Thursday, May 27, 2010

"Zombies are only funny until you become one."

--Natalie Whipple

That quote seems strangely applicable today. I keep trying to think of something to blog about but my skull is making this high-pitched buzzing noise that leads me to suspect some sort of insect has been trapped inside and may or may not be eating its way through my gray matter in an attempt to escape the House of Horrors that is my brain.

Or it may be because I edited for three solid hours yesterday and managed to get through 90 pages of material.

I only got those three hours in by going to an indoor park and letting my kids run wild while I sat on the couch and wrestled with The Sequel. Near the end a woman I vaguely know showed up and wanted to chat, even though I informed her I was working. And, after having had to explain to her what I was doing, show her my book cover, and talk about how hard it is to squeeze in work, she smiled and closed the conversation by saying, "It's so nice you have a hobby."

At which point my head exploded.

Because here's the thing, guys. This is where you switch from having a hobby to being a writer. The mind-numbing, hour-after-hour, please-I-don't-want-to-do-this-anymore-let's-just-watch-Arrested-Development-on-DVD-instead, how-on-earth-is-writing-this-much-work stage. Anyone can write a book. Everyone who wants to should. But it's only when you put in the work (and make the sacrifices, and give up your social life and your sanity and occasionally lower your personal grooming standard) to take something that was fun and make it into something that is good that I think you cross from being a hobbyist to being a writer.

Writing is WORK. The best work, sure, but work nonetheless.

I didn't, however, explain this to the woman. I let out a snort of a laugh, smiled, and went back to work. Because I am a writer, and that's what we do.

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Reality

As someone who writes paranormal YA novels, I can say definitively that most of the time reality is not so much fun. Reality is filled with bills, errands, sick kids, frustrating circumstances, insurance companies, hard decisions, disappointments, etc. This is probably why I choose to inject my stories with a healthy does of unreality.

However. Sometimes reality is so amazing it feels surreal. The other night I was in the library editing. Again. Some more. I'm on my third round since Erica sent me edits, and I'm tired, and I feel like I'm swimming in sentences and images and that Evie and the gang are actual members of my life (I certainly spend more time with them than I do any of my friends).

As I was reading a paragraph and trying to figure out how to smooth out a particularly grouchy sentence, it hit me.

This is a book.

It's going to be a real, live book, that will be in bookstores, that people will be able to buy and take home and hold in their hands and read. Having spent my entire life loving and living in books, this is kind of overwhelming.

I know it should be obvious, since it's a sequel and I'm writing it under contract, but it's easy to get so lost in the Word document and edits and things that are wrong that I lose the big picture. And the big picture is so amazing, so unbelievable, it's just plain surreal. I nearly had an out-of-body experience as that hit me. Fortunately I was sitting next to a poster of Neil Gaiman, and his enigmatic grin always reminds me that I'm never as good as I can be. (In a nice way, of course.)

I know I'm living a dream (mine, and probably many of yours) and it's incredible. It's a buttload of work (and I never use the phrase buttload lightly), it's exhausting, it can be very stressful, but when you get right down to the heart of it, it's the best possible reality I could imagine.

And that's saying a lot.

Speaking of surreal, check out the HarperTeen booth at Book Expo America:

ACRONYM! That's EVIE! In a lightbox! As a poster! At BEA!
Also, although I don't have her permission to post this picture, my agent Michelle Wolfson looks so freaking cute I can't imagine she'd object. And say hi to Cristina, my FABULOUS marketing director! Love, love, love.

LOVE.


(UPDATE! Today just keeps getting awesomer. Found out from a fab book blogger than an excerpt from the first chapter is up on HarperTeen's website!)

Friday, May 21, 2010

Cliches Exist for a Reason

It's the final day of our Theme Week! All this week I've been posting on matters of romance in young adult fiction. So sit back, invite your favorite fictional love interest, and enjoy! (What? Why yes, yes I did bring Lend! And no, no you don't know who that is yet. But you will...oh yes, you will! [Cue evil laughter] [cue abruptly cutting off evil laughter and holding my head because it makes it ache even more])

I met Hot Stuff my first week at college. One hello from him, one look at his humongous, clear blue eyes, and that was it for me. I was determined to date him.

Two weeks later and he still hadn't asked me out. (I know, what was wrong with him??) Some friends asked me to go to a late movie and, figuring why not, I went and asked Hot Stuff if he wanted to join us--my treat.

Nine months later we got married.

(Umm, for the record, I was a teen bride but not a teen mother. We had Nayna right before our two year anniversary and two weeks after I got my degree. I was just an overachiever is all.)

There were many, many things that made me confident Hot Stuff was someone I could be happy with for the rest of my life. I remember one night, homework finished, we sat next to each other on the couch and...read.

Yup. We read. Different books. But I thought to myself, if sitting next to him on the couch reading makes me this happy, this is right. And after a while of dating I knew I could look for the rest of my life and never find someone who made me happier than just being with Hot Stuff made me.

We never fought. Still haven't had an argument to this day. There was never any uncertainty, never any games, never a question of whether I liked him more than he liked me and how I could get him to like me more. I never, ever felt insecure in our relationship or bad about myself. From that first date we liked each other, and then we loved each other, and then we got married, and turns out we love each other even more now. (And we still sit next to each other on the couch and read, because we're wild and crazy like that.)

For a real life story, I think that's about as beautiful as they come.

However. Can you imagine how that love story would play out in a novel? She liked him! Then he liked her! Then they loved each other! And they read! On the couch! And ordered pizza Saturday night so they could have it for Sunday dinner together! And they walked home from classes together! And sometimes Kiersten thought it was funny to throw berries at Hot Stuff on their walks home from classes, and even though he kind of thought it was obnoxious, she was so cute he put up with it!

Drama-free, which is exactly how real life relationships should be. Fictional relationships, however, need a dash of drama. I could live in my love story forever (and I am!), but you would probably fall asleep. Or claw your eyes out or something.

So all of these things we've talked about--love triangles, bad boys, relationships that use borderline abuse in an effort to be dramatic and sexy--well, they exist for a reason. We want that vicarious thrill, that will-they-or-won't-they-fall-in-love. That who-will-she-choose. That wow-how-hot-is-it-that-he-nobly-refuses-to-rip-her-throat-out-no-matter-how-much-he-secretly-wants-to. (Okay, maybe I could do with a little less of that.)

The trick isn't in avoiding stereotypes entirely. They are common because they work. The trick is focusing not on the cliche or the trope, but on the characters and the relationship. Is it terrible if you have a bad boy? Absolutely not. It's how you make that bad boy into a person, how you make that relationship into one that is gripping and compelling and different. Make that bad boy your own. Make that triangle honest and believable. Make that good guy the most freaking interesting character ever written. Make that borderline abusive relationship...well, on second thought, please for the love don't write one of those. Or if you do, don't tell us it's sexy.

Don't worry about doing anything the right or wrong way. It doesn't need to be like every other story out there, and it doesn't need to be completely different, either. If your romance is genuine, and we connect with and care about your characters, you're doing it exactly right.

And if you want to write fanfiction of Hot Stuff and me reading together on the couch, well then by all means, have at it. (But don't forget his bee powers. And I'd like to be 5'7". After all, this is fiction we're writing, isn't it?)

Thanks for playing this week, everyone. I've loved reading the comments. And Lend would like me to tell you that PARANORMALCY comes out in exactly four months, at which point you can see just what, exactly, I do when writing relationships. For now, tell me: do you worry about cliches and tropes when you write, or do you just write the story that comes to you?

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

I'm Hot for Your Stereotype

It's a theme week! All this week I'll be posting on matters of romance in young adult fiction. So sit back, invite your favorite fictional love interest, and enjoy! (Okay, yesterday the room was packed with Miss Austen's men. Today you ALL invited Edward? Seriously? No Team Jacob reps? Oh, you, in the back. Hiding. Alrighty then.)

We all know the story. Innocent, straight-laced girl. Hot bad boy with a reputation. He wants her. She wants him to want her. But she's not sure if she should want him. Can she reform him? Can she convince him to give up his dark past for her?? Can we switch gender roles? Let's try!

*******
He watched her across the room as she scowled, slouching in her seat. Her fingers flicked a lighter up and down and up and down across her knuckles. She’d get detention if the teacher saw, but he had a feeling even the teachers were a little scared of her. Rumor had it the Johnson's barn that burned to the ground last year was arson. They said there were motorcycle tracks outside. No one accused her, but everyone suspected.

She looked up, and when their eyes met his heart skipped a beat. He could feel the blush burning his cheeks as he quickly looked down at his desk. She’d caught him staring. She was probably laughing at him now. Did he dare— He looked up. Her intense black eyes were still burning right through him. He felt that stare to his very core.

He’d heard the whispers. He knew she’d slept with nearly half the guys in the school. Older guys, too. Anyone she wanted, she had. How could he ever compete with that? How could he ever measure up to the no-doubt gorgeous guys she’d used and then abandoned? He was nothing compared to her. He may as well have VIRGIN tattooed across his forehead. No way she’d ever stoop to his level, or even notice him.

A rolled up piece of paper landed on his desk and he scrambled to grab it before it rolled off to the floor. Scrawled on it was a simple message: You. Me. Tonight.

He looked up, his heart threatening to beat straight out of his chest. She winked one eye at him, not even cracking a smile, then got up and walked right out of class mid-lecture.

He couldn’t breathe, reading the note over and over again. He knew what she was—how many boys she’d hurt. He knew he shouldn’t meet her, shouldn’t flirt with temptation like that. What would they even talk about? They had nothing in common, no mutual friends. For all he knew, she drank, started bar fights, and burned down barns for pastimes. But the way her muscles rippled under the surface of her bronzed arms—the way her leather jacket fit her shoulders just right—the way she walked into any room like everyone and everything in it were beneath her notice.

He shouldn’t go.

He was going to anyway.

***********

Kinda freaky, isn't it? Why is it that guys with dangerous backgrounds and sexual experience are intimidating and intriguing, but a girl with the same is...well, I'll let you supply your own word.

Do you think it could be done? A story about a girl with a past that didn't address what society's interpretation of that would be or make excuses for her? Where she was dark and mysterious instead of trashy and/or tragic and broken?

Personally I think it'd be insanely hard to pull off. We're coming into any story with too many preconceived cultural notions about feminine sexuality. Still, it's interesting to think about.

And for the love, will you quit picking on the Team Jacob girl?? Not all of us like to make out with slabs of marble! Tomorrow on romance week, I defend the boys. Because really, I like boys!

Monday, May 17, 2010

Love Is not a Reward

It's a Theme Week! All this week I'll be posting on matters of romance in young adult fiction. So sit back, invite your favorite fictional love interest, and enjoy. (Oh, for Pete's sake, you ALL brought Mister Darcy??)

With our eighth wedding anniversary fast approaching, lately I’ve been waxing nostalgic about when Hot Stuff and I first met.

I remember the way he used to look at me—like he wanted to kill me, or at least hurt me. It sent wild shivers up and down my spine. I didn’t know why he hated me so bad, but it made me want him. It drew me to him like a magnet--no, like gravity--no, like an addiction--no, like some other huge, inescapable, not always very good thing that I can make a lot of metaphors about. Like that.

Then we got to know each other. He was rude. He frequently mocked me, sometimes even hinting at or directly threatening my safety and my life. He’d stand me up. He’d lead me on, and then shut me down. He constantly lied to me. I never knew whether he was going to be nice or cruel, and always felt like I was balancing on the edge of a knife with him. And sometimes, when he was really angry or trying to warn me away from him, he’d be borderline physically abusive—restraining me, or shoving me, or making it clear that if things continued he would hurt me.

In fact, those were some of my favorite times. It was HOT, the way he reached over me and pulled my car door shut, wouldn’t let me get out of the car even though I demanded he let me go. And then we kissed. Or rather, he kissed me, because it was important that he always be in charge physically.

But I knew—KNEW—that we were meant to be together. And if I could just figure it out, convince him, I’d be able to root out his personal demons. He would confess he simply feared he wasn’t good enough for me/was actually protecting me, and we’d be able to have our happily-ever-after.

As long as I earned it. As long as I was good, and pure, and self-sacrificing. Then I could make it work.

Romantic, isn’t it?

Wait. You mean that was creepy? You mean that no girl should ever, EVER have to “earn” the right to be treated well in a relationship? That if a guy treats her like that, he is not worthy of her?

Oh. Well, turns out I agree. And trust me, Hot Stuff has never been anything but kind, and thoughtful, and sweet. I’ve never felt dominated by him, or scared of him, or worried that if I did or said the wrong thing it would “ruin” things. He’s also not a werewolf or a vampire or half-kraken or anything, which contributes to him not secretly wanting to drink my blood. That helps, too. (He does have bee superpowers thanks to being stung by a bee and then touring a nuclear facility, but that just means that if he dances, he can tell other bees where to find food.)

Don’t get me wrong—I’m not picking on any specific books here. Because those stories can be fun. A lot of fun! Bad boys are interesting. In fiction.

In real life? Not so much. So here’s to making sure that our girls know they are worth far, far more than a bad boy. That they shouldn’t have to work to earn the right to be treated like they deserve. That they shouldn’t have to sacrifice themselves or their dreams for someone to love them.

And they should never, ever date someone who secretly wants to kill them, no matter how much he’s nobly resisting the impulse.

Now if you’ll excuse me, Hot Stuff’s directing a colony to the nearest flower fields, and I like watching him get his groove on.