2011 In Review

| Friday, December 30, 2011
Today's Tune: Movie Loves a Screen

So, 2011 was a pretty big year for me. Many things happened. I mean, many things happen every year, but this year was especially full of large, potentially life-changing events.

In January, I decided that I was going to completely scrap the then-draft that was TICK-TOCK and write it over from scratch. I sat down and focused on what I wanted to happen, what I wanted to convey, and how I was going to accomplish that. I became A Planner.

In late March, I decided to leave my job at the time, which I loved, for personal reasons. It was a tough decision, but not one I regret. Six months of unemployment followed. That was the rough part. Still, I made it through.

I wrote. A lot.

I went to Outside Lands for the first time and saw many awesome bands and hung out with one of my best friends and it was fabulous.

I saw another one of my best friends get married.

I wrote a lot more. Then I edited. Then I let people who weren't in my family read a full-length manuscript I had written for the first time and I asked them for their feedback.

My boyfriend, my love, and my partner in crime proposed to me and I became a fiancee.

I got a new job with some great coworkers that I enjoy very much. I get to do good and interesting work on a regular basis.

I attended WriteOnCon and had an awesome experience.

I finished TICK-TOCK and dipped my toes into the querying waters for the very first time. I was terrified. It was worth it.

I ate a lot of good food, drank a lot of good wine, and spent time with a lot of great people.

I struggled with feelings of inadequacy, ineptitude, and general lameness.

I felt lonely. I felt sad. I felt overjoyed.

I made several large steps toward my goal of becoming a published author. I kept up this blog. I finally became okay with calling myself an author.

All in all, I can't say I have many complaints about this year. There were some lows, but there were an awful lot of highs, and that's where I'm choosing to put my heart.

It's been a wonderful year, everyone. Thank you for spending it with me. I'm always so happy, so grateful, that you choose to take time out of your busy lives and give me a little part of yourselves. You are wonderful.

Here's to all of the big things yet to come in 2012. Happy New Year!


My Top 5 Writing Albums of 2011

| Wednesday, December 28, 2011
Hellooooooo. I hope everyone had a lovely holiday! I did. There was lots of family and friends and laughter and... wine. So much wine.

Anyway, the year's kind of winding down, so I don't have a lot of things lined up for the blog. Today I thought I'd just post something I've seen circulating around the blogs lately: my Top 5 Writing Albums from this year. I figure, hey, I like music, you like music, we all like music. So I'm sharing my writing inspiration albums with you. Hope you like them :)

In no particular order:

1. Sigh No More, Mumford & Sons


Little Lion Man was inspiration for a major scene in TICK-TOCK.



2. The String Quartet Tribute to Coheed and Cambria


I love the original band/album, but I found this instrumental tribute album to be awesome for writing. Viva la Coheed.



3. Barton Hollow, The Civil Wars


There's just so much rich story material here. Love the folk/rock/country vibe.



4. Doctor Who Series 5 Soundtrack, Murray Gold


Come on, I write nerdy science fiction/steampunk. Of course this fits perfectly.



5. Middle Cyclone, Neko Case


I was apparently on a big folk/alt rock and instrumental kick this year. This album felt like a bunch of stories in song form to me. Loved it.




Happy Holidays, my loves!

| Wednesday, December 21, 2011
Today's Tune: Joy to the World

Happy Holidays to my wonderful and beautiful-in-every-way readers! May you find peace and joy in whichever way you celebrate. I wish you good tidings and a beautiful holiday.

I'll be taking a week off from blogging to visit with my family. See you next week! Lots of love from California!






What is "fridge logic?"

| Monday, December 19, 2011
Today's Tune: Video Games

Fridge Logic is a term that was sorta-kinda coined by Alfred Hitchcock. He described it as a scene that "hits you after you've gone home and start pulling cold chicken out of the icebox."

BUT WHAT IS IT?

In a nutshell, Fridge Logic is considered any logical inconsistency or plot hole that you missed while you were reading (because you were so wrapped up in the story, you just didn't notice it, or whatever) but that comes to you much later when you're really thinking about it. It's basically all that picking-apart of plot elements that people do long after they've read the book. It's a "wait a minute..." moment.

An example: you have a character who has to get from Los Angeles to San Francisco in a very tight timeframe. Say, three hours. So they hop in a car in L.A. and somehow manage to make it to San Francisco with time to spare. Now, anyone who lives in California will probably realize that this is LITERALLY IMPOSSIBLE, even when one is driving 100 MPH the entire way. But people who aren't familiar with the geography of the state and/or who just aren't paying close attention to the timeframe might not realize the logical inconsistency here until much later when they look up how far apart L.A. and San Francisco are and go "... wait."

Is there anything you can do about Fridge Logic? It depends. I think it's sometimes easier to minimize Fridge Logic in novels than in television, since television operates under pretty strict time constraints and has to worry about keeping audience attention with the flow of the script and all that. Television writers can't risk losing an audience's attention by listing out the painstaking logic of every little thing. And really, neither can novelists. That would make for a very boring book.

However, you do have more room to stretch and really solidify your world-building in novel form. I don't know that I've ever come across a novel that couldn't be picked to pieces on some level, but some are certainly better than others at consistent logic and closing plot holes as best they can.

In the end, it's up to the author to figure out the logic of their own fictional world and make sure it's not completely flimsy. It's up to us to decide what's truly important for the story we're trying to tell and maintaining the audience's suspense of disbelief, and what we can gloss over a little. It also usually helps to avoid breaking the rules we've set up for our own world.

But most of all, try not to sweat it too much. Someone somewhere is always going to be able to pick apart your plot and point out logical inconsistencies. No one's perfect. That said, it's no excuse to get lazy about building the strongest and most hole-free story you can.


Keeping the Melodrama Manageable

| Friday, December 16, 2011
Today's Tune: Silver Bells

Melodrama: Theatrical and often overstated emotional responses, sometimes accompanied by physical action, with the intended purpose of illiciting an emotional response from the reader/viewer. In other words, it's overacting. Ramping up the emotion, potentially out of proportion.

It's no secret that teenagers are often viewed as melodramatic. When something bad happens, it is THE END OF THE WORLD. There is NO RECOVERING. LIFE IS RUINED. THEY WILL NEVER LOVE AGAIN. ET CETERA.

However, it's important to keep in mind why adolescents react this way. When we're young, we quite frankly don't have the experience under our belt to be able to say, "Yes, this terrible/embarrassing thing happened, but it was really no big deal in the long run and everyone moved on." There is no long run. There's only the here and now. Most teenagers are also in an environment of trying to find their place and fit in, and they're doing that with the same people every single day for years. They can't exactly stop going to class to avoid their peers. Well, they can, but it's not a good idea.

Teenage emotion is so over-the-top because teenagers are living in a constant state of new experiences and self-discovery. Screwing up can mean being permanently branded as someone they don't want to be. Bullies pick on the weak because they're in the midst of figuring out their own crap and they're taking it out on other people. A first relationship that leads to a first breakup is so soul-shattering because that's the only experience they have to compare anything to. Of course it feels like they'll never love again! They just fell in love for the first time!

None of this is intended to be belittling. We've all been here. These emotions are real and valuable. And a lot of teenagers have wisdom beyond their years and are able to take a step back and look logically at their situation. But many of us (myself included) didn't/don't.

Unfortunately, this type of melodrama doesn't always translate well on paper. There's a delicate balance between capturing a realistic teenage experience and creating a protagonist everyone hates because they're an overdramatic whiner. There's being upset, and then there's throwing a hissy. There's the realistic gutted feeling of losing your first love, and there's whining for months about how no one understands your pain and there's no way to ever be whole again.

Melodrama exists inside our own head. Our drama is important to us, but if you asked anyone else, they'd probably tell you to get over it. Everyone else is melodramatic, too, but we're not living inside their head and being subjected to their constant whining. This can become a problem for YA novels, especially those written in the first person. We're inside the protagonist's head, which means we get to listen to everything. EVERYTHING.

How do we avoid creating a total mopey drag of a protagonist? The easiest solution is to make sure whatever they're angsting about is worth all that angst. Going on a bad date? Probably not worth three pages of angst. A close friend's death? Worth some angst. Witnessing an entire city leveled because they refused to cooperate with the bad guy? Definitely worth the angst.

A more nuanced solution is to rework how much wallowing you let you protagonist do. They're allowed to feel pain, to wonder how they can move on, to cry and mourn. Just don't let them get carried away. Let them show some inner strength and pull themselves forward, even when it hurts. Who doesn't respect a character who can push through the pain?

Can you think of any YA characters who you felt had just the right about of melodrama?



YA Common Clichés series: YA Science Fiction

| Wednesday, December 14, 2011
Today's Tune: Run The Heart

Sooooooooooo it's been a while since I've created a post for this series. Let me remedy that!

One of the best bits of advice you will hear as a writer is to read, and to read a lot. Particularly within your genre to familiarize yourself with its tropes, clichés, and what's currently selling/being published. So, I read a lot of young adult literature, which is kind of its own beast. It's a specific genre, but within that genre are any number of subjects. I'm hoping to break them down and highlight some of the more common clichés (read: stuff that is so overdone it's boring and predictable) within each area.

The goal with this series is not to ridicule, but to inform and inspire a break from the usual in today's literature. Also, clichés do not automatically make a manuscript or novel junk. If used sparingly and mindfully, they can work.

Subject #5: YA Science Fiction

Science Fiction YA is on the rise! And so are its clichés. There are still certain stigmas around sci-fi, and those unfamiliar with the genre may find themselves gravitating towards certain tropes that they think are really clever and original, but are actually extremely commonplace to those in the know. So let's get started, shall we?

Aliens and Outer Space. This is the first thing that comes to mind for a lot of people when they think of science fiction. Space Operas. Doctor Who. Star Trek. Star Wars. Stargate. Starlotsofstuff. And there's nothing wrong with that! Stories set in galaxies far, far away are popular for a reason: they remind us of the newness of discovery, the great big universe outside ourselves, and stakes that are literally bigger than Planet Earth. However, a lot of newer SF writers don't even consider the broad range of science fiction that exists closer to home. Robotics! The Matrix! Genetic engineering! War simulation! If you equate SF with aliens only, look a little deeper.

The Future. A great deal of science fiction takes place in the future for obvious reasons: a lot of the science we think up hasn't been invented yet. Fair enough. But there's a lot of fun to be had in historical and present-day science fiction, as well. Even if your story is set in the future, you can still play with it. Think Firefly -- a futuristic society flavored with old-school Westerns.

Artificial Intelligence is Evil and will Kill Us All. Yeah. Everyone's scared of robots. We get it. But there is so much more philosophy about humanity and life to be explored here!

Fancy techno-gadgets. Some of these will likely be unavoidable, especially if your story is set in a futuristic society where there's, you know, futuristic technology. But sometimes writers get caught up in the cutesy technobabble and just like to throw out gadget names willy-nilly without the gadget actually adding to the atmosphere or the plot in a functional way. It's also sort of off-putting when everyone talks completely normally except for the forced techno-slang.

Morality, religion, and culture haven't changed in 1000 years. Sometimes writers forget that society shifts over time. We don't hold close to the same ideals and societal structures that our ancestors did 1000 years ago. Why are your futuristic characters still acting like 21st century teenagers? You don't have to go completely off the deep end, but some world-building and consideration of how society has changed is in order. You can even revert to an early set of ideals if it makes sense for your story.

Deux Ex Machina-style knowledge bombs. Some really heavy-level shit is going down. Something's about to explode. An airlock is about to open. The world's about to be destroyed by an asteroid. Whatever. Everything looks bleak. Suddenly, out of nowhere, a character (usually the main character) realizes they had the knowledge needed to avert disaster the whole time. Amnesia. It was hidden in their brain by SCIENCE. They have a computer chip in their neck. He was THE ONE all along. Something. POOF. Knowledge granted, crisis averted. This is a tension-destroyer and a letdown. Beware.

The bad guys are mutated, alien, malformed, or otherwise gross. DANGER, WILL ROBINSON. This trope strays dangerously close to (or outright embraces) the notion that Good = human/perfect/abled/racially ideal and Bad = abnormal/unattractive/racially diverse. Be so, so careful with this.

Alien species are almost always bipedal humanoid, with the exception of the occasional cute fuzzy breed. Why's everyone in the universe gotta look like you, huh? Extra bonus points if the opposite-sex alien the protagonist meets is "even more beautiful than a human."

An alien species, the government, or a mutated race take over human bodies and use them as hosts/vehicles. One of the many forms of mind control often seen in science fiction.

Crippling plagues. Something is introduced that could (or does) essentially wipe out humanity as we know it. Bonus points if the protagonist has super special impervious DNA and the Powers That Be want to experiment on them for a cure.

Evil Scientist is toying with Very Bad Science that he should not be messing with. Chaos ensues. There's always some evil guy who wants to try his hand at this illegal or morally reprehensible science. There's little gray area here -- whatever the guy is doing, it's always viewed as bad. Why not turn this one on its head and show the positive side?

Most science fiction heroes are male. If there's a female, she's "breathtakingly beautiful," old/unattractive (and thus evil), or a pure Action Girl. This dynamic is shifting with YA, since YA is largely geared toward female audiences and written by women. Still, this is a trope to be wary of.

I see white people. So many white people. Futuristic societies are often largely Western-culture based, often American specifically. The majority of the cast is white, with perhaps a few signature minority members or alien sidekicks. Having white cast members in and of itself is not a bad thing. It's when every important character, powerful character, or good character is white that it becomes an issue. Futuristic societies would likely be a lot more diverse than your typical white-bread American town.

The main character is a super genius. Like, a SUPER DUPER genius. Mega smart. The smartest. Everything comes quickly and easily to them, and everyone wants them to be the center of their secret government organization or rebel movement. Maybe they're even the youngest captain of a starship EVER. Be mindful of not making things too easy for your protagonist, whether it's through super powers or super smarts.

What other clichés have you come across in YA science fiction?


Political Correctness vs. Free Speech

| Monday, December 12, 2011
I'm getting a little political on the blog today (hohohohohoho).

To start, I'd like to come clean about something. I don't generally like to make a big fuss about this, because frankly it's still kind of surreal to me and it's my sister's thing and I can take no credit and deserve no special attention for it. Still, I am immensely proud of her, and this is something I feel very strongly about and I think should be discussed because to this day it is still so polarizing and misunderstood.

So. I'd like you to introduce you to my sister, Lauren Potter. You may know her better as the character Becky Jackson of GLEE. If you haven't seen this video before, I will warn you that it contains offensive minority slurs used in a teaching manner.



Here is a direct link if the video embed isn't working.

There was a great post on The Book Lantern the other day about the use of the R-word in a popular book series, and that entry inspired me to write one of my own. This issue is very close to my heart for (what I assume are) obvious reasons. However, as illustrated by the comments on this video, the fact that almost half of this video's viewers "disliked" it, and my own experiences when speaking with people who don't want to give up the use of their precious non-PC slang, this is something I still feel needs discussion.

I'll start with something I posted on Twitter yesterday: the difference between free speech and political correctness.

Your Freedom of Speech is a right granted to you by the First Amendment of the US constitution (and does not apply if you are not a US citizen, BTW, unless your country has a similar governmental right). Freedom of Speech protects you from the government swooping in and forcibly silencing you. It protects your right to speak about whatever you choose, wherever and whenever you choose. Within reason. You cannot use Free Speech to inspire crime (inciting rioting), you cannot yell "Fire!" in a crowded theater, you cannot use it to harass or incite fights, it does not cover lawless or obscene acts, etc.

Political Correctness is not overseen by the government. It is overseen by the people. It is not a law or a forced act, at least not in the sense that you are made to do it under penalty of imprisonment or forcible silence. Political Correctness is members of the public asking you not to be an asshole by using certain offensive terms. You certainly do not have to do it. But if you insist on doing it, the public then reserves their right to consider you an ignorant butthead. And no, you don't get to claim you're not a jerk for using an offensive term. You've been told it's offensive. It's on you if you decide to continue offending that group of people.

You do not get to decide what is and is not offensive to other people. I know it's hard to adjust speech habits and find new ways of expressing oneself, especially when we feel we're not doing anything wrong. But the argument that because you don't find a term offensive, it means you should get to freely use that term without reprimand? No. No dice. Sorry. The offended group gets the floor.

If you can argue intelligently and concretely why you disagree about the offensiveness of a term, that's fine, but understand that you are still arguing from a place of privilege unless you are a member of the offended group. And even if you are a member of the offended group, your language choices are still open to scrutiny. Them's the breaks.

I understand that in the case of the R-Word, people (including the offending character in the criticized book) like to make the argument that it isn't actually the offended group arguing against the use of the term, but their friends, family, and advocates. Which I disagree with, obviously *points to sister in video making her own argument*. Also, I fail to see why it isn't acceptable for advocates to make the argument on the behalf of those members of the group who cannot make it for themselves for whatever reason.

There's an element of this argument I personally have never understood, and that's the insistence that one should be "allowed" to use an offensive term if they want to, and that the offended people should just shut up and deal. It's extraordinarily childish behavior in my eyes. I understand that when someone is called out, there's often a gut reaction to defend their choices and prove that they've done nothing wrong.

But here's the thing about PC terms: someone just asked you to stop being a jerk and using a term that's personally offensive to them. Why is your response to tell THEM that THEY are being stupid (more offense, goody) and that you have the right to use whatever words you like? Why do you leap immediately to defending your use of a pejorative word rather than considering the offended public's point? Why is it so important to you to cling to a piece of your vocabulary that you could easily replace with a dozen non-offensive synonymns?

Is political correctness restricting? I guess you could argue that. I guess you could argue that everyone everywhere is offended by something and that if you stopped using every word that every single person found bothersome, you couldn't say anything at all. You can argue those things. But you know what? I don't buy it. I actively consider my language and monitor my word choices, and have since I was a pre-teen. It has not limited my ability to express myself in the slightest. I'm certainly not perfect by any stretch. I make mistakes, too. And then I try to correct them.



Yes, you are allowed to use absolutely any language that you like, and no one can ever stop you from doing it. But if you make that choice, you must accept that other people are also allowed to criticize you, call you out, and consider you a jerk if you insist on using terms that bother them. That's the tradeoff. If you're okay with that, than that's the end of this discussion. If you're not okay with that, then we still have an issue.

So. Yeah. That's my piece on political correctness. I know there is a lot of discussion to be had around this topic, and I'm always happy to discuss any valid, respectful points in an equally respectful way. I'm happy to continue discussion in comments, but I reserve *my* right to ignore and delete nasty comments. And yes, I am the one who gets to decide what's nasty. It usually involves name-calling or denigrating comments about my character.

I realize I'm probably largely preaching to the choir here ;) I'd also like to clarify that in this instance, I am NOT talking about the use of slurs in fiction, other than the example I used here. I only used that example because the author herself has expressed a similar position. Here, I am talking about real people using real language in the real world.

So yes, that means bringing up Huck Finn and arguing that Mark Twain used the N-word is invalid in this particular instance. We're not talking about classic literature. We're talking about people and the language they use in real life. Discuss.



The Symbolism of a Woman's Hair

| Friday, December 9, 2011
Today's Tune: Snoopy vs. The Red Baron

Thank you so much for the thoughtful responses on Wednesday's post, everyone! It's always nice to know we're not alone in our weirdness and eccentricity :)

Bouncing a little bit off of the photographs of myself I chose to post with that entry, I thought I'd talk a little bit about the symbolism of a woman's hair today.

I'm not sure how aware men are of the incredible amount of weight and symbolism that goes on with women's hair -- in fact, I'm not sure many WOMEN realize it, either -- but it's something deeply engrained in our culture and society. There are certain stigmas attached to a woman's hair color, style, length, and more. It's not uncommon for a woman to change her hair style/color after going through a major life change. This is no meaningless decision. Consciously or unconsciously, there are a lot of feelings and identity issues wrapped in our locks.

We've all heard blond jokes. Golden-haired people (particularly golden-haired women) are dumb, har har har. This has a lot to do with the symbolism behind golden hair being linked with youth and beauty, which are considered foils to experience and intelligence in Western culture. Brunettes are considered more mature, elegant, and sophisticated because dark hair is linked with those traits. On the flipside, it can also imply a person is boring or plain. Redheads are considered spitfires or sexually promiscuous because the color red is intimately tied to the symbolism of sexuality, passion, and anger.

Are any of those implications accurate? No. They're really not. A woman's personality is not reflected by whatever side of the genetic coin their hair happened to fall on. I'm an intelligent blond, SO SUCK IT. Okay, maturity might still be an issue. STILL SUCK IT. My point in bringing this symbolism up is to illustrate the physical cues we often subconsciously apply not only to people we come across in real life, but our literary characters, as well. There's a reason the mean cheerleader is often a blond. The brainy nerd-girl: a brunette. The girl who always likes to pick fights and that every boy falls in love with: a redhead.

And where do these Westernized symbols of personality-linked-with-hair-color leave many women of color? Nowhere. They are roundly ignored. Or worse, "minority" hair is used to represent something altogether more stereotypical and sinister. How often do we read about dark minority hair being kinky, greasy, lank, unmanageable, unkempt? This is its own bag of offensive BS.

What about hair style? People often make snap judgements about the way a woman chooses to wear her hair. Long hair is youthful, feminine, sexy, beautiful. Short hair can be assumed to mean anything from tomboyishness to seriousness to lesbianism, depending on the style. Wearing one's hair down is carefree and sexualized. Wearing hair up is uptight, professional, or "old." Alternative styles are supposedly representative of a certain lifestyle -- dreadlocks for bohemian/hippies/druggies, mohawks for punks, cornrows for thugs, etc.

Men share some of these style snap-judgements to an extent. There are some cultural connotations, such as the Jewish tradition of not cutting hair during a mourning period. But overall, there is a LOT more stigma placed on women's hair than on men's hair. Our very femaleness itself is often tied in knots of our hair.

I raise all these points so that we can look at the way we're portraying our female characters with a critical eye. It's not an inherently bad thing to use a character's hair to help define her personality - after all, as I've been saying, a woman's hair is often culturally and socially tied to her. That said, be mindful of whether you're using a certain hair style or color to "cheat" at developing a real personality. Is your character dumb because she's blond, or dumb because she isn't interested in learning? Is she girlish because her hair's long, or girlish because that's how she chooses to portray herself?

Try to avoid using the symbolism of a girl's hair to imply something about her sexual promiscuity, intelligence, or maturity. Be mindful of your own biases. While our hair is often intimately tied to our feelings of worth, beauty, or attitude, it is not solely representative of who we are. We are not our hair. Using physicality to represent personality is incredibly overdone, anyway. People look how they look and act how they act.

Do you find yourself caught in judging a woman's personality based on how she wears her hair? If you're a woman, do you feel a connection to your hair? Have you ever experienced someone making judgements about you based on your hair?

I have. HELLO, BLOND JOKES.


Embracing the person I am.

| Wednesday, December 7, 2011
Today's Tune: Forever Yours

I know this will come as a shock to absolutely everyone, but I went through kind of an identity crisis as a teen and young adult. I KNOW. I KNOW. That never happens to anyone. It's practically impossible to imagine me without my rapier wit and easy self-confidence and complete modesty and remarkable storytelling ability.

Shut up in the back. I can hear you snickering.

Yeah. I was one of those girls who "found herself" in her early-to-mid-twenties. To be completely honest, I think there's still a part of me that's out there looking. After all, I don't think we're ever set in stone. We're malleable until the day we die. However, I feel a lot more confident and happy with the person I am today than I did when I was younger.

There are certain parts of me that have always been the same. My optimism. My desire to mediate tense situations. My eagerness to please. My laziness. My perfectionism. And always, always, always my desire for acceptance.

As a teen, that last one felt like my constant driving force. I wanted to be liked. No, I wanted to be adored. I needed to find my place. I tried popularity (hahahaha fail). I tried sports. I tried various religions. I tried theater, and honors classes, and liking certain music.

In college, it went something like: straight-edge, slacker, good girl, gamer girl, student committee participant, musician, artist, biologist, punk rocker girl-with-pink-hair, English nerd, party girl, activist, whatever-time-to-graduate.

I just wanted to find my place, but I didn't know how.

I kept chasing this mystical idea that if I just hit the right personality, all the adoration and love I was looking for would come rolling my way. I'd be one of those shiny, happy people with a million friends and a hundred things to do every weekend.

And finally I reached a point where I was just done. I was finished trying so hard to be something I wasn't. I honestly wish I could say that I just started ACTING LIKE MYSELF and then everyone loved me and I got all those great things I was looking for! But that's not true. Being myself didn't make me popular, or adored, or anything except me. But I was finally okay with that.

I'm not going to lie. There's still a piece of me that yearns to be recognized, to be loved, to be one of THOSE people. The ones everybody looks at and hangs on and wants to be. The one that joins the ranks of "cool kids." The YA online circle can feel like that sometimes, whether it's intentional or not. However, I'm at a point now where I recognize that the perception is largely just that -- a perception. Yes, some writers are bestsellers or have a million followers or are lauded with awards and movie deals and whatever else. They're also just people. People who are usually being themselves.

 So I choose to embrace being the person I am. Embrace all of the parts of me, even the parts that aren't so great. Like that pesky desire to fit in. I'm always going to want that. But now I've reached a point where I won't change my personality to try and fit some imaginary mold.

This is me. I'm cool with that. Are you?

Are you cool with yourself, I mean. I assume if you're hanging out on my blog that you're okay with me. I COULD BE WRONG THOUGH. Maybe you're a closet hater who likes to lurk and seethe.

I don't think I'll ever stop being that girl trying to find her place in the world, but at least now I feel like I've got an internal compass to guide me back home.


Review: OPEN MINDS by Susan Kaye Quinn

| Monday, December 5, 2011
Today's Tune: Christmastime

As far as I'm concerned, Susan Kaye Quinn has done a great service to self-published YA lit. OPEN MINDS is a book that was clearly treated with care, plotted with skill, and edited with interest in producing a clean product. All self-pub and indie authors should take note: this is what a quality self-publication should look like. Hell, this is a book written with more finesse and mindfulness than I've seen from some traditionally published works.

While not without its flaws, this story is an intriguing page-turner with (generally) likeable characters and wonderfully high stakes. Kira is a sympathetic protagonist with a lot on her shoulders, and she performs admirably. Quinn is not afraid to take risks. While I openly admit that I'm not a fan of love triangles, this (sorta kinda) triangle was handled in a way that didn't make me want to pull my hair out. Though I felt that the story might have tried to pack too much into this first installment and got a little convoluted toward the end, I never felt lost or like the plot got away from the author.

I did notice at least one, maybe two, typos and a few spacing errors, but they were easily overlooked. Overall, the writing was clean and grammatically sound. I had a bit of an issue with (slight spoiler) Kira's relationship with Simon, who I felt edged a little into manipulative/abusive behavior during their courtship, but this was acknowledged and I felt was done intentionally. There was a slight flavor of insta-superpowered heroine who masters her super special skills quickly and easily. Still, in the end, I thought Kira had to face enough external hardship that I didn't feel she was let off too easy.

All in all, a great first installment and an entertaining addition to the futuristic/science-fiction section of YA. I look forward to the next installment. I'll state here that this is the first "indie" book I've read that I'm actually heartily recommending, picky reader that I am. I think Quinn has set a great precedent.



December Answers!

| Friday, December 2, 2011
Today's Tune: The Mariner's Revenge Song

Time to answer some questions! Thanks to everyone who asked a question, because goodness knows I like to talk. IT'S TRUE.


When was the moment you knew your fiancee was the one?

There wasn't really a singular moment when I was struck with BAM, THIS IS THE MAN FOR ME. Our relationship has just always been comfortable and natural and right. We had kind of an explosive initial courtship (in a good way), and I found myself purely at home with him from go. I found myself changing my perception of what a relationship was because I was with him. I'd always thought I'd NEVER EVER live with a man until we were together for two years/engaged already/other arbitrary stamp of approval here. We moved in together after about six months. Mostly because he was already squatting at my apartment because we didn't like to be apart. So. Yeah. We've just always been right for each other. It's pretty awesome.

What book are you reading right now? Which upcoming books are you looking forward to reading?

I'm actually reading Susan Kaye Quinn's OPEN MINDS right now and enjoying it very much. It's a self-publishing venture, and I have to say she has done YA self-pub absolutely correctly. The writing is clean and polished (I've noticed one typo and a few spacing errors, but that's all), the pacing is mostly good, the story is gripping. All in all, she's done an excellent job and it's become the very first self-published book I've read that I'm actually recommending. I have my qualms with it, as I do with every book I read, but I think it's a solid book.

As for upcoming books, I'm pretty excited about getting my hands on CINDER, THE FAULT IN OUR STARS, and MANGAMAN.

Dear Steph: how are you so awesome, and why?

I assume you've seen the film Highlander? I have a sword to show you.

(but f'real thank you!)

Will you publish under your full name or under SE Sinkhorn?

As of now, I plan on publishing under my pen name (S.E. Sinkhorn). By the time I actually have a book published, I'll be under my new married name, which I don't plan on using for my literary work. I'll stick with what I've got unless I'm advised differently by my agent/editor.

Most crush-worthy fictional character?

Gonna have to go with Michelangelo from the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. Had a HUGE crush on him when I was eleven. Not kidding.

You mentioned somewhere along the way how your work was somewhat literary and somewhat commercial fiction. Can you describe that a bit more? I was wondering if you had any book/author suggestions that would fall in a similar category?

I'll try, haha. Essentially, the commercial part comes from my high-concept hook and plot (steampunk cyborg wannabe immortals!). I have some action scenes, some cool tech, and basically a lot of the stuff you'd see in a soft science fiction show or novel. On top of that, I also write very thematically and with somewhat poetic prose (sometimes, not all the time). That's where the literary comes in. It's difficult to talk about because it's difficult to speak objectively about my own prose, but the gist is that I'm attempting an entertaining commercial story alongside a semi-lyrical style. You'll understand when you read it? LOL.

For an example of my style, you can read just about any of my short works. TTTH is written in a more classic voice, since it takes place at the turn of the century, but my style is similar. Other literary-commercial works would maybe be IMAGINARY GIRLS by Nova Ren Suma (magic/mystery alongside lyrical prose) or most of Laini Taylor's work (fantasy novels with lush, imagery-heavy prose). Not that I'm comparing myself to EITHER of those talented authors, just giving an example of something considered literary-commercial.

What is your writing schedule like?

Chaotic, heh. I write in spurts when I have a project I'm focusing on. I'm not one of those "I write X amount every day" kind of people. If I have something to work on, I work on it for several hours a week when I can until it's done.

How have "things" changed since getting an agent (if things have changed at all)?

Well, I definitely feel like I have more responsibility to actually BE A WRITER. Before, it was a dream. Something I could work on when I felt like it, and it didn't matter if I put things off or goofed around because it was just me. I don't have any actual deadlines or contractual obligations on the line yet, but there's definitely an additional pressure to, you know, do what I need to do and take everything professionally. Not that I didn't before, but now it's pretty much a requirement.

Also, not going to lie, it is SO. NICE. to have a professional insider who really knows the inner workings of the industry and has a plan and can guide me through the waters. It has been amazing to have my agent write real revision notes on my manuscript and know that she's in there, she knows how this works, and I can trust her.

Is your book a standalone or will it be part of a series?

At the moment, it's planned as a two-book series (this book and a sequel/companion novel).

And finally, what is your favorite recipe?

Chicken, Bacon & Avocado Salad! 8-10 oz chopped chicken breast, 2-4 slices diced cooked bacon, 1 pitted and diced avocado, 1 minced shallot, 1-3 stalks chopped celery, 1 lemon. Combine all ingredients except lemon in large bowl. Zest and juice the lemon over everything. Squirt with enough mayonnaise to bind it all together and mix. Add seasonings to taste (I just use Old Bay seasoning). Serve on big buns. I like to use brioche buns.

Tasty and fast. The ingredients are all to taste, so use less/more of whatever you like. You'll get 4-6 sandwiches out of a batch, easy.


December Q&A!

| Wednesday, November 30, 2011
Today's Tune: Midnight City

I AM BACK! YAY!

Did everyone have a nice holiday? Those who celebrated, that is? I had a nice time visiting the fiance's family back east. Lots of food. So much food. Urp.

My plane was delayed today and I didn't have much time to plan an entry, soooo... Q and A?

Question and answer time! Ask me anything and I'll answer to the best of my ability. I reserve the right to ignore you if you get too personal or gross. DEAL WITH IT.

Publishing questions? Writing questions? Questions about my book? About agents? About my life in general? Cheeses I recommend for wine tasting? I'm an open book. Turn my pages.

That sounded WAY more like innuendo than I intended it to, but I'm leaving it.

My Writer's Toolkit.

| Monday, November 21, 2011
Today's Tune: Rock and Roll

Just an FYI: I will be taking the next week or so off for the holiday (US Thanksgiving). I'll be traveling and visiting with family. Posts will most likely resume Wednesday November 30th.

So, I thought it might be nice to share my "writer's toolkit" today. What I mean by that is basically that these are the websites, programs, books, and items that I personally use and have found helpful in my writing life. Everyone has their own "toolkit" full of the elements that are most effective for them, but hopefully you can find something useful in here.

Books:

On Writing by Stephen King
Writing the Breakout Novel Workbook by Donald Maass
Plot & Structure by James Scott Bell
Writing Great Books for Young Adults by Regina Brooks

Programs:

Scrivener
yWriter

(These two programs are very similar. Try both to see which you prefer. yWriter is free. Scrivener has a free trial, but you must pay for the full version.)

Items:

Notebooks. I carry a small one with me just about everywhere for quick ideas.
Note cards. Helpful for visual plotting (tack 'em to the wall).
Multi-colored pens. Good for editing.
Printer. Reading printed pages is different than editing on-screen.
Laptop or digital tablet, if you can afford one, for writing on the go.

Smartphone/Tablet Apps:

Evernote. For quick notes, brainstorming, and adding pictures to notes. So handy.
Kindle or other ebook app. All great writers read, right?
Wikipanion. Wikipedia on the go.
WriMuse. A writing prompt app to get your juices flowing.
Whack Pack. Another creative prompt/brainstorming app.
Dictionary. You need one. Find an app you like.
Translator. They're not perfect, but handy for quick 'n dirty translations.

Websites:

Publisher's Marketplace
Writer Beware
Preditors and Editors
Duotrope Digest
Society of Children's Book Writers & Illustrators
Absolute Write
Query Tracker
Agent Query
Ypulse
Figment Fiction
Literary Rambles
Kidlit
Nathan Bransford
TV Tropes
WriteOnCon


Those are the biggies. There are TONS of quality writing and publishing blogs out there, and I highly encourage you to explore and find the ones that speak to you most. THE INTERNET IS HUGE.

Okay. I will check you cats later. If you're celebrating this weekend, have a wonderful holiday!


Why follower counts aren't important.

| Friday, November 18, 2011
Today's Tune: Ain't No Rest For The Wicked

Comic from Inkygirl
I always feel a little awkward writing posts like this, because it's very easy to sit here and say "Follower counts are basically meaningless! Don't worry if you only have two followers! Value them! It's all good!" when I already have a reasonable (not huge, but decent) following. It feels kind of... disingenuous? I don't know. So I'm just throwing it out there that I am aware that having a teeny-tiny follower count still can make you feel kind of lonely and bummed, and being told that it doesn't matter doesn't always help.

That said, seriously, follower counts don't really matter much. Twitter, blogs, Facebook, Google+ ... the numbers are usually just that -- numbers. I mean, I'm not going to sit here and pretend that follower numbers don't have SOME effect on how you're perceived, because that's just not true. There's no arguing that a large following increases someone's appeal at first glance and makes people wonder what they're missing, so they'll often follow as well. It's called "social proof." It gives you more authority in their eyes than someone with fewer followers.

So, with that admission out of the way, I'm going to go into why writers in particular should worry less about their follower count and more about the quality of their interactions.

Focusing on the number can stress you out, depress you, and make you feel inadequate. And frankly, as a pre-published writer, cranking up your numbers isn't where your focus should be. Using social media for marketing purposes is a whole other can of worms, but it's not your concern yet. Maybe it will be someday (I hope so! I'm rooting for you!), but not yet. For now, focus on having fun and making friends. That is where you're going to get the most enjoyment, and when you're acting like yourself and making connections, the followers will come eventually. I promise.

Numbers are easy to get. Quality followers who give a crap are harder to find. I've written about building a quality Twitter following before, and that still stands. I'm going to let you all in on a secret. If you are really and truly desperate to make your number go up, it's actually pretty easy. You can either buy followers (which I do not recommend, ever), or you can go to Follower Wonk and run bio searches for anyone with "followback" or "I follow back" in their bio. Add a few. Bam. Instant numbers. The problem with that method? None of those people care about you or will interact with you or support you or buy your book. They're only interested in increasing their own counts.

Another "trick?" Participate in those blog follower-a-thons. Now, I'm not talking about the genuinely supportive ones that encourage you to actually get to know each other. I mean the ones that are more of an "add as many people as you can and then follow back everyone who adds you" madhouses. Again, this is a great way to boost your number, but not so great for attracting people who will actually, like, READ YOUR BLOG.

I'll let you in on another secret: I never do auto follow backs, I rarely add follow-whores, and I instantly block spammers/bots who follow me. Yeah, those things could pump up my numbers and make them look real nice. But you know what? I don't want a fake following. I want a real following. And I feel reasonably certain that the vast majority of my followers are following because they, you know, think I'm at least moderately interesting and/or like me and want to support me on my writing/publishing journey. AND I LOVE YOU GUYS MWAH MWAH MWAH *kissy faces*.

Here's one last secret: the best way to get followers is to be worth following. This one is HIGHLY subjective and not always fair, and I'm sure there isn't anyone out there who's thinking, "HECK YEAH, I'M TOTALLY BORING, I SHOULD SHARE MY BORINGNESS!" Everyone has a voice and a story to share, and it's really difficult when you aren't finding the audience you were hoping to find. But the process of building a quality following can be really slow going sometimes. You have to find your rhythm, and for some of us, that takes a while.

Some people really get it. They managed to figure out a niche that a lot of people connected with, they have a sense of humor that's instantly engaging, their method of delivery is fresh and unique, or they're just all around cool and everyone wants to be their friend.

Sometimes it's totally random chance. Sometimes it totally makes sense. But again, I repeat that follower count doesn't matter. What you do with the followers you have matters. I know it's hard to hear sometimes, but if you push past that feeling of social media inadequacy and learn how to enjoy yourself, you'll get there. And you'll be awesome.

Have you ever fretted about your follower count? Are you happy with your current count? What have you done to gain followers that you felt was successful?


Winners Announcement!

| Wednesday, November 16, 2011
Today's Tune: Bulletproof

Winner announcement time! Once again, thank you to everyone who stopped by to enter my contest and hang out and even follow my little blog. I honestly wish I had books for everyone, but alas, I do not. But I'm sending everyone a virtual high five.

I won't draw this out any longer. Without further ado, here are the winners of my contest, selected by random draw.

First Place: Yiling, who won the NotS/LatBND package
Second Place: Constance, who won the LEVIATHAN trilogy package
Third Place: Theresa Milstein, who won the Laini Taylor package

Much, much love to everyone, and congratulations to the winners! Those books will go out as soon as I can get my butt to the post office.

In other news, I got a haircut yesterday. I really like it. Except for one thing.

You know how when you go to get your hair done, you walk out of the salon feeling like this:



And then you go home and wash your hair and the next day you try to style it the same way and it's more like:



Yeah. Yeah. Sigh.

Check you dudes on Friday!


Is it fair to compare incomparable literature?

| Monday, November 14, 2011
Today's Tune: L.G. FUAD

Thanks to everyone who entered my contest and who's been visiting over the last few weeks! It's so nice to see so many new faces around the blog. Welcome! The contest is now closed. Winners will be announced later this week, so stay tuned!

So here's a thing I think about a lot, especially given what I write: is it appropriate or reasonable to compare YA literature to adult literature? Also, is it reasonable to compare literary fiction to commercial fiction?

It's an interesting concept to consider. I write what's considered to be literary prose with a commercial plot, and I've often contended with people outside the publishing sphere who've read my work and asked me if I thought I was writing too "advanced" for teens. Funnily enough, I've never received that question from fellow YA writers or any of the agents who've read my work. So I suppose I'm saying that I sort of straddle the line between commercial and literary, stereotypical YA and stereotypical adult.

First, I think it's probably a good idea to talk about how all books aren't created equal and different books have different goals. There are books out there whose intent is to make the reader feel or think, and there are books that exist to entertain. Some attempt both. I certainly attempt both. But considering that books fit different readers and their needs, is it reasonable to compare them side by side? Is it fair to compare a bestselling commercial thriller against a bestselling literary tale of loss?

I guess that depends on your definition of fair, but it seems odd to me when I read reviews of people comparing completely incomparable works. Disparaging people for being entertained by a certain book and belittling their intelligence because they're not reading *insert appropriate literary masterwork here* instead seems counterproductive to me. And I say that as a self-confessed intellectual who loooooves many a literary masterwork.

Next, let's talk about how this relates to YA. I've lost track of the number of reviews I've read where a reviewer said something along the lines of, "The protagonist is kind of a whiny brat and the plot was loose and cobbled together, but it WAS written for teens, so what did I expect?" Which saddens me, naturally. It implies that "literature for adults" is always sensical and solid, which is COMPLETELY untrue. As with adult literature, YA contains a breadth of genres and plotlines all across the board, and not all are going to be created equal. There are going to be sloppily written diatribes alongside works of heartrending beauty. That's the way of literature.

Which links in to the way people outside the YA sphere (or even within the YA sphere) view YA. It's the overall stereotypical belief that all literature for teenagers and children is less cerebral, less emotionally deep, and less thematic than work for adults. It's certainly different, because the audience has less life experience and thus less exposure to "complex" literature, but it's not a completely separate entity.

This attitude cracks me up, because I mean, anyone who could argue that one of those detective romance pulp novels where the roguish PI sweeps the bombshell mark off her feet amidst a hail of gunfire is more cerebral and emotionally complex than The Book Thief can pretty much bite me.

But here comes the rub: is it fair to compare YA to literature written for an adult audience? A big part of me says yes, that YA can be just as stirring and brilliant as adult literature. On the other hand, it is written with an entirely different goal in mind -- to speak to the teenage experience. And the teenage experience is, by definition, a different animal than the adult experience. When writing for an age group that just doesn't have the life experience and advanced education that many adults have under their belts, is it fair to compare Looking For Alaska to The Waves? Maybe it is. Maybe it isn't.

I'm making my own brain hurt with this post. TOO MUCH THINKING FOR A SUNDAY EVENING.

What say you, reader-pals? Is it reasonable to compare commercial to literary, or YA to non-YA? Why or why not?


Query Doctor: ELENA'S PEN by Nicole

| Friday, November 11, 2011
Today is the LAST DAY to enter my great big signed book contest, so be sure to do so if you haven't yet! Up for grabs: SIGNED books by Scott Westerfeld, Maureen Johnson, Stephanie Perkins, and Laini Taylor! And if you want another shot at some great books, Jessica Love, who ALSO just signed with an agent, is having an agent contest of her very own! YAY :D

And now on to Query Doctoring. It's Nicole's turn under the knife of the Query Doctor today. Be sure to tell her thanks for subjecting her query to the Doc!

If you would like to submit your query to be Doctored, please see this post.

Here's the drill: first, I'll post the query in its original, unaltered form. Then I'll give my diagnosis. Then I'll do line-by-line comments. Then I'll open it up to the commenters!

***

Dear Agent,

One day, thirteen-year-old Elena decides not to write stories during class like she normally does and instead writes that the class bully gets detention. He does a minute later. It's got to be her new pen - everything she writes with it comes true.

But then the pen writes of its own accord about a mystical fantasy land being overrun by demons. After a demon kidnaps her family and hides them in the land, Elena will do whatever she can to save them. Unfortunately, it's not as simple as writing a happy ending - whenever Elena uses the pen, someone turns into a demon, and she could be next.

ELENA’S PEN is a 66,000-word fantasy upper MG standalone novel with series potential. I believe readers of The Neverending Story and Graceling will enjoy my book.

I am the author of a fantasy romance trilogy, Kingdom of Arnhem - Woman of Honor (2009), Knight of Glory (2010), and Champion of Valor (2011) published with Desert Breeze Publishing. I have also published nine short stories for anthologies, including Mertales by Wyvern Publications, and many collections by Pill Hill Press, with four more being published before the end of the year.

Thank you for your time and consideration. I look forward to hearing from you.

Best regards,

Nicole Zoltack
(email address)
(phone number)

***

Healthy Bits: This query is tightly written and displays all the necessary elements - main character, her problem, her stakes, and what will happen if she fails. This is all excellent! Brevity can be really hard to come by, especially in fantasy queries, so great job there. The way you stick to a single moving plot thread without getting bogged down in subplots or extra details is very good. Your book information and bio are right on.

Under The Weather: This query isn't sick at all... it's just a little green around the gills. Nothing some fresh air can't fix. As you'll be able to see in my line-by-line, I needed more clarification in certain spots. While this query does a wonderful job of conveying the story, it did feel a little blow-by-blow to me. This happens, then this happens, then this happens. A few of the sentences felt lackluster and like they needed a little more polish -- I give examples below. Overall, I felt like it could use a bit more voice, a bit more personality. Something to really catch my attention and make me go, "Oooh! I like it! I want to read more in this voice!" It's a solid query already and the story sounds like it could be a lot of fun. I just want that one injection of oomph that's going to give it an edge.

***

Line-By-Line

One day, thirteen-year-old Elena decides not to write stories during class like she normally does and instead writes that the class bully gets detention.

This sentence is okay, but I think it could be structured differently to make it tighter and start with a stronger hook. This will depend entirely on your style, but you could try something like: "Thirteen-year-old Elena loves to write stories. It's too bad they never come true... until the day she writes about the class bully getting detention, that is." Try to avoid making the sentence too wordy. Keep it punchy and try to hook 'em in quick.

He does a minute later. A minute later, the teacher slaps a pink slip on his desk.

This is just a suggestion to make the line a bit more powerful and inject some more personality. You can (and should) of course rewrite it in your own words/voice.

It's got to be her new pen - everything she writes with it comes true.

This part doesn't quite follow logically for me. At this point, it could be complete coincidence. A bully getting detention isn't really a WOAH THAT'S TOO WEIRD TO HAPPEN BY ITSELF moment. I'd give a more extreme example ("She writes about her teacher's hair turning green!" or something) where it would be VERY obvious that yes, she is the cause of this. Make sure there's a crystal-clear reason why she knows she (or rather, her pen) is causing things to happen. Or give a second example beyond the bully.

But then the pen writes of its own accord about a mystical fantasy land being overrun by demons all by itself.

Hmm maybe rework this or break it up. It feels a little static/passive as written. Example: "But then the pen writes all by itself, and the story it tells isn't pretty. The words form a tale about a mystical land overrun by demons." Again, this is a place where you can insert yourself and your writing personality a little more. Play with it.

After a demon kidnaps her family and hides them in the land, Elena will do whatever she can to save them. Unfortunately, it's not as simple as writing a happy ending - whenever Elena uses the pen, someone turns into a demon, and she could be next.

Strong ending! I really like this! This was the first place where I felt like you got a little bit of personality in there (with the "not as simple as writing a happy ending" bit). My only suggestion here is to maybe give us a tiny clarification that the mystical land is obviously real, since her family gets kidnapped there. Right now, it's kind of like, "The pen starts writing about a fantasy land! And then demons kidnap her family!" Which is slightly disorienting. Just give the reader a teensy bit more grounding.

ELENA’S PEN is a 66,000-word fantasy upper MG fantasy standalone novel with series potential. I believe readers of THE NEVERENDING STORY and GRACELING will enjoy my book.

Be more authoritative. Cut the "I believe." Trust yourself and your story! You don't have to refer to it as a standalone. Just be careful not to accidentally imply that it NEEDS to have sequels to be a complete story. "Series potential" is fine. Capitalize your comparable titles. I'm a little wary of THE NEVERENDING STORY. It's a classic and not super relevant to today's market, but I think it's okay to use if it really fits. Also be careful comparing to GRACELING, which is YA and not MG. Just think about it and make sure it's what you want to say.

I am the author of a fantasy romance trilogy, Kingdom of Arnhem - Woman of Honor (2009), Knight of Glory (2010), and Champion of Valor (2011) published with Desert Breeze Publishing. I have also published nine short stories for anthologies, including Mertales by Wyvern Publications, and many collections by Pill Hill Press, with four more being published before the end of the year.

Good use of publishing credits, although it might not be relevant to children's literature, so keep that in mind. Agents might ask for sales numbers for these, so be prepared to give them out just in case. You don't have to include them in the query. Also, I don't know anything about these publishers, but I assume you've ensured that they're legitimate independent publishers that agents will be able to check up on.

***

Aaaaand you're out of surgery! Once again, thank you so much to Nicole for letting her query be dissected for the other students. You've got a good thing going here. Keep pushing, and good luck!

(Oh man, that sounded kind of like a childbirth analogy. NOT WHAT I MEANT.)

Turning it over to the commenters. Share your thoughts if you have 'em!


On writerly confidence.

| Wednesday, November 9, 2011
Today's Tune: Under The Hedge

Don't forget: only a few days left to enter my awesome contest full of signed books and critiques!

First: can we talk about how much I love The Sing Off this season? Because I do. I really, really do. LOVE PENTATONIX THEY ARE SO GOOD I CAN'T EVEN TAKE IT. Ahem. Yeah.

Next: let's talk about confidence and never feeling like we're good enough. BECAUSE THAT'S FUN.

My blog-buddy and agent-sister (I can't believe I get to say that eeeeee) Phoebe North recently wrote a blog post that really spoke to me. It was about her experience at Visible Paradise (a SF/F writer's workshop) and how it really affected the way she viewed herself as a writer. She talked about how the writers she was working beside -- a pool of incredibly talented, creative people -- all had difficulty taking compliments when it came to their work, even when that praise was well-earned.

You should really read her post, but this is what it boils down to: that workshop helped her learn that it's okay to think of herself as a professional writer. A talented professional writer (which she absolutely is). It gave her permission to take pride in her work.

And I'll start with the comment I posted on that entry:

"... I can 100% relate. I think, as writers, there's a sort of unwritten rule that we're SUPPOSED to feel some level of inadequacy or self-loathing. That anyone who doesn't is a big-headed hack who thinks they're better than everyone. Which is not at all fair. We CAN take pride in our work and feel secure in our writer status without being unrealistic about our capabilities or our willingness to continue learning.

It's hard when we hear the same thing over and over: 'Listen to the criticism, ignore the praise. Ignore the praise. Ignore the praise. Ignore it because you can't learn from it.' And while on some level it IS true that we learn more through criticism, that doesn't mean that the praise is always unfounded. Sometimes we deserve it. No, we DO deserve it. Because we work hard and we study hard and we write well. And that's okay."

This is something I struggle with a lot, and I know I'm not alone. There's this weird pressure on writers (and other artists) where we're not supposed to appreciate or take pride in our own work. Doing so makes us, like, JERKS or something. I feel like I'm constantly wavering between not quite believing that people think I'm actually publishable and reading my stuff from months past and going, "Woah, wait, *I* wrote that? But it's good!"

It's like no matter what sort of validation there is out there to get, it never makes me quite believe in my own merit. Talking about my writing achievements makes me feel boastful and I constantly fret about how to let people know that I'm a REAL WRITER who writes THINGS THAT ARE PRETTY GOOD without sounding full of myself.

But after reading Phoebe's post, and after my experiences from the last few weeks, I'm finally approaching a place where it's okay to not be full of self-loathing and constantly hating my words. To admit that hey, I'm not bad. I'm better than not bad. I'm good. I'm talented. I'm a writer. An author.

There's a line between pride and arrogance. Arrogance is misguided confidence in the face of repeated criticism in the same area. Arrogance is saying, "No, critique group and agents and editors, you are WRONG when you say I need to work on my writing, despite the fact that you're all pointing out the same weaknesses."

Pride is admitting to yourself that sometimes you write gold. That when talented writer friends, critique partners, and publishing professionals are all telling you that you don't suck, maybe you actually don't suck. It's giving yourself your own stamp of approval, which is often the hardest stamp to get.

So I'm standing here and baring myself to you. Telling you that despite hearing over and over again that I'm a good writer, despite being told my work moved someone to tears, despite having a short story selected in a contest by an author I fiercely admire, and despite jumping the frightening hurdle that is obtaining the coveted offer of representation... despite all of that, doubt still eats away at me.But its bite is getting less and less powerful.

And I'm standing here to tell you that it's okay to face your own monster and tell it, "Yes, I am good. I am going to do this. I am talented."

"I am a writer."


On stealing ideas.

| Monday, November 7, 2011
Today's Tune: The Winter

CONTEST CONTEST CONTEST! ENTER ENTER ENTER! OPEN TILL 11-11-11!

When I talk to people who don't know very much about the publishing industry (writers or non-writers), there's a question I get asked over and over again: "How can you talk about your book idea/premise so casually? How can you send out queries to these 'agents' and 'editors?' How do you know they're not just going to steal your idea and write it themselves or give it to one of their other authors to write instead? WHAT IF THEY STEAL YOUR MANUSCRIPT????"

This can be a difficult question to answer, even though my default answer is pretty simple: "No one can steal an idea, and no legitimate publishing professional worth their salt would ever compromise their career and reputation by committing plagiarism."

That answer doesn't seem good enough for many people, however. So I have several sub-answers that better explain why being worried about having one's idea or unpublished work stolen is (mostly) an unfounded concern.

1.) You can't steal an idea. Ideas are insubstantial things that really don't have value by themselves. Everyone has ideas. I have a million ideas. You probably have a million ideas. But none of that matters unless you have the chops and the willingness to create something from that idea.

2.) Your idea probably isn't as original as you think it is. Sorry. LOTS of people come up with similar ideas for a novel premise. How many people do you think have an idea for a novel about a war between werewolves and vampires? About a spunky detective and his/her loyal sidekick? Steampunk pirates with automatons and eye patches? This is actually why a lot of publishers or literary agencies have a clause that says you can't sue them if you send them a query/pages and then another one of their authors releases a book with a similar premise (SIMILAR PREMISE, not "exact copy of your words"). Because other people already have your idea. And they think it's their idea. They're just the one who executed it in their own style. It's not plagiarism. It's shared creative consciousness. And if your idea really IS that unique and original? It's unlikely another person would be able to do it justice.

I mean, here, this is the premise of TICK-TOCK: A 16-year-old society girl from Edwardian-era Chicago discovers her father was murdered by a secret society seeking immortality via cybernetic upgrades, and she sets out to stop them at any cost. Reasonably unique premise. Sounds interesting. Could be cool. But do you have ANY IDEA AT ALL how I've executed it? Probably not. Because I won't show you the pages. NEENER NEENER. But this is my point. Yeah, I have a fairly original (but not totally original!) idea. Theoretically someone could "steal" it and write their own book. But it would be absolutely nothing like mine. They don't know about my characters, my subplots, my themes, my style choices, blah blah blah.

3.) Agents and editors aren't writers. That's why they're agents and editors. I mean, setting aside those agents/editors who are also authors. But usually, agents and editors don't actually want to write. They have the best time doing their job -- which is managing the careers of authors or editing authors' books. They're not looking to steal ideas to write on their own. That's not what they do. And for those who ARE authors, I assure you they have plenty of their own ideas. They don't need yours. Promise.

4.) They're also not going to hand off your ideas to their own authors. First, as I mentioned above, authors already have their own ideas. It's true that sometimes publishers suggest an author go in a certain direction, ("Your vampire monkey book did really well. What if you wrote something similar, but with spider-pigs instead?" or "Readers are really enjoying your historical. More historical, please."), but they don't ever "steal" an unpublished manuscript, send it to that author, and go, "Here. Write this, but better." The purpose of signing an author is that they already like that authors work, style, and novel ideas. Giving the authors something that isn't theirs to write probably isn't going to give them a good result.

5.) Plagiarism is publishing career suicide. There's probably no greater crime in the creative writing world than taking someone else's work and passing it off as your own. First, IT'S ILLEGAL to profit off of work that isn't yours and you can get the pants sued off of you. Next, no one in the industry will work with someone who has been found guilty of plagiarism. But let me clarify again: plagiarism is the direct copying of another writer's work and/or significant, identifiable elements of their work without proper credit. Ideas CAN NOT be plagiarized.

6.) It's highly unlikely for unpublished work to be plagiarized. Unpublished work is unpublished for a reason. Whether that reason is that it's just not right for the market, it's not polished enough, it's too niche, it's too ambiguous, or it's just not ready, there's a reason it wasn't picked up. (I'm purposely avoiding self-publishing for the moment, as that's an entirely different discussion). It isn't the best use of a publisher's talent pool and time to go through the slush and pick out ideas that maybe-sorta-might be good if they were written a little differently. It's a much better use to dip in to the ready-and-waiting pool of available talent and already-salable books they have at their disposal.


So, this is why I've never been afraid of having my ideas or work stolen. I didn't send to shady/unscrupulous agents or publishers, I knew from the start that my idea was hardly the part that mattered, and I knew it just wasn't a logical thing for agents/publishers to do. It is totally okay to be protective of your work. I completely understand that. But there's a difference between protective and paranoid. Make sure you know that difference.


 

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