Tuesday, October 4, 2011
Suzanne Hayes and Loretta Nyhan's I'LL BE SEEING YOU, a story of unexpected friendship told through letters shared between two American women on the home front during World War II, to Erika Imranyi at Mira, in a two-book deal, by Anne Bohner at Pen & Ink Literary and Joanna Volpe at Nancy Coffey Literary & Media Representation.
So...how did this happen?
Magic? Happenstance? Accidentally?
I fell in love with Suzy's words on her lovely blog. She read mine, too. We connected. We emailed. We discovered.
Both of us had projects on sub and waiting is hard and lonely. We became friends.
One day Suzy said, in her charming and enthusiastic way, "Let's write a book together while we wait." I said, in my best Spicoli voice, "Uh...okay."
We're both history geeks, the World War II era in particular. When Suzy suggested we write letters to each other as women waiting for their men to come home from the war, I was all over it.
When I got that first letter, my character came to me, fully formed, and started talking. It sounds crazy, but Rita became real, as did Suzy's character, Glory. I found myself refreshing my inbox, hoping a new letter would pop up. I had no idea when this would happen---sometimes days would go by.
When a letter did come, I'd take one look at the Dear Rita subject line and my heart would shake. The computer couldn't bring it up fast enough. My fingers couldn't type a reply fast enough.
We ached for these characters, laughed with them, cried for them. And when the last letter was written, we cried for ourselves. Because it was over.
But then, it wasn't. Our agents, Joanna Volpe and Anne Bohner, loved the book. Later, a wonderful editor, Erika Imranyi at MIRA, loved it as well.
We couldn't be happier. And we couldn't be luckier. How can we adequately thank the people who are making our dreams possible?
And, Suzy, how can I thank you enough? My crazy East Coast twin? Someday we will meet face to face, and you'll take one look at me and know what this has all meant. Love you.
Wednesday, September 7, 2011
Monday, August 8, 2011
I know, I know...in some ways it does suck to say adios to your teens. You're stressing. I could feel your anxiety over the Internet.
At first, I couldn't understand it. You published a novel at 18. You have another coming out in a couple of weeks. You've accomplished more than people twice your age. You're independent and lovely and focused.
But then...I realized that I'd forgotten.
I'd forgotten that jumping into your third--and first wholly adult--decade is a throat tightening plunge into an ocean of wide open nothingness. The water appears vast and overwhelming, and it seems the waves pull your raft--the safe, secure anchor of teen life--farther and farther out to sea.
My 19 year old self, full of nerves about the future, wrote a timeline for my 20s in my journal: By 19-- I would publish my novel (Um...not that I'd actually written one at that point!) In 19-- I would travel through Europe with only a back on my back. Then I would meet a wonderful man and get married. We'd live on a commune in California and an artists' colony in Provence and a rustic cabin in Maine. Etcetera, etcetera--the list was waaaay long.
Some of those things happened. Some of those things didn't. Your twenties is when you realize planning with pretend knowledge of the future is useless. And this is a freaking exciting revelation. Because anything can happen.
It is also universally acknowledged that at some point between twenty and thirty you will be the best looking version of you. (This is not a superficial statement because this beauty comes more from internal than external factors.) Acne will disappear, baby fat will melt away, and you will be years away from wrinkles and age spots. Your skin will glow. You might not have much money, but you will be secure in your taste and confident in your style. Your hair will shine. And one day you'll be sitting with some friends, holding a glass of wine or a root beer or a San Pellegrino, in a romantic cafe in a city you've come to know as your own, in a city that you've come to own. The sun will make the glass in your hand sparkle and you'll think of all the things you know and all the things there's left to learn and the road is so deliciously long. "This," you'll say, "is life."
And it is good.
Happy Birthday, Kody. The best is yet to come...
For more birthday wishes, check out blog posts by Amy Lukavics, Lisa and Laura Roecker, Erica O'Rourke, and Kaitlin Ward later today!
Thursday, August 4, 2011
Tuesday, June 28, 2011
The response ranged from ad hominem attacks (Gurdon is clueless, an idiot, stupid, old, out-of-touch, etc.) to thoughtful personal essays (Libba Bray, Sherman Alexie), to a tidal wave of tweets including the hashtag #YASAVES.
Do books have the power to save teens? Well, this has been my personal truth. I was a horribly insecure person during those years, a misfit, unsure of my place in the world. I hate to think of what would have happened to me without the lifeline books provided.
But in equating YA literature with self-help books, we cease to view it as literature. This is more dangerous than Gurdon's article. If an author's main goal while writing a book is to offer solace to the suffering reader, it often comes at the expense of characterization, plot, even diction, the writer's careful choice of words. (And you are insane if you think I'm going to offer examples, but there are many who use the story to serve the issue, not vice-versa.)
This mindset also makes it nearly impossible to evaluate the worth of books like John Green's LOOKING FOR ALASKA, a young adult novel which contains all the hallmarks of classic literature. To describe it as a suicide book is to lessen the artistic impact of the novel.
Which leads me to the dicey topic of quality. This, I think, was an underlying message in Gurdon's WSJ piece. In evaluating these books solely on what she feels their impact is on a young reader, Gurdon is essentially saying this genre is not worthy of true critical analysis. Her method is not only impossible given the breadth of options in YA, it is simply not an effective way to critique art.
And YA lit is where some of the most exciting writers in any genre are crafting novels. Look at Jandy Nelson and Nova Ren Suma's use of language. Or Suzanne Collins and Veronica Roth's expertise with plot. Or Sarah Dessen's ability to extend a metaphor. Or Charles Benoit's experimentation with point of view in YOU.
I teach literature courses to young adults. I know they are fully capable of looking at novels with a critical eye. To assume a monkey see/monkey do response is to insult their intelligence, and the artistic merit of the work. I hope Meghan Cox Gurdon eventually comes to that realization.
Tuesday, May 24, 2011
Monday, May 2, 2011
Tuesday, April 26, 2011
So most of my communication takes place between me and people in the book business.
Until recently, this was often problematic.
I'd assumed Twitter operated like a quiet pub on a Sunday afternoon. Three or four people sitting at the bar sipping their drinks, the conversation both leisurely and democratic.
For an unpubbed writer, Twitter is like being in a crowded classroom full of attention starved Type A students with a constant rotation of substitute teachers. Some subs care passionately about teaching and their students, others could give a crap about the students but love their subject. Some are just passing time until something better comes along. Some have borderline personality disorders.
The students desire to be heard, to stand out from the pack, to earn recognition for their "specialness." Not going to happen. Not often, anyway.
My Twitter philosophy has been this: if I find a tweet interesting, I should feel free to respond, no matter who the person is. I mean, the tweeter put it out there, right? Is this the way you guys feel?
This is fine if you understand three things: 1. No one is obligated to respond to you. 2. You might learn things about people you admire that you'd rather not know. 3. If you are responding to someone you hope to one day work with professionally, then conduct yourself in a professional manner.
Now, I like to think I haven't embarrassed myself on Twitter (yet), but it makes me cringe to think how easy it is to do so. I see unpubbed writers replying to big-name authors, editors, agents, etc., acting like they are not only sitting at a bar, but about to fall off the barstool. As in any industry, there is a hierarchy in publishing. The very idea of this may clash with your rebellious writerly spirit, but you need to respect it if you're going to get anywhere.
This is not to say the big-wigs won't respond. Some might engage. Others might not. Authors tend to have thickly drawn lines when it comes to tweeting. One famous author simply doesn't reply to anyone. Some only reply to other "names." One New York Times bestseller responds to everyone. I've seen her avatar so many times I think I know her face better than my own. And, though I risk sounding like Stuart Smalley, all of these choices are okay, and have nothing to do with you.
For an unpubbed writer, things get a bit trickier when responding to editors. These are people who might find my work in their inboxes someday. My rules for these tweets: 1. Proofread. 2. Don't fawn. 3. Avoid saying anything remotely stalker-like. You would think these rules are easy to follow. You would be wrong. I'm probably overthinking @ replies now, but I'd rather err on the side of caution. In this market there are so many reasons for an editor or agent to reject. Setting off the "Twitter Psycho!" alarm shouldn't be one of them.
Writing is a lonely endeavor, so it's not a surprise we all jumped into the Twitter pool feet first. Let's not forget that though social networking may jumble the private and public, it's not an excuse for us to do the same.
Friday, March 25, 2011
1. Silence: I can listen to music while I edit, but lyrics distract me when I'm writing a first draft.
2. Green tea: Absolutely necessary. Every day. Couldn't live without it.
3. Chocolate: Dark. Bitter. Like my humor.
4. Natural sunlight: Tall order for Chicago these days.
5. Yoga pants: Comfort beats fashion. Every time.
What about you guys? What do you need to write?
Thursday, March 17, 2011
My paternal grandparents came from Ireland, and my father even spent some of his formative years in The Glen of Aherlow, County Tipperary. Someday I'd like to visit this country I've heard so much about, but until then I have to satisfy myself with the next best thing, Chicago.
On St. Patrick's Day, being Irish and being a Chicagoan are synonymous. I've been celebrating in this city since before I could stand (and, during some of my college years, I could barely do that!). There are so many things I love about my hometown, and this holiday brings out some of my favorites:
1. Dyeing the Chicago River green:
Isn't it gorgeous? The city uses some top secret vegetable dye concoction I probably don't want to know too much about. It doesn't last long, which makes us all appreciate it all the more.
2. The St. Patrick's Day Parade, downtown Chicago. It isn't what it used to be, but it's still a great experience for the kids. When I was younger, it was always held on the actual holiday, but that resulted in too many kids ditching school. Um, not that I would have done anything like that. One other thing I wouldn't have been caught dead doing is adding Peppermint Schnapps to my Shamrock Shake. Never. Uh-uh.3. Irish Dancers--before Riverdance, before they started wearing heavy pancake makeup and crazy wigs, young Irish-Americans learned how to dance a jig in smelly Catholic school gymnasiums. Now, there are Irish Dancing schools popping up everywhere, with kids from all walks of life practicing reels and begging their parents to take them to an Irish feis.
4. Green beer. I don't even drink beer and I think it's cool.
5. Irish Folk Music--Chicago has long been home to incredible Irish folk bands. Numerous friends and cousins drifted in and out of these groups, but one from my teenage years is still performing and sounds incredible: Baal Tinne. Have a listen to the band at Milwaukee Irish Fest.
So, Happy St. Patty's to you all! Wear green--everyone's Irish today!
Saturday, March 12, 2011
Wednesday, March 9, 2011
Monday, March 7, 2011
Tuesday, March 1, 2011
Friday, February 18, 2011
1. People who call articles of clothing "pieces."
2. Parents who allow their children to do things like this (Give it 45 seconds) and then sign them over to Simon Cowell. I mean, she's going to give herself an aneurysm before you can say American Idol, right? Don't these people read Star Magazine? Lindsay Lohan. Britney Spears. Christina Aguilera. Cautionary tales, all. Give this girl five years and she'll be found passed out by the pool at the Chateau Marmont.
3. Justin Bieber (see above).
4. Modernizing/adapting/being inspired by/outright stealing any characters, settings, plotlines, or titles from Jane Austen. Don't get me wrong, I love Jane and Bridget Jones's Diary is one of my all-time favorite books (inspiration: Pride and Prejudice), but she has been sucked dry, people! Only the bones are left--let them rest in peace!
5. Hating on James Franco. Okay, he might be annoying to some, but in a world dominated by Kardashians, isn't it nice to see someone pursue higher education with such dedication? How many Ph.Ds does the guy have now? 18?
Whew, I feel better. How about you guys? Any hates?
Tuesday, February 1, 2011
So...try to think back to the thirteen year old you. Who was your first big crush? Here's mine:
Oh yeah, I was hungry like the wolf...
Spill! Who did you have hanging up in your locker?
Wednesday, January 19, 2011
I used to love walking around with nowhere to go, exploring and noticing and observing. I live a totally different life now, full of responsibilities and constant action (make lunches, walk the kids to school, go to the post office, grade papers...), so I often forget what it's like to move without purpose. The most delightful things come across one's path when there are no expectations.
So...I found myself in the next town over, walking block after block, when I spotted a shop I'd rushed past hundreds of times, always grumbling to myself that I should go in when I have a spare minute. This time I went in. On the surface the place was typical for a neighborhood filled with Victorian homes and people with money--candles, natural skin products, cutesy wall plaques with inspirational quotes. Then I looked a little closer. Some books on Native American spiritualism lined one wall. Palmistry and fortune telling the other. Okaaay, I thought. Then I spotted the Buddhas. Tarot cards. Incense. Bundled dried sage.
Then I saw the sign. "Shamanistic Readings by Appointment Only."
Holy freaking crap! What was a Shamanistic reading? I had to know. I approached the counter. The woman behind it was about the same age as my mother, with a blond suburban bob and a green sweater set right out of the Land's End catalogue.
"Who's gives the readings?" I asked. I don't know who I was expecting. A straight-backed elderly gentleman from the Cherokee nation? Jim Morrison? An ex-Deadhead who would also try to sell me some peyote?
She smiled at me. "I do."
This was my Shaman.
Turns out Shamanistic readings are kind of a guided, spiritual look inside the psyche. The focus is on answering a question, as in some Tarot readings, but all kinds of stuff comes out because the Shaman is gently coaxing spiritual energies. At least that's how I understood it. Anyway, this woman and I ended up having a great conversation about creativity, aromatherapy, life in general.
I didn't get a reading (Um, Shamans are expensive--even ones that look like they crochet instead of hang out in sweat lodges.) but I learned some things I can file away for that witch book I'm working on AND I scored some medicinal grade peppermint essential oil (great for focus and concentration.) All in all, a success.
There's a part of me that sees these excursions as a waste of time (You could be writing, Miss Flaky-pants, the little voice tells me.) But today I'm going to see them like a Shaman would: opening one's soul to the world.
And what's wrong with that?