An Exciting Announcement!

You know how sometimes you apply for super amazing, incredible things, because why not? All they can do is say no! So you apply and you wait even though you aren’t particularly optimistic, and then suddenly there’s an email in your inbox.

And it says you’re in. You did it. Congratulations, you. You’re going.

And then you stare at the screen for a while before you start bouncing and then you start screaming and maybe crying a little?

Maybe most people handle acceptance in a more dignified manner, but I discovered I don’t when I got the email saying I’d been accepted to the 2014 Clarion Writers’ Workshop!

That’s right, San Diego! I’m COMING FOR YOU. This summer, I’ll spend six weeks writing, learning from some of the best SFF authors (including one Catherynne Valente; remind me to pack smelling salts for when I meet her), writing, bonding with my classmates, and probably writing some more.

It’s impossible for me to overstate how excited and honored I am for this opportunity. I didn’t expect it. Honestly, I didn’t. And now it’s happening and I almost can’t contain myself.

Of course, on top of it being a life-changing experience, it’s also going to be very expensive. I’m definitely going to need help. To that end, I’ve launched an Indiegogo campaign to help me get there! You can donate and get some super cool perks: critiques, books, stories written by moi! Please, please check it out, and even if you can’t donate, spreading the word would be so helpful.

Anyway. I’m still somewhat in the denial phase. I keep checking the email thinking, “Surely they put the wrong name on this? This is a horribly unfunny mistake, right?” But it KEEPS BEING REAL. Excuse me as I continue bouncing forever (and maybe crying a little more).

Thank you in advance for any and all support you’re able to give me!

Hurry up, summer!

You Only Fail if You Quit…Right?

Writing is hard. This we know. It’s also wonderful, but there’s a reason discipline is just as (if not more) important than inspiration. There’s a reason motivation flags and we all have little tips and tricks to keep ourselves going. There’s a reason any finished first draft is worthy of cakes and confetti and celebratory drinks.

Because writing is hard. We know that.

And so there are many, many, many posts telling you, “Keep going! You’ll get there! This is normal!”

This isn’t one of those posts. Not quite.

Last summer, I had an idea for a book. Not even really an idea, more a fancy. I thought, “I should retell Sleeping Beauty.” So I decided to do it. That initial burst of enthusiasm lasted through several rounds of brainstorming and the first pages of drafting. Then it waned, as it always does.

I didn’t keep going. I focused on other things. I wrote a short story. I attempted (and failed) NaNo with a different project. I finished school. I read a bunch.

Then in December, I re-opened the document and decided I was going to do this. For real. I even gave myself a deadline like a bona fide GROWN UP. I would have a finished draft come hell or high water by February 1, 2014.

I won’t bore you with the details, except to say that it was going well. I was writing steadily and soon I had 10K, 20, 30, 40…

And then. Well. And then I got stuck. I figured, “This is normal. I’m in the dreaded middle. It’s dreaded for a reason. I just have to power through.” So I tried. I tried, and I tried, and I tried some more.

Two things you need to understand:

  1. I have never finished a manuscript of a book. This was the fifth attempt (if you count two somewhat half-hearted NaNos).
  2. I have fairly low confidence in myself, especially in my creativity (which is another post for another day).

I knew that this was to be expected for someone relatively inexperienced with known confidence issues halfway through a complicated novel. I’d read all those same articles and blog posts you have: “Keep going! You’ll get there! This is normal!” Those articles that say the only way you fail is if you quit.

I’m not a quitter.

But here’s the thing: quitting isn’t always failure. And you know what? You might not get there. This might not be normal. More than that, it might not be healthy.

Those weeks where I was stuck and kept trying to push through were miserable. I cried so hard and so often that my eyes perpetually stung. Seriously. They burned for days at a time. Even thinking about opening the document—let alone actually writing—set me off. I couldn’t do anything except panic about how I was failing. This was failure. I was a failure.

So, I took a break. An intentional one. I thought, “Maybe I just need some time away to clear my head. Then it’ll flow and I’ll finish and everything will be great.”

Yeah…not so much. When I opened the document after several weeks away, I started crying before it even finished loading.

I closed it immediately. Took a few deep breaths, and let myself ask the question I’d been avoiding for so long: “Should I quit?”

I thought about it objectively. Yes, the panic attacks needed to stop, and fast. But more than that, why was I having such a strong reaction?

I think the initial stuckitude probably was a result of inexperience and the dreaded middle. I think I could have forced my way through to the other side IF this had been a story I loved. But I realized that it wasn’t.

I think I was panicking because I couldn’t admit that I actively wanted to quit. Because the only way to fail is to quit, right?

I like the story plenty. I still think it has potential, and there are a lot of elements I do love, but this isn’t this story’s time. And that’s totally fine.

I’m going to repeat that: it does not make you a failure to shelve a project if you honestly believe it’s time to do so.

There could be any number of legitimate reasons to put aside a manuscript. In my case, it was a combination of self-care and an acknowledgment that this isn’t the story I want to tell right now. Am I deleting it? Or saying I’m never going to finish it? No. But I am allowing myself to shelve this book without guilt, because I KNOW it’s the right decision.

There is no formula for when you should push through the hard times and when you should call it a day. If there was, maybe I wouldn’t have gone through quite so many tissues. But I wanted to write this post because we know writing is hard, and we know it takes discipline and dedication. But I don’t think we always know that it’s okay to quit sometimes, too. At least, I didn’t.

New Year’s: A Series of Moments

I’ve never been good at New Year’s. Not just the resolutions (although we’ll get to that in a bit), but at the whole holiday. I like the idea of celebrating what has been and the promise of what could be. I like the idea of champagne with loved ones and kisses at midnight. Of a fresh start.

But then every New Year’s Eve comes and regardless of whether I’m at a party or home with my parents and our pets, the actual moment never lives up to the hype. Midnight strikes, the ball drops, people kiss and cheer. But it has never–not once–felt momentous.

Because celebrating that one moment is inherently opposed to the promise of New Year’s. It’s a snapshot, literally one second of time. And New Year’s is all about change, about going from one thing to another, one year to the next, one self to someone else. And change requires a series of moments. It cannot be confined to that one instant.

I think romanticizing the stroke of midnight does me a disservice. Because the very first second of the new year has already disappointed me. Not that I believe the superstition that how the first day goes the rest will follow (though I do like the idea of starting the way you’d like to continue), but that disappointment ends up carrying through to my New Year’s Resolutions.

I always make them, and I don’t think I’ve ever, ever kept them. A few years ago, I thought maybe I never kept them because the goals were too lofty, so I made smaller ones: keep desk clean, wear Chapstick, drink more water. And still, I am incapable of following through.

Why?

These are things I want to do. They’re commitments I’ve made, and in every other situation I take commitments very seriously. It’s clearly not that the goals are unachievable or unsustainable. What is it?

A resolution is a statement. It’s a sentence or a post-it or maybe even a single word. It’s something you say once. But at it’s core, a resolution is about change. It’s about being one way and resolving to be another, and in my experience, change cannot be confined to one statement.

A resolution is not a magic spell. It’s a series of resolutions. Resolving each day, each hour, each moment to continue being one way, doing one thing, making one decision instead of another. Eventually–hopefully–it will stop being a matter of resolve and merely a matter of being.

But until then, string those moments together. And if one moment disappoints you, remember that there’s another right behind it. And another after that. A series of moments, choices, actions, opportunities.

I’m going to make resolutions again this year, maybe because I’m a masochist or maybe because I’m hopelessly optimistic. I’ll be posting a whole video of writing resolutions tomorrow (edited to add: here it is!), and I have some non-writing ones too:

  • Read more diverse authors and stories
  • Respond to emails sooner
  • Respond to voicemails at all
  • Stop watching shows I no longer enjoy (looking at you, Doctor Who)
  • Make more plans with friends
  • Go on more walks
  • Quit undervaluing my time, skills, and experience
  • Wear Chapstick
  • Drink more water

If past performance is any indication, I won’t be keeping hardly any of these. But I think maybe I’ve cracked my own personal code. I wonder if I need to stop caring so much about single moments and more about the summation of all those moments: the change. Here’s hoping.

Happy New Year, everyone!

On Privilege and (a Lack of) Diversity on My Bookshelves

I consider myself to be a staunch proponent of diversity and representation, especially in fiction. I talk quite a bit about disability and some about sexuality, and I make a conscious effort to read and listen to discussions of diversity in areas in which I’m privileged. It’s my responsibility as a white, disabled, bisexual, middle-class, cisgender woman to unpack my various privileges and oppressions, and to recognize intersectionality in my own life and the lives of others (an idea and term created by Kimberlé Crenshaw and expanded by other Black feminists).

This year has been one of massive introspection, research, learning, listening, growing. I say all this not to pat myself on the back, but to make the point that even when I’m consciously focusing on these issues, I’m going to screw up.

When I was preparing for my Top 10 Books List and combing through my 2013 Reads shelf on Goodreads, I realized I had hugely, hugely screwed up.

Out of the 48 books I read this year, exactly ONE was written by a person of color (POC). ONE.

(For the record, it was ADAPTATION by Malinda Lo, and it was excellent. A really compelling sci-fi featuring queer characters! WOO!)

I could make a lot of excuses as to why that happened. I could talk about how so alarmingly few authors are POC, specifically within kidlit. I could talk about how agents sign so few POC, and how publishers frequently don’t market their POC authors as much or as well as their white authors. How booksellers may not carry or promote books by POC. About how books by white authors are discussed and recognized more often in the YA community by bloggers, trade reviews, bestseller lists, awards lists, etc.

I could delve further into the systemic racism within publishing that leads to things like whitewashing covers. I could discuss how books by and about POC are often shoehorned into their own “special” shelf for multicultural lit, and how that’s based on the assumption that white is “normal” and everything else is a special interest. How it’s assumed that there’s no market for kidlit written by, about, and for POC. I could point out that all of these things and more intentionally and unintentionally make it difficult to find books written by POC at all, and how all these forces also encourage readers to buy the books by white authors.

I could even talk about how it’s easier to spot trends in the aggregate than to spot a trend one piece of data (each personal book choice) at a time.

And all of the above is absolutely, distressingly true, but none of it absolves me. I chose each book. These were my choices. And it doesn’t matter if I was conscious of the fact that I was choosing white author after white author or not, because I DID IT. The end result is what matters. The fact that I’ve been blinded by my own white privilege and almost completely ignored POC authors for an entire YEAR? (And almost surely past years too, as it would be beyond naïve to think this was an isolated fluke.) That’s inexcusable to me.

I questioned whether I should even write this blog post. Firstly, to be totally honest, because it’s embarrassing. No, it’s more than that: it’s shameful to me. Secondly, because I didn’t want it to seem like I’m looking for reassurances or congratulations; that is decidedly not what this is. I’m writing this because I think it’s important to acknowledge when we screw up, and because I do not want to be a hypocrite. I’m sharing this post because I want to hold myself accountable. And because maybe it’ll inspire others to look more closely at their bookshelves, too.

There’s clearly a problem with my book buying and reading choices. Thankfully, it’s one with a pretty simple solution. Next year, I’m going to be conscious, intentional, and critical about the books I choose to buy and read. Because I like measurable goals (and because I think vague “try harder” goals are fairly worthless for me), I’m going to ensure that at least 50% of the books I read next year are written by POC. And I’m going to talk about those books, to rate and review them, to share them with others.

I hope others in the kidlit community who aren’t already will choose to actively and consciously support POC authors as well. Again, I am not writing this for kudos or recognition, as this is something I think we should all be doing anyway as decent human beings. It’s something I should have been doing all along.

It is important to learn about and talk about the wider systemic, institutional problems with racism in publishing and society in general. But I cannot be an ally without examining how my own personal choices are reinforcing the oppression I profess to oppose, and then changing those behaviors.
_______________________

2014-reading-challengeAddendum: After I posted this, all-around awesome person Corinne Duyvis mentioned that Latin@s in Kidlit is having a 2014 Reading Challenge, and I am definitely going to be participating! Each participant commits to reading and reviewing at least one book per month “written by a Latin@ author and/or featuring a Latin@ characters, settings, themes, etc.” This looks like it’ll be a blast, a way to connect with other readers, and most importantly, a way to support Latin@ authors and stories. I encourage everyone to sign up to participate as well!

The Power of Playlists

In this week’s AYWI vlog, I talk a bit about the role music plays in my writing, and my love of creating playlists. The gist is that they provide inspiration, help me organize my thoughts during the planning stages of a story, and get me in a groove when drafting.

So, I thought I’d take the opportunity both to give an example of a recent playlist that did all three and to be a tease–muahaha!

Here’s the 6-song playlist I made for my Dark Carnival story, which will be posted sometime this month.

I didn’t talk about HOW songs make it onto my playlists in the video, but this is a pretty good example of the kinds of things I look for. Most of these were included because of the mood or atmosphere of them. A few have lyrics sprinkled throughout that relate somewhat more directly to the story. And one or two were added because they reminded me of the characters.

And, no, I am not telling you which is which. That’s why this is a tease.

But really, I cannot wait to share this story. I had such a blast writing it, and I’m really proud of how it turned out!

Watch Me Talk About Things on Camera: AKA New Vlog Series!

As part of my work with a nonprofit called the Atlanta Young Writers Institute, I’m now hosting a weekly YouTube series all about writing! I’m really, really excited about this. (Even though it’s weird to spend so much time watching and listening to myself when editing the videos.)

Here’s the first legitimate vlog, wherein I talk about some of my favorite titles and break down why I think they work.

Lies I Tell Myself

You must have coffee before writing.

And also a biscuit. Or scone. Or chocolate chip cookie. Something with carbs because carbs = energy. That’s called SCIENCE.

You should re-read everything you’ve written until now before you start. Can’t know where you’re going without knowing where you’ve been, right?

This section needs more metaphors. Preferably involving food or nature.

You definitely need more adverbs. Seriously.

You haven’t described the setting enough. You have to ground the reader with as many details as you can write (ideally using more metaphors).

These new words are awful. You should focus on the already polished ones and spend thirty minutes debating the merits of “a” versus “the” in that one sentence.

Actually, all the polished words are awful too.

All of this is awful. Have you seen how many metaphors you use?

Actually, you’re awful.

You don’t care about this story.

No one else will care about this story.

You should definitely delete it.

Delete it all.

Do it. You’re making a fool of yourself.

Even this blog post is awful. It’s not funny or clever and it’s way too personal.

Delete it.

You don’t have the guts to press “Post”.