Sunday, June 27, 2010

On Improvement

In the last four days, I've pumped out over 12k for my new WIP, SCARRED. So far, I'm in love with it. I like where it's going, I like the story arcs that are starting to form, and as much as I love THE AGE OF NEVER GROWING OLD, I think I might be shelving it soon. Not because it's bad, because it isn't. But I think SCARRED is better.

Which brings me to the point of today's post: improvement.

I once read somewhere that you should stop querying a project when you have something better to send out. While SCARRED is nowhere near the querying phase (it isn't even finished), I have a really good feeling about it.

TANGO was the first novel I wrote with the intention of actually getting it published. Sure, I'd written a few other books, but they're all in dire need of editing and revisions. My writing has grown so much since I was a teenager, and frankly, I'm kind of embarrassed by some of the things I wrote when I was younger. For a 16-year-old, sure, it wasn't bad. But at that point in my life, I'd never taken a writing course, and while my dream was (and still is) to be a published author, I wasn't writing towards that goal.

College really changed the way I write. Originally, I started college as a journalism major. I used to read the LEFT BEHIND books by Tim LaHaye and Jerry Jenkins, and the main character in that series was a reporter (it probably helped that his character in the movie was played by Kirk Cameron, whom I love). I saw that when I was... 10, maybe, and that's what made me want to be a journalist. And then I sat through one giant 500 person Mass Comm lecture, and wanted to die.

I realized I wanted to write for myself, not because someone told me to. I'd been writing stories and fan fiction since I was a kid, so creative writing seemed like a natural progression. I took a class on poetry (which I will forever fail at), and then two fiction workshops, and I knew I'd found exactly what I was looking for. The first short story I wrote for class was TERRIBLE. Like, really bad. Atrocious. It was supposed to be a horror piece, but everyone thought it was a parody, and the whole thing was basically a disaster. Didn't take me long to figure out I'm not much of a short story writer.

Then I heard the magic words: "You know you can submit longer pieces for critique, right?"

So I did. Everything I turned in after that (save one or two pieces) was from a novel I was working on. Being able to expand story arcs and develop characters, I think the kids in my class began to realize what sort of writer I was, and offered some really valuable suggestions that I still keep with me while I write today. I had some really great professors for my fiction workshops (long live Professor Richard Knowles), and my writer grew by leaps and bounds.

But the real source of my improvement and maturity as a writer came with my thesis this past spring. Like I said, it was the first thing I'd written in hopes of actually getting it published. Nate was incredible to work with, and his suggestions were invaluable. He instilled in me a confidence I'd never had before when it came to writing. What's more, Mika and Marie helped to hone my writing. I realized what kinds of traps I often got myself stuck in, and I learned a crapton about self-editing. TANGO was an incredible learning experience, one I wouldn't trade for the world.

But because TANGO was a learning experience, just as every story is, I've been able to take those lessons and apply them to SCARRED. I went back and edited the first three chapters yesterday, and realized there were less things to fix than there were in TANGO (though I'm sure Mika and Marie would disagree!). There's this quiet confidence that comes while I'm writing now, and the further I get in the story, the more often I find myself nodding. I'll think to myself, "This is it. This could really be a strong debut novel if you put your mind to it."

So I am. I'll keep querying TANGO until I finish this first draft of SCARRED, and then I will shelve it for my future agent to look over once my name is out there. At the rate I'm going, SCARRED will be making its rounds to agents' emails in a few months, and I have a few who've said they'd like to see some of my other work. And SCARRED is very different from TANGO. So for now I will keep my nose to the grind, appreciate all the learning that has led me to this point, and keep charging forward. One of these days, I'll be writing a post about how I got an agent, and all this querying will be worth it. I'm looking forward to it :-)

(And, speaking of improvement, look! I finally found a layout that I like! And I apologize for all the changes lately. This one should be sticking around for a loooong time. I promise.)

Wednesday, June 23, 2010


I have issues. I worked myself to the bone over my thesis, and I'm still proud of what I wrote. I still love it, and I still want to see it on a shelf someday. There is no question about that. At the same time, I've discovered just how much my writing's grown over the last year. The process of writing and revising TANGO taught me a lot about how I write, and how to self-edit better. For those things along, I'm incredibly thankful.

That being said, the last few months have been rough, writing-wise. Usually I've got a handful of ideas to pick from, but ever since I finished TANGO, I haven't had a direction to go in. One idea sounded good, then turned out to be a disaster. Then two weeks ago I got an idea for WHEN THE WORLD STOPPED (which I'm still writing. I think.), which holds a lot of promise. I've never outlined a story before, but I made some pretty good plans for that one, which means I have direction, and one I know is solid. After three months, I finally had something to write again.

Then last night I had this crazy dream. It spanned an entire storyline, and when I woke up, I knew what I had to do. It was one of those rare moments of inspiration where you know you have a story to tell. I can't remember everything about the dream, but I have bits and pieces, and an overall feeling, which, for me, tends to work pretty well. I've always been more of a write-by-the-seat-of-my-pants kind of gal, so this piece is right up my alley. Granted, I haven't written YA in a long, long time, so it's a little strange to go back. However, I spent the afternoon working through part of the first chapter of this new story, SCARRED, and I'm pretty happy with it. So I thought I'd leave you guys with a little teaser. Keep in mind, this is a really rough first draft, and I'm sick, but I like it anyway, oddly enough! Which is really all I can ask for at this point.

Do any of you guys have this problem? Aka, the too-many-ideas-to-pick-from problem?

A long, sorrowful howl drifted in through the open window, sending a rattling chill down my spine. It echoed across the field behind our house, hanging in the air like a speck of dust that just wouldn’t settle. The rest of the night was eerily still; even the crickets had stopped their tinkling song. The owl that lived in our barn was silent, the leaves on the old oak didn’t rustle, and the usual sounds that filled our house at night were strangely absent. The floorboards didn’t creak, and the foundation refused to settle. Everything was just… still.


Rolling onto my side, I pulled my comforter to my chin and blew out a shaky breath. I couldn’t put my finger on it, but something felt, well, not right. The air around me seemed electrified, causing the hair on my arms to stand on end. My heart thrummed in my chest at an unusual pace, and even though the world was silent, my ears were buzzing. I felt lightheaded, my entire body tingling as if prodded by a thousand tiny ice picks. I pressed the back of my hand to my forehead, expecting it to be warm. Instead, it came away cold and clammy.

Maybe I could call in sick today. I was so close to graduating - what was one missed day of school? I hadn’t been absent since my surgery last spring. I think I was entitled to one day that was free of high school gossip and the stares that followed me everywhere I went. Over the last twelve months, I’d come to realize just how bad some of the kids in school had it. Teenagers could be ruthless.
Pulling my blanket tighter around me, I tried to focus. Even if I weren’t going to school, I’d still like to catch a few more hours of shuteye. Last night’s dreams had been haunted by fangs and dizzying howls, and waking up to find that some elements of my dream had followed me into the world of the living wasn’t very comforting. I strained my ears for any signs of life in the house. Dad was away on business, but the loud snores that usually came from my brother’s room were missing. He hadn’t been coming home lately, so that wasn’t really a surprise. Still, I’d expected to hear something from my parents’ room, or my sister’s. But the longer I waited, the more oppressive the silence grew.

Maybe if I just close my eyes, I thought, I’ll fall asleep. I’d tried counting sheep before, and that never helped. Neither did warm milk, or sleep aids. It’s like I was meant to be an insomniac, or something. No matter what I did, sleep was nothing more than a passing phase that never lasted as long as I’d have liked.

Outside, the wolf released its mournful sound again. Curiosity got the best of me, and I crawled from my bed to pull back the thin curtains covering the window. A cool breeze caressed my face as I pressed it against the screen. Squinting into the night, it didn’t take long to spot the wolf hovering at the edge of the field. Its snowy fur stood out against the dark treeline that bordered our yard. I’d seen him before, heard his cry. It haunted my dreams and was the reason I hardly slept anymore.

I touched my cheek. He was the reason I couldn’t feel it.

Thursday, June 17, 2010

Meanderings on the Metro

Since I've been really sick (and thus not at work) lately, I don't really have any intern tips at the moment. However, I still come bearing gifts. I've been in D.C. for over six weeks now, and I use the metro (bus & train) pretty frequently. In fact, to get to my internship, I need to take a bus and two trains. I'm a notorious people watcher, and the commute has provided me quite a plethora of interesting sights. I thought I would share some of them with you now!

1. I am reminded of the fact that men (especially old men) with really long nails creep me out.

2. In six weeks, I have seen ONE man give up his seat on the train. And it wasn't for an elderly person. No, we make the elderly stand here.

3. The Woodley Park/Zoo stop = adorable children.

4. Teenage boys can be really obnoxious. The other day two ran into my car (the train, not an actual vehicle) at the last minute, and played James Bond. There was extensive rolling around on the floor (Ew), "hiding" in seats and behind poles (impossible), finger guns, etc. I think they shot the woman sitting next to me.

5. Old men in business suits seem to think they're immune to things. Like seating propriety. Where their body only takes up one of the two seats, they make sure they spread out over both. During rush hour.

6. So. Many. Fannypacks.

7. So many tourists don't bother looking at a metro map before they get on the train. And then they start panicking when they think they've missed their stop. I dunno, but maybe it would have made sense to look at said map, and figure out where you were going BEFORE you got on a crowded train.

8. If you catch the right train in the morning, there's this really happy driver who, when he announces the stops, is so over-the-top theatrical. It's great. "Good moooorning, ladies and gents! Neeeeext stop! Shaaaaady Grove!"

9. Sometimes, there's this crazy man who lays on one of the seats and talks to himself about the latest government conspiracies. I try to stay away from him. He's always wearing sunglasses, and I can't tell if he's looking at me or not.

10. One day, the man next to me on the bus just took notes on all the other people on the bus. Ie: "Sleeping on bus?! How you do that?" and "Man takes out $10. Why?" Way creepier than people watching.

11. It took me six weeks, but I finally saw a musician pull out a guitar in the subway and start playing.

12. People in DC are bad drivers. I've been on a bus that was almost hit at least a dozen times.

Thursday, June 10, 2010

Writing Slumps And Dumps

I have to admit, I've been pretty annoyed lately. I've been down in the dumps about this awful writing slump of mine. After spending months on TANGO, writing or editing nearly every day, it's been weird to just sit around. Now that the story's complete, and agents are looking at it, I vowed to work on another project. So I started TAC (The Age of Consequence, the second book in the series), then decided it might be best to take a little break from that world and start a side project to help keep myself balanced. Personally, I find working on two very different projects to be very helpful in terms of keeping myself sane. I don't know why, it's just the way I've always been.

So I went through my graveyard file (yes, it's legitimately named that, and color-coded gray) and dug out an old favorite of mine, Abra Cadaver. I'd written about 35k back in 2007, but reading through it, realized how terrible it was. Determined to fix it, I labeled the rewrite, Saving Grace, as my summer 2010 project.

And after a week, I gave up.

I had no fire for the story, and no idea what to do with it. Everything I tried to write came out sounding like crap, and I was left feeling deflated and angry.

Where was my muse? Why had it abandoned me? It was as if anything outside the TANGO realm refused to be written. I couldn't work on old stories, and where I'm usually bombarded by new ideas daily (I think my writer friends, and readers, are probably sick of my writing ADD), I hadn't had one in months. I felt dried up and washed out, and it was a feeling I did not enjoy.

My best friend offered a few suggestions, all of which I turned down. Not because they were bad ideas, but because I know how I write, and I know what does and doesn't work for me. She suggested I work on some shorter pieces, or take a break, or use Write or Die to coax something out of the darkness of my pen. And I'm sure some of those things would have worked for someone else, but they just couldn't fix me.

In truth, I usually just sit around and wait. I tried to write through it, but that idea failed. Hoping inspiration would strike seemed like the best bet.

And I turned out to be right.

I'm usually inspired by really ridiculous things that somehow weave themselves into a legit plot once I start writing. TANGO sprung from my Nazi Germany class. This latest idea of mine came from a commercial for America's Most Wanted, of all things. I wasn't expecting it, but in the two days since I saw the commercial, I've written a prologue I'm actually really happy with. And while I still haven't worked out the plot's finer points, I've got a direction, and I'm running with it.

I think we all go through slumps in our writing. No doubt, they're incredibly frustrating, and make you want to bash your head against your desk. The best advice I can give, however, is to be patient. Ideas are like love - they come to you when you least expect them.