Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Talking To Myself, Or Alternately, Freedom and Life In Stories

A lot has happened to me this year. Some of it I've talked about, and some of it I haven't, but suffice it to say that landing an agent + getting a book deal + graduating college + all the other stuff is a lot of change to process.

Unsurprisingly, the best method I've developed to process big changes is forming a narrative. That's a slightly more fancy way of saying that I retell this year to myself, over and over again, starting from different places, pulling in different details, focusing on different themes. I try to explain the gaps between the events I don't understand, searching for reasons that make sense-- and then find them unsatisfactory, and begin again. (I think you'll find, if you start to do this, that real life doesn't make nearly as much sense as fiction. This is difficult for me to accept. I'm trying.)

What I've learned is that retelling my own life is not only useful for processing changes. It helps me with the way I think about my fiction. A real life is so rich with detail and so packed with events that it can be told in a thousand different ways, each one slightly different and each one completely true, if incomplete. In fact, it is impossible to capture this last year of my life in a single narrative. I just can't hold that much information in a line at once-- I would have to double back every few seconds to flesh out the parts I missed.

I want my stories to be the same way. Sometimes when I get revision notes that say things like "there should be more of this character" or "can something like this or this happen?" I find myself resisting, thinking, well, that character just wasn't there or no, that can't happen, because it just didn't-- duh. (Okay, I don't actually say "duh" to myself, but...let's move on.) As if the story is always restricted to the course of events, or the details of the event's realization, or the rationale of a particular character, that I decided on when I wrote out the story the first time. Which it's not.

The story could have a life. I can approach it differently. I can focus on different events and bring out different themes. I have even more freedom with fiction than I do with telling my own life narrative, if I can be creative enough to fill in all the spaces it has. I say more because I have no real events to be faithful to, no real people to capture with some semblance of accuracy.

I have noticed this in some of the things I've read recently. Sometimes I get a glimpse of another part of a character's life, one that doesn't directly relate to the story at hand-- a detail that seems to be arbitrary, that hints at a different story, or at least a different way of telling that one. Part of me resists that kind of thing in writing, because I want everything to be intentional and relevant-- take only what you need to get to the top of the mountain, right? But done right, I think these kinds of details can do something important for the story. That is, they can make the story feel real.

I think there's a line in Divergent, or maybe it's in D2, that mentions Tris jumping over cracks in the sidewalk. ...Come again? Is this behavior superstitious? Is it a game? Or is she just bored out of her mind? Why did she start, and when did she stop? And why am I even spending time thinking about this? I'll never answer any of those questions in the narrative itself, because it's just not relevant. But I like that it's there. I had no idea that Tris jumped over sidewalk cracks until it appeared on the page. But it breathes a little more life into her anyway.

But that's kind of a tangent. What I'm thinking, mostly, is that I am trying to free up some space around my stories to let them form in different ways, like the narrative I'm developing of this past year. I think it will help me both with writing the rough draft-- if something's not working, for example, I can come up with a different way to tell it, or a different thing to tell entirely-- and with revision-- because I haven't limited myself to a particular way of thinking about the course of events in a character's life.

I'm one of those people who likes rules and limitations in writing, because they have a way of forcing creativity, but there is something to this whole freedom thing, I think. Letting the story breathe. Not as concrete as my practical self would like it to be, maybe, but there you have it.


That is all.

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

ARC Giveaway Winners!


First of all: sorry for the wait on this! I was having some Internet difficulties and didn't want to try picking ARC winners on my (dying)(sorta crappy) phone, but those problems are resolved now.

Second of all: the outpouring of excitement for these ARCs was amazing. I really didn't expect such a response. It was overwhelmingly good and it gave me something important to be grateful for on Thanksgiving.

Third: I did, in fact, get to eat cranberry jelly.

Fourth: If you didn't win this time around (and odds are, you didn't), don't worry! I will be doing giveaways periodically for awhile, so if you keep yourself abreast of the blog happenings, you can give it another shot. I want you all to have it. I really do.

Without further babbling, here are the winners!

Zoe Marriott!

Steph Su!

Jess Tudor!

Congratulations, guys! I'm so excited to hear what you think.

Everyone else: stay tuned.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

ARC Giveaway!

Thanksgiving is nearly upon us here in the US. I, for one, am looking forward to the sweet potatoes, and the cranberry "sauce" that comes from a can. And I would describe that as jelly, not sauce.

Sometimes my family participates in that "go around the table and say what you're thankful for" thing, and I have a lot to be thankful for. One of those things is you guys-- who are excited about the book and make me feel like I'm not sending my blog posts into Nowhere and always show up to get excited about things like book-deal-getting and contract-signing and foreign-rights-selling and all that wonderful stuff. You guys mean a lot to me.

So, in order to express my gratitude: I'm giving away 3 ARCs.


And I rarely use exclamation points, so you know this is exciting when I whip out THREE of them! Look, another one! THEY'RE EVERYWHERE!


Look, here they are!

And I am going to put little post-its in the ARCs of my favorite scenes and fun facts about the writing process and the songs that sometimes go with certain parts, because I always find that interesting and I suspect you might, too.

And all you have to do...is tell me you want one.

In the comments. Oh, and leave your e-mail address in the comments so I can contact you easily, please!

I will choose randomly.

This contest is open...to everyone.


Even if you have no idea what this whole Thanksgiving thing involving cranberry jelly is all about, because you don't live around here.

It closes in a week, on December 1st. And if you don't get one, don't worry! I'm going to be doing a smattering of small giveaways throughout the next few months. YAY.

(Yes, that's me making a cheesy little heart with my hands. Shhh.)

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

A Planet Full of Narrators

I am reading an essay by Karen Brennan called "Dream, Memory, Story, and the Recovery of Narrative." (from Bringing the Devil to His Knees: The Craft of Fiction and the Writing Life, edited by Charles Baxter and Peter Turchi)

Basically, it's about what Brennan has learned about the importance of narrative since her daughter's traumatic brain injury, which affected her daughter's memory. And not just her memory, but her ability to connect one moment to the next: "I did this, and because of that, I did this next." Something I never realized was so important. It's what writers do all the time, of course, but more than that, it's what human beings do in order to function.

What I'm taking from it is that stories are essential-- and actually, instinctual. We're hard-wired to create narratives. What does that mean for writers? I have no idea. I'm going to let it all percolate. But here's a good quote from the essay:

Memory, according to Bergson, occupies the space between mind and body. It conveys mind to body and body to mind. It gives us our quality of life—makes possible, in other words, the narratives that keep our lives going forward to the next thing. If the thing is not next it loses its richness—isolated and unlinked to a history, it becomes meaningless, even ridiculous. Biologically and neurologically, we are creatures of context, of narrative.

Consider, for example, the activity of the neurons or brain cells. Unlike the body’s cells, which divide and multiply, microcosmically illustrating the propagation of the species, neurons are systems of communication. Their most salient features are a clutch of dendrites, which branch out to receive information across the synapses between cells, and a long, single axon, which reaches to the synapse—literally the space between neurons—through which chemical and electrical information are conveyed to the next cell.

By nature, then, the activity of the neuron is narrative, metonymic, associative. The information conveyed by each neuron accumulates along a complex circuitry of neurons and produces a thought, a corresponding action in the mind-body.

Oh! And also, this one's pretty interesting too:

Memory is always configured on a gap-- to re-member suggests the forgetfulness, the loss upon which it is founded.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Sonnets = Discipline + Constant Failure

I am writing sonnets.

Yes, that's right. On the one hand you have me, who barely got through my required poetry writing class alive. And on the other you have sonnets, which are a very difficult form of poetry to master. And now those two hands are coming together. In a...clap-like gesture.

There are several reasons for this sudden plunge into poetry. Among them is that in the absence of constant instruction about craft, which is the sad part about not being in school, I feel like it's important to work on the actual writing part of the writing again, when I have been so focused on the structure.

I don't care if you like poetry or not, if you dabble in poetry or not-- if you're a writer, you should try this sonnet thing. And here's why.

Sonnets require discipline in a way that novels do not-- that is, novels do not have a definite structure, though they certainly have elements of structure in common. Also, while you're writing novels, you're so deeply involved in what you're doing at the moment that you can't even see the whole structure until later. That's not the case with the sonnet. It is completely rigid. Every line has a set amount of syllables and patterns of emphasis, and must end with a rhymed word. Groups of lines have to relate to each other in a specific way. And the poem itself must be a complete unit-- an idea first expressed, and then complicated, and then resolved-- maybe. This is an insane level of organization. And mostly, you have to stick with it, or it's not really a sonnet.

What this means is: you constantly have to think of new ideas and then discard them, moments or hours later, when you realize they won't work. You have to write lines that you love and then cross them out when they don't fit. You have to fail, over and over and over again, and when you revise, a problem in one line might cause problems for the entire poem.

Constant failure: it's good for you. I promise. Because you will fail repeatedly in your struggle to get things right-- in writing as in life-- and part of improving as a writer is learning how to work through that feeling of inadequacy. Maybe even learning how to ignore it.

This also forces you to be more resourceful in your writing. If you have something you need to say, you have to think of half a dozen ways to say it before you'll find one that works. That means constantly reinventing your idea, which means coming to a greater understanding of what you're thinking and all the ways in which it can be viewed and explored. If I did this while writing a novel I might never use another cliche or idiom. Imagine that.

Beyond all this, though, what I find most helpful is that sonnets are small. They require a lot of focus. Writing them is like dropping each word into place with tweezers. And if any of the words aren't working, you can see it-- the error will be staring back at you, no matter which line you're working on. It's a huge strain. But it's like when you train a muscle: the gym is a foreign environment in which you strain yourself beyond your normal capacity. After you've been going for awhile, though, you probably notice that it's easier to do things in your normal life, like walking up a flight of stairs. After a few sonnets, working on the novel seems easier, like I can breathe better.

So, because I'm not such a fan of Shakespeare's sonnets, I'm going to leave you with one by Elizabeth Barrett Browning, who is famous for that "how do I love thee? Let me count the ways" line (but I like her other stuff better).

XXII-- Elizabeth Barrett Browning
When our two souls stand up erect and strong,
Face to face, silent, drawing nigh and nigher,
Until the lengthening wings break into fire
At either curved point,—what bitter wrong
Can the earth do to us, that we should not long
Be here contented? Think. In mounting higher,
The angels would press on us and aspire
To drop some golden orb of perfect song
Into our deep, dear silence. Let us stay
Rather on earth, Beloved,—where the unfit
Contrarious moods of men recoil away
And isolate pure spirits, and permit
A place to stand and love in for a day,
With darkness and the death-hour rounding it.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Blog Hiatus

Hey everyone--

I'm going to be taking a blog hiatus for the next few weeks or so. I will come back to announce the winners of the subrights contest, but other than that, I'm going to hold off on posting for awhile.

In the meantime, here are just a few of my favorite blogs for you to check:

For your writing needs...

Coffey, Tea, and Literary
YA Highway
Janet Reid
Sarah Enni
Kate Hart

And for your humor needs...

Hyperbole and a Half

See you guys soon,


Friday, November 5, 2010

The Midwest Enthusiast Speaks (About Writing the Ordinary)

Hello, residents of lands far and wide. I am a Midwesterner.

I was born in Mount Kisco, New York, but I don't remember it. I have also lived in Hong Kong and Germany, and I do remember that, but that's neither here nor there. Because regardless of where I've been, the Midwest is where I'm from.

Sometimes I feel like we get the reputation of being dull and small-minded people, and our surroundings get the reputation of being cold, ugly, and miserable. Certainly there were moments in my youth that I longed for mountains and warmth in the midst of Chicagoland's flat, winter frigidity, but ugly this place is not. It just depends on what you think is beautiful.

(All taken within fifty feet of my home, with my old, crappy camera.)

The Midwest, at least from my understanding, is practically synonymous with "ordinary." And I didn't want to write about ordinary, so I used to write about places I wasn't in. Places that didn't exist, maybe, or mountainous places with lush forests and gentle winters. But I started to get frustrated, because I knew that I had only a vague knowledge of what it was like to live in those places, so whatever descriptions I generated felt false to me. Too easy, too convenient to feel new. And it is the writer's job to make everything feel new.

I am not arguing for writing exclusively what you know, because if I believed that, all my stories would be about young white girls from comfortable backgrounds from the suburbs, and that would be a shame, both for the literary world at large and for me as a human being. It is important to stretch yourself. But don't forget yourself.

I started to write about the Midwest for the writing program at my school. I took my characters to Macomb, Illinois, where I spent a week each summer for a few years, at a music festival. I wrote about the long drive through miles of empty land, and how the sky hit the fields at a straight line. I had never realized before I wrote about it that there was something stunning about that emptiness, and how much of the sky you could see, how huge the clouds looked.

And when I finished Divergent (which was not related to school at all), I realized that the whole time, I'd been picturing Tris's city as a dystopian Chicago. In the months that followed, as I worked more and more of Chicago into the manuscript, I got a chance to explore the city I've lived adjacent to for most of my life. I acted like a tourist. I went on boat tours. I rediscovered my home.

And speaking of home-- for the past two years, I've noticed a little part of me is always waiting for winter. Winter is something we're famous for around here. It gets cold, and it stays cold for far longer than you'd expect. I'm not immune to occasional bouts of seasonal depression, and I get stir crazy by the time April comes around and it's still painfully cold outside, but I'm learning to love the winters here. Everything starts to look stripped of life, and it turns the same color-- gray skies, gray trees, gray roads. I think that's the ugliness some people see, and sometimes I see it too, but not lately.

Last year I read Housekeeping by Marilynne Robinson, which is this intensely poetic literary novel that takes place in a tiny town called Fingerbone. First of all: Fingerbone is supposed to be in the West, not the Midwest. But the way Robinson describes the cold reminded me of home anyway:

"The room was dark. When Sylvie put the light on, it still seemed sullen and full of sleep. There were cries of birds, sharp and rudimentary, that stung like sparks or hail. And even in the house I could smell how raw the wind was. That sort of wind brought out a musk in the fir trees and spread the cold breath of the lake everywhere." (Pgs 143-144)

"I sat down on the grass, which was stiff with the cold, and I put my hands over my face, adn I let my skin tighten, and let the chills run in ripples, like breezy water, between my shoulder blades and up my neck. I let the numbing grass touch my ankles. I thought, Sylvie is nowhere, and sometime it will be dark. I thought, Let them come unhouse me of this flesh, and pry this house apart." (Pg. 159)

Sure it gets cold here, and it gets empty here, but I used to think that there was nothing new to find out about coldness and emptiness, and that's not true. The ordinary-- as opposed to the exotic, as it's traditionally seen-- is worth examining simply because so many of us stop looking at it after awhile, like a painting in your house you forget is there because you see it every day. And the interesting thing is, the closer I look at all the regular, average, and normal in my surroundings, the more I appreciate it. And I start to lose the itching longing to go somewhere else, and do something else, that I had when I was younger. I start to feel deeply satisfied with where I am and what I am doing.

A few weeks ago when I was boiling water for tea, my stepfather was in the living room reading, and my mother was rushing around getting ready for her art class, and the dog was curled up on the rug, and I thought, I'm moving soon, and I'm going to live alone for a few months, and I won't see this anymore. Other people waking up. I won't get asked how I slept. I've been having the same morning conversation for over a decade and only now do I realize how nice it is.

Anyway, what I'm saying is, don't forget where you are. And when your hands are performing their usual routine, in the morning, or right before bed, think about what they're doing. Reinvent the gestures in your mind. See what's right outside like it's for the first time. Even the cold and the empty are worth examining.

Friday, October 29, 2010

The Not Writing Mission

In the interest of keeping myself motivated with this "expose yourself to the outside world" plan (detailed by my blog post a few days ago here), I am going to start posting things. Not writing things.

1. This article about introversion. It's kind of long, but I especially like this part: "In a series of studies in which subjects were presented with an effortful task such as taking a test, thinking rationally, or giving a speech, introverts did not choose to invoke happy feelings, reports Boston College psychologist Maya Tamir. They preferred to maintain a neutral emotional state. Happiness, an arousing emotion, may be distracting for introverts during tasks. By contrast, extraverts reported a preference to feel "happy," "up," or "enthusiastic" and to recall happy memories while approaching or completing the tasks." Having spent my entire life dwelling in neutral states while getting work done, I find it fascinating that not everyone does that. Extraverts, teach me your confusing ways.

2. A list of interesting facts about Jupiter. Including: it's so large all the other planets could fit inside it. And: "if Jupiter got any more massive, it would actually get smaller. Additional mass would actually make the planet more dense, and start pulling it in on itself."

3. This poem by ee cummings. Yeah, yeah, I know. Just read it:

who are you,little i
(five or six years old)
peering from some high
window;at the gold
of november sunset
(and feeling:that if day
has to become night
this is a beautiful way)

4. Ice. (Be careful about clicking that link-- I can't vouch for the clean-ness of the pics on the sidebar.)

5. Monstropedia. Because wikipedia's not enough-- we need specialty encyclopedias. I like that there's a section for serial killers. Seems a bit out of place, no? Still: interesting.

If you have a link to something interesting you encountered this week, post it in the comments! I want to see.

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Bookanista Thursday: Delirium

Synopsis (from Goodreads): Before scientists found the cure, people thought love was a good thing. They didn’t understand that once love -the deliria- blooms in your blood, there is no escaping its hold. Things are different now. Scientists are able to eradicate love, and the governments demands that all citizens receive the cure upon turning eighteen. Lena Holway has always looked forward to the day when she’ll be cured. A life without love is a life without pain: safe, measured, predictable, and happy. But with ninety-five days left until her treatment, Lena does the unthinkable: She falls in love.

This concept could easily have gone awry. Stories about love tend to go that way sometimes. They wander into the realm of cheese and never return, which I think is a shame, because there is a way to write about romantic love without breaking out the Velveeta. And Lauren Oliver does it.

A few reasons why I loved this book:

1. It was well-written. Lauren Oliver strings words together like a poet-- she makes beautiful things surprising, if that makes sense. Sometimes writers fall back on the expected, and it can still be beautiful, but that's not Delirium. Unexpected and stunning-- that's how I would describe the writing.

Read this quote: "Somewhere deeper in the city a motor is running, a distant, earthy growl, like an animal panting. In a few hours the bright blush of morning will push through all that darkness, and shapes will reassert themselves, and people will wake up and yawn and brew coffee and get ready for work, everything the same as usual. Life will go on. Something aches at the very core of me, something ancient and deep and stronger than words: the filament that joins each of us to the root of existence, that anicent thing unfurling and resisting and grappling, desperately for a foothold, a way to stay here, breathe, keep going."

2. The world felt real. With some dystopian books, I have trouble believing that the world could actually turn out that way, even given the right set of circumstances. But with Delirium, I got the sense that it took place in an actual neighborhood, one that I could go and see, but with this looming sense of awfulness that is the fact that no one loves each other, no one can love each other. It's just a few notches away from where we are-- add a few dashes of government control and a "cure" for love and a few more rules/procedures/rituals and you have the world of Delirium. It does not feel like somewhere else; it feels like here.

One thing that helped this were the quotes at the beginning of each chapter, taken from made-up historical/religious/etc. documents related to the "dystopian concept". They gave me the sense that this entire movement in history had occurred before the opening of the novel, and that if I kept reading I could connect the dots from where I stand today and where Lena stood in the narrative.

3. It wasn't just a love story. Oliver's focus is not just on how romantic relationships are impacted by the love cure; she also went into the realm of family and friendship, too. About how those relationships break without love, and about how friendships would change without love. What I love about this is the way it's done-- with subtlety, so that you almost don't notice how terrible things are until suddenly, you do, and you ache for what Lena has lost as a result of the world's dissolution. Something I'd like to see more of in YA books is an exploration of many different kinds of relationships, not just romantic ones, so this book did that for me.

4. The ending. I'm not going to tell you what happens. But...AHHHH.

Delirium is out on February 1st, which feels like a long way away, but you can pre-order it in all the usual places (and it's on Indiebound!). I'm going to go do that, actually. Also, you really won't be able to get me to shut up about this, so I'll cough suggestively again when it's actually in stores.

Oh! Also, quotable quote: "I love you. Remember. They cannot take it."


And be sure to check out what the other Bookanistas are up to!:

Christine Fonseca and Lisa and Laura Roecker are raving over MOCKINGBIRDS
Jamie Harrington is dying over CRESCENDO.
Kirsten Hubbard is gushing over ANNA AND THE FRENCH KISS.
Shannon Messenger is amazed over THE SEARCH FOR WONDLA and her giveaway.
Carolina Valdez Miller interviews the incredible Daisy Whitney.
Megan Miranda is blown away by SHIP BREAKER.

The Bookanistas are a group of writers who are at various stages in the publishing process and have decided to band together to recommend and promote the books we love. As writers we've made a conscious decision to post only about books that we're excited to read or books that we've already read and loved. Every Thursday we'll have a new Bookanista blog chain that covers various topics – upcoming ARCs, books we've read and enjoyed, and even cover reviews.

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Not Writing, or Why Your Brain Is An Ice-Cream Maker

The reason I haven't been blogging as much recently is that I am in the process of learning an important lesson, which is: in order to write, you have to not write.*
*This goes for other creative acts, too. Painting, drawing, photography, furniture-building, whatever. But I'm a writer so I'm going to talk about writing.

The other day I was talking to my editor about feeling a little burned out, like this book is the most difficult thing I've ever written, and not because of its contents-- more because this is the only substantial writing project I've done as a full-time writer, without school to distract me. And she told me to take a vacation. Which seems silly, right? Why would I need a vacation? Isn't my entire life a vacation? I mean, seriously. But the gears started churning.

Now, if you're anything like me, you don't do well on extended vacations. I get antsy and listless and all I want is my morning cup of tea, at my desk, in front of my computer, in silence. I am a person who enjoys routine. Who is happiest when everything is in its proper place. There are many problems with that trait of mine, namely that I find it difficult to cope with change, but that's another story entirely.

And then the Editor of Wonder suggested days (one at a time, not several strung together) of complete detachment from the writing. Days of taking the train downtown and wandering through an art museum, or going for long walks in distant forest preserves (okay, I don't know exactly what she suggested, but that's the gist of it). Days of absorption.

I used to absorb things all the time, because I was in school. If you ask me what inspired certain pieces of writing, I can look in my "school" folder on my computer, figure out what I was studying at the time I wrote it, and that's it, that's the inspiration. When I came up with the idea for Divergent I was in Psych 101. When I tweaked that idea, four years later, I was grappling with legalism and rolling my eyes at self-help books. It wasn't like I sat down and thought, what real-world ideas am I going to cram into this writing project? It's that my writing was informed by what I was exposed to in the real world.

The lesson I am learning: not writing is as important as writing. And I don't mean not writing like doing what you have to-- paying bills, and painting kitchens, and wrestling with ComEd over the phone (those are my current responsibilities), although those things are certainly important. I mean not writing like browsing the Internet for interesting articles about psychological phenomena, or reading things that have nothing to do with young adult literature (I've been reading poems. I don't even like poetry, really), or, seriously, wandering around art museums or driving to local forest preserves to reminisce about elementary school field trips or baking or watching episodes of QI to learn trivia about crab-catching off the coast of Florida. Or whatever, as long as it is completely unrelated to the words that have taken over your entire life. My entire life.

I am learning that you cannot write well if you are not engaged with the world. And I don't think that you can't write at all if you aren't engaged with the world, because you've probably lived enough life to piece together a convincing manuscript. But if the information I know and the thought patterns I've developed remain constant, I will never come up with anything new, different, interesting, intriguing, or enlightening. And what I write will be somehow lacking in texture and depth. I am sure of it.

The writing mind is like an ice cream maker. It will always produce ice cream, but unless you intervene, that ice cream will always be vanilla. You have to acquire new ingredients if you want to make the ice cream taste like something else, or have an interesting texture. Chocolate chips. Berries. Nuts. You get the idea.

Because vanilla will never be anything other than "nice" or "fine."

And if someone describes my writing as "nice" or "fine"...I will smack my head against a wall.

The world is a fascinating place. Not everything interests me, but a lot of things do, and I'm trying to get in touch with them again. I'll let you know how it goes. I'll even try to post pictures.

And I encourage you, if you're having the same problem that I am, to go! Go out into the world and remember why it's so freaking interesting! I'm on a mission. Join me.

Happy not writing, everyone.

Thursday, October 21, 2010


(Sorry about the glare in that video-- it wasn't quite that bad before I uploaded it! Must...use...better...camera...)

For those of you who can't watch that video because you're hard at work (or for those who prefer to read rather than watch):


Yesterday I had a little Twitter conversation with my editor, the fabulous Molly O'Neill that went something like this:

M: Are you at home?
Clueless V: Yep! Soon I'll have a new address to send you, too.
(Note: I am moving soon, so that's not quite as random as it sounds.)
M: Check your front porch!
V: ...Really?

And then I sprinted to the front door in a state of pajama-clad disarray, as evidenced by these four-minute-later reaction shots...

...in which I disregard the need for a hairbrush, real clothing, or any semblance of dignity. Yes, that is me about to kiss a book.

The lovely people over at HarperTeen tweeted a picture of the box of ARCs soon afterward. Look at THIS!

Owly Images

A few notes about the ARCs:

1. My book comes out in May, so the ARCs won't be distributed to reviewers and bloggers for awhile.
2. I'm sorry for the tease.
3. But I had to share the excitement.

This is what I keep thinking to myself: My NAME is on it! MY name. And it's like...a thing! That you can HOLD! In your HANDS!

Bet you didn't know I was so inarticulate while thinking to myself.

AHHH! I can't wait for everyone to read!

Monday, October 11, 2010

What I Learned About Dialogue, Thanks to Grey's Anatomy

I was never one of those Grey's Anatomy watching people. Not for any particular reason, because we all know I'm not a television snob (since I frequently watch a little show called America's Next Top Model), but I just didn't watch it. But sometimes, at around noon, I have to take a break from the writing and the only thing on television is, you guessed it, Grey's Anatomy on Lifetime. Oh, Lifetime. What a channel.

I've watched a few episodes in the past few months, and I have realized something: you can learn a lot about dialogue from Grey's Anatomy. I know what you're thinking. How so? Is it because their writers set such a good example?

The answer to that is: no. No, they do not. They set a pretty
bad example, actually, which is why the next time I need a break I'm going to go for a walk rather than find out what happens between whatshisface with the hair and whatsherface with the scrubs and their illegitimate child and their patient with leaves growing out of his nose, or whatever.

As I watched, I found myself wondering, what exactly is it that makes this dialogue bad? And how can I avoid whatever makes it bad in my own dialogue? I did a little research, and I've isolated several examples.

Item 1: Repetition Is Not Always Your Friend

Lex, I'm still in love with you. I tried not to be, but it didn't work. And Sloane's gone. There's no baby. And I don't wanna sleep around. I want another chance. I'm in love with you.

This is fairly typical of Grey's Anatomy dialogue, from what I've seen. There is a bold statement that pretty much summarizes what comes after, sort of like a thesis. In this case:
I'm still in love with you. And then there is a more fleshed out explanation of that statement-- above, all that stuff about the baby and the trying and the not sleeping around. And then that bold statement is repeated for emphasis (like when you put your thesis statement in the first sentence of your conclusion paragraph). As if people really speak in five paragraph essays.

Seriously, though. Look at this:

Thesis: I'm Still In Love With You

Body Paragraph 1: I Tried Not To Be, And It Didn't Work

Body Paragraph 2: Sloane's Gone; There's No Baby

Body Paragraph 3: I Don't Wanna Sleep Around
Conclusion: I Want Another Chance; I'm In Love With You*

*=Thesis, Repeated For Emphasis

Yeah. So. Some people definitely repeat themselves a lot in conversation. But two things about that: A. Unlike on Grey's Anatomy, not
everyone repeats themselves, and B. People generally find that kind of repetition annoying, so you have to be careful about how you use it. The thing about repetition is, it's a tool that you can use to make one character's manner of speaking different from another character's manner of speaking. But it is not the normal base line for most people.
Item 2: Speeches Are Called "Speeches" For A Reason

George was a surgeon. He had a purpose. He wanted to save lives. Now he doesn't get the chance. Now he doesn't get the chance to do anything anymore. But you do. You could go to medical school. You could hang out with your freaking friends. I don't care what you do, just go do something with your life, because you have one. You lived, and George didn't! And I know that feels horrible and shocking and terrifying, but you lived. So go live your freaking life.

Let us, for a moment, ignore the fact that this quote basically restates the same thing over and over again, adding no new information each time. I am focusing instead on its length. This paragraph is delivered in one single piece, Izzie Stevens to...this other chick. A few things wrong with this picture:

A. People don't speak in speeches. The definition of a speech?
A form of communication in spoken language, made by a speaker before an audience for a given purpose. They are a separate form of communication, distinct from normal conversation. Generally, the only time people give speeches is when they are planned and prepared. And if people do speak in a larger chunk, it's far more disorganized and rambly than that, unless your character is a good public speaker or has particularly organized thoughts. I am certainly leaving room for that possibility, but again, long streams of dialogue should be used carefully and on purpose, not as a normal occurrence.

B. People don't always just sit and listen while someone lectures them. I feel like, in real life, the odds are good that the chick listening to that speech would have interrupted Izzie Stevens before the whole lecture got going. Of course, it's possible that she wouldn't, but it's something to think about: is my character the kind of person who just stands there and takes it? Or no?

Item 3: Not Everyone Says Exactly What They Mean

I'm not good at this. I'm not good at ...relationships or talking about stupid feelings. And you are, so maybe you could teach me or something. Tell me where I go wrong.

This is one of those "show, don't tell" things. I mean, really, I should know that Alex is not good at relationships just by watching the show, but the writers don't trust me to get it, so they put the lines in his mouth and have him explain it to me, just in case. Not a good move.

One of the critiques I got in a writing class once was: when people fight, they don't always discuss what they're actually fighting about. Okay, that's sort of unclear-- what I mean is, on the surface, the characters are yelling about who let the dishes sit in the sink for three days, but under the surface, they're fighting about how she doesn't communicate with him anymore, or how he's been working too much. Know what I mean? People resist confrontation, and they don't always know how to express themselves, so sometimes, they don't say exactly what they mean-- because they don't always know exactly what they mean. They barely know themselves.

So if you have a character who knows himself, knows what he's thinking and feeling, and says it, that is a very special kind of character. Not to be used lightly.

Basically, what I have learned is this: every writer, unless you're jaw-droppingly amazing and perfect, has a bad dialogue default setting. Mine is kind of Item 3-- my characters tend to be very straightforward. What we need to do is learn how to use that default setting sparingly, to develop character, and not constantly, to form a dialogue base line.

Easier said than done, I know.

Any other dialogue tips, anyone?

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Divergent Video!

Huge thanks to the people at Harper for making it (and for making it so well)!

Also, I finally managed to create one of those pages on Facebook for myself, so if you feel compelled to "like" it (how weird is that system, by the way?), please do so! I promise I will update it with juicy news whenever juicy news occurs. Here it is.

Monday, October 4, 2010

Rules: Friends of Creativity (And Enemies of Car Accidents)

When people find out I'm a writer, they tend to ask a lot of questions about the writing process. (Generally, "How do you do that? Just sit down and write a book?") And I understand that, because it's probably mysterious to the outside observer, like I just shut myself into a room and ideas burst from every fingertip like gold ribbon and Skittles.

Anyway, I think talking about specific aspects of The Process can be interesting. So while I was considering this question a few days ago, I realized that I've started doing something that helps me immensely, and it is: I have rules.

I have rules that govern the writing of the manuscript, enforcing constraints on what can and cannot happen in a given story.

For example: my protagonist cannot get into a car accident. And not just because she's never in a car, but because of my rule, which is that the plot cannot be advanced by something that happens by accident. Now, if my protagonist had done something terrible to Some Guy and Some Guy drove his car head-on into her car at 100 miles per hour with the intention of killing her, that's a different story, but in my mind, that's no longer an accident.

Another rule is: for better or worse, my protagonist must be at least partially responsible for the things that happen to her.

I come up with these rules because I don't want the plot to escape me and become something I don't like without my knowledge. I know that I get frustrated by plots where, if the accident hadn't happened, the story wouldn't have advanced, or by characters who don't seem to have a lot of agency (agency meaning, a means of exerting power or influence), so I decide I'm going to try my best to make my plot as purposeful as possible, and give my characters as much agency as they can realistically have, and that's just how it's going to be.

Another rule I have is, always use something that was already there, rather than introducing something new. Sometimes that means characters, and sometimes it means taking certain elements of the story and bringing them back to cause more havoc. And sometimes this means ignoring the rule and coming up with something new because it's better that way, but still, at least I've given it my full consideration.

Having these rules and being aware of them actually helps me with the writing process. A few days ago I realized that one of the plot developments in what I'm working on just didn't sit well with me. I couldn't figure out why, until I remembered the rule about agency. My character exerted very little influence over what was supposed to happen to her-- actually, that was the problem, that it was supposed to happen to her. So I brainstormed a new solution. The guideline made it much easier to discard ideas as they came to me. Something would pop into my head and I would say, does that solve the agency problem? And then I would say, not really, and throw it out. Until I found a solution that did.

Sometimes it's hard to figure out if you're writing something because it's good and works for the story or because it's the simple solution and you're just plain exhausted from all the thinking you're doing, and I think the rules help. And I think the rules change for each story-- because it's not like there are no successful stories about car accidents out there, it's just that car accidents don't happen to belong in mine.

I tend to think of being creative like it involves twirling around in a field full of wildflowers, but that's not how it works. Because there are brambles in that field, and they will totally scrape your ankles if you keep up with that spinning. Creativity doesn't necessarily mean that there are no restrictions; it means that you find a way to maneuver within those restrictions toward something remarkable.

So: rules. I follow them.

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Bookanistas: Sci-Fi/Dystopian Cover Love

Recently I found myself with the great fortune of being invited to participate in the Bookanistas, a group of YA authors who write about books on a weekly basis. And to this invitation I said YES PLEASE.

Recently I have also found myself paying attention to book covers more than usual. This happens often in life-- you're thinking about getting a haircut, so you pay attention to everyone's hair; you're looking at houses, so you start knocking on other people's floorboards to see if the wood floors are real or fake (that might just be me). Anyway, because I was getting so jittery about posting my cover, I started paying special attention to book covers, which is why I'm going to be gushing about some covers this week.

More specifically, I will be gushing about sci-fi/dystopian book covers, because A. I love this genre, B. I write this genre, and C. I am SO pleased that sci-fi/dystopian is really getting a foothold right now, because it's what I've always liked to read and I find it extremely interesting. So, some gorgeous sci-fi/dystopian covers of upcoming books, for your viewing pleasure.

1. ACROSS THE UNIVERSE by Beth Revis (January 11th, 2011)

Seventeen-year-old Amy joins her parents as frozen cargo aboard the vast spaceship Godspeed and expects to awaken on a new planet, three hundred years in the future. Never could she have known that her frozen slumber would come to an end fifty years too soon and that she would be thrust into the brave new world of a spaceship that lives by its own rules.

Amy quickly realizes that her awakening was no mere computer malfunction. Someone—one of the few thousand inhabitants of the spaceship—tried to kill her. And if Amy doesn’t do something soon, her parents will be next.

Now, Amy must race to unlock Godspeed’s hidden secrets. But out of her list of murder suspects, there’s only one who matters: Elder, the future leader of the ship and the love she could never have seen coming.

(Must. Read.)

When I first got a look at this cover, it looked like this:

And though there were many covers to look at, at the time, my eye sort of drifted toward it independently of my brain and then fixated on it, because not only is it very different from a lot of the YA covers you see out there, it is also beautiful. While I was perusing Beth Revis's blog the other day, though, I saw that she revealed an updated version that looks like this:

Now, if you had asked me if the first cover could be improved in any way, I probably wouldn't have come up with anything, but after seeing the new version, I keep having to wipe drool off my keyboard. I think replacing the white space with, uh, space space was a great call, because it looks richer now, and I like that the tagline is now in a more prominent place, because I don't think I really noticed it in the first version.

Also, now you get to see what Kiersten White says about the book, which is always a good thing, because Kiersten is awesome. So, in a few words, this cover: different, beautiful, eye-catching. I was initially attracted to the book by its cover (I read the summary a little later), which is the point, yes? SUCCESS.

2. POSSESSION by Elana Johnson (June 2011)

In a world where thinkers control the population and rules aren't meant to be broken, one fifteen-year-old girl is tired of belonging to someone else.

I generally gravitate toward simplicity, which is why I loved the cover of MATCHED so much, and the same is true of POSSESSION. That whole "butterfly fighting its way out" thing is just saturated with meaning, particularly given the concept of the book. It's such a surprising and intriguing image, so I'm glad the rest of the cover allows you to just stare at it and consider it, rather than getting distracted by anything else around it. This cover also has the desired effect of making me want to read the book even more than I did when I just knew the tagline. So: gorgeous and thought-provoking. So excited.

3. DELIRIUM by Lauren Oliver (February 1st, 2011)

Before scientists found the cure, people thought love was a good thing. They didn’t understand that once love -the deliria- blooms in your blood, there is no escaping its hold. Things are different now. Scientists are able to eradicate love, and the governments demands that all citizens receive the cure upon turning eighteen. Lena Holway has always looked forward to the day when she’ll be cured. A life without love is a life without pain: safe, measured, predictable, and happy.

But with ninety-five days left until her treatment, Lena does the unthinkable: She falls in love.

The ARC of this book had a different cover, which had a more melancholy feel to it, and I liked that one, but not as much as I like this. First of all, it's simpler, and I feel like I am staring into it to discover something about the girl's image. And once I've ogled at it for a few seconds, I can finally piece together her expression, which is interesting in and of itself-- she's got her eyes closed, but her mouth is slightly open, and not in that "I've fallen asleep and I may drool" way. To me that expression looks a little like she's steadying herself as she waits for impending doom, which is absolutely perfect for this book.

It's lovely, just like the writing inside. That Lauren Oliver has some serious talent-- as do her cover designers.

4. XVI by Julia Karr (January 6th, 2011)

In the year 2150, being a girl isn’t necessarily a good thing, especially when your sixteenth (read sex-teenth) birthday is fast approaching. That in itself would be enough to make anyone more than a little nuts, what with the tattoo and all – but Nina Oberon’s life has taken a definite turn for the worse. Her mother is brutally stabbed and left for dead. Before dying, she entrusts a secret book to Nina, telling her to deliver it to Nina's father. But, first Nina has to find him; since for fifteen years he's been officially dead. Complications arise when she rescues Sal, a mysterious, and ultra hot guy. He seems to like Nina, but also seems to know more about her father than he’s letting on. Then there’s that murderous ex-government agent who’s stalking her, and just happens to be her little sister’s dad.

This cover and the Delirium one have a similar vibe, but I put them next to each other on purpose-- because I love the idea that two covers could have a similar design concept but come across in completely different and equally amazing ways. First of all, while I was staring into the Delirium cover, the XVI cover is staring at me. I love that the girl holds your gaze-- and therefore, your attention-- and also that she's a little blurry, so the letters are more prominent. Actually, it seems like the letters are stamped across her like a giant label, which, if you read the first chapter on Julia Karr's website (and you SO SHOULD), seems accurate. The black, the size of the title, it's all working for me.

This is also an example of a seriously good tagline. Innocence expires at sixteen. It's just soaked with disturbing, intriguing dystopian goodness.

So, now that I have overwhelmed you with awesomeness (and with my intense cover analysis), this is what the other Bookanistas are up to this week...

Beth Revis and Jamie Harrington are spreading some cover love for POSSESSION.

Christine Fonseca is raving over THE REPLACEMENT.

Elana Johnson has a special Friday edition, where she helps launch the book, EMOTIONAL INTENSITY IN GIFTED STUDENTS.

Carolina Valdez Miller is crying over JOHN BELUSHI IS DEAD.

Lisa and Laura Roecker are crazy over MATCHED.

Shelli Johannes-Wells is tempting us with a DESIRES sneak peek!

Shannon Messenger
is showing some serious MG love with MG SPOTLIGHT.

Friday, September 24, 2010

What I Learned About Backstory, Thanks to James Dashner

One thing I've had drilled deep into my mind since beginning the whole agent search:

Avoid backstory. (At least, at the beginning.)

While searching for evidence that this is, in fact, a very common complaint about most people's first chapters, I discovered this quote by Mike Farris:

"Strong beginnings start in the middle of the story. You can fill in backstory later. I like to see the protagonist in action at the start so that I get a feel for who the character is right off the bat. We often get submissions with cover letters that begin: 'I know you asked for the first 50 pages, but the story really gets going on page 57, so I included more.' If the story really gets going at 57, you probably need to cut the first 56."

I think most writers have made this mistake before. You just pick a place for the story to start, and you think it's the right place, but as it turns out, you discover the real story about fifty pages later-- and yet, in revisions, it feels like too great a task to chop up those first fifty pages, so you don't. You may not even be consciously lazy about it. Sometimes the mere suggestion of removing that much content from your manuscript will just shut your brain down.

To me, too much backstory suggests a lack of confidence in the strength of the story. If the story is strong enough, it will carry the reader through the first pages even if they don't have a clear sense of the main character. Often we incorporate a lot of backstory because we think that if the reader connects with the character like we do, the strength of the story doesn't matter as much. That is, of course, not true. I know I've said this before, but it's still true: backstory is like water-soaked jeans. It sags from your story's butt, weighing it down.

(Here at my blog, I like to use classy, sophisticated similes.)

If you want to see a good example of backstory being completely unnecessary in the first few chapters, read THE MAZE RUNNER by James Dashner.

Summary (from Goodreads): When Thomas wakes up in the lift, the only thing he can remember is his first name. He has no recollection of his parents, his home, or how he got where he is. His memory is black. But he’s not alone. When the lift’s doors open, Thomas finds himself surrounded by kids who welcome him to the Glade, a large expanse enclosed by stone walls.

Just like Thomas, the Gladers don’t know why or how they got to the Glade. All they know is that every morning, for as long as they could remember, the stone doors to the maze that surrounds them have opened. Every night, they’ve closed tight. Every thirty days a new boy is delivered in the lift. And no one wants to be stuck in the maze after dark. The Gladers were expecting Thomas’s arrival. But the next day, a girl arrives in the lift—the first girl ever to arrive in the Glade. And more surprising yet is the message she delivers. The Gladers have always been convinced that if they can solve the maze that surrounds the Glade, they might be able to find their way home . . . wherever that may be. But it’s looking more and more as if the maze is unsolvable.

And something about the girl’s arrival is starting to make Thomas feel different. Something is telling him that he just might have some answers—if he can only find a way to retrieve the dark secrets locked within his own mind.

First of all, I am officially recommending this book. Giant rubber stamp of Veronica Roth approval (in case that means anything). It's suspenseful, intriguing, and well-constructed. I am a big fan of uncertainty in books, and The Maze Runner does uncertainty extremely well. I was constantly asking the obvious questions: Why are they contained in a giant maze? Why would someone do something that terrible to a bunch of kids? And then the less obvious question: IS it terrible? And then every other page I'm thinking: yes. No. Yes. No. YES. No? What the heck is going on?

And in case you were wondering if the payoff of this mystery is worth sticking around for: OH YES it is.

But back to backstory. As you can tell by the summary, the only thing we know about Thomas in the first chapter is that his name is Thomas and he just woke up in a place called the Glade. Actually, that's the only thing Thomas knows about Thomas. There is no backstory at all. We don't know where he came from, what he looks like, who his parents were, or anything that happened to him in the fifteen years prior to his arrival. And it doesn't matter. You devour the story anyway.

Throughout the book, as Thomas gradually discovers things about his past, we discover them, too, and rarely has the unraveling of a character's history felt so satisfying to me. But even if I had never learned anything about Thomas's history, I still would have finished the book, because the story itself was strong enough to carry me through it.

So. If you find yourself tempted to include a lot of backstory in the beginning of your story, you probably suffer from one of two problems:

1. Your story is not strong enough on its own. You require the backstory to make it more interesting. Maybe, if you find the backstory so interesting, that's where your story should be. Or maybe you just need to rip all the expectedness from your story and overhaul it. Either way, don't be discouraged. When I say "it happens", I mean it. It happened to me. And it wasn't easy, and I mourned over it for awhile, but it led me to break out of my box and write Divergent, which was the best thing that ever happened to my writing life.

2. You don't have enough confidence in your story. And I think this is equally as likely. The best way to figure it out is to remove all hints of backstory from your first 30 or so pages and see what you have. And maybe you'll find that it's still interesting. That the voice is distinct. That the character is engaging. And hopefully, your story will be a heck of a lot lighter and quicker than it was before.

It's not that backstory doesn't have its uses, because it does, particularly if the advancement of your plot depends on the unraveling of a past event (which, by the way, is a dangerous game to play). But you want that backstory to emerge in small pieces throughout the story, not to be frontloaded onto your manuscript, weighing it down. And if you want to figure out how to do that, read The Maze Runner, and take note of where and how Thomas's history surfaces.

Actually, even if you don't want to figure out how to do that...read it anyway. Because THE SCORCH TRIALS comes out October 12th, and how can you resist a book with that title, really?

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Divergent Quotation Collection

I have a thing for quotations. And I don't mean cheesy motivational ones, the kind you find when you look up "determination quotes" in Google. I mean weird segments of poems I had to read for my classes, or powerful lines in books. When I notice them, I write them down or save them to a document on my computer, and often, those quotes help me figure out stories or characters or concepts that I want to incorporate into whatever I'm writing at the time.

I have more quotes for Divergent than I've had for most other projects, and I thought it might be interesting to share them with you. They won't mean as much to you as they do to me, obviously, because you haven't read the book yet, but they are cool nonetheless, I think.

So, some of my Divergent quotes:

"Well, let her know the stubbornest of wills
Are soonest bended, as the hardest iron,
O'er-heated in the fire to brittleness,

Flies soonest into fragments, shivered through."
--Antigone, Sophocles

That quote is spoken by Creon, about Antigone. What I like about it is: he's wrong. Antigone doesn't bend. She holds to what she wants, which is to give her brother an honorable burial, even at the expense of her life. Antigone is really a great character, I think. She defies her father and then doesn't deny it; she accepts the inevitable consequences of her actions. She is an example of a strong female character who is not physically threatening in any way (as in, she doesn't have warrior skills, or anything), which we sometimes don't see these days.

"My will is mine. I will not make it soft for you."
Agamemnon, Aeschylus

I don't even remember what the context of that quote is, but I've always wanted to create the kind of character who could convincingly deliver that line.

(I read both of those plays for one class-- I'm not in the habit of studying this stuff on my own time, trust me.)

"But if you bite and devour one another, watch out that you are not consumed by one another."

--Galatians 5:15

I've read that line many times in my life, but last year it hit me right between the eyes. Especially when you take it out of context, and I don't usually like to do that, with verses.

"Please, let me warn them--
Don't you come here.

Don't bring anyone here."
--Chasm by Flyleaf

I can't tell you how many times I listened to that song while I was writing. So many of the lyrics helped me figure things out, but that piece of them was particularly important. It's pretty simple, I know, but something about the desperation of that warning-- I wondered what could be happening to a person that they would need to speak those lines.

"I must not fear. Fear is the mind-killer. Fear is the little-death that brings total obliteration. I will face my fear. I will permit it to pass over me and through me. And when it has gone past I will turn the inner eye to see its path. Where the fear has gone there will be nothing. Only I will remain."

--Dune by Frank Herbert

That's what the Dauntless (you know, the brave faction) would recite daily, if they recited something.

(Oh, Dune.)

There you have it. Little pieces of my inspiration.

Does anyone else do this? Or have quotes they like? I'm a collector, you see, so I'd like to hear them. (And potentially add them to my giant list.)

Sunday, September 19, 2010

MONTH THREE: Fear of Taking Unnecessary Risks

THE TIME HAS COME. Well, actually, I'm late, because I had to skip a month due to unforeseen busy-ness, so the time passed, but now IT HAS COME AGAIN!

This month's random act of bravery involves pop rocks and soda. If you'd like to see past months, involving a slide down an 18-foot vert ramp, a dive into a public fountain, and of course, a jump into a bathtub full of mini marshmallows, those videos are on the right sidebar.

But without further delay...

I swear I'm not speaking in the royal "we" in the beginning, I just edited out the parts where my friend Alice participated.

By the way, this is my friend Alice:
Thanks for your help, AK!

A (Christian) Take On Banning SPEAK

Myra McEntire inspired me to write this. Her post about this topic is here.

Laurie Halse Anderson, author of SPEAK, describes the whole issue here. Also, check out that video of her reading the poem about SPEAK, because it's very powerful.

Also, C.J. Redwine amazes me, and this is why.

Those are the good posts. This is me hopping up on a giant soapbox that I really have no right to stand on. Just wanted to get that out in the open.

On at least a bi-weekly basis, I think this same thought: "I wish people like that didn't shout the loudest."

This time, it's that some guy wants to ban Speak for being "soft porn." You know, Speak? That book about a girl getting raped and choosing not to speak at all, rather than report it? Apparently that's porn. The Bible says so. Wait, what do you mean the Bible says nothing of the kind? Color me flummoxed.

Somewhat problematically, I can't get those people to shut up, even if I want them to. I believe in freedom of speech, so their opinion is here to stay, as it should be. But they don't have to shout louder than me.

So, let's do this.

The book-banner guy is a Christian. I'm also a Christian (as you have probably noticed). I'm against censorship. I'm really against the insinuation that rape victims are participants in "soft porn." And when I say "against," I mean "I've been angry all morning."

My major objections to this fellow are religious, so that's what I'm going to talk about. There are plenty of wonderful, secular arguments against censorship, and I agree with many of them. So, if you don't want to read about my religious beliefs, that's okay, I don't mind, but I wanted to warn you.

You can summarize Christian teachings in two parts: crucifixion and resurrection. Brokenness and mending. My concern with many Christians is their refusal to acknowledge brokenness. It's all fine and good to walk around thinking "I've been saved! Woohoo!", but seriously: saved from what? Sometimes I wonder if they even know, or if it's too uncomfortable to think about.

I believe the resurrection has little significance unless you understand the crucifixion-- and vice versa. We Christians need to understand both to the best of our abilities. And our belief is that the crucifixion happened because of sin-- everyone's. I try to think primarily of my own sin, because it reminds me not to get self-righteous. My sin. Mine. Just as much as anyone else's. Remember.

The world is broken. No matter how much time you spend covering your eyes, and covering your children's eyes, the world will still be broken when you uncover them. And when I say the world is broken, I mean that bad crap is happening to people everywhere and people are doing terrible things everywhere. Do you want your kids to understand just how beautiful the grace of God is? Then they have to understand how crappy the world is. It's not just "a good idea." It's necessary.

People can make their own decisions about what their kids read. But as a Christian, I urge fellow Christians in particular to think hard about those decisions, not just to jump to the simplest conclusion. Remember that you cannot, and you should not, shield your children from the truth. Now, I'm not saying we should expose our young children to disturbing material before they're ready. I am definitely not saying that. But there's a difference between "you're too young for this" and "I don't want you to witness this 'immorality'. Ever."

Jesus' greatest commandment was for us to love one another, and he didn't mean love in that gooey Hallmark way. He meant a love that was often deeply uncomfortable. That makes you want to scream because you don't want to forgive that person for what they did to you, not ever. That makes you want to scream because you don't want to hang out with that loser, not ever. I think books like Speak help us understand people. If we don't even try to understand rape victims, we will treat them like they have some kind of sickness and we've got to stay away. But love isn't running away from something that makes you uncomfortable, it's forcing yourself to run toward it.

The world is broken, and we need to know that. We need to understand how damaging sin is or we'll never understand why we need to turn away from it, and fight against it with everything we have. So, will I let my future children read books like Speak when they're ready? Absolutely. Then we can all talk about it. We can talk about how sometimes the world sucks but we believe in a God who wants to mend it, and we are His hands and feet; we get to help.

So, think about it. And read.

Friday, September 17, 2010

Preparing for Things You Shouldn't Have to Prepare For

I've had something weighing on my mind recently. Some residual anger, I think, from things I told myself I would let go of.

The community of young adult writers, readers, and bloggers in which I currently find myself is extraordinary. The kindness and support that surrounds me is so constant that I sometimes forget about it, or take it for granted. But I am grateful for it, always.

There is a problem inherent in belonging to such a community, though, and it is this: it makes you forget that not everyone is that nice.

And believe me when I say: not everyone is that nice. And it's important to talk about this, because you have to prepare yourself. Even if you're just at the beginning of that querying journey and you don't think you will ever make it to publication-- prepare yourself. (Also, don't be so hard on yourself!) Even if you aren't a writer at all, this really has nothing to do with writing. It has everything to do with success and how the world works.


People might say unkind things on blogs or Twitter when they don't think you're watching.
They might attribute whatever success you've had to something other than the combination of talent, hard work, and good timing that it probably resulted from.
They might release information even when you told them not to, for their own gain.
They might use your name to their advantage without your permission.
And if you give them room to criticize, some of them will use that room to tear into you.

Not all of those things have happened to me. But I keep my eyes and ears open, and I know they've happened to other people. And also, some of them have happened to me. And it's at that point that my editor and my agent and my friends and my family begin to feel like bodyguards, protecting me from people who don't have my best interests in mind.

No matter how many great people you have looking out for you (and I have so many great people looking out for me), though, for some reason, it still hurts when you discover that some people have bad intentions. Most of us are at least trying to be kind, and generous, and authentic. And we persuade ourselves that if we're trying to be good people, no one will want to do bad things to us, but that isn't true. In fact, it kind of makes people more likely to do bad things to you. And that makes me angry.

I tried to figure out what to do with that anger, knowing that it isn't the last time I'll feel it, not by a long shot. And I think I have a system.

First I get pissed. No, seriously. When bad things happen, it doesn't do me any good to pretend they aren't bad, or not that bad. I try to call things like I see them. I don't think we get angry enough at the right things anymore.

And then I try really hard to forgive-- for many reasons, but also for the sake of my own heart. Sometimes people talk about forgiveness like it's this effortless process. "Just let it go." Like anger is something I'm holding in my fists and if I just stop clenching and chill out, everything will be peachy. And I think that's absolutely false. If you're doing it right, forgiving people feels terrible. Because really, what you're doing is taking in all the crappiness and refusing to retaliate, even when that's pretty much all you want to do.

It helps to remember that no matter what people do to you, they can't diminish you unless you let them. I hope that the next time something icky happens to me, I can resist the temptation to retaliate and instead, be as good as I can be. People say things like "take the high road" and "don't let them bring you down to their level" and we stop hearing them after awhile, because those phrases lose their meaning. But you probably have an idea of who you want to be. Don't let anyone derail you.

We should try to be wise. But, you'll misplace your trust, we all do. And when that happens? Bodyguards. I'm telling you. I've got them, and so do you. If you and I are friends, you have one in me.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Little Breaksipoo

I'm taking a little blog break today after I spent all day giddily reading your comments, but I wanted to stop by and say THANK YOU for all your support! You guys are awesome.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

DIVERGENT Cover and Summary

So. About this surprise.

I've talked a lot about writing DIVERGENT, and about writing generally, but I haven't discussed the book itself much. So the surprise is: that ends here. Now.

With the cover and the summary.

Ready? (Because I am!)

Here we go!

(Well hello there, gorgeous. Want to go out sometime? Like, say, May 2011?)

In Beatrice Prior’s dystopian Chicago world, society is divided into five factions, each dedicated to the cultivation of a particular virtue—Candor (the honest), Abnegation (the selfless), Dauntless (the brave), Amity (the peaceful), and Erudite (the intelligent). On an appointed day of every year, all sixteen-year-olds must select the faction to which they will devote the rest of their lives. For Beatrice, the decision is between staying with her family and being who she really is—she can’t have both. So she makes a choice that surprises everyone, including herself.

During the highly competitive initiation that follows, Beatrice renames herself Tris, and struggles alongside her fellow initiates to live out the choice they have made. Together, they must undergo extreme physical tests of endurance and intense psychological simulations, some with devastating consequences. As initiation transforms them all, Tris must determine who her friends really are—and where, exactly, a romance with a sometimes-fascinating, sometimes-exasperating boy fits into the life she’s chosen. But Tris also has a secret: one she’s kept hidden from everyone, because she’s been warned it can mean death. And as she discovers unrest and growing conflict that threatens to unravel her seemingly-perfect society, she also learns that her secret might be what helps her save those she loves . . . or it might be what destroys her.

So, there you have it: DIVERGENT. In stores May 2011.

And when I saw the cover for the first time, I made this face:


And then I did this little chair dance:

(Yes, that's mid-fist-pump.)

And then I couldn't stop smiling:

I think every author is a little afraid of seeing his/her cover for the first time, because there's always the possibility that it doesn't meet their expectations, whatever those expectations are. What I wanted was for the cover to represent the book, not just technically, but in tone.

And I have to say: Barb, Amy, and Joel (the team responsible for that stunning design)-- you got it. You got it just right. I can't imagine anything better. So, if you're reading: thank you!

Life, my friends, is good.

(Can you guys believe my name is on a book cover right now? Because I certainly can't!)

(Why yes, that IS the Chicago skyline...with a marsh in front of it instead of a lake. Intriiiigued?)

Side Note: just so you know, that summary isn't the jacket copy (the text that will be on the actual book jacket). The jacket copy is really awesome but I can't very well post all the goodies at once, can I? Anyway: I will share that at a later date!


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