Michele Bacon: Five Questions

Life Before by Michele Bacon

It is really hard to write about abuse authentically. If you haven’t experienced it,  it is hard to put yourself in the victim’s shoes. If you have lived it, then it is equally hard to distance yourself from it and write from a perspective that isn’t so horribly devastating. Michele Bacon has done a phenomenal job in her portrayal of Alexander Fife and his physically abusive father in Life Before.

Xander is almost there. He is graduating from high school and has a full-ride scholarship to college. Once he gets there he can live a life that doesn’t fall under the shadow of his violent father. But on the night of his graduation ceremony a tragedy occurs that destroys his world and leaves him in danger for his life.

In order to spare those he loves the worst of the peril, Xander takes off. He reasons everyone will be safer with him gone and all he has to do is kill time until college starts. But life on the run is neither glamorous nor fun and Xander finds himself in Burlington, Vermont with no money, no friends, and no place to stay.

Bacon tells Xander’s story with the perfect balance of realistic danger, sorrow, fear and hope. It does not fall into a maudlin place because even though Xander finds himself at probably the lowest point of his young life, he is not completely bereft of hope, nor damaged beyond repair. He makes friends in Burlington, finds a job, and even meets a girl. But will he ever stop running from his past or go home again?

FIVE QUESTIONS

1. What was the original seed idea for your book? Did it start with a character, a situation, or an idea?

The seed for this book was my greatest childhood fear. I grew up in a violent household, and for much of my childhood I was terrified that my father would kill my mother. While Xander’s story is fiction, it’s based on that fearful what if of my childhood.

2. What is your writing process? Are you an outliner or a pantser?

Today, I am a devoted plotter, but I wrote Life Before without plotting it first. I often wonder how it would have been different had I plotted it before writing.

3. Who are the writers which most influence your writing style?

I appreciate this question, because it’s more difficult than rattling off a list of authors whose work I enjoy. Instead of emulating others’ work, I try to learn something from every book I read. Here are three examples:

On pacing: In Janet McNally’s debut, The Girls in the Moon, I loved her transition between chapter 1, when her best friend arrives on the doorstep, and chapter 2, when we learn about that friendship. My curiosity forced me to turn the page.

On storytelling: Alison Bechdel’s first mention of 17-year cicadas in Fun Home seems interesting but immaterial, but she later uses the insects as a metaphor. I appreciated that echo, and how it changed my reading experience.

On point-of-view: Emma Straub’s The Vacationers is in and out of characters’ heads, moving the camera around to tell the whole story. I always write first person or third person close, but this book changed my mind about omniscience.

4. Do you listen to music when you write?

I have three small children, so I savor the quiet of my empty house. When I am experiencing stress or time constraints, I use solo cello music to help calm me and keep me focused.

5. What are you reading right now?

I’m poring over Atlas Obscura, which will inform my travel plans for years to come. I’ve just started The Portable Veblen, by Elizabeth McKenzie. I received it in the reddit books exchange, and it’s quite promising.

michele-baconMichele Bacon writes novel-length fiction for adults and young adults. An avid traveler, Michele has visited all 50 states and few dozen countries. She lived in many cities throughout the United States, and spent 14 months living in Christchurch, New Zealand before settling Seattle with her husband and three young daughters. Michele’s second novel, Antipodes, a coming-of-age novel about an ambitious teen forced into a foreign exchange program, will publish early in 2018.

I don’t, as a rule, cry at books. But this one did get me, I confess. It’s a wonderful read that ultimately gives you hope that Xander will not just survive, but thrive.

Get your copy here:

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Five Questions: Frances Hardinge

The Lie Tree by Frances Hardinge

The Lie Tree by Frances Hardinge

 

Frances Hardinge came onto my radar last spring when I was deep in research mode as to the pulse of historical fiction in the young adult category. Was it dead? I found through this book that indeed it was not. I wrote a full review of The Lie Tree back in May and you can read it here. I was thrilled when she answered my request to be interviewed. So here we go. May I introduce Frances Hardinge?

FIVE QUESTIONS

1. What was the original seed idea for your book? Did it start with a character, a situation, or an idea?

The original seed was the idea of the Lie Tree itself – a plant that would feed on lies, and bear fruit that could be eaten to learn secrets. The notion came to me when I was out walking along the Thames path, and I remember stopping halfway across the bridge of Richmond Lock, knowing that I had the heart of a story.

2. What is your writing process? Are you an outliner or a pantser?

I am very definitely an outliner, and I tend to do a lot of planning and research. In the case of my first novel, I had a chapter by chapter outline! I haven’t planned the others in quite such precise detail, but I always know in advance the main things that are going to happen, and how the book will end. Having said that, my books sometimes surprise me, and I’ll realise halfway through them that I want to take the plot and character arcs in a different direction. It’s still helpful to have the original outline, though, otherwise I feel like I’m setting out on a journey without a roadmap.

3. Who are the writers which most influence your writing style?

There are too many to count! I know that I’m influenced by the authors I loved as a child – Susan Cooper, Nicholas Fisk, Alan Garner, Lewis Carroll, Catherine Storr, Richard Adams, Douglas Adams, Terry Pratchett, Conan Doyle, etc. I suspect I’ve also been influenced by writers like Wilkie Collins, E M Forster, the Brontes, all the mystery novels I gobbled during my teens and twenties, and many others.

4. Do you listen to music when you write?

Sometimes I do, and often it’s because I associate a particular track with a specific character or scene. This does tend to mean that I will listen to the same track over and over again. My significant other has bought me some very good headphones, so that this habit of mine doesn’t drive him insane…

5. What are you reading right now?

I’m reading a non-fiction book called “Thinking: Fast and Slow” by Dr Daniel Kahneman.

Frances Hardinge at home in London September 9, 2009

Frances Hardinge

Frances Hardinge was brought up in a sequence of small, sinister English villages, and spent a number of formative years living in a Gothic-looking, mouse-infested hilltop house in Kent. She studied English Language and Literature at Oxford, fell in love with the city’s crazed archaic beauty, and lived there for many years.

Whilst working full time as a technical author for a software company she started writing her first children’s novel, Fly by Night, and was with difficulty persuaded by a good friend to submit the manuscript to Macmillan. Seven of her books have now been published, all aimed at children and young adults. Her most recent book, The Lie Tree, won the Costa Book of the Year Award, the fiction category of the Boston Globe Hornbook Award and the 12-16 age category of the UKLA Awards.

Frances is seldom seen without her hat and is addicted to volcanoes.

So there you are. Award-winning and awesome storytelling. Get your copy here:

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Five Questions – Nathan Hill

The Nix by Nathan Hill

The Nix by Nathan Hill

I’m a little bit giddy about this one, I must confess. I met Nathan Hill at the Sanibel Island Writers Conference last November and even took his class on X-Ray writing, which was fantastic. He lives in Naples like me and I was delighted to find out we had friends in common. So I asked him on a whim if he would participate and he said yes!

Nathan Hill

Nathan Hill

Nathan Hill is kind of a big deal. His book, The Nix, was on the NYT Bestseller list and made quite a few “Best Books of the Year” lists for 2016 as well. The Nix is about a college English professor whose estranged mother is arrested for throwing rocks at a controversial conservative politician. In order to fulfill his obligation to his publisher,  Samuel decides to write a tell-all about his mother and her political activist past. But in order to get the dirt he has to go see her, and he hasn’t spoken to her since she walked out on the family when he was just a kid.

This book is packed with so much – the 1968 Democratic National Convention and the riots that ensued, Norwegian urban legends, a violin prodigy love interest, gaming culture and a very special freak named Pwnage who is a master at the fictional Elfscape. Plus add in a cheating college student who turns the tables on Samuel and leads to an academic investigation, and I didn’t even mention the tangent on feminine hygiene advertising from the 60s. Sound crazy? It is, but somehow it works into an interesting dissection of the relationship between mother and son.

FIVE QUESTIONS

1. What was the original seed idea for your book? Did it start with a character, a situation, or an idea?

I had just moved to New York City in the summer of 2004, and one of the things that happened during my first month there was that the Republicans held their presidential nominating convention at Madison Square Garden. And people were coming in from all over the country to protest it. So I went into Manhattan and watched all the hubbub. And one of the things that I kept hearing in the run-up to the 2004 convention—from the talking head cable news type people—was that it was going to be the most contentious since the 1968 Democratic Convention in Chicago. That’s how I was originally drawn to the subject. It gave me the idea to do a book about two generations of protest: a mother who attend the one in ‘68, and her son who attended the one in ’04.

2. What is your writing process? Are you an outliner or a pantser?

Definitely a “pantser.” I began writing the book in 2004 and I didn’t make an outline until like 2011. I had no idea where the story was going. I didn’t know what I was doing. I didn’t have a plot. I had a basic situation and two characters (Samuel and Faye, who for years were named “the boy” and “the mother”), and so the writing I was doing was more like exploration. I wasn’t writing to describe things that happened. I was writing to discover them. Which is much slower. And yes, I hopped around a lot, even after I had an outline and a plot, there were whole sections of the novel that I skipped because, frankly, I didn’t think I was good enough yet to write them. I remember noting in my journal: “This will be very hard.” Then when I came back to those sections a year or so later, I realized that I’d learned how to write them. Writing the novel taught me how to write the novel, if that makes sense.

3. Who are the writers which most influence your writing style?

My favorite authors are the ones who are able to burrow deep into the psychology of a character, whose prose sounds like the brain-voice of a character from the inside. David Foster Wallace does this. So does Virginia Woolf. I like to think that fiction is the best invention we have to understand what it would feel like to be somebody else, and so I especially enjoy authors who are committed to that kind of writing.

4. Do you listen to music when you write?

I do listen to music, but it can’t have words or too much dynamic range (the sudden jolts of energy in a symphony, for example, would be too distracting). I find myself most drawn to quiet pieces for piano or cello. I highly recommend “The Chopin Variations” by Chad Lawson, or the Bach cello suites performed by Yo-Yo Ma.

5. What are you reading right now?

I’m reading some nonfiction that I suppose is “research” for the next novel. Also a few editors have asked me to blurb some books that are coming out later this year, so I’m reading those. And I’ve been delighted to read my fellow Knopf debut authors: in particular, Stephanie Danler’s Sweetbitter and Yaa Gyasi’s Homegoing were amazing books.

Nathan Hill, y’all. His book was the best adult fiction I read last year. Get your copy here:

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Five Questions: Lawrence Tabak

in-real-lifeWelcome to my weekly author interview. This week I talked to Lawrence Tabak who wrote the great gaming novel In Real Life.

Fifteen-year-old math prodigy Seth Gordon knows exactly what he wants to do with his life—play video games. Every spare minute is devoted to honing his skills at Starfare, the world’s most popular computer game. His goal: South Korea, where the top pros are rich and famous. But the best players train all day, while Seth has school and a job and divorced parents who agree on only one thing: “Get off that damn computer.” Plus there’s a new distraction named Hannah, an aspiring photographer who actually seems to understand his obsession.

While Seth mopes about his tournament results and mixed signals from Hannah, Team Anaconda, one of the leading Korean pro squads, sees something special. Before he knows it, it’s goodbye Kansas, goodbye Hannah, and hello to the strange new world of Korea. But the reality is more complicated than the fantasy, as he faces cultural shock, disgruntled teammates, and giant pots of sour-smelling kimchi.

What happens next surprises Seth. Slowly, he comes to make new friends, and discovers what might be a breakthrough, mathematical solution to the challenges of Starcraft. Delving deeper into the formulas takes him in an unexpected direction, one that might just give him a new focus—and reunite him with Hannah.

THE FIVE QUESTIONS:

1. What was the original seed idea for your book? Did it start with a character, a situation, or an idea?

When my second son was in middle school he rather suddenly decided that there were no longer any books of interest. Keep in mind this is within the confines of a house where bookshelves are everywhere and space on shelves is short. His main interest at the time was video gaming so after some back and forth he reluctantly agreed he’d give a book about a video gamer a shot. We tried the local bookstores without much luck — while there were a few very good science fiction type books that centered on gaming (Ender’s Game, for example) we couldn’t find a contemporary novel about kids obsessed with console controllers or mouse clicking. I was surprised, since in my experience, gaming was central to the lives of young boys. We could find any number of books about young basketball players, young football players, young hockey and tennis players. But not one about gamers. This was at a time when professional gaming was beginning to emerge domestically, and was already well established in South Korea. So I decided to write that book.

2. What is your writing process? Are you an outliner or a pantser?

I don’t work with a written outline, but do spend considerable mental energy laying out the general course of a book before I start. I once read a profile of best-seller thriller writer Harlan Corben in which he describes spending months lying around, dreaming up his intricate plots, which he finally pens in a frenzy of writing. I haven’t achieved this sort of mental discipline, but do tend to write fast once I get into a project. That said, I find that my storylines tend to twist and turn in composition as events fall into place in a way which seem more true to satisfying fiction than life.

3. Who are the writers which most influence your writing style?

I’ve been drawn to writing about younger protagonists more than writing for younger readers. As such, I’ve been most impressed with YA writers whose seem to be seeking to write the best possible books about young adults without tempering their composition for accessibility — what is sometimes called literary YA writing. The best of these writers are producing fine novels — not just fine novels that are geared for younger readers. Examples include A.S. King, Gayle Forman, and John Green. I’m also been knocked out by some modern writers when they delve into the lives and minds of younger protagonists. I’m thinking of the teenage Theodore and his dissolute friend Boris living as virtual orphans in the ruins of suburban Las Vegas in Donna Tartt’s The Goldfinch. Or the story Victory Lap which opens George Saunders’ collection Tenth of December. In a book I’m reading currently, Nathan Hill does an amazing job of capturing the passion and intensity of the emotional lives of eleven-year-olds in The Nix.

4. Do you listen to music when you write?

I often write with music on my headset, particularly since I like to work in semi-public places (coffee shops, libraries, student unions). I will usually just leave my song list on random, since once I get into the writing I’m not consciously aware of what songs are playing.

5. What are you reading right now?

I often have a couple books going at once. I’ve currently set everything aside to finish The Nix, a riveting 2016 novel by Nathan Hill. As I’ve mentioned, the sections devoted to his characters’ younger years are particularly stunning, as well as harrowing. It’s also a novel rich in political relevance, as it bounces back and forth between naive anti-war protestors in 1968 to a contemporary crisis involving a modern demogogic politician. I’ve got a bookmark in a just-translated volume of stories by Israeli Nobel Prize winner S.Y. Agnon, A City in Its Fullness, all set in the small Ukrainian city where he had spent his youth. And another bookmark in The Swerve, Stephen Greenblatt’s story of how a 15th century book hunter found the last extant manuscript of a Roman poem by Lucretius, On The Nature of Things, and in doing so, helped trigger the Renaissance.

 

lawrence-tabakLawrence Tabak started out on Candy Land but soon hit the harder stuff (Pong, Tron, SimAnt). His first job was playing knock hockey with ten-year-olds as a playground supervisor in Dubuque, Iowa. He graduated to jobs in pizza assembly and door-to-door solicitation before settling into a series of tennis jobs in Iowa, California, New Jersey and Kansas. Most recently he’s worked in the marketing communications side of finance in Kansas City and Madison, Wis. His freelance writing has appeared in numerous national magazines and journals including Fast Company, Salon.com and The Atlantic Monthly. He and his wife have raised two game-obsessed boys, mostly in Wisconsin. Among their accomplishments are stints on the pro-gaming squads of SK Gaming and Fnatic and helping launch the live-streaming gaming site, Twitch.

Thanks so much for taking the time to talk with me, Lawrence! If you have a teen who is obsessed with video games this is the perfect read. Watch for great new things to come from this author.

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Five Questions: Maria Alexander

Snowed by Maria Alexander

Snowed by Maria Alexander

Welcome to my next author interview! This week I am talking with Maria Alexander, the author of the amazing YA horror novel Snowed.

Charity Jones is a 16-year-old engineering genius who’s much-bullied for being biracial and a skeptic at her conservative school in Oak County, California. Everything changes when Charity’s social worker mother brings home a sweet teen runaway named Aidan to foster for the holidays. Matched in every way, Charity and Aidan quickly fall in love. But it seems he’s not the only new arrival: Charity soon finds the brutally slain corpse of her worst bully and she gets hard, haunting evidence that the killer is stalking Oak County. As she and her Skeptics Club investigate this death and others, they find at every turn the mystery only grows darker and more deadly. One thing’s for certain: there’s a bloody battle coming this holiday season that will change their lives – and human history – forever. Will they be ready?

FIVE QUESTIONS:

1. What was the original seed idea for your book? Did it start with a character, a situation, or an idea?

Many years ago, on a miserable November night, I was feeling especially Grinchy as I was driving home from an awful, long-distance job. I’d always had a tempestuous relationship with Christmas. So when an instrumental version of “Carol of the Bells” came on the radio, it struck me as the darkest piece I’d ever heard. I’d just read Neil Gaiman’s “Nicholas Was,” which already had me in a myth-twisting mood. By the time I got home, I had a new story in my head, and all I had to do was sit and write. “Coming Home” was the result: a wicked flash fiction piece that was part social commentary, part bah-humbug, and completely surprising. I shared it with Neil, and he said, “This is the story I should have written.” That floored me, of course, but I knew I’d done something different.

It was published a dozen times and stolen even more before it was produced as a one-act play by Women in Theater in Los Angeles, and even adapted to podcast by Pseudopod.org. But I knew it had potential to be a bigger work. I didn’t really figure out how to adapt it to novel, though, until late 2012.

2. What is your writing process? Are you an outliner or a pantser?

I come from a screenwriting background. So, structure is very important to me, which means I outline. When I started Snowed, I thought I was writing this sweet magical romance. But something terrible fell out of nowhere at the end of Chapter 5 – something I hadn’t anticipated but it felt right. (If you’ve read the book, you know what that is.) That’s when I realized I was actually writing something very dark. I went back and totally revised the outline. I’m working on the sequel, Inversion. The first draft only took three months because I knew the broad strokes and all the characters. So, I don’t always need a thorough outline to write, but I do need to know the big moments.

3. Who are the writers which most influence your writing style?

It’s changed a lot since I switched to YA. It used to be authors like Caitlin Kiernan, Clive Barker and Tim Powers. Now I’m not so sure, although a couple of readers have said the Snowed is reminiscent of Joe Hill, who I love. I’d say that Philip Pullman has been and will always be a big influence on anything I write for younger audiences, as His Dark Materials had a major impact on me. And I read a lot of what my friend Nancy Holder writes, so no doubt she’s in there, as well.

4. Do you listen to music when you write?

Usually, and especially when I’m thinking about story, but never anything with lyrics unless it’s in another language. Just movie soundtracks, ambient, and classical music.

5. What are you reading right now?

A lot of stuff people are offering for Bram Stoker Awards consideration, actually — everything from horror poetry to novellas. But I’m really excited to dig into Gretchen McNeil’s newest book, I’m Not Your Manic Pixie Dream Girl, even if it’s not particularly dark. We met this year in San Diego at an event we were both signing at. She’s going to be the YA Guest of Honor at StokerCon 2017, and I look forward to spending time with her again.

 

Maria Alexander

Maria Alexander

Maria Alexander is the award-winning author of Mr. Wicker, numerous short stories, and two poetry collections. Her nonfiction is used in curriculum at Champlain University. Her debut YA novel, Snowed, from Raw Dog Screaming Press is being called “one heck of a page turner” by adults and “kick-ass” by teens. For more information, visit her website.

Thanks so much for your time, Maria! Seriously, you need to read this book. Charity Jones is whip-smart and sassy. I wish I had known her in high school. Go and get your copy here:

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Happy Book Birthday, Dana Langer!

siren-sisters

Welcome to my very first author interview! I plan on introducing you to a new author each week and asking them the same five questions. And to kick things off, I bring you Dana Langer, debut author of the middle grade novel Siren Sisters, which is out TODAY! Congratulations Dana! I am so excited for you!

Lolly Salt has three beautiful sisters. When they’re not in school or running their small town’s diner, they’re secretly luring ships to their doom from the cliffs of Starbridge Cove, Maine. With alluring voices that twelve-year-old Lolly has yet to grow into (not that she wants to anyway) the Salt sisters do the work mandated by the Sea Witch, a glamorously frightening figure determined to keep the girls under her control. With their mother dead after a mysterious car accident, and their father drowning in grief, the sisters carry on with their lives and duties until a local sea captain gets suspicious about the shipwrecks.

On the day before her birthday, Lolly watches in helpless horror as her sisters are lured themselves by curse-reversing fishermen–and suddenly it’s up to her and her best friend Jason to rescue the sirens of Starbridge Cove.

Dana Langer

Dana Langer

Dana is a teaches Creative Writing and English to high school students and recently moved from New York City to Ramsey, NJ.

FIVE QUESTIONS:

1. What was the original seed idea for your book? Did it start with a character, a situation, or an idea? 

The first image I ever had in my head of this book (which isn’t an image that made into the final version, actually) was a group of sisters scavenging items from a shipwreck, and one of them not participating, wandering away and doing cartwheels instead.

2. What is your writing process? Are you an outliner or a pantser? 

I start with images and pieces of dialogue floating around in my head. And sometimes a setting or myth that interests me. I try to think how they can all fit together. Then I write down all these scenes and conversations and try to impose some kind of chronological structure on them that I hope eventually becomes a plot. I like to restrict the time-frame of the story in order to keep from getting too lost, like “This all has to take place over the course of one week. Go!” My first drafts are usually too short and contain a lot of uninterrupted dialog. In revising, I tend to need to add more.

3. Who are the writers which most influence your writing style? 

My adviser in college was Jayne Anne Phillips, who is an incredible author and person. One of our other professors, Jill McCorkle, once referred to her, with a very charming southern accent, as “The Queen of the Line Edit.” She made me pay attention to the rhythm and meaning of every sentence. In terms of current middle grade authors, I re-read Doll Bones (Holly Black), Rules for Stealing Stars (Corey Ann Haydu), Akata Witch (Nnedi Okorafor), and a lot of Claire Legrand’s books while I was writing Siren Sisters.

4. Do you listen to music when you write? 

I don’t listen to music while writing, but I do listen to it while thinking about and planning the story, especially while driving to work. Some of my own creative writing students recently made me a playlist of music they thought I’d like, and it’s pretty perfect. Elliot Smith, The Velvet Underground, Bon Iver… It’s like they read my mind.

5. What are you reading right now? 

I’m just finishing Code Name Verity (Elizabeth Wein), which I loved. I’m also reading The Turner House (Angela Flournoy) in order to teach it this semester, and I’m about to start The Secret Horses of Briar Hill (Megan Shepherd).

A big thank you to Dana Langer for taking the time to talk to me! Now that I know you are dying to read Siren Sisters, or can think of a middle schooler who would love this, you can buy it here:

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Forget the Reuben, Focus on the Ninjas…

forget the reuben copyA few years ago I was lucky enough to attend the Sanibel Island Writers’ Conference. It is put on every year by the wonderful folks at Florida Gulf Coast University.  That year I got to attend seminars with some really great authors, but my favorite was with Benjamin Percy. He has written some really great novels like The Dead Lands (2015) and Red Moon (2013).

The first thing you need to know about Ben Percy is that he has the deepest voice this side of Barry White. There is a You Tube video of him reading Goodnight Moon that will give you the Vincent Price chills. But I digress.

There were two pieces of writing advice that I took away from this seminar. The first is that a beautifully written book does not have to be short on plot. Literary prose can be paired with a ripsnorter of a story. In fact, it totally should. If you read any of his books you will immediately see what I mean.

The second piece of advice relates to the first. Literary fiction often describes in luscious detail, but you need to know when to expend that detail. The example he gave was a scene set in a diner where the protagonist has just ordered lunch. Instead of waxing poetic about the corned beef and sauerkraut it would be better to describe the ninjas that just vaulted through the door and are now fighting across the lunch counter.

In other words, choose wisely.

I want to leave you with some other words of advice he gave me about dealing with rejection:  “Keep hammering! Every time you face rejection — and it will come regularly to every writer — say ten Hail Marys, three fuck yous, slam a shot of whiskey and get back to work!”

I so need to embroider that on a throw pillow.

The Waiting is the Hardest Part

It is a weird week. Not a bad one, just different, schedule-wise. Kosta and I have taken tomorrow off to add to our already three-day weekend, so today is my Friday. But our usual Wednesday night person is on vacation so I am working the late shift to fill in for her. That’s why I got to go here this morning:

2016-03-16 08.15.30

Ah…

The beach in the morning is one of my favorite places in the world. It brings me back to myself when I’ve been living in my head too much. And I have lately, and here’s why:

My novel, Cloak and Dagger, isn’t selling. I’ve had lots of favorable feedback from different editors but no one has ultimately taken the bite. The thing I have heard most frequently is “I really love this book, but I couldn’t get it past my sales team because it is historical fiction.” Apparently while historical fiction is a huge thing in the adult market, it is a very tough sell in the YA world.

What I’ve been doing since December is taking out the first novel I wrote, The First Muse, and rewriting the beginning and editing the rest. I knew the first third had flaws and a tough time getting going, but I believe I fixed those issues. I am almost ready to send it off to my agent and see what he thinks about it. Trust me, I am terrified he won’t love it, but that’s just a little part of me. I know this book is good and the series has amazing potential.

It’s just hard, you know? Getting the agent was an incredibly grueling endeavor, but this part is no easier. The funny thing is, when you are searching for an agent, you get rejections. But when you ascend to the next level and your agent is sending your manuscript to editors, you get passes. Sounds a lot less awful, but really, it’s just as painful. Especially when the months drag by and you’re still waiting.

But I don’t give up. I will keep plugging away until I get a win. My agent loves my writing and at least one editor asked to see anything else I wrote. That is encouraging. If my contemporary fantasy about a kick ass group of girl goddesses doesn’t sell, I will dust myself off and write another book.

I expect to finish my final polish of The First Muse by Friday and then I’ll be sending it up to New York and crossing my fingers. I’m looking forward to some rest now that it will be with Alex. I’ve been working two full-time jobs really, and I’m exhausted. Even so, I know the work won’t be done, as I am sure he will have suggestions to make the story tighter. After all, I’m a talented writer, but not a flawless one.

Then it will go out into the world to be loved or rejected, and I won’t be able to do one thing about that.

Tom Petty said it best: The Waiting is the Hardest Part.

 

Music and Writing

Music and writing copy

Last week I wrote about my writing process but  I neglected to mention the type of environment in which I like to write best. In our library at home (yes, we have a library) we have a blue Queen Anne chair that is also a recliner. I like to sit in that with my feet up with my laptop and and tap tap tap away.

I also require total silence. An sculptor friend of mine and I were talking about this the other day and he says he needs silence too. He pointed to his head and said, “This is all the noise you need right here.” I totally agree.

However, that doesn’t mean that I don’t think there is an intersection of inspiration between music and words as both are different mediums in storytelling. I can’t tell you how many short stories or vignettes I’ve written based on songs. I don’t know the way your brain works, but I think for a lot of people listening to music conjures pictures in their heads.  And words can do the same thing.

And it can work in the opposite direction too. Lots of songwriters have based songs on stories they’ve read. On The Sounds of Silence album by Simon and Garfunkel Paul Simon wrote the song “Richard Cory” based on the poem by E.A. Robinson of the same name. There are countless examples of artists taking inspiration from each other to create something new and that’s an amazing thing to witness. It’s even more amazing when it happens to you.

The current novel on which I am working has a soundtrack, for sure. I just can’t listen to it while I’m pounding out the words on the computer. But I did put a playlist together and I listen to it whenever I can. It’s amazing how listening to a particular song and thinking about a particular character can give me an idea on how to fix a problem with a plot point, or how to add a new facet to their personality.

When I was constructing this playlist I first started out with my characters and tried to find a song that best fit their personality. Some are bang on, some I am still searching for the perfect anthem. But then after the “character sketch” songs, I put in songs that represent scenes or events I know are going to be in the story. And it isn’t a rigid playlist at all. As I’m listening and something doesn’t feel right, I’ll take it out and put something new in to try it out.  It’s always evolving and growing along with the story in my head.

Here is the current playlist with which I am working:

  1. “Lightning Crashes” by Live (Throwing Copper)
  2. “Homesick” by Soul Asylum (Grave Dancer’s Union)
  3. “Girlfriend” by Avril Lavigne (The Best Damn Thing)
  4. “The World I Know” by Collective Soul (Collective Soul)
  5. “Easy Target” by Blink-182 (Blink-182)
  6. “Creep” by Radiohead (Pablo Honey)
  7. “Rock n’ Roll Lifestyle” by Cake (Motorcade of Generosity)
  8. “I Kissed a Girl” by Katy Perry (One of the Boys)
  9. “What is Love” by Haddaway (What is Love)
  10. “Enter Sandman” by Metallica (Metallica)
  11. “The Sound of Silence” by Disturbed (Immortalized)
  12. “My Immortal” by Evanescence (Fallen)
  13. “Song 2” by Blur (Blur)
  14. “Pain” by Jimmy Eat World (Futures)
  15. “Starlight” by Muse (Black Holes & Revelations)
  16. “She Loves You” by the Beatles (1)
  17. “Invincible” by Muse (Black Holes & Revelations)
  18. “Run to the Water” by Live (The Distance to Here)
  19. “Song for the Asking” by Simon & Garfunkel (Bridge over Troubled Water)
  20. “Whispers in the Dark” by Mumford & Sons (Babel)

Tracks 1-6 are character sketches. Everything else is situational. While I know you can’t deduce my story from these songs, you can’t deny there is a story in each one of them. There is a little movie in your head when you listen. When I put it all together that little movie becomes the novel I am writing.

Book Review: The Magicians by Lev Grossman

magiciansTo say this is a Harry Potter novel for grownups would be a gross misconception of the author’s message.

Quentin Coldwater is 17 and living a normal life in Brooklyn. He has the usual teen angst–he’s in love with Julia, but Julia loves his best friend James. The three are interviewing for Ivy League colleges when something strange happens to Quentin. He is tapped by an unknown college called Brakebills that teaches magic.

Yes, Harry Potter kind of magic, only there are no wands. But there are classes, practical lessons, and a groovy old mansion on the Hudson where the school is magically protected.

Quentin was one of those kids who had always believed in magic when he was little and was sorely disappointed when he found out it didn’t exist. He used to lose himself in the fantasy books on Fillory (a Narnia-esque place to which the Chatwin children are magically transported and have adventures.)

So when he is summoned magically to Brakebills to sit for an entrance exam, he is stunned. He’s even more stunned when he is accepted and begins his lessons. It is a heady, euphoric time for Quentin, who just can’t wrap his brain around the fact that magic is really real and he is getting trained to be a wizard. He makes friends, finds a girlfriend, and his time at school slips by in a magical puff of glitter.

But then they all graduate and this is where Grossman gets to the point of the idea of magic. These kids (in their early twenties) are at loose ends. They could continue their studies, but they have the non-magical world at their disposal to be manipulated however they want. Money, drugs, sex, all easily attainable in vast quantities. The author shows how getting exactly what you want can sometimes be a very dangerous thing. If you don’t have to work for your pleasures in life, they lose their meaning.

But then Penny, one of Quentin’s former classmates, finds a way to Fillory–it truly does exist. Quentin is beyond excted–finally an adventure of which he and his magical skills are worthy. But nothing ever turns out the way we want, does it?

Lev Grossman has written a deeply engrossing book about magic, its power, and how that power corrupts. It’s a fascinating read for anyone (adult, that its) who loves the Harry Potter books, as it is a perfect counterpoint.  Magic isn’t all saving the day, about quests with happy endings, or character building. Magic is a much deeper than that, filled with the complexities of light and dark.

He has written more in the series and I am very much looking forward to reading them.