Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Teaser Tuesday: Another Argument

I think most of my posts lately have had some sort of apology in them, and so even though I haven't posted a thing in over a month (have I mentioned that this semester was really kicking my butt?) I won't ramble on too long about it. I'll just say that the Semester of Hell is OVER and that next semester I will be in LONDON (I'll be getting on a plane two weeks from yesterday oh goodness eeeeeek) and so I promise there will be lots of posts from me!

I have another teaser for you! I'm planning to do a lot of reading before I leave, let my brain recharge, but I think I can share another piece of Maire's story. In this part, she's just come home from the docks to find that her father is trying to plant potatoes again. Enjoy!


Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Teaser Tuesday: The Long Road Home

Hello, blogsphere! It's been a long time, hasn't it, especially since the last Teaser Tuesday? This semester (and my 18 credits of DOOM) has really been kicking my butt - I've not been writing much, I haven't been blogging (obviously), I haven't been reading other people's blogs (my apologies), et cetera, et cetera. I'm home on Thanksgiving Break, though, so I get a little bit of a reprieve - and you get a teaser! - before I head back into the madness that is college.

This is the opening of my new project, which I am currently working on for my historical fiction class. I'm going to continue with it after this semester is over, though. When I finally forced myself to start writing this, words just started flying from my fingertips, and I was reminded that I do really like writing after all. It was a great feeling.

The story is set in rural Ireland, the spring after the worst winter of the Great Famine. Because I like being cruel to my characters. Also, Maire is pronounced like MY-rah. Enjoy!


Tuesday, November 8, 2011

How to Write Historical Fiction - Tips from Anna Solomon

On Thursday, Anna Solomon, author of THE LITTLE BRIDE, came to my historical fiction class. It was a really fun experience, as it isn't all that often (if ever) that you read a book in class and then get to ask the author questions about it. She had a lot of helpful things to say on the topic of writing historical fiction, so I thought I would share some of her tips with you in case you guys ever want to delve into the world of historical fiction - or are there now!

1. Just because something is set in the past doesn't mean that the tone has to be super-formal. I thought this was a really good point to make, as a lot of people do often see history as a little bit stuffy, but in reality, even though etiquette rules were different, people were still people - not everyone is always formal all the time. Your writing will be much more enjoyable for the reader - and much more fun for you too! - if you let yourself loosen up about it a little.

2. Fiction written during the time period can be really helpful. Obviously, this is easier for some time periods than others, but it is a good way to put yourself in the mindset of people who really lived during the time period you've chosen to work with.

3. In terms of detail, consider how you might say the same thing in a modern setting and how much detail you'd need to get your point across, and use the same amount of detail for your historical work. For instance, if you're saying "he walked down the street," do you really need to tell us about every cobblestone or gaslamp? Unless your character trips over the cobblestones, probably not.

4. Social histories, contemporary newspapers, and contemporary journals are excellent ways to learn more about everyday life in your time period. Again, this is easier to find for some places and times than others, but it's still a good thing to be looking for.

Anna Solomon's visit was really exciting, and she had a lot of informative and helpful things to say. It was great meeting her, and I can't wait to apply some of her research techniques to my next project.

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

In Which a Rambling Apology is Issued*

I'm sorry, blog! I've been neglecting you terribly, haven't I? Things have just been so crazy here... yes, I know that's hardly any excuse. I'm aware that it makes me a terrible person to be neglecting my blog, my readers, and my own writing all at once, there's no need to shout about it. Look, could you see things from my perspective for a second? You know that old joke about college, the one that goes "good grades, sleep, a social life: pick two." Well, for me, it's more like "good grades, sleep, a social life, writing: you still only get to pick two."

Yeah, I know we do movie nights most weekends. It requires a lot more cerebral energy to write something than it does to watch a movie. Especially the ridiculous movies we tend to watch. I mean, the Avalon High adaptation? That requires no thought whatever to watch.** I'm working on it, okay? I'm using my historical fiction final project as an excuse to work on my own writing. It'll turn out all right in the end, you'll see.

... yes, I know I'm not Mrs. Potts. Quiet you.

I'm trying, okay? Hopefully things will be a little bit calmer for a while and I can pay more attention to you. I'm sorry. Blame the homework. Hopefully my lovely readers will have some suggestions for topics they'd like me to talk about and would find helpful***, as my brain is so fried I can't come up with anything beyond ludicrous made-up dialogues between me and my blog.

No, I'm not insulting you. Sorry, blog. I'll be quiet now. And maybe take a nap?

* This blog post brought to you by sleep deprivation and a heavy dose of Bad Blogger's Guilt.
**Other than the thought that goes "this is NOT like the book!!!"
*** I'm serious about this. What things would be helpful to you? I wish to be helpful! Tell me how!

Saturday, October 22, 2011

How to Be an Editor

Hey there blogosphere! Sorry I've been missing for a while. Midterms tried to eat me, but after a long and exhausting battle, I have emerged victorious. (In this case, that means being home for fall break, eating REAL FOOD and snuggling with cats and visiting my dance studio with my mom.)

But I have exciting things to tell you about, blogosphere! Have you ever wondered what it was like to be an editor, or thought about a job in publishing other than that of novelist? Well, my Editing & Publishing class took a field trip to New York City, where we visited TEN publishing houses in TWO DAYS. It was madness - there was a lot of sprinting between subway stops - but there was also a lot of mind-boggling awesome. We went to several of the Big Six publishing houses, as well as several smaller, lesser-known houses of varying sizes. I took so many notes, guys! And I am going to share with you some of the wisdom these editors, editorial assistants, and other awesome publishing folks shared with us.

(in no particular order)

1. Informational interviews. Do them. Email people who do the job you want to do and ask if you could meet with them and ask them questions. Who knows? If they're looking for an assistant or know of a job opening, you might just get it.

2. Internships. Do them too. Editorial internships are, of course, the hardest to come by, but as one nice person put it, "the way to get into anything in publishing is anything in publishing." Internships at literary agencies were a recommended way to start, as there are more literary agencies than mainstream publishers (and also editors love that extra insight to the agency side of life).

3. Do your homework. Read Publisher's Weekly, MediaBistro, GalleyCat, et cetera, et cetera. Keep up on the trends in the genre you want to work in. Follow what's going on with ebooks and other Big Important Publishing News. Look up everything you can about the imprint for which you're applying.

4. Know your genre. One editorial assistant (she was fresh out of college) said that a lot of people searching for entry-level positions try to sound impressive by citing the types books that one reads in college English classes when their interviewers ask about their favorite books. Unless you're applying for a job at an imprint that deals with republishing the classics or is extremely literary (again, do your homework), don't do that. If you're applying for a job at a sci fi/fantasy imprint, read and be prepared to talk about sci fi/fantasy books - and especially the books you liked published by that imprint.

5. Have a job that is related in SOME way. Work in a bookstore. Work in an office - learn how to use the copier and Microsoft Office. Work as a writing tutor - and if you beta read, especially if you read for someone whose book has been published, put that in a prominent place on your resume. (And make sure that the shiniest parts of your resume are listed first.)

6. Move to New York. If you are seriously looking for a job in publishing, move to New York first. Then if someone really likes you, you are available to start working as soon as they need you, not after the time it takes you to move.

7. Networking, networking, networking. Getting a job in publishing is quite often about who you know. Don't know anybody? Don't panic! Just meet people. Do internships and stay in contact with the people you work with and for. If you can afford it, NYU has a summer intensive publishing program, which is by no means required to work in the industry but a great way to meet people and get your foot in the door. Do informational interviews. Et cetera.

8. Know what to expect. Being an editor doesn't mean that you are in your office reading all day long. Editors mostly read submissions in their spare time, and editorial assistants do lots of copying and other gofer type tasks. Also, editors have to be quite social and chat with agents and other industry professionals to scope out the market. Also also, there's math involved. Not complicated math, but still math.

9. Use your tech-savvy-ness to your advantage. We're the generation that grew up with the Internet and are the pioneers of social media. We know how to do this - and it's a very marketable skill. Different people we talked to stressed this to varying degrees, but I think it is important - and if you have a few extra tricks up your sleeve, things that aren't required but might be useful, like html coding, so much the better.

10. Be nice. A lot of publishing is establishing relationships with other people - with others on your editorial staff, with agents, with authors, with librarians, with booksellers, and so on. None of that will work well if you are mean to people. Make sure that you present yourself as the kind of person you would want to work with.

This trip was a completely fantastic opportunity; I've learned so much and I had such a good time. I hope this list will be helpful to you guys as well!

Thursday, October 13, 2011



Automatically makes everything better.

I hope all of you are having a good week! *hugs all around*

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Midterms = Doom

This week and next week are midterms for me, guys. So I might be a bit sporadic about posting things.

So I will leave you with some fun videos. Like this one:

Also, my friends and I went to see the livestream of the 25th Anniversary Phantom of the Opera concert, and it was made of awesome. However, I have only just recently begun to get PotO songs out of my head, and let me tell you, it is incredibly awkward to go about one's daily business when this is the song playing over and over in one's mind:

... yeah.

Also, have I told you guys about getoutoftherecat.tumblr.com? And how it is the best possible way to destress for five minutes? Because there are cats. Yay cats!

And now I have to go practice. *salutes*

Thursday, October 6, 2011

Historical Footnotes

I'm taking a class in Historical Fiction this semester, which thus far has been my favorite writing class here at IC ever. (My professor is also awesome; last night she read from her new book TEN THOUSAND SAINTS, which I have not yet read, but which was blurbed by ANN PATCHETT of all people!! It also involves laser tag on the NYC subway system in 1988, so I now really have to read it.) I'm loving this class to pieces because I'm reading and writing things that I actually want to be reading and writing, rather than slogging through 'important' short stories and pretending I can write contemporary fiction because that's what's expected of me in an educational setting.

So far, in the two novels that we've read (THE BOOK OF SALT by Monique Truong and THE LITTLE BRIDE by Anna Solomon) and, to a lesser extent, in Professor Henderson's own novel, the authors have presented their readers with one of history's untold stories. THE BOOK OF SALT involves the gay Vietnamese chef employed by Gertrude Stein and Alice B. Toklas in Paris; THE LITTLE BRIDE is the story of a Jewish girl sent to South Dakota as a mail-order bride in the 1880s; TEN THOUSAND SAINTS is about the straight-edge scene in 1980s New York City.

One of the most interesting and, I think, important things about historical fiction is that it allows writers and readers to explore those untold stories. It allows us to imagine the lives of those people left out of the history books. It allows us to bring the past alive in a much more concrete way than a textbook that tells us "in 1793, Marie Antoinette was guillotined." Through fiction, and especially through the untold stories of history, we can empathize with the people who lived before us in ways that the 'facts' might not necessarily allow us to do.

History's untold stories are also a great place to find inspiration. All three authors have discussed in interviews (well, all right, I asked Professor Henderson about it at her reading last night, because we talk about it in class all the time) that they stumbled across a historical footnote that inspired them to write their novel. For Monique Truong, it was a mention of "Indo-Chinese cooks" in Alice B. Toklas' cookbook. Anna Solomon was Googling herself and discovered another Anna Solomon on a website about Jewish women pioneers. Professor Henderson said last night that her "footnote" was her husband's stories of growing up in the East Village. I've recently been inspired by the discovery that during the Irish Potato Famine (called The Great Hunger in Ireland), thousands of pounds' worth of food was being harvested from Anglo-Irish estates and shipped to Britain. This was something wholly left out of my previous historical education, and I wondered what it would be like to see all of that leave your country when you and everyone you knew was starving. And even worse, what would it be like to be the ones handing that precious food over?

History books (and yes, also things like Google and Wikipedia) are full of those footnotes, practically waiting for someone to stumble across them and become inspired by them to write those untold stories down. The next time you lovely readers are in need of a new idea, pick up that history text you were bored by once. Maybe there's something waiting there to inspire you.

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Unreliable Narrators

The topic of the unreliable narrator comes up quite frequently in college writing classes. We'll read a novel or a short story - always of the 'literary' variety, of course - and in class, the professor will ask if we can fully trust the narrator and there will be a strange mixture of quiet nods and quiet headshaking, with no one or very few people wanting to actually answer the question. The answer is usually no, as over the past month or so of digging quite deeply into literary fiction I've decided that one of its defining features is extreme closeness to the protagonist*, so by nature of that the reader cannot believe everything that is said. If everything is seen solely through the lens of one character's perspective (sometimes two), not everything that that character thinks or feels will be the truth.

But what about a character who deliberately misleads the reader? Someone who lies all the time, perhaps, or someone who has a lot to hide.

I played with this idea a little bit in Letters to Oliver, but although individual characters did not necessarily have the whole story, the reader did, because the reader was privy to all of Emily's letters and could see what things she was concealing from which people. That's my favorite part about the epistolary format, and something I've talked at great length about in my historical fiction class - when we view a character through what they write down to send to another character, what they conceal, from whom, and why says even more about them than what they do say.

But I'm in a bit of a predicament now. I need to start working on my final project for historical fiction (which I think will also become my next novel project, if it goes well), and the main character, Maire, might possibly be a pathological liar. However, I have no idea how to pull this off in third person format. (Or regular first person narration, really, but that's less of a problem because I hate writing in first person that isn't epistolary.)

Do you guys have any suggestions? Recommendations for books or stories I could look at? Stern comments telling me that I am out of my mind and should drop the idea altogether? Anything you have to say would be most welcome.

Also, a related question: how do you feel about unreliable narrators in fiction? Do you like them? Hate them? What's your preferred format - a narrator who is unreliable to the characters around them but not to the reader, or a narrator who obscures everything for everyone involved? Have you ever written such a character?

All right, I think that's quite enough questions for your Tuesday. Have a lovely day!

*The point of this post is not to discuss literary vs. genre fiction. That is a can of worms I have to open on a near-daily basis in class and would rather leave quite alone.

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Teaser Tuesday: The Snow Queen, part 2

Thanks so much for your feedback on the beginning of my short story, everyone! You don't mind if I post a little bit more of it, do you? If you like, I'll post the ending next Tuesday. Because you guys are awesome.

This is from the end of the middle, when Grace goes out looking for Kade. In the original story, the little girl has all sorts of helpers on her quest to find her friend, but I cut it down to just one - I hope it makes sense! Constructive criticism is more than welcome!


The sky that poked through in lines broken by the taller buildings was a dull grey, the kind of sky that threatened snow. Grace wanted to find him before those soft flakes began to fall; she didn’t think she could drag him away from the destructive cold if it put on the guise of beauty for him.

Grace turned a corner and the wind nearly lifted her off her feet; it rattled off of garbage cans and whistled around street signs. Was that what the singing sounded like to Kade? Did that clatter of chaotic noise make sense in his head? She turned onto the street and walked into the wind, feeling as though a hand were pressing into her face, trying to stop her from following her friend.

She fought the wind for several blocks, her small frame almost bent double against the rush of air that raced down the avenue. Other people around her were having almost as much difficulty; she saw scarves whipped down the street and coats billowing out behind their owners, or else plastered to their legs, tripping them up in the force of the icy wind. Manhattan became a wind tunnel in the wintertime; those gusts were the perfect place for Kade’s voices to lurk. But after she had walked down what felt like the entire island, she ducked into a side street, shivering violently, desperate to catch her breath and warm her hands out of the merciless wind.

A few feet away from her, a cardboard box had overturned on the sidewalk. She would not have paid any attention to it, but it jerked suddenly, catching her eye and causing her to jump away from it. She watched it scuttle along the ground for a moment before cautiously stepping forward and popping it off the ground with her foot. When she kicked the box away, it left a confused and startled pigeon behind. The bird flapped about, walking in circles as though it half expected to find itself still trapped.

“It’s okay,” she said, “you’re okay. I let you go. I rescued you, just like I’m going to rescue Kade.”

Grace thought that perhaps the wind might be getting to her as well now, if she was talking to a pigeon, but even though she had spent her whole life in the city and seen pigeons every day, she had never seen one stop and listen to a person before. But her pigeon had definitely stopped flapping and turned its head towards her.

“I wish you were a carrier pigeon so I could send a message to him. Maybe he’d let me know where he was, at least.”

She sighed, sitting down on the curb a few feet from the pigeon, blowing into her frozen hands. The pigeon cooed softly a few times, then walked in front of her as if it was trying to get her attention. Then it launched itself into the air and flew down the alley, doubling back once and circling around her head. It wanted her to follow.

“If Kade thinks the wind calls to him, I can follow a pigeon, right?” Grace muttered to herself as she got to her feet and ran down the sidewalk after the little grey bird.

The pigeon seemed to have even more trouble with the wind than she did, but she was grateful; the gusts kept the bird from flitting out of her sight. Bits of ice or rain or snow swatted at her cheeks now, and either she had been out in the cold too long or the sound that the wind-rattled trash cans made sounded like go back, Grace, go back. He’s ours now. But Kade was hers, and she would get him back, even if she went crazy doing it.

Thursday, September 22, 2011

Fight Your Way Through It

I think this is something we all need to see:

Keep on truckin', guys. We can all get there.

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Teaser Tuesday: The Snow Queen

Yes, it's Teaser Tuesday! No, this is not from the secret wip. What I have been working on is a short story for my Fiction II class. We had to choose a fairy tale and adapt it. I chose Hans Christian Anderson's story The Snow Queen, and I would love to get some feedback from you guys. You know that I never write contemporary, and I've never tried something like this, so while I like the concept, I'm a little unsure of myself here. I don't workshop for quite a while, so any feedback you feel like giving me is most welcome.

Here are the first two pages or so. I hope you enjoy them!

The Snow Queen

The first day Kade wasn’t in school, Grace didn’t worry. He had been skipping school a lot lately, more and more as the weather got colder, the fierce wind ripping through Manhattan’s streets and sneaking under upturned collars and snug-fitting hats like bony fingers. It was an ice-cold caress that Grace tried to ignore, but this winter, sometimes it seemed that Kade was drawn to it.

She had confronted him about it, once, when he had missed two days in a row at the beginning of November. She had gone to his apartment, one door over from her own, intending to give him a teacher-style lecture about missing school and falling behind on homework and tests, about how that would affect his future in all sorts of bad ways now that he was in high school. But she wound up giving him a different lecture, when she discovered that he was alone in the apartment, sitting on the window ledge in his t-shirt and shorts, leaning into the cold gusts of wind that blew down their street. It might have been funny, if he hadn’t been tipping forward, millimeter by millimeter leaning farther over the dizzying edge, second by second creeping towards a seven-story fall.

What the hell are you doing?!” Grace had shrieked, without thinking.

Kade had turned, surprised to see her, and he wobbled; Grace flung herself forward and hauled his thin frame back through the window, letting him topple onto the floor of his bedroom.

“I like it,” he’d said, grumbling as he rubbed at his head where it had banged on the floor. “I like the cold. It’s like the wind is calling me when I sit out there, asking me to come with her-”

“What are you smoking?” she had asked, automatically turning to his desk, pulling open a drawer to search for something offending, some monstrous white powder that was tearing her childhood friend away from her.

“You’re not my mother, Grace,” he snapped, shoving her away from the desk. “And you don’t care what happens to me any more than she does. You just don’t want your friend to be crazy, to be found broken in a pile on the street because you don’t want any stain on your perfect future-”

“Well, excuse me for saving your life!” she shouted, storming off, making sure to slam the door behind her.

So the first day didn’t worry her. Not when the January wind was coated in snow, when she knew those fingers would lovingly tear at his skin, when the wind would be calling him in a voice that glittered like sun through ice.

But then one day became two, which melted on into three, then four, then a whole week. By Thursday, she was worried, and not just because the seniors were more inclined to knock the stack of books out of her hands when Kade was not around. He had disappeared before, but never for as long as a week.

Friday afternoon, she crept down the hall to his apartment and knocked softly on his green-painted door, a packet of missed assignments tucked under her arm. No one answered the door, and after waiting for five minutes, she turned the knob and let herself in.

Kade’s parents were not home – they were almost never home – but Kade was nowhere to be found either. Grace left the makeup work on the kitchen table and poked her head into Kade’s room. It was a mess, with clothes and books thrown every which way; she found one of his favorite paperbacks sitting in a corner, the cover bent, as though he had tried to find some comfort in it but had hurled it aside. His window was wide open, icicles beginning to drip down towards the sill, and Grace shut it, shivering, not daring to look at the pavement below. Surely if he had fallen, she would have known. She lived next door, as she had all her life – surely someone would tell her.

Thursday, September 15, 2011

Exciting News!!

So do you guys remember when I said I had submitted some very important paperwork and I was really really nervous about it?

Well, it's official - I got my acceptance yesterday. Next semester, I will be studying abroad in LONDON! *squeal*

I was not only accepted into the Ithaca London Center program, but into the internship program, which means that they will find a placement (hopefully in book publishing) for me. Yippee!!

Guys, I can hardly put into words how excited I am about this. I've been planning this for what feel like my whole life, and now I am really actually going. It's really happening. In January I will be getting on a plane and going to England!

Waiting for this acceptance letter was hell. Not just because they were doing rolling admissions and my class is the largest in Ithaca's history, not just because I was afraid they might run out of space for me, but because I was so, so scared that all of my scrambling around with paperwork and putting all my excitement into my application wouldn't be enough.

I was terrified that this would just be one more thing that I worked really hard for, that I did everything I could for, just to have someone turn around and tell me, yet again, that I wasn't good enough.

Rejection hurts. It's something we all know very, very well in the writing world. It hurts like hell, but we have to get used to it anyway. We have to build up a thick skin and wave off the persistent stinging of those 'no' emails. For me, it isn't necessarily the rejection that packs a punch, but the accumulation of rejections. I've collected quite the impressive resume of rejections, and while I wouldn't dream of giving up on writing or pursuing a publishing career because of it, there are days when the weight of all those 'no's is just too much.

Let me tell you, it is amazing to add a 'yes' to that pile. It is wonderful to see the words "I am pleased to tell you..." in your inbox. It is beyond wonderful when something you have dreamed of for years turns into something that is actually going to happen. I can start planning now, not just dreaming.

And that one 'yes'? It is worth swimming through the pile of 'no's.

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

When to Give Yourself a Break

You might have noticed that after my last post, which was about sitting down in your chair and just banging out the words, I unexpectedly vanished for a week. Sorry about that. I'll try not to do it again.

Today's post, however, is on the opposite topic from last week's - there are times when we just need to let it go and relax and not panic about wordcounts, and I think it's important to recognize them.

Obviously, if you have a deadline hanging over your head - whether that deadline was issued by a teacher or by someone in the publishing industry - you had best get that stuff written, polished, and handed in. But I think we are incredibly hard on ourselves. Of course, we have to be, in some respects, but a lot of times I think writers are very unwilling to let themselves take breaks.

Writing is very often a matter of finding the time when there are only a set amount of hours in the day and twelve hundred things to accomplish. Whether you're squeezing your writing time in around homework, your day job, taking care of your kids, or some combination thereof, it's really hard. And it is important to squeeze in that time, because if we are serious about this, then there are some sacrifices we have to make in order to put writing in our top priority section.

But at the same time, we shouldn't kill ourselves over it. Between the homework and the extracurriculars, I do need to sleep sometime, and if I don't get enough sleep, my writing is terrible anyway. I do not write for myself every day - last semester, I wound up having one day approximately every three weeks when I had finished all my homework for the next day and allowed myself to write for a few hours. I don't really work well in snippets of snatched time, so being able to chunk out a few days like that worked. I got some writing done and I had a break from homework - I didn't feel guilty about neglecting something important because I felt like writing.

And even when I have ample time - over the summer, for instance - I don't write every day. I write far more often, of course, for hours and hours at a stretch, two or three days at a time. But there is only so long I can spend staring at my computer screen, pounding out the words in my tiny little closet of a bedroom, before I start feeling more like a machine than a person, and I need to do something else for a little while. I go on week-long reading sprints. I surf the internet ad nauseum. I go for walks, drag my friends to my house, get roped into watching Project Runway marathons with my mom and sister. And then I shut myself in my room again and start pounding out the words.

Obviously, this doesn't work for everyone, but I think we should all remember that it is acceptable to allow ourselves some breathing room. I don't think we should feel guilty because we don't eek out those words every day by getting up at dawn to cram in writing time before everything else starts to happen, or by staying up far too late after everything else is finished.

Everyone has a different method for working their love of writing around their lives. All I'm saying is that finding the time to write is important, but we shouldn't stress ourselves out about it too much. We have enough stress to deal with as it is.

How do you fit your writing life around your real life? Do you write every day?

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Just Do It

This happens to all of us: sometimes, we just don't have an idea. Sometimes the words just aren't coming and there's no trick in the world that will allow us to get around that and squeak them onto our Word documents. Sometimes we just need to take a break and let ourselves relax before diving back in or starting a new project.

But then, sometimes we can't afford that break. Sometimes, we need those words RIGHT NOW.

As a writing student, someone who has to continually turn in my work for a grade (and believe me, I am incredibly hard on myself when it comes to grades), there have been quite a few occasions where I am staring at the computer screen at midnight the day before a story is due. And it's not because I've put it off till the last minute - it's because I just don't have an idea. I just don't know what to write.

And you know what? The only thing to do is just do it. Just write. Something. Anything. The results are going to vary - I've handed in one mediocre story because of this, but I've also handed in one pretty awesome story. It happens. And when you're being workshopped that week, you have to hand in something, because the results would be disastrous otherwise.

I had to do this again just last night. I wasn't excited about a prompt, but the story is due tomorrow and I'll be in class until 8pm tonight. So I just wrote it. I'm not sure it's quite what I was supposed to do, and I will probably send it to my writer friend and fellow Ithacan Sarah and complain about how awful it is and spend a long time tonight staring at it trying to tweak it. But you know what? I wrote it. There are some good points to it. And I'll have something to hand in in class tomorrow.

The thing about writing, especially writing for a grade, is that it can always be better. There is always something you could have changed or done differently to make the story shine just a little bit brighter. And it can always be fixed. With most of the projects that carry a lot of weight, grade-wise, I am required to revise them.

But you can't revise something if you didn't write anything in the first place.

So if there's a time when you have a deadline looming large and nothing to write, just sit down, grab the first idea that comes along, and write.

*I apologize if this makes no sense whatsoever. First thing this morning, I handed in some very important paperwork and I am now so nervous/excited/terrified that I feel a bit ill. Is it going to be like this until October? Gah.

Thursday, September 1, 2011

Writer Stereotypes

Writers are very stereotyped creatures. We are expected to be brooding, angsty, drunk and/or on drugs all the time, and incredibly anti-social, and those are just the most common assumptions, I think. But while stereotypes are certainly no way to write effective characters or consider people in real life, they do exist because there is a certain amount of truth to them. http://www.blogger.com/img/blank.gif

Take me, for example:

1. I'm incredibly shy around new people. I'm rather awkward in quite a few social situations, especially those involving people I don't know or people I've met a few times but am not, as Jane Austen might say, 'intimate' with yet. So if you ever meet me in person, go easy on me!!

2. I hate math. I absolutely and completely hate math. Anything beyond incredibly simple addition means I whip out my calculator, and when I saw this post on tumblr I was dying of laughter because it is so true. I was actually talking about this with two of my fellow writing majors in class yesterday - we're required to have three credits of math, and even though it's only one class in four years, we all dread it.

3. I am not a morning person, and I have a lot of trouble getting to sleep some nights. I'm not the type to bite someone's head off before I've had my cup of tea, but I do need that cup of tea. I'm also most productive in the evening or late at night, and in my ideal world, I could be up writing till 3 am and sleep till noon every day. Unfortunately, the real world does not agree with me on that score.

Those are some writer stereotypes that fit me rather well. Are there any writer stereotype categories that you fall into?

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Back to School Things!

Hello guys! I'm back at Ithaca! Woots!

I didn't so much miss my lovely concrete block walls, but my Doctor Who poster is another matter... ;)

In spite of the fact that it means I won't get any sleep from now until Thanksgiving break, and already have homework (which I should really start doing), I'm excited to be back. I'm really looking forward to taking some upper-level writing classes, especially my Historical Fiction and Editing & Publishing classes. I feel like this semester, what I want to write and what I have to write will be more aligned than they usually are, and I think it's going to be awesome.

I'm going to keep up my Tuesday/Thursday blogging schedule as best I can, although my 18 credits may or may not require a few gif spam posts or funny YouTube videos now and again. Teaser Tuesdays will return, although probably not every week - I'm enjoying keeping my current project a secret, as I'd like to use it to experiment with a few things and am just writing it for myself right now. (Although I'm sure I could be persuaded to share a few pieces of it later.)

If you are going back to school soon or have already gone back, best of luck for a good semester! Hopefully we can all keep our heads above the tidal waves of homework.

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Book Review: Jennifer Donnelly, Historical Fiction Writer Extraordinaire

So I don't think I actually gushed to you guys about my love for this book:

In any case, REVOLUTION is an absolutely amazing French Revolution story. Jennifer Donnelly truly has a gift for weaving multiple stories together, and this is one of those few "modern-day character falls back into the past" stories that does not make me scoff a bit. She makes it work. And both of the protagonists in REVOLUTION, the one in modern-day and the one in 1795, are both written in such a beautifully tragic way. They are both so broken, but it comes across as poignant rather than whiny.

The other day, I just finished A NORTHERN LIGHT, Donnelly's first YA novel.

Good God, but can she write historical fiction. This book also displays Donnelly's amazing talent for weaving together seemingly disparate stories, in this case the real letters of Grace Brown, who was murdered in 1906 in the Adirondacks, and the fictional life of Mattie Gokey, a girl who has to balance her love of words and learning with her responsibilities to her dairy farming family. The story bends history very slightly, but the whole thing melds into a seamless narrative.

Mattie also showcases Donnelly's gift with words. She's the kind of author who makes you just want to drink in every single word she says, and reread various passages over and over because they are just so beautiful. This is a style that I long to reach in my own writing - her words are poignant, fluid, pitch-perfect; she can pull the beauty out of tragedy in a way that amazes me.

Seriously, guys, go read Jennifer Donnelly's books. She's also written three historical fiction books for adults, and the next time I get to go to the library, you can bet I'll be hunting those down.

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Beating Procrastination, Line-Edit Style

Unrelated side note: Lookit! I finally figured out how to put those tabby-things at the top of my blog! I feel so official! What do you guys think of them? Is there anything else you'd like to see up there?

So I'm getting beta comments back, and after the lovely rush of jumping up and down in my desk chair, grinning like an idiot and saying "they liked it, they liked it!!" to myself over and over comes the far more boring part: going through and making all those changes.

I'm sure many of you have felt the same - sometimes, editing is REALLY BORING. Sure, it can be really fun to rework things and get to write new scenes to replace old ones that didn't quite work out. I had a lot of fun with that earlier, cracking open the last draft to pull some things out and put new things in and shift a couple of things around.

But the kind of editing I'm doing right now is deadly dull. The kind where I have to go through and make sure my characters don't smirk as much as they originally did, or fix an awkwardly constructed sentence, or make sure that the timeline matches up like it should and isn't completely screwy due to earlier changes.

I spent a ridiculous amount of time yesterday procrastinating. I was reading, I was scrolling around on Tumblr, I was checking Twitter every four seconds - anything to keep from actually getting work done. But finally I just put on some Doctor Who and made myself keep working, and I got about halfway through the manuscript.

If you guys are anything like me, you need to pull out the big anti-procrastination guns to get through line edits. That's why I like writing or editing with a movie or tv show on - I can get built in breaks. If I'm watching something I've already seen a zillion times, like Lord of the Rings or Pride and Prejudice or Doctor Who, I can put it on just as a soundtrack and not actually need to pay attention to it. But at the same time, there are favorite moments where I'm going to stop writing and watch. I'm going to watch Eowyn kill the Witchking. I'm going to watch that moment where Lizzy rescues Darcy's sister from awkwardness and they share a LOOK across the room. I'm going to watch the bit where the Doctor's being possessed by Cassandra and says that he's "a little bit foxy."

I find I can focus on even the boring stuff like line edits if I know that I'm going to have a chance to procrastinate every so often. I can trick my brain into paying attention by waving the treat of watching for a few minutes in front of it.

How about you guys? What are your tricks for beating procrastination? Do you turn off the internet (I can't do that; I handle it the same way by telling myself I can check my email AFTER I write something substantial)? Do you work in complete silence?

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

All the World's a Stage

As I immerse myself more and more in the world of publishing, talking to people on Absolute Write and on Twitter (yes I have a Twitter now. I caved at the beginning of the summer. I can be found here.) I have been pleasantly surprised to find that the publishing community seems to appreciate my favorite genre of music far more than the world at large. And yes, of course I am talking about musical theatre. For a person who constantly gets raised eyebrows when asked what music I like and I rattle off a list of showtunes, it is so refreshing and heartening to see agents talking about singing to Wicked in their offices and going to see plays and musicals sometimes on the weekends.

Now, this might just be an offshoot of the fact that so much of the publishing world is centered in New York City, just like so much of the musical theatre world is centered there. But I also think that musicals are the perfect things for writers and people who love books. What kind of music could be better for us than the kind that does our favorite thing - the kind that tells a story?

Incidentally, all of my favorite musicals were once books. The Phantom of the Opera, Les Miserables, A Tale of Two Cities, The Scarlet Pimpernel, The Secret Garden, The Light in the Piazza, Jekyll & Hyde, Wicked... I think books adapt even better to the stage than they do to the big screen.

And of course I'm just biased towards the idea of being able to randomly burst out in song and have other people know the harmonies and the dance steps. Wouldn't that be awesome? I'm so glad that in the publishing world, at least, I'd have a few people willing to sing along with me.

Here's a video of some songs from A Tale of Two Cities. I just finished the book and I thought it was adapted very well - it's too bad it had such a short run.

Friday, August 12, 2011

Why is EVERYTHING in 3D???

So apparently, this has happened:

The Lion King. In 3D. WHAT IS THIS BLASPHEMY?!?!?!

So I might be a person who gets a little too upset about messing with Disney movies. I mean, I am still slightly miffed that the colors of the Beauty and the Beast DVD I have are about five times brighter than the VHS tape I grew up with. I mean, the scene with Maurice lost in the forest isn't that scary if everything is all pretty and gold, now is it?

But all neurotic tendencies aside, why on earth would anyone want to release The Lion King in 3D? Aside from the sheer fact that re-releasing it in theatres means more money... oh yeah. Disney likes doing that.

I have a huge problem with the recent 3D craze. And it's because I feel that 3D in movies brings absolutely nothing other than cheap thrills to the table.

In writing, introducing something to the story just because it is 'cool' does not do the writer or the story any favors. To me, the constant need to make every movie in 3D is kind of like randomly throwing a dragon into a contemporary novel. It doesn't make sense, it doesn't enhance the plot, and so it doesn't need to be there.

Digital effects in movies have been walking this line for a long time. Of course there are movies where the fancy special effects are kind of the point. Okay, sure, fine. But mostly, special effects should be blended in to the story. There shouldn't be a random explosion in every scene just because it looks cool and will be exciting. Pretty soon even that will get boring if that's all there is to offer - and then what do you do to keep audiences captivated?

When I went to the midnight showing of the last Harry Potter movie, my friends and I split up into two groups - I went to see it in 2D, and some others saw it in 3D. One of my friends who saw it in 3D said that all of the crazy effects were more distracting than anything else. It's like dangling something shiny in front of all of us and saying "ooh, look at this, look what we can do, isn't this awesome? Aren't you impressed?" Really, I'd much rather shove that shiny thing out of my face and be shown a good story with good acting. Special effects have their place, and along with the lighting and the soundtrack and all of the other elements that go into the making of a film they can really enhance a movie if done correctly, but they should not be the most important thing. The story should.

When there is a movie with 3D where the effects are actually blended in to the story, where it makes sense with the plot for the audience to be integrated more and for things to pop out of the screen, then I will say that 3D has found its purpose. But right now, the only thing I think 3D is good for is paying that extra three or four dollars for a movie ticket that comes with a flimsy pair of red and blue glasses.

And, Disney? Please keep this 3D silliness out of my childhood. Thanks.

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

WIP Madness

So right now I am approximately three thousand words into a new project. And I'll be honest with you: it's kind of terrifying.

I worked on the werewolf novel (now called A Terror of Darkness, what do you think?) for almost five years. I wrote Letters to Oliver in that time as well, but that was sort of an accident.

And now I feel like I've completely forgotten how to do this. A new world? A new set of characters? A new plot? What is this???

I have a feeling that this sense of being lost in a new work-in-progress isn't uncommon. After all, we do put so much of our lives into our writing that it's jarring to stop one project and begin another. It's like learning to walk all over again.

Add to that the fact that with a new project comes all of those mixed feelings. Part of me is jumping up and down (not literally) to be writing anything at all, and the other part is worried if this project is something that might ultimately turn out to be a huge waste of time. It takes place in a historical setting... sort of, and that's making me very nervous.

Basically, it's a historical in the same way that THE LIES OF LOCKE LAMORA is. That's set in a fantasy world that is very clearly modeled on Venice, I'd say roundabouts the Renaissance. It's modeled on Venice, but it isn't Venice. My city is basically Regency London... except not. The twisted history thing is making me quite nervous. I have no idea if it's a clever idea or a really stupid idea.

Which is why I won't be posting teasers from it for a while, until I can decide whether or not to trust it. Right now I am working on this for me. And I think that's important - I think while it's really nice to share wips and get feedback on them to fuel ideas while writing, at the same time I think this needs to be kept a bit secret. I need to write for myself, because after all I do this for fun, I do this because I love it.

And so I'm going to carry on this experiment in secret for a little while longer before I decide if this is a project I can love as much as the werewolf novel.

How about you guys? How do you feel when you start a new wip? Elated? Confused? Let me know what you think. :)

Also, anyone reading this from London: please stay safe. <3

Thursday, August 4, 2011

Such a Nerd

So, I'm guessing you guys know how it goes when you discover something new and exciting to watch or read or do and then you can't concentrate on much of anything else?


Awesome Firefly quotes courtesy of Joss Whedon. Awesome Firefly gifs courtesy of Morbid and Creepifying.

Friday, July 29, 2011

Book Review: FOREVER

So, after a long wait thanks to inexplicable Amazon silliness, I finally got my hands on FOREVER, the final installment of Maggie Stiefvater's Wolves of Mercy Falls trilogy.

I've got to say, Maggie Stiefvater is truly fantastic at plotting out a series. With LINGER, my fears of second-book-syndrome being the inevitable follow up to SHIVER's gorgeous conclusion were smashed. And of course she continues from LINGER's cliffhanger to the perfect conclusion in FOREVER. It was exactly the kind of ending I like best - all the important things have been taken care of, but not wrapped up so neatly that it seems fake in all its shiny tidiness. It was bittersweet (beware page 374), but satisfying.

My one major complaint from LINGER was Cole St. Clair, and I liked him so much more in FOREVER. I'm not sure if I just came to terms with him or if it was that he was less of a jerk, but I was much happier to read the chapters in his pov.

Also: Grace and Sam are beyond adorable and I love them to bits. TO BITS I TELL YOU.

It's a very spoil-able book, so I don't want to say too much. But trust me, if you haven't read this yet, absolutely do. I'm sad to say goodbye to Mercy Falls, but this is exactly the way such an excellent series should end. Brava, Maggie Stiefvater, brava. I can't wait for THE SCORPIO RACES!

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Writing vs. Talking

In The-Class-That-Shall-Not-Be-Named last semester, we read a lot of articles about the writing skills of "beginner writers," a term strangely used mostly to describe people in freshman comp classes in college. (If someone is a freshman in college... he or she is not a beginner writer. He or she has been writing in some capacity since they were about six. Cue confusion.) And most of these many (exceptionally boring) articles were about writing processes to help said beginner writer become a stronger and more confident writer, a more skillful writer.

Most of these writing processes I disagreed with loudly in class (I was a big fan of waving my "it's different for every writer and if it works for you then it's not wrong" flag in that class), but none more so than the idea presented in several articles of talking through your paper before writing it. As in, literally taking a tape recorder and talking through your paper.

Now, I will say this in favor of talking: sometimes, when I'm stuck, nothing works better than to go for a walk in the park with a friend of mine who's willing to listen to me jabber on, and I'll explain to them why I'm stuck and what I want to do that's not working and oftentimes something miraculous will occur to me. It's because when I'm stuck, I need to think about it differently and explaining to someone else works for me. It's like what they tell people about math problems: if you can explain it to someone else, you understand it.

But in every class that this talking-as-prewriting thing came up, I jumped into the conversation to say "uh, excuse me, no." First off, I am vehemently opposed to prewriting and have been since middle school, when we were often forced to hand in an outline of our tiny little essays.

But talking-as-prewriting?

Now, I'm a writer, I like words. I like to think that I am rather good with words, with putting the right words together to form sentences, paragraphs, stories that are well constructed and mean what I want them to. But when I talk? It's a little more like this:

"It's like - there's this thing - God, what's that word - um, you know when you - um - oh, you know what I mean!"

All. The. Time.

So if I was to prewrite something by talking, that is all I'd get. It would sound utterly ridiculous, and be so much more trouble than it was worth.

What about you guys? I'm really rather biased against anything we talked about in The-Class-That-Shall-Not-Be-Named. Is there any truth to this? Am I alone in my inability to form coherent sentences with my mouth rather than my fingers? What do you think?

Thursday, July 21, 2011

Rereading Books

I don't know about you guys, but I am typically not a rereader of books. I read them, enjoy them, and then smile at them as they sit on my shelf and look pretty. I think this causes my excellent parents some despair, as I can read a four-hundred-page book in six hours, so there's $20 gone in one afternoon. Heh.

But sometimes, there are books that I do reread. And oftentimes it's sort of random which ones I'll pick. I've reread both INKHEART and THE THIEF LORD on a whim; EAST and THE BOOK THIEF were both favorites of mine that I'd borrowed in order to read, and so when I finally bought them both, of course I sat down to read through them again. I've read PAPER TOWNS twice. I reread all seven Harry Potter books this winter (in fact, I've read PRISONER OF AZKABAN so many times that my copy has literally fallen apart. This makes me incredibly sad.) I've reread Tamora Pierce's books quite a few times, in spite of the fact that my edition of the SONG OF THE LIONESS quartet makes me want to give her proofreader a stern talking to.

Right now I am rereading PRIDE & PREJUDICE for the fourth or fifth time (I feel like this is quickly becoming that book that I actually sit down and reread every year) and am waiting for my sister to read PLAIN KATE so I can reread that.

So while it seems that I do reread books more often than I originally thought (clearly buying them is now justified :P), I do tend to go a long time in between rereads. Before this winter, I hadn't touched the Harry Potter books since I finished the seventh one in lightning speed several years ago. I don't think I've done a Tamora Pierce reread in a couple of years now. (I have reread PRIDE & PREJUDICE fairly recently, as I said. Hello, I am a massive nerd, nice to meet you.)

So while I do prefer reading new books to rereading old ones (thank you, library card) there are some that are just too good to not reread, that just have to be revisited. I'm sure people say this all the time, but the metaphor exists for a reason - rereading a favorite book really is like visiting a friend you haven't talked to in a long time. It's so easy to fall right back into that comfortable place.

How about you guys? Do you have books that you reread again and again?

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Book-to-Movie Adaptations

With all this excitement about the last Harry Potter movie coming out, I've been thinking a lot about movie adaptations of books. Obviously, there are some that do it better than others (for the most part, the Harry Potter movies are not my favorite adaptations, although there have been things I've enjoyed about them, and I liked 6 and both halves of 7).

But I don't want to talk about adaptations that went poorly; I want to talk about adaptations I enjoy. Interestingly enough, for probably all of the book-to-movie adaptations I really like, I saw the movie first, whether because I didn't know it was a book or simply hadn't gotten around to it yet. This approach makes me far less likely to throw things at the screen and far more likely to sit back and enjoy. For some reason, I'm far more reasonable about changes made in adaptations when I see the movie first; then I can simply compare it to the real thing in the books and go "oh, I see why they did that."

On to the movies!

Bet you were expecting this one, right? Well, Peter Jackson's LORD OF THE RINGS films are probably the only example of book-to-movie adaptations where I prefer the movie to the book. *ducks flying objects and cries of blasphemy!* Yes, I know that probably makes me a terrible fantasy fan. But these movies were just adapted SO WELL. These films took a classic fantasy epic of grand proportions and made it human. I think so many of the characters really shine in the films. For example, Aragorn is actually given a character arc, and he becomes a relateable, human character instead of a heroic archetype. I love these films and have watched them dozens of times. The casting is superb, the music wonderful, the detail that went into every aspect of filming amazing. All I can say is that I cannot WAIT for The Hobbit.

I love love love love this adaptation of PRIDE AND PREJUDICE. I use it as a writing soundtrack. I put it on as background noise while doing homework. I've put it on to fall asleep to. The casting is excellent. I've read the book four or five times now (and am currently rereading it) and I can't read it without hearing these actors' voices in my head. I don't care for the new adaptation for a couple of reasons, but like I said, not going to talk about the ones I don't like. This one I do like. If THE LORD OF THE RINGS is an example of how to make changes and do it properly, this adaptation of PRIDE AND PREJUDICE is an example of how to put a book on screen.

Plus, who doesn't love Colin Firth as Mr. Darcy? Yeah. I thought so. :P

If I didn't like Keira Knightley as Elizabeth Bennet, I loved her in ATONEMENT. This seems like the perfect book to adapt for film to me; they do so much in this movie with multiple points of view, and it illustrates the point of the book beautifully. It's very easy to see what is really happening versus what Briony thinks is happening, and the dramatic irony is just done perfectly. It's also another movie with an amazing soundtrack (I just realized that all for all four of the movies I'm going to talk about, I own the soundtrack. Hmm). I like how they did the ending as well; it's different from the book, but we still get the same punch from it (and what a punch!).

I love STARDUST. The way this differs from the book is mostly in tone; the book is much darker and creepier, typical Neil Gaiman style, while the movie takes all the lighthearted parts and brings them to the front. The result is a fun and absolutely adorable movie that's definitely good for warm fuzzies. (Conversely I finished the book on a bus and felt a little bit like crying.) The book and the movie are like mirror images of each other - one dark and one light, the same but different. (This is not to say that the book is wholly dark and scary; it's Neil Gaiman, the current British master of mixing the creepy with the subtly funny and sarcastic.) I adore the book and the movie equally, but for different reasons. Again, another example of how to make changes in an adaptation and do it properly.

Those are my top favorite book-to-movie adaptations. I do have a few other favorite movies that were once books, such as THE PRINCESS BRIDE and HOW TO TRAIN YOUR DRAGON... but I've never actually read those, so they don't go in the post. Heh.

What are your favorite adaptations of books? What books do you think should be adapted to film?