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So I’ve finished three books.* One of them is sitting patiently waiting for revisions, one is currently on the operating table, and one is out in the world. Still. (Is the Bermuda Triangle located in lower Manhattan? Because it’s entirely possible my MS has been sucked into the vortex). Anyway, the question, for me, anyway, is now what?*scratches head and stares into the distance*

Do I start another book? Push hard on querying until I have an agent? Not even think about revising book three until I’ve officially finished with book one, one way or another? I have no real clue.

I have no idea.

I have gotten some really great feedback on SWIM, the young adult paranormal about a mer girl and her summer of falling in love with a human. Enough that I figured I was right about here:

On the other hand, I’ve had some pretty soul-crushing feedback as well. Enough so that I’m feeling this is a better option:

And then I’ve been told there’s no way to sell mermaids in this market, they’re done to death (unlike vampires that are done to undeath. Bwahahahhahahaha. Sorry). So then I think I should just move on and try to query the next one.

In short: mull mull mull. I’m mulling over all of this stuff.

It’s kind of easy to get frozen in this mulling stage. And that’s not really helpful, no matter what I decide.

Then I read a blog post by another YA author Natalie Whipple. She wrote a post about “10 Things I Would Have Done Differently” in her publishing journey (her first book Transparent, is coming out in 2013). While I encourage you to click on the link and read the post, some of her wishes were as follows:

1. I wish I didn’t query so soon. While I learned a lot from querying four novels, I also think I caused myself more pain and rejection than necessary. The thing is, deep down I knew my work wasn’t really ready, but I’d hoped to get in anyway. I was being lazy, trying to do as little as possible.
2. I wish I didn’t spend so much time online. I have made great connections and learned a TON from being part of the online community, but at the same time it distracted me from the most important aspect of being a writer—writing. I did it the wrong way. I networked first, focused on my writing second. It should be the other way around.
3. I wish I hadn’t cared so much about getting published. That probably sounds weird, but it’s one of my biggest regrets. I spent more time trying to be a Published Author than trying to be a Good Writer. It was only when I put being a Good Writer first that the whole Published Author part followed.
4. I wish I’d spent more time studying the craft. I used to think my natural talent would get me through the gate. I would write stories without much thought to if the plot worked or not, if the characters were real or not, if the world made sense or not. I feel like I squandered my talent for a long time because I relied solely on talent instead of pushing myself to get better.
5. I wish I took editing seriously. I spent way too long doing edits that did not cut it. Sadly, it wasn’t until my 8th book that I really learned how to revise. Before that, I would do as little as humanly possible to satisfy my crit partners’ concerns. I never made big enough changes, never believed I NEEDED to make bigger changes. It was only when I really dug in, saw my story as malleable, that I truly improved.
6. I wish I didn’t follow publishing news so closely. Learning about major deals and tours and cover reveals and all that only made me antsy and frustrated. I could have used my time obsessing over those things to write a stellar book. Or five. And I would have had more confidence to do it, too.
7. I wish I spent more time living and less time waiting. Sitting around refreshing my inbox got me nowhere. It sounds harsh, but I wasted a lot of time letting The Wait torture me. I could have been living, doing new things, gaining experiences that would create new stories for me to write. Writing, while it is a lot of work, also requires inspiration, and I let myself get low on that.

She continues, but I think the kernel of wisdom is right there for me. Spend less time waiting and more time living. Focus on the craft. And don’t worry about getting published.

So I still don’t know what I’m going to do next. There is a traffic jam of ideas waiting to get out of my head. There are three books I’m really proud of waiting to get edited and polished and cleaned up some more. There are always more stories to be told.

Hopefully, I’ll get to tell them all.

But in the meantime the days are getting longer and there are adventures to have outside with Small Daughter and Large Son. So my plan is to keep writing, keep revising, and not waste too much time waiting. Because no matter what the destination, it’s always worth making the journey as wonderful as possible.

 

 

*by three books I mean three books that are worthy of the MBs they’re stored on, as opposed to whatever brain droppings may have come before.

 

 

This is a fun road trip that the YA Highway folk have dreamed up (even if I wish I were traveling by jet pack. When are they coming? Seriously!)

Today’s topic: What writing superpowers do you have? And what’s your kryptonite?

Well that’s easy. My superpower is the same as many other writers, and it’s probably the most common and least regarded power in the world:

IMAGINATION!

Leaving aside that these kids scare the heck out of me (sweater vest? Exploding heads? WTH??) I do feel that this is how my brain works. There is a LOT of wild and wooly stuff going on in there. Mermaids, girls who climb Everest, boys who happen to be around when the world is starting to crumble, societies where the only way to keep information is to imprison young women…these all roll around my head.

So, yeah. Imagination is my superpower. Give me a cape and a pair of shiny tights and I can save the world.

Now…my kryptonite?

That’s easy too.

I procrastinate like it’s my job.

Yes. Yes, I do. I can spend more time thinking my wonderful ideas and then folding laundry, doing paid work, calling the Sister, and generally running around like a chicken with my head cut off, and, shockingly, nothing gets written.

What I really need is Wonder Woman to nail my butt to a chair and stand over me with her lasso threatening to kill me if I get up.

Unfortunately, I don’t have enough imagination to picture her there. So I think I’ll get up and grab a fresh cup of coffee before I get to work…

I hate it when they do this, I really do. Those sadists over at YA Highway always like to make us choose favorites, and I hate that. (I have a real problem with any hierarchical ranking…I realize this about myself. I don’t even like to rank my favorite breakfast cereals, let alone songs, books, movies, etc.).

But, here we go.

Actually, the book I’m going with I haven’t even finished yet. And it’s quite disturbing and hard to read sometimes. It definitely falls into that “dark YA” trend that occasionally gets people up in arms. But the writing is extraordinary,and despite the darkness there are some lovely joyful moments. And the fact that I can’t get it out of my head definitely means it is worth of being:

The Best book of October:

STICK, by Andrew Smith

I confess, this is not the kind of book I would normally read. Not because I don’t enjoy it, but because it is darker and grittier than what I am writing these days, and therefore what I am reading these days. But my dear writer friend Helene is indeed writing dark and gritty work (and quite well, too, I might add), so when she sent this to me with the note – “can’t wait to hear your thoughts” I knew I would read it.

As I said, STICK covers some difficult topics, and breaks your heart a little bit while you’re reading it. But it is also a great example of how young adult literature can challenge us, engage us, hurt us a little, and ultimately – hopefully – redeem us.

Happy Road Trip Wednesday! What have you read lately?

It’s been a while, but I’m back on the road with with YA Highway gang. Today’s question: What supporting character deserves his or her own starring role?

*crickets*

*blink blink*
I know, right? There are literally hundreds of stories I want to hear, stories that are hinted at but never told. For most highwayers, the answer lies in the pages of Harry Potter. And goodness knows there could be endless stories written about Draco, about Snape, or of course, my fave, Neville

And yes, there is always my burning desire for more Fred and George. Before.  *ahem. wipes tear.*

But…what OTHER books?

Well, although it would break my heart, Rue, from The Hunger Games. I want to know more about her district, her song, her family. And yes, I know it would just about kill me. But I was curious.

 

And…I want to know SO many of the characters in The Sky is Everywhere by Jandy Nelson. After all, I even want to move in next door to them.  I want to know more about Joe (Bat. Bat) and Gram. But mostly, I want to know more about Big. He’s her uncle, he hangs out in trees, he gets high a lot, he’s kind of amazing.  I want to hear about him.

 

 

 

And finally, because I just finished reading the GREGOR THE OVERLANDER series by Suzanne Collins (and if you haven’t read them OMG go go go and read them!) and there are so many there I want to know more about: Hammet, the warrior who fled his kingdom to live in danger because he swore he “would do no more harm”; Ripred, the rat whose cunning and – yes – wisdom masks such sadness; Luxa, the young queen whose arrogance, bravery, and sadness are unending…the list goes on and on.

So clearly, a note to Suzanne Collins: Start writing those spin-off books! I’m waiting!

 

 

What about you? What supporting actors do you think deserve a starring role?

 

It’s Banned Book Week again, my favorite time of the year to remember how outrageous it is that morons judge and disqualify literature they often haven’t even read.  Needless to say, this makes me nuts.

It’s easy to go nuts over this. But what do we do? What actions can we take that make a difference in the face of this?

Well, the first is simple: Read. Support authors, especially living, breathing, trying-to-make-a-living authors who are fighting book challenges. (Because while it’s ludicrous and depressing that schools keep banning THE ADVENTURES OF HUCKLEBERRY FINN at least that author isn’t trying to earn out his advance).

According to the American Library Association (ALA) the most frequently banned books in 2010 were:

  1. And Tango Makes Three, by Peter Parnell and Justin Richardson
    Reasons: homosexuality, religious viewpoint, and unsuited to age group
  2. The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian, by Sherman Alexie
    Reasons: offensive language, racism, sex education, sexually explicit, unsuited to age group, and violence
  3. Brave New World, by Aldous Huxley
    Reasons: insensitivity, offensive language, racism, and sexually explicit
  4. Crank, by Ellen Hopkins
    Reasons: drugs, offensive language, and sexually explicit
  5. The Hunger Games, by Suzanne Collins
    Reasons: sexually explicit, unsuited to age group, and violence
  6. Lush, by Natasha Friend
    Reasons: drugs, offensive language, sexually explicit, and unsuited to age group
  7. What My Mother Doesn’t Know, by Sonya Sones
    Reasons: sexism, sexually explicit, and unsuited to age group
  8. Nickel and Dimed, by Barbara Ehrenreich
    Reasons: drugs, inaccurate, offensive language, political viewpoint, and religious viewpoint
  9. Revolutionary Voices, edited by Amy Sonnie
    Reasons:  homosexuality and sexually explicit
  10. Twilight, by Stephenie Meyer*
    Reasons: religious viewpoint and violence

The best way to support reading ALL books is to support the authors who write them. This sends a clear message to publishers and the rest of the industry that yes, there is a market for brave books. For the ten people in the world who haven’t heard yet, the economy is kind of lousy right now, and publishing is certainly taking its share of the pain. Buy books. It’s that simple.

Also, if you haven’t read Sherman Alexie’s THE ABSOLUTELY TRUE DIARY OF A PART-TIME INDIAN do so. Now.

The second suggestion I have is more complex, and it comes largely from a blog post I read by YA author Aprilynne Pike. She was writing about a kerfuffle this year when another YA author, Ellen Hopkins, was uninvited from a literary festival. Ellen Hopkins writes pretty gritty, intense books, and she was unequivocally censored when she was asked not to come to the festival. In response, and as a protest, many other authors pulled out of the festival as well. Ultimately, the festival was cancelled due to a pointed lack of authors. One would say it was an effective protest, no?

Except that, as Aprilynne points out in her blog post, the big loser here is not the literary festival. It’s the teenagers in Humble, Texas. They’re the ones who lost out on a bunch of awesome coming their way. Her blog post went on to suggest another possible course of action – a stealth, guerilla Che Guevara course of action. Bring Ellen Hopkins along! Not in person (that would be awkward to pack). But bring her books and give them away freely. Mention her in every speech. Make sure, when publicly thanking the shitweasels who banned her, to mention her name and her book titles a few times.

In this case, who loses? The pooweasels, who look like fools and who have failed to take Ellen Hopkins out of the picture! Not the authors, who get to share their words with the audience, not the kids, who manage to get cool authors to come to their parochial and close-minded town, not even Ellen Hopkins, whose books would likely be noticed more than ever. (And btw, I am in NO way blaming the authors who protested, or saying they screwed up. They took a stand for something they believe in and more power to them).

So what am I saying? Really, it’s back to my pretty simple first point. Read. Buy books. Buy banned books. If you hate them, think about why, about what upset you so. Then, go out and read some more.

Well, not really. As a writer, I somewhat take umbrage with that statement. And woe to the would-be-helpful friend to suggests that to a writer who is working on her blog. Just sayin’.*

*Yes, Marshall, I’m talking to you

So this week’s Road Trip Wednesday, from that fab bunch at YA Highway: What pictures inspire your work?

When writing SWIM, the story of a Mer girl trying to reconcile her love of her life under the sea with the rules that bind her, I channeled all the incredible love I have for the ocean. The way it feels to dive under a green-gold wave and look up through the water at the sun sparkling above; the freshness and awakening that following the first swim of the year; the magical buoyancy that we humans so rarely get to experience.

To that end, I looked at a lot of photos of surfers, waves, oceans, divers, and the like.  So here they are: a few of the images that inspired SWIM:

 

What about you? What inspires you?

Usually I’m a big fan of those talented folks over at YA Highway but today I’m just annoyed. Today’s Road Trip Wednesday?

What is the best book you’ve read in June?

Gah…it’s like asking which kid I loved best this month. Not. Cool. But I’m going to do it anyway, largely because I wanted to blog about this book for Monday Book Love but lost track of time. (Fail).

So…my favorite book of June:

WHEN YOU REACH ME by Rebecca Stead

This was one of those books I had heard about for a while, but hadn’t actually read and wasn’t quite sure it was going to be for me, whatever that means. But my ten-year-old neighbor had a copy (LOVE that I get to borrow books from my neighbor), and he loaned it to me, warning, “It’s pretty good. Not as good as HATCHET [by Gary Paulson, which we had recently discussed] but still cool. It’s kind of weird.”

That’s always a good sign.  And the fact is, I’m not surprised that my Gary-Paulson-loving neighbor only liked it. It’s subtle, complex, beautifully written, mysterious, and, ultimately, slightly heartbreaking despite the happy ending. Not necessarily for an action-seeking ten-year-old.

Excellent factors:

 #1: Good single mom

  Kids books can be overly-full of terrible parents (or dead parents, as mentioned in my recent post). But WHEN YOU REACH ME has that rare and wonderful find; a realistic, imperfect, but wholly loving single mother. While we might roll our eyes along with Mira at her mom’s ridiculous tights or over-reliance on spaghetti, she comes through in the clutch. AND she refuses to buy grapes to protest the treatment of the pickers…fight the power!

Yes, this cover is seriously old-school and there is an updated one. But I still like this best.

#2: A Wrinkle in Time

Miranda is obsessed with this book, by Madeleine L’Engle. Some of the science fiction comes into play. If you haven’t read it…well. I don’t really know what to say. Go read it. Now.

#3: 20,000 Pyramid

If you grew up in the 70s and 80s you knew this game, and the dumb-as-a-stump “celebrities”  (and I use that term loosely, because really, what A-List star wants to be on daytime game shows?). Suffice it to say this game plays a substantial role in their lives.

So really, I don’t want to say any more about what happens in the book. But time travel, law school, sandwich making, 20,000 Pyramid, latchkey kids, and epilepsy all have their moments.

It’s a wonderful book. I absolutely loved it. Just don’t tell my other June reads that I picked a favorite.

It’s another Road Trip Wednesday!

And, oh YA Highway, this is a topic after my own heart! How I love the random! How I love researching the random!  So needless to say, I was delighted by today’s question:

What’s the weirdest thing you’ve ever researched?

First, of all, as I mentioned above, I love research. The Husband refers to me as the Sponge, or l’eponge, because he likes to sound French and sophisticated. This is not because I am soft and mushy but because I love to absorb information.  It’s a delight to me.

To that end, the freelance writing I’ve been doing for the past few years has included some seriously strange stuff. Just a few of the topics include:

  • Industrial materials recycling
  • Food miles and sustainability
  • Agricultural extension programs
  • Gender and learning styles
  • Green building materials

Needless to say, the learning curve was pretty steep on some of these.

But when it comes to fiction writing…well, the research is even more random. The real question is how the hell anyone ever did anything without Google.  A recent look at my Google history includes:

  • Marine mammals of northern California
  • Baby names with ocean meanings
  • edible seaweed
  • gills
  • Extreme surfing spots Australia
  • do bubbles happen underwater without air?*

*this last one is continuing to stymie me and I will need to take a bath tonight and duck underwater to see exactly how bubbles work…

Anyway, this is definitely one of my favorite things about my job – both the paid and unpaid parts. Random research FTW! What about you? What’s the weirdest thing you’ve ever typed into your Google?

 

  It’s another Road Trip Wednesday, and I’m on the road with the good folks of YA Highway.  Today’s question:

Who in your life has most inspired your writing?

Well, that’s both easy and  a little bit hard. I mean, when I’m writing YA hot and heavy romance I can’t help thinking of the Husband, who I was lucky enough to meet when I was seventeen (all the angst, drama and attraction I’d ever need to reference, wrapped up in my now-one-and-only). And my mother and sister and I always share books, talking about the characters as intently as if they were our dearest friends. And there’s my amazing aunt Liz, known to the literary world as Elizabeth Levy, who has written over 90 children’s books, and who always taught me the power of imagination.

But right now, I’m just starting a new middle grade book, and the inspiration for the story looks an awful lot like this:

Many of my favorite books were written 30, 40, 50, or even longer ago. HALF MAGIC by Edgar Eager, THE FOUR-STORY MISTAKE by Elizabeth Enright, or SOUP by Robert Newton Peck all captured the utter hilarity and nonsense that’s the best part of being a kid. More recently, THE PENDERWICKS series by Jeanne Birdsall covers some of the same ground. I loved all these books, and my kids love all these books.

And here’s the thing.  As the mother of Small Daughter and Large Son in the new millennium, it’s amazing how little has changed. There might be an app for every need under the sun, and Small Son might have heard about Xbox Call of Duty at school. But snakes, marshmallows, mud, practical jokes, the first snow of the year, the first crocus of the year,  the Empire State Building, helicopters, and dress-up still rule.

So while these particular forms of inspiration (and distraction) have only been on the planet for 9.75 years or so, they certainly inspire me. I want to write books that Large Son quotes out loud, as he does with his favorites. I want to write books that Small Daughter has to put down sometimes because “it’s too sad at this part!” I want to write books that make them laugh out loud.

We’ll see how I do.

The horror! Get it? Amity? Horror? Amityville Horror? Didn’t any of you grow up in the 70’s?

Anyway.

This was week two of the Divergent faction challenge, where Deb Driza fearlessly leads a bunch of other YA writers to live their lives by the value that defines the different factions of society in Veronica Roth’s uber-cool book. The faction this week was Amity. If you don’t know what the heck I’m talking about read about it here.

This is what the Veronica Roth says about Amity:

AMITY: 1. friendship; peaceful harmony.

2. mutual understanding and a peaceful relationship, especially between nations; peace; accord.
3. cordiality
It’s not just about banjos and apple-picking. It’s about cultivating strong relationships and trying to understand each other. Oh, Amity.
Yeah right.  It’s TOTALLY all about the banjos.

This guy totally got his Amity on

So, the reality is that I sucked eggs when it came to Amity this week.  And the really sad part is that normally, I’m a total Amity babe.  We have campfires in the backyard on a regular basis! We sing John Denver and old camp songs! I jump in puddles in my wellies and keep the peace between my kids by offering a dollar to the one who can come up with the more creative and extravagant compliment for the other! We pick strawberries, blueberries, raspberries, blackberries, apples, tomatoes, and almost anything else we can get our mitts on. I freaking OWN Amity!
But not this week. It has rained for two weeks straight, I have some kind of epic long-term headache thing going on, the Husband has crazy work schedule so it’s like he’s on a business trip only with extra laundry that appears in the late night hours, the car is back in the shop for still more unknown problems, and I’ve been a total nimblenorf. The only banjo playing around here would look more like this.
It  has bummed me out, actually.  This is a faction I could really get into. But I guess the point is that you don’t change your faction (or your attitude, or your actions) just because you’re having a bad week. I know next week we’ll be on to a different faction. But secretly, one of these days, I’m giving Amity another shot.  I  just loves me banjo.