May, briefly

May has been a flurry of activity, to say the least. (Thankfully, no flurries outside… but touch wood, because in Canada, you never know.) I’m very grateful that I’ve been able to stay organized and on top of things, because otherwise something would have slipped through the cracks. The best part is that we have been experiencing summer-like temperatures here (Heat! Humidity! Be still, my heart!), which means I can do my work on the back deck with a glass of wine. Basically, that’s my happy place.

This month, I have been:

Pen

The coolest pen ever.

Working on: With one finished WIP in the very capable hands of my CP, I have been revising another completed WIP draft. Because of everything else going on, this second WIP has sat on my computer, untouched, for several months—and the time away has done wonders. After reading the full manuscript, I was able to pick out exactly what needed to be fixed and get to work quickly instead of dawdling over a page filled with question marks. I guess that saying “absence makes the heart grow fonder” works for an author’s relationship with her writing, too. This WIP (another YA contemporary) is unlike anything I’ve ever written before, and it was something that started as an “in between” project, which was great because I felt no pressure from myself to make it into something.

I have also been hard at work for a secret project we have cooked up for FIRSTS. I’m looking forward to sharing more about this as soon as I can! I’ll say this much: it has been an insanely fun thing to do, and I hope everyone enjoys it!

Reading: I have been a bit behind on my massive TBR, unfortunately. (Can there please be more hours added to the day solely for reading?) But I finished BECOMING JINN by Lori Goldstein, which kept me up way too late at night. My relationship with Lori, my former Pitch Wars mentor, is very dear to me, so I was obviously quite excited to read her debut. She’s tremendously talented and balances drama with humor to absolute perfection. BECOMING JINN is the story of Azra, whose Jinn powers are released on her sixteenth birthday. I loved Azra’s snarky, sarcastic voice, her relationships with her Zar sisters and her mother, and how she reconciles her feelings for two very different guys. Often, the hardest part of writing is balancing the elements that make a good story, and Lori makes that seem easy: she has the perfect amounts of world-building, action, tears, laughter, tragedy, and plot twists. My only complaint? Having to wait for the sequel after THAT ENDING!

I also read I’LL GIVE YOU THE SUN by Jandy Nelson this month. I have heard nothing but great things about her writing, so I was really looking forward to diving in to this book. And basically, it knocked the wind out of me and replaced it with sunshine. Stunning, beautiful, and unputdownable, I’LL GIVE YOU THE SUN is about many kinds of relationships– brother and sister, daughter, son, student, lover– and at its core, the relationship between artists and their art. For a book that centers around art and the “ecstatic impulse,” this book is art itself. Funny, sad, smart, insightful, and electric. Jandy Nelson knows how to make words bend, sizzle, soar, and take shape, just like art. I’LL GIVE YOU THE SUN inspired me and made me want to create things.

Watching: My husband and I are mainlining Dexter on Netflix. We’re six seasons in now and I’m continually impressed with the suspense and tension and how it has held up. Generally, I feel like shows lose some steam as they get into later seasons, but in my opinion, Dexter is just as good or better as when it started. The writers have done a great job of keeping the storylines creative and making us care about the characters. I tend to compare Dexter to Breaking Bad (which is one of my all-time favorites) because in both shows, we root for a character who does seriously questionable things. I think this moral ambiguity is so interesting, and it’s a lesson to be learned for writing, too– characters need to have both good and bad elements for us to care about them. Plus, I can’t help it—I’m a total sucker for an antihero.

All that said, May has been a great month, and I hope June brings more hot weather, words, and backyard wine!

#SixteensBlogAbout: Diversity

This month, The Sweet Sixteens are blogging about diversity, so I wanted to share what diversity means to me– as a reader and as a writer.

I first remember hearing about We Need Diverse Books last year, when the hashtag kept appearing in my Twitter feed. I was blown away by what so many people had to say, and at how the whole kidlit community rallied together for something we all not only want to see happen, but need to see happen.

WNDB2It makes me very sad to think that kids grow up without being able to find faces that look like theirs on book covers, or characters like them within its pages. A big part of the joy of reading is being able to identify with characters, to relate to their struggles and feelings and realize that you’re not alone. There are few better escapes than retreating into a book and hiding there until you feel okay again. I remember lots of times where I felt awkward and geeky and out of place growing up, but turning the pages of a book and losing myself in the characters could deflate my worries like nothing else. I idolized characters, loved them, hated them, pictured myself in their shoes. I felt better about myself when I realized they made mistakes too, because they were just like me. Maybe when I was younger, a straight, white, teenage girl from the suburbs, I took it for granted that I would find a version of myself in a book’s pages. But that feeling is one that everybody deserves to have.

Every experience is unique, and reading about the experiences of people different from us makes readers more educated, more empathetic, more understanding. As writers, it’s our responsibility to create characters that resonate with people. It’s our duty to make our characters authentic. This means writing characters who are identified by more than their gender, skin color, weight, religion, cultural background, or sexual orientation.

Books should be more than that. Books need to be more than that. Because everyone deserves to see themselves as a main character. Not a sidekick, not a secondary character, not a stereotype, not the best friend or the loner or the misunderstood bully. But as fully fleshed-out, multifaceted main characters, with laughter and tears and triumphs and failures.

And don’t get me wrong: I think art is doing a great job of covering ground. There are so many writers out there creating wonderfully diverse books, changing the landscape of publishing. Brilliant writers who are making a difference, not just in the writing world but in the lives of so many readers.

But until everyone can see themselves as a main character, art still has a long way to go.

Mother’s Day

My parents are in Memphis for the Blues Music Awards this weekend (seriously, they have a much more active social life than I do), so I won’t be spending Mother’s Day with my mom. I’ll be spending it with my in-laws instead, celebrating my amazing mother-in-law. But in honor of Mother’s Day, I wanted to write about the role my mom has played in my writing career, and my life.

My beautiful mom!

My beautiful mom!

For a lot of parents, I may not have been the easiest child to support. I changed my mind about things as often as I changed my hairstyle (which, in my early 20s, was basically every week). I always knew I loved writing, but my attention was forever getting jerked in other directions every time the wind blew. Two days into my first year of university, I decided I’d rather go to school out west. Then I got into modeling and told my parents I’d be jetting off to Tokyo, then Athens, then Paris. When I got back, I impulsively bought a dog without telling anyone first. A couple years later, I thought it would be fun to move away again to study Journalism and live in Toronto.

I may not have been the easiest child to support, but my parents sure made it seem that way. They never once discouraged me or tried to talk me out of doing anything. Wherever I was in the world, I got care packages filled with my favorite cereal I could only get in Canada or my dad’s famous date-filled oatmeal cookies. My mom learned how to use MSN Messenger so that she could talk to me while I was abroad sitting in Internet cafes. When there was an earthquake in Tokyo, my parents called my Japanese cell phone (which was always on the fritz) to make sure I was okay. My parents supported me when I had no money and no clue, and instilled in me what was perhaps the most valuable life lesson: above all else, follow your dreams.

I can honestly say I wouldn’t be where I am in my writing career without that kind of support. When I was little, my mom tried to send some of my poetry off to a publisher, even though she didn’t know the process, just because she believed in me. When I told my parents I wanted to write a book, their reaction was basically: “that’s what you were meant to do.” Despite all the rejection and uncertainty that comes with the publishing industry, my parents’ words were the loudest of all. Getting to tell them FIRSTS was going to be published was one of the best moments of my life.

My mom has always been more than just a mom to me. She’s also a best friend, a confidante, someone who boosts me up when I’m having a bad day and cheers with me when I get great news. She’s there to listen to my fears and offer words of encouragement. She’s there to babysit my dog when I go out of town. She spent the days before my wedding helping me with last-minute wedding-favor baking, then treated me to a day at the spa. She took me and my sister to Toronto for a girls’ weekend to celebrate my book deal. She’s beautiful and kind and loving and generous and smart. Which also makes her my role model, because I want to be all those things to someone one day too. If I’m lucky, I’ll be just a little bit like her when I have kids of my own.

So in honor of all the awesome moms out there—all the women who do so much for their kids, who put themselves last, who celebrate our dreams and make us feel like our failures aren’t so bad—I raise a glass of champagne to you today.

And to my mom, the whole bottle.

April, briefly

I cannot believe April is almost over. I’m still blinking and rubbing my eyes, wondering where the month went. For the most part, I have been deep in the revision cave, only coming out for coffee and an occasional breath of that thing called fresh air. My weekend wardrobe has consisted of pajamas and one time I almost called my husband the name of a character in my book. So, yeah… April has been a blur.

The glamorous life of a revising writer.

The glamorous life of a revising writer.

Working on: (See above…) Revising, revising, revising. Note to past Laurie: you thought it was such a good idea to write scenes out of order and stitch them together. Well, it wasn’t! Revising this WIP has been a completely different experience for me. Since there are two timelines and lots of short chapters, I have employed different tactics to stay organized (and sane). One involved my closet door, a lot of Post-It notes, and quite a bit of swearing when the Post-Its didn’t want to stay put. The other strategy, which I have come to love, is a mini three-ring binder I bought at Staples as a total impulse buy. (I’m one of those people who gets sucked in at the checkout.) I have used the little pages to keep chapters in order and shift things around while retaining (some of) my sanity. This method made it (somewhat) easy to add new chapters and take out ones that weren’t working. Plus, it’s easy to tote around in my purse. Because every writer should have a tiny binder full of desperation and betrayal jostling around with her lipstick and loose change.

Reading: The new releases for 2015 debut authors are insanely amazing. Like, so good I need to become a full-time reader so I can devour them all. This month, I read the cyberthriller DUPLICITY by N.K. Traver, and completely loved it. Brandon’s voice was excellent (I adore boy POV, especially done this well), and the plot had plenty of twists that kept me rapidly turning pages.

Another fearless debut I read was NONE OF THE ABOVE by I.W. Gregorio. This was one of my most highly anticipated books of 2015, and it blew all of my expectation away: stunning, totally original, and beautifully written. I.W. Gregorio tackles Kristin’s struggle to accept herself for who she is with grace and unflinching honesty.

Wearing the lovely infinity necklace I won in the #BecomingJinn Twitter chat. Just like the one Azra wears!

Wearing the lovely infinity necklace I won in the #BecomingJinn Twitter chat. Just like the one Azra wears!

I was beyond excited for April 21st, the book birthday for BECOMING JINN! Its author, the supremely talented Lori Goldstein, is my former Pitch Wars mentor and somebody who has shaped my writing journey in a huge way. I preordered BECOMING JINN and my copy arrived a few days ago, so as a reward for getting so much revising done, I started reading it. I’ll have more to say when I’m finished, but I was hooked from the first page and totally love Azra, the snarky, rebellious sixteen-year-old who learns that becoming Jinn comes at a cost greater than she ever imagined. Lori’s attention to detail, amazing premise, and sense of humor make this book something very special. (Plus, it has a sequel coming out next year!) I could definitely see BECOMING JINN well, becoming, a classic must-read teen series.

Watching: I went to see FURIOUS 7 with my mom and sister. I have been a huge fan of the whole franchise since the first one came out. (My mom has taken me to see all of them in the theater, with the exception of Tokyo Drift. She’s the best!) I’m so not a movie crier, but the end definitely brought some waterworks. It’s strange to imagine the series carrying on without Paul Walker, but I love their dedication to him and how much the cast seems like a family.

(On a totally awesome note, later the same day, my sister got engaged! I’m so excited to be her maid of honor and for her to marry a truly wonderful guy.)

So, that’s April, not-so-briefly. If you need me, I’ll be stewing in my revision cave, stitching chapters together like Dr. Frankenstein!

“I’ll do it later:” On procrastination

One of the funny things about being a writer is the great lengths we’ll sometimes go to in order to avoid writing altogether. These are the times when procrastination knocks on the door and makes itself comfortable. I thought I ditched procrastination back in university, when I spent far too many nights pulling off an essay at the eleventh hour, fueled by a disgusting amount of Red Bull. But after I started taking writing seriously, I realized that I never really broke up with procrastination. It’s still there, tempting me at my weakest moments, the bad-news older brother of motivation, my regular companion.

Procrastination

“Come on, ditch that book. We’re much more appealing today!”

I consider myself to be pretty efficient with time management. Like many writers, I have a full-time day job, so I have to be disciplined with my time to get my words in each day. I like to write for a couple hours before work every day, and sometimes tinker around in the evening too, depending on what projects I have on the go. When I have days off with no plans, I generally plan to write for most of them. All that glorious free time… what better way to fill it than with words?

But funnily enough, it’s on those days off when I struggle the most with motivation. And it’s on these days when procrastination decides to settle in and show me what else I could be doing with my time. Every so often, I give in to the temptation. On those days, my inner dialogue goes a lot like this:

A Dexter marathon on Netflix? I suppose I could watch *one* episode, then get back to my writing. (Six episodes later, my tablet has been abandoned and I’ve condemned myself to weird serial killer nightmares.)

That coffee table looks a bit dusty. Maybe I should clean the whole house. I can’t work in a pigsty!

I think my perfume collection needs to be rearranged. And might as well go through all of my makeup while I’m at it. And while I’m here, now’s a great time to clean my makeup brushes, too…

Look at that mountain of laundry! I should probably get around to that today.

My TBR list is out of control. Better make a dent in it before it gets any longer…

I need to check the mail. And it’s so nice outside, it would be a waste not to go for a walk.

I really should go grocery shopping, we’re almost out of _______ (insert any random product name here).

Gee, I hate cooking, but maybe this is the perfect time to pull out one of the cookbooks collecting dust in a drawer and master that roast recipe I dog-eared back in 2003.

This is a nice nail polish color. Why have I never worn it? Maybe I’ll give myself a manicure. Oh, but I can’t type with wet nails, so while they’re drying, I’ll watch *one* more Dexter.

Usually, I can combat procrastination by telling myself that if I can finish the work I want to accomplish, I’ll spend the rest of the day doing something non-writing related. And most times, that works. But when it doesn’t—when I waste a whole day in front of Netflix attempting some intricate nail art—I try not to be too hard on myself. I let procrastination sit down on the couch beside me and tell myself that I will finish that chapter.

Later.

March, briefly

March has been a pretty awesome month. For one thing, the weather has improved considerably, so I have been able to get outside for walks with my husband and dog and enjoy some long overdue sunshine. And to make things even better, this will go down the month I finally managed to find a happy medium behind plotting and pantsing.

champagne

Not just for special occasions.

Working on: For the most part, I have adhered to a schedule of at least 2K each day to get a first draft of my current YA contemporary WIP done. And I’m happy to say that I met my goal! Since this was the hardest first draft I’ve ever written, it’s also the one I’m the most proud of. I couldn’t just fly by the seat of my pants with this WIP, and learning to reconcile a plot with my pantsing tendencies has challenged me and pushed me to new limits as a writer. I now have 85K to reread, play with, and revise the heck out of. As much as I love the exhilarating freedom of a first draft, I also enjoy the deconstructive element of revising—breaking everything down, figuring out what isn’t working, and putting it back together as something even better.

Reading: I read two books that I absolutely loved this month, and both were 2015 releases. (This is shaping up to be a totally killer for reading!) The first was ALL THE BRIGHT PLACES by Jennifer Niven, which is equal parts touching, heartbreaking, and hopeful. I love that we get into the heads of both main characters, Finch and Violet. Finch, especially, is one of the most memorable characters I have read in a long time. I really enjoyed Jennifer Niven’s writing style, and I’ll definitely be picking up her other books.

I also binge-read Jasmine Warga’s debut novel, MY HEART AND OTHER BLACK HOLES. Binge-read because I could not put it down. This is a hugely moving, beautifully written debut that tackles very difficult subject matter with grace and humor. Aysel and Roman (aka FrozenRobot), the two main characters, feel very real: their personalities, struggles with depression, and the tragedies they have had to endure. Their relationship is unlike any other I have seen in other books, and I enjoyed seeing it develop and change as they start to break down each other’s walls.

Listening to: I’m an easily distracted person. (Evidenced by my many failed attempts to be one of those people who can write while a TV show plays in the background.) I’m finding out that I can’t write very effectively to music with lyrics either because the lyrics end up drowning out my thought process. So I have been listening to a lot of movie soundtracks lately. My very favorite soundtrack is AMERICAN BEAUTY, which has basically been on repeat for the past few weeks.

Well, that’s March in a nutshell! I’m really looking forward to taking this WIP and making it shine as April progresses. And speaking of shine, a bit more sunshine would be nice, too…

#SixteensBlogAbout: Luck

It’s Saint Patrick’s day today, which means green beer for some people, questionable green fashion choices for others, and for writers, a time to reflect on “the luck of the Irish.” This month, the Sweet Sixteens are blogging about luck, so what better day to write about it than the luckiest day of the year?

Irish

That I am.

Good or bad, luck plays a role in publishing. It’s part of the formula that turns your hand-scribbled notes or the Word document on your computer into something on a shelf in a bookstore, but it’s the one part we can’t control as writers, which makes it so elusive—and so maddening. You can work hard and write a great book, but for your work to find its way to an agent or an editor, a bit of luck has to be on your side too.

I think a lot of luck has to do with timing. If you’re a querying writer, you might have heard this before. An agent might love your work, but feel like it’s not right for her list at this time. Or maybe she has something too similar already. Maybe you wrote a book about a trend that’s getting harder and harder for agents to sell and editors to acquire. Perhaps you get told that your book doesn’t have what it takes to stand out in an already crowded market. (FYI: I heard this more than once before with the first NA book I queried, and those agents were right.)

If you’re getting these kinds of rejections, you might think it’s you. You might doubt yourself as a writer and wonder if you have anything unique to say, or if you should just stop trying altogether. You might be looking for a sign, something to tell you what to do.

Here’s a sign: whatever you do, don’t stop writing.

Because as much as timing sucks sometimes and you might think you have the worst luck in the world, there is something hugely important that you do have control over: whether or not you keep writing. So maybe your first book doesn’t work out, or your second or third. But if you keep writing and have faith in yourself and don’t give up, you will find the right path for your work.

And here’s another thing about luck. It can be in your favor, too. After you fall down and brush yourself off and stand up even taller, you’ll realize that you learned more than you gave yourself credit for. You’ll come to understand that you’re smarter than when you started. Your writing will get better and so will your choices. Maybe you’ll submit to an agent who really gets you, and you’ll count yourself so lucky to have her in your corner. Maybe that awesome agent will sell your book to your dream editor. And you’ll realize that all the supposed “bad luck” you experienced along the way wasn’t bad luck at all, but was actually the best thing that could have happened to you.

Case in point: I remember a time when I was querying the first book I ever wrote. I had been in the query trenches for more than six months and I was discouraged because although I had come pretty close to a “yes” with a few agents, I hadn’t been offered representation. I felt like a failure. But I picked myself up and wrote a second book. Then, I had this crazy idea that I just had to write, and that crazy idea turned into FIRSTS. Looking back, I think luck was on my side the whole time, with each rejection that trickled in. It sure didn’t feel that way when I was in the query trenches, but in hindsight, I can see that all those “no’s” led me to where I am now. And I wouldn’t change a thing.

Writers talk a lot about the path to publication. And no matter what stage you’re at—writing, revising, querying, entering a contest—guess what? You’re on it. You’re living your dream. And that, in itself, is an amazing accomplishment. As the Irish blessing goes, “may the wind be always at your back.”