Wednesday, December 30, 2009

2010: These Are The Things I Will Do To You

While I was up at my inlaws' for Christmas, I was munching away at MaggieCereal for breakfast and sort of watching TV, because that's what you do when you're at someone else's house for breakfast, and an Expert came on talking about New Years Resolutions. As y'all might guess, my ears pricked up, because goals/ resolutions and me, we are like this. Tight.

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 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


I just this second got back from an extended post-Christmas inlaw visit three states away and I'm still catching up with everything, including my good temper (from the day-long drive, not the visit). I did, however, read a book over the two days I was up there, and wrote this review the second I'd finished it (well, almost, you'll see). So I'm going to post the booklove review and go make cookie dough and after that possibly think about looking at my email inbox after that. Possibly. The thought makes me quail . . . 

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

This is What All Werewolf Authors Do When It Snows

And is the reason why I could never write about vampires. It would take too long.

This is What All Werewolf Authors Do When it Snows

See? When it gets cold, Sam turns into a . . .

When It Gets Cold, Sam Turns into a . . .

Why yes those are cabinet knobs, why do you ask?

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Maggie's Top Twelve Songs of 2009

So I was asked to do a Top Twelve Songs of 2009 (which is terribly flattering, by the way. Getting told you have good taste in music is way better than being hit on in the grocery store line by a gross old guy with spots on his head, just sayin'.) Because I have to have music on to write, I . . . um . . buy . . .um . . a lot of music. So this list turned out to be more impossible than I thought. I ended up going with the most likely to be appreciated by non-crazy people list of songs, because there were far too many list otherwise.

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

While We're On the Topic of Agents

Someone asked me if I mentioned that SHIVER was a dual narrative when I pitched it to agents, and as I was about to answer her, I thought, you know what, in full disclosure, I will post the query that landed me my agent. For better or for worse, here it is:

Dear Ms. Rennert,

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.


Maggie Stiefvater

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

Last Signing of the Year - Fredericksburg, VA

Tomorrow -- Saturday, 2:00 p.m., I'll be at the Fredericksburg Borders bookstore in Central Park. (1220 Carl D. Silver Parkway
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.

Agent Appreciation Day: Why They Should Say "I Love You" on the first date

So, 60% of agents rejected SHIVER.

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

Maggie's Top Twelve Books of 2009

Seeing as there is only a toenail of 2009 left, I think it's about time for me to post the twelve best books I read in 2009 (not all were published in '09). My complete reviews of all these guys are on my Goodreads page, where I post all my absolute favorites after I finish them. In my head, my LJ friends will all be incredibly inspired after reading this post to go out and post their top twelve on their blogs as well, until we have a giant pile of booklove going on, but there are many incredible things in my head, so this may or may not happen.

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."


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."

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

I Intend to Smack 2010 Around

It’s that time of year again. The time of year where I start making my New Years Resolutions and then inflict a goals/ resolutions post upon everyone. (Yes, this is a habit.[])

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.

That’s magical.

Now, that said, there’s good resolutions and bad ones. A good resolution is one that is

- largely in your control
- quantifiable

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.

Bad resolutions?

- mostly out of your control
- nebulous
- open-ended
- 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

How to Write, Part 1. And Also Parts 2-10,000.

So I am not really altogether in my brain yet, because we just moved to a new house yesterday, and my life is a castle made of cardboard boxes. So I have only three things of value to say today.

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.

Bookshelves are a girl's best friend

Rinse & repeat.
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