Monthly Archives: November 2009

The Analogy Machine (kind of)

I’m not used to getting bad grades. Case in point: I got a class journal back mid-semester with the professor’s notes, which basically said:

Good work.
B

I stared at this for a while. The professor’s first and last name didn’t begin with a B — so what could the B mean? This is kind of embarrassing to admit, but I didn’t realize until sometime later in the day that the B was a grade.

I don’t mean that to sound haughty. It’s just reality: we don’t like getting bad grades or bad critiques. We want everyone to love our work — although that’s an unrealistic expectation. At some point, if we’re actively sharing our work and looking for advice, we’re going to get negative feedback. And we’re going to have to deal with it positively. How?

1. Don’t explode

Usually my first reaction to bad grades or bad critiques goes something like this: WHAT THE HECK? What is wrong with this professor/critiquer/reader and why don’t they understand that (a) I am perfect and (b) this is Nobel-prize-worthy literature?

That’s bad. Don’t follow my example. Instead, take a minute to breathe. The world is not over.

2. Realize: it’s the work, not you

Which is true. My professor wasn’t giving my personality a B-average. Your beta-readers aren’t trying to shoot down your self-esteem. Your beta-readers probably don’t know you personally — and my professor definitely wouldn’t be able to pick me out of a crowd. So.

Paint a line of separation between you and your work. This takes time. Case in point: the first query I ever posted on AW for critique sucked, and everyone told me so. But I took all the (rather harsh) feedback like a couple punches to the nose, which definitely didn’t make me any friends. If you have a healthy sense of separation between you and your work (obviously it’s yours, so you’re going to love it, but don’t be attached at the hip) then you’re not going to fight back.

3. Also, your crit-ers are trying to help, not hurt

The goal of a critique is to improve the work: your crit-ers are on your side. They want the work to shimmer. They want it to catch an agent’s eye and they want to love it as much as you do — they really do.

4. Now. What are they really saying?

Focus on the good stuff first. The best critiques are structured like a sandwich: compliment, suggestion, compliment. Read the compliments and smile. They’re not lying; they really like it! Good job. (If there are no compliments, well… sorry. back to the drawing board? or get a different person to read?)

Then sort through the suggestions. Take time to chew on them. You might be turned off at first by some of the comments, but think them through. They might grow on you. They might be brilliant. After all, other eyes always see what you can’t.

5. And remember, you don’t have to listen

It’s a good idea to listen — or at least try to listen. But if you really can’t face some of the suggestions, ignore them. It’s okay. These are not mandates.

6. Ask for more

Once you’ve re-polished something, send it back to the crit-er. See what they say. You might need to do some more scrubbing — or they might adore your new, mad writer-skills. Whatever happens, don’t bite their head off.

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gra-ti-tude

So Thanksgiving is over (and I probably won’t be hungry until Christmas) but this thing called “thanksgiving”, no caps, is a year-around event. Kristin Briana Otts tagged me: rules: list ten things you are thankful for, five of which must be writing-related.

1. Home: I’m sitting on my kitchen floor right now (favorite room in the house: sunny and Italian and warm) — ignoring all the dirty dishes in the sink from family homemade pizza night, listening to my dad and uncle talk technology, watching a pie crust brown in the oven, groovin’ to Dave Brubeck — after a random day of shopping with the family (my dad never shops, not ever; but basically bought out Eddie Bauer today; it was great). I love being here. We laugh a lot and talk about random things and cook — and it fills me up inside.

2. Family: Okay, I know this is kind of like #1, but I am very thankful for my family. They’re really cool (I’m going to brag for a second): my dad is building a boat, my mom is on the board of a nonprofit org called Sister Connection (which helps widows in Burundi, Africa), my sister is next-year’s cross country team captain, and my dog is the smartest dog in the world. We’re a very funny family, too.

3. College: I liked freshman year. It was fun and weird. But sophomore year is light-years better. I am in love with it. In love with my friends, my dorm, (most of) my classes, loooong funny dinners in the cafeteria, v-ball at the beach, spontaneous trips for frozen yogurt…

4. Friends: There’s this old song — “make new friends but keep the old; one is silver and the other’s gold” — that we sang in preschool. And it’s in my head a lot because I have a lot of new friends and a lot of old, and I’m grateful for them all. Old friends have seen me grow from awkward junior-higher to less awkward high-school senior. We’ve gone through tons together and I’m grateful that we can still hang out over breaks. New friends have stuck with me through rocky, homesick lows and sunny, hilarious highs — and this year especially we’ve become very tight.

5. Seattle: Big city in the rain. Soggy leaves in the street. Pink and purple clouds at sunset when the sky clears for half a second to show off the Sound and the skyline in evening sunshine.

6. My first book: It was crap (no, literally, it was) — but it’s what sparked this whole crazy obsession. I’m thankful that I began something without a plan and without any idea of what it would turn into — because it’s led me here.

7. The Inbetween: This book won’t let me get away (believe me, I have tried) because something about it wants to be heard. I mean, really really wants to be heard. And I’m thankful for this year-and-a-half journey of learning about Sophie and Esmund, about plot structure and style, about persevering…

8. My agent: This is a big one. I remember one of my friends asked me, back in September, what I was looking forward to this year. First thing I said was the big a-g-e-n-t, and although I had no idea if it would really happen, I wanted it bad. And it happened! I’m thankful that Joan saw my query, thankful that she fell hard for my book, thankful that she sees ways to make it better, thankful that all those ways fit with and enhance my vision, and thankful that one of the first things she mentioned was the sequel…

9. Support: Family and friends who are 100% supportive of this adventure — who cheer me on and push me to new levels. I’m truly grateful.

10. Absolute Write: I learned everything from that place… a.k.a. I would have no query letter or agent or plain hope without all that advice, critique, and help.

Tagged: Anna, Jenn, Kristina

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Thanks-giving

I’m going to take the rest of this week off to soak up family and home and rain and time to process everything that’s happened this semester

I’m thankful for all of it — although it’s been pretty hard at times. Lots of new things have been thrown in my face over the last couple months… and I’m tired. But thankful for the moments that stick out: out-of-control laughter with my roomie, impromptu games of pool and balderdash and cards, lazy days at the beach, deep conversations at coffee shops, that first phone call from my agent, late-night volleyball games, sunsets in dirty parking lots, first dates… and the promise of Thanksgiving break.

What would we do without Thanksgiving break?

Be thankful this week. And eat lots of turkey.

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Twilight Week: My Opinion

In honor of opening day:

We’ve discussed lots of things about Twilight this week, mainly its appeal and the truth. If you haven’t seen the comments sections from both days, check them out (welcome to all the new commenters!). So now it’s the day you’ve been waiting for: the day you get to hear my very own personal opinion about all-things-Twilight. It comes in several parts.

1. The Obsession

I have a confession to make: I read the second, third, and fourth Twilight books in basically three days flat. Yep, I’m a fast reader — but I’m also a skimmer. As in: if a scene didn’t have Edward or Jacob in it, I didn’t really read it. I am that shallow.

Then I finished the fourth book and fell out of love with all of them because (no rants, promise) I was genuinely very disgusted with that entire book.

But.

I was addicted for a while.

2. The Truth

Then I started reading Twilight threads on AW (you know, the ones that always get locked because people get… angry) — and started thinking through the books from an un-obsessed, objective, non-teenage perspective.

And I didn’t like what I saw. Edward annoyed the crap out of me, Bella was flat as cardboard (or was she cardboard?), the writing was blah, and the plot? Well. I was not a fan.

So I was disillusioned. Until —

3. Embracing the inner pre-teen

Something changed — maybe it was the movie, maybe it was Taylor Lautner, I don’t know. But I stopped being all writerly and judgmental, and now I am very pro-Twilight. I am still a pre-teen at heart (and still a teenager for a while longer) and I am stoked to go see the movie.

That’s not to say that I have a Team-Jacob shirt. Or that I went to the midnight showing (although I might have if I hadn’t had a disastrously large test this morning and a pact with my sister to wait until I get home…). But I am a fan — because it’s angsty and romantic and dramatic and addicting, and what’s not to like about that?

So that’s all, folks. You know where this blogger stands. GO ENJOY THE MOVIE!

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Twilight Week: The Truth

Yesterday: The Appeal and The Obsession

Today: The Truth

(schedule change) Friday: The (My) Opinion

So we know why Twilight is so appealing. We know that lots of people are obsessed. But what is The Truth behind these bewitching books? Let’s put an end to the debate (or will we just fuel it more?)

The way I see it, The Truth about Twilight comes in two parts:

  • It’s not Shakespeare. To quote JennW from yesterday’s comments section, who was talking about the prose, “This is awful.” Enough said.
  • But it is Shakespeare. (excuse the analogy; hope it doesn’t send anyone into shock. keep reading; I will explain) — It’s Shakespeare insofar as it’s hugely, insanely famous. No one can argue with The Truth: Stephenie Meyer did a lot of things right and a lot of people love the books, well-written or not.

How you want to hold these juxtaposing truths is entirely up to you. Some people like to rant, rot in bitterness, roll on the floor and moan about how stupid, horrible, awful, [insert nasty adjective here] Twilight is. Some people love the ride and the characters enough to overlook the writing. Some people love the ride, characters, and the writing. Some people, to quote Amanda from yesterday’s comments section, are on this side: “I think people try to overanalyze it. It’s just one of those fun reads. What’s wrong with that?

Take your pick. But whatever you decide, you can’t argue against The Truth.

Then, Twilight itself (whether consciously or unconsciously) teaches its own set of truths. Plenty of readers dismiss the books as plain old fictional entertainment, but to quote every smart person ever: “everything is an argument”.

  • Edward Cullen and the “perfect” boyfriend: My thought-process goes kind of like this. Thousands of preteen/teen readers are falling hard for Twilight’s depiction of the boy/girl relationship — and the perfect guy. Perfect guy: irresistibly handsome, wholly devoted, slightly moody, willing to die for girl, slightly domineering, very protective, basically perfect. Also sparkly. Hello? Not to bash on men in any way, but Edward Cullen is a completely unrealistic stereotype of a boyfriend. The truth is that normal boys aren’t like Edward Cullen at all. They’re silly, anywhere from mildly to moderately good-looking, normal people. Looks aren’t everything. Moody secrets aren’t everything. Sparkles aren’t everything. Don’t let the desire to have a perfect Edward Cullen boyfriend screw up your expectations of boy-girl relationships. He’s just not going to sweep you off your feet. A real, human boy is — and that’s way better.

Rant over. I promise.

A couple questions for you:

  • Holding those two earlier truths in perspective, what’s your overall opinion of Twilight? Does bad writing ruin a book? Can a book just be a fun, entertaining read? Or is the reading public going you-know-where in a handbasket because they’re obsessed with something as [debatably] substandard as Twilight?
  • Or is all this analyzing taking things way too far?
  • What other truths does Twilight present to its audience? And to what effect might these truths shape its preteen/teen readers (or any-age readers)? How has Twilight influenced your opinions about romance?

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Twilight Week: The Appeal and The Obsession

Today: The Appeal and The Obsession

Tomorrow: The Truth

The next day: The (My) Opinion

Everyone knows the tale. Once upon a time, a writer had a dream about a vampire and a young woman. Like all good writers, she wrote down her dream — and then wrote it into a novel. Got an agent. Got a publisher. The first print run was 75,000 copies.

Now she’s sold 45 million copies in the U.S. and 40 million copies outside of it. How does a random first-time author leap from 75,000 copies to 235 weeks on the NYT Bestseller list?

It’s controversial. No one seems to agree — while hordes of preteens swoon at Meyer’s god-like vampire hero, hordes of writer-types puke at her descriptions of him. But as I have both been a preteen and read all four Twilight books, I’m going to take a shot at figuring out why these books are such huge hits. Because (face it) we all want to be huge hits, too.

The Appeal in Three Simple Sentences:

  • Edward is hot. So we all know that maybe RP doesn’t necessarily live up to the average girl’s mental image of EC. At least — he doesn’t live up to mine. But all that aside, Edward is hot. HOT. HO-OO-OOOT. The hottest guy alive. Skin: perfect. Muscles: like chiseled rock. Face: blindingly beautiful. Eyes: entrancing (when they’re not creepy and reddish/dark/hungry). Mouth: well, Bella thinks about his mouth a lot. Who can resist all this hot-ness?
  • Bella is anyone. When you think of Bella, what major character traits jump into your head? I can think of clutzy. Clutzy and… clutzy. Maybe kind of obsessive, too, but definitely clutzy. Point is, Bella has no characteristics. She is anyone. She is you, she is me, she is your crazy preteen neighbor who walks the dog with books in hand. While some authors might say this is bad, it actually can be good. Because:
  • Edward likes Bella, so he likes anyone, aka The Reader. When you think about it, Bella’s lack of characteristics make it easy for The Reader to inhabit her. If she had an anger problem, most of us wouldn’t be able to relate as much. If she had specific personal baggage, we’d be able to relate even less. But we are all clutzy and obsessive, all attracted to hot people… Therefore (at least according to my theory) we are all Bella when we read Twilight. Which is good. Because if we are Bella, then Edward is in love with us. And Edward wants to kiss us/suck our blood/marry us/be with us for all eternity/etc. The story is that much more powerful — because what girl doesn’t want a sizzling-hot bad-boy with a mysterious past chasing after her?

The Obsession (fun facts):

  • Amazon reviews: +/- 10,000 reviews for all four books
  • Google hits (Edward Cullen): 8,510,000
  • Google hits (Bella Swan): 3,910,000
  • Stories on fanfiction.net: 116,637

A couple questions for you:

  • What (if anything) in Twilight appealed to you?
  • What else makes the books so addicting?
  • Could repeating (or attempting to repeat) SM’s successful techniques boost any book to stardom — or is this a one-time phenomenon?

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The Analogy Machine, the-call-part-five, and other stories

Just to keep you waiting, other stories come first:

I sprained my ankle this weekend. Rock climbing. I fell off the wall and my ankle went snap. Now I am officially The Invalid. It’s kind of nice because my friends are very helpful. But it’s not nice at all because the health center is closed so I have no crutches — and I’m not sure how I’m going to get to my 8 am class. Bright side? Suddenly I have lots of time to revise.

Now for the Analogy Machine: There’s nothing like having an agent.

fireworks 5

Once upon a time, I submitted my TI query letter for the Kidlit contest. The next day, I got an email in my inbox from someone named Ammi-Joan Paquette. She’s an associate agent with the Erin Murphy Literary Agency and she really liked the sound of my query letter. One week later she’d read my full manuscript and fallen in love with it. The rest was history.

She’s awesome. She’s determined, passionate about my book, super cool. She’s been an agent since last April and she’s already a pro — I talked with some of her clients and they had nothing but wonderful things to say about her. And I am still walking on the clouds, pinching myself every now and then because I dreamed about this for ages — and it’s finally reality!

The scoop right now: we’re working on some revisions and then — I’ll keep you all updated! We both have high hopes…

(Tomorrow… will be awesome. Come back.)

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