Monday, December 17, 2012

This Is What It's Like Now

It took me two days to tell my 10 year old about the shootings. Two days of starts and stops. Two days of unexplained tears and irrational anger and quite honestly, bad parenting. I'm supposed to have modeled calm. That did not happen. I did not tell either of my sons. My 5 year old wouldn't understand and my 8 year old...I just couldn't. I couldn't do it more than once.

This is what it's like now.

At Sunday school, a door that usually has a stopper didn't have one and kept slamming when each new kid entered. It was a loud bang. A week ago, I would have joked about it. Now, my heart hurt every time that I heard the sound until my co-leader Bruce saw my face and found something to stop the banging.

This is what it's like now.

My family used to love The Voice. Today we changed the channel quickly the moment we saw anything that might show the horrifying and devastating loss. My family used to love listening to the Christmas music on the radio. Now my hand hovers over the power button between every song in case they go to the news and I need to quickly turn it off.

This is what it's like now.

My 10 year old is touching her face. Constantly. This is how she manifests anxiety. She worries a lot anyway. Now worry has become paralysis. She talks to us about it. She says she knows she's being paranoid. She says she understands that she's blowing things out of proportion. This doesn't matter. I have no real way of telling her that she's safe. That has been taken from me.

This is what it's like now.

Everything hurts. Every part of me hurts. I crawl into bed and cry and hope with everything that I have that my children do not come in to see me like this. Because I'm supposed to be the secure one. It is one of the few things that we as parents are absolutely required to give our children in my opinion, and I cannot do it. I no longer can honestly say, "You are safe and loved." Now, all I have is "You are loved and I will do my very best to protect you." This does not seem to hold the same comfort as "You are safe."

This is what it's like now.

I have spent a good deal of my life making sure that my children were safe and free of violence. J and I have had very few babysitters who weren't family members. We have never been on a vacation away from our children together. The three nights that our kids were sleeping over at their grandparent's or uncle's house were three nights that we could have gotten to them in 30 minutes or less. But at the end of the day, it doesn't fucking matter. Children are taken from you no matter what kind of bubble you create and there is nothing that can be done.

This is what it's like now.

We can all talk about actionable things that will stop the next massacre. We should do that. But right now, today, that holds very little consolation for me and even less for any of those parents in Connecticut. We have taken safety out of the vocabulary of childhood. And I frankly don't really know where to go from here.

Thursday, December 13, 2012

On being a dude...and what to do about rape

So a few things happened this week that are inspiring this post.

First, the ridiculousness of Alyssa Royse's Nice Guys Rape article. I will not be writing a full rebuttal of that noise because frankly, Jill over at FEMINISTE covered it really nicely. Read those articles when you have some time. Jill's is more important and she covers the highlights of Royse's.

Second, I got a terrifying phone call in the middle of the night. Not my story to tell and it's all okay, but it was scary. And after this phone call, I had a discussion with Julio and he said something that struck me so much: "You know, as a black man, there are situations that I don't want to get into. Situations that I avoid because it either isn't safe or it isn't worth the headache of dealing with. But I will never possibly know what it's like for a woman to navigate so much of her life with that fear. I can't imagine what it's like having to conduct your daily activities with the hairs on the back of your neck always standing up."

Third, I went to a mother-daughter potluck and we started talking about what it's like to be a girl and how we can help our own girls survive and be strong. And when one of them mentioned my book, I explained why I wanted to write in a boy POV and why I want boys to read it. How boys are so frequently vilified in rape books and I wanted to show the other side. And one of the moms asked me, "How old were you when you first experienced a sexual act that you didn't consent to?" and I answered, "Five or six." And the hardest part was that there probably wasn't a woman in that room that could answer, "Oh, I've never experienced that." Because in one way or another, almost every woman I know has experienced that. Which sucks.

And finally, I had this amazing meeting with these guys who are all really jazzed about doing something really important in changing the landscape of violence against women. And one of the guys there said, "You know, most guys really care about this issue, they just don't know what to do to help."

So now I'm going to give you some very tangible things to do (if you are a dude or a parent of a dude or just someone who cares and would like to do something).

  • I think you all have this one covered. Don't rape people. If someone consents when she is conscious and is later unconscious or only slightly conscious, don't have sex with her. We KNOW this. This is not a gray area. Sex with someone who isn't conscious is rape. 
But honestly, that's not where people are floundering and inadvertently perpetuating a rape culture. It is not enough NOT to rape.

You've seen this floating around the internet, yes?

It's pretty awesome. However, I don't think most dudes need to be told not to rape. I like giving dudes the benefit of the doubt on this one. Because most of them aren't rapists. So let's dig deeper.

This is what I would want for my boys and for the education of all boys (and girls too!):

  • Be responsible for your people. You are at a party and something looks dodgy. Bust up that situation. Do not think that the wasted girl is going to be fine because her wasted friend is with her. Take them home or find a way to get them to a safe place. This goes for anyone. This is the "it takes a village" mentality. Inactivity is what gets people hurt. Side with safety. Even if she says it's fine and she's fine. Watch your people and make sure they're safe. You may be the buzz kill, but you may also have prevented rape. Be the guy who is willing to be the buzz kill to keep people safe. If we have enough of those guys in the world, then chances are there will be a bunch of you at that party looking out for each other. (PLEASE NOTE: I'm not making any bold statements about the role of alcohol in rape or the like. This is an example)
  • Don't laugh at the rape joke. Don't laugh at the sexist joke. You don't have to be the "hey now, cut that shit out" guy (although I would adore you if you were), but you can be the guy who doesn't laugh. Your silence can be a powerful weapon. If enough people echo your silence, you'll see that the jokes stop. And frankly, this shouldn't be that hard because those jokes aren't that funny.
  • Make yourself a safe haven. Make yourself someone that your friends can talk to if they were raped. Be the dude who at least can say, "I'm sorry" and "I believe you" instead of "what were you doing out that late?" and "how come you went with that guy when I told you he was a d-bag?" These aren't helpful things to say. "I'm sorry" and "I believe you" are. They could change the landscape for a rape victim. If you've got nothing else, say those two things and then ask if they need help. RAINN: 1-800-656-HOPE will give you any further guidance you might need. You don't need to solve any problems or fix things. You need to listen and be supportive.
  • Educate yourself. Think before you speak. If you're about to call a tank top a "wifebeater", think about what that means and how that can normalize violence against women. Stop listening to Chris Brown music. I don't give a shit if his music sounds good. He's an asshole. Don't support assholes. There's other good music out there. There are video games that don't involve beating up prostitutes. Choose those. Yeah, I get that it's entertainment, but as long as we keep consuming it, general assholery will keep happening because it becomes ingrained. Sure, you could be a "responsible consumer" of assholery and not act on any of these things, but you have no way of saying that everyone is going to be a "responsible consumer". You can't live your life in a bubble, but you can choose things that don't perpetuate violence against women.

I wrote this for dudes because so many people have asked me what they can do as a dude or how they can teach their sons. This list is by no means exhaustive, but it's a start. And it's honestly not that hard. I promise. Your lifestyle will be changed for the good. And also, this is NOT a dude-exclusive list. It's for all of us. We can all work on this. And it's fairly easy to execute immediately in your little circle. You don't have to change the world, but if enough people just change their own spheres, BIG things are possible.

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Using Track Changes: Long but hopefully helpful post

So I have now been editing long enough to realize that many, many authors do not know how to format MS submissions, nor do they know how to use track changes. I'm going to try to address some of the more common things that come up in track changes so that you can put these to good use if you're editing or CPing a manuscript of a friend. Or if you're a first time writer and you've received an edited MS back and now don't know what to do.

Track changes can save your life because you get to see EVERYTHING you've done. I highly, highly recommend using it when you're doing revision. At the very least, you should know how to use it because we're moving toward all MSs being edited this way, so you should be familiar with it.
PLEASE NOTE: I'm doing this for Mac users of Word only. Sorry PC people, but I don't use a PC so I don't feel like I can speak to that as well. Also, if you want to know how to format your MS so it is ready to send out to an agent or editor, please READ this post by Vickie Motter. Everything she says is correct. Do NOT use tabs. Do NOT use two spaces in between your period and your next sentence.

Now, some 101 with Track Changes. First thing you need to do is to make sure that your track changes is on. Go to Tools<Track Changes<Highlight Changes and check "Track changes while editing". Now everything you add or delete will be marked. Second, once you've checked that box go to Options and you'll get a handy dandy little box:

Now you can see all the different options available to you while you edit. Decide on these things. How do you want your deleted text to look? Do you want it to be shown as crossed off or do you want it to go away all together? What about stuff that you insert? I recommend checking the "Use balloons to display changes" box because then everything you do will be on the margin and it'll be easier to accept or reject later on.

The other essential part of tracking changes (esp if you are working on a CP's MS) is inserting comments. Comments are INVALUABLE.

Say, for example, you're reading through a friend's MS and you've been deleting commas or correcting spelling and everything you've done so far has shown up in the MS in a different color because you have Track Changes on, but you get to a section that is totally wonky and you want to say something about it? DO NOT TYPE into the body of their MS. Instead "Insert a comment". Go to Insert<Comment and this little bubble will pop up in the margin and you can start typing. You can also leave comments like I do with Jo that say things like, "Did you write this or did I? Because it's awesome." :)

Part Two: what do you do when you get a MS back and it is all full of changes and comments? Well, now is the time to accept/reject. Even if you totally trust your editor/CP, do NOT accept all. They can make mistakes too. And maybe they change all your spelling to the British version (centre and colour) and if you blanketly accept all, you'll later have to go back through and change everything. That being said, "Accept All" is handy if you're going through and changing every "Bob" in your MS to "Ted". If it's the only change that was made, you can click the "Accept All" button that you'll see in the below box. How to get that box? Go to Tools<Track Changes<Accept or Reject Changes and this will come up:

Click on View "Changes with highlighting" (bc, of course, your editor/CP will have clicked on "track changes while editing" when they started so all their changes WILL be highlighted). Then click on that little "Find" button and the first change in your MS will pop up and you can "accept" or "reject" and then you press the "Find" button again and the next change will come up. And so on and so on. You can and should do this for every change.

PLEASE NOTE: Your MS is not yet ready. Because "accepting" changes doesn't do anything to all the comments that your CP or editor has made. You must go through and address the comment (if your editor says you should do something) or respond to the comment. If my comments are little love notes to my authors, I am fine if they don't respond to those and instead just ex out the box. (You can ex out the box by clicking the ex on the left). For me, if I've asked for something to be done and my authors don't want to do it, I ask them to leave my comment as is and insert one of their own explaining why they aren't dealing with mine. If they do deal with mine, and it's evident because their changes have been highlighted, then they can ex out my comment. (This is a preference for me only, not all editors want comments that have been addressed to be ex'd out).

For example:

So my author can either go back through the MS and fix it, then ex out my comment because it's been dealt with or insert her own comment beneath mine:

Again, my preference is for my authors not to leave my comments in their MS that have been dealt with. Because then I have to go ex them all out. I know some editors want the comments left in because they want a memory trigger of what they asked for. Ask your editor their preference. If this is a CP and they won't see your MS again, then ex out their comments. You do NOT want to submit a MS to an agent or editor with comments in there.

Okay, that's my quick tutorial for the day. If you have questions, hit me with them and I'll try to answer. If I wasn't thorough enough, give me specifics and I'll do a follow-up post.

Monday, December 3, 2012

Cover Reveal: FAULT LINE

So this one time, I got this email from my editor with an idea for my cover and I freaked out. Because it was amazing and fearless and ALL the things. And I kept all my fingers crossed that they would be able to convince the marketing and sales people at Simon Pulse to take a risk with this cover. And they totally did. Thank you awesome designers at SP. Thank you, Liesa and staff of SP for being willing to go all out with this one. I love the hell out of it.

And here's the blurb:

Ben could date anyone he wants, but he only has eyes for the new girl — sarcastic free-spirit, Ani. Luckily for Ben, Ani wants him too. She’s everything Ben could ever imagine. Everything he could ever want.

But that all changes after the party. The one Ben misses. The one Ani goes to alone.

Now Ani isn’t the girl she used to be, and Ben can’t sort out the truth from the lies. What really happened, and who is to blame?

Ben wants to help her, but she refuses to be helped. The more she pushes Ben away, the more he wonders if there’s anything he can do to save the girl he loves.


Sunday, November 25, 2012

On Gratitude

Today I return home after an extended Thanksgiving holiday at my inlaws. We've had a really nice time and I actually haven't written the entire time I've been here, which frankly, after the difficulty of my NaNo project, has been really nice.

A year ago, I had just sold my book. A year from now, my book will be out in the world for sale. I have so many, many things to be grateful for. But today, I am most grateful for things that have nothing to do with FAULT LINE.

1. I am grateful for the Kindness Project. Finding this little pod of people who are out in the world trying to spread kindness has been a really wonderful thing for me. If you aren't following our blog, you should do so. It will do your heart good if nothing else.
2. I am grateful to all the bloggers out there who have stuck with my little rambly blog for so long. There is little rhyme or reason to it, and yet, I am so thankful for all your comments and all your encouragement. I have been more of a quiet blogger these past few months (very busy day job) and I have been commenting on blogs less for many, many reasons (the biggest of which is that I find that I can read more blogs when I don't comment and my comments are almost always "yeah, what they said" since I am frequently delayed in my reading). I have still been reading blogs. I love it actually. It feels like checking in with my people, but I'm generally more passively reading than actively commenting. I'm still here. And I'm so glad you're all still out there with me too.
3. I am grateful for my friends and family. Always this. Always. I'm not the easiest person to deal with. I can be flaky and I talk too much and I have all that awkwardness going on and I get seasonal depression and, and, and... But I am so lucky to have found the people that I have in my life. This includes the people who have become my friends through this crazy online world of writers and publishers. And of course, as I said on Thanksgiving, I am ever so thankful for my kids because Jojo, Biji, and Butter make me feel like I have done three things very right in my life (four if you count being smart enough to marry their dad). They are the legs to my tripod.

4. I am grateful for the Voices and Faces Project. It keeps me passionate about making a difference in the world. It makes me realize that good things can come from terrible things. And it reminds me frequently that though we are so very small, we are never alone.

I hope you all had a wonderful Thanksgiving.

Sunday, October 28, 2012

Gender, Empowerment, & Sexuality Panel at Peace Conference

So today, I participated in a panel on gender, empowerment, & sexuality at Chicago's Peace Conference. I was attending as a spokesperson for the Voices and Faces Project and was tasked with giving a presentation on our organization's mission. My co-panelists included a woman who runs a feminist burlesque troop and a therapist who works with people transitioning lifestyles (particularly transgender and genderqueer people).

You are likely wondering how all of these different worlds came together. At first, I wasn't absolutely clear myself. But then I realized that the commonality of us all is promoting communication, openness and being comfortable in your own skin.

Rape survivors who are willing to speak out and tell their stories are integral in creating dialogues that promote change. So are women who dance and create their own definition of sexy and beautiful, no matter what their bodies look like. So are transgendered people who are able to shake off traditional gender roles to embrace a part of themselves that they've always hidden.

Here are a few of my slides from the panel:

After the panel, we opened up for questions. First question: "What are your thoughts on Fifty Shades of Grey?"

Oh dear.

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

The Anatomy of a Title: FAULT LINE

So I have an on-sale date: 11/12/13! It's an awesome date, easy to remember. And this week I get copy edits. I am not sure what those will look like beyond a lot of post-its and funny marks I'm not sure about.

But, perhaps more importantly, I have a new title. You all know this happens. Because originally my book was called MANHOLE (and even some of you writers/bloggers were a little concerned about my ability to sell that one). So I went back to the drawing board and came up with TRAINWRECK. Which a lot of people liked. But then, Lindsey Lohan happened. There's really no other explanation. For those of you who really loved TRAINWRECK as a title, I apologize. But the smart, marketing-savvy people of Simon Pulse were concerned that the gravity of my book might not come across when "train wreck" is now bandied about in popular culture terminology as much as "hot mess". (Please see media news article entitled "Color us shocked, Lindsey Lohan is Trainwreck on set of Scary Movie 5"). 

So I had to go back to the drawing board again. My editor wanted something that would grip readers but also would speak to the fact that when rape happens, it's not just the survivor who is impacted. There's sort of a ripple effect out to the people around the survivor. And of course, a major theme in my book is culpability and victim-blaming. Add to this a very awesome new blurb:

Ben could date anyone he wants, but he only has eyes for the new girl — sarcastic free-spirit, Ani. Luckily for Ben, Ani wants him too. She’s everything Ben could ever imagine. Everything he could ever want.

But that all changes after the party. The one Ben misses. The one Ani goes to alone.

Now Ani isn’t the girl she used to be, and Ben can’t sort out the truth from the lies. What really happened, and who is to blame?

Ben wants to help her, but she refuses to be helped. The more she pushes Ben away, the more he wonders if there’s anything he can do to save the girl he loves.

And you get the epicness of my new title: FAULT LINE.

Hooray! Next step...the cover. I'll get back to you all with that one. It's a busy month:)
And speaking of busy months, I'm over at the Kindness Project Blog on Saturday to discuss the Gender & Equality speech I'm giving to Peace Corps volunteers. And next week, I shall have news on how my first On The Edge YA Book Club goes. So lots of yay!

Thursday, October 18, 2012

Crafting vs. Drafting

So as some of you know, my process of writing my books usually looks like this:

1. Come up with a vague idea.
2. Come up with detailed characters to execute the idea.
3. Sit at my computer and let the characters tell me what they're going to do to make the idea happen.
4. Type maniacally for several days, ignoring all family/friends/bathing rituals.
5. End with a rough draft that is anywhere between 20-40k.

This gets me to the point where I have the bones of what is going to be my book. And actually, this has been a fairly successful process because I rarely have things like saggy middles or overly long denouements. And because my background is theatre, I usually have fairly decent dialogue.

However, I also don't have setting. I don't have beautiful metaphors. My scenes are clipped and generally read a little like Glengarry Glen Ross.

So I have to spend the next several months after my "bones" draft layering. Which, in fact, is a bit hard for me. Not the actual layering, but feeling like I'm trying to "add length". Because the draft is written, I already know what's going to happen and what my characters are thinking and all the subtext, so it often takes my outstanding CPs to say "Christa, you aren't inviting your readers to the party here."

A good solve to this has normally been to sit on these drafts for a few months and go back to them later. It's amazing what 3 months will do to your perspective. But even when I go back to them, I still struggle with setting or creating a sense of environment. This is definitely a theatre major issue because in my world, setting didn't fall in my end of the swimming pool. Someone else was working on that while I was working on lines, emotion, subtext.

But now, in an effort to try something new, hone my craft and actually not have to spend months on a revision, I am doing the 750 words a day thing. The thing where I don't power draft, but instead sit and spend time on a scene, building a world around that. Describing what things look like, and maybe even a little what people look like (I tend to avoid this). I shall keep you posted on this experiment!

What about you all? Do you power draft or craft your scenes and go back to them? What works best for you?

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Culpability & the beauty that is LIVE THROUGH THIS

So last night, I read Mindi Scott's gorgeous book: LIVE THROUGH THIS. It is amazing. And of course, deals with issues that are very important and powerful. If you aren't familiar with it, the blurb is here:

Live Through ThisFrom the outside, Coley Sterling’s life seems pretty normal . . . whatever that means. It’s not perfect—her best friend is seriously mad at her and her dance team captains keep giving her a hard time—but Coley’s adorable, sweet crush Reece helps distract her. Plus, she has a great family to fall back on—with a mom and stepdad who would stop at nothing to keep her siblings and her happy.

But Coley has a lot of secrets. She won’t admit—not even to herself—that her almost-perfect life is her own carefully-crafted fa├žade. That for years she’s been burying the shame and guilt over a relationship that crossed the line. Now that Coley has the chance at her first real boyfriend, a decade’s worth of lies are on the verge of unraveling.

In this unforgettable powerhouse of a novel, Mindi Scott offers an absorbing, layered glimpse into the life of an everygirl living a nightmare that no one would suspect.

One of my favorite parts of this book is how thoughtfully Mindi addressed the idea of culpability. This issue of whether we are somehow responsible for the things that happen to us. This is a very common theme in much of my writing, probably because it has come up so many times in my life. Those of you who know my story are likely aware of how I was plagued with what I felt like was "my fault" from the time I was a very young child. And this I hear from rape victims over and over again: "what could I have done differently? what if I did this instead...?" And the truth of it is that people WANT that. They want you to have some sort of culpability in whatever happened to you because then it isn't so horrible. It doesn't make us worry about our own children. It doesn't make us worry about our own sisters, mothers, friends. 

It is very easy for us to discuss the rhetoric of "victim-blaming" and how that should never happen, but when you get to the heart of people's fear, culpability is a rock that is almost unbreakable. I STILL hold myself partly responsible for what I happened to me and I've worked as a rape victim advocate for years. And it's not that I think that the perpetrator is less responsible, it's that I want to hold on to the hope that this isn't our world, that sometimes you can do things to prevent violence. I want to think that my children will know better than I. That they'll make smarter choices. But of course, that's ridiculous. Perpetrators will find another way. It is in them. And I have reached a point where I can't hold on to "what ifs" anymore. I can't get behind a victim being culpable EVER because there's just too much evidence to prove that rape and sexual abuse happens REGARDLESS. 

What I loved most about this book was that it didn't give us the answer. It made us exam our own lives, our own feelings, our own values surrounding family and what love is. And the best part is, it leaves you with a sense of responsibility to speak out for those who can't or won't speak for themselves. A subtle but very distinct call to action. Which is one of the best things I hope for in a book. 

Friday, October 5, 2012

My Kids Celebrate Banned Books Week

So it's Banned Books week! Hooray. I live in kind of a hipster neighborhood where the libraries and the book stores all do lots of cool things around the event. And, of course, I have my favorite T-shirt...

But the cool thing is that this year, my kids' class did a thing for it too. They had to pick a book they'd read from a list of banned books and write a small essay on why it was banned and why it shouldn't be. My 8yo chose Harry Potter and my 10yo chose The Hunger Games.

Conversation from my house last night:

Me: So how did your essays go?
10yo: Well, I was the only one in the class who didn't have to redo mine.
Me: How come people had to redo them?
10yo: Bc at first, they just wrote that books shouldn't be banned because they liked them.
Me: What did you write?
10yo: I said The Hunger Games was banned bc it has kids killing kids in it, but if you actually read it there's a really big anti-violence message in it.
Me: Wow.
10yo: Yeah, it was a good thing that we read that book together, right, Mom?
Me: Yeah.
8yo: I had to redo mine, but I got it right the second time.
Me: What did you say?
8yo: I said that Harry Potter is banned bc it's against some people's religion, but I said it shouldn't be bc it's not supposed to be a religious book, it's just a fun book that's not real.
Me: Good answer.
10yo: Yeah, and then one of the kids asked our teacher if we had freedom of speech, how come people can ban books?
Me: What did she say?
10yo: She said that sometimes people want to protect their children more than they want to protect free speech.
Me: Yeah, that's right, I guess.
10yo: Yeah, but I think even bad books should be out there for people to read. We shouldn't have to read them, but we should get the choice to read them.
Me: I think that too.

I love my kids. I love these teachers for bringing such thoughtful dialogue into the classroom. And in case you're wondering, this is my favorite banned book:

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

What First Pass Edits Look Like...

Hi! Interrupting my blogging break to let you all know that I'm in the midst of first pass edits on TRAIN WRECK.

This was me before the edits arrived...

And this is me now...
So it's, well, I guess.

I can't wait to come back on October 1st!!!

Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Writing and Reading and Catching Up

Okay, it's been awhile since I've done a bloggy catch-up. I apologize. I actually have been reading lots of blogs, but I've found it difficult to comment because I'm so late to the game that everyone has already said what I want to say. I wish that I could just write "Yeah, what they all said" on the comments so you all know I've been to see you.

A few things...

1. Today is the LAST day for you to vote on the Band Camp contest. So go read all the hilarious entries and pick your favorite. Winner will be announced next week when I get back from LA.

2. Yes. I'm going to LA for the SCBWI conference this weekend. It may be the only chance I get to meet my Alaskan collaboration partner Jolene. My roommates/writer friends have dubbed it #BarCon. So yeah, if you're there and looking for know where I'll likely be.

3. I've been writing a lot. Jolene and I finished GESTAPO. Sort of. It's with beta readers right now. As most of you know, this book has been the thorn in my side ever since it got to the quarter finals in ABNA. It's so very different now from then. We've written it so many different ways. Jolene has been really patient about all of it. This might be my last effort on this book. If it doesn't work, then I'll likely let it go. Evidently, I am slightly allergic to writing commercial fiction. I also started a new book that I wrote 50 pages of in 2 days. It feels like one of those books that will never be published, which I said about TRAINWRECK so that's maybe a good sign. It's probably the only true YA romance I'll ever write. And yes, it's a girl-girl love story.

4. TRAINWRECK edits start in the next week or so. I don't really know what that'll mean for me. I shall check in and let you know how it goes.

5. I'm reading my friend Holly's e-serial: KING SOLOMON'S WIVES: THE HUNTED. It's great. Part suspense, part historical. It's kind of like a woman's Da Vinci Code in it's complexity. But better because it's a serial and you get to vote on what you want to see more of in book 2.

And finally, the winner of THE BESTEST RAMADAN EVER is Golden Eagle. G.E. shoot me an email with your snail mail addy and I'll send you your book.

Now, what are you all up to? Writing? Reading? Any of you going to LA?

Thursday, July 26, 2012

My kids judge YA books by their covers

So I don't know if any of you saw this, where a 6 year old judges books by their covers, but I thought it was pretty spectacular. It made me wonder what my kids would say about YA books. I originally started with about 15 books, but my kids have little patience and no amount of bribery was going to engage them so I stumbled through as many as I could. You will note that not all of them answered on each one. They kind of picked their favorites.

Also, I should caveat this by saying that my children are precocious readers. My boys have been reading since they were two and my daughter reads more books in a week than I do. So titles did factor into these books in all cases.

5 yr old-- "It's just what it says. It's about saving lives."
8 yr old-- "I think it's a true story."
10 yr old-- "It's about the girl on the cover and there's someone she loves and something bad happens to him or her and she has to save their life."

5 yr old-- "This book is about fighting."

8 yr old-- "I think it's about time travel, but I read the top part."
10 yr old-- "Well, if it's about time travel, then it's where this girl meets someone when she goes back in time, but she can't marry him or her because she's from a different time."

5 yr old-- "This book is about girls and lipstick, maybe not Barbies though."

8 yr old-- "A girl and a boy are friends and they discover something special."
10 yr old-- "It's about a girl who discovers a secret. Or maybe it's 13 reasons why we named our dog after this author."
5 yr old-- "Yeah, it's a book about the dog."

8 yr old-- "It's about a girl who is beautiful and dangerous."
5 yr old-- "And she has a lot of lipstick"
10 yr old-- "It's about a girl who would do anything to be beautiful."

5 yr old-- "It's about a girl who is sad."
10 yr old-- "It's about someone who used to have a privileged life and now she lost everything."

8 yr old-- "This one is easy, Mom. It's about a girl who lives in France who has a crush on someone."
10 yr old-- "Yeah, and it looks like it's a crush on a boy."

And finally, just for fun...

10 yr old-- "This book is about a guy who's a ghost."

Thursday, July 19, 2012

On Vicarious Trauma

So most of you know I was a rape victim advocate in hospital ERs for almost ten years. That's a long time to be an advocate. There's a high level of burn-out with advocates who are essentially alone in ERs, serving on the front lines for people who have just had something horrible happen to them.

One of the things that we talked a lot about during that time was vicarious trauma. Basically, this is when the stories that you hear impact you deeply and you experience trauma yourself as a result. I think all of us experience this in one way or another during every day living. You hear things or people tell you things and it hits you very hard. With rape victim advocates, what makes this more difficult is that there's no distancing yourself from these victims. You don't just hear one story, you hear stories over and over again. With people who work with trauma victims every day, this is particularly grueling.

My friend Ally works with torture survivors. She has for almost twenty years. This is incredible to me because I can only imagine the amount of vicarious trauma she must have experienced. Ally doesn't watch sad movies. When I asked her about it once, she said, "It's just too much. I can't have all those feelings after work as well." Ally would also be the first to talk about how amazing the people that she works with are, how positive and resilient. I wish everyone could know Ally. She's amazing and formidable.

When I attended the survivor's testimonial writing workshop, it was pretty intense. Two days of survivor stories. Lots of vicarious trauma. And part of why I wrote TRAINWRECK was to be able to put those feelings somewhere.

But I didn't realize that writing this book would open another door. In telling this story and in being very outspoken about the issue of sexual assault, I have had so many people talk to me about their own stories. So many people coming forward with their truths. This is such a huge act of bravery and I feel so absolutely blessed to be the recipient of these gifts. I know how hard it is to tell your story and the fact that people are willing to tell me either publicly or privately their experiences makes me realize how glad I am that I wrote this book. Because if nothing else, this book was meant to open the door to people telling the truth about sexual assault. To let other people know that this can and does happen. To create change about how we discuss this issue. That there's really no such thing as a "good" rape victim.

There's a very good reason for rape shield laws. Survivors should be protected from having to tell their stories publicly. But that doesn't mean that they shouldn't be allowed to tell them in their own words if they want to. When we don't give people the chance to tell their truth, we silence them. We distance ourselves from the issue and make it about "them" instead of about "us."

You should read this post by Steph Campbell. It is all the reasons that I wrote this book.

And yes, this unexpected outpouring of people's stories has affected me. Parts of my heart crack open every time someone tells me what horrible thing happened to them. And yes, I'm not watching a lot of sad movies lately. I cry more than I have in a long time. I have to work very hard on self-care. But these stories are also incredibly healing. This choir of voices inside me makes me feel like we're getting closer to things getting better. That maybe by speaking out, we're inching closer to people reporting rape more, we're inching closer to changing the way that the media talks about this issue, we're inching closer to this not being a thing that happens to other people or just one person's problem.

So I'm grateful for every story I hear. I'm grateful people trust me with them. I'm grateful that people who have never spoken up before are now doing so. I hope that my book can continue that dialogue. At the very least, I hope my book makes people realize they aren't alone.

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

The Kindness Project: Be Your Word

Too often kindness is relegated to a random act performed only when we’re feeling good. But an even greater kindness (to ourselves and others) occurs when we reach out even when we aren't feeling entirely whole. It’s not easy, and no one is perfect. But we’ve decided it’s not impossible to brighten the world one smile, one kind word, one blog post at a time. To that end, a few of us writers have established The Kindness Project, starting with a series of inspirational posts. We post the second Wednesday of every month. 

So publishing is an industry where schedules and deadlines are constantly changing. "We'll have that to you by next week" frequently means "three weeks from now". Books get bumped. Things get pushed back. Something that you thought you would know about by summer, you won't know until December. I've been pretty lucky in that things with my book seem to be on pace with happening when they're supposed to happen, but I certainly am not hanging my hat on that. This is the reality of our industry. And believe me, working on both sides of the desk, I know there are many, many reasons that things don't happen as planned or at all. There are a lot of people involved and honestly, there are many times when you are ready, willing & able to move mountains but certain things are simply out of your control.

This constant state of flux was and sometimes still is very hard to accept. But accept it I must. I'm not angry with the publishing world because "stuff" happens. Believe me, I've had to push back deadlines with my authors because something out of my control happened. I get it probably more than most. I have become sorta Zen about it and just keep going. However, for me, I've learned a really valuable lesson in navigating this system. One that I've tried to integrate into my own life.

The lesson: Be Your Word.

Experiencing the changing nature of the publishing world has made me realize the value of a verbal commitment in my non-publishing life. I realize that when I say something and I follow through on it, I've created a foundation for trust. I've given my friends and family a reason to believe in me. I also realize that I can and should only make that commitment for myself when I'm responsible for the outcome. I am trying not to answer for my husband without discussing it with him. My commitment isn't automatically our commitment. 

And so, since the beginning of the year, I have worked really hard at being my word. But more than that, I've had to work really hard at not committing to something that I'm not going to be able to do. I, like many, want to say "yes" to everything. I want to help everyone out. I want to join everything, be part of a community. Saying "no" is extremely difficult for me. But what happens is that I overcommit, get overwhelmed, and then cancel everything. So not only am I letting one person down, I'm letting down everyone I've made commitments to.   

So now, I say "yes" to fewer things, but when I do, it means something. And I am also more willing to say, "I don't know, I'll try" instead of an immediate "yes". Some days, this doesn't work out so well. I still overcommit. I still want to do all the things and consequently end up doing none of them. But I'm more aware of it and try harder not to do that.

Be Your Word in the areas of your life you can control. That, to me, is radical kindness. 

Now go pop on over to some of the other folks in the Kindness Project and see what they're up to:

Friday, July 6, 2012

When Good Books Don't Sell

So this is what I've realized about publishing...good books don't always sell. I mean REALLY good books. I've read books that I felt were better than mine and they haven't sold. Believe me, I'm an editor and I read voraciously, I'm a pretty good judge of these things. This is not a case of sub-par books getting passed over for stellar ones (though that DOES happen). This is a case of AWESOME books not selling.

Why is this happening? Shouldn't good books just be snatched up? Well, OBVIOUSLY, they should, but the reality is, they aren't. Because of timing, because of other books that are on a publisher's list that are too close in, because an editor has too full a schedule, because they don't fit in a good category, because they're too niche, because they skew too old or too young, because teen boys don't read as much as teen girls, because... because... because.

And yes, I'd like to think if one editor doesn't snatch up a GOOD book, then another one will. But trust me, AWESOME books have been passed on by lots of editors. And maybe every single one of them has a different reason, but the point is, GOOD BOOKS don't always sell.

Editors have limited time, limited money, and frankly, in my head, they're only allowed to take so many risks a year. I work for a small independent romance publisher who has never once put any kind of pressure on me to acquire BEST SELLERS. In fact, my company prides themselves on taking risks. And still, I imagine if I bought every book by a debut author I thought was a risk, it wouldn't be too long before I went a little batty obsessing about whether all my risks were paying off. I DO take risks, but I don't take every risk that crosses my inbox. I just can't.

Every debut that publishers take on is a risk so sometimes, awesome writing isn't enough. Sometimes having a rockstar agent isn't enough. Sometimes having a HELL of a premise isn't enough. We're losing readers to other media and we're losing brick & mortar book stores to...well, Amazon. These things don't make for an ideal book sale scenario.

So then why wouldn't authors of unsold good books just give up? Or why wouldn't they skip traditional publishing and self-publish? Some do, but that is a whole different can of worms of which others have spoken much more eloquently than I. This is NOT that blog post.

To answer the question of what do we do about these good books that aren't selling in the traditional publishing world: I actually would like to believe that these books WILL sell eventually. In my head, when you don't sell your book, you write another book and try to sell that. And if that doesn't sell, write another one. And THEN, when your book finally gets to the right editor at the right time under the right circumstances and sells, you can say, "Fantastic, I have two or three or five other books ready for you to buy after this one." (I'm maybe being an idealist. But that's where I am in the process).

Bottom Line: Keep writing. Keep trying. Don't let everything hang on acceptance and rejection. Write for fun. Write because you love it. And remember, sometimes GOOD books don't sell.


P.S. I didn't include in this post WHY I think TRAINWRECK sold. I'm incredibly grateful it did. This book has many champions behind it. But it certainly also had a LOT of things going against it when it went out on submission. I can speculate as to why it was the right book for the right editor in the right circumstances, but honestly, it's speculation so I'm refraining from doing so. Those of you who know all the behind the scenes of this book can speculate too, but really, who the heck knows for sure?

Tuesday, July 3, 2012

On being an extrovert, sharing online & the isolation of writing

I'm an extrovert. This probably isn't that big of a surprise to most of you. I love people. I love talking to them, listening to their stories, spending time with them. And yes, I do get horribly awkward when I meet new people, but it doesn't mean I don't like doing it. I'm just awkward about it.

I did this reading on Friday night with my friend Holly. It was actually a lot of fun and because the space wasn't huge, I was less nervous and didn't feel as shaky as the time I did it for Sexual Assault Awareness Month. And I met new people and was awkward but it was still really fun.

Surprisingly, a high school friend I hadn't seen in almost twenty years (eep) showed up. I got the update on his life and he said to me, "I guess I don't really need your update because I feel like I know everything about you because of your blog and Facebook."

Which was sort of weird to hear. Can the past twenty years of my life really be encapsulated by what I've blogged or status updated in the past 18 months? Or does all that growth not matter and what he was really trying to say is that he knows the person that I am now because of these things? Is how I got to this space even relevant? And more importantly, am I one of THOSE people who overshare and plaster the minutiae of my life online?

I've had a really positive experience with blogging and meeting other writers online. And I think that whether it is said directly to us or not, as writers, we are now RESPONSIBLE for building an online platform. Which gets me to the juggling act of what exactly to put online. Sometimes I read posts that are so thoughtful and heartfelt and important that I think it is good to be true and vulnerable online. It is helpful to other writers and honestly, sometimes it is what gets me through hard spots in the process. This is demonstrated beautifully time and again by Nova Ren Suma and Sara Zarr.

But is being truthful and having an online identity sometimes pushing us into the world of oversharing? Are we allowed to talk about embarrassing moments, foibles, vulnerabilities, etc? And are those the things we're being judged on in real life?

I'm an extrovert. And somehow, I ended up working in an industry that is very isolating. I write. I edit. These things don't involve a lot of human interaction. So much of my interaction these days is online.

Add to that the fact that I mostly don't write from a "happy place." It's why all my teenage journals were so depressing. Yes, I was a depressed teen, but also, it's not like I spent a lot of time journaling when I was having the best time ever hanging out with my friends at Six Flags. This still holds true. I write at 5am every day when it's quiet and I have time to think and when all the hard things are crawling around in my head after failing to work themselves out in my dreams.

So can the last twenty years of my life be summed up by 18 months of blogging and status updates? Not anymore than my teen years can be summed up in the books that I write. These are pieces of me. True and real pieces of me, but still pieces all the same.

Friday, June 29, 2012

I'm No Heroine

"I'm no heroine
At least, not the last time I checked
I'm too easy to roll over
I'm too easy to wreck.

I just write about what I should have done
I just sing what I should say
And hope somewhere some woman hears my music
And it helps her through her day."  ---Ani DiFranco

I'm no heroine. I told my story too late. I told it for the people that can't. Nothing changed. Not really. It still happened. Some people believed me. Some people didn't.

I'm no heroine. I wrote a book about rape. I wrote a story that other people don't tell. The story of what happens when you don't get better after the assault. And what happens to the people who love you. People say it is a brave story. If it is, the bravery comes from the hands that held me up when I wrote it. The people who stayed with me, encouraged me, supported me. The bravery comes from the other survivors in the testimonial writing workshop who stood in front of a room full of strangers and told their stories. The bravery comes from Anne who has never backed down from her mission. Anne who has listened to more survivor stories in the last four years than I did in 10 years working in hospital ERs as a rape victim advocate. 

I'm no heroine. I sold a book. I gave money away so that other survivors could stand in front of a room full of strangers and tell their stories. So that they could learn how to write it down. Because I do believe in the power of writing. But in the end, there is no "undoing" these stories. Horrible things keep happening over and over again. It is all over the press this month. Penn State. Egypt. The Air Force. 

I'm no heroine. I'm mostly just exhausted. And grateful to the people who carry me. My friends, my family, my agent, my editor, my co-workers. They are the ones who help me through my day. 

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

More Songs From TRAINWRECK'S Playlist

Last week, you got the love songs from TRAINWRECK. This week you get to hear what happens when things start to break...

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Playlist for TRAINWRECK

So I'm not sure if you all know, but I sort of know nothing about music. I think that maybe the last album I bought was Garbage. And yeah, I just said album. Also, I don't listen to music when I write or edit because I find it very distracting.

It's embarrassing really how little I know about any current music. But we can't be ALL the things. So I have employed the mad musical skills of Mandie Baxter (love her!!!) to come up with a playlist for TRAINWRECK. And she did and it's AWESOME. So even though I may not be all the things, at least I know some good people:)

I'm gonna roll out this playlist a little at a time over the next few weeks. This week features music from before the broken part of the story. I hope you all love both these songs as much as I do.

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

The Kindness Project: On Mentoring

Too often kindness is relegated to a random act performed only when we’re feeling good. But an even greater kindness (to ourselves and others) occurs when we reach out even when we aren't feeling entirely whole. It’s not easy, and no one is perfect. But we’ve decided it’s not impossible to brighten the world one smile, one kind word, one blog post at a time. To that end, a few of us writers have established The Kindness Project, starting with a series of inspirational posts. We post the second Wednesday of every month. 

So I mentioned this a little last week and was actually worried that it wasn't the best choice in radical kindness but over the last few days, I have been proven way wrong. Let me back up. When I first started to really think about RADICAL KINDNESS, I had to think what I could possibly offer in kindness. Not that I'm not a kind person, but it's not like I'm a good cook so I can feed home-bound neighbors, I am not the most timely at writing cards to the people I love, I haven't knit a scarf or hat for anyone in over a year. So what was I going to bring to the table?

Then it occurred to me that one of the best things that ever happened to me as a writer was for someone to do a VERY critical analysis of my writing and tell me all the bad first time writer habits I was doing. It changed everything for me. And since I wasn't bogged down in bad writing, I was able to find my voice. 

And I realized that many of the folks participating in the Kindness Project do these wonderful and supportive things for other writers ALL THE TIME. So I thought...well, I *am* an editor in my day job and I *do* know a few basic things that might help new writers get out of their own way and actually write so maybe, maybe, maybe...

And then I met a woman who asked me to mentor her. And then I met a teenager who was frustrated and feeling defeated by her book. So I offered to help both of them. And I didn't really know how it would go because sometimes people seem to want help, but then when you really tell them some concrete things that need to be changed about their writing, they get kind of prickly about it. BUT, it turned out okay. Better than okay, actually. And now I've helped the teenager with her query (and steered her to Matt and Elana as experts in this area). And I'm also working on going through the woman's book for a second pass edit.

This might all mean nothing. It might not help at all. But if it can encourage people to keep trying, help them get a little better, and make them feel like they aren't doomed to fail, I think it's a win. What about you all? Have you ever considered mentoring newer writers? 

The Kindness Project

Sophia Chang                         Sara Larson
Erica Chapman                      Matthew MacNish
Jessica Corra                         Sara McClung
Elizabeth Davis                       Leigh Moore
Christa Desir                          Tracey Neithercott
Sarah Fine                              Katharine Owen
Claire Hennessy                     Elizabeth Poole
Elana Johnson                        Lola Sharp
Amie Kaufman                        Michele Shaw
Liza Kane                                Meagan Spooner                      
Alina Klein                               Carolina Valdez Miller