Monthly Archives: November 2011

The Artist as Batman

Like most of you, I have a day job. I happen to work at a pharmaceutical telemarketing group from 8:30 to 5, not using my degree in media study whatsoever. Maybe I’m using a little bit of my anthropology minor when dealing with a bazillion unpleasant receptionists (however, the cross-cultural appearance of generic job dissatisfaction in a particular segment of the working population is not very interesting compared to, say, studying the enduring universal phenomenon of “witchcraft hysteria.” :p).

But at the end of the day, I do not call myself a marketing rep. By now, I hope you’ve figured out that I consider myself to be a writer. Oh, I am much more than that–a daughter, wife, friend, sister, traveler, mediocre ukulele player, etc.–but this isn’t that kind of blog post.

I have to assume that most of you who bother to read this blog are also writers or creators of some kind (artists, if you’re comfortable with that word). Many of you also work a full time job, be it at an office or in the home raising children. I’m willing to bet, whatever you do from “9-5” (your hours may vary) that it is not necessarily your art/creative pursuit. But I bet you wish it was. I bet you hope that, someday, the after-hours effort you put into your creative pursuits can become your day job.

Or maybe you don’t. But if you do, you probably know all about the emotional roller coaster of being an artist by night: the pain of “wasting” your days for a paycheck, especially if your day job is in a field you have no love for; the stress of finding the time and energy to do your real work after all your other responsibilities have been met; the guilt of choosing sleep or laundry or making a healthy dinner, over putting in time with your art.

Pictured: a mild-mannered artist by night.

Being an artist by night is not unlike being Batman: most of the people you interact with on a daily basis have a poor understanding of the person you become after work, with a pen/paint brush/instrument in hand; you have your passion, your conviction, your determination– maybe even a utility belt full of handy tools that help you on your quests; you have a whole second life that you live, fighting crime/writer’s block, surveilling Gotham City from your Bat Cave/studio/laptop. There are plenty of criminals/plot bunnies/inspiration droughts out to get you, and the good people of the city/your family and friends don’t necessarily agree with what you’re doing, or believe you have the right to do what you do.

So how do you do it?

This is something I am always trying to figure out. I am constantly re-balancing my schedule, my life, always trying to find a better way of organizing myself and using my time so that nothing gets left behind. Something always does, of course. Something probably always will, even after my writing becomes my day job (fingers crossed!). But I’ve learned to love this state of constant upheaval. To me, it feels like passion–like life force being summoned through me. I am not an advocate of difficulty for the sake of difficulty, but there is some degree of personal validation (or perhaps confirmation) when you see how hard you are willing to work for something. And I believe the key to surviving the upheapal is found in that passion, and the life-affirming  joy of the art itself. After all, if we didn’t love our art, why would we be willing to put up with it’s bullshit? (just sayin’.)

What about you? How do you make the time for your art/crime-fighting after a long day of work? Do you find that you often end up alone, like Batman, with no one but your trusty butler/take out menus to keep you company? How do you take care of your relationships, your friends, family, pets–yourself even–and still make time for your art?

Inquiring minds want to know!

On writing and dreams and life and things

Things have been crazy. So much editing, revising, synopsizing, brainstorming…only to ultimately have to just let it go. My book, my baby-out into the world. My ideas for the future, half-formed, half-fleshed–naked on the page before the people who I can only hope will love them as much as I do.

I just had a solid 2 days without working on it. And, yes, I felt guilty the whole time, not outlining or writing or researching for the next books in the series. I do love what I’m doing. I am following a dream that I’ve dared to dream since I was old enough to tell a story, and every precious moment that could be spent as an investment in myself and my stories counts. So the moments when I do nothing, when I am aimless, when I am still (but so unable to be still), feel like a waste of life, and time.

But humans need balance. We need to replenish the wells we draw so much from. We need to take care of our bodies and minds, our homes and our relationships. We need to pursue our dreams-yes–but we must also have moments, hours, days maybe, where we pursue nothing at all outside of the ability to be present. To be still. We need time to dream a little more, a little broader, just for the fun of dreaming.

When I am older than I am now, hopefully living my dream of writing novels and stories for a comfortable living, I want to be able to appreciate it. I want to be healthy, and still madly in love, and attentive to my friends and family. I want a dog. I want to travel some more. I want to have a kid some day (ok, cat’s out of the bag).

I refuse to sabotage myself by killing myself with my dreams. I will not berate myself for failing to write as much as I wanted to write in a day. I will not hate myself for getting a bad review. I will not eat fast food because there is no time to cook when I am trying so hard to be an author. I will not forgo exercise because it is time away from writing. I will not ignore the ones I love because I cannot stop thinking about how character 1 gets from point A to point B. I will not lose the ability to have conversations about anything except for my craft. I will not drive myself mad with procrastination or unrealistic deadlines, comparing myself to others, going against my gut, or forgetting the part of the desire that made it a dream.

Self, I am making a promise to you. We will be happy, and human, and well. We will tell stories that change the world (for at least one or two people). And I will remember that the point of all of all of all of this is to be happy.

T-Givins

The past few weeks since the conference have been insane, so I apologize for the lack of recap posts. But it’s been a good insanity–I’ve been preparing THE HIEROPHANT for submission to the agents who requested it at Backspace. I’m halfway through my final read-through, and then I will send it out tonight before dinner.

Before I do that though (and before I vanish from the internet for the holiday here in the US), I thought it would be nice to pause and take stock. So here’s a little gratitude post to pave the way for the Thanksgiving weekend.

What am I grateful for? I can’t list it all–there is way too much. For the purpose of this blog I feel it’s probably okay to limit it to things creativity-related. So without further ado, and in no particular order, here is a list:

-Stories. Books, movies, plays, musicals, ballads, songs, poems, pictures, moments, snatches of phrases, misheard lyrics, out of context observations… stories are everywhere, in everything, if you know how to look for them. And stories are the things that fuel me as a human being, as a spiritual being, and of course, as a writer. I once told my best friend “in our veins there’s one part ink, one part blood, and one part magic.” And that is the honest truth.

-Technology. Seriously. Laptops, word processing software, Scrivener, email and Google docs, Kindle… all of these things make the life of a writer SO MUCH EASIER than it could be. Not to mention the all-mighty power of THE INTERNET, connecting us to so many other brilliant and creative minds–such a wealth of information and content and wisdom making our lives that much richer.

-My husband. Endless, endless, endless faith and support, from doing my chores for me when “I MUST WRITE NOW,” to making me laugh when I’m in a pit of despair, to periodically texting me when I’m out on a writing date just to tell me he believes in me. What can I say? He’s my inspiration. I love him (for more than just that, but we’re keeping it creativity-related! ;D).

-My best (girl)friend. Yes, my husband is an endless pillar of strength for me as I face the terrifying lows and dizzying heights of the creative life. But my best friend and fellow Inkmaiden, Sarah Diemer, is my soul sister. She dares me to be more than all that I can be. She inspires me with her courage, her audacity, and by gods her WRITING. Together, we have traversed the wastelands of writers block. We have challenged each other to finish that novel, and then start another. We know each other’s patterns in our writerly love affairs. We know that at the heart of what we do is our pure, unfettered love for the magic that comes with storytelling, with creating. We will never, ever, ever let each other give up on that love.

-My Family. When I was six years old and I told my mother that I wanted to be a writer when I grew up, she told me I had better learn how to spell first. And when I was ten and I told her again, she said I had better write a novel first. When I was eleven and told her I had written a novel, she said I had better type it up, and lent me the use of her word processor. When I was thirteen and I told my parents I needed my own computer so that I could write my novels in my room, they helped me save my pennies and buy one, used, from a neighbor. When I announced my decision to self publish The Poppet and the Lune, my family did not tell me I was throwing away my career or giving up or that maybe it wasn’t getting picked up for a reason. They said “Good. I don’t think you should wait around for other people to give you permission. The world needs that book.” (And then my lawyer bother and entrepreneurial parents helped me organize the business end, and my other brother helped me make this website.) They have never tried to fool me into thinking I was a better writer than I am–they have not coddled me, or told me that this career would be easy. But more importantly, they never told me to reconsider. They have all, always, believed. And that is beyond priceless.

-People. My continuous source of inspiration. All of our oddities, our beauty, our ugliness, our fear, our hope. The way we interact with each other and our environment. The ways we change, and the ways we stay the same. Humanity, and a desire to capture it in a meaningful way, is at the heart of every story we tell. I am grateful for all of you out there continuing to live your own stories, inspiring me, and other writers, just by being who you are.

…So that is my list at the moment. I could go on an on, but, you know, I’m also grateful to have this day job, so I should probably get back to work.

What are some things you’re grateful for this Thanksgiving?

 

Happy Half Birthday TPaL!

The Patchwork Girl

A sketch from the original TPaL manuscript

 

Six months ago, today, was the official release of my first (and only, so far) independently published novel, The Poppet and the Lune. Far from its roots as a free weekly web serial, the story has been polished and primped, the words carefully wrapped and transformed, into A Real Book.

When I began to write and post the story of the patchwork girl and Faolin, I had only one thing in mind: I wanted to tell a good story, simply for the fact that that is what I love to do. At the time, and even not until recently, I did not realize how much this act would mean to me. When the web serial was “launched,” quietly, in the middle of the night, halfway around the world where I was studying abroad in Oxford, I was embarking on my own journey. More than just the incredible challenge of providing reliable quality content two or three times a week–I was putting myself out there, to a world that had yet to vet my skills. I was something of a big fish in a small pond called Buffalo, leaping into the ocean called The Internet.

I was in new territory, literally and figuratively. Writing TPaL was unlike anything I have ever experienced, and all the while I was in a country that was not my own, meeting new people, seeing new and far off places. I was discovering how self-reliant I could be, how unexpectedly brave.

Like the patchwork girl, I was, and I am, learning. I am made from the pieces of those who have come before, as we all are to some extent.  I have my mother’s tenacity, and my father’s serenity; my generation’s academic/economic frustration, but my peers’ unflappable hope. We have all the history and advances of the world behind us, rising up like an ocean’s wave to propel us forward on our travels–if we don’t let it overcome us. The key is, we must make all of those pieces come together as one, and claim them for ourselves.

On this half-birthday, I want to take the opporunity to thank those of you out there who have helped me get to where I am. These past six months, I have recgognized how tremendously fortunate I am, and not just because my friends and loved ones support me. I am fortunate because I am surrounded by people who are constantly rising victorious from the tumult of life. Like Faolin, I am in awe of these people who seem so brave, so fearless. They inspire me to bravery, to face a world and a career that is uncertain. Even in their moments of weakness they are an inspiration, because they remind me that we are actually very much alike.

And to everyone who has taken the time to read The Poppet and the Lune, and who has helped spread the word, or left a review, or pointed out a typo on page 2, or helped me choose the best cover, or long ago commented on the web serial asking what happens next?! Every single one of you has helped make these past six months (and the year before that) an incredible journey.

Thank you, all of you.

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What I Learned at the Backspace Writers Conference, Part 2: Voice and Subjectivity

Whoa, okay, so a whole work week has passed and I haven’t given you much to take home. So let’s talk about a some big ones!

Voice

Repeatedly throughout the conference, agents talked about the importance of voice. Many people are starting to say that having a unique voice is what defines this generation of literature and authors, so consider yourself a part of history! Decades from now, the voice you write with today might stand out as an example of “classic traits of early 21st century literature.”

So what is voice? Well, you just kind of know it when you see it. Loosely defined, “voice” in creative writing is two things:

  • the author’s own style or quality that makes his/her writing unique, and somewhat conveys his/her attitude and personality
  • the characteristics of the narrator’s speech and thought patterns

 

My most recent favorite example of a unique and powerful voice is in the YA Chaos Walking trilogy (The Knife of Never Letting Go, The Ask and the Answer, Monsters of Men) by Patrick Ness. The main character and primary narrator, Todd Hewitt, has such an incredibly distinct and engaging voice as a 14-year-old living in a new world, introducing us to Noise and Spackle and talking animals… but none of it is cheap. None of it is caricature–it’s real, and immediate, and distinct. If you haven’t read it, I highly recommend that you do.

What I learned at the conference was that fresh, original, distinct voices are what will ultimately hook an agent (and your readers) on your book. Many times people have said “start your book with a gripping first line and never let go!” meaning, start with action. That’s something I’ve struggled with, maybe because I studied media and film in college where storytelling happens a bit differently. But I like the film approach: first you show the city, then you show the street, then you see the kids playing on the lawn, then you see the faces of your characters. That’s what draws me into a story, more than any flashing knife or shocking dialogue. And that kind of approach, in literature, requires a solid, captivating voice. A voice lasts throughout the entire story–a shocking first sentence will never be more than the first sentence. And in all likelihood, the first sentence will change before your book is published anyway.

That’s just my opinion of course, which leads me to…

Subjectivity

This is huge. How you write, and how you read, are very personal processes. 

It’s important to keep in mind that the tastes of editors and agents are as varied as the tastes of all the readers out there. Just because they’re in The Business doesn’t mean they love all/only bestsellers, and in fact some of their favorite books may not be very well known. Some of them love fantasy, other’s can’t stand to read another query with the words “demons” or “magic” in the body (as I was told specifically). Many of them say “NO MORE VAMPIRES,” but then the one person I spoke with at the conference who was writing a vampire story got a full manuscript request from a top ranking agency.

I hope I don’t have to tell you all that you’ve got to research the agents before you query, at least find out what kind of books they like to read, or books they have recently sold. But even within the same genre, the tastes of the agents will vary.

For example: like I said above, a lot of people will tell you to begin a book with action, or some kind of shocking first sentence that yanks the reader into your book. As far as agents are concerned? Yes, a lot of them are looking for the strong pull of the first sentence that makes you go “wait, what? Tell me more!”

But the thing about that first sentence is that you have to deliver. If you begin a chapter with “The squirrels attack the second I step off the school bus,” you have to make the next few paragraphs equally as interesting, but also not totally confusing. So a lot of agents prefer to read manuscripts that draw you in and keep you there, rather than manuscripts that toss you in and shove you forward.

It’s up to you how you choose to begin, but keep in mind that ultimately it’s the quality of every single paragraph in your story that matters, not just that first hook that reels them in. If you reel them in just to toss them out, the hook is pointless. So don’t fret too long and hard over the first sentence. (ProTip: If you are struggling with it, try using your second sentence, or second paragraph, as your beginning. Sometimes you just take a minute to warm up!) 

So, you never know. Definitely do your research before querying but don’t get down on yourself if you get a lot of “not a good fit” rejections, because it’s probably true. And you want an agent that is a good fit.

More to come next week!

 

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Falling into Place – or, What I Learned at the Backspace Writers Conference, Part 1

I’m back from NYC! And better than ever! Seriously!

I had such an amazing time at the Backspace Writers Conference, even though half the time my heart was hammering around in my throat and at certain points I actually worried I was going to pass out (there was public speaking involved, and I feared it greatly). But I learned so much. Not necessarily anything terribly new, but just being there and in that atmosphere, saturated with professionalism and stubborn hope and cold reality… all the things I learned in the past that had been floating around in my head as general knowledge? They finally seemed to click.

I don’t know what it was, because in all honesty I didn’t hear anything new at the conference–I just heard it differently. The difference, I suppose, was that I wasn’t just reading it on a blog somewhere. I was seeing it in action, hearing it live from the mouths of agents, editors, authors. It was more real, more immediate.

On top of that, I had the priceless experience of having my intuition validated on a plethora of topics regarding my own writing and query letter, and the way I’ve felt and seen that the industry works. After this workshop (which I was actually led to by my intuition), I trust my own instincts now more than ever, and will never ignore that nagging little voice in my head, or the awkward feeling I get at points when I read over something “almost there.” Sure, it might technically work, but does it work? (Or werk, if you’re sassy)

But there were a lot of good, concrete points I came home with (furiously scribbled on hotel stationary and all over my writing samples). This week on the blog, I’ll be sharing the revelations I felt were most significant, and some tips on how to make the best of future Backspace conferences.

Stay tuned!