Festival of Books

Went to the Festival of Books this weekend in Los Angeles.

Guys, it was so exciting!

For any of you that are writing, I recommend going to an event like this. It was so interesting getting to hear from different people in the literary world, from authors to editors to agents. I carried my notebook everywhere I went and made tons of unreadable notes.

I also loved hearing questions from the audience, especially at the YA panels. It makes me so happy to see youth and teens ask questions to authors – to see them getting excited about reading and writing, especially the teens. Being a teenager is hard. It’s hard to be excited about things sometimes, to ask questions, or to attempt to pursue the things you really care about (although that can be hard for any age, really!). But it made me happy to see teens passionate about writing, excited about books, cheering for the authors they read and loved.

Yay! Reading is alive and well!

Anyways, I just got back tonight and I’m still pumped up. And it was FREE, on top of that! I hope all of you can get to an event like this at some point, because I just think it was really fun and interesting and informative. And it makes me feel all happy and excited to be around other people who also love books and writing. I wanted to be friends with everyone I saw writing in their journals and reading books on the grass, haha.

One big thing I want to focus on after this weekend is improving my social networking. So I’m going to start trying to update this blog more (because then all the readers will just start POURING in, right? Yeahhh), and learning the whole twitter shebang.

 

Also, I’ve let my first draft simmer for about a month now, and I think this week I have to approach the second draft. Excited, but nervous. I know I have a lot of work ahead of me.

 

I hope writing has been going well for the rest of you out there as well!

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Things I’ve learned from my current read.

I’m currently reading a recently published YA book that deals with a female protagonist who hunts the supernatural. The story is fun, but here’s some things I’ve learned from where it’s lacking:

– While the protagonist has her moments, her character overall feels a little weak. It’s told in first person (like most YA is today), and her voice just doesn’t stand out from other YA narrators. I begin to look back on all the first person YA I’ve read recently, and I realize most of their voices begin to meld into one sort of harmonic conglomerate: a sassy teen with a few witty one-liners, who has some angst but is growing and learning.

So, do I want to risk having my book in first person and having my protagonist’s voice melt in with so many others out there? Or do I gamble with third person, which is so rarely used in YA nowadays and may not appeal to YA readers?

OR, do I try to write in first person, but remember that my protagonist is not just a sassy, angsty teen? That there’s more to her than that? Maybe I could take what I’ve learned here and use it to help my protagonist gain a stronger voice, a stronger sense of self.

– Going back to what I’ve learned from the book I’m currently reading, I’m having trouble really falling into the setting and placing myself in the book’s world. The protagonist has been a paranormal hunter her entire life, and is now for the first time ever experiencing ‘normal’ teenage things like high school and making friends. It’s been interesting enough that I keep turning the pages, but not necessarily engaging.

While reading this morning, I suddenly realized that it’s partly because I can’t picture her environment in my head. She’s walking around with a couple other students, getting to know them, making friends with them; they’re going on adventures together, doing normal high school stuff like going to games; but I can’t really build a bigger picture in my head other than the three of them standing together. What’s the weather like beyond them? Is it fall? Is the air crisp, are the leaves changing? Is it the east coast, or the west coast? The three of them cluster together in my head, surrounded mostly by fog in my imagination, because the author hasn’t provided the brushstrokes I need to complete the painting.

So that’s good to keep in mind for my own story. I like knowing how things look, feel, smell, taste. I want to know if it’s a cold night, or if the sun is burning on her bare arms. Those little details help place me in a story.

A pro to writing YA.

You’ll relive your teenage years — again and again. I was one of those teens who always wanted to be older. When I was 12, I used to look at the rental ads in the back of the newspaper and freak out about how I’d ever afford my own place. Now that I was a twenty-something, it was kind of fun to go back and relive all the drama and uncertainty that comes with being afraid you won’t get into your first-choice college or the deflating rage of spotting your best friend making out with your crush… and then head out to happy hour and be grateful for my over-21 adult status.

– Anna Davies, “Confessions of a YA Ghostwriter”

I wasn’t particularly thrilled at the prospect of putting myself back into the mindset of a teenager, because those weren’t my finest years. I dealt with a lot of emotional issues then, and the idea of putting myself back into that headspace intimidated me. But this is such a nice way to look at it.

I’ve conquered those teenage years and have moved on. Now I’m an aimless twenty-something who feels totally lost and has no idea what she’s doing with her life. So ha, teenage years! It could be fun writing about you. Because now I can at least drink legally. But really, this helped me see it in a much more positive light.

50 pages is just an eensy dent.

So.

Lots has happened in the several days I’ve spent avoiding this blog.

First of all, I finally hit 50 pages. Fifty pages! Woo hoo! That is a huge milestone for me – it’s more than I’ve ever written ever before, and since I started this novel, I kept looking at the 50 page mark thinking, once I hit that, I’ve really accomplished something. And it does feel substantial. A meaty amount of words that it would take more than one bite to chew.

So, I hit fifty pages. And then it hit me: all my characters were the wrong age.

(writing this blog post out now, I begin to realize something: I hit fifty pages, one of my milestone goals, and directly after had this ‘realization’ that has frozen me. Is my subconscious at work here, my fears creeping in at a major milestone? Or maybe I’m just reading too much into it. Moving on.)

The age of my characters is something I’d been debating since page one. In fact, I’d written a couple posts here regarding my indecision. I’d decided to put my characters in their twenties, and my protagonist was experiencing a quarter-life crisis of sorts. But I just kept not feeling it.

And then, on Friday, I was thinking about who I’d want to read this book (not considering your audience before you start – rookie mistake, I know). And I realized something: if I continued writing my novel the way I was now, it wouldn’t interest teen readers. I wouldn’t want teens to be reading it. And I want to create something for that age range. YA did so much for me when I was younger. I want teens to be able to pick up my book and get into it, to be able to escape into it.

Crap.

And thus began the three days of major bummitude. Now that I’ve realized this, I need to tweak/revise what I’ve written so far or I’ll feel too scattered moving forward. So on Friday I said to myself, “I’m going to give myself a day off and start working on it tomorrow. I did hit fifty pages, I deserve a break.” And then on Saturday I said, “I am too tired and/or drunk to effectively begin reworking it today.” And then today I just sat on the couch, trying not to think about writing, and feeling generally discouraged.

And then tonight, while cleaning the kitchen on a distraction mission, I realized something: the longer I put off this revision, the bigger a deal it was starting to become. So I poured myself a glass of red wine, took a deep breath, and now I’m here, collecting all my thoughts before I dig into revising.

I have a small knot of anxiety in the pit of my stomach, knowing I’m diving into the first page now and starting to read some of what I’ve written. What if I get caught up in revision? What if it’s terrible and I lose hope?

But I’m going to drink some more red wine and stuff those worries down. Enough avoiding. The sooner I get this reworked, the sooner I can get my story moving again.

 

PS – honestly, I don’t know what I was thinking with the whole ‘twenties’ age range to begin with. 90% of what I read is Young Adult. It’s a genre I enjoy. I wouldn’t read a story about lost twenty-somethings because I would be judging it and eye-rolling the entire time. So what was I thinking? Blergh.

Riled and ranty.

Tonight someone made fun of me for enjoying young adult fiction, and that really gets my goat.

It’s not even the fact that he made fun of me (I can enjoy a good-natured jest, or I’d like to think I can). It’s the fact that when I tried to convince him that the young adult genre could have merit, should maybe deserve a little more respect than it does, he just laughed a small laugh and nodded his head at me like, “Are you joking? You have to be. That’s really funny.”

He’s a lit major, like I was, and I know his type, because they were threaded throughout the English department of my school.  They were big and loud with their opinions and their disdain, and were good at making ideas they disagreed with seem small and embarrassing to believe in.

They made me angry then, and he made me angry tonight.

Yes, there is a lot of bad young adult fiction out there, but there’s a lot of bad adult fiction out there, too. Don’t throw Twilight in my face and pat me on the head like I’m a simpleton when I say YA has some merit. When you belittle me like that, you make yourself smaller in my eyes.

Adult fiction is not just one genre, and as YA is becoming bigger, it’s becoming increasingly clear that it shouldn’t be lumped together as such, either. There is ‘popular’ adult fiction and ‘literary’ adult fiction – and I believe the same could be argued for YA, too.

YA is becoming a more widely recognized genre that is being read by adults and youth alike, and there are a lot of opinions out there right now about what that means. People are talking about it. Slowly but surely, YA is nudging its way into view alongside ‘mainstream’ fiction.

So don’t laugh it off so easily, Mr. Pretentious Guy I Ran Into At A Party.

Pretentiousness in general makes me angry, because I think it’s an easy way to silence people who might have something valuable to share. And maybe it’s also a sensitive spot for me because I’m often afraid of what I might be unknowingly pretentious about. I know I used to be pretentious about a lot of things and didn’t even realize it. When I met my husband, that’s when I began to become aware of the fact that I scoffed and belittled a lot of things in the world I didn’t even understand. So seeing that pretentiousness in others – well, I recognize what I’m capable of myself in that behavior. And it frightens and upsets me.

I used to laugh at YA too, and then I learned to love it again. It can be a powerful, moving genre that does so much for youth and adults alike. I’m not saying we all have to be on the same page, here – but his laugh and quick dismissal tonight just made me want to kick over a bowl of guacamole, stomp over to Barnes & Nobles to buy a stack of ‘literary’ YA, and leave it on his doorstep.

Don’t shred it til you’ve read it, man. And after you’re done reading, maybe you could actually give me a real response rather than a throaty scoff.

Divided.

I’ve always loved the young adult genre, since before I was even a, well, young adult.

I began reading YA in the third grade and was captivated. For years I burned through YA books quickly, picking one up as soon as I finished another. YA fantasy, sci-fi, drama – I loved them all.

There were dry spells when I avoided the genre because I thought I was too old for it, or too sophisticated (most of my high school years, a good amount of  time at university). But somewhere along the way I fell in love with it again. I don’t feel as embarrassed anymore to read it in public. I think YA is becoming more acceptable as a genre, and I think it is also reaching out to people beyond young adults, as well.

So why am I trying to write a book for people in their twenties?

I feel like I’m trying to force it. I feel like I’m faking it, like I’m making it up, and someone will read it and call me out. “Liar!” they’ll say, “You don’t go to parties! You don’t have friends like this! You’re making this all up!”

I started this novel a while ago as a young adult book. The protagonist was 16 at the time. But she was too sassy, too jaded, too mature. And it was hard, trying to bring myself back into a teenage mindset. Those weren’t good years for me. It was difficult moving back into that headspace.

I look around at people my age now, people I know in their mid-to-late twenties. I know I’m not the only one who feels a little lost. A lot of people my age have this cloudy look of wandering in their eyes, like we’re walking around but don’t really know what we’re doing. Like we can’t think about it, or it could paralyze us. We embrace the present with a fevered fervor, clinging to parties and rays of sunlight and flashes of the analog camera and the way the wind whispers through the trees, because if we focus on all these little things happening in the moment we don’t have to think about the bigger picture.

We focus on the minute details so we don’t have to step back and try to focus on anything more. We can’t focus on anything larger than the present – it’s out of focus, fuzzy, undefined. And it’s terrifying.

And I know I’m not the only person my age to feel this, because I’ve seen it in others as well. In the slouch of the mustachio’d guy’s shoulders, talking about the latest record he bought. In the too-wide smile of the girl with the bangs and fringed vest, laughing with her friends. Beneath it all, a hum, a buzz – an undercurrent of being lost.

And so I wanted to write a book for us that could do the things that YA did for me when I was younger – it helped me understand things, made me feel less alone, gave me courage and confidence when I had none.

I changed my protagonist to the middle-twenties because I feel like there’s not really a genre for us, not yet, even though I think we are a separate genre of an age. We don’t feel like adults, but we know we’re not kids. We’re in between.

I want a book that can convey that sense of feeling lost, that someone my age could read and connect with and understand. Maybe it could make them feel a little better about feeling the way they feel, because they would know they’re not the only one.

But I feel like I’m faking it, like I’m lying. I can’t get it to write naturally. I can’t feel natural as I’m writing it. Maybe I’m reaching too high.

A part of me is tempted to move it back into YA, to transition it back into teenage mode because that is something I’ve gone through, something I’ve read for years, something that would be more comfortable to slip into like a big, slouchy sweater. But instead, I’m trying to wrangle this age group that I haven’t even fully figured out yet myself – don’t know what I’m doing yet as a mid-to-late-twenty, so how on earth am I supposed to help my characters figure it out?

And so this is what I’m struggling with right now. I’m going to keep writing through it, but I’m afraid that it will end up feeling artificial, fake. I’m not sure how to inject how feel as a mid-to-late-20 without making the protagonist too much of me. I’m trying to make it different than my own life, but then I worry that I’m making too much up. I keep wavering back and forth. But I’ll keep writing for now, and try not to let the anxiety stop me.