Thursday, December 29, 2011

12 Books I'm Looking Forward to in 2012

This year I got to read some wonderful ARCs (Advance Reader Copies) of upcoming books, including Sarvenaz Tash's delightful Middle Grade novel, The Mapmaker and the Ghost (available 4/24/12); Jill Hathaway's Young Adult thriller Slide (available 3/27/12); and Diana Renn's fantastic Japan-set art mystery, Tokyo Heist (available 6/14/12)

Here are 12 Young Adult books I haven't read yet that I'm dying to get my hands on when they're released in 2012 (in alphabetical order by title; summaries from Publishers Marketplace):

1) Breaking Beautiful by Jennifer Wolf
About a young woman healing from the car crash that killed her boyfriend while hiding the truth of their relationship.

2) Fracture by Megan Miranda
In which a girl survives a fall through the ice into a Maine lake and subsequent brain injury, only to discover that she now has a strange and frightening affinity with the dying.

3) Harbinger by Sara Wilson Etienne
A compelling, fast-paced paranormal thriller where Girl, Interrupted meets Beautiful Creatures.

4) Pushing the Limits by Katie McGarry
In which two teens, the school bad boy and a former member of the girls "in-crowd", are brought together by their court-ordered therapist and are determined to discover the secrets of their case files but neither foresaw the shattering consequences of learning the truth regarding their families or of falling in love.

5) Something Like Normal by Trish Doller
About a young Marine home from Afghanistan, dealing with PTSD and trying to find his place in a life that no longer fits.

6) Splintered by Anita Grace Howard
An urbanized gothic retelling of ALICE'S ADVENTURES IN WONDERLAND, in which a sixteen-year-old descendant of Alice Liddell (real life inspiration for the Lewis Carroll novel), realizes the story was true when she is pulled into the darker side of Wonderland to fix the things her great-great-great grandmother Alice put wrong.

7) Starters by Lissa Price
The first in a futuristic thriller series featuring a society where youth is coveted at an impossible price, and one girls' ability to bring it all crumbling down.

8) Struck by Jennifer Bosworth
Set in earthquake-devastated Los Angeles, in which a seventeen-year-old human lightning-rod finds herself in the middle of a power struggle between two fanatical doomsday cults, one that wants to save the world, and another that wants to destroy it.

9) Shadow & Bone by Leigh Bardugo 
About a girl who must leave her best friend - and first love - behind to save her country from the growing darkness of the Unsea, but first she must contend with the kingdom's magical elite and their seductive and powerful leader, pitched as Graceling meets Tsarist Russia.

10) The Vanishing Game by Kate Kae Myers
A gothic suspense about a girl who receives a letter from her dead twin brother, forcing her to return to their eerie old foster home and to a guy she never thought she'd see again, in order to prove that her twin is alive.

11) Welcome, Caller, This is Chloe by Shelley Coriell
Pitched as THE BREAKFAST CLUB meets WKRP IN CINCINNATI, in which an ex-popular girl, forced to join the misfit staff of her high school's struggling radio station, dispenses relationship advice on a late night call-in show only to find she has a lot to learn about love, loneliness, and lasting friendships.

12) Madeleine L'Engle's A Wrinkle in Time graphic novel adaptation by Hope Larson, just in time for the 50th anniversary of this classic book! The illustrations are going to be fantastic.

It was almost impossible for me to narrow down the list to 12. Want more? Feast your eyes on the Apocalypsies' upcoming releases and swoon over the delectable artwork in the sidebar.

Thursday, December 22, 2011

Year in Review: How did 2011 Stack Up?

It's time to look back on the year and see what I accomplished. If you're feeling compare-y and contrast-y, check out my Year-End Stats for 2009 and 2010.

In December of 2010, here's what I hoped to accomplish in 2011:

"In 2011, my goals are to research, write and revise my newest YA novel, contribute to, give audio books a real chance, and bring actual knitting back to my knitting group. I'd like to go jogging twice a week, and read at least 50 books, partially so I can surpass that goal."

Here's how my checklist turned out:

1. Wrote and revised a new YA novel? Yes!

2. Contributed to Dear Teen Me? Yes! You can read my letter here.

3. Gave audio books a real chance? No! Not even remotely! Didn't even try! Why am I using so many exclamation points!

4. Brought actual knitting back to my knitting group: Yes! Knitted two hats.

5. Went jogging twice a week? Hahahahahaha. (Wipes tear.)

6. Read at least 50 books? No! More like 45. Which is a drop from 2010 (when I read 62) and an even worse drop from 2009 (when I read 100). However... I did read a bunch of WIPs and ARCs from friends whose books are coming out in 2012, and I gave notes on manuscripts, and I also read 450 screenplays at work. So it's not like I wasn't reading. [/defensive] 

Other Fun Stats (maybe I should've listed these first):

I sold my novel (wooooooooooo!), attended a fun writing conference in NYC (where I got to meet my agent, editor, and lots of cool writing peeps), and joined The Lucky 13s. Lastly, my husband and I have a fresh work-in-progress due early next year. (Before anyone freaks out, the imbibing photo above is old.)

How did your year stack up against your expectations?

What are your hopes for 2012?

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Top Five Questions I Get Asked as a Magician's Wife

My husband Joe Skilton has been a full-time professional magician for several years, and whenever I tell people this, they inevitably want to know five things:

1. Does your husband tell you how he does his tricks?

No, and I prefer it that way. If I reaaaaallly want to know, I can scour through his books, DVDs, and lecture notes, or beg incessantly until he throws me a crumb, but I'd rather not know. The few times I've found out the secret to a trick, it's either been a bit of a letdown, or, more often, it's been even more mind-boggling to realize what he's trained himself to do. The tricks he performs are the result of skill and practice, honed over months or years, rather than pre-bought gimmicks from stores.

2. Is your husband always showing you new tricks and ideas?

He stops when I'm sleeping. I used to be more "pure" to him as an audience member, because I was clueless, but now I can spot certain elements at play and point them out from time to time.

3. Do you get sick of watching him perform the same shows over and over?

If I've seen a particular set many times, I'll stop watching him and watch the audience instead. It thrills me to see people's reactions: gasps, "No way!"s, "You did not!"s,  clutching their seats, etc. And it makes me happy that he's made so many other people happy.

4. Are you his secret assistant?

Yes but only secretly! Actually, no, not at all. He doesn't do tons of big stage illusions, and even if he did, I'm not the right body type to be a box jumper (women must be small and limber to fit inside boxes; I'm kind of tall and gangly).

5. What's the weirdest thing about being a magician's wife? (This is my favorite question.)

A) Props everywhere! The other day I saw two perfect peas on the carpet and went to pick them up, wondering how they'd traveled from the kitchen. Then I realized they weren't actual peas but part of a
"pea and shell" game. There are playing cards in the laundry room, office, kitchen, den and bathroom. There are bits of rope throughout the house, as well as antique coins, close-up pads (velvet portable squares perfect for close-up magic shows), and a beautiful wooden magic wand that seems to travel from room to room.

B) Clown insurance. Let me preface this by saying there is no love lost between magicians and clowns. A few years ago, Joe was asked to perform at a hotel in Beverly Hills. The hotel required proof of liability insurance. Since there is no Magician's Alliance (unlike in Arrested Development), he needed to get performers' insurance, fast. The only place that fit the bill was the Clown Association, so he purchased a year's worth, which came with a free subscription to a magazine called Clowning Around. When the first issue arrived, I screamed and dropped the magazine. (Like many people, I have a fear of clowns.) Soon, however, I was hooked. The masthead and columns included pictures of the writers in full clown regalia. Since then, Joe has found another insurance provider that, shall we say, lets him keep his dignity.

C) He works evenings and weekends, so we're often ships passing in the night with our schedules. The holidays are his busiest time of year, so we don't always get to hang out on Thanksgiving, New Year's, or large portions of December. He's got lots of corporate parties, holiday cocktail parties, and New Year's celebration shows he needs to focus on. He's always supported my writing so I don't mind the "ships in the night" schedule or the crazed Decembers but I'm always happy when I get him back in January :)

Thursday, December 8, 2011

One-Stop Shopping - A Compilation of "Best of 2011" Book Lists

To be honest I'm still working my way through January Magazine's Best of 2010 list, which was brilliantly categorized by genre, but for those who are a little more up-to-date and looking for 2011 picks (imagine that), I've compiled a wee list of links. Happy shopping!

Best Books of 2011

From the Christian Science Monitor (Which has nothing to do with Christianitiy or science)

From the NY Times (For people who want to impress their in-laws)

From GQ Magazine (A magazine my husband claims most men are neither gay enough nor straight enough to read)

From Slate Magazine (This list's got a nice mixture of fiction and non-fiction)

From The Guardian (For Anglophiles / people who really want to impress their in-laws)

From USA Today (For people who don't read. "See what books authors, from Laura Bush to James Patterson to Snooki, fondly remember as the best book they ever got for Christmas." (Must I? ;))

From Kirkus Reviews (A list of "Best Teen Books," and they look absolutely gorgeous)

Thursday, December 1, 2011

What I Learned From NaNo, and an Interview with Miranda Kenneally

Well hello there. It's been a few weeks! Here's what I learned in the month of November, which I spent revising my latest YA novel:

1. All first drafts are terrible.
2. This doesn't mean they will always be terrible.
3. Research is my friend.
4. Except when it isn't. (Too much can paralyze you.)
5. Knowing I have potential readers standing by was a powerful motivator. I don't want to let them down when the time comes to (gasp, horror) show this puppy to someone else.
6. When writing and revising is going well, there's nothing better.

Admit it, you bloodthirsty sharks: what you really want to know is, did I pass or fail National Novel Writing Month?

I'm going to give a non-answer, and there's nothing you can do about it. (Also, I didn't set out to write a novel, I set out to revise one, but, as they say on those Money Market shows, let's crunch the numbers.)

As I write this post, it's the evening of 11/30, the last day of the month, and I still have 25 pages (out of 250) to edit. So! 90% done, or an A-, but NaNo hard-liners will stamp FAIL on my forehead. However, I'd like to point out that I added nearly 7,000 words' worth of new material that I'm pretty proud of, and around the half-way mark of the month, I stopped hyperventilating / berating myself and started truly enjoying the process, which was a wonderful surprise.

My ultimate goal for the holiday season is to have a solid draft of this manuscript finished before the end of the year so I can get critiques in mid-December and January. On that front I believe I've succeeded. And now the real revisions can begin :)

Over at the Lucky 13s blog, I've posted my first interview for our Apocalypse Now series, in which we chat with 2012 debut authors about their Young Adult and Middle Grade books.

My pal and agency-mate, Miranda Kenneally, has a wonderful contemporary YA book, CATCHING JORDAN, out today. I was lucky enough to read an ARC of this exciting debut over the summer at the RWA Conference.

Miranda discusses her writing methods and other cool stuff right here. Happy Book Release Day!

Thursday, November 3, 2011

NaNo Revision Mission

While many writers are click-clacking away for National Novel Writing Month, I'm spending my November in what my pal Sarvenaz Tash has dubbed NaNoRevMo: National Novel Revision Month. Joining me in this experiment courageous endeavor is fellow agency-mate Kat Brauer.

I spent January through August writing a new Young Adult novel, and then set it aside to edit BRUISED for Amulet Books. Now it's time to whip my new book into shape.

My grand plans got off to an inauspicious start when I printed the entire manuscript without setting page numbers first. Wheeeeeee!

With a full-time job, a baby on the way, and massive revisions ahead of me, I'm taking the next three weeks off from blogging. I'll still post to The Lucky 13s, though, and you can see my revision progress on Twitter. Follow me and I'll follow you back. I'm a follower.

Who else is committing to writing a novel or revising a new draft this November?

Happy writing, Happy Thanksgiving, and May the Caffeine Be With You.

See you back here December 1st!

Thursday, October 27, 2011

A Photograph is Worth, Well, You Know

Have you seen the blog Dear Photograph? Contributors return to the scenes of old family photographs and take new pictures there.  In some cases they jot down what's changed in their lives or what they've learned in the interim. I love the concept, but I'm not crazy about the execution; the way the photos are framed (original images held by hand in front of updated location), it's almost impossible to tell whether it's the same place.

The site got me thinking about my WIP. For some reason I decided to set the story in a neighboring California town I've never been to. This was not terribly smart of me, but hey, at least I'm not alone in this manuever.

Stephenie Meyer famously set her Twilight series in Forks, Washington, before having set foot there. Rumor has it she Googled "rainiest town" or something and got Forks. In fact, Forks was apparently the original title for Twilight. (I'm picturing a fork in an apple for that first cover. Anyone else?) Now the Chamber of Commerce there has built an entire tourist industry around the books.

After I get my act together, I plan to hop on the freeway, visit my WIP's location and take a bunch of photographs for later use, so I can get a feel for the place as I write. I may call the town something different, but I'd like it to be drawn from reality.

Have you ever used photographs to help you with descriptions, setting and mood?

Thursday, October 20, 2011

It's Too Late: You've Already Given Your Baby Alzheimer's

I agree with the title of debut author Emma Price's upcoming book, "Never Google Baby."  In fact, I advise against looking up anything to do with pregnancy or you'll be paralyzed with fear.

Even the most innocent question ("Is it okay to eat yogurt?") can lead you down a rabbit's hole of horror stories, either in the sidebar or as follow-up questions to an original post. (And I never claimed to be emotionally healthy to begin with.) Unfortunately, this glut of information isn't restricted to the Internet; baby books are terrifying, too.

Here are but a few precious pearls of wisdom I've collected on my journey so far:

1. Did you ingest caffeine, cigarette smoke, sushi, unpasteurized cheese or alcohol within a few short years of thinking about conceiving? It's too late: you've already given your baby Alzheimer's.

2. Being tired is perfectly normal. But if you're "too" tired, you might have gestational diabetes.

3. Having swollen feet is perfectly normal. But if they're "too" swollen, you might have edema.

4. Bleeding gums and bloody noses are perfectly normal. But if they're "too" bloody, you might have gingivitis, which triggers pre-term labor.

5. Backaches are perfectly normal. But if you're "too" achy, YOU'RE ABOUT TO GIVE BIRTH!

6. Feeling stressed out?*  (Stress? Why on earth would I be stressed?) Book yourself a spa day. But never use nail polish, nail polish remover, makeup, sunscreen, moisturizer or deodorant. Those chemicals may harm your baby.

*By the way, stress is bad for the baby.

Thursday, October 13, 2011

Do You Feel Lucky, Punk? Well, Do Ya?

I've joined a new group for children's and YA authors with debut books launching in 2013. We're called the Lucky 13s and today -- the 13th, of course -- is our inaugural post. Come say hi and meet the other Thirteeners! Don't step on any sidewalk cracks.

Speaking of luck, we were very lucky to have our logo created by the talented Wendy Martin, an accomplished children's book illustrator.

I'll continue to blog here once a week, as well as once a month or more at the Lucky 13s blog. We'll be providing the inside scoop on what to expect during the year leading up to publication.

You can also follow us on Twitter for news about our books and the literary world at large.

Lastly, here is a photo of "Lucky" from General Hospital. You're welcome.

Thursday, October 6, 2011

WeHo Book Fair

I attended the West Hollywood Book Fair on Sunday to see some friends and to check out the Teen Stage, where current and upcoming Young Adult releases were showcased.

My favorite event was the live trailer for Carol Tanzman's Dancergirl, available this November, which featured a crazy-impressive dance routine choreographed by a high school actress. (When I was in high school I mostly watched TV.) I also enjoyed the YA Graphic Novel panel.

At the local independent bookstore booths, I was psyched to see my publisher, Amulet, well-represented. In fact, the shelves were dominated by Abrams and Amulet fare. I wanted to snatch up every single title.

Drool for yourself:

Can't wait to see what the cover for my book will look like next year...

Thursday, September 29, 2011

Pilot Watch: Person of Interest

A few weeks ago I blogged about the new shows I planned to watch this fall, based mostly on whether the programs were in any way connected to Lost.

The pilot episode for Person of Interest -- which is executive produced by JJ Abrams, so check mark there  -- kept me guessing, and all the credit goes to screenwriter/creator Jonathan Nolan (best known for Dark Knight and Memento).

Twist #1: The thuggish weapons dealers from the teaser show up a second time as an integral part of the plot. Did not expect to see them again.

Twist #2: The group controlling the criminals, the group they're terrified of... aren't other gang members but corrupt cops.

Twist #3: The woman our heroes are trying to protect is actually the perpetrator; her colleague's the one in danger.

I didn't see any of the twists coming, and for that reason alone I was very impressed with the pilot script. However, it's one of those shows that requires willful suspension of disbelief.

The show centers on an eccentric billionaire (Michael Emerson) who teams up with a former CIA operative (Jim Caviezel) to prevent crimes before they happen. (How do they know what's going to happen? They receive flagged social security numbers from covert surveillance software created for the government after 9/11. Yeah.)

If you're willing to accept certain elements of the premise without thinking about them too much, it's definitely worth tuning in.

Now back into the editing cave I go!

Thursday, September 22, 2011

There Are No Second Acts in American Lives (Unless You're "Two and a Half Men"?)

On Monday, I intentionally watched Two and a Half Men for the first time (I'd seen it once before at the gym and couldn't escape). I was curious, from a writing standpoint, to see how they would jettison Charlie Sheen's character -- also named Charlie -- after eight seasons on the air, and introduce Ashton Kutcher's character (to record ratings, apparently).

We cold open with Charlie's closed-casket funeral, where a bunch of his ex-girlfriends hold court, excoriating the deceased by listing the variety of venereal diseases Charlie gave them before kicking off. It's revealed that his demise came about in Paris; he was pushed in front of a train and his "body exploded like a bag of meat."

To this, er, surprising revelation, the Half-Man, now a teen at this point in the show's run, pipes up with, "Is anyone else hungry, or is it just me?" [Cue theme song!]

OKAY WAIT. I get that this was series creator Chuck Lorre's turn to bash Charlie Sheen. I soooo get that, but, BUT. Is this really how the character is written off, after eight years? And is this really the kid's reaction to his uncle's murder? He's not even remotely troubled by this information, content instead to deliver a zinger in the teaser.

Charlie's brother (played by Jon Cryer/Ducky) is similarly unconcerned. As for Charlie's mom, she pretends to be mournful for about three seconds, but it's all just a set-up to another punch(me) line; she wants to make a commission by selling Charlie's house as soon as possible.

Dudes, this is America's #1 comedy.

I guess it's just not my kind of humor. Or maybe I've been spoiled by the likes of Arrested Development and How I Met Your Mother and can no longer abide so-called traditional, three-camera sitcoms.

For me, the best sitcoms -- Mary Tyler MooreCheersCosbyMurphy Brown, etc. -- always had a little bit of heart injected between jokes, those occasional moments of poignancy that are even more effective precisely because they stand in contrast to the humor. Sure, Seinfeld was populated by a bunch of selfish (funny) jerks, but you still believed they were Friends.* Their behavior was still traceable to that of Human Beings on Earth.

A more modern example of three-dimensional characters might be Louis CK's half-hour show on FX, which, while not a traditional sitcom, is, to me, the epitome of hilarious realism. The characters I saw on Two and Half Men weren't even trying to be flesh-and-blood people.

Anyway, continuing on through the next scene: Dharma & Greg (?!) make a random cameo, as does John Stamos, and then we're treated to a couple of fart jokes between Grandma and Half-Man. After that, Jon Cryer chats to Charlie's urn of ashes for a while, trying to figure out where to spread them.

Enter Ashton. The audience whoops like it's the 1970s and he's the Fonze. Speaking of, I actually liked Ashton on That '70s Show. (But I digress. Summarizing this episode makes me want to digress a lot.) ANYWAY, Ashton's appearance at the window startles Cryer, who flings Charlie's ashes in the air, where, he's sure to point out, they'll be Dust Bustered later. Wa-wa.

Ashton's character is suicidal, a heartbroken internet billionaire who becomes insta-pals with Cryer/Ducky. You see, Ashton tried to drown himself in the ocean but the water was cold. After a night of drinking, which ends in a threesome for Ashton, starring a couple of interchangeable bimbos who think it's sexy that he's sad, Ashton gets naked and blurred (for the second time) and hugs Cryer, just as Cryer's son walks in. It is hilarious.**  Then Ashton decides to buy Cryer's house, thus saving the set from being torn down.

To be continued...

(Not me. That's what it said onscreen at the end of the episode. "To be continued..." But I'll just have to live with the fact that I'll never know what happens.)

Did anyone else tune in to the premiere? And for those who regularly watch, what am I missing? Is it usually better? I'm willing to be convinced.

* A show which may have had too much heart in the last few seasons. I definitely suffered Ross/Rachel fatigue by the end

** It's not hilarious

Thursday, September 15, 2011

How a Dork Edits

While reading my manuscript, I realized to my embarrassment that I apparently have difficulty depicting the difference between weeks or months passing, so it's not always clear when everything is happening. So one of the first things I did before diving in to revisions was print out blank calendars! Fun!*

I then proceeded to fill in every major event, the exact day it occurs. It was dorky but made me feel settled, and ready to edit.

P.S. The photo is deliberately blurry as opposed to my usual "accidentally blurry." Can't give away all my plot secrets.

*I'm not being sarcastic. It was really fun!

Thursday, September 8, 2011

What Makes a Good Editorial Letter?

My first editorial letter arrived last Friday from the fantastic Maggie Lehrman.

I was nervous to open it, but once I did, I found myself nodding my head like a madwoman and feeling a rush of excitement as I realized how much stronger Maggie's changes will make the story, and how well she knows the characters.

What makes the letter so good?

1. Praise goes a long way. Maggie started out by telling me her favorite parts, which immediately set me at ease and reminded me it's all going to be okay; she likes the book! That's why she bought it!

2. It's very organized: the perfect recipe for revisions. It doesn't jump all over the place; it's divided into categories so I can follow along easily and see how everything fits together. I'm confident if I follow instructions, I'll end up with a delicious cake.

3. It's clear and specific. Maggie didn't give me vague suggestions like, "fix the humor/emotion/tension/romance/mystery [insert attribute]"; she clearly laid out exactly what she felt might be improved, and then gave precise examples of how and why. As I read the letter, I could immediately picture what I needed to do. (Now it's just a matter of getting down to it...)

The next morning, I woke up early, ripped open my new package of red pens (see above), and started jotting feverish notes in the margins of scenes I wanted to flesh out or change. It's been exhilarating so far. I've got work ahead of me for sure, but Maggie's notes were so helpful and spot-on to me that I won't feel "right" about my manuscript until I've made these changes.

I feel very lucky to have an editor who believes in my writing and could see things in it that I didn't see, and who's willing to work with me to create the best version of the story possible.

What do you look for in critique notes or edits? 

Thursday, September 1, 2011

Dear Teen Me, and My First Online Interview

Have you checked out Dear Teen Me yet? It's a place for authors to address their teen selves and offer advice, comfort, warnings, and occasional pleas (my favorite remains: "Don't perm your hair").

Earlier this week I contributed a post about vague teenage dysthymia and the heartbreak of cat allergies, complete with photos of my hairsprayed '80s bangs and "why did these exist" striped jean shorts. Even more exciting, the creators of Dear Teen Me announced their anthology book deal! Wish them well here.

A few days later, I sat down for an online video interview with the wonderful Jeff Rivera of Author Learning Center. Jeff was a terrific interviewer who immediately put me at ease, and he didn't seem put off by my "I'm still getting over a cold, fear me" voice.

We discussed my upcoming book Bruised and YA books in general, touching upon what elements might make YA compelling to readers and how to create realistic dialogue.

I'll let you know where and when to find the video once it's been edited (and auto-tuned, haha).

Thursday, August 25, 2011

What I'm Watching on TV This Fall

This is normally the time of year when I recap new episodes of Mad Men and rate them between 1 and 5 razor blades, but the show's not airing again till next February (!) so I instead I'll I'd devote this post to the fall TV season.

I'm choosing what programs to watch based solely on whether they have ties to the late, great Lost.

Just kidding. Or am I? With help from IMDB, here's my probable DVR schedule of new shows:

Best Potential Epic:

Once Upon a Time (Modern-day fairy tale from Consulting Producer Damon Lindelof, a Lost alumni who apparently wrote more eps of Lost than anyone else; starring Jennifer Morrison and Ginnifer Goodwin)

Best Opportunity for WB Nostalgia:

Ringer (starring Sarah Michelle Gellar as evil and possibly eviller twins, with Nestor Carbonell, aka Richard the creepy immortal from Lost)

Best (Future-)Crime Drama:

Person of Interest (starring Michael Emerson aka Ben/Henry from Lost)

I'm also interested in Awake, but it's a midseason replacement.

What new shows are you watching this fall, and how did you decide on them?

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Three Things I Did Wrong to End up Where I am Today

1. Worked for free.

What a chump, right? Let me explain. When I graduated college in 1999 and moved to L.A. to work in entertainment, I applied for dozens of entry-level jobs. All of them required experience, and the only way to get experience was to intern. It's an inherently unfair system that stacks the deck against people who can't afford to work for free, so I felt a bit guilty about going that route, but I was lucky to have parents who were willing and able to support me for three months while I worked at a talent management company at precisely $0/per day. The internship led to a job in TV production, and the TV production job led to the job I hold today.

Cut to 2009. I was researching lit agents online and sending off queries when lo and behold, I noticed one of my bosses from the internship ten years before was affiliated with an agency I really hoped to impress. The boss and I had kept in touch, so I asked if I could use her as a referral, and I included her name in the email subject line of my query. The agency I hoped to impress was Nelson Lit, and I got a partial request the next day. If my writing sample had sucked, none of that would've mattered but I do think name-dropping a trusted source helped speed up the process.

2. Wrote in the wrong genre.

I spent four months turning a college-set screenplay into what I thought might be a YA novel. Halfway through adapting it, I heard about a panel at a local bookstore featuring a Q&A session with established YA authors. I decided to go, so I could ask them about my story and have experts confirm how brilliant it was. Ha! Every single writer there told me in no uncertain terms you can't write about college in YA books.

Shocked, I scrapped the "brilliant" project and began writing something entirely different (the book I would eventually sell, with my wonderful agent at the helm of course). At the panel, I met people in the audience who would go on to become friends and critique partners of mine. If I hadn't done the wrong thing (and naively sought to have it validated), I wouldn't have met people who ended up being integral to my journey, nor would I have started a new project.

3. Took a day-job as a writer.

I recently read an article in a writing magazine that named the best jobs for writers. Teaching was listed first. Also recommended were office jobs and temp work, something you can leave behind at the end of the day. The only job they specifically advised against was the one I have: reading and writing. I read screenplays and create character descriptions for a living, and then I go home and read and write novels.

The article stipulated it was a bad idea because I'd have nothing to draw from and no clear cut break from my two jobs. I'll admit I get a bit tired of typing, but I love reading regardless of the format and I love my day job, and if I had to spend 8 hours a day (plus the commute) doing something I didn't enjoy, it would be very difficult to muster up the ability to create.

So there you have it. Three bad things I did that ended up leading (eventually...) to publication. Following the "rules" is overrated.

Or maybe I'm just a slow learner.

In your writing journey, have you made mistakes that later turned out to be blessings?

Thursday, August 11, 2011

Night Writer

The other week, my friend and agency-mate Natalie blogged about writing something every day, regardless of how much time you have, and not worrying whether you write a sentence, a paragraph, a page or multiple pages.

I took her words to heart because I realized I've been throwing in the towel way too easily on days that aren't "perfect" for writing. I've gotten it into my head that I AM A MORNING WRITER AND CANNOT WRITE AT NIGHT. IT MUST EVER BE THUS.

I'm fine with doing research at night, or brainstorming in a notebook, but actually opening up the (gasp) document and adding to it is off limits for some reason, so for years I've stuck to morning-only typing. In the morning, my mind seems clearer and more open to creativity, uncluttered by the events of the day because there have been no events. At night, I'm tired from work, and tired from my commute, and I really just want to curl up on the couch with a Millionaire Matchmaker marathon (the episode I caught recently with Patty's parents was priceless).

But some mornings I want, or need, to sleep in. Unfortunately, I also want to finish what I'm working on, and if I'm not writing as often in the mornings, how am I supposed to do it?

Two weeks ago I dared to break my No Typing at Night rule. I know, I am crazy adventurous.

The first few tries were tough. I splashed cold water on my face, sat in my desk chair, shut my ears to the TV's siren song, and managed to barely, and painfully, churn out 500 words over a two hour period. Slow but steady progress was made.

After another week or so, I got the hang of it, and last weekend, I wrote 6,000 words, all in the afternoon/evening. In fact, I finished the draft! But if I'd stuck to my Mornings-Only rule I'd still be floundering, and beating myself up for not being done yet.

Do you have rules about when and where you can write?

Thursday, August 4, 2011

Weekend of YA Events

Wow hey this weekend is jam-packed with YA and MG writing events.

If I'm feeling ambitious, here's what I'll be up to*:

Friday Night, Century City - Crash the SCBWI Summer Conference and meet up with some fellow Apocalypsies

Saturday, 9am PST / Noon EST, at the computer - Marbury Lens book chat with author Andrew Smith (read the book a few weeks ago and can't get it out of my mind. Plus I have questions. I think). Follow along at Evil Editor's blog.

Saturday, 2 pm, Vroman's Bookstore in Pasadena - Elise Allen is signing copies of her new book Populazzi

Sunday Night - Kidlit Drinks at Pink Taco, back in Century City.

*No guarantee of ambitions, but I'll definitely be at Vroman's and definitely at the Marbury Lens chat

Thursday, July 28, 2011

"The Magicians" Redux

(The following pseudo-essay contains spoilers for Lev Grossman's 2009 novel, The Magicians. It does not contain spoilers for the sequel, The Magician King, which is due out August 9th.)

I had a love/hate relationship with The Magicians a few years ago.

I loved the writing, but the ending of the book (literally the last page) infuriated me. Also, I felt like the inside jacket flap gave away absolutely everything about the plot. See me rail about that here.

When I found out there'd be a sequel to the book, I was conflicted. Do I read?? (How can I not??) I finally decided to re-read the first book this weekend in preparation for the second, and to my surprise, I found the experience to be completely different than it was two years ago. I wholeheartedly enjoyed the experience.

Reading the book this time around, I was able to distance myself from the emotional aspects that had overpowered me last time. I realize these are somewhat arbitrary and bizarre things to fixate on, but you'll see why in a second: I, too, went to college in upstate New York. The boy I met at 19 (who eventually became my husband) is a magician who can do all the things Quentin does for his entrance exam. We, too, didn't date immediately but after a couple years of friendship and classes together. I also lived in a house off-campus with 4 other people, like the Physical Kids. As a result, after Quentin and Alice cheat on each other, I had a hard time concentrating on Fillory; I was that upset. The ennui and depression Quentin faces were familiar as well. And because Quentin's mistakes and decisions were so boneheadedly realistic, they hurt that much more to read about.

This time I focused on the whole story and didn't fixate on the character interactions as much. Since I knew betrayals were coming, I was able to shrug them off and better appreciate the intricate plot threads and call-backs to cleverly laid out clues.

Most importantly, I no longer dislike the ending -- it makes sense to me now, and I was relieved, in fact, that it didn't end the way I believed it should have before. See, the first time I read the book, I thought the "lesson" (for lack of a better word) was that you can't live in Fillory / Fillory-substitute-allegory / Fantasy Land / Childhood forever -- you must eventually leave; you must eventually grow up.

Martin Chatwin decided to live in Fillory forever and it warped him into a hideous monster. Quentin, who used to envy Martin his ability to leave the real world behind, comes to realize what a mistake it was. Because Quentin does leave (as a broken man who has suffered great losses and become a momentarily wiser person because of it) I figured that was his arc; he'd avoided Martin's fate. So when his friends show up, flying outside the office window, and invite him back to rule Fillory, I was like YOU HAVE TO BE KIDDING ME, NOOOOOOOOOOOOOO. I felt it ruined everything that had come before.

This time, however, it felt satisfying to me -- I was able to see that Quentin had still grown, he had learned things, and Emily Greenstreet was wrong; magic hadn't ruined everything. It was the people who'd ruined things, as people often do*. So now I find myself eagerly anticipating the next book. Hurry up, August 9th!

(This time I will avoid the inside jacket flap and all Amazon summaries.)

Have you ever re-read a book a few years later and had a completely different experience with it?

*This doesn't mean I believe the adage about guns being blameless, btw. 

Thursday, July 21, 2011

How the Storytelling in Documentaries Helps My Writing

"The best laid plans of mice and men often go awry." - Robert Burns

I watched two documentaries last week that were vastly different but shared a common storytelling thread: the protagonists' plans went heartbreakingly wrong. One was darkly comedic, the other tragic-yet-inevitable.

The first, Catfish, concerned a series of online relationships, including a romance, that turned out to be false or at least deeply misleading. The slow reveal was filled with tension, dread, and even an awful kind of humor as the protag and his friends paid a surprise visit to their internet friend's family and scrambled to figure out what was really going on.

The second documentary, Last Train Home, involved a modern Chinese family's disintegration. The parents had made the impossible decision, 16 years prior, to leave the country and find factory work in the city. Their plan was to send money home to fund their children's education so the youngsters could go to university someday and never have to work in a factory.

So what happens? The oldest, a teenage girl, resents her mom and dad for not raising her and decides to rebel by quitting school, heading to the city, and... working in a factory. You could see it coming, and yet you hoped it wouldn't be so.

I love documentaries because they provide a refreshing, even jarring, change of pace to the usual movie experience. There are fewer tropes, fewer predictable outcomes, and occasionally better dialogue and more authentic human interaction, even if it's painful, awkward or even boring at times.

Just like with sports, you don't know what's going to happen, and there's absolutely no guarantee of a happy or tidy ending. At the same time, the directors and editors frame the events in such a way that audiences can see structure and purpose to the story.

With Last Train Home in particular, I was reminded that the best stories often have a deceptively simple premise (parents try to make a better life for their children; children don't understand the behavior and resent it) that can be rich and full.

Seen any good documentaries lately? Did they help with your novel writing, or remind you that going "off-book" can be a good thing?

P.S. Edited to add: Lest you think I'm a dirty rotten spoiler, the plot points I've mentioned above happen fairly early on in each documentary.

Thursday, July 14, 2011

RWA Conference Photo Journal, Part Two

My New York City adventure continues, wheee. Just to back track for a second, here's the hotel where the RWA conference took place:

Which is right smack in the center of Times Square:

However, that's not where I stayed, because the amazing Sarvenaz Tash (author of The Mapmaker and the Ghost, coming out April 2012) allowed me and Miranda to crash at her uber cool pad in Brooklyn. As a result, I got to experience parts of the city I'd never been to before. One of my all-time favorite books is A Tree Grows in Brooklyn, so I was delighted to finally check the place out.

But back to the timeline.

Wednesday Morning: Sara Megibow's clients met up at the Marriott for coffee. It was really fun hanging out with everyone and chatting business and writing.

Below, top row from left to right: Aislinn McNamara, Roni Loren, Ashley March, Tiffany Reisz.
Bottom row, from left to right: Me, Allison Rushby (who traveled to NY from Australia!), Sara Megibow, and Steve Vera, who has lived an extraordinary life.

Not pictured is Miranda Kenneally, who had left a moment earlier to pick up some ARCs of her debut YA novel, Catching Jordan. Observe the gorgeousness:

Wednesday, Noon: I had lunch with Sarv, Miranda, and the lovely Katie McGarry, another Apocalypsie. I loved hearing about her upcoming book, Pushing the Limits (yay contemporary YA!). Then it was off to a rousing matinee at the theatre.

Wednesday Night: Allison, Sara, Miranda and I attended the YARWA event, with an all-editor panel. I mingled with some writers and snarfed several plates' worth of appetizers. We called it an early night to head back to Brooklyn, where Sarv treated us to a tour of her neighborhood.

Check out the Brooklyn Public Library:

Not to mention the awesome Brooklyn Museum:

Next up was a Doctor Who-themed bar. Because it had a TARDIS.

 I used a sonic screwdriver to open it and reveal the depths -- okay, bathroom -- beyond.

Thursday Morning: At this point I figured I should, you know, attend a conference event. The two biggest YA-related events were conveniently scheduled one after the other. I checked out "The Y.A. Romance Market: Advice from the Pros" (with Kristin Nelson, Rosemary Clement-Moore, Caridad Ferrer, and Aubrey Poole) and "Writing the Y.A. Bestseller" (with authors Simone Elkeles and David Levithan).

After that I had a hilarious lunch with Kristen Callihan and Lindsay Mergens, who helped me figure out how to walk to Central Park (a mere 13 blocks away). 

I rested in the park and then got lost on the subway trying to get down to NYU. (How First Season Felicity of me.)

Thursday Night: I caught up with a college friend and saw another play (Through a Glass Darkly starring Carey Mulligan, whom I knew was brilliant from the film An Education. If you haven't seen it, go add it to your Netflix queue. Unless you've quit Netflix because of the 60% price hike announced this week.)

Friday Morning: Breakfast with Sarv at Tom's Restaurant (the inspiration for that Suzanne Vega song -- got it stuck in your head yet?). 

Then I headed back to Manhattan for lunch with Sara Megibow and my super cool editor, Maggie Lehrman, who is wicked smart and so fun to chat with. 

Here's me at the mod Abrams offices. I also swiped a copy of the Amulet Fall 2011 catalog; every cover looks like delicious candy to me. I absolutely love the artwork for the upcoming books.

Friday Afternoon/Night: My flight from Newark got canceled and moved to JFK airport -- for the next morning with a layover (woooo!) So they had to give me hotel vouchers, roundtrip car vouchers, and meal vouchers. But the hotels at JFK were all booked, so they sent me to LaGuardia. I got to the hotel in Flushing, and on the front desk was a print-out with weather information. How's this for existential:

In case you can't see it clearly, it says, "Today will be about the same as yesterday."

Luckily, that was not the case for me in New York -- every day was uniquely wonderful and I had a blast at the conference. Thanks for flipping through the digital album with me.

Thursday, July 7, 2011

RWA Conference Photo Journal, Part One

Let me preface this by saying I only got my iPhone two months ago; I'm still learning how to use it; and the photos I take with it lean toward everyone's favorite style: low lighting / slightly-out-of-focus. Still here? Then please enjoy my wacky adventures in the city!

Last week I hit the Romance Writers of America conference in New York. It was beyond cool.

But first I stopped in Virginia to visit a college friend, Robyn, and her son and daughter, ages 5 and 6. Robyn is the only person with whom I regularly exchange good old fashioned snail mail. She and her family live in Staunton (pronounced Stanton, or they'll know you're not a local).

Saturday: I arrived at 10 pm in Washington. The Dulles Airport was empty, and eerily beautiful at night:

Sunday: both of Robyn's kids had organized dueling tea parties (the regular kind; as far as I know, they're not politically active kindergartners). I divided my time equally between both soirees, but this did not prevent violence from breaking out. The calm before the storm:

While Robyn's husband watched the kids, Robyn and I strolled around outside and headed to downtown Staunton for lunch.

The town was beautiful! No chain stores, just rows and rows of gorgeous brick buildings and Mom & Pop establishments, including a heavenly gelato parlor and a stunning toy and bookstore for children, Pufferbellies.

Monday: we explored more of the town, including the railroad station.

Tuesday: I left for New York City via Charlottesville, VA. The Amtrak was really comfortable and the 6-hour train ride flew by. I read A.S. King's "Please Ignore Vera Dietz", which made me cry in public.

Tuesday Night: my lit agency, Nelson Literary, threw a cocktail party at the rooftop of 230 5th Avenue.

I met my wonderful agent Sara Megibow for the first time, as well as agency president Kristin Nelson, marketing director Lindsay Mergens and literary assistant Anita Mumm, not to mention writer Miranda Kenneally and several other Nelson Agency authors. It was like my Twitter feed had come to life and surrounded me, drinks in hand.

I'm afraid of heights, so I kept to the center at all times, but the view from the top was amazing! There's the Empire State Building:

Below, from left to right: Kristen Callihan, Lindsay Mergens, me, Tiffany Reisz (and guest Alyssa Palmer), Roni Loren, and Kristin Nelson.

Next week, Part Two of my trip continues with a Team Megibow coffee chat, a tour of Brooklyn with the lovely and generous Sarvenaz Tash, a musical, a play, lunch with my editor Maggie Lehrman, and -- GASP -- an actual conference event (or two!?)

Perhaps most importantly, I figure out how to use the flash on my camera so photos like the one above stop happening.

Friday, June 24, 2011

Off to RWA

So this week got all cattywampus. I usually update my blog on Thursdays, but with my book announcement on Monday and work and packing and other life stuff, I kind of forgot, and now it's Friday and I'm heading to the East Coast to see some college friends and attend the RWA conference, wheee.

I'm meeting my agent for the first time (!!), as well as a bunch of agency mates, new writing friends, and my editor.

I'll be back here on July 7th with lots of scoop from the conference, but if you'd like the scoop from NYC in real time, follow me on Twitter (@Sarah_Skilton). See you in a few weeks!

Monday, June 20, 2011

Book Deal!

Guess what: My wonderful agent Sara Megibow sold my debut YA novel, Bruised, to the fabulous Maggie Lehrman at Amulet Books.

Now here's the same info in a different format, because Publishers Marketplace makes it look so pretty and official:

Young Adult 
Sarah Skilton's debut BRUISED, about a 16-year-old girl with a black belt in martial arts who freezes up at an armed robbery and is left wondering if martial arts failed her or if she failed it, to Maggie Lehrman at Amulet, in a nice deal, for publication in 2012, by Sara Megibow of Nelson Literary Agency (World).

Next week, I'll share the same info in Esperanto, and the week after that, I'll share it in an interpretive dance vlog.

(Just kidding; little bit giddy.)

Huge thanks to my friends for reading early drafts of the novel (sometimes multiple times...), and of course my family for their love and support. My husband Joe deserves special commendation for giving me so many pep talks the last couple years, through first drafts to querying to submissions.

I couldn't be more excited to work with Maggie, and I'm so grateful to Sara for her all her hard work.

Really looking forward to sharing Bruised with new readers next year. I hope you like it! :)

Thursday, June 16, 2011

Recommend Read: "Chiggers" by Hope Larson

I'm a little embarrassed to admit I haven't read many graphic novels. I mean, I've read the ones everyone reads (Marjane Satrapi's Persepolis, Art Spiegelman's Maus, and Alison Bechdel's Fun Home...) but otherwise my repertoire is sadly limited.

Which is strange, because I used to love comics. When I visited my grandma in England as a kid during the 1980s*, I'd devour Asterix and Obelix stories, and I had monthly subscriptions to Heathcliff and The Get-Along Gang comics (if anyone else remembers the bizarreness that was the Get-Along Gang, WE MUST TALK). I also read various Archie digests and went through an X-men phase in high school and early college.

So why didn't I transition to graphic novels? It's a mystery, and one I'd like to rectify.

Last week I read Hope Larson's fantastic summer camp-set YA graphic novel, Chiggers. There's not a single moment in the book that isn't authentic. Right from the first line of narration -- "Being the first one at camp is like waking up first at a slumber party" -- I knew it was for me.

Everything about the story feels real, from the friendships, to the crushes, to worrying about whether you're normal, to befriending the "weird, possibly lying" new bunkmate no one else likes, to playing capture the flag and navigating the mess hall. Plus there's bonus material like diagrams on how to make a friendship bracelet, and the artwork is expressive and innovative, whether depicting the passage of time or mocking a parent's opinion about the evils of breaded food.

Read any good graphic novels lately? I'd love some recommendations.

*a fact which means I can never donate blood. I know because I've tried. So what do British people do?

Thursday, June 9, 2011

Recommended Viewing: "Somewhere" Written & Directed by Sofia Coppola

Lost in Translation is one of my favorite films. I think it perfectly captures not only the bewilderment and beauty of visiting a foreign country, but also the ennui that comes from mid-life crises and post-college crises, when you either regret how you've spent your life so far, or you can't figure out who you're supposed to be.

This line never ceases to make me laugh:

Charlotte (Scarlett Johansson): "I tried being a writer but I hate what I write. I tried taking pictures, but they were so mediocre. I guess every girl goes through a photography phase. You know, horses... taking pictures of your feet."

Despite my love for the film, I was reluctant to watch Ms. Coppola's most recent project, Somewhere, because I feared it would be more of the same, yet less of what was so great about Lost in Translation.

There are a few obvious similarities. A movie star (this time played by Stephen Dorff instead of Bill Murray) lives in a hotel, drifting through his pampered, rather absurd life without purpose. And yes, once again he's jolted out of his stupor by a "younger woman" (his 11-year-old daughter Cleo, play by Elle Fanning).

The performances are terrific, and I especially appreciated the way the film was bookended. We begin with a static partial shot of a race track, and watch as Dorff, in his expensive and noisy Ferrari, speeds around it (briefly out of sight) four times. The symbolism is clear: he's going nowhere; he's going in circles.

The final shot (spoiler alert) is Dorff in the same car, alone again, but driving out of the city, out onto the open road, going somewhere at last. And when he exits the car this time, there's a hint of a smile on his face.

When I write novels or short stories, I aspire to make my endings relate directly to my beginnings -- either by referring back to the opening imagery, or using similar allusions so the story feels like it's come full circle.

Do you believe endings should directly reference beginnings, or do you think it should be up to readers to interpret any potential parallels for themselves?

Thursday, June 2, 2011

New Twists on Old Classics

Don't worry, I'm not randomly launching a screed against New Coke twenty-five years after the fact. I'm talking about the FX show Sons of Anarchy, aka "Hamlet on a Harley." Series creator Kurt Sutter took the basic premise of Hamlet and set it in a biker gang. How brilliant is that?

Current leader Clay (Ron Perlman) is Claudius; his wife Gemma (Katey Sagal) is a modern-day Gertrude; and her son Jax (Charlie Hunnam) is the "prince" and would-be heir who wavers in his committment to the club and senses something rotten his father's demise.

I think the reason the concept appeals to me so much is because A) it's unexpected and B) the roots of the story are so powerful that they really will work in any environment. Even though I know how Hamlet ends, it's fascinating to watch the tale unfold within the framework of a biker gang.

It's why I enjoyed Amy Heckerling's Clueless (which is basically Jane Austen's Emma for Valley Girls) and the 1999 film 10 Things I Hate About You (which is The Taming of the Shrew in high school).

Have you ever considered taking a classic or well-known story and placing it in a modern setting?

Is there any bizarre combo you'd like to see? (King Lear in the fashion industry?)

Thursday, May 26, 2011

How do you jumpstart a scene?

In regard to plot stagnation, Raymond Chandler famously said, "When in doubt, have a man come through a door with a gun in his hand."

TV Tropes has a lot of fun discussing what they've dubbed "Chandler's Law," and comparing it to parallel plot devices in TV, comics, films and video games.  I've heard that NaNoWriMo participants often run out of steam during the second week, and have to rely on quick, sometimes outrageous plot devises to keep their "writer's high" (and word count) going. The only time I attempted NaNo, I didn't even make it through the first week, so I'm not exactly an expert.

When your story doesn't seem to want to move forward, how do you jumpstart it? Have you ever used the same fix twice? Did it work?

Thursday, May 19, 2011

When it Comes to First Drafts, What Kind of Writer Are You?

If you haven't already seen it, I highly recommend you check out Jennifer Wolf's recent blog post on Pantsers vs Outliners (i.e. the difference between people who write by the seat of their pants, and those who prefer to outline). It reminded me of a conversation I had this past weekend with the lovely Kristen Kittscher, who recently sold her middle-grade mystery. We were discussing the different ways one can write a first draft.

I also polled some of my Writing Night pals (thanks, Amy, Hope and Jen!) and they were split. One prefers to jump in and enjoy the discovery of seeing where the story goes; another prefers to outline, and the third does a combination of the two, depending on the project. Here are the different categories I believe people fall into when it comes to first drafts:

The Perpetual Starter - You have twenty stories you want to write, and none that you want to finish (this was me last year)

The Polisher - You rewrite the beginning 17,000 times before you feel "right" continuing (this is me now)

Quick Like a Bunny - You churn out 5,000 words a day for several weeks and have yourself a first draft within a month (sadly, I have never been this person and probably never will be)

The Jumper - You jump from scene to scene, writing your favorite or most important moments first, and then fill in the blanks later (I don't often do this, but I know it works for some)

I've come to accept the fact that I'm not a fast first-drafter. Sure, I have moments of "Must sit down and write this scene now! GO GO GO!" inspirational frenzies, but for the most part, I'm a Polisher, sometimes to my benefit and sometimes to my detriment.

When you write your first draft, do you fit into any of the categories above? Are there types that I'm missing?

Thursday, May 5, 2011

Pitch the Book You'd Want to Read

A couple weeks ago a friend asked me what my new project was about, and before I realized what I was doing, I'd typed up a paragraph synopsis that sounded pretty awesome.

Too awesome, in fact. It wasn't accurate! Some of the elements I'd mentioned weren't even part of the story, or at least not yet. I didn't do it on purpose. By wanting the story to sound as intriguing as possible, I'd overshot. That's when I realized I hadn't pitched my project. I'd pitched the project I wanted to be writing.

It sounded better in the paragraph than it did so far on the page, and I vowed to make my manuscript live up to my pitch. Maybe that's a backwards way of going about it, but by giving myself a succinct challenge ("I must hit elements A, B, C and D in the novel or it won't reflect the logline"), I at least guarantee myself a draft in which I include all my favorite parts. Will it work, or will it be terrible? Stay tuned.

Have you ever pitched a partial manuscript? If you do pitch your project before you're done writing it, are you ever surprised by your own synopsis? Has it ever led you in a new direction?

Thursday, April 28, 2011

7 Random Facts and 7 Wondrous Bloggers

My new blogging buddy Sophia the Writer has kindly dubbed me a Versatile Blogger. What does this mean? It means, among other things, I get a purty award to display!

It also means I have a mission to fulfill.

The rules for this award are:
  • Thank and link to the person who nominated me.
  • Share seven random facts about myself.
  • Pass the award along to 15 new-found blogging buddies.
  • Contact those buddies to congratulate them.
Seven Random Facts About Me:

1. My mom's side of the family is British, and my mom was born and raised in Lusaka, Zambia. When I was 16, I spent part of my summer there. My aunt still lives in Africa.

2. As kids, my older sister and I didn't play "Barbie and Ken"; we played "Diane and Charles." (I don't know why she was Diane instead of Diana. Maybe we thought the name Diane was more American?) BUT YES, WE ARE EXCITED ABOUT THE ROYAL WEDDING TOMORROW. WHY DO YOU ASK?

3.  I'm a black belt in Tae Kwon Do and Hap Ki Do.

4. My husband thinks I have an iron stomach and fears for me. I can eat expired or otherwise "bad" food and drink and somehow emerge unscathed.

5. When I was in junior high and high school, I kept detailed notecards about every Cheers episode I saw, including my favorite quotes.

6. In 2008, I was in a car accident that shook me up so much I rode the bus everywhere for 3 months. In L.A. this is considered eccentric. It sometimes took hours to get places that were normally 25 minutes away.

7. I once modeled in a catalog for chef wear. This is not kinky or a code for anything. It's exactly how it sounds: caps, polo shirts, chef hats and aprons. I think the market was restaurant owners. (I nearly posted pics here but I don't want it to be what pops up on Google images until the end of time. If you'd like to see the evidence, email me, but remember, the photos can't be un-seen.)

Anyone still here after that chilling and sobering glimpse into my past?

To those who remain, here's another confession: I love receiving awards but I'm also kind of a lazy ass who's supposed to be packing for a trip right now, so I'm cutting my mission (more than) in half and linking to 7 lovely bloggers instead of 15. Did I break the chain? I hope there's no curse associated with this kind of loose cannon behavior, because I'd really love to give a sincere shout-out to the extremely cool writers I've met recently, both online and in person.

New Blogging Buddies:

1. Sarvenaz Tash and I share eerily, giddily similar obscure pop culture references. She's a generous, super-fun middle-grade novelist and terrific screenwriter. I know because we've swapped scripts! She held a hilarious Geek-Off recently on her blog that made me realize I need to work harder to claim any title of geek. I believe I'm up to the challenge, however.

2. Leigh Bardugo has a suh-weeet sounding YA fantasy novel (The Grisha) coming out next year, and she met up with me in my old 'hood for drinks and laughs a while back. I'm devouring her analysis (of the analysis...) of HBO's Game of Thrones. She also rocks amazing boots.

3. Sarah Maas is another fabulous YA fantasy novelist I had the pleasure of chatting with recently. Her description of her book, Queen of Glass, in which Cinderella is an assassin, blew my mind and made me delirious to get my hands on it.

4. Alyssa Linn Palmer writes luscious Parisian noir and I'm hoping beyond hope to get her take on my WIP some day!

5. Samuel Park used to run a blog called "Daily Pep for Writers" that I really respected and enjoyed. He's shifted his focus, and rightfully so, to publicizing his novel This Burns My Heart, but he'll be reposting some of his best "Pep" discussions soon and I can't recommend his site enough.

6. Kara Lucas delivers thought-provoking and insightful blog posts on the writing process and motherhood, and I think we're a lot alike when it comes to our gut reactions to Twitter and "new media" in general. I'm looking forward to getting to know Kara better and hearing about her books.

7. Kat Brauer is a new agency mate and spiffy YA author who's raising funds for clean, healthy water in exchange for writing critiques from pros. She lives in Japan, which I think is beyond cool!

I feel lucky and blessed to have met so many lovely writers this year. This is an incomplete list, and I hope to acknowledge more people as time allows. Those I've tagged, feel free to claim your award, list your 7 fun facts and award 15 others if you are so inclined. No pressure, of course. And feel equally free to pull a Sarah and pervert the chain by assigning arbitrary numbers to the task.

(Sophia, are you sure you still want to meet me? :)

Thursday, April 21, 2011

Soccer & Writing: When Supporting Players Take Over the Field

When I saw the team lineup for Sunday's L.A. Galaxy game, I was worried and, to be honest, kind of annoyed. I got into soccer last summer because I wanted to follow the further adventures of Galaxy team captain Landon Donovan after his excellent showing at the World Cup.

Impossible as this may seem, I'd forgotten at the time that David Beckham was also with the Galaxy, partially because I'd shunned from my mind the "Posh & Becks" reality show Coming to America, and partially because he was injured for most of last season. I quickly became spoiled by his presence, however, so when he, Donovan, and several of the other Galaxy headliners were absent on Sunday, I panicked. Seemed like everyone good was either suspended because of yellow card accumulations or resting up after injuries. "Aggh, we're going to get murdered," I thought, settling in for an afternoon of pain.

A minute later, however, I was thrilled to realize that A) last year's talented rookie, Stephens, who normally only gets a few minutes per game, would be starting and B) I would get to meet a bunch of players I'd never seen before, who are rarely afforded a chance to play at all.

And guess what? They were fantastic. They beat Chicago 2-1. I find myself allllmost curious how the team would do without its "stars" for the rest of the season.

I had a similar situation with my WIP recently. Having written 100 pages, I realized that one of the smaller roles was the most interesting to me, and deserved a deeper exploration of his motivation and background, especially since the character's relationship with my lead was central to the heart of the story. So I set the 100 pages aside and pulled up my original opening, which included the smaller role earlier on. It's going to take some work to start over, but I'm really excited about this development.

Have any of your supporting roles ever asserted themselves into a larger role? Have they ever taken over the story completely? Did they surprise you with what they brought to the narrative? I'd love to hear how you worked them in.