Monday, May 31, 2010

For the past week I have been home from my day job, revising my work-in-progress. I've been writing, drinking mass amounts of green tea, not doing laundry or dishes, and generally living like a hobbit nestled in her hobbit-hole. If not for my basset hound, I probably wouldn't leave the house.

If this doesn't sound glamorous, then...well, you're right, it's not very glamorous. It's challenging work. I could revise a scene a dozen times only to cut it entirely in the next revision. I've written and then discarded dozens of pages—at one time a full 190 pages—in my gradual, sometimes painfully slow efforts to make a book better. But all of those pages that I deleted from the manuscript weren't entirely wasted. That experimentation is part of what writing is, for me. That's how I get to know my characters, figure out what they want most and develop their narrative voice.

Do I wish that it took me less time and fewer drafts to write a book? Yes and yes. In fact, it's probably my number one writing complaint. But wishing that my process was different doesn't make it easier, and in fact I'm convinced of the opposite. There are days when I get very frustrated. And there are other days when I embrace my process in all of it's slow, inefficient, haphazard glory. I take a journey with the characters I write about, and on the way we get to know each other very well. When we arrive, the landscape has changed, and I like to think the book is better for it.

Summer Reading

Now that summer is unofficially upon us, it's time to tackle some summer reading. My list is a mixture of YA and non-YA. I'm making my list modest, because (1) I already have a lot of half-finished books on my plate, and (2) I often fail to meet even the modest expectations I set for myself. Sigh.

But here's some of the books I'm hoping to devour this summer!

The Turning: What Curiosity Kills by Helen Ellis. Okay, a confession: Helen is one of my best friends, and this is her first YA novel! It's about some prep-school kids in New York City, the first in a series. But these aren't your usual gossip kids. Indeed, some of these kids have a cool
ability: they can turn into cats. Meow.

The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo by Steig Larsson. The books (this one of the first in a trilogy) that everyone seems to be talking about--and that everyone raves about. Time for me to jump on the bandwagon.

Revolver by Marcus Sedgwick. This YA sounds like a gripping historical novel. A kid sits in an isolated cabin in the Arctic wilderness, his father's frozen corpse beside him. Then, out of the darkness, comes a stranger . . . Isolated cabins, dead bodies, strangers knocking on your door. Sounds terrifying! Sign me up!

A Visit from the Goon Squad by Jennifer Egan. A new novel by one of my favorite writers. It follows--in non-linerar fashion--the interconnecting lives of a fascinating cast of characters. Hard to summarize, but I've been blown away by excerpts I've read, many of which appeared in The New Yorker. There's even, apparently, a chapter written in the form of a Power Point presentation!

Lockdown by Walter Dean Myers. Okay, this is the book that my book club chose for June. But I've always wanted to read Myers. This one is set at a juvenile detention facility. Should be nice and gritty.

And finally, Portrait of an Addict as a Young Man by Bill Clegg. Definitely not for faint of heart, by all accounts. This is the story of Clegg--a hot-shot young literary agent in New York--and how he got addicted to crack and watched as his world implode around him. It's been getting a lot of press lately. Sounds like just the kind of lurid trainwreck-type story that is hard to resist. Sorry, this one isn't for the kids! But Go Ask Alice is, and I want to read that as well.

Now that I've shared mine, what's on your list?

Thursday, May 27, 2010

Ten Ironies of Writing.

1. You spend all day sitting in a room by yourself writing about people who are out in the world doing exciting things.
2. You are an introvert but you're expected to give speeches.
3. When people find out you're a writer they think you must be famous, though they have never actually heard of you.
4. Some writers actually are famous and have won awards, and most people they meet STILL haven't heard of them!
5. You have to be arrogant to expect anyone would want to read your brain-dribbles, but lots of the time you face ego-squashing criticism.
6. Some people think that a writer's life is glamorous, but in truth you spend all day in your pajamas with pencils stuck in your hair.
7. By the time your book comes out, the money you made writing it is all gone.
8. If other writers like your writing, oftentimes the general public finds it boring, and vice versa.
9. Most writers could make tons more money doing almost anything else.
10. Writing is the most fun you can have, and it is the hardest work you can do.

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

The power of the written word.

Steven Monjeza and Tiwonge Chimbalanga have been imprisoned in their home country of Malawi because they are two men who fell in love with each other. The social pressure to adapt oneself to the 'norm' is a reality in modern courts, stone-age cultures, and school cafeterias alike. But I don't think it has to be this way.

To me, Steven Monjeza and Tiwonge Chimbalang are heroes. They probably knew there would be repercussions for the traditional engagement party they threw to celebrate their union. Still, they chose to be true to themselves, and to each other. They are making an enormous sacrifice, enduring alleged beatings from the police and mistreatment in their prisons because they want to stand up for their vision of how the world should be. Amnesty International heard about their imprisonment, wrote about it in their many media outlets, and now thousands of people are writing letters and emails demanding the release of these two men. (See

The written word strikes again.

As a writer, I think about written language all the time, and how powerful it is. Perhaps more than any other technology, (and writing is a technology,) written language liberates people from the barbarism of primitive thinking. Written laws, written news, written letters, written books... These are the greatest marks of civilization.

Personally, the written word has liberated me from the little world I lived in. Books opened me up, helped me believe in love, and a future for myself. Writing has, many times, quite literally saved me. Hopefully writing will save Stephen and Tiwonge, too.

How has writing saved you?

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Girl Writes Guy, Guy Writes Girl

I’ve written from a teen boy’s perspective now a few times, and I often wonder why this feels natural for me. Is it because I was close to my father, or that my brother and I have always been the best of friends? The fact that I have two boys surely factors in, and I can’t discount the influence of my brother’s five boys or my sister’s one.

I know guys well, that’s for sure, including the loudmouthed, wisecracking hordes my son brings home, who lounge in our living room, playing Grand Theft Auto, watching Spike TV and inadvertently dropping Dorito pieces and sports gear around the coffee table.

Some women scriveners writing YA in the first person male voice only use their first initials, such as K.L. Going (FAT KID RULES THE WORLD and KING OF THE SCREWUPS) and L. K. Madigan (FLASH BURNOUT). I’ve considered this form of penname. Seems a shame though, to think that in order to accumulate a substantial male readership one feels she must hide her true identity. Besides, with Amazon’s Author Pages, readers can easily see that K. L. Going is a spunky carrot-topped young lady

and Madigan is an older woman with a friendly, wise smile.

The inverse of this “girl writes guy” is revealing. Kevin Brooks doesn’t shy away from using his full name, even though he’s written multiple female protagonists. Consider his young heroines: Caitlin (LUCAS), a young girl caught up in a dreamlike web with the mythical Lucas, and Dawn (DAWN), who struggles with a father who turns from religious fanaticism to worshipping drugs.

I think about my guy protagonists. With Johar (REFUGEES), I was writing about a guy who was a cultural aberration—a pacifist, expert weaver and wool artesian in Afghanistan where guys get their first guns at five. In my current project, a YA dystopia, FIRESEED ONE, Varik is a very reluctant hero. He’s saddled with his dead father’s vast sea farm, when all he really wants to do is become a doctor. Are these guy issues? Not completely…

Time after time, I reach the same conclusion after a series of connect-the-dot logics. That is, it is the author’s privilege, gift and job, to breathe unique DNA into characters and make them sing. An author’s sex or age doesn’t matter nearly as much as how gifted he or she is in inhabiting a character completely enough to make a Johar or Caitlin real.

Oddly enough, my next character, starting to speak to me is—gasp—a young woman. Her voice is loudly demanding that I tell her story. I just may have to comply.

In the mix.

When you're a beginning writer, your career is a constant struggle, but the struggle is an internal one. You're not yet published, you have no reason to think you ever will be published, and everyone you meet tells you, "You'll never make any money doing that." Despite all these excellent reasons not to write every day, you dutifully go to your desk (kitchen table, corner of the couch, floor of the broom closet...) and you pound out your thoughts on a keyboard (notepad, series of index cards, rock wall of a cave...) You write your first novel, realize that it's terrible, then you rewrite it, and rewrite it again. And again. And again. It takes YEARS to become skilled and disciplined enough to be a published author. That's just the nature of the game, (profession, obsession, masochistic compulsion...)

After years of querying agents and publishers, after loads of rejection and ego-choking indifference from the industry, you finally get your contract, and you're over the moon! You run around your office, (home, back yard, insane asylum where you've been committed by concerned family members...) leaping in the air for JOY! You're PUBLISHED! You've ARRIVED!!!!

And then your book comes out... and you realize that you are competing with thousands of other first time authors. And then you realize that your book is competing with every award winning novel ever written. And then you realize that even if your dream has come true, and you are a published author... Very few people have actually noticed. (Unless you're one of those people who wins the Pulitzer with their first publication, but let's be real. You're not.) And so after years of struggle just to write your first publishable manuscript, you realize that you've got years more of struggle fighting to stand apart from the crowd.

Writers, readers... How do we do it? How do we make sure our voice is heard in the cacaphony of the publishing industry? What do you do to get your 'brand' out there? Is it all in the writing? Or is there something more?

Sunday, May 23, 2010

Bad Blogger

Right on, Amy, for starting this blog and inviting me to contribute. Now, a confession —I am one of the world's worst bloggers. Seriously. I'm like one of those freaky guys at the party who prowls around listening to conversations, and not saying boo. So when it comes to blogging, I'm like der... der... But, If we're going to talk about books, then that's another matter. For instance, I've heard awesome things lately about this book, Zen and Xander Undone. In fact I'm going to buy it right now. No kidding --here I go.

Friday, May 21, 2010

How YA Tribe Began.

I came home from the 2010 Rochester Teen Book Festival feeling like I already missed the amazing writers and readers that I met. There's nothing more interesting or exciting than talking about great books, so I wanted to create a forum for the discussion to continue. I invite guest bloggers from all walks, including teen readers, writers, and librarians. We'll also do lots of book reviews, but all our reviews are of books we LOVE. If we don't love it, we don't review it.

Thanks for stopping by. We hope you stay a while!