Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Getting it All Out

I'm the kind of writer who likes to just writewritewritewritewrite until the draft is done before attempting any kind of edits. I've always been rather fond of the pottery metaphor for novels: you've got to get all the clay lumped together on the wheel first, and THEN you can start shaping it into a pretty bowl or vase or what have you. But you have to get all the parts together first.

That's not to say that editing while you go can't work - obviously the first rule of writing is that there is no universal rule of writing. Some things work for some people, and other things work for other people. Sometimes, the same methods don't even work for different novels - circumstances change, deadlines are looming, the characters aren't cooperating, et cetera. For my senior project / work in progress, The Long Road Home, I had to go back and revise what I'd written about a year ago before I could continue. It just wasn't working as it was, and I needed to fix some things before I could move forward.

Since then, however, I've been just chugging along as fast as I can (can I get to "the end"/past 50k by the time finals week rolls around? WE SHALL SEE) and it's been going great. Obviously, my project mentor has been pointing out her concerns as we go along, mostly some hitches in worldbuilding continuity (uuuugh worldbuilding... you make so much sense in my head!) but she's really understanding of the fact that I fix things later. And it's nice to be aware of those problems as they come up; I don't have to run and fix them, always doubling back before continuing onwards, but it's nice to know what I'll have to work on later, and to be able to try and smooth those things out in future chapters so that there's a bit less to revise.

How about you, dear blog readers? Are you the kind of writer who just chugs along forward, or the kind who revises along the way? Will I finish this manuscript before I graduate? What do you think? :)

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Imagining the Future is a Kind of Nostalgia

This is one of those blog posts in which I will take several paragraphs to say what John Green said in a single sentence. Looking for Alaska is not my favorite John Green novel, but the line "imagining the future is a kind of nostalgia" will never fail to pack a punch for me. Because it is so very, very true.

Nostalgia in the not-Alaska-Young-defined sense means looking back, milling over the past and wishing for its comforting certainty again. It means a longing for a kind of lost perfection that may or may not have really been there in the first place.

But you can do that with the future too. Spinning out hopes and dreams, constructing the perfect future in your head, isn't that rather like constructing the perfect past? All these things that you hope will happen - getting perfect grades, falling in love with the perfect person, finding the perfect job, getting the perfect agent or book deal - won't happen, at least, not in the same way you dream they will. Sometimes you won't get exactly the grade you want. The person you fall in love with will have his or her own flaws. Even dream jobs can drive you crazy sometimes. And getting an agent or a book deal only means there's more work and more rejection ahead.

But that's okay, I think. As long as those perfect ideals we build up in our heads don't become all-encompassing, it's okay to build them. It's okay to strive for that perfect dream.We need something to reach for, even if that thing isn't something we can ever truly catch.

I'm in a place right now where I feel like my life is made up of nostalgia, of both kinds. I'm in the last seven weeks of my undergraduate education, and soon I'll have to start acting like a real adult. Getting a job. Paying rent. Buying my own groceries. All this is both terrifying and exciting. And I'm stuck in a weird in-between space, where I'm both missing the past and longing for the future. I miss the (rather insane) confidence I had when I first started writing (probably the only thing I will ever miss about being thirteen). I miss being able to solve all my problems simply by going home. I miss London every single day - I miss the way London made me feel like I could go anywhere, be anyone, do anything; all I had to do was hop on the Tube and go.

And yet I have all these plans, plans that require me to move beyond what has already happened. I'm going to get a job. Some kind of job. Any job. One that'll pay the rent and where I can work with nice people. Hopefully that'll get the chorus "I really need this job / please God I need this job" out of my head (I am SUCH a musical theatre nerd guys). I'm going to get my own apartment with my made-of-awesome roommate. I'm going to get a kitten and call him Mr. Darcy. (Because what else does one name one's future cat, right?) I'm going to get to the other side of this querying tunnel, find an agent, sell a novel. I'm going to be a real, proper, adult-type person, one who is confident in her own skin, one who really can do whatever she wants rather than just feeling like she can.

I'm going to do all of those things. Probably not as perfectly as I imagine them - the pile of query rejections in my inbox, which is now being joined by job rejections, will attest to that. But I'm going to do them.

For now, though, I'll content myself with nostalgia, with sending off a zillion emails and hoping against hope that I can reach that unreachable star.

... More musical theatre jokes? No? Okay, I'll stop.

Tuesday, March 12, 2013

Book Review: ONE by Leigh Ann Kopans

So. Rewind to summer of 2012. I'm an intern at a literary agency in Manhattan, and I'm sitting at the intern table, reading queries, like any other afternoon, when the agent I work for pops over and says "hey Caitlin, I have this manuscript I'd like you to take a look at. The author emailed to say she had interest from another agent. It's YA, are you interested?" And, well, yes, of course I was.

That manuscript was ONE by Leigh Ann Kopans. And I devoured it that day at work. ONE is the story of Merrin Grey, a sixteen-year-old girl with half a superpower when most Supers have two. For instance, Merrin can float, but she doesn't have that second superpower that would allow her to push the air around her and fly. And Merrin, organic chemistry genius that she is, is determined to fix her One-ness.

Guys. This book is awesome. I knew immediately upon starting it just how awesome it was. I probably made a terrible report to my agent about it later (sorry Leigh Ann), since she asked me what I liked about it and I had to think of coherent things to say instead of just "uh... everything... I like just about everything, really... yeah..." Leigh Ann eventually signed with the other agent in question, however, so I think everything will work out nicely in her favor. 

ONE has all the makings of a great YA book. Fantastically intriguing sci-fi premise? Check. Reverse chosen-one thing for the protagonist? Check. Weird government conspiracy? Check. Excellent romance? OH MAN CHECK.

My favorite thing about this book, though, both during that first read-through and now, is Merrin herself. There are so, SO many sci-fi and fantasy YA books that I've read where the romance is the be-all and end-all of both the character and the story. Where the female protagonist is defined by her love of the wonderful, charming, handsome love interest. And Merrin is so very much not that kind of girl. There is a scene in the book in which she decides she can't lean on Elias, the love interest (who is an interesting, flawed, sweet character in his own right), until she can stand on her own two feet and I think I actually shouted "YES!!!" while I was reading that. In the office. (And even now, I grinned like an idiot on the bus rereading it.)

Merrin is exactly the kind of girl I'd like to see more of in YA novels - a girl not necessarily averse to falling in love, but one who knows that she shouldn't compromise herself in order to do that. She refuses to let Elias be her whole world - a big part of it, an important part, yes, but not ALL of it - even though just being with Elias will QUITE LITERALLY solve ALL OF HER PROBLEMS for her. But she wants to solve them herself. She wants to be her own person, not just an extension of someone she loves.

Leigh Ann is a fantastic writer - you can really tell just how much work and how much love she's put into this book - and someone I am glad to call my friend. Trust me, guys. You want to listen to this story she has to tell.

ONE comes out on June 11th. I'm so so super excited for Leigh Ann and I can't wait for it to get all the recognition it so richly deserves.

Tuesday, March 5, 2013

Teaser Tuesday: Unexpected Friendships

Hello, dear blog readers! It's Tuesday, isn't it? I'm sorry. It's midterms week. And while this is my last ever midterms week (at least as an undergrad... I could always change my mind and go to grad school sometime...) (also LAST EVER MIDTERMS WHAT EVEN) and therefore relatively light in terms of workload, I still have lots to be getting on with.

So you know what that means, fair readers! It means a teaser. Here is a shiny new scene from my senior project, The Long Road Home. Maire was a bit ill the night before due to scarfing down her dinner after not having eaten properly in months at least, and Caleb helped her out. She still doesn't want him telling anyone about it, though.

I hope you enjoy this!


“You didn’t have to kick me,” Caleb said, his voice quiet. 

“You were going to tell her about last night,” she snapped, noting that he looked rather like a defeated puppy but not quite caring. “I don’t want her thinking I’m weak.” 

“She wouldn’t toss you out on your ear after one day if you were ill-”

“I can’t afford to take that chance.” 

He tilted his head to the side then, looking puzzled, but she did not explain; instead she gave him a pointed look and turned away, walking further into the kitchen. Elizabeth greeted her with a “good morning,” a small plate of food, and another mug of tea. Maire made herself smile in return, even though the food made her nervous, before heading for an empty table at the back of the kitchen. 

It did not remain empty for long. 

“Eat slowly, remember,” Caleb said, sitting down across from her with his own half-finished breakfast. 

He smiled casually, then picked up his fork and began finishing off his egg. 

“I’m not going to shake you, am I?” she asked. She eyed her breakfast warily – she didn’t want to waste it, she could think of few things that were worse. But just then, with the memory of last night’s illness, eggs and porridge had never seemed less appealing. 

“Not a chance.”

“I can look after myself, you know. I don’t need saving.” 

“I’m sure you can,” he said, looking up from his plate. “Doesn’t mean I can’t help. Stick with the toast today, it’d probably be best.” 

Maire resisted the urge to stick her tongue out at him, and suddenly she felt like something cold and hard had sunk into her chest. She wasn’t teasing Michael about all this. Michael wasn’t here; she’d never tease her brother again. 

She took small bites of the toast, chewing slowly, half afraid to swallow anything, but that cold weight in her anchored her, and even after she’d been forced to accept Caleb’s toast as well, she did not feel like vomiting any of it up. She turned to her tea, hoping the warmth might melt the cold out of her enough that she could work that day, when Caleb dragged her plate across the table towards himself and began eating her portion of porridge. 

“Oh, I see how it is,” she said, not quite certain whether she wanted to shout at him or burst out laughing. “You’ve only been kind to me to steal my breakfast.”

“No sense in wasting it,” he said with a shrug, his blue eyes bright with laughter. “You won’t be able to enjoy all this for a few days yet, so, in the meantime-”

“You’ve decided to help yourself.” 

He nodded, incredibly pleased with himself, and returned to her breakfast. 

“Caleb Monaghan, you are incorrigible,” she said, rolling her eyes and sipping at her tea. 

“Coming from you, I’ll take that as a compliment.” 

“It wasn’t meant as one,” she told him.

“Oh, I’m sure it wasn’t. But I’ll take it that way all the same.”

Maire shook her head, falling silent as she watched him finish off her breakfast. She’d never met anyone with whom it was so useless to argue; not even her father had had such a relentlessly cheerful manner of refuting everything she said. It was strange, speaking to someone so very optimistic. And yet at the same time – whether from the tea or Caleb’s smiles, she couldn’t quite tell – the hard, cold lump in her chest had eased somewhat.