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: