Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Work-in-Progress Wednesday: A Tour of My Office

I've decided that since a new year is upon is, it is time for a new Wednesday blog tradition. I've really loved doing Women Who Rock Wednesday interviews and I am sure I will still do them or author/musician/artist I admire interviews in some other form in the future, but they just haven't gotten the response that they used to recently. This is probably my fault for several reasons, mainly being that I'm a sporadic blogger, or it could be because people are getting bored with the format or just want something new. Either way I decided that it is time for something new, so my Women Who Rock Wednesday interview with Lucienne Diver that ran last week will be the last for now. However I've decided to extend the contest that accompanied that interview (and the contest *is* international) for one more week, so if you haven't entered it yet, go here and do so.

My new theme for Wednesdays is going to be "Work-In-Progress." I plan to talk about what is going on with my writing and share the tips and things I've learned along with my struggles (and if you read this blog regularly, you know I have a plethora of struggles!). Also, when I'm feeling brave enough, I may even share snippets of my current work-in-progress.

I know this puts me at risk of turning my blog into yet another one of those writerly blogs. I've heard it said that readers want more from authors than talk about process, so maybe I'm taking a risk here, especially since with my schedule, "Work-In-Progress Wednesdays" might well be my only regular blog posts. I'm sure I will bring you sporadic interviews and rants and raves about new music and books I've discovered. In fact all of that may be included in "Work-In-Progress Wednesdays." And trust me, this blog won't lose it's personal feel and become simply a source of tips/a teaching tool. I love those kinds of blogs and blog entries, but I'm just too much of an emotional, oversharing Cancer to keep my personal feelings off of my blog, even when reflecting on the writing process. The writing process is insanely personal to me and a huge part of my life. But the more personal essay type stuff that I have written in the past about my struggles with sleep or self-injury, etc, has found a new, much better outlet: ROOKIE. (For example, a piece I wrote about insomnia posted there last night.) So I'll be saving my energy for that kind of writing for ROOKIE and I hope if you like that side of me (which is kind of like the real life version of some of my characters), you will visit me there.

Maybe focusing this blog mainly on process is a little bit selfish, but umm it's my blog and that's what I need. If you read my New Year/tough realizations entry, you'll see that I'm really fighting to stay afloat as a writer right now. I'm taking this year to evaluate my career and my life in general to see how writing fits into it and blogging will help me do that. Recording my struggles with The Bartender Book really helped me to examine my process and become aware of patterns. Unfortunately I didn't do that from the beginning, so now that I am starting a new novel, I feel lost as to how to get started, which happens every time thanks to how long it takes me to write a novel. Though I don't remember exactly how my process started for my last three novels, I do know that this one is different, so why not record it. But more on that in future posts.

My motives aren't completely selfish, though. I actually hope that these posts will inspire people and also build a bit of a community where we can share suggestions and ideas and cheerlead for each other in the comments section. Though my attempt to do NaNoWriMo failed yet again, what I took away from it was a real joy in community. I haven't really had that since I was in grad school. During November, I checked in regularly with several different groups of people, shared advice and motivation and I LOVED it. I wondered why we couldn't do this all the time since people (hopefully!) don't only work on novels in November. I have a few friends that I do regular check-ins with on Twitter (I love you Mari, Melissa, and Kaz!) or have regular sprints or process talks with (I love you Jeri, Tara, Vanessa and Kaz again!), but why not widen the scope. So this will be my once-weekly (when I can! I'm learning not to make myself feel obligated about things, but again more on that in future posts) progress report and I encourage any blog readers to use it to check in and share your triumphs, struggles, tips, and rants as well. Sound cool? I hope so.

To kick this new series off, I thought I would share my writing space with you. I'm very pleased with it and finally completed honing the perfect creative vibe. It's a "new" office for me. Since I bought my house in 2004, I've worked in a larger room across the hall, which had always been "my room" in addition to my office. I didn't sleep there, but I stored all my stuff there (I'm kind of clothing whore so I require an additional closet and dresser besides what I have in my bedroom) and I'd decorated it much like my teenage bedroom. I didn't bother painting the walls any particular color (I'm horrible at that sort of design thing), I just plastered them with all my old posters and cut-outs from magazines, some of which I've had since the early 90s (and you will see pictures of my teenage bedroom in ROOKIE at some point next month if you are curious). It looked like this (and you can click to make them bigger, though it will look funny in some places where I crudely erased things off the board by my desk that give away specifics about my projects):

It wasn't horrible by any means and it was certainly inspiring for writing BALLADS and IWBYJR to be surrounded by pictures of musicians I loved/a reflection of my teenage bedroom. But it was kind of distracting to have non-work things in there (such as a dresser) and while I like some clutter, it got too cluttered at times.

The biggest problem with that office was simple: it was the coldest room in the house during the winter (note the Snuggie draped over my desk chair and that photo was taken in October!) and the hottest in the summer due to the poor ventilation system in our house and me having to keep the door closed to shut out the cats who love to jump around and knock over my clutter. We had one other smaller room, which gets the best ventilation in the house. When I had a roommate it had been her room and when my husband moved in, it became his "office," but since he's a mechanic all that really meant was it was the room where his junk piled up. So after I accidentally put our electric bill through the roof last winter by running a space heater to keep from turning to a block of ice in my office, we decided that I should move into the spare room. My old office is now a guest bedroom/place where my clothes and my husband's books are (because my books take up the rest of the house). And as an anniversary gift, my lovely husband told me he would paint the cozy little room that is now my office.

I went with a bright blue because a) blue is a great color for creativity, b) the shade reminds me of my favorite place on earth: Seattle, which is very inspiring to me, and c) it matched this gorgeous painting that Holly Cupala gave me.

Here I will give you a little virtual tour!

My decorations are more sparse compared to my old office (well, sparse for me). I only put up things that are super important/inspiring to me. As I just explained, I've got major love for Seattle and until I move there and can really see it out my window, I decided to buy a poster of the skyline and put that over the window (and I hope to make curtains for this window at some point, my recent discovery of the importance of other creative outlets will be another blogpost though). To the left of that is the painting Holly gave me, and to the left of that is a Rosie the Riveter poster my mom bought me when I was 16. I consider that one ROOKIE inspiration. My desk is cover with a bunch of tchotchkes which I will zoom in on and explain in the next picture.

Yep the desk is covered with pictures of friends, family (note my cats in the top center frame just to the right of one of a blonde me with my husband), and other inspirations (more Seattle, lots of Nirvana and Hole). In the top left hand corner is a shadow box my husband made that holds a copy of The Instructions For Life, my friend Marcel once wrote on a paper towel. Marcel passed away a few years ago and a mutual friend had copies of the instructions made for his loved ones. He has always been a huge inspiration and good force in my life since I met him when I was 15, so it's good to look up and read reminders in his handwriting like "1. Take into account that great love and great achievement involve great risk." The book to the right of the shadow box is "The Little Engine That Could," which my agent sent me a couple weeks ago when I was feeling down and out about my writing. It may be one of the most meaningful gifts I've gotten. The calendar (from Seattle of course) that hangs above my computer is essential so that I don't miss deadlines and appointments even though I also keep them in my phone and the little black day planner sitting on the left side of my desk among the many little notebooks and scraps of paper I keep out to jot down random ideas while writing. The computer is where the majority of the work happens. I got a new one a few weeks ago (more on that and the programs I put on it in a future post), so it feels perfect for a fresh start and I gave it raven wallpaper that both suits my current project and my constant Portlandia inspired jokes about "putting a bird on it."

Next to the computer is the whiteboard/corkboard, the pile of resources for the current work-in-progress, office supplies and file cabinets. I also have this giant posterboard of my first book cover that my publisher sent me and I used to take to readings. The angel print came from the EMP in Seattle. They had a bunch of locally made art inspired by their Nirvana exhibit and I really loved that one and it also totally goes with the work-in-progress. There are some work-in-progress notes on the white board though I crudely edited any specific details like title (which I'm paranoid of sharing for some reason) out. I also have an envelope with an image that reminds me of my characters and a calendar for the year the story takes place up on there. On the corkboard side, I just have badly drawn map I made for the story, an article Nova Ren Suma wrote about magical realism and then stuff for my freelance jobs. When I was finishing up my last book I had notecards up there but I'm not to that point yet and now I'm using Scrivener (again fodder for another blog post).
Here's a close up on the resource materials for the WIP to give you a little bit about it. I have a map of Los Angeles, Trickster Makes This World by Lewis Hyde, The Long Journey Home: Re-visioning the Myth of Demeter and Persephone for Our Time by Christine Downing, Women Who Run With the Wolves by Clarissa Pinkola Estes, and The Crow: Special Edition graphic novel by James O'Barr piled up on notebooks and folders with other notes....

This is the more personal side of the room.... Well aside from the Hello Kitty collection that I have to spruce up yet more boxes of files and because putting them in the guest room would probably be weird. The trunk is kind of like my altar. I'm um... well a mishmash of things when it comes to spirituality, but I have my rituals and I feel most creative surrounded by the energy that comes from the altar which has everything from candles and incense to items that memorialize people to images that give me strength to shells and rocks and dried flowers I've collected from various places. And water from Washington because I'm a Cancer and I have a water thing. And I also have an orchid thing, so my husband bought me one and I put it there but I seem to have killed it. Above the altar is a collage of my friends that I made when I first moved out after high school, so those are my oldest friends and above them is a goofy pic I took with two of my best friends who I met post-high school. That wall is still a little blank for my liking. I have a bunch of postcards from my travels that I may make a collage from and frame for that space.

The only posters that came from the old office were these, my two oldest posters. I've had the Nirvana one since eighth grade and the Hole poster since sophomore year. The tree painting is by my friend Kasia and both matches the room perfectly and also suits the mood of my WIP. Then more family photos on the bookshelf that houses my old journals.

I put some of the posters that bookstores and libraries made for me during my appearances up over in this corner along with a short fiction award I got in college and an award I got for my newspaper writing. My degrees on top of my shelf of reference books because it seems that degrees should be present in offices. Then we've got more stuffed animals, two given to me by my husband, one that I made with my niece and the official Hole teddy bear on my bookshelf which is filled with books that I've either just read, am planning to read or love so much I need them near me for their vibes. The closet door is my mood board for my WIP, which we shall see in better detail in the next picture.

So mood boards. I got the idea from Rookie which does a monthly calendar mood board so you can see our theme for the month and get little hints of what's coming up. My Rookie colleagues are so much more visual than me and it's been a great influence. I realized that while music has always been a huge inspiration to me while writing, images can really help too. I'm not the only one. Author Justine Musk wrote a great post the other day about using a site called Pintrest (which I admittedly know nothing about) to great a visionboard. Seems like the same thing as a mood board. Though I am using tumblr to share my muses albeit semi-infrequently and I've got pictures on my computer and in Scrivener, I like having them where I can just turn around and look at them, so I've started using my closet doors for this. On the right I have a Hole poster, though the inspiration has little to do with Hole and more to do with that image. Then there are postcards from California which is the setting of my book, photos that remind me of my main character and on the far left, those are images I have had forever, the top one is a flyer my friend Polly sent me from college when she was a freshman and I was still a senior in high school. The image and the words below it remind me a bit of my story/one of my characters and so does the picture I ripped from a magazine and have kept for years that is below it.

So that's the mood board and my creative space for this novel. I know I'm being all vague about it, which is intentional (don't want to jinx it) and also because it's still in early developmental phases. But the inspirations tell you something and I've also decided (*gulp*) to share the first rough paragraph:

I thought I died That Night. I stopped seeing and hearing, stopped feeling. Even though things were still happening to me, my mind and body shut down. I ceased to exist.

Yep, that's the beginning. It is quite short.

Anyway, tell me about your work space and how you cultivate inspiration for your WIP in it. And though I have several ideas to write about in this post. If there are any particular topics you think I should cover, let me know. Also how is your writing going? Mine is progressing very slowly but surely. More on that next week!

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Women Who Rock Wednesday: Lucienne Diver!

My girlfriend from the Girlfriends Cyber Circuit, Lucienne Diver has a new book out, FANGTASTIC, her latest in the VAMPED series. She most definitely rocks and here is what proves it, she created a music video for the VAMPED series!

Pretty cool, huh? And since she is so awesome, I figured a Women Who Rock Wednesday interview was in order. Let's meet Lucienne, shall we?

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

Lucienne: My heroine, Gina Covello would rather be working on her manicure than missions for the Feds’ paranormal unit to which she’s been recruited. That changes when a group of killer kids takes out a family in the sunshine state and disappearances begin to plague the lifestylers who only play at the kind of existence led by my fanged fashionista. She and her crew are sent undercover into the vampire clubs…which turn out to be run by real vampires. While Gina’s BFF Marcy hangs with the steampunk-styled Burgess Brigade which spawned the killer kids, Gina herself is supposed to get in good with the fanged fiends behind the scenes, even to the point of playing double-agent, offering to hand over her powerful boyfriend Bobby. Her playacting threatens to become a bit too real when she discovers things about her spy handlers that make her wonder whether she’s truly on the right side of the battle between Feds and fangs.

I think I was inspired by a real case that happened years ago in Florida, where a teenager who thought he was a vampire (or at least told people as much) led the killing of a former girlfriend’s parents. It was really creepy, and it stuck with me. Luckily, they were caught, and the ringleader became the youngest person on death row.

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?

Lucienne: Definitely “No Reflection,” from my Vamped series music video! (You can also view it and download the MP3 for free on my website.)

Raise Your Glass by Pink because it’s a club type song, and part of Fangtastic is set in the vampire club of Tampa, FL (a variation of which actually exists) and partly because we’re all wrong in all the right ways, aren’t we?

Psycho by Puddle of Mudd because the killer kids in Fangtastic resemble these remarks.

Slide by the Goo Goo Dolls because of the video and because this is the way Bobby feels about Gina

Last I’m going to go with a video and song I found on YouTube because they would totally have played this at The Tower. It’s labeled Vampire Kisses Music Video 2: The Coffin Club

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!

Lucienne: My fifth grade teacher, Mr. Hart, is the one who got me writing. He had us do free writing assignments on a regular basis. He’d assign a topic or opening sentence, and until time was up, our pens were not allowed to stop moving. They were wonderful exercises, and I caught the writing bug right then and there. Other authors inspire me with the greatness or frustrate me because I know I’ll never achieve it, but it all started with Mr. Hart.

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?

Lucienne: No, I’d find myself listening to the music rather than the voices in my head. Music does play into my writing process, though. I find I can’t really know my hero or heroine until I know what they’d listen to. I think it’s very telling, what music speaks to a person and why.

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

Lucienne: I’ve turned in the fourth novel in the Vamped series, Fangtabulous, which will be out in January 2013. I’m now working on Crazy in the Blood, which is the sequel to Bad Blood, the first novel in my Latter-Day Olympians urban fantasy series in which Tori Karacis, a private investigator, finds out that her family tales are true and that the Greek gods do still walk the earth (Apollo as a film star, Hephaestus as a special effects artist, the enchantress Circe is now a high powered Hollywood agent, etc.). Her family line may even trace back to the myths and legends. Unlike her gorgon ancestress, she can’t quite turn men to stone, but as for stopping them in their tracks….

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

Lucienne: I think the first concert I ever attended might have been the Christian rock artist Michael W. Smith when I was a teenager. Either that or it was Melissa Ethridge opening for Sting. I loved both shows. Also, while Sting was the big draw at the second concert, and I do love him, Melissa Ethridge really hit it out of the park. To this day she’s one of my favorite artists.

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

Lucienne: Oh, this one is a no-brainer. It happened at Dragon*Con last year when I checked my voicemail messages as I came off a panel and heard from my boothmates in the dealers’ room that a fan had been waiting for me for forty-five minutes and that I should hurry back. I was so flattered that anyone would wait so long to see me that I did rush back, and my fan was absolutely lovely! (Hi, Chey!)

Today's Contest:

After hearing more about it, I'm guessing you want FANGTASTIC and you are in luck! Lucienne is offering up a a signed copy of it and this contest is open to international entries!

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

+1 for tweeting or posting on facebook about this interview
+1 for tweeting or posting about FANGTASTIC
+5 for blogging about FANGTASTIC

Note your additional entries in your comment as well as giving me an email address or some way to contact you if you win. I will email the winner a week from today.

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Words Have Power

Two weeks ago an incredibly important book came out, DON'T BREATHE A WORD by Holly Cupala.

In case you haven't heard of it, here is the official description:

Joy Delamere is suffocating...

From asthma, which has nearly claimed her life. From her parents, who will do anything to keep that from happening. From delectably dangerous Asher, who is smothering her from the inside out.

Joy can take his words—tender words, cruel words—until the night they go too far.

Now, Joy will leave everything behind to find the one who has offered his help, a homeless boy called Creed. She will become someone else. She will learn to survive. She will breathe…if only she can get to Creed before it’s too late.

Set against the gritty backdrop of Seattle’s streets and a cast of characters with secrets of their own, Holly Cupala’s powerful new novel explores the subtleties of abuse, the meaning of love, and how far a girl will go to discover her own strength.

DBAW is one of the most powerful books I've ever read. I was lucky enough to read it well in advance of its release and this is what I had to say about it:

“Nothing has hit me so hard since Laurie Halse Anderson’s SPEAK. Holly Cupala’s beautifully drawn characters are strong and fragile, vulnerable and raw, and best of all, they are real.”

I went in to greater detail about it and why it hit me personally so hard last month when I reviewed it for ROOKIE, which you can read here. (It's in the middle of that page.) Seriously, if you are a fan of my books, especially BALLADS, you must read this book.

I'm totally in awe of Holly's talents as a writer, so I was honored when she asked me to contribute something to her "Words Have Power" video project. There are some incredibly cool authors talking about the power of words in their lives and/or books, so check it out!

Friday, January 6, 2012

GCC Presents: Eileen Cook!

Looking for new books to read in the new year? Well you are in luck! One of my gals from the girlfriends cyber circuit has a new release that sounds AMAZING! Let's talk to Eileen Cook about UNRAVELING ISOBEL, shall we?

Here's the lowdown on it:

Isobel’s life is falling apart. Her mom just married some guy she met on the internet
only three months before, and is moving them to his sprawling, gothic mansion off the coast of nowhere. Goodbye, best friend. Goodbye, social life. Hello, icky new stepfather, crunchy granola town, and unbelievably good-looking, officially off-limits stepbrother.

But on her first night in her new home, Isobel starts to fear that it isn’t only her life that’s unraveling—her sanity might be giving way too. Because either Isobel is losing her mind, just like her artist father did before her, or she’s seeing ghosts. Either way, Isobel’s fast on her way to being the talk of the town for all the wrong

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

Eileen: I work as a counselor and am interested in mental health issues. I think one of the most difficult things about having mental illnesses is that you can’t trust your own perception of reality. How do you cope when you aren’t sure what you see and hear is real? I decided I wanted to write about Isobel who struggles with trying to figure out if she’s seeing a ghost, if she’s going crazy, or if her step dad is trying to make everyone think she’s crazy so he can get rid of her.

Plus, I’ve always loved gothic novels. I love creepy old houses, buried family secrets and the potential for a ghost or two. Not to mention a cute boy in the picture.

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?

Eileen: These songs match the mood and tone of the book. There is something sort of eerie about them that keep you off balance.

Mad World by Gary Jules
People are Strange by the Doors
Hey You- Pink Floyd
Unwell- Matchbox 20
I Will Remember You- Sarah McLachlan

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?

Eileen: I can’t listen to music while I write. I tend to start singing along and that’s not good for anyone- in part because I can’t sing at all. I sound like someone stepping on a cat.

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

Eileen: I am working on a book that we’re currently calling Shady Sadie (stay tuned I suspect the title will change!). It’s the story of Sadie, who is a teenage con artist. When she realizes that she looks like an age enhanced photo of a missing child she decides to pull the ultimate con… until she begins to suspect she may actually be the missing child.

Eileen's books are so amazing. I love the mental health/ghosts combo of this one so it is going on my to-buy list for sure! And the one she is working on now sounds incredible, too!

Thursday, January 5, 2012

Behind the Scenes: Connecting with Readers (Crossposted from TFC)

This is crossposted from my group blog, Teen Fiction Cafe, but I love this band and this fan art so much that I had to share it here too. Also, so that after yesterday's post you don't think I'm a total negative Nelly.


Wendy shared some amazing things that she's been doing behind the scenes in her writing life on Tuesday. I think my favorite behind the scenes thing that happens in my writing life has to be emails and letters from readers. I'm not a super huge rock star of a writer so I don't get tons of these (which is always awkward to admit when the email starts something like "I'm sure you get tons of these so if you can't write back...") but even if I did, I know that every single one would matter to me. It seems like most email I get is either junk or bills or boring day-to-day stuff, so when I get an email from someone who enjoyed one or both of my books, it is literally the highlight of my day. I write the books that I would have wanted to read as a teen, so when teenagers tell me that they connected with my characters and were encouraged by the books in some way, I truly feel like I've done something meaningful. No matter how many books I sell, no matter what I do with my life after this, I'll have made some small impact for someone.

In some cases, readers tell me that they never liked reading until they read my books because my stories felt so real. Huge compliment and I always send them book recommendations so that hopefully they will come to love the world of books as much as I have. In other cases, since my books deal with issues like rape, drug abuse, depression, and self-injury, I get emails from readers who were inspired to confront their own personal demons or who found my books therapeutic and healing. Those are some of the most meaningful emails/conversations I've ever had.

And then I get emails from readers who inspire ME, which is super mega awesome. A couple of weeks ago, I got an email from a girl named Kayla Spazz in Australia. She told me how she'd gotten I WANNA BE YOUR JOEY RAMONE as a gift for her best friend, Acacia Pip. She explained that she'd done something that I definitely have done before when giving books as gifts--she read the book before she wrapped. She really loved it and she thought it was crazy how much my characters Emily and Regan reminded her of herself and Acacia, who were not only best friends but bandmates. She said their band, Smash Mystery is made up of three girls and a boy and they take a lot of guff for being a girl band, but she doesn't care because those folks will be eating their words when they are on the cover of Rolling Stone. I noticed a link to the band's website in her signature and clicked to check it out. You should click it too and listen to the song at the top of the page, "Dolls." I listened to it like five times. I ADORE it! I ADORE them! And Kayla and Acacia are 15! They will be taking over the world, I am sure of it!

That is what I love best about having written I WANNA BE YOUR JOEY RAMONE in particular, meeting girls like Kayla and Acacia who are actually living it. I wrote that book because I always wanted a band like She Laughs to top the charts and through the book I discover bands like Smash Mystery who are posed to do it. Serious awesomeness.

And the story gets even cooler. Acacia got her Christmas gift and read it, and thank goodness, loved it, too! She sent me a picture she'd made of my main character Emily Black in photoshop. And as it turns out she imagines Emily pretty much as I do. She said I could share it with you so here it is:

So this, in my opinion is the best behind-the-scenes part of the writing life. Hearing from readers and discovering how amazingly talented they are! Enjoy Smash Mystery :)

Wednesday, January 4, 2012

A month of fun followed by tough realizations for the New Year

I've been keeping to myself for the past month or so. Haven't been blogging much (not that that is particularly new) and I haven't even really been on Twitter or Facebook. I've barely been keeping up on email. My house became (and parts of it still are) an utter disaster area. I threw my entire carefully plotted daily routine and usual healthy eating habits out of the window. And writing... I haven't really written since December 6th.

Why? Well I returned home from my writing retreat to a buttload of work. A bunch of freelance articles were due and in addition to that, I had 400+ pages of student work to read and review (I write individual letters to my students rather than simply grading them) for the Young Adult Fiction class I was teaching. Also on December 7th, my friend Lindsay arrived. Lindsay is one of my best friends in the whole wide world. We met during our freshman year at Antioch College, a tiny liberal arts school in Ohio. It turned out it was too tiny and too free-spirited to be a functional learning environment for me, so I dropped out after a very unproductive year. The best thing I got out of Antioch was Lindsay who I spent most of my free time with--and a lot of the time I was supposed to be in class, too. We spent the majority of that time drunk or finding ways to get booze or sneak into clubs/bars underage. (Turns out tiny little bars in tiny little towns in Ohio don't card too hard.) We invented a few drinking games including one using a board game for addiction treatment called "Road to Recovery" that we found in the "Wellness Center." (Yeah it was a real hippie school.) When we weren't drunk (and sometimes when we were), we had a lot of adventures on campus in the Glen, driving around small town Ohio and taking an epic road trip to New Orleans. (Though that motel where Emily and Louisa stay in New Orleans in IWBYJR, that's where we stayed. Also that crazy drugged out hallucination/near overdose Emily has may have been borrowed a bit from my own experience.) We also developed obsessions with things that most people wouldn't expect of a gutter punk (her) and a goth (me) namely the band Matchbox 20 and any and all movies starring the two Coreys.

After I left Antioch in 1998, Lindsay and I haven't seen much of each other. We both lived in Madison, Wisconsin for a couple of years, but our time there only overlapped by six months and I was in a bad relationship so I didn't spend as much time as I should have hanging out with her. We managed to maintain our friendship across the years and the miles though. Even if we go months without emailing, we tend to pick up right where we left off. She's visited me in Chicago. I've visited her in Tampa and Baltimore. But she's been living in Asia for the past few years so other than a brief visit while we were both in Baltimore in 2010, Skype has been the only way we've interacted. However she is finishing up a Master's degree that she started online and her campus is in Missouri about six hours away from me, so I suggested that before she moved down there, she stay with me for awhile.

So she arrived on December 7th and for the first week of her stay we both worked our asses off, her finishing up her coursework, me finishing up my teaching. Then I had a decide how I was going to cram time with Lindsay into my already hectic routine. To explain what that is, I bartend Wednesday, Thursday and Saturday nights from 7:30 pm to 2 am--3 on Saturdays. I basically spend all of the days up until I work and all day Monday and Tuesday writing my book, my freelance articles, keeping up with blogging, email and social networks. I run errands on Friday and go to writing group on Sunday afternoons. So my "free time" pretty much amounts to Monday and Tuesday evenings after I complete my work for the day (and sometimes I don't complete it until bedtime), Friday afternoons and evening after errand running, and Sunday evening after writer's group. There is very VERY little free time here. And I decided it was not enough to time to catch up with my friend who has been living overseas for years and will be headed back overseas come June. Also, as you can imagine fitting teaching into my routine (that class was Tuesday evenings) had caused even more of a time crunch. I was totally and completely burned out.

I thought, fuck it. I deserve a break. Or even if I don't (I have a really hard time not feeling guilty about taking breaks), if I don't take one, I am going to crack. So I did. I decided that aside from going to the bartending job and writing the freelances pieces as they came due, Lindsay and I would just have fun, go on adventures and entertain ourselves like we used to (except with a lot less booze because I proved in one night that I'm a massive lightweight now). I wrote about some of what we did in my local paper, which you can check out here, but in addition to that we:

  • Ate a lot of Taco Bell and Subway. Lindsay really missed the crappy yet delicious fast food we have here in America, so we indulged in a lot of it. I'm usually a very healthy eater, like I have these shakes for breakfast and a salad for lunch everyday and I've been doing that for about 2 years and realized I was insanely sick of it, so I went all out on the crappy food, eating whatever I wanted (as long as it was vegan, though I even cheated on the dairy a few times). I must admit, I enjoyed it. Only gained a few pounds too, so maybe I should indulge a little more often.
  • Drank a lot of champagne and juice. Not traditional mimosas, but we discovered (thanks to my mom at Christmas actually) that champagne mixes fabulously with cranberry juice, pomegranate juice, pretty much all juice. And it is safe for Stephanie the lightweight. Vodka is also generally safe for me so we had fun with cake-flavored vodka as well as some Smirnoff minis which you will hear more about.
  • Did a lot of thrift store and mall shopping. Despite the multiple jobs I mentioned above, I have a hard time making ends meet. A really hard time. I generally stick hardcore to a budget. I also don't have a car and only borrow one once a week from my mom to run errands, which means I don't really have time to go anywhere besides the grocery store. But Lindsay missed the mall and Target and especially thrift stores. So I decided to splurge on myself a little bit. Due to holiday sales and um thrift stores being super cheap, I was able to make my tiny splurge budget stretch, so it was actually pretty fun. I found a bunch of great $1.50 necklaces at Forever 21 one day and got a lot of new used clothes.
  • We also got this book, a guide to transforming poorly fitted t-shirts into new clothes! Due to being an insecure teenager, I bought all of my t-shirts in L and XL for years. They have been piling up in my closet for a decade because I finally have enough self-esteem to dress in fitted clothes, but I'm too nostalgic to part with the shirt from the 1995 Mudhoney concert. We spent DAYS transforming shirts into new improved shirts and in one case a skirt. Here are my favorites, a Mudhoney halter, a Sleater-Kinney lace-up tank, a Sex Pistols skirt, and best of all, a halter made from two of my old riot grrrl shirts. It is going to be my favorite shirt of the summer I know it.
  • We took a mini-road-trip to Missouri to find her an apartment in her college town. It was very much the Bible Belt. We took pictures of giant crosses on the road and took the tracts from the hotel lobby and posed them with some mini liquor bottles we found--and finding liquor on a Sunday night was a feat. It led us unfortunately at first to a frat boy bar, but Lindsay and I made do the way we always have.

  • In addition to revisiting our history of road trips and bad bars, we also revisited our Corey obsession and did a marathon of all three Lost Boys movies. Yep, there are three. The two sequels went straight to DVD. Lindsay and I did not let this deter us. After all we did watch "Blown Away," which was basically a soft porn starring the two Coreys during the height of our obsession in the late 90s. And back then we had to put actual effort into finding those movies by seeking out and getting memberships at all of the video stores in a 30 mile radius of Antioch. These were on Netflix streaming so what the hell..... Just so you are warned in case you are thinking of making a day of Lost Boys movies, those sequels were straight to DVD for a reason. We pronounced the last one, "The Thirst," as literally the worst thing either of us had ever seen... and we've seen some bad shit as evidenced by the soft porn I mentioned earlier.
  • After the Lost Boys disaster, we decided to feed nostalgia only from trusted sources. I found a forty-nine cent copy of Clueless on VHS at the thrift store (yes, I still have a VCR) and it was the best money I've spent possibly ever. We also watched Dazed and Confused and Gross Pointe Blank, but that's not all....
  • Lindsay brought back a bunch of TV shows on DVD from Asia because umm they are cheaper there... also probably not totally legal, but what the hell. I'd seen a couple episodes of the original Skins (I would not watch the MTV version to save my life) and wanted to see more, so we watched 4 seasons of it. I have the 5th season too and we started it, but we just weren't sold. We both loved the first two seasons with the original cast. That may have been some of the most incredible, fucked-up, honest storytelling about teens I've ever seen. But we really didn't like the second cast and the third didn't grow one us immediately, so we quit and moved on to....
  • Firefly. This was not one Lindsay brought for us (I still have a few seasons of Sons of Anarchy and two UK shows she thought I'd like, Being Human and Spaced). My brother gave my husband Firefly and Serenity for Christmas because he felt there was a major gap in my TV viewing for a lover of sci-fi. Yes, there was. It was literally one of the best shows ever and I am belatedly pissed at Fox for canceling it.
  • We also cashed out half a season of Supernatural with my friend from my writing group. The "group" is really just me and my friend and we generally write during the day on Sundays and then eat dinner while watching Supernatural as a reward for our hard work. Well, the two times we got together while Lindsay was in town, we basically just went straight for the reward. I'm now into season 3 of Supernatural and insanely in love with it.
  • In addition to TV, Lindsay and I rediscovered video games. My husband has an old Sega Genesis and I introduced Lindsay to my favorite game from junior high/high school: ToeJam and Earl. Your goal is to help a pair of alien rappers find the pieces of the spaceship they crashed. It's a rare breed who loves ToeJam and Earl. As it turns out Lindsay is One Of Us. We spent hours on that game before finally looking up a cheat code so we could win. We also found a bunch of cheat codes for Sonic the Hedgehog, though we sadly did not have enough time to beat that before Lindsay left yesterday morning.
Now, no doubt you are thinking a couple of things about me. 1. I excel at being a slacker. 2. Giving up my routine must have been easy because I sure took to it like a fish to water. and 3. I must be well-rested now and ready to get back to work.

You would only be right about one of those things. The first one. I do find some amazingly fun ways to waste time when I'm in the right company and after I've shut off the little internal alarm that is screaming at me about being irresponsible. The routine that I've trained myself to follow for the past couple of years was really hard to kick. I felt horribly guilty at first. The house was a warzone (especially the basement which became the TV-watching, shirt-making, video-game-playing, champagne-drinking den). There was healthy food going to waste. I was spending money I didn't really have. I wasn't keeping in touch with people online. Worst of all, I wasn't sitting down to write. But once I did break the routine, I discovered something, the thing that makes #3 untrue: I was miserable.

I've been miserable and depressed for much of the last two years. I know it. My friends and family know it. People online even know it because I'm not very good at faking contentedness. Also because I have the guilt thing, I feel guilty that everyone knows I'm miserable. I don't want to be a Debbie Downer. So then I try to fake contentedness which only makes me more miserable. It's a vicious cycle. So I tried to create this routine to keep myself busy at all times, feel productive and keep the misery at bay. For much of 2011 it worked. I did feel better for the most part about my writing than I did in the epic disaster that was 2010. But deep down all of the self-doubt and misery lurked. It's been hard keeping to the routine. It's been hard sacrificing everything, especially my time with my husband and my friends because I have to work non-stop at four different jobs to make ends meet and the ends still aren't meeting. It's incredibly draining. And after Lindsay left yesterday, I did collapse sobbing because I don't want to go back to it. I dread it almost as much as I did my office drone job that I quit in 2008.

I really enjoyed staying off the internet because while it connects me with people, it also tends to remind me of all that I'm not. I haven't sold a book in almost four years. I don't write quickly. I don't write splashy books that are going to sell hugely. Before I sold my first book I was so unaware of the writing industry, I just wrote for the love of the story, there was no pressure, it was just fun. The first year of being actually published was fun--well the first couple months were at least, but then the pressure set in and I've been wondering lately if I'm cut out for it. Maybe I'm too emotional for this cut-throat industry. And maybe it doesn't matter because who knows if I will ever sell another book again. I hope I do, but you just don't know.

Something really ugly happened at the beginning of the New Year. I was bartending. It was a slow and crappy night. I was about to close. It was just me and a few regulars which was cool but then this guy came in. A guy I shouldn't have let in because I knew he was douchebag. Sure enough, he behaved like one and long story short, I asked him to leave on his way out, he screamed at me about how I was shit, how my life was pathetic, how I was just a bartender at a shitty bar and I would never be anything more than that and he felt sorry for me. He wasn't drunk. He was definitely a tool and I know his words shouldn't mean anything to me. What should matter is that my friend Drew stood up for me and screamed back at him how I was a published author and I was awesome, etc, etc. But that guy managed to put my biggest fears right there on display literally 3 hours in 2012. It seemed like a terrible omen. I mean, I'm trying not to let it be, but it's still gnawing at me.

So I'm going into this new year feeling extremely uncertain about everything. I'm spending this week cleaning my house, organizing things and this weekend, my husband and I are going away for some quality time. (My Christmas present to him plus a thank you for letting me and my friend take over the house for a month.) Then I'll come back and try to get back into my novel. I'm scared because it seems like it's not clicking more than it's clicking for me and awesome and exciting as the idea is, I'm not sure I can pull it off. I'm not sure I have the drive for it. That is the really terrifying thing: I'm afraid the pressure that I've put on myself for the past few years has sucked the joy out of writing for me. Between that and the financial strain, I've been seriously considering going back to school for library science, thinking maybe if I focus my love of words and YA lit in another way I'll find the passion again.

Now don't think I'm quitting. I'm not. Not at this point at least. I've always promised myself that I'd give it to the end of 2012 before I reevaluated my career path. And last time I got to this point was five years ago and right before I started applying for schools, my first book sold. Maybe that will happen again and the Bartender Book will sell. But even that is not going to be a magic band-aid. No matter what this is going to be a year of reevaluation, a year of finding balance and I've realized that balance doesn't just mean getting all the things crossed off my to-do list and fitting at least three or four hours of writing in every day. It means having time to feel like a normal person. To wind down and watch TV or read or play games. To do the projects like t-shirt making that I always end up just telling myself I'm going to do. To be happy and relaxed as much of the time as possible. Or at least to feel on most days like I did when I was drinking champagne and playing old video games with Lindsay.

I'm not sure how to make that happen. I'm especially not sure how to do it with all of my jobs and writing. I guess I have to start with not overcommitting to things and making my to-do list too long, but I'm not really sure how to do that. That's why I'm spending this week regrouping, this weekend (well really Sunday, Monday, Tuesday) reenergizing with my husband and the rest of next week trying to push myself so fully into my story world and detach from all those writing pressures so I can evaluate if it's just the pressure that's getting to me, if the story is part of the problem or if I really have begun to lose my passion. Also thanks to Jeri Smith-Ready (who along with Tara Kelly, Karen Mahoney and Vanessa Barneveld have kept me from totally breaking down about all of this), I'm going to start a five-year journal to keep track of how I'm feeling day to day. I explained the five-year journal pretty much exactly as Jeri explained it to me on the Rookie Tumblr so if you want to know more, go here. The Rookie Tumblr is totally rad by the way and way better than my blog or tumblr.

Sorry for the epic post that is kind of a downer, which is not the way most people want to start out New Year's I know. And I may delete this, I'm not sure... But I just felt like I had to be honest even if I only keep it up for a night. And for those of you who do read it and have any suggestions for how to balance or detach all the baggage I've attached to writing over the past few years, I'd be eager for your tips.