Cue head exploding

Have you ever had so much go on within a short span of time that you feel like your head is just going to pop like a party balloon? That’s how I feel right now. Don’t worry, I’m self-medicating with some Chinese food. I’m on top of this.

Yesterday and this morning involved a lot of back and forth over jacket flap copy for AUT, which is exciting but also nerve-wracking. Has anyone else noticed that it’s really hard to describe your own book? As the person who spent six years writing it, I feel like everything is important, and I don’t know how to boil it down to the essentials without frying all my circuits. Thank God for agents and editors, right? I’m so tired.

That might have a little to do with being out so late last night, though. One of the reasons I’m super lucky to be living in New York is that I have so many good friends here, and they’re all cool and interesting and into a hundred different things. I’ve managed over the course of a few months to pick up several guy friends who are amateur stand-up comedians, but until last night I’d never seen any of them up on stage. Me, Cambria and Nikki headed over to Gotham after work (short pit stop at Dallas BBQ for margaritas and chicken fingers, OBVS, as it’s right there) and were able to see our friends David and Brian (both incredibly funny) perform. There were a lot of funny people, and it was nice to see some lady comics, because when Bri and I went to Gutbucket a few weeks ago there was only one and she was…fine.

Speaking of Gutbucket, one of my favorite comics from that show performed at Gotham last night. His name is Luke Cunningham and I think he’s hilarious, that’s all.

Afterwards we went to Trailer Park, which is just down the street. It’s a kitschy little bar made up to resemble (what else?) a trailer park. I personally think it’s a little too expensive to live up to its name ($5 PBR? That’s highway robbery, that is) but the atmosphere is pretty great and the tater tots are to die for. We hung around with David, Brian, and a bunch of other comedians after the show, including one of the ladies, who I’m pretty sure I gave some material to, although quite honestly it’s nothing that hasn’t been done before on Sex and the City, so whatevs. MD also joined us after her date, bringing the party as always.

I got home around midnight, but then of course stayed up until one to finish Wintergirls, which is so wonderful and traumatizing. Some people don’t like sad, emotionally eviscerating books, but those are my favorite kinds, and Wintergirls is the perfect example. In short, I loved it, Laurie Halse Anderson is a rock star.

Back to work

This morning, I finally (sorry J!) sent the revised MB manuscript off to Joanna, who in turn is going to send it to my editor, who in turn is going to look at it sometime…soon? I don’t know, I can only imagine how busy she must be, and this book isn’t set to come out until January 2011 after all, so I’m not holding my breath. In fact, I’m letting it out, in a huge sigh of relief. AUT is off to copyedits, MB is off to my editor, and I can work on new stuff yay!

I love putting together a book. Pre-writing and plotting are my very favorite parts of the whole process. For me, the process is very much like someone scattered a 500-piece puzzle all over P.Diddy’s mansion and it’s my job to find them all and put them together correctly. I would say I have 1/4 of the pieces for GR right now. I have the short, pithy description: “Lord of the Flies meets The Haunting of Hill House.” I have my cast of characters, my dramatis personae if you want to be as insufferably Elizabethan as apparently I do. I have some background information, I have some clues, I have some ideas for puzzles (that’s right, puzzles–I knew that playing all those Nancy Drew computer games with Em and Fish would come in handy one day), I have the setting, and I’ve done some research about it. I have the soundtrack (lots of Andrew Bird music). I have the structure, and I have some major plot crises. I have a good idea for a couple of relationship and character arcs. My mind is busy day and night, working out the plot knots and introducing obstacles. Pre-writing is the best.

All of this said, I could use a vacation. A real one. I’m going to California for a friend’s wedding at the beginning of May (perhaps I already mentioned this?), but only for two days, if that. I may or may not be going to London in May, also, but again, only two days. Back to California in June for my siblings’ graduations, maybe that’ll be four days, but there will probably be no small amount of frenzied activity and sitting out in the hot sun listening for their names to be called. Back to California in late July for another wedding, this one in Monterey, so it should be a little bit more temperate but no less hurried, unfortunately. Although, I already got permission from my parents to borrow a car so that I can drive to Maggie’s wedding and possibly swing by the John Steinbeck house on my way through Salinas. We’ll see–I really love that drive, though, regardless.

As happy as I am to be doing all these things, what I’d love is just to have one long vacation, not these super short trips every month. It wouldn’t even have to be somewhere exotic or touristy–just being at home in California for a week would be fine. My parents and I wanted to go take a trip up to the California ghost towns (research for GR), but I’m not sure that’s going to happen.

Still, I mosey. Last night my friends and I gathered at our “local” (and I put that in quotation marks because I live nowhere near it) watering hole, Dempsey’s, for St. Patrick’s Day. It was packed, as one would expect the best Irish pub in New York (according to me) to be on the big Irish holiday. When we got hungry, we went to Artichoke for spinach & artichoke pizza (the line was considerably shorter last night than it had been at three am two Saturdays ago), and I’m not kidding you, this is the best pizza I’ve had ever. It’s niche, of course–you’re not always in the mood for spinach & artichoke pizza, and if you are then I pray for your arteries, but it’s so delicious you don’t even know. 14th St. between 1st and 2nd Aves. That’s a little tip from me to you.

New post up at A-Team and other random things

This post actually went up last night, but I forgot to put a link to it here. Now I did! Go read it and come back, I’ll wait.

Okay, so I’m officially done with AUT revisions. That is a sweet, sweet thing to be able to write. I sent my revised manuscript to my editor via email on Monday (this was the second round), and God bless her she’d had the whole thing read by Wednesday afternoon, when she emailed me with three questions/clarifications. It took me about fifteen minutes to do those and shoot back an email on Thursday morning, and by the afternoon she’d sent an email saying that the ms was going to copyediting early next week.

Now it’s time to start working on something new…

LOL “working on something new”! Since my editor expressed interest in seeing MB after AUT went to copyedits, and since I told her that MB was “ready” (check out that diction choice–notice I didn’t say “finished” or “done” because I know there’s probably some rough revision time ahead of me), now I have to make sure that it is ready. I mean, I think it is, since I sent it to J in October and she sent me an editorial letter of things to change back and I made most of those changes, but it could still use a once- or twice-over, since I haven’t really worked on it seriously since November. That’s what this weekend is about. And then something new!

The annoying thing about “something new” is that I have two books on the docket (is that the correct usage of the word “docket”? Probs not) and my brain likes to alternate between them as if it expects to work on them at the same time, which, let me tell you, brain, ISN’T GOING TO HAPPEN. Pick a side! For now I’ve been going with it, but that’s going to need to change soon if I want to be at all productive.

STOP: COVER TIME

What? I am not leaving all the MC Hammer allusions for Josh Berk to just scoop up in put in his blog I mean really now.

So, anyway, last night I finished my revisions for All Unquiet Things. If everything goes as planned, this should be my last round of revisions before copy edits. I sent them off to my editor and my agent, and I’m left here, twiddling my thumbs, eating cheese, and wondering what to post now.

OH I GUESS I’LL POST MY COVER BECAUSE I FINALLY GOT PERMISSION TO DO SO. Pardon the shouting, this is very exciting for me.

Behold:

allunquietjkt

I think it’s amazing. When we talked about it months ago, the words “sophisticated” and “arresting” were bandied about, and I think it hits both of those right on the mark. “Beautiful”, “elegant”, and “creepy” are some more things that have been said, but I haven’t heard a peep of dissent about it. Everybody, from my editor to the RH sales department to Joanna to me to my mother, really loves it.

What do YOU think?

Pre-writing

About a month ago, I put up a post asking people to frequently ask their questions for the FAQ page of my new website, and Alexa brought up a lot of great topics that I decided to do posts on instead of FAQs, so that I could talk about them at length because you know I love to do that. I decided to start with pre-writing, because I do a lot of it, and it’s the easiest topic to get my head around enough to write a helpful post on a Friday, especially since I have my AUT notebook on me today.

If I’m honest, pre-writing is my favorite part of the writing process (this probably explains how exhausted and low-energy I am when it comes to the end of it, a.k.a. revisions). For every book I have a dedicated notebook, usually just a college-ruled spiral-bound cheapie from Target or Office Depot or whatever. I like to get ones with bright covers, so I can tell them apart; the AUT notebook is red, the MB one is purple, the GR one is blue, and so on. SM doesn’t have a notebook yet–I’ve been doing a lot of my pre-writing for that book on the computer for some reason.

This is not to say that programs like Scrivener or a good old fashioned Word document won’t work for pre-writing, because of course to each his or her own. I’ve tried Scrivener and am not enamored, although maybe I could be with more practice, and I have plenty of pre-writing for all my books in Word docs. But the notebook is crucial because it’s portable and it’s tactile. I would never write a book long hand (laziness), but I get way more satisfaction making notes with a pen than typing them out real quick on a computer (although I’ll do anything in a pinch; Google Docs and the Drafts folder of my Gmail are routinely filled with ideas and lines and links to Wikipedia pages for research).

There are many different types of pre-writing that I do. They include:

  • Character manifestos
  • Dramatis personae
  • Soundtrack
  • Map (if necessary, although I always think it’s good to have a map of the area your characters will be operating in, so that you can keep geography straight)
  • Research (for example, my GR notebook is full of information about the real-life towns my fake town is based on)
  • Any other notes. For me, this usually includes a long stream of ideas about where the novel could go that basically read as I’m thinking them: “Maybe Neily could secretly be a mermaid! No, that’s probably not going to work, but if he’s got an aversion to kryptonite (change name?) then it makes it impossible for him to go to school for three days while Audrey”*…etc., etc.  I also apparently wrote impassioned rebuttles to some of my thesis adviser’s criticism, peppered with rambling philosophical arguments (well I was in grad school at the time). There’s a whole section on Sartre’s “good faith” v. “bad faith” that I’ll try to remember to reproduce for you someday when the book comes out (it’s spoilery)–EL OH EL I’m a loser.

Of course, you don’t really need all these things, and I don’t have all of them for every book. The most important thing for me to have is the dramatis personae (it’s pretend-like-you’re-Shakespeare Friday, didn’t you know?), which combined with the synopsis makes up the treatment for the novel. The dramatis personae is where I dump all of my notes regarding physical appearance of each of the characters, full name, personality, relationships with other characters (from an objective perspective–the character manifesto is for the character’s thoughts about themselves and their lives and their relationships with others, as well as the other characters themselves), etc. I want to keep track of their age, their year in school, their family structure, all that stuff.

The synopsis–well, you could write a whole blog post on the synopsis (and people have), probably a series of blog posts. I just try to put down in a completely straightforward way what happens in the book. My “treatments” (always Word docs) also usually have a catch-all brainstorming section, when I want to accomplish things but don’t really know where to put them. “Heroin lollipops” was in the AUT brainstorming section for a long time, probably too long, considering they never made it into any version of the manuscript. I just thought it was an interesting idea, but I replaced it with another, much better “something concealed in something else” device.

Even though pre-writing seems like the beginning of the process, it’s something I’m always doing. I try to get very prepared to write a novel beforehand, but there’s always new things to take note of and the brainstorming process is ongoing. Because of that, I always carry a notebook and a pen with me. In a pinch, I’ll write a text message and then save it to draft when I get home, or use the notebook feature of my iPod Touch to make a reminder, but the best is really to have a notebook on me at all times. For a long while I also carried notecards around in a plastic bag, which was great, too. Do it any way you please.

As an aside, I was going through my AUT notebook and I found something I’d totally forgotten about that I thought might be interesting. As regular blog readers probably know, AUT is about two teens who team up to solve their friend’s murder. The friend is named Carly, and it’s not a spoiler to say that Carly is dead because that’s the entire premise of the book. Thus, it is also not a spoiler to say that Carly has a headstone, and that headstone has a quotation engraved on it. If you’d asked me this morning if that was always the quotation on headstone, I would’ve said yes, because I’d completely forgotten that the headstone once had another quotation on it–although probably not in any actual manuscript version. I’m married to the quotation on the headstone now, and perhaps this one is way too heavy-handed, but I’m sorry I couldn’t use it because it’s really beautiful. It’s from Elizabeth Barrett Browning’s poem “A Musical Instrument”:

The true gods sigh for the cost and pain–
For the reed which grows nevermore again
As a reed with the reeds in the river.

Isn’t that just the best? Sigh.

*Not an actual excerpt. Obviously.

Stress

Stress is my eternal enemy. To be honest, I’m not very good about dealing with it. When I was in college, I decided to get a double degree, so I needed forty extra credits to graduate. As a result, I ended up overloading nearly every quarter. Also, I became a huge joiner sophomore year, so by my senior year I had all these external responsibilities. I was a supervisor at my job, in charge of hiring, firing and scheduling my merry band of misfits, second-in-command of our undergraduate literary magazine, an officer in my sorority, a Senior Senator and appropriations committee chair (lots of work, little respect, no compensation), and a member of the peer judicial board. Also, I had friends and a life and ten roommates. My grandmother died that year, and my father had a stroke. Needless to say, I was very, very busy and very, very stressed out, and the fact that I made it through 2004-2005 with my sanity intact is a miracle.

My body, however, did not fair so well. It got to the point where any attempt to relax, even for forty minutes to watch an episode of Law & Order with my roommates, would result in terrible stomach cramps the origin of which are a mystery to me. Forget taking a nap–I would get sick the moment I laid down.

Okay, so I didn’t go to the doctor, because I was sure it was all psychological. And sure enough, the day I graduated all my symptoms went away. I spent the next three years bored, but healthy. And then I got my book deal. And then I started having inconvenient, irritating friend problems. And then it was winter and I got homesick for my family and California. And now I can’t lay down without stomach issues and my shoulders feel as though a great weight is upon them and I wake up after restless sleep feeling twisted and achey. I have got to do something about this.

AUT revisions are stressing me out big time. I feel the pressure to finish them and get on with it, but mostly that’s internal. I’m excited about everything that comes next, so I’m busting my butt to get these revisions done, and I’ve accomplished a good chunk of it–now all I need is to carve out the time necessary to make the last changes. And, actually, I’m felling really great about what I’ve gotten done so far, and I’m pretty sure I know exactly how to fix the rest of the little problems in the MS. It’s just this last final push, when my energy is so low, that’s standing between me and being able to wave a fond farewell to AUT as it makes its way to copy edits.

And, okay, the friend stuff is problematic. This is probably the biggest stresser in my life that I have no control over. It’s coming at a really inopportune time and every attempt to deal with it just makes the situation worse because the cognitive disconnect between me and this person is so great. Generally, I don’t deal with tough interpersonal problems by withdrawing and being distant and withholding my friendship–I like to confront things head-on, fix them, and forget about them–but the situation is such that my only option currently is to shut it down. I’m perfectly happy to discuss issues in the hopes of reaching a satisfactory conclusion, but I’m not prepared to teach somebody how to be a good friend. That’s not my job. We’re all adults, it’s time to act like it. Take what you want and pay for it, says God.

But what I realized yesterday is that as much as AUT has been stressing me out, in so many ways it has saved me. It has given me something to focus on that is productive and satisfying and meaningful. I wrote AUT for many reasons, but one of them is that I was trying to puzzle out what it means to be human, what it means to grow up, what it means to love people, to forgive them, to ask for forgiveness. My characters are not flawless or perfect, and they don’t always mean well, but they are searching for a way to be good, to repair what has been broken to whatever degree it can be repaired. These revisions have given me extra time with them, and it has been so great for me because it reminds me what I value.

So my strategy is this: take lots of deep breaths, have faith in my own principles, and focus on the work*–not only what I can give it, but what I can get from it. Already I feel a little lighter. Confession is good for the soul. Thanks for listening!

*Also, plan a vacation. Cambria and I are buying tickets to London tonight! (I think.) I need a break, even if it’s not going to happen until May.

Oh, so THIS is what it feels like to be productive

Ladies and gentlemen, I had one of the most productive weekends ever. I’m very proud of myself for getting stuff done, because I normally have big plans for my weekends and then I end up sitting in my pajamas all day eating ramen and watching Monk on Hulu (I did that anyway this weekend, but for once I balanced it out).

As you probably already know, finishing my revisions has been the monumental goal in my life for the last week, so Friday I opted not to go out with friends and instead went home to work. I got through about thirty pages, which is respectable, but not great. I also watched some TV on the Internet, because I’m incorrigible, and I finished reading Agatha Christie’s Hallowe’en Party, which was pretty good and I even solved! the! mystery! before Poirot exposed the criminal(s).

On Saturday, my friend/coworker/web designer/brother from another mother, Eric, picked me up and took me to IKEA, because he’s just that awesome. I bought a bookcase and a new dresser (mine is quite literally falling to pieces), plus some knives (IKEA has the best knives, you heard it hear first), some extra plastic utensils, a replacement corkscrew (ours cost $3 at a bodega and is a terrible piece of worthless plastic; the IKEA one cost $2.50 and is an indestructible brushed steel), a couple of document boxes, and two chocolate bars.

Let me opine for a second about the IKEA chocolate bars. My friend Marisa handed me a dollar on Friday and asked me to bring her one. She also said, “Please get one for yourself; you won’t regret it.” I did what she said and I bought two milk chocolate bars, even though I’m not the biggest fan of sweets (I’m much more of a salty/savory person by nature). Guys? I ate the whole thing as soon as I got home. It was delish. Late last year I bought a Cadbury bar at the grocery story, as my once-every-three-months sweet tooth demanded, and it was not very good. I would later discover that the Cadbury brand in the US is actually just Nestle or Hershey’s or whoever owns them–it’s not actual Cadbury chocolate. Gross, right? Well, IKEA tastes just like Cadbury, so I was very gratified. It’ll hold me over until May, when I’m going to England and plan on importing several Cadbury chocolate bars.

On Saturday night I went out to dinner in the Financial District, which, guys? Just don’t do it. This is a little New York advice from me to you. I’ve spent more time in the Financial District than I ever cared to in the year and a half I’ve lived in New York, and other than Trinity Church and some of the old New Amsterdam stuff still around (which is way cool), it’s pretty worthless in the off-hours. I came up from the subway at 9:30 and of course it was dark and deserted and while I didn’t feel unsafe, necessarily, I get really turned around in that neighborhood and it’s just not great. Also, the restaurant was totally empty, which is creeptastic on the weekend at the dinner hour. Then we went to a ridiculous house party at this giant apartment that used to be a nightclub that our friend Kyle’s friend owns; there was a salsa band and Kyle somehow got control of the remote for the projector and put on The Beach (??) and it was PACKED, although we stuck together and didn’t mingle because none of the people were interesting to or interested in us. You can only have a party like that in the Financial District; anywhere else and your neighbors would call the cops in three seconds.

On Sunday I watched like 15 hours of Psych on Hulu, put together my bookcase, rearranged the living room a little, went to Bed, Bath and Beyond and got a bunch of stuff including a vacuum (!!), took out all the garbage and the recylcing in the entire apartment (which was a lot), moved all my books out to the bookcase and now I can finally BREATHE in my bedroom, and cleaned my room a little. I thought that was enough; I was like, “Anna, you don’t have to do any more revisions today, you’re good.” But then I was watching Psych and Friday Night Lights and I just kept going, “One more page, I’ll just work on one more page,” until everything was finished. Finished! Although not quite finished. I still have some flags in the MS of notes I have to go back to, and my editor gave me a one-page editorial letter with some clarifications and I have to make sure all those got taken care of. But the big work is done. And I’m feeling very accomplished.