Housekeeping

Just a short post to alert you to the fact that I have added a link to my Facebook profile on the About Me page. Lest you believe that I am woefully behind the times, I’ve actually had a personal Facebook page since 2005, when they rolled out the website for my school. The only reason I don’t want to put a link to that one up is that I actually use my personal Facebook page to keep track of old friends and family members and sorority sisters and stuff, and I just thought I’d get too confused if I combined Internet friends with IRL friends, so I just created a new one for all things authorial.

I would set up a new MySpace account, too, but I’ve got to be honest: I hate MySpace. I hardly use the account I have now, and maybe I’ll talk myself into getting one in the future, when the book release is closer, since it seems like a handy way of disseminating information for other authors, but…I just really hate it. Facebook is way more my thing.

Oh, and also I’ve joined the Tenners, a community over on Live Journal for writers with books coming out in 2010. Hit up my bio (with a little, never before seen synopsis of AUT grabbed from my query letter, if you can believe it, plus a bit more information about me and an explanation about where the title All Unquiet Things came from), and check out what the other lovely Tenners are up to. Speaking of people with books coming out in the future (nice segue, I know), you might want to stop by the 2009 Debutantes Live Journal, because their books are about to start rolling out in January and you know you want to add them all to your Amazon wishlist.

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The big edit

It feels like forever since I got my book deal but, in reality, it’s been like two weeks. Okay, not even, because it’ll be two weeks tomorrow. Whatever! Since then, the only book related thing I’ve really done (other than tell everybody I’ve ever met about it and drink a lot of beers on my friends’ tabs in celebration of it) is have lunch with my editor, Francoise, last Friday. And I do mean the ONLY thing, because even though I have two books on the table now with Delacorte, I haven’t seriously touched either of them since August 22, when I finished the rough draft of MB.

There is method to this madness. I’m waiting to do any revisions on AUT right now, naturally, because I don’t want to muck around with it until I get my editorial letter, which probably won’t happen until sometime in early-mid November. I think this is reasonable. I haven’t touched MB because I was afraid I didn’t have the perspective and distance yet to adequately eviscerate it in the way that I think all rough drafts need to be eviscerated.

To illustrate this point properly, I offer you the following story: I sent the manuscript to a couple of people after giving it a once-over reading, and one of those people (my wonderful cousin, Emma, who reads all of my books and talks to me about them at length even when they’re in the conceptual stages, like GR) kept copy and pasting quotes she liked from the manuscript onto my Facebook wall. So I would go into the manuscript and look up the quote and then read the chapter or whatever and think, “God, this is so funny, I can’t believe I wrote this!” That is how I knew I wasn’t ready to edit yet–if I was thinking it was good, I hadn’t had enough time to get it out of my system.

But it’s been over a month now since I typed “The End” on MB (that is a lie, I never type “The End”, but you know what I mean–I finished it) and on Friday Francoise told me that she thought the prologue to MB was dynamite. I thought it was pretty great, too, so I went into the MS later that day to read it and remind myself what a brilliant writer I am. GUESS WHAT?

Later that night, the following conversation took place:

Anna: Francoise told me today at lunch that she really liked the MB prologue.
Cambria: That’s great.
Anna: So I read it and I hated it.
Cambria: That’s ridiculous.
Anna: And you know what that means!
Cambria: That you’re crazy?
Anna: No. That it’s time to start editing.

I don’t mean to say that my editor is wrong about the prologue. What I mean to say is that I now have the right amount of distance–I can look critically at my work–to start working on it, although I might need to do a quick pass and then send it on to Joanna because I have a feeling I might not be able to see logical flaws. Still, I have a list of edits I’d like to make, as well as Emma’s feedback on the end that was super helpful. Plus, it’s plot board time again! Blurgh. That’s going to be a lot of work, and a lot of hand cramping, I just know it. But I also know from the AUT revision process that it pays off in the end, and it looks really pretty with all the colors.

Not to mention that I’m very excited to get back to the MB world. I missed those clowns.

Hungry

I did it! For the third year in a row, I hit 50 books. The last two years I went over 50, the first year by 10 and the next year by 21; I don’t know how many I’ll go over by this year. I haven’t been reading a whole lot recently, which bugs me. Actually, I’ve been reading consistently, but instead of consuming entire books in one gulp I’ve been mostly nibbling, reading a few pages here and there when I have the time, and prioritizing other things–revising AUT, writing MB, working at my day job, and that ubiquitous New York past time: Going Out.

On Friday, when I had lunch with my editor, I told her that I was feeling uninspired by what I was reading lately. This is not to say that what I’m reading isn’t spectacular–it is–but that I’ve been missing that feeling you have when a book gets under your skin, gets its talons in you and won’t let go until you’ve read the whole thing.

Well, I’m happy to say that yesterday I finished two books–The Murder of Roger Ackroyd, one of Agatha Christie’s best, and The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins.

You guys? The Hunger Games was AMAZING. I mowed through it in five hours, and enjoyed every minute of it. Hands down, best YA I’ve read all year, not to mention one of the best books I’ve read all year. I could not put it down. It’s high-concept and fast-paced, the characters are great, and everything is perfectly executed. If anyone ever asks me which book I wish I’d written, this would be it.

Let me calm down for five seconds and explain to you what The Hunger Games is all about:

Katniss Everdeen is a sixteen-year-old girl living in the twelfth District of Panem, the country that replaced the United States. Panem has a bloody history–long ago, before anyone who is alive can remember, the thirteen Districts of Panem revolted against the rich, powerful Capitol at the nation’s center and, though they have long been beaten and subjugated under the Capitol’s iron thumb, each year they are annually punished for the rebellion with the Hunger Games, a televised competition to the death between twenty-four children (ages 12-18), a boy and a girl from each District.

Katniss has been taking care of her mother and little sister, Prim, ever since her beloved father died in the mines that provide District 12 with its industry years before. Katniss is strong and resourceful, hunting illegally and trading her game at the black market like a pro. She is nearly her family’s sole provider, but when her twelve-year-old sister is chosen via lottery to compete in the Hunger Games, she steps forward and volunteers herself in Prim’s place. The District’s other “tribute”, Peeta Mallark, is a boy Katniss’ age who once showed her an unforgettable kindness. Along with their drunken mentor, Haymitch, the only tribute from District 12 ever to win the Hunger Games, Peeta and Katniss develop a strategy that might help one of them win–or get them both killed.

Doesn’t that sound totally awesome?! And it is. It SO is. The only bad part about The Hunger Games is that it’s the first in a series and I WANT MORE. It was probably a bad idea to read it so soon after it came out, because now I have to wait, what, a year and a half for the next installment? Blurgh. Patience has never been one of my best virtues.

Celebrity adjacent

OMG you guys. I don’t know how much anyone cares about this, but I had lunch with my editor today and sitting right behind her was Chris March from Season 4 of Project Runway. This is by far my most exciting celebrity siting since I moved to New York last November, and I’ve seen Matthew Perry for heaven’s sake! Chris was wearing a lot of pinstripes, but no human hair, at least not that I could tell.

I’m happy to report that lunch was great, and my editor is so wonderful. I’m so energized now, and excited to dive back into MB so I can have something to show everybody in a month or so. If only it wasn’t so gross and rainy outside. The Hunger Games this weekend! Well, maybe. I hope so.

Emotional resonance

Over on her blog, Jennifer Lynn Barnes is talking about emotional authenticity in her writing, and I think it’s a really interesting subject, something I’ve been thinking about a lot and might have touched on before.

I’ve never written a scene that made me cry. This is probably because I almost never cry. Which is weird. I used to cry all the time as a kid, and got this reputation in my family as being “very sensitive.” I’m still very sensitive, I think, I just handle it in a different way, which may or may not be better (I don’t think it’s better). Furthermore, when I do cry, it’s not because something has made me sad. I never cry when things make me sad. I cry when I’m angry, when I feel powerless, or humiliated, or disappointed. So I don’t cry a lot when I write.

I do remember, quite recently, though, having a very strong reaction to something I was writing. I was writing a part of MB where the protagonists come across another character for the first time. They don’t know this person, and they don’t particularly trust them or have any sympathy for them. Eventually, this person decides to tell them their story, and it’s quite heartbreaking. I never intended it to be so, because when I originally conceived of this character I didn’t want them to be very sympathetic. And the story the manuscript tells is not the story I’d originally conceived of, in that it goes far more in depth and it’s a little bit more devastating.

And after writing it, I was devastated. I had to leave my apartment and go out on my stoop and just breathe for a while. I kept telling myself, “Don’t be crazy, this person isn’t real,” but of course to a writer sometimes the people you invent are realer than the people you know.

But something else was bothering me. Where did that story come from? Of course, you can’t really pinpoint where an actual idea comes from, but I firmly believe that everything a writer puts down on the page comes from some real place, however abstractly. What had happened to my character has never happened to me–not even close–or anyone else that I know, so what suddenly inspired me to write something so grim in a book that ostensibly, according to me, is supposed to be lighter than AUT? The closest I can figure is that it has its roots in my fear of becoming desperate, the loss of control and sense of vulnerability that implies.

But I don’t want to simplify all of this, either. Writing, and indeed all artistic endeavor, is in some ways a mysterious process that cannot be very well understood, even by the people who do it. So assuming a narrator is just a straightforward representation of the author in his or her entirety is not good, even if it is true in some cases, because that would be underestimating the author and also distracting from a greater appreciation for and understanding of the subtleties of the text and characters and story.

Drive by linking

Not much to say here today, unfortunately, as I got too little sleep, so I’m falling back on that old blogger stand-by, the link dump.

  • Recently, Esquire put out a list of “The 75 Books Every Man Should Read” which, while very comprehensive in the dead white guy category, was conspicuously lacking in books by people of color, of which there are only a handful, and also books written by women, of which there is only one: Flannery O’Connor’s short story collection A Good Man Is Hard To Find. Now, I think it’s great Esquire is encouraging men to read, but come on–give a little love to the very talented ladies who have been writing brilliant novels for several centuries now. Also, I think no list of “books every man should read” is complete without Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice–a man can learn a LOT by following that masterpiece closely. And how did Esquire miss Don Delillo’s White Noise?
  • So, naturally, the ladies over at Jezebel couldn’t resist having their say, and compiled another list: “The 75 Books Every Woman Should Read.” They came up with the first 20 books, then culled the suggestions in the comments section into a larger list. This list has a couple of books by men on it (Angela’s Ashes by Frank McCourt, Love in the Time of Cholera by Gabriel Garcia Marquez, The Unbearable Lightness of Being by Milan Kundera, and Madame Bovary by Gustave Flaubert are the ones I noticed), but it’s mostly books by women, obviously. I have read very few of these books, sad to say, so I think I’m going to make it a challenge over the next two years (to give me time to read other books in between) to read the list in its entirety. I would even really like to reread the ones I have read, because most of them I read in college or earlier. Also, I would add Mary Doria Russell’s The Sparrow to this list.
  • Probably most people who read this blog have already heard about YA for Obama, the social networking site for YA writers, readers and fans set up by Maureen Johnson on the Ning in order to drum up support for Senator Obama’s presidential race and also foster discussion about important issues and facilitate education, but if not I’m going to suggest you head over there and see what’s what. If you do join, go ahead and friend me through my profile.

I think that’s all I’ve got.

Perfection shmerfection

This morning, Diana Peterfreund posted about the idea of the “perfect” mate in our romance culture–in literature, movies and TV. I’ve actually given this a lot of thought. I’m not immune to the power of Edward Cullen, I’ll be blunt about that–I mean, who wouldn’t want a beautiful, rich, respectful man to love her for all eternity? If that comes down the pipe, I’ll be sure not to turn it down, TRUST. And I like reading about it, and I like seeing movies that have that fantasy in it. Like Diana points out, love in the real world is hard; I would argue that nobody has the perfect relationship, or the perfect mate, but even if there is anything remotely close to that in the world most people don’t even come close to it. Human beings are flawed and deeply insecure and incapable of “perfect” love, because in my mind, perfect love is selfless, and there is always an element of selfishness in all of us. So in a way these stories are comforting. They work hard to tell us YOU DESERVE IT, or perhaps just YOU DESERVE MORE, which is often true in some ways.

I’m not really interested in perfect characters. I’m not even quite that interested in taking a character who appears perfect and peeling away the surface to get at how they’re not perfect. There are plenty of other books that do that, in varying degrees of success. My main interest, what got me writing and what keeps me writing, is my interest in flawed characters and exploring how they interact, what they learn from each other and how they come to know one another, and through doing that how they come to know themselves. I think a lot of the struggles we go through in adolescence and early adulthood (I’m still there, no lies) have a lot to do with knowing and understanding and recognizing our selves and placing those selves in the world. And I think one of the ways that we try to solve those existential problems is through our relationships with other people. And that’s my main interest–how our relationships with other people orient us in the world, but always with the caveat that ONE person cannot be your WHOLE world and that nobody can actually tell you who you are. Among other things, of course.

I probably won’t ever write a character like Edward Cullen, and that’s not because there’s anything wrong with that type of character. Like I said, I fully understand the appeal, and as you know I liked the Twilight series as much as the next person. But it’s not my personal interest as a writer. I’ll leave that to the people who do it well. The thing I think I do well, I think (and maybe I’m giving myself a bit too much credit, here, but whatever, it’s my blog), is taking a character that needs something but doesn’t understand what they need or how to get it or even that they need it, presenting them with an opportunity to at least partially solve all these questions, and following that through to its logical conclusion. I like them to be flawed because that’s what makes them interesting to me, and makes it possible for me to stay in their heads for six years at a time, but also because I am flawed and it’s easier for me to write about that.