Happy New Year!
Here's to 2012!
What if you were mankind’s last chance at survival?
Sixteen-year-old Tess lives in a compound in what was once the Western United States, now decimated after a devastating fourth World War. But long before that, life as we knew it had been irrevocably changed, as women mysteriously lost the ability to bring forth life. Faced with the extinction of the human race, the government began the Council of Creators, meant to search out alternative methods of creating life. The resulting artificial human beings, or Chosen Ones, were extraordinarily beautiful, unbelievably strong, and unabashedly deadly.
Life is bleak, but uncomplicated for Tess as she follows the rigid rules of her dystopian society, until the day she begins work at Templeton, the training facility for newly created Chosen Ones. There, she meets James, a Chosen One whose odd love of music and reading rivals only her own. The attraction between the two is immediate in its intensity—and overwhelming in its danger.But there is more to the goings-on at Templeton than Tess ever knew, and as the veil is lifted from her eyes, she uncovers a dark underground movement bent not on taking down the Chosen Ones, but the Council itself. Will Tess be able to stand up to those who would oppress her, even if it means giving up the only happiness in her life?
Being the idea junkie I am, I recently found myself with a backlog of projects I wanted to get out of outline form…I reorganized my office, getting all my materials in order so that I could move straight from one project to the next, throughout 2012. Ten in all. Yeah. I know. Ten new books. I’ve got the list of books (written in the order in which I'll tackle them) thumbtacked to the wall above my computer, in my office.
My true goal for 2012, though? Not to get all the way through the list.
Writers know the scenario well: you get about halfway through drafting a new book when your editor sends you the revision notes for a book you’ve already got in development. You have to put your current project aside, to work on revisions.
Right now, my agent’s shopping several new books...and I have to admit, my Christmas wish is that my agent will sell those projects, and I’ll be interrupted all through 2012, as the revision notes for those books come in from editors…
At this point, I’ve quit just crossing my fingers. I now have my toes crossed, my eyes crossed, the strands in my ponytail crossed…A little bit of praying doesn't hurt anything, either:
Until then, I’ll be plugging away at the first project on my list!
Now, though? He’s got one hole he’s been working on for some time (kind of like the sweater I’ve been knitting since ’07)… He’s incredibly proud of it, and I’m sure he wouldn’t mind a bit that I’m showing it off here:
But the thing is, even though he’s obviously proud of his creation, he actually prefers to do his digging when he thinks nobody’s looking. And then he shows up at the back door looking like this:
That nose will give you away every time, buddy…
This year, I'm just really into the Thanksgiving vibe. For those of you who follow my MG and YA author blogs, you know that both are featuring "gratitude" as the theme of the month.
Gratitude, it seems, is a little like these flowers I just found in my front yard—at this time of year, my yard's a giant patch of brown. But once I noticed these little spots of purple, it was suddenly all I saw. Start focusing on what you're grateful for, and all the brown, scraggly annoyances in life fade away, too.
This month, I've been rerunning the below post everywhere I can. Originally written for Tracy Barrett's Goodbye day job! blog, it turned out to be my favorite guest post of all time, because it gave me a chance to talk about all the insanely incredible support I've received while working to get my writing career off the ground.
I'm definitely lucky, as the post explains...but as I find myself saying a lot lately, we're all lucky, in our own ways. Here's to focusing on the bright spot of purple, wherever it happens to pop up in your own life!
ON GRAND DELUSIONS AND UNENDING SUPPORT:
When I got my master’s in ’01, my mom invited me to stay home and devote my full-time efforts to getting a writing career off the ground (my lifelong dream). I figured it’d take a year or so to write a novel, then it’d sell (I was lucky enough to have placed poetry, short fiction, and literary critique in journals when I was in college, and was under the grand delusion that selling a manuscript would be a breeze for me), and in oh, two years or so, I’d have money in the bank, and I’d be off and running.
Okay, seriously. You can stop laughing now.
The truth is that it took seven and a half years just to get my first acceptance. In that time, my friends from college finished up PhDs, started teaching, doing research, became professionals. I often felt like all I had was a deep gash in the drywall where I’d spent months upon months banging my head against it.
And, let’s face it: I had guilt.
I cringe at the stereotypical portrait of the kid who’s living at home: the slacker who lies on the couch, playing video games, letting Mom do laundry, mooching, no sense of direction to speak of. That certainly has never been my life. I feel that your family is your family, regardless of what it consists of: your spouse and your children, or your siblings and parents. I participated in everything going on in my home: the upkeep, the repairs, the lawn, the floor-laying, the painting, the grocery shopping, the meal-planning…My office butts up against the laundry room, and, yes, I’ve always done my fair share of the laundry, as well.
Still, though: the guilt. You aren’t a responsible adult without feeling the sting of not contributing financially (I did teach piano and guitar lessons, and everything I made went to paying off what few bills I had—I got out of college with no student loans). Still, though, no matter how much I contributed, I often felt it wasn’t enough. I butted heads with my mom about finding work out of the house (she always talked me out of it). Instead, I worked, as we’d agreed, on my manuscripts: I created a floor-to-ceiling stack of them in those seven and a half years.
During those years, I learned to balance my writing with the comings and goings of a household. I can fix a lawnmower with one hand and outline a novel with another. I also learned that my greatest first reader is also the same person who insisted I stay home to write in the first place (Mom’s a great titler, too—she was the first to suggest the titles for both my published books). And when the triumphs finally arrived—selling a book, seeing my first book on a store shelf, getting the starred review, receiving a few lit prizes—my mom and brother, who had been my support, my sounding board for project ideas, my first set of eyes, took pride in it, too. They had a hand in it.
Come on—getting started is beyond rough. Everybody has to have some sort of help when they set out to forge a writing career. Now, when I step inside a library or a bookstore, I think there’s not just one person behind each of those titles, but a whole group of them—in addition to the writer, there’s some combination of parent, sibling, partner, spouse, etc., who supported that writer as they got started. It’s pretty incredible, when you stop to think about it…
Confession: I've had a bit of a love-cringe relationship with ARCs (advance reader copies) ever since my second book, PLAYING HURT, was in development.
My first book, A BLUE SO DARK, only saw significant changes to two scenes in-between the book’s acquisition and publication. That’s it. So the ARC was also very close to the final copy, with the exception of just a few phrases or typos. PLAYING HURT, though, was revised globally after acquisition (most of the changes were focused on Clint’s chapters), and even after the ARCs were printed, I continued to tweak passages—primarily, I was working on the steamier chapters, trying to find the perfect balance between staying true to the feelings of young love and remaining tasteful.
While PLAYING HURT was in development, I’d stumble across reviews every once in a while of others’ books (like a lot of readers, I also learn about new authors via the blogosphere) in which the reviewer would say something along the lines of, “Great premise. Really awkward writing style.” And the author in me would think, “But you had an ARC,” because I was truly learning just how much can actually change between ARC and final copy.
Also, at the time, I kept running into ARCs in a local used bookstore. I actually bought Laura Lippman and Mary E. Pearson ARCs, mostly to get them off the shelves. (Do local readers truly know what they're getting with an ARC? I wondered.) ARCs are more like ads, I thought. Something to encourage people to buy the final copy. It’s not something that should be read as though it is the final copy.
Ever since, I’ve always wondered how bloggers approach reviewing ARCs. I realize that a blogger’s at a bit of a disadvantage. The publisher (or author) has given out an ARC in exchange for an honest review. The blogger can’t suddenly become a mind reader and know exactly what’s changed. They have to review what’s in front of them.
Curious, I went straight to the source. And I have to say, yet again, bloggers showed what a smart bunch they are.
In a nutshell, here’s how bloggers told me they handle ARCs:
Seriously. How truly cool is that? I do believe I can now say I’ve gone from a love-cringe relationship to love-love. Thank you, bloggers…
Okay, it’s official: book trailers are addictive. I’ve talked about it before on the blog—wanting to get some practice in before doing the trailer for my MG, THE JUNCTION OF SUNSHINE AND LUCKY. Before, I’d been a bit hesitant to do a book trailer, worrying that the images chosen might be a bit of a distraction for bloggers (in the same way that a music video can occasionally be an intrusion into a song).
But now that I’ve finished the trailers for both of my published YAs, I don’t think I’ll ever have that worry again…
Below is the trailer for my second YA, PLAYING HURT. Feel free to share online—and don’t forget to “like” my Facebook author page. Once I hit 200 fans, I’m doing swag giveaways!
But for every loss of electricity, there is, in fact, a bright spot. No Internet also means no distractions. I spent hours upon hours on the back porch with my pages and my NEO (so many that a “Because You’ve Been Working So Hard” bouquet made its way to my kitchen table).
I have to say that I’m really proud of the end result.
Long story short, revisions are sent—on time, despite our little difficulties. (Whew #1.)
Also, last weekend, Sarah Ockler, the author of the Republic-banned TWENTY BOY SUMMER, came to Springfield for some events during Banned Books Week. Which, let’s face it, took guts. No one knew if any naysayers or protesters were going to show up for the events, or what the overall response was going to be. Thankfully, though, Sarah got a really warm reception from the side of the Ozarks I have always known and loved. (Whew #2.)
Though I was working like the dickens (literary pun intended) trying to wrap up my revisions, I was thrilled to be able to meet Sarah at the Library Center. Sarah is every bit as lovely in person as she is on the page, and she wrote a really beautiful inscription in my own copy of TWENTY BOY SUMMER (an inscription that officially moved the book from the “Favorites” shelf in my bookcase over to the “Prized Possessions” shelf):
Most writers would agree that conflict—or confrontation—can often be the most fun part of writing a book. On the page, conflict is where the story really takes off.
But because I’ve been hard at work, all month, on the revisions for my forthcoming debut MG, THE JUNCTION OF SUNSHINE AND LUCKY, I’m also reminded of another type of conflict that occurs in the process of getting a book on store shelves—between a writer and him or herself.
Every writer is protective of their book. In a lot of respects, you have to be. That need to protect is what gets you through multiple rounds of submission and rejection. It’s also, I’d argue, what gets a book written in the first place.
So many writers refer to or think of our books as babies. (Online, release dates are celebrated as “book birthdays.”) Often, I’ve heard writing a book likened to giving birth. Actually, I think it’s more like being home with a newborn. When a baby comes home, your world becomes about the baby—your entire life revolves around caring for and protecting that baby. When inspiration strikes, you have to treat your book the same way. You have to say, “I couldn’t possibly go to the movies [or out to dinner or away for the weekend, etc.], I’ve got a book to write!” The same way that you’d never leave a baby home alone, in order to get some guacamole. You’re responsible for getting those ideas on paper, every bit as much as you’re responsible for the well-being of a newborn.
That might sound like hyperbole, but really, I’m not exaggerating at all. Protecting your idea, your novel, really is that important—as important as caring for a newborn. If it’s not, believe me, the world encroaches, and the book never gets written.
The conflict that I’m referring to, though, actually happens after the book is written. After the book has been accepted. After you ink the deal, and all your hard work has paid off…
And you get your editorial letter. Asking you to make global changes.
At this point, that ultra-protective writer inside you—the same protective writer who cared for your concept like a newborn—butts heads with the ultra-critical editor inside you.
And that’s where the magic happens.
I love the global revisions that take place after a book’s acquisition, because inevitably, something really beautiful always comes from that internal conflict: my protective self wanting to stay true to the initial concept, and my critical self seeing my editor’s points and wanting to implement changes. Characters are reinvented, subplots revamped, events placed in a different order. The book becomes three dimensional at this point. It has skin.
So do I ever avoid this confrontation with myself? Never. Once I get that editorial letter, I jump straight into it, heart racing with excitement…
Below: a "greatest-hit" moment, as I unveil the official title of my MG! (The book features a young artist, and nothing reminds me of the art projects of my youth quite like construction paper. All that's missing from the vid are a few pipe cleaners...)
Now, with two books under my belt, I’ve got a few pointers for those about to face blog reviews for the first time:
1. Cut the umbilical cord. Your book is your baby; you raised it up from the tiniest germ of an idea into a complete, finished product. Like a proud parent, every writer does—and should—feel protective of their work, as well. This desire to be protective is often what carries you through rejection and multiple rounds of revision. But once that book hits the printer, you need to separate yourself just enough to grab a little objectivity. You should always love your book, and always feel proud of it. But a bit of distance is important when the book releases.
2. Accept that you’ll get some horrible blog reviews. It’s inevitable. Within the industry—among editors, agents, and reviewers for trade journals—there tends to be some similarity of thought. But once the book hits the public, there is absolutely no consensus. None. Somebody out there’s going to say, “Yuck.”3. Don’t expect to glean much from negative blog reviews. When a reader doesn’t connect with a book on any level, their comments aren’t particularly constructive. But because you’ve cut the cord, and have gone into reading reviews knowing that you’ll get some negative comments, a one-star review won’t cut your heart out, either. You won’t dwell on it. You’ll be able to move on fairly gracefully to the next review.
4. Let bloggers tell you what you can do better. Even in the midst of a positive review, you’ll still hear, “The book would have been better if…” For instance, a blogger who reviewed—and loved—my first book, A BLUE SO DARK, noted that Aura, the protagonist, used figurative, poetic language throughout…and also swore quite a bit. The blogger wasn’t opposed to the swearing (which was used to help illustrate Aura’s desperation), but asked, If Aura speaks in such a unique, figurative way, shouldn’t she also swear in a unique, figurative way, too, rather than just dropping F-bombs? I found that to be an extremely insightful, thoughtful comment. But I don’t think this comment ever would have permeated if I was still being 100% protective of my work and not yet willing to listen.
I realize that, once a book is released, it’s done. There’s no changing that specific work. But as a writer, I know I’ll be writing more similar kinds of books—I’ll be releasing more YA, more literary work, etc. And as much as I write for acceptance from the industry—editors, trade reviewers, etc.—I primarily write to touch the audience: readers who buy my books. Without readers…well…
Constructive criticism goes into the back of my head, and it does, I would argue, help as I draft my next works…every bit as much as constructive criticism from my agent and editors also help.
Just a few years ago, a writer’s audience discussed books in private—in reading circles, over coffee, in living rooms—and the writer never got a chance to know what his or her audience was saying. I feel incredibly lucky to be writing at a time in which I do get to eavesdrop on the discussions of my books.
I can’t remember a time when I wasn’t writing, and I can’t think of a moment growing up when I didn’t dream of being a full-time author. I just always imagined myself making money doing the one thing I loved more than any…
But I never imagined, in all those years of dreaming, that I’d ever have a relationship with my readers. I mean, come on, writers aren’t rock stars—they don’t fill auditoriums with throngs of screaming fans who pass out at the mere thought of breathing the same air.
Sure, I figured I might sign a few books here and there. Shake a hand once or twice. But never did I ever think I’d ever know any of my readers by name.
Imagine my utter thrill, then, to find the book blogosphere. (I honestly didn’t know it existed before I sold my debut, A BLUE SO DARK, to Flux in early ’09.) Not only do I know many of my readers, but my readers are also some of my very best publicists! (Whoulda thunk?)
Throughout the PLAYING HURT Blog Tour, my readers posted reviews and book recommendations, passed copies of PLAYING HURT on to their friends, and hosted giveaways.
So I might not be a rock star, but my readers rock…
To find out just how much my readers rock, check out my video below (during which I run the “credits” for my PLAYING HURT Blog Tour)…
"...a heartwarming and uplifting story...[that] shines...with vibrant themes of community, self-empowerment and artistic vision delivered with a satisfying verve." – Kirkus
"Axioms like 'One man's trash is another man's treasure' and 'Beauty is in the eye of the beholder' come gracefully to life in Schindler's tale about the value of hard work and the power of community…Auggie's enthusiasm and unbridled creativity are infectious, and likeminded readers will envy her creative partnership with [her grandfather] Gus." – Publishers Weekly
“Determined to save her home, Auggie [uses] pottery shards, vivid glass, and metal sculptures [to] transform the house’s exterior into a vibrant expression of the love within its walls. In Auggie, Schindler creates a spunky, sympathetic character young readers will engage with and enjoy.” – The Bulletin for the Center of Children’s Book Studies
“The protagonist perches in the reader’s heart as she goes about trying to “‘discover her shine.’” - NY Journal of Books
“A delicious, tantalizing love story that will captivate you until the final, satisfying sigh.”—Kristin Walker, author of A MATCH MADE IN HIGH SCHOOL