Friday, January 29, 2010

Critically Speaking

Since you can find many posts wherein I extoll the virtues of good writing partners (really, really really, I cannot overemphasize the importance of good readers), I've had a lot of people ask me where I found my critique partners and where they can find theirs.

And here's where it gets tricky. I found Natalie and Renee randomly through blogs. We evolved a friendship and began sharing manuscripts. I found Stephanie through her agent's blog, and then lurved Steph so so so much from her own ridiculously charming and interesting blog that we became friends and then critique partners. I found Carrie in exactly the same way (in fact, I'm pretty sure I once left a love note in her comments. She's probably done her best to forget that memory). And finally, I found Andrea through the online debut authors' group I'm a member of, The Tenners. And I liked her so very very much that I asked her to read a new manuscript of mine and she was freaking awesome and obliged.

So, umm, see the pattern? Yeah, me neither. Other than the fact that I found them all online, there really wasn't much rhyme or reason to it. All of the friendships/critiquingships developed quite naturally out of a mutual admiration for each other's writing. Each of my critique partners brings something different to a reading, and I like that although we all write YA we write quite different YA. And finally, these girls are invaluable because, while they are always positive and kind and enthusiastic, they are also insightful and intelligent and good writers. They push me to be better, which in the end is all you can ask from critique partners.

As far as the mechanics, I read Natalie's stuff as she's writing and vice versa, but with all of my other betas we usually only send manuscripts that have been finished and edited at least once or twice (or in my case three times because I'm very vain and would die if anyone other than Natalie saw my initial efforts).

I don't really know where to tell you to look for betas. Maybe you'll find someone in the comments here and click with each other (which would make me ridiculously happy, by the way). Other than that, please, readers, sound off in the comments. I know there are a lot of writers' websites and groups out there in the big www; have any of them been particularly helpful to you in connecting with other writers? How else have you found critique partners?

And finally, how happy are you that it's Friday?

Thursday, January 28, 2010

Excerpt!

Now, those of you who have followed for a while know that I very, very rarely post excerpts from what I'm writing. But I'm so excited over this new project I'm working on, I just had to share.

Chapter Thirteen: The Ice Cave

My heart broke then, watching her pace back and forth across the icy, pebble-strewn floor of the cave. She shouldn't be confined here--forced to live out a solitary, shamed existence among the barren and blasted landscape of the frozen Himilayas. That she thought no one would ever love her, that she doubted even I loved her, was so wrong it'd be laughable if it weren't so heartbreaking.

I stood, putting my hand on her furry knee--the highest spot I could reach on her gargantuan, indescribably beautiful body--to calm her. "Listen, me heart." I choked back tears, gazing up (and up and up and up) into her eyes, chocolate brown pieces of her sweet, tender soul, eyes that held me captivated since the first time I saw them. How had I ever lived without those eyes? "Come away with me. Ye doona have to live here, alone. I love ye! I always will. I doona care if yer a Yeti and I'm a leprechaun. Why can't our cultures and myths mix? Please, come away with me, love!"

Her beautiful eyes filled with tears, and my breath caught in my chest. She shook her head, silky white fur waving from side to side. I longed to run my fingers through it, get lost in the luxurious lengths of her snowy down. She knelt down so we were closer to eye level.

"Yrnoooowwwlrrrrrrgnraaaawl!"

"No! No, don't ye ever say that again! I love ye more than any pot o' gold in the whole world! I've already given up me rainbow for ye, and I'd sacrifice every rainbow on this whole forsaken planet if it meant just one minute--just one minute more with ye!"

We both let out a sob as she reached down with her fantastically muscled arms and crushed me to her in a hug. I nestled into her fur, wanting to be closer, closer, always closer to her, breathing in her sweet, icy musk. Except it was kinda hard to breathe. Okay, really hard to breathe.

Coming Next: Mouth to Mouth Resuscitation

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Crisis Intervention

Two writers. Between them they have the sanity equal to at least one small child. Well, one very small child. Okay, maybe a large puppy. Come along for the ride?

Episode One: Crisis Intervention, or, Why You Need Writer Friends.

Script and Film Editing: Natalie Whipple
Excessive Eyebrow Acrobatics: Kiersten White



Yes, you never, ever want to be one of my critique partners. I am SCARY.

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

DON'T WRITE THAT

(Special thanks to Chuck Sambuchino of Writer's Digest for letting me guest post on their blog today! And thank you to everyone who has written such kind notes about it.)

Across the vast and glorious interwebs, aspiring writers can find all sorts of information and advice on what to write. We can track trends, see what's selling, read opinions on what will never, ever sell, what has sold too much, what the next big thing it, so on and so forth. And while this information is interesting (take Alexandra Bracken's [a debut novelist who also works in publishing] intriguing recent post on trends she's seen), I'm not sure how much you should worry about it.

Then again, you know what? I'm going to give you a definitive guideline of WHAT NOT TO WRITE.

No one in YA buys books from boy's POV.


And if you were to tell me that you wanted to write a book set in WW2 Germany, focused on Germans, with Death as the narrator who tells us from the very beginning what's going to happen?

HA! That'll never work.

And don't even think about trying to write a book with vampires, faeries, or werewolves. The market is saturated and there's not room for anything else.

So yes. Clearly there are FOOL PROOF formulas for success out there.

Oh, who are we kidding? No one really knows what the next trend is going to be, or what trend is dead or too saturated. So here is my advice, for what it's worth: write the book you want to write. Write it how you want to write it. Don't chase trends or try to make your book "the next [fill in the blank wildly popular novel here]." There is no single idea out there that is a guaranteed sell. I've talked about this before, but I firmly believe what will sell is a) your work and b) your voice.

If you're trying to force a novel that fits into a hot trend (and by the way, I hear that forbidden romances between leprechauns and yetis are the next big thing, but you didn't hear it here), it probably won't have that special something that a story you come up with on your own and are passionate about will.

So here's to being original, regardless of whether original means a new way of looking at a popular subject or coming up with an entirely new type of novel. Trends have to start somewhere, right?

Now if you'll excuse me, I've got a hot, hot yeti-leprechaun kissing scene to write. "Just bend down a wee bit! I can't reach yer great fuzzy lips!" "Rrrrnnnrrrrowwwlll." "Yes, love, ye have me heart, too!"

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

In Which I am the Bearer of Very Bad News

First of all, a great big HI to all of my new readers. I love you.

Okay, that was an exaggeration. I don't really know you. But I already like you very, very much, and fully anticipate loving you.

And so today, in honor of breaking 400 followers (clean in half! Each and every one of them BROKEN from reading my blog too much!), I am going to depress you out of your minds. If that isn't enough to keep you reading, I don't know what is!

(Except if you aren't a writer, this won't be even mildly depressing for you. So, non-writer-readers, your job is to lurk in the comments and offer kleenexes or, in very bad cases, Dr Pepper and chocolate. And if any of you are licensed doctors or psychiatrists, well, feel free to prescribe some mild virtual pick-me-ups. Heaven knows we'll need them.)

Ready? Okay. Most aspiring writers can't think much past getting an agent. That's the goal. That's the finish line. Once you have an agent, things are easier. And really, getting an agent is awesome. Freaking awesome. Like, wow, incredibly awesome. So awesome the word awesome will begin to lose its meaning it will be so awesomely awesome in your life. But here's where things get tricky.

I'm going to let you in on a secret, one that agented writers can't admit publicly for fear of shooting themselves in the foot, and one that writers with book deals don't talk about because we've completely blocked it out of our minds due to severe psychological trauma. It's this:

Being on submission sucks.

Sucks, sucks, sucks sucks sucks sucks SUCKS.

It bears repeating one more time, I think.

SUCKS.

(Being on submission, or going out on sub, for the uninitiated, is when your very talented and incredibly brilliant agent takes your manuscript from your trembling hands and sends it on its merry, hopeful way to editors. All agents go about this differently, but the end goal is for one or more editors to offer to buy it.)

I'm uniquely qualified to talk about this because I went on submission not once, but twice. And one of those times was a spectacular failure. But that's wrong, really, because it makes it sound exciting. No, one of those times was a soul-sucking, grind-you-down-until-you-can't-remember-why-you-ever-thought-you-were-a-decent-writer-in-the-first-place, oh-please-for-the-love-of-any-remaining-sanity-let's-just-forget-the-whole-thing failure.

But that's not the whole picture. That first day, when you know your precious book baby is going out to editors at houses you've only dreamed of, you get this giddy, fluttery, oh my goodness this could actually happen feeling. You're high on it. It's real. An editor could be reading it RIGHT NOW. And it's going to sell! And you'll be an author! Finally, finally, validation for all of that time you spent acting like a crazy person!

That feelings lasts approximately 1.4 days.

So it's a good thing that writers as a whole are very calm, rational people. It's not like writers are emotional, introverted people, who channel their thoughts and feelings into creative outlets which are then read and judged by other people. It's not like we're already perhaps a bit odd, living in our own heads as much or more than we live outside of them, spinning out fantasies and stories and becoming so attached to them we make ourselves cry when we read the last lines. (Not that I, uh, did that today or anything.)

No, it's a good thing writers are sane.

Otherwise after that first day you'd start panicking. Checking your email obsessively. Google stalking any editors you know have your stuff. Wondering how long, exactly, it would take to read, assuming an editor started reading right away. But that's okay. It hasn't been long yet.

And then a week goes by. You've heard of book deals happening in a week. And rationally you understand the process, that even if an editor likes it he or she can't usually make an instant offer, but rather has to pass it off to others to read, present it at an editorial meeting, get more people on the "buy the book!" bandwagon.

But let's face it. Rationality went out the door the minute you decided to pursue publication. If you were rational you'd have a sane hobby, like knitting. Or an aspiration that wasn't entirely dependent on other people, like getting a Master's Degree, or becoming the world's best Arnold Schwarzenegger Impressionist. Or even just learning how to spell Schwarzenegger. But you chose writing, so rationality is not a factor here.

And when, like in my case, you get rejections, it hurts. It physically hurts to have an editor vaguely point out flaws, or pass based on something unalterable about the book, or like it but just not love it. And what hurts even more is the terror that every other editor will feel the same--mediocre, meh, fine but not for them. And what hurts even more is the hope that maybe one will still love it.

After four months of this, you are so worn down you question why you started writing in the first place. You question why you want to be published so badly. You worry that your agent will feel the same way--disappointed and questioning your talent. And if, at the end of those four months, you and your agent decide to pull the submission, you wonder why it didn't happen.

Because it should have. Right?

Now, this submission story was unique to me. And, granted, the soul-sucking aspects were compounded by infertility issues. It was like the Universe was kicking me every. single. month. And the Universe wears big, nasty, steel-toed boots with "REJECTED" stamped across the sole.

So here's my advice. And this is where it gets happier, I promise! Expect submissions to be hard. Expect to be something of an emotional wreck. But expect to succeed. And work toward this success by being smart about things. What should you do while you're on submission?

Write.

Write another book. Work on something you already had written. Get better. Have a backup plan. Because if your submission goes great and you do sell, YAY! Yay, yay, yay! Now you have an option book already in the works, which will save you stress down the line.

And if your submission fizzles for whatever reason (in my case the protags were just a little too old for YA), you have another project ready to polish and send to your agent. Because if your agent is anything like mine, and I sincerely hope she or he is, then you are still in good shape. Whatever they saw in your writing will still be there, and, regardless of how many editors passed, you still have an industry professional on your side, a partner. You aren't starting from scratch.

Going on submission that second time was terrifying. I had nightmares of repeating the same process all over again. I felt sick just thinking about it. But guess what? Within two weeks we were hearing good things--exciting things--holy crap stuff is actually happening and wait a second, submissions can be thrilling-if-still-kinda-stressful! things. And within three weeks I'd sold in a pre-empt to an incredible editor at my dream house.

So, submissions? SUCK. But what submissions get you? Beyond amazing. I don't want to discourage anyone. I just want to be honest, and let you know that submissions are hard. Even if you sell quickly without a single rejection, it's still stressful. Please find supportive writer friends who are crazy, too, and will understand what you are going through. (Carrie Harris will always be my submissions sister.) Write the best possible book you can, and then let it go. In the end, your book will sell or it won't, and there's nothing you can do about it. Which is both the hardest and the most comforting thing of all.

I hope that you find your dream agent, that you never experience a failed submission, that you and your dream editor match up painlessly and immediately. But, just in case, I'll leave you with this sage advice: If at first you don't succeed, do everything you can not to have a nervous breakdown, polish another book, send that one out, and get a dream-come-true three-book-deal.

In fact, I think I'm going to have that embroidered on a pillow.

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Edits, Eyebags, and Epiphanies

In an effort to keep up my writerly mystique (I'm very mystique-ulous, right?), I haven't talked much about my writing process with The Sequel. Part of that was also because the one time I mentioned I was having a hard time both my agent and my editor contacted me, panicked and worried. I try to avoid panicking them--ever--and so mum I remain if I'm in a rough patch.

The other part, of course, is that I always feel guilty if I sound at all whiny on the blog because, hey, I'm getting paid to write. This is so ridiculous and awesome I still sometimes shake my head in utter incredulity when it hits me.

But The Sequel was tricky. Part of it was the pressure (turns out writing sequels is tough, yo), and part of it was that, unlike when I was writing my previous books, I couldn't get obsessed. There were too many other things tugging at my attention, too many times I had to stop to go tweak something on Paranormalcy, or get something back to Erica. But eventually I got a working first draft.

Problem: It was short. Way, way too short. And lately, when I sat down to edit, it was with this gnawing dread in my stomach that I wouldn't know what to add or how to make what I had (which was good) become more cohesive (and therefore much better).

Then, Saturday, as I stood in a shower that was both way too hot and way too long, it hit me.

The solution. THE SOLUTION.

I think that feeling is one of the best in writing. Whether a new idea hits you, or you break past a stumbling block, or you figure out that scene--that one scene--that opens up the rest of the story like magic. And just like that I was excited again. Instead of dreading the work, I couldn't wait to get to the library. Over the course of the weekend I met my manuscript word count goal. And lo, there was much rejoicing and relief in the land.

What's funny is that I had the opposite problem with Paranormalcy--I had to cut ten thousand words from that one before it was ready to be seen. I had to add ten thousand words to The Sequel. I never make the same mistake twice--I keep coming up with new and innovative ways to really screw things up!

It's a talent, what can I say.

Anyway. The point of this is, writing is hard. It's always hard. But the real point of this is that, even though it's hard, I'm having fun again. And staying up way too late, which triggers my kids' Instinctive Sleep Alarms, forcing them to wake up once an hour every hour for the precious few hours I actually spend in bed.

Why is it that the better my writing is going, the bigger the bags under my eyes?

Monday, January 18, 2010

Television Series GENIUS

So, some of you know I've been toying with the idea of trying to develop a television series. Last night, thanks to my husband's genius, we finally came up with our sure-to-be-a-hit series. I give you:

LAW AND ORDER: MISDEMEANORS UNIT

Created by Hot Stuff and Kiersten White

EXT. CITY STREET
Two teens in hooded sweatshirts walk down the dark street, laughing and jostling each other. They come upon a man with his back to them, facing a wall.

KID ONE
Wait, is he--

KID TWO screams in horror and we cut to title.

INT. POLICE OFFICE

HARDENED POLICE CHIEF shakes her head.

HARDENED POLICE CHIEF
I don't know about this one, guys. We got the man, but can we prove it?

CHIPPER, WAY TOO GOOD LOOKING POLICE OFFICER
I'm sick of these creeps, destroying the city, making kids scared to walk down the sidewalk. Things like this--I can't even sleep at night anymore. What kind of a world do we live in?

OLDER, WORLD-WEARY POLICE OFFICER
You'll get used to it, kid. And don't worry. This guy's going down.

INT. COURTROOM
Super-model attorney paces in front of CHIPPER, WAY TOO GOOD LOOKING POLICE OFFICER. We know that the attorney is the defense attorney because she has a vague aura of evil intent about her, instead of the righteous light that seems to hang around the prosecutors.

DEFENSE ATTORNEY
But where's the proof? Do you or do you not have proof that my client is the perpetrator? According to his testimony, it was already there when he walked by!

CHIPPER, WAY TOO GOOD LOOKING POLICE OFFICER is clearly upset, chaffing at her questioning his detective abilities.

C.W.t.G.L.P.O.
I've been working this beat for five years! I've seen things you can't even imagine. Smelled things... You think I don't know fresh urine when I smell it?

Pan to JURY, who gasp in surprise and horror.

DEFENDENT stands, sneering at police officer.

DEFENDENT
You want to know what fresh urine smells like? I'll show you what fresh urine smells like!

COURTROOM erupts into chaos, with bailiffs restraining DEFENDENT, and PROSECUTING ATTORNEYS giving each other knowing, satisfied looks.

INT. POLICE CHIEF'S OFFICE, with our two police officers.

HARDENED POLICE CHIEF
Good work on this, boys. The streets are a little cleaner thanks to you.

OLDER, WORLD-WEARY POLICE OFFICER
Nobody commits misdemeanors in my city, Ma'am.

Phone rings, and HARDENED POLICE CHIEF answers, her face growing more and more concerned as she listens and nods. She hangs up.

HARDENED POLICE CHIEF
Bad news, boys. We've got a 22-19 subsection B. Man driving without a license.

C.W.t.G.L.P.O.
Protect and serve, Boss. We're on it.

CUE END TITLE MUSIC.

On the next episode of LAW AND ORDER: MISDEMEANORS UNIT, a group of twenty-somethings is caught burning pallets on the beach, and C.W.t.G.L.P.O. has a moral dilemma--he once did the exact same thing.