Saturday, June 21, 2014

Bonfire and Visions (Yearly Midsummer Repost)

Reposting my midsummer post from two years ago, with minor edits. This is one of my favorite times of the year for all the old Celtic and Ibero-celtic traditions my grandmother used to tell me about:

Celtic dolmen, Portugal (Beira Alta Region)
There's magic in the simple fountain* in my family's village. According to local legend, if a girl drinks water from it in the middle of the night on Midsummer's eve, she will dream of the man she is meant to marry. 

If you believe in the old traditions, that is.

And if you believe in these traditions, you probably would have already jumped the midsummer bonfires, maybe while holding hands with the boy in town who had stolen your heart. Because, you know, jumping the bonfire will guarantee that you will stay together forever.  And, of course, you wouldn't have forgotten to crack an egg into a glass of water to leave outside for another 'bout of pre-sunrise fortune telling.

Anything's possible on Midsummer.

A lot of this folklore is amazingly similar to Midsummer traditions throughout Europe. Generation upon generation of girls, with the help of Midsummer fountain water, dreamed of the boys they would love. Will o' the wisps were chased through forests. Magic and wonder wove into the everyday for just one night a year.

These customs are dying out with my grandparents' generation as young people move overseas or to the city, or push away "silly old superstitions." Sad, because they stretch back centuries, back to the days before Christianity replaced "Midsummer" with the feast of St. John. 


I still think the magic is still there, waiting. 

All you need to do is take a sip and believe.

*These aren't the jumping water kind-of fountains, but usually just spigots of continuously running spring water from the mountains or faucets connected to a communal well. Before modern water towers and plumbing, families who didn't have their own wells were dependent on the town fountain for their drinking/cleaning/bathing water. Many towns still test the water to make sure it's drinkable, and many fountains still run to this day.

Saturday, June 14, 2014

BEA in Pictures

At the end of last month, I slipped on a comfy pair of shoes, hopped on mass transit, and made my way into New York City to attend BEA, a North American publishing industry conference.

This is so not like the Medical Device Manufacturers conference or the North American Spine Society meeting or the Association of American Orthopaedic Surgeons meeting and definitely not like the Cervical Spine Research Society meeting. The first three may have a massive number of booths that fill a venue like the Javitz, but they're mostly packed with *everyone* in suits.

Plus, no one lines up in massive lines for anything at any of the other conferences :) And none of them have practically shirtless guys hanging around a certain publisher's booth. (I felt uncomfortable passing that publisher!)

Of course, the other conferences don't have BOOOOOOKS or the awesome people who make and market them. Or my publisher or my amazing editors or my wonderful agent.

The other conferences may have me, but without the rest that BEA does, I'm just a bright drop in the bucket of black and grey suits.

This post is going to be *insanely* image-heavy. So, for the sake of computing power, sticking everything under a cut.

Tuesday, May 13, 2014

The Poconos Picture Post

I went to the Eastern PA SCBWI Poconos conference at the Highlights Foundation in Boyd's Mills, PA from May 2nd-4th. While I can babble on forever about friends and workshops, inspiration and so,so much kidlit love, let's start with pictures (and captions!) Warning, this post is insanely image-heavy!

The Barn. Gourmet food, 24-hr ice cream and coffee and snacks, workshops, and chatting 'til late!
The farmhouse (I stayed there this year)
Pre-yoga 6am view from the farmhouse kitchen.

Playing in the poetry garden! (Don'tcha love my camperific clothes?)

 

 
A little inspiration
The cabins (I WANT ONE!!!)

S'mores at night. Burnt marshmallows are the best marshmallows!
 
Our writing prompt table--pick an item and write a paragraph about it, then hang it up on the wall.

I wrote a *little* more than a paragraph. Oops.

Even though winter stretched into spring this year, April showers apparently did bring May flowers!
 This is my favorite conference, surrounded by nature and everything writing. I could live in those cabins and eat that amazing food with no chance of ever getting bored.

What is your favorite conference?

Wednesday, May 7, 2014

My Call Story...

... is up on Michelle Hauck's blog, if you're curious. (You know you are... *Jedi mind tricks you into clicking the link*)

Even if you're not, definitely stop by her blog and read the other call stories she has posted-- there is so much inspiration on Michelle's site. A lot of waiting and rejection and surprise successes. A ton of different paths to that email or phone call or google hangout invite. It's really inspirational.

So click, you know you want to :)

(disclaimer: No Jedi mind tricks were used in creation of this post.)

Wednesday, April 23, 2014

The "OMG, I Have Author Photos" Post

Apparently, when you get a book deal, people start asking for your picture, which is something I probably should have realized, but didn't, along with a bio (Oh, that's fun and easy. Hahahahahaha, Eep.) While I have no shame sharing with you my ridiculous "I'm trying on new makeup, look ma, eyeliner" selfies:


or my "It's CAMP NaNoWriMo TIME! Look at my writer battle-paint" selfies:

I thought it would probably be a good idea to get real photos taken by someone who knows what they're doing. I could have turned to family, but, while I absolutely love them, they're not photographers. In fact, most of the photos end up looking something like this:

Oh, look, BOOKS. What the heck is going on with my face?
I think I saw something like this in a horror film...
 To be fair, dad has managed a few pretty awesome pics like this:

This pic and the one above were taken in Sintra, Portugal at the Quinta da Regaleira 
 But while I'm brave, I'm also a Ravenclaw and Erudite (translation: I'm not that brave, but boy, can I think through things) so I contacted Rachel McCalley, a local photographer whose portfolio blew me away. I wanted to take my pictures here in South Jersey, where my heart is and where BOOKISHLY EVER AFTER is set, and Rachel looked like she'd be the perfect photographer.

And she was!

She calmed my nerves and made me laugh (especially when a random fisherman would wander into the background or when I almost fell in the lake. Twice,) and I had so much fun. And the pictures-- it was so hard to choose! (there's one I absolutely loved because it was SO fairy tale, but I chose others that were more versatile, instead *pout.*)

But enough of my chatter! See for yourself:




Outfit change! Rachel said my coat and dress had a "Little Red Riding Hood" look, and we had some fun taking pictures in the woods!




 What do you think? Any favorites? And can you spot the fisherman in one of the photos?

Location: my hometown in South Jersey.
Photocredit: Rachel McCalley, http://www.rachelmccalleyphotography.com/

Fun fact: While telling Rachel about Bookishly, I mentioned that a location in the book was inspired by a camp I attended in 6th grade-- and apparently, so did she! In fact, there's a scene in the book inspired by something both of us lived through at that camp (us, my sister, and apparently every girl our age in the county.)

Wednesday, April 2, 2014

The Writing Process Blog Hop

Earlier this week I was tagged in the Writing Process Blog Hop by the awesome Fifi the Ninja! Hi, everyone joining me from her blog--I hope I don't disappoint!

Soooo... here we go!

1. What are you working on?

While I'm waiting (nervously!) on edits on Bookishly Ever After, I've been pouring my time into other writing projects. Lately, I've been torturing myself with Summer Story, a WIP my regular blog followers might notice I've been whining about since last August. It's hard and beautiful and scary. Like I always say, it's probably not very marketable, so I'm really writing this for me, to get it out of my system, even though it's hard.

Plan: I'm bringing the first 10 pages and synopsis with me to the Poconos retreat peer critique session in May, so I need to, well... write the synopsis.

Confession: I actually like writing synopses *ducks*

Problem:  I don't think the main character's stakes I'd originally planned are high enough. The internal conflict is on track, but the external conflict is... meh. I'm back to throwing around plots and diving into character motivations. It's good for me. It also gives me heartburn.

I know Summer Story will be lovely. It already makes me smile and gives me chills when I read what I'd written to this point. I just need to get past this latest round of "this WIP is going to age me a gajillion years."

I will, until the next round of "this WIP is giving me heartburn" hits.

2. How does your work differ from others in your genre?

I wrote it.

Here's the thing--unless you're a mind reader, we never know what and how others see the world, except through their books. No matter how different my characters can be from me, my writing will always be colored by my experiences, how I see the world, how my eyes interpret colors and nature and buildings around me. You get a peek at the world I see and hear and feel.

It's the same with every writer, and that's why reading is so magical. For a little while, we get out of our heads and get to jump into someone else's world, even become someone else. (That's why studies show reading increases empathy!)

3. Why do you write what you write?

Because the voices in my head tell me to?

I write for and about teenagers because they're amazing and interesting people. I write what I like to read and what YA me would have wanted to read. And I'm so lucky that's the voice I write best.

4. How does your writing process work?
  • First comes the idea, jotted on whatever flat, portable surface I have on hand or recorded into my phone or voicemail if I'm driving. Sometimes, it starts with dialogue or a scene. Then, I put the idea aside.
  • Into the moleskine: Every idea that survives sitting for a few days gets a mini moleskine. I jot down characters, locations, bits of dialogue, and plot concepts, enough to get it out of my system and save it until I have time to work on it.
    • That keeps me from chasing a million plot-bunnies and having multiple WIPs
  • From moleskine to planning: I try to get a good idea of where I want to go, key scenes, etc. Those get jotted onto post-its.
    • Usually at this point, I start writing out a scene or two to understand my characters, especially if that scene is screaming to be written. This might change the plot as I get to know my characters.
    • I'm a plantser. I can't write without a map telling me where I need to go, but I do change my plot sometimes. Usually when I'm stuck, it's because I don't know where to go.
  • I write clean-ish first drafts. I know a lot of people want to get all the words down fast, but I don't work that way. It's not perfect and sometimes the plot is wonky, but I like fixing glaring errors and typos as I work. Then, I go back and re-read, looking for places where the plot isn't working or fixing the plot.
    • Cleanish draft or no, there's still a TON of revision. My first draft never goes out to anyone--usually, I only start thinking about sending it out to my critique partners around the third draft, and even then I know it might have a long way to go.
Aaaand, that's my process! Now, I get to tag three other people to share their processes!

First, Veronica Bartles, whose debut novel, Twelve Steps, just released not too long ago and is sitting in my Nook, begging to be read (I need to clone myself, seriously.) While you're visiting her blog, check out her books and her crock-pot recipes. Plus, she's a fantastic critique partner who I met through cpseek.

Next, Deena Graves. I've been lucky enough to read some of her MSS, and woah, I can't wait to see these on shelves! Seriously. She's also invaluable both as a CP and as a friend, especially lately when I frantically text her for fashion advice or during nail-bitingly massive nervous moments.

And last, but not least, Diana Sousa. We met during (I think) the Writer's Voice about a year and a half ago, and I was fascinated by her pitch, and we became twitter friends. Plus, she's a bilingual writer whose primary language is Portuguese but who writes in English and is all-around super talented. You have to get to know her!

She also is nice enough not to make fun of my laughable Portuguese tweets :)

Now that you know my process, any thoughts? Are you a plotter, pantser, or plantser? How do you write?

Monday, March 31, 2014

The Mountain-y Road to Bookishly Ever After

Before I go into any agent/editor stories for Bookishly Ever After, I wanted to talk about the place that made this little book happen. A lot of people and places helped shape and form me as a writer, but Bookishly may never have been written if not for a little mountain range in northeastern Pennsylvania called the Poconos.

Prequel: Back in 1995, I was my sister's class' 6th grade camp counselor at the Poconos Environmental Education Center. Some of that rolled into the manuscript, but that's a story for another time. Fast-forwarding to this decade:

The story started as a spark of inspiration in February, 2012, thanks to comments from a few friends about something I'd posted about in this blog. I wrote a scene in the woods between Phoebe and Dev, two characters that popped into my head, and the idea for a YA contemporary took root.

But. I didn't want to write a contemporary. I wrote contemporary fantasy and paranormal and, wow, "plain old" contemporary was hard. And didn't have magical things (or so I thought!) Still, the idea bugged me, begging to be turned into a book-shaped thing.

Contemporary was... meh. But... intriguing.

Then, Kimberly Sabatini talked me into going to the Eastern PA SCBWI Poconos conference in April, 2012. Listening to her was the best decision I ever made. Even though I was clutching my contemporary fantasy at the conference, every single workshop fit together in my head like perfect Bookishly-shaped puzzle pieces.

  • In Stacy Cantor-Abram's workshop, I found Phoebe's voice and a good percentage of the paragraphs I wrote thanks to her writing prompt actually make up Bookishly's first page (for now... we'll see where edits take it.)
  • In Sara Sargeant's workshop, I was finally able to work out the timing and pacing of the plot and how to stretch a story over a year without being clunky.
  • In Laurie Halse Anderson's workshop (after I stopped crying on her like a baby) I learned how to love revision. Now, I truly believe what she told us-- Revision truly is the best part.
  • And I made friends at the conference who turned into supporters who cheered me on through this journey and critique partners who made Bookishly better through a gajillion revisions.

April 2012-April 2013: I wrote and revised. I kept falling in love with my story. "You and I" turned into "Bookishly Ever After" and I revised again (see the gajillion revisions and 'Revision is the best part' above.)

Contemporary wasn't so bad, after all. Nope. In fact, I kind-of loved writing contemporary.

April 2013: Back to the Poconos, this time at the Highlights Foundation, where I shared the most adorable cabin on the planet with Deena. That year, they had two tracks for middle grade and YA: one for finished books with Kathy Erskine, to help push them the rest of the way into query shape, and one for unfinished WIPs. I dragged my Bookishly printout into the finished book workshop. Between Kathy's workshop and the peer critiques, I was able to work out some of the parts of Bookishly that were bothering me. After a weekend in one of the prettiest places on the planet, I came back home refreshed and ready to take on anything.

Contemporary rocked (and I found the magic in it.)

I call Bookishly Ever After my SCBWI EPA Poconos conference book because it came full circle at this conference. This May, I'm going back to the conference, WIPs in hand and ready to keep learning and growing.

I can't wait.

To learn more about the Poconos conference, go here.

Sunday, March 16, 2014

The One Where I Surprise Myself

My snowflake dress in action!
The last time the Eastern Adult Sectional Figure Skating Championships was in New Jersey, I was a fairly beginner skater. I'd just started jumping and competing. Unfortunately, Achilles tendonitis not only sidelined me from that competition, but also landed me in a walking boot for weeks. Since I don't travel overnight for competitions, that meant no Sectionals for years.


This year, when it was announced Sectionals were going to be held in New Jersey again, my coaches and I made a battle (and training) plan. I'd only sign up for a dramatic event since those events are all about interpreting the music and we could choreograph around any injuries. I'd be extra careful and train seriously, avoiding any possible off-ice injuries.

I was careful, but, a little over a month before the competition, I developed incredibly painful tendonitis in my left ankle. Because my body has perfect timing.

I could barely walk and, on ice, I couldn't use my left outside edge. Jumps, except for the loop (which takes off and lands on the right leg,) were out. No spins on my left leg, even some of my footwork was out of the question. I really could... should... have dropped out.

But, hey, the entry fee was non-refundable and my coaches and I are nothing if not adaptable. Plus, with the number of skaters in my group, I was guaranteed to medal even if I placed last. Why not skate? (carefully)

Yes, I competed with my ankle taped in double layers of kinesiology tape.

Yes, I didn't skate the fully modified program to my music until the actual competition. We just didn't have the time and I couldn't stress my ankle.

Yes, I relearned how to spin like a lefty for my first spin in the program. (It's not normal to spin in both directions. I originally skated lefty and switched to righty. Because of this, I plan on working towards my lefty scratch spin!)

Yes, I didn't expect to beat anyone.


Oh, the arm flails! My backspin was off because I couldn't push off properly with my left leg, but the last spin was in my "real" direction--we put it at the end so my ankle would be really warmed up before I put that much pressure on it. I only practiced the spin once the whole week, and that was in the last minute of the 5 minute warmup ice.

It's not a great program. I wish I could have shown off my salchows and scratch spin. I wish my footwork was complete with all the twizzles and the spreadeagle. I wish I wasn't so flail-y.

Still:

GOLD!!!
Podium pics (in my lovely ugg-like boots because my ankle ached so much)

I could have dropped out and given up. Cursed my stupid ankle and bad timing. But, instead, given the opportunity to adapt and to go in with no expectations whatsoever, I really surprised myself.

I also had so much fun in the process.

Sometimes, it's about knowing you probably won't win and just doing something for yourself. Sometimes, it's nice to let the world surprise you.

I need to finish snowflaking the hem of my dress. These came a day too late!
Oh well, more sparkles for the next competition!

Wednesday, March 5, 2014

Dear Ten Year Old Me (And NEWS)

Dear Ten Year Old Me,

I picked you for this letter because, right about this time, you're coming off a high of binge reading and rereading the Emily series you were given at Christmas. Even though you've wanted to be a writer from the moment you could pick up a crayon*, this was the first time books really spoke to you about being an author. Finally, there was a character like you, who was a little weird, loved to tell stories, and wrote because she just had to write. Emily was a writer. Her story told you about all the hard work and rejection and sacrifice... but also the joy... of trying to climb the Alpine Path.

"For writing, to Emily Byrd Starr, was not primarily a matter of worldly lucre or laurel crown. It was something she had to do." (Emily's Quest, LM Montgomery)

Until college, writing will be as important to you as breathing. You'll write "books" to give as gifts to your fifth grade teachers. You'll dabble in (bad and sometimes tolerable) poetry. In high school, you'll write massive amounts of fanfiction and a horribly Mary Sue-ish Star Trek novel-length story. You will fill a ton of journals, and your beloved copy of Emily of New Moon will start falling apart.

There will be a few years during and after college where you just give up. Years with too much math and science filling your head and sucking up your time and making you think you lost any chance of being a "real" writer. It will take a long time to find your way back, silly you, but you will.

You will write and fail and get rejected. You'll learn to take criticism and to have a love/hate relationship with your email** inbox. You will meet amazingly talented and supportive people along the way.

People who will believe in you, too.

Ten year old me, you're not afraid to dream, and anything is possible in your world. You might forget for a little bit when you grow up, but I'm here to tell you that you were right, and this is how I know:




Sorry it wasn't the horseback riding girl detective book that I'm sure you would have preferred, but I hope this works.

Thank you for dreaming.

Love and kisses,

Grown-up Me

*and Mom has the "books" to prove it. Oh, lordy, does she. BTW, thanks for entertaining us at dinner the other night

**Don't worry, you'll learn that word in high school. Sorry to tell you that we don't have flying cars, though. I hear we might get the self-lacing sneakers from Back to the Future soon, if it makes you feel any better.

(I'll post a more substantial post about my actual calls, both agent and editor, later, but first I just wanted to share the news! I couldn't have gotten to this point without all of your support, my amazing critique partners and betas [special shout-out to Veronica, Stephanie, and Deena for reading it a gajillion times and Madeline for all the kissy scene support,] my awesome agent Carrie, and Patricia and Asja at SHP for believing in Bookishly Ever After enough to give it a home.)

I normally don't use anything but my own photos on this blog, but I just couldn't help but make this. Yes, I'm being a total drama queen :)

Tuesday, March 4, 2014

Letting Go

I really didn't want to like Disney's Frozen. The Snow Queen is one of my favorite fairy tales and I was annoyed at how their "inspiration" only meant giving Elsa snow powers. Where was the mirror? The robber girl? Gerda, who was a great heroine to look up to because she was strong and smart and faithful? And, of course, the awesome Snow Queen herself, with her sled and ice puzzle. Heck, I even dressed up as the Snow Queen for two Halloweens, all icy makeup and snowflakes (and my blue medieval gown) because I love the story so much. Let's not even get into Disney's problematic limited use of people of color, especially since they quote the source material as reason why the characters need to be white, but then throw the rest of the source material out the window. /rant

I'm rhinestoning my skating dress with snowflakes.
Elsa's gown maaaaay have been an inspiration.

But, then, enough people convinced me to watch it. And while a few things annoyed me about the story, I fell in love, especially with Elsa's character and struggle. As the oldest daughter born to incredibly practical parents who didn't quite appreciate her artistic bend and "not quite normal" (aka, fun and interesting) way of dressing, the writer they insisted become an engineer, I totally identify with Elsa. Be quiet, don't make a fuss, don't try to stand out (unless it's with straight As and academic awards, of course.) Heck, I think Elsa is a very identifiable character. Who hasn't had that feeling of freedom when they've let go of prior preconceptions and fears to embrace themselves?

(I may have gone overboard on the makeup and doing things like medieval society in college. Nothing breaks you out of your shell like wandering around campus in a gown designed to look like it's from the 1100s or 1500s.)

Letting go doesn't always mean running away (oh, Elsa.) Letting go sometimes means facing your fears straight on, because leaving behind the things you knew is terrifying at first. You open yourself to unknowns and failures. It can be paralysing.

Letting go also means believing in yourself even when you might be the only one who does.

Two years ago, I blogged about dying to the things in my life that I need to let die, like Faukes the phoenix on a dying day. These themes are related.

Lent is coming up for those of us who celebrate it. Maybe this year, instead of just giving up on chocolate or pizza, try letting go. Try being conscious of those tattered things and ideas in life that aren't letting you fly. Try embracing your strengths, talents, and dreams.

Twoish years ago, I died to the idea I couldn't write any more. I let go of my fears of failure and rejection. I'm slowly getting closer to realizing my dreams.

So... Let it go-- the past is in the past.