March 28, 2012

Why Critique Partners Are A Writer's Best Friend

Two years ago today, I got an email from a stranger. She'd seen my 'Want Post' for a critique partner and was hoping we could swap some pages.

I was nervous. Trying to find a critique partner is a lot like blind dating: you swap pages, edit each other's work, and then wait nervously to see if your writing, and your crit style, mesh. And like first dates, this process seemed to involve more awkwardness for me than connection. I wasn't willing to settle for anything less than what I wanted: honesty, experience, support and editorial brutality (when necessary). By the time I received this email, I'd already swapped pages with several people, all of whom were lovely but none of whom where the 'one'. I was starting to despair a little. But Ryan sent back my pages ripped to shreds and hanging in revelatory tatters. I fell in critique partner love. Luckily she felt the same way.

So we corresponded through the interwebs, picking at each other's work with deft, savage fingers. We decided to try and find another crit partner to provide a little balance and were lucky to find Emma, who fit right into our tiny clan. I didn't always love the critique--it always meant gutting something I loved or doing work I thought was behind me. But, consistently and irrevocably, these two fantastic writers made my story better. The process of working with them and reading their work made me a better writer. They taught me how to see criticism as a blessing, not a curse.

In November 2011, I went down to Charleston and met Ryan (whose debut novel is set to be published in 2013!) in the flesh. We sat across from each other at an awesome cafe, typing away, and it struck me: anyone who is serious about writing NEEDS this. A writing relationship based on mutual respect, encouragement, and utter honesty.    

March 13, 2012

Lessons Learned from Ok Go

In the whirlwind that has been the last few weeks of agent research/querying/rinse & repeat, I've learned one unavoidable lesson.

Rejection sucks. It doesn't matter what form it comes in and why. It just... sucks.

But it's a part of the creative process. No matter who you are and what you've got on offer, it's going to happen. But it can be motivating. And (here comes the important lesson)... success if all about what you choose to do with it.

And for those days when you're stuck in the "this sucks" place... well, there's always the writing. And then there's this:

Not only does this video make me extremely happy, but it also proves two things. Perfection takes lots, and lots, of practice. Can you imagine how many times they had to shoot this before it went to plan? But they did it anyway. Why? Because it's an awesome idea.

It must have been a lot of work, but they had FUN doing it. And isn't that what creativity's all about?

March 10, 2012

Book Cover Love: Ripper

This book just came out and I know next to nothing about this author. But you know what? I'm going to have to get it. Partially because it's a YA historical mystery, and I'm into those right now. But mostly because I'm a book cover floozy. And I'm in LOVE with this cover design. Sleek, classy, evocative. 

Great covers are like great stories: timeless. This is the kind of cover I'd frame and hang as artistic statement on my wall. 

March 8, 2012

Book Review: The Space Between

The Space Between by Brenna Yovanoff
Genre: YA Speculative Fiction

Since I've been writing query letters and think this book's jacket cover is pretty near pitch-perfect, I'm not going to try and reinvent it:

"Everything burns in Pandemonium... a city in Hell made of chrome and steel, where there is no future and life is an expanse of frozen time. That's where Daphne lives. The daughter of a demon and a fallen angel, she wonders what lies in store for her. Will she become a soulless demon like her sisters? Or follow in the footsteps of her brother Obie, whose life is devoted to saving lost souls on Earth? All she wants is to find a place where she belongs. When Obie saves a bleeding, broken boy named Truman from the brink of death and then suddenly goes missing, Daphne struggles between her demon instincts and her growing--yet achingly unfamiliar--feelings for Truman. As Daphne and Truman search for Obie, they must navigate the jealousies and alliances of the violent archangels who stand in their way. But Daphne also discovers, unexpectedly, what it means to love and be human in a world where human is the hardest thing to be."

I'm not usually one for angel/demon stories particularly, but I fell into this one headlong. One of the things I loved was what one reviewer called Yovanoff's 'moral ambivalence'. She delves into some pretty dark territory, and she doe it deftly and absorbingly without fear of touching on what some would consider taboo areas for YA lit. Truman drinks, smokes, swears and self-destructs in a variety of ways, and yet I still cared about him. I think I cared about him more because he was, to me, a very realistic portrait of a teenage boy in trouble. I loved the dark fantastical elements, too: demon girls with metal teeth and worlds that burn. This story is creepy, no doubt about it. It's creepy and dark done incredibly, enviably well, in ways that made me WANT to stay up until 3AM with ugly things.

I also loved this book for one of the same reasons I loved Maggie Stiefvater's The Scorpio Races: because the love story was so engrossing without being the main event. While the tension between Daphne and Truman is palpable, it's never really spoken or overtly underlined. Everything is subtext and longing expertly portrayed. The yearning jumped off the pages, creating a connection that I didn't want to step away from.

In short, I loved it.

March 7, 2012

Writing Process

So I had plans to post about my writing/revising process to date, but I've been lost writing queries. Apparently writing queries makes me not want to blog, or something. During the last two weeks of query writing and agent research, I have:

1) Confirmed to my complete satisfaction that I am bad at waiting for things.
2) Eaten an entire tub of Trader Joe's peanut butter cups.
3) Woken up in the wee hours of the morning wanting to work on my new writing project.

Oh, new writing project (that I will henceforth call GhostNovel) - I've been waiting several years to be ready to write you, and now I think I am. I've posted here before about Lev Grossman's comment that authors are like magpies: they collect things that shine at them funny because they know they'll need them later. I've found that to be inescapably true. So here's what my desk is looking like:

Yes, that's a book fan. Yes, I'll blog about it later.

I keep note cards in my purse on which I write quotes, plot points, and anything and everything I think could be useful to an upcoming project. It's pretty satisfying (and immensely helpful) to lay them all out when I'm ready to start.

Research/Inspiring Pile.

Currently listening to: "Bilgewater" by Brown Bird

March 1, 2012

February Photo Collection

It's March, isn't it? Oops. Apparently writing queries makes me lose track of time (and friends, and sleep, and any fashion sense I might have had). Let's not talk about that.

I promised myself I would publish a collection of photos every month, so here is February's. It's a little eclectic this time around. First, we have a few shots from the dock down the street:

The rest are from a recent visit to the Maryland Therapeutic Riding Center, a beautiful place filled with beautiful people.