Wednesday, March 30, 2011

On the Road Again

I'm traveling for work this week, which means a couple of things: 1) A sweet rental Corolla that feels like driving a bumper car, 2) Dinner out of plastic boxes, 3) Evenings alone in my hotel room with my WIP.

I feel like I'm thisclose to figuring out the rest of my revisions, and last night I was scribbling out ideas as they came to me, no matter how ridiculous. It's like I've got a dozen raw blocks of wood, and I'm trying to carve them up so that they fit together in a neat little puzzle. The elements are there--how do I make them work? Maybe I need to change a different aspect of the story that I thought was settled, but which one? It's kinda fun, but also frustrating.

That's all I've got for today. Don't forget to sign up for my giveaway to win a copy of The Marbury Lens or The Knife of Never Letting Go! This must be giveaway week, because there are a lot of them going on--head over to Carrie's blog to sign up for her awesome Kiwi Care Package (pineapple lumps!!), and to Jill's blog for a copy of Possession!

Sitting at my coworker's desk. He is a member of the Ninja of the Month Club.
No, I didn't realize this was a thing either.

Monday, March 28, 2011


I swore to myself up and down that I wasn't going to do a giveaway when I reached 100 followers. Buck the trend! I thought. Hold a giveaway when you reach 137 followers! Hold it when you actually have something worth giving away!

But now I've reached this point, and I realized two things: First, I am pretty pleased with myself for making it to 100. This day seemed eons away when I first started writing here back in November. Second, so what if I don't have a coveted ARC or a signed copy of something? I can give away whatever I want. And then I looked like this:

I can give away whatever I want? This allows me to do two awesome things at once: 1) Support a book that I love, and 2) Impose my literary tastes on an avid reader. Win, and a win.

So folks, here it is:

The First Annual 

I'm offering a choice of one of two books that I loved recently:

by Andrew Smith


by Patrick Ness

Both of these books are unique and spectacular. To enter, please fill out the form below. I'll spot you extra points if you Tweet or blog this, but there's no need to go bananas with the publicity.

Contest runs until Friday, April 1st at 11:59 p.m. PST and is open to everyone, everywhere. Don't be shy, sign up!

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Putting Out Fires

I missed posting yesterday, because I'm trying to be a superhero and fit in everything I want to do this week. Work, check, gym, check, dinner on the table every night, check, catching up with friends, check, critiquing and critique meetings, check. Writing, unfortunately, has fallen by the wayside. It seems I have too many plot elements in my life right now.

I always feel like I've just got a couple of fires to put out, and when that's done, I'll be able to devote more time to writing. But there are always more fires. I may have to give up on my dream of both making it to the gym and writing for now, because there is only so much free time in one's day.

As for my WIP, I'm not really working on it much right now--I'm circling it from a distance, poking at it with a stick. I'm refining an outline to makes the rewrites easier. I'd like to jump back into it and attack the revisions, but I've got Jessie Spano in my head screaming "No time! There's never any time! I don't have time to study! I'll never get into Stanford!" Or something like that.

What do you do when it feels like there's never any time?

Monday, March 21, 2011

Sweet Home Los Angeles

No cell phone reception? You don't say...
Remember how I said I might vanish off the Internet last week if I couldn't get my mobile hotspot to work in Ohio? Um, I guess I was presuming that I would actually get a cell phone signal at my grandpa's house., thanks for the misinformation.

I spent much of my visit awash in nostalgia, partly because I used to spend half of my summers at my grandparents' houses, and partly because this has been the family home for generations, and I was imagining all the stories and family dramas that played out there. Remember that story I told about Ed and Zouri and the diamond ring? This is the house that Ed and Zouri built. My grandpa lives there now, but next door is the little house that he built and raised his family in, where my mom grew up, where she lived in high school when she started dating my dad, where they lived as a young married couple with two children.

I took a few photos to share:

The original Gerstacker homestead
Thank heavens for city water lines
The distance between where my mom grew up and her grandparents' home,
and where I spent my first year

It's great to be home, even though my husband was sick while I was gone and my apartment was starting to look like a man-cave when I got back. Honey, why is there trash on the counter? Um, because the garbage was full... How convenient that the cleaning fairy always comes home whenever I do!

As for the reading/writing, I did get some reading done, but chores and socializing kept me from any creative output. Since I got back from Big Sur, I haven't really written much of anything. I'm still examining my plot from a new perspective, and considering the changes that I could make the strengthen it. I'm pretty sure I bring in my antagonist waaaay too late in the story, and I need to fix that and trim out more fat to tighten things up. Why is it so hard to see these things in your own writing?

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Back On A Plane

This post is being delivered to you by the maaaagic of technology, since at the time it's (supposed to be) posted, I'll be checking into my 6 a.m. flight to sunny Cleveland. My mom's having a big birthday this weekend, and I'm flying out to celebrate it with the family. I know I said I was a Yooper, and my parents still live outside Sault Ste. Marie, but they are transplanted Buckeyes, so we'll be staying with my grandpa in the farmlands of Lorain County. The previous sentence should make total sense if you're from the Great Lakes region.

Highlights of my stay in rural Ohio: seeing my parents, whom I haven't seen since Christmas 2009 (oy!), seeing my extended relatives, whom I haven't seen since my Oberlin wedding of May 2009, eating at least one meal of Wellington pizza, and one of Lake Erie perch, and five (5!) lovely days of Internet distraction-free reading time. I've got a lot to catch up on. I may hop online if I can get the hot spot function on my Nexus S to work, and if not then I'll go radio silent until Sunday.

These are traveling days for me: flying north for work a week after I get home, to Vegas for a weekend two weeks after that, and to Turkey for a family visit two weeks after that. I'm hoping I can still keep up with my writing/revising, but if not at least I'll have my trusty Kindle at my side. And that counts as being productive, right?

Have a great week!

Monday, March 14, 2011

More On The Saving of Cats

Okay, so I wrote a pretty positive little write-up of the first chapters of Save The Cat last week, right? Then I finished reading the book. And now I feel obligated to provide a disclaimer, because I ended up with mixed feelings.

My problems started at page, um, 51%, when the author, Blake Snyder, went off on the film Memento. Written and directed by Christopher Nolan, who I think makes some of the most excellent, intelligent movies around right now, this movie garnered a 93% freshness score on Blake sarcastically calls it a "low-performing art house gem," blasts it as gimmicky and invites debate on "the value of Memento in modern society." Whoa Blake, them's fightin' words.

Meanwhile, throughout the book Snyder keeps pumping up his biggest hit, the 1994 Disney groaner Blank Check. Freshness score: 14%. But hey, it made $30 million at the box office! Something doesn't add up here. And then I saw that Snyder's argument against Memento is apparently based on how much money it made in the box office. Ding! That's the sound of a (noisy?) lightbulb turning on in my head.

Blake Snyder claimed to have written at least 75 scripts at the point of publication. 75?! Clearly he spends a lot of time agonizing over making the most original, unique, meaningful films around. Ahem. He promotes formulaic writing where the catalyst always happens on page 12, the B story always begins on page 30. He is the Francine Pascal, the Fern Michaels, the R.L. Stine of the writing world. And though he may have great some success with his formula, that is not the kind of writer that I aspire to become.

That is not to say that I immediately deleted my digital copy of this book and set my Kindle on fire. There are some good and useful tips hidden tucked away amidst the trash talk. I liked his discussion of thesis, anti-thesis and synthesis in the course of a story. I liked some of his funny rules, like the Pope in the Pool where he talks about how to hide expository sections by distracting the audience with some sort of interesting action or comedy. And I think the troubleshooting section at the end, where he provides a list of things to check for (proactive hero, distinguishably unique dialogue for each of your characters, a complex plotline, etc.) is pretty great. Great enough that I would still suggest that newer writers give it a read--just read it with a healthy dose of skepticism.

Anybody else feel this way about Save the Cat, or any other writing books?

Friday, March 11, 2011

A Sobering Event

I was going to tell you a funny story today about a bizarre brush with celebrity I had a few years back--I had it all ready to go--but given what's happening in Japan right now, it feels inappropriate to post something so frivolous. I'll save it for another day.

My husband and I were watching tv last night when a friend texted to let us know about the earthquake and warn us to get to high ground. We live less than a mile from the beach, but actually we are up on a bluff and behind a hill, so I'm never too worried about waves. But we in California think about earthquakes more often than folks in the rest of the country, and to see our worst nightmare play out on those poor people in Japan is horrifying. We stayed up until the middle of the night watching the news and reading reactions on Twitter. I wish everyone in Japan the best and hope that the loss of life is moderated by their excellent infrastructure.

A few of you were asking about Save the Cat after my last post. I haven't finished reading it yet, but I'm already finding it quite useful and wish I'd read it before writing my first draft. It's written for screenwriters, but it's a manual for how to craft a good, satisfying story, and reading it may help you find some areas in your manuscript that could use beefing up.

The part of the book that's been most useful for me so far is the opening section on finding your hook. Some writers may have no trouble crafting a catchy pitch, while others (like me) can't help but revert to a bland, general description of the overall plot that sounds about as exciting as the user manual for an air conditioner. Thinking about Snyder's four essential elements to a pitch (irony, visual image, audience and title), and imagining which scenes would compose a movie trailer for my book helped me to back away from the plot and examine it from different angles. It's so easy to have the original story idea get so embedded in your mind that it's hard to pull up some of the stakes and move them around, but these tricks have helped me to do just that.

I'm looking forward to reading the rest of the book, particularly the chapter on troubleshooting your story after it's finished. I bought it for my Kindle so that I would have a searchable copy. Also because I am a digital gal who needs instant gratification. I want it now!

Best movie ever.

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Application of Edification

Good morning campers! I hope the week is going well for all of you. I've recovered somewhat from the daze of last weekend, and am planning out the next phase of my strategy. As in, how to turn my watery, meandering manuscript into a tightly packaged flavor-burst of awesomeness.

I learned a lot of new and interesting things about my WIP and my writing last weekend. For one, I've got some slight POV issues going on, due to an occasional tendency to drop very literary phrases into the third-person perspective of a fifteen-year-old boy. Oops. More channelling of Rick Riordan, less of Nicole Krauss.

I also tackled an issue that's been concerning me for a while; more precisely: am I writing YA or MG here? My story is an adventure that revolves around two young teenage boys, but it is longish and fairly complex. I was very fortunate to get to talk to the delightful Laura Rennert about this, and she told me that I was right on the cusp and could tweak it either way. She also told me that calling it MG would make it easier to sell, should I reach that point. Certainly something for me to chew on.

And finally, a strong word of advice: if you ever go to a conference where there is even the slightest chance that you'll find yourself face-to-face with an agent who asks, "So what is your book about?" FOR THE LOVE OF GOD DO YOURSELF A FAVOR AND BE READY FOR THAT. Or else you may find yourself staring at your empty breakfast plate, red-faced and stuttering something about boys and space and adventure, and on the receiving end of a kindly smile from a premium agent or two that means they just realized that your work is nowhere near ready. OUCH!

To that effect, I am now (finally) reading Save the Cat, and eating/ dreaming/ showering/ vacuuming a constant stream of loglines, looking for not just any logline, but one that will make an agent sit up and take notice, with the knowledge that the best logline may provoke some necessary changes that could improve my WIP.

It wasn't all gloom and doom--I did get some positive feedback as well, which is why I'm feeling pretty upbeat right now. And on goes the journey. Anyone have any similar stories to share?

Monday, March 7, 2011

I Hath Survived

So, last weekend I went to the Andrea Brown Literary Agency's Big Sur Workshop. Here is my brain right now:

I don't even know where to begin. It was such an intense weekend that this morning I feel almost hung over. I need to detox all the caffeine and adrenaline out of my system. When we first gathered on Friday, Andrea told us that by Sunday we would be exhausted, and I scoffed. Then I got on the roller coaster. Doing four long critique sessions in 48 hours leaves you raw and bruised, but also a wiser and more self-aware writer.


  • Andrea Brown's comparison of a query to the perfect skirt: "Long enough to cover everything, but short enough to be exciting."
  • Getting critiques and feedback from two of the amazing agents of ABLA. 
  • Henry Miller Library Director Magnus Toren singing us the haunting "Ballad of the South Coast," which you can listen to here.
  • Hearing author Ellen Hopkins' firsthand account of censorship and how her being uninvited from a book festival last summer ended up causing the entire festival to be cancelled. 
  • Great Q&A panels with children's book editors and agents.
  • Meeting lots of inspiring writers and making some awesome new friends.

This really was a boot camp, and to get the most out of it, you need to have a thick enough skin to weather some strong feedback. This workshop is intended to encourage, not discourage its attendees from being writers, and the critiques are fantastic learning experiences. The next workshop is in December, and I highly recommend it. If you're interested in going but have questions, please feel free to contact me!

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Like Sand in the Hourglass

Well, I can already tell that today is going to be awesome. My workday hasn't even started yet, and there's a plumber in my home who's promised to tear a hole in my bathroom wall. He's also drilling up through the concrete in the garage, which makes a lovely soundtrack to my day. All for the sake of crappy 1981-era pipes. Did I mention we're selling this place? Get me out of here!

There's very little time left before Liz and I leave for the workshop. Looks like there are lots of PB writers going. Perhaps we will be the only YA sci-fi writers, and we'll get placed in a critique group by ourselves. Then it will be just like every Tuesday night at Panera, so no pressure! But seriously, how did all my time fly by this fast, and why didn't I accomplish more? My pre-workshop smackdown got gobbled up by social and professional obligations, and now I'm scrambling.

Writers: When do you find the time to write? How do you manage it, when life keeps hogging all your free time?

That's all for today. I need to go start my workday, scored by a jackhammer.