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.


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.