Friday, December 14, 2012

Wrap Up: A Christmas Story Edition

It's another charming chalkboard rendition of a famous Christmas classic! Yes, I'm still taking time out of my busy schedule to make silly drawings on the wall of my apartment, and yes, I'm fantasizing about when it will all be over. But it's been fun! And Christmasy! And definitely not making me crazy.

Just a note: I will be taking a break from blogging starting today so that I can enjoy the Christmas holiday without worrying about silly office photos to post. I'll be back in action starting in January, and I plan on some fun posts, including a wrap-up of Cybils judging and a look back on the 150+ books I've read this year (ooof). My Christmas blog will still update, though, every day with another lovely drawing, so feel free to drop by and take a look!

This week in blogging!

Mary Kole answers a reader's question about how to get into writing/publishing with some smart advice on internships and MFAs

Operation Awesome is holding a New Years Revision Conference. More details here!

Annie Schutte at the YALSA blog threw down the gauntlet on YA covers this week, calling them racist for whitewashing or obscuring POC. It led to an interesting debate in the comments as well as this reaction from author Diana Peterfreund, who objects to her book's inclusion on the list

Loved this! An interview (and lots of pretty pictures) with book binder Don Taylor

Via Galleycat, Scholastic Books Club editorial director David Allender discusses his take on children's book trends for 2013 (yeah, and I've been hearing hard sci-fi is the next big thing since 2009)

CW is punking us right? The network has ordered a Hunger-Games-style reality show

The great blog Pub Crawl put together a list of their best posts of the year (with some great, specific resources for writers)

That's it for me in 2012! Thanks for making this a wonderful, fun year, and I'll see you in 2013!

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Some Writing/Reading Stuff that I Like

Re: Monday's post, wherein I whimpered like a baby about how exhausted I was (am!), I was going to actually post something today with, like, real thoughts, but I am copping out (again).

Sooooo, here's some fun book/writer-related stuff I found online. For, like, Christmas presents and junk. Enjoy!

Field Notes, $4 from the Cooper-Hewitt Shop
I'm always looking for nice, smallish, simple notebooks, and I love this Moleskine-alternative

Postalco Leather Legal Envelope, $465 from the Cooper-Hewitt shop
If I had money to waste on completely frivolous things, I would probably consider picking up one of these little beauties. Can you imagine how nice it would be to slip your final manuscript in there for safe-keeping?

If the Cooper-Hewitt leather envelope is a little too rich for your taste, here's a more reasonable alternative from Urban Outfitters, in gorgeous teal

I'm one of those people who tends to use scraps of paper, pens, articles of clothing in lieu of actual bookmarks, but I love MOMA's series of art-deco-inspired metal bookmarks

Or, if you want to go less classy, these finger rubber band bookmarks are downright adorable

Keeping with the finger motif, these finger-shaped post-it notes made me laugh

While cleaning out my grandma's house, we found a bunch of beautiful old pens that once belonged to my grandmother. The husband uses them now for notes, and there's just something so satisfying about writing with a nice pen.

I actually asked for this one for Christmas, because how could I not!
Throw a typewriter on anything and I'm in looooove
Did I choose this one purely for the excellent punnery?
But it's still a beautiful little notebook, the Middle Earth version of Moleskine (and I love that crimson dragon on the front)
So gorgeous!
Love love love the wood grain on the mouse (swoon)

Merry Christmas!

Monday, December 10, 2012

Writing Spaces: It's a Mess

Today's desk, which belongs to none other than Albert Einstein, has nothing to do with the calendar or Einstein Day or physics. I was looking for a desk that best encapsulates my life right now, and Einstein's paper-ladden monstrosity just seemed to fit the bill perfectly.

Like a lot of folks, I'm in the pre-holidays, pre-New Year busy period. There's a lot to do here in Chicago before we head east in a few days. Cybils reading has kicked into high gear, as we all scramble to get our favorites in (and read everyone else's favorites). My mural-a-day project has been going wonderfully (my Community mural got a shout out from Dan Harmon and Britta-bot herself, Gillian Jacobs!), but I'm starting to see chalkboards in my sleep. I still have writing work to do, as I get into researching my next project--I'm planning to travel for this one, which means travel agendas and booking flights. And I still have to eat and sleep and stay healthy. It's a lot!

So I know at times the blog can seem a bit neglected, but I'm looking forward to the New Year, when, hopefully, a lot of what's keeping me busy will be done with, and I'll be able to come home and find my desk less like Albert Einstein's and more like this (aaaah).

Until then, bear with me, and I hope your December proves a little more manageable!

Friday, December 7, 2012

Wrap Up: Grinchy Edition

Last week I talked about my beloved chalkboard wall and mentioned a new project I was starting: drawing a different Christmas mural on the wall every day of December until Christmas. I am pleased to say it's going swimmingly!

Here's one of my favorite murals: How the Grinch Stole Christmas. And there's more (lots lots more) on my new blog: It's a Christmas Muralcle!

Many of this week's posts talked about the aftermath of NaNoWriMo, with December (unofficially) National Novel Editing Month (NoNoEdMo?)

Kristin Cashore, author of the Graceling series, gave an inside look at how she wrote and edited her latest novel, Bitterblue

YA Highway had some great posts to help get you into the editing feeling, including "So You Have 50,000 Words--Now What?" and this perspective on editing from agents

Publishing Crawl asked writers what they learned from NaNo, offered some great resources on finding a critique partner, and gave some advice on how to stay organized and focused when tacking revisions

Also at Publishing Crawl, Vanessa DiGregorio discusses the YA releases this month

From Rachelle Gardner, a great post on how to know if your writing is any good

Don't underestimate the rumblings of New Adult! Galleycat says readership is exploding on Goodreads

The New York Times announced that it has changed the format for the children's best-sellers list, adding some slots and splitting into Middle Grade and Young Adult. John Green (with two books on the new list!) gives a snapshot of what they look like, and Michael Bourret offers some interesting perspective on what it means.

From Publisher's Weekly, 15 weird Christmas books

Very interesting discussion over at Tor on "historically authentic" sexism in fantasy

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

How I Edit

Today's post comes via YA Highway's Road Trip Wednesday, which asks "How do you approach editing/revising? Any tips or tricks or resources you can share?"

I didn't participate in NaNoWriMo this year (thanks, Cybils!), but I thought I would share a cartoon I drew while deep in the throes of editing last January, which is probably the best way I can possibly define my editing process. Enjoy!

This is my story

This is sort of how it looks on the first draft

So then I



Sometimes it can get away from me

and sometimes I wonder if parts are too straightforward

or if my language is too fancy

or not fancy enough

Mostly, I don't want it to look like this

or make me feel like this

So I'll keep plugging along

and hope to get to this

Friday, November 30, 2012

Wrap Up: Chalkboard Edition

I am frankly shocked that I've gone this long without talking about what is possibly my favorite feature of the apartment: our lovely chalkboard wall. We (I) painted it when we first moved in, but it normally doesn't get much use beyond listing groceries (for the past six months, I used it to draw a large-scale map of the setting for my latest book).

This is what I drew last year for Christmas, after a minor bout of depression due to our fireplace-less apartment. This year, I'm truly embracing the Christmas chalkboard spirit and challenging myself to do a different Christmas drawing every day (starting tomorrow, I'll be blogging about it!).

On to this week's posts!

Happy end of NaNoWriMo! My crit partner, Natasha, took up the NaNo challenge and despite a hurricane, blizzard, no electricity, and three young boys managed to get her 50k words done early. Amazing, this woman.

Galleycat finishes up its NaNo tips today, but I think we could all benefit from this one: have a literary drink

Rachelle Gardner made me laugh with her post asking if you've ever hated a book so much that you threw it across the room

David Gaughran looks at Simon & Schuster's new self-pubbing branch, Author Solutions, which has had some shady dealings with authors and been accused of ripping off authors

It's your last day to vote for the Nerdy Book Club Awards!

One more thing 

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Two Things I Learned from Reading the Cybils that All Writers Should Know

I am still slogging away at the Cybils (pictured above: this week's deliveries), and as my fellow judges and I whittle away at our favorites, a few big things are jumping out at me, things that separate the amazing from the meh.

Number one: good is not enough.

I’ve said this before, but a good story, good writing, and good characters are not enough. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve finished a book and thought “Well. That was fine.” Fine. Nothing jumped out at me positively or negatively, the plot went nicely from A to B, the characters developed. It was enjoyable. It was forgettable. It was fine.

YA has become one of the most dynamic groups of books out there, which, frankly, is why I love it so much. The problem with good is that it’s the bar. It’s the baseline. Readers come in expecting a certain level, and good is the bare minimum. This means good is not enough—your story has to bring something new to the table to stand out.

Number two: characters need to want.

In the Cybils, there’s a rule that if we read a book and know that it doesn’t meet the levels of the award, we can stop reading after 50 pages. Generally, I try to go a bit past the 50-page mark, just in case something exciting happens (I can think of two books on my shortlist that exploded right at 50 pages). Lately, though, if I’m on the fence about continuing a book, I ask myself a question: do I know what the main character wants?

Really, this is just shorthand for asking whether or not there’s any clear plot, and you would be surprised at how often I answer that question with “not really.” This tends to happen with a main character, usually a girl, usually nice and sweet and mildly attractive who doesn’t stand out in any discernible away and doesn’t seem to want anything beyond not attracting attention.

First, this is terribly boring to read, but more than that, there is not a single human anywhere on this planet who is not striving for something—fame, success, love, stability. Want equates plot, since, theoretically, the book should be the character trying to get what they want. Otherwise, it’s just stuff happening to them.

There’s a lot I’m learning from reading these books, but those are the two that have jumped out at me most. I hope they're helpful to keep in mind as you think about your own writing, and I'll be back soon with more Cybils updates!