Thursday, October 28, 2010

First Drafts & First Chapters (Re-posted from the MTV Books Blog)

And continuing in this week's theme. Next in my journey this year, a blog entry from mid-June, a month after my writer's high. This is all about beginnings and first drafts. I actually still think the beginning of the bartender book might be wrong. This might be the most useful post for those of you getting ready to start a new book next week:

For the past week I've been struggling with the first chapter of my work-in-progress (some of you know I have two works in progress, but in this case I mean the bartender book).

This book has had many different first chapters. To be far, I started writing it without really categorizing it (much like I did with I Wanna Be Your Joey Ramone). Then I decided that I should try to write a book that was solidly YA. The partial I wrote didn't sell and I realized it's because the story was all wrong so I started it over as a book that will appeal to both adults and teens, but likely be called "women's fiction." (I really still hate labels as much as a I did as kid... so restrictive.) Anyway, the story is on the right path and I struggled so long with writing the perfect first chapter. And then I had one of those rare moments of clarity: my fighting cats jumped on my bed and I realized, Bar fight! Perfect!

Only it wasn't. My agent read it and pointed out it's flaws. I grumbled about it, pondered for a few days and realized she was right. Then I got this brilliant vision for the perfect intro that would capture the characters and the place and be chock full of imagery. I thought it would be about five pages. Right now it's a twenty-five page mess. *Sigh*

So what's a girl to do? Go back and look at drafts of old novels and reassure myself that I always suck in the beginning and things will be okay.

Well, um as it turns out the first paragraph of I Wanna Be Your Joey Ramone has been virtually the same give or take a word since day one. Okay, so I knew the beginning of that book pretty well, but I struggled in other places. There was a terrible case of writer's block 2/3rds of the way through the first draft. And that book went through so many titles....

Ballads of Suburbia was a little more fun to re-examine. It only had one other title. The version of it that I wrote during my first year at Columbia College was called The Morning After, which was what I'd always wanted to name a band when I was in high school. I wrote a full draft of The Morning After and honestly, it's probably a completely different book except there is a main character named Kara with boyfriends named Adrian and Christian and she also has a more innocent fling with a guy named Liam. Her brother in that version is named Sam and I guess ultimately I decided those characters should be merged and that I liked the name Liam better. Speaking of names, Maya was Lana and Cass was Acacia (she would be Ava for most of the time I wrote Ballads actually, before one of my critique partners pointed out that I had too many names with double a's). Oh and while I use the real name of the park that the characters hang out in, Scoville Park, I give the town a fake name, Lincoln Prairie. I'm not sure what I thought I was doing there... Instead of starting the book with Kara returning to her hometown four years after a heroin overdose, I started with Kara returning to Scoville Park in the spring of her junior year after not hanging out with her friends for some time because she's been trapped in an emotionally abusive relationship with Christian. This was actually much more autobiographical than Kara's storyline in Ballads ended up being.

It starts with a very melodramatic reference to Kurt Cobain's suicide involving shotguns shoved down scratchy, song-torn throats and "exquisitely scarred poetry." *shudders* The whole thing is so overwrought and angsty, that I can't even bear to post the first paragraph, but here's a line describing the park that I still like for some reason even though it makes NO sense.

The bark of the trees smelled like ashtrays and through the sparse tufts of grass there was a muddy path that lead to where they all sat in the sun staring at a statue dedicated to soldiers who fought in long gone wars that they didn’t remember, understand what was fought for, or feel what was lost or won.

I don't why on earth I felt that tree bark could smell like ashtrays, but I still like the idea of it. Somehow it's so very Scoville Park.

Basically the first chapter of "The Morning After" is beyond cringe-inducing. I learned *a lot* from going to school for writing.... but my first drafts are still usually way off from how the book ends up.

This is the beginning of the first chapter of the first real version of Ballads, which I started writing in my last semester of grad school while my agent shopped I Wanna Be Your Joey Ramone.

Now at this point I came up with the idea for starting with the epilogue and it is largely the same except for some extraneous information about Stacey and Cass (who was called Ava at the time) that I cut:

Sirens and lights welcomed me back to the suburbs of Chicago after my four-and-a-half year absence. It seemed fitting. Symbolic, considering they had also heralded my exit. And it could not have happened anywhere else: only a Berwyn cop would pull Stacey over for rolling a stop sign, cash in on her total lack of insurance, but not notice the pot smoke lingering in Stacey’s long, auburn ponytail, my cropped, black hair, and beneath both of our winter coats.

Stacey had spent two hours on the phone convincing me to come back from California for winter break that year. I planned to spend the first three nights with her, her husband, Jason, and their four year old daughter, Lina—a situation I was still having trouble grasping at twenty. My mother didn’t even know I was back yet, nor did the only other high school friend I’d kept in touch with, Ava. Stacey was the one who needed me.

Ava had turned out to be more stable than any of us, devoted to nursing school and her boyfriend of two years whom she lived with in Wicker Park (as Stacey said, “Only losers like me still live around Oak Park.”). Ava had managed to pull together a completely normal life while Stacey was a walking disaster and I vacillated in between the two of them. I had the successful-college-student, laid-back-west-coast-transplant fa├žade, but I hadn’t stuck it out and healed like Ava. I’d run, and the reason I hadn’t risked coming home was because I feared that if I did, I’d find out that I was still the same fucked up kid I’d been at seventeen, like Stacey thought she was.

Right before we got pulled over, Stacey was saying, “God, Kara, I’m such a fuck up. The night Jason took Lina, I tried to drown myself in the bathtub.” She rolled her cerulean eyes and exhaled a dark, nicotine-tinged laugh. “Do you know how hard that is? Your body really fights to survive even when your heart is broke so bad and your mind wants to die. I laid in the tub swilling tequila for hours, till the water was ice cold, dunking my head underneath, and trying to force myself to stay down. I fell asleep in there, but I didn’t fucking die. I woke up wet and miserable and still without my kid. So I begged Jason to take me back. Told him I’d sober up, that I wouldn’t cheat again, and I’m working on it, ‘cause I need my baby with me.”

We were on East Avenue between Cermak and Roosevelt Road where there’s a stop sign, like, every block. Stacey paused at them all, tapping her brakes, then moving on. I mean, honestly, when there’s no traffic, what Chicago driver comes to a full stop? “Fucking motherfuck!” Stacey cursed. “Don’t the goddamn Berwyn cops have anything else to do? Shit!” She slapped the steering wheel hard with the heel of her hand as I turned my head to gaze at the flashing red and blue behind us.

Then there is the actual chapter one of the book (the chapter after the epilogue since my epilogue functions as a prologue...)

It’s the ballads I like best on movie soundtracks—hell, on any album. And I’m not talking about the kind of song where a diva hits her highest note while singing about love or a rock band tones it down a couple of notches for all the ladies out there (though Poison’s “Every Rose Has It’s Thorn” is a classic, by rights). I mean a true ballad, according to the dictionary definition: a song that tells a story in short stanzas and simple words, with repetition, refrain, etc. I’m talking about the punk rocker or the country crooner telling us the story of their life in three minutes, belting out that chorus a few times to remind us of the way they messed up love and success yet again. That’s the music I’ve gotta face, my own cycle of despair.

But my story is going to take a little longer than three minutes to tell even though the concept is pretty basic: the fallen girl child. Like Persephone from the book of Greek mythology I got for Christmas in second grade. Maybe I imagined myself to be Athena, but my tiny fingers traced the drawing of little Persephone, hands thrown to the air, mouth open in a scream as Hades took her away from the bright sunshine and flowery existence that she had known. Even though her mother would eventually save her, Persephone was doomed to relive her mistakes with every winter, with every chorus. And she probably never got to be the perfect, beautiful goddess she was supposed to be.

I am definitely not the girl I was supposed to be, the genius girl that my parents, teachers, and guidance counselors wanted to mold. And I don’t mean the kind of girl who works on movie soundtracks, that’s fine, I suppose. I mean, I’m a functional human being with a career path, but I’m marred. Like Persephone, I’m an ice queen on the inside instead of content like I used to be, all because I wasn’t supposed to stumble down that path, take those turns, follow those curves. And I don’t really know how it happened. It’s like one day I got out of bed and then I closed my eyes—you know, the reverse of what you are supposed to when you wake up in the morning. Starting in the spring of my sophomore year of high school, I did that every day for a little over a year.

Cue the music here. Cue Dinah Washington crooning “What a Diff’rence a Day Makes!” But that’s already been done and that’s not my ballad, mine would be something by PJ Harvey or the Screaming Trees because if Ms. Polly Jean and Mr. Mark Lanegan had a bastard child, it would be me.

I’ll begin with the setting of my movie, what you’d see as the opening credits rolled: Oak Park, Illinois. Oak Park isn’t one of those suburbs—you know, the type with no grid system, no streets or avenues, all courts and lanes that twist through subdivisions, which center on a strip mall or a manmade lake. No, it’s nothing like that. It doesn’t have what Maya’s grandmother would call “ticky-tacky box houses”—you know, where the only thing that varies from one house to the next is the paintjob. Pale blue, pale gray, and a bunch of other shades of pale that god knows how you tell apart at night, especially if you’re drunk or stoned. I’ve heard stories about kids walking into their neighbors’ houses, accidentally climbing into bed with their friend’s sister, and getting the cops called on them. But I don’t know anything about it first- or even second hand.

‘Cause I didn’t grow up in one of those suburbs with wide lawns and narrow minds. Even though Hemingway coined that phrase about Oak Park, I’ll give it more credit that that. The lawns were broad and beautiful, true, but the people kept their minds open for the most part. I just can’t say the same about their eyes—not when it came to their kids. But, you know, it was the early nineties and there was a recession and property taxes were high and the kids needed stuff—well, we needed something and we let stuff be that thing. Anyway, everybody’s parents seemed to work long hours in Chicago, that’s where their minds and eyes were most of the time.

Of course, we didn’t live in one of those suburbs with an hour commute into the city—in fact, you can just cross Austin Boulevard and there you are on the west side of Chicago. But Oak Park is definitely not the city, which made a big difference to me because I lived on the south side of Chicago in Morgan Park until the summer before second grade when my dad got promoted. My brother, Liam, was about to enter kindergarten and my parents decided he should do so in “better public schools” now that they could afford them. Even though I didn’t really remember the old neighborhood, I claimed it as my real home for years because I didn’t want to be a suburban kid. It felt like a stigma I didn’t deserve. I mean, I remember that winter when Maggie Young, the most popular girl in the class of 1990 at Washington Irving Elementary, came up to me and asked if my coat had a YKK zipper. When I checked, responded that it didn’t, and Maggie made it into another reason to shun me—we were seven, for fuck’s sake!—I knew I could never be one of those kids from the suburbs.

The final book version of the first chapter begins with:

The summer before I entered second grade and my brother Liam started kindergarten, Dad got the promotion he’d been after for two years and my parents had enough money to move us from the south side of Chicago to its suburb, Oak Park.

Then I describe Oak Park briefly and we go into a scene with Maggie Young--an actual brief scene not just Kara's narration of it.

In the original first chapter, Kara sounds a lot more like Emily from I Wanna Be Your Joey Ramone, which is fair because I'd just finished that book, so I was stuck in her voice. She also explains a lot, tells instead of shows, which is a MAJOR first draft problem for me, but I also think it's part of the process for me to get to know the characters. I needed to know that Kara was the bastard child of a PJ Harvey and a Screaming Trees song. (I actually wrote that down on a sticky note somewhere and listened to both of those artists repeatedly during revisions.) Like I wrote those few lines in the epilogue about Cass/Ava because I needed to know that she became a nurse. I needed to know that Kara wanted to be Athena but was drawn toward Persephone... though actually that was also me. The original version of Ballads had more references to Greek Mythology that I cut because I thought that was better saved for another book.

Actually, now that I've gone through this whole analysis, I'm not sure I feel better. I'm half-worried that the newest version of the first chapter of my bartender book will end up cut to pieces.... though wait, didn't I want to trim it down? Maybe this will help me. I guess I should go find out.

As for my fellow writers out there. Do you write crappy first drafts? Do you do a lot of voice-heavy telling instead of showing like I do? Or what are your early draft bad habits?

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Rediscovering the Writer's High (A Re-post from the MTV Books blog)

Continuing to follow the journey of my writing this year so far. Here is a post from the middle of May when I was blissfully happy about the bartender book. This is actually super depressing to re-read right now because as of yesterday, I pretty much gave up on this book. Hopefully it's not a permanent giving up because I love this story and these characters. They gave me my passion back briefly. But for the past month, it's been killing me. Ugh I don't know what to do.

Anyway from better times:

Last night I told my husband we were going out to celebrate. We went to the really good Mexican place, the one we can't really afford and we even got an appetizer (it was basically mashed potatoes wrapped in a crunchy corn tortilla with chocolate mole sauce. Seriously chocolate smothered mashed potatoes! How could I resist?) and coconut margaritas. Earlier while I was running errands, I swung by the new location of Bleeding Heart Bakery (which isn't actually that new, I just hadn't gotten over there yet so it was new to me) and picked up vegan cupcakes.

What was the cause for celebration?

As I told my husband, I haven't sold a book and sometimes lately it's felt like that will never happen again, but on Thursday (the 13th, which if you read my blog entry on here is my lucky number so I did time that intentionally), I sent 100 pages of writing that I was very pleased with to my agent and I've spent the past few days on an incredible writer's high--you know, like a runner's high, total adrenaline driven exhilaration?--and I haven't felt that way in over a year. I am officially in love with writing again and I wanted to celebrate it!

I've been really struggling for about a year now. Struggling to balance my writing with promotion of my books that are already out. Struggling with my own perfectionism. Struggling to find my rhythm. Struggling with the disappointments of my career. Struggling to find direction for it.

BALLADS OF SUBURBIA came out. It was a book that was very difficult to write, a book that caused me several nervous breakdowns including one just a day before the revision was due in January of 2009 when I realized the manuscript was 4,000 words too long and I had to cut and rearrange things. My editor told me to take a couple extra days and just do what I had to do. I think I spent the first of those days sobbing and rocking myself and probably making my husband, who had just proposed to me at Christmas reconsider if he really wanted to marry this crazy lady. Then I did what I had to do with the help of my critique partners who were staying up just as late as I was to re-read and comment on the revised sections I sent them. And when I finally sent that manuscript in, I'd never felt more accomplished. Then a few weeks before it was due to land on shelves, I found out that the print run was being slashed in half and I needed to stop what I was doing (which was happily writing) and promote the hell out of it, which I did, but it still came out to very little fanfare because it was a second book and the economy was in the toilet. It didn't get reviewed by PW or Kirkus, both of whom I wanted another shot with because, dammit, I felt this book was awesome and better than my first one. I hardly ever even saw it in bookstores.

And that's about the time when I became bitter. I also started pushing myself really hard because I needed to sell another book. It felt like my life depended on it.

I don't churn out books as fast as many of my peers seem to. It might seem like I'm quick because BALLADS came out a year after I WANNA BE YOUR JOEY RAMONE, but I actually came up with the basic plot for BALLADS and wrote a shitty draft of it two years before I started writing IWBYJR. It took me three years to write IWBYJR. And while I was working on IWBYJR, my brain was working BALLADS out. Then IWBYJR took a year to sell and another year from sale to publication so I had two years to work on BALLADS. Once I hit my stride, I can really move, but it takes me a long time to wrap my head around a book. Maybe if I did more prep work like really detailed outlining and character sketches, it would be different, but I've tried to do these things and it's just not how I function. I cook in a similar fashion. I skim the recipe and then I just dive in. I have moments of panic because I really should have cut up a bunch of things first or I didn't realize how long a certain step was going to take and dinner was supposed to be ready NOW, but it all works out in the end. Oh and I never measure the spices. I throw in what I think it needs and then I usually end up adding things the recipe didn't even call for. That's just my personality.

So when I write, I start with a concept and a couple characters. When I wrote IWBYJR, I wanted to write a girl rock star book to pay homage to female musicians I loved growing up. I had Emily. I had Louisa (though she was from a separate short story, but I quickly realized she needed to be Emily's mom) and then I just started writing a bunch of scenes with them. I'd stop and outline from time to time. I'd ponder structure and arrangement. I knew exactly where I wanted to the story to begin and eventually I figured out how I wanted it to end. With BALLADS, I knew I wanted to write about the darker, ugly side of suburbia, the things no one talked about when I was growing up within it. I had Kara, Christian, Adrian and Maya. I knew Kara would overdose on heroin. It wasn't til I re-envisioned it from that first shitty draft that I knew it would begin with that overdose and then go back and tell the story of how she got there.

But last year, I felt panicked. Needed to sell another book ASAP. I had a couple ideas that had been stewing, one of them since fall of 2007 when I started toying with some characters in between working on revisions of IWBYJR and finishing a draft of BALLADS for my agent. There was a daughter who was very responsible and very politically aware, kind of an older Lisa Simpson or, actually, a lot like I had been as a sixteen year-old riot grrrl. Her mother was a free-spirited bartender. Then there was another book dealing with grief and music and Greek Mythology. That book, I realized via discussion with my agent, needed to have paranormal elements, something I've read a lot of but never tried to write. It would take me longer, so we decided that I would work on the first idea first and use that for my option book with MTV. We also decided that since my books keep falling in this black hole between YA and adult that I would skew it more YA even though I would lose a lot of the bartender mother character that I loved. I wrote fifty pages of it, sent it into MTV and turned to the paranormal book. I plotted and outlined a lot more than usual with the paranormal book because it was new ground.

We got word back from MTV Books after three long months. The answer was no. A very sad, filled with regrets No, but still No. My bubble burst.

But then there was talk of what if the book was skewed more adult than YA and pitched to a different Simon & Schuster imprint. This conversation inspired me. The book had felt wrong anyway as a YA. It was missing something. I told my agent I wanted to take a crack at it as an adult novel, but first I wanted to finish the partial of my paranormal which I was very excited about. I thought this was going to be *the* novel. My big break. The concept seemed incredibly unique. It was different from what I'd done but still had the feminist punk edge that comes naturally to me. I finished the partial. At that point my agent and I had been going back and forth for a year with it (because at first I was resistant to it being paranormal). Finally, we both felt it was good enough. It went out. I turned my attention to back to the other project, but I was distracted because any day now my brilliant concept was going to sell.

I am not usually an optimistic person. I've struggled with depression since childhood. As a teen, I medicated by cutting and in my early twenties I medicated with alcohol. Finally I got on track and mediated with writing. I'm a newlywed who is very much in love and I've sold two books. My life is good and I am supposed to be happy. And yet, due to my personality or brain chemistry or whatever, I am still prone toward negativity and depression. I can't help it and it frustrates the hell out of me. But I was really really optimistic about this paranormal book. So optimistic that I was able to put the No from MTV Books behind me with remarkable ease.

But then it didn't happen. The paranormal didn't sell in the blink of an eye like I'd hoped it would. My dream editor passed on it as did several others. All positive rejections, many of which stated that it was too big of a risk to buy on partial, but if I wrote the full they'd look at it again. But I was crushed. And I found out about this three weeks ago on my husbands birthday--his thirtieth no less. And I had a total meltdown on his birthday (after the celebrating, I managed to force my way through that, trying to be unselfish, though he could totally tell I was bummed). HUGE meltdown. I think the MTV rejection finally hit me then too. I was screwed. I was not good enough. I would never sell another book. I would never be able to make a living off of this and this is the only thing I love doing. I'd be a bartender forever. A bartender with a master's in writing. What a failure. I told my husband he should leave me because I was a loser. Yeah, seriously, I was fucked up. I haven't been *that* bad since the cutting and heavy drinking years.

But hubby is a freakin' saint so he talked me off the ledge and I woke up the next morning to an email from Jeri Smith-Ready who has become a real mentor to me (and she has a new book out that is brilliant and you should buy it, SHADE, check it out), who also said some very wise things including pointing out that selling on partial had become really hard to do and I should consider writing the full, which I probably will end up doing if the one editor on my agent's primary list who still has it, ends up rejecting it. Right then, though I had another thing to work on, the YA to adult conversion of the book that MTV Books said no to, but there was a glimmer of hope that it could be reconsidered as an adult book for a different imprint.

I had to write my way through my depression like I had in my early twenties, but HOLY COW was I distracted. I had emails to answer and blogs I wanted to write and twitter and facebook. I'd taken an approach where I was forcing myself to write an hour and a half at a time and then I could take a fifteen minute break. It was my way of weaning myself off of my many distractions. However, since I was spending so much time just sitting and staring at the blinking cursor, I decided I need to try something new. The fast and shitty rough draft. This wasn't an entirely new concept to me. In fact, it's basically how I got scenes started in my workshops in college. We'd always have to write in class in the teacher would coach us through some seeing-in-the-mind exercises to visualize our scene and then instruct us to write as much as we could as fast as we could and that would get me going, then I'd go home and revise. It worked quite well for me. So, two weeks before I had the total meltdown, I'd decided that since I knew generally speaking how I wanted the first 100 pages to evolve, that I would just speed write my way through them.

I'd done that and was ready to revise and had told my agent (stupidly) that I'd have 100 pages ready for her eyes in a week. Then I had the total meltdown, but I woke up the next morning after the pep talk from my husband, got the email from Jeri, and both things reminded me that I was a writer and what I had to do was write. In fact, writing was all I could do. And fortunately revising is that part I really love. Getting that first draft down is painful for me. I like having the words on the page, no matter how bad they are and then puzzling with them and making them work.

But those hundred pages of words REALLY sucked. They were mostly dialogue and very rambly. Still I dove in and I quickly realized there was no way in hell that I would be able to finish in a week. So I emailed my agent and told her, I'd need at least one more week. She said no biggie, it was just a soft deadline. And I continued to puzzle. I was still distracted by email and twitter and blogging occasionally, but I was no longer needing my breaks after every hour and a half of writing time.

Then two days before my second soft deadline, I realized I'd really screwed something up. There are two major catalysts in this book that push my characters onto a new path. I'd written one of those catalysts like an afterthought, told it in a flashback because I'd been in a rush to get to a certain point. This is definitely one of the pitfalls of the fast and dirty drafting method. Sometimes you go off in the wrong direction and end up way off the path your book needs to go on. Fortunately this happened toward the end of my 100 pages, but it meant I'd have to change around the beginning and the structure of the chapters, both of which I'd been struggling with. Actually, I realized, I needed to change my timeline. At first, I didn't think I could. The book involves a pregnancy obviously certain things have to happen at certain times to make a pregnancy storyline realistic. It also involved one character briefly going to jail, but again, the timing needed to be realistic. Fortunately I have a neonatal nurse mother and a lawyer brother, so I picked their brains and was able to adjust my timeline.

I went to my bartending job with my head in the book, trying to puzzle out how to readjust the structure and the beginning. The story alternates between the 39 year-old bartender mother and the 18 year-old daughter. I'd started with the daughter because I was more comfortable with her. She is just a couple years older than the YA characters I'm used to writing. But it had been nagging me all along that since this was supposed to be an adult book, I should probably start with the mom. I needed the right scene for her though and I couldn't figure it out.

I served drinks and made notes, served drinks, made notes. Kind of wished that all my customers would leave so I could focus, but told myself that being half-focused was good because it would allow my mind to work. This was probably the first sign that passion was finally returning to my writing. I wanted to write. I wanted to figure my story out. I didn't feel like it was an obligation, something I had to force myself to do like I have been for the past year.

By the end of the night, I still hadn't figured things out, but my cats solved that problem for me the next morning. I'd been tossing and turning, barely sleeping and frustrated about it because I knew I needed to get up and write. Now I had a new personal deadline- May 13th, lucky 13, I had to meet it. Then, right as I finally was sleeping, the freaking cats jumped on the bed, fighting. I scolded them and then I jumped out of bed, thanking them because I knew the scene I needed to write: a bar fight.

It took me all day to write eight pages, much longer than I wanted to spend on them, but I thought it worked. I sent it to my critique partners to see what they thought, asking them to take a peek at it over the weekend if they could. One of them got back to me in less than 12 hours (the nice thing about having a CP in Australia is when you send her things at night, it's morning for her and sometimes she can get them back very quickly) with a couple of suggestions, but overall she loved the idea. So Saturday, I incorporated her suggestions and some new ideas of my own and worked until I had to go to the bar. No twitter, no facebook, no email. No time for it. I was writing. The next day was Mother's Day, so I took it off to be with my mom. She, along with my husband, is my biggest cheerleader, so as we spent the afternoon weeding the garden, she was happy to be a sounding board for my ideas. The next morning, I got up and wrote, ignoring twitter, facebook, email, etc. It wasn't urgent. The idea was. I had writer's group that evening with my other CP. I wrote two bits of scene and made notes and came home at 10 pm, apologizing to my husband, saying I couldn't hang out with him. I needed to pull an all nighter. I wrote until 3 am. Got up at 10 am the next day and started writing again. Took a break to work out and watch 90210, then apologized to the hubby again and said I needed another all-nighter.

I'm a binge writer. It started in college. I worked two, sometimes three jobs, and usually had one day off to get my writing done. I'd journal throughout the week, but then I'd spend a whole day writing. When I was finishing a major draft of BALLADS, I went to a writer's retreat in Canada and wrote 10 to 12 hours a day for 10 days. I finished half the book plus did a complete revision. This is how I work best.

But I had to build up to it because in the past two years since I published my first book, I'd been balancing promotion and email and social networking and blogging and all of it felt very urgent like I couldn't just ignore it for a week. Until I did. I'd tweet my progress for the day and my reminder that I was working at the bar and people should come visit me. But on Wednesday, I didn't actually want anyone to visit me. Usually a dead night at work panics me (a large part of my fear over the past year is that I'm working in two unstable businesses--bartending and writing--and I'm the kind of person who needs stability. I don't need to be rich, I just need to know I can pay my bills for the month.), but Wednesday I brought my laptop to work hoping I could write instead of deal with customers.

At that point I'd made it all the way through my 100 pages and I'd absolutely fallen in love with the stories and the characters. One of the main settings for the book is a bar, The Bar, I call it, and it's based loosely on the bar where I work. I love where I work. I love bartending and meeting new people and I've collected a lot of stories over the roughly five years I've been doing it. Bringing what I've lived into this story has been so much fun. And my mom character, Ivy, is hilarious. I like writing a dramaedy instead of a straight up drama for a change. I've been eating up shows like Gilmore Girls and Weeds and Californication over the past couple years and now I get to pay homage to them like I paid homage to my girl rock stars in IWBYJR. Also, Ivy is obsessed with soap operas as I have been since the age of 14 and I get to have fun with that. Zoe, my eighteen year-old daughter character, is a vegan like me and politically active and hugely into punk and about to learn the same lessons and face some of the same bitterness as I did at 18. On my last day of writing, Wednesday, I suddenly made some discoveries about the characters. The last ten pages I wrote truly surprised and that was so much fun.

On Thursday, I did my final polish of the 100 pages. And, wow, I realized, it was actually GOOD. I know there are parts that need some more work, but it's time to step back and let my agent and critique partners read it. But I almost didn't want to. Who cares about the email and everything has piled up, I was having fun. I'd remembered why I loved writing again. I was freakin' high!

I don't know what will happen next. Ideally my agent will love it, I'll tweak it slightly, and we'll send to the editor that I've discussed it with, who I do feel comfortable submitting on partial to even though this is not climate for it. While she is reading it, I will go back to my paranormal with my newfound passion and work on the full manuscript of that. Ideally this book will sell so I will feel more comfortable about taking my time with the other one. But it might not. My agent might not think it's ready yet or she might think I need to write the full manuscript of this one too. My career might unfold more slowly than I want it to. But right now that doesn't matter.

Three weeks ago, I was at my lowest of lows in years. Today, I'm blissfully happy and reminded of why I write--not to sell books, but to weave stories and have fun with characters.

I'd taking a well-earned break to read and catch up on TV (and email, I guess...), but I'm hoping to keep riding this momentum for a long while.

And I apologize for such a long blog entry. It's partially because other than to post interviews, I have not blogged in a long time and partially it was self-indulgent. I wanted a record of how my process works. But hopefully this will help other writers, too and give you ideas about process and remind you that even at your lowest, you can find a way to fall in love again.

Yes, I definitely needed that reminder since I'm now at my lowest of lows.... which you will read about later this week.

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

What Will You Be Writing in 2010? (A Re-Post from MTV Books)

As I mentioned yesterday, in honor of the impending NaNoWriMo and because I am stuck as hell with my current novel and because the MTV Books blog is closing, I am tracking this year's writing progress which I posted in four major blogs throughout the year. This is the first blog, back when the bartender book was still a YA novel not yet rejected by my publisher. I started the year nervous but with two big shiny ideas.

From the end of January:
What will you be writing in 2010?

The short answer to this question is that I hope to write two books. I'm a little bit frustrated with myself that I'm not going to have a new book out in 2010. That of course is perfectionist, straight-A student Stephanie talking (a side of my personality that people who don't know me that well or who just judge me by the way I dress or maybe the kind of characters I write probably are surprised to find I have, but I was totally the stoner kid who secretly cared about school.). The reality is this. I WANNA BE YOUR JOEY RAMONE took three and a half years to write. I first had the idea in summer of 2002, worked on it through grad school, finished my first draft of it in September of 2005, did some revisions for my agent and then she started shopping it in January of 2006. It didn't sell until April 2007 and of course didn't come out until July 2008. Oh and there were 6 weeks of revisions in there too.

I started writing BALLADS OF SUBURBIA in February of 2006, and it took about a year to write. I did probably did about 3 months of revisions before my agent shopped it and then 6 weeks of revisions after it sold. That one sounds like it went faster, but really I spent a year way back in 2000 when I wrote an early version of the story and then I brainstormed on it while I wrote IWBYJR so I went into it with a really solid idea of the plot and characters.

So basically since February of 2007 when I finished the first major draft of BALLADS, I've just been revising and toying with new ideas and promoting... which took up way more time than I would have liked and that is why I don't have a new book coming out this year. But beating myself up over that doesn't do anything for me and probably the more important thing to acknowledge is that my story ideas take a lot of stewing. If I dive right into them like IWBYJR, they take longer to writer. Or if I let them stew for longer, they go faster like BALLADS. Now I want to make up for lost time and fortunately I've been messing around with 5 different story ideas since I wrote BALLADS. I lost interest in one, but maybe I'll figure it out eventually. I have two newer ideas that need to stew a bit longer, but the two that have been stewing the longest are ready to be written.

Of course right now I am in scary No Contract land. Idea #1 is in my editor's hands though and I'm hoping to have news about it soon. It is another realistic contemporary book like IWBYJR and BALLADS. You've probably heard me talk about it before if you follow my blog or twitter. It's about a seventeen year old vegan, anarchist girl named Zoe (I finally get to draw on my politically active teen days), who is constantly being moved from city to city whenever her mom, Ivy, breaks up with a man. Ivy is a bartender (so I get to use some of my bartending stories, which I'm excited about) and though she won't admit it, she is also an alcoholic. She acts much more like a teenager than Zoe does actually. As Hurricane Katrina is happening down in New Orleans, Hurricane Ivy strikes again, deciding to uproot Zoe from Seattle, the place where they've lived the past two years (and also my favorite city so I get to do research trips out there, yay!). At first Zoe goes along with this because two weeks ago, she ruined her life. Her best friend, an adorable street punk named Bender, kissed her and even though she may have feelings for him, she turned him down because she's still pining for her first boyfriend Gabe, a hot anarchist boy who has broken Zoe's heart repeatedly because he has no sense of monogamy whatsoever. However, after seeing the wreckage of Hurricane Katrina on TV and realizing what truly ruined lives look like, Zoe forces her mom to stay in Seattle so they can face their problems--which only get more complicated of course when Zoe's childhood friend Jake comes to live with them and Zoe's dad the Soap Star (yes, I get to incorporate soap operas, my big guilty pleasure!) reappears too and points out that Jake seems to be struggling with serious mental illness.

Oh god, I am terrible at those descriptions. Can you tell my editor writes the ones on the back of my books? Yeah... But basically it's about Zoe, her emotionally immature parents and her friends all having to finally grow up together.

Yeah, so hopefully that one will sell soon. I wrote a 50 page proposal for it, so then I would have to finish it.

And then there is the top secret project... the series of three books that I think I became a writer to write. I've talked before about how much I adore the Persephone myth and have wanted to do my own version of it. I attempted something last year, just using the skeleton of the myth with a contemporary realistic fiction story (ie what I know best). My agent recognized right away that it wasn't working and urged me to think about going paranormal/urban fantasy about it. I wasn't sure at first. Even though I read and love those kinds of books, could I write one? So back to the stewing.... Elements started to come together.... I remembered watching The Crow as a teen and thinking it was bad ass that Eric Draven was get vengeance on the goons who raped and killed his girlfriend and murdered him too, but part of me thought, shouldn't *she* be able to get back at the guys who raped her? And I always loved and identified with female archetypes like Ophelia and Persephone, but I wanted them not to drown or to fight back when they got carried off. I was a victim too in my teenage years, a victim of abuse... but actually I hate that word victim. I was a survivor. And I wanted to write something where the girls who are victimized fight back... I wanted a girl Crow.

So I took the bones of my contemporary story, which is about a girl whose sister has just died and she is dealing with terrible grief, something that I can relate to having lost three friends to sudden, shocking deaths in six short months, and I gave this girl a very interesting and powerful destiny, which she is about to uncover alongside her sister's best friend Persephone, the daughter of a model and one of the most famous dead rock stars in the world....

My agent has the first 80 pages of this one now and I'm waiting for her notes. But I'm hoping I'll be able to write and sell this one this year as well. I'm more excited about it than any other project I've done. It has all my favorite elements-- the rock'n' roll of IWBYJR, the hardhitting emotional issues of BALLADS, and now my beloved Greek Mythology added to the mix.

Yeah, I'm definitely making up for lost time.

Yeah so now the bartender book is an adult book and completely different. Zoe's an 18 year old anarchist. Ivy is still a bartender. Though Seattle figures into the book it is not the main setting. Bender and Gabe are still the main love interests, but completely different and there is no Jake. We'll save him for another book maybe.

The Persephone/female Crow book, I wrote 75 pages of and it got got rejected by 11 publishers, though some of them want to see the full. I intend to get back to it early next year.

Monday, October 25, 2010

To NaNo or Not to NaNo? That is the question...

It's been a while since I've posted any work-in-progress progress reports. That is because I am not making much of it. I got stuck about a month ago after a week of total brilliant writing. Then I realized how long my book had gotten. And how far from the end I was. And I freaked. I've had a bunch of seemingly genius realizations of how to finish the book, but so far none of them have panned out. I also paused and did some research after realizing that there were a couple of major story arcs that I had no idea how to write because I had no experience with them. I have to admit, I am usually a write what you know kind of writer. Was I ever in a band like Emily in I WANNA BE YOUR JOEY RAMONE? No. But we share the same passion for music and I have lots of friends in bands so I drew on experiences they'd shared with me. Was I ever a heroin addict like Kara in BALLADS OF SUBURBIA? No, but I've done my fair share of drugs and loved my fair share of addicts, so I knew that pretty well, too. Now you may be thinking, aren't you writing a bartender book? Aren't you a bartender? Yes, that part of the book is very familiar territory for me. But one of the characters is pregnant and I've never been. And one of the characters gets arrested and ends up in some major legal trouble. I've never been. So I spent the week polling people about that and I now feel solid enough to write about both of those things (and when I get stuck on those details, I know who I can ask).

So I was all psyched up for last night's writing group. I'd talked through the last part of my book with enough people that I thought I knew what to do. I'd taken a crack at a couple scenes and they hadn't flowed very smoothly, but my writing group (which is me and my neighbor Jenny and occasionally our friend Aaron, all of us graduates or soon to be graduates of Columbia College Chicago MFA program) is always inspiring. We adapted a workshop followed by quiet writing period that works well for us and never fails to get me seeing the scene before I write it. It utilizes the same techniques that I followed in college where I wrote IWBYJR and bits of BALLADS. And I was seeing and I wrote over 2000 words and the first page or two was pretty damn good, but then I flopped. I hit the same wall, I keep hitting: this book is too long, this is making it even longer and I'm not sure I'm on the right path. I panicked, stop typing and I'm not entirely sure where I'll pick up today, whether I will continue on the too-long path that I feel may be wrong or try something new. Either way, one things is clear. I will not finish this book by the end of the week as I initially hoped. Ha! "Initially hoped." I actually initially hoped this book would be done six weeks ago. Sigh. Try not to think about that. My usual technique of making deadlines for myself is only proving to stress me out more.

I really had hoped to be done because I thought I might attempt NaNoWriMo or National Novel Writing Month for those of you not familiar with the term. I've never done it before, but basically it's where my crazy fellow writers try to write an entire novel in a month and it's done in November which is one of those evil months that only has 30 days and a freakin' holiday in it to boot. Yeah, writers are crazy.

I wasn't going to attempt it officially because I was thinking I might actually only do it for a week. Take a break from this damn bartender book and turn to the idea that I've been mulling for over a year. You may have heard me mention this idea briefly on twitter or facebook, referring to it only as the post-apocalyptic YA. That's pretty much all I'll say about it aside from the fact that it came from a dream I had on the night I turned 30 and I take great stock in my dreams. In fact when I was like thirteen, I had a few psychic dreams. So if I'm ever going to think that one of my book ideas is going to be *the book* that will really sell and make all my wildest writing dreams come true it would be the book I dreamed on my 30th birthday. (Note that my wildest writing dreams are to be able to afford to write full-time and move to Seattle, no huge JK Rowling fantasies. Or that other Stephenie. The one who spells her name like I did when I was thirteen and having psychic dreams and yes I know her big bestseller came from a dream too, but trust me, my dream was cooler than sparkly vampires.) Oh and there was flooding in the dream. And the one bit of research I need to do is find a map of what the United States would look like if there was crazy bad flooding, like which areas would still exist and which wouldn't. Anyone know where I can find that?

Anyway, so yeah, I've been going nuts wanting to try out this story idea for over a year now, but I had to focus on the two story ideas that I'd already been wrestling with. And now that I'm stuck with those (well, with the bartender one at least. I haven't even looked at the other one and am afraid it will freak me out just as much as the bartender book), it looks so bright and shiny and pretty and it is largely unplotted. And that is how I like to write. These other two books have been uncharacteristically plotted out because I felt like that is how I should write and maybe it is in fact holding me back. So I thought, maybe the first week of November, after I finished the rough draft of the bartender book, I would play with the bright shiny new idea. If it totally flowed and I thought I could actually achieve the NaNo goal, I would follow it. But even more so I just hoped it would remind me why I love writing again and while my brain was focused on it, the bartender book would fall into place and I could go back to it and finish a solid draft (ie. one I could show my agent) by mid-December as I originally hoped. (Actually I hoped it would be done by now, but since the rough draft isn't even close....)

Now I'm not sure what to do since I won't have the rough draft done in time. I guess it all depends on how this week goes. If I flail terribly once again this week, it will only be logical to take a breather and try the new thing, which may or may not lead to NaNo, or may lead me back to the bartender book newly inspired. If this week goes well, I may just keep plugging along and save the new book for January when I will do my own NaNo. A fresh year seems like a good time to start a new book (hence me wanting to finish the bartender book by the holidays so badly) and well, I'll just start on January 2 to make it 30 days. Oh and hopefully I'm going on a writing retreat in January too!

I should also note that one thing that draws me to NaNo is that the word count for your novel is 50,000 words, which is not a full length novel at all. Even a YA is usually between 65 and 85K and my books like most adult books is closer to 100k. I think that is because when most people rough draft or fast draft, their drafts are shorter and they go back and fill in details. Me.... well at the rate I'm going with this one, I will have to cut 50,000 words. Sigh. So the idea of starting with an idea that I only have a small inkling about and not a huge complex plotline to wrestle with like my current project, sounds like a great change of pace.

Though yeah, I'm not so sure I can make that change of pace right now. I guess I'll reassess at the end of the week.

But in honor of NaNo and also because the MTV Books blog is closing (don't worry, we are really just moving to a bigger space so to speak, a blog called YA Outside the Lines which will have a bunch of other authors) and though I know my posts will stay up there, I want to have the ones that chart my journey with writing this year here, I am going to repost four posts that talk about my highs and lows and writing plans and writing process this week. Hopefully they will help and inspire those of you preparing for NaNo. Not all of them are uplifting, but all are real and the best thing about NaNo is it allows writers to talk about the ups and downs of actually completing a novel, so I want to start that dialogue here. Then, I guess, at the end of the week or the beginning of next, I'll let you know where I stand and if I am doing NaNo. But right now I want to know if you are. Let me know your reasons or how you feel about it. Hell, let me know if you think I should put my project on hold and try it even if only for a week. Because I am in that seriously low self esteem place where I can't make my own decisions. It's terrible. The last time I was this bad was after the awful abusive relationship when I was sixteen and I literally did eeny-meeny-miny-moe to determine everything. Sigh. I probably shouldn't do that to determine which scene to try today, stick with the old one that started out strong but failed when I realized it was getting too long, or try the other option. I think I'll just try the other option and we'll see where that takes me.

Anyway, are you participating in NaNoWriMo? And stay tuned for the rest of this week to see my journey so far this year with my writing projects.

Sunday, October 24, 2010

NaNo Decision and The Writer's Low (Reposted from the MTV Books blog)

Here is the last of my series of posts on my writing process/progress/lack thereof this year. It expresses where I am at now, which admittedly is not a good place. But hey, we all go through, as the comments I've copied at the end will show you.

As for my decision about National Novel Writing Month, I'm leaning toward trying it. My attempts to work on the bartender book at the beginning of this week went so badly that I decided to shelve the project indefinitely. I've done this before with the book that became Ballads, but that was after I'd finished it when I realized what I'd written was too autobiographical for comfort and what I really did was set it aside for a few weeks before I started revising it, but then I stumbled upon the idea that became I WANNA BE YOUR JOEY RAMONE and I got so caught up in it that I didn't go back until I finished. I'm feeling differently about the bartender book though, like by shelving it before I even finish a rough draft that I am betraying my characters, giving up on them. And of course as soon as I decided to officially give up and start thinking about a new story to try for NaNo, a friend of mine said something that gave me a little insight into the bartender book, a little... I'm not sure if it's enough to solve my problems, but we'll see. I'm (trying) to take a couple days off right now and not think about anything though that isn't really working. I'm actually thinking of several different story ideas. I have a writer's group on Halloween and I'll probably give the bartender book one last go that day and unless it miraculously clicks, I'll be opening up a fresh file on Monday morning and starting a new book.

I'm not even sure what that new book will be yet. I keep getting nervous about everything I think of. I still have the paranormal YA that dabbles with Greek mythology and the idea of Crow-style vengeance coming from a teenage girl in my back pocket. A partial of this made the rounds to editors and a few want to see the full, but based on their comments and my own doubts, I don't feel like that story is right and I wonder if I should just start over. Then there is the post-apoc YA that I keep mentioning. I've done a bit of research for that over the past couple of days, but I'm afraid I won't be able to pull it off. And last but not least, after writing an essay about my experiences with bullying in junior high, I have the inclination to write about certain experiences from my teenage years, perhaps even as a book of essays or a memoir, but first of all, I'm afraid to do that because I worry it will upset friends and secondly, I don't know if there is even a market for that.

So, um, the NaNo decision is still I guess largely undecided. Like I said, we'll see if I have a breakthrough on the bartender book on Sunday and if not, Monday I will just put whatever words on the page I'm compelled to write. For me.

Anyway, here is the Writer's Low post that I put on the MTV Books blog a couple weeks ago. I wanted to have it hear to show what my process has been like this year and to share the encouragement I received from other writers because we have all been there.

The Writer's Low

I apologize in advance for how pathetic this blog entry is going to be. I've been holding all this stuff in for about a month now and I just have to let it out. Maybe if I do, things will get better. But I promise not to be so lame again.

Anyway, you've been warned....

Back in May I blogged about rediscovering my writer's high. Unfortunately right now I'm in the opposite situation: the deepest darkest writer's low.

The book that I was so excited about back in May--the bartender book as I'd been calling it since it is set largely in a bar-- quickly became the bane of my existence this summer. My agent loved those first 100 pages that I loved, but she pointed out that it's a hard market, so she wanted me to write a full. No problem, I said and I had every intention of getting it into her by the middle of September or early October at the latest because she was going on maternity leave. I set about writing as fast as I could, telling myself that it could suck and I didn't have to actually enjoy writing it because rewriting is my favorite part, if I could just get the words on the page to revise, I'd be happy. But for the most part I felt miserable. I hated the words. My goals felt increasingly impossible. I just kept digging myself into a deeper and deeper hole of writerly angst. I stopped even posting the occasional progress reports on my blog because I was afraid if I posted my true feelings about how I felt about my book and my career in general, I would scare off my few readers.

As mid September approached and with it, my agent's maternity leave, I emailed her to say that I wouldn't have the book in. My goal had been unrealistic, too high pressure for me. I was aiming for December 15th now when she returned. Once I said that, it was like a weight had lifted. I'd also finally worked my way to a point in the book that I felt I could write really well. (A funeral scene. I am at my best when my characters are at their saddest, what can I say?) The story started flowing. I remember why I was writing that book and why I loved those characters. And I thought maybe everything would be okay after all even though I saw how dark the horizon was. I didn't know how to end the book, but I hoped that if I continued to put one foot in front of the other I might just find my way. I had a vague idea after all. I had an outline carefully written even though it didn't sound right any more, but maybe just maybe...

On September 20th (and I remember the date precisely because it was my brother's birthday and I took him to a concert that I hoped would reignite my muse), it all came to a grinding halt. A secret was revealed. Characters reacted. And then.... nothing. I didn't know where to go next. Nothing I'd plotted previously seemed right. So I've spent the past few weeks in various stages of angst. Sometimes I'm quietly ignoring the fact that I absolutely can't seem to write and definitely can't write well or come up with the correct storyline for my characters. Sometimes I'm having huge nervous breakdowns like crying in the shower, making myself physically ill breakdowns because I think I broke this book. I think it is beyond repair. I can't see how to fix it and I don't know where I will find the energy to start a new one.

Yeah, see why I haven't been blogging about this? It makes me feel pathetic. It's strange. When it comes to blogging, I'm generally very open. I've talked freely about the self injury in my past, the abusive relationship, the struggles with depression, drug and alcohol abuse, but when it comes to how I've been feeling about my career lately, I've been very hesitant to share, fearful that I will come across as whiny, ungrateful, pathetic, etc. I can be a perfectionist and I don't like admitting when I feel like I've failed.

But I feel like I've failed.

My first two books, especially my second, which I put my heart and soul into, have not done very well. I fear that soon they will go out of print. I feel that the only way to save them is write a really good, much more successful book that will make readers hungry for my backlist. I wish that I had spent more time writing that book instead of promoting the other two since I didn't really have the money or skills to promote it in such a way that would make an impact.

Since those books came out, I have been working on two books. The first was submitted to MTV Books as my option book. They turned it down. I had an idea to make it into an adult book, the bartender book, which would be more in line with my vision for it anyway, so I tried to stay positive. I also had a YA paranormal idea, that I was very excited about. Wrote a partial of that, which made the rounds and received rejections, though a couple of places said they would be interested in seeing the full. So the plan was to try to finish both of these books this year or early next year. I started with bartender book because I was the most excited about it at the time, but then came the block.

The block is partially to do with me struggling with the story, which is normal. It has happened with my other two books as well. But since I wrote those other two books before I had a real idea of the publishing industry, I didn't have two of the issues that I am having now.

The main one is word count. My books always start out long. I WANNA BE YOUR JOEY RAMONE was 150,000 words in it's first draft. I had an inkling that that was probably too long. It sold at 112,000 words, which I didn't know was too long, but it was and I eventually got it down into the mid-90s. Right now the bartender book is at 115,000 words and I still have a lot (and I mean A LOT) of loose ends to tie up, so I'm looking at another 150,000 word draft, but unlike with IWBYJR, I don't have an idea of how to shave it down. There aren't any real subplots to cut. It seems that the story I came up with is simply too big. And I freeze just thinking about how I can possibly fix it. Also, this makes me want to rush the ending and it makes me doubt every idea I have for the ending.

And for me, when I start to doubt one thing, I start to doubt *everything*. This leads to the other issue I didn't have before I was published--dwelling on if the book will sell. I never concerned myself with markets before. But now I think, this is another contemporary realistic fiction book with quirky characters. It's going to have the same fate as my other two books--if someone will even buy it this time. What if I'm turning myself out inside out again and end up really disappointed. Should I be working on that paranormal instead? Maybe that had more potential or what about that post-apocalyptic book that I literally dreamed up a year and a half ago on my 30th birthday. It was dream, maybe that's a sign. I should have written it then, post-apoc is huge now. Maybe if I had just dropped everything and written it, I wouldn't be freelancing and bartending and teaching (don't even get me started on the teaching--the other thing that has completely screwed up my fall) just to try to make ends meet. Maybe I should give up on the bartending book, at least for now and try to write that post-apocalyptic book for NaNoWriMo (which I have never attempted before because writing super fast is not what suits me well). I have cheated on the bartender book a little bit by writing that one and it felt kinda good. I don't know a ton about the story yet, but it's interesting....

But it also felt bad because I've been beating myself up big time that I haven't finished a full manuscript since I finished revising BALLADS OF SUBURBIA almost 2 years ago. I have to finish a full book to sell another book and I feel like if I don't finish and sell another book soon, the few fans I have will forget me and I am so so so grateful for them, I have the best fans in the world and I feel like I'm letting them down terribly.

So yeah I wish that I could write faster. I wish that I could write better. But right now I can't seem to write at all. And I have friends urging me to take a break, but I feel like I can't. I've already spent a month making no progress on my writing. If I take another week off there is no way I'll finish this book and revise it by December 15th. If I don't finish a book by the end of this year, I'll be incredibly frustrated with myself, even more than I am now.

Thanks for letting me vent about this. I promise not to do it again since I don't want to be the Debbie Downer of the blogosphere. But maybe some of you out there have advice. Tips on how you got through your writer's lows or blocks. The typical stuff that I do--the music, the running, the doing other tasks to try ignore it and hope genius will strike--hasn't been working because I think I've almost got myself to the point of creating a writing phobia. I'm so scared of being stuck and of failing that I *am* being stuck and failing. So thoughts? Should I cheat on the bartender book with the idea from the dream? Should I force myself to take time off from writing completely and then go back to the bartender book? Should I just keep plodding along? That is, after tomorrow. I'm taking off tomorrow for sure to shop for Halloween costumes. Hopefully it will make me slightly less neurotic.


Because I don't want to be too much of a bummer and would rather show what a great community writers have formed, I thought I would post the comments I got on this blog here because they were amazingly helpful.

Jasmine said...
This reminds me of my senior year in high school. I was going to be the first since my mother to graduate, and I was so nervous and felt so much pressure about it that I eventually developed major anxiety and couldn't leave the house and dropped out. It sucked, and was probably the darkest time in my life, but I got through it. And you'll get through this.

Just take a breath, and give yourself a little credit. You've written two amazing books that capture real teen life in a way most others don't even attempt. You handle emotion with a grace other writers dream about. I mean that scene with Louisa and Emliy? Breathtaking. And the scene where Kara tries to tell Liam about Christian, but all he can focus on is that she's high on heroin still pops into my mind all the time.

You're great. And even if your books do go out of print, they will never go out. There's still libraries, word-of-mouth, lending (even yard sales probably--which might not make you feel to good, but I'm digressing)my point is, new people will always be reading your book. I've come across books in the most unusual ways sometimes, and they've turned out to be great.

I hear where you're coming from about the contemporary. For two years I tried to sell two comtemporary YA's that one critic harshly said was about 'a hapless seventeen year old with no luck and no happy ending'. But when I switched to paranormal romance, it sold in the first round of submissions, so maybe a change of genre's could be the break you're looking for. I hate to say give up on the bartender book, but it sounds like you're trying to work with it, and it's not working with you. At any rate, it will probably help to work on something else for a little while.

Another tip I have: have you considered breaking it down into two books? It sounds like the story you want is just too long for one book. It's not like a story can ever be too long (Lord of the Rings comes to mind) but maybe there's a part where you can break it off, tie up a main plot so book 1 is over and then that would give you plenty of room to breathe and tell the rest of the story.

I hope this helps. I'm loads sending positive energy vibes your way!

October 13, 2010 5:27 PM

Loretta Nyhan said...
Oh boy, Stephanie.

At first I thought, she shouldn't post this, it's too much, but then I thought, how brave.

This can be the reality of writing, of the publishing biz, of the creative life. And not just for you, but for lots of writers, myself included. So...thanks.

But my thanks doesn't help you much. I don't know if my advice will either, but here goes:

Right now it's important you write what you want to write. If it's the story that came to you in a dream (sometimes those are the best, no?) so be it. The bartender book can sit on the shelf for a while. Your agent wants to go out with a good book, a polished book, and she will wait. And if she's coming back from maternity leave, she'll be crazy busy for a while anyway, so she might not even be able to give you edit notes until after the holidays.

When I'm experiencing a low, I reread something I'm proud to have written. I know it sounds narcissistic, but it helps. I also find something to write that ignites my brain--even if it's not what I've been working on. Lately I've been working on a revision, and cheating on it with my next book. It's meant my agent is getting the revision a little late, but I think it's helped, and my book is better for it.

It's so hard, though. In this biz, even though we spend so much time waiting, it often seems we do not have the luxury of time.

I guess what I'm trying to say is this: I know how you feel, and you are not alone (God, I sound like last night's episode of GLEE. Sorry. But I think you know what I mean.)

October 13, 2010 5:28 PM

Amanda Ashby said...
Steph - this sucks. You are so awesome and we all know that writing can take us to some bad places but you WILL get out of this.

My only advice to you is that for one day you should just tell yourself that every writing decision you make is the right one. Even if it seems wrong at the time (and your inner demons start shouting and demanding that you second guess yourself) just keep saying it over and over again that all your decisions are right, because the more you trust and own your process, the easier it will be for you to get your clarity back. And you WILL get clarity back because I wasn't joking when I said you were awesome!

October 13, 2010 5:30 PM

Harmony said...
I don't have any official writerly advice considering I don't really know what I'm talking about when it comes to publishing but...

Your fans are going to love you no matter what. We're not going anywhere, even if it takes 10 years for your next book to come out.

If you can't think of ways to cut the bartender book down, maybe your agent will be able to come some suggestions or even crit partners. Sometimes other people can see things that we can't. So focus on writing "The End" and worry about the "ohmygod, this isn't going to sell! what do I do?!" later. (Which, I know, is waaaay easier said than done.)

But honestly, if you're really, truly stuck, take a break. Write something else. Attempt NaNo. Write your dream book. Then come back. Maybe writing something else will trigger the perfect solution to the bartender book.

Either way, don't give up! :-)

October 13, 2010 5:30 PM

Heather said...
I'm so grateful you wrote this, Stephanie. So beyond grateful. Why? Because it's real. It's grit. It's absolutely honest. I haven't read such a REAL blog entry in so long and I utterly admire your bravery in posting it. Thank you. I think so many people (especially legit published authors) fabricate their highs and soften their lows when it comes to blogging, which is lame and doesn't do anyone any good.

I also connected with this as strongly as I did because I'm having the worst writing "block/doubt/melt down" of my life. Crying in the shower? Check. Been doing that daily, as well as crying in a heap on my living room. And at the mailbox. And screaming to metal in my car.

And I haven't been published... I don't have any of your demands or high pressure, so I can't even fathom the intensity of what you're feeling.

I don't have any wisdom to offer. I'm lower then your low and probably always will be. But I am a total Stephanie fan and admire you deeply (as an author and as a person), and that is never going to change. People aren't going to forget your work. That's not going to happen. You're not going to let it happen. And I have no doubt I'll be seeing another Stephanie Kuehnert novel in bookstores soon.

Whenever I'm really infuriated with my writing (like collapsed beneath the dining room table to hide from my doubts sort of infuriated), my mom always says, "Bird by bird."

I'm sure you've heard that before, if not read Anne Lamott's book, but I thought I'd share. The funny thing is that whenever my mom says that, I tend to get really REALLY pissed off. But eventually, gradually, it seeps beneath my hot skin and helps. Helps a lot, actually.

So. Yeah. Bird by bird. :)

Apologies for such a messy rambling comment!

October 13, 2010 5:31 PM

Jennifer Echols said...
Whenever I hit a writer's low, I might not come out and say it, but you can tell because I start blogging and tweeting about all the how-to-write-a-book books I'm reading. That's just how I am--I think a book can solve anything, and sometimes it does.

For instance, I've been in a low, but finishing Sol Stein's HOW TO GROW A NOVEL yesterday really helped. He was an influential publisher, editor, and novelist for many years, and he has lots to say about how HARD it all is. It ought to be hard if you're doing it right. Specifically I've been wondering whether I'm going in the right direction with a revision, but today I feel 100% better about it.

He also talks about how hard and how unfair the publishing industry is to terrific writers.

Like Heather, I've heard lots of people sing the praises of BIRD BY BIRD, and I've read it but I just don't get it. But I've read so many other books on writing that have changed my life and my outlook for the better: Stephen King's ON WRITING, David Morrell's LESSONS FROM A LIFETIME OF WRITING, and especially Ray Bradbury's ZEN IN THE ART OF WRITING. He creates the loveliest persona for himself, you can't help but cheer for him as his younger self figures out how to make a career out of writing. And one thing he says over and over is that the publishing industry is hard, rejection is painful, and you have to use that as fuel! Disguise it but write about it, and write about your eventual triumph.

Whatever form the bartender book takes, I can't wait to read it. I know it will be wonderful.

October 13, 2010 5:50 PM said...
I read your tweet about this and I had to write. I've been there. I've wanted to quit writing several times. I get the fear, the doubt, the worry. But the truth is don't give up. Don't let your doubt consume you. Doubt your doubts!

When I wanted to quit writing, I read the Artist's Way and slowly made my way through the 12 lessons in the book. It might seem like a hokey book but in all honesty, it helped me get back on my feet and write again.

As a writer, there are moments of intense greatness when the pages flow and you've got it all pouring out of you. But day to day, it's harder to slog out the pages. So just write your way through the bad and believe in yourself.

I hope this helps!

October 13, 2010 5:51 PM

Stephanie Kuehnert said...
Thank you all so incredibly much for your heartfelt comments. I was worried that maybe I should take this down, that it is too much, too honest, but Loretta and Heather, you really convinced me I shouldn't. And you all have given me something to look at and re-read to get through this low. Jasmine, I really appreciate how you felt about those scenes of mine. And I really struggled with that Kara/Liam scene so it's good to know I pulled it off.

Amanda, I really like that advice you gave about telling myself that every decision is right. I think I am just so focused on the time it has been taking me to write something new that I forget that even if I write in the "wrong direction" I will discover something new about the characters.

Harmony, it's fans like you that keep me going, it seriously is. You don't know how much I appreciate you. And I think you are right that I should keep going toward THE END if I can... if it isn't too overwhelming and if it is I will take a break.

Heather, sounds like we are in the same place. Don't give up, girl. I believe in you.

thank you for sharing all of those book suggestions. I haven't read a lot of books on writing but I will check those out. I saw your tweet yesterday about how if it isn't hard you aren't doing it right and I thought hmmm maybe I am doing okay then, so I will absolutely be getting that book. Maybe what I need is a reading break.

Thank you all, seriously, for your advice and cheerleading. I'm glad I faced my fears and posted this.

October 13, 2010 6:00 PM

katebakes said...
Here's what I think, and I'm sorry if I'm reiterating what everyone else has said, I didn't read their comments. I think when you know what you want to say, you need to focus on it and ignore everything and everyone else. I also think the opposite holds true; when you are stuck and don't know what to write, the best thing to do is to open yourself up, and by that I mean read. Read, read, read, read stories that you love. Stories that give you that gushing feeling in your chest, that drop in your stomach. Stories that make your nose prick and your eyes well. Read and allow yourself to unabashedly feel and be sucked in. Remember what it is you love about books. Then give yourself some time to love your characters. Think about them. A lot. Think about their hopes, how each of them would want the story to continue, how they would want it to pan out. Or how they wouldn't. I bet you'll find your direction in there. As a friend once beautifully told me, "All your answers come from your characters."

Do not think about your deadline. Right now it's looming and freaking you out, but really you have over two months. That's a crap ton of time- the difference between pools and sleds. Think of it as this allowance ahead of you, ready to be filled, rather than a constraint. I'm always amazed how much my self-talk influences my attitude. And I'm super sorry if this post is preachy or advice-columnist. I'm a solutions girl. There's always a way. And you *CAN* do this. Stick with your book. Finish it. You'll be immensely proud of yourself when you've accomplished this goal- more so because of the struggle.

October 13, 2010 6:19 PM

Nomes said...
thank you so much for sharing this.

it has really struck a chord with me. i struggle with the same things in regard to my writing and sometimes pressures of life in general.

i really respect you for putting a voice to such a common feeling.

i'm actually kinda in awe of you and despite confessing to being so low and feeling hopeless this post has oddly given me hope.


much love and best wishes from me

October 13, 2010 8:28 PM

Just Your Typical Book Blog said...
I think that if the book is giving you that much trouble, you need to take a breather. I know with my old WIP, I was just entirely way too close to it, I couldn't even see it anymore. Maybe play around with your new idea for NaNoWriMo and see where it takes you. Who knows by the end of the week you might be dying to jump back into your bar book.

But don't worry a bit about your fans not coming back to you! I don't care if it take you another 5 years (which ya know, I really really hope it doesn't) but I will still be DYING to read whatever you come up with next!

October 13, 2010 8:53 PM

John Knowles said...
Whenever I get stuck, I usually move on to a different creative venture or get stoned and stare at my computer for hours.

I would say, like pretty much everyone else here, that you already have written two amazing books as it is, so you have no need to worry.

Just keep at it, I'll always read your books, unless you write a shitty one (Which isn't possible coming from you.)

I'll pull a random reference out of somewhere... ... ... Kurt Vonnegut wasn't taken seriously or cared about for a really long time. Bam, the best American Satirist. Grapes of Wrath was panned and ignored, bam, Steinbeck wins the Nobel Prize. Salinger was ignored and panned and then all of a sudden his dumb book about a guy who doesn't get that ducks migrate and has to pay hookers to talk to him is now part of the angsty teen uniform. I think these things take time. Same for Brave New World, 1984, Lord of The Flies, the list can go on. I think even Moby Dick was ignored when it came out. Catch 22 was like six years past it's deadline and it's title made it into the cultural lexicon.

Relax and just write, eventually you'll hit on a big idea and then like 52 million people will be claiming to be the one who heard of you first.

Also, advice? I have around 20,000 words so far. Can I send in a partial draft to whomever? What exactly do I do? Also, was it hard to find a publisher who didn't care about multiple perspective switches?

October 13, 2010 11:13 PM

Rachel said...
WOW Kudos! I am so proud of you (doesn't that sound patronizing? Sorry!) for posting this! I am a newbie writer and read all the time about the highs of writing. Even the occasional blurb about a writing block is cheerful and does not sound like anything I can relate to. This? This post? Totally relatable. Thank you for sharing b/c I know I will be there and will be able to think back on this post and know I am not alone.
For what it is worth, I have not read your other two books although I heard them mentioned, BUT reading THIS post, makes me want to go request them right now at the library or on Amazon. If you can be this real and honest and raw in your blog posts, I have a feeling I will love your fiction :-)

October 14, 2010 9:59 AM

John Knowles said...
Rachel: Oh she is just as raw as in this. Even more so. I got so involved in Ballads that it actually felt like I was there. The characters are written amazingly. Even the antagonists have deep back stories that make you feel for them. The ending is great too. Same for Joey Ramone, although it's a little bit more light hearted. I've read that book so many damn times I could probably recite the whole thing from memory. Also, the way she writes about music reminds me a bit of Jack Keroauc.

October 14, 2010 10:13 AM

BookChic said...
I don't really have a long comment or any advice to give, but I do have this: *hugs!* And I hope it helps.

As for your fans, quite a few are bloggers and you should know we're always on top of any new book that's coming out so even if it takes a few years for your next one to come out, we'll be there for you and remember how much we loved your first two books and can't wait to read this new one. You'll never be truly forgotten, especially since your books seem to rank in the Top 5/10 of Bloggers' All Time Favorite Books. Plus, there was that fan at PAYA with the tattered Ballads.

Also, it's interesting how you talk about your books being forgotten because I'm putting together my blogging schedule for next month and have tons of free space (that hasn't happened in several months) and I'd been thinking to myself "Now might be the perfect time to finally read and review Ballads." So I'll be doing that. I know I'm only one person, but hey, hopefully you can get a few more sales from my review. :)

Anyway, this ended up being longer than I originally planned, lol. I ramble too much. But always try to keep in mind that your fans will always love you and your books, and hopefully that can give you the strength to keep going on this rollercoaster journey of being an author.

October 14, 2010 12:17 PM

Stephanie Kuehnert said...
And another round of thank yous for the rest of you chiming in with (great!) advice and words of encouragement.

Book Chic, bloggers like you really do mean the world to me and I would be honored if you read and reviewed Ballads. Any boost helps, and thank you for reminding me what an impact my stories have made. That is the important thing.

typecraftwriter, I will check out the Artist's Way.

Kate, all of what you said rang true. I do want more time to read and perhaps I will take it this weekend if I am still feeling stuck. And yes, the love of my characters is always what keeps me going.

JYTBB, that is a good idea to even just start NaNoWriMo and dive in and see if it leads me back to the bar book. It may.

Nomes, glad my post could give you hope, I was afraid I was being to self-indulgent and personal and blah, but I am glad I could help.

And Rachel, likewise, I am glad you appreciate my honesty and if you pick up my books that would mean a lot to me and please let me know what you think of them. I hope you enjoy them.

John, thanks for the praise about my books. In terms of advice. Finish your manuscript. Even before the recession it was incredibly difficult for a brand new author to sell on partial. Now even someone like me, a midlister with a couple books out can't sell on partial. Only big bestsellers can sell on partial or proposal. So finish your book, polish the hell out of it and then start querying agents.

October 14, 2010 6:13 PM

Melissa Walker said...
Love that you wrote this, Stephanie. We have ALL been there. Seriously.

Everyone has given great advice, and I'd like to second Harmony's NaNo idea. Something brand new, one month, a spark of fun that you never have to show anyone, just to get the writing flowing.

Maybe on the other side, the bartender book will make sense.

Consider it? xx

October 16, 2010 12:31 PM

Bev Katz Rosenbaum said...
Hey, Steph, right there with you. I've had tons of short things published (essays, short stories) since my Popsicle books, but haven't managed to sell another novel. Tons of compliments about my writing but no sales. I'm still plugging away--writing, teaching, and editing in addition to doing the short stuff. I think lots of published writers have long gaps between their books, so don't let the fact that some people publish every year freak you out. Ditto the possibility of losing your fans. Teen readers move on to adult books after a couple of years anyway, so you're looking at new crops every so often no matter how frequently you publish. It's not like an adult readership. You're a great, great writer, and I know you'll get there eventually!

October 16, 2010 1:16 PM

Lisa Schroeder said...
Stephanie... I am sorry you are in such a dark place right now. A lot of us CAN relate. This is such a brutally tough business.

I can tell you that after a YA novel I spent a year writing didn't sell, I went to work trying to rewrite it as a MG, because that's the feedback we got from some editors. I tried and tried, and around chapter 9, in tears and literally sick of the thing, I opened up my idea journal (do you keep one? I highly recommend it) and I opened to a page of words and thoughts I'd had about six months earlier. I thought - I want to write THIS book, whatever it is. I started playing around with some what ifs in my head and an hour later, I had a seed of an idea.

I put the other book away and started in. It felt like I'd been let out of jail!! The words flowed and writing was fun again. It was something new and different for me and I didn't worry about what anyone would think, I wrote it for ME. I found the joy, in a new story, in new characters, and I didn't tell anyone what I was writing. No one knew, and it was just me and the story. Pure and total bliss.

Again and again, what I've learned is I have to shut off the noise, go deep inside, and write not like a published author, but an unpublished one. I don't tell ANYONE what I'm writing. I just write. It's the pressure that kills us, don't you think?

I hate to say start something new now, when you really are close to finishing this book you've been working really hard on. BUT sometimes it is SO freeing.

I never did finish the rewrite. And I probably won't. The other book is out on submission now.

Hang in there. Follow your heart. And sending you LOTS of hugs. You can do this. Remember, it is always darkest before dawn!!!

October 16, 2010 3:23 PM

Amy Fellner Dominy said...
Just wanted to add my thanks for your honesty! I'm very new at this (my first book won't be out until next year), but someone asked me what's the most important thing I could share about writing.
And I said, "It's hard."
I don't feel like we always get that side of the story. I always heard writers talk about how the words write themselves, and it's such a joy, blahblahblah. And yes, it can be like that, but it's also hard work.
I think it's important for us to know and remember that. When we struggle, it's not because we aren't talented or capable or deserving. It's because it's incredibly difficult. Just reminding myself of that makes it easier for me.
So keep plugging away and I will, too.

October 17, 2010 12:04 AM

stephhale said...
Steph- You are amazingly brave to post this. I know exactly what you are going through. Medical problems have completely dominated my life this year and I've been way too busy sitting around feeling sorry for myself to get hardly ANY writing done. I feel like I'm starting to get back on track VERY slowly but still beat myself up for all the time I've wasted. I'm also signing up for Nano for the first time. I hope it helps us both!

October 17, 2010 3:04 PM

B. A. Binns said...
Relax, take a deep breath, because I think you're right, these lows come to us all. But there's another high somewhere off on the horizon. I go through regular "I love my book", no, "I hate my book" spasms. I just finished a few weeks of hatred, so things are looking better now. You're normal, and it's OK to have a few doubts and worries. Just never let yourself completely stop writing.

October 17, 2010 6:02 PM

Kathy Picciano said...
Stephanie, thank you for your honesty, especially about publishing and selling your books. I choose the self-publishing route and was getting very distressed about marketing and getting my book out. I have since learned, and as you have confirmed, it is just as hard for authors who are published through a big publishing company to sell books. The one thing I really liked about self-publishing is that I had creative license from my cover - which was designed by a high school student in Barrington, IL - to my word count, which I kept to 75,000 words.

I'm not sure what I am experiencing lately is writer's block like you, but my first book was well accepted by those who have read it and all asking for the sequel, which I had written most of while writing the first book. My dilemma, I keep wondering if I am developing the characters enough, is the story flowing like the first, blah, blah, blah. My first book came out of no where and I just sat and wrote, now I think, I'm thinking too much and it makes it harder to create - My advice to you and more to myself - stop thinking about who will read it, will it sell and enjoy the process of creating and living in your wonderful mind.

October 18, 2010 8:26 AM

Stephanie Kuehnert said...
Wow, thank you, thank you, thank you all for your comments and advice. I seriously did not expect such an outpouring and from so many people I respect and admire so much.
Melissa, I am definitely considering it. Thanks for the advice.
Kathy, excellent advice as well. We should both take it.
Bev, sounds like we are in a very similar place. Thanks for reminding me that I don't have to be in the once a year club.
Amy, glad my honesty helped in some way :)
Steph, sorry to hear about your medical problems and I hope NaNo helps you shake things loose again.
B.A. thanks for that reminder.
Lisa, your story really sticks with me in particular. I am really close to the end of my revision and I do think it is the right thing for the book so I want to finish it, but maybe I do need to step out of jail and be free. Darkest before dawn, I hope so. I keep telling myself that. :) Thanks again everyone!

October 19, 2010 12:03 PM

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

GCC Presents: Denise Jaden

For those of you who were here for Women Who Rock Wednesday last week, the winner of Linda Gerber's Trance is I Heart Book Gossip!

I've got another fabulous interview for you this week--a woman who definitely rocks though this is not an offical WWRW interview, it's with one of my girlfriends from the Girlfriends Cyber Circuit, Denise Jaden, who is going to tell you about her new book, Losing Faith.

About the book:
When Brie's sister, Faith, dies suddenly, Brie's world falls apart. As she goes through the bizarre and devastating process of mourning the sister she never understood and barely even liked, everything in her life seems to spiral farther and farther off course. Her parents are a mess, her friends don't know how to treat her, and her perfect boyfriend suddenly seems anything but.

As Brie settles into her new normal, she encounters more questions than closure: Certain facts about the way Faith died just don't line up. Brie soon uncovers a dark and twisted secret about Faith's final night...a secret that puts her own life in danger.

Here's the trailer:

About the Author:
Denise Jaden lives just outside Vancouver, Canada. When she’s not writing, she can often be found homeschooling her son or dancing with her Polynesian dance troupe. Losing Faith is her first novel. Find out more at

And now the GCC interview...

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

Denise: Losing Faith is about sixteen year old Brie, who loses her sister Faith in a cliff accident. Through the bizarre and devastating grieving process, Brie discover that certain facts about Faith's final night just don't line up.

As for the inspiration, at first, I just knew I wanted to write a sister story. From there, I figured out that one of the sisters had a secret, and the secret would only be discovered after she died. I lost a close friend of mine when I was sixteen, and I've always felt there was a lot to explore
with a teen experiencing such a big and devastating event.

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?

Denise: Playlist questions are very hard for me. I've never really connected my writing with music, plus I'm not really up on a lot of current music. I'm hoping one day there will be a fan out there who loves my book, loves music, and can come up with a playlist. That would be so much fun for me!

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!

Denise: The first time I really became aware of my love for words and sentences and just the beauty of the English language, was when I was reading A MAP OF THE WORLD by Jane Hamilton. Laurie Halse Anderson is an ongoing inspiration to me, as is my dance teacher, Paul Latta.

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?

Denise: No, I need complete silence when I write. And even though I do love listening to a wide variety of music, as I noted above, I've never really made a connection between music and my writing.

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

Denise: I'm working on another YA novel called Appetite For Beauty. It's about a cheeky and forthright girl who discovers a dangerous, self-destructive side in her sister, and has to decide between helping her sister and a powerful and unfamiliar desire to become appealing to a mysterious boy.

Q: You are part of a new blog group called The Contemps that as a contemporary realistic fiction writer, I am very interested in. Can you tell us about it?

Denise: The Contemps is a brand new group made up of YA authors with contemporary novels releasing over the course of a year. They are passionate about realistic fiction because these are the books that remind us we're not alone in this real world. They spotlight contemporary fiction for young adults through blog posts, author events, and (over)sharing from their teen years.

So check out The Contemps and Denise's book Losing Faith. Both sound amazing to me!