Thursday, June 30, 2011

Catching Up & Moving On

The time I spent in DC last summer/over Christmas break was invaluable. Not only did I learn a lot about publishing, but I learned what it was like to live in a place that wasn't Cows Town, Wisconsin (I wonder if that's actually a real place...?). More importantly, though, I made some really great friends. I stopped by my old internship last week to play catchup, only to find that a manuscript I'd edited last summer recently sold in a three book deal! Soon enough I'll be able to hold a copy in my hands and talk everyone I know into buying it. (And as soon as I know I can officially say something, I'll let you guys know -- that way you can start getting excited too!) It was fun meeting the new foreign rights person/former intern, and catching up with Elaine. I'm jealous I'm not at RWA, though I can't say I'm sorry to be missing out on the 14.7% tax on hotel rooms in Manhattan.

Then this week I got to have dinner with one of the girls I interned with last summer, who now works at the Sagalyn Literary Agency, which is just outside of DC. It's always good to hear that your friends actually like their jobs, and hear about all the stuff they're learning. It just reinforces how much I want to work in this industry. Lauren and I had dinner, then headed over to Kramerbooks, which is a staple here in DC. It's a really fantastic indie bookstore in Dupont Circle, and if you're ever in the area, make sure you check it out. Not only does it have a wide selection of books, but there's food and alcohol to boot. It's like the best of pretty much everything. We also made our way up toward U Street and had dessert at ACKC, which was incredible. Another place to check out if you're ever in town.

Today I caught up with Naomi, who used to do foreign rights/handled YA submissions with Elaine. (As long as I'm plugging local DC hangouts, I'll tell you guys to hit up Nooshi as well. I'd never been, but it was awesome.) Seeing her brought back memories of last summer and how much I loved my internship and the people I worked with. And now, even though none of us work there, it's good to know those friendships are still intact, if not stronger. (Anna's included in this, but she's in New York right now, so I haven't had the chance to see her yet.)

So this is basically me being a big ol' sap and saying how glad I am I had the opportunity to intern out here last year. It was, by far, the best experience of my life. (Minus graduation, which goes without saying because, hey, who likes homework?)

Now, I don't know what's in store for me. Sometime next week, or the week after, I'm going to take the train up to New York City for a few days and see if I can't track down an apartment. I've applied for jobs, but even if I don't get any of them, it's time to head up that way. DC was always just a stop on the way, and as much as I love it here, I've got cabin fever. I'm itching to dive head-first into New York City living. So while my Plan That's Not Really a Plan is still kind of vague, it's slowly but surely solidifying. I'd definitely say things are looking up.

Friday, June 24, 2011

Living Through History

I am So. Proud. to be moving to such an incredible state. Congratulations, New York! You've done this country proud.

Friday, June 17, 2011

Writing in Style (Or Style in Writing?)

Anyone who knows me in real life (or just follows my inane ramblings on twitter or tumblr) knows that my not-so-secret second love in life is fashion. Every morning I wake up and check the publishing blogs I subscribe to, then immediately move on to the style blogs. My writing may be influenced that day by some tips I picked up, and my outfit may just be an interpretation of something I saw online. Either way, my day has been impacted by the two things I love most.

But what does fashion have to do with writing, you wonder. Besides the obvious fact that your characters wear clothes (or maybe they don’t. Maybe you’re writing about a nudist colony, in which case, this post may not be relevant).

As writers, we’re told to infuse our characters with personality. No one wants to read an entire novel where the main character is as bland as a piece of burnt, unbuttered toast. We’re told to give them quirks, a distinct voice, and maybe a few defining physical features. Clothing, I think, falls into the same category. Maybe it’s just me, but I pay close attention when an author takes the time to describe what a person is wearing, even if it’s only a passing sentence. Suzanne Collins doesn’t really waste a lot of words on Katniss’s dress for the opening ceremony. In fact, this is all we get:

“I am dressed in what will either be the most sensational or the deadliest costume in the opening ceremonies. I’m in a simple black unitard that covers me from ankle to neck. Shiny leather boots lace up to my knees. But it’s the fluttering cape made of streams of orange, yellow, and red and the matching headpiece that define this costume. “

“My face is relatively clear of makeup, just a bit of highlighting here and there. My hair has been brushed out and then braided down my back in my usual style.”

It’s pretty vague, if we’re being honest. We have absolutely no idea what the headpiece even looks like. But that’s okay, because we’re given an impression. In our minds, we’re able to understand that the dress is, in a lot of ways, like Katniss herself: simple yet powerful.

Period pieces require a little more effort than a contemporary novel. Instead of saying a character’s wearing jeans and a t-shirt, you’ve got to worry about historical accuracy. I took a class on the history of fashion in college, just so I’d have the basic information if I decided I ever wanted to write in that genre. The text book is actually a really great reference for anyone who’s looking for one: Survey of Historic Costume. There’s also a great website (the KCI Digital Archives) that has a lot of fantastic images compiled for your perusal. If you’ve read any historical romance novels, you’ll know that fashion plays a bigger role than it does in contemporary stories, if only because a person had to change so often, and a specific garment meant a specific thing in a specific situation. These days we don’t really have that problem; at least, not to such a degree.

Taking characterization into consideration, I think clothing is a totally legit way to help your readers understand them. I mentioned once how black clothing doesn’t make your leading man a bad boy, but it’s still making a statement. Same goes for that girl who’s always wearing frumpy clothes inspired by Laura Ingalls Wilder. Maybe she’s poor and can’t afford nice things. Maybe she doesn’t believe in wearing pants. Maybe she thinks she’s stuck in the 1800s. Whatever the reason, it speaks to her character as a whole.

Lately I’ve been trying to pay more attention to my physical portrayal of people and places. I’ve made a conscious effort to include some sort of clothing description where it’s necessary, and one of my CPs mentioned the interior of my main setting seemed a bit lackluster. Needless to say, I took the time to spruce it up. I realized she was right — initially, it was just a standard house. There was nothing defining about it. Now, as I go back and edit, it’s begun to take on a personality of its own. Which goes to say that clothing doesn’t just belong on people — you can dress up a setting, too!

If you’re anything like me and prefer a visual to help you with your descriptions, the above websites should be pretty helpful. Also, take a look at Not only can you create visual representations of outfits, but interiors as well! I’ve definitely found it to be a very helpful tool in certain situations.

What about you guys? Do you think clothing can be an important aspect of characterization? I’d love to hear what you have to say!

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

A Musical Secret

We’ve had plenty of articles about the importance of outlining here at LTWF, but today I thought I’d throw one more at you. Something a little out of left field, if you will. Something different. Because when it comes to outlining, I’ve never been a fan. In fact, I pretty openly despise it. Only recently have I been somewhat converted to the monstrosity known as the Detailed Outline (meaning I’ve only done it for one book); in every other instance (including the novel I actually made a Detailed Outline for), I’ve gone about things a bit differently.

My secret? I outline using music.

Writers are inspired by all sorts of things. Maybe for you it’s a conversation you overheard on the subway, or a really incredible piece of art. Maybe your ideas come to you while you’re in the shower, or in the middle of taking an exam. For me, music’s always been my muse. I tend to write my novels as if they were movies — I can see them play out in my head and, more importantly, can imagine the soundtrack playing faintly in the background. Ironically, I can’t write with music playing, but it’s a huge factor in actually getting me to write.

Allow me to explain how this all works.

Step 1: I get an idea for a novel. For realism’s sake, we’ll use my current WIP as an example.

Step 2: I open iTunes. That’s right — before I even open Word, I’ve got to get a playlist started. I even come bearing an example:

As you can see, this is the playlist for SILENCE. It’s still growing, but the initial playlist, before I even began writing, consisted of about 20 songs. Because the story’s very melancholy and quiet, I put together a compilation of songs that I thought would work well to set the tone. For example: William Fitzsimmons, Peter Bradley Adams, and a bunch of instrumentals.

Step 3: Start writing.

Step 4: Add songs to playlist. As new scenes are written, I try to imagine what song might be playing in the background if it were actually a movie. Most of the time the song actually inspires the scene, but sometimes it’s the other way around. For example, I consider SILENCE’s theme song to be If You Would Come Back Home by William Fitzsimmons, which is at the very top of the playlist. It isn’t directly related to any scene, but I always listen to it before I start editing. It really helps me sink back into the story and how I felt when I was writing it. Some people set the mood for a romantic evening at home. Me? I set the mood for a romantic evening with me and my computer.

Pivotal scenes often get more than one song. In the first chapter of SILENCE, the main character has a flashback to the night her parents died. The scene initially starts with a song from Yann Tiersen’s Amelie score, but as the tension grows, it turns into a song from Mansfield Park. Different instruments lend themselves to certain feelings, and in some cases, instrumentals aren’t even good enough. Sometimes you need lyrics. My soundtracks are so random and mismatched, but somehow, it just works.

By the time I’m done with a story (written and edited), the playlist is usually between 30 and 50 songs. It really depends on how scene-specific I get. SILENCE is a bit more like that, while my playlist for THE AGE OF NEVER GROWING OLD is more generic and mood-setting than anything. It all depends on the story. All I know is that this is the only real way I can outline. I start associating songs and lyrics with specific scenes or characters. The first novel I wrote had a pretty short playlist (short being 25 songs), but every time one of those comes up on my shuffle, I’m still reminded of scenes I wrote nearly a decade ago. Music sticks with you, which is why I think it’s been such an effective tool for me. So for those of you who are like me and are having trouble outlining, maybe give the musical route a go. If anything, you’ll get an awesome playlist out of it!

Thursday, June 9, 2011

And So Summer Begins

Being 23 is weird. Like, legitimately weird. 23 means actually being an adult. It means I finally made it through five years of college. That my loan payments start in a few months. That my little sister is graduating from high school. That I have to take that step and start to make something of my life. That I have to leave everything I know behind me and make a life for myself.

Two weeks from today, I'm moving to New York. Well, I'm going to DC to visit first, but my end destination is New York. What will I have with me? Two suitcases and a really big dream. I don't have a place to live, and I don't really have any money that I can call my own. All I've got is a dream at this point. And you know what? That's okay. Because I'm willing to do the work. Publishing isn't the easiest field to snag a job in, I know that. Finding an agent isn't easy either, but I'm almost ready to start querying again. This summer, things are going to change. Sammy Bina is going to get her new book out there, she's going to get a job, and she's going to finally be free of Wisconsin and its endless miles of fields. And mudders. (You know, I'd never even heard of mudding until this year? And now I see it everywhere and it makes me want to vomit.)

I'll try to document the big move as much as possible! And since I am now unemployed until I get to NYC next month, I'll actually have time to update this blog again!

Hope everyone's enjoying their summer!