novel before I started, done any preparation at all, I would have failed. I would have psyched myself out. I’m such a fool I flippantly professed to anyone who would listen that I would finish in a year.

I just wrote. I kept writing when I wasn’t sure where I was going. I kept writing when I was angry at my characters. I kept writing when words flowed like cold honey. I just flipped the switch inside me and wrote.  As Julianna said in her article, I kept turning the pages. 

I finished the first draft about six months after I began. It was 70,000 words and a lot of it was shit. Some of it was brilliant. Some of it was acceptable. 30% of it was garbage I wouldn’t wipe dog poop off my shoe with.

I’m being hyperbolic, but you get it.

So, the advice I would add to Julianna’s (who knows way more about this than I do) is this: Be naive. You can’t lose if you put blind faith in yourself. You all know I hate losing, so if I’m saying this…

Believing you can’t fail may seem like you’re setting yourself up for crushing disappointment, but it’s a wonderful place to begin. Self-doubt and the knowledge that you will never be good enough comes later, when your beta readers rip your heart out, or the rejections from countless agents come flying to your inbox.

Begin naive, you can’t fail.

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.

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.

Inner Life of a Writer, Some Thoughts

I have talked at length about my obsessive nature with friends, family, my dog. No mental health professionals yet, but I never rule out a logical progression. By discussing it down to it’s finer points (and yes, I realize this is the very definition of obsession) I have concluded that I may never really get away from it. Or at least not as long as I write. John Updike said this:

The refusal to rest content, the willingness to risk excess on behalf of one’s obsessions, is what distinguishes artists from entertainers, and what makes some artists adventurers on behalf of us all.

It couples obsession with art, making the obsessed, when in pursuit of creative truth, a hero rather than a villain. Following obsession to the very point of insanity is a scary place I am sure. I am not there, nor do I expect to ever be, but I felt the gentle nudge to the edge of the cliff. The abyss below is where many authors reside.

Why does this happen? When an author begins to submerge themselves in the chasm that is their creative process, a lot of things can come undone. It unleashes the mind to explore, and often times, the mind has a hard time reigning itself in. I was speaking with a friend about this recently, also an artist, and he laughed at me. “So, your writing allows your obsessive behavior and your schizophrenia a proper outlet?” I very inscrutably said, “Well, yes.”

When I was in the final weeks of this last revision, writing stuff I didn’t want to write but that I loved, breaking down barriers I had put in place to keep myself comfortable, building on my world, I found it very difficult have conversations with people at the end of a writing day. I was turning into Gollum and my manuscript was my one ring.

Anyone who saw me while we were visiting Texas, in those last few days, can probably attest to the shift. When I was done I felt like I could finally see people. Like I was a horse removing blinders after a long race. Oh there you are, world I live in, friends and family. I had almost forgotten what you look like. I became Frodo with his task completed.

(Note: I realize this pic of Frodo is when he goes off to eternity with the Elves, which is a little morbid. But he’s finally HAPPY!)

For me, writing is both an outlet — as my friend put it — but also a cell in which I am prisoner. You may read that and at once declare concern, but don’t be hasty. When I am a prisoner to the words, I am alive inside. So when my warden releases me, and I am expected to reenter society and contribute, part of me longs for the cell again. The writer in me is never fully sane unless writing. I love my other hats. The mom hat. The wife hat. The friend hat. I relish that there are people in my life who love me and enjoy my company, and who I love and enjoy as well. I take great pride in teaching my son something new. But always, the writer hat is in my pocket, folded up and ready to be unfurled. You don’t turn that off, you just try to contain it. (For this reason, among other law related ones, I do not take mind-altering drugs. I don’t need help unleashing the monster inside.)

So, what about you? Do you have an obsession in your life that you also kind of love?

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.)

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.

A Quandary in Exposure

Image by mikerigel

There’s an issue that’s been weighing on me lately, one that I think may or may not press on the minds of other writers seeking publication. It’s something I wonder about, I question, and then I throw out the window to hopefully see it splat against the wall because that’s how annoying I find this issue.

The issue? What people learn about you when they read a novel you wrote, and how much you cannot control the perception of you created by that novel and its moral or world view.

I think this accompanies the reality that when we write, the very cultivation of the words digs into our soul and pulls pieces out. I think this part is freaky and also exciting. It comes from the same part in us that rubber-necks alongside a car wreck and secretly smiles when a celebrity is arrested. It’s that kind of morbid fascination we have with pushing our boundaries, social or otherwise. It also lets us get to know ourselves and our world better, which is good, though can be a little embarrassing. But when you are writing in the hope of being published, this excavating also reveals the bones of the author to the reader (critics, friends, and bullies, alike) and that is the part that makes us recoil.

I recently did some work on my manuscript. Some necessary exposition, so to speak. This work will appear largely in the first third of the book. It deals in an aspect of the protagonists backstory that I have fought with putting in for every rewrite up to this point. I have lost the fight. My agent friend, in her editorial feedback, wanted to see this particular experience is technicolor. I wanted to hide from this particular experience. I wanted to hide from it, and yet I could neither change it nor make it less gut-wrenching.

This fact made me feel immediately exposed, like I am in front of a camera with noonday sun overhead. Whenever you write anything, it comes from a place in you. Either a place where you have been , or a truth you understand. We cannot be separate from our words, and therefore, when our words are read by others we cannot pretend it comes from a foreign place. It doesn’t. And owning that is what make this so hard. It’s also what makes it so rewarding for the reader.

My Companion

I spent hours dreaming of a different life as a child. My life was rich and engaged, but my heart was a butterfly never satisfied with the flower she rested on. Once, at nine-years-old I ran away. I packed up my pink and purple Caboodles box with stupid shit like hair ties, bubble gum, and lipstick, and set out due west for California on foot. It took my older brother maybe ten minutes to figure out what I’d done and come find me on a busy street neighboring our house. “Where are you going?” He asked me, arms crossed, all domineering-protective-big-brother-like. “California.” I replied, squinting at him defiantly. “Your headed toward McKinney, and in a couple more blocks you’ll be in the only projects in Denton.” My face fell, but I was not easily deterred. I started stomping still for California, even though I was walking east and toward a dangerous part of town. After following me for a block or two, he grew weary and maybe bored, and just picked my skinny pre-adolescent ass up and carried me home over his shoulder. This would not be  the last time I considered running away, though future attempts were far more feather-brained and rage driven, but it was the first time I gave in to the siren call of my longing.

Longing leads us places, and then it forces our eyes to open and see that we can run but not hide, we can hide but not be safe. The idea is one I chew on in my novel, and also one I dance with in my life. I have never been one for absolutes, I need the possibility that maybe offers.

I fidget and flutter around my home, I fly through ideas and scenario like an easy summer read. The longing lingers, and it makes me eternally wonder where the road is taking me. Writing helps because I can let the longing overtake me, in that quiet place where my mind meets my story and possibility is born. I can feel it powerfully directing me on a twisting road. I can handle it with abandon. The only sufferer of my longing then is my own mind and the characters that populate it.

The Choices We Make as Writers

from stickynotethinkers.com

I’m grappling right now with choice. I find choices relatively easy in my everyday life. To me, a decision is never the final say on something, so it doesn’t scare me. But when you are writing for a character, making choices can be a little bit more difficult. Most of my major rewrites have involved choices I made that were lazy. I can be a little lazy.

Occasionally. Let’s not get crazy, mostly I’m obsessive and manic. This can be good for a writer. In the first draft of my manuscript I wrote the entire inciting incident without my protagonist seeing it. She was told about it after the fact. I did this for a few reasons.

  1. I was new to writing action and felt a little intimidated by it.
  2. I didn’t really want go there. It was a lot more pleasant to hear someone else’s account rather than put her — or myself — through it.
  3. I didn’t know her that well.
  4. I had fears it would be a jumbled mess.
  5. Lazy ass.

Now, when I had done all that writing (6,000 words give or take, from the inciting incident to what followed) I began to feel uneasy. I knew that this was not good enough. I knew that I was being a coward, but the thought of cutting all of that and doing it over made me ill and need more coffee. Eventually I gave up. I cut, I rewrote, and it is one of my favorite passages in the entire book. It is emotional and nerve-racking and dark. It also prepared me for future massive cuts (the largest being the last 20,000 words almost completely) and taught me how to be a better writer.

That was a choice I made for the audience, and for me as a writer, it wasn’t for my protagonist. There is a choice I’ve made for her, a decision she actually comes to in the end of the book, that I’m not sure I can live with. It’s a bad choice. It’s murderous and selfish and kind of outside her character. It’s also exciting and willful, but I’m not sure it’s necessary. It’s something I’m grappling with right now. What do I do? I’m stuck between a rock and a hard place. I’m also feeling rather lazy.

Why lazy? Why do I keep referring to myself as “lazy”? Because I had felt done, at least, done from the perspective of a writer who’s never been published feels done. Then I made the royally stupid to choice to write a synopsis of my novel (something you need for your agent) and it brought to light this potential flaw. Maybe I’m not lazy, I’m just obsessed. Maybe I should take up knitting or start to exercise, maybe that will distract me?

(*I’m just throwing those out as two options. Two, very boring options.)

As a writer we are forced to make choices as our characters. We are forced to get inside their minds and root around for truth. It makes us feel ugly things sometimes. It makes us shock ourselves. We also have to choose when enough is enough, or when there’s more.