my emotions through GIFs

THE AFTER GIRLS featured in Amazon's Teen Gift Guide!

Screen Shot 2013-12-02 at 6.30.48 AMHappy Monday! I've got some exciting news for the holiday season and couldn't wait to share! While I was messing around on Amazon and procrastinating finishing my current draft, I discovered that THE AFTER GIRLS is featured in Amazon's Teen Gift Guide! It's at the top under "Totally Teen Gifts" and just a few clicks through. Of course, I think it's a great gift for the holidays ;) but it's great to see that Amazon does, too! You can see the Gift Guide here. And go straight to THE AFTER GIRLS here.

Wahoo!!!

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And Merry Christmas!

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And special shoutout to Steven Parlato and Elisa Nader, fellow Merit Press authors who are also hanging out in the "Totally Teen Gifts" section!

How my writing process completely changed, a new piece for Distraction 99

awesome GIF, frustrated GIF, best GIFs, writing GIFs Yesterday, I did a post on Nova Ren Suma's blog, Distraction 99. Nova is an inspiring YA author who I met several years ago in New York, and I was excited to have a chance to guest post for her. As part of her regular series, she asked me to talk about my "turning point" as a writer. It's a tall order, because as a writer, we have so many "turning points". The day your 3rd grade teacher tells you your a great writer, the day you finish you first "book" (mine was in elementary school and about an enchanted rose garden, illustrated by yours truly), the day you get your first rejection letter, the day you get an agent, the day you get a book deal, the day you realize that getting a book deal is nothing like you thought it would be.

But a lot of that is business, not the important stuff. And I chose to write about process. I've touched on it here, but let me just say, at least for me, it never gets easier. While I cranked out my first complete manuscript with an outline in only four months (revisions were necessary, of course), I didn't have a similar experience at all for The After Girls. And that was not exactly easy (see the GIF above). But it was worth it.

Here's a little bit from my piece for Distraction 99:

My turning point didn’t come in my first foray into novel writing. It came when I began The After Girls. The idea for the book came first as a title and a question: What would take a group of friends from before to after instantly? The concept came quick enough as I filled in the gaps—two high school friends shaken by their best friend’s suicide right after graduation, set against the eerie backdrop of a rural Appalachian mountain town—but the details were another thing. I was writing from the point of view of two girls instead of one. I added characters and removed them. I was walking a fine line between magical realism and contemporary. And I had no outline.

It wasn’t for lack of trying. I wrote outline after outline, hoping to find one that would work like the first one, with no success. I wrote 50 pages, rewrote those pages, and didn’t look at the manuscript for weeks or even a month at a time. I felt like a failure. I was the girl who could crank out a novel in mere months. Now I’d been months and months at a single idea and had very little to show for it. I wasn’t writing on a schedule. I wasn’t even writing regularly, for that matter, but I was writing—a page here and a chapter there.

At a certain point, The After Girls began to write itself. It was like that great E.L. Doctorow quote: “Writing a novel is like driving a car at night. You can see only as far as your headlights, but you can make the whole trip that way.” Page by page, I made the trip. The characters took over—they surprised me. The plot took twists—the ending changed multiple times. I even added a character in a few hours before I sent a final version to my agent, one that came to me in the shower when I thought I was almost done. At page 50, 100, 150, 200 … I still wasn’t sure of what would happen beyond the next ten pages. But in the end, the flexibility was what I needed to uncover the mystery of why a beautiful, smart young girl with great friends and a whole future ahead of her would take her own life.

See the full piece here.

And one last thing, thank you everyone for your support on my "book birthday" yesterday. It was a great one, and I can't thank you all enough!

How cool it is to see a movie from your childhood in the theater

One thing I gotta hand to technology. The revival of the movies of my youth. Yes, it's just so they can make a buck by releasing them in 3-D and yes, sometimes 3-D just gives me a headache, but still. Last year, my former roommates and I sung aloud to Beauty and the Beast in the theater. A few weeks later, a group of my friends dressed up for the Titanic re-release (that's us, below).

And last night, to top everything else--Jurassic Park. 3-D. IMAX. It doesn't get much better than that.

I watched Jurassic Park at a birthday party of one of my best friend's as a kid. I remember that we all had to ask our moms permission because it was rated PG-13, and we must have been 8 or 9. I remember that we watched it in the dark of the basement on what seemed like a really big screen at the time and played with nerf guns afterwards.

The movie was beautiful in 3-D--I was literally jumping out of my seat. The John Williams score was just as beautiful as I remembered--it took me back to my friend's basement birthday in seconds. There was a refreshing lack of CGI--and what was used was used well. But more than that, it was the story. So imaginative, so exciting that even when you know how much is going to go wrong, you find yourself wishing, in that childlike way, that there was a way to keep the park open. That there was a way for people to see dinosaurs, because what, really, is cooler than that?

My new manuscript relies heavily on the characters' childhood memories for its narrative. Though it's set when the two main characters are 17 and 18, it has frequent trips back to when they were just 8 or 9. The After Girls even includes a few memories from this time. It's an impressionable age, when you're learning to think for yourself, when you're learning all about the world, but you still haven't lost any sense of wonder and amusement and imagination. It's really fun to write about--and it's great fun to relive at the movies--even if the ticket does cost $17.50.

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Oh, also, here's the score. Just listen and tell me it's not the greatest music ever composed.

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.

Parking spots and book deals

Puppy gifI was parking on Friday in my neighborhood and marveled at how I always seem to get a spot without much searching. And yet on the street where I park there is almost always only one spot left. Do I just have good parking luck? I don't think so. It's just that when I park I only need to find one spot. There only needs to be one person who has recently left theirs. I have a medium-sized car and live in a neighborhood where parking is, at least, a possibility. Odds are, in the two or three always-almost-full streets I go down, one will indeed be almost full and not full, and I will find my spot.

There are so many things in life like this, and so many ways to get discouraged when you look at the odds, when you try and try, and it seems like finding even one is impossible. But still, you only need one of them.

An agent, for example. You only need one person to really love your manuscript enough to want to sell it. And then you only need one editor to love it enough to convince all the people at the publishing house that it's worth taking a risk on. For each book, you only need one book deal (as much as we all may dream of being sold at auction). From Suzanne Collins to J.K. Rowling to many, many more, every literary success has had people in their lives and careers that believe in them--and people that weren't willing to take the risk.

Writing is difficult, yes, and there is absolutely no guarantee of success (though writing, in and of itself, is it's own kind of success) but lately, when I get discouraged, I find it's better to remind myself that I don't need to convince everyone I meet that my work is worthwhile. Just like I don't need to get offered every job in the world. And I don't need to find ten affordable apartments in New York or San Francisco. Just one.

Just like finding a parking spot, falling in love, making friends and almost everything in life, there is so much that you can't control or guarantee. But when I remind myself that every great success is made up of small victories--and a series of ones--it makes everything challenging seem a little bit more manageable.

Oh, and if that doesn't work, looking at puppies usually does.

Top Ten Revising Tips from a Writer Who's Always Revising

Revising is hard. I've always been a big reviser. Though I wish I could crank out near-perfect prose in a first or second draft, that's just not me. I tend to follow Anne Lamott's "shitty first drafts" model, which leaves me in the revision phase A LOT. I'm currently finishing up the last (and hopefully light) revision on my most recent project, and so I've pulled together some tips for tackling this necessary evil. Without further ado ...

1. Always begin with a complete draft. This may seem obvious, but so many people delay finishing projects by obsessively tweaking the first half of their novel before they've written a climax or conclusion (which may change that first half, leading to even more revisions). While it's tempting to make something perfect before moving ahead, I think it's best to get the whole thing out first. That said, Revising shouldn't be confused with Starting Over--if you've got less than 100 pages, starting anew may be necessary before you go further.

2. Wait. Then wait some more. Finishing a novel is such an accomplishment and such a high, and you may want to jump right into revisions as soon as possible. Don't. A couple of weeks to a couple of months spent relaxing, drinking champagne, and indulging in bad TV will give you some much-needed perspective before you go back to it. This is also a great time to get a friend, fellow writer, agent, or anyone you trust to give your manu a read before you tear it apart.

3. Read your novel! Again with the patience. You shouldn't start changing your novel before you've READ THE WHOLE THING. Seriously. My favorite method is to load it onto my Kindle--reading it in the same way that I read other books creates a much-needed separation between me and my work and makes me look at it like a reader, not a writer (if you don't have an e-reader, a good old-fashioned printer will work just as well). Resist the urge to take notes as you read--if anything is really glaring, you'll remember it later, and without a pen in hand you'll stay focused on the bigger picture.

4. Fix the structural stuff first. You wouldn't paint a house before all the walls are up. In the same vein, don't get bogged down by language until your book's in good order. I like to create a new document with the reworked original text--moving chapters around, adding notes where I need new scenes, etc.--only once I have that in place will I move onto the nitty gritty.

5. Kill your darlings. Faulkner's advice is particularly true in the revision stage. While I typically think of it in relation to dialogue or turns of phrase (but it sounds so fancy, do I really have to cut it?), this notion is equally helpful with bigger things like minor characters or motifs. Just because you've written a funny younger brother doesn't mean he deserves a place in your novel (all his wisecracking might actually be distracting), or just because you want to make your main character's favorite book Pride and Prejudice (who doesn't love Mr. Darcy?) doesn't mean you should. Unless these minor elements are crucial to your story, they need to go--plus, you can always work them into another novel down the road.

6. Tell, don't show. I know, I know, every English teacher from 8th grade on has been saying just the opposite. It may seem counter-intuitive, but I'm working off the assumption that if you've finished a novel, you know you can't get by writing sentences like "Suzy was sad." That said, it's important to make sure your readers are well-informed in every scene and that you don't withhold crucial information from your readers to build drama. The readers shouldn't be left confused, nor should the drama come from figuring out basic facts. I think a great example of this method used effectively is in the first line of The Secret History by Donna Tartt: “The snow in the mountains was melting and Bunny had been dead for several weeks before we came to understand the gravity of our situation.” You know the basics, but you've got just enough questions to keep you turning the page.

7. Make sure every character wants something in every scene. This is a big one for me, because I tend to go for a slow burn, descriptive kind of writing, and I'm often guilty of sacrificing plot in the name of character development. My agent actually sent me a rant by the executive producer of The Unit to the show's staff of  TV writers to help with this issue. I can't put it better than he does--every character should want something in every scene. If they don't, rewrite it so they do--or else it's got to go.

8. Make your transitions awesome. The physicality of scenes often stumps me--I hate writing about people arriving in restaurants or getting into cars--so a lot of the time I just skip over these points and start right in the middle. While this is not an entirely bad technique, it's important to make sure there are a few key establishing details in every scene (I've personally been guilty of writing 3 to 4 pages before the reader even knows where they are). You can also use this time to make sure your chapter beginnings and endings are poignant, punchy, and keep readers turning the page.

9. Read your writing aloud. It feels awkward at first, but I think it's the hands-down best way to navigate trickier scenes and dialogue. If something is off, it's going to be very obvious when spoken. You can even imagine you're at a book signing or event--if anything you're saying makes you want to cringe, it definitely needs to be tweaked.

10. Trust your gut--not your timeline. Writing a novel is a LONG process, one that has always taken me about five times as long as I anticipated. When you're nearing the end of the revision, trust your instincts to decide whether you're really done or need to go back for another sweep. Similarly, don't ignore a stroke of genius just because it comes at the last minute and will require more work. Some of my biggest breakthroughs have come during the last leg of a revision. It's no fun to have to go back, and it may end up delaying a self-imposed deadline, but who ever said the writing process was easy?