Tuesday, January 27, 2015

The Reinvention of a WIP

After a month of reading and researching and immersing myself in the world of a different medium, I am trembling at the precipice of new adventure and I'm terrified to put the first word on paper. As my GoodReads bookshelf will reveal, I have been exploring the world of graphic novels/comics in preparation for reimagining my current WIP as a graphic novel (Yikes! I said it...please don't jinx it.)

The first thing I did when I decided to write for a YA audience was to read a ton of YA fiction. It makes sense, then, that I would begin to devour graphic novels and comics and books about writing graphic novels and comics as I begin this transition to my next incarnation as a writer. Scott McCloud's Understanding Comics is absolutely brilliant. He breaks down the magic of storytelling in pictures and words by using the medium itself to demonstrate it. His book is a dissertation accessible to everyone who wants to truly understand how comics work and why they are such a complex and beautiful way to tell stories. I hope someday I get the chance to meet him at a comic con or conference.

After that, I devoured Brian Michael Bendis' book Words for Pictures: The Art and Business of Writing Comics and Graphic Novels. He has some excellent interviews, Q&A's, and FAQ's with some of the best artists and writers in the business along with examples of different scripts and art. Again, I would love to meet this guy.

Behind all of this, I've been reading Saga and Revival and Blankets and The Road to Perdition as well as other examples so I can get a range of experiences with the medium before I begin.

So, here I am.

The scariest part, aside from utterly failing, is giving up some control of my story to an unknown artist. I am a very visual/sensory writer who spends a lot of time on description. Now, much of that description will be left up to an artist's pen and brush instead of my words. This requires trust. Absolute, blind trust. Of course, it also requires that I communicate my vision effectively to the artist without hogtying him/her completely. I know that picture book writers experience this as well, but it does some even broader in the case of a graphic novel. Not because of the length, but because of the immense detail that goes into scenes for an older audience. Somehow, I will do this. I will transform Ripley's tale into something awesome.

There is nothing to do now but dive in. So, if you see me and I have turned bright blue, it's only because I'm still holding my breath...

Monday, December 29, 2014

Filling in a Rut.

The last six months have been a pretty big dry spell for me. A sweeping injustice at work really knocked the motivation and confidence out of me, and it has taken me a while to recover. As the year draws to a close, I have been mulling over the other reasons I've avoided making much progress in my WIP. Frankly, I've been in a rut. My voice seems to be a bit ragged and I find myself covering too much of the same old ground I wrote before.

Over a quiet breakfast with Ghost Hunk, I finally had an epiphany. That epiphany launched the two of us on a 90-minute drive to Columbus (because we live in a wasteland and the kids were still in school) for the nearest Barnes & Noble store to get some research. Thankfully, Ghost Hunk is not only an expert in this new foray, but he's completely supportive and ready to help me redesign my project and maybe even my career.

I've not shared this epiphany for fear I would jinx its progress, but I'm only slightly superstitious so I'll offer this little hint. I've decided to take my YA novel to a more visual context. It sounds simple, but there is so much to learn and it is forcing me to rethink more than just the format of my story. The medium requires a very different approach to plot and characterization. I'm both excited and terrified, but I am finally inspired again.

So there will be no New Year's resolutions this year. Just a new road to follow and lots of hope that I will reach one of many shiny new destinations.

Happy New Year!

Wednesday, July 02, 2014

The Writing Process Blog Tour

Has it really been 6 months! It's time to revive my poor, neglected blog and share a little of my writing process. I was tagged in the Writing Process Blog Tour by one of my Blue Board buddies, Jennifer Chambliss Bertman (http://writerjenn.blogspot.com).  Jennifer loves a good mystery and her middle grade mystery The Mystery of the Séance Swap is coming out in 2016 followed by the second book in her Book Scavenger series. 

So, here we go...

What are you currently working on?

My current project is a contemporary coming-of-age/ghost story. It won the 2013 SCBWI  Work-in-Progress grant, so I’m eager to finish it and get it out there. I am about halfway finished and hope to pick up some momentum through the summer months before school picks up again.

How does my work differ from others of its genre?

I have written mostly historical ghost fiction, so this a jump into the modern pond and I’ve given it a twist. It is not a romantic ghost story or a grim tale of horror. It introduces us to a girl who is thrice gifted, though she considers most of her talents a curse. She is extremely bright, which puts her ahead in school, but she has a cognitive processing issue that knocks her back socially. Add clairvoyance to her list of talents and you have this protagonist waging more than the usual war on adolescence.

Why do I write what I write?

I have always been fascinated by ghost stories. Maybe it’s the idea that we are never really finished. There is always more to learn, more to do, more love. My previous novels have involved a lot of research into history, which I adore because it is so interesting to look back into another time and see people, even fictional people, as deeply human. To ask the same questions modern teens face and imagine what sort of answers would crop up in a different context. Since I have shifted into a modern setting for this book, I have looked to people and situations I know for inspiration, and I found the mother lode. I hope it will help YA readers see their situation from a new perspective. 

How does my Individual writing process work?

The original story concept often comes from a “what if?” in response to something I read or something I see, or even something deeply personal that I would like to reshape. I have both outlined and totally pants-ed it, but the primary element that stays the same is journaling. I guess it’s a sort of pre-writing, but I journal through every book I write. That is where I ask questions and ruminate on the possible answers, critique my concept and consider what works and doesn’t work, and think about what in my own life is influencing my writing, whether it is good or bad. My biggest stumbling block is my inescapable urge to perfect everything as I go. That is why it takes me so long to get through the first draft. I’m starting to let go a little more and give myself permission to suck so I can get that first draft knocked out. Old habits die hard, though. 

Now it's time to tag a few friends.  

Pat Esden is a writer I've known online and finally met in person last fall in the gorgeous mountains of Montreat, NC. She has a knack for some fabulously twisted and gothic tales for YA readers. She writes fantasy, suspense, and historical fiction for teens.  Follow her on twitter—@patesden! 

Lora Rivera is another writer I've known online and hope to meet someday. She writes literary fiction and middle grade novels. Like me, she loves the ghosties, but she also delves into urban fantasy.  Follow her on twitter — @lroseriver!

Monday, January 13, 2014


A few months ago, I listened to a piece from TEDRadio on NPR that had me driving down the road with my jaw hung in awe. This amazing teenager spoke of her ever-unfolding experience as a young woman in this world with such bold honesty and uncanny wisdom that I nearly drove off the road. If you have not checked out Rookie.com, go do it right now.

Tavi Gevinson is a high school senior who refers to herself as "a senior citizen who goes to high school." She is more perceptive and witty and earnest than most of the chronological senior citizens I know, and she hasn't even graduated high school yet. But in all her prodigious wisdom, Tavi is so thoroughly a teenage girl. The difference between her and so many others is that she accepts that, takes complete ownership of it, and glories in the uncharted territory she is blasting through.

The greatest gift she offers her generation is a voice. She started a fashion blog in middle school and now has a website that is peopled by a number of bright young female contributors like her who face the challenges and triumphs and everyday flotsom of adolescence with grace and honesty. They share that space with any girl who dares to consider who she is and who she hopes to be. She can ask questions and search for the answers. She can give herself permission to take part in a discussion. After all, as Tavi explains, life is not a game that comes with a playbook and a set of rules, no matter how hard the "in-crowd" would like to claim it. Life is a discussion, and people are complex. No one is merely "one thing" or even two. We are full of contradictions and complexities and we should embrace them. Tavi not only "gets" that, she gives all teenage girls a place to embrace it.

One of my favorite points in her TED Talk comes at the end when she advises her audience to be Stevie Nicks. Stevie Nicks is "unapologetically present on stage and unapologetic about her flaws and about reconciling all her contradictory feelings, and she makes you listen to them and think about them."

If you have a teenaged daughter, introduce her to Rookiemag.com, and if you write for teenage girls, stop by and visit this insightful, unabashedly real website and meet that girl you are speaking to.

Wednesday, January 08, 2014

The Wisdom of Fiction

As an avid reader and writer of historical fiction, I have often ruminated on my own place in time and what would have become of me if I had been born in another era. I may never write "important literature," but many books have made me stop and think what I might have been had the circumstances of my birth been different. I have considered issues of health and science and technology and whether I would have even survived to adulthood in the 19th century or even the early 20th century. In most cases, I probably would have died before I reached my first birthday. The bigger question, assuming I would have survived, is what kind of person would I have become?

I have been moved to righteous indignation by classic books like The Witch of Blackbird Pond, Huckleberry Finn, To Kill a Mockingbird, and The Scarlet Letter, and more recent selections like Shine, Inside Out and Back Again, and The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian. I can't help but wonder where my moral compass would have pointed if I had grown up in the Antebellum South or in WWII Germany. Would I have accepted bigoted codes of ethics as morally right or hidden behind the general attitude of the time because it was easier than expressing an opposing opinion?

Having come up through the 1960's and the explosion of free speech and equality-for-all rallies, I must have soaked up the social vibrations that that would have bounced my grandparents right out of their comfort zone. Yes, I had a loving grandmother who regularly used a slew of racial and religious epithets to describe the Jewish, African American, and Hispanic people around her, completely convinced that they were just ordinary adjectives and acceptable classifications.  My mother adopted some of that, but she was more subtle. My mother was also a staunch Republican—chairman of the local GOP—but a firm women's libber who started her own business. It was an interesting set of messages to ingest, so I don't really know what part of me stems from her influence and what was just innate.

Books have so much power, especially in our formative years (adolescence in particular), to both elicit a response and to shape it.  It was easy for me to stand in 1979 and see the injustice of Hester Prynne's sentence, but how would I have felt about it in the 1630's or even when Hawthorne published it in 1840? Would I have defended her?  Would I have protected The Witch of Blackbird Pond's Hannah in 1687 or would I have joined the hunt? Would I have stood up for Tom Robinson in the 1930s? I would like to think I had the gumption to choose the right path no matter where or when I lived.

I have always felt blessed to live in a more "enlightened" era where the lessons of history seem so obvious and clear in the books that I have read. I have looked around and thought that I don't have those sorts of huge choices to make, so maybe I'm not as evolved as I would like to think.

Then again, I have seen the fall of Apartheid in South Africa and protested in my own small way against those who supported it. I have been sickened by the sort of hatred that drags a black man to his death behind a pick-up truck or lashes a young gay man to a post, beaten to within an inch of his life and left to die. I have seen the kind of fanatical judgement that drives jet planes into the World Trade Center and the Pentagon and takes thousands of lives. I have heard the story of a 17-year-old Afghan girl who risked her life just to be educated. I have seen what fear and hatred can do to the marginalized of our generation.  We choose our response, big or small, and every tiny spec of dignity matters.

I choose to read the books I read, too, and I react to them of my own accord, from something that lives deep in my bones. Not every book has to ask some huge moral question, but each can show us a little about who we are or who we would like to be. There must be a reason I cry when Tom's life is lost because of bigotry, when Dimmesdale dies and Hester suffers on, when Hannah is hunted like an animal because of fear and superstition.

Would I have understood what it meant to be human even back then? I hope so. Maybe the rebellious literature of the age would have found me. Maybe I would have searched for it and loved it and learned from it. And maybe, just maybe, I would have written some of it.

Friday, November 08, 2013

Doubt 2.0

“Our doubts are traitors,
and make us lose the good we oft might win, by fearing to attempt.”  Shakespeare

“Doubt … is an illness that comes from knowledge and leads to madness.” 
 Gustave Flaubert, Memoirs of a Madman

It is strange that when certain signs come together to exclaim that we are on the right track and so very close to victory, some of us choose the perverse path to self-doubt instead of celebration and momentum. That is all me. Then again, I have been so close to the carrot that I could taste every molecule, and then it still slipped away from me, leaving me hungry and despondent. The novel that I eventually signed with my agent first languished with a "dream" editor for a year before it was rejected, then made a short run of submissions only to be stuck in the drawer as a backup for the next "big thing." I had thought I was on my way, than <> it was gone.

Three years later, here I stand with the SCBWI Work-in-Progress Grant in hand, an incredible Highlights Foundation workshop under my belt, fabulous feedback and support from my Montreat Gals, and I'm terrified I'm just a fraud. Or that I will screw up what I started. Is this a common disease among writers? 

I think the answer is probably "yes." (Either way, I'll take comfort in the possibility that I'm not alone.)

Perhaps my biggest problem isn't doubt, but the insane pursuit of perfection. I tend to have a hard time turning off the internal editor as I write. The upside is that when I decided to send in my WIP for the grant competition, it was already in decent shape (though far from perfect). The down side is that it takes me FOREVER to get the whole draft done and I my bleed a million words for ever ten that end up on the page.  I get stuck in the mire of research and plot and character perfection that sometimes brings the whole process to a halt. 

I'll never stop writing, no matter how many tumbles I take down the rejection hole. There are days, however, when I want to run screaming from the planet and say "I quit!" The pressure to prove myself has always haunted me. Whether that comes my tumultuous childhood or it's in my DNA, I couldn't say. I just know that I learn to let myself off the hook a little. So, here is my pledge:

I solemnly vow to allow myself to thoroughly suck it up, 
  •  That I will bind my internal editor with twine and throw her in a dark corner until I have pounded out a full draft, 
  • That I may delete entire chapters when I'm done and love it, 
  • That I will have faith that I can write a beautiful, creepy, haunting scene and back it up with action,
  • That I will not judge myself (at least until I've done at least 3 major revisions),
  • That I will not think about time or feel pressured to beat the rush (whatever that is),
  • That I will love my suckage and call myself WRITER.

In the spirit of NaNoWriMo, I'm off to crank up the word kind and embrace the craptastic first draft experience as I never have before.

Tuesday, October 29, 2013

The Retreat that keeps on Treating...

Last week I shared a bit of our Mountain Writers' Retreat, and now you can have a little slice of the magic for your very own. Just pop on over to the talented Jen McConnel's Blog for her run-down of events and a giveaway! Nothing like a little swag to keep the creative juices flowing. Be sure to follow this dynamic crew on Twitter and become an honorary killer...of superfluous words, that is.