lil’ update

As it turns out, I’m pretty good at not blogging, but in case you were wondering what else I’ve been up to? You’re in the right place at the right time, my friend.

1. Revisions. Always. Forever. Okay, not really. But I am in the midst of second-round revisions for my book and I continue to be amazed and humbled by my editor’s insight. And how much work goes into a book. And how many times I can look at this manuscript without wanting to throw my laptop across the room. But overall, I could not ask for a better job. Which, it’s strange to finally refer to my writing as a “job” since publishing a novel is my ultimate dream, what I’ve wanted and hoped and wished for since I was seven years old. But it is work. Hard work. Fun work at times, but work all the same. And some day, that work will be a book that I can hold in my hands — a fact that I still can’t believe, most days.

2. Friday Night Lights. Has taken over my life. I finished season 1 months ago and the start of the second season was a bit slow for me, so I took a break. It is well worth it to keep pushing on. Imperative, actually. I’ll not tell you how quickly I’ve flown through all of season 3 (my favorite, thus far) and almost all of season 4, for fear that you will judge me. Because I often joke about being a TV junkie, but it’s not really a laughing matter. I love television only slightly less than I love books (IF FORCED TO CHOOSE) and if you give me a good drama . . . well, frankly it’s embarrassing how many episodes of a good show I can take down in one sitting. But? I think writers can learn a lot from well-written television and films and FNL is exceptional. I don’t know if I’ve ever used up so many TV tears on one show. Nor have I felt this way about a cast of characters since Felicity and Six Feet Under and those are two of my top five favorite shows of all time. Though I’ll refrain from naming my favorite characters (*cough* TIM RIGGINS *cough*) because that’s just about everyone. (Also, I’m well aware that I’m late to the party on this one but let’s just pretend otherwise, okay?)

3. Friday the Thirteeners. I’m the newest member! Oh, what is it? We’re a small group of YA authors whose books are debuting in 2013, and our blog posts are structured around truths and dares submitted by our fellow writers and readers. The Thirteeners are a ton of fun and if you are so inclined, you can submit a truth or dare for me (or any of us!) here. My first post went up a week ago, and naturally it was just me proclaiming my love for YA and MG novels that I can’t stop thinking about, years later.

4. I leave you with this, friends:

Because that happened. First time seeing Rocky IV on the big screen since I was 6 years old and suffice to say I was in boxing film/80s nostalgia bliss. Have I not talked about Rocky here yet? Oh, I have lots of love for the Rocky saga. This love began when my dad took my older brother and me to see Rocky IV in the theater, and this love is not at all ironic. But we’ll save that for another time.

blog hopping and stuff

May is here! It is my favorite month, and not just because it is my birthday month. I’m from Southern Missouri and grew up experiencing all four seasons. Spring was always the season I most looked forward to – the fresh air, the new earth, pretty flowers. Chicago’s spring is basically a joke (IT SNOWS IN APRIL THERE YOU GUYS), and LA is, as you can imagine, pretty much the same all year (a beautiful, warm kind of sameness, yes). So what I’m saying is, this is the month to ask me for things, guys. I’m in a good mood.

I’ve also been crashing the blogs of friends who’ve been nice enough to host me:

Last week, my good friend Amy Spalding asked me to post about my in-person writing group. So I did. Because they’re the best. You can read my post here. You should also check out Amy’s posts because they are funny and useful. Oh, and there’s a lot of Zac Efron, if you’re into that.

And today, the very excellent Mindy McGinnis (and my fellow Lucky 13er) posted an interview with me. I talk about my writing process, my agent, and how I’m bashful online. That interview is here.

Also! Have you guys heard of Crits for Water? It’s a wonderful campaign run by Kat Brauer that provides funding for clean water projects in developing nations. The campaign has raised thousands of dollars, and I’ll be participating in June, offering a guest critique of the first 5,000 words of a YA/MG manuscript. I am super excited about this.

That’s all for now, friends. Happy May to you!

the best of the sad

I’ve been thinking a lot about the types of stories I enjoy, from books to movies to television. In the last week or so, after various conversations with friends, I’ve decided to come clean with the fact that my taste in fiction generally leans toward the dark and depressing. It’s easy to get stuck in a rut, so I try to read widely, which includes books with a lighter premise or tone. But the truth is, I feel much more at-home with stories that explore the uglier sides of society because I find it fascinating to see how people (fictional or not) deal with their problems.

(This is not to say that I enjoy scary movies. I do not. At all. Someday, I will tell you all about how watching Gremlins in the movie theater as a five-year-old pretty much ruined my life. Or how the scene I deem most frightening in The Shining is hardly the scariest at all.)

But I have found that it’s easier for me to reread darker books than it is to rewatch darker movies or television series. (Seriously, Six Feet Under, I heart you so hard and think about you all the time, but I’m not sure I can ever watch you again. I’m still destroyed by your series finale, seven years later.) Which made me realize, there’s a good amount of movies that I loved to pieces, but I honestly don’t think I can ever watch again. After some serious reflection [i.e., perusing my Netflix ratings], here are my top four:

Dumbo

I have my issues with certain Disney movies (doesn’t everyone?), but there is something about their very old animated films that never fail to bring me back to my childhood. They are some of the first movies I remember watching over and over again, and my mother is a huge fan, so we always had them around the house. But Dumbo? Nuh-uh. Most people point to Bambi as The Saddest Disney Film Ever, but have you watched Dumbo as an adult? He’s relentlessly mocked because of his ears, has one friend, AND IS TAKEN AWAY FROM HIS MOTHER WHO IS CAGED IN ANIMAL PRISON. Sad elephants + circuses + that horrifically depressing Baby Mine song? Apparently the movie is only 64 minutes, but that’s an hour and four minutes that will never again receive my tears.

The Squid and the Whale

Well, this one was unexpected. I think I initially watched because I’m a fan of Laura Linney, but I didn’t expect to sob my way through. It’s about divorce. It’s an uncomfortably intimate view of a family dealing with divorce. Which, if you’re a child of divorce, it can resonate in a way that is wholly unique and heartbreaking. It’s an incredibly well-done movie (and also quite funny at some parts), but it took me a few days to get over this one and I imagine it wouldn’t be any better the second time around.

E.T.

To be fair, I have seen E.T. more than once. I was only three years old when it was first released, but I very likely saw it in the theater since a) my family liked going to the movies, and b) I had an older brother who was nine at the time. I decided to rent it several years later, when I was in junior high and you know what I decided? Never. Again. That music. That friendship. And the goodbye at the end? It all adds up to me in a puddle of tears and dude. I just can’t.

Boys Don’t Cry

I saw this movie a few years after Hillary Swank won the Oscar, but I couldn’t help wishing I’d seen it before her win so I could cheer her on for such a moving (not to mention deserving) performance. I think I spent the majority of the film holding my breath. And the next three days or so hating humanity. Out of all the movies I’ve mentioned, I think it’s probably the most difficult to watch. Let’s be clear: it’s not enjoyable. But it’s an important story and one I think everyone needs to watch.

Do you rewatch movies that sent you into the depths of despair? Which ones would go on your list?

name neuroses + pretty swans

Hello!

I took a break from edits to write a post on The Lucky 13s blog about how I choose names for my characters.

It’s a weird process.

You can read it here.

P.S. One of the best parts of revisions is research because research means BALLET VIDEOS. Kinda obsessed with this one of the Paris Opera Ballet:

a giveaway! [closed]

Did you see the rad new trailer for my agent-mate Gina Damico’s debut, CROAK?

It is here and it is hilarious.

So is Gina’s book! I was lucky enough to get an advance copy and interview her for The Lucky 13s blog, which will post later this month.

In the meantime, I want to share the goodness, so I’m giving away my ARC of CROAK! All you have to do is fill out the form below, and you’ll get extra entries for tweeting about the giveaway, following me on Twitter, and/or posting about it on your own blog/Facebook/other site. This giveaway will be open until Sunday, March 11th, at 11:59pm PST. Then I’ll choose a winner and announce it next week. (Sorry, this giveaway is U.S.- and Canada-only, but I do hope to offer international giveaways in the future.)

Good luck!

This giveaway is now closed and the winner was Vivien. Thanks to all who entered!

in which things start happening

So, I realize I’ve been fairly absent here the past couple of months, but it is, essentially, because nothing was happening. Nothing worth reporting, that is.

And then in January, ALL THE THINGS happened! Like:

1) I received my editorial letter. If you’re not well-versed in publishing speak, an editorial letter is a breakdown from the author’s editor that lays out all the big (proposed) changes to take place in the book. Also known as edits or revisions. It is highly anticipated and also slightly dreaded (from what I’ve gathered through talks with other writers, at least) because we’re never sure what to expect. In my case, I had discussed a few aspects with my editor before she composed the letter, but I wasn’t sure what else we’d be tackling.

My editor (the fabulous Ari Lewin) called me to tell me the letter would be landing in my inbox, stressed that it is a collaborative process, and told me to think about it for a few days and give her a call back to talk through them. The letter was, in a word, brilliant. Ari is brilliant. Her suggestions and breakdown of my novel made me realize no one else could have worked with me on this book. She just gets it: my characters, their struggles, and the world I’ve built around them. The letter is humbling and will likely be one of the most challenging tasks I’ve ever accomplished. But it’s also the best kind of challenge I can imagine and I know that by the end of my revisions, I will have written the best book I possibly could have.

2) I received my contract!

*cue dorky but necessary contract-signing photo*

And thank you to my wonderful friend Shannon M. who took said photo and provided (too much) champagne to celebrate the arrival of my contract. I feel so fortunate to have so many supportive friends who understand how much this book thing means to me.

I also:

3) Joined an in-person critique group. I have to say, I was realllly nervous about this one. I loved all of the other members when we initially met up to see if I’d be a good fit, but I’ve never been part of a critique group. It seems so bizarre now, but I only started showing my work to people four years ago, on a one-on-one basis. And to be honest, I only became comfortable with this within the last year. So, needless to say, I wasn’t sure the group thing would work for me, as I was still getting used to the whole critique partner situation.

But, like many other parts of life, it’s all about a good fit. And as soon as I started reading the submissions from the other group members, I knew how lucky I was to have joined the group. Talent for days, guys. We also have a variety of writing (poetry, novels, plays, screenplays), which keeps it fresh. My first meeting was fantastic and I already anxiously await our next one.

4) Became slightly addicted to Bravo’s Tabatha Takes Over. Look, I know. I’ve seen plenty of commercials over the years and assumed I’d hate it. I thought it was just another fluffy reality show with little merit. And is it necessary? Probably not, but as it turns out, I actually think it does a lot of good. I like Tabatha’s no-nonsense attitude (and if you know me personally, this is not a surprise). But also? She’s essentially helping people save their businesses, which includes forcing them to take responsibility for their poor business practices and implement good hygiene in the workplace. Again, if you know me, this should make so much sense.

5) I also wrote a guest post for the lovely Nova Ren Suma last week, in which I talk about my turning point as a writer. (P.S. In that post, I’m giving away of one of my favorite YA novels by one of my very favorite authors; the giveaway is open until Wednesday, February 8, so get thee to the blog immediately!) And on Tuesday, I’ll be posting an interview on The Lucky 13s blog with an author whose gorgeous YA novel debuts that day.

So, that’s what I’ve been up to. And now, back to my revisions because I’M ON DEADLINE. (I’ve always wanted to say that; though I’ve worked on deadlines for my entire professional career, it seems so magical when it’s related to book publishing.)

writerly milestones

My first post of the year and it’s only . . . February.

I know, guys.

Blame it on revisions?

I’ll be back with a real post soon, but in the meantime I posted on the lovely Nova Ren Suma’s blog. I’m a huge fan of Nova’s writing and extremely honored to be a part of her Turning Points guest blog series. I talked about the book that helped me find my voice as a writer (and I’m giving away a copy!). You can read more here.

my favorite books of 2011

Disclaimer:

* These are not necessarily books published in 2011, but my favorite of the novels I picked up for the first time this year. That probably means some of you read them last year or even the year before that. I can be slow to read new books, even if I buy them right after their release.

I’ve read 35 books so far this year. This is a low number for me, even when you consider that I’m a pretty slow reader. In the past several years I’ve tried to read at least 50 each year and my number usually ends up right around there, averaging about four or so books a month. This year I was a bit derailed by moving cross-country. I also squeezed in a lot of reading on my commute when I lived in Chicago, and now I’m back in my car all the time, which has been a big change.

Anyway! Regardless of how many I read, my 2011 was filled with some beautiful books and I feel like I need to sing their praises so here they are:

THE PARTICULAR SADNESS OF LEMON CAKE by Aimee Bender

First of all, that title. Sheer perfection, as is the cover. This was my first foray into Aimee Bender’s work and perhaps my first conscious foray into magical realism. I became an instant fan of both. I was also immediately drawn to the plot – a girl who discovers on her ninth birthday that she can taste the emotions of the cook in whatever she eats? Sign. Me. Up. – but Bender’s prose takes this book to another level because it is flawless. Gorgeous. I found myself rereading whole passages and cursing myself for not picking up her work earlier. THE PARTICULAR SADNESS OF LEMON CAKE seems to be a polarizing novel, but I was sad upon finishing and also annoyed that I’d checked it out from the library, as I needed it on my bookshelf immediately.

BETWEEN SHADES OF GRAY by Ruta Sepetys

I read this book back in early summer, when I had just started to hear a lot of buzz. (So thrilled to see that it was named a 2012 Morris Award finalist!) Miraculously, it was available from the library so I scooped it right up. And then I read. And I cried. And I cried some more because this book makes you feel things. I’m pretty ashamed to say that I didn’t know much about the Soviet occupation of the Baltic states prior to reading, but this book is far from just a history lesson. It is beautiful and intense, sad and frightening. The fact that Sepetys is the daughter of a Lithuanian refugee made it all the more powerful. I loved every part of it.

PLEASE IGNORE VERA DIETZ by A.S. King

I’m trying to be sly, putting this in the middle of my list, acting like I haven’t fangirled the hell out of this book. But I have. On multiple occasions. And it is DESERVING of all my fanfare and more. This is one of those books that hooked me with the cover and jacket copy and then I read it and was so happy I’d bought it because as soon as I finished I turned back to the first page. I’ve realized it’s impossible to sum up what exactly made me fall hopelessly in love with Vera’s (and Charlie’s and Ken’s and the Pagoda’s) story. Parts of this novel made me so anxious I had to stand up and walk around while reading (because that clearly helps cure book-related anxiety). Parts of it truly gave me a stomachache. I don’t know what else to say except that I cared so much about these characters and their world and I feel like I became a better writer because of this book.

THE PARIS WIFE by Paula McLain

I first read about THE PARIS WIFE in the book review section of Entertainment Weekly, which is actually my primary method of finding adult books, not including word-of-mouth recommendations. I loved the lyrical writing and the setting of 1920s Paris. For some reason, Hemingway was never assigned in high school or even the English lit classes I took in college (and that was my minor!). He’s one of those authors where I sort of missed the boat and it feels silly at this point that I’m so unfamiliar with the work of Hemingway, but so it goes. I found this account of his years with his first wife fascinating (as well as extremely disturbing at times) and by the end I was anxious to read his memoir, A MOVEABLE FEAST, which served as the catalyst for this book. (Also, I’m sorry because I know this isn’t the point, but why doesn’t anyone talk about what a fox Hemingway used to be?)

WHEN YOU REACH ME by Rebecca Stead

Gosh, this book. It had been awhile since I’d read a middle grade novel. Not for lack of interest; MG books meant the world to me growing up and ultimately shaped me as a writer. I usually just end up reading more YA and adult, out of habit. Not anymore. Everything I’d heard about this book was true. I expected brilliance. I mean, it won the Newbery. And it’s set in the 70s, a decade with which I feel a strong and unexplained kinship. I was not prepared for just how much I would love it or the fact that I would spend the last 20 pages or so sobbing. I’m totally outing myself as One Whose Emotions Go Haywire Over Books. But gosh, you guys. THIS BOOK.

THE HUNGER GAMES by Suzanne Collins

(Honorable Mention because this has and will become everyone’s favorite read of whatever year at some point)

I know. File this one under Perpetually Late to the Party, along with Friday Night Lights and Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory. I KNOW GUYS OK.

What were the best books you read this year?

how i got my agent: part two

As promised, here is the second part of the long road to finding my agent – featuring much more Tina and happy times! (Read Part One here.)

2011: I begin sending out queries for this new project. Manuscript 3. Receive a fair amount of requests from agents. Realize this time is different. The requests are more enthusiastic and even the rejections are, for the most part, positive. Finally understand that I have found MY VOICE. Hallelujah! This elusive “voice” thing I’ve been trying to nail down for years? I have it, and other people like it (!), even if they think the story I’ve written is too quiet.

Here’s where things get real: An agent I very much respect read Manuscript 3 and thought the story was too quiet for a contemporary YA debut. However, this agent wanted to know if I was working on anything else! And as it turns out, I was. For some unknown reason, I had picked up the abduction story (again) at the end of 2010, while I was waiting for feedback from readers on Manuscript 3. I added a few elements that took the story in a new direction and suddenly it was mine again. I was so proud of it, even if I only had about 40 pages. So I revised the hell out of those pages and sent it off to the agent. We scheduled a phone call. The agent was intrigued, we talked through my plans for the rest of the novel, and I agreed to send the manuscript when it was complete and revised. However, it turns out we didn’t have the same vision for the book, so the agent passed.

I was crushed. I had finally written THE BOOK, the one that I was so damn proud of. I knew for a fact that it was the best thing I’d ever written and although the agent had very, very kind things to say about the writing, they did not see how they’d be able to sell it. Once again, I considered giving up. This was my fourth manuscript and if such a reputable agent didn’t think it was special enough, surely no one else would. With my pity party in full effect, I fired off a handful of queries to other agents on my Dream List and removed myself from the internet for a while.

The Happy Conclusion I Promised: Only a few hours after I sent the query, Tina Wexler requested the full manuscript. I was floored, but I sent it and did NOT tell her I was trying to figure out a way to hug her (a complete stranger who pulled my submission from the slush) through the screen of my Macbook. So I got excited again, but I was more cautious. Because this could end badly. And then it didn’t.

Three weeks later, I received an email from Tina. She’d read my book! And she had a lot of nice things to say in the first paragraph, so I held my breath while I skimmed those wonderful words, as I was so afraid the second paragraph would lead to an eventual rejection. I’d been there before, more times than I could count. Instead, she asked if I’d be interested in revising, so I stopped myself from typing “Hell yes, lady!” and sent what I hope was a professional response saying I’d love to hear her thoughts.

She sent a very thorough email detailing her plot concerns, interspersed with several comments that made it clear she knew she was asking a lot and I may not agree with all of the changes. But the thing is, I did agree with her suggestions. I’m pretty sure I read that email no less than 50 times and I just couldn’t stop staring at it because it was the first time someone in publishing truly understood me. Tina got it – this story I was trying so hard to tell – and I was not daunted in the least by her revision suggestions. Just ecstatic and ready to get to work.

I revised and tried not to constantly dwell on whether my little abduction book might actually find representation. I also obsessively read all interviews and profiles of Tina I could find online. I’d queried her with my first manuscript, so I knew that she had a great sales record, not to mention an impressive list and excellent reputation. But honestly, she was so far up on the Dream Agent list for me that I’d been scared to query her (again) until my fourth novel. Six weeks after the initial revise + resubmit request, I sent the new (and very improved) manuscript to Tina and tried very hard to keep calm and work on another project.

On August 1, two and a half weeks later, she called to offer representation. I kind of stared at the phone for a while when I saw the 212 number, thought there was no way this could actually be happening. Not after four years of waiting for this very call. And then I made a bad joke about her calling to reject me and she offered to rep me anyway! We talked for a while and I knew by the end of the conversation that my book and my career would be in good hands with her. I accepted her offer at the end of the call. I don’t recommend this, but a) I’d been querying and researching for years and hadn’t found a bad word about her online, and b) I knew by the way she treated me when I was just a slush pile submission that it would be an honor to be her client. Best decision ever? I think so. We polished up the manuscript in August, went out on submission at the end of September, and received an offer on my book the first week in October.

So to sum up (if you are still reading and jeez, if you are, thank you): Don’t give up. Seriously. Just keep writing. Get better. Do your research. Read (a ton), in and outside your genre. Be professional. It will pay off. If I had to go through the last four years all over again to sign with Tina, I’d do it in a heartbeat. There’s a reason most authors speak so highly of their agents – when you find that perfect fit it’s hard to imagine working with anyone else.

Do you have a favorite How I Got My Agent story? Have a link to yours? I’d love to hear them!