Friday, March 29, 2013

Endings and Beginnings

Why am I always in a damn motel with wifi when it's my turn to post? Ah well.

Okay, so earlier this month I finished the first draft of a work in progress and sent it to my editor. Since I turned it in rather before my deadline (a miracle it itself), she won't be able to get to it for a bit.

So now, for the first time in months, I have guilt-free free time.

And I hate it.

Seriously, in a month or so I'll be working on the rewrite, and every spare moment I'll be at my computer, reworking the story. And when I'm not, I'll feel guilty, knowing that this book won't fix itself. So right now, I can just enjoy these lazy hours. For the first time since summer, I actually watched TV by myself.

I can't stand this. Writing is what I do. It must be hard wired or something. And true, I guess I could start on something else, but I have trouble shifting mental gears, especially when I know I'll go back to the original work soon.

So I guess I have to be patient. My editor is quick to respond, and before I know it, I'll be free of this nasty spare time.

Either that, or I can quit my job. Now there's a thought...

Thursday, March 28, 2013

Why You Shouldn't Fret If You Get Stuck With A Donkey

Overall, I don’t appear to be much of an optimist. But, I am.  I believe very strongly in hope, which I think you need to when you’re talking about something like “new beginnings.” 

New beginnings means you’re starting over, you’re leaving the old behind. It implies change. And change (while I, myself, often go into it kicking and screaming) can be very good.

One of the main reasons I write YA is because I believe in new beginnings and hope.  I believe that things can always get better, no matter how bad they are. I think this is an important philosophy in life, overall. But I especially, especially believe this is important to know when you’re a teen.  Because, let’s face it, being a teen can be rough.  It means having strong opinions, having strong desires, but being limited in what you can do about them. And you have to trudge through every day. It can seem like forever. But there’s hope, right? Don’t hesitate. Say “yes,” because there is hope. Although some people would like to be teens forever (and while I understand this on some level, it’s impossible and limiting and for goodness sake, it’s a really good thing to grow and experience life beyond high school), the truth is, you won’t be a teen forever. At some point, you will hit the brink of adulthood, of true independence, of a new beginning. And there is amazing, uncountable, infinite, googleplex possibility and potential of what will happen, what could happen, when you start a new beginning. Now, don’t get those dreamy stars in your eyes just yet because some of it might be bad, there’s always bad, maybe even worse than what you’ve already gone through, but there’s always, always the possibility of better. Of newness. Of change. Of good. Of awesome.

New beginnings. It’s like playing that TV gameshow Let's Make A Deal (incidentally which I can only watch for five minutes because it kind of makes me anxious). You could end up with a really cool car. You could. But you could also end up with some dusty, old, stinky donkey. You could. The thing is, even if you end up with the damn donkey, it could be the kind of donkey that kicks up its legs and takes you somewhere really cool. If you let it. 

Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Terra Incognita (Jennifer R. Hubbard)

I like the familiar. Often I would rather go deeper into known territory, dig beneath the surface, look for treasures I missed the first time, than move to completely new territory.

That plays out in the jolt I get going from an old book to a new one. While there’s pleasure and anticipation in new beginnings, there’s also the awkwardness of the unknown. That awkwardness is reminiscent of my having been a “new kid” at more than one school in my childhood: I don’t know where anything is! I don’t know who these people are! I don’t know what’s coming next!

When I start a new book, I’m fumbling around. Characters pop up, and I don’t know their backstories. I don’t know if I can trust my narrator. I can’t tell who’s attracted to whom; sometimes I matchmake and it doesn’t work. I’m not always sure who will still be alive at the end of the story.

By the time I finish the book, I know the characters inside out. The plot seems inevitable, the setting so familiar that I half-believe I’ve lived there myself. Now I have to leave them all and stare down another new beginning.

It’s the willingness to stumble and feel stupid, the ability to get through the uncomfortable phase, that gets me through to the polished ending. I test out different plotlines to find the one that isn’t a dead end. I order the characters around, and then when they give me nothing but stiff, unnatural scenes, I step back and let them be themselves instead. Sometimes I find characters who don’t even belong in this story, and I usher them out the back door. Perhaps they’ll appear in another story, later.

New beginnings are about letting myself be a novice, a student. They’re about admitting what I don’t know. And they’re about finding out.

Tuesday, March 26, 2013


It seemed rather fitting to be writing a blog post about beginnings when I just finished writing the last book in the Covenant Series a few days ago. Writing Sentinel was the hardest book for me to write so far. It was bittersweet, coming to the end of the series. Part of me was happy, while the other part sad to say goodbye to the characters who became a part of me.

Over the next year, I’ll see two more series comes to an end: the Gamble Brothers and the Lux Series. And while seeing those two series come to an end, the Covenant Series will always be the hardest to say goodbye to since it was the first series I wrote and will always hold a special place in my heart.

Saying goodbye to your favorite series or characters is hard. Even with a happy ever after or a happy for now, it’s like saying goodbye to a friend who’s leaving for college or moving to a different city. But do we ever truly say goodbye to books? Even if the series is finished, the characters have completed their journey; do they simply disappear when you reach the end? I don’t think so. They live on and you can visit them anytime.

But as they say, with every ending, there is a new beginning. The same month that the Covenant series ends, a new series of mine begins. New characters to meet and new journeys to take part in. I find letting go is easier when you are beginning something new.

To celebrate endings and beginnings, I’m giving away a copy of WITH ALL MY SOUL, by Rachel Vincent, the last book in my favorite YA series—the Soul Screamers, which was released today. 

That’s my pathetic sad face.

Entering is simple and open until next Tuesday, April 2nd 11:59pm EST. Comment on this blog post and tell us what series you’re most excited to see begin or the series you’re saddest to say goodbye to. US only.

Saturday, March 23, 2013

back to the start

early sketch of my main character, Trent

All month long, I've been working on the editorial notes for my next YA book, MORE THAN GOOD ENOUGH. Every time I finish a revision, it's a challenge to "see" the story with new eyes. One of my favorite tricks is Darcy Pattison's "shrunken manucript" (printing the entire book in a tiny font size and highlighting scenes/characters with specific colors). I also like to print my revised pages in a different font. It tricks my brain into looking at the words like it's the first time.

Recently, I learned another great technique. Jo Knowles (JUMPING OFF SWINGS) talks about using "storyboards" to map her chapters. This makes a lot of sense to me. When I start working on a new book, I always sketch the characters. As I doodle, I let my mind wander. It's a balancing act between the left and right brain--the analytical and creative energies that go into writing a book.

storyboards for More Than Good Enough

My fabulous agent, Tina Wexler, understands that I'm a "pantser". I don't usually write an outline before I plunge into a new manuscript. But she taught me another trick: I can tackle an outline after I've written the first draft...just to see if everything inside my head ends up on paper.

I love the process of revision, the way it teaches me:

–writing a new book means "going back to the beginning" (untwisting a set of knots)

–every manuscript is different. And that's okay.

–sometimes it helps to change your routine (writing at different times of the day, in a new place, or typing scenes out of order).

–It's all about finding what works for you.

As I get ready to turn in another revision, I'm a little sad to let it go. In a way, it feels like saying goodbye to old friends. But here's the truth:

The new friends on the page, waiting to be discovered.


Friday, March 22, 2013

False Starts or New Beginnings? It's All in Your Attitude (Patty Blount)

“New beginnings” -- an appropriate theme for this time of year. We just set the clocks ahead, which is my favorite day – it means Spring is here! I love spring, when the planet undergoes rebirth and everything gets a fresh new start. Fresh new starts used to bother me. I thought having to restart a project indicated my failure. Redo. Do over. Go back to Start. It was a punishment; a clear indicator that I’d been unsuccessful.

But then, I changed my attitude. *laughs* I guess you could say I got a fresh new start on fresh new starts. It started with SEND. After an agent I’d queried suggested I rewrite the entire story as a YA, I nearly quit, too consumed by thoughts of ‘failure’ to see what was actually an opportunity. Eventually, fortunately, I did come to see the opportunity and rewrote the story, which later sold and debuted last summer. I haven’t forgotten that lesson. Today, while I still track word count progress, I’m less chained to the words I commit to screen or paper.

I’ve got this idea for a paranormal trilogy. It’s a project I’ve been mulling over for months now. I have about 100,000 words in a draft I won’t use because the POV is wrong. I have another 40,000 words in a second draft that I may or may not use – it depends. And I’ve got about 10,000 words in a third draft that I really like.

I think this may be The One.

This is my process. I’ve learned never to delete anything; I just move cut scenes to a new file in case I want to use them later. I’ve learned to trust that writing isn’t a race, it’s an endurance test. I’ve learned that a false start usually means I haven’t gotten to know my characters well enough to know what motivates them, what they want, or what they’re afraid of. Or it could mean I don’t yet know where the story is going. But I know this – without my false starts, I couldn’t have pinpointed the problems that led to new beginnings. Sometimes, I need to see it wrong so I can recognize it when it’s right.

I now give myself permission to write stuff I know I’ll probably never use. It’s a practice run, a dress rehearsal. When it’s on screen, I can sit back, squint at it, and nudge the stuff that’s out of place back into line or trim it altogether.

Another technique I use is to write in chunks. Scenes, chapters, set-pieces, etc. What you call them isn’t important; how you attack them is. I start new files because I’m one of those bizarre people who gets inspired by the blank page. I can’t wait to fill it up whether it’s a journal, a computer screen, or a legal pad. When I’m happy with it, I paste it into the main manuscript file or just use that file as the new main file from that date forward.

I’ve learned this isn’t concrete; it’s fiction. Fiction is fickle and moody and capricious and so am I, which is probably why I love writing it so much. I can shape the words, bend them, mold them, cut them. Nothing’s done until I say it’s done and even then, I can always start again.

It’s amazing how much a tiny attitude adjustment can help.

Thursday, March 21, 2013

The Thrill of the Shiny and New--Rachel Harris

Beginnings rock.
Seriously, my absolute favorite part of this writing gig is the beginning. I mean yeah, typing “The End” is a time for celebration (preferably one involving chocolate), but even though I’m a plotter and know exactly where each story is going, it’s always the ending that causes me the most struggle. It’s as if my brain stops working in the hopes of holding onto these characters just a little longer. Endings make me emotional and sappy and question my decisions…but in the beginning? Nothing but excitement.
The thrill of a clean word document, the bazillion different ways you can present the story and introduce your characters to the world—it’s addictive.
This year, I have four books to write on deadline, on top of the one I just submitted. I’m not gonna lie; that totally stresses me out when I stop and think about it. But then, I look at each story. I imagine the characters in their particular story worlds, living out the plot I created for each synopsis, and that stress transforms into eagerness. When I remember to take it one book at a time, the joy far outweighs any anxiety I have because each one is a chance to begin again. To see if I’ve grown as a writer from my last book. To take an idea that didn’t work in one book and see if it can work in another. To try on different voices, live in different places, experience different eras.
The world of possibility lives inside each new beginning. And for me, exploring those possibilities is what makes me passionate about the written word. And it’s what keeps me sane when those nasty deadline things approach.

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

My Own New Beginning--Jamie Manning

First, I'd like to thank the wonderful crew here at YA Outside the Lines for inviting me to be a part of their blog. It truly is an honor, and I hope I do my part justice.

This month's topic, in case you may not have figured it out by the dozen or so posts before this one, is New Beginnings. We all get them. We all have a love/hate relationship with them. We all must inevitably accept them as part of the human experience. That's the part I'd like to talk a bit about today: accepting New Beginnings.

If you can remember back that far (for those of you who still have the word "teen" attached to your age, this should be an easy one), you may recall your first real New Beginning as being the day you started school. I myself can remember the excitement I felt. I can remember being anxious and happy, ready to meet new friends and learn new things. Heck, I was even excited about riding the bus for the first time. (author's note: my awesome mom actually let me experience that New Beginning when I was four, when she dressed me and packed me a lunch and put me on the bus with my older sister, only to be waiting at the school when we got there to take me back home. But I digress...)

And like that first day of school, there are many, many more signature New Beginnings one experiences throughout life: first best friend; first boyfriend/girlfriend; first bicycle; first book; first job. The list is truly endless. But the common thread throughout all of the aforementioned New Beginnings is that we tend to accept them with excitement and smiles, with open arms and hearts. These New Beginnings are ones we embrace as positives, things that we know without a doubt will enrich our lives and shape us into the people we want to become.

But what about those New Beginnings none of us see coming? Those none of us want to ever experience? Everything from living the rest of your life after your beloved pet moves on, to living the rest of your life after your beloved human best friend moves on... How in Hades are we supposed to accept those with the same high spirit and sense of wonder? It ain't easy, lemme tell ya. But we must. 

I can remember the first time I was bullied. 

I was in the fourth grade, and it was recess. I was playing by myself on the jungle gym, happy and carefree like all kids should be. One boy in my class, one boy who was bigger and therefore thought he was better, started bothering me. First it was taunting, making jokes and slinging names. I did my best to ignore him, having known this day would come since he had already done the same to countless others. And that worked for a bit, the silent treatment I was giving his teasing.

But this boy... This boy knew the game. He knew that simply throwing words was never enough. He had to see the pain, see his victim crying and cowering back from him. So, he moved in. 

I was at the top of the jungle gym, the very top, so I thought I was safe. I knew I couldn't stay there forever, but for the moment, I was okay. 

Until boys just like him began circling like starving coyotes in the middle of the desert. I was trapped. I knew this was it. This was my time. I had to come down from there, face what was going to happen. 

So I did. Scared and shaking, I climbed down that jungle gym and faced my bully.

Looking back, I'm so very glad I did.

On that day, a New Beginning started for me. One that gave me strength and courage. One that taught me that although life will sometimes give me a swift kick (or several swift punches, thanks to a bully and his friends) between the legs, I would survive. 

And that, readers, is how you accept those New Beginnings that, at the time, are too painful and scary to face. Whether it's having to go on after the death of a loved one...or moving away from the safety of home to embark on your own life...or standing up to a bully... 

Always know that each New Beginning, no matter how exciting or happy or terrifying or sad, will ultimately change you and mold you and make you into the person you were always meant to be.

And above all else, always always remember that yes, you will survive.

Sunday, March 17, 2013

New Beginnings by Wendy Delsol

Ah. Spring. It’s back. Birds are chirping their return. Tender shoots are pushing through the cold, grey earth. And there’s the occasional glimpse of that big yellow sky-high ball. All of which is most welcome. Most welcome.

Alas, this has been a tough winter. I live in Iowa, so they’re all pretty tough weather-wise. But this one was long and harsh for more personal reasons. I had shoulder surgery in November. I was told it would be painful. I was told that rehab would be slow. I was told that recovery would be four to five months. Somehow, I didn’t think those precautions would apply to my writing.

I assumed I’d use the time off to focus on my work in progress. I assumed I would type left-handed. I assumed with all of my physical distractions shelved, I’d have long stretches of hours to devote to my writing.

None of that went according to plan. What I neglected to factor in was the required harmony of both body and mind in the writing process. Creativity requires clarity, stamina, focus, discipline, and drive. I simply wasn’t up to the challenge.

Finally, I’m getting back to work.

Thus our topic this month, new beginnings, works well for me. I’ve been thinking all winter about (waiting for, technically) a fresh start. All along, I’ve considered the timing—my recovery coinciding with the start of spring—as fortuitous.

I’m still about a month away from an expected full recovery, but I am feeling stronger. And eager to work again. With a newfound enthusiasm. And the benefit of perspective.

I certainly didn’t ask for a 4-5 month hiatus. Nor did I expect it. I managed to do the things that simply had to get done. (I’m the mother of two teen sons. Enough said on that.) I don’t think I wallowed. I reminded myself daily that others go through far darker days, far more serious and debilitating health scares, etc. And all the while I kept an eye on the horizon. I repeated a this-too-shall-pass mantra.
So here’s to spring in all its lustrous glory. It’s always a reminder of the power of rejuvenation. I will be particularly conscious of and grateful for all it enlivens.

Saturday, March 16, 2013

The End by Jody Casella

Okay, it was my suggestion that we write about New Beginnings this month. But now that I'm sitting down to write about beginnings, I realize that what I really want to write about is Endings.

I have lots of experience with beginnings. But I'm more of a newby when it comes to endings--the kind where you really and truly are finished writing a book.

On my long road to publication I wrote many books. There's always this feeling of anticipation and hope when you start a new manuscript (or pick up an old one with thoughts of revising it) that this time, this one, will be the ONE. The one that works. The one that clicks. The one that crosses over and catches an editor's eye. The one that will some day sit on a bookstore shelf.

I have written the words The End many many times. But I never wrote the words The End and knew it was really and truly THE END until a few weeks ago.

Here's my usual experience with endings:

1. I write a first draft. When I reach "the end" I have a messy overblown overwritten thing but it is a beautiful perfect thing because it is finished.

2. It's not really finished though. This is where I pick up that overblown mess and read it with intense waves of nausea crashing over me as I realize how much work I still have left to do. I am one of those outline AFTER you write the book kinds of people. So here is where I see what I have (and what I don't have) and attempt to impose some organization. This is not editing, by the way. This is major reworking. For example: I discover that the book really begins on page 100 so I delete everything up to that point. I cut scenes that aren't working. I add scenes that are missing. I pull out unnecessary plot strands, etc. After I do all that, I work it all through to the end.

3. But who am I kidding? This is not really the end either. I've got to read the draft again and see if all those major changes I made add up. Does the book make sense now? Does it flow? Am I still missing essential stuff? Have a kept stuff around that I love but that really doesn't belong anymore? It's time to work on Draft Number Three!

4. My helpful reader friends read it after this stage. They give me advice I don't want to accept or don't believe. I argue with them in my head. I plaster a fake smile on my face and say thanks. Later, I sigh. Damn it. They are right. It's time to work through draft four.

5. I submit it. For years this was my process: I tried to get an agent or an editor to read my manuscript. They didn't. Or they did and didn't like it. Or they liked it but didn't love it. Or they liked it but wanted me to revise it. Or more likely, I'd be stumped about what to do with it so I'd put it away and start another book.

I did this with ten different manuscripts. I wrote the words The End The End The End, mostly for my own amusement and sense of completion than for anything else.

Until a few weeks ago.

Manuscript Number Six, Thin Space. I "finished" writing the first draft during National Novel Writing Month in 2008.
I revised it the winter of 2009.
I revised it for an agent.
And for another agent. It winged around and got rejected five times. My agent retired.
I revised it again. I got another agent. And it sold! Woo! in January of 2012.
I revised it for my editor.
I revised it again.
I went through a fun round of copy edits.
Each time I'd go back into the manuscript with the same This Will Never Really End, Will It? feeling. I could conceivably tweak this book until the end of time... and then--

My publishing company sent me the Final Pages. This is basically the book printed out all nice and pretty. My job was to read it one final time. My last shot to make changes and to catch mistakes. (And maybe do something about the fact that I'd used the word "clench" 33 times?)

I went In for the last time. When I reached the end, I had a nice moment of YAH HOO I WROTE A BOOK surge of feelings, then I mailed the pages back to my publisher, opened a file on my computer--

and began writing another book.

Friday, March 15, 2013

Beginnings (AKA Alert Level Red) Cheryl Renée Herbsman

There is nothing like a crisp white page (whether paper or screen)...

... to scare the crap out of a writer. It's exciting, yes, thrilling even. It's also deeply terrifying. Starting a new project is like Christmas morning before the presents have been opened (I'm guessing here. Having never celebrated Christmas I honestly don't know, but it seems like this is how it would feel!) The possibilities and anticipation are almost more exciting than any reality could ever be.(Although I suppose there isn't usually a sense of terror -- unless one's family members or friends have a sick sense of humor and one is afraid there might be zombie parts in one of those pretty boxes.) The fear: what if nothing comes. (What if none of those pretty boxes is for me?)

Even once we start, there's fear. The reality of the finished product can never truly meet up with the imagined idea of what could be. Don't get me wrong, the convoluted path on which our stories take us can lead us to marvelous and unexpected places. And typing The End is one of the most satisfying moments writers enjoy.

But I digress. (Do you see how I managed to skirt away from the blank page issue?) Beginnings -- filled with equal parts awe, excitement, inspiration, and terror -- are a key part of the process. Some writers have pages of notes and ideas and plans or even outlines before they truly begin. For pantsers or organic writers, some of us have basic ideas of where we're headed, others don't. I tend to be on the outlier end of the pantser continuum.

When I open that new blank document, I know nothing. No outline. No character. No direction or goal or theme. No plot. Not even a genre.

I just turn to the page, (instruct myself not to panic and repeat), slip away to an inward place, and listen. And sometimes, when I'm very, very lucky, I hear a little voice, one that has a story to tell. I become the net that catches her words and sets them loose on the page. It only takes a few words to know I've caught a live one. And once those first words are down... well, then it's not the beginning anymore, it's on to the middle! And the first of the shiny wrapped gifts has been opened. And somehow, once I know I'm in it, it's not so terrifying anymore.

Then comes the middle, which has its own set of problems. But that's a story for another day ;)

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Fresh Starts and New Beginnings (Stephanie Kuehnert)

In February of 1997, when I was 17 years old, this was my new beginning:

That's me and my friend Tai's stuff on the day we moved into our first apartment in Madison, Wisconsin. I'd graduated high school a semester early because I couldn't wait to get out of my hometown, Oak Park, Illinois, where my second novel, BALLADS OF SUBURBIA is set. I was dealing with a lot of the same things as my main character, Kara. As soon as I'd moved there in 3rd grade, I'd felt bullied and like I didn't fit in. By high school I was struggling with depression and self-injury, I had a lot of friends with drug problems, and especially after going through an abusive relationship, was afraid I might end up going down a really dark path if I didn't find some place to start fresh.

So Tai and I lived in a tiny one bedroom apartment with my cat, Sid. We worked crappy jobs, me at a grocery store and her at a gas station, but we spent the rest of the time listening to music, cooking delicious vegan food, writing (that is my old typewriter in the closet of the top picture, I couldn't even afford a computer at the time), making zines and collages, swinging and feeding the ducks at the little lakefront park a block from our house, and exploring the surrounding small towns late at night (which inspired the setting of the fictional town of Carlisle, Wisconsin in my first novel, I WANNA BE YOUR JOEY RAMONE). It was the perfect first taste of freedom and exactly what I needed to get past all the trauma and drama from childhood and high school.

In September of 2000, when I was 21 years old, this was my new beginning:

Okay, so that picture is probably actually taken in 2001 or 2002, but it's me in the Fiction Writing Department at Columbia College Chicago-- the place that probably had the biggest impact on my entire life.

After spending a little over half a year in Madison, I went to go to school in Ohio for a year for something other than writing even though I'd wanted to publish books since the age of 5. The attempt to go against my dream went sour and I decided to drop out, move back to Madison, and just get a crappy job and "be a writer". (There was also a boy involved in this decision-making.) Unfortunately my idea of being a writer involved a lot of drinking and drugs ala Hunter S. Thompson and William Burroughs, which was not very productive for me. My life started to spiral out of control, but I caught myself and decided to go back to school for what I really loved--fiction writing--even if it meant returning to the suburbs to live with my mom.

Columbia was the most creative and productive environment I'd ever been in, which is why I say to aspiring teen writers, if you want to go to college for writing, do it! You can still get "real jobs" with a writing degree and it's an incredible opportunity to spend four--or if you get your Master's like me, six years doing what you love. I wrote IWBYJR, started BALLADS and met my first agent while I was at Columbia. I also had another new beginning, buying my first house in 2004, when I was 24.

There have been some other new beginnings since then--selling my first book, getting married, writing the beginnings to three other books, two of which are being shopped and the other which I am hoping to finish in the next month or so before my next fresh start/new beginning...

In July of 2013, right before I turn 34 years old, my husband and I are moving here:

I fell in love with Seattle when I first visited in 2004 with a group of friends/fellow Nirvana fans. We were there to honor Kurt Cobain ten years after he died and I was really just expecting it to be a trip where I got to be a music geek and hang out with my friends. However, just riding the bus from the airport to our hostel, I was overwhelmed by the beauty of the Pacific Northwest and as soon as I started walking around the city, I had a feeling I've never had before, never in the Chicago area, and not even to such a degree in Madison--my heart was home.

For the past nine years I've taken annual trips to Seattle, using it as a place to recharge. Now, after struggling with the state of my writing career for four years, I've decided to make the place that has always felt like home into my ultimate fresh start. It's terrifying in some ways because like when I went to Madison, I just have some savings, no job lined up. However, this time around I'm a proper grown-up and this is going to be a much bigger and more expensive move (I have wayyyyyyy more stuff than in those pictures shown above). It's a risk I have to take, though. When I chose to live my dream by going to school for writing, it paid off and now I have to hope this dream will do the same. Maybe it will help change the luck I've had with publishing lately or maybe because I'll be searching for a full-time job (hopefully in teaching or writing), it will change my priorities a bit and my focus will be more on the essays I write for magazines like Rookie (which comprise most of the links in this blog post). We will see, but I'm excited and so ready for this adventure/fresh-start/new beginning.

Now I just have to work on some endings, like finishing the book I'm working on, and more unpleasantly, packing.

What big leaps have you taken or are you thinking about taking to give yourself a new beginning or fresh start?

Monday, March 11, 2013

Reinvention--Jan Blazanin

My junior high and high school summers were when I reinvented myself. Hours spent trying out new hairstyles and makeup and fantasizing about how wowed my classmates would be when they saw the “New Me” in August. After I turned sixteen and got my driver’s license and a summer job, every bit of my salary was spent on new school clothes. Talk about ramping up the wow factor!

But my summer reinventions weren’t all about appearance. I imagined myself in the next grade being cool, sophisticated, blasé. No more tactless comments that had me literally slapping my head for days afterward. Next year, I’d consider every word that passed my lips. I'd never again make a foolish remark that would come back to bite me.

The first day of the new school year found me dressed in my eye-popping sweater—in 90-degree weather. Worse than being sweat-soaked was that nobody noticed the “New Me.” To my classmates, many of whom had known me since kindergarten, I was still the gawky nerd who sang in the chorus, acted in plays, and worried about <gasp> her grades! My loyal girlfriends commented on my stinky new sweater. The rest of the school was unconcerned.

Whether or not anyone else notices, experimenting with clothes, hairstyles, interests, and personalities is a huge part of growing up. One reason I love reading and writing YA is that our characters become stronger and more self-aware. They discover who they are.

Isn’t that what being a teen is all about?

Sunday, March 10, 2013

But I'm At The End!?!? (Sydney Salter)

Beginnings???? But I'm knee deep in that swampy process of finishing! Only a dozen pages, or so, separate me from those lovely capitalized words, THE END. 

Yet I'm dragging my feet. I'm going to miss my main character, and I'm not quite sure how to get him from page 273 to that image I've had in my head since The Beginning. 

Ah, the sweet, sweet memory of beginning. I ordered stacks of books, took pages of notes, jotting down super-amazing, cool ideas for plot points, scenes, character traits. I dove into chapter one, zip-zip-zip. I flew through the first 50,000 words, winning my NaNoWriMo certificate. 

Then things got sticky.

My character fell in love with the right girl, but then she betrayed him--and my carefully plotted plans. And that first chapter? Scrapped. 100% rewritten. Pacing? Oops. I kind of went from zero to sixty, skipping ahead too fast too soon. Super Cool Idea #46? Too forced. 

Things are even stickier now, literally. The moment I type THE END, I've got some fine-tuning and revision to do. The first page of my manuscript is covered completely with items to check or change. Some are easy like spelling or capitalization consistency. Others involving plot items that need to be carefully woven through several chapters. 

And then when I really, truly finish, I'll have to release the story into the wild. Yikes! Some readers won't love my characters like I do. Others will hate Super Cool Idea #77. 

But that's okay, because I will be beginning again--with a new story full of new possibilities and new Super Cool Ideas. 

Can't wait! I love beginnings! 

Friday, March 8, 2013

It's THEM vs US, but Not the Way You're Used To--Kimberly Sabatini

I've heard a lot of talk lately. The Democrats did this. The Republicans did that. The President said this. Congress did that. We should eliminate all guns. We should all be packing. We should stone everyone on Wall Street. Why won't Wall Street hire me? Someone hardworking has lost a job. Someone one else is taking a free ride on the system--welfare, health care, day care, I just don't care. Gays and lesbians should be allowed to marry. Gays and lesbians should disappear. Bullying kills. Bulling is a right of passage. GMO's should be labeled. I'll eat at McDonald's if I want to! No child left behind. Where exactly are our children going? My religion is right. My religion is right.

I've even heard that Ann Hathaway had pointy boobs at the Oscars this year.

These are not conversations that promote new beginnings. I like to think of these as THEM conversations. As in...I blame it on THEM! It is US against THEM! Their only function is to promote one aspect of a current agenda. They are not designed to bring innovative answers. They are about defending territory and laying blame.

I grew up in a THEM vs US society. It was the Cold War and in elementary school, I did bomb raid drills huddled under my desk. One of my biggest fears as a child was being attacked by the Soviets. Sometimes I was so scared I had trouble sleeping. I wanted a bomb shelter. It was THEM vs US. If you'd told me back then, there would come a time when I would be online talking to a Russian Book Blogger, I would have called you nuts. I lived in a world where the only way to survive was THEM vs. US. The world was painted black and white--good and evil.

This week, North Korea threatened to nuke our butts. And I'll be honest, I'm not a particular fan of that idea. But I also believe that the THEM conversations are not the type of interactions we need to be having right now. Maybe I'm an optimist and fart fairy dust, but I believe, in general, people who live well, smile more. And people who smile more don't want to nuke your butt. People who live well are empowered to ensure that sane people lead them. I'm not completely naive, there are bad apples in every bunch. There are casualties involved in every movement that brings about change. But I still believe it's time to put a new spin on the THEM vs. US mentality. We can unite and work together to ensure that people live well so they are empowered be the change we would like to see in the world.  It is time for new beginnings.

This is the type of conversation I want to be having...

If you want to have a new beginning, you have to start having a new conversation. We need to start caring about what WE do. We need to decide we're no longer standing against others--we are standing up for others.

"There is no such thing as THEM--there is only facets of US."

                                                             John Green

I am proud to be a Nerdfigher.

Thursday, March 7, 2013

Of Change, New Beginnings and Texas Weather

Publishing is all about new beginnings. I'm good with that. Stay with one thing too long and I feel antsy and stagnant. I like to shake it up - even if it SCARES ME! We have a saying about the weather here in Texas --- that if you don't like it, wait a minute. It will change.

And change it does -- the weather extremes here in the Lone Star state are huge! Cold fronts -- when we get them -- blow in fiercely, rattling the windows, knocking down branches, pouring oceans of rain. Just a few weeks ago there was a dust storm in Amarillo -- which is at least 700 miles west of Houston where I live. The next morning, our cars here on the Gulf of Mexico were covered in red mud. It had blown here over night. Crazy! Hurricanes and tornados and blue northers and ocean breezes and humid air so thick you could cut it. Sometimes we use the heat and the AC all in one day. Although it feels like it in August, our weather never stands still. It is volatile and unpredictable -- and that doesn't even begin to touch on any climate issues!

We like it that way. I think of this passage from one of my favorite novels, Willa Cather's My Antonia, where the narrator describes the prairie:

"As I looked about me I felt that the grass was the country, as the water is the sea. The red of the grass made all of the great prairie the color of wine stains, or of certain seaweeds when they are first washed up. And there was so much motion in it; the whole country seemed, somehow, to be running."

I feel that way about publishing. Always in motion, always changing, always starting fresh and new. At least that's my career. New editors, new publicists, new books. Each one filled with hope and promise. When THE SWEET DEAD LIFE arrives on May 14th, not that many weeks away, it will be new in many ways: A new series. A new publisher -- Soho Press. A new imprint - Soho Teen. My first book in hardcover, which is ever so exciting.

If you are new to writing, just starting out, I say embrace those new beginnings. Every rewrite, every revision -- it's your chance to tweak and get it right. To make your work the best it can be. To feel that promise and that adventure.

Like Cather's red grass prairie, let's be writers in motion. Ever changing. Ever reinventing. Ever beginning anew and anew and anew.

Tuesday, March 5, 2013


by April Henry

On this blog, we have a monthly theme.  This month it's about beginnings. And every week at my kung fu school, we have a theme. The most recent was detachment.

How I struggle with that!  I want to control everything: how I act, how things turn out, even other people.

For example, I recently saw a lukewarm review for one of my upcoming books on Good Reads. I began to obsess about this review.  I even wondered if it was possibly that I could rewrite the end of the book.  I counted the months until it was out in  my head, wondered if it had gone to the printers. I debated emailing my editor. All of this based on one person's opinion.  When I talked to my agent, she laughed, thinking, I was joking, and I realized how obsessive I had gotten.

It's hard not to have a narrator in your head, constantly chiding you for what you did wrong.  I particularly struggle with this in kung fu. Instead of being present in the moment, I'm still back with the kick that wasn't high enough, the punch I didn't see coming.

This month, I'm trying to let go, to be in a state of engaged detachment. Some people love my books. Others don't. Sometimes I'm pretty good at kung fu, other times I'm not. Observe, let go, move on. Don't obsess!

I cannot control reviews, how much energy the publisher expends (or doesn't), whether I get sick, my kid, my kid's friends, whether the car breaks down (as my husband's did yesterday), how many books sell, etc. etc.

I'm trying to live more in the moment. Not the past, not the future. I'm allowing myself and those around me the freedom to be who they are, without imposing rigid ideas of right and wrong.

Although today's moment is a pretty good one. I have two books out in audio and the paperback of The Night She Disappeared publishes today. It's really important to me that Girl, Stolen is out in audio, since the main character is blind and this will make it more accessible to blind people.

Monday, March 4, 2013

New Book- New Beginning

I have a new book coming out TOMORROW(!!!)- see the awesomeness above- so I think it's a perfect time to talk about how writing a new book creates a new beginning and how giving yourself the permission to write from a new beginning may be just what your work needs.

This book is a companion novel, so while some of the characters from my first book make an appearance, it was written from a completely different point of view character. This was freeing in a lot of ways, for a few reasons. See my debut novel was told in first-person by a girl who was very much like I was as a teenager. While I felt like I needed to write her story, it was hard to open myself up to what the story wanted to be because I was so focused on saying all the things I wanted to say about being a teen with low-self esteem. I think this is good, because it made the book very true, but I think it was also constraining because I felt like I had to write the book a certain way.

This was not the case with my second or third book and as a result, I could write the story the way it needed to be written, rather than what it felt like I should write. Both of these book have gotten and are getting better reviews and I really feel like this is why. I was less concerned on what I felt like I needed to say and more concerned about telling a good story.

It took me a few books to understand that this is our main job- "telling a good story".

So what does this mean to you as a writer?

Sometimes you need to allow yourself a new beginning. If what you're writing is not working, or feeling a little too close to your own experience, maybe you need to write from another characters point of view, or from third-person instead of first, or in present tense instead of past. With each new book, I was forced to create a new beginning for myself, but I've learned that sometimes a new beginning is just what your work needs.

Friday, March 1, 2013


If I could say one thing about beginnings to my teenage self, it’d be this: they’re easy.

Oh, yeah, sure, they’re scary, too.  But there’s a hazy spot where “scary” and “exciting” blur until you can’t really tell so much where one ends and the other starts.  And I know that it feels, when you’re a teen, as though you’re constantly dealing with new beginnings: new schools, new relationships, never-before-seen hardships…But trust me.  Beginnings are easy.

It’s the middles that’re rough. 

If you don’t want to take my word for it, ask a college junior who is bone-tired and broke (probably up to their eyebrows in debt, too), and who has worked themselves to the nubs only to find out that their inevitable change of major has put them a semester (or a year) behind schedule. 

Or, ask the couple who have already been married twenty years, have learned virtually everything about their partners, and are only fifty years old (yeah, teen-me, I just said “only fifty”). 

Ask a novelist who has hit the convoluted middle of her first draft.

Middles are rough.  Compared to the beginnings that came before, they’re dull.  We aren’t talking about the thrill of moving to a new place.  We aren’t talking about the whirlwind of falling in love.  We’re talking about facing days that look pretty much like the days that came before.  The ah-ha! moment is in the rearview. 

But the thing is, you don’t get a glorious ending if you don’t ever slog through the middle.  You will never get to the sale of a book if you don’t push through that time period, years after the, “I’m going to be a writer!” announcement, when rejections are filling up your inbox. 

The middles—the times that require you to dig deep and get to work—are what make you who you are. 

And, in those middle sections, you will also be greeted with quiet moments of beauty and sweetness, too.  You just have to learn where to look.

I, for one, even take great pleasure in catching sight of my sweet boy sleeping by the door…

Like I said, you’ve just got to know where to look…