Saturday, June 25, 2016

In the Weeds


Sometimes I am a liar when it comes to talking the Joy of Revision with my writing students. 

You can do it, I say. You can write a book. Write a messy first draft. Figure out what you have and what you need. Revise. Rinse. Repeat. 

I show them one of my drafts as an example. An array of colorful post-its. 

Look! It's not so difficult! Sometimes it's even fun! And my students nod along, inspired, I think, to try it for themselves. 

I do the same kind of thing when I talk about my garden. I post glorious close-ups of my veggies on social media. Lovely cauliflowers and darling pea pods and gorgeous purple cabbage.

It's not so hard to grow a garden, I tell my friends with less greener thumbs. Scatter a few seeds here and there. Water. Weed.  Repeat.

Okay. I don't completely lie. I admit to throwing out entire chapters, to fighting resistance each morning and girding myself to settle down to my day's writing 

to battling slugs 

But I tend to do this in a funny way. Glossing over the sweaty details. Joking about the actual WORK involved, the TIME

The worm that ate the hell out of the cabbage growing right next to the lovely cabbage picture above. 

The days I sit in front of my computer writing and rewriting the same paragraph a hundred times and then scrapping the entire thing. 

The caterpillars on my kale

The mornings I rant and whine and moan to my critique partner, 

the self-doubting--and sometimes, self-loathing

The creepy purply mold on my cauliflower

The times when I've finished up a revision of a revision and think what I have is the best piece of writing I've ever done and I send it off into the world and it sinks like a stone, unread--  or worse, read and passed on

and I wonder how I will ever find the energy or courage or discipline to start writing another story

The pathetic patch of cilantro after a heavy rainstorm

But, somehow, I do begin another story

Because it is what I do

It's what I do. 

Monday, June 13, 2016

One Kind Day

Yesterday I woke up to news I wish I hadn't woken up to. Another mass shooting in America. But it could have been a bombing. Or a terror attack. Or a riot. Or a police officer shooting an unarmed person. Or a 20 year old man dragging an unconscious woman behind a dumpster and raping her. 

I don't want to know these things happen in the world. I don't want to know that people are terrified and hateful and spiteful and selfish and enraged and ignorant and racist and sexist and contemptuous and self-righteous and greedy and divisive. 

I'm not here to argue a point or pass judgment or blame. I don't want to talk about guns or Islamphobia or homophobia. I just want to figure out how to live in a world that is often a place of evil and fear-- without succumbing to evil and fear myself. 

It's overwhelming. 

My natural inclination is to retreat. Click off the news. Put my hands over my ears and pretend these things don't have anything to do with me. I realize only someone in a position of great privilege can make this choice. I also realize that even the most privileged of us are still vulnerable--

    --if we go out to night clubs or run in marathons or attend church or school or parties or movies. 

Yesterday, after I read the news. I made a meal. I planted basil plants in my garden. I sat with a writer friend at a book event because I knew she was anxious about having to sit by herself, and we ended up chatting with several teen readers and writers. At night I watched the Tony Awards with my husband and teared up when Lin Manuel Miranda, the brilliant and talented writer and performer, read a sonnet about the news we had all woken up to. 

...When senseless acts of tragedy remind us
That nothing here is promised, not one day
This show is proof that history remembers
We live through times when hate and fear seem stronger
We rise and fall and light from dying embers
Remembrances that hope and love last longer
And love is love is love is love is love is love is love is love...

Someone on Twitter wrote that the opposite of war is not peace, it's creation. 

I believe this. 

We live in a world where evil and fear and ignorance exist, and on a day like yesterday, especially, evil and fear and ignorance seem to be winning. 

One person can do very little to fix, to change, to solve--

and I am not so naive to think that preparing a meal for your family or planting a basil plant or sitting with a friend or talking about stories to beginning writers or taking a moment to honor music and words and theater and dance and art can counteract all of the pain and suffering and terror and trauma that happened yesterday-- 
                              that will happen today--  
                                                       that will happen tomorrow-- 

but isn't it lovely, sometimes, to think so?   

Thursday, June 9, 2016

A Tale of Two Editing Sessions


Your lovely critique partner reads your draft and calls you to discuss big picture issues that you might want to look at as you revise. You agree with pretty much everything she says and are excited about digging in. You open the manuscript, taking note of the 160+ comments and questions that your lovely critique partner has helpfully inserted.

You begin work enthusiastically.

The End


Your lovely critique partner reads your draft and calls you to discuss big picture issues that you might want to look at as you revise. You agree with pretty much everything she says. Damn it. 

You open the manuscript, taking note of the 160+ comments and questions that your lovely critique partner has helpfully inserted and you are horrified by the amount of work that lies ahead.

But whatever. What else are you going to do with your time?

You begin work. Tightening, reworking, deleting, adding, fiddling--

move this paragraph over here where it fits better. No. Move it back. It worked better where it was originally. Delete the end of this chapter. Rework this scene. What's the timeline here? Does this flashback belong in this chapter? Why does the main character say that? What's the purpose of the scene? What's the MC's friend thinking at this point?

More fiddling and tweaking and shifting, cutting

combining, questioning,

wondering if you're fixing problems or creating new ones. Is this necessary? If you take it out, have you made things more confusing? Wait, why did you think this character was funny?

What's the point of this story? Why did you start writing it in the first place? What if you can't fix this? What if it's unfixable? Why are you a writer? What is the meaning of life? Why are-- what should-- Why didn't you-- Who cares if--

View post on

The End

Bonus points if you can guess which scene I acted out yesterday :)

Tuesday, May 31, 2016

My Life in Drafts

I wrote the first draft of my tenth book in the winter of 2012. 

That year my son was graduating from high school and I was on the verge of a book deal but wasn't sure if the deal would ever actually go through. This particular first draft was weirdly fun to write. Book number 10! and up to that point, none of the other nine had been published! 

So mostly I was just writing for myself, month after gray wintery month, playing around with a meandery, blathery plot, a mostly stream of consciousness narrative, something I knew even then, when I "finished" it, would need a ton of work. 

But then the book deal came through, and I spent the summer editing, and in the fall I started reworking another manuscript, and then another manuscript, and meanwhile, I was promoting and traveling and teaching like crazy, and that draft from the winter of 2012 stayed tucked in a computer file, undisturbed and unread and unremembered--

--until this past fall, when I metaphorically dusted it off, took a seriously look at it, and decided it was worth a second round.

Thus began Draft 2, the bulk of it reworked during the winter of 2016. I "finished" it a couple of weeks ago, 

a few days before my son graduated from college. 

Which says something about something about time flying and wasn't it just yesterday that I was stressing about his college acceptances and word count goals and what's with this stream of conscious style anyway and how many people are coming to the high school graduation party 


how many people are coming to the college graduation party and does this crazy stream of consciousness style work or not and why is it taking me a week to write one scene and when exactly is my son moving across country to start his job?

I think it was T.S. Eliot who said he measured out his life in coffee spoons.

Apparently, I measure out my life in drafts. 


Wednesday, May 25, 2016

Magical Realism & Breathing Life into Settings--Guest Post by Holly Schindler

Once more I am thrilled to host Holly Schindler on my blog. Holly is the fearless leader of YA Outside the Lines, the author of multiple books for young adults, and my lovely, long time writer friend.--Jody

And here's Holly:

My work has run the gamut in terms of age categories and genres: I’ve tackled YAs, MGs, adult fiction, contemporary realism, romance, psychological thrillers, humor…and in ’16, two of my releases delve into magical realism.

One thing both of my magical realism releases have in common is that the “magical” elements of both allow the settings to literally come to life.

Actually, I’ve long been a fan of works that depict settings with such detail and vibrancy that the setting itself feels like a main character (think: Elin Hilderbrand’s BLUE BISTRO—a story that made me mourn for the loss of a restaurant the same way I would mourn for the tragic end to a character I’d grown to know and love), but the magical realism element allows me to take this to an entirely new level:

SPARK, my fourth YA (HarperTeen), focuses on the dilapidated Avery Theater—the site of a ‘40s-era tragedy. In order to depict the revival of the old theater, I depicted it as a living, breathing entity. When the MC, Quin, and her two friends come to the Avery, the theater comes back to life; its heart begins to beat again: 


My independently-released FOREVER FINLEY is using magical realism in order to bring the small town of Finley to life. In my indie work, I wanted to experiment with formats that most publishers don’t often explore—specifically, this time around, I really wanted to get back to shorter fiction (a format I love but hadn’t written in much since my days as a master’s student). “Come December” was initially going to be a stand-alone short story. But I was so surprised by the response (I moved 19K copies during the holiday season) that I wanted to propel the story forward.

FOREVER FINLEY is a short story cycle, meaning each story is a stand-alone and can be read in any order; on their own, each story creates one picture of the town of Finley—when read together, they create another. People find themselves drawn to Finley for reasons they can’t explain; meanwhile, legends regarding the Hargroves, Finley’s founding family, swirl through the town. I don’t want to give too much away, because the tale is still ongoing! Once a month, I release a new short story—each titled for the month of its release. And I’ve got a big finale planned for this December!


Holly Schindler Bio: I’m a hybrid author of critically concession acclaimed traditionally published and Amazon bestselling independently published works for readers of all ages. My previous YAs (A BLUE SO DARK, PLAYING HURT, and FERAL) have received starred reviews from Booklist and Publishers Weekly, won silver and gold medals from ForeWord Reviews Book of the Year and the IPPY Awards, respectively, been featured on Booklist’s First Novels for Youth, School Library Journal’s “What’s Hot in YA,” and been selected as a PW Pick. Kirkus praised by latest YA, SPARK, for “crisp prose [that] flows easily between the past and present,” and Booklist claimed the novel casts “a shimmering spell.”

Readers can get in touch at
Twitter @Holly_Schindler

Monday, May 16, 2016

A Brief Moment of Celebration between Showering and Scooping up Dustball Tumbleweeds

I finished writing a book this morning.

I've been working on the thing pretty much every day since September and when I haven't been working on it, it's been in my head, snippets of dialogue in the supermarket that I scratch out on the back of my grocery list, and sudden cold sweats in the middle of the night when I realize I've got a gaping plot hole, and moments of excitement when I snap together pieces that just might solve that gaping plot hole issue,

but mostly it's day after day of psychologically girding myself, gearing up to write, and fighting back the demons in my head that whisper why bother why are you doing this it's stupid and pointless and opening up my lap top and writing anyway.

You think when you come to the end of the book you've been writing for eight months, you'll want to whoop it up. Drink a bottle of champagne. Tear out of the house shouting I JUST FINISHED WRITING A BOOK!

The truth is nobody really cares.

Also, the house is a gigantic mess because you've been neglecting it for eight months and suddenly you can see the layer of dust on all of the furniture and the tumbleweed sized dog hair balls in the corners and the fact that you've been wearing the same clothes for possibly days? and when was the last time you showered?

(Don't answer that.)

So, there's tons of stuff to do and after you take a shower and put on some different clothes, it's time to get to it. Answering a bajillion emails and taking care of business-y stuff and never mind figuring out what to do with this Thing-- the inevitable revising once you get it back from your critique partners-- and Hey! It's time to query it! and what will you write next? yadda yadda ya...

One of my friends asked me the other day, when I told her I was getting closer to the end of this draft, how I was going to celebrate.

Confession: I'm not big on celebrations.

I'm not sure what it is exactly about celebrating that bugs me. The expense? The party-planning aspect? Anything to do with cake and glitter? Plus, it feels a little narcissistic to me. (See above: nobody really cares.)

I don't mind participating in other people's celebrations.

This weekend, for example, my son's graduating from college, and my husband and I are throwing him a party. A graduation is a Thing worthy of celebrating. The culmination of years of hard work and study. The marking of the movement from one life stage into another. An opportunity to hang together as a family, as friends, as a community to acknowledge the person you love who's done This Thing.

Writing a book, while it feels monumental at times, is so much more solitary. Especially when there's no guarantee that anyone will ever read it. It's like running a marathon in the dark. You don't get a certificate of completion. There's no stage to walk across. No graduation cap to throw into the air. No Congratulations to The Book Writer cards in the stationery aisle.

Ah well.


*throws all the glitter*

Saturday, May 7, 2016

Kill Your Carrots

Today I went into my garden and murdered a bunch of vegetables.

Tore the perky kale out by the roots. Sliced the lovely swiss chard. Ripped apart the darling purple cabbages. And I don't even want to tell you how gruesome things got in the carrot patch.

I hate this part of gardening.

Thinning, the professionals call it, which sounds so innocuous and easy. For those of you who are non-gardeners, thinning basically means pulling out seedlings so there is more space between plants. When I first started gardening I couldn't bring myself to do it.

So what if all of the radishes grew so closely together that they never actually, um...

grew radishes?

Over the years I've tried to get a handle on my thinning aversion by experimenting with different solutions:

1. I planted seeds far apart to begin with.  (Easier said than done... some of these seeds are teeny tiny! Some never grow in the first place and there's wasted space where a plant could've been.)

2. I replanted the "thinned" seedlings in different spots around the garden. (This requires lots of work-- to dig up a seedling, roots and all, and get it going again somewhere else. And honestly, how many vegetables do I really need anyway? Example: the garden two summers ago where I had 55 basil plants.)

3. I left everything as is, without thinning. (see above: radish plants that never grow radishes because they are bunched up too closely to each other.)

In the end I came around to thinning and that is why I was outside in my garden today killing my carrots.



And much better. (sigh)

Also, a million times easier than what I've been doing inside my home:

Over the past few weeks I've been finishing up work on the second draft of a novel. I started the revision back in September and I was confident, then, that I could whip the thing into shape by Thanksgiving. I mean, Christmas. I mean, February. I mean, Spring Break.

I mean, two weeks from now.

One of the things that has tripped me up was holding onto my first draft.

As often happens with second drafts, this book has morphed into something different from what I originally thought it was. (better, I hope!) The story tightens up. The characters come into focus. The plot crystallizes and smaller sub plots fall away. Things I thought were important in the first draft don't make sense any more. Strands. Minor characters. Dialogue I love--funny bits, heartbreaking interchanges between people I've grown to believe are real.

Entire scenes. The first fifty pages. The last. The title.

All of it-- this stuff that once worked but no longer does-- has got to go.

Oh! I do NOT want to do this!

I fight to hold onto it every step of the way. Maybe I can shoehorn in this perfectly crafted sentence Here? Maybe there's a place for this scene--at least half of it-- the one I enjoyed writing so much the first time around?

And inevitably, after much hopeful fiddling, I give up, resigned. And Snip.  



Now I don't even miss it. Now I can't even remember what was so great about that bit in the first place.

"In writing, you must kill your darlings," William Faulkner once said.

Yeah. Yeah. Yeah. Whatever, Bill. I know.