Wednesday, December 30, 2009
Expert: 90% of New Year's Resolutions will fail this year.
Host: That is a stunning and saddening figure.
Expert: Yes. That means 90% of all Americans will be failures.
Host: Yikes. Tell us how to keep our resolutions from failing. Or should we just not make them.
Expert: Resolutions are fantastic. I'll tell you how to make them succeed. I'll also tell you CUT TO COMMERCIAL.
They cut to a commercial. I kept eating cereal. Lover and I mused gently over whether Expert would give the same advice I always give on resolutions while I ate my cereal. Thing 1 joined us at the table to also partake of cereal. She made a small pile of Thing1Cereal around her bowl as she ate.
When the Expert came back, she told us we really needed to want to change, and that we should have a reward system built in, and that we should hang with people who helped our resolutions instead of hurting them. For instance, if your resolution was to lose weight, make friends at the gym and not at Dunkin Donuts. She didn't say that, but that's what she meant. And then she said, booyah, the force be with you, peace out. It was all very feel good and empowering and fluff-making.
And yeah, those are all very nice things. But she didn't say anything about the resolutions themselves. If you make well-meaning, empowering, flufftastic resolutions that aren't really achievable while wanting to change and having reward systems in place, it's like having great cooking habits and a craptastic recipe. You'll spend hours in the kitchen and end up with hamburger helper muffins.
Sooo again for our television viewers who just tuned in, remember that I already said why I think most resolutions fail. Because folks don't think of them like goals, and good goals are quantifiable and within my control, and bad, hamburger helper goals are nebulous, subjective, or mostly in the hands of politicians. Here's my official goals/ resolutions/ Cleveland post on that. I also like goals that make me stretch and define my year in a way that I wouldn't have normally. So I don't put stuff on the list that I'd be doing anyway. For instance I have two novels due in 2010, but I'm not going to put them on the list because they have to get done whether or not they end up on the list.
Here, without further ado, are my 2010 Resolutions.
1. Write a screenplay
2. Write a song every week.
3. Sketch once a day.
4. Take Thing 1 & Thing 2 to a Broadway show.
5. Go to the UK in September.
6. Take Lover to a new sort of concert that we've never been to before.
7. Compile an album/ demo.
8. Create dummy/ general shape for graphic novel.
9. Organize a teenage writer's workshop.
10. If LINGER goes to #1, buy a piano.
When I was making these up, I was trying to think of things that would stretch me in ways that I wouldn't normally go, and things that would push me out of my comfort zone. I tried to keep the ones that couldn't be crossed off until the end of the year to a minimum (the only two I have are sketch once a day and write a song each week -- note they can't be crossed off until December 31st, 2010)(if they were all like that it would make for a really unsatisfying list as the whole point is to be able to cross those bad boys off). And I only have one on there that's not in my control: the last one. I had one of those for 2009 too: if the UK rights sold for SHIVER, go to the UK. I figured it wasn't cheating because if I didn't add that to the list, I might have sold the rights and then just not have followed through with the UK trip. Same with LINGER and #1. I can't control the "if" part. But I can control the second half.
So. It looks like an entertaining list to me. And an entertained Maggie is a Maggie that stays out of trouble (when I was a pre-teen, I learned the adage "a tired puppy is a good puppy" and I found out it also applied to me). So now these are officially out there.
Ahem. Ahem. You guys done with yours?
Monday, December 28, 2009
here it is: OF BEES AND MIST, by Erick Setiawan.
And the review:
Almost exactly two hours ago, I finished reading OF BEES AND MIST, and I’m still in its spell. Normally I am opposed to writing reviews right after I read a book, because often my opinion of a book needs time to sort of marinate. I tend to get fonder of a book the longer I’ve had to think, but I have to say, my fondness for this book is pretty darn inconsequential. What matters is that this curious novel has dug its way under my skin in a way I can tell will last for quite awhile. Saying that OF BEES AND MIST is a fable-like story of two women -- one whose birth home is infested by perpetual mist and one who literally whispers bees -- who are locked in furious and long-lasted battle is rather inadequate. If I add that its chapters are hung lusciously with metaphor (see what I did there?) I get a little closer.
But the real charm and danger both of this book are the familial relationships. Because the two women at the heart of the book (though there are many -- for a book written by a man, I’m pretty much blown away by the scads of nuanced, strong women in this novel)(he has possibly stolen my estrogen)(it’s all right, he’s making good use of it), Eva and Meridia, are mother-in-law and daughter-in-law. Their common link is a pleasant but flawed man, and the way that the author paints the relationship between mother, daughter-in-law, husband, sister-in-law, etc. etc. is very familiar for all its magic realism trappings.
Meridia escapes from a troubled home life directly into the arms of Daniel, a guileless young man. From him she inherits a complicated family drama ultimately controlled by Eva, who is a wicked stepmother in the most horrifying and delicious meaning of the phrase. Anyone who has had the slightest amount of conflict with their in-laws or extended family will appreciate the subtleties and motivations of every character in OF BEES. Events and what each party’s perception of events are often delightfully confused. This is young, married life, served with family-sized side dishes of guilt trips, subtext, and meaningful looks. Definitely enough to share and enough again to take home for later. But there’s joy, too, and charm aplenty, and some moments stark and moving in their suddenly unsentimental view of love.
A clever tale like this, brimming with none-so-subtle metaphors and magic, could easily be an intriguing exercise in the fantastic and mundane, but the reason OF BEES is getting put here in my five-stars category is that the characters evoked genuine emotion and sympathy from me. The phrase “flawed, strong heroine” is thrown around too much, but Meridia is that if I’ve ever seen one. She makes bad choices, hard choices, but she always makes A choice and you’re always convinced she’s the hero regardless; her goodness is not in question. Normally, I can’t tolerate infidelity plotlines but infidelity in this case was necessary (though agonizing). This book was both a pleasure and a pain to read and I’m so glad I picked it up -- entirely by chance, while rushing through the store on the way out of town. Might’ve been the work of fate or of the engineering spirits, if OF BEES is to be believed.
Sunday, December 20, 2009
See? When it gets cold, Sam turns into a . . .
Why yes those are cabinet knobs, why do you ask?
Thursday, December 17, 2009
So I got rid of the outliers (like "Duke" by Booka Shade, because unless you are into electronica, you probably won't like it)(and my editor informs me that many people are Not Into Electronica)(this entire conversation will become more relevant once LINGER comes out)("Id Engager" by Of Montreal goes into this category, as does "Anyway You Choose to Give It" by The Black Ghosts)("this category" being the "HAWT" category).
And then I tossed out the ones that I talk about all the time, in reverent tones. (that would be "Wash Away" by Matt Costa)(I lied, Matt. I still love you. The Bravery let me down so I'm happy to fall back into your arms, if you'll have me).
Then I chucked most everything that enjoyed a lot of radio play, because you guys would already know about it anyway. ("Countdown" by Jupiter One, "Oxygen" by Living Things, "Fireflies" by Owl City, and "Brand New Day" by Ryan Star).
And sadly, I got rid of the soundtrack ones that I loved to write to, figuring I'd highlight them in later posts after the relevant books came out. ("Page 47" from National Treasure and "The Blood of Cu Chulainn" by Mychael and Jeff Danna).
And finally, I got rid of ones that weren't on Youtube where you guys could listen (like the euphoric and upbeat "Koro Koro" by Matias Aguayo, the brooding, quirky "Back in Town" by Sound Team, and the mysterious and lovely "Dawel Disgyn" by The Gentle Good. And absolutely everything Celtic.)
Which leaves me with this sadly inadequate top 12.*
*And of course I must do the usual spiel which is this: if you love any of these songs, do the right thing and go out there and pay the buck for them legally so that musicians and the music industry get paid and stay in business and continue to make a musical career viable etc. etc. etc.
1. "Mr. Pitiful" by Matt Costa. This song is not only insanely cheerful, the video is fantastic, the melody is utterly singable, and it would make you smile even if you had just run over your neighbor's dog.
2. "Her Morning Elegance" by Oren Lavie. Elegant is right, dammit. I feel classy and content whenever I play this, which makes it excellent traffic music. Studies have shown Oren Lavie makes drivers 60% less likely to give others the finger.
3. "No One's Gonna Love You" by Band of Horses. This was my musical obsession for weeks. I crawled into the opening notes and just sort of lived there.
4. "Winter Hymnal" by Fleet Foxes. Forever and ever and ever this will remind me of one single moment I wrote in LINGER. One with snow, a guitar case, and parking meters.
5. No One Sleeps When I'm Awake, by the Sounds. Because it makes me have to do something, everytime I hear it.
6. "Percussion Gun" by White Rabbits. When God made the world, he made some talented musicians and some great tunes and sometimes he put them together. And then he made the White Rabbits and he told them to record "Percussion Gun" so that I could be happy. I'm thankful for that. Every time I listen to this, I muse on how beautiful things and good music hurt. Itunes tells me I've played this 52 times since I bought it two months ago. That can't be right . . .
7. "The Dragon" by The Guggenheim Grotto. This baby just squeaked onto the '09 list because I bought it a few days ago. I know a classic Maggie tune when I hear one.
8. "The Lightning Strike" by Snow Patrol. I love all of Snow Patrol with a fiery and passionate unrequited love, but I love this one the bestest. This song is like an omen or a warning to something, and it makes this novelist very happy to imagine what that something might be and then write it down.
9. "Tickets to Crickets" by Ferraby Lionheart. Dreamy, bittersweet . . . I can put this song on repeat for endless playthroughs. And write a different novel to it every single time.
10. "Canvas" by Imogen Heap. Lest you think I don't listen to any female singers.
11. "Honey Honey" by Feist. See, I told you I listened to female singers. (Her real video is here, but due to being an idiot, they disabled the embedding option because I suppose -- Maggie mused bitterly -- that they weren't a fan of viral marketing).
12. "Green Hills Race for California" by Emerson Hart. A fitting end for my top 12, because it sounds like an end to me. One day, I'm going to write a script that this would be the closing credits for. And people will cry.
Sunday, December 13, 2009
I'm looking for representation for the sequels to my currently under-contract YA urban fantasy novel, LAMENT. LAMENT (Flux 2008) is frontlisting Flux's fall selections and my editor, Andrew, is extremely enthusiastic about it. In it, a painfully shy girl's suburban life is rocked by a mysterious and fascinating boy who seems to know everything about her -- sucks that he's a soulless fairy assassin. After I turned in the finished manuscript, Andrew called me and we had the following conversation:
ANDREW: It has become painfully obvious to me that I should've signed you to a multi-book deal.
ME: Uh, yeah.
ANDREW: It's also become painfully obvious to me that you need to write another book with these same characters in it. And I want it. Now!
ME: You'll have to beg for it in March, I'm afraid.
ANDREW: I know. You'll enjoy the begging.
Andrew's since asked for me to submit a story arc for two other novels around March, and frankly, the idea of committing to that sort of deal without an agent scares the snot out of me. Moreover, I am nearly finished with another YA novel (paranormal romance/ urban fantasy), Still Wolf Watching, about a werewolf that changes with the seasons and the girl who loves him. I'd love to have representation for that when it's complete as well.
When I'm not writing, I'm an internationally-collected professional artist used to self-promotion. My humorous art and writing blog is pretty well-read -- it had about 60,000 hits in 2007.
I would love to work with you; I hope you'll consider reading either LAMENT or Still Wolf Watching. Thanks so much for your time.
So there it is. STILL WOLF WATCHING = SHIVER, obviously.
I don't know if that's helpful to anybody. It doesn't look particularly helpful. But now it's out there.
Friday, December 11, 2009
Fredericksburg, VA 22401) Come see me if you're around!
And I'll leave you with what I'm listening to, a band that I think is a trippy, musical version of those avocado refrigerators.
Last week or this week or sometime that was days ago but not yesterday, someone asked me about my agent fetching process and getting rejected with SHIVER. And I promised to blog about it. Then I found out that today is Agent Appreciation Day and thought, heh, I will time the post with that! It will look Purposeful.
Here is me, being purposeful. The reason I got asked about getting rejected with SHIVER is because Kristin Nelson blogged about rejecting me, here and here.
She's not the only one. When I sent out my queries about SHIVER, I sent to about ten agents. I only had fifty pages of SHIVER done, because I was actually querying about an agent to negotiate the deal for my as-of-yet-unwritten sequel to LAMENT that Flux had asked for. I already had LAMENT under contract, I had a publisher offer on the table, and I had another manuscript in the works. I at least got immediate responses from all of the agents. In a few weeks, I had four agent offers.
But that also means I got six rejections.
And not once did I resent any of them. In fact, I was glad for them. Kristin, for example, debated for a long time whether she wanted to take me on, and finally explained why she didn't, and I sent her a grateful e-mail.
I already know that there are some unagented writers in the audience who are wiggling furiously in their seats right now, unable to believe a) that an agent wouldn't just snatch up a guaranteed sale and b) that I am being so nonchalant about my rejections.
But hear me out. If an agent's job was just to look over your contracts, then yes, those agents were idiots for not offering on an offer on the table. But that is such a small part of an agent's job. They also negotiate sales, sail the seas of foreign rights, field book cover questions, talk career strategy, coach authors in marketing, publicity, blogging . . . a good agent is not a broker. She's a business partner.
Then there's the matter of passion. This is a hard business to get into, and quality is subjective. So let's say one of those six agents who didn't feel the SHIVER love took me on, knowing they could sell it to somebody for something. That attitude would've gotten SHIVER sold -- but not in a handful of weeks, and not at auction. It takes an agent who is in love with it to convince editors of its worth. And then that old saying: "it's worth what you pay for it?" Not all books that get bought for a lot of money get a lot of house-love, and house-love doesn't always follow money . . . but they generally go hand in hand. So it goes like this:
agentLOVE --> editorLOVE --> houseLOVE --> sales/ marketingLOVE --> librarian/booksellerLOVE
It all starts with your agent and explodes from there. So if you start with an agent who finds your book salable but not incredible, that whole equation starts smaller and ends smaller.
So if you take away nothing from this post, take away this: a good agent is not always a good agent for you. An agent that can sell your book is not always a good agent for you. An agent is your champion. He/she needs to love your work. Love. Not like. Not find it commercially viable.
In the end, I had four agent offers. Well, five really. Because one agent offered to take me on without reading my book. I don't really count that as a real offer. How could she know what I wanted out of my career? How could she even know if she could effectively sell my next book? How could she know if she even wanted to? That's like meeting someone once in a chat room and saying you want to have their babies. SKETCHY. This is a business, yes, but it's creative business. These are not real estate agents -- they have to love what they do.
Which brings me to my agent, Laura Rennert of Andrea Brown Literary Agency. From the moment we spoke on the phone, I knew I wanted to sign with her. She loved all of my writing and she was excited about my future book plans. She was passionate, articulate, and incredibly organized. The agency structure was fabulous (I really like to know what to expect as far as communications and she laid that all out) and she had a lot of sales in my genre. And she had read my book and said "I love you" on the first date. And now, two years later, I still find her incredible, life-saving, and smart. She's also still incredibly excited and passionate about my writing. I would not want to navigate this insane business without her.
So, in spirit of Agent Appreciation Day, thank you, Laura, for helping me to do what I love for a living and for, ultimately, being the most passionate advocate I could ever hope for.
And thank you, again, every agent that rejected me because you knew you didn't love my work enough to be right for the job.
Thursday, December 10, 2009
I've given my little pull quotes from my reviews, and also a bit about the book, and who I would give it to since Christmas is here . . .
Without further ado:
1. PEACE LIKE A RIVER, by Leif Enger.
It is: A beautifully written Western (don't be frightened off) with gorgeously written sibling relationships and a hint of spirituality. About a teen who shoots two intruders and goes on the run from the law.
I'd give it to: A hard to shop for guy, because it is not frilly. My mother-in-law. Because it jives with Christianity without being in a "Christian" book. My father, because he reads a lot of thrillers and this will be just slightly off the beaten path for him.
Choice quote from my review: "I have bought [this novel] three times while traveling for my own novel, and given away twice before I could get it home with me. It's just that kind of book, where you want to go "oh man, take this." "
2. MAGIC UNDER GLASS, by Jaclyn Dolamore.
It is: A whimsical YA historical fantasy about a girl who discovers a man's soul trapped in an automaton.
I'd give it to: Fans of HOWL'S MOVING CASTLE. Teens with short attention spans. Lovers of good historical fantasy and whimsy. Teens who aren't into fantasy. Teens who are into Jane Austen.
Choice quote from my review: "The result is a whimsical, smart novel that is sort of like a cross between Howl’s Moving Castle and Jonathan Strange and Mister Norrell. The details are lovely, the voice consistent, the characters complex."
3. LOVE IS THE HIGHER LAW, by David Levithan.
It is: The dreaded 9/11 novel, without being dreadful. The story of 9/11 written as only a New Yorker could write it.
I'd give it to: Anyone. Every teen who I could convince to read it. Every adult I could convince to read it.
Choice quote from my review: "And it was not a sad book. Incredibly, it was everything that 9/11 was not. Though as a writer I saw a ton of things that I would’ve changed about the book, all I could think after I closed the pages was what a buoyant mood I was in. I was filled with faith in the ultimate good of people in the face of horror, and I, like the main characters, felt like I wanted to talk about where I was that day, how I felt, what changed.
I did. That night, I curled up with my husband in bed, lights off, and together we whispered back and forth what we remembered about 9/11."
4. HOW TO SAY GOODBYE IN ROBOT, by Natalie Sandiford.
It is: A coming of age story about two teens who "meet" nightly on a quirky late-night radio show.
I'd give it to: Reluctant readers, with the line: "do you like weird comedy movies? Read this." Also: "Ignore the pink cover, it has nothing to do with anything."
Choice quote from my review: "The quirky and sincere and bizarre and fascinating callers enchant both the narrator and the reader, and ultimately, this book ended up on my five star list because the show and the ending remained in my head for longer than it took me to read the book."
5. STITCHES, by David Small.
It is: A graphic novel memoir with such stunning, tiny moments of characterization that I caught my breath.
I'd give it to: Pretty much anyone over the age of 13. It is a fast read -- an hour -- and the illustrations mean that seldom-readers easily get into it.
Choice quote from my review: "I will tell you this: David Small shines in illustrating the small details that make people real. This is a fairly dark book, but there were parts were I laughed out loud at Small's cunning characterizations. If you read other reviews, you'll see they call the style "cinematic" and "stunning" and it's both of those things. It's also whimsical, sad, and ultimately uplifting. It has possibly the best final line of any book I've read."
6. BONES OF FAERIE, by Janni Lee Simmer.
It is: A creepy, moody faerie story that would have positively delighted me as a teen.
I'd give it to: 10-15 year old lovers of fantasy, faeries, or sci-fi.
Choice quote from my review: "16 year old faerie-crazy Maggie would've died of happiness reading this book. I think Jannie Lee Simmer absolutely nailed her readership with this YA, and it's been a long time since I've read a YA and felt that. The details of this book really shine: the dangerous plants, the loss of black-and-white, good-and-evil that comes with growing up, and the subtle differences that resulted from the war with Faerie."
7. MARCELO IN THE REAL WORLD, by Francisco X. Stork
It is: A novel about a high-functioning autistic teen being forced to work in his father's law firm and join the "real world." A stunning, quiet novel where the fear is that the narrator will lose his innocence.
I'd give it to: Introverts. Teens who don't fit in. Any of the creative types in your life. Your mom. It's a very spiritual book -- not a religious, spiritual -- and it's very universal without being generic.
Choice quote from my review: "I found Marcelo a perfectly wonderful narrator -- kind, principled, and very, very honest with both the reader and with others. Watching him "grow up" in the cutthroat atmosphere of the law office was at once heart breaking and satisfying."
8. TALES FROM OUTER SUBURBIA, by Shaun Tan
It is: A collection of short stories and graphic stories illustrated by the incredibly talented Shaun Tan. All reflecting on normalcy, strangeness, and belonging.
I'd give it to: Anyone. No, really, anyone.
Choice quote from my review: "From a short story that remarks on the taciturn, wise water buffalo who lives down the street (who is really a water buffalo) to a story about beautiful ancient worlds hidden inside suburban homes, the collection explores the idea of what we give up in a modern world. My favorite story, the bittersweet "Stick Figures," embodies the entire book: stick figures with tumbleweed heads stand in for the bits of wildness that still manage to creep into our sterile suburbs."
9. JELLICOE ROAD, by Melina Marchetta
It is: A complicated YA novel that seems to be about teen territory wars in Australia and really isn't. It's more of a boarding school coming of age story about broken teens, with beautiful characterization.
I'd give it to: Fans of YA. Dedicated readers, because this book is difficult for the first 125 pages.
Choice quote from my review: "I think quite possibly my absolute favorite thing that Marchetta does is the character reversal. She introduces a character which we view in a terrible light because the main character views them in a terrible light, and then she completely changes our mind about them in a subtle and realistic way throughout the book until finally we and the main character are in love."
10. THE SECRET LIFE OF BEES, by Sue Monk Kidd.
It is: The story of a white girl who lives with a family of incredibly powerful black women in the 1960s.
I'd give it to: People who think they don't like historical coming-of-age. Book clubs. People who like to talk about books after they're done reading them.
Choice quote from my review: "While this book isn't perfect, I was completely enchanted by the writing, the pacing, and the careful observation. As a Virginian well-versed in humid Southern summers and Southern cooking, I thought Kidd did a fantastic job of evoking that feeling of sweat trickling slowly between your boobs. "
11. YEAR OF WONDERS, by Geraldine Brooks.
It is: A book about the plague, as told by Anna Frith, a maid to the rector and his delicate wife. It's neither gruesome nor desperately sad.
I'd give it to: The folks who I'd just given THE SECRET LIFE OF BEES to,
Choice quote from my review: "What do I love about this book? I love that Geraldine Brooks plays with language and gives lovely wordplay that delights the writer in me, and I love that she is unerring and subtle in her deft characterization. "
12. FEED, by M. T. Anderson
It is: Technically I'm cheating including this one, as it's a reread, but it was just as brutal the next time around. It's a brutal, merciless YA about a future where everyone has a "feed" installed in their heads -- basically the internet never shuts off and is linked with our consciousness. The moral is cutting, hard, and very, very long-lasting.
I'd give it to: Everyone should read this book. Everyone. It's the BRAVE NEW WORLD for our generation. I stuff this into the hands of as many teens as I can (usually wrenching their Blackberries away before I do).
Choice quote from my review: " This, in my opinion, is the best written YA book I've ever read. The characterization is brilliant and unflinching, the details of the world absolutely spot-on, and the YA coming-of-age plot seamlessly worked into a brutal sci-fi story.
When I grow up, I want to be M. T. Anderson.
***wondering why all my reviews are five stars? Because I'm only reviewing my favorite books -- not every book I read. Consider a novel's presence on my Goodreads bookshelf as a heart...more This, in my opinion, is the best written YA book I've ever read. The characterization is brilliant and unflinching, the details of the world absolutely spot-on, and the YA coming-of-age plot seamlessly worked into a brutal sci-fi story."
I really would like to shout out to the picture books my kids have been loving this year, too, but this post is already epic . . . they're on my Goodreads page . . .
Wednesday, December 9, 2009
The truth is, me and resolutions are tight. I get righteously angry when I hear folks badmouthing New Years Resolutions. I grow pitifully sad when I hear people don’t have any goals for themselves. And then I get snarkily sniffy when I hear someone make an unwinnable goal without realizing it.
Here’s the thing about goals (and if you have already read 8,000 of my goal blog posts or heard me say this out loud before now, you can skip to the photos). A goal is like a bus. Let’s say you always wanted to get to Cleveland, for some reason. And suddenly a bus shows up outside your door. You say “whoo! buses go places!” and jump on. But you never say out loud that you want to go to Cleveland. You never tell the driver. You never really tell yourself. You just have this vague desire to see Cleveland.
Well, I tell you what. I can guarantee you that you will get someplace. And there’s a chance you might like that place. But I can also pretty much guarantee you it won’t be Cleveland. Seems obvious, doesn't it? but . . .
This is a life without goals. You might still enjoy yourself, but you might have ended up somewhere better and actually gotten your dreams if you’d made it a goal. And actually told someone else, so you became accountable.
Basically that’s what resolutions are: goals that become real because you wrote ‘em down. And they have an expiration date. One year later, they kick the bucket. They are at the time the most ordinary and magical thing in the world. Ordinary because a resolution, really, has no power. It’s just something you said. Something you wrote. You could break it if you want to. It won’t make things happen just because you happened to write it down. But they’re magical too because when I write my resolutions, I shape how my next year looks. I am literally crafting my own future, because for me, writing them down is a decision to pursue them. I change my life in the few hours it takes me to choose my goals for the year. Writing them down makes them concrete and a challenge. It tells me the person I’m going to be in 2010 -- the person I want to be.
Now, that said, there’s good resolutions and bad ones. A good resolution is one that is
- largely in your control
I’d also add, for me, that I like mine
- slightly out of my reach
I like the challenge of having to stretch to reach a goal. I also like to have a mix of easy and hard goals, because I like to have crossed off about half of them by June. Maggie likes the crossing off. With a big fat Sharpie. But if you make your goals too easy, you are defeating the purpose of them. Goals and resolutions are supposed to change who you are. If they're too easy, yes, you'll always hit the mark -- but you probably would've anyway. Shoot big and you'll win big.
- mostly out of your control
- too ambitious
too far ahead of the game (not the same as too ambitious)
Examples of bad goals are: “get healthier in 2010.” What does that mean? When can you ever cross that off the list? How will you know when you’ve actually achieved that? It’s nebulous and open-ended. A better version of those would be: “get a gym membership” or “learn to cook ten different kinds of stir-fry” or “find a place to buy free-range, grain-fed beef” or “establish a 30 minute home exercise regimen.”
Too ambitious are things like: “take over North America.” Too far ahead of the game is “take over United States.” Unless you’ve already started steps to take over the world, a better goal is: “win favor of local Congressman and infiltrate Virginia cheese shops.” First step to world takeover. Baby steps. Baby steps.
And goals that are out of your control aren’t great either, because you might still achieve them, but you can’t take credit. And more appropriately, if you can’t cross them off, it’s not because of you. They really belong on someone else’s list. That includes things like “debut on the NYT Bestseller List” “make husband take clown lessons” and “get made Employee of the Month” (unless employee of the month has certain steps you can take to get there).
There are some goals that sort of skirt the line, like “do sit ups for 15 minutes every day” -- it’s open-ended, so you can’t cross it off til the end of the year, but it is totally doable. I usually have one or two of those on my list, but a whole list of those would drive me batty.
Here are my resolutions for 2009, written last year.
1) finish LINGER on time
2) write RE: MYSELF (this is a secretive, uncontracted project)
3) *secret writing career goal that I can’t reveal at the moment*
4) *other secret writing career goal that I can’t reveal at the moment*
5) Talk to 1000 aspiring writers (well over)
Move house (just did)
7) Write/ record theme for SHIVER (two of them! you can hear them here!)
8) travel somewhere new on vacation (Savannah! whooo!)
become conversational with my spoken German
travel to the UK if I sell my UK rights before March (UK book tour! whooo!)
I did all of these but two, one of which I crossed out halfway through the year and changed to another (I switched “become conversational with my spoken German” to “become better friends with my guitar”)(see, one of those open-ended ones) and the other was write RE: MYSELF, which I thought would be my next in line to be published. Instead, I have another secretive project (man, too many of these) that’s coming next, and that’s the one I worked on. So I’m pretty cheery -- I feel like I really kept to the spirit of my resolutions.
Would I have done these things if I hadn’t written them down? Some of them. The easy ones. But all ten? Not. a. chance. They gave me purpose, direction, and drive. They gave me that bus to Cleveland. It’s especially important, I think, when you’re doing something creative with your life or when you’re not doing your writing, art, music, etc., for your living. It’s far too easy to say that you’ll work on your latest creative endeavor when the muse strikes you or that it’s not a priority because it’s not making you money. Believe me, doing something because you’re being paid for it is the least important reason of all to do anything. ANYTHING.
So I’m going to be working on ten new resolutions this month; I’ll have ‘em done by Christmas. Once again, it will completely define what I do with my year. I fully intend to smack 2010 around and generally make it succumb to my will.
How about you guys?
Thursday, December 3, 2009
1. If you're in the Charlottesville, VA area, I will be doing a signing at the Barnes & Noble there (1035 Emmet Street, Charlottesville, Virginia 22903 ) on Saturday, from 1-3 p.m.
2. I got asked again where folks could order signed copies of my books in time for Christmas. I've hooked up with my favorite local indie, Fountain Bookstore, and they ship those bad boys out wherever you so desire them. Here's the linkie.
3. One of the questions I get asked a lot in interviews is "how did you learn to write?" I always answer the same way, but this time, sitting in my brand-new office, I think a visual answer might do better. Mr. Darcy, bring up the photo booth and riddle us, oh Mac, riddle us.
Rinse & repeat.
Thursday, November 26, 2009
1) that I am still wildly in love with my best friend, who happens to be my husband. We met when I was 19 and when he asked me to go out with him, I told him "give me a good reason." He's been giving me good reasons to love him for nine years now.
2) that some people love my books. I don't need the whole world to love them. I don't even need a lot of people to love them. But as long as there are some people out there who love them, I'm pretty darn happy.
3) that my kids shout "MAMA!" and hug my knees when I come home from book conferences.
4) that I have found a really wonderful publishing home. I love Scholastic and I'm beyond thrilled to be writing for them for the foreseeable future. Thanks, guys.
5) that I still love writing. That after a year of insanity, of bestsellers lists and face out in bookstores, of foreign rights sales and auctions, of movies and madcap dashes towards revision -- I still love to write. I was really afraid that somewhere along the way, that would change and it would become a business or I'd get burnt out or . . . anything. But no. Whether I have everything or nothing, it turns out that it's still the same: I'm still a writer.
Wednesday, November 25, 2009
I know that you have enough people who love you and care for you that this break-up won't be difficult for you (Last collective word count of all NaNo'ers, everywhere, was 1,776,482,205 words), so really don't have a problem telling you exactly what I think of you.
You're a bad concept, NaNo. You suck.
No, no. Let me back up. I can be reasonable. Just because I'm feeling vehement and emotional about you ruining my life . . .doesn't mean I should be unfair.
You are not a bad concept. You're a bad concept for me, NaNo. This is why: you make me write crap, NaNo. You make me make bad novel decisions. You take away my ability to brainstorm between chapters. You make me rush through characterization. You make me pack filler in that will only get ripped out later, having taught me nothing about my novel. You make me into a bad writer.
You know what hurts me the most, NaNo? I want to write something meaningful. Something with subtext and theme. That's the reason I write, really. And you took that away from me. How could I possibly contemplate the greater picture when I was constantly chasing word count? What kind of conceptual boyfriend are you anyway? That you would make me write superficial tripe?
Oh, for weeks I believe your spiel: that it was okay that we were bad in the sack together now, that we'd get better with revising. But I see through your lies, baby. We will never get to sweet, sweet passionate love on the beach from where we are here. Basically, if we played the game your way, I'd end up rewriting every single word I wrote.
So this is me saying, I've been cheating on you. Since November 15th, I threw on the brakes, reread what I'd written, cut out huge parts, and started writing my novel the way I like to. And the difference is that now I have 23,000 words that I love. Instead of 50,000 words that I can't stand to read over.
But it took me a long time to get to that point, NaNo. Because you made me feel like I was turning my back on some great goal that I'd made. You hit me where it hurt, NaNo; you know that I don't like to give up a goal once I've made it. So here's where I say thanks. You taught me that not all goals are good goals. That some are picked up out of principle and aren't worth pursuing. You reminded me of what I used to always tell people in conjunction with my little goals speech: that you should choose your battles wisely.
And you aren't a good battle, NaNo. You're just a bad boyfriend and a lousy literary lay. I'm taking my Secret Novel and getting the hell out of this relationship before you can hurt us anymore! We'll be fine without you. Nay, better off without you! When you see me walking down the street with the hardcover edition of Secret Novel in 2012, looking fine, fine, fine with its deep theme and subtle characterization, I hope it makes you throw up a little in your mouth.
Oh, and happy Thanksgiving.
50,000 superficial words of love,
Friday, November 20, 2009
1/4 cup butter, melted
1/4 cup vegetable oil
1 1/2 cup white sugar
1 tbs vanilla
1/2 cup cocoa powder (I like Hersheys' special dark)
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 cup chocolate chips
3/4 cup flour
Preheat oven to 350. Grease 8 x 8" baking dish. Combine everything but flour, cocoa, and salt, stir. Throw in everything else but the chips. Add the chips. Stir, baby! Bake 30 minutes or until a fork stuck in the middle just comes out clean (let set up for about 10 minutes before eating or they will be goopy).
2. I've posted the tentative dates for a lot a lot of the foreign editions of SHIVER, if you're curious.
3. I'm at about 20,000 words on my NaNo novel. Am I worried? Not yet . . . will be posting on this concept later.
4. Don't let your Jack Russell get into your brother's espresso. Just sayin'.
5. Musical obsession for the day/ month/ life: Anyway You Choose to Give It, by the Black Ghosts. It's on the playlist for Cole from LINGER . . . *gasp the spoilery, it kills me!*
Thursday, November 19, 2009
A feel good song ("Any Fun" by Coconut Records)
A feel good short video (it is 14 minutes long, but get your boss to watch it with you and tell me you aren't smiling at the end):
A totally feel-good story about Nubs.
Another cheery song without a fun video.
And finally, a feel-good inspiration statement that's true as true: you're not somebody when you achieve your dreams, you're somebody as soon as you start to try to achieve them.
Not precisely sure why I feel compelled to post this, but I do, so here it is. My feel-good post. I'm doing something for someone today that I feel really good about doing, so maybe this is the cause of my smiley face.
Wednesday, November 18, 2009
Oh man am I excited and nervous to see how readers react to this one. :D
Now, I put down books regularly if they aren't gripping me 'round the neck, I read several books at a time, depending on my mood, and if I get stuck in my writing, it's a surefire sign I haven't been reading enough. I'm gonna say I think this is because of time crunch and solidifying my own style and subject matter.
Anyway, at the moment I'm reading a couple of things -- SISTERS RED, by Jackson Pearce (it's an ARC), SO BRAVE, YOUNG, AND HANDSOME, by Leif Enger, and of course, the Italian version of SHIVER ("Lasciami in pace, Ulrik, okay? Lasciami in pace.")(I still can't read Italian).
I came to the Enger book by way of his first one, PEACE LIKE A RIVER, which I love with the fire of one hundred suns. And I came to PEACE LIKE A RIVER by way of the Alex Awards. I'm usually not a big fan of lists -- tis the season for lists, like Amazon's Top Ten Teen Books for 2009 and Publishers Weekly Best Children's Books of 2009, both of which have SHIVER on them, so I say too much -- simply because my tastes are not the most mainstream of tastes and lists often don't help me. Like . . . I like paranormal, but not mainstream genre paranormal for the most part, so lists of werewolf books leave me high and dry, for instance.
But then I stumbled across ALA's Alex Awards. I didn't even know what they were for at first, I just knew that they had three books that I'd loved on the list. Adult books, which is odd for me, because I tend to live in the YA section. So thrilled with finding a list with so many Maggie books on it, I began madly requesting other books on the list from my library to see if I had finally, finally found a Maggie List.
And I had.
Even though I don't always love all the Alex Award winners with the fierce affection of PEACE LIKE A RIVER or THE TIME TRAVELER'S WIFE or CROW LAKE, I can still see why they're on the list, and I can finish them (which these days is pretty impressive for my gnat-like attention span). They all have a certain produndity to them (is that a real word? I don't care. I'm using it) and they are all told stylishly, with powerful, memorable characters. They tend to be slow, whimsical, unfurling plots set in rich settings. And did I mention character-driven and pretty prose? Oh, yes, the hot buttons of Maggie were being punched, and I didn't even know what the award was for.
Well, recently I bothered to actually read the mission statement and found out that "The Alex Awards are given to ten books written for adults that have special appeal to young adults, ages 12 through 18." Well, this particular YA author is nothing if not predictable.
Anyway, suddenly, I understand lists. Because I would have never picked up the books on this list in a thousand years -- the descriptions of some just don't pull me in -- but my faith that they would be told in the same way as the other Alex books I'd read made me buy them. And they are always worth it. (So thanks, ALA!)
So do you guys have lists that work for you? Awards you always pay attention to?
Monday, November 16, 2009
And a princess
loved the prince.
So upon finding her writing this (she is five years old and very slow at writing so it probably felt like she'd written SHIVER by this point), I entered a motherly dialogue with her.
ME: That's a nice story.
THING 1: I skipped the Once Upon a Time. Because Once was hard to spell. And everyone knows that part anyway.
ME: True enough.
THING 1: It's a love story.
ME: A love story?
THING 1: In a love story, nobody figures anything out.
THING 1: But the prince loves the princess. And the princess loves the prince. I'm giving this to Grandma.
Anyway, I would like to point out that these views on starting the story where your plot begins (none of this Once Upon a Time stuff) and nothing but kissing going on in the way of plot is exactly how I came to write Shiver.
Out of the mouths of babes.
That aside, if you're in the Maryland/ D.C. area, I've been invited to sign at the National Press Club Book Fair tomorrow night from 5:30-8:30 p.m. in downtown D.C. With posh political luminaries. It is $5 to get in, but once you're in, there is 90 of us authorly types, including Chris Matthews, Gwen Ifill, a senator, Spike & Carla from Top Chef, and of course an author of werewolf kissing books. How can you stay away? I mean, seriously. if nothing else, it's the great start for a joke.
Saturday, November 14, 2009
Now I must manically go burn a playlist to listen to on the way down there, for my NaNo novel. Because there are not yet laws against brainstorming while driving.
Friday, November 13, 2009
Our theme on Merry Sisters of Fate this week is our horribly bad high school writing years, complete with examples. Today was my day to post some examples of my early writing, the more hilariously bad, the better.
I have to say that I had a plethora of bad writing to choose from, as I wrote (but didn't always finish) 34 novels before I was published, and started writing when I was but a tiny maggot.
There were many forms of badness to choose from, from the very subtle to the roaringly hilarious, but finally I put my writing faults into a few major categories. And if you want to read them and find out just how bad I was (I was very bad, trust me), you'll have to go here.
Thursday, November 12, 2009
They were game.
So, now you can order a signed copy of SHIVER at a normal price with pretty decent shipping (and it's free shipping if you buy over $40 of books there). In time for Christmas, even! Not quite the same as looking into my beady little eyes as I sign your book right in front of you, but . . . it's still signed! By me, even, instead of by the monkey that I am trying to train up to do my signature (he still gets stuck on the S. I do it all loopy.)
2. I am at about 13,000 words on my NaNo novel and I'm doing what they tell you not to. I am going back to the beginning and rereading and ordering and making it relatively coherent. I know this is a NaNo No-No (just say that out loud. Please.) but it's how I write all my novels. I need to be constantly checking pacing and mood, and I can't get that without rereading. Plus, it's hard for me to work in a vacuum, and normally at this point in my novel, I'd be handing it off to my crit partners to glance over and see if I'm on a good path. Which is exactly what I'm doing now. I'm only giving myself a day to tidy and then I'm sending it on to Tessa. I'm not worried about this slowing me down (Again with the hubris). Because I know that I can clock ten thousand words in a day if I'm on a roll or staring a deadline in its red eye. NaNo may be setting the timeline, here, but I'm setting the rules, baby. NaNo is my #itch.
3. I am trying to stop reading the Italian edition of SHIVER. Not that I can really read Italian. I took some years of Latin in college, which means it's vaguely familiar and understandable in a pig-latin sort of way. Mostly, I like reading it out loud and thinking it all sounds very, very sexy. Liek Sam would get laid more if he'd said it this way first. Like (accents totally removed because I'm lazy):
mi schianto nel vuoto tremulo
cercando la tua mano
perso in sterili rimpianti
questo fragile amore e
Yes, Sam. Yes, indeed. I agree. Whatever you're saying.
Wednesday, November 11, 2009
This is just about what I'm learning:
This is my first year doing it and I have to say, I'm finding out some things about myself.
1) I have been tending to skip scenes when I get stuck, replacing them with bracketed text like [REMEMBER TO GO BACK AND ESTABLISH THAT GABE WAS A GOOD BROTHER AT ONE POINT EVEN IF HE IS A TOTAL DOUCHE NOW] This is problematic. I have learned I cannot skip that many scenes without ending up with fanfiction of my own characters. Who are you people and why are you in my book?
2) Maggie, do you remember how you always said that you hated the first 10K words of whatever novel you're working on? Well, that's still true. Actually, it was the first 9,644 this time. And you know, because sure as he%& you were counting. At 9,644, the following IM was sent to my crit partner Tessa:
me: oh yay yay YAY finally I found my damn novel, Tess!!!!!
Yes, I was so excited that I swore. I thought I would hate this novel forever.
3) It was hard for me to write every day before NaNo. And it still is. I really need that downtime inbetween to lay on my living room floor playing my brainstorming music so loud that my butt cheeks wiggle. I'm still adapting, by trying to intersperse my writing with butt cheek time all on the same day.
4) I am less in love with the principle of it than I thought I would be. I can see how it really would make non-finishers finally finish. But I have a hard time believing that this wreck of a draft, this un-nuanced piece of crappola, this totally unsubtle plot-explosion, will in the end take less time than a traditional four month draft of mine. Because revisions, oi! This baby is going to need so much work in the aftermath that the fact that the first draft was quick will be a pyrrhic victory. Oh don't you tell me with the squiggly red lines that PYRRHIC is spelt wrong, you crazy spell checker you. I'm classically educated and you're just a wikipedia jockey.
5) Terribly, I still felt that rush of satisfaction at reaching the first 10K words. And I'm at 12,024 words. I am, despite knowing better, still a word count ho.
6) Also, I was very inspired by getting copies of my Italian SHIVER in the mail -- this happened right before my brainstorm that made me like my book. See the pretty? See the real slashes in the cover? (note to Italian fans: I find it amusing and terrifying that you have been emailing actors who look like Sam. They have been emailing me and telling me about it.)
So, how about you guys? What have you learned?
Monday, November 9, 2009
1. Music from the Ballad video is now up for download for my site. (up for down, did you catch that?)
2. Some sketches from the Sketchbook of Doom. These are from the way to and from AASL.
3. My current musical obsession: "Percussion Gun" by White Rabbits. The whole album rocks. I can't stop listening to it. It's like if Vampire Weekend had babies with The Bravery. (also, if that happened, could I watch?)
Thursday, November 5, 2009
Age I'll be on my next birthday, Nov 18: 28
Number of e-mails I received and replied to in October: 4,165
number of e-mails from Scholastic in Oct: 47
number of e-mails from my agent in Oct: 24
Word count for my NaNo novel so far: 6,673
Number of LiveJournal comments replied to in Oct: 389
Number of my husband's tropical fish I killed in October: 11*
Number of friends added on Facebook in October: 306
Number of harp strings I strung by hand last week: 32
Number of messages received on Facebook in October: 105
Number of wall posts received on Facebook in October: 646
Number of nostrils a human breathes through at any given time: 1**
Number of weeks SHIVER has been on the NYT Bestseller List: 14
Number of people living on the smallest of the Scilly Isles: 90
Days on the road for SHIVER in October: 12
Hours of driving logged in Loki: 11
Number of giant snails featured on my blog: 2
*I did not mean to kill his fish. I merely added some water at a perfect 72 degrees to the tank. And they came over all dead-like the next day. And the day after. And the day after that. And the day after that.
**I discovered this while looking up remedies for stuffed up nose (saltwater rinse works awesome, by the way). A person only breathes through one nostril at a time (put your finger 1/2 inch under your nose to see which nostril you're using), and which side is dominated by the hemisphere of the brain that is currently active. Left brain: right nostril. Right brain: left nostril. Unless you're stimulating your brain to use one side of the other, each hemisphere dominates in cycles that last from two to four hours. You can also clarify your thinking and balance your brain by using the yoga technique of pinching one nostril shut and breathing out of one side and then the other a few times. Cool, yes? Okay, so it's not. but now you've learned something against your will.
And now, number of bags I'm off to pack for my flight? 1
Tuesday, November 3, 2009
It was also the easiest and hardest book I've ever written, coming off the heels of SHIVER's immediate and crazy success. I can only imagine that Chris, the cover designer, felt the same way I did writing LINGER when he was trying to design the cover for it, because the SHIVER cover was such a smashing success, how would he follow it?
Well, I think he did. Behold, ze official cover of LINGER!
And now, the first paragraph(s). I've been asked a couple of times if folks can repost either of these things on their blogs and the answer is an absolute YES I'D BE FLATTERED PLEASE DO!!! Okay . . . the first bit of LINGER:
• grace •
This is the story of a boy who used to be a wolf and a girl who was becoming one.
Just a few months ago, it was Sam who was the mythical creature. His was the disease we couldn’t cure. His was the good-bye that meant the most. He had the body that was a mystery, too strange and wonderful and terrifying to comprehend.
But now it is spring. With the heat, the remaining wolves will soon be falling out of their wolf pelts and back into their human bodies. Sam stays Sam, and Cole stays Cole, and it’s only me who’s not firmly in my own skin.
Is it what you expected?!
Monday, November 2, 2009
1. NaNo. I have 1,408 words at the moment and I'm thinking I'll double this this evening after the kids go to bed. Cold medication + drafting = not great idea. I keep feeling really productive and then realizing that I've been staring at the wall for an unknown amount of time. I also have spent too much time reading about the Scilly Isles today, because I like saying "I'm reading about the Scilly People" to my husband.
2. Interested in LINGER? Tomorrow at noon EST, Scholastic has given me clearance to post the official cover for LINGER and the first paragraph. That should have little fireworks-y things around it. First paragraph! Whooo!
3. Somehow, SHIVER ended up as one of the Publisher's Weekly Best Children's Books for 2009, in exceedingly good company. It breaks my brain, just a little, to think of all the books published this year and to think that SHIVER, out of all of them, is one of fifteen children's novels picked.
4. While I was trying to understand this concept, Amazon posted their Top Ten Books for Teens in '09 list and SHIVER was on it.
5. It is only the cold medication that is making me sane right now. Otherwise I'd be floating.
Sunday, November 1, 2009
So what am I doing today?
I am reading.
Why, you ask, in a race to 50K words, am I spending the first day of NaNo reading? Well, first of all, because I get terrible writer's block if I don't read several books a month. writers = readers. And second, because it's Sunday, and Sunday is a day that I don't write, no matter what my evil deadline is, because it is a day to recharge batteries. For me, it's a good rule, and NaNo's not going to change that.
Here's the thing about NaNo, or any other deadline. It is not a helter skelter race to the end, an every second writing sort of affair. Think of it this way: an average scene in a novel is 2-3K words long. That means that what you're really looking at with a 50K NaNo novel is not 1,666 words written every single day, you're looking at writing 16-25 scenes that lead toward an end. Which means, some days, if you are calculated and thoughtful and in the mood, you can power out two or three great scenes -- 4,000-10,000 words. Writing words just to write words will get you more words, but no closer to the end. Writing scenes and worrying about wordcount secondarily? That'll get you somewhere.
So yeah. Day one, NaNo. Word count: 0. Perturbed? Not yet.
For the rest of you who performed illegal acts in the name of sportsmanship and prizes, booyah!! We had over 250 entries, which is a lot of people photographed with Ballad. And we had two (I believe two, let me know if I counted wrong) entries that had over twenty people in a photo, which I said would get a special prize. And then I did a drawing amongst the folks who did entered by the first deadline, and there's a prize for that winner too (they were also all entered in the overall drawing). I numbered every entry and did a random number generator for the top prize first and then down for them.
So. Without further ado, here are the winners:
Winner of the signed audiobook of shiver is arieleishen.
Winner of the stack of books and signed copy of Ballad is tracy-d74
Winner of the swank messenger bag with the signed Maggie books in it is jb n becca.
And finally, winner of the first-chapter critique from all three of the Merry Sisters of Fate is melenka!
Now I can hear the groans already, so remember there are three more prizes. First of all, I drew from the folks who made it by the original deadline and got a_hoffman79, who will get a signed copy of either Ballad or the Shiver audiobook (you pick).
And then there were two folks, lovethebooknook and Amanda Jirka, who got more than twenty people in a single photo, and I said that would be a special prize . . . so I'll do a 5-page critique for each of you guys. Not quite as good as the first chapter critique by all the Merry Sisters, but a little somethin'!
So congrats to everyone who won and thanks to everyone who entered! Winners, e-mail me your info! (Also, folks who are waiting on CDs from the last contest, they're going out this week).
Friday, October 30, 2009
So here goes, the birth of a novel.
IDEA! BRING OUT THE LIGHTBULBS!
For me, ideas come from everywhere. There is no such thing as a good or bad idea, by the way. They’re like atoms. They just exist. It’s what you do with them that’s good or bad. For me, an idea becomes a novel when I can’t put it down. When it gets bigger instead of smaller in my head. So for this one, I got it while on a boat in the middle of a river, and then I came home and wrote a short story. Normally the short story puts most ideas to rest, but this one was still running around like a hyperactive toddler. I knew it was going to require a novel to shut it up.
SO YOU WANT TO SEE THIS SHORT STORY, HUH?
Well, you can’t. Because it’s still secret. But I based SHIVER on one of my short stories, and it’s here. (warning, tis not beautiful).
ENDINGS FIRST, DARLINGS
Once upon a time, Maggie was an author who didn’t finish novels. It was a long time ago, and the novels were bad anyway*, but the point remains that none of them had endings, unless you consider scenes where the aliens come down and kill everyone to be excellent denouements (Only works if it’s War of the Worlds. Otherwise, not so hot).
*One novel, rewritten eleven times, was entitled THE WINDING RIVER and was about all of the unicorns in the world being hunted down so that their horns could be melted into things to make enchanters sexy. I’m paraphrasing, but that’s basically the gist.
Until Maggie realized that these terrible things didn’t happen if she actually had, you know, an ending. Once she didn’t allow herself to chase the fuzzy but dangerous plot bunnies until after she had an ending, the aliens went away.
So, for my NaNo novel, this is the most important thing. I needed to know the ending first. I do this with all my novels, and it doesn’t necessarily mean that I know how the conflict will be solved (though sometimes it does) -- it means I know what the ending looks like. I know where the final scene will be, though I don’t always know why. For instance, at the end of Ballad, I knew I wanted James to be making a terribly hard choice and I really, really wanted to burn someone alive.
SUM UP, PLEASE
Usually, the summary happens at the very beginning, when I first get the idea. The summary is a paragraph long and looks like the blurb on the back of the book. It’s what I use to convince my editors to buy the book, and also helps me clarify theme and plot. It also gets me excited. For my NaNo book, since I had the short story first, the summary came after the short story and the ending. And I’d share it, but it’s Top Secret until everything is announced. Sorry. More on this later.
WHO THE HECK ARE YOU, AGAIN?
This is where characters start coming in. Generally they get names first; in fact, sometimes they arrive with them. To me, the name is the first part of their personality, because I believe you either become your name or run as far away from it a you can. Anyway, once I have these characters named, I start to brainstorm on who they are, where they came from, and most importantly, what sort of people they were to get themselves into the problem that I’m writing about.
So this involves me thinking of their family background, what their hopes and fears are, what motivates them. How will they interact with the other main characters? I don’t want two characters who are very similar. I also don’t want characters that are too stable -- I can’t have lots of lovely angst if my characters aren’t changing in some way. Usually that means something just happened to them that’s forcing a change or something in their life is becoming untenable and they need to change, or the mere introduction of the other character is making them change. Characters that stay the same throughout the book? Boring.
Also, here’s the thing about characters: they drive the plot, not the other way around. There’s no point in me brainstorming on the plot anymore without knowing the characters first, because it’s plot without context. One way expressway to writer’s block.
SCENES, YOUR NAME IS BRICKS.
Scenes are my building blocks. For every book, I have a core of ten or twelve scenes that make the book what it is, and a lot of these scenes appear during the initial brainstorming/ prep work. Remember that noodling over characters I’ve been doing before now? Well, a lot of times it will make one of these core scenes appear. For those of you that have read SHIVER, some of the core scenes are the bathtub scene, the candy shop scene, and the Bronco scene near the end. If you’ve read BALLAD, core scenes were the Dee/ James scene in D.C., the final bonfire scene, and the beer scene.
Basically, when I get the idea for a core scene, my brain explodes and I get very happy: I know ‘em when I see ‘em. And they always grow out of character rather than by plot. The goal when I’m doing early brainstorming/ pre-drafting is to tease out as many of these as I possibly can. Right now, for Secret Novel, I have four of them. And then I have four other scenes that need to happen to get to The End, but I’m not sure how they’ll go down. They’re negotiable, so I don’t think of them as core scenes.
The scenes that don’t appear during my character musing occur during my final planning stage, when I am assembling my playlist and determining my themes I want to explore. Once upon a time, I’d use the core scenes to write a two page synopsis, full of lies and damn lies between the core scenes, but for this book, I’m going to see if I’ve outgrown my synopsis stage and just do a very ugly document with the scenes listed and the ending, all topped off by my two main characters’ descriptions and backgrounds listed very briefly, as I would’ve for a synopsis. If I’ve learned anything, it’s that I get more self-aware and efficient with my writing process as I move along this writerly life and learn my process better.
Ooh, ooh, I should mention that characters definitely dictate the scene building process. At one point, I was stuck in the brainstorming phase and I realized it was because my characters didn’t have motivation for moving further -- they only had the plot summary telling them to go places. I had to go back and figure out what would move them in that direction in their life and add it into their backstory. Then, bingo! Onward.
Basically, I think of the whole process like a road trip. I need to know the ending, because that’s my destination. If I don’t know where I’m going, how do I know when I get in the car if I’m going to end up someplace I actually want to be? And then the scenes are like little milestones that mean I’m going in the right direction; places I definitely want to visit. The rest? Is all up to wandering from milestone to milestone, taking the scenic route. I might go a wrong way, but I can always double back to the last milestone and strike out a different way until I find the right one.*
*this is actually the way I drive. It’s maybe a little terrifying for those who like more structure.
SO, WHAT AGAIN?
So to prep for my NaNo novel I have:
-written short story based on idea
-come up with an ending for the novel
-written a summary
-found my main characters
-brainstormed some core scenes that I’m excited to write
-set up a musical playlist that conforms to the theme and mood I’m looking for
-brainstormed more core scenes
-gotten stuck and realized I needed SiblingProblems to make my plot work
written a document that has my scenes in sort of order, along with my ending. henceforth known as FAKE SYNOPSIS
And now I’m ready to go! Any questions? Comments? Derisive laughter?