Saturday, October 31, 2015

My Half NaNo/Half Scene/Half Book/Half November Writing Challenge

Tomorrow is November 1st, which for many writers means the official starting date of NaNoWriMo. Midnight tonight, it's an On your mark, Get set, Go, across the world as several hundred thousand writers will attempt to silence their inner critical editor voices and bang out their 50,000-word first drafts.

Fun factoid: last year 325,142 writers, including 80,000 teens and children, signed up to take the challenge.

I'm not sure how many completed it.  Because it's freaking HARD to write a 50,000-word novel in 30 days!

Fun factoid # 2: Since 1999 over 250 writers eventually went on to traditionally publish (I assume after much revision) their NaNo novels-- Rainbow Rowell's Fangirl, Sara Gruen's Water for Elephants, Erin Morgenstern's The Night Circus... oh, and my book Thin Space (the first draft of which was crazily dashed off during NaNo, 2008)

NaNo is a fun, wild, relentless, ridiculously difficult and yet freeing ride and I halfway want to do it again this year.

But I'm not.

First, because I have just started revising a novel and, for me, revising is less about word count and more about scene work.

Also, I have a ton of other things to do. (Somehow, and I'm not sure exactly how this happened, I have nine events/presentations/writing workshops/school visits set up for this month, and now I've got to actually, um, prepare for those.)

I love the challenge-y goal aspect of NaNo though, so I have decided to craft my own NaNo-style program.

It's all about halves....

1. Revise half of a scene per
2. half of the days in November that I am not out and about presenting
3. which would get me roughly halfway through my revision

Anyone want to join me?

Pledge in the comments your Half NaNo Style Challenge, (or create whatever the heck other kind of writing goal you'd like to shoot for this month).

We'll meet back on December 1 and see how we've done.

Thursday, October 22, 2015

In Which I Fangirl like a Fangirl over FANGIRL and All Things Rainbow Rowell

I had dinner with Rainbow Rowell last week.

Okay, the phrase "had dinner" actually means: "I ate at a long table with 25 people and Rainbow Rowell walked by my end of the table quickly and sat at the other end and ate quickly and I watched her through the hazy lens of my two martinis on an empty stomach and when she was leaving I pretended I was taking a picture of my friend Natalie but I was actually taking a picture of Rainbow Rowell."

The next day I met Rainbow Rowell.

Okay, the phrase "met Rainbow Rowell" actually means: "I stood in a ridiculously long snaking line at the Books by the Banks festival in Cincinnati for 45 minutes and nearly came to blows with the woman in front of me who accused me of trying to get in front of her by saying EXCUSE ME, MA'AM, I WAS STANDING HERE FIRST!! and I was all like, Chillax, lady, no need to freak out, we are all Rainbow Rowell fans here and I'm sure she wouldn't want us to come to blows over line placement, and then I turned around and started talking to the lady behind me because, honestly, the level of freaky fangirling emanating from the woman in front of me was scary, but then it was MY turn at the front of the line, at last, and I said hello to Rainbow Rowell and she said hello to me and I blabbered like an absolute idiot about how my book was on the same Florida Teens Read list as hers and I knew she would win the award (she did) and I was just glad to have my book mentioned in the same breath as hers, and she just nodded and smiled and said, oh that's nice or something lovely like that, and then the security person (she had a security person!!) took my picture with her."

If you can't tell, I love Rainbow Rowell.

My first introduction to her work was the beautiful, heartbreaking novel Eleanor & Park, which is about a romance between two teens-- a half Korean/half American boy named Park who loves comics and 90's music (the book takes place in the 90's) and a poor/overweight/sensitive/red-headed/wrong-side of the tracks girl named Eleanor. 

There's a slow build up of their relationship, a sense that Eleanor and Park are in a lovely bubble, as forces outside of their control-- asshole kids who ride the same bus they do, Eleanor's terrible dysfunctional family life--threaten to tear them apart. Interestingly, they don't even hold hands until at least halfway through the book, and that scene, the drawn out lead up to the touching of their hands, is one of the most romantic scenes I have ever read. 

It's Eleanor's wrenching home-life, though, that is the most moving and memorable to me. Her struggles with her downtrodden mom and many siblings all piled into the same bedroom with each other and her yearning for privacy and dignity under the leering eyes of her stepfather are all painfully captured by Rowell. 

This feels real. Because, I suspect, it is. 

The book has been banned in some schools, for language--the concerned/outraged parents say-- but it's clear those people haven't read the book or if they have, they don't get it. Last year there was a blow up on social media, the story of a school inviting Rainbow Rowell to speak and then dis-inviting her after a parent called the book obscene. 

Someone asked Rainbow Rowell for a comment and she said: "When these people call Eleanor & Park an obscene story, I feel like they’re saying that rising above your situation isn’t possible. That if you grow up in an ugly situation, your story isn’t even fit for good people’s ears. That ugly things cancel out everything beautiful."

I was forever a fangirl after reading that. 

And then, I read her book Fangirl.

Or rather, I listened to it on audio. My husband, teen daughter, and her boyfriend, and I were driving 17 hours to Florida for Spring Break and I checked out Fangirl because it was written by Rainbow Rowell! and because I knew it was about a girl's first year in college and I thought my daughter might be interested. 

I put the first CD in and my husband was sleeping and my daughter was sleeping, but her boyfriend and I listened as main character Cath moves into her dorm, anxious about being away from home, anxious about not rooming with her twin sister, and only finding a little bit of solace in her writing. (Turns out she is a "famous" writer of fan fiction. She writes popular stories, eagerly followed by her many fans, on a Harry Potter-like series called Simon Snow.)

CD number two, and everyone in the car was awake, and we listened for the next 16 hours as Cath figures out how to navigate college and homesickness and her extreme anxiety and her loud-mouthed seemingly obnoxious roommate and the roommate's adorable boyfriend and her troubled twin sister and her struggling father and her distant mother and all the while interspersed with bits of her more and more popular Simon Snow fan fiction.

When we reached the end of the audio book, everyone in the car was crying and after we all wiped our tears, my daughter spoke up very softly from the backseat and asked if we'd put the first CD back on because she'd missed it.

We did.

I could go on about my love and admiration of all things Rainbow Rowell, about how my book club read Landline, one of her adult novels, and it was one of the few novels that we all agreed was good. About Rowell's latest novel, the one she signed for me, called Carry On, a book of Cath's fanfiction about Simon Snow... (I am marveling at the brilliance of this!!!)

But I won't because I fear that this blog post may never end if I do.

Instead I will leave you with this:


Thursday, October 15, 2015

Six Years Later, and Still ON THE VERGE

Six years ago I started this blog, thinking that it would be a fun record of my pre-published self snagging a book deal and crossing the threshold into the glittery and glamorous world of YA Publishing.

I was half right. 

The YA publishing world is not all that glittery and glamorous, although it is a lovely community filled with supportive and generous and amazingly talented people. Also, the journey was only beginning. I wouldn't get the book deal for another two years -- so most of those early posts are basically me whining and/or laughing at myself for whining, sputtering impatiently and/or giving myself Rah Rah Never Quit peptalks, interspersed with book reviews and author interviews. 

When I wasn't whining or peptalking I was writing about my Italian grandmother, the skull on Mr. Potter's desk in the movie It's a Wonderful Life, my obsession with yoga, and my journey through a hellish dystopian/snow-apocalyptic landscape (otherwise known as a college roadtrip). 

When I did, finally, sell my first book and announce it here, one of my friends commented that I would have to change the name of the blog. I wasn't, she pointed out, on the verge anymore.

I made a joke that I would always be on the verge of something. Which turned out to be true in ways I couldn't even imagine then.

Six years of writing blog posts (and I just added them up-- turns out this post will be number 287) and I've learned a few things about blogging and writing and my obsessive desire to pursue a dream.

Biggest lesson: the goalposts are always moving. For fifteen years I'd dreamed of having a published novel on a library shelf. But it turns out that as much as I am grateful for having achieving that dream, I have now expanded my goals, and hell, I'll go ahead and admit it here: I want to be doing this-- writing and publishing books -- for as long as my fingers can hold a pen.

For as the wise New Agey Mother of Following Your Dream Artist's Way author Julia Cameron says,

Once you quit pursuing your dreams, you die. 

(Or something like that. I may be getting the exact words wrong, but I think you get the point I am trying to make.)

On this day, the sorta 6th anniversary of my always on the verge On the Verge blog, I promise, dear readers --new and old-- that I will continue to offer you the services you have grown to expect and enjoy over the years.

The whining and laughing at whining, the sputtering impatiently as well as the Rah Rah Never Quit peptalks. 

Plus, bonus gifts of 
interviews with Mount Everest climbers
descriptions of sausage making
and the occasional picture of Emily Dickinson's dead brother

You're welcome. 



Thursday, October 8, 2015

Interview (and Celebration) with Natalie D. Richards

Book launches, at least in the YA book world, tend to be splashy affairs. Blog tours and giveaways. Book signings and parties. Whatever you think about authors promoting themselves, hopping up and down shouting BUY MY BOOK!! --most of us can forgive it on the day a new book is released.

It's a big deal to write a novel, to do the work it takes to get the thing onto bookstore and library shelves, and ultimately into readers' hands. It's an accomplishment worthy of celebration. 

I caught up with author Natalie D. Richards on October 6th, the launch day of her third novel, the YA thriller My Secret To Tell, fully expecting her to be busily running around. Where would the book signing be? Who was throwing her a party? 

Natalie waved off the questions. She had no particular plans. 

I shouldn't have been surprised. I knew this book had been a hard one for her to write. Not the writing itself. It was the stuff going on in her life at the time she was writing that colored the experience. Her father became ill when she was drafting the book, and he died as she was working on revisions. She pushed through the book anyway, and all the while promoting her second novel Gone Too Far. 

Disclosure: I've known Natalie for a couple of years, and I read My Secret To Tell and Gone Too Far months before they came out. These books (and her first, the best seller, Six Months Later) are page-turner-y thrillers, the kind you stay up half the night reading because you must find out WHO DID IT.  

I knew who did it (because Natalie had told me) and yet I still stayed up half the night reading each of these books because I couldn't figure out how Natalie was going to pull everything off. There's a trick to this kind of writing-- pacing, throwing out red herrings--a brilliant balancing act between leading the reader toward the likely suspects --but not being too obvious about it. 

We want to be surprised at the end of a thriller, but we also want to feel that the ending is logical and inevitable and right. 

Natalie's books always deliver. 

And damn it, I am happy that a new one has been released, and on the day of the launch I hated the idea that she wasn't celebrating, at least a little. 

So here's what we did:

First, cake. Because every book launch must have a coordinating thematic dessert to commemorate the occasion. 

(You will have to read the book to understand why I baked a bloody hand cake) 

We went out for a drink, which turned into several, because, yay! it was happy hour! 

(Bar food. The, um, pineapple infused vodka concoctions
are not shown in the picture)
We chatted about a bunch of stuff and I wrote some of it down. It would make a good interview, I thought, but now as I flip through my notes, I can hardly make sense of the scribbles.

(A sample. For tax purposes.)
Some of what I can decipher:

Me: What's the last book you read and loved?

Natalie: Jandy Nelson's I'll Give You the Sun. Oh my God, have you read it? 

Me: No, I--

Natalie: Why haven't you read it yet? You've got to read it.

Me: I will. I promise. Okay, how do you balance your writing with your other obligations?

Natalie: Ha! I don't. I'm horrible at that balancing.

Me: But you wrote three books in three years...

Natalie: four--

Me: Four! Four books in three years! How did you do that?

Natalie: I didn't sleep much. 

Me: What book saved your life when you were a kid?

Natalie: Anne of Green Gables. The world of that book was so sweet and different from my childhood.

Me: I read Trixie Belden. Did you ever read those?

Natalie: (shaking her head) Should I?

Me: No. They're only good to read when you're a kid.

Natalie: Oh, also, The Hobbit. I loved that book. 

Me: Eat your pineapple (pointing at her pineapple infused vodka drink) You have to eat your pineapple.

Natalie: (tastes it) Geez. Whew, that's strong. No. 

Me: Come on. A third book is a big %*^&% deal! You've got to celebrate a little.

Natalie: It just feels wrong. I think of this book and it gets mixed up with everything else. But if I could write a book during such an awful time and have it come out okay... Wait. It's not a trainwreck, is it?

Me: No! It's good. I like it the best of the three.

Natalie: (eating a pineapple chunk) I don't want to be negative anymore about books, about writing. You always talk about how books saved your life. Well, writing saved my life. It's hard and it sucks sometimes, but it's a gift. I'm grateful I get to do it every day.

Then my notes get totally indecipherable. 

Something something about shopping at Whole Foods? and what kind of food Natalie always orders when she goes to Chipotle? (for the record, I think I wrote: "steak burrito bowl").

Several hours past Happy Hour and we decided at the spur of the moment to go see the movie The Martian. We called an uber (my husband) and he picked us up and drove us to a nearby theater.

The movie is about Matt Damon becoming stranded on Mars and trying to figure out how to get back to earth. There's a bunch of cool special effects and stunning cinematography. 

But at the core, the story is about ingenuity and perseverance. At one point Matt solves a seemingly impossible-to-solve problem, and after he figures it out, he's happy. Even still stranded on Mars with no guarantee that he's ever going to get home, he takes a minute to celebrate. 

He says something like, "I love what I do. And you know what? I'm good at it."

Nat and I (and our uber driver) all liked the movie. We went back to my house and ate some of the bloody hand cake.

(okay. A little more than some)

Want to know more about the lovely Natalie D. Richards and her books?

Follow her on Facebook Author Natalie D. Richards
On Twitter: @NatdRichards 
On Instagram (where she shares fun pics of her enormous dogs) 

To buy her books on Amazon: