My friend Zoe Schwartz invited me to present at Camp CEO, a program for Girl Scouts of Greater Chicago and NW Indiana. This amazing sign greeted me at the lodge where I'd be speaking. As a kid, I participated in Brownies, but my troupe broke apart before we had the chance to cross that bridge to become Girl Scouts, so I jumped at the chance to pretend for a day!
Each of the girls was assigned a female CEO as a mentor for the week, and they received talks on all aspects of career goals and development. We enjoyed some writing exercises and a great talk about publishing.
After the talk, I took a stroll down to the lake to soak up some atmosphere because I just so happen to be writing scenes set at a summer camp at the moment.
The Fourth Annual S3Q2 & Friends Retreat took place in Beverly Shores, IN, this September.
Graduating classes at Vermont College of Fine Arts MFA Program in Writing for Children and Young Adults have a tradition of naming their classes. Mine was known as The Super Secret Society of Quirk and Quill, S3Q2 for short.
Since graduation, we've managed to get some of our original classmates together with other VCFA friends for a weekend writing retreat that's both productive and quirky. I mean, this year we were visited by a peacock.
We had a blast, and I wrote more than 10k words over the weekend.
For my full report on the weekend and WAY more pictures, please visit my post at Quirk & Quill!
S3Q2: Ginger Johnson, Larissa Theule, Varian Johnson, Rachel M. Wilson, & Jen Taylor Schmidt
And Friends: Amy Rose Capetta, Mary Winn Heider, Rachel Hylton, Katie Bayerl, Marianna Baer, Steve Bramucci, & Carol Brendler
The Writing Process Blog Tour is snowballing through my writer friends, picking up two new authors with every post! It's going to eat all the authors! But that's okay because we'll all learn fascinating things about each other's processes in the, you know, process.
Michelle Knudsen, amazing author of Library Lion and the Dragons of Trelian books among other great works, tagged me, and you can read her responses here.
And here are mine:
What am I currently working on?
I've only recently gone over first pass pages for my YA debut, Don't Touch. The fact that people are currently reading ARCs of this book is a daily distraction. A nice one, but, you know . . . This week, I've been revising a dark and spooky story called "The Game of Boys and Monsters" that will come out as a digital short from HarperTeen Impulse in October. And I'm working on a newer and more secret project that is also dark and spooky. It may or may not want to be a multi-book project. Said project and I are wrestling that out right now. I've got bruises.
How does my work differ from others of its genre?
Well, for one thing, I don't feel married to a particular genre. I don't think that's so unusual, but I hope to be able to work in a variety of genres over time. I'm also really interested in blending genres--I get irritated at the suggestion that there are boundaries between genres like romance and sci-fi and horror and "literary fiction." I love books like Liar by Justine Larbalestier or Imaginary Girls and 17 & Gone by Nova Ren Suma that don't fit neatly into categories. I'm super interested in reading a horror story that is "literary," whatever that means. Did somebody say Kelly Link? Yes, please! And I love reading stories that seem rooted in realism but then veer into magical realism or fantasy. I won't judge my own success at genre-blending with "The Game of Boys and Monsters," but it's something I thought about while writing it.
Don't Touch is contemporary realism, but I've been influenced by works in which reality is more fluid or in which the point of view character's perception of reality is fluid. There's probably less fluidity in the final draft of this book than there was in earlier drafts, but I think some of that slippage is preserved in Caddie's point of view on her surroundings.
On a totally different note, I'm excited about Don't Touch being set in the Deep South. It's where I grew up, and it's a setting that doesn't show up in YA as frequently as say, New York or LA or the suburban Midwest.
Why do I write what I write?
Um, because I want to, I think? Is that a terrible answer? I write things that excite and engage me. If I'm not having fun writing something--which doesn't mean the work is easy; challenging can be fun--there's probably something wrong.
I'm drawn to write about things that bother me or haunt me or confuse me. For example, with "The Game of Boys and Monsters," I wanted to sort out some of my mixed feelings about stories in which sexy boyfriends turn out to be monsters.
I'm drawn to writing about things I find absurd and want to poke fun at. Sometimes, I've fallen in love with a book or show that gives me a particular feeling, and I want to find my own story that gives me a similar feeling.
With Don't Touch, I felt drawn to make a story around fear. A narrative has the power to organize and distill experience. A story sifts experience and makes meaning from the messiness of real life. In a way, I was writing a book that I wish I'd had to read in high school. The arc of a story resolves faster than anything does in real life, and that's comforting when you're in the middle of the mess of life. Reading gives us the opportunity to journey through an entire story arc in a relatively short period of time, and then reflect on how that arc might or might not have relevance to our own real lives.
How does my individual writing process work?
I seem to "write long," meaning that I tend to spill out every thought I might possibly have about a given character or theme. I write out of narrative sequence. Sometimes, I have an idea of the story arc, sometimes not, but I usually need something that feels fixed to work from--this might be a rough outline, it might be a final scene, or it might be a single strong image. Then I'm confronted with a hugely messy collection of scenes. In every novel-length project I've undertaken so far, I've found that I have way more material than one story can contain--that in fact, I have conjoined twin or triplet stories. I have to figure out where the strongest pull is coming from and cut away all the excess and more or less start over with a newly refined sense of direction.
Still, in starting over, I don't delete everything. I enjoy pulling sentences and paragraphs from old drafts into new ones, working patchwork style and massaging a scene until it feels like one organic piece.
I'm not saying this is my ideal process. I've been trying lately to write synopses and to give myself more direction from the beginning. While this is a good tool to keep me going and feeling like there's light at the end of the tunnel, I also accept that good things come out of wallowing around in the dark.
In the midst of all stages, I write lots of notes to myself, collect images, sketch pictures, play with free-writing, interview my characters, and when I can justify it to myself, I love spending tons of hours on research.
I really enjoy writing blind and free, and I enjoy revising on the scene and sentence level. The part that makes my brain crazy, and that I spend a ton of time on, is wrangling with plot on the big-picture level.
So that's me. I'm tagging two more authors who'll be sharing their answers with you next week, so be sure to visit their blogs!
I have the pleasure of knowing Linden McNeilly from the MFA in Writing for Children & Young Adults program at Vermont College of Fine Arts. Linden's a brilliant writer and teacher, and with her sister, she penned a really cool nonfiction book exploring the art of map-making, Map Art Lab.
Sue LaNeve was in my class at Vermont College of Fine Arts. Now she lives on a boat -- WHAT? She's the author of the funny and touching Spanky: A Soldier's Son, about a middle grader dealing with a new school, bullies, a depressed mom, all while trying to live up to the expectation of a father who's serving in Afghanistan.
Sue and Linden will both be sharing their answers on our group blog, Quirk & Quill, so be sure to check it out next Monday!
On Thursday, I invited over a few friends for an entirely selfish event. I would tell them the story of my work in progress, and they would ask me questions, poke for plot holes, and spitball solutions to problems.
In return, I would give them wine and pizza and so much love.
The idea came to me after experiencing several jealousy pangs from reading the acknowledgments of authors I admire and seeing them thanking their spouses or critique partners for helping them figure out tricky bits of plot, or, you know, entire acts. Most authors I know have a "first reader" who allows them to talk at length about their story. I have several amazing and willing readers, but there's no one I feel entitled to talk at for hours at a time as I wrestle with plot, so I asked these people to be that for me, for an evening.
I didn't expect it, but we spent an entire hour on backstory and magic rules alone. By the time we got to the synopsis itself, I was kind of exhausted, but telling the story was good for me. I felt where I was shaky on the story and saw how some important relationships are sidelined in my plot. It reinforced my suspicion that I have some characters and plot threads fighting for attention and that I need to focus.
My friends asked amazing and challenging questions, gave me some excellent homework assignments, and convinced me that what I've got makes more sense than I feared. My favorite moments were when they audibly reacted to twists in the story or emotional peaks.
Here are only a few of the ridiculous things that were said:
Nick: "Okay, so, I'm a necromancer . . ."
Mary Winn: (in response to my question of when to start the story and when some characters should die) "It's sexier if they've been dead longer."
Me: "I've been calling them Guardians, which is stupid, but I'll come up with something better."
Nick: "How about Batmans?"
Tai: "So it's kind of like boxed wine . . . the wine is the spirit, and the bag is the wraith, and the box is the physical body?"
I learned there is no better way to test the rules of your fictional magic than having your friends use it on each other while pretending your living room is an ancient Celtic battlefield, as below:
Victoria: "Okay, so say Tai and I are wizards, and we want to battle Nick and MaryWinn for that couch they're sitting on . . ." What followed was a long hypothetical (and impressively accurate to my mythology) description of a magical battle for territory.
Some less ridiculous things were said as well, insightful things that thrilled me because for a night all these ideas I've been tangling with for years were making sense to other people and exciting them with their story potential.
And the most amazing thing is that they all seemed to have fun and to want to do it again.
This post is from my group blog, Quirk & Quill. To read the full post, follow the link at the bottom.
I've been working on a novel that begins with a deep freeze.
(This pic happens to be from Chicago's awful storm of 2011 and not from the Polar Vortex, but you get the idea. Burial in ice and snow.)
I write outlines, synopses, pages of notes; I write drafts full of characters that have since been discarded. My latest Scrivener file contains 13,000 words. An earlier one: 271,000. Still another: 233,000. Much of that is repeated. Some of it isn't. Sometimes, I think it's YA. Other times, it feels more middle grade. Sometimes I think it's a series, and then my brain starts to shiver.
As I wander through this story, I feel lost as my girl in the snow, fighting her way through wind tunnels of ice chips that bite at her cheeks. And the weather outside matches my fictional wasteland.
Read the rest of this post on Quirk & Quill . . .
Aside from the picture of me reading from Don't Touch at the bottom of the post, this was originally posted on Quirk & Quill.
Last weekend, I had the pleasure of attending--and reading at--Sarah Aronson's book launch for Believe. I haven't read my copy yet, but Believe promises to be an intriguing exploration of the unwanted celebrity our culture thrusts on the survivors of public tragedy. It's been named an ALAN Pick, and if the book is anything like the book LAUNCH, it's going to be amazing.
Planning a book launch is a daunting task, but Sarah designed this event in a unique way that made it successful on multiple levels.
First, the event took place at Curt's Cafe, a mission-based non-profit that trains at-risk youth in food-service and life skills. All the food for the book launch was donated, so attendees were encouraged to donate and to buy raffle tickets to support Curt's Cafe.
Allowing the event to double as a fundraiser may have encouraged more people to come. And Sarah says, "The spirit of the event IS the spirit of Curt's! I hoped we could pack the house (we did!) and help them continue to make a difference in our community." Everybody wins.
Second, Sarah invited a number of local authors to participate in a group reading including Penny Blubaugh, Carol Brendler,Ilene Cooper, Brenda A. Ferber, Ken Krimstein, Jenny Meyerhoff, Ellen Reagan, Laura Ruby, Natalie Wainwright, myself, and of course, Sarah!
Sarah wanted "to honor the process of writing," to share that with her friends, and to "honor the VC and MFA experience." Many of the readers attended VCFA; Laura Ruby teaches in a similar program at Hamline.
The event definitely took me back to the readings at Vermont College of Fine Arts, where students and faculty often read from works in progress. It was so exciting to hear snippets of books that are in various stages of the submission and publication process. And for Sarah, the callback to VCFA had extra meaning since the first version of Believe was her graduate reading.
This group reading also cultivated a great sense of community. I've long admired some of these authors but never before met them in person. Now, I've not only met them, I've heard what they're working on. And it was great to see VCFA alums like Carolyn Crimi and Linda Washington in the audience.
As Sarah says, "For me, writing is all community. Over the years, the readings I've participated in have made me feel like a writer, have helped me make amazing friends. What better way to celebrate?"
News, events, fun stuff, serious stuff, and online doings. I kept a personal blog for years at The Storybook Girl, and I'll slowly be migrating some of those posts to this blog.