Archive for the ‘Writing’ Category

  

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These are limited edition, 3×5 glossy beauties. Each quote is one of my very favorites, from a favorite, crucial MARKED scene. Consider it a sneak peek of the book that stole my heart and made me cry way too hard.   

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Pre-order campaign ends May 16th. Thanks, dearest ones! 

I play electric guitar, a lefty Sheraton II.  Picking it up has made me a better writer.

I swear. Seriously, there’s a correlation here. I might as well go ahead and thank Steve Vai, the legendary guitar virtuoso who opened my eyes. I recently read Guitar World’s interview with Steve and guitarist Tosin Abasi, and it’s changed the way I think about stringing words together. Abasi and Vai spoke a lot about musicianship, but I think their words speak volumes about growing and evolving as any kind of artist.

…When I got hold of the guitar, the thing that really lit me up about the instrument is you try to do something and you can’t, but then you work on it and all of a sudden you can…That’s how it works. You become fascinated…It was an escape from other things in my life. And when you can’t do something but you work at it and then you can do it, you get this sense of achievement, which is something we all really thrive on, and also a sense of dignity that might have been destroyed by something else. So that in itself creates this feedback effect, this addiction. It was a beautiful thing for me.” –Steve Vai

Are writers so different? We stretch for the words just outside our reach, scribbling and typing and revising until we can grasp them. And when we find the right words to build a connection between the page and the reader, we’re euphoric, self-affirmed, if only for a moment . Yes, it’s hard to keep working to improve, writing book after book, but we crave that rush, the satisfaction of knowing these pages are better than the last ones. The struggle is its own addiction.

Vai elaborates on doing to hard work:

“…And when the Zappa gig came along and he was like, ‘Can you play this?,’ I was like, ‘Of course I can play it.’ ‘Cause all you gotta do is work on it. Slowly, slowly, note by note. It was unfathomable to me than any guitar player couldn’t do it. And I realized why. They just didn’t have the chutzpah to sit there and work on it…Greatness is an inspiration that a person has. So we can tell people how to be a virtuoso guitar player: just sit and practice really slow and perfectly and make sure you have vibrato and your intonation is perfect and then get faster and faster and just don’t do anything that you can’t play. Every week, click the notch up a bit. And then you’ll be able to play anything.

Writer, your keyboard/palette/lens isn’t so different than six strings. Play.

Abasi echoes Vai:

What happens is there’s this revelation that if you put in work on something you can’t do at first, eventually you can do it. And the first time that happens it is kind of like an addiction. You want it to happen again. And the more it happens, the more you’re confident that it can happen. So you start chasing your potential. You realize, Yeah, eventually I might get as good as I try to get. It feeds itself. So it’s not like you’re locked in a room practicing under obligation. You’re concerned with your own potential. You’re like, I’m full of potential and I’ve already started to unlock it. and I could spend the rest of my life doing it.”

Spend your life chasing down that next song or the next story or the next image or whatever it is you long to create. The process will nourish you as much as the end result.

Getting better on guitar is really just a reflection of your ability to chisel out your own doubt. Criticism can be devastating. When push comes to shove, we are all very sensitive. I know I can be. Artists have this burning desire to create something that will gratify other people–when you find the right audience. No matter what anybody tells you, we want to be appreciated; we want to feel like what we’re doing has value and that we’re making a contribution. But what we have to get through our heads is it’s not for everybody, but is is for a select group. And when you follow your muse and your creative impulse sincerely, you find that audience comes. They come.” –Steve Vai

Don’t give in to the monster of self-doubt. Find your voice. Build connections, word by word. Keep writing until you can.

(Also, get yourself a subscription to Guitar World. It will feed your inner artist.)

(Roman Holiday’s THE LONG WAY HOME, my anthem and TRACKED’s theme song, btw.)

This past week has been amazing, and I’ve been heartened by all the well wishes about TRACKED, but something’s been gnawing at me.

I didn’t do this alone.

I wrote a book, sure. I set out on a journey, but all along the way, there were people who picked me up when I fell down or got insufferably weary or couldn’t see my way through. There were people who carried me.

  • My husband, Chris, who always, always encouraged my crazy dream and put strong arms around me, protecting me from the relentless monster of self-doubt. When I thought about giving up, he bought me a Macbook and Scrivener. When I vowed to quit, the week before I sold, he told me I couldn’t, no way, no how.
  • My incredible agent Sara Crowe, who is tireless and responsive and so capable and kind. She is my champion, a true rock star agent who believed in me even when I couldn’t.
  • My editor Heather Alexander, the fiercely cool Penguin who saw something in Phee, my Han Solo girl, and took a chance on her.
  • My best friends Caron and Rosemary and Candy and Sally and Alex and Kate and Amber, and everyone at DFW Workshop who read book after book and who were never too busy to encourage or spur me on.
  • My family, who didn’t laugh when I said I wanted to be a writer, especially my father, who’s been with me the whole way, vicariously chasing the dream, getting just as choked up as his sentimental daughter.
  • My writing friends, online and off, who have been comrades in arms–Kendra and Bryan and Erin and April and Claire and Jamie and PJ and Janet and Julie and Lindsay and the Austin Girls and the Houston Horde and the DC Mafia so many, many more. If you’re reading this, the odds are good that you belong on this list, too. I haven’t forgotten that.
  • My first agent, Mary, who taught me so much, when I was just an embryo writer, still trying to find my voice.
  • Lastly, the infamous, mercurial Mr. Happenstance, who taught me that a good deal of luck–finding the right person at the right time–can make all the difference.

Thank you. Thank you for kicking me in the butt and inspiring me with your brilliance and saying kind things and tweeting me up. I can’t tell you enough how grateful and lucky that makes me feel. You’ve allowed me to be ridiculous and maudlin and silly, and now I get to celebrate and give you presents! So stay tuned, people of awesome, because I am already cooking up a MONSTER GIVEAWAY with lots of insanely rad prizes–a menagerie of carefully curated ‘must haves’ I know you’ll wantsssss, PRECIOUSSSSSS.

Until then, tell me. I’d love to hear about the people who carry YOU.

Guys.

GUYS. I AM HAVING AN UGLY CRY ABOUT POSTING THIS AND I AM STILL IN SHOCK AND I CAN’T STOP SHOUTING IN RANDOM CAPS-LOCKY WAY BECAUSE…

My agent sold my debut. Our first book deal. 

(C’mon. I know you want to sing along with me.)

I can’t believe this is happening. And if you are my twitter friend, or my IRL friend, or my I-haven’t-met-you-yet friend, you may or may not know how daunting and scary and wonderful my writing journey has been so far. Whatever the case, thank you for sharing this moment with me. I love you for it. I would hug you very tightly right now, if you were here. I would ugly cry on your shoulder, and you would get impatient and tell me to stop being so maudlin and so silly, and I would listen to you. But just for a minute. Then I would start acting like a sentimental nincompoop again because…

One of my childhood dreams is coming true. I WRITE BOOKS AND SOMEONE BELIEVES IN THEM AND SOMEONE WANTS TO PUT THEM OUT INTO THE WORLD. I AM A PENGUIN.

I am so incredibly happy and lucky to be able to write that. I have so many people to thank (My family! My fabulous agent, Sara! My dream editor, Heather!). I have presents to give. I have (not very) gory details to share. But that is another post, one I’ll be writing soon. For now, thank you for reading this and being my any kind of friend. It means a lot to me.

TODAY

TOMORROW

Writing friends, I just gave up. Completely surrendered.

Again.

And you know what? It felt great. I’ll probably do it again tomorrow. And the next day, too.

I see the confusion on your face. Surrender?? Gave up on what???

Stuff I have no control over. Factors outside my influence. The immoveable metric ton of tricksy particulars I keep trying to shoulder. Pesky things like:

–the economy

–market and genre trends

–shifting state of the publishing industry

–today’s seven figure deal for the latest self-published/YA/fanfic/erotica/BDSM/OCD/PTSD/STFU phenom

–three day auctions

–past failures

–past revisions

–past mistakes
–present learning curve

–rejection

–silence

–editorial taste

–editorial lists

–acquisitions meetings

–editorial boards

–the submission process

–submission response times

–NYC weather

–THE SPEED OF LIGHT

Maybe your list is different. Maybe you’re querying agents or staring at your debut’s book cover or sobbing over your last royalty statement. But I bet you have a list. Take a good hard look at it, and ask yourself if you’re like me, a writer who needs to put her hands up and say…

I am not psychic. I am not a special snowflake. I am not superman, yet I am not immune to kryptonite. I am just a girl, sitting in a red chair, typing some words. I am just trying to tell a story, the best way that I can. I can control the words. I can’t control the rest. The rest will not cripple or paralyze or smother the joy I find in words. Yesterday and today and tomorrow.  Amen.

Surrender is sweet. I highly recommend it. 🙂

If you’re a writer, you’ve probably heard “Show, Don’t Tell’ a million times. It’s one of those maxims you can’t escape. But I’m going to stick my neck out and declare…

I think that advice has led to a lot of really terrible writing.

Before you come at me with your sharpest pitchfork, let me explain my madness. I do believe, in many ways, it is good and useful and wise to ‘show’ things. There is a time and place for the camera pan, the action shot, the external focus. But a novel is not a screenplay. A movie is a string of external cues–visuals and sound–that tells a story. The viewer relies on these cues to make sense of the plot and all its underpinnings–the internal, intangibles such as emotion and theme.

The novel is an entirely different medium. A novel conjures a singular experience, not just through external description (what a camera can capture), but also by internal perception (the heart and soul an ordinary telephoto zoom can’t record). In a novel, there’s a lens that trumps all.

The human lens.

The fictive stream of consciousness. The thingamathink that pulls us under the skin of a character. The internal processor that that recalls events and interprets every moment of action in the context of a character’s deepest hopes, dreams, memories and fears.

Yet...motivated by well-intentioned advice, so many writers neglect this lens and start out writing novels like screenplays. They try to live by ‘show’ alone–moving characters here and there on a stage, describing everything in objective, surface-level terms the way a wide-angle camera shot would. This cheats the reader and sentences them to a parade of colorless, cliched gestures and descriptions.

John’s eyes widened in anxiety. Mary’s heart hammered. Glen’s jaw clenched. Raul’s brow quirked. Anna’s lips curled in a smirk. Neville clenched his fists at his sides. Snakes slithered in Jonah’s stomach.

Ugh. These gestures and reactions are all generic. They illuminate nothing about character, personality, conflict or plot. As Francine Prose so aptly writes in Reading Like a Writer, “they are not descriptions of an individual’s very particular response to a particular event, but rather a shorthand for common psychic states.”

Meaningless shorthand. Yes. But darn it, they show and don’t tell. And that’s the rule, right?

WRONG. WRONG. WRONG.

I am nothing more than an puny, unpublished, unknown Writer/Librarian/Beatle-Maniac, but I will not recant. I will not! Because writing fiction is a form of storyTELLING. I agree with Joshua Henkin when he calls ‘Show, Don’t Tell’ the ‘great lie of writing workshops.‘ I say go ahead and slip under that murderer’s/ballerina’s/magician’s/vampire’s skin, tap into that stream of consciousness and TELL that story, infusing every moment that matters with personality and voice.

And if you still aren’t ready to drop your pitchfork, please look at these ‘show vs. tell’ examples before you skewer me:

Showing only (Excerpt altered. All telling parts omitted/edited):

“We just stand there silently. The grimy little station comes into view. The platform’s thick with cameras.
Peeta extends his hand. I look at him. ‘One more time? For the audience?’ he says. I take his hand, holding on tightly.

Showing with Physical Gestures: (Excerpt altered. Telling parts omitted/edited and replaced with physical gestures/reaction):

My stomach twists into knots. We just stand there silently. The grimy little station comes into view. The platform’s thick with cameras. When Peeta extends his hand, my eyes widen. ‘One more time? For the audience?’ he says, his jaw relaxing. I take his hand, holding on tightly. A shiver of dread runs down my spine.”

Showing and Telling (Excerpt as published, unaltered):

I also want to tell him how much I already miss him. But that wouldn’t be fair on my part.

So we just stand there silently, watching our grimy little station rise up around us. Through the window, I can see the platform’s thick with cameras. Everyone will be watching our homecoming.

Out of the corner of my eye, I see Peeta extend his hand. I look at him, unsure. ‘One more time? For the audience?’ he says. His voice isn’t angry. It’s hollow, which is worse. Already the boy with the bread is slipping away from me. I take his hand, holding on tightly, preparing for cameras, and dreading the moment when I will finally have to let go.”

Suzanne Collins, THE HUNGER GAMES

I think writers need to so show and tell. Still disagree? Did I miss something? Have I forgotten an important point? I’ve braced for impact, so fire away!

Sometimes, I love a book so much I have to shout it from the rooftops. Leigh Bardugo’s debut, Shadow and Bone, is that kind of read–seriously one of my absolute top picks for 2012! Of course I had to beg Leigh for an interview and put together the ultimate Ravka themed prize-pack. I couldn’t help myself, guys!

Shadow and Bone ARC, Handmade Russian Winter soap from Mountain Girl Soap http://www.mountaingirlsoap.com/, and a $10 Barnes and Noble gift card!

Suzi Says Da, Kreme de la Kremlin, St. Petersburgundy, and RapiDry Top Coat

So..if you want to win an ARC of Shadow and Bone along with a mailbox full of indulgent goodies, keep reading.

Book Description:

Surrounded by enemies, the once-great nation of Ravka has been torn in two by the Shadow Fold, a swath of near impenetrable darkness crawling with monsters who feast on human flesh. Now its fate may rest on the shoulders of one lonely refugee.

Alina Starkov has never been good at anything. But when her regiment is attacked on the Fold and her best friend is brutally injured, Alina reveals a dormant power that saves his life—a power that could be the key to setting her war-ravaged country free. Wrenched from everything she knows, Alina is whisked away to the royal court to be trained as a member of the Grisha, the magical elite led by the mysterious Darkling.

Yet nothing in this lavish world is what it seems. With darkness looming and an entire kingdom depending on her untamed power, Alina will have to confront the secrets of the Grisha…and the secrets of her heart.

Interview:

1. Leigh, can you tell us about that moment when things clicked, when the fragments of SHADOW AND BONE became the story you wanted to tell?

Honestly, it came pretty late in the process. People may be surprised to learn that in the first draft, Alina and Mal had parents. (I wanted to dodge the high fantasy cliche of the orphan.) But as I got into my research, I learned about some of the Russian noblemen who came back from the Napoleonic Wars with a much changed view of the serfs that had fought beside them. Their stories became the inspiration for Keramzin, a country estate converted into an orphanage and home for war widows by a Duke returning from military service. Once I understood where Mal and Alina came from, I understood the bond between them so much better, and that really became the heart of the story.
 
2. Ravka, Ravka, Ravka…You built such an amazing place, setting each scene so well! (Exhibit A: Page 40–‘The Duke’s estate had been beautiful, but it was a melancholy beauty of dusty rooms and peeling paint, the echo of something that had once been grand.’ WORD SWOON.) What’s your favorite detail or element of Alina’s world?

I’m so glad you enjoyed it! I have to admit, I really liked writing about the food– sweet pea porridge, roasted lynx, burnt swan with saffron, the list goes on. I went even crazier with it in Book 2, and food and sweets are a big part of the narrative in my short story “The Witch of Duva.” I also had a lot of fun describing the winter fete. I love to plan parties for my friends and I basically got to throw the most over-the-top, disgustingly decadent shindig ever at the Grand Palace.

3. Alina is a wonderfully believable heroine. She’s tough and vulnerable, all at once, and her experiences are downright thrilling. What drives her? In her heart of hearts, what does Alina yearn for, more than anything? 

At the beginning of the story, Alina is desperate to belong to someone or something. She isn’t just an orphan, but also a refugee and she has no real place in the world. She’s not quite a peasant, but she certainly isn’t aristocracy. She’s supposed to be a mapmaker, but she isn’t a very good one. Her hunger to find a home, to feel valued is a powerful thing and it leads her to make some questionable decisions. By story’s end, she has a much clearer sense of herself, but what she wants has gotten far more complicated.
4. It would be criminal not to mention my stalker-like crush on the Darkling. Are you surprised to hear that so many readers connect with him as a character? What was the key to writing this enigmatic charmer?
I would not recommend stalking the Darkling. I suspect it would end… badly. That said, it’s been interesting to see the positive and negative reactions to him. In a way, I think they mirror Ravka’s ambivalence toward the Darkling. His charm and his beauty don’t change the fact that he’s a very dangerous sort. Power seduces and it isolates. I think that dichotomy is the key to his character.



5. Every author has a unique journey. So far, what has surprised you the most about the road to publication?
Well, I’m going to be honest here. The biggest surprise has been learning just how thin my skin is. I like to think of myself as fairly ferocious, but I like being liked. Sometimes it’s hard for me not to take things personally. I assume I’ll get better at this. Or I’ll go live in a cave without wifi.

6. What, if anything, can you tell us about your next book?
I’m so eager to talk about Book 2 of the Grisha Trilogy. So many things change and no one comes through the story the same way he or she started. We’ll be traveling a bit more beyond Ravka’s borders and I’m introducing some new characters– one of whom is easily my favorite of the whole series. That’s about as specific as I can get.  
7. If you could go back and give your pre-debut writer self some advice, what would it be?
I’d like to give her the confidence of knowing that she does finish the book, that she has it in her. So often, this ugly voice would crop up in my head, “Who do you think you’re kidding? You don’t know how to do this!” It would be nice to give myself a little more ammunition to shut that voice up.

A big thanks to Leigh for doing this interview. And a big thanks to YOU for reading! Again, do you wanna win this:

Shadow and Bone ARC, Handmade Russian Winter soap from Mountain Girl Soap http://www.mountaingirlsoap.com/, and a $10 Barnes and Noble gift card!

AND THIS?

Suzi Says Da, Kreme de la Kremlin, St. Petersburgundy, and RapiDry Top Coat

To win, all you have to do is leave a comment below. BUT…if you ALSO tweet this blog post link with the hashtag #SHADOWANDBONE, I’ll put FIVE EXTRA ENTRIES into the drawing for you! And if you sign up as a blog follower, I’ll put in FIVE MORE!

Contest ends in one week, guys, at Midnight on June 4th. Sorry, no international entries–US only. Happy Memorial Day and good luck! 🙂