Tuesday, May 31, 2011

The Week That Was

Oh, hi. You look nice today. Did you change your hair?

What's that? I don't look nice? I look like someone ran over me with a steamroller, then packed all of their spare socks in the bags beneath my eyes?

Well, true. Not nice of you to say, but true.

So last week was my birthday. (HAPPY BIRTHDAY TO ME, there, I said it, you don't have to! Aren't I nice for letting you off the hook.) Aside from most of my family being sick it was a perfectly lovely week. Never let it be said that I don't know how to celebrate, because this year I really went wild and spent the bulk of the week editing! I know. You wish I had invited you, don't you?

But it wasn't all editing madness. There were trolls:

Courtesy of Ellen in Sweden, who runs Paranormalcy.net and is the sweetest thing ever. The troll looks exactly how I imagined the trolls in Supernaturally! Also CANDY. My kids kept asking when I was going to open the chocolate. I kept saying NEVER. It wasn't for them.

There was also evidence of what happens when your adorable children can shop for you in the children's section of stores:

You know you are.

And finally, from my ridiculously awesome dad, what do you get the girl who has everything (or at least has enough and will never give you any ideas on what to get her for gifts because really she doesn't need anything else [how could she when she has a color-changing Snoopy shirt??])? Why, you find her a pink stun gun and bedazzle the case, of course.


(Also, yes, I checked California law and it IS legal for me to own a stun gun. Also the picture is mirror-image, so that's an E on the case. Also maybe I feel a little bit like Veronica Mars and I think I need to go do some private investigating and maybe solve some crimes. Also yes it's put in a super high cupboard where my kids can't reach it. Heck, I can't even reach it...)

There was also a bookstore date with one of my best friends (that was supposed to be for me to pick out a book but turned into me recommending half of the YA section to her), a home-made pizza party (that turned into a Nerf gun war and made me realize I don't have nearly enough foam-dart violence in my life), and finishing my first round of edits on Isadora.

So, you'll have to excuse the lack of blogging because my brain has been knee-deep in revisions. (What, your brain doesn't have knees? THEN HOW DOES IT WALK AROUND WHEN IT WANTS TO GET A BREATH OF FRESH AIR AFTER YOU'VE FALLEN ASLEEP? That's what I thought. I just hate it when my brain forgets to wash its feet before climbing back in through my ears.)

To make it up for you I have a book recommendation: CHIME, by Franny Billingsley. Loved the voice, loved the writing, loved the story. A haunting and fascinating look at family loyalty, guilt, memories, and forgiveness. With bonus bog monsters. Thanks to Gayle Forman for the recommendation! (Pretty much I go to the bookstore now and think, "What has Gayle said to read?" The same applies to Holly Black.)

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

German Book Trailer and Cover!

You guys, I heart my German publisher so much. Loewe is fabulous! It's been so fun seeing how all of the other countries deciding how best to represent Evie's story. Most so far have gone the way of the US with darker, more dramatic covers, but Loewe decided to emphasize the humor and romance, giving Paranormalcy a cover that Evie would adore! (And a new title, since paranormal in German has all extra-terrestrial connotations, and while I managed to get just about everything else in the book there are definitely no aliens.)

But first, the super cute book trailer. I have no idea what any of it is saying, but I can still appreciate the cute!

Love! So simple and playful and fun.

And here is a shot from their catalog:

The front page for the Children/Teens section. SO CUTE, RIGHT??

And here's the cover in all its very pink glory:

They even got her boots!

So, huzzah for awesome Loewe! Inside the book they have all sorts of fun flourishes and details on the chapter headings. The whole thing is gorgeous and I'm so excited that Evie is in Germany in high style!

Monday, May 23, 2011

On Faith

Two of the cardinal rules of a happy internet existence are these: Never talk politics and never talk religion. (Also never click on unknown links. Also never do a google image search without turning on the filters. Also spelling still counts.)

But increasingly it seems that the Never Talk Religion rule only applies to those of us who are quietly and devoutly religious. Those who aren't have free reign to criticize, to mock, and to otherwise devalue faith. (Which isn't to say the majority does this--it's a vocal minority, of course, since I believe most people are thoughtful and respectful.) (And of course you have those that are militantly religious and devote whole websites to spreading vitriol and condemning others, which, I'm not quite sure which Christianity they believe in, because it's not mine.) (And, again, not to say that Christianity is the only religion that has this type of polarizing effect.) (You see why this is hard? SO MANY DISCLAIMERS. I should have a lawyer write it up.)

I've been noticing more issues of faith and religion in YA. A book I read that did it very well is Rae Carson's GIRL OF FIRE AND THORNS. The main character has a life deeply rooted in faith. Everyone around her believes in the same religion to varying degrees (some will kill for it, some dismiss it as merely their cultural heritage). When she finds out that some of the things she was taught aren't doctrinal and when some of her prayers are not answered the way she feels they should be, she questions her relationship to the religion. But her faith, that core thing that drives her, remains an active and vivid part of her life. I loved that aspect of the book. I thought it was so balanced and well-done because it was as complex and difficult as it should have been. No one was "good" or "bad." There was no scapegoat, no simplified, easy blame. Religious characters were neither malicious enforcers nor mindless sheep.

Too often religious people are thrown in for an easy villain. See how narrow-minded they are! See how they are willing to go against their own beliefs in the name of making other people believe them!  Or people who are religious are naive and trusting to the point of sheer idiocy. "Well, sure, bad things are happening and the only logical explanation is that it's our leader, but I have faith! It must be something else!"

As a person of faith, I find both insulting. I don't mindlessly follow what my religion teaches. I study it. I understand it. I decide for myself what to believe and what to act on. Yes, some people use religion to manipulate and control. It happens, absolutely. But give me a reason why in the book other than that it's an easy storytelling choice. Carrie Ryan's THE FOREST OF HANDS AND TEETH is an example of when this works. The religious establishment in the novel was made for survival. The choices of the leaders made sense in context, even if they weren't right and the main character disagreed with them. It didn't feel like scapegoating or lazy storytelling. Terry Pratchett's NATION ultimately comes down against organized religion, but it does so in a thoughtful and respectful manner. It recognizes, like Ryan's book, that there are no easy answers.

It's a hard balance to find. I'll admit that the difference between a book that addresses these issues and works and one that doesn't is often impossible to define. (And I've yet to touch religion in my writing because it terrifies me--too many ways to mess it up!) But I think it comes down to respect. Respect for people and their choices. Respect for those who choose faith even if you disagree with it. Respect for those who don't choose faith even if you do.

Religion does not make anyone inherently better or worse than anyone else, just like atheism or agnosticism. It's what you do with what you choose to believe, it's the person you let it shape you into, it's your choices--your informed, intelligent, compassionate choices. Both in real life and in stories, look beyond the "easy" assumptions. Go deeper.

I go to church for three hours every Sunday. I study the scriptures daily. Prayer is a part of my life. My faith has shaped the person I am, and I honestly don't think I'd be a storyteller without it. I'm glad I was raised with it, but I still choose to believe, choose to have faith, choose to act on that faith. It's an active choice, one that I constantly work on and think about and decide for myself.

I don't care what you choose, as long as you use the life you are given (regardless of where you think that life came from or whether you think there's anything after) in the best way you can. I respect the choices and beliefs of those around me, and I hope that reflects in my writing. Please don't make uninformed, stereotyped decisions, or group everyone into categories based on what you think of one part of them. That's bigotry, plain and simple, whether it's based on religion, race, sexuality, or gender. Do me the honor of looking beyond my specific belief system to the person I am and what I do with it.

I'll do the same for you.

Saturday, May 21, 2011

Presenting Isadora

I always like to do a stats-type post when I finish a book. And I'll even finally give you some details about Isadora! Without actually telling you what it's about, of course.

First, the working title is FLOOD AND STONE. I love this title--it has a lot to do with the romance part of the book (yes there is kissing) and it makes me happy.

It's my eighth completed novel. (First Keeping King Tut, a dreadfully boring middle grade from October 2004 to July 2006, second Flash, June to July 2008 [the book I got my amazing agent with], third Instinct, December 2008, fourth Paranormalcy, January 2009, fifth Dream of Me, summer 2009, sixth Supernaturally, fall 2009, seventh Paranormalcy3 [I almost accidentally told you the title, aren't you sad I caught it?] January to March 2011. Of those, all but the Paranormalcy series are unpublished, and only Dream of Me remains as one I will eventually try to get published. And I'm okay with that. Every book I've written is important and has helped me, publishable or not.)

Pages: 218
Chapters: Heck if I know, I stopped numbering them because it always changes in edits anyway
First draft: 56k (aiming for around 60k with edits, which is shorter than the Paranormalcy series but feels right for this book)
Draft time: Tuesday March 29th to Friday May 20th
Concept time: Initial idea February or March of 2010, (maybe even Christmas 2009, I honestly can't remember) with two started-then-abandoned drafts. Other than Dream of Me, this is the book/idea I have spent the most time with without abandoning it. Usually if an idea doesn't work on the first attempt at a draft I trash it and don't go back. Isadora's story never stopped living in my head, though, so I knew it was a keeper if I just figured out how to tell it.
Brought to you by: Dr Pepper, Neon Trees + Passion Pit + Snow Patrol + Explosions in the Sky Pandora internet radio stations, a present-oriented challenge from my husband, my darling agent's ceaseless hounding (her enthusiasm for this idea is part of why I never let it go), Natalie Whipple's nonstop cheerleadering, Stephanie Perkins' early and invaluable advice, Balboa Park, crushing on a constellation, and a lifelong love of mythology.
Random details from the book: Most of it is set in San Diego, with Balboa Park's Museum of Man playing a large part. Carne Asada French Fries, the most perfect and perfectly disgusting food around, have a cameo. Two characters are named after people in my real life. My mother's love of the desert influenced it, as did my fascination with ancient cultures and religion. Once again life, death, and immortality are themes--I can't quite seem to get away from those ones. Family relationships are a huge part of the book and inform most of the drama. Jewelry and symbolism are both important. Also, though I usually avoid it, I wrote a total wish-fulfillment scene by having Isadora get a funky, edgy haircut because I can't. Oh, and I made her almost six feet tall. Maybe a bit of wish-fulfillment there, too...

I'm so excited about this one. I already know everything that's wrong with it and how much more I have to do in edits, but I love Isadora (and I love her boy) (though she'd probably smack me for calling him that) and I think that it's going to be something special. Isadora is funny and snarky and smart, but she's very different from Evie. Where Evie dealt with everything that had happened to her by clinging to normalcy and carrying this positive, hopeful view of life, Isadora's kind of the opposite. She's closed herself off from everything and everyone around her because she desperately needs to be strong and she thinks that's the best way.

Which, if that were true, obviously we wouldn't have a book.

So, one missing scene to write and then I'm delving into edits on the third Paranormalcy book that I keep almost typing the title for, and then back to polish and perfect FLOOD AND STONE in the hopes that it will be my next series. Oh, also finally doing all those other real life things I was supposed to be doing but haven't. (Yeah. Seriously. Absolutely. Gonna do those things. Mmm hmmm.)

I love my job.

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Writing to Trends: My Next Project!

So, after reading this interesting blog post by agent/author Mandy Hubbard on what editors want to see, I've decided to scrap everything I'm working on and instead create the ultimate trend book. It will be the trend to end all trends, and take publishing by storm. And not, like, drizzling storm. Like, 2012-without-John-Cusack-because-I-can't-afford-him storm. Pretty much it will signal the end of publishing because after this book there will be no more books because there will be no point.


Introducing my Contemporary Sci-fi Dystopian Horror Ghost Mermaid Romance, told in second-person future-tense (with bonus environmentalist undertones to make me a shoe-in for the Printz award), You Will Die in Infinite Darkness!

And, because I love you, here's an excerpt:

You will wander, forlorn and cold in the wake of a dream eternally shattered. You will feel as though someone reached outside the impenetrable, soulless metal walls of the spaceship and siphoned the freezing blackness of space directly into the spot that your love used to inhabit. Your heart will be worse than your cryogenically frozen social revolutionary boyfriend Xadam, because after you throw yourself at its mercy, the Society might reanimate him, but it will never reanimate your heart.

You will come to the bridge, lost in memories of his hands in your hair, his tender embraces, his childish laugh, his impossibly green eyes. Everything in your life had always been cold and metal, just as the Society would have your soul be. But Xadam, not Xadam. He was your own personal sun, the star to which your planets aligned. He will never be yours again. You will want to sink into the bowels of the ship, to meld your body to its unforgiving beams, to sustain life without having life of your own.

You will be drawn by music you won't notice you hear until it is too late. It will be empty, too empty in the control room, the iron-fisted Society ship rulers somehow missing. You will start to ponder this, but you won't be able to for long, because you will see something that pushes all other thoughts from your spinning brain.

You will see a mermaid.

She will be combing her ghostly locks on the bridge of the forsaken ship, her lips full and blue, the lights from the console blinking through her. She will float as though on the memory of water, and you will be drawn toward her like the pull of the tide in the ocean your people contaminated and destroyed. The ocean you will never swim in. The ocean that claimed the life of this mermaid. You will remember horrible authors who wrote about mermaids and did terrible things to them, and you will weep. You will want to go to her, want to drown in her depthless eyes. But then you will notice that her comb is made of delicate fingerbones, too small to be from an adult. You will reel in horror as you think of the nursery level of the ship--unlocked, unguarded. Her gaze will turn from the tide to a whirlpool, rippling with terror and death.

You will scream. A lot.

You will stumble back, race and trip and crawl on bloodied knees through the labyrinthine hallways of the ship that was to be your life, but will now be your tomb. You will cry and shake, longing for Xadam's strength, but you will not stop though you know your efforts are futile. Xadam wouldn't want you to stop. You will run for his memory, for the person he was before the brutal re-education of the Society. You will not run fast enough. You will never run fast enough, because there is nowhere to run. The siren song of the ghostly fishwoman will haunt your every step. You will sob.

The vast empty black of space inside and outside of you will not care.

Then you will have your scream muffled as a strong hand clamps down over your mouth and everything fades into darkness...

So, there you go! The future trend to beat all trends. Editors, feel free to call me and let the bidding war start immediately.

Friday, May 13, 2011

In Case of Zombie Apocalypse

So, last night as I envisioned detaching my jaw and tossing it onto the counter next to the junk mail for the night, I wondered if perhaps the desire to remove rather essential body parts is an early warning symptom of impending zombiehood.

Which would make me the forerunner of the coming Zombie Apocalypse.

Some people might panic about this, but I'm actually quite pleased. See, the way I figure, if the world is going to end in a Zombie Apocalypse, I want to be the first zombie on the ground. The way these things work, it would take people so long to catch on to what was happening that I would be chock full of plump, juicy brains before the government even admitted there might be a problem.

Gross! you might be thinking. Who wants to be a zombie? Well, who wants to survive a Zombie Apocalypse? I don't know about you, but the idea of slowly starving to death, knowing that humanity around me is for all intents and purposes gone forever, desperately fighting for a survival I know will eventually end, and end violently? Did Will Smith look like he was having a good time in I Am Legend? No! Neither did movie-goers! Only his abs were happy, and they really shouldn't have a say. Let's face it: Zombie Apocalypse survival? It's just not that appealing.

And who wants to stick it out for a while only to die and become a zombie after everyone else? Where's the fun in that? At that point the only people left would be a) hard to find and b) battle-hardened and well-equipped with machetes and shotguns and lawnmowers. No, I want to be the fat and happy first zombie.

But Kiersten, you might say, if you are a zombie before everything breaks down people will still have easy access to weapons and ammos! This is true. But they will also still be functioning under those pesky "It's not nice to decapitate people" social mores that also haven't broken down yet.

I don't know about you, but I always feel better when I have a plan of action. And knowing that, in the event of a zombie apocalypse, I have exactly where and what I want to be mapped out makes me sleep a little better at night.

But don't even get me started on my Unicorn Apocalypse survival plan, because that thing is wicked complicated and it doesn't even have a cameo by Will Smith's abs.

Unicorns ruin everything.

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Bringing the Happy

Today I drove along the coast. The ocean swelling on, blindingly blue forever seemed to stretch and push its horizon right into my soul. A line of pelicans, delightful birds that alternate between utter awkwardness and stunning grace, soared in a staggered line overhead. I'm pretty sure they were there just for me.

I like to make with the funny complaining, but sometimes (more than sometimes) it needs to be said: I am probably the luckiest girl alive. I'm married to my favorite person in the world, and I didn't even have to wait very long before finding him. (Pretty sure I was the smartest eighteen-year-old ever for picking him out.) Everything--everything--in my life is what it is because of the man I'm blessed enough to call my partner. We have two incredibly delightful little people that I am constantly amazed by, and that somehow I get to be in charge of for a few short years. Aside from the fact that I made them, I really am awed by them and their process of growing up. It's amazing (and terrifying and incredible) to be here, shepherding that process.

I get to write for a living. I. get. paid. to. write. It's kind of mind-blowing. Not only do I get to do something I love and I'd be doing anyway, but I get paid to do it AND so many smart, fun people care to see what I am doing with it. That's both exhilarating and humbling. I have my dream job, and it allows me to help support my family while leaving me free to be at home with my kids full time. I recognize what an unusual and fortunate position this is and I am grateful that I'm here every single day.

It should probably be said again: I get paid to make things up. THAT IS SO FREAKING COOL.

I'm surrounded both personally and professionally by people that I genuinely love, people that are smart and kind and capable and funny. People that I love to be around and that (I think, most of the time) love to be around me, too. I've been blessed in my life with associations with people that have helped shape me, nurtured what was good in me, and helped me shift and overcome what was maybe not so good. I've been buoyed up by so much belief and love from so many people I kind of couldn't help but accomplish what they thought I could.

Also, I live in San Diego. Enough said.

Writing can be lonely. We spend so much time living in our heads that I think creative people have a tendency to obsess (admit it) and obsession can shift from a nurturing, creative thing to a dark, gnawing, empty thing. It's too easy to get caught in cycles of negative thoughts; sometimes it's good to pause, look at the ridiculous and beautiful pelicans, and think of everything that is good in your life. Let that ocean fill you, expand and swell and push out any dark things clinging to the sides of your soul.

Metaphorically, of course. Because if I have to get wet, I'll still complain, luckiest girl alive or not.

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

On Crafting the Perfect Middle Book: Red Glove, by Holly Black

Oh, HI. It's 4:30 AM. This night has been like Christmas, waking up every hour on the hour. Only instead of presents, I have nausea, pain, and swelling! So pretty much the Wisdom Tooth Removal Santa Claus sucks. I really recommend the Christmas one, instead.

I've been thinking a lot lately about Holly Black's Curse Workers series. I'm going to keep this brief because I'm all woozy and dizzy. It boils down to this: If you want to see how to write a compelling series that builds on itself while still keeping all of the books self-contained, complete stories, study this series.

I loved White Cat; the idea of magic noir blew me away with its simple genius. The characterizations were amazing--one of those books that didn't depend on the concept alone to be intriguing. The magic system was simple enough to avoid complicated explanations and world setup, but broad enough in scope to include everything from incredible moral dilemmas, far-reaching and thought-provoking political issues, family and loyalty and love and crime, and just what, in the end, it means to be a good person.

And, even though it was the first book in a trilogy, it had its own distinct and separate storyline, ending in such a way to draw it to a conclusion while still building to the next book.

So, I was very excited and curious to read Red Glove, and it absolutely didn't disappoint. Holly took everything that worked so well in White Cat and bumped it up a notch. All of the good versus bad, trying to make moral choices in a ridiculously morally bankrupt world, trying to do right by the one girl you've ever loved in the most impossible situation imaginable. Plus a murder mystery. Plus a boarding school. Plus an intense political climate. Plus the feds. Plus mobsters. Plus a deliciously screwed up family dynamic.

HOW DOES SHE FIT IT ALL IN ONE BOOK? I don't know. But she does, and it's seamless, and I'm so glad. And the best thing about Red Glove is that it was its own story, completely and totally. A lot of middle books feel inessential, like placeholders until book three just spinning their wheels and killing time, or that their only  function is to build for the next book. But Red Glove is as complete a story as White Cat, while still setting up the framework that I have no doubt the last book will take full advantage of.

Anyway. If you want to figure out how to write a trilogy where all of the books function just as well on their own as they do together, read this one. Holly Black is a genius.

(As always when I recommend books, please research or read them before giving them to younger readers. I talk about books that I love on here. I'm not a twelve-year-old; far from it! And though I write books that I have no problem with recommending to young readers, I read many, many books that they might not be ready for yet. And what one young teen is mature enough to read is very different than what another might be.)

(Speaking of trilogies, have you entered to win an advance copy of Supernaturally? Tomorrow is the last day to get your entry in!)