Tag Archives: i write words

The Road Thus Far: Turning in the Book

Hello, I’m back, and trying something new. I’ve been thinking a lot about how when I was a pre-book deal writer, I was always curious about what happens between the ‘being offered the book deal’ and the ‘seeing shiny new hardcover on bookstore shelf’. The whole process seems very secret, but really it’s not! Well some things are, but mostly I think what happens should be talked about rather than shrouded in mystery. So this is a start of a new series I’m calling The Road Thus Far, in which I will chronicle with as much honesty and transparency as I am able the process of getting a debut novel published by a large house. Feel free to ask questions in comments, and I will do my best to answer them!

So, first and foremost in today’s publishing-related news, I turned in my book1!

It has happened! After editing like mad since my book sold in June, the final manuscript is sitting in my editor’s inbox! And while the journey is far from over, the manuscript itself is now basically out of my hands2 and will soon be off to people who will make it more book-shaped and do things with it that I couldn’t do by myself, like inserting commas in the right places and spelling laboratory correctly3.

Don’t worry: I’ve already thought of at least five things I should have done differently. And it’s only been a few hours since I turned it in. 

This was essentially my last chance to change anything with the manuscript. Okay, sure, there will be copy editing changes because I’m a nightmare of a grammarian who did not realize until a few months ago that suit and soot are two different words, and as I’m reading over those, I will probably find some sentence I just can’t stand and beg them to let me rewrite it, but really the big stuff is now solid and fixed. And after tinkering with this book for basically a year and a half, this is terrifying.

Because what if I’m wrong? What if there were better choices for the characters, or more realistic turns for the plot? What if my world-building just makes no sense and I never realized it? What if my writing is interchangeable with that of a third grader? Or what if my writing is actually worse, because most third graders know the difference between soot and suit, don’t they? And I know you have to trust your editor, trust your agent, trust your critique partners who would have told you long ago if these things sucked. But those voices are so quiet compared to the ones in my head that tell me I have done everything wrong and will probably regret letting other people read this weird thing I wrote. It is so hard to trust myself, and almost harder now that I know people are going to be reading it at the end of all this.

Because really, books are never done, are they? We could all keep tinkering with our manuscripts for the rest of our lives4. So is this version I’ve ended up with really the one that I want to put out into the world?

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Some celebratory coloring after I turned in the book.

For a long time, I told myself the lie that as soon as I got a book deal, I would feel like a Real Writer. Maybe even (gasp!) an author. All my anxiety would go away and I would feel confident in my skills and the choices I made for my book. Spoiler alert—that didn’t happen. In fact, sometimes I feel like more of a fraud now because I have tricked everyone into thinking I’m good enough to be published when I’m really not. As a writer, I don’t feel any different than I did the night before I got my book deal, or the week, or even the month. I don’t feel competent or qualified. Writing is still hard, and still makes me anxious, except now I think about other people reading this thing that is hard and anxious for me. And then I want to throw up.

But something sort of remarkable also happened during this process of sweating out my final draft. Somewhere, in the delirious Diet Coke-fueled haze that comes with doing final edits on your debut novel, I started to feel okay about what I’ve written, and started to remember why I’d written it in the first place. I started to love my characters again, and thinking things like, “If people don’t like these choices I made, who cares? I like them!” There were a few places I actually felt good about what I had written. And even one moment when I thought, “Hot damn, some genius wrote this!” Though admittedly, when I thought that, I was reading the Frankenstein quotations that appear in the manuscript rather than something I had actually written. But still.

And then these stupid little things keep happening that send me into fits of delirious joy, things like my editor sending me the flap copy that will go on the inside of the book jacket, and asking me to write my bio, and giving me the name of the person who will be designing my book. These little things that didn’t happen when writing was just me, my computer, and my anxiety. And as frightened as I am to release this monstrous thing I have created into the world, it is infinitely more exciting, and I am trying not to run from it and instead let myself enjoy it.

Have questions about my road to publication thus far, or what happens to a debut novel after it sells? Leave them in the comments! Just please don’t ask a question that requires me to answer with the words suit, soot, or laboratory.

  1. I feel like I need to admit that I am actually writing this days before I turn in said book, though by the time it hits the blog, it will have actually happened. But I do sort of feel like I’m taunting myself by writing those words without actually having accomplished them yet.
  2. Unless something went horribly wrong and my editor hates all the changes I made.
  3. Which, in spite of the fact that I’ve been writing a Frankenstein book for a year and a half, I still can’t do.
  4. And some of us do. I’m looking at you, Tolkien.
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in which my blog turns two

For the second year in a row, I totally missed my blog’s birthday. For shame.

But in the wake of that missed anniversary, I started thinking about what this blog is, exactly.

Lots of people start blogs, post twice, and then abandon them because, let’s be real, blogging is a lot of work. Lots of people think blogging will be easy, but it’s not. I hear a lot of writers express how much they don’t like blogging and so they don’t do it. I also hear people say that blogging is a waste of time because every word on your blog is a word not written in your novel. I also hear people say your blog has to be something. It has to have a brand. You have to be a book review blog, or a writer blog, or a personal blog, or a DIY blog, or a photography blog. You have to be a thing, or people get confused and don’t know what you are and go somewhere else where lines are more clearly drawn.

I admit—this blog is sort of confusing. It began as a chronicle of my days as an NPR intern, then transitioned into me as grad student, and now is sort of a chronicle of a writer’s life. I don’t totally know what it is. I might never know, and recently I’ve been trying to figure out what I want it to be.

“You should post more about writing,” I think sometimes. But then I think, “But everyone posts about writing, and I don’t really like writing about writing. It’s too meta.”

“You should post book reviews,” I sometimes think. But then I think, “But my opinions about books usually apply to me and no one else.”

“You shouldn’t post weird stories about your life,” I think sometimes. But then I think, “But I like posting weird stories about my life. They’re fun and different and sometimes too hilarious not to share.”

“You shouldn’t write such pseudo-intellectual posts, because they make you sound pretentious and insufferable,” I sometimes think. But then I think, “But sometimes I have to talk issues out with myself before I can figure out my own opinions, and a blog is a good place to do that.”

“You should be consistent and only write about one thing,” I sometimes think.

“You should make this blog a marketing tool,” I sometimes think.

“You should drink more water because all that Diet Coke is rotting your insides,” I sometimes think.

But then I think, “But I like Diet Coke so much better.”

What am I saying? I’m saying that I might be the last person on earth who sincerely loves blogging. I feel like I can be sort of unfiltered and unbridledly myself on this blog. This is my voice, a voice I don’t get to use in my fiction, and it’s very different than other things I write, in structure and tone and topic. I talk about what’s on my mind here. Sometimes that’s writing. Sometimes that’s anxiety. Sometimes that’s my family. Sometimes that’s traveling. Sometimes that’s getting my violin fixed by a Bond villain.

Maybe that will someday make me a PR nightmare. But for now, my blog will remain a really awesome mess. Thank you for being here with me, and I hope you continue to enjoy it.

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in which I participate in #MyWritingProcess

So I have been tagged in a thing that has been circulating around a lot of writer’s blogs recently, fondly known as #MyWritingProcess, in which writers answer a series of questions about their work. Since I got tagged twice by my two critique partners, I felt like I should probably do it.

Here’s a better explanation of what it is that I didn’t write:

We writers share these things, but informally during workshops and at conferences (and, for a handful of established writers, in printed interviews), but not so much through our open-forum blogs. With the hashtag #MyWritingProcess, you can learn how writers all over the world answer the same four questions. How long it takes one to write a novel, why romance is a fitting genre for another, how one’s playlist grows as the draft grows, why one’s poems are often sparked by distress over news headlines or oddball facts learned on Facebook…

So. Let’s do this.

1)     What am I working on?

Right now, I’m in a period of between. I am just about to jump into edits on THE SHADOW BOYS ARE BREAKING. Meanwhile, the first draft of a newer manuscript, this one about gender and first love during the Dutch tulipomania, is being mulled over by one of my lovely critique partners. So at this moment, I’m less working and more waiting.

2)     How does my work differ from others of its genre?

Since SHADOW BOYS is pretty understandably on my brain, let’s talk about that!

What makes this book different from all the other young adult historical fantasy books1 coming out next year? Here are five things:

  1. It is a steampunk book that is not set in Victorian England and has no magic
  2. The story centers around a sibling relationship, not a romantic one
  3. There are old-school cyborgs
  4. The main character does not like to read or love books
  5. It includes 100% more gears, Coleridge, dissections, half-human monsters, book throwing, clock towers, unsexy kissing, spiced wine, and Christmas markets than almost any other YA book out there. Guaranteed.

3)     Why do I write what I do?

So I write primarily things set in the past. I was a history major in undergrad, and I first found my love of history through historical fiction. I love reading historical fiction because it feels like fantasy—a time and place too far away from where we are now for me to imagine as someone’s reality—but the times and places are real, and we are connected to those stories by the universalities of the human experience. Sounds corny, but that’s why I love historical fiction. It makes history somehow feel simultaneously impossible and real.

4)     How does your writing process work?

Now this is the question, isn’t it? I’m still trying to figure out if it does actually work.

When I first get an idea, I resist the urge to start writing immediately because that generally results in fifty or so misguided pages that trickle into nothing and abandonment. Instead, I usually spend six months to a year with an idea bouncing around inside me before I ever put pen to paper2. This period of researched-fueled incubation can be best summed up by a quote from Emerson Cod, the private detective in Pushing Daisies: “Well that idea just made a stupid idea feel better about itself.” The year a book spends in my head is my chance to get all the bad ideas out of my system (and let me assure you, these ideas are bad. I just found my original outline for SHADOW BOYS and…let’s just say I spent a lot of time way off base) and give the good ones a chance to fight their way through.

After a year, I still don’t know everything about the story, but I know enough that I can crank out a first draft3. Even though that first draft is barely readable and generally a mess, it is how I figure things out. Terry Pratchett says a first draft is just you telling yourself the story. I learn what my own book is about by writing it. Once that first draft is done, I let it rest for a while. This distance gives me time to get unattached emotionally from what I wrote and be more objective about it. And then…revise! Revise revise revise! Which is fun and hard and there’s no process or rhyme or reason to this, it varies so much between projects.

An unrelated but really important part of every book I write is the creation of two things: the Pinterest board and the playlist. I love finding songs and images4 and poems and lyrics and art that relates to my project in a variety of ways. I’ve found answers to plot questions and character conundrums in songs and art. Sometimes I find images that I like so much I work the image into my project. The Pinterest board and the playlist are both crucial to my process, and provide me with something other than an open word document to stare at when I get stuck.

And that’s my process! Now, the hop continues! I’m tagging:

Rebecca Wells, a Simmons MFA-er, bookseller, and writer whose prose will make you weep with envy.

Jessica Arnold author of the delightfully creepy YA novel The Looking Glass, eBook designer, and magic enthusiast. That last thing is only sort of a lie.

 

  1. All two of them.
  2. Or rather fingers to keyboard.
  3. It should be noted that I do not go back and revise as I draft. It’s the only way I keep my forward momentum.
  4. In spite of being a writer, I’m really visual.
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in which your book deal questions are answered

It has now been two weeks since my book sold. One week since I announced it to the wide world. In that week since, I have been reminded that I have both the best people in my life and am part of the best community. So thank you to all you friends and strangers who were excited for me and made my big news impossibly bigger.

In the last week, I’ve discovered that people have a lot of the same questions after you tell them you just sold a book. So I decided to compile my answers all in one convenient place. A book deal FAQ, as it were.

Hopefully all your questions are answered here, and if not, leave them in comments!

 

What’s your book called?

Apparently a lot of people missed this. It’s called THE SHADOW BOYS ARE BREAKING. This title is subject to change, as all titles are, but for now, this is it’s name.

 

Can I buy it now?

I know, I want it right now too! But alas—it doesn’t come out until next fall (as in 2015).

 

Ugh why does it take so long?!

Funnily enough, my book is actually coming out really fast in terms of a typical publishing timeline. Right now at my publishing job, we are working on books that won’t come out until 2017. Publishing takes a long time. Books are made up of a lot of pieces and it takes a lot of time for all those pieces to come together.

 

Speaking of your day job, are you going to quit it?

Aw that’s cute. In spite of Suzanne Collins and JK Rowling setting examples otherwise, not all children’s authors are rolling in the dough. Someday I would love to quit my day job and write full time, but today is not that day, because Boston is expensive and student loans are building at my back and I have to support my Diet Coke habit. So no, I’m not quitting my job, both for monetary reasons and because I really like my job. Jobs. Both of them.

 

What’s the cover going to look like?

I have no idea! Authors really don’t have control over that. But all of Katherine Tegen’s books have such lovely covers, I can’t imagine it will be anything less than extraordinary.

 

Um, why are you not publishing under your real name?

I’ve been a little surprised by how many people have been shocked and affronted over my decision to publish under a different name than the one that appears on my driver’s license. Turns out my last name has a lot of passionate defenders.

So here’s the deal about this—first of all, Mackenzi Lee is my real name. It is just my real name with the last bit hacked off. As previously discussed, my last name is long and intimidating, and after focus grouping it for over twenty years, I’ve discovered that most people’s initial reaction to my last name is panic. And I don’t want people panicking when they see the cover of my book. It is also very important to me as an author to be easy to find, and while many of you might think my last name is lovely and charming, try spelling it out in the nonexistent Goodreads search engine feature after only briefly glancing at it or hearing it said once in passing. I promise you will end up just banging your fist on the keyboard. That’s sometimes what I end up doing. So the dissection of my name is something I have thought long and hard about. It is not a snap decision. It was not decided by my agent or my editor or my publisher. It is not a rejection of my cultural heritage. It is instead a deliberate and well-thought out choice on my part in order to make me more easily accessible to the people who might someday read my book.

 

Wait, what happened to that other book you wrote?

What a good memory you have! So last summer, when I signed with my agent, it was not with this book. Back then, this book was only a few confused chapters saved in my file of ideas that might never get written. So yes, I did write another book before this one. It was about glass making in nineteenth-century Venice, and while I loved it dearly, and my agent loved it dearly, and even some editors loved it, it did not get published, and after sending it out to publishers for quite a while, it became time to, in the words of Elsa, let it go. There are so many factors that go into what books get published—it’s not always just which books are best—and for various reasons, this book did not get picked up. Maybe someday I’ll dig it back out and try again, but for now, it’s being left behind. Am I sad about this? Yeah, I guess, a little, but I also couldn’t have written SHADOW BOYS without writing that other book first.

 

So what’s book two going to be about?

It amuses and amazes me how many people have asked this. I’m too excited about book one (which is already written) to even think about book two (which is not). I don’t know what book two will be about. While I am definitely anxious about writing it, because I am a writer and thus plagued by irrational anxiety that I will never have another good idea again, I was calmed by wise words of encouragement from my agent: writing book two is like that scene in Harry Potter 3, where Harry knows he can conjure the patronus because he’s already done it before. So I am trying to be confident in my ability to conjure another patronus!

 

Is the whole world different now that you have a book deal?

You know, it really isn’t. True, I’ve been doing a lot of out-of-context grinning and some spontaneous dancing over the past two weeks, and probably will keep doing that for the next year and a half, but my life isn’t really that different than it was pre-book deal. It’s funny how things can change and still stay the same.

Have any other book deal questions? Leave them in comments! 

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In which the book deal is announced

If you have been around me at all this past week, you might have found yourself asking questions such as, “Why does Mackenzie seem so happy?” “Why has all her usual grump and cynicism been replaced by aggressive cheer?” “Why is she smiling at me like that? It’s creepy. Make her stop smiling at me like that.”

Well at long last, I can tell you! I can finally explain why I have spent the last week vomiting happiness on everyone I came in contact with.

Two words, friends: book deal.

Book. Deal.

I’ll let the official announcement from today’s Publisher’s Marketplace1 explain further:

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So this is happening! It is a real thing and not just the fever dream I have sustained for the past three years!

What does this mean for you, my lovely friends? Well, two things, really. One, you all are going to have to put up with my Frankenstein obsession for at least another year and a half, so prepare yourself for every conversation we have—online or off—to include some sort of tangential reference to Shelley. Two, and more importantly, it means that at some point next fall, you will be able to walk into your local independent bookstore, mosey over to the YA section, and pick up a shiny hard-backed edition of my incredibly weird post-modern revisionist steampunk-lite meta-gothic-horror Frankenstein reimagining2.

My novel is going to be published3!!! There are not enough exclamation points in the world to convey how I feel about this!! I have been dancing to myself all week, and now you all can dance with me!

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Friends, I am SO EXCITED. And even that is an understatement.

 

  1. Publisher’s Marketplace! I feel so fancy and legit!
  2. And at an undisclosed time after that, you will be able to buy ANOTHER book of mine. Because did you see—two book deal! That means I get to write another one!
  3. By, in case you missed it in the PM announcement, Katherine Tegen Books, a YA imprint of HarperCollins. You might have heard of them. They publish a little book called Divergent.

 

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in which some big things happen

I’ve had this post saved in my drafts for about a week labeled “Things I Should Probably Talk About.” Because I am often really good at writing about the weird little stories of no consequence that happen to me, but not always great at hitting the big things, and these last few weeks were chock full of big things.

So here are a few that I felt were worth talking about:

Big Thing #1: I finished my MFA!

Two weeks ago last Friday, I donned a funny looking hat, a wrinkled robe1 and a shroudy hoodish thing that made me feel a bit like a sorcerer, piled into a bus with four thousand of my closest friends and drove to the Bank of America Pavilion which, it turns out, is a terrible place to host anything when it is even remotely cold, and oh man, was it cold. Rainy and grey and the wind off the water was merciless. At one point, the girl I was sitting next to and I realized we could actually see our breath. In May. It was a cold, cold place to be forced to sit still on uncomfortable folding chairs for two hours while name after endless name was read off.

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But in spite of sounding very negative about the whole affair, it was a good time. Graduation ceremonies are a bit silly if you think about them too hard, mostly because of all the pomp and circumstance, but every time I’ve gone to one, I’ve had a genuine moment of pride and coolness when I got to walk up on stage, hear my name read, and get the little fake diploma. So overall the day was enjoyable. And my lovely family came in from Utah for the occasion, so I got to be with them. And, true to our usual classy selves, while everyone else went out to nice fancy dinners afterwards at places with multiple forks and cloth napkins, we went to my favorite eccentric diner and ordered a cookie sheet of onion rings.

So I’m now a master. I expect you all to refer to me as such from now on.

Big Thing #2: We went to Maine!

After a day of graduation and another of doing Boston things3, my family and I packed up our rental car and drove up to Bar Harbor, Maine, where we spent a very enjoyable week doing enjoyable and Maine-ish things, like hiking in Acadia, riding on boats, and tearing apart lobsters with our bare hands2. Maine was lovely and quiet and not anywhere near as cold as graduation, so we spent our time overdressed and marveling at how easy it was to breathe when the hiking trails are level and at a low elevation4.

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Maine was impossibly lovely, and after a rather arduous two years of graduate school, I really enjoyed a week of doing little to nothing that required any brain power5.

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Big Thing #3: I got a new job!

Okay, job is a relative term. It is an internship. But not just any internship. My dream internship, an internship I have been chasing and applying for over and over basically since I got to Boston. At last, they either got sick of reading my resume or decided I was actually maybe worth considering, because they hired me. I am over the moon about this news, and I feel really lucky to be putting my children’s lit knowledge to use so quickly after graduating from school.

And speaking of children’s lit things…

Big Thing #4: The PEN-New England Susan Bloom Discovery Award Night!

So as you may remember, a few months ago I went nuts with excitement over being one of the winners of the PEN-New England Susan Bloom Children’s Book Discovery Award. Last week, there was an official awards ceremony, at which I was invited to read from my winning manuscript. And guys, it was amazing. I polled some friends who came to see if it was actually really that awesome or if I was biased because I was one of the guests of honor, but the general consensus seemed to be that it was genuinely awesome. It was amazing to be surrounded by so many people who were enthusiastic about children’s literature and me as a writer and my possible contribution to the field.

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Myself, Rebecca, and Pamela, this year’s three discoveries.

Everyone deserves the experience of being shepherded around a room full of witty, intelligent people who all tell you how much they love the art you are creating and the things you are doing, which was basically what the whole night was for me. Everyone also deserves the chance to be introduced by someone you really admire and hear them say nice things about your work, which I was also lucky enough to have happen when Lois Lowry introduced me and my manuscript. I did my best to not freak out when this happened.

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Miss Lowry and myself

After Lois’s very generous introduction, parts of which I am considering getting tattooed on my forehead, I got to read from my manuscript6. I am pleased to report that I did not lose my place, drop a page, say “Ingolstadt7” wrong, or pronounce “Frankenstein” the way they do in Young Frankenstein, which I was worried might happen since the MT and I spent the whole week in Maine quoting Young Frankenstein in honor of my impending reading. Then there was a lovely Q&A, where I got to talk very fast8 about Mary Shelley and how cool she was and about the Danny Boyle production of Frankenstein that inspired the whole thing9. And then I ate cookies and talked to more amazing people and showed off my Frankenstein tights and basically just had an amazing night. It was a fairly once in a lifetime experience that I will treasure and carry with me as a badge of courage as I go forward with my writing career.

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Rebecca, Susan (form whom the award is named), Cathie (head of the Simmons program) and me.

And those are the big things worth noting that have happened over the past few weeks. It’s been rather eventful here at Chateau de Lee, and I have enjoyed very much having a few weeks of good news and fun things. I’m bracing myself for real life to set back in again.

 

  1. Because some genius had the idea of making our gowns eco-friendly by crafting them out of recycled plastic bottles, meaning they couldn’t be ironed or else they would melt. To which I say, “A plague upon environmentalism!”
  2. The MT and I got very into naming the lobsters we met/ate. Or maybe that was just me and the MT indulged me. Whatever the case, over the course of the trip we met/ate Aloysius, Randall, Gob the Lob, Buster Bluth (because he was missing a claw), katniss, and Hannibal (because, it turns out, lobsters are cannibals).
  3. Such as treason, living free or dying, and protesting intolerable acts.
  4. Upon completing a particular hike, we were greeted by a sign boasting that we were now 520 feet above sea level. The Utahans, who live their lives at four thousand feet above sea level, were unimpressed.
  5. Though this doing nothing was interrupted by some strange and unexpected distractions, when I shall discuss in big thing number 3…
  6. This is the post modern revisionist steampunk Frankenstein book I have talked about a little bit here. In case you were wondering.
  7. Far and away the hardest and most German word in the manuscript.
  8. “Fast” meaning both briefly and at break neck speed, which I often do when I am nervous or excited, and I was definitely both.
  9. I also very nearly got set up on a date with Benedict Cumberbatch. Really.
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in which I win something cool

You may remember that, for me, January was the month from hell.

The climax of this month occurred on January 30, when I found myself at Simmons College at 11 pm, trying to print off an application for an award due two days later that I was certain I wouldn’t win, only to find that the printer I was printing on had no ink in it. I sat down in a chair with the intention of sending the document to a different printer, at which point the chair tipped over backwards. And suddenly I was flat on my back, feet straight up in the air, all the breath knocked out of me by my three tote bags landing on my stomach, half strangled by the strap of my book bag, and my laptop’s fall broken by my face.

And after a few choice four-letter words, I started to laugh/cry. It was so ridiculous I wasn’t sure which. And alone at Simmons at 11 pm on a Thursday night, I said to the empty room1, “Why am I even entering? I’m not going to win this award.”

Then last week, I was waiting for the T when I got a phone call.

“Hello?” I said.

“Hello,” said the voice on the other end. “I’m calling from the Pen New England Susan P. Bloom Children’s Book Discovery Award committee. Do you have a minute to talk?”

Yes. Yes I did have a minute to talk.

And that is the story of how I won the 2014 Pen New England Susan P. Bloom Children’s Book Discovery Award for my YA post-modern revisionist steampunk Frankenstein novel2.

You may not know what this award is, but it is awesome and I am wildly excited about it. Ecstatic, actually, might be the better word. Past winners have gone on to publish a variety of excellent children’s novels, many of which I have read and loved. Also Lois Lowry was a judge3. Lois Lowry. Like The Giver. That Lois Lowry.

So I guess I am now an emerging voice in children’s and young adult literature? Or something? Whatever the case, I’m so pleased. Thank you to the committee who chose me! And thanks to everyone who has listened to me vent about this book or brainstormed with me or sat there while I brainstormed at them or gave me chocolate when I was unhappy about it or gave me chocolate when I was happy about it or who nodded when I spouted random Frankenstein facts at them or looked at my Pinterest board for the novel4.

Guys. I am SO excited.

 

  1. Like a crazy person.
  2. The name of which is now out in the world, as is my actual last name.
  3. LOIS FREAKING LOWRY read something I wrote! And apparently liked it!
  4. The Pinterest board may be better than the actual novel.
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in which I start the next novel

Kids, this week was a doozy.

Coming back from a vacation is always rough, and I recognize that the first week of a new schedule is always jarring. But this particular first week raised a particular variety of hell that I was not prepared for.

First of all, I started a new job in addition to my current one. Which is awesome, but also far more work far faster than I expected. Then things at the first job were a bit mad. I also started in on the most demanding class of my academic career. I also took on some freelance jobs unexpectedly. Throw on top of that an MFA reading, two theatrical excursions, and an unexpected financial hiccup.

And then, on top of all that, I was supposed to start a novel1.

The project that has been lovingly named my post-modern revisionist steampunk Frankenstein novel is going on the shelf for a while until I’m far enough away from it that I can be objective about it and make it better. The project that has been lovingly named ANXIETY has been sent by my agent to editors around the country. And now I have a looming January 31 deadline for the first submission of my next novel.

I haven’t started.

I did, however, spend last night watching documentaries on tulips. Another hour or so putting books on hold at the library for research. And most of the afternoon making up names of fake Dutch towns. Basically, I was doing absolutely everything to avoid starting this novel.

So tonight I took a critical look at myself. Self, I said. Why are you so dutifully and emphatically avoiding starting this novel?

Starting anything is hard. Stories can exist in this sort of transitory, changeable state in your head, but putting them down on paper feels very finite, even though they’re still changeable. It’s another step towards becoming “real.”

The idea for this project began as a Wikipedia entry. Now, as a story is taking shape in my brain, it’s a story with a lot of tough questions I don’t feel qualified to answer. I love the YA community deeply, but I feel like sometimes they are just waiting to jump on anyone who doesn’t answer big questions in a way they like, and I’m stressed about being wrong. Even if I never publish this novel. Even if no one ever sees it besides me.

But then, as usual, the internet provided me with words of wisdom from Lemony Snicket:

“If we wait until we’re ready, we’ll be waiting the rest of our lives.”

So I’m starting my novel. I’m publishing this post, and then I’m starting writing.

Ready. Go.

 

  1. Yeah, supposed to. We’ll get to that.
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in which I complete my mentorship

In May, I will become a master, much like Obi-Wan or Luke Skywalker of old. Except I will be a master of writing for children, rather than of the ancient Jedi arts. Honestly, I’m not sure which is cooler. But just as any good Jedi must complete a series of training and trials before they can become a master, so must I. One of these trials is the completion of a mentorship, which are two creative pieces that fall in the category of children’s, middle grade, or young adult literature. The first of those was due yesterday. This project, which I have mentioned in passing a few times here on the blog, began last February, when I sent the MT an email with a short synopsis of my idea. The first line of the email was, “I think I’ve finally come up with an idea that’s too weird.” Fortunately, the MT did not think a YA novel with steampunk cyborgs based on Frankenstein was too weird. She told me to write it. So I started writing it last term in my writing class, and received enough positive feedback from my classmates that I decided to make it my mentorship. I turned in a proposal in April, it was approved in May, and I started writing. Then, after a couple months of thinking about it, I scrapped everything I had worked on and started over. I wrote the whole first draft over the summer. I actually typed the last words in the Church Office Building during my lunch break. It clocked in at around 65,000 words. The integral part of the mentorship, and from where it derives its name, is that you work with a mentor from the wide world of publishing on this project. They read your piece and offer advice, much like a master and apprentice. So the last day of August, I sent my finished manuscript to my mentor, who I’m going to call Master Yoda because “my mentor” is going to get old fast. A few weeks later, she and I sat down in the Cambridge Public Library to discuss it. She pulled this out of her bag. Image It was my manuscript. Post-it noted. Color coded. She had really thought about this. I was so flattered that I creepily took a picture of it. Because I believe in making solid first impressions. So we sat down. And the first question she asked me was, “What is this manuscript about?”

Not what happens. What is it about.

I hemmed and hawed because really I didn’t know. I had written this thing in a furious burst this summer and it still felt like a stranger to me. I didn’t really know my characters, and the plot was slapdash and random in places. But more than that, I didn’t know what my book was about.

So I made something up. Master Yoda listened to me babble, then said, “Well I think it’s a novel about guilt, atonement, and forgiveness.”

Yes, I realized. Yes it was.

And suddenly, my book had a shape. And that shape got me excited.

I have been manic about this project since that first meeting in September.  I have thought about it constantly. I have read dozens of essays about Frankenstein, other books with similar themes, and every Frankenstein retelling I could get my hands on2. I went to films and plays and lectures about Mary Shelley. I read her original manuscripts and journals. And I wrote more than I ever have in my life. And it has been amazing. I’ve felt like a real writer, with focus and drive and a project I felt passionately about and that I understood.

And my manuscript got better. It is still far from anywhere close to perfect, or even good, but it got better. I’m astounded by how far it came in three months under the guidance of Master Yoda. As I read over it this past week in preparation for sending it off, I couldn’t believe how well the changes I made had worked, and how spot on Master Yoda’s suggestions for changes had been. In two drafts, I have a whole new manuscript. And it looks like this:  Image 72,000 words. 243 pages3. Because I have always been a student of the Hermione Granger variety.

Part one of mentorship is done. Now we do it all again in January!

  1. If you’ve been around me at all in the past five months, you’ll know my Frankenstein obsession has gone from endearing to annoying.
  2. If you ever want a recommendation, I’m here for you. I have very niche things that I know lots about.
  3. So thick! So heavy!
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in which I examine my google search history

In order for me to become a master in May, I have to complete a thesis over the course of this year. This thesis is a novel-length piece, which I write and work on under the direction of a mentor from the wide world of publishing.

So my life for the past month and a half1 has been consumed by my thesis. This is partially me just informing you of this fact and partially explaining why I haven’t been blogging with any sort of consistency.

I have been absolutely eaten up by this project. Obsessive in a way I’ve never been with any other piece of writing. I think about it all the time. I dream about it2. I plan scenes in my head while shelving books at work, while riding the train, while watching television3. I’d rather be writing than almost doing anything else. I’ve been sort of acting like a real writer lately, and it’s been fun.

When I tell people that I’m working on my thesis novel, the inevitable next question is “What’s it about?” I’m still really terrible at talking about my own writing. Worse at giving an elevator pitch of it. Even worse where this particular project is concerned, because it’s just really hard to explain with any sort of brevity or sanity.

So I thought I’d let my Google search history explain it instead. Sometimes I think that being a writer is just an extended game of “The Weirdest Thing I’ve Ever Googled,” and I have been definitely winning with this manuscript.

Here is an eclectic list of my most recent Google searches relating to my manuscript:

  • Miles between Geneva and Lyon
  • Recipe for spiced wine
  • Paradise Lost quotations in Frankenstein
  • French pastries
  • Slang for cyborg
  • Regency winter wear
  • How long does it take to dig a grave?
  • Victor Frankenstein childhood
  • How to tell if a cut is infected
  • Parts of a bridge
  • Can a bullet go through a steel plate?
  • “Make me a willow cabin at your gate” full quotation
  • Swiss surnames
  • What color hair did Mary Shelley have?
  • Regency underclothes
  • How much does it snow in Oslo?
  • How to say “shut up” in Dutch

I now leave it up to your active imaginations to guess for yourself what exactly my manuscript is about. Anyone care to speculate? If you need more clues, here’s a Pinterest board to help.

 

  1. Actually, since January really.
  2. Last night I dreamt that I was staring in a staged version of it. My subconscious is weird, man.
  3. Which I don’t do anymore, because I’d rather be writing.
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