Thursday, June 28, 2012

Brave Storytelling

On Tuesday we went to see Brave. Most years my husband and I trade off who gets to take the kids to the newest Pixar (most other kids' movies feel like punishments to sit through, but we get super excited for Pixar and Miyazaki), but this year we made it a family night.

We loved it.

Unabashedly. All of us. My son next to me giggled. He grabbed onto my arm, terrified in the best way. He left the movie bouncing and already asking to buy it when it comes out on DVD. My daughter asked for it thirty seconds after he did. My husband and I both agreed it was great.

Then, lo and behold, I start hearing about reviews which seem to think it wasn't a fabulous movie.

DEAR REVIEWS: YOU ARE WRONG. XOXO, KIERSTEN

Just kidding! I'm totally not letting you off that easy. I'm going to tell you why you are wrong.

It seems to me negative reviews fall under two categories.

1) It wasn't what I was expecting!

and

2) It had no plot!

Oh, sweethearts. Here we go.

1) Really? You're complaining because the trailer didn't give away crucial parts of the story? I love that Pixar managed to keep the core of the story and what it is really about a secret. GOOD FOR THEM. I hate it when I sit through a three minute trailer and feel like I've seen the entire movie. If you can tell the whole story in three minutes, WHY MAKE A FEATURE-LENGTH FILM?

Now, I get where this complaint comes from. Sometimes I pick up a book expecting X, and it turns out to be Y, and even though Y is really good and probably just as good as X, I really had my heart set on X! (X being a variable, not a rating, because come on this is me, guys. PG-13 is as far as I go.)

But instead of complaining and deciding that since I wanted X, Y is therefore worthless, I usually just go ahead and write X myself so that I can have the story I wanted and still appreciate Y.

Basically I am advocating making your own dang movie if Brave wasn't what you thought it would be.

Or actually I am saying: don't let your expectations poison a perfectly good reality.

(You can embroider that on a pillow. I won't even copyright it!)

And now we get to 2) It had no plot!

1 I can understand. But 2 just makes me mad. My husband and I discovered the animation of Hayao Miyazaki via Pixar, and as a storyteller I am so, so grateful. American films, particularly animation, tend to have the same type of storytelling. They are very A to B plots. This is the setup, this is the conflict, this is the resolution. Everything is tightly tied to the plot--so tightly there is no room for wonder, no room for breathing or playing.

If you've watched any Miyazaki films, you know that he does not fall into the plot trap. He soars over the plot trap, in the middle of a rainstorm, on a cat bus. He is all about characters and exploration and telling a story in a way that is not necessarily efficient but always magical.

There is more than one way to tell a story, and just because it is not the plot progression you have been fed in nearly every movie you've ever seen, doesn't mean it's not a plot. Dare I suggest it means it's...a better plot?

Of course I dare suggest it. I totally just did.

Again, I think this one is a direct result of/reaction to the first problem people had with it. The plot was unexpected, and so it was declared no plot at all.

But these two problems I can gracefully accept (other than, you know, writing really long blog posts about why they are not problems at all). It's the other problem I take major, major issue with.

People are annoyed because this is a movie about a girl that is not about a girl and a boy.

THE HORRORS. THE HORRORS. YOU MEAN WOMEN AND GIRLS CAN HAVE STORIES THAT DON'T REVOLVE AROUND A HAPPILY EVER AFTER SEALED WITH A KISS AND A RING?

WHAT IS THIS STRANGE ALTERNATE DIMENSION WE HAVE BEEN SUCKED INTO?

I saw some complaints that men were nothing but plot devices in the movie. Well, umm, they are characters. In a movie. So, yeah. But they are also side characters who, by virtue of being SIDE characters, are not actually main characters. WHOA. CRAZY HOW THAT WORKS.

Look, I know that reverse sexism is just as bad as sexism (okay, actually I don't know this because I don't think it happens enough to impact our culture with the same degree of pervasive and insidious influence as reverse-reverse-sexism [or just plain old sexism if you want to keep things simple, which, why would we want to do that?]) but this is not sexism. This is telling a story with two female main characters.

What's sad is that it is even remarkable. It shouldn't be remarkable. It shouldn't be a talking point. But it is, so let's focus on the positive of Pixar creating a story with a girl MC that is universally accessible and non-alienating based on gender.

(We will leave artificial gender constraints for another rambling blog post.)

If you are still reading, bravo! Reading long, ranty blog posts burns more calories than walking up a steep incline. Bet you didn't know that! Have some extra dessert.

If you still haven't seen Brave, what are you waiting for?

If you disagree with my assessment, feel free to comment!...on someone else's blog. (Just kidding! Well, kind of. Not really.) In the end, all of this dialog about Brave is a good thing. People are watching it. People are thinking about it. And hopefully people are thinking about it in the ways that will lead to more thinking, more thoughtful viewing and consuming of entertainment, more questioning of what we watch and why we respond to it the way we do.

Until then, red haired girls with stories of their own ftw.

Monday, June 25, 2012

An Endlessly Anticipated Moment

I don't quite know how to express the way I felt today, opening up a package from Editor Erica to find a finished copy of ENDLESSLY.

A finished copy of my finished trilogy.

I'm torn between getting all weepy and jumping up and down screaming for joy. It's a very physically confusing place to be. So, how about some pictures instead of words, because words are failing me right now.




 2010
2011
2012

Pardon me while I jump up and down, weeping. It's the only compromise I can think of for all this joy at an ending of something that has changed my life.

(Before you ask: July 24th! That's when you can get all weepy-jumpy with your own copy.)

Friday, June 22, 2012

On Mommyhood and Writing

Disclaimer: This post is for moms who want to be writers. Particularly married stay-at-home moms of young children. I speak to that experience because it is the only one I have ever had. If you are a working mom, or a single working mom, or a working woman who isn't a mom but hopes to be, or a working woman who isn't a mom and doesn't hope to be, or a man, congratulations! You have a totally different life experience than I do, and I will never understand what it is like to be you, but I can totally respect you regardless.

So: You want to be a writer. And maybe you wonder the same thing I get asked a lot, which is, "How did you balance two small kids with writing books and pursuing publication?"

The answer is: I'm completely unbalanced.

Ha ha. No, actually, that really is the answer. Because let's face it: you have enough to do. You have more than enough to do. You already have more to do in any given day that you can ever reasonably accomplish. Just listing out all the things you can/should/could do with your day today would probably take up more time than you will spend making dinner/cleaning/providing enriching activities for those developing minds/etc.

So it isn't about finding balance. You will never find balance. I certainly haven't. It is about finding the right combination of imbalances that works for you and your family.

Here is what I did.

I gave up sleeping. It was a huge, HUGE sacrifice for me to stop napping when my kids did and to be willing to stay up into the night. I was traumatized by prolonged and intense sleep deprivation. I'm not kidding. I wish I were. Oh, for the love of all that is good and well-rested, how I wish I were kidding. But I hit a point where writing was more important to me than getting extra sleep.

If you aren't willing to make that sacrifice yet, that's okay. Really. The writing will still be there when you have a few more years of sleep recovery under your belt.

I gave up socializing with anyone other than my husband. Please note that I did not abandon my relationship with my husband. This is a fine line to walk, and sometimes I cross over into neglect territory, but I try to be very aware of our relationship and to let him know that he is my priority, even when I have deadlines or shiny new ideas that are pulling me away. Same thing with your children. Nothing--nothing--is worth sacrificing your relationship with your family. It's easier to prioritize the kids (because they will demand it, naturally), but be very aware and diligent that you are not sidelining your husband/partner. They are your partner.

Friends? Well. I think most of them still like me, even though for years now I disappear for months at a time. If it was the choice between writing and a girls' night out, I almost always chose writing. I am a bad friend. I know it, they know it. I try not to feel guilty about it. Sometimes it sucks having no social life, but hey, that's what imaginary friends are for.

Again, it comes down to priorities: would you rather escape for one evening a week with your friends, or would you rather have that time to get in a few thousand more words? If the first option: that's okay. Really! If the second option: You are ready to do this like it demands to be done.

My house is always messy. It's livable--it's not filthy--but it's certainly not a sparkling beacon of [some domestic magazine I can't even name because ha! like I have time to read domestic magazines!]. That's okay.

I'm a crap cook. Like, terrible. If it can't be prepared in twenty minutes, I pretty much don't make it.

I don't watch television. I don't even get any channels. Hot Stuff and I usually have a show or two that we watch on Netflix, but television is not a standard part of my life. (I more than make up for it wasting time online, but, well, pick your poison. You can't poison yourself with all of them. You have to choose!)

My kids do not participate in dozens of after-school activities. They play outside, they write stories, they draw pictures, they read books, and yes, they watch a little bit too much TV. They're happy. I'm happy that they're happy. I don't worry about all of the "standard" parts of childhood that somehow all revolve around driving places and paying for things.

In the end, I can't tell you how to do it. I can tell you that it will be hard. You'll cry. You'll want to give up. Sometimes you'll resent your family for not giving you enough time to write, and sometimes you'll resent the writing for taking you away from your family. All I can tell you is this:

Try to be fully present.

Be fully present for your kids and you husband. If you are with them, BE WITH THEM. My biggest regrets are the hours and hours I've wasted being grouchy because I wanted to get writing done but couldn't.

And, when you get a chance to write, WRITE. Be fully present for that, too.

Decide what can go, and what absolutely can't, and then be okay with that decision. You will have to make sacrifices. The writing will not always be easy, and it will not always be fun. Publication is not a guarantee ever, for anyone. I'm not going to lie--it's easier now that I get paid to write. It was harder to justify before. But I still did it.

Write because you cannot imagine being happy without writing. If you can imagine being happy without writing, try that for a while and see how you feel.

Because here's the thing: You don't NEED to write. Unless you do. In which case, you have my blessing to become a distracted, slightly batty near-shut in, who lives a very rich inner life while still being there for her family. And who wears the bags under her eyes as a badge of pride, because she has no other options but to be a writer.

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

U.N.I.C.O.R.N.S.

"This emergency meeting of U.N.I.C.O.R.N.S. is called to order. Unicorns Neighing In Cooperation Opposing Ridiculously Nitwitted Slander recognizes the President of the organization, Moonlight Majesty."


"Ahem. Thank you. I'm very pleased to see such a large turnout. The plush unicorns are excused, on account of being irreplaceable on Tiny Adorable Daughter's bed. I think you all know why we are here. The slander slung in our direction, against our holy and prestigious generations of magic, by one Kiersten White is no longer tolerable. She has a new book coming out in a mere month that--I have on good authority--has a scene with unicorns so repulsive and erroneous that we can no longer look the other way."


"Wait, the rest of you can look another way? Because my head doesn't turn."

"It's a figure of speech, Flora Glory. But look at us! We are not the dumpy, malodorous creatures Ms White throws in for comic effect. Why, even Lavender Dreams, in all her cheap plastic styling, is far more attractive than anything that horrible author describes in her ridiculous books."


"Thank you! Umm. I think." 

"You're welcome. Now, I see we have some new recruits to our ranks today. Though I must admit their manner of style and dress does not carry the same level of magical wonder we unicorns aspire to."


"You wanna start something, Sparkles?"


"Because last time we checked, we're the only ones with wings!"

"Psh. You are nothing but stylized approximations of traditional splendor!" 


"YOU WANNA GO, LEGS? LET'S GO! RIGHT HERE, RIGHT NOW."

"Stop! This is madness! You see what that author has brought us to? Squabbling and infighting, distracting us so she can continue her smear campaign against the entire breed, winged or otherwise. We must unite! ALL OF US, TOGETHER. SHE CANNOT WITHSTAND SO MUCH HORNED EQUINE FURY!"


"We are majestic! We are magical! WE ARE U.N.I.C.O.R.N.S.!"

"Oh, hi guys! Is this the meeting for unicorns?"


"NO PONIES ALLOWED. I specifically told you guys not to tell the My Little Ponies! As if Punk Rock over there wasn't bad enough, now I have to deal with these cartoon monstrosities? You are to the long and proud history of unicorns what Edward is to vampires--nothing but empty sparkles!"

"Ahem. What do you have against Edward?"


"Nothing! Nothing at all! Love him, and his creepy little baby! So glad the Ponies could make it with their tall, tall, tall friend. Excellent. Let's talk strategy!"

"Pardon me, I don't mean to be rude, but we reserved this space."

"And who are you?"


"S.A.D. Supernatural Animals Depressed. We're a support group for those of us not cool or funny enough to make it into this really great series of books. Maybe you've heard of them. The last one, ENDLESSLY, comes out soon, so we're all feeling quite blue."

"Oh, for the love. Bleep. Forget it. Let's go watch Twilight."

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

MIND GAMES COVER!

So, remember how I have that trilogy, the last book of which will be out on July 24th? And how those covers are super beautiful and I love them and when I thought about having another, unrelated book covered I couldn't even begin to imagine what I wanted?

Yeah. I remember that, too.

Then I saw this, and my world exploded:

No words. I have no words.

Guys, I can't even. I love that the girl is overlaid with all of these images--unsettling images--that put together a picture of her. I love that half of her face is in shadow. I love that she is looking straight at the reader in an almost challenging way. I love that it's a beautiful cover, but also slightly off, slightly disturbing once you look closer. I love the colors. I love the font.

I LOVE IT ALL.

I love that this cover feels like exactly--EXACTLY--how this book should look. I've had it since January, and every time I open it I get goosebumps and can't look away.

I AM THE LUCKIEST AUTHOR IN THE WORLD.

Huge, huge, mad crazy props to Alison Donalty and Michelle Taormina, the design geniuses at HarperTeen behind both ENDLESSLY (and the entire Paranormalcy series, in Alison's case) and MIND GAMES. As an author you really don't have any say in what the books you've written and edited and crafted end up looking like on the shelves. Sometimes that's scary. But never when you have Alison and Michelle on your team!

What's that? You want to see the full jacket? OF COURSE YOU DO BECAUSE BLEEP IT IS AMAZING:

(Click to embiggen. And you definitely want to embiggen.)
(Also you will notice I have a shiny, violent new bio. My sisters are okay with it.)
(Or at least are too scared to say otherwise.)

Seriously, I don't know what else to say. (Besides, yes, I can finally buy green sharpies!!) And the three mini-covers of my other books make me all fluttery-happy. I'm so beyond giddy and thrilled with this cover, and I cannot wait for you to be able to read the book on February 19th!

Heh. Let's pretend like that's much closer than it is. If only I had another book coming out before then...

OH WAIT.

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Teaser Tuesday

It's not Wednesday! Which means you don't get to see the full cover yet. But...I can show you the back!


I keep trying to think of a caption for underneath but it's all INCOHERENT JOYFUL BABBLING. (THE COLORS! THE COLORS!) I just...guys, they got it. They got it 100% for this cover. I love (love!) my Paranormalcy series covers, but there wasn't a good way for us to capture everything the books were, particularly the humor.

I opened the very first version of the MIND GAMES cover and was blown away because they captured it. Everything. I could not come up with a better visual representation of this book, which, in the world of covers, is downright astonishing.

BUT YOU STILL HAVE TO WAIT UNTIL TOMORROW TO SEE THE REST.

Oh, I am so mean. So very mean. Sorry. (Kind of. Mostly just giddy.)

If you hadn't heard me say it before, and the blurb yesterday didn't clue you in, the back cover copy makes it pretty clear that this book has dual narrators: sisters Fia and Annie. I don't want to give too much away yet, but how about the opening lines I wrote just for fun that triggered the rest of the book? (If you recall, this is the book I wrote in nine days...yeah, one of those.)

The moment he bends over to help the sorrow-eyed spaniel puppy, I know I won’t be able to kill him.

This, of course, ruins my entire day.

Dude, I hear you, Fia. Would totally ruin my day, too.

Come back tomorrow for the ACTUAL TOTAL NOT TEASING YOU ANYMORE MIND GAMES COVER REVEAL! Plus cookies! Except you have to bring those yourselves, because this is the internet, and cookies cannot be sent via PDF.


Monday, June 11, 2012

MIND GAMES Monday


Oh, hi! Don't you look lovely this fine Monday Morning! You've got that end-of-weekend shine to your hair, that special beginning-of-the-week gleam in your eye, that patented five-more-days-until-another-weekend spring in your step!

Wait. Monday.

Oh, Monday.

Well, how about this? How about instead of counting down the days until the next weekend, I give you something even SOONER to count down to? How about...the MIND GAMES cover? How about on Wednesday?

HOW ABOUT YES.

Guys, I'm so, so excited to share this cover with you. It's phenomenal. And I know all authors say they love their covers (we are, by profession, a bunch of liars and exaggerators), and I sincerely love the PARANORMALCY series covers, but MIND GAMES is something entirely new and

HOLY

CRAP

I LOVE IT

Ahem. But that is Wednesday. Today, I give you a blurb I was fortunate enough to get from an early reader. A reader whose books I have been known to threaten people with physical violence if they didn't read. A reader whose writing makes magic real and reality magic. One of my all time favorite authors. Yup. Behold:

“You might think you know Kiersten White, but here is a darker, more dangerous Kiersten White. A sharp, heart-wrenching, lightning-fast, and fabulously fun read in which twining narratives weave a trap around two extraordinary sisters. Fia may be the angriest narrator I’ve ever loved. I bet you will too.” 

--Laini Taylor, author of Daughter of Smoke & Bone and National Book Award finalist Lips Touch, Three Times

I just want to hug it. And her. A lot.

Coming tomorrow: A little bit more about the book itself, as well as a sneak peek at the back cover! Who says Tuesdays are worthless? (I do. I say that. But not this Tuesday!)

Monday, June 4, 2012

On Television and Writing

I've been running a fever for a couple of days now. And what does one do when running a fever? Think about television, of course! Not watch it, mind you. Just think about it, in depth, and what one can learn from it.

One is very odd, it would appear.

So, in no particular order, I give you some of my favorite shows (living and dead and undead) and what I think we, as writers, can learn from them.

Avatar: Begin with the end in mind

Zuko: Best character arc ever, or best character arc ever?

But Kiersten, I don't watch cartoons SHUT UP this show had by far the best plotting, the best writing, the funniest scenes, and the best action sequences of any television show ever. EVER. YEAH, I WENT THERE. It asked the hard questions, it had genuine character development, and from the funniest episodes ("They will never rise from the ashes of their defeat!") to the saddest (Oh, Uncle Iroh), the storytelling was always. dead. on.

Always.

There is a lot to be said for saying, "We are going to create a show that is only three seasons long." They knew what they had to work with from the very beginning, and they very clearly began with the end in mind. I'm sure there were adjustments along the way (look look I know that Zuko and Katara were allegedly meant to be romantic interests in the beginning I DON'T CARE KATAANG FOREVER), but they knew where they were going and this gave them the ability to layer, and to plan, and to place details in mind-blowingly brilliant ways.

Writing a series? KNOW WHERE IT ENDS.

Sherlock: Ask the right questions

Another version of Sherlock? Did we really need that?

In this case, the answer is yes. The genius minds behind this show took the iconic character and answered a very big what-if: What if Sherlock were in modern times, an obsessive genius, possibly on the Autism spectrum, and how would his mind being so different affect his every day life and ability to function around other people?

So often the real meat of a story happens in the very seeds of the idea: the WHAT IF. If you can come up with a compelling enough WHAT IF, you don't have to worry that you are writing something that has been done before. Everything has been done before. Don't try to think of a new idea. Try to think of a new WHAT IF.

Lost: You can only ask so many questions


Oh, LOST. You started out SO AWESOME. You built and built and built the mystery, the holy crap! moments, the what-the-heck-just-happened twists! I even wrote an episode that, sadly, never aired.

And then...you didn't stop building. Every question was answered with another three questions. Threads were dropped entirely. In the end you pulled the ultimate cop-out, the "it was all a dream!" type fakery of lazy writers who lack foresight and respect for their audience.

It became very apparent a few seasons in that this show had no idea where it was going, even from the beginning episode. As a writer, do not fall into the trap of throwing in so many twists and questions that your readers never get answers. Should there be questions? Absolutely! But think of it as an exercise in trust. Answer questions along the way to show your reader that their trust in you is well-placed, and that the BIG ANSWERS you are holding until the end will be worth it.

And don't use any bleeping polar bears, for the love.

Vampire Diaries: Don't be afraid to make things happen

First, disclaimer: this is the only show on the list that is still going. (With the exception of The Legend of Korra, which is a semi-sequel series to Avatar, but it's only eight episodes in and so I'm not going to discuss it here.) And, further disclaimer: I have stopped watching it. More on that in a minute.

Plain and simple, this show works because it makes stuff happen. They resolve more massive plot points in a single season than most shows do in an entire series run. They set up the questions (or, in this case, conflicts), they let them run a mad, perfectly fulfilling course, and then they resolve them. Sure, they immediately introduce another Big Bad Plot, but as a viewer you know you aren't going to have to wait an entire season (or seasons, plural) for resolution.

Awesome! WELL DONE.

That being said, I stopped watching when one of the show writers talked in an interview about why one mass-murdered vampire would be wrong to date.

Stefan: Has killed dozens (at least). Sometimes to protect those he loves. Sometimes to protect his own best interests. And sometimes because he goes on crazy benders and just likes to rip heads off.

Damon: Has killed dozens (at least). Sometimes to protect those he loves. Most of the time to protect his own best interests. Sometimes just because he's bored.

Klaus: Has killed fewer than both of them (on screen). Most of the time to protect those he loves, though that protection is misguided. Often to protect his own best interests. Never, that I can recall, because he goes psychotic sometimes or because he is bored and doesn't have anything better to do.

OKAY SO REMIND ME WHY ARE THE FIRST TWO OKAY FOR A TEENAGER TO DATE BUT NOT THE THIRD?

That's what I thought. (Another lesson about consistency in morals, perhaps?)

Veronica Mars: Main Characters are only as good as their surroundings

I JUST WANT TO HUG ALL THE CHARACTERS, GUYS. AND MAKE THEM COME BACK ON TELEVISION.
Except maybe Duncan. He can stay in [spoiler].

So, I maintain that, while Avatar: The Last Airbender is the best series ever, the first season of Veronica Mars was the best season of any series, ever. And what the show did so well (SO WELL) was have a main character who was compelling and likable but also kind of a jerk at times, with just the right balance of tragedy and humor, and then give her surrounding characters who made her shine--both her good parts (the snark! the justice-seeking! the loyalty!) and her bad parts (the grudge-holding! the drive for revenge!). Everyone on this show played so well off each other. Even the community itself was critical and acted as the perfect foil to the action. (Another reason I [sadly] don't think the proposed FBI future jump would have worked. The show was Neptune, and her dad, and her friends. Without them, Veronica wouldn't have been Veronica.)

Make sure that your side characters are each essential, and that they each play a role. If they don't do something to or with the main character, figure out how to make them matter or cut them out. Same goes for setting. It should feel impossible for your story to take place anywhere other than where it does.

Buffy/Firefly: Let's face it

I should say something here about learning to balance tragedy and humor, or how to write amoral characters that the audience still roots for, but let's face it: You will never write like Joss Whedon. Accept it and move on.

The Avengers wish you well in your not-quite-as-awesome-as-Joss writing endeavors.
(Also, can we make a law that all movies must be written by him? Forever?)