Monday, January 30, 2012

Writing Spaces: Go, go, GO!

I had a great, great time in New York this weekend, hearing all sorts of fabulous speakers at the SCBWI Conference, visiting all my old East Coast friends, and enjoying some delicious New York dining.

I've been thinking a lot about the things I heard at the conference, which I'm sure will be fodder for some future blog posts, but if you missed the conference, there's a great photo tumblr with some pictures from the weekend (including a surprise appearance by none other than the Fonz).

It's was lots of fun and I heartily encourage you to check out future SCBWI conferences, either one of the two big annual ones (the summer one is in LA!) or a local one held by a regional chapter.

After spending my weekend traveling, today's writing space feels especially appropriate (aside from being just a big ole bucket of WANT):

Why yes, that is is cherry-red vintage Vespa transformed into a writing desk/laptop stand!

Found via Mashable, this little beauty was built by an Australian blogger from the TV show Reinventing Wheels. I lo-o-o-ove it.

Dave has always begged me to go Vespa-riding, especially when we went to Italy for our honeymoon, where these things roam the streets like someone upended a bag of Skittles onto the highway. But, since homeboy can't even bike ride without breaking something (on the bike, not in himself), I've never given him my blessing. This seems like a good compromise, as the creator put it, "the feeling of riding a Vespa without the helmet hair."

Mashable has a great little video about the Vespa desk, and check out the Reinventing Wheels blog for more photos.

Friday, January 27, 2012

Wrap Up: NYC Edition

Photo of a sunset last summer in my old neighborhood, Astoria.
Don't know why, but Astoria just had a knack for the most perfectly beautiful sunsets...

Hello, folks! Today's blog wrap-up might be a bit out of date, as I wrote it a day early because today, right now, as you read this, I'm currently in New York City for the SCBWI Winter Conference (you too? say hi!).

I am ridiculously excited to be back in New York, which will forever be "the city" to me and which was my home sweet home for several years after college. I have the kind of love for it that can only exist when you can navigate the subways with ease and know which Shake Shack is the best (UWS, duh). I still harbor a not-so-secret desire to move back there some day, although I do admit I'm happy to not have to sell organs to pay for apartment rent.

Anyway, since this wrap-up was put together on Thursday, I'm missing today's posts. Feel free to update in the comments!

Literary Rambles has a fun interview with a 7th grade teacher and some of her students about what kids are reading these days and what grabs their attention. There's also a giveaway of Wildwood, a new MG from Colin Meloy (singer/songwriter for the Decemberists).

The Quivering Pen has a post by writer Nancy Bilyeau about her first writing teachers and how they've shaped her technique and career

Author K.M. Weiland shares an essay on The Artist's Road about how to think critically of your own work

Rachelle Gardner discusses the green-eyed monster in publishing and how to deal with thoughts of jealousy and use them to push yourself to work harder

Publisher's Weekly put together a feature on the books that inspire the most tattoos, and I couldn't believe what ended up being number 1. Who knew that literature lovers and tattoo aficionados ran in the same circles?

Via Swiss Miss, a print by Paul Octavious perfect for book-lovers, perfect for Valentine's Day

Via Operation Awesome, author Maggie Stiefvater goes over pages from the rough draft and final version of her latest novel, pointing out what changes she made and why. She also invited 10 other authors to do the same

Very cool interview on the Rejectionist with author Kate Zambreno on "literatures of the girl:" fiction that discusses the feminine experience and issues relating to women, gender, and sexuality

Agent Kristin Nelson discusses the Association of Authors' Representatives' take on agents and epublishing. It's an interesting look at the ethical gray area that's emerging with the popularity of epubs, and no doubt it's only going to get more complicated

If I've missed anything, feel free to leave a note in the comments, and I hope I'll see some of you at SCBWI!

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

A Visual Representation of My Editing Process

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

Monday, January 23, 2012

Writing Spaces: And the Winner Is...!

Happy Monday, folks!

It's a dreary, cold morning in Chicago, but I'm sure there are a few celebrations going on today, as the American Library Association announces the winners of its annual youth literature awards!

Jack Gantos won the Newbery Award for his novel, Dead End in Norvelt. The Caldecott Medal for best children's illustrated book went to A Ball for Daisy, written and illustrated by Chris Raschka. And the Printz Award, recognizing Young Adult literature, was awarded to John Corey Whaley, author of Where Things Come Back.

I'm embarrassed to say I haven't even heard of Where Things Come Back, even though I'm making a concerted effort to read more contemporary YA. I'm a little surprised the award didn't go to one of the bigger-name books this year (Chime, A Monster Calls, Life: An Exploded Diagram, etc), but I always find it exciting when awards spotlight under-the-radar books (or maybe this one was just not on my radar).

I remember in elementary school, we always highly anticipated the Newbery Award, and our librarians would have big award events on the winning book. The first book that I remember people really went nuts about was Louis Sachar's Holes (which will tell you how much of a youngun I really am). But I have fond memories of Walk Two Moons, The Midwife's Apprentice, Out of the Dust...

In honor of today's winners, here's the writing space of one of my favorite Newbery authors, Lois Lowry, whose books The Giver and Number the Stars have left their fingerprints all over my writing:

For the first time, he heard something that he knew to be music. He heard people singing. Behind him, across vast distances of space and time, from the place he had left, he thought he heard music too. But perhaps, it was only an echo.
-The Giver

Friday, January 20, 2012

Blog Wrap Up: Powdery Donuts Edition

Happy Friday! I don't know about you, but I'm having a wonderful day, my sniffles from yesterday being cured, the snow outside making everything warm and cozy, and a surprise early trip home by the husband! After looking at the soft, powdery snow outside all day, I finally decided that what I really wanted was powdered donuts and -BAM- made it happen. Just another reason why I'm happy that I own a donut maker and why I'm happy I'm a grownup and can make myself donuts in the middle of the day.

Wasn't there something I was going to do? Oh yeah! Blog wrap up!

Over at Write it Sideways, tips and tricks for how to stay on writing schedule when you're sick (I could have used this yesterday, although the only tip I have is "Stay in bed watching Season 2 of Louie"). They also suggest 4 writing routines to work into your schedule

Operation Awesome is holding a book contest, open until this Sunday. Just visit the site and leave a comment with your nominee for "Most Anticipated Book of 2012"

It's conference season! BookEnds Literary has some things to keep in mind when you go to a conference and what to do when you meet agents and editors

Rachelle Gardner answered a reader's question about whether an agent will ever recommend self publishing. She also talks about what makes a book "hot" and how it impacts a book's chance of being sold

Editor Alan Rinzler talks about the art of the pitch, how it's changed with the Internet, and how writers can use different kinds of pitches to sell books, snag editors, or grow audience

School Library Journal's wonderfully-named YA blog, Someday My Printz Will Come, has been putting together their own shortlist for the Printz award and nominees and they've narrowed the field down to their top 4

Author Veronica Roth, whose latest book, Insurgent, will be out in a few weeks, gives a little peek behind the publishing curtain, going over in detail just what it takes to put a book together and on the shelves

Literary Rambles is celebrating their 2000th follower with a massive giveaway!

One last donut shot:

Have a great weekend!

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Why Don't Writers Have Business Cards?

In my three-year stint in the corporate world, I collected easily over 500 business cards. I’d meet people on planes and tell them what I did, and they’d hand me their business card. I’d get packages in the mail and a little business card would be tucked inside. It’s just the shorthand of the corporate world, and there’s a reason--they are small, easy to store, easy to carry, and have all the information you need about someone should you need to find them again.

I got a lot of simple pleasure out of handing out my business card. It was like I was saying, “Here, I’m an adult. And here are eight ways to reach me.”*

So I was a little dismayed to become a writer and find--no business cards! I decided to do something about this.

Side story: around the time of the great paid-journalist-to-unpaid-writer-switch, I was also planning my wedding. This is not a wedding blog (although I had one! And it was cute!), but, through wedding planning I stumbled upon the slightly-sketchy yet extremely cheap printing website Vistaprint.

We printed our save-the-dates through them, and I prayed that they weren’t stealing my credit card information (they didn’t). And then, I started getting all these ridiculous emails from them. 200 BUSINESS CARDS FOR $5!!! 500 POSTCARDS FOR $2!!! EVERYTHING WE OWN FOR FREE!!!!**

We’d had a good experience with the save-the-dates, and I was (am) vain enough to want my own business cards, damn it. So I whipped up a little design, featuring my mint-green vintage typewriter, and ordered some. They were 500 for $10. TEN DOLLARS!! How could I turn that down??

(my reasoning, of course, is that even if I was throwing away $10 on something that would one day line the litter box belonging to my future cat, $10 was not a lot of money, so screw it.)

They arrived a few weeks ago. And I loooove them.

Simple, effective, has all my info (here blacked out, so that the Internet doesn't chase me down with torches).

Plus, it is absurdly fun to hand them out to people.

Mostly, I got them for conferences, so if I meet someone I don’t have to dig through my bag for a little piece of paper (which invariably gets lost, laundered, or used as a gum wrapper). But there is something very validating about them, something very American Psycho about having my own:

If you’re interested in getting some business cards, you can check out Vistaprint here. They regularly run promos and discounts, so if it doesn’t look that enticing, try checking back in a few days or weeks. My cards were designed by me, because my brother is a graphic designer and made damn well sure that by the time I was in 7th grade, I knew how to work Photoshop. But Vistaprint also has an array of lovely designs available. Oh and go for the mega-cheap 28-day shipping. It rarely takes that long (usually they print within a week or two), and it saves you some cash.***

*A quick, business-card related story: The best business card I ever received was from my dear friend James, who has just graduated from Harvard Law. In his second year, Harvard had business cards printed up for the students, but they were too cheap and lazy to actually individualize them, so where normally James’ name would be printed, instead they left a blank line and “(name of student).” So here was this beautiful, tasteful Harvard Law School logo, under which my friend had to scrawl out his name like a drunk kindergartener. He actually handed these out to people. Whom he wanted to work for. Keep it classy, Harvard.

**Some of these may not be actual offers available on Vistaprint.

***Pursuant to Internet law, Vistaprint did not pay me anything for this post.

Monday, January 16, 2012

Writing Spaces: MLK

Hi all, hope you had a lovely weekend, and welcome to another week. Some of you might have the day off today (I'm giving myself a writer's day off, which means I'll probably end up working on the couch instead of my desk...). In high school, we never got MLK day off--instead the day was abbreviated and we had presentations and discussions on civil rights, peaceful protests, and race and prejudice in the US. Like most things, it's only with time that I see how valuable those days really were.

It really boils down to this: that all life is interrelated. We are all caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tired into a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one destiny, affects all indirectly.

Friday, January 13, 2012

Blog Wrap Up: Snowy Branches Edition

This is the tree outside my window. In case you forgot, this is what it used to look like.

Yes, winter has finally stopped deciding to play with Chicago's heart and just show up already. This is fine with me, for two reasons: 1) the husband's flight last night to West Virginia was cancelled, allowing us to enjoy an evening of 30 Rock and red velvet cake ice cream, and 2) I am a writer, and can choose not to leave my apartment for days.

I predict a weekend filled with Snuggies, Netflix, and sooooup....

But first!

There was a bumper crop of great links this week (maybe a lot of resolutions were "update the damn blog"?). Here are my favorites:

Author Elizabeth Fama talks about location and setting, and why it's important to visit the place you're trying to write about
Author Stina Lindenblatt on Querytracker gives some tips on using foreign language in your writing, and how to avoid completely butchering the slang

Natalie Aguirre at Literary Rambles has a great interview with Marie Lu, author of Legend, with a giveaway of her book

More end of the year stat posts from agents, as well as another "What I'd Like to See in 2012" post:
Stats from Jennifer Jackson of Donald Maas Literary Agency
Stats from Kristin Nelson of Nelson Literary Agency
A wishlist from Kate Testerman, aka Daphne Unfeasible, from kt literary
Stats from Lauren Ruth at BookEnds, LLC
Via Galleycat, London-based Andrew Lownie Literary Agency asked 20 editors what they want in 2012

The New York Times looked at authors and social media, asking Why Do Authors Tweet?

Kristin Nelson plays a game with her friends called "Read a random page from a famous novel and decide whether you'd represent the author" (working title). She also tells authors to avoid putting big reveals and plot twists solely in the characters' dialogues.

Agent Rachelle Gardner has some tips for dealing with deadlines, as well as an explanation of what happens when agents pitch editors

This lovely, wonderful video has been making the blog rounds lately (I found it on swiss-miss): The Joy of Books

Ash Krafton at Querytracker has a great basic guide on the business side of getting published, including an important section detailing publishing rights

From NPR, an interview with self-publishing wunderkind Amanda Hocking, who just became the 12th author to cross the 1 million mark in books sold on Amazon

Jessica at BookEnds Literary Agency discusses how to figure out your book's genre and where it would be shelved in a bookstore (hint: go to a bookstore)

Via author Holly Black, applications for the 2012 Clarion Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers' Workshop at UC San Diego are now being accepted. This year, Black will teach alongside several great sff writers, including Cassandra Clare

From Kate Testerman/Daphne Unfeasible: on writing with and choosing a pen name

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

What My Favorite TV Show Taught Me About “Show, Don’t Tell”

"Television! Teacher, mother, secret lover." - Homer Simpson
“Show, Don’t Tell” is one of those writing rules that shows up everywhere. It’s simple, to the point, and an important thing to keep in mind while writing.

It’s also never made sense to me. I mean, I know the difference between the two, and I know I’m not supposed to tell, but it wasn’t until recently that I realized why it really separates good writing from bad.

Ok. This is going to sound like a tangent, but I’ll get there, I promise.

My favorite TV show at the moment is “Terriers.” Raise your hand if you’ve seen it. …Yeah, that’s what I thought. First of all, that’s a shame because its horrendously low ratings were the reason it got cancelled after 13 episodes. And second of all, it’s shame because it has some of the best writing and most superbly subtle acting I’ve ever seen.*

I’m not going to go into a long description of the show except to say it’s about an ex-cop and an ex-thief who become P.I.s and solve mysteries and it’s like no other show on television. It is smart, funny, poignant, brilliantly-paced, and streaming right now on Netflix. Watch episode 1 and say goodbye to your weekend.

What got me thinking about this show and the writing and the acting was something its star, Donal Logue, said about one day of production. Donal’s character, Hank, discovers his genius but borderline younger sister has been sleeping in the ceiling of his house. He coaxes her out, and she spends the next few episodes helping out, getting in the way, while Donal tries not to say or do anything that would lead her to hurt herself.

They were going to shoot a scene with her, and the script had her say something like, “I’m uncomfortable being down here. I want to get back into the ceiling.”

The actress, Donal’s real-life sister Karina, stopped. She didn’t want to say the line. Her character would never come right out and say something like that. But, the director protested, this is an important point that the audience needs to know, you need to say the line.

No--she said--you pay me to act so that I can tell the audience what they need to know without words.

The director was floored, the other actors were floored, and she got her way--they cut the line. She nailed it, by the way.

This is what I’ve been thinking about a lot, the difference between show and don’t tell. I think some writers can get scared to put so much trust in the reader to pick up subtle clues or character notes or plot points, and the impulse to come right out and say what you want can be very strong.

It can take a lot of trust in your own ability to show the reader what they need to know without coming right out and saying it. But ultimately, that’s the job of a good writer, to rely on your own writing to get your point across.

And now, every time I hear “Show, Don’t Tell,” I hear “Don’t say you want to get back into the ceiling.” It’s a little clunky, but I like it.

*Don't believe me? These people get paid to review TV.