Friday, November 28, 2014

BLEED LIKE ME: Brooks & Gannon Black Friday Scene

I thought it might be fun to do a sexy little BLEED LIKE ME teaser scene for Black Friday to thank all my readers for being so awesome. I hope you like it.

“Gannon. Gannon. Wake up.”
I creaked open an eye and peered at Brooks, his long, thin, shirtless frame crouched on the edge of his futon. I still couldn’t believe we were here together. “What time is it?”
“A little after ten.”
“Why are you waking me up? I don’t have anywhere else to be.” I nestled down in his scratchy blanket and watched him roll a cigarette.
“Where do your parents think you are?”
I arched my back and sat up, holding out my hand for one of the cigarettes he was rolling. “I left at midnight last night, they think I’m braving the crowds at some super store to get all my Christmas shopping done.”
Brooks offered a half-smile. “That’s right. Black Friday. Are they gonna say something when you don’t show up with anything?”
I smiled back. “Well, I’m showing up with about seven hundred hickeys, do you think that counts?”
He lit his cigarette and tossed me the lighter, sliding closer to where I sat. “I only put them in places no one but me would see.” He waggled his eyebrows.
I peeked down the front of his T-shirt, the one I’d shrugged on last night before slipping into the futon next to him. My chest was practically covered in bites and bruises.
I inhaled the strong smoke from the Indian Spirit cigarette and rested my head on his shoulder, feeling the tense muscles in my neck ease. He put his arm around my hip and tucked my body even closer to his.
“What should we do today?” I asked after a few minutes of silence, punctuated by exhales of smoke.
“Movie?” He leaned forward and dropped his cigarette in the tin can on the floor beside him.
I shook my head. “It’s gonna be packed and I don’t want to see anyone from school.”
“So I guess the mall is out too?”
“God, yes. Who do I even have to get gifts for? I give my parents a gift certificate to Red Lobster or the Olive Garden every year, and I already bought Ali a set of belly button rings, and God knows I’m not getting my brothers anything.”
Brooks slipped his hand beneath my borrowed T-shirt and stroked the bones of my hip. “Maybe you should get your brothers handcuffs?”
I snorted a laugh. “They’d just figure out a way to use them on me.”
“Well, that sounds promising.”
I laughed and shoved him. “Don’t be gross.”
He plucked my cigarette from my fingers and put it out, then pressed me back on the bed, straddling my hips. “You like when I’m gross.”
I rolled my eyes. “No I don’t.”
He leaned over me and kissed my neck, my collarbone, the spot beneath my ear that made goose bumps rise on my skin. “You do,” he whispered.
“No. I just like you.”
He lifted his head and grinned. “Well, that’s good news, because I like you too.”
Then he kissed me, long and hard, sucking and biting and wrapping himself around me until I didn’t know where I ended and he began.
Finally, when he pulled away, both of us flushed and breathless, he traced the hoops on my ear and said, “I’m glad you came over last night.”
I drew my fingers over the scabbing tattoo on his chest, the bloody heart with my name in piercing straight pins coming out of it. “I’m glad I did too. Now, can we go back to sleep?”
“Nope,” he said, putting his hand over mine. “Black Friday. We don’t stop till we drop.”
I sighed and laced my fingers with his. “Okay. But we’re probably going to need to get food.”
He winked at me. “And more condoms.”

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Five Things I Learned By Failing NaNo

Yesterday, I threw in the towel on NaNo. After starting three different books in the course of a month and ultimately giving up on all three of them, I decided there wasn't any chance I could win this year. I hate giving up on things. I hate setting goals and then watching them pass me. I ran a half-marathon,  I published two books, why for the love of cheese couldn't I knock out 50k in a month?

Well, here's what happened and what I learned about myself:

1. I had no plan at the start of November. I'm not a planner, I have written every book by the seat of my pants. But when I actually sat down to write on November 1st, the vagueness was overwhelming. Maybe I could write a book about depression or angry girls or roller derby or being in love with a gay dude or killing your parents or some other thing. But I had too many maybes and no character voice in my head. This is what people who write by the seat of their pants forget: You cannot write anything if a character has not crawled into your head and taken up residency to tell you their story. This is why I've never bought into the "write every day" thing, because if no one is in my head telling me what to write, I don't have anything to put on the page.

2. It is hard to write a book when you're trying to promote a new release. It is not like the obligations of promo take up all your writing time, it is the defeat of post-release that makes writing a novel basically impossible. If you're not familiar with this, I wrote a post on it here. Bottom line: it is damn hard to find the energy to write shiny new words when you've just read a review on GoodReads that says they wanted to reach into the pages of your book and punch every character in the throat.

3. I have gotten excellent at figuring out what doesn't work. This may be because of editing for my day job, or this may be because I've shelved so many unworkable books, but I am now able to tell by about 15k into a manuscript if the story has any hope of becoming a real thing. The problem with this ability is that the NaNo advice of "just keep going, get your crappy stuff out there, you can go back and fix later" does NOT work when you can tell a book isn't going to ever be a thing. It's like telling someone to keep training for a marathon, even though they definitely will not be participating in the marathon. Going out to run in crappy weather becomes damn hard, and what is the point?

4. There are still things too close to me emotionally for me to write about. I started a book on depression and had to stop writing it because my friend Michael kept weaving himself in my head. My heart has not healed yet over losing Michael. It might not ever heal, and I need to honor that. Sometimes our blood on the page can't ever become anything beautiful. It's just blood.

5. Fake deadlines aren't really effective for me. My next book comes out in early 2016. That's a while away. I have several other projects that are in various states of completion on my desktop. Writing something brand spanking new, which presumably should re-invigorate me, mostly had me questioning: to what end? So I can revise for the next four years and maybe this could be a 2019 book? That way lies madness, my friends.

In the end, I would like to say I learned a TON by participating in NaNo this year, but mostly I learned that this wasn't a good year for me. My 12yo, on the other hand, kicked huge butt and is about 5 pages away from being done with her NaNo book. So I guess congratulations are still going to happen in my house on November 30th. Just not for me.

Monday, November 3, 2014

The Bunker Diary & Writing Hopelessness

Nothing To Hold On To

I read The Bunker Diary a few months ago. Since that time, I’ve probably read 40 books (hazard of the day job). I could probably have read 400 books and I still wouldn’t forget The Bunker Diary. I first heard about this book after I read a piece in the Guardian that compared it to John Fowles’ The Collector (though the Guardian claims TBD lacks The Collector’s humanism and poignancy) saying, “It is depressing both in its nature and its lack of redemption…” This book won the UK’s Carnegie Medal, and has been the source of a tremendous amount of debate over its worthiness ever since.

When a book hits a note like that with a reviewer or several reviewers, the first thing I must do is read it. To have elicited that sort of reaction usually means at the very least, it’s worth investigating. I have written before about how I’m not super interested as an author in making people comfortable. Some authors write books full of love and hope and wonderfulness; this is a valid and great thing. I edit many of these sorts of books for my day job, and yet, I would never want all the books in the world to be like this. As a reader, I would grow bored very quickly with the lack of depth resulting from a book selection limited to only those that entertain us or make us feel good.

My first two books don’t have happy endings. Sorry, not sorry. I’m not incapable of happy endings. I’m not incapable of offering hope. But in my core, I can’t seem to shake the hopelessness that plagued my high school years. I read books where rapists get caught or justice is served at the end, and I think: huh, that didn’t happen to me. I read books where a hot mess of a girl and a hot mess of a guy get together and their love saves them both, and I think: well shit, I must have done something wrong because I didn’t get saved and neither did he. And I start to wonder if maybe there are people in the world who feel/think like me. Who wonder why these books always seem to turn out so happily or hopeful when the shitshow of their lives is nothing like that.

We live in a dirty, depraved, unforgiving world. We live in a beautiful, tender, redemptive world too. It’s always going to be like this. The older my own kids get, the more I realize the value in providing them access to all sorts of books with all sorts of stories. Do I want my kids to be able to escape into a fun book? Yes. Do I also want my kids to sometimes learn about the world from books? Yes. Do I also want my kids to develop empathy and learn to ask questions about what they believe about themselves and the people around them? Absolutely.

Do I think this is all the responsibility of a fiction author? No. I really don’t. An author can be trying to do all sorts of things, teaching all sorts of lessons, hoping that their book will save a life. They may achieve things with their books that they never could have dreamed of, and yet, this to me is all gravy. We have one job as fiction writers: to tell a story.

I’m fascinated by the burden of responsibility that seems to fall on the shoulders of those of us who write for children. I’m not completely clear who decided on the rules about YA books, but there seems to be an insistence that if the books are going to be about difficult things, then they need to somehow “save”. I have long hesitated at this notion that YA Saves because I think it puts us in the position that we must then acknowledge that the opposite can be true too. That if we’re going to assert that YA books save lives, then we have to allow that they can damage people. And this power makes me very uncomfortable.

So when I read The Bunker Diary, I went in knowing that this was a “problem” book for some and tried to think like those people. Tried to figure out what about the hopelessness of this story would make me get all up in arms enough to want to keep it out of the hands of children. The book itself is raw and sparse and gorgeously written. It leeches at your emotional landscape with every page. It is a horrifying type of “No Exit” that pushes us to the point of not only examining the complicated dynamics of interpersonal relationships, but also examining truths of our world. But in the end, for all the emotions the story elicited in me, I didn’t step away thinking that this was a guidebook to morality/immorality or that it was a strong message book or anything else. And frankly, I think we’re better for not being spoon-fed answers or having everything wrapped up in a tight bow of satisfaction. We learn about ourselves and the world because we experience both the difficult and the beautiful.

I finished The Bunker Diary with questions about my own life. I didn’t think, “what would I do trapped in a box?”, I thought, “what am I going to do about my loneliness?” And there is value in that self-examination, but I don’t think authors should be held accountable if readers walk away from a book without that.

But Christa, you’re saying, isn’t it nice to offer a glimmer of hope?

Of course it is. Lots of people do that. But should this be a book mandate? Hell no. We don’t always get into the college we want. We don’t always make the team. We don’t always get asked to prom. When we pepper young adult books with this constant hopefulness without any recognition of the reality that there are shitty things that happen that we have no control over, we create a false expectation of everything turning out at the end of the half hour if you just work hard enough, fight hard enough, etc. Sure, it’s fiction, we can do that. But isn’t it more interesting to also have access to the fiction that doesn’t solve everything for us?

I happen to have 3 ARCs of The Bunker Diary and 3 extra copies of BLEED LIKE ME that 3 of you can win by entering the Rafflecopter below. You want to get your hands on this book. It's worth it.
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