Friday Writing Inspiration: Joyce Carol Oates

recite-1152fz0 On this fine Friday, I'm honing in on an idea for my next novel. I'm talking, beat-sheet, spur-of-the-moment trips to Barnes & Noble to finally read Save the Cat, kind of honing. I've posted about this before, and I know there are two pretty divisive schools of thought on whether outlining does or does not stifle creativity, but I consider myself pretty solidly in the outlining camp these days. And books like Save the Cat only help me sharpen those skills. So I'm wondering if you guys agree with this quote from the awesome Joyce Carol Oates. I saw her speak at a reading in New York a couple of years ago, and she said something very similar. It struck me at the time, because I was a non-outliner then. Now, however, while I wouldn't go so far as to say that you have to have the ending fully planned out, I definitely recognize the benefit of having a solid game plan.

What do you guys think? Is this kind of advice stifling or simply practical?

Happy writing, and happy Friday!

Well, I guess it's safe to say I've started something new.

plotting-photo-blurred This is what I did this afternoon. The fact that I now have a home office has completely upped my plotting game. What I used to do on a tiny Word doc is now spread out on a huge, color-coated bulletin board in all it's insane glory (don't worry, I blurred the content of the actual notes so as not give away any plot points).

Now I guess I just have to write it?

Inspired by Coney Island

IMG_4461 Happy holiday weekend, everyone!

So yesterday, in honor of the Fourth of July, I had the great pleasure of hitting up Coney Island with my fiance and a good friend. It felt like the right kind of thing to do on Independence Day.

I've been to Coney Island a couple of times before, but there was something about seeing such a diverse group of people, locals and tourists and folks from all over the world, just have a good time on a holiday. And the thing about Coney Island that is hard not to love as a writer, is there are just so many stories here.

There's the history first off, the fact that you can literally ride a ferris wheel built in 1918. Then there's the fact that for me, I know my grandparents used to come here to go to the beach in the 1940s, as likely many people's grandparents did and do. There's Nathan's and the hot dog eating contest and all the men and women who look far too skinny to be able to pack down sixty hot dogs in ten minutes. There's the famous "Sideshows by the Seashore," which over the years has been home to more stories than any novelist would need in a lifetime. And beyond that, there are the characters. While in line for the Thunderbolt, my friend and I met an official member of ACE, which stands for American Coaster Enthusiasts, a middle-aged woman who spoke about roller coasters like a sommelier discussing fine wine. At the Sideshow, we saw a brother-and-sister team breathe fire and swallow swords. Taking a break on the beach, we saw countless families tossing beach balls and building sandcastles and trying to keep their kids from running off too far.

Coney Island is like a nostalgic dream. It's one of those kinds of places they always show on TV but never actually feels real until you're there. It's all the things that make you feel wild and silly and like a kid again--greasy food and scary roller coasters and a boardwalk that is enough in and of itself to entertain you for hours. Like New York, it is a mishmash of stories, and though I'll probably never set a novel there, it's one of the many reasons why I love living in this city.

Here are some more snaps from our day:


The famed "Face of Steeplechase."


Nathan's already counting down to the next hot dog eating competition.


Fourth of July wouldn't have been complete without some greasy grub.

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My friend and I all strapped in for the scream-inducing Thunderbolt coaster. IMG_4480

(That's us after the first drop.)


Bikers and strollers on the Riegelmann Boardwalk.


Pointing the way to Deno's Wonder Wheel.


A particularly patriotic swingset.


Bathers packed onto the beach, as seen from the Wonder Wheel.


A view of the city from the Wheel.


The boardwalk from the beach.


Finally got to see the famous Sideshow!

Titles, titles, titles.

crumpled-paper It's freaking hard to re-title a project. For the last two or so years, the book I've been working on has been called Flame. It's the title we pitched it as, the title I told my friends and family about, the title I placed on the top of the Pinterest board of imagery for when I got blocked. The book is about burn victims and young love, and so it made sense, but it was always a working title. In the back of my mind, I always wanted something else.

Well, after about a million emails with my editor and agent, after some creative brainstorming with friends and family, after just about tearing my hair out while staring at the blank Word doc, I found a title just a couple of months ago, and I couldn't be happier.

Flame is now ...

The Last Time We Were Us

Beyond burning/love, the book is really about nostalgia, about getting to a place you'd thought you lost and how wonderful it is when you can, indeed, go home again. It's about how two people, over the course of a friendship and relationship, change so many times, and how that can be both good and bad. The title is long and nearly impossible to shorten, but I'm pretty happy with it.

So from now on I'll be talking about The Last Time We Were Us (TLTWWU). Dear goodness, I need a shorter slug.

P.S. In case you forgot, TLTWWU comes out in about a year. Can't wait!

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.


ELF GIF, happy Elf movie gif

And Merry Christmas!

ELF GIF, Elf movie Christmas GIF

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

Symbolism in writing: What a few famous authors had to say

Screen Shot 2013-11-25 at 3.10.54 PMI've always been more of the, "the apple really is just an apple" camp, when it comes to symbolism. I think that's why I connected much more with my creative writing classes than with my lit classes in college--I always felt like in the lit classes, we were playing a game called, "what was the author really trying to say?" And I always enjoyed  focusing on the actual text than when I thought was secretly inserted into it. Today, my good friend passed on this story on Mental Floss, on a student who surveyed several famous authors on whether they intentionally use symbolism. Many of them say no, and many have a lot of funny things to say. Definitely check it out. This is perhaps my favorite piece of insight and advice, from Ray Bradbury:

"Not much to say except to warn you not to get too serious about all this, if you want to become a writer of fiction in the future. If you intend to become a critic, that is a Whale of another color…Playing around with symbols, even as a critic, can be a kind of kiddish parlor game. A little of it goes a long way. There are other things of greater value in any novel or story…humanity, character analysis, truth on other levels…Good symbolism should be as natural as breathing…and as unobtrusive.”

Then there's this, from Norman Mailer:

"I’m not sure it’s a good idea for a working novelist to concern himself too much with the technical aspects of the matter. Generally, the best symbols in a novel are those you become aware of only after you finish the work.”

So I guess I shouldn't feel so bad that I do a whole lot of writing and very little thinking about what I'm writing, at least in the early stages. Fellow writers, do you ever consciously use symbolism? Do you find that some symbols have appeared during or after you finished a work?


How long does it take to write a novel?

How long does it take to write a novel?

I'm coming up on the finish line for the first draft of my new work, and, given that it's National Novel Writing Month, I've been thinking a lot about time and writing. How much time is enough? Too much? Does a good novel take more time than a subpar one? Is ten years better than ten months--or even--ten days?

THE AFTER GIRLS took me, all in all, probably three years. I'll leave it to you to decide if it's quote-unquote good or not. How much was on a first draft or a second or a third or revisions, I cannot tell you. That novel was such a discovery all the way through, that I doubt I could pin down any real start or finish. But I'd ballpark three years.

My first manuscript, which was fairly autobiographical and is better suited to my eyes than the general public's, took me four months for a first draft. Let's just say I was a rather prolific twenty-three year old. But that novel wasn't near as ambitious as THE AFTER GIRLS, and I think that's one of the reasons why it went so fast.

Now, my current project looks to be finished (first draft-wise) soon, which would put the total first draft time at around ten months. I chalk up the speed to an extremely detailed outline, a fully formed idea (the whole plot came to me around Christmas last year, in a 2 a.m. burst of inspiration), and the joys of Scrivener. That said, it is in need of a deep revision, and I'm not sure how long that will take.

So the answer, for me at least, is twelve months, if I average four months, ten months and twenty-four months (I'm guessing two years for the first draft of THE AFTER GIRLS). But what about others?

The Sun Also Rises Ernest Hemingway

Ernest Hemingway wrote a draft of THE SUN ALSO RISES in just two months, while Donna Tartt took about ten years for THE SECRET HISTORY (I once read an interview where she said she enjoyed every moment of those ten years, and didn't want it to go any faster, and I have a hard time believing that).

On the Road Jack Kerouac

On the Road Jack Kerouac

ON THE ROAD apparently took Jack Kerouac less than a month (and one taped-together strip of 120 sheets of paper), while NO GREAT MISCHIEF, by Alistair MacLeod, took thirteen years to write. That's a middle school child.

So the answer, I guess, is ... however long it takes you ... and for many of us, it will take longer than a month. Though I admire NaNoWriMo for giving many writers a much-needed jolt, and perhaps some people do find success through it, I've never been able to make it work for me. The daily word counts were simply too stressful. There are many days when I exceed the suggested NaNoWriMo count on my own, but there are days that I don't. I average about 1,000 words a day, but I don't necessarily write every day (yeah yeah, I know EVERY piece of writing advice says that you should).

Furthermore, I think it would be great if we all could let go of the speed goal and just focus on the writing, itself. There are countless Google searches for "how to write a novel in a month" and "how to write a novel in 30 days," but, I gotta ask, what's the rush. If it's really the story you're meant to tell, why the need to pack all the fun into just 30 short days?

Fellow writers, how long does it take you to complete a draft? Have you ever had any luck with NaNoWriMo?

Friday Writing Inspiration: Margaret Atwood and Questions and Answers in Fiction

Margaret Atwood writing quoteHappy Friday. After a bit of a hiatus (including sunning on Miami Beach and a lot of writing), I'm back to the blog. This Friday, I'm finding particular inspiration in the amazing Margaret Atwood. I'll admit, I'm rather late to the Atwood game. Though I've heard myriad good things about her over the years, I only recently read her work, beginning with THE HANDMAID'S TALE and ORYX AND CRAKE, and I'm just now finishing THE ROBBER BRIDE. I can't say enough about her style, the way she weaves words together, the way she explores metaphors to the Nth degree, the way in which language is important even to her characters. In her works, Atwood asks a lot of questions about science, society, sex, women's role in the home and the world, and so much more. She asks "what if" a lot, and what she gets back is often terrifying. It is in this asking, however, that she shows us just how important our own humanity is. Without it, these what-ifs could come true. In the case of THE HANDMAID'S TALE, many of them already have.

In the midst of these larger questions, Atwood tucks in smaller ones, and maybe those are even the most enchanting. Why is their no comparable word for "fraternize" is one of my favorites. In THE HANDMAID'S TALE, Offred says: "Fraternize means to behave like a brother. Luke told me that. He said there was no corresponding word that meant to behave like a sister. Sororize, it would have to be, he said. From the Latin. He liked knowing about such details."

It is the role of all of us to ask questions, writers and otherwise, and while we may not yet be adept in asking the types of questions that Atwood does, we may also not be meant to ask these same questions. This is why I love her quote so much. It's not so much that there are right and wrong answers, but rather that we all have our different questions. And by posing those, we hopefully share some glimmer of truth with our readers and ourselves.

Writers, what questions do you ask? Do you find answers as you write?

Friday Writing Inspiration: Writing Fast, Writing Lots. Plus, Win The After Girls and Get the Ebook for $1.99!

ray-bradbury-writing-quoteI'm approaching about 60,000 words on my current WIP, and let's just say that the writing is not necessarily Tolstoy-esque. I'm willing to bet it's in pretty rough shape, actually. It is in need of several good edits and rewrites, and lot of it needs to be just plain deleted or at least reigned in. That said, there is something there, which is pushing me along. There is a story, and--all craft and beautiful language aside--I really feel it is coming together in this draft.

I wanted to share two awesome quotes today as inspiration for those of us who love to pound out shitty first drafts.

Above, a writing quote from Ray Bradbury, on writing a lot.


And here, a writing quote from Raymond Chandler, on writing fast.

Hope they inspire you as much as they inspire me!

P.S. More news on this next week, but as part of YALSA's Teen Reads week, which is sponsored by my publisher, Merit Press, not only will YALSA be giving away a suite of Merit titles, but during that week, you can get all their titles on ebook, including The After Girls, for just $1.99. Yay! More to come next week.