Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Writing and Reading and Catching Up

Okay, it's been awhile since I've done a bloggy catch-up. I apologize. I actually have been reading lots of blogs, but I've found it difficult to comment because I'm so late to the game that everyone has already said what I want to say. I wish that I could just write "Yeah, what they all said" on the comments so you all know I've been to see you.

A few things...

1. Today is the LAST day for you to vote on the Band Camp contest. So go read all the hilarious entries and pick your favorite. Winner will be announced next week when I get back from LA.

2. Yes. I'm going to LA for the SCBWI conference this weekend. It may be the only chance I get to meet my Alaskan collaboration partner Jolene. My roommates/writer friends have dubbed it #BarCon. So yeah, if you're there and looking for me...you know where I'll likely be.

3. I've been writing a lot. Jolene and I finished GESTAPO. Sort of. It's with beta readers right now. As most of you know, this book has been the thorn in my side ever since it got to the quarter finals in ABNA. It's so very different now from then. We've written it so many different ways. Jolene has been really patient about all of it. This might be my last effort on this book. If it doesn't work, then I'll likely let it go. Evidently, I am slightly allergic to writing commercial fiction. I also started a new book that I wrote 50 pages of in 2 days. It feels like one of those books that will never be published, which I said about TRAINWRECK so that's maybe a good sign. It's probably the only true YA romance I'll ever write. And yes, it's a girl-girl love story.

4. TRAINWRECK edits start in the next week or so. I don't really know what that'll mean for me. I shall check in and let you know how it goes.

5. I'm reading my friend Holly's e-serial: KING SOLOMON'S WIVES: THE HUNTED. It's great. Part suspense, part historical. It's kind of like a woman's Da Vinci Code in it's complexity. But better because it's a serial and you get to vote on what you want to see more of in book 2.

And finally, the winner of THE BESTEST RAMADAN EVER is Golden Eagle. G.E. shoot me an email with your snail mail addy and I'll send you your book.

Now, what are you all up to? Writing? Reading? Any of you going to LA?

Thursday, July 26, 2012

My kids judge YA books by their covers

So I don't know if any of you saw this, where a 6 year old judges books by their covers, but I thought it was pretty spectacular. It made me wonder what my kids would say about YA books. I originally started with about 15 books, but my kids have little patience and no amount of bribery was going to engage them so I stumbled through as many as I could. You will note that not all of them answered on each one. They kind of picked their favorites.

Also, I should caveat this by saying that my children are precocious readers. My boys have been reading since they were two and my daughter reads more books in a week than I do. So titles did factor into these books in all cases.

5 yr old-- "It's just what it says. It's about saving lives."
8 yr old-- "I think it's a true story."
10 yr old-- "It's about the girl on the cover and there's someone she loves and something bad happens to him or her and she has to save their life."

5 yr old-- "This book is about fighting."

8 yr old-- "I think it's about time travel, but I read the top part."
10 yr old-- "Well, if it's about time travel, then it's where this girl meets someone when she goes back in time, but she can't marry him or her because she's from a different time."

5 yr old-- "This book is about girls and lipstick, maybe not Barbies though."

8 yr old-- "A girl and a boy are friends and they discover something special."
10 yr old-- "It's about a girl who discovers a secret. Or maybe it's 13 reasons why we named our dog after this author."
5 yr old-- "Yeah, it's a book about the dog."

8 yr old-- "It's about a girl who is beautiful and dangerous."
5 yr old-- "And she has a lot of lipstick"
10 yr old-- "It's about a girl who would do anything to be beautiful."

5 yr old-- "It's about a girl who is sad."
10 yr old-- "It's about someone who used to have a privileged life and now she lost everything."

8 yr old-- "This one is easy, Mom. It's about a girl who lives in France who has a crush on someone."
10 yr old-- "Yeah, and it looks like it's a crush on a boy."

And finally, just for fun...

10 yr old-- "This book is about a guy who's a ghost."

Thursday, July 19, 2012

On Vicarious Trauma

So most of you know I was a rape victim advocate in hospital ERs for almost ten years. That's a long time to be an advocate. There's a high level of burn-out with advocates who are essentially alone in ERs, serving on the front lines for people who have just had something horrible happen to them.

One of the things that we talked a lot about during that time was vicarious trauma. Basically, this is when the stories that you hear impact you deeply and you experience trauma yourself as a result. I think all of us experience this in one way or another during every day living. You hear things or people tell you things and it hits you very hard. With rape victim advocates, what makes this more difficult is that there's no distancing yourself from these victims. You don't just hear one story, you hear stories over and over again. With people who work with trauma victims every day, this is particularly grueling.

My friend Ally works with torture survivors. She has for almost twenty years. This is incredible to me because I can only imagine the amount of vicarious trauma she must have experienced. Ally doesn't watch sad movies. When I asked her about it once, she said, "It's just too much. I can't have all those feelings after work as well." Ally would also be the first to talk about how amazing the people that she works with are, how positive and resilient. I wish everyone could know Ally. She's amazing and formidable.

When I attended the survivor's testimonial writing workshop, it was pretty intense. Two days of survivor stories. Lots of vicarious trauma. And part of why I wrote TRAINWRECK was to be able to put those feelings somewhere.

But I didn't realize that writing this book would open another door. In telling this story and in being very outspoken about the issue of sexual assault, I have had so many people talk to me about their own stories. So many people coming forward with their truths. This is such a huge act of bravery and I feel so absolutely blessed to be the recipient of these gifts. I know how hard it is to tell your story and the fact that people are willing to tell me either publicly or privately their experiences makes me realize how glad I am that I wrote this book. Because if nothing else, this book was meant to open the door to people telling the truth about sexual assault. To let other people know that this can and does happen. To create change about how we discuss this issue. That there's really no such thing as a "good" rape victim.

There's a very good reason for rape shield laws. Survivors should be protected from having to tell their stories publicly. But that doesn't mean that they shouldn't be allowed to tell them in their own words if they want to. When we don't give people the chance to tell their truth, we silence them. We distance ourselves from the issue and make it about "them" instead of about "us."

You should read this post by Steph Campbell. It is all the reasons that I wrote this book.

And yes, this unexpected outpouring of people's stories has affected me. Parts of my heart crack open every time someone tells me what horrible thing happened to them. And yes, I'm not watching a lot of sad movies lately. I cry more than I have in a long time. I have to work very hard on self-care. But these stories are also incredibly healing. This choir of voices inside me makes me feel like we're getting closer to things getting better. That maybe by speaking out, we're inching closer to people reporting rape more, we're inching closer to changing the way that the media talks about this issue, we're inching closer to this not being a thing that happens to other people or just one person's problem.

So I'm grateful for every story I hear. I'm grateful people trust me with them. I'm grateful that people who have never spoken up before are now doing so. I hope that my book can continue that dialogue. At the very least, I hope my book makes people realize they aren't alone.

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

The Kindness Project: Be Your Word

Too often kindness is relegated to a random act performed only when we’re feeling good. But an even greater kindness (to ourselves and others) occurs when we reach out even when we aren't feeling entirely whole. It’s not easy, and no one is perfect. But we’ve decided it’s not impossible to brighten the world one smile, one kind word, one blog post at a time. To that end, a few of us writers have established The Kindness Project, starting with a series of inspirational posts. We post the second Wednesday of every month. 

So publishing is an industry where schedules and deadlines are constantly changing. "We'll have that to you by next week" frequently means "three weeks from now". Books get bumped. Things get pushed back. Something that you thought you would know about by summer, you won't know until December. I've been pretty lucky in that things with my book seem to be on pace with happening when they're supposed to happen, but I certainly am not hanging my hat on that. This is the reality of our industry. And believe me, working on both sides of the desk, I know there are many, many reasons that things don't happen as planned or at all. There are a lot of people involved and honestly, there are many times when you are ready, willing & able to move mountains but certain things are simply out of your control.

This constant state of flux was and sometimes still is very hard to accept. But accept it I must. I'm not angry with the publishing world because "stuff" happens. Believe me, I've had to push back deadlines with my authors because something out of my control happened. I get it probably more than most. I have become sorta Zen about it and just keep going. However, for me, I've learned a really valuable lesson in navigating this system. One that I've tried to integrate into my own life.

The lesson: Be Your Word.

Experiencing the changing nature of the publishing world has made me realize the value of a verbal commitment in my non-publishing life. I realize that when I say something and I follow through on it, I've created a foundation for trust. I've given my friends and family a reason to believe in me. I also realize that I can and should only make that commitment for myself when I'm responsible for the outcome. I am trying not to answer for my husband without discussing it with him. My commitment isn't automatically our commitment. 

And so, since the beginning of the year, I have worked really hard at being my word. But more than that, I've had to work really hard at not committing to something that I'm not going to be able to do. I, like many, want to say "yes" to everything. I want to help everyone out. I want to join everything, be part of a community. Saying "no" is extremely difficult for me. But what happens is that I overcommit, get overwhelmed, and then cancel everything. So not only am I letting one person down, I'm letting down everyone I've made commitments to.   

So now, I say "yes" to fewer things, but when I do, it means something. And I am also more willing to say, "I don't know, I'll try" instead of an immediate "yes". Some days, this doesn't work out so well. I still overcommit. I still want to do all the things and consequently end up doing none of them. But I'm more aware of it and try harder not to do that.

Be Your Word in the areas of your life you can control. That, to me, is radical kindness. 

Now go pop on over to some of the other folks in the Kindness Project and see what they're up to:

Friday, July 6, 2012

When Good Books Don't Sell

So this is what I've realized about publishing...good books don't always sell. I mean REALLY good books. I've read books that I felt were better than mine and they haven't sold. Believe me, I'm an editor and I read voraciously, I'm a pretty good judge of these things. This is not a case of sub-par books getting passed over for stellar ones (though that DOES happen). This is a case of AWESOME books not selling.

Why is this happening? Shouldn't good books just be snatched up? Well, OBVIOUSLY, they should, but the reality is, they aren't. Because of timing, because of other books that are on a publisher's list that are too close in, because an editor has too full a schedule, because they don't fit in a good category, because they're too niche, because they skew too old or too young, because teen boys don't read as much as teen girls, because... because... because.

And yes, I'd like to think if one editor doesn't snatch up a GOOD book, then another one will. But trust me, AWESOME books have been passed on by lots of editors. And maybe every single one of them has a different reason, but the point is, GOOD BOOKS don't always sell.

Editors have limited time, limited money, and frankly, in my head, they're only allowed to take so many risks a year. I work for a small independent romance publisher who has never once put any kind of pressure on me to acquire BEST SELLERS. In fact, my company prides themselves on taking risks. And still, I imagine if I bought every book by a debut author I thought was a risk, it wouldn't be too long before I went a little batty obsessing about whether all my risks were paying off. I DO take risks, but I don't take every risk that crosses my inbox. I just can't.

Every debut that publishers take on is a risk so sometimes, awesome writing isn't enough. Sometimes having a rockstar agent isn't enough. Sometimes having a HELL of a premise isn't enough. We're losing readers to other media and we're losing brick & mortar book stores to...well, Amazon. These things don't make for an ideal book sale scenario.

So then why wouldn't authors of unsold good books just give up? Or why wouldn't they skip traditional publishing and self-publish? Some do, but that is a whole different can of worms of which others have spoken much more eloquently than I. This is NOT that blog post.

To answer the question of what do we do about these good books that aren't selling in the traditional publishing world: I actually would like to believe that these books WILL sell eventually. In my head, when you don't sell your book, you write another book and try to sell that. And if that doesn't sell, write another one. And THEN, when your book finally gets to the right editor at the right time under the right circumstances and sells, you can say, "Fantastic, I have two or three or five other books ready for you to buy after this one." (I'm maybe being an idealist. But that's where I am in the process).

Bottom Line: Keep writing. Keep trying. Don't let everything hang on acceptance and rejection. Write for fun. Write because you love it. And remember, sometimes GOOD books don't sell.


P.S. I didn't include in this post WHY I think TRAINWRECK sold. I'm incredibly grateful it did. This book has many champions behind it. But it certainly also had a LOT of things going against it when it went out on submission. I can speculate as to why it was the right book for the right editor in the right circumstances, but honestly, it's speculation so I'm refraining from doing so. Those of you who know all the behind the scenes of this book can speculate too, but really, who the heck knows for sure?

Tuesday, July 3, 2012

On being an extrovert, sharing online & the isolation of writing

I'm an extrovert. This probably isn't that big of a surprise to most of you. I love people. I love talking to them, listening to their stories, spending time with them. And yes, I do get horribly awkward when I meet new people, but it doesn't mean I don't like doing it. I'm just awkward about it.

I did this reading on Friday night with my friend Holly. It was actually a lot of fun and because the space wasn't huge, I was less nervous and didn't feel as shaky as the time I did it for Sexual Assault Awareness Month. And I met new people and was awkward but it was still really fun.

Surprisingly, a high school friend I hadn't seen in almost twenty years (eep) showed up. I got the update on his life and he said to me, "I guess I don't really need your update because I feel like I know everything about you because of your blog and Facebook."

Which was sort of weird to hear. Can the past twenty years of my life really be encapsulated by what I've blogged or status updated in the past 18 months? Or does all that growth not matter and what he was really trying to say is that he knows the person that I am now because of these things? Is how I got to this space even relevant? And more importantly, am I one of THOSE people who overshare and plaster the minutiae of my life online?

I've had a really positive experience with blogging and meeting other writers online. And I think that whether it is said directly to us or not, as writers, we are now RESPONSIBLE for building an online platform. Which gets me to the juggling act of what exactly to put online. Sometimes I read posts that are so thoughtful and heartfelt and important that I think it is good to be true and vulnerable online. It is helpful to other writers and honestly, sometimes it is what gets me through hard spots in the process. This is demonstrated beautifully time and again by Nova Ren Suma and Sara Zarr.

But is being truthful and having an online identity sometimes pushing us into the world of oversharing? Are we allowed to talk about embarrassing moments, foibles, vulnerabilities, etc? And are those the things we're being judged on in real life?

I'm an extrovert. And somehow, I ended up working in an industry that is very isolating. I write. I edit. These things don't involve a lot of human interaction. So much of my interaction these days is online.

Add to that the fact that I mostly don't write from a "happy place." It's why all my teenage journals were so depressing. Yes, I was a depressed teen, but also, it's not like I spent a lot of time journaling when I was having the best time ever hanging out with my friends at Six Flags. This still holds true. I write at 5am every day when it's quiet and I have time to think and when all the hard things are crawling around in my head after failing to work themselves out in my dreams.

So can the last twenty years of my life be summed up by 18 months of blogging and status updates? Not anymore than my teen years can be summed up in the books that I write. These are pieces of me. True and real pieces of me, but still pieces all the same.