TBR Pile of Doom

I've been reading almost entirely library books recently, and that's great because the library is awesome and they get the most recent titles, but it also means that I'm motivated to read those over the books I own because I only have a limited time to read them. I've got a crap-ton of books on my TBR shelf to read, so I've made it a solemn vow to read more of the books that I own. Here are some of the books I'm excited to read in the near future. PicMonkey Collage

The Horrors in the Back-Up Harddrive

I recently did a search of my computer to find some old, old document that was lost. In the process, I discovered some amazing, embarrassing, and hilarious pieces of Stephanie history from high school, college, and grad school. Behold the splendor.

  • For college assignments I really hated, I’d title them something normal like “Abraham Lincoln Essay” and in parentheses write “(from hell).”
 

  • In English 101, I had to write an essay that required us to argue the opposite of something we believed. Of course it was about Harry Potter. That title

 

 
  • I have written some absolutely appalling short stories in my time. I don't think it ever crossed my mind that I wasn't being, like, totally deep and meaningful. I'm also fairly certain I didn't know the definition of the word "enigmatic" at the time I wrote this. It just felt right.
 
  • I was once able to write entire essays in French. This one was about studying in Paris. 

 

 
  • At one point, I wrote an essay for my MFA program on the "ordinary-man-turned-spy" trope in spy literature. I didn’t know I knew this much about spy literature. I didn't even know I knew the word trope.

  • At the end of my first creative writing class, I had to write a reflection. It's weird in the extreme to read this seven years later. The last line is killer. 

 

  • There have been A LOT of versions of Minnow. This is from when Minnow was titled The Handless Maiden

 

I hope you have an...enigmatic day.

Constructing the Bat Cave

I was inspired by this very original and thoughtful post on Maria Vicente’s blog about writing advice gleaned from Jay-Z lyrics. The first piece of advice is about having a writing space. I have always suffered in this area. I’ve moved a lot in recent years, from a tiny studio in Spokane, to a cramped room in my mom’s house the year after grad school when I was unemployed, to an even tinier studio in Seattle. All those cramped spaces left very little room for a space where I could clear my head enough to write. So I’ve always left home to write, hopping from coffee shops to libraries to Panera. It’s worked out fine, but my ultimate heartfelt wish is to someday have living quarters in which I actually possess more than one room (think of it!), where I have a room dedicated entirely to blank walls and zero distractions and writing (I've lived in envy of Sarah Miller's Wendy House for a very long time indeed). 
 
In the mean time, I'm back in the cramped room in my mom's house for the summer and decided to fashion myself a little writing space in a dusty corner of her garage. Behold the transformation from unsuspecting receptacle of old tools and broken furniture to a lair of writing productivity (code name: The Bat Cave). 
 
Before work began. 
After rug, desk, chair, and Reading Chair had been added. 
Behold the Ikea Reading Chair (protected from wandering cats and potential bugs and aforementioned dust by Peter Rabbit blanket).
The final-ish product. Hung up a rug and Harry Potter quilt for decorative purposes. In the top left corner, you can see the string and clothes pins I put up for the purpose of hanging pictures/index cards for book planning.

It's a little on the rough side and by the time I was done moving everything around, it was approximately one billion degrees in there (need to make finding a fan a top priority). But it's free of distractions and internet and refrigerators and noise. I think I can get some work done in here.

Summertime Updates

The school year is finished and I've spent a couple weeks getting into the swing of vacation. This means lots of time with my niece. In related news, did you know it's somewhat difficult to write while babysitting? She's just so cute and smiley and squishy and amazing. Very distracting. I don't know how all the new mom authors I know do it.

I have a chock-full Week in Reading post planned because I've read so many great books lately. I'm currently about 250 pages into Storm of Swords. I haven't seen Season 3 of Game of Thrones yet, but I know enough from twitter chatter that something VERY VERY BAD happens in this book and I've become perpetually tense while reading. I just want to yell "Go home! Quit fighting and go home!" to everyone. Especially the Starks. 

To make reading a 1,100 page book manageable, I flagged every new chapter and changed colors every 100 pages. My brother, who's read all the books at least twice, looked at this and immediately called me a nerd.

It was #AgentsDay on twitter the other day and I found myself thinking about how awesome Jennifer has been. Not exaggerating, she's the reason Minnow will be published. I don't think I've ever written about my "Agent Journey" because it feels strange and because it could easily be 60 pages long and assuredly be extremely boring, but one thing I'm still amazed at is that I was almost ready to call it done with Minnow before I queried Jennifer. I had received a lot rejections, and had rewritten it many times. It was a matter of diminishing returns. But I was reading a blog post on Jennifer's blog (I loved her advice posts and found them so helpful) and it occurred to me that I'd never queried her. So I sent off a query and she replied something like "Hell yes!" and asked for the full manuscript. She worked with me through two revisions before offering representation, which is amazing because she believed in it enough to volunteer a huge amount of her time. It's still incredible to me that someone would care so much about the ideas that sprouted from my head.  I just got a new laptop after my old one (code name: Old Bessie the Loyal) started acting her age. You don't expect to get emotional about switching laptops, but I've written everything on Old Bessie. We've been through battles together. We've survived crashes and data loss (which I never blamed her for) and mishaps with a poorly placed cup of water (she nearly died). She's been very good to me, but it was time for someone new to take on her former responsibilities. She will enjoy a quiet retirement and work only when new guy (code name: Sir Shiny McSpeedyson) needs a break. 

The data transfer in process. I felt a bit like a doctor performing a brain transplant.

A Week for the Sisterhood

It hasn't been a hugely prolific reading week for me. I listened to more of the Brothers Grimm book and crept a little farther in Clash of KingsSince my deadline, I've had a little bit of time to catch up on the TV I missed and one of those shows is Bunheads, a show I didn't plan on liking but which I actually love because it feels like a quick and sweet YA contemp with awesome dialogue. Some parts definitely annoy me (I love Boo but the way they write her neuroses feels a little inauthentic) but I am enjoying it more and more with every episode. Anyway, this week I've been pining for a book with a similar amount of witty fun, smart girls, and well-rendered (if low-stakes) drama. I struck on The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants--a perfect book for the start of summer. I first read it in the spring of freshman year, during tennis season.

This was the only photo I could find from freshman year tennis. Oh, the bangs! Oh, the uniforms! You can tell I was on JV because only the varsity girls got official uniforms, and us lower classes were stuck with cheapo t-shirts. My school's colors were orange and black. Everything I have from those years looks Halloween-themed. What's cool about this picture is that I know, in my backpack sitting under the benches beside the tennis courts, was a copy of The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants. I loved that book. I remember getting so sucked in to the story. I hadn't read a ton of contemporary YA (I was pretty much still all about fantasy and historical fiction) but this one spoke to me. I remember one tennis practice when it rained and a few of my friends sat inside the school doors waiting for the rain to stop. I read Sisterhood, the others talked, and one sang songs from The Little Mermaid (she was interesting--in a good way).  This definitely could be one of those books that doesn't survive the passage of time well, but I'm finding it really delightful. Some people have criticized the girls' perfectly diverse personalities and interests (Lena paints, Carmen likes acting, Bee is an athlete, Tibby makes movies) but that doesn't bother me in these books. Maybe that's because I fell in love with them such a long time ago that they feel like real people to me, and I accept their flaws (and inaccuracies) without a second thought. And the writing is objectively great. There are so many moments where I've been like, "Wow, this is just good." One scene in particular that I love is the one where Tibby goes to Bailey's house (Bailey is a little girl with cancer who Tibby meets at her awful summer job at a drug store) and Bailey is lashing out at Tibby just to get a reaction, but Tibby doesn't want to be her confrontational self because she's just found out Bailey has leukemia. The dialogue is witty and sad, and brings both of those characters to life.  I love the sense of optimism in these books. It's something I can't even really track to a certain move the author makes. I think it's just a general acceptance of the characters on the author's part. She is generous. She treats them with dignity. She understands their flaws and mistakes, but doesn't paint them precisely negatively. I think she understands that mistakes are how we grow. A mistake for a teenager who's just striking out in the world isn't really a mistake. There's no proselytizing, no moral statements the author is trying to play out for the benefit of readers at the expense of the characters.  An example of this is when Lena goes to Greece to visit her grandparents and gets set up with this boy, Kostos. We know she's going to end up with him, and we also really like him from the start, but Lena is wary and the idea of being set up makes her really uncomfortable. So, Lena does everything she can to avoid Kostos. She's probably a little "anti-social" about it, but the author doesn't present this choice with any judgement, nor does she wink at the reader and foreshadow that Lena will eventually come around. Lena's choice is hers.  Re-reading this book has been a good learning experience because I have, and probably always will, write characters that make poor choices and operate under a potentially faulty world view. I think the key is to write their struggles as humanely as possible. What did you read this week?

The New Normal

I am officially this close to finishing the school year. I can taste summer. I can sense it like a coming storm, except instead of sleet and hail, this storm will rain down sunshine and road trips and deleting the alarm set for 5:00 a.m. from my phone. I will miss my students like crazy, of course, and not seeing them everyday will feel like something very big and important is missing, but that's usually tempered by the fact that they run out of school on the last day like this:

The end of a school year tends to make me all kinds of nostalgic. I've been thinking a lot about how life is different now compared to the beginning of the year. Since my goals for writing are basically the same as my goals for life in general, the changes have arranged my world into something completely new. And it's different in many expected ways, but it's also surprisingly the same. I swear I haven't watched that many extreme makeover-type TV shows, but for some reason that seems like the most apt metaphor. It's like they say about people who drastically change their appearance (plastic surgery, losing weight, etc): Just because you've changed on the outside, doesn't mean anything is different inside. I think that's also true of writing. You advance through various stages of your career and accomplish new things, but you still have the baggage you toted around when you first started out. The doubt, the self-esteem issues, the worry. Getting an agent, getting published--it can't change those things (at least not without effort). The writing life has gotten easier in some ways. My mind is no longer preoccupied with querying. It's amazing how much mental energy that consumed (but, I also kind of enjoyed the concreteness of the query/wait/write cycle. I always felt like I was advancing toward my goals). Also, my mind is able to imagine a greater future for my writing beyond the pursuit of an agent. There used to be this wall up in my mind that stopped me from thinking about anything beyond that.

That wall is down now, but with it comes an entire new set of anxieties and fears. Now, the future is a big, wide-open place where anything could happen to me or my books. It's so very easy to be self-defeating and dismissive. It's oddly easier than ever to question the validity and worth of what I'm offering. I know this is backward. It's also something I've got to fight because it's poison.  For me, the treatment for this kind of thing is two-fold: 

1) control your own thoughts It's super easy for me to imagine the worst-case scenarios and call it "being realistic." I saw this quote recently, and it struck home, not because I've had many people undermine my dreams in the name of realism, but because I have, and still do all the time. 

2) focus on the work If I control only what I can control (that being the writing), and remind myself constantly that I can't control all of these various hypotheticals, my brain is happier. 

Sunken Treasure, Cyborgs, and Fairy Tales

It has been a fairy tale-infused week for me! I had a lot of fun with the books I read this week.  I listened to the first half of Fairy Tales from the Brothers Grimm on audio and decided I needed to own a copy. The physical book is absolutely beautiful, and the insides are pretty great, too. As a fairy tale buff, this collection of 50 Grimm tales is fascinating and hugely enjoyable. They've been retold by Philip Pullman, though not retold in the way we tend to think of fairy tale retellings. They don't depart hugely from the original stories. As Pullman puts it in the introduction, he tried to tell the stories in the clearest way possible, cutting anything that could interrupt the story. The biggest difference I'm noticing is the dialogue. For me, original fairy tale dialogue tends to sound a little stilted. Pullman's dialogue is smooth and realistic and sweet and funny in places. I've really enjoyed listening to the stories in the car, letting them wash over me one after another.  In the fairy tale vein, I read Cinder by Marissa Meyer this week. I enjoyed it so much. It's everything you want in a fairy tale retelling. The author took the bones of the story of Cinderella and made it totally her own. I really enjoyed the far-future, East Asian setting, and loved that Cinder is a cyborg working as a mechanic with a sketchy past. I especially liked Iko, Cinder's android sidekick with a "defective" personality, who made me laugh a bunch of times. I will certainly pick up Scarlet, the sequel, which I'm excited about because, along with continuing Cinder's story, it also retells Little Red Riding Hood.  I can't believe Rapture of the Deep is the seventh Bloody Jack book I've read. I listen to them on audio because the narrator, Katherine Kellgren, is flat-out amazing. This book takes Jacky on a mission for the British crown to retrieve a massive amount of sunken treasure from the bottom of the Caribbean Sea. This has to be one of my favorites in the series. I loved the underwater scenes and the Caribbean setting (Jacky visits Havana where she has several memorable scenes participating in cock fights--are any of us who know Jacky surprised?). There was also a terrifying scene with crocodiles that made me scream in the car. The next Bloody Jack book takes Jacky to Asia and an Australian penal colony. Can't wait! What did you read this week?

So Many Favorite Things

My favorite GIF right now. She is perfect in every way.

Favorite of the pilot previews. Once Upon at Time in Wonderland. When I first heard of this spin-off, I was reluctant in the extreme, but this looks absolutely incredible. I adore a good insane asylum plot, and the costumes, sets, and actors are all working it. I hope this is as awesome as it looks.

Favorite class project. We made "gold" for our Gold Rush time capsules. True, the students learned nothing other than the best way to cover the entire hands in glitter, but it was fun. I'm pretty sure I still have glitter in my lungs, however. Oh, and I just realized I haven't watered Steve Urkel, the class plant, in like three weeks.

Favorite movie right now. How did it take me this long to watch Tangled? It's a fairy-tale retelling, for Pete's sake. This movie was almost perfect. Maximus and Pascal pretty much made it for me. There's something about an insane horse that I find hilarious. 

And, finally, my favorite thing in the wooooorld right now. My niece Addie was born a couple of weeks ago and I already think she is the most amazing thing ever. I've been around babies before--but she is something else. 

Aliens, 80's Romance, and Lannisters

 
This post is inspired by the Friday Reads posts on Emily Lloyd Jones' blog. Let's get cracking!

 
I'm so stoked for Rick Yancey and all the buzz The 5th Wave has gotten. His writing is brilliant and deserves to be celebrated. I'm about half-way through and am starting to get completely engrossed. I didn't know much about the plot before I started, just that it's about an alien invasion. Rick Yancey is smart in withholding information about the aliens. It's like they say about horror films--the longer they delay showing the monster, the scarier it'll be because the viewer's imagination is worse than any amount of CGI could be. I'm also fascinated in how much of a chameleon Yancey is; the writing in this book is completely different to that in the Monstrumologist series, in a really interesting way.
 
I listened to Eleanor & Park on audio. I'm sure the book would've been great to read, but I really recommend it on audio. The voice actors did such a beautiful job of conveying the vulnerability, humor, and pain of these characters. I felt at times the dialogue and narration grew a little too precious in describing Eleanor and Park's love, and I found their friendship to be the most compelling part of the book, but in general I was swept up in the characters and their truly authentic voices.
 
And finally, I don't even know how long I've been reading Clash of Kings (*cough* months) but it's 1000 pages long so I'll cut myself some slack. I listened to the first book on audio and didn't enjoy it hugely. My patience and generosity toward books plummets when I listen to audiobooks (I think that might have something to do with the deplorable conditions of my commute). I thought the experience might be better with a physical book, and I was right. I can really appreciate the pacing, characterizations, and descriptions by reading the physical book. Also, I can skim over tedious parts, which happen...frequently.
 
In all, it was a good week in reading. What did you read this week? 

The Post-Deadline

My deadline has passed and I've turned in my revision of Minnow. I could sleep for a million years. I'm only now coming out of the fog of it, that feeling you get when you've stared at a piece of writing for so long you start calling people in real life character names from your book (...which happened). It was such a privilege to get to do the edits, and to have editors who understand Minnow and gave such thoughtful suggestions. I'm really happy with all of the changes.  Writing on a deadline was different from any kind of writing I've ever done. Luckily, this wasn't the kind of deadline where it's the last time I'll get to work on the book (that deadline is July 15). The time restriction was really challenging. I spent several hours everyday after school revising, so that there was basically not a waking moment when I wasn't working. It was exhausting. I started to get really irritated whenever my roommates would say "We never see you!" because in my head, it sounded like "You suck at life! You are neglecting everything!"

This GIF is never not applicable.

I've always felt the teaching dream and the writing dream have been a little at odds. Both want to consume every moment of your attention. It hasn't been much of a problem, though, because writing has always fit into the extra spaces of my time. I've written whole books like that, piecemeal, and I don't think the quality has suffered.  Until this deadline. The thing about that kind of tedious editing is that, for me at least, you don't really get into the book for, like, 45 minutes. It takes that long to get into a groove. That's why lots of writers hole themselves up in cabins and hotel rooms to finish editing. You need long stretches of uninterrupted time. I didn't have that. I had small chunks after I'd already worked a full day. It was tough, and most of the time I felt like I was just barely treading water. I got ragingly sick one day around my deadline. It was a weird sickness--my entire head felt like it was being stabbed by vibrating metal needles, and I was so dizzy when I moved around, I threw up (I haven't thrown up since I was twelve). I think it was a migraine, and I'm fairly certain it was brought on by exhaustion and anxiety. I'm also certain I never want to feel like that again. Pushing your limits is great. Running headlong into them until you keel over is another thing. I'm learning these things.  The experience has taught me so much about what activities in my life are sustainable. It's also made me ask lots of questions about what I want out of life and the direction my future will take. I'm optimistic. 

The WHYs of Minnow

First of all, can we all just stop to appreciate this baby wombat, because come on. 

I'm making my way through edits of Minnow and I've come to a strange realization. I am faced with, for the first time, the idea of Minnow being done. That thought has literally never crossed my mind before. In the past, when I've been a little dissatisfied with the cadence of a certain sentence, or can't quite find the perfect word for something, I've contented myself with the knowledge that I can always go back and fix it in a later draft. But, soon, there won't be any later drafts. Time is running out.  As I type new things, this image has taken over my mind: the letters and words forming themselves not onto a computer screen but directly onto a printed page in a physical book. This is terrifying! This is anxiety-making!  I know it's totally psychological. I know I've got everything I need to finish this book the way I want, so I just need to get my head right. I've been watching a crap-ton of TED talks recently, and I watched an amazing one yesterday by Simon Sinek titled "How great leaders inspire action." The title is a little misleading because it's basically about how anyone can produce a product that people want as long as they have a good reason for making it. "People don't buy what you're selling, they buy why you're selling it." Sinek argues that the why behind what you're creating is more important than the thing itself. If you don't have the why, you won't be successful no matter how awesome your product is.  I reminded myself of the whys of Minnow and I felt immediately better. I have so many whys.

  • Because I believe in the YA novel as a medium. It is ideal for me, and ideal for Minnow.  I don't believe in censoring or pulling punches, and YA is OK with that. 
  • Because communities like Minnow's have existed throughout history, exist today, and will probably exist for all time. I read a lot about isolated religious groups and cults, and found that the ingredients are fairly predictable--a charismatic leader, a group of people who are motivated to follow. The results of these communities are often equally easy to predict--a disenfranchised, manipulated, often abused population, particularly young women. Minnow is my attempt to tell their stories. 
  • Because I believe that a YA novel is an ideal environment to tell the stories of young people grappling with religion and faith. 
  • Because there's not enough discussion of religion in YA and there really should be. For many people on this planet, religious belief or lack thereof is an important part of their lives and shapes the way they see the world. The fact that we don't address that more, in a frank and honest way, is a shame. 
  • Because, at this point, I owe it to these characters to tell their story in the best way I can. 
 
It's sort of my Minnow mission statement. If I can keep my eye on these truths, I think I'll make it through these edits with a product I'm proud of. 

Favorite Things Today

Scowler by Daniel Kraus. Oh my god, this book, you guys. The writing is so brave, so generous, so full, so respectful of the audience. He believes we can handle everything he dishes at us, and we can. I never believe it's OK to censor difficult subjects, and neither does Daniel Kraus. I really think that it's only by staring those things straight in the face that we can push through to some kind of meaning. That's one of the most important things a novel can accomplish. I so appreciate it when an author realizes that idea to its full potential. 

I'd never listened to Tegan and Sara before, but after the 800th recommendation on Amazon and iTunes, I downloaded their newest album, Heartthrob. It's got such a genuine, non-phoney 80's-inspired feel, with really well-written lyrics. It's one of those albums that gets into your head and won't get out until you listen to it everyday for a month. Favorite song: "Drive Me Wild". 

Hagrid was hilarious

Like most of the internet, I spent a couple hours this weekend watching A Very Potter Senior Year, the final installment in the Harry Potter musical trilogy by Team Starkid. Though it was a little rough in a lot of ways, I think it may have been the best of the three. I wasn't in love with the "And now we all have to grow up and move on from Harry Potter," message toward the end (grow out of Harry Potter? The joy of Harry Potter is that anybody, of any age, can access and appreciate it. That's the beauty of any well-done MG or YA book), but I still had a lot of fun watching it. Highlights were Hagrid, Gilderoy Lockhart, and Moaning Myrtle. 

Until this week, I had never seen Veronica Mars (I say this with trepidation as I know there are certain corners of the internet where I could get crucified for that admission). But, after Twitter exploded with the news of the Veronica Mars movie Kickstarter, I had to finally check it out. It's expectedly awesome. It feels exactly like watching a YA novel come to life on a TV screen. Great characters, plots, and especially awesome dialogue. This is actually horrendous timing, though, considering the recent deadline, but it's only, what, 66 episodes? Piece of cake. 

A Deadline Approacheth

I got my edits back from my editors, Stacey and Nancy at Dial. It was a twelve-page document with questions and suggestions for changes. I knew about some of the larger changes because we'd talked on the phone when they first offered to buy Minnow. There were no big surprises in the edit letter. It's all doable and will just take some time. My deadline is May 6th I've never written on a deadline, at least not since college, but I'm not that freaked out. Revision is my bag. Revision is what I'm good at. My only concern is how it'll feel revising within external guidelines, knowing there's a time-crunch, and being aware that someone will be reading it afterward. There's pressure now, but let's face it, I've always put more pressure on myself than anybody else could, so I think it'll be fine.  And I guess that's all I can think to say about deadlines. So here's a picture of a baby gorilla getting a checkup! LOOKATHISLITTLEFACEOMGSOCUTEAWWW!!11!!

Updates

1) I've been making my way through drafting THE ARSONIST slowly and steadily. It is a massive, unwieldy beast. This is today's word count. 

Que frantic laughter.

2) My contract for MINNOW arrived from Penguin! It was twelve pages long! And filled with lots of very intimidating legal-sounding words! Once again, I'm grateful for my agent for making sense of it for me. 

3) I am absolutely in love with the soundtrack for Matilda the Musical, which just premiered on Broadway and which I would give my left kidney to see with the original cast. It's a genius adaptation of the book. The lyrics are incredibly witty and sweet, the actors are each amazing, and if Bertie Carvel, who plays Miss Trunchbull, doesn't get a Tony for his performance, there is no justice in this world. 

4) Right now, I'm reading BOMB: THE RACE TO BUILD--AND STEAL--THE WORLD'S MOST DANGEROUS WEAPON. It was a Newbery Honor book this year. It's a really fast-paced non-fiction book about the invention of the atomic bomb. Fascinating stuff. It's making me really want to go back to school to take physics classes. These scientists are like awesome, introverted superheros. 

5) And finally, Tumblr. It is my everything. I've never lived by the ocean, but I imagine Tumblr provides the same satisfaction as beach combing. You find such wonderful treasures. Here's one of my recent favorites:


Attack of the Sponge Brain!

Today, I think I have officially wrung my brain dry. I made this plan to finish THE ARSONIST, my current work in progress, by writing 2,000 words a day. I've written about 20,000 words in two weeks, which is more than I've written in a long time. I've been motivated because I know MINNOW edits are coming soon and I don't want drop THE ARSONIST in the middle of an unfinished draft. The problem is, THE ARSONIST is a really, really difficult book to write. 
1) It's a mystery, which brings with it a number of issues like when to reveal certain clues, pacing, making the clues cool, and making sure the ending is not a deus ex machina
2) At the moment, there are three narrators (WHY?). 
3) One of those narrators is historical, so there's lots of research involved, which is sooo sloooow oooh myyy Gooood.
4) There are about a billion secondary characters.
5) The male protagonist and female protagonist have always been meant to fall in love, and it feels like they want to, but they are so different and come from such different places, it's been difficult figuring out exactly how that should happen and I inevitably feel like this:

Never was there a more accurate picture of an author at work.


A text I sent to my mom.
Eating that scone was the only
productive thing I did all day.

I've had to keep reminding myself that I can't deal with any of the problems until I get the words down, which is where the 2,000-words-a-day goal came in. So, everyday after school, I've gone to Starbucks or Panera and written my brain to shreds. I have more to write, but I feel like I am done. Every time I even look at the computer screen, I get a little dizzy. And I'm at that phase with a draft when I feel as though I've written all the enjoyable stuff, and all that's left are the things I really don't want to deal with (plot holes, pacing problems, and issues I've been putting off because I don't know how to fix them). 

I planned on taking a break from THE ARSONIST after I finished a complete draft, but maybe a complete draft is not in the cards right now. I might just put rows of X's where there are issues and deal with them after a week or two. Maybe the problems will magically fix themselves in that time!

How...

...did I not use this GIF when I announced Penguin was publishing my book? Honestly, what is wrong with me?

BTW, I found this GIF on Tumblr, my favorite of all favorite websites. If you're on Tumblr, you can follow me here

First Drafting Is Like This

Source: The great Tumblog, Title to Come

This is how I explain first drafting to people: a writer is like a sculptor, except rather than going down to the marble quarry (or, like, buying some marble off Amazon or however sculptors get marble now), you have to create the marble yourself. From your brain. You don't even get to start molding or chipping away until you push the words out of your head. And, ugh, it sucks. Alright, it can be fun under one condition: if you have that buzzing excitement that comes with a new story. But if, like my current book, the ideas and characters have been around for awhile (because they've been shoved aside repeatedly by a pushy girl named Minnow), first drafting feels a little like trying to squeeze water from a dry sponge (or pushing a block of marble from your head).

When I wrote the first draft of MINNOW, I made writing the first draft a kind of game. The rules were simple:
1) Be a word-producing robot
2) Meet your weekly word count goal
3) Have fun writing the ugliest words you can think of

I literally told myself that my goal was to write ugly. It took some of the pressure off. It was the only way I could handle the transition from writing poetry to fiction. When I started writing MINNOW, I would write a sentence, then dissect it and rip it apart until it was perfect. That's how I'd write poems, revising as I went. This was one of the most difficult aspects of transitioning from poetry to fiction. I remember being paralyzed by indecision in that first month or so. I'd stare at the computer screen completely lost because I realized that, even with pretty sentences, I still had no clue what the book was about. And what about flashbacks? And character development? And voice? It was overwhelming. Eventually I decided I had to put my word-perfectionism on hold during the drafting phase. It's just not feasible--there are just too many words to be concerned with. 

It seems it's time to take my own advice again. In the life of MINNOW, drafting composed a relatively short period of time. I spent probably three months on that first draft, and the next two years rewriting and revising (I'd wager maybe a hundred words remain from the first draft). I'm realizing that I haven't done full-on first drafting for a long time. Because of that, my perception of my own writing has gotten a little skewed. I've spent so much time in the tinkering, making-words-pretty phase with MINNOW, I'd forgotten that I could write ugly [cue sardonic laughter]. It seems that, yes, I can still write ugly. I drove home after a recent writing session in a state of shock and disgust, chanting to myself, "Everything sucks. Everything sucks." No, Stephanie, everything doesn't suck. It's just a first draft. You're just making marble.

Minnow SWAG

Lots of awesome people helped me celebrate the sale of MINNOW to Dial/Penguin. 
On the day of the deal, I went to Panera (also known as the Holy Place of Yummy, Writey Good Times) and my coffee cup reflected my mood perfectly.

My fellow 7th grade teachers got me these goldfish crackers (I mean, minnow crackers) along with some cupcakes. I foolishly walked down the hallway after school carrying the cupcakes and was accosted with screams of "CAN I HAVE A CUPCAKE, MS. OAKES?" by rabid middle schoolers. I was lucky to survive with all my limbs. 

My roommates and BFFs got me a cake. Yes, the spelling of Minnow is rather original (apparently there's a town in North Dakota named Minot, so the confusion is understandable), but the sentiment was wonderful. And misspelled cake is still freaking cake

This came in the mail from my editors at Dial, Stacey Friedberg and Nancy Conescu. Such a wonderfully awesome welcome to the Penguin family! Man, there is nothing I love better than a big box of books. 

And lastly, MINNOW was lucky enough to have the support of my awesome agent, Jennifer. MINNOW was also Jennifer's 100th sale. She celebrated thusly. I approve.

Audience Awareness (and the Neurotic Author)

On Saturday, I braved the horrible wet, cold darkness of December in Seattle to go to a concert. The band playing, Garage Voice, are some of my good friends, amazing musicians, and all around awesome guys. They've also been extremely supportive of my writing, and it was so great to tell them I got a book deal because they've been rooting for me for a long time. 

The venue was a rectangular, black-painted basement bar, a performing area backdropped with a plain orange curtain, and a stage about six inches above where the audience stood. 

Photo by the awesomesauce Vanja Horonic

The music was great, and the guys worked their tails off. I've never really thought before how much of an athletic activity performing music is. 

It also got me thinking about the ways people enjoy things. It seemed everybody was experiencing the performance in a different way. For example, there were:

-the people who stood completely still
-the people who swayed a little
-the people who took pictures
-the people who were so excited, they were practically dancing and would get a little too enthusiastic and start head-banging at the wrong moments
-the people who kept checking their texts during the songs
-the bartender who was facing the other way, scrolling through Twitter on his phone 
-the crazy people trying to mosh for no reason
-the couple sitting at a table talking loudly the entire time and generally being annoying 
-and I'm pretty sure there was a critic there from one of the local Seattle papers

There are probably equivalents of these people in readers. Enthusiastic readers who write fan fiction and create fan art, readers who only read casually, readers who are also reviewers, readers who normally read some other genre, readers who are only reading the book because they're friends with the writer. When you write, you feel like you have the readers inside your head, and you inevitably try to anticipate how different people will view what you write. This can cause anxiety and pressure like whoa (for instance, one of the settings in my book, MINNOW, is a religious commune and, inevitably, one of the themes is how young people grapple with religion. While writing, I was constantly aware of the potential to offend readers--religious, atheist, agnostic readers alike). But, it's really rare to have the reader right there in front of you reacting to what you've written. 

I think there's a huge lesson to be learned in how Garage Voice handled the different reactions, which is to say how they didn't handle them. Even though the audience was only feet from them, through the entire performance the guys did such a great job of acting totally oblivious to how the audience was processing the music. At one point, the couple in the back got really loud, but Garage Voice was just focused on the performance. If they had thrown their instruments down and yelled at the couple, or if they had tried to cater to the couple in order to get them more engaged ("Oh, you like R&B/polka/death metal fusion? OK, we can do that!"), it would've ruined the entire thing. As a writer, trying to cater to every reader's tastes would be just as futile and costly to the final product. 

The audience is obviously hugely important, but at a certain point, there's nothing to be gained from freaking out over how others are reacting to your work. Ultimately, you just gotta put your head down and do it for yourself and the fans who connect to it. 

This.

All I know is there are a lot of students and teachers who will be going back to school tomorrow with knots in their stomachs. Including this teacher who can't manage to get to sleep right now.