Sunday, November 28, 2010

Progress Report: Starting on the Road to Revisions

*Blows the cobwebs off of the blog*

I know I have been neglecting this blog terribly. Some of the reasons for that are good (I've been focused on writing books instead) and some are bad (I've been struggling big time with the writing and it has been a hard year in general, so since I've had nothing nice to say, I haven't been saying anything as I don't want this to be a super negative place), but I hope to get back to regular blogging soon. That may not happen until early next year and I may never blog four or five times a week like I used to, but I promise to share progress reports, bits of inspiration and random thoughts whenever I can. I hope to bring you more frequent Women Who Rock Wednesday interviews next year and I really really hope I'll have good news to share some time in the near future, though that of course is dependent on me finishing a book.

So let's talk about that.

This year I had a very lofty goal: to write two books. I had two ideas that had been brewing for a while. One based in Greek mythology and the other a mother/daughter story wherein the mother is a bartender and the daughter an idealistic, politically driven, punk rock girl. At the beginning of this year that book was a YA and I had high hopes that MTV Books would want to buy it. They didn't. So I started to rework it as an adult book because I was equally as compelled by the mother's story as the daughter's. I thought it would be interesting to watch an eternally young mom finally come of age beside her daughter. I was also interested in writing about that time period at the beginning of college where you discover that the world is not exactly as you imagined it and you have to figure out where you fit (or I did at least.) This is slightly outside of YA territory, though IWBYJR certainly touched on this. But I also wanted the story to be set heavily in a neighborhood bar, which is definitely not YA material. I tried to tell myself that I was okay with the rejection from MTV because it allowed me to write the book I really wanted to write, not force it to fit a certain age range (not that my MTV Books actually did, which may be part of why they didn't sell well, but I'm trying not to think about that.) And I would still write YA--real YA, not crossover like my previous two books--with the Greek Myth based book.

So I alternated back and forth between the two books at the beginning of this year, working on one while the other was either with my agent or on submission as was the case for the 75-page partial of my Greek Mythology book. It was a paranormal, a unique idea that I hadn't seen, so I really hoped it would sell this spring. I kind of pinned all my hopes on it. Then it didn't. My agent and I came to the conclusion that since the economy is bad and I'm far from being a big name, I need to write full manuscripts before she tries to sell them. Since I was in the midst of the adult book (which I've started calling the bartender book) at the time and had written 100 pages that I really loved, we decided I should finish it first.

The new goal was to get it done before my agent went on maternity leave in mid-September. This got pushed back til the end of September when she assured me she'd still be able to read it then. I'd been fast drafting it, just writing as fast as I could with no concern about quality, something I'd never done before, but for some reason I thought I could do that and get the book done in a month and then revise for a month. This only resulted in me hating what I wrote, hating the process of writing, thinking I was no good, and then, right around the time I thought I'd be done, hitting the ultimate writing low. The plot of my book was a mess. It was way too long and I had no idea how to fix it. The rejections I'd gotten earlier in the year caught up with me. Life--the twice-flooded basement, the cats who had been sick for ten months with an illness we could not figure out how to conquer, the feeling of being stuck in Chicago longing to move to Seattle but having no way to do it as a 31 year-old bartender with a bunch of student loan debt and a writer career in shambles--all of that totally caught up with me. And I found myself more depressed than I had been in years, like post-abusive relationship in high school depressed, like sobbing nervous breakdown in the shower depressed. I wrote this blog post about it on the (now-defunct) MTV Books blog (or reprinted here in case that disappears at some point). I was brutally honest, which is something I can't help even though it hurts me sometimes, but this time it worked out. I got tons of amazing advice. One piece of it was to try National Novel Writing Month.

I had another story idea, a post-apocalyptic sort of thing, that I'd been kicking around for over a year, so I thought I might start that. Then days before NaNo, I stumbled upon another idea for a contemporary YA about a girl who is dealing with her brother's murder and a stifling emotionally abusive relationship. I couldn't decide which book I wanted to write. I tried both, roughly 20 pages of the post-apoc and 15 of the contemporary. These story starts reminded me of why I love to write and reassured me that I can indeed write. But the idea of starting something new while leaving the bartender book incomplete terrified me. I'd gone so far that I had to finish.

Taking a week off and writing other projects gave my mind a break--and the writing of other projects was key. Many of my friends urged me just to relax, not try to write at all, and I did a little bit of that, but if I'm not writing, I'm thinking about writing, so the only way for me to escape one project is to start another.

After I did that, I started mulling over one of the suggestions my critique partner Vanessa had suggested. It involved cutting or minimizing the role of a character that I do quite like and I'm still not entirely sure which I will do, but knowing that I didn't have to deal with him in the last section of the book allowed me to figure out a way to resolve many of the other loose threads. I also broke the scenes down into smaller pieces than I'd originally envisioned, which helped.

I had good days and bad days over the past three weeks, but I kept pushing ahead. Sometimes a scene was nothing but a vague outline--mostly dialogue. Those were the bad days. I've really come to hate writing dialogue. Everyone in this book is far too chatty. But sometimes I really nailed a description or the emotional undercurrent of a scene and those were the good days.

Saturday, I sketched out a last chapter/epilogue. It's very sketchy because there are so many changes I know I'll be making to the book that I'm not entirely sure how I want it to end, so I basically jotted down some possible scenes. Perhaps I will use several of them, perhaps just one. But I decided at that point to call the rough draft finished.

I wish I could say that I felt accomplished or satisfied on some level, but I honestly don't. This may be due in large part to the fact that I didn't write a final scene and couldn't legitimately type THE END. But I think it's also because this is a "rough draft" not a first draft. I usually write a first draft, meaning I have polished it somewhat as I go, I have gone back and fixed what is broken, there are no INSERT SCENE HERE notations. Sure, my first drafts are still very rough and there is a lot of rearranging and editing to be done. I did between five and seven major drafts for my first two books. But the first draft was still a fully written draft unlike this "rough draft," which doesn't even count as complete in my eyes. So yeah, not feeling very satisfied. I just wanted to call the rough draft done because I know it's time to go back to the beginning and figure out the problems with the book and fix them. In fact, it's possible that I should have done that a while ago, but I thought it was important to see exactly what I'm dealing with, ie. how BIG is the story.

The main issue is that there is too much going on and it is too damn long. It's roughly 159,000 words which is at least 59,000 too many. Some of this is the result of my characters being too chatty, but I also know that I still have a lot of scenes to add too, so the idea of cutting the word count that much is incredibly intimidating. I have some ideas of how to do that. There's that pesky character that I either need to trim down or eliminate. There's the beginning, the only part of the book that I have polished and completely love.... which is way too long and I have to figure out how to cut it down a lot. As usual my problem is that my characters have so much backstory and I have to figure out what to use and how to weave it through. I have an idea of how to restructure the beginning, but it involves a complete rewrite of the first four chapters and letting go of that beginning chapter with the perfect opening line that I thought I'd finally nailed. I'm not entirely sure how to start it off. I'm going to have to kill a lot of darlings. I spent three hours of my afternoon at writer's group yesterday trying to plot it out and failing miserably. And today I have to try again.

As freaked out as I am by the daunting task before me, I am not in that ugly place I was in mid-October when I actually told myself that I was going to quit this book and possibly quit writing forever because if I had had any talent in the first place, I'd used it up on the last book.

I love these characters and I want to find a way to tell their story. So this week I'm going to play with the puzzle pieces that make this book up and try to determine a definite way that the need to be arranged. If I absolutely can't figure it out, I will step back and work on those other projects again (though I hope it won't come to that!) And then I will write scene by scene, slowly and carefully the way I prefer to write.

I tried to write this book as fast as I could, allowing myself to be a lot sloppier than I normally would be because I needed to feel like I could finish it. It wasn't very satisfying and I probably won't take this approach again unless I do a lot more outlining first, which is another thing I don't like doing. But I do much prefer revisions so I hope that even though this book has soooooooooooo many problems, they will be easier for me to tackle mentally if I think of it as a revision.

I'm no longer imposing a hard deadline on myself. As much as I would like to say this project will be done by the end of the year, if I do that, it will be done badly. I have a writing retreat coming up from January 8 through 14. At first I was upset at my progress because I wanted to be starting something new on that trip. Then I realized that writing retreats are far more productive for me when I'm in the thick of a project. So ideally, I will be most of the way through the real first draft of the book by then and able to finish it and polish it while on the retreat. Then I can come back and reexamine my other ideas: the post-apocalyptic, the contemporary YA, and that Greek mythology inspired book that I think needs a total make-over.

So, I've gotten to the end of the first leg of the journey. I'm pretty badly bruised and I think I left a lot of blood and rubble on the trail behind me, but I'm eager for the next leg, hopeful that I will hit my stride and not create such a mess this time.

I'll try to update with fun random things when I can as I don't want to be all doom and gloom no matter how much I feel it at times.

So I'll leave you with two fun things to check out.

If you haven't read my latest (and perhaps last for the year though I am trying to line something cool up!) Women Who Rock Wednesday interview with Caridad Ferrer, do it! She is an inspiration and her new book sounds amazing and you can win it! You have until Wednesday to enter!

And as I mentioned in passing, the MTV Books blog has run it's course. Most of us involved aren't writing for MTV Books any more and even though we loved our time there, we decided it was time for something new and to bring some other fabulous authors into the mix. We decided the thread that joined us besides writing for MTV Books was that we all write outside of the lines, we don't write for the market or to follow a trend, we write from our hearts. We collected some other authors that do this as well and YA Outside The Lines was born. I will be blogging there the 13th of every month (lucky 13!) and we have so many great authors on there that there will be new content almost every day, so you should check it out. And in honor of the kick off, I am giving away a signed copy of BALLADS and a copy of one of my old 'zines (which is basically my ballad, if I really think about it, as I put it together right when I was leaving Oak Park and high school.). That contest runs until December 13, so enter it here! And Jenn Echols, who really spearheaded this blog and the MTV Books blog is giving away some of her books there too with a really fun and creative contest, so enter hers as well here.

Thank you for being patient with me as I struggle through my blah period and try to finish this book. Now off to figure out that pesky new beginning I need to write!

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Women Who Rock Wednesday: Caridad Ferrer!

Oh please please forgive me, loyal readers, because I have really let this blog go. I hope to be back soon. I have a good excuse. I've been writing! And not writing for awhile and feeling too frustrated to blog since I had nothing but ugly bad energy to share. But now I'm writing again and the super rough shitty draft might get finished this week and then I'll have a progress report for you all.

But today I have something super special. A Women Who Rock Wednesday interview and giveaway with the lovely Caridad Ferrer!

This isn't just special because WWRW has become a rare thing (another thing I intend to rectify soon), it's because Caridad (or Barb as I know her) is a bit of heroine of mine. She also wrote for MTV Books, two books I treasure dearly ADIOS TO MY OLD LIFE and IT'S NOT ABOUT THE ACCENT. And her journey to this new book, WHEN THE STARS GO BLUE, was quite a long and troubled one, but she didn't give up faith on this incredible, unique story and since I've been struggling in a huge way lately myself, that inspires me big time. WHEN THE STARS GO BLUE is one of the books I've been looking forward to the most this year and I think when you hear about it, you will feel the same way. I'll let Caridad tell you all about and if you want an in depth look at her journey with his book, check that post out here. If you are an aspiring or struggling writer, it will remind you why you write!

But without further adieu, let's meet our woman who rocks, Caridad Ferrer!

And this is the skinny on her new book WHEN THE STARS GO BLUE:

A dancer driven to succeed.

A musical prodigy attempting to escape his past.

The summer they share.

And the moment it all goes wrong.

Dance is Soledad Reyes’s life. About to graduate from Miami’s Biscayne High School for the Performing Arts, she plans on spending her last summer at home teaching in a dance studio,
saving money, and eventually auditioning for dance companies. That is, until fate intervenes in the form of fellow student Jonathan Crandall who has what sounds like an outrageous
proposition: Forget teaching. Why not spend the summer performing in the intense environment of the competitive drum and bugle corps? The corps is going to be performing Carmen, and the opportunity to portray the character of the sultry gypsy proves too tempting for Soledad to pass up, as well as the opportunity to spend more time with Jonathan, who intrigues her in a way no boy ever has before.

But in an uncanny echo of the story they perform every evening, an unexpected competitor
for Soledad's affections appears: Taz, a member of an all-star Spanish soccer team. One
explosive encounter later Soledad finds not only her relationship with Jonathan threatened, but her entire future as a professional dancer.

Q: Please tell us what your new book is about and what inspired you to write it.

Caridad: Well, the framework/inspiration for the story is Bizet's famed opera, CARMEN, probably the most popular opera in history. Even people who swear they've never heard a note of opera, have in all likelihood, heard something from CARMEN because its music has permeated pop culture to a huge extent. NPR says anyone who's ridden in an elevator or waited at the doctor's office has probably heard something from CARMEN. And the story the music supports is absolutely fantastic-- a love triangle with passion, betrayal, forbidden attraction... it's pretty much got it all. Another important component of my version is the setting, which is competitive drum and bugle corps, an activity with which I was heavily involved as an adolescent. It's an intense and passionate pursuit-- the sort of thing you have to really love in order to do it, because of the massive amounts of work involved. I'd been looking for an opportunity to set a book in that world and reimagining Carmen within a contemporary setting just seemed to provide the perfect fodder.

Basically, I have a dancer (Soledad) who's approached by a driven musician classmate (Jonathan) to become part of a drum and bugle corps for the summer. They're performing CARMEN and he thinks she's perfect to dance the lead role. He also happens to be harboring a long-time crush on her and sees this as his last opportunity to get to know her before college and adulthood might separate them forever. Soledad falls just as hard for Jonathan and everything is great for a while until Taz, a Spanish soccer player comes into the picture, stirring up all sorts of emotions in Soledad and driving a wedge between her and Jonathan, playing out much in the way the love triangle in CARMEN does, so I have the whole "story within the story" construct going on as well.

Q: If there was a soundtrack for your book what are five songs that would be on it and how do they relate the story?

Caridad: As a matter of fact... *g* I published an iMix of just ONE of the many soundtracks I created for STARS. This was one of the "emotional" soundtracks with songs that relate to each of the characters. It's sort of all over the place, stylistically, but everything kind of works together somehow.

As far as five songs-- well, the first mentioned has to be the song from which my title is taken: Ryan Adams' WHEN THE STARS GO BLUE, although my preferred version is The Corrs w/ Bono. The lyrics of that song are just so poignant and on so many different levels fit the love triangle of Jonathan/Soledad/Taz.

Song two would probably be AMOR GITANO by Alejandro Fernández and Beyoncé. Normally, I can't tolerate Beyoncé's voice, but it actually blends really nicely with Alejandro's and something about singing in Spanish seems to temper some of the nasally quality that normally bugs me. The song itself is a track that was recorded as the theme song for a telenovela (Spanish-language soap opera) based on the legend of Zorro, so there was that whole gypsy/rebel/romantic draw to it. It's also very driving and exciting.

Song three is EL TANGO DE ROXANNE from the Moulin Rouge soundtrack. In the book, this is the song Soledad dances to for her corps audition and which eventually becomes part of the corps show as a whole. It sets the stage for the huge, emotional climax. Another reason I love it is because I'm a shameless Sting/Police fangirl and this is just such a beautiful example of how a good song can be reinterpreted in a multitude of ways, all of them powerful and gut-wrenching in their own way.

Song four is FRAGILE by Sting (remember that fangirling? Yeah.) Anyhow, this song, because of its slight Latin feel and the lyrics that just rip me to shreds:

On and on the rain will fall
Like tears from a star like tears from a star
On and on the rain will say
How fragile we are how fragile we are

Again, just so poignant and so true to this story for me.

Finally, song five is John Mayer's DREAMING WITH A BROKEN HEART

I actually fought hard against this one, because I was SO not a John Mayer lover. But the entire Continuum CD was an eye-opener and this song was again, just an emotional gut punch, especially for Jonathan's character. To me, this is sort of his song.

Q: Who were some of your inspirations to become a writer or the inspirations that keep you writing? Feel free to include other authors, teachers, parents, or people in other creative fields, whoever is an inspiration to you!

Caridad: I have always been a storyteller and writing kind of evolved naturally from that-- it was something that always came very easily to me. For me, the trick was learning how to harness and refine those gifts, which is an ongoing process. One of the first inspirations I had was a college journalism professor who told me when I was fifteen that I was a crappy journalist, but a really exceptional writer. (He also apparently told my mother that he had a strong feeling and hope I'd one day become a novelist. Sadly, he died of cancer before he could learn that he was right. About a lot.)

Hopefully, I don't sound like a pretentious git, but I find myself constantly learning from my peers and from reading any and everything. The other huge factor and inspiration in my writing is music. It's my anchor and the source of so many of my story ideas and so much of the emotion that I pour into my work.

Q: Even though music plays in so heavily into my storytelling, I rarely can actually listen to it while I'm writing. Can you? How does music fit into your writing process?

Caridad: Oh, I can definitely listen to music while writing-- as a matter of fact, I'm like Pavlov's dog with music (except without the drool). I'll create multiple soundtracks for a work in progress and use it to get me in the mood of the story or scene or character I'm trying to evoke. Even years later I can play a soundtrack and find myself immediately back in the world of the book.

Q: What is next for you? What are you working on now?

Caridad: Well, I just finished an adult fiction manuscript that was nearly three years in the making-- it's set in the 1960s and was both a lot of fun to write as well as being one of the hardest things I've ever done. Now I'm just waiting to hear back from my agent on what she thinks. In the meantime, I've started a new YA idea-- something new and different for me, genre & style wise. I'm writing in third person POV for the first time in absolute ages and I'm petrified-- I'm also writing with paranormal elements for the first time and did I mention I'm petrified??

Q: I have two questions that I always ask my Women Who Rock, the first is a two-parter. What was the first album you bought and the first concert you attended? Be honest, we don't judge, we like to see the roots of our women who rock!

Caridad: Okay, very first album I bought was The Beatles Abbey Road. To this day, remains one of my favorite albums EVER. First concert was Rick Springfield on his Working Class Hero tour after Jesse's Girl had become such a huge hit. He was an AMAZING live performer-- just really fun and dynamic and sounded GOOD. And in a delicious bit of coincidence, he's going to be signing copies of his autobiography at my local indie bookstore three days before I have my one scheduled reading/signing for STARS!

Q: Tell us about your biggest rock star moment, perhaps it's a moment of real success in your career, a time when you met someone super cool and had that Wayne's World "I'm not worthy" moment, or just a time where you felt like you got the rock star treatment. I get a huge variety of answers for the questions, so it's pretty much whatever "rock star moment" means to you!

Caridad: Okay, without a doubt, the most rock star moment I experienced in my career to date was when I won the Romance Writers of America RITA with my first YA, ADIÓS TO MY OLD LIFE. Winning an award like that is amazing enough, but the fact that I won in the Best Contemporary Single Title Romance category elevated it to absolute Rock Star moment. I was only in that category because we hadn't had enough entries to make the YA category that year and I really wanted to stay in competition for Best First Novel. To my shock, I finaled in both categories, and to my even bigger shock, it was in ST that I won, given that I was a young adult novel going up against some amazing adult romances. Hearing the title of my book called out and going up on stage and accepting that gorgeous gold statue still stands as just one of the most surreal moments of my entire life.

Today's Contest:

Yeah, like I said, this is one of my most highly anticipated books of year. After hearing more about it, I'm guessing you want WHEN THE STARS GO BLUE as well and you are in luck! Caridad is offering up a copy!

Please note that due to postage costs, this contest is for US residents/mailing addresses only.

To enter all you have to do is leave a comment. However you can gain additional entries:

+1 for tweeting or posting on facebook about this interview
+1 for tweeting or posting about WHEN THE STARS GO BLUE.
+5 for blogging about WHEN THE STARS GO BLUE

Note your additional entries in your comment as well as giving me an email address or some way to contact you if you win. Because I will be drawing the winner next Wednesday and more likely than not, simply emailing them rather than announcing it so please please please leave a way to contact you if you enter.

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

GCC Presents: Daisy Whitney!

I'm proud to present Daisy Whitney as part of the Girlfriends Cyber Circuit tour! Her debut novel, MOCKINGBIRDS, is out today and it sounds absolutely amazing, a truly empowering read for teens and the kind of book I was searching for at sixteen. I can't wait to get my own copy this weekend and I think this interview will convince you that you must buy it as well. But first the details on the book.

Some schools have honor codes.
Others have handbooks.
Themis Academy has the Mockingbirds.

Themis Academy is a quiet boarding school with an exceptional student body that the administration trusts to always behave the honorable way--the Themis Way. So when Alex is date raped during her junior year, she has two options: stay silent and hope someone helps her, or enlist the Mockingbirds--a secret society of students dedicated to righting the wrongs of their fellow peers.

In this honest, page-turning account of a teen girl's struggle to stand up for herself, debut author Daisy Whitney reminds readers that if you love something or someone--especially yourself--you fight for it.

"Bold, intense and timely." - Publishers Weekly, starred review

Q: Please tell us what your new book is about and what inspired you to write it.

Daisy: I’ve always been intrigued by boarding school and also by the potential teens have to take a stand for what’s important. THE MOCKINGBIRDS - an underground student-run justice system - was born from those twin thoughts as a way to look at what it takes to stand up for yourself and for others.

Q: If there was a soundtrack for your book what are five songs that would be on it and how do they relate the story?


Ode to Joy - Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony

Wake Up - Arcade Fire

Stop, Hey, What’s That Sound - Buffalo Springfield

Black - Pearl Jam

Being Alive - Raul Esparza

Ode to Joy is a character in the novel, Wake Up and Stop, Hey are great songs about justice and taking a stand, Being Alive is a celebration of love, happiness and hope, and Black is just a great song!

Q: Who were some of your inspirations to become a writer or the inspirations that keep you writing? Feel free to include other authors, teachers, parents, or people in other creative fields, whoever is an inspiration to you!

Daisy: I am inspired every day by the amazing things teens do - helping in their community, speaking up for their friends, taking a stand for what’s right. They inspire me as so great writers like Emily Giffin, Courtney Summers, Gayle Forman, JK Rowling and Andre Aciman.

Q: Even though music plays in so heavily into my storytelling, I rarely can actually listen to it while I'm writing. Can you? How does music fit into your writing process?

Daisy: I MUST listen to music when I write on planes or coffee shops to drown out the sounds of conversation. Otherwise, I like the sound of silence.

Q: What is next for you? What are you working on now?

Daisy: I just turned in a sequel to THE MOCKINGBIRDS, and I am now revising an edgy, sexy, mystery-caper story and just started a new novel about a boy that I’m really digging too!