Saturday, October 10, 2015

An update of sorts

It's strange to come back to this blog, because although the last few months have been relatively calm for me, it feels as if so much has happened, personally and in the writing life. 

First things first--I was absolutely blown away by the response I had to my last blog post, the one about ageism in the YA industry and community. It was the product of a lot of feelings I'd had for years, and I wrote the blog post in an one ragey dash because, well, I'd finally found the words I needed to write about it. And I wasn't expecting to get such a big response to it because it pretty much hadn't been talked about *at all* and I was waiting for some sort of denial. Or, worse yet, radio silence. But so many of you read the post and reached out to me about your own thoughts on it, and I'm so beyond grateful for that. 

So, writing? I should probably, you know, talk about that. Because it's been a while since I've updated y'all on my progress. Basically my last few months have been, in no particular chronological order: 

1. Revisions! Revising revising revising. There haven't been super developmental edits as of yet, just some scene rewriting and scene adding. TeaNovel was 80K words when I queried it, and now it's ballooned into a 97K words (O.O). It feels weird, too, because I was so used to rewriting my novel over and over again, like, doing complete overhauls, and scaling back and focusing on the nuances of every scene was different for me,   

2. Brainstorming! I've been doing a bit of idle thinking on the side of revisions. Mostly, I've decided that my next novel will either involve alchemists and secret tabloid societies, or feature lots of ships (among other details). 

3. Ch1Con! I attended this incredible teen writer's conference called Chapter One Conference. It was an absolute blast--meeting like-minded teen writers (some of whom organized this whole event!) and getting to hear authors like Kat Zhang, Ava Jae, and Karen Bao speak and offer their own insights on the writing and pub process. Aaaand, I got to finally meet the lovely Kaye (@gildedspine)! I've learned so much from her these past few years on issues of social justice (she started #YesAllWomen), Islamaphobia, and diveristy in the publishing industry, and it was an honor to finally meet her. 

Aaaand, it turns out, I'm actually part of the Ch1Con team this year! *squeals* I'm thrilled I get to be a part of the gang, and we're doing some awesome behind-the-scenes planning to make this our best year yet. 

meeting up with some of the team members! may or may not have involved the eating of crepes...


4. Sooz's bookstore signing! I got to see her this year at Anderson's Bookshop, and it was awesome, meeting her for the third time. The very best thing was getting to tell her that I had an agent--Sooz had helped me so much with her blog posts on revisions and querying, and had been so encouraging in the whole process, and when she was signing my books we had a mini celebration. Y'all, I am SO SO SO pumped for when her book TRUTHWITCH comes out this winter. Everything I hear about it just makes me EVEN MORE PSYCHED for this series. 

Us! :)
That's pretty much it for this time around! *retreats back into revision cave*

Tuesday, August 11, 2015

The Unspoken Ageism in YA

Today, I ran across an article by written by the New York Daily that said that in order to sell YA books you need to write about threesomes. Because I don’t want to generate site traffic for them, here’s a safe link: http://www.donotlink.com/gaus

Not only was that article biphobic, written by someone who didn’t know the first thing about YA and also didn’t know how to honestly quote authors, but it was also incredibly ageist.

There is ageism in the YA community. It’s not talked about often, but it should be. There, of course, is ageism against YA, too, but today I’m going to talk about the ageism that occurs when teens decide to read and write Young Adult fiction.

I just want to throw a disclaimer out there that this is not an attack against any YA adult writer or reader. I love how YA is a wonderful reading experience for every age group. I love that adults read YA and stay active in the YA community. The YA community has been thoughtful, sensitive, and engaging in many social issues, and some of the books themselves are incredibly relatable. But the ageism and the way some people conduct themselves has gotten to a point where teen readers I know, including myself, are not sure if we even belong in the YA community or not, and it’s ridiculous to think that teen readers feel so distanced from the books that portray teenagers. I’ve talked to teen readers, and some of us have concluded that, frankly, sometimes we don’t see ourselves in YA anymore.

Don’t know what ageism in YA is? It’s:



-When adult school boards decide what Young Adult books teens should be denied to read, and teens don’t get a say in it.  

 -When I’m in a room at a conference and there’s a panel of adults instructing YA writers how to “write YA”, but you know they’re thinking of how to write for YA trends and how to write for the industry because there is not a single mention of what teen readers want to see on shelves.  And I, a teenage YA writer who does not identify with anything that's being said, shrink behind my conference badge. Because the adults Must Be Right. 

-When several YA authors try to deny and shame a teenage reader’s sense of discomfort regarding an author.

-When teens I go to school with and the friends I have care about grades and AP scores and tenuous friendships. They cry about family troubles and college apps and fear for unknown futures and unknown careers. But many protagonists in YA, incidentally, just overwhelmingly care about kissing that hot person. (Relationships are major, but they're not the only thing teens think about.) 

-When adults write articles saying that all teens want are threesomes, and out of all the woefully misquoted people in there (who may or may not share the same opinion as him), none of them are a) YA readers or b) the very teenagers who open YA books in an attempt to see some of themselves in the author’s words.



I think Kate Brauning tweeted the other day that teens shouldn’t be grouped and written about in a single narrative or manner, because teenagers are diverse. And it’s absolutely true. It’s infuriating when adults decide how teens should be collectively be portrayed in books. When they arrive on a consensus on How All Teens Should Act And Do, they inadvertently co-opt our voices, and tell US what we should read and what we should write. There is no dialogue.  

And that should change.

We are not your perfect high school fantasies. We are not your constantly witty, gorgeous, and sexually confident characters. We come from all races and from every type of social situation. We develop all kinds of identities of sex and gender. We can love boldly or hesitantly, or not at all. There is no one “right” way to write YA. The next time you write about teenagers, listen to us. Respect us. And please, please don’t try to speak for us without considering our voices.    

And Allen Salkin, the next time you decide to write about “What YA Readers Want”, maybe you should consider also including a teenage reader to purposefully misquote as well. And for your information, New York Daily News, I’m a Young Adult reader, a young adult, and I’ll still like a book even if there isn’t a threesome in it.   

Tuesday, June 16, 2015

I Have an Agent!!!!!!!

I've read countless "How I Got My Agent" blog posts in the past, and yet, when I sit down to attempt to write mine, I totally blank out. Am I really at this step? Have I really made it this far?



I just pinched myself.

Long story short: I'm now represented by Jessica Regel from Foundry + Media!!!

Long story long: 

I began writing this manuscript I informally called TeaNovel back in 2012, and you can follow its journey through the archives of this blog. It was a NaNoWriMo novel (National Novel Writing Month), meaning that it was a sucky first draft dashed out in the confines of 30 days. But to me, it was such a big and crazy idea that the only way I could have gotten the first words down was through something equally big and crazy as NaNo.

I had written two finished manuscripts before I wrote TeaNovel, and while I liked those novels and thought they improved my writing immensely, I always gave up after the first draft. I knew I didn't believe in them enough to revise them. They weren't ready. TeaNovel was different--maybe it was because I wrote about a story and a world that was so close to me. But it, too, wasn't ready: I knew that much.

So I decided to make it ready. I decided that at some point, when TeaNovel was ready, I wanted an agent to represent it.

It was a difficult novel to revise. I went through about six or seven rewrites before querying, starting almost entirely from scratch each time. I visited websites like PubCrawl and Susan Dennard's blog weekly. I would finish a rewrite or a major overhaul, and know that I was much closer to my vision of the story, but the MS wouldn't be quite there yet. I had to acquire multiple writing skills through my development of TeaNovel. It was, in every sense of the word, a challenge.

In the beginning of 2014, I thought it was ready to send out. I began querying. Requests began to trickle in, as did rejections. I had a mini heart attack every time I saw Inbox(1). (Seriously, the waiting is the WORST). I got more rejections. Full requests turned into rejections.

Every time I came across a rejection from a requested full, I got a sinking feeling as I read through the comments. The thing is? 98% of those comments were absolutely right. The manuscript was not quite there.  Storylines weren't connected. The writing was choppy at times.  I got one of the nicest, most helpful rejection letters ever from a rockstar agent, and after compiling the other rejections and discussing it with my CPs, I knew, in my gut, that this version of TeaNovel was not true.

So I started thinking. And brainstorming.

Meanwhile, in the summer of 2014, I went to a Writer's Digest conference. I signed up for the Pitch Slam, this event in which writers go around a ballroom to give 90-second pitches to agents and said agents possess the crazy stamina to basically sit through a 3-hour pitch session with maybe like 3 bathroom breaks. Jess was the first agent I pitched to--I had always kept her in my periphery for my query list, because she happened to represent one of my favorite MG authors of all time* along with a ton of super cool YA, but I'd always held off from querying her, because I wasn't sure if my novel was too quiet for her tastes.

Somehow at the conference, I'd screwed up the courage to approach her with my pitch. I was terrified. Maybe I stammered. Somehow, I still was able to speak English. Jess asked a few questions about the setting, and then asked for the full manuscript.


At which point I thought, no way am I sending a half-assed manuscript, and then I was like, "Um...I'm kind of revising it?"

She was super gracious and requested to see it when I was done with revisions. And then let's just say I burrowed into a hole and didn't know how to think for a few months. Or something like that.

I started  my final revision of TeaNovel in January 2015. I kept the backbone of the plot and the characters, but I ripped out each scene and rewrote it until it was exactly the way I wanted it to be. I sketched out character arcs and strengthened relationships. I asked myself questions of why and how each character would fight for everything to get what he or she truly wanted, and wrote the answers between the lines of my MS. I rewrote a world that I loved. I listened to Lana del Rey on repeat and my friends probably secretly judged my Spotify playlists.

I finished the draft. I sent it to a CP, and she agreed with me that it was ready.

I began re-querying in late May. I did my research and kept the query list small; I did my research, because I wanted to get it right this time. I sent a long-overdue manuscript to Jess, praying that she hadn't forgotten me. And two weeks later, when I got my first email from an agent asking to discuss my manuscript, I started laughing hysterically in the middle of an English class discussion.

I was absolutely nervous for my first call. My hands were shaking. I had a whole list of questions prepped out. We talked about revision notes and she was super kind. And then halfway through the call, she offered!!!



And then came the crazy.

I notified the other agents who had my MS. Within a few days, Jess Regel, who represented one of my favorite MG authors of all time*, wanted to speak to me.



I was freaking out up until the second she called, and then I managed to get my shit together. (I'm totally lying. I think I was still flipping out all through the convo, and Jess was just this wonderfully nice presence on the other end of the phone listening to me ramble.) Somehow, talking with Jess put me at some sort of ease. We discussed the manuscript, and I found myself agreeing to everything she said. It was surreal, and it was magical, and I was a happy lolcat on cloud nine. 




By the end of the week I had three offers, and I had to make a decision by Monday. And it was very, very difficult. Dahlia Adler wrote this post about this agonizing process, and I couldn't agree with her more. After a year of rejections and waiting, I kind of resigned into this mindset that no one really liked my book, and I would be lucky to get a full request. And then to have the switch flipped, and to have three awesomesauce agents offering on me? 



I was totally unprepared for that part of the process. I spoke with the agents' clients, who were all lovely and wonderful, and took a whole legal pad of notes. My brain went into overdrive. I basically didn't eat for the entire weekend. Or sleep. 



I was still heavily deliberating through Sunday night, but all along there was this tiny gut feeling about Jess, and sometimes, all things considered, that's really what you can go on. As Monday approached, I became more and more sure that Jess was the right agent for me. And so I ended up accepting her offer of representation!!!



So yeah! After more than a year of querying, I signed with the incredible Jess Regel, with a novel that I loved very much  Multiple happy dances ensued. 


...I HAVE AN AGENT!!!!!




*the lovely Adrienne Kress, whose novel Alex and the Ironic Gentlemen is still one of my favorite books ever. 



Sunday, June 14, 2015

How to Create a World

My entire style of writing changed from the second draft of TeaNovel to the third, I used to be a plot-driven, fast-paced writer. Characters were just on the page to provide reactions. The world just existed for me to, like a finger painter, to swipe a background behind a set. That's how I wrote my first, and my second, and the first two drafts of my third novel. When I first wrote TeaNovel, I wrote it just to write the twists and turns of a plot. I hurriedly wrote about an opera and a palace, but never brought them alive.

The Scorpio Races, by Maggie Stiefvater, changed everything.

In that book, I came for the plot and stayed for the world of Thisby. Yes, there were deadly horses that rose from the sea, but beyond that, there was the island. There was that rocky crag of civilization with the roots of a pagan culture. There was an untamed rawness to the cliffs and the November sea. And there was a fierce pride from the characters that you only feel when one's culture is deep in his bones, a pride that I only can admire.

Oh, man. I'm failing so hard at describing this right now. But Maggie created a world and a home. A tangible home. She described things in a way that made Thisby very, very real to me. At times, the characters became the setting, and Thisby became a person.

And when I went back and reread that novel countless times, each time Thisby entranced me all over again. There was this soul, this essence to that place and the only way I can describe it is with that moment in The Night Circus, when you open a scent bottle and the entire essence of a place comes through. Like, when you get a whiff of sunscreen, and all your childhood summer camp memories flood you? That was it.

I always wondered how she did that. I went to TeaNovel, and I thought myself of how to do that. I knew I couldn't just paint descriptions. I had to do something more. Maggie wrote this wonderful Printz speech, a passage of which I'd like to share with you:

"...the answer is this: 42 Century Butter-Pies. That’s right. Those imaginary pies that tormented me as a ten year old are also the solution to making a world. Because instead of baldly presenting a culture to me, Diana Wynne Jones showed me the symptoms of the culture. It wasn’t just the sights and the sounds. It was the taste in my mouth and the feeling on my skin and the sense that no matter where I turned my head in this book, I’d experience something new about the world. It was, as they say, the little things. So that’s what I did. I filled The Scorpio Races with as many of the little things as I could remember from my trips, and when I thought I was missing a little thing, I went looking for it. in the end, I feel like Thisby is a big place made of tiny, true sensations."
-Maggie Stiefvater, YALSA Printz Honor Speech

That was it for me. Although I didn't come across this speech until many many more drafts of TeaNovel, but I had also essentially focused on the little things. I had a lovely Opera and a magnificent, cutthroat Palace. What did I love about the Opera? What could I do to make the characters feel the same way? How do I make it so the characters don't necessarily have worlds to save, but rather homes to fight for? The answer, for me, was in the little things. They add up. Believe me, they do.



Sunday, May 17, 2015

oh hello.

There’s been a lot of radio silence on my end! A bit of time has passed, enough to make me think I’ve forgotten how to blog (that thought’s silly, but still.)

 “Shake it Off” by Florence + the Machine has been on replay all week. I go through phases where I periodically come back to Florence and the Machine (her new album is GORGEOUS). I love the intro to “Shake it Off”, and I feel like it really syncs with my own writing cycle.  I spent much of March and April finishing up a lot of things I’d been previously hanging on to, assignments not finished, and so as I came to May I feel as if there’s a new start of sorts. I’ve also been obsessed with the Woodkid remix of Lana del Rey’s Born to Die (Woodkid + Lana del Rey = HELL YES). I always seem to have some sort of Lana song on replay. I’m not sure why I love her so much, but I think it’s about how she creates her art and her image. Based purely on the lyrics of her songs, I could never imagine myself in a Lana-type world, but I absolutely admire how deftly she creates a distinct type of music for herself and for the music world, whether intentional or not. It’s kind of like that Maggie Stiefvater quote, like how she admires this one artist because you could look across a room and see one of his paintings, and know he created it.  I’ll link that remix and another song below as my inspirations for this week.

I’ve been drafting up new ideas and perusing Tumblr and Pinterest for visual tidbits of inspiration. I hope I can get to drafting them soon, but I have a pretty solid feeling that it’ll either take a ton of outlining or a madcap noveling dash like NaNoWriMo to get me started. Both ideas first came to me around two years ago, and they’re been ruminating in my head ever since. I’ll see where I go with those!


Happy spring! The weather’s cranked up to the 80s this week, and if I’m not sneezing my head off from my spring allergies, I’ll be outside in the gorgeous weather and daydreaming. :)



Sunday, March 22, 2015

Home



A while ago, I found a TED talk by one of my literary idols, Elizabeth Gilbert. She spoke of her success with her mega-hit memoir Eat, Pray, Love and how she had to deal with success of such magnitude. Of course, I’m paraphrasing, but the point was; she was lost, she was successful, and she didn’t know how to find her way back to writing again. 

 She wasn’t very successful when she was young—in the talk, Gilbert recounted the experiences when she “failed” over and over again, when she received nothing but years of confidence-crushing rejection letters. But the funny thing was, this newfound success, she said, had felt very similar to that sense of failure, that isolation and uncertainty that came with it. So what did she do, in the aftershock of her Eat, Pray, Love experience? She did exactly what she had done when she was faced with the same uncertainty and turmoil, many years ago; she wrote, and she went home.

Home is what I’d like to talk about here. Elizabeth Gilbert’s definition of “going home”, in this context, meant that she returned to the thing that defined her, and she let go of the expectations that her success brought. She had managed to overcome failure when she was younger because she kept writing despite the rejections, and now she overcame her blinding success because she realized that writing, in spite of everything, was her home. She’d return to it no matter what because she loved it more than she valued her expectations, her fear of failure, her ego. Writing was home for her because she loved it more than she loved herself. 

That’s what I’ve been thinking about for this while. What is it that makes me love stories so much? The older I get, I can’t help but think that it’s something more than a childhood full of books and library visits. I sense people like an author would sense a character. When my plane lands down in another city, I crystallize the place in details of the sky, the ground, and the buildings that rise. More than anything, I love stories. I try to catch them the way a raven would try to catch rings and coins.

Writing takes a sort of fierce tenacity to accomplish, especially if you have 10,000 other things going on.  I’ve tried to forget writing, many times over. I’ve tried to push it out of my life, but I’ve always felt unmoored as a result.  Whether I choose to put words down on paper or not, it will be a part of me. Writing pushes me, irks me, and tires me, but ultimately, it balances me, and it will always be the thing that I inadvertently will return to at the end of the day.  I try and fail at it, over and over, but I’ve come to realize that writing is my home. 



Sunday, February 1, 2015

Book Review: The Kingdom of Little Wounds

There are books that I could sit down with and read in an evening. And then there are the books that I will read through in three hours and wish I could turn back time and unread it so I could have the experience of reading it again. Those are the books that captivate me, and books that will haunt me.

The Kingdom of Little Wounds was that book.

Where do I start? Do you ever wish there was a book on a shelf that you didn't believe existed? I loved fairytales. I was given a book of Hans Christian Andersen's stories as a child, and that copy stands in the bookshelf above my bed.

The Kingdom was described by its author Susann Cokal as "a fairy tale about syphilis." It is a fairy tale, albeit a brutal, explicit one,. The four sections of the book are labeled Light, Fear, Darkness, and Death, and I was convinced halfway through the book that there was going to be no happy ending. I was wrong, but the novel still is a dark, dark tale. Cokal spares no details as the disease, with all its lurid details (I warn you, highly graphic), slowly took over a royal family, first with its betrothed princess, and eventually plunged the kingdom into disarray.

What else is in the book? Power. When I was around seven or eight, my grandfather, an amateur Chinese historian, told me stories of court intrigue and murder that fascinated me.  Oh, how beautifully orchestrated the court intrigue of this book was, with all its twists and turns. There was a charming advisor in the novel (who is one of the most grotesque villains I have ever come across in a "YA" book) with a frightening, wolflike ambition--and he sets in motion a plot that nearly brings an entire kingdom to its knees.

Lastly: women. I love deep, complex female characters. Not just the ones with brassy attitudes and the ability to roundhouse kick a man in the face, but the historical type figures who struggled, with their own loud and quiet rebellions, to come into their own power. This novel features three women, trapped in a brutal Renaissance patriarchy: Ava Bingen, a common seamstress, Midi Sorte, a slave girl whose tongue was sliced in half, and Queen Isabel, who was regarded as nothing more than a royal babymaker.  (Like the disease, the sexual exploitation in this novel is rather explicit as well.) The story brought them together, in the unlikeliest of circumstances, and I saw each struggle to rise above their own fate. They were not always likeable, but in the end, they felt real to me.

This book was just so beautifully written and executed. The ending was one of the most satisfying I'd read in a long, long time. And the cover. Oh, the cover. Look at that. I think I'll go swoon over it some more.


Saturday, January 3, 2015

For 2015

I don't know how I feel about resolutions. I feel like when I make resolutions, I'm binding myself to some sort of contract that gets broken two weeks into the new year and completely forgotten by April.

Let's just have hopes, shall we?

I hope to find balance. 2014 was the year I barreled into, completely confident, and got completely spun around and smacked upside the head. It wasn't just in writing. A lot of things I had believed got challenged, and at multiple points during the year I had things stacked up against me and responsibilities nipping at my heels and I slightly fell apart. I didn't read as many books as I wanted to--I barely read any. My queries came back with rejections.  I got led off writing for a while, led on again, and found myself lost. But it was all necessary--and I learned what it meant to deal with unexpected outcomes, get my bearings, and learn to start again and persist and get shit done.

I hope to do meaningful things. At the beginning of 2014, I had a very different vision of what it meant to do meaningful things, and I found myself working not for myself, but for others. I aligned my expectations to others, and in the process of that I lost my way. I hope that in 2015 I begin to learn what it means to do things for myself, and become my own person. I want to look back in pride by 2016.

I hope to grow. 2013 was the year of sky-high expectations and dreams, wishes I now understand as unrealistic, and 2014 was a year of proving myself wrong.  I've learned what it means to work for a dream, and what it means to be a writer and a person. I've learned to deal with mistakes and consequences. And I hope to grow.

2014 was by no means a setback--amazing things happened to. I connected to people and found a network I was a stranger to in 2013. I met my favorite authors and remained connected to them. I've made huge leaps in my writing. I find my voice is stronger, louder, more resilient. I find myself wiser. Every year, I become more myself every day. And it took a year like 2014 to get exactly where I am.