Saturday, February 26, 2011

Writing helps me stay sane (Tara Kelly)

My inspiration to write came from a pretty dark place. I did not grow up in a peaceful home. I made my first 911 call at the age of three...the first of several. Anger was a way of life in my family...along with violence and alcohol. In elementary school I was bullied and harassed because I didn't have the right look. The right clothes. The right parents. I fought back and I fought back hard because I wanted to make them hurt as much as I hurt. Adults labeled me with terms like 'problem child', 'at-risk', 'socially immature', future drug addict, future gang member, name it they probably said it. But you know what? I never became any of those things.

I became an artist. A writer. A musician. A designer. A photographer. I've said this a million times, and I'll say it again. I really believe art, especially writing, saved me.

Over the years I've been told by various therapists/psychiatrists that most people with a childhood like mine turn out differently. I didn't come out unscathed by far, but I didn't turn out like a lot of kids who grew up in similar situations. People have often told me that I'm strong. But it took me years to actually believe it and see my passion for art as the gift it truly is.

Probably the biggest thing my childhood taught me was that if I want saving, I need to save myself. And if I want something to happen, I need to make it happen. Well, I wanted peace. Calm. Safety. So I locked myself in my room, turned up my favorite music, burned some incense, and wrote like a mad person. I created worlds I wished I lived in. Characters I wished were my friends. I poured everything inside me into those notebooks. My pain. My anger. My hopes and dreams. My secrets. And I found that the more I wrote, the less I felt the need to fight in real life. I started to reach out to other people and make friends. When things got really bad I knew I always had my writing to wake up to. An exciting scene. A character who just couldn't wait to be heard. Some exotic setting that only existed in my head. It became my addiction...a really GOOD addiction. One I still can't shake and refuse to shake.

I'm inspired by the bad, the good, and in between. The wrong people. The right people. Bad music. Amazing music. Traffic jams. Obnoxious neighbors. Big cities. Small towns. The middle of nowhere. Being. Living. Writing is like breathing to me. If I couldn't type or use a pen, I'd do it all in my head.

Because music is also a huge part of my life, I thought I'd end this post with a music recommendation. One of my all-time-favorite songs as a teen. It made me smile every time I heard it.

This Twilight Garden by The Cure.

Friday, February 25, 2011

props to bjork and mozart - Alisa M. Libby

Inspiration? I'll start with music.

Not only does it inspire me, it drives me. It's like a trigger that helps me jump back into the world of a novel-in-progress. When I'm facing writerly difficulties, that trigger is invaluable. I often have music on in the background while writing--but only particular music, very quietly, stuff that I know so well that it becomes soothing white noise after a while, but helps create a general mood.

So. For The Blood Confession, I needed to inhabit the mind of a murderous young woman who kills her servants and bathes in their blood. Erzebet sees these servants as disposable, has little remorse for her actions, and is obsessed with her own beauty and her fear of death.

Enter: Bjork.

Bjork's "Human Behaviour" seems to capture Erzebet's distance from the humans around her, seeing herself as something separate and all-powerful. Also, Bjork's voice is gorgeous and crazy. (The video is as bizarre as you might expect.)

Tori Amos (more gorgeous and crazy) was also a stand-by during this process. And Mozart's Requiem Mass took center stage--so dark! So gothic! So thrilling! The music of angels...and maybe of devils, too.

Finally, every book has a theme song. Not a song I listen to while writing, but pre-writing, to boost moral. This book is about the evil queen in the fairy tale, about seeing the story from her bitter and deranged point of view and finding some way to empathize with her. Erzebet's theme song was obvious. I know that she lived in the 16th century, but I think the bloody Countess would have loved this one.

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Inspiration - Trish Doller

Inspiration is...everywhere.

Most of the time, for me, it comes from a song or a movie or a book, but sometimes it comes from the smallest moment of an ordinary day. Sometimes it comes and you don't realize it for years. Which is kind of what happened with The New Normal.

I was working as a staff writer for my hometown newspaper back in 2003 when the war in Iraq began. After the first wave of the invasion, soldiers and Marines started coming home, and people were interested in hearing their stories. I was assigned to interview a 19-year-old Marine who was home for the holidays. As I sat in his parents' living room, it struck me that he was just a boy. (I mean, he wasn't. Not really, but as a mother with two children? Yeah. He was a boy.) And I couldn't stop thinking about how the things he'd seen and done in Iraq were things the kids with whom he went to high school would never experience. Aside from writing the article about that Marine, I didn't do anything with that little grain that lodged in my mind. Life went on.

Then, years later, I was kicking around ideas for a book and I started thinking about that young Marine. How it must feel to come home after being deployed in a foreign country where you sleep on the ground most nights and have people shooting at you almost every day. How difficult it might be to adjust when months have passed and life has kept on going. But mostly, how you live with what you've seen and done. (I realize now that I asked that him all the wrong questions.)

So that was the start. And then I thought, "What if my character lost a leg?" I started out writing about a Marine who had lost his leg but desperately wanted to get back to Afghanistan with his friends, but I discovered a couple of things: The timeline for recovery is much longer than the timeline I had in my mind, and logistics is a pain to write. I always had to think about how the character was getting from point A to point B. Wheelchair? Crutches? The logistics kept getting in the way of the story for me and I wasn't sure what to do.

Then I read Soft Spots: A Marine's Memoir of Combat and Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder by Clint Van Winkle and I realized that there is so much a Marine can lose without ever having to sacrifice a limb.

I re-listened to a favorite song. (If you listen, you might want to have tissues handy)

And everything pulled together. A young Marine--home from Afghanistan, where he lost his best friend--struggling with PTSD, a disintegrating family, and old friendships that no longer fit.

I would have never imagined back in 2003 that I would write a military-themed novel. But I guess that's the thing, when something inspires you, I think you owe it to yourself to at least follow the inspiration and see where it leads. It might be a dead end.

Or it might be a debut novel.

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Changing the Subject: On Darkness--Sarah Porter

I'm not going to try to address this month's topic, because inspiration isn't really what's been on my mind of late, and because I think any genuine answer I could give would be inclusive to the point of being nonsensical. (Um, everything! Ever! Did you see how after the ice storm a few weeks back, that layer of ice on the snow made it look just like unbaked meringue? Dude.)

I've been thinking a lot more about issues of darkness in fiction, and about the author's responsibility to his or her readers, especially in the case of YA. I'll admit this train of thought has been provoked by some of the responses to Lost Voices. Some readers get perplexed or even upset, because the book is rated as suitable for ages twelve and up and is clearly meant primarily for young-teen readers. On the other hand, they view its content as "inappropriate" for kids that age. After all, it contains one attempted rape, a suicide, references to physical, emotional, and sexual abuse, and a whole lot of murder. The implication seems to be that it was irresponsible of me to address these subjects in a book for fairly young kids. I suppose I shouldn't be surprised, but I did in fact write Lost Voices with a sense of acute responsibility for how it might impact vulnerable adolescents. For the first time in my writing life, I had an ideal reader in mind: a lonely, angry, smart, creative, twelve or thirteen-year-old misfit girl, struggling with questions of what it means to be human. I had no idea then of how much the YA readership is composed of adults.

I just didn't see my responsibility as being to protect that ideal reader from an awareness of how dark human life can be. I've been a freelance teacher of creative writing for several years, leading workshops in various public schools. Creative writing is an especially fascinating subject to teach because of how much insight it provides into the psyches of your students. I recently taught a sixth grade short story workshop in the Bronx. My students were mostly eleven years old, though a few were still just ten: officially too young to be reading Lost Voices. Their (fantastic) short stories addressed subjects including extortion and violence; suicide, which was featured in about one story out of every ten; romantic relationships with a distinctly abusive or even sadomasochistic cast (in one story, the jilted boyfriend kills the girl's dog in front of her; in another a mermaid is kept captive by a brutal human lover.) There were stories written from the point of view of demonic forces, and one memorable narrative from the point of view of Jack the Ripper that included some colorful references to necrophilia. Oh, and there was a whole lot of murder. There was no rape in the sixth grade stories, but by seventh grade that becomes common in kids' fiction, too.

Why would I feel the need to protect kids from an awareness of that human darkness with which they are perfectly familiar already, which haunts their imaginations and in some cases their lives?

Instead I felt responsible to be as honest as I could about the ways of getting through the darkness. Young teens are often in the process of confronting the worst aspects of humanity, and of struggling to come to terms with what it means to be a part of a species that perpetrates cruelty so routinely. Only by regarding that horror directly can they begin to withstand it. If we accept the horror, then we can start thinking about how to deal with it, and how to shape ourselves and our lives in relation to the darkness both within and without. I was aware that my protagonist Luce's choices would inevitably form a kind of directive, in a way that they never would if this was a book for adults.

Even in an utterly fantastical book about a tribe of killer mermaids, I felt responsible for preserving a certain moral and emotional realism, and for respecting just how difficult it can be to navigate the darkness of our existence.

So Luce finds moral courage far, far more difficult to attain than physical courage, and indeed spends the whole book struggling with the need to stand up to her friends. (I think most of us would find it vastly easier to, say, race out under gunfire to rescue a wounded comrade, than to stand up to our comrades over the treatment of any enemy prisoner, even though the former is objectively much more dangerous. Social ostracism is a more potent threat than death.)

So Luce has no special abilities except the ones she earns through independent thinking and determined practice. Her attempted way through the darkness requires creativity, a bit of rebelliousness, and persistence, as it is likely to do in real life.

So her struggle requires the development of inner resources, and even correct choices come at a great cost.

And, as I finish the second volume in the trilogy and start the third, I still feel the need to avoid presenting anything as easy, including (spoiler alert) romantic love. I feel a bit concerned about the effect all the paranormal romances out there might have on teen girls: just as people worry that a generation of boys heavily exposed to porn may be unable to desire girls who don't present themselves as perfect objects, I sometimes wonder if we'll have a generation of girls who can't recognize or accept romantic love from boys without superpowers, boys who are merely human, or boys who don't profess their eagerness to come back from the dead out of utter devotion.

Monday, February 21, 2011

Personal Inspiration - CJ Omololu

Inspiration. In case you haven't guessed, that is the prompt for this month. I read through the other writer's brilliant posts and sat thinking about the topic for far too long without coming up with much of anything. Music inspires me when I'm trying to write a certain scene and reading a great book inspires me to keep writing and improving (or sends me to bed with a crisis of confidence, but that's another post altogether) but they are not the reason I decided to try writing a book. I seriously thought about abandoning the prompt and rambling on about something else when I finally hit on the thing that inspires me as a writer -my teenage self.

I am...okay, I'll say it...old. I graduated from high school in the mid-80s, the era of big hair and even bigger shoulder pads. I went to high school in a very wealthy, Southern California town where we rented an apartment and I parked my mom's '77 tan Chevy Nova in the school lot next to the new 'Benz's and BMWs that my classmates got for their 16th birthdays. Very early on, I realized that I couldn't compete. I wasn't cute, I wasn't preppy and we weren't rich. So I decided to go in a completely different direction. I cut my hair short, dyed it black and started hanging around downtown, going to clubs and meeting a really diverse group of people who became my friends and support system. Some had been rejected by their families because they were gay. Many were homeless or one step away from it. A lot were teenage drunks or addicts. Most of us were pretty confused. Things happened during those years that I'm not particularly proud of and I came very close to not going to college. A few times, I came close to not doing anything else, ever.

All during this crazy time, I remember an uneasy feeling inside. A constant, low-grade nagging that there had to be something bigger, something more. I remember the night I made the decision that would change everything as I watched some friends shoot up (I'm fairly confident that my parents aren't going to read this). I remember the cockroaches and the mess of the apartment we lived in and the constant crush of bodies that inhabited every room. I remember my best friend being so high she fell down the back staircase and passed out in a heap at the bottom. I remember the conflict and the indecision as the tiny voice inside told me that this wasn't the way things were supposed to go. I didn't fit with the wealthy, preppy kids at my high school, but I didn't belong here either.

Not long after that, I went away to college and slowly grew out of that lifestyle, but I never lost that nagging sensation - no matter what I was doing, there was a constant feeling I should be doing something else. I had no direction, no passion for much of anything and when I graduated, I bounced around from job to job - travel agent (anyone under 20 probably doesn't even know what one is), barrista, waitress, administrative assistant. None of them seemed to 'fit' and nothing calmed the uneasiness I always carried - it was like I was constantly searching for what I was supposed to be and always coming up short.

A few years ago, I decided to try writing and it instantly fit, like finding that perfect pair of jeans after decades of frustration. For the first time I could remember, I felt passionate about something and I threw myself into learning as much as I could about the craft and process of creating fiction. When I'm in the middle of a good writing session, I feel calmer and more satisfied than I ever have in my entire life. The nagging is gone, replaced by the joy of discovering what it was I was born to do - the thing that a tiny part of me always knew and waited for the rest of me to discover.

So that's why I write - because I can't afford not to. The opportunity to reach just one person who needs to hear what I have to say at a pivotal point in their life is one I take very seriously. Everything that has happened in my career has had an element of magic to it, from meeting my agent in an elevator to seeing the cover of DLS for the first time and sucking in my breath because the girl on the cover looked so much like I did at that age.

It took a long time to get here, but I can't let that teenager down after she had the courage to pull herself away one hot summer night and start searching for something bigger in life.

Sunday, February 20, 2011

The Dreaded Inspiration Question (by Lauren Bjorkman)

Interviewers often ask (what is known among writers as) the “dreaded inspiration question.” Where did you get the idea for you novel?

Writers tend to get squirmish when confronted. We wonder if we should talk about details from our lives. Do we confess to personal traumas? Misdeeds in high school? Should we give credit to others who passed us ideas?

Anyway, the truth is more complicated than experiences, relationships, people-watching, etc. And simpler. Most writers get ideas not from the idea fairy, but from some strange place in our heads.

We make things up.

Don’t get me wrong. I didn’t lie on my website. I drew inspiration from events around my high school reunion to write My Invented Life. My fascination with drama geeks, my relationship with my sister, and people I’ve observed also affected the story.

Still, I made the whole thing up.

I enter a zone as a write, dig from a deep place in my subconscious. A fugue state. A sort of trance. (And a pox on the person who interrupts me!)

If I think too much when creating, or use real events, I mess up the story. Here’s an example. A close friend once shared a story from her childhood to explain why she avoids crying in public. A swimming instructor once forced her to jump off the high dive in class, and the idea terrified her. The instructor told her to stop crying because it made her ugly. Ack!

Great story, huh?

In My Invented Life, Roz avoids crying in public. So, I asked my friend for permission to use her anecdote in my novel. She gave me permission, and I went to town. But the bit I wrote didn’t feel quite right. So I modified her vignette in my 2nd draft. In each subsequent draft, I changed it a little, trimmed it, shaped it, etc. Finally I ended up cutting the whole thing. Real life messed with the flow of my story. That’s why I write fiction instead of non-fiction, I have control over characters and events

Or at least someone inhabiting the deep, beautiful, hilarious cave of my subconscious does.

If you want an eloquent treatise on the topic, read what Neil Gaiman had to say.

Saturday, February 19, 2011

Inspiration Surrounds Us—By Danielle Joseph

I am equally inspired by music, books, people and real life events. Right before I started writing Shrinking Violet I read White Oleander by Janet Fitch. I loved the book and once I put it down, I was ready to write something powerful. Although Shrinking Violet is nothing like White Oleander, it propelled me to write form the heart. To write a book rich in voice, to scrutinize each word that I put on the page and to make sure my pacing flowed seamlessly.

For those of you that have read my first two books, you probably know I am a huge music fan. So before coming up with the idea for Indigo Blues, I listened to the song Hey There, Delilah by the Plain White T’s like a billion times and not just because it was played over and over on the radio. The song was catchy and told a story. It got me wondering what it would be like to be the real Delilah and the singer that was in love with her. And that’s how Indigo Jackson and Adam Spade were born.

For Pure Red (coming this fall from Flux) I was inspired by inspiration itself. This book was driven by the love to create. About the icky feeling I get if I haven’t had time to be creative, to work on my passion. In the story, Cassia Bernard has given herself one summer to try and find her true passion. She is fueled by her counselor telling her she may end up nowhere and stymied by her dad, the uber creative local Mami artist.

As for people, I am constantly inspired by the people I read about that have overcome their own obstacles and stood up for what they believe in. Helen Keller is a huge inspiration to me and plays a part in Shrinking Violet.

Last week I was inspired by a Sesame Street song that a friend posted on Facebook of all things. It could be because my daughter who is turning two soon is a Elmo fanatic or because I am a big fan of the Black Eyed Peas but nonetheless, I like the message and even my two boys enjoyed it. So go out there and create from the heart but be yourself!

Friday, February 18, 2011

Touchstones, by Emily Whitman

I like the word Touchstone. Touch. Stone. A finger reaching out and making physical contact. That's what it feels like when a book or song or picture speaks directly to me, cutting through all the usual protective layers: it's physical, a shiver on my skin, a pulse in my veins, a deeper heartbeat.

I've heard that the Buddhist concept of right speech means not just speaking the truth, but speaking when someone is ready to hear you. In the same way, touchstones meet you at a particular time in your life, right when you need them. I read E. Nesbit's books now and I think they're lovely, but when I was about ten years old, they jolted me awake with their absolute confidence that magic was alive in the everyday world. Later I read Mara Daughter of the Nile, and a kiss in a book was what created that shiver of wonder. In high school it was Leonard Cohen's songs. These threads--the everyday truth of magic, defying borders between worlds, the power of a kiss, the twining of physical love and spiritual truth--still fuel me and my writing.

In Radiant Darkness, Persephone crosses between Earth and the Underworld in a mythic journey with a modern voice--and all those threads are there, weaving back to early touchstones.

Part of the writing life is learning to recognize those shivers and moments of deep connection, and get greedy with them. The book you read over and over, the song you sing until it comes as easy as breathing, the story idea that makes you say "You're mine"--they're in your life for a reason.

Here's what I want to keep reminding myself: Listen.

(p.s. Radiant Darkness is a finalist for the Oregon Book Award! There's a Reader's Choice category this year--vote for your favorite here.)

Thursday, February 17, 2011


Inspiration. One of the many intangibles a fiction writer taps daily to convert experiences into stories. Like my fellow Outside the Liners, I, too, have those select few books, movies, and songs that speak to me. Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice will always be cited as the book that made me a reader and eventually a writer.

Today I’m throwing something else into the mix: travel. I am a vagabond at heart. Indeed, one meaning of the name Wendy is wanderer. As a reader, I find the vicarious experience of being transported to another place and time magical. As a writer and all-around curious soul, I am invigorated by a new perspective, whether it’s the cacophony of a Paris street or the velvety roll of an English countryside.

When I graduated from Michigan State I had no idea what I wanted to be. The only concrete thing I knew I wanted was to travel. I waitressed that first summer after college and bought myself a ticket to France, where—for a year—I worked as an au pair and studied at a small school in Nice. Back home, I followed some college friends out to Los Angeles. My travel experience and languages (a little German besides French) landed me a job with an international tour operator. It was the perfect job, pre-kids, as it took me all over Europe and the U.S. When my two boys became my full-time occupation and travel became kid-friendly and budget-minded, I turned to flights of fancy.

At the heart of this transport-me zeal is curiosity. An interest in other walks of life and other corners of this magnificent spinning ball can spark a love of reading, wanderlust, and even a writer’s journey. So where to next?

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Inspiration -- Cheryl Renee Herbsman

When I first started writing Breathing, I knew one of the elements I really wanted to work on was Voice. I didn't feel like I quite understood what the term meant until an editor (Ari Lewin) spoke at an SCBWI conference and read the first few pages of what was then a yet-to-be-released copy of a chapter book called Clementine by Sara Pennypacker.

This wasn't a book I would have ever picked up. I was writing YA. What did I care about a little kid book? But as soon as she read those opening pages, I got it. For the first time, I knew what voice meant. Because Sara Pennypacker does an amazing job of putting the reader right inside the mind of this unique, quirky, and engaging kid called Clementine. That's not to say that "getting it" suddenly makes "doing it" easy. But suddenly, I felt inspired! I knew what I was looking for -- a voice of a character who felt like a real live person to me.

So when the voice of Savannah started to speak inside my head during a writing exercise one night, I had a feeling she might have a story to tell. Then, it became my job to GET OUT OF THE WAY and let her tell her story. Sometimes I did. Other times I tried to hold the reins and the voice wouldn't come out quite right. Then I'd stop, read a few pages of Clementine to remind myself how important it was to let Savannah do the talking. And then -- whoosh -- I'd be right back in the story with Savannah yakking away in my head.

My goal was to write a novel in a voice that felt real and alive, about a character who seemed unique, quirky, and engaging. Hopefully, that's what Breathing turned out to be. It got me my first book deal -- a dream come true!

And sometimes I wonder if this story would've ever been written if I hadn't gone to that conference or met Pennypacker's Clementine. Kind of a scary thought. But I use that concern to stay open to learning new elements of craft and to taking in all forms of inspiration.

Look around. Keep your eyes and ears open. You never know where inspiration might be lurking. It might be in a movie or song or in a book in your genre or it might come from somewhere surprising :)

Sunday, February 13, 2011

Sunny Days, Song Lists, Social Distortion & Sad Documentaries (Stephanie Kuehnert)

What an appropriate time for us to be talking inspiration because last week I needed it more than ever. I've working on the project I've been calling The Bartender Book, which as I mentioned on my last post here, I was giving one last shot while I was on my writing retreat to San Diego. That writing retreat went beautifully, reviving and inspiring me and putting me in great writing spirits. I had lots of revelations about my writing in general and thought I had a great grasp on this book in particular. You can get all the details plus more pictures of Sunny San Diego here on my blog.

Those sunny days and good vibes kept me going for a month. Then on Monday night, I realized that A. my book is too long and B. that one of my characters had done something that I wasn't sure if the other characters or me or my readers could ever forgive her for. I mean she had been doing it all along and in fact the plot revolves around what she'd done. But suddenly it seemed like I couldn't find any way to justify her actions or resolve them in a way that would lead to a satisfying ending. I'd broke the book! Again! And this time since it dealt with something so intrinsic to the plot, it didn't seem like I could fix it. It seemed like the book was officially dead. And I was beyond upset, I was in mourning. Now I've gotten frustrated with this book many times and kept saying I was through with it, but those times I was so annoyed with it and the writing had been going so poorly for so long, the idea of giving up felt like a relief. This time, since I'd totally fallen in love with my characters and was really enjoying writing again, it was freakin' devastating. Like I don't know how I'll ever write again devastating.

So what's a girl to do?

First I busted out the playlist for the book. This book has my longest playlist yet. It's currently at 34 songs. I keep discovering more. The main bands for this book as I know I've mentioned before are The Gaslight Anthem, The Loved Ones, Hole's Nobody's Daughter album, Against Me!, a long with a little bit of The Cure, Siouxsie Sioux and Bruce Springsteen. I just added some songs from Social Distortion's brand new album. In particular a song called "Writing On The Wall" speaks to the end of the book right around the part where I got stuck:

So I busted out the iPod dock, brought it into the bathroom and sat in the bathtub for over an hour, hoping for inspiration to strike.

Then I cooked dinner listening to that same playlist.

Then I sat down to catch up on One Life to Life (soap operas are an inspiration for this book).

Then my husband came home and I proceeded to tell him that it was over. The book was dead. He tried to console me and talk plot with me a bit (my husband is a saint, I swear), but I was far too morose and braindead at that point. So I decided we should watch Spike Lee's When The Levees Broke, which is about Hurricane Katrina.

I'd gotten it from Netflix because one of my characters has really profound emotional reaction to Hurricane Katrina.... Well, I mean, who didn't. Personally I was glued to CNN for days when it happened. I was in grad school at the time and working day shifts at the bar. One of the curmudgeonly old guys really pissed me off when he said something along the lines of young people like you don't care about this. I totally went off on him and talked about friends who were planning trips down to rebuild and donating as much as we could to the Red Cross, etc. Then as writers do, I stored up the experience.

Both of my books, I WANNA BE YOUR JOEY RAMONE and BALLADS OF SUBURBIA are about figuring out your home/who your family is. It's a huge theme in my work, finding your place in the world, finding the people that are good to have in your life because it is something I always struggled with. Watching people lose their homes, watching them flee a city that so many of them had had family in for generations really disturbed me. And for my character who has been moved 12 times by the age of 14, the last move taking place while Hurricane Katrina is hitting.... like I said, profound effect.

So I'd wanted to watch the documentary to remember my own feelings so I could write hers. Of course when we sat down to watch it, I thought I was giving up on the book, but I figured at the very least it would remind me that there was something much huger out there than me and my problems. Even if I have to scrap the novel I've been working on for a year, it is nothing compared to what those Hurricane Katrina survivors went through.

It's a very powerful documentary. I cried through a lot of it. And I still held on to the determination to finish my book. I woke up after far too little sleep feeling like I didn't have any answers though, but as I lay awake in the darkness, I start to formulate some. I'm still taking baby steps to get on track and crossing my fingers and all that other good stuff that I'll be done before my own trip to New Orleans on March 20th. I can't say exactly how the documentary helped me, but it's really powerful and just a reminder of how strong people are. As much as music and being in a good place feed my muse. Life, both good and bad events, are always the main inspiration. Here is a clip from the very beginning of the documentary, but I highly advise you to rent the whole thing.

Friday, February 11, 2011

My Inspirations

This month I’m bending the lines around the topic of inspirations. Instead of writing about the music, books, and other media that inspired my writing, I chose to write about people. Not the “now” people, but those early in my life who made books and writing an important part of who I am.

My first inspiration was my mom, Roberta, who filled our home with books and showed me the joy of reading by her example. I can’t remember which books Mom read to my brother Dan and me, and, sadly, she’s not longer around to ask. But she--and my dad to a certain extent—let me know that reading was fun, exciting, and relaxing all at the same time.

Mom inspired me to write, also by example. She won a high school poetry-writing contest and kept both the poem and the award to prove it. I heard the story several times about how nervous she was reading her poem in front of the entire school. But what stuck with me was that she had written something other people thought was worth an award. How cool would that be!

Mom’s mother, Eva, also encouraged my love of books. Before she married my grandpa Bert, she taught in a one-room school. She and Mom passed books back and forth and discussed them. Since Mom worked fulltime, Grandma escorted me to our small town library and pointed me toward books she thought I would like. I usually did.

My teachers also fostered my love of books and writing. One that stands out for me was Mrs. Russell, my eighth grade English teacher. She gave creative writing assignments that I loved and praised me liberally for my efforts. She also encouraged me to enter speech and oral interpretation contests in high school, which played perfectly into reading, writing, and my love of hamming it up.

Mom, Grandma Eva, and Mrs. Russell also lived a bit outside the lines. Mom became a politician in her 40s, ran for County Auditor, and held the position for 23 years. Grandma Eva took up painting in her 50s and learned to work in mediums like oils and acrylics. Mrs. Russell began teaching in an era when female teachers had to be single. She married secretly and continued to teach until that archaic rule changed.

One last person I want to recognize was my oral interpretation professor at Grand View University, Mrs. Noyes. She had a reputation for being critical, but she challenged me to do my best. Mrs. Noyes didn’t teach writing; instead she taught me to notice and appreciate the rhythms and nuances of great literature. I remember taking my turn at the poem “My Last Duchess” and struggling with the inflections. Finally, she said, “You haven’t lived enough yet to understand this poem.” Now I know what she meant.

Although those amazing women who inspired me passed away years ago, they were instrumental in shaping my life. I paid tribute to my mom by dedicating FAIREST OF THEM ALL to her. Eva (and Bert) are the names of Oribella’s great-grandparents, and Mrs. Russell is her English teacher. I haven’t named one of my characters for Mrs. Noyes yet, but she’ll show up in the future.

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Harold and Maude and Playing Hurt (Holly Schindler)

Okay, so first thing’s first: As the newest member of YA Outside the Lines, I have to say I’m thrilled to join these incredible authors. Thrilled. And because I had such a long road to publication (seven and a half years of full-time effort to get to that first signed contract), my head still spins when I think that I’m able to use the word “fellow” when I refer to these authors, as in: my fellow YA authors.

It also makes my head spin to think that one month from today, my second novel will release…

My novels are about as night-and-day as it gets. The covers and the official jacket copy for each prove that much:

A Blue So Dark, my debut:

Fifteen-year-old Aura Ambrose has been hiding a secret. Her mother, a talented artist and art teacher, is slowly being consumed by schizophrenia, and Aura has been her sole caretaker ever since Aura’s dad left them. Convinced that “creative” equals crazy, Aura shuns her own artistic talent. But as her mother sinks deeper into the darkness of mental illness, the hunger for a creative outlet draws Aura toward the depths of her imagination. Just as desperation threatens to swallow her whole, Aura discovers that art, love, and family are profoundly linked—and together may offer an escape from her fears.

Playing Hurt, the March 8 release:

Star basketball player Chelsea “Nitro” Keyes had the promise of a full ride to college—and everyone’s admiration in her hometown. But everything changed senior year, when she took a horrible fall during a game. Now a metal plate holds her together and she feels like a stranger in her own family.

As a graduation present, Chelsea’s dad springs for a three-week summer “boot camp” program at a northern Minnesota lake resort. There, she’s immediately drawn to her trainer, Clint, a nineteen-year-old ex-hockey player who’s haunted by his own traumatic past. As they grow close, Chelsea is torn between her feelings for Clint and her loyalty to her devoted boyfriend back home. Chelsea and Clint both begin to wonder if an unexpected romance will just end up causing them more pain—or finally heal their heartbreak?

I’m not sure that I can say the inspiration for either of my books is singular. But certainly one of the biggie inspirations for Playing Hurt is Harold and Maude, one of my favorite love stories—and movies—of all time.

For anyone unfamiliar with the movie, Harold is a young man (early 20’s) obsessed with death. He drives a hearse, stages fake “suicides,” primarily for his mother’s benefit, and attends funerals—where he meets Maude, a woman in her late 70’s. They become probably the oddest odd couple of all time…but in their short time together, Maude teaches Harold how to love life; when Maude leaves at the end of the movie, Harold is a changed man.

I’ve always loved that about this movie—loved the fact that Harold’s life is different because Maude has been in it.

Playing Hurt is really nothing at all like Harold and Maude…except for the fact that in my novel, both Chelsea and Clint—damaged by life-altering tragedies—change for the better. Just as Harold is a better man for having known Maude, in Playing Hurt, Chelsea and Clint’s brief summer romance redirects both of them back toward the light that can still exist in their lives.

…I’m not sure which I like best: the short clip from Harold and Maude, included below, or one of the comments I read below a similar Harold and Maude clip, on YouTube: “everyone should know a maude”. Amen, brother…

Monday, February 7, 2011

An Inspiration for Over 30 Years (yeah, I'm that old)

There is one author I read growing up that I still read. Not because she continues to write (she died over 20 years ago). Or because she wrote books that were critically acclaimed (although she is ranked at #76 on the American Library Association’s list of most challenged books for 1990-1999). Most of the time when I mention her name the person I'm talking to asks, "Who's that?"

This author didn't simply shape me as a reader or a writer. I truly believe she shaped me as a person. Which is why I ordered a bunch of her out-of-print books on Amazon so I can still crack their spines and read her amazing stories of girls that I totally related to. I also bought those books so I can give them to my daughter one day and she hopefully will love them as much as I do. My inspiration as a teen girl growing up, and as a writer today, is Norma Klein.

I had no idea that Norma Klein's books were controversial (although I did know that they had single parents, parents living with lovers, mothers who revealed they were lesbians, teenaged sex, abortions, inappropriate relationships and characters who smoked pot and drank - she wrote in the late 70s and 80s so the drinking age was only 18 back then).

They also had teenaged girls who were high achievers making honor roll, applying to the Ivy League and getting summer internships at research labs because they loved science. I devoured Norma's books, and her characters, because they felt so real. Nothing was sugar coated. Girls had boyfriends who were great, nice guys, and they cheated on those nice boys. Her characters were smart. They made dumb mistakes. Their parents were adults who were also just people. Actions had consequences and life always didn't end up like they expected.

I want my books to be just like Norma's - a reflection of real life. That means sometimes teenaged girls have sex (and it doesn't mean they're sluts). Sometimes they drink (my editor questioned my decision to have my characters in RICH BOYS drinking a six pack on the beach - they were underage - and I insisted the scene stay in exactly as it was). Parents sometimes make mistakes and sometimes even with the best intentions things go wrong. I recently read a review of my book THE BOOK OF LUKE and the reviewer (a mother) titled the review DO NOT BUY: PARENTS BE WARNED!!!! She thought the content was inappropriate for teens because the character has sex. She wanted to protect her child from harmful "vices" (her exact words). While that's her right as a parent, I can't imagine not recognizing that teenagers are people, too. They don't all act the same way, but that's the fun of writing. Creating a character who thinks and acts for herself.

A few years ago I was visiting with Judy Blume at her home on Martha's Vineyard (my book, the anthology EVERYTHING I NEEDED TO KNOW ABOUT BEING A GIRL I LEARNED FROM JUDY BLUME, had just come out). We were talking about a bunch of stuff and I happened to mention that I loved and devoured Norma Klein's books growing up. I said that I wish I'd had a chance to meet Norma and tell her how much she affected me. Judy responded by telling me that she was very good friends with Norma Klein, and I sat there while she told me all about Norma, the woman and the writer. It was wonderful.

Recently I was re-reading (for the hundredth time) Norma's book IT'S OKAY IF YOU DON'T LOVE ME (one of my favs). It was sitting on the desk in our kitchen and my husband picked it up and opened to a chapter. He read a few pages and turned to me. "Oh my god," he said, "Now I know why you like these books - they're about you, you're the character in this book, you're exactly like her!"

And that's exactly how I felt growing up. As a writer and a person, she was able to capture exactly what real life is like. It's not always pretty, but it's always honest. And that's why Norma Klein remains such an inspiration to me.

Saturday, February 5, 2011

What inspired me, April Henry, to be a writer

When I was a kid, I loved to read. Loved, LOVED, LOVED.  For Christmas, when I was nine, I asked for nothing but books.  I was deliriously happy and read at least two that day.  I'm sure at least one was a Trixie Belden mystery (written by a variety of authors under the nom de plume Kathryn Kenny), which started me on my lifelong quest to a) write my own mysteries and b) someday be as rich and beautiful as Trixie's best friend, Honey.  (Since I'm unable to whistle, I didn't even dream of being able to make the Bob-White call that was their secret signal.)

All those writers made me a reader.  Another writer was Evelyn Lampman.  I had trouble finding scans of her book covers, but I did find this:  "After marriage, she left her job and was forbidden to drive; her new husband thought operating an automobile unseemly for a woman.  Widowed at 35, with six- and three-year-old daughters to support, she had her late husband's suits cut down for her (the two were the same height) and returned to writing for radio. In 1947, Doubleday published her debut novel, Crazy Creek, a story about pioneer life in Oregon for older children; two years later, when Doubleday accepted her second book, Treasure Mountain, she quit her day job."  Now there's an inspiration for you!  She published 40 historical and science fiction novels for kids.  I still remember finishing one and turning back to the first page to start reading it again.

Then there was The Silver Crown, by Robert C. O'Brien.  I loved that book so much I stole it from Roosevelt Elementary in the spring of sixth grade. (I was stealing a lot - working through some issues - and later went back and tried to repay everyone.  Let's just say it's not easy to get convenience stores to put money in the till for something you took ten years earlier.) My absolutely favorite part of the book is when someone who appears to be the the main character's savior betrays her.  This book held up well when I read it to my daughter about 36 years later. And I've used that same twist many times myself in my own writing - including in Girl, Stolen.

Enchantress from the Stars was a wonderful sci-fi novel that stayed with me for years and years.  Here's the description. "Elana, a member of an interstellar civilization on a mission to a medieval planet, becomes the key to a dangerous plan to turn back an invasion. How can she help the Andrecians, who still believe in magic and superstition, without revealing her own alien powers? At the same time, Georyn, the son of an Andrecian woodcutter, knows only that there is a dragon in the enchanted forest, and he must defeat it. He sees Elana as the Enchantress from the Stars who has come to test him, to prove he is worthy. One of the few science fiction books to win a Newbery Honor, this novel will enthrall teenage and adult readers."   A few years back, I found out that the author lives only 90 minutes away, which was like discovering a movie star lived next door.  I tried to arrange to take her out to lunch, but alas, she is in poor health.  She is still writing, though.  

And then there's a book I read in high school (you should really read the book before you see the movie):  Marathon Man. (For some reason, dentists loathe this movie.)  Again, the book and movie have the twist that someone is not who you think he is.  In fact, you are wrong twice over.  One reason it's interesting to read the book and watch the movie is that the same man, William Goldman, wrote both, and it's fascinating to see what changed from page to screen.

This story would not be complete without mentioning the author who first helped me get published:  Roald Dahl. When I was 11, I sent him a short story about a six-foot frog named Herman who loved peanut butter.  He sent me this postcard in response - and then took the story to lunch with him and shared it with an editor for an international children's magazine.  She contacted me and asked to publish it.  (Perhaps foreshadowing my future experiences, I got paid nothing and had to subscribe to the magazine.) 

How about you?  What inspired you?

Friday, February 4, 2011

I Got The Music In Me. Just Not When I Write.

My brothers listen to bands that don’t even exist yet. (Disclaimer- I saw this slogan on a t-shirt over at Threadless)
I listen to top 40 okay? I admit it. I try not to be ashamed. I have Avril Lavigne and Brittney Spears and even (this is really embarrassing) Miley Cyrus on my Ipod playlists (another disclaimer-the playlists with these selections are used for *mainly *running and exercising. Fast beat and all. Right? Right. I have other music too. I really do. Some of it might be cool.)
When I was younger, I loved to dance. That’s one thing I pine for from my own YA days. Putting on loud music with my friends and DANCING.  I can still do it of course. But it’s not really the same when my dance partners are a ten year old son who glares at me like I’m the most mortifying person on the planet and a husband who rolls his eyes and doesn’t move to join me.  And then asks me to turn the music down.
Did I mention I was a DJ in a dance club when I was in my early twenties? (Insert more eye rolling from my husband. He thinks I tell people this because I think I was cool. Um. Yeah??? A DJ husband. I had groupies. What is not cool about that? J)
I digress.  What I really wanted to talk about was music. And how it inspires me.  Well. Honestly. When it comes to writing my books. It doesn’t. I wish it did. I’ve heard writers describe the different music they listen to when they write and how different genres whip up their emotions and change the dynamics in their stories and I think, Whoa. That’s cool.  There might even be some jealousy. Some writers even have play lists and then I think, 'Whoa that is so awesome, I am a lame, lame writer.'
When I sit down to write, I like silence. I splay myself on the couch with a leg rest to stretch out my legs and on my legs my laptop is usually uncomfortably hot and then I write in total silence.  That is my preferred way.
I don’t think I’ve ever had an inspiration come to me from music. The only time I use it when writing is when I do coffee shop writing and I pop in ear buds and turn on music as white noise to block out other conversations Otherwise I'd be tempted to eavesdrop on instead of focusing on my work.
Sigh. So. While I do have an appreciation and love of music, the louder the better in most cases, it is not one of my writing tools. 
My inspirations come to me more in scenes. I’M NOT HER started in my head with an image of two sisters. One very pretty and popular, dancing to music (hey look- music WAS in the inspiration) at a party. The other sister- the pov character is alone on a couch feeling uncomfortable and thinking the pretty perfect sister really has it all. (does she..well you have to read to find out!)
I didn’t listen to any music when I wrote I'M NOT HER. But did I mention that I was a DJ when I was in my twenties?

Thursday, February 3, 2011

Interviewing myself

So what’s the big news?

My fourth novel, THROAT, a book about a girl whose epilepsy transforms her into a vampire that doesn’t need to drink blood or fear the sunlight, is now on sale everywhere!

How did you approach the writing of THROAT?

I never set out to write a vampire book, but once I realized that’s just what I was doing, in the true spirit of 'writing outside the lines,' I did my best to make this the most realistic vampire story I possibly could. I stepped back and looked at the whole thing with fresh eyes, asking myself the question, “What would it REALLY be like to be a vampire?” Basically you would be super powerful, but also homeless and desperately dependent upon the very people who would hunt you down and kill you if they could. Why homeless? How could a vampire own property when he couldn’t even have a social security number? Could never transact business during daylight (banking) hours? Would need to stay on the move to avoid detection? Had no address, no telephone, or even contact information? Yes, there would be amazing physical and sensory advantages, but also crippling weaknesses and obstacles. Being a vampire would most definitely be a curse. There would be very little that was glamorous about it. Sexy? Well...wait, I don't want to spoil it for you.

So what else makes THROAT so completely different from the eight million other vampire novels?

My main character, Emma Cooper, already feels cursed. She is an epileptic who suffers from tonic-clonic (grand mal) seizures that have seriously disrupted her life in many ways. Her social world has been wrecked, she has lost friends, and hasn’t even been able to get her driver’s license. At heart Emma is adventurous and daring, and so is furious that her condition has shackled her dreams. Don’t even mention boys. This has all left her bitter and a loner. But in a strange twist of fate, her epilepsy also saves her life one terrible night when she experiences a massive seizure while being attacked by a monster named Wirtz. Emma’s seizure also scrambles her transformation: afterward she has all the powers of a vampire but none of the weaknesses. Life should be great – there’s just one catch. Other vampires are coming to kill her for it.

So this is an action story? All adventure and no romance?

Heck no! There’s plenty of action, sure. Emma is menaced from one end of the book to the other. THROAT is a breakneck survival story. But anyone who has read my books knows I really enjoy a great love story, and the centerpiece of THROAT is a tale of love and wrenching change. When Emma is forced to take refuge at a NASA Space Center and meets a guy who works there as a university co-op student, she has to learn how to trust all over again in order to stay alive, discovering she can’t do everything herself, even though their blossoming love puts them both in horrific danger.

So is there a THROAT 2 in your future?

I really loved writing this book, but I wrote THROAT as a stand-alone novel with a VERY definite ending that was a blast to create (and also harrowing even as I wrote it). But there are several possibilities remaining for future story lines.

Can you tell us what you are working on right now?

That's a secret! But I can tell you this: it will be COMPLETELY out of left field. Fresh, different, crazily new. Thanks for asking!

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Deadly Release Feb. 22 – CONTEST #1 – Julie Chibbaro

For inspiration, publishing a book is the best muse I can imagine.

I have been waiting long years for this month. The making and publishing of Deadly has had its own incredible saga that I may one day tell you in all its gory details, but for now, suffice it to say that after years of suffering, research, writing, waiting, doubt, rewriting, waiting, being orphaned, and being reclaimed, my novel has finally found its way, and will be out in the world very soon. I CAN’T WAIT!

Here is the frontispiece for the novel, a drawing by my main character Prudence, a girl fascinated with Gray's Anatomy:

On Feb. 20th, I will have a blog tour for Deadly starting at Confessions of a Bookaholic. Lots of interviews, guest posts and reviews at a bunch of great blogs.

Here’s the Deadly trailer, made by the artist Jean-Marc Superville Sovak, who also did the drawings (as Prudence) for the book, music by Eric Helmuth:

And here is my first contest:

Contest #1 – Cool, cool, cool – 5 signed bookmarks made by S&S to give away in a random drawing. (Just a taste of the bigger Contest #2 I’m having on my website starting Feb. 20 in which I will give away 5 signed copies of Deadly and maybe some other goodies).

Here are the bookmarks, back and front:

Comment here or email me through my website and put “Contest #1” in the header (and write me a note to say hi!) to win a signed bookmark:

+2 if you follow me @juliechibbaro and twitter about this post

+2 if you join my Deadly by Julie Chibbaro FB pg.:

Winners will be notified by email, so be sure to leave your contact. Random drawing Feb. 7 (I will contact winners by email). Winners also announced here March 2 (my next post date). Contest #2 also announced here March 2.

Hee, hee, I’m so excited!

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

February prompt: Inspiration

As in, what inspires you... me... well, you know.

Anyhow, in a word: music.

Go on, those of you who know me, look surprised.

Really, it's okay. I know.

Actually, though, anything artistic has the power to inspire me, from music to visual art to dance to theatre to sport to food. All you have to do is look at my three published YA novels to see what kind of influence the arts have had on me: Adiós, music; Accent, theatre and graphic arts; Stars, dance, music, and art. In the more than half dozen unpublished manuscripts, there's generally something artistic involved as well—I can't seem to help myself. But of all the pursuits, music is and always has been my constant. My personal touchstone. As I compose this blog, I'm listening to the score for the television miniseries East of Eden—big, bold, dramatic music that's weaving its way into the seeds of a story idea I've been toying with for the last couple of weeks. It happened by accident. Both the story idea and rediscovering the music. I'd been outlining the idea, putting down notes and key points, then this past weekend, I was watching the U.S. National Figure Skating Championships (see above for artistic inspirations...) and Rachel Flatt came out and skated her short program to the finale theme to East of Eden. Oddly, this was not the first time I'd seen this piece used for a program: Michelle Kwan used it several years ago as well and I remember thinking at the time what a gorgeous piece it was and I couldn't believe I'd forgotten about it, since East of Eden is a) one of my favorite Steinbeck novels and b) I loved both the original 1955 film version and the 1981 miniseries which was able to incorporate the totality of the book's plot. (As an aside, does anyone else miss miniseries? Like the really big, lush six to eight-part events they used to show back in the day?)

Anyhow... I don't know what magic plotbunnies went to work in my head, but all I can tell you is that that piece of music suddenly felt very important. It brought a pair of characters who'd existed on paper as mere outlines—even to the point of lacking names—into fully realized existence. I knew their names, I was able to see a scene between them, I could even hear their voices.

Weird? Probably. Especially when you consider that the music for East of Eden was designed to evoke a family saga set amidst the lonely grandeur of the Salinas Valley, circa World War I-era and my story is a contemporary with horror overtones taking place in New Orleans. Yeah, you know, I couldn't even begin to tell you, except that it worked. And so it's with that piece of music that I'll begin crafting the soundtrack(s) that will accompany the creation of this story. Because yes, I do work with music in the background. It my thing. Every story I've ever written has not just a soundtrack, but generally multiple soundtracks, each designed to evoke a character or scene or setting.

Not that this is the first time this has happened to me, while watching a figure skating program—I've got another story inspired completely by watching Tanith Belbin and Benjamin Agosto at last year's Olympics where they skated to Caccini's "Ave Maria" and Rossini's "Amen" from the Stabat Mater. In that case, I didn't even have a nebulous story idea I was playing around with—nope, I just was innocently watching the Olympics, this program came on and four minutes and forty-four seconds later, I had an entire story idea in place.

Go on, those of you who know me, look surprised.

I know.

At any rate, I'll leave you with the latest inspiration: East of Eden, in this case, as performed by Michelle Kwan, since her skating is art on ice.