Monday, October 31, 2011

Writing Spaces Monday: Spooktacular!

Happy Halloween everyone! I hope you take the time today to revisit some of your favorite spooky stories. To get you started, here's a look at the desk of the master of horror himself, Edgar Allan Poe:

Can't you just imagine a little raven perched up there?

Friday, October 28, 2011

Friday YA Wrap Up

Here are some of my favorite links from the week!

Suzie Townsend at Confessions of a Wandering Heart talks about what agents and editors expect from pitches, especially important if you plan on going to any conferences (or randomly bumping into agents/editors)

Designer Tina Roth Eisenberg posted about this Children's Book Manifesto, created by author Mac Barnett

Author Elizabeth Fama gives her own take on the Chime/Shine confusion and says one-word titles are to blame (also includes amazing one-word reinterpretations of famous books) 

Loved, loved this new blog, The Books They Gave Me, which invites people to send in short essays about books given to them by people they love (disclaimer: I had to contribute my own book-given story) 

This has been out for a little while, but I still like it: author John Green is hosting a contest for readers to redesign the cover of his book, An Abundance of Katherines

Another tumblr I discovered, Few More Pages, all about the love of reading

*Friday YA Wrap Up is wrapping up a day early, since I'm off to East Coast to babysit my adorable nephew. If I missed anything big in the YA world, please leave a note in the comments!

Thursday, October 27, 2011

Literary Halloween Costumes

For only $700, this flat piece of foam designed to look like a book can be yours!
Creepy, mustachioed, shoeless man sold seperately
Halloween is soon upon us! And although I hope you already have your costume figured out,* it's never too late to get some inspiration from our favorite characters and books. After the jump, check out a few favorites I found from some quick Googling:

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

With a Little Help from Your Friends

People are like paper dolls... Paper dolls and people, they're a similar shape, mhmm yeah...
The deeper I get into this whole writing/publishing world, the more I'm coming to appreciate the relationships I've formed with writers, editors, bloggers, YA aficionados. It can get very lonely, sitting all day at my (beautiful) desk, tap-tapping until the husband comes home and I try to cram eight hours of socializing into the first 15 minutes he walks through the door (this is why we're thinking of getting a dog).

So more than ever, I've been reaching out to people in the writing community, and it's been absolutely wonderful. There's nothing nicer than a shop-talk conversation about the latest YA news or swapping tips about keeping daily wordcount up or guessing which genre will be the next "vampire romance." Aside from the whole benefits of networking, it's great to have a chat with someone who understands exactly what you're going through or exactly what your interests are.

Writing can form some powerful friendships, and those friendships can expose you to new ideas that will in turn better your writing, so I'd encourage everyone to reach out and try to meet someone new.

Aaaand, how? Here are a few tips for making writing friends:

Seek out local writing chapters - SCBWI has a list of local writing groups across the country, many of which hold regular events or get-togethers. You can also find writing groups by searching Google or Facebook

Find a writing partner or critique group - Operation Awesome put together a great post about methods to find a writing partner or critique group. Sometimes they can be a bit hit-or-miss, but when you find a partner in crime, someone who knows and understands your style, gives great feedback, and can answer your fly-by-night "should she kiss him here or here?" emails, it's absolutely wonderful.

Check out blogs and comment, comment, comment - I'm a confessed lurker, I have to say, and I rarely comment on the posts I read, but for creating mini-conversations, the comments section is a great way to share ideas with some fellow-minded people. Some blogs also have dedicated forums, wonderful resources for asking questions or sharing information.

Twitter! - I still don't know how to figure out Twitter (@ symbols? #confused), but I at least appreciate being able to connect so quickly with writers, agents, editors, and bloggers who I admire. And following hashtags are another way to easily see online events (like read-a-thons or blog-hops) which you can be a part of.

Make friends with your friends' friends - I'm always amazed at how many hidden connections there are in the world. People find out you're a writer and they say "Oh! My coworker's cousin's daughter is an editor! You should meet her!"

I'm sure there are many more methods, but the thing I'd suggest the most is be brave. Send friendly emails, go to events, seek people out, put yourself and your ideas out there and be receptive.

Any other tricks or tips you've used to make writing friends?

Monday, October 24, 2011

Writing Spaces Monday: Even Giants Need to Write

Remember: it's the size of the idea, not the size of the desk

From an installation by sculptor Giancarlo Neri, about the loneliness of writing. I'm not sure what the artist was intending, but for me, it's funny to see something usually so private and personal blown up into epic proportions and placed on view for anyone to see.

And if you have a big backyard, it's also for sale.

Have a desk or writing space you like? Send me a picture!

Friday, October 21, 2011

Friday YA Wrap Up

I'm starting a new feature on Fridays, a wrap-up of my favorite YA/publishing-related blog posts from the past week. If there's anything that I missed, let me know in the comments!

First, unless you live under a non-WiFi-enabled rock, you've heard the big news this week: the National Book Award-Lauren Myracle debacle. Many writers, agents, editors, and bloggers touched on the story that Myracle's Shine was mistakingly nominated before she was asked to remove herself from consideration, but here are a few posts that I found interesting*:

This Week in Clusterfuck, brought to you by the National Book Foundation, Libba Bray
SHOW not just tell your support for SHINE
, Janet Reid
A Disappointed Author, A Misheard Word, And A Mess At The National Book Awards
, Linda Holmes, NPR's Monkey See

"It's Your Fault We Nominated Your Book By Accident!", Laura Zigman

and from Lauren Myracle herself:
How I was Un-nominated for the National Book Award  Huffington Post
Q&A: National Book Award Un-Nominee, Lauren Myracle, Felt “Gutted and Ashamed”, Brett Berk, Vanity Fair

In other bloggy news:
Jessica at BookEnds talks about What Is Platform for authors
She also put out a great post about how to and why authors should read their publishing contracts closely
Over at ktliterary, there's a huge book giveaway going on for librarians and teachers in need of YA books

Agent Rachelle Gardner discusses Publishing in the Brave New World of the Internet, and why authors need to reach out themselves online to build their audiences

Any links or posts you like that I missed? Let me know in the comments!

*I still think the husband had the best line, when I told him about this whole debacle: "Does this mean you should name your next book Mary Trotter?"

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Optimism vs Delusion

You're five foot nothin, a hundre and nothin,
and you've got berley a
speck of athletic ability!
These are two things I think a lot about: optimism and delusion.

For any creative person, trying to make a career out of their creativity, there's a lot of optimism and delusion.

The optimism, I think, is pretty obvious: you have to believe in yourself enough to know that you'll overcome overwhelming odds to be successful. Delusion is a bit trickier. It gets a bad rap sometimes, which I think is undeserved. Because the reality is that there are so many creative people competing against each other, and not everyone has what it takes, and the idea is that some of these people have crossed the line from optimistic to delusional.

But I sort of love delusional people, because they tend to be the kind of people who are eternally optimistic, the ones who take bad reviews in stride or learn to ignore unsupportive friends or keep keep trying, even when they see clearly just how overwhelming those odds can be. Delusional people have grit and tenacity and if they also have the ability to grow and adapt their talents, they can be pretty unstoppable.

I always think of Mike Birbiglia's monologue about getting his start in comedy and how, as a young comedian, delusion saved him:

You have to be delusional. You have to tell yourself it's going well when it's really not going well. Because otherwise, you wouldn't get on stage again. You'd be like,
"Well, I guess human beings don't like me."

For me, it's that trust in your abilities or even just your sheer willpower to succeed that keeps you going. It's David knocking out Goliath. It's J.K. Rowling going from public housing to Harry Potter. It's freakin' Rudy playing for The Irish!* Sometimes you need a little blind delusion to keep going.

What do you think? Can delusion be a good thing? Or is a wake-up call what most people need?

*Reference inserted in a shameless attempt to get the husband to read this blog. Ruuuu-dy!

Monday, October 17, 2011

Writing Spaces Monday: Autumn Leaves

The days are getting chillier in Chicago and the leaves are turning every shade of beautiful color.* I am lucky enough to have a lovely view of a maple tree outside my window, but the folks who work in this stunning office get to watch a whole forest change around them:

I've always wished I could write out in the middle of nowhere in some rustic cabin, but I love the idea of modern, bungalow-style office surrounded by trees (can you imagine the pretty during winter?).

Designed for Selgas Cano Architects by Iwan Baan, even the inside is a stunner: sleek, bare-bones, modernistic white on the left and a punch of bright color on the right.

For more photos and info, check out Iwan Baan's website.

Have a desk or writing space you like? Send me a picture!

*hahaha just kidding. They are actually turning brown, shriveling up, and then immediately falling into the street. Yay city living!

Friday, October 14, 2011

SCBWI Conference 2012!

This is just a friendly reminder to get ready for registration for SCBWI's 13th Annual Winter Conference. Registration begins this Monday, 10AM PT, and the conference will be January 27-29 in New York City.

Having gone to several SCBWI events, I highly recommend them! The folks there are friendly, smart, and love children's/YA books. And if you're not a member of SCBWI, please take this opportunity to sign up! There are local chapters all across the country, a great monthly newsletter, and a variety of other resources for writers and illustrators. It's also a great way to meet fellow writers and start up critique/writing groups. Check it out, and don't forget to register!

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

On Fan-Fiction and Writing

This was indeed the banner for my epic Newsies website
If you were a fan between 1998 and 2002, you probably visited it once or twice

Last Saturday, I fulfilled about 8 million childhood dreams when I went with my husband to see the Newsies musical at the Papermill Playhouse.* It was a great show (Broadway bound? Let's hope), and as we were walking out afterward, I told my husband** that as bizarre as it sounds, I doubt there's any movie, book, newspaper that's had a more profound impact on my life than Newsies.

Thanks to that silly little movie, I decided to start a Newsies website, where I learned how to write html and code. Five years later I was designing the website for my high school. I wanted to make cool photos and graphics for my website, so I got Adobe Fireworks and Photoshop. Now I'm a freelance designer. And I was so in love with the story that my little imagination began churning out epic fan-fics, all the way up to a trilogy that ended with a 55,000-word story.

It was the first time I was writing something that other people, strangers, were reading, and it was the first time that I set out to write a full, complete near-novel-length story. Even now, when I have moments of struggle with my writing, I think of those little stories and remind myself, "If I could do it when I was 13..."

Fan-fiction can be a touchy subject, for both writers and readers. Especially for authors still writing series, fan-fiction can seem like an invasion of their own imaginations, like all those rabid fans are actually "stealing" their characters. Anne Rice (of Interview with a Vampire) formally asked to remove all stories with her characters and Orson Scott Card (Ender's Game) wrote on his website, "The time to write fan-fiction is 'never,'" (however, that hasn't stopped hundreds of stories from cropping up).

There are other writers and creators on the opposite side, who, far from opposing or criticizing fan-fic, welcome additions to their universe. Joss Whedon, creator of Buffy the Vampire Slayer, says he "loves" fan-fic, even going so far as to encourage fans to read and create fan-fic when Buffy was ultimately canceled.

Even the author of one of the biggest fan-fic sources, Harry Potter, has read and enjoyed fan-fic. J.K. Rowling called it "very flattering," and has done nothing to invoke the copyright gods. Stephenie Myer, however, is a little more reserved about writers. "I think it's sad to spend so much energy on something you can't own," she said in an interview with

So why do people write fan-fics, if you can't control the characters or the worlds, if it makes some authors queasy?

For the 12-year-old me, the draw was living inside a world I desperately loved and wanted to be a part of. By creating a character that was uniquely mine and putting her inside this world, it gave me an opportunity to have my own experiences with characters I admired and extend certain parts of the story I wanted to know more about.

So why not just change the characters and have my own story? This is something my husband asked on the drive home from Newsies, when I was telling him (what I could remember) about my fan-fics.*** It's not that simple, though. Fan-fics rely on their sources: the characters, the settings, the rules. As a pre-teen, I don't think I had the imagination or the grounding to create an entire world or huge cast of characters from scratch. It was immensely helpful to be able to just stick a character in or use a reference and know that my readers would get it, no explanation necessary. And from that base, I could let my imagination grow.

I mostly stopped writing fan-fiction by the time I got into high school, and by that time, what I was writing had very little in relation to anything in the original story. What started out as a girl meeting a boy turned into a hundred-page epic dealing with growing up, understanding your parents, understanding yourself, love, loss, death, and responsibility. They were--and are--themes I find intensely captivating, but I doubt I would have gotten there without a jumping-off point.

And yet, I can understand the perspective of the original authors as well. They know these characters more intimately than anyone in the world, and the idea that they're being used or inserted into strange scenarios by complete strangers can feel like a violation rather than a homage.

I'm not sure what the balance is, if there's a way to respect both the author's ownership of the original source material as well as the creative reinterpretations in fan-fiction. For me, I've often struggled over who owns the story--is it the author, who creates it, or the audience, who ultimately interprets it? What's more important, intention or reception? But I think it's a bit of both. In creating something, even if from a deeply personal space, you're placing it in the world to be consumed, admired, hated, trashed, or loved. There's an inevitable loss of control in publishing, and for many authors, I think that's very difficult. At the same time, a fan-fic writer will never be able to truly own their work; they will always owe some debt to the original source, and that's another very difficult thing to come to terms with.

Ultimately, I would hope fan-fiction reaches a place of mutual respect, both for the original writers, who put so much labor and love into their stories, and for the fan-fic writers, who expand and reinterpret these stories as a means of acknowledging their own unique love for and interpretation of the work.

What do you think? What role does fan-fiction play in publishing, writing? How do you think authors should respond to fan-fiction?

*Let me just get it out of the way here, in the footnotes, rather than the actual blog post. Ahem. OMGOMGOMGOMGOMG!!!! IT WAS THE BEST EVRRRRR!!!!!!!!!!!      Ok. Thanks.
**Apologies for the multiple "husband" drops. We are newlyweds and it's still sooooo weird and fun to say.
***Thanks to the magic of the internet, my stories do in fact still live online, despite my website dying in the great Geocities massacre of '09. I have absolutely no memory of posting them here, but apparently here they are. They were good fun to read again, and if you don't believe me, check out this review from a reader: "AWESOME JOBS! YOU'VE GOT SOME SERIOUS TALENT!" I swear even if I win the Nobel it will get no better than this.

Monday, October 10, 2011

Writing Spaces Monday: My Little Slice of Paradise

This is my own little desk, where I get my writing, blogging, drawing, procrastinating done. I love it. I built the desk myself, modified from these plans. It's a standing desk, which means when I'm feeling antsy and/or "Valerie" comes on my iTunes DJ, I can push back the chair and dance while I type.

There is something quite satisfying about a lovely little desk, a space that makes you feel happy and focused.

Friday, October 7, 2011

Kindle Fire: A Breakdown of Reviews

Amazon's new Kindle Fire will be available November 15, just in time for the holiday shopping season, and it's getting a lot of buzz that it's an iPad for the people, more streamlined, cheaper, and just as good.

I know nothing about e-readers or tablets*, but I love a good gadget. Here are what the experts are saying about the new Kindle (and how it measures up against its fancy cousin).

Amazon Kindle Fire: It's a Tablet for the Masses, Not an iPad Killer
Slate's Will Oremus says the Kindle is banking on it's low low price of $199 to lure people who don't want to spend upwards of $500 on an iPad (not including a data plan). But if you have the money to spend, he says, go for the iPad: the Kindle can't compare when it comes to versatility or usability.

Why the Kindle Fire Beats the Apple iPad (for me)
At Gizmodo, Roberto Baldwin breaks down why he likes the Fire more than the iPad, and it all comes down to how you use a tablet. No fancy production apps? No problem--if all you want for a tablet is to get some reading done, check your email, maybe do a little web browsing, the Kindle Fire has you covered. iPads may be gorgeous tools, but for $500, he says, they're too niche to be worth the price.

Kindle Fire's shortcomings: Little storage, no Bluetooth?
David Carnoy at CNET addresses two of the criticisms aimed at the Fire: its 8GB of storage (only 6GB usable) and lack of Bluetooth capability. Amazon's answer is that users can access its cloud-based web services, where users can store (and buy) books, movies, TV shows, and magazines. The tradeoff for $199? Become a more loyal Amazon customer.

Amazon Kindle Fire First Impressions: Solid but Limited
PCWorld's Melissa Perenson covers some concerns over the Fire about its operating system and readability. The Fire runs on Android 2.3 but only runs Android Apps available via the Amazon store (10,000 out of a possible 200,000) and when Google releases its new Android some time next year, there's no assurance the best Android apps will run on the Kindle. She also didn't love the reading experience, which she said was pixelated and not well designed.

How the Kindle Fire Could Make 7-Inch Tablets Huge
Christina Bonnington from Wired focuses on the Kindle Fire's size. At 7 inches, it's smaller than the iPad, which makes it easier to operate with one hand. Since Steve Jobs dismissed 7-inch tablets as "dead on arrival," it's unlikely the Fire will ever be challenged by a 7-inch iPad. Instead, it fills a niche where people want something bigger than a smartphone but not as big as an iPad or computer.

Bottom line? It seems like all the experts talked about the limited capabilities for the Fire, compared to the iPad. For some, that was a major concern--consumers aren't getting a cheaper, slimmer iPad--but for others, it was a better fit between smartphone and laptop than an iPad. All agreed that the price made a major statement but most said that it's more of a concern to Barnes & Noble's Nook than Apple. In the end, the Fire comes down to a user's preference, but for those interested in tablets but turned off by Apple's price, the Fire makes a compelling product.

For more info on the Kindle Fire, check out Amazon

*I do have a Nook, which I got for my honeymoon a few weeks ago. I love it if only because I didn't have to lug a dozen books around Italy.

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Writer’s Block and Writer’s Laziness

You often hear about writers having to overcome writer’s block, that it’s one of the hardest parts of writing. And, sure, I can agree with that, to an extent. But for me, the hardest part by far? Writer’s laziness.

You know, it’s that feeling you get when you mostly know what you’re going to write next, but then you decide to check your email or make iced tea or read Alan Sepinwall’s latest brilliant takedown on last night’s Community episode.*

Maybe you’ll be “productive” and try to research a little, but then you’re knee-deep in studying the adolescent psychology book you got (Deep Secrets: Boys’ Friendships and the Crisis of Connection) or a Google search of “what is it like to drown?” leads you to a video about how to spot drowning victims and when you learn that most children look like they’re playing and can drown in seconds with no one watching, you think of your dear sweet nephew and how he likes the ocean and you panic and email EVERYONE IN YOUR FAMILY that they have to watch this video.** And then, oh my gosh! When did it get to be lunch time?

Writer’s laziness, my friends. And it can be deadlier than writer’s block, by far.

Writer’s block, in my mind, is when you reach a challenge in your writing. You have no idea what to write. Maybe it’s a lack of ideas or a too-complex plot, but it’s something to be overcome. I like challenges. I like sitting down with a pen and paper and figuring out what exactly is happening in my novel, how to structure it just right and keep the pace going and the tension up. There’s sort of a nice struggle in writer’s block. Even when it’s frustrating to be in the midst of it, it’s deeply satisfying to work out some plot or character problem and get the writing juices flowing again.

Writer’s laziness isn’t a lack of ideas--it’s a lack of energy.  You’re not not writing because you don’t know what you want to say. It’s because the sheer energy required to type type type it out makes you want to cry from boredom.

I hate writer’s laziness. These are the few things I’ve found to actually help:

1.      Set small goals Write in spurts. Fifteen minutes, then take a break for five minutes. Repeat.
2.      Put the “prod” in productivity I am in love with the web program “Write or Die,” in which you have to keep writing or the program will automatically turn red, play Hanson music, and start deleting what you’ve already written.
3.      Write a blog post Heh.
4.      Outline At times, a slowdown in writing means you don’t like what you’re writing. And if you don’t enjoy writing it, people definitely won’t enjoy reading it. Even though you know what should come next, revisit (or create) your outline. Two wordy, meandering chapters might work better as one tight, action-packed chapter.
5.      Give in to the laziness There are days when no amount of flogging will get your brain in motion--it just needs to rest. But instead of randomized procrastination techniques (I’m looking at you, little space under the fridge that’s always dusty), give yourself a task to accomplish, like taking a run, cooking a meal, drawing--something that can empty your mind a little so that you can get back to your writing fresh.

Have any other tips for combating writer’s laziness? Let me know! And happy writing.

*Did anyone else watch it? Asian Annie? That's my college friend, Irene! She is one of the funniest, tiniest people you will ever meet and it was so fun seeing her pop up on the teevee. 
**Please watch it, too: Writing can save lives!

Monday, October 3, 2011

Writing Spaces Monday: Tolkien

Just finished re-re-re-reading The Lord of the Rings, so I thought featuring J.R.R. Tolkien's desk was appropriate:

Unfortunately, I couldn't find any pictures of his actual office, except for this one:

Have a writing space you like? Proud of your own little corner office? Snap a picture and send it here!