San Francisco

Friday Writing Inspiration: Nature and All Its Wonders

Mt. Shasta, Northern California I'm a day late for my usual "Friday Writing Inspiration" post, but in lieu of posting a writing quote that gets me (and hopefully you) inspired, on this lovely holiday weekend, since I'm in glorious Mt. Shasta, where one of my good friends from New York, Blaire, grew up, I thought it a bit more fitting to post something from here. Above is the view from the living room at her parents' house, where Thomas and I are staying until tomorrow. We've spent the last two days eating good food outside, participating in the town's Fourth-of-July festivities (only in NoCal would the town fun run include belly dancers), swimming across lakes, discovering underwater trees, drinking watermelon beer on a barge, and playing games with her whole family.

Today, we're off to do rock climbing, a long bike ride to a brewery, a drive up to the mountain, and possibly indulge in some waterfall action. Needless to say, in the midst of all the activities, I'm not getting much writing done. But that's okay. It's good to have a mini sabbatical from my morning routine of exploring the inner workings of my crazy head (writing a novel), and to be with the mountains and the trees and the leaves and the sky and remember why we all write in the first place--to capture just a hint of the beauty and the struggle and the truth of the world around us.

Since I usually share a quote, I'm going to leave you with one of my favorites from Emerson.

“The happiest man is he who learns from nature the lesson of worship."

Happy holiday weekend, and happy writing.

Leah

Book Reading: David Levithan, Andrea Cremer, Margaret Stohl and Kami Garcia

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Last week, I headed to my first YA reading in SF to see a host of YA superstars, including David Levithan and Andrea Cremer, reading from their new book, Invisibility, and Margaret Stohl, reading from Icons. Margaret's co-writer, Kami Garcia, was also in attendance to speak to the process behind Beautiful Creatures.

The event was put on by Not Your Mother's Book Club through Books Inc. and was awesome--eclipsed only by the fact that I had the pleasure of meeting the very talented (and fellow Bay Area writer) Malinda Lo (Ash, Adaptation) for coffee beforehand, along with some of the other authors. Let's just say that sitting at coffee with Malinda, David and Andrea and telling them about The After Girls and them nodding and asking questions and saying congratulations on publishing my first book was a little surreal. And one of those pleasant little reminders that yes, I've published a book and in a weird way I'm one of those author people now.

But back to the reading. It was delightful. David and Andrea gave me chills as they   read as two characters from Invisibility, a story about a boy who's invisible, and a girl who is the only person in the world who can see him. What a great concept for a romance! Margaret also read from Icons, a dystopian story where every character has a different uncontrollable emotion that turns out to be their strength. In a way, it sounded a bit like The Giver.

All of the authors were hilarious, and please go see any of them if they read in a city near you. You will laugh at David referring to himself as a bit of a book slut (he does write with a lot of different people), and you will be absolutely enchanted by Andrea's bubbly personality and passionate defense of all her favorite magical creatures. And seeing Kami and Margaret riff off each other is just awesome. But what I found most interesting was when their description of their writing processes--especially when writing with a partner.

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David and Andrea took turns writing chapters and sending them to each other, with little editing along the way and discussion of where it was going, apart from when they had to work out some of the magic rules of the main character's invisibility.

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On the opposite end, Margaret and Kami planned out their whole world in advance and had epic battles over who could keep in what lines as they were writing. So it seems like writing with a partner is just like writing on your own--everyone does it differently.

All in all a delightful night and a wonderful welcome into the YA community here in SF!

20 Awesome Quotes About San Francisco

Last Time We Were Us_REV SNAPMy two years in San Francisco has a special place in my writing career. After all, it's where I wrote almost all of THE LAST TIME WE WERE US. SF is truly a magical place, and while I doubt I'll be setting any books here in the near future (North Carolina is for the time being, my setting of choice), the energy of the city was awesome to soak up, only for a little bit. It definitely inspired me, and it was a wonderful place to compose my novel.

Here are a few quotes from writers--and non-writers--about the city by the bay.

“One day if I go to heaven … I’ll look around and say, ‘It ain’t bad, but it ain’t San Francisco.’”~Herb Cain

“The Bay Area is so beautiful, I hesitate to preach about heaven while I’m here.”~Billy Graham

“My San Francisco on her seven hills is smiling, beside an opalescent sunset sea.” ~George Caldwell

“I have always been rather better treated in San Francisco than I actually deserved.”~Mark Twain

“San Francisco itself is art, above all literary art. Every block is a short story, every hill a novel. Every home a poem, every dweller within immortal. That is the whole truth.”~William Saroyan

“Perpetual spring, the flare of adventure in the blood, the impulse of men who packed Virgil with their bean-bags on the overland journey, conspired to make San Francisco a city of artists.”~William Henry Irwin

“I don’t know of any other city where you can walk through so many culturally diverse neighborhoods, and you’re never out of sight of the wild hills. Nature is very close here.”~Gary Snyder

“You know what it is? It’s a golden handcuff with the key thrown away.”~John Steinbeck

“San Francisco has only one drawback—‘tis hard to leave.”~Rudyard Kipling

“San Francisco is 49 square miles surrounded by reality.”~Paul Kantner

“God took the beauty of the Bay of Naples, the Valley of the Nile, the Swiss Alps, the Hudson River Valley, rolled them into one and made San Francisco Bay.”~Fiorello La Guardia

“I’m just mad for San Francisco. It is like London and Paris stacked on top of each other.”~Twiggy

“San Francisco is poetry. Even the hills rhyme.”~Pat Montandon

“To a traveler paying his first visit, it has the interest of a new planet. It ignores the meteorological laws which govern the rest of the world.”~Fitz Hugh Ludlow

“San Francisco is a city where people are never more abroad than when they are at home.”~Benjamin F. Taylor

“It's an odd thing, but anyone who disappears is said to be seen in San Francisco. It must be a delightful city and possess all the attractions of the next world.”~Oscar Wilde

“If you’re alive, you can’t be bored in San Francisco. If you’re not alive, San Francisco will bring you to life.”~William Saroyan

“Los Angeles? That’s just a big parking lot where you buy a hamburger for the trip to San Francisco.”~John Lennon

“Money lives in New York. Power sits in Washington. Freedom sips Cappuccino in a sidewalk cafe in San Francisco.”~Joe Flower

"I'm proud to have been a Yankee. But I have found more happiness and contentment since I came back home to San Francisco than any man has a right to deserve. This is the friendliest city in the world."~Joe DiMaggio

Nick Offerman (aka Ron Swanson) on life

Nick Offerman as Ron Swanson Last Friday, I had the pleasure of seeing Nick Offerman, the actor who plays Ron Swanson on Parks and Recreation, do stand-up, though it really shouldn't be called stand-up--more a long speech about life peppered with musical numbers and general hilarity.

From what I gathered his personality doesn't deter much from his meat-loving, government-hating, woodworking character on the show. But he's a good bit less angry and a lot more heartfelt. And his show was, as well. After a host of comedians like Seth MacFarlane and Daniel Tosh, it was also refreshing to see a comedian who was pro-women, pro-equality, pro-gay, etc. He didn't have to tell a rape joke. He didn't have to make fun of minorities. Or those in this country who don't have equal rights. And he managed to be funnier than all the hacks who rely on those sorts of things and then defend themselves in the name of comedy when what they're saying isn't even all that funny.

Among his advice for living was to go outside, spend less time on your iPhone, work with your hands, have romantic love and say please and thank you. He told some raunchy jokes but none were at the expense of women--in fact, most were just about how passionately he loves his wife of 13 years.

It was a gut-splitting show, and above all, inspiring, not just for life but for writing. It was a reminder to say and write what you think and believe. Into everything. Because if you don't use your opportunities to speak to people for that, than what's the point?

If you ever get a chance to see him, definitely go.

The Ten Things I Love Most About San Francisco (So Far)

Meet Marilyn! I'm not going to lie--I do miss New York. It's the place where I got my first job, made all my post-college friends, fell in love, sold a novel. I've already expounded on the many reasons I love it here. But for everything I miss about New York, there is so much to love about San Francisco--especially the things that you just can't get anywhere else (and especially not in New York). Here are a few.

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The Drives: First off, I bought a car. Her name's Marilyn (that's her up at the top), and she's amazing. Second, driving here is so much fun. Ignore Bill Cosby (actually don't, because it's hilarious). The hills are really fun to drive (there's an excitement to reaching the crest and looking out on the whole city, then cruising down to the next valley), and there are all sorts of cool windy roads in the city and outside. Even my annoying commute down to work is right along the bay (I see ships and sunrises as I drive in the morning). And basically anything in Marin is completely magical (see above).

Riding to the beach

Riding my Bike: Sure, you can ride your bike in New York, but everyone I knew who did always seemed really stressed out (case in point, my boyfriend, while in the bike lane, almost got hit by a cop car). Here, there are way more bike lanes and just friendly, quiet streets where that you don't have to be a pro to navigate on two wheels. Not to mention the park (more on that later) and beach just ten minutes from my apartment. Then there's also the wiggle, which I've yet to try, but describes the curvy route commuters take to avoid the hills. Love the name.

The Bookstores: There's City Lights with all its history. Green Apple Books in Richmond. Alley Cat books in Mission. It is actually hard to find a Barnes & Noble or a Borders here. What you have, instead, are tons of independent booksellers. A dying breed, but very much alive in SF.

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The Weather: Before I moved here, everyone I spoke to who had lived here said, "You're moving to the land of perfect weather," while everyone who'd maybe visited or read about it said, "Good luck with the weather." The city (and especially my neighborhood) gets a reputation for foggy, cold, dreary, rainy days. I have yet to see it. The sun shines all the time, it does rain (but no more than any other place I've lived, and it usually doesn't last all day), and the fog clears by mid-morning. What you do have are days in January warm enough to go out in a t-shirt or a light jacket. It's pretty much like permanent spring and fall. Also, there are great rainbows.

There's a dog in my beer.

The Food and the Drinks: Nothing will replace NY pizza or bagels, but SF more than makes up for it with authentic, fresh Mexican, great options for sushi, Burmese, Indian, Vietnamese, and just general freshness. Thinking steaming pho, spicy tikka masala, pork tacos, and grass-fed burgers. Then there are tons of great breweries (like Lagunitas, above).

Composting/Recycling: I have never composted before, but it is so easy here. You just toss it in the bin and the city picks it up. Not to mention all the things you can recycle, which you don't have to sort, just toss in the bin. And it's like that everywhere you go (even the movie theaters have composting bins). All of that equals very little waste. Our trash can is about half the size of our recycling container, and we take it out far less frequently.

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Golden Gate Park: No offense to Central (they were designed by the same person, actually), but GG is so much more. The sheer number of different species of plants, trees, and flowers puts it in a different category altogether. Then there are waterfalls, lakes, and ponds. Serious fishing and miniature boat sailing. A bunch of futuristic-looking museums (walking through at night feels like you're heading towards the mother ship). Oh, and buffalo. There are actually American bison that live in the park.

Thomas and the fish

Dancing with Sea Creatures: Located in the park, California Academy of Sciences has a 21+ Thursday-night event where you basically drink and look at science. There is a biodome and planetarium that I have yet to see, but the whole bottom level is an aquarium. Nothing beats touching starfish with a drink in the other hand, or dancing to house music while surrounded by underwater creatures (there's my boyfriend making friends with the fish).

The Work/Life Balance: 9 to 5 actually exists here. Not 9 to 6, 9 to 7, 9 to 10:45. And no one judges you for actually keeping those hours. That may exist in New York, but in five years, I never found it. "What do you do?" is also not the first question people ask when they meet you.

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The Views: Every morning as soon as I open my eyes I see this. Enough said.

“A sensitive look at the wake of a friend’s suicide, infused with genuine emotion, hope, and just enough well-placed romance.”~Booklist

“The Writing King of Difficult Subjects has to be John Green. After reading The After Girls, I would definitely put Ms. Konen in his court.”~Ink and Page

“A striking debut and an eerily good book… THE AFTER GIRLS is a vivid portrayal of interrupted lives and enduring friendships. It is as much about the known as the unknown and as much about healing as loss.”~Michael Northrop, author of ROTTEN, TRAPPED and GENTLEMEN

Ella, Astrid, and Sydney were planning the perfect summer after high school graduation. But when Astrid commits suicide in a lonely cabin, the other girls' worlds are shattered. How could their best friend have done this--to herself and to them? They knew everything about Astrid. Shouldn't they have seen this coming? Couldn't they have saved her?

As Ella hunts for the truth, and Sydney tries to dull the pain, a chilling message from Astrid leaves them wondering whether their beloved friend is communicating from the after life. The girls embark on a journey to uncover Astrid's dark secrets. The answers to those questions--questions they never dreamed of asking--will change their lives forever.

Get a copy of my debut young adult novel, THE AFTER GIRLS, here. 

Bike Riding, Coming Up With Ideas, and Writing to the Trends

The photo above is me, about halfway into a bike ride through San Francisco. My new location is great--it's just a few minutes via bike to the beach and close enough to ride onto Golden Gate as well, through the Presidio (which feels like a Hitchcock movie), and through the amazing Golden Gate Park. I've been on a few bike rides with my boyfriend since we moved here. It's a great way to explore the area, but more than that, it's this escape from all the stressors of life (the to-do list, emails, job-hunting, holding back the anger that even reading a story about Black Friday inspires). It's much like running--you are so focused on what you're doing that there's no time to think of anything else. But unlike running, there are moments of relaxation. There's coasting down a hill, letting your legs rest. You can breathe and you can look around. And there's a lot to look at in San Francisco.

Even more importantly, your mind is free to wander. Truly wander, the kind of wandering I'd imagine you'd get from meditation, though I've never really tried meditating. Not wandering through anxiety and stress, but wandering through your imagination, your memories. You can think about being a kid, meet a new character.

For the last six months, I've been too busy with everything (preparing The After Girls for publication, moving across the country) to really focus on what comes next, writing-wise. And when I have, it's been frustrating. Ideas come, but in a matter of days or weeks, I go from loving them to hating them. I can get pretty far into a concept but then find that I have no earthly idea what the character wants. I find myself thinking in Publisher's Lunch blurbs  or elevator pitches (it's like The Hunger Games meets Pride and Prejudice meets Eternal Sunshine). I think about what will sell and what will get a book deal, a big one. I know it's not the way to think, but I can't help it. If I'm going to commit another 2-3 years of my life to a story then it better be worth it, right?

Wrong, of course. I know that writing to the trends is not just bad for art, it can be bad for business. As many copies as gained success, I'm sure that there are a ton of dystopian and vampire YA manuscripts that won't ever make it out of the slush pile. Readers, editors, everyone want something new. And even if you do make it through and snag those six-figures, do you really want to be known as the writer whose name no one can quite remember who wrote that series that was a lot like Twilight? I definitely don't.

Coming full-circle here, I actually got one of my more promising ideas while bike riding around SF. My mind was free to explore, and I saw the houses that reminded me of Hitchcock, and I just started thinking about what kind of girl would live there, and it's nothing, really, it's just an image--not a fully-formed plot or a pitch or even something worth sharing with my agent at this stage--but it's something that left me wanting to explore.

The Right and Left Coasts and Writing About Where You Live

Me in San Francisco

I can't believe that after five years in New York City, I will be leaving in less than two weeks. There's truly no turning back at this point--the moving truck is booked, the first-month apartment is all set up, and we just called to cancel our internet! Haven't started packing yet, but that's only because my boyfriend and I are MAJOR procrastinators.

We'll be driving out in 6 days, which is a little crazy, with the only real stops being in Denver and Reno (I suggested we just throw our life savings on Black in Reno and see what happens...). And then, come November 1, we'll be San Franciscans! Living in the photo above!

I've never lived in California, but growing up in Washington state, I think that going back to the West Coast will feel like going home (it will also mark the fourth corner of the U.S. I'll have lived in). I was nervous for awhile, but now I just feel excited. I love this crazy, frenetic, dirty, beautiful, incredible city, but I'm also ready for the next adventure--and to trade a bitter NYC winter for the land of permanent fall in SF.

I keep thinking about how it will affect my writing--I've always been one to write a lot about places, but I've never been able to write about New York. Maybe once I'll leave I'll finally figure out how. Maybe, instead of setting things in the suburbs or the small towns of North Carolina (where I went to high school and college), I'll be able to actually throw a character into the hustle and bustle of Brooklyn--we'll see.

Fellow writers--are you able to write things set in places that you currently live in?