Tuesday, December 13, 2011


Good news, everyone! I finished my rewrites!


... of course, now comes the editing and polishing of the rewrites, but I'm giving myself a week off first. I am super happy with the way things worked out: I definitely need to sand off the rough edges, but this is much closer to the original book I had in mind in terms of themes, worldbuilding, and voice. It is also much longer, which I knew it would be, but I'm still going to chop off as much as possible.

In any case, I e-mailed Secret Agent Man and told him I'd be sending him the finished product sometime next month. I am pumped and terrified at the same time.

Every writer needs a support group, and I have a wonderful one. My friends and family have been absolutely fantastic from the get-go. There's something they always say, though, and until recently, I just thought they were being nice: "I'm so proud of how far you've come."

And I'd always think, "But I have so much left to go." I hadn't reached my goal yet, and when I thought about my progress, that was all I could see.

-- of course, that's incredibly silly. It's my dream to be a professional author, and if I can get that far, there will always be new goals. Even if I'm lucky enough to sign with Secret Agent Man, I'll still have to go out on submission. Even if I'm astronomically lucky enough to get this book published, there's still the next book to worry about. And as with any goal, I'm sure there will be unexpected setbacks and changes that need to be accounted for - few things ever turn out exactly the way they do in your head.

And that's why I decided to make a point of celebrating when the smaller goals are met. Finishing rewrites was a pretty big one, but there were all sorts of goals in-between, too. I celebrated when I got ahead of my set schedule. I celebrated if I was having a particularly tough day but I managed to write something anyway. I celebrated when I managed to pull off a tricky scene, when I nailed down an elusive plot point, or when I finally wrote out a moment that's been in my head for months. These celebrations typically just involved me, a rented movie, and some sushi, but it allowed me to take some time just to feel happy about what I'd accomplished.

I know writers are a pretty driven, self-critical bunch, but I don't think that should preclude us from feeling good about ourselves. So no matter what happens with this manuscript, I'm going to be proud of it. Because even if it isn't The One, I've learned so much from writing it!

What goals have you accomplished lately? (Non-writing goals totally count!)

Friday, December 9, 2011

What do you want to hear about?

EPIC BECKYFAIL. I'm so sorry for the radio silence. Revisions, day job stuff, holidays, and various technical difficulties have combined in the best and worst ways possible over the last couple of weeks. I also received my first blog award, courtesy of the awesome S.L Hennessy, but since I haven't had a chance to pick my own set of winners yet, you'll hear more about that later.

Revisions are actually ALMOST DONE, which fills me with joy and indescribable terror at the same time.  I made it official by e-mailing Secret Agent Man the other night to let him know I'd be finished by mid-January, and now I have permanently entered freakout mode. I've been revising in my own little corner for so long, I'd sort of convinced myself that I was calm and with-it and used to the submission process. Not so, as it turns out.

Since November was pretty hectic, I want to try and update on a fairly regular basis until the holidays... but first, I want to hear from you! What do you want to see on the blog? If there's anything in particular you're curious about - the manuscript, the Tokyo subway system, my recipe for salmon risotto, anything goes - leave a comment, and I will write a post to that effect!

Saturday, November 19, 2011

Sometimes settings are the best inspiration

Just stumbled across this photo on Tumblr!

I do believe that, as a reward for finishing revisions (whenever those happen to get done), I'm going to write some sort of eerie fairy tale about a picturesque snow-covered city where time has stopped. Because that is totally the image I get when I look at this picture.

What are you working on this weekend?

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Dark YA Blogfest Week Three: Soundtrack

Good morning, everyone!

I was really looking forward to this week. I may not be terribly on top of things when it comes to the music scene (I rely on my more savvy friends to recommend things to me), but music is a huge part of my writing process. Sometimes I find music that's specific to characters and stories, but generally I stock up on mood music for writing different tones and genres. And as y'all might have guessed, I have a lot of horror-writing music!

So today, I am going to raid my playlist and put together an awesome soundtrack for you to listen to while you read stories of the creepy persuasion. And since I just read (and adored) ANNA DRESSED IN BLOOD, I should note that these songs make for a pretty good accompaniment!

(To learn more about the Dark YA Blogfest, go here!)

1. Howl - Florence and the Machine

I love the way this song escalates, especially with the drumming. There's a reason it's my HUNGRY GROUND theme song!

2. Haunted - Poe

I love Poe, and this song in particular is awesomely eerie. The disoriented feel makes it an especially good fit for Anna, what with the warped reality she has to deal with in the house.

3. Apres Moi - Regina Spektor

I just love the moodiness of this song, with all the deep piano notes, and the line "I'm not my own/it's not my choice." It's another great Anna song.

4. They - Jem

Another eerie, atmospheric song. The slightly off-kilter chanting in the background feels very haunted house to me!

5. Violet Hill - Coldplay

I felt like I had to get some dude singers on this list!  This is very different from their usual fare, and tonally I think it's a good match for the story.

Enjoy! And go read ANNA DRESSED IN BLOOD if you haven't already!

Monday, November 14, 2011

Various and sundry

First of all! Thank you so much to everyone who commented on the flash fiction piece! You guys are awesome. I was grinning all last week!

Well, my holiday weekend got off to a slightly inauspicious start: my laptop's power cord shuffled off this mortal coil on Friday afternoon, and I had set pretty lofty goals for my revision work. But after the requisite wailing and rending of garments, I figured out a few ways to stretch out the remaining battery power, and it looks like I'll be fine until the new one gets here. I didn't end up falling too short of my goal, either, since I knew I didn't have time to procrastinate on the internet and I got straight to work. And I got to relax with some new books in the name of conserving battery power! I read WITCH EYES and ANNA DRESSED IN BLOOD, both of which I thoroughly enjoyed. The latter will be the subject of my Dark YA Blogfest post this week!

I also hit 90k on the revised draft, with more sure to come. My original draft was a relatively modest 74k, and most of my complete manuscripts fall around that length. I always assumed that, if I were to do revisions with an agent, I would either be chopping scenes out or rewriting and restructuring in general. There's a bit of that, and I imagine there will be more to come, but this draft is definitely the Add All The Things Draft. The number is giving me a mini-heart-attack - I think I have some sort of word count mental block - but the best thing about my editorial letter is that it's basically giving me permission to expand. I'm really enjoying the chance to dig deeper into the worldbuilding, characters, and themes.

But anyway! That's what I've been up to. How about you?

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Dark YA Blogfest Week Two: Flash Fiction

Good morning, all! Because I totally dropped the ball last week, I got this done yesterday evening. Yay!

The prompt for Week Two was to write a flash fiction piece about the picture below. As soon as I saw it, I wanted to do something bize-sized and surreal, so that was what I went for. Whether I was successful remains to be seen!

I am super-nervous, as this is the first writing I've posted on this blog. So I will just leave this here and go hide. I hope you enjoy it!

(For more information on the Dark YA Blogfest, go here!)

The third day – she thinks it’s the third, anyway. That was when the trees began to whisper.

And she almost put her foot down right there, because she's already had more than enough of this Lewis Carroll shit, but the trees don't seem concerned with that. Possibly because they don't know who Lewis Carroll is. They don't seem very well-read, in any case, because they murmur the same words, over and over and over until it echoes in the thrum of her heart.

This is your place. You have always been here.

It's not true. It's never been true. She knows that, though she doesn’t have proof. Her wallet has fallen out somewhere. The hands of her watch spin without pause, as if waiting for someone to tell them the time. And with each step, memories – of passing time, of daylight, of chocolate cupcakes – unspool and wind into the dust. Still, she knows, even if there's no explaining that to the whispers. They're very persistent.

That is the day she stops watching her feet. It makes no difference when each patch of sky looks the same, and each branch above her splits in the same indistinguishable way. Even so, when she closes her eyes, she can hear it, louder than anything: the chime of the grandfather clock in her front hallway, the creak of pipes in her ancient house, calling her from far away. 

It’s a tiny, fragile thing, so small it almost disappears into the dirt between her toes. But like a trail of breadcrumbs, she follows it, deeper and deeper into the woods.

Monday, November 7, 2011

NaNo Open Thread

You guys! I'm so sorry for my epic fail for the first week of the Dark YA Blogfest. My excuse is not a very good one - I couldn't choose a favorite book. D: I definitely intend to join in again this week with the flash fiction prompt, though.

But enough of that. Let's talk about NaNo! I can't do it this year because of revisiony things, but I still want to join in the excitement, so I will have to live vicariously through all of you who are. It's always fun to hear about what my friends are doing - I know someone who's aiming for 200,000 words, and is up to 30k already. (Yeah, I can't even comprehend how efficient she is. If I hadn't seen some of the novel in question, I would think she was re-enacting a scene from The Shining. "All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy, all work and no play makes Jack a dull boy...")

So for this post, if you feel so inclined, tell me about your NaNo! What's it about? What's your main character like? What is your word count goal, and what are you up to now?

On a revisiony note, I am plugging along over here. Factoring in my current pace, the holidays, and additional read-throughs/beta edits, it looks like I'll be sending it to Secret Agent Man in January. Eeeeeek!

Monday, October 31, 2011

Trick or Treat

Happy Halloween, guys! Sorry I have been so scarce lately - I've been rewriting like a machine. I'm here to close out my October Horror Blogfest with a treat for all of you... a creepy writing prompt!

Write about what's at the top of these stairs.

(I almost went down into my workplace's super-creepy basement to take a prompt photo, but I wasn't sure what I was more afraid of: running into a ghost, or running into one of the janitors and then having to explain why I was taking pictures in the basement.)

Enjoy! And if you do end up writing something, I'd love to see it!

Friday, October 21, 2011

Horror and storytelling

Good morning, y'all! You know what's awesome? Taking a couple days just to lay around and recharge. Of course, now I'm going "WHY DID I DO THAT I'M SO BEHIND ON REVISIONS/BLOGS/EVERYTHIIIIIING," so there's also that. So I thought I'd get the October Horror Blogfest back on track by talking about the relationship between horror and verbal storytelling.

I've always loved scary stories, but until recently I was hesitant to label myself as a horror fan. The word 'horror' these days makes people think of slasher movies and the Saw franchise, and I'm not big on those at all. But horror, to me, conjures up a different image: a simple story told out loud in a dark, dark room.

Everywhere you go, there's usually some sort of tradition built around telling scary stories. Like many kids in the US, I spent most of my sleepovers listening to stories about Bloody Mary, the girl with the green ribbon around her neck, and other such traumatizing things. When I lived in Tokyo, I learned about a game called Hyaku Monogatari, or One-Hundred Stories. It was traditionally played with one-hundred people, but these days it can be played by a group of any size: the group sits in a dark room with one candle per person, and they tell a ghost story. When each person finishes their story, they blow out their candle. When everyone is finished, the group counts up to however many people in the room... and it's said that another voice will chime in to count itself.

Yeah, I've never played that game. I may be a horror fan, but you won't see me tempting fate!

Those days of telling ghost stories at sleepovers are pretty far behind me, but I've found that a great horror novel is basically a high-concept version of a creepy campfire story - just with more complex characters and plot points. So how can writers capture that same feeling of dread?

I wrote a little about rhythm in horror a while ago, which is a big one, and Hart Johnson made a great observation in the comments about The Shining and "red rum." It reminded me of another great storytelling tool: repetition. One of my creepiest childhood horror stories was about a young girl lying in bed while a disembodied voice comes closer and closer. "Mary, I am coming up the stairs. Mary, I am on the first step. Mary, I am on the second step." Good, creepy repetition works the best when the repeated line ramps up the tension.

The other big one is simplicity. The scariest lines tend to be short and subtle. In Rick Yancey's Monstrumologist series, one of my favorite lines in the third book comes at the end of a creepy, tension-filled scene: "I turned back." The reader knows, at this point, that the protagonist is going to find something terrifying behind him, but this short, ambiguous sentence lets the reader's imagination kick in. And our imaginations paint the scariest picture of all.

And for those of you who don't follow me on Twitter, here's a perfect example of all of the above: Face All Red, a short webcomic by Emily Carroll. The comic uses rhythm, repetition, and simple but powerful sentences to an absolutely chilling effect. It's like a campfire story with illustrations. If you want some Halloween night chills, this is the one for you.

Did you tell scary stories as a kid? What was your favorite?

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Open thread

First of all, welcome to all you fabulous new people from the Blogfest! I hope to get to know you all better soon. Thanks to everyone who visited Tiffany, Katrina, and Casey's blogs as well!

My posts here have been kind of sporadic as of late. As you new people will learn quickly (seeing as I never shut up about it), I am in the middle of extensive revisions that are basically eating up all my free time. In two chapters, I'll be halfway done - with this pass, at least. I definitely want to do another pass before sending it off to my betas, and then I imagine that I'll have several more tweaks to make before sending it off to the agent.

So yeah. No pressure or anything. But I'm loving every minute of the process, even if it's completely and utterly terrifying.

Anyway! I wanted to open up this post for introductions, Q&A, and whatever else strikes your fancy. If you'd like to know something about me, ask away! And if you'd like to tell me a little about yourself, your WIP, your favorite cheese, or whatever else, that would be really awesome!

(I'm only half-kidding about the cheese, by the way. This cheeseaholic is always looking for something new to try.)

Have a fantastic day, everyone. I'm off to get a closer look at some of these new blogs!

Friday, October 14, 2011

Pay It Forward Blogfest

Hey there all you fabulous people! Sorry for the radio silence lately. I am a teensy bit all over the place this week. But I am coming to you today with something awesome!

Matthew MacNish and Alex Cavanaugh are running the Pay It Forward Blogfest today, in which we plug three of our favorite places to hang out on the blogosphere. Now, there are almost too many to choose from, but I gave it my best go. Enjoy!

Katrina Lantz - Now, all of the ladies over at Operation Awesome are, well, awesome. (And if you don't follow Operation Awesome, you have a chance to rectify that before anyone notices. I wouldn't be where I am today without their Mystery Agent contests!) But Katrina in particular has been wonderfully welcoming since I started my blog, and I always look forward to her smart, insightful, and fun writing posts. Go follow her!

Tiffany Garner - Because after getting a sneak peek of her project at WriteOnCon, I am very much looking forward to saying I knew her when. :) And if you follow her, you can say that, too!

Casey McCormick at Literary Rambles - So once again, I am assuming that most of you follow this one, but it bears repeating. Literary Rambles was basically my best resource when I was querying my first MS, and I found the agent I'm working with now through the site. If you've written an MG or YA novel and you're looking for an agent, this blog is invaluable. Go read it!

Once I have pulled myself together a bit over here, I will make the rounds myself and take a look at all the wonderful blogs everyone else suggested!

Thursday, October 6, 2011

The rhythm of writing

Good morning, all!

As I prepare for my holiday weekend excursion (off to Boston, hell yeah!) I am trying to get ahead on my rewriting. It's going pretty well so far: normally I revise very quickly, but I'm retyping almost everything to imbue the narrative with a little more voice. I just finished chapter four rewrites, and I'm happy, even though I'm sure I'll make more tweaks on my second pass. Since I've spent most of my time so far expanding the beginning, I'm just now getting to some of the creepier scenes in the story, which comes with all sorts of fun new challenges.

Writing something scary can be so tricky, because horror is such a visual genre. You don't have a lot of the same tricks that, say, moviemakers do: you can't show the reader the terrifying face of your monster, you can't really make the reader jump, and you can't add a creepy score to the scene. The best horror novels I've read rely instead on a steadily building tension throughout the story. One way they build this tension is through rhythm.

It's hard to describe what a talented writer can do with this technique, but when they pull it off, it's amazing. It's like the text itself is imitating the protagonist's heartbeat. These scenes start off slow, normal, and innocuous enough. As the readers start to get hints that something is wrong here, the scene starts to pick up, move faster. The sentences might get wild and breathless or choppy and frantic, but either way, the readers find themselves tearing through the scene because they can't stand not knowing what happens. Finally, when the tension reaches unbearable levels, it breaks, usually with what TV Tropes would call a 'Wham Line.' (Which is pretty much just how it sounds: a line of text or dialogue, usually a single sentence, that reaches out and smacks you in the face.)

This is, of course, a lot harder than it sounds, but I am practicing in the hopes that I'll get better at it. When I write a scary scene, I try to imagine the 'beats,' like a drum that starts off steady and even and gets wilder and quicker with every sentence. I can't say if it's working or not, but I really, really hope it does!

Do you incorporate rhythm into your writing?

Monday, October 3, 2011

Welcome to the October Horror-Blogging Extravaganza

... or something like that! As I mentioned a few posts ago, I will be blogging about things of the spine-tingling variety at least once a week this month. Besides talking about the process of horror-writing (and possibly including some flash-fiction in there), I wanted to talk about one of my favorite things: ghosts and monsters in classic Japanese folklore. Not only are they really interesting, cool, and creepy, but they are so much fun to write about! I will do a "spotlight" on a different monster for every post.

But first, some vocabulary to know! I will write the term in Japanese, then the romanized pronunciation, then the translation.

あやかし - Ayakashi - A catch-all term for something strange and unexplainable 
幽霊 - Yuurei - Ghost
 妖怪 - Youkai - Demon
化け物 - Bakemono - Monster
お化け屋敷 - Obake yashiki - Haunted house
怪談 - Kaidan - Ghost story
And now, for the star of our post...
 怨霊 -  Onryou - The Vengeful Female Spirit
I picked the onryou to go first because I'm willing to bet that all of you know this one, even if you're giving me a blank look right now. If you've seen The Ring or The Grudge - if you've even seen a commercial for either of those films - you know what an onryou is. The onryou is easily the most popular mythological character in Japanese horror today. 
The onryou is a spirit, almost always female, in the grip of powerful rage or sadness. She died an unhappy death, and she wants everyone around her to pay for it. Unlike most Western ghost stories, there is no 'unfinished business' to take care of here: an onryou's desire for vengeance is never sated. She won't stop, even after the one who wronged her is long dead.
The image we are familiar with from recent movies became popular through kabuki. In order to make the onryou characters in these plays stand out, there would be three simple visual cues: a white burial kimono, stringy black hair, and a bluish tinge to their skin. 
The most famous onryou character is Oiwa from Yotsuya Kaidan, or A Yotsuya Ghost Story. (Yotsuya is a district of Tokyo.) Oiwa was disfigured by a poison and cast aside by her husband, Iemon. She dies shortly after and becomes an onryou, annihilating the family who disfigured her and psychologically torturing her husband until he ruins his own life. As you will quickly find, Japanese ghost stories don't tend to end happily.
Also, random fact: when I studied in Tokyo, my university was in Yotsuya, and my apartment was in Nerima, where The Grudge films take place. Thankfully I didn't run into any onryou while I was there. It's a good thing, too! Out of all the ghosts and monsters from Japanese folklore, the onryou has to be the worst one you could run into. The comforting thing about our own ghost stories is that the ghost's motives make sense, but the onryou's do not. No matter what you do, it won't matter. Once you cross her path, she won't stop until she has you. But like I said, I managed to avoid her, so I should be--

-- she's standing right behind me, isn't she.

Friday, September 30, 2011

Friday Cuteness

So! This week was just sort of blah. So many gloomy days in a row really saps a person's energy. But here in DC we are (finally!) having a beautiful fall day, the sun is shining, the air is dry and cool, and the traffic was light enough that I had time to pick up coffee on the way to work. Delicious, delicious iced coffee.

Either way, I think a lot of people had a bit of a tiring week. And to get through Friday, some of us might need a bit of a pick-me-up.


(Disclaimer: This is not my kitten. If this was my kitten, I would never get anything done, because I would just spend all my time playing with her.)

How was your week? Did you get much writing done? Did you find any adorable cat videos that you'd like to share?

Monday, September 26, 2011

Upcoming: Paranormal/Horror Month!

I had a longer post in mind for today, but then it didn't end up making any sense. Instead, I am going to announce my new blog project!

As some of you may know, I love creepy things. (I know. I'm not very subtle about it.) As you may have guessed from my love-of-creepy-things, October is one of my favorite months ever. So throughout the month of October, at least once a week, I will be posting material of the Paranormal or Horror persuasion!

Depending on how ambitious/busy I am that particular week, this may include:
- Reviews of awesomely scary books on Afterglow
- A post about my process for writing creepy scenes
- An introduction to classic Japanese ghosts and monsters (which are INCREDIBLY COOL)
- Possible flash-fiction for Halloween night?
- And whatever else comes to mind

What do you guys think? Is there anything you'd like to see? Do any of the above sound particularly appealing to you?

Friday, September 23, 2011

On time management

When I talk to many of the people I knew in my high school or college writing programs, many of them will say to me, "You're so lucky. I really want to write, but I can't find the time." 

As an administrative assistant, a lot of what I do is scheduling. I take the things that my bosses want to do and I distill them into a controlled chaos. I try to make everything fit, even when it's not perfect - especially when it's not perfect. Sometimes I get lucky, and things work out. And the rest of the time I can often be heard saying things like "Did you have your heart set on eating that day?" or "How much do you hate that hotel?"

So I spend most of my weekdays doing that, and then I go home and attempt to be my own scheduler. I am generally much less successful.

I would like to take a moment to express my deepest admiration to those of you who have spouses and kids. Y'all have superpowers. Or barring that, Time Turners. As a 23-year-old single woman, I have very few responsibilities, but even I don't have enough hours in the day. I get off work at 5:30, I get home around 6:30, I make myself something quick for dinner, and then I get straight to revisions. Even though I've been out of college for more than a year, I feel like I'm still trying to nail down the rhythms of post-collegiate life, to varying levels of success.

Some nights I'm much more productive than others. Sometimes my brain is on, sometimes it's off. It's certainly off by the time I'm done writing for the day. And then other things get ahead of me. The apartment's upkeep gets ahead of me. Laundry gets ahead of me. Comcast crashes again. My exercise regimen gets shot to hell. I abruptly remember that I need to allow some social time so my friends and family don't think I'm dead. That sort of thing.

The strange thing that happens with these busy days is that people get so overwhelmed with everything they have to do, they'll just leave all of it undone. They can't do everything, so they won't do anything. Some days I feel like that, and I know that weekdays are going to be haphazard. But that's why, on Fridays, I act as my own scheduler and I plan my weekend. Besides writing, what am I going to take care of? What two or three big things am I going to catch up on in my free time?

That simple method just makes everything feel more manageable, and getting non-writing things done lets me get so much more work done on writing. Productivity just creates so much energy and confidence. Instead of lying around and watching bad television all weekend, I feel like I can do anything. I can finish this tough rewrite! I can figure out what I want to do with this scene! I can go buy a shoe rack! (Don't judge. That's the best purchase I've ever made.)

So I tell my former classmates that I understand. It's hard enough to figure out how to function as an adult without adding writing to the mix. It's not an easy thing to settle into at all. But I'm learning how to be my own scheduler. I take the things I want to do and I distill them into a controlled chaos. I make everything fit, even when it's not perfect - especially when it's not perfect. And that's how I find the time to write.

I'm still trying to figure out where sleep fits into all this, though.

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Getting to know you

So it looks like I have a lot of new people around here! Welcome to my blog, guys! My name is Becky, and I'm ridiculous.

I thought I would hold another open thread today to let everyone get to know each other. So come on in, tell me about yourselves, and tell me a little about your WIP if you like! And if you have any questions for me, I'd be happy to answer them. :D

Tuesday, September 13, 2011


Let me tell you some things about myself as a reader:

I love romance, and when a good one comes along, I can get really, really invested in it. But in general, I prefer romance as a great spice, not the main dish. Also, I tend to like my male love interests sweet and dorky, but I can be persuaded to the tall, dark and sexy side of the force. Especially if they are secret dorks.

I love creepy stories, but I'm not big on reading about the zombie apocalypse. I think it plays into my general nervousness about pandemics, and it stresses me out to imagine myself in the characters' position. I do, however, like more lighthearted takes on it.

I'm not big on dystopian stories about the all-powerful government. I like a messier take on the post-apocalyptic landscape. Actually, my ideal dystopian story is a mixture of both: a society that's only organized on the surface.

I prefer my mysteries in creepy small towns. Shiny crime thrillers don't grab me as much... except when they do.

I'm not a huge fan of gritty revenge stories, except when they are emotionally driven, have sympathetic protagonists, and explore the characters' morality without getting preachy. Then I love them. (If they're done well.)

There are lots of things I don't like. Except when I do like them.

I can work a bookstore like a pro. I scan the shelves, pick up what looks interesting, and read the summary and first page. If it grabs me, I pick it up. If not, I put it down. I put a ton of books down, even books that people have raved to me about. But depending on what's going on in my head that day, the criteria changes. Random little things can turn me off. Any number of factors go into that split-second choice, and I leave without all kinds of great books.

And these are all published books!

This particular ramble was triggered by reading several posts on various forums along these lines: "X agent said they wanted urban fantasy, but they still rejected me!" I know how frustrating it is to be rejected by an agent you think is perfect for you, but this is what they mean by 'this business is subjective.' Maybe your dystopia went organized when they wanted disorganized. Maybe your MC reminds them of someone they really don't want to be reminded of. Maybe you're writing a genre they love, but not the tropes that made them love it.

So to those of you on those forums: next time you get a rejection from someone who seemed so perfect for you, think about how many books you don't buy when you go to the store. It doesn't mean those are bad books. It just means, for whatever reason, they're not for you.

Monday, September 12, 2011

I've been tagged!

Good morning, all! I had a wonderfully restful weekend, and I'm feeling vaguely human again. And as it turns out, I have also been tagged by the lovely Tiffany to post ten random facts about myself!

Since I did post some facts not too long ago (bad Becky, getting ahead of yourself), I'm going to do something slightly different with this. Since last week sort of made me want to punt my desk through a wall, I'm going to post Ten Things To Be Happy About Today! So without further ado, here I go.

1. I finished my line-by-line notes this weekend, and I'm going to start rewrites tonight! I'm really happy, because this is the fun part. I feel like the reread was some kind of editing triage: figuring out which passages would be okay with a little patching, and which ones needed more intensive rewrites. But now I actually get to start fixing it. I can't wait!

2. My favorite time of the year is quickly approaching! I may be alone in this, but I think that October, November, and December are the best months of the year. I can't wait to bust out the sweaters and scarves, and I especially can't wait to curl up with some hot chocolate or a pumpkin spice latte.

3. I am flush with fantastic reading material lately. Besides all the great books in my to-read pile, I plan to pick up Wildwood (which is going to have a stop-motion movie adaptation, BE STILL MY HEART), Possess, and Isle of Blood. Two horror novels and a quirky fantasy - that's pretty much all I need to be happy.

4. After my sudden burst of productivity over the weekend, my apartment is sparkly clean. This is more monumentous than I care to admit.

5. Inspiration struck last week, and now I think my next project is all set to go. I may still change my mind while I'm revising this one, but I think this new idea fills in the gap that had been preventing me from getting invested.

6. It's so wonderfully quiet today. I am taking the opportunity to bask in it. 

7. I talked about writing with non-writing people yesterday! And they didn't look at me funny! I have always been a bit nervous about discussing my writing with people for the first time, but my friends seemed genuinely interested in the manuscript and are cheering me on. I was going through some slight revision panic that day, so it was good to hear.

8. Maybe as a result of all the things above, I am feeling relaxed and confident. And that's always a wonderful thing.

9. I have you guys! When I started this blog, I thought I'd have one or two subscribers, but I managed to find some really great people. I love logging on in the morning to check your posts, and I'm really enjoying watching you all follow your dreams. I can't wait to see where you end up!

10. I am buying brie tonight. And yes, that totally belongs on this list. Brie is delicious, y'all.

Tagged: I think most of you have already done this (or have already been tagged) but feel free to share a random fact/something that made you happy/etc in the comments!

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Revisions. Revisions forever.

It is a very good thing that I had a relaxing holiday weekend, because I have gone right back to my 'office by day, revisions by night' schedule of unholy doom. And as if to prove a point, in the middle of writing that sentence I was dragged off to negotiate with florists. (Oh, day job. You give me such interesting life skills.)

I'm working very late tomorrow night, so I want to make sure to get lots done tonight. I've got four chapters left to mark up and make notes on, and my outlines and lists of new/extended scenes grow longer every day. Right now I am mainly focusing on the gaps where I can weave in the new material, and the areas that can be rewritten to strengthen voice. Making the exposition and worldbuilding richer is going to be tons of fun, but the real work will be giving this manuscript a beating heart.

And that all hinges on my protagonist, Kalinda. Oh, Kalinda. I know she's not the cold fish everyone thinks she is, and I know she wants to look that way because she thinks people will take her more seriously. I know how desperately she wants to be the hero, the knight in shining armor, and I know how deeply rooted her fears, doubts, and insecurities are. I know that she has a crush she emphatically does not want to have, and I know that she keeps her mouth shut because when she doesn't, all the awkwardness just pours right out.

But Kalinda? Just because you're reserved doesn't mean you can hold all these things back from me.

The challenge here is going to be to really break that character open and let the readers see her as she is, not how she wants to appear. That's the main focus of my reread right now. And I think that if I nail that in the rewrites, my MS is going to be so, so much better.

So, y'know. No pressure or anything.

On an unrelated note, I'm loving all the writing excerpts around here lately! I'd love to join in the fun, but I don't know what I'd post. Do y'all have any suggestions/things you're curious to see?

Friday, September 2, 2011

Ego Boost Friday

When you're revising, it's pretty easy to lose track of what you like about your own writing. Last night I reread the pivotal chapters at the midpoint of the manuscript, and the number of notes I took and passages I marked up was a little overwhelming. I know a lot of you are going through revisions as well, and I'll bet some of you are sitting there and thinking about your flaws, just like I am right now.

Well, don't get me wrong, it's so important to stay critical of your writing. But every so often, I think it's important to remember that you're not some hopeless, worthless hack. So I declare today Ego Boost Friday! How do you participate in Ego Boost Friday? Easy. Just comment here and tell me one thing you like about your WIP. It can be as tiny or significant as you want. Feel free to send your friends over to play, too!

As for me... hmm. I'm probably happiest with the reveal in chapter ten - I marked up comparatively few passages in the last scene. And in general, I'm excited for some of these new scenes I'm going to write!

Your turn, bloggers!

Thursday, September 1, 2011

Random Becky Facts

Eek. So I started writing this post hours ago, and then my entire morning sort of exploded. 'Tis much quieter now, and I have managed to get my hands on a calming mug of red milk tea. I am finally approaching a vaguely human state again, and I need a silly, lighthearted post more than ever!

I've been seeing the Ten Random Facts posts crop up here and there, and I thought it looked fun. Here's mine!

1. As you may have guessed from the above, I am a bit of a tea fiend. But different kinds of tea serve different purposes! Fruit-flavored teas should be served with honey and lemon juice, sweet red or black teas should be served with milk, and you should never add anything to Japanese green tea. I have more loose-leaf tea in my apartment than I will ever be able to drink.

2. While I do the majority of my writing at home, I think the best place to write is 30,000 feet in the air! The best thing about writing on a plane is that there are no distractions, and I won't be tempted to go waste time on the internet. And on top of that, when I have a dying laptop battery on my hands, I don't spend nearly as much time obsessing over which word to use. The only problem is when the person in front of me reclines right into my laptop...

3. I took writing workshops for six straight years. I 'majored' in creative writing at an arts high school, which involved taking several classes in my 'arts area,' and then I took workshops for my first two years of college. I also did a summer course at the Sewanee Young Writers Conference in Tennessee, which was AWESOME.

4. I used to write a lot more poetry than fiction, even though I always wanted to be a novelist. Weirdly enough, the poetry that I wrote five years ago is way better than anything I can write now.

5. I am bilingual: English and Japanese. I lived in Tokyo for half a year, and I'm currently at a Japanese workplace. My reading/writing isn't that great, but in my defense, there are three different writing systems used simultaneously.

6. It is a great source of shame to me at the office that I am terrible at origami. I was so excited when I finally made something that looked vaguely bird-ish, and then my coworker looked at it and gave me the Japanese version of "What the hell is that?" Even my best crane looks like a mangled duck.

7. I. Love. Cooking. I don't cook as much now that I live by myself, but my college roommates and I used to prepare fabulous three-course meals together. The first thing I ever made was risotto, and I still love making it: there's something almost calming about all that stirring, and it's so easy to be creative and make the recipe totally different. Other things I love to make: mac and cheese, chilled cucumber soup, avgolemono, lentil stew, goat cheese and chive mashed potatoes, and Japanese curry.

8. One thing I really miss: theatre. I love being on stage, even if I don't get many opportunities anymore. I've gotten to play some really great characters, but I think I had the most fun playing Peter Pan when I was in fifth grade. They didn't hook me up to any wires for the flying scenes, much to my disappointment.

9. Some women have a shoe problem. I have a scarf problem. I have scarves in every freaking color of the wind, and I still leap to the cash register whenever I see a cute one. I'm getting better at curbing my impulses, though.

10. I love love love ghost stories, but I have absolutely zero interest in paranormal investigation or anything like that. I so do not want to know if those kinds of things exist. I would be a horrible protagonist in a horror movie, because if I moved into a haunted house, I would be out of there in the first fifteen minutes. Incidentally, the basement of the older building at work is supposedly haunted, but I have never stayed there long enough to see for myself.

And that's it for me! What are some random facts about you?

Monday, August 29, 2011

On self-doubt, bravado, and revision goggles

Happy Monday, everyone! I had a rather interesting weekend. I was thankfully spared the worst of Irene - the wind and rain was pretty intense, but my electricity hung in there the entire time. And in further good news, my very first editorial letter arrived on Friday night!


You guys. It's the best feedback I've ever gotten. You'd think a critique that clocks in around 2,500 words would be at least a little soul-crushing, but this letter pointed out the story's shortcomings in an extremely helpful and constructive way. This is the sort of critique I strive to write for others: one that does not discourage the writer, but makes them excited to press on.

So I jumped to work on my own set of notes. I brainstormed ways to implement the suggestions made, and I made a list of scenes to add and extend, of which there will be quite a few. The best part about these revisions is that I get to explore entirely new facets of the worldbuilding, mythology, and characters, and I'm already having so much fun thinking it all through.

There is, however, one thing I kept putting off all weekend: the first reread of the MS. Finally, I forced myself to look at the first page...

"Oh God. This is terrible."

The revision goggles are a fearsome thing. I know it can't be as bad as I'm making it out to be, but once I put those goggles on, everything seems wrong. It's like one of those sci-fi disaster movies where the grizzled scientist (played by Bill Pullman) looks at the man-made calamity and grits, "We can't stop it. It's self-sustaining now."

This is where the doubt sets in, through no one's fault but my own. At that moment, I felt the disconnect between what I want my work to be and what it is right now. Can I really make it as amazing as it needs to be to succeed?

For a lot of writers, this is the tricky part. We need some of that self-doubt to keep ourselves grounded. But in order to succeed, we also need a little action hero-style bravado. We need to recognize our shortcomings, but truly believe that somehow, we're going to conquer them. As daunting as challenges can be, they can also be pretty exciting, right?

So for the record: my manuscript, as it is, is not as awesome as I want it to be. But I'm going to make it awesome. I'm going to work hard, and I'm going to put in as much time as it takes. And no matter how this works out, I'm going to be better for it.

Now if you'll excuse me, I'm going to set my cap at a jaunty angle and charge into battle. 

What challenges are you facing right now?

Friday, August 26, 2011

This is a disaster

This week is a disaster - quite literally! Not only did I get shaken up by my first earthquake on Tuesday, but this weekend, as I live in the DC Metro area, I will be in the path of Hurricane Irene.

My parents live in Florida, where I also went to high school, so this is nothing new. This will actually be my fifth named storm: I've been through Charlie, Frances, Jeanne, and Fay. I ended up losing power for EIGHT DAYS during Frances. And during one of those storms, either Frances or Jeanne, I was leaning against the glass-paneled door to get some light for reading... and then a tree fell on the house right behind me. (The windows didn't break, but damn that scared me!)

Some of my fellow East Coasters here probably haven't been though a hurricane before. I'm sure most of you are reading up on emergency preparations and evacuation routes. Agent extraordinaire Kathleen Ortiz tweeted some great tips, which I recommend you read. But if you're looking for some more tips on how to get through the storm, you've come to the right place!

- Clean out your bathtub and fill it with water. If the power goes out, you're going to need it! This also may provide you with additional hilarity if your cat gets too curious and falls in, like mine did during Fay. 

- Keep an eye on weather updates and such even after the storm is over. Some serious thunderstorms and tornadoes can trail along the outer bands.

- For those of you with gas stoves, stock up on dinners you can cook on the stove top, and buy a lighter if you don't have one yet. Gas stoves can be lit even if the power goes out. If your stove is electric, PB&Js are your best friend. 

- Use up as many perishables as possible tonight and tomorrow morning. It's an excuse to cook yourself a nice meal. Try not to open the fridge once the power goes out.

- Get your activities involving electricity out of the way while you can! Conserve the battery power on your laptop, iPod, phone, etc. Have an electricity-free activity at the ready, like knitting or a huge pile of books. And have a notebook and pen on hand, naturally.

- Have something comforting on hand. Storms are incredibly stressful. I plan to load up on some nice, non-perishable snacks. Also, wine. The wine is very important.

- And most importantly, stay indoors whenever you can. Be careful. And even if the storm only deals you a glancing blow, you will have been prepared.

Stay safe, everyone!

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

A good dilemma to have, I suppose

Good morning, all!

I have been trying to relax lately - I needed to recharge my brain and just spend some quality time reading other people's awesome writing. But now I'm too fired up to relax. I'm ready to charge ahead. Every time I think about the revisions on the horizon, I get a rush of nervousness and excitement. What new directions will I get to take the MS in? Do I have the talent to pull it off? Can I measure up to this agent's other clients?

It doesn't help that there aren't a lot of places to channel that energy. Work has been a lot of the same lately. I usually would compensate for that by working on another MS, but I don't want to start anything new when I know I'm going to revisit THE HUNGRY GROUND so soon. I like to keep a steady momentum going with my WIPs. Once I start a project, I really throw myself into it.

But I have a confession to make. Even before, when I was querying, I was having a lot of trouble starting a new project. Not because I didn't have any ideas. Because I have too freaking many.

There are a total of five projects I can tackle, all YA. Three are new - one is urban fantasy, one is horror, and one is straight-up fantasy with dark fairy tale undertones - and the other two are reboots of older fantasy projects. No one project really has an edge on the other, because there are things that draw me to each one, and there are parts of each one that I still need to figure out. And this is, of course, assuming that a new project doesn't suddenly appear and sweep me off my feet. Sigh. 

Since my revisions have not quite started in earnest yet, I want to take this time to fill in some of the gaps. I have some exercises I can do, but I'm curious: what would you all advise? Questionnaires? Flow-charts? Some kind of cage-match between all the protagonists? I'm welcome to all suggestions!

Thursday, August 18, 2011

The day job

Last week, one of the coworkers I'm closest to left our workplace to pursue her dream job. We had a toast in the Big Boss' office, and everyone talked about how great it was that she was going on to do what she loved, and how great it was that we could be her springboard. I was happy for her - I still am - but also a little envious. If I were to tell them all what my dream is, I'd definitely get some looks.

It came out, though, as it always does. We were talking to one of our departing bosses, who asked me what my next step was. I stammered out my usual half-truths and backup plans, when my now-ex-coworker said, "She's going to be a writer."

I froze. But he just replied, "Hm. I feel like I should have known that," and changed the subject.

I've always been safely ensconced within arts communities until now, but DC is a different animal. Everyone is working to move up: to be a politician, or a diplomat, or to obtain some other shiny, important position in this complicated machine. Of course, since I work in the international field, there's a whole other set of acceptable dreams: study abroad adviser, interpreter, or a director for a cultural center. I could do those things, and I would enjoy them. I was drawn here, after all, through my love for my second language and second home in Tokyo.

I like my job, and I like my bosses, but being an assistant here has an unspoken expiration date. And when it comes to the next step, there's only one thing I really, really want - so much that it's hard to think of anything else.

When people at work find out that I write, they inevitably say something about how stressful or time-consuming it must be. And it can be, to an extent. But there are different kinds of stress. There's 'waiting on an elusive contact,' and there's 'diving into a difficult action scene.' There's 'dealing with an angry caller,' and there's 'writing a query to a top agent.' The former examples are stressful, full stop. But with the latter examples, I get that rush of adrenaline. It keeps me going.

A few weeks ago, I met with the agent who I'd be working with on my MS, and I was pretty sure I was going to die before I reached the office door. But it was the feeling I used to get when I did theater, and the feeling I used to get when I participated in Japanese speech contests. I'm nervous to the point where I start to think my heart will break my ribs, but it's one of the best feelings there is. I wouldn't get that feeling if I wasn't doing something I loved.

So when my coworkers talk about the next step in their careers, I smile. I know I'm chasing my dreams, too - even if they don't.

Not yet, anyway.

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Happy WriteOnCon!

This is a thread for everyone to link me to their queries, synopses, and excerpts. I'd love to see everyone's work, and I will provide as much feedback if I can! Just because I can't participate in the agent free-for-all doesn't mean I can't have any fun. :D

And if you're unaware, there's a FREE WRITERS' CONFERENCE going on this week! What are you waiting for? Come play with us! There are "ninja agents" lurking in the forums, so by posting your queries and excerpts, you might get some valuable feedback... or maybe even catch an agent's eye!

So go forth and share your work. (And once you do, leave me a link in the comments!)

Monday, August 15, 2011

My Narrative "Kinks"

Happy Monday, all! I feel great today. It's amazing what a relaxing weekend (and a lot of sleep) will do for your mental health. And it's a beautiful day! I want go out and get a few minutes of fresh air, but since I'm literally the only assistant at my desk right now, I should probably stick around in case something catches on fire.

I feel like talking about things I love today, so I'm going to discuss my narrative kinks! And no, not those kinds of kinks. A narrative kink, by my definition, is a group of tropes and themes that, when I see them in a story, I will immediately fall for them. If they're done well enough, I will even excuse a lot of weaker points in the story. These are elements that separate like from love: I can objectively recognize a well-crafted story without any of these elements, but I am less likely to fall rabidly in love with it. (Unless, of course, that story gives me something new to obsess over.)

In any case, here are some favorites:

Atmospheric settings: Especially small towns surrounded by mountains, eerie snow-covered landscapes, the Deep South in summertime, Wonderland-esque upside-down worlds, and sprawling cities with a touch of the surreal. And if there's a ghost town or haunted house, I'm there.

Ordinary but otherworldly places: When seemingly ordinary locations are a connection to the fantastical - or maybe even a portal to the fantastical.

Fun with traditional gender roles: This is a big one for me, since I really enjoy writing it, too. I love when authors take expected gender roles and assign them to characters of the opposite sex. There are so many different, interesting ways to take this, but I'm a particular fan of girls who want to be detectives, princes, or knights in shining armor.

Loyalty: Of the undying variety. I'm interested in the darker sides of it as well, so long as the author doesn't pretend it's completely healthy.

Unusual surrogate family dynamics: I'm a sucker for a great group dynamic in general, but especially if they fill this role.

Parallelism and the past's influence on the present: It's so interesting to me how people and events can echo long after they're gone. I especially love a moment or line of dialogue that repeats itself, but changes the meaning ever so slightly in the process.

Themes of power, control, and self-confidence: Why hello there, everything I've ever written. I'm a big fan of power imbalances, battles of wills, and characters whose internal conflicts are mirrored by their external ones.

The point of no return: If there's a place the main character is never supposed to go, I want to go there. I especially love when authors take time to build these places up, so that when the main character finally ventures there, I'm holding my breath waiting to see what happens.

Supernatural mysteries: Especially if the supernatural elements are always a little in doubt, and especially if one of the atmospheric settings above is applied. The creepier the better.

Extremely capable main characters who are, nonetheless, awkward dorks: Bonus points for a lame pun or two.

Original mythology: A new take on a Greek myth or Japanese folklore would not go amiss, either.

Strong same-sex friendships that aren't torn apart by a love triangle at the midpoint of the story: It's sort of sad that I have to specify this. 

And many more I'm sure I'll think of later!

How about you? What are some of your narrative kinks?

Friday, August 12, 2011

An assistant's defense of The Monstrumologist

Simon and Schuster has discontinued The Monstrumologist series. The next book, Isle of Blood, will be the last one.


(I stole this macro from another post on the subject. It was too appropriate.)

Okay, life is still worth living, but! You guys! I love this series so much! I love it so much that the IT guys in my workplace are going to see that I did a Google image search on "big no" to try and find an appropriate picture for this post.

So why do I love this series so much? Because it's creepy as all get out, for one. The series follows Pellinore Warthop, a Monstrumologist (basically a mad scientist crossed with a monster hunter) who supposedly operated in New England about a century and a half ago. The protagonist, however, is his young assistant, Will Henry. His older self narrates the stories - he grew to the ripe old age of 130 and, judging by his writing style, became a big fan of H.P Lovecraft. The voice is rich and dark, beautiful but unflinching in its descriptions of the considerable gore Will sees on the job. The monsters are creatures right out of folklore, the product of many a late night campfire story.

Obviously, I am weak to all of those elements. But why else do I love these books? Because they are the most weirdly accurate depiction of assistant life I've ever read. I joke that they're my YA horror unauthorized biography. I feel like a lot of assistant protagonists fall into Cinderella stereotypes, but I could really relate to Will.

Of course, my bosses are kind and lovely people and not monster-hunting drama queens, so I can feel grateful for that, too. I love my job. I'm glad I don't have to go find any Wendigos.

One thing I'm happy to say is nothing like my life is that central relationship between Will and Pellinore. It is, however, one of my favorite things about the books. It is sometimes hilarious, sometimes weirdly heartwarming, and always really, really messed up. Pellinore in general grew on me hard in the second book, when it is revealed that he can actually be a complete failboat sometimes. The secondary characters are also interesting and well-drawn, even if when you meet some of them, you mutter to yourself, "Oh, you are so doomed."

In short, these are the gore-filled books of my heart. I love them like cake: New York cheesecake, with a caramel swirl. And I don't want that third book to be the end!

So if you want to win a complete set of the books, head over here and enter this contest to support the series. But in the meantime, I am going to head back to work to provide my bosses services of the indispensable kind.

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Your writing speed

Good morning, all, and thank you for letting me vent yesterday. Now today, I'd like to hear from you, if you're feeling so inclined!

It's always interested me how some people can write the first draft of their MS in a matter of weeks, while some people take years. I don't think one way is better than the other, I just think it's a difference in the process. I like to sort of write the "first draft" in my head before I type it into the document, for example, so I'm not one of those uber-fast writers.

So I'd love to know: what's your writing speed? What's your record time for completing a story? And why do you think you work at the speed you do?

(And for the record, my quickest time is nine months from first chapter to final draft, and that was mostly because I wrote more than half of it within two months. I could probably go faster if I wrote full-time, but that's not exactly in the cards!)

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Writing as catharsis

Hey there, everyone. Sorry to bring sadness to the blog today, but this is a good place to get things off my chest.

My beautiful, lovable, pain-in-the-ass family cat Holly passed away last week. I am doing better than I was, but it still hurts to think about her. I can distract myself for brief periods of time, but Holly is everywhere, in all my important memories. Every time I try to get away just for an hour or two, I always come back to her eventually.

But when it's too hard to confront things head-on, I have somewhere else to go: my fiction. I don't tend to base characters off of my own life, but when I reread my work, the emotions are recognizable as my own. I began Grandmaster Draw when I was living with a host family and forced to suppress who I was around them. I began The Hungry Ground when I was standing on the edge of adulthood and wondering if I was strong enough to do what I really loved. The situations are more thrilling and the stakes are always higher for my characters, but we both always come to a conclusion... even if it's not the same one.

About three or four years ago, I was working on updating one of my first story ideas from when I was younger: a fantasy/political intrigue type story in the vein of Megan Whalen Turner's books. I stopped midway when I realized the story needed another plot overhaul, but the main characters remain some of my favorite to work with ever.

One of the things I still do like a lot is the setting - a fictional country in the years following a bloody coup d'etat - and the effect it has on the characters. There's a constant undercurrent of longing for the things they've lost.

I've been thinking about that story a lot this week, and it's comforted me somewhat. Because when I was working on that story, it wasn't so much the tragic aspects that caught my attention. It was the ways in which the characters struggled to turn that tragedy into strength, and the way that someone's influence could echo long after they were gone.

I probably won't restart that story for a while - there's still a lot of plot to overhaul. But I think this week I'd like to write a few short stories with those characters.  I hope that in writing about it, I can exorcise some of those tangled-up emotions, and my memories can become comforting, not painful.

Thanks for letting me vent, guys. If you have a story about a time you used writing as catharsis, I'd love to hear it.

Friday, August 5, 2011

Revision timeline

First of all, thank you all so much for coming to play with me yesterday! I had such a good time getting to talk to everyone. A special thanks to Katrina for the wonderful introduction!

And now, onto today's post...

I like to keep moving. I'm the type who prefers walking to work over sitting on a bus trapped in morning traffic. Sure, the bus might break out of the gridlock and get ahead of me, but it'll still feel like I got there faster.

When I'm not writing, I'm thinking about it. I'm outlining, or plotting, or sometimes I just walk around my neighborhood and let the scenes play out in my head. Revisions are the same way. I can make very big changes very quickly, so my instinct is to charge full speed ahead.

That works out for me sometimes. But as I wait on my revision notes, I know that's not something I want to do this time around. This agent's clients are amazing. I really want to step up my game and make these revisions the best they can possibly be. I want to think through every angle of each suggestion before I go ahead and make the changes.

It's daunting, but I don't think it's impossible. I mean, if I managed to turn myself from an impulse buyer to a frugal shopper, nothing's impossible! But it helps if I give myself steps to follow. Here are mine:

- Don't touch the manuscript until you get the notes! But maybe write up some supplemental material for the mythology and such.

- When you receive the notes, read them over carefully, then reread the MS with those notes in mind.

- Set aside two weeks to just think about the edits, and write up a set of notes of your own. Don't start the changes until this period is over.

- Once this period ends, begin changes, and hope that you didn't tear too much of your hair out in the interim. Give MS a couple more passes on your own, then ship it off to betas for their opinion.

- Do a victory dance. Background music to be determined.

Easy enough, right? In theory, anyway. I think it'll be so worth it in the long run.

What about you guys? What kind of reviser are you? What kind of reviser do you want to be?

Thursday, August 4, 2011

Open question day!

Good morning, all! I am le tired, but hopefully the coffee will kick in soon.

I am opening the blog up to questions today! If you'd like to know something about my writing or my stories, awesome. And if you'd like to know my name, my quest, and my favorite color, that is also awesome.

Have at it!

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

My new "gig" at Afterglow!

Good morning, everyone! I have an awesome update on the Month of Reading All the Books. I have been invited to join the team of fabulous people over at the Afterglow Book Review blog, a recommendation-fest of epic proportions.

My first review, for Jennifer Donnelly's REVOLUTION, is up! I was lucky enough to score this from Ms. Donnelly's agent, and it did not disappoint in the slightest. Check out the review! And then check out the book, because it is the best.

Friday, July 29, 2011

Month of Reading All the Books

I've learned by now that life-changing things don't happen all at once, but it's especially noticeable this time. Last week I was scheduling appointments for myself and my future. And this week I'm back to scheduling appointments for my bosses. Pair that up with the natural come-down from a good vacation, and it has a bit of a whiplash effect!

I have a bit of a wait until the next step of the process, but that's not a bad thing. It'll be nice to have a break to detach myself from checking my phone and e-mail every fifteen minutes. But I don't want to use this time to jump headfirst into a new project, either. Once I start something, I like to keep a good momentum throughout. And besides, something tells me I'm going to learn a lot - I want to apply those skills to the new MS!

So instead, I'm going to use my break to do something else very important. I am going to READ ALL THE BOOKS!

... well, okay. Not ALL the books.

I think you guys will understand when I tell you I have a Problem. A Book Problem. In that if I see something I want, I will snatch it up, regardless of how many more books I have waiting for me. This leads to a sizable backlog in my To Read pile. And between a trip to Chamblin Bookmine (pictured above) with my mom, all the free books I snagged in San Diego, and the inevitable trek to the Borders sale, my pile is getting bigger and bigger.

So basically, the Month of Reading All the Books will focus on putting a huge dent in my To Read pile. And personally, I can't wait! I hope to recommend some of my favorites on here, but I am notoriously bad about writing coherent reviews for books I love. It usually ends up as me saying, "This is the best. THE BEST. ashgfjksksgl;dsd." But I will certainly try!

Feel free to join me!

Thursday, July 28, 2011

I don't believe in fairy tales

At least, not where publishing is concerned. True, some people have those fairy tale-esque success stories, but those stories have a lot of hard work behind them. Those people wrote, completed, and edited a novel. It's not something that just happens to you.

As for me, I've had just about as many failures as successes. One of those successes even involves a failure. I chose the college I attended partially because they had a creative writing thesis program that focused on writing a novel - I had a trunk manuscript under my belt at that point, but I couldn't wait to work with someone who really knew what they were doing. I started gathering up my required workshop credits right away, but when I tried to get into the fiction workshop during the second semester of my freshman year, there were 40 applicants and 12 slots. After the "audition class," I found out that I didn't make the cut.

I sent a thank you e-mail to the teacher for the fun class, and he told me that with all the upperclassmen applying, it wouldn't have been fair to pick a freshman. "Try again next year," he said. "I won't say no again."

I did. And he didn't. And it was a little bit sweeter because I knew I'd worked for it.

I didn't have a lot of other successes in that program. I was turned down for the thesis program, and their reasons were as follows: because I chose to study abroad for a semester in junior year rather than take another workshop, and because my work was too 'plot-driven.' Once I finally picked myself up off the floor, I discussed it with my (awesome) fiction teacher. He told me, very gently, as if he was trying not to offend me: "I really think you're more of a commercial fiction writer."

I count that as a success, since I took it as a compliment.

In any case, I didn't want to stall just because the program wouldn't take me. I went to Tokyo, and I wrote another manuscript. I finished it a few months after returning to America, and started sending out the query with dreams of those fairy tale success stories I'd always heard about...

... and was promptly smacked in the face by five back-to-back form rejections.

Thankfully, I was at least smart enough that it only took five. I took my query to my awesome fiction teacher to tear apart. It was a fabulously helpful and torturous experience; he's not a fan of fantasy, so to even explain the book to him made me very self-conscious. But it worked. I sent another round of queries, and I got my first full request from one of the top agents on my list.

I knew it wouldn't work out from the beginning. This agent was so far out of my league, he was in the stratosphere. But again, I remembered those fairy tale success stories and dared to hope.

He decided to pass, but with some of the most dizzying compliments I'd ever received. I sent a thank you e-mail. He didn't say "I won't say no again," but somewhere in the back of my mind, it echoed.

That was the highest point of the submission process. On some level, after his rejection, I knew this wouldn't be the one, but it took me five months and many more rejections to accept it. I had other requests, but his comments were still the nicest and most enthusiastic. I wanted that first agent to see my next MS. I wrote another novel, one that I really loved. I sent it out. I got many more requests within 20 queries that I'd gotten within 70 last time. But I was very careful not to get carried away. I took a much more philosophical approach: I was going to go with whatever happened, and keep working at it regardless.

Two weeks ago, things finally started to move - but not in that fairy tale, "seven offers within a week" way. I actually got an offer for revisions. Since I couldn't find many accounts of what to do in that case, I didn't have many guidelines. Afterward, I saw a post saying you shouldn't nudge other agents if you get a request for revisions, but I did, and I don't regret it at all. Even if they rejected me, I would feel more comfortable with that than yanking the manuscript out from under them if they were still interested. And as it turned out, none of them did - they all wanted to revise with me. And at the same time all of this was going on, I ended up with another request for material, so it ended up turning into chaos. Very flattering chaos.

I don't want to name names, but everyone I spoke to that week was amazing. Absolutely amazing, professional, and utterly made of class. It was such a hard decision, I can't imagine how people sort through multiple offers. But there was one agent in particular who was the most enthusiastic, not only to work with the project, but to work with me. It was that first agent, who requested my first MS over a year ago.

I may still believe in fairy tales a little after all.

I've been given such a wonderful opportunity. I can't wait to see where it leads!

(And by the way - those of you who know who I'm working with - I'm keeping it quiet on here for now. Superstitious, I know, but it would feel like pushing my luck!)

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

My query!

Hey guys! Sorry for the long radio silence. I was on vacation for two weeks - one week with my parents in Florida, and one in beautiful San Diego, California. And also, some of you may have seen my various cryptic comments about good news. There have been many more developments since my last post. Expect to see a post about that within the next few days. But know that it's pretty awesome stuff!

And in the meantime, I wanted to share my query with you all! It is certainly not perfect, but it lead to my... good news. (I know, I'm such a tease.) Also, compared to the query from my last project, the difference in request rates was about 40%. Maybe that means the premise was more intriguing, but I like to think I got better at queries? Maybe? I will still always be jealous of people with the ability to write kickass queries, though. (THE LIAR SOCIETY, SOULLESS, Gennifer Albin's upcoming CREWEL... I could go on, but we'd be here a while.)

Anyway. Here's mine!

Dear [Fabulous Literary Agent],

The city of Surya was devoured by the ground itself. Sixteen-year-old Kalinda grew up hearing the story, but she doesn't believe it - no one does anymore. And even if it were true, no one’s been down to the ground for hundreds of years. They’re supposed to be safe.

When the entire population of a nearby city vanishes overnight, Kalinda sees the parallels to Surya, but she volunteers for the search team anyway. Her dream of joining the prestigious Inspectors force might be out of her reach - young and female isn't a winning combination, and her own self-doubt isn't helping - but maybe this way she can help someone. That is, if there's anyone left to help. The city lies undisturbed, as if everyone suddenly stood up and walked away.

But the city isn't empty. Its people reappear at sunset, replaying the moments before their disappearance. Piecing these echoes together may be the only way to figure out what happened that night. But the more Kalinda learns, the more she suspects that someone tried to recreate Surya - and she knows how that story ended. The missing people might be beyond her help after all. But to run away means proving her worst fear true: that she's as weak as everyone thinks she is.

At least she got her wish. Someone's finally noticed her.

THE HUNGRY GROUND is a young adult fantasy manuscript with elements of horror. It is complete at 74,000 words. Thank you for your time and consideration.

Now, this is obviously the bare bones format, but that last paragraph has lots of space for personalization.

I think this is probably the eighth draft or so. I stuck fairly close to the first draft for the first six revisions, until I was told to start from scratch. My first reaction was, "But... but it took me so long to get even this far!" But as soon as I started rewriting, it really clicked for me. So if you struggle with queries like I do and find yourself repeatedly hitting a wall, definitely try starting over. It really frees things up.

That's it for me today. Stay tuned for the good news!

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Music and writing

Wow! It appears that I have followers all of a sudden! Welcome, guys!

Sorry for the radio silence on this end. Had a fairly intense couple of days at work last week, but now I am on VACATION and everything is beautiful! I also got some good news on the submission front yesterday... not an offer, but definitely some interesting and exciting things ahead, and a lot to think about this week. I can't wait to tell you guys what pans out.

In the meantime, I thought I would post about one of my favorite aspects of brainstorming: the soundtrack. I love making playlists for my stories. Sometimes I have specific character and relationship songs, but they generally follow a feeling more than anything else. The Grandmaster Draw playlist was surreal and creepy, and The Hungry Ground playlist had some dark, moody songs and some fast-paced chase music. My current project... mostly steals from the 'surreal and creepy' playlist, actually, but since it takes place in Tokyo, I got to use a lot of Japanese pop, too.

But there's always one song that I can play on repeat for days while I brainstorm for a project - the unofficial theme song. My favorite project theme song from my Hungry Ground playlist: Howl, by Florence and the Machine

What's your project's theme song?

Friday, July 1, 2011

Writing primal fears

Have you seen the trailer from the upcoming movie Are You Afraid of the Dark yet?

I wasn't aware of it until the other night, when I had the TV on while typing up a scene I wrote at work. I was really just using the TV for background music, and I wasn't paying very close attention. At that point, a truncated version of this trailer came on. (Or maybe the rest of the trailer played and I just didn't notice it? It wouldn't be terribly surprising.)

Anyway, I saw the last 30 seconds or so of this trailer here, where the young protagonist is crawling under her bed, you see her pushing her way through the sheets, and... well, after that, I was definitely paying attention. My mom and I actually texted each other at the same time to say, "Uh, did you see that?"

It all made sense when I saw that Guillermo del Toro had a hand in it. The horror auteur is best known for nightmare-inducing movies like The Orphanage, The Devil's Backbone, and of course, Pan's Labyrinth. But it got me thinking about writing horror.

Of all fiction, I think horror is the most subjective, because fear is one of the most subjective emotions there is. As a lover of all things creepy, I can't tell you how many times I've watched/read a scary story and thought, "I wish there was more of [this] and less of [that]." I complain about it so often that when I got that reaction to my own manuscript recently, it made me laugh. It's karma!

But there's a vein of horror that runs through almost everyone: primal fears. Stories that tap into the nightmares of our childhoods and bring them back in full force. A primal fear turns the familiar into the unfamiliar, and turns our safe places into the most dangerous. Here are some of my favorite uses in books and movies. (Beware of spoilers!)

Coraline: The entire premise, full stop. The most terrifying thing about the world behind the door is that it's so similar to Coraline's own, even better - but the sinister undercurrent runs through the story from the beginning. The movie is great for the chilling visuals, but I love the tension in Gaiman's rich prose.

Ju-on/The Grudge: This movie scared me so badly in high school, I watched it over and over to inoculate myself to it. Nowadays I generally just torture people by imitating the onryo-style death rattle, but there's one sequence that I still admire for how thoroughly it terrifies people. One of the characters is chased home by the vengeful ghost, and to calm herself down, she climbs into bed and turns on the TV. The news reporter's face slowly distorts into a twisted, horrific image, and when the character hides under the covers, she finds the ghost in her bed with her. I feel like every other J-horror movie is just trying to recreate this scene.

The Monkey's Paw: In this classic short story, the main characters come by a talisman that grants their wishes in all the wrong ways. When one wish takes the life of their son, the mother wishes him back to life, but the father, knowing that their son has come back wrong, uses their last wish to send him back. There are two things about this that still make me shiver: the idea that someone you know and love can be changed that way, and the fact that the protagonists never see their 'resurrected' son. It's really no wonder that the climactic scene has inspired so many homages, including a Buffy episode.

The Orphanage: On the whole, I find this movie more sad than scary, but it has a few classic scares (read: Tomas in general, my God.) But I think my favorite part is when the protagonist plays Red Light Green Light with the spirits of the orphans. Childhood games in general are a goldmine for traumatic scares - especially since so many of them have darker undertones.

Lake Mungo: This littler-known Australian horror film is much more low-key than the others on this list. The focus of the faux-documentary is mostly on the grief of a middle-class family after their daughter drowns. But the movie's implication that death is something that follows you stayed with me much more effectively than any scene in Final Destination ever did. And the personification of death... I won't spoil it, but it's a perfect example of the familiar turned unfamiliar.

The Shining: If you're about to tell me that you can turn a corner in a quiet hotel without hesitating a little, you are such a liar. "Come play with us, Danny. Forever... and ever... and ever..."

Oops - that got long. As you can see, I'm a little passionate about horror! If any of you are still with me, what are some of your favorite primal fear-related scares in fiction?