Dear Blog.

Dear Blog,

We’ve had a pretty good year. In fact, I think we just passed our one-year anniversary. Quick investigation reveals January 29th as our first blog post together…I didn’t bring you flowers or anything. Oops.

The truth is, Blog, that when we began our relationship I was in between projects. Putting the finishing revisions on one manuscript, getting ready to begin another…and I didn’t realize what  a time investment you would be. At first I planned to do five posts a week. That lasted all of about, I don’t know, two weeks? That’s a generous guess.

Then we cut it down to three, which is doable. Oh, Blog, I don’t know how to say this, but…I’m seeing someone else. I’ve been seeing her for awhile now. When you and I took that break a couple of weeks ago, things started getting serious between me and her. She’s…oh, she’s high-maintenance and it’s all ups and downs. One minute I think she’s the best thing in the whole world, and the next minute I’m ready to cast her into the fireplace. She is completely bewitching, absorbing, and all-around mind-bending. Every step forward with her revisions brings me three steps back, and she’s a headache and a pain and she makes me want to scream sometimes and I LOVE EVERY MINUTE I SPEND WITH HER.

My current manuscript. Sigh. Even draped in her myriad imperfections, she is divine.

I feel a passion for her that I just don’t feel for you anymore.

Can we still be friends?

I think we should still see each other, but maybe slow things down a bit. Our dates might not be as regular. Definitely we should get together at least once a week. Miss you already! Bye!

With care, gratitude, and respect,

*Beth

Portable Writing Workshop

What you see here are seven stalkers that haunt me during Z’s nap, after her bedtime, and all those hours in between. They follow me to the front room: “Don’t read to your daughter. Instead, zone out and think about plot.” They gaze at me from the nightstand while I try to fall asleep: “Why are you sleeping? You’re wasting precious writing time.” They lounge next to me on the couch in a way that says, “We’re watching you. Pick up that Nintendo DS and you can forget having a breakout novel.” They join me at the table: “Are you going to eat that? Should your main character eat things like that? If she doesn’t want to, will you put her in a situation where she has to in order to, say, save the world? Just how important is ice cream to your novel?”

From the top left, the stalkers are:

1. Idea notebook for The Black City (working title of my current project/new manuscript). Please note (and admire) the bright Post-it tabs adorning the top. They divide the notebook into the following sections: Plot, Characters, Setting, Creatures, and Magic. The Creatures tab is so far kind of pointless. I might replace it with Ice Cream.

2. Writing the Breakout Novel by Donald Maass. The gimmicky title turned me off, but after being stalked by the title through various literary agent and writer blogs, I finally decided to give it a chance. (Much like Jacob in the Eclipse movie. Cringeworthy and excessively stalker-ish on the outside, but sincere and…never mind. The comparison doesn’t work at all.) (Really. Forget the Jacob comparison. It never happened.) Another bonus for this book is that it’s a library copy, well worn in, and I can prop it open with one of my other notebooks and have two hands free for eating…ice cream.

3. Manuscript book. I hate sitting at a computer and trying to create something, so I write by hand instead. At the computer there’s so much pressure. Most of it is behind my eyeballs somewhere, but also in my neck and back a little. Plus our computer’s in the basement, and I don’t want to spend that much time down here if I can help it. Unless I’m reading blogs and eating ice cream.

4. Black pen. Used for pretty much all writing. Diary. Notes. Manuscript. So far ineffective as spoon for ice cream.

5. Blue pen. Essential to snarky comments in margins of manuscript, and note-taking. It’s a pleasing color, a welcome relief from the Black pen. Also not a spoon.

6. Red pen. For heavy-duty editing. Great also for recording Unforgettable Fabulous and Difficult-to-Convey Ideas of Inspiration (example: DUDE. Make her have crush on old guy) that may never come to fruition, but probably will because according to #2 above, a writer needs to make things as difficult as possible for her protagonist. The red pen is also not a spoon.

7. My current diary book. Full of notes on Maass’s book. And the occasional glob of melted ice cream.

Everything a writing mother needs to get herself through the day. Notebooks, pens, a gem-book on the writing craft, and…stupid Twilight comparisons. No! Ice cream!

It’s the Friday before Labor Day, which means I’m in the mountains somewhere, or on my way at least. I won’t have internet access to moderate comments until Monday, so if you haven’t commented before and your wonderful words of wisdom don’t show up right away, they will soon.

Oh, ALSO. My writing “pardner” Seven and I have made a pact to write 1200 words, six days a week, so by the end of October we’ll have finished the first drafts of our works-in-progress. Does anyone out there want to join up? If you’re interested, you can contact me through my contact page, or leave a comment here.

A Certain Slant of Light by Laura Whitcomb

A Monday Book Review

“Except for the librarian and a couple of mice, I spent more time in the school library than anyone” (40). Oh dear. Not another YA novel where the main character loves the library. But I’ve ranted about this before, so I’ll resist the impulse to do it again.

Because the majority of this book review is spent on a total tangent, I will say here that A Certain Slant of Light is an enjoyable read. The idea of two ghosts borrowing the bodies of two troubled teens and falling in love is the sort of plot hook that allows me to forgive the library-loving protagonist issue. The writing is quite beautiful in places and…I cried at the end. A Certain Slant of Light has more poetic prose than a typical commercial fantasy novel, which was pleasantly surprising.

That said, I can now jump into my rant. (Not about libraries.)

I am quite baffled as to why this novel is marketed as YA fiction. The two main characters are adults, although ghosts. Helen was 27 when she died, and has been a ghost for 130 years. James was 29 and has been a ghost for 85 years. That gives each character over a century of experience in the world! Just because they are “borrowing” two teenagers’ bodies does not make them teenagers, and some of their actions, as well as the main character’s thought processes and (prior) life experiences, place this book completely in the realm of general (adult) fiction. I wonder if young adults were the original audience Whitcomb had in mind.

But perhaps I approach this in the wrong way. Young adult fiction doesn’t have to feature teenagers as the main characters…although honestly I’m having a hard time coming up with examples which do not feature teenagers. Anything with animals? I would argue that  The Warriors series by Erin Hunter (starring cats) and The Underneath by Kathi Appelt (populated with all manner of animal characters) are more middle-grade fiction.

YA literature has to be something young adults want to read. But now I’m puzzling over the distinction, because some teens love “adult” books too. And with the YA market attracting more and more adults (for the LA Times article about this, click here), the distinction is problematic.

Can anyone come up with examples of YA books that do not feature a teen as the main character? Extra points if you think of one that features a main character over the age of 20.

For more information on Laura Whitcomb and her writing, you can visit her website by clicking here.

My Friday Five

A Friday Free-for-All

1. I really do love Sarah Dessen’s blog. There usually isn’t anything particularly helpful in it, which I like in a blog (as you can probably see if you’re reading mine). Hers is entertaining. Sometimes funny, sometimes poignant, and sometimes way too true, as she is also the mother of a toddler. Because imitation is the finest form of flattery, I’m stealing her Friday Five idea and using it today, because there are too many bits floating around in my head. [Sidenote: if you want to explore her books, my two favorites are The Truth About Forever and This Lullaby.]

2. My friend and Birthday Buddy, Cora, is not yet a year old and she is already facing her fourth surgery. At least, I think it is her fourth; I have to admit I have lost count because there have been extra trips to the hospital not involving surgery. I bet her parents could tell you without any thought at all how many surgeries Cora has had. Right now, Baby Cora needs to get her nourishment through an IV, and hopefully in a few weeks she’ll have gained enough weight to be strong enough for the next surgery. I don’t want to share details here because a) I’m terrible at medical details, being so swayed by the emotional aspect, and b) Cora is not my baby so I’m really not at liberty to share her information. At any rate, please pray for Cora, or send positive thoughts to the Universe, or virtual hugs to her and her parents, or whatever it is that you can do right now for her. She is a special little girl who does not deserve to have to go through this again. No baby does.

3. Um, it’s really hard to move on from Point #2. But let’s try. Z woke up around 2:30 and could not go back to sleep. She tried. I know, because she was in our bed and I was watching her. Z has always slept with us, from Day 1, and this was a conscious decision we made before she came home with us. I think, however, that even if we hadn’t made that decision, co-sleeping is where we would’ve ended up, anyway, since she screamed if she wasn’t with me. But back to my story. Finally, after watching her flip and flop and almost ruin her chances of a sibling with some of her kicks towards Husband, I asked her if it was her diaper. She actually said yes. So I picked her up, changed her diaper, then rocked her and sang through our current lullabies twice (“All the Pretty Horses” and “Ring Around the Moon”). Then I waited a half hour for her to fall asleep in her crib, sneaked back to my room (hmm, “snuck” comes underlined red with spell check). The creaking floors must have given me away, because she woke up and I had to do the wait-by-the-crib routine all over again. I’m a freaking hero, okay?

4. I hit the Big One with the library hold list this week. Usually I get one or two books at a time–totally manageable. Right now I’ve got eight of them, all taking up space on an already-crowded bookshelf. Then yesterday: a message that five more are just waiting on  me. Here’s my list:

  • The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins, audio recording (I LOVE this book!)
  • A Certain Slant of Light by Laura Whitcomb (finished on Thursday; I had the feeling I’d already read it though)
  • The Eyre Affair by Jasper Fforde (D-Chan’s been trying to get me to read this for years)
  • The Underneath by Kathi Appelt (MG book, random interest)
  • Accents: a Manual for Actors by Robert Blumenfeld (I’m terrible at accents, but so curious)
  • The Plot Thickens: 8 Ways to Bring Fiction to Life by Noah Lukeman (author is a literary agent who has published numerous books and articles on writing and querying)
  • Gone by Lisa McMann (may as well finish the trilogy)
  • My Soul to Take by Rachel Vincent (reading now. Love her Werecats series. Unimpressed with this one)
  • The Happiest Toddler on the Block by Harvey Karp (hated the baby one, but friend said this one is better)
  • Urban Shaman by C. E. Murphy (might be terrible–who knows?)
  • The Dark Divine by Bree Despain (ditto the above parenthetical comment. We’ve got to take a chance occasionally)
  • Lament: The Faerie Queen’s Deception by Maggie Stiefvater (I’ve been on hold for months waiting for Shiver–buy more copies, library!)

5. Although it isn’t official yet, since the “official” first day isn’t until tomorrow, spring is here. From the seeds I planted last week, the lettuce has already sprouted. The weather is warm enough I can go without socks around the house, and Z and I have resumed our morning walks. Everyone seems to be happy about this, and I’m wondering: is anyone sad to see the end of winter?

I’m barely proofing this thing in my rush to get it out. Hope it’s okay…. And happy Friday!

Poo To Do

I really don’t see how this would be of interest to anyone except myself, but my to-do list (all forms of it updated, categorized, fretted over, and so on, since high school) is on my mind right now, so I think I’ll work with it.

Also, I’m sorry yesterday’s entry didn’t show up until late; I hit the “Save Draft” button instead of the “Schedule [to publish]” button. It’s better than today’s entry, so you could just read that instead. Really.

Poo To Do:

1) read and comment on Ana’s manuscript

2) read and comment on writing for the Sacramento Writers Group (it isn’t posted yet, but since I’m the person who posts them, I can get the head start I desperately need in order to procrastinate until the last minute)

3) rough character sketches for The Black City. Can I please, tonight, NOT get bogged down browsing through 100,001 Baby Names while selecting monikers for my invented people?

4) pick up library books on hold. They haven’t arrived yet, but they should soon. One book I’m especially excited about it Catching Fire, the sequel to The Hunger Games. No, I’m not obsessively checking and re-checking my library account. Nope, I haven’t memorized my 14-digit library account number because I’ve been typing it in so often. No, I didn’t actually pack Z up and take her to the library to investigate my holds status in person.

5) stop lying

6) turn Z’s car seat around so she isn’t scrunched up like a jack-in-the-box during our many trips to the library

7) pick some lettuce to make a salad for dinner tonight. LOVING my mini-garden. I’ll post a picture on Friday.

8 ) replace batteries in sound monitor for Z’s room

9) figure out what to write for blog post tomorrow–I need to compose these in my mind early (you think all this witticism shows up on the fly? Oh, no: “…and though I sometimes amuse myself with suggesting and arranging such little elegant compliments…I always wish to give them as unstudied an air as possible.” -Mr. Collins, Pride and Prejudice)

10) talk to Husband about painting bedroom walls

11) clip back the blackened, frost-killed bush in front of the bathroom window–there’s green in there somewhere–it’ll make it!

12) check, re-check, and check again the Amazon Breakthrough Novel Awards site to see if my novel made the first cut. For the first cut they just read the pitches. You can click here to read mine.

There’s more, of course. But I’ve gotta go, need to check that ABNA site again.