A year ago today, my life changed

On any given day, it's pretty much a crapshoot whether I know the date, or even the day of the week. Do I have to put on pants? No? Then it really doesn't matter. Even when I do, it's pretty rare that I could tell you what I was doing a year ago on this date. Writing? Eating chocolate? Listening to music? All pretty good bets, but they don't really narrow things down beyond "breathing."
Today is different. 365 days ago, I was waiting for a band I love to get onstage at an amazing venue. It was one of the greatest concert experiences of my life, and there's a lot of those to choose from.

But something made it better.

I got an email while I was waiting, an email from the lovely Meredith Barnes, who had requested my full manuscript the day before. It was an email offering representation to me and CODA.

A lot has happened since I accepted the offer a few days later: we edited, and edited again. CODA went on submission and, after what I can tell you felt like forever but really wasn't that long in the grand scheme of things, was bought by my wonderful editor Lisa at Running Press Kids.

After that, those clever people at Soho Press lured Meredith away, and I found a new agent, in what's a funny told-over-cocktails kind of story.

I know sometimes the road we take can seem endless, even directionless. It's a hard path, but today I'm just thinking that in a year, I've gone from someone with a manuscript to someone with an agent--two, now!--who is looking forward seeing cover designs, holding ARCs, and--most importantly--to her publishing date next spring. You can bet I'll remember what that day is.

Thank you, Mer. And Lisa, and Brooks. You've changed my life.

Genius writing advice, or why my friend B is brilliant

Text conversation:

Me: This page is very white and blank. *glares at it*

B: Quick! Type your favorite word on it.

Me: *does*

B: See?  You can't glare at your favorite word.

And she's right.  And the page isn't blank anymore.  And I can probably just do a "Find/Delete" on all instances of "defenestration" before I call this manuscript done.

The no-longer-blank page now has 200 words it didn't have 20 minutes ago.  Only one of them refers to throwing someone out of a window.

I want to be a writer when I grow up.

I said this to myself when I was about eight.  I remember it really clearly because we learned to write haiku in third grade and I had so much fun playing around with the syllables, even though I'm sure my attempts were pretty terrible.

My eight-year-old self has her wish, but there are a few things I wish I could tell her at the moment of that revelation, just to prepare her:

Dear Small Self,

Writers spend a lot of time not writing, or at least not writing books.  Some of it is related to writing books, though.  There are edits and outlines and synopses, where you write the whole book in five pages before you write it in four hundred.  Yeah, I know.  You still have to do it.  There's something called social media for making friends and getting people to learn your name, and you'll find out all about that when the Internet becomes a Thing You Can Play With.  Right now it's just something computer people have.

You'll also spend a lot of time not writing books because, again, someone invented this Internet thing.  There will be strange, amazing, as-yet-unheard-of entities called Twitter and Wikipedia.  Please, don't let these take up too many hours.  That also goes for a thing called an iPad and its very reason for existing, Angry Birds.  It's coming.  Prepare yourself.  (But if you're curious, you're actually pretty good at it.)

Small Self, I have to tell you you're not quite done with the magic of bath crayons.  Oh, you'll find more fun things to play with in the next few years, like skip-its and Dungeons & Dragons and boys, but, in the end...bath crayons.  You'll need them because your best, most creative ideas will come in the shower, and you'll work your way out of that seemingly impenetrable plot tangle while you have suds in your eyes.  Your friends will come over, have a glass of wine, and emerge from the bathroom asking, "Why do your tiles say, 'Speakers = Eggs'?" 

You'll have to answer them.  That, though, is good practice for talking about your work, which you will do with friends, critique partners, agents, editors, the cute tattooed guy who works at your local bookstore.  And I want you to remember that, in big and small ways, these people have your back.  They want to read, sell, and promote your book.  They want you to succeed.  Give them the satisfaction of doing just that.

And, on that note, treasure every hour you get to write.  There'll be times when you can't (see above) and times when it's hard and times when it's easy.  Value them all.  Small Self, you get what you want, and nothing will make you happier.  Trust me on this one. 


Just because it's wicked cool

Spotted via @mashable:

Tattoos that vibrate when your phone rings may be on the horizon

In which I talk dystopian fiction, my bucket list, and my protagonist's best friend

Not here!  The lovely Lenore Appelhans invited me to do an interview for her #dystopianfeb theme month, and it can be found here.




Important writing lessons

I want to print these out and put them on the wall:


How to Write a Novel

and, for advanced writers:

How to Write a Great Novel

Music Monday is full of luuuurve this week

I was going to celebrate the 80's this week, which probably tells you how much attention I pay to Valentine's Day, but I remembered this morning that it's tomorrow, so here we are.  The following is one of my "Swoons" playlists, which take turns going on repeat when I need characters to look all starry-eyed at each other  Some of these may be a little on the morbid side, but this is, you know, me.


  • The Decemberists - The Hazards of Love 4 (The Drowned):  Random fact: there are 572 songs in my iTunes library with "love" in the title, and this one may be the swooniest.  If "With this long last rush of air/let's speak our vows in starry whisper/and when the waves came crashing down/he closed his eyes and softly kissed her" isn't the prettiest love-lyric ever written, it's close.  
  • Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds - Brompton Oratory
  • Nick Drake - Northern Sky
  • Ryan Adams - Desire
  • Feist - Secret Heart
  • The Civil Wars - Dance Me to the End of Love (Leonard Cohen cover)
  • The Swell Season - In These Arms
  • Army of Me - Love Song
  • Bright Eyes - First Day of My Life
  • Okkervil River - Mermaid:  Another contender for swooniest lyric.  "My hands meet, and they press to a point in the air/but my mouth fills with more panic than prayer/and my skull fills with more color than care/and my heart fills with love, with too much love to bear."
  • The National - Slow Show
  • Death Cab for Cutie - Transatlanticism
  • The Smiths - There is a Light That Never Goes Out
  • The Cure - Lovesong
  • Suede - By the Sea
What song makes you swoon?



Query Contest results!

First of all, I want to say thanks to anyone who participated.  This was a lot of fun and hopefully I'll run this or something similar again in the near future.

Second, to anyone who was worried about word count, I know different pieces of software count differently and allowed for that.  You all made it and were all judged.  (Let's ignore the way that sentence sounds like it should be said by an evil overlord in a dark cloak, shall we?  Good.  Moving on.)

Brooks, of course, took his job very seriously and read through all the entries this weekend.  As per the updated rules, we're awarding more than just one prize because you were all such superstars with the entries and the quality of them was excellent.  Seriously, they were ALL good, but since we have to narrow them down...

THE WINNER:

P. Adams, for your MG modern fantasy.  I wasn't part of the judging, but I will say we both loved this.  You win the critique no matter what, but Brooks would also love to see your first three chapters ASAP.


RUNNERS UP:

Most sinister scheming: J. Matthew Saunders, adult/dark fantasy.

Most cause for revenge: Laurie Muench, YA paranormal suspense.

Most likely to ruin family Thanksgiving: Trisha Leigh, historical/mythological YA.

Most likely to dissuade me from seeking physical affection ever again: Matthew Bryant, adult science fiction/urban fantasy.

Brooks would like to invite the four of you to query him with your letters and the first three chapters of your manuscripts when you're ready, and they will jump to the top of his query pile.

Please send all materials to brooks [at] fineprintlit [dot] com.

Thanks again for playing, everyone. :)


From catastrophe to fresh start

While Brooks is busy judging contest entries, I'm going to talk about my week.  It was one of those weeks.  You know that part of one of the HP books (3, I think) when Harry and Ron are working on their Divinations homework and coming up with fake predictions of a different horrible event they'll experience every day for a month?  This week was like that, except it all really did happen, and without my prior consent.

Most of it's stupid, boring stuff involving a cold and ripping one of my favorite shirts, but some was particularly fun.  My internet going out for 24 hours while I was in the middle of researching Book Stuff was a good time.  (Warning:  Doing in-depth historical research on an iPhone for a whole day will give you a wicked headache.  So now you know.)   I'd had my connection back for about twenty-three seconds (ok, a few hours) when I had a ridiculous accident with a French press and my trusty old MacBook.  It was...not pretty.  Trusty Old MacBook is now in the Great Apple Warehouse in the Sky.

So now the week is over, I'm online from a swishy new Shiny Thing, my book deal present to myself landed in my hands (Best. Headphones. EVER.) and things are looking up, especially thanks to an unexpected silver lining.  As you can expect from an old computer, it was filled up with all kinds of crap I didn't need or particularly want, but who ever feels like sitting down and clearing things out when the Sparkly Internet is there just waiting to distract and entertain?  Not me. 

I'm thrilled I managed to rescue the data that wasn't already backed up, but I've been able to choose to transfer only stuff I need onto Shiny Thing.  I'm feeling wonderfully uncluttered and very clearheaded.  I've done a fair amount of writing in the past day or two, and it may be the stress (or relief from it) talking, but I'm noticing a difference in quality and clarity.

It's not quite spring yet, but maybe there's something to this cleaning out/fresh start business.  This nightmare of a week has turned into a pretty good one, though I will still whine about one thing:

That was one *($@)^@#*$ expensive cup of coffee.




Query contest: UPDATE!

Brooks and I are blown away by how quickly the 15 filled up, and the quality of the entries.  This is so cool.

SO.

We're upping the number of entries to 25.  I think there are 16 right now, so there's time for a bunch of you to get yours in before Friday.  There will still be only one winner of the full, detailed query critique, but some of you are going to get honorable mentions and such.  More details on that after the contest closes.

Keep writing!

Em

Contest Entry Post!

This is it.  Post your 100 word short story from your villain/antagonist's perspective in the comments below.  Contest runs from the moment this posts to 3 p.m. EST on Friday.  The first 15 25 valid (as in, are 100 words exactly) entries will be judged for the chance to win a query critique from Brooks.  For more info, see Sunday's contest post.


A Real Thing happened on the way to the theater...

OK, I wasn't on my way to the theater or anywhere else, but a Real Thing happened! I discovered earlier today that CODA is now on GoodReads:

http://www.goodreads.com/book/show/13425228-coda !!!

This is another Thing That Means This is Really Happening, so obviously it's very exciting. I can't believe people are already adding it to their shelves. Thank you, lovely people.

Query Critique Contest!

It's time!  I'm thrilled to welcome agent Brooks Sherman (@byobrooks) of FinePrint Literary Management, who I can tell you is super smart, interesting, and--as per his twitter bio--really does look like Paul Rudd in real life.  Brooks will be judging the entries and critiquing the winner's query letter, but we're going to make you work for it a little because it's more fun like that.

Brooks is specifically looking for dark fantasy (think The Monstrumologist series or The Book of Lost Things), horror, sci-fi, contemporary fantasy in realistic settings, and he'd love a good MG that reminds him of The Goonies.  Your MS doesn't have to be any of the above to enter for the query critique, but it might catch his eye if it is.

The contest goes thusly:

1.  Write a 100 word short story from the POV of your antagonist/villain.  It can be his/her/its perspective on an event that actually occurs in your story, but that's not required.  Before, after, or an unseen event are fine, too.

2.  Post it, along with age group/genre, in the comments of the entry post which I will put up at 9 a.m. EST on Tuesday, February 7th.  Contest closes at 3 p.m. EST on Friday, February 10th or when we get enough valid entries, whichever comes first.

3.  The first fifteen valid entries will be judged, just to keep Brooks's workload reasonable.  If you aren't one of the first 15 but really wanted to be, post your disappointment in the comments.  If there's enough of you, I'll try to scare up another agent and run this again.

4.  Entries must be 100 words, no more, no less.  I'll be counting.

5.  Please enter only if you have a completed manuscript ready to query.  This contest is for the query letter only, but we shouldn't rule out the possibility that Brooks will fall in love with something and want pages.

6.  Following this blog or tweeting about the contest isn't necessary to enter, but either or both would be loved.

7.  Judging will be complete on or around Monday, February 13th.  I'll post the winner and explain how to get in touch with your letter.  Brooks will then critique it so it can be whipped into agent-ready shape.

Questions?  Ask below.



A tiny bit of housekeeping

If anyone would prefer to read/follow the blog on Wordpress, you can do so here.

Don't write someone else's book.

No, this isn't a post about plagiarism, although that's an interesting subject.  This is about an obvious writing lesson I really had to learn the hard way.

Writers are told to read widely in their chosen genre/age group/subject matter etc, so we know what's out there, what's been done.  I touched on this briefly in an earlier post, but that can be a double-edged sword for people, like me, who tend to accidentally pick up on style and let that color whatever I'm writing.  I know enough now to steer clear of things where that's a risk.

Unfortunately, for a long time that didn't stop me from doing it intentionally.  I have this project I've been working on for...a long time.  I've redrafted and reinvented this thing more times than I can count.  I'm determined to make 2012 the year I'm happy with it.  And for years (not kidding, years) I've told myself that it's a specific kind of book and so it needs to have a specific kind of voice.  I've fought with my protagonist, my supporting cast, my villains.  I've been thisclose to throwing my computer out the window and abandoning the idea completely, but I can't because I love it too much.

2011 was a busy year.  I wrote a different book, did several rounds of edits, found an agent, edited some more, CODA went on submission--and that's just the stuff related to that one book.  I have a Real Life that demands attention, too, just like everyone else.

I was tired of fighting Secret Project.  For a while at the end of last year, the temptation was again there to abandon it, but fuck that.  In one of those moments of bizarre lucidity that only come from some form of exhaustion, I finally saw that there's a different way to stop fighting.  I can just write like me, and let the damn story be told the way I want it to, the way the characters have demanded from the start.  Yeah, there are some rules that I need to adhere to, like not swearing up a storm in a MG manuscript, but I'm allowed to use my voice.  I don't need to use the voices of the writers whose ranks I hope to join with this book.  I'm allowed my style, my fun.

And it will be better because of that.

I'm wide awake now, and I don't think it's the 4,876 cans of diet coke.




Just a quick post today...

But watch this space!  Something FUN is coming up that may or may not involve a query critique contest from a real live agent.

Music Mondays #3

Back again!  This will be a regular thing now, since I don't plan on having surgery again anytime soon.

The previous ones have been of the indie rock persuasion, mostly, so something a little different--and heavier!--today.  I love this stuff, probably for the reason detailed in Saturday's post.  If weird electro-industrial/EBM/Darkwave aren't your thing (read: if you have no idea what at least two of those things mean) please feel free to back slowly away from the crazy writer-lady.

Spark - Assemblage 23
K√ľnstliche Welten - Wolfsheim
Light - KMFDM
Kiss - London After Midnight
Call the Ships to Port - Covenant
Panzermensch - And One
Standing - VNV Nation
Poltergeist - Hocico
Mindphaser - Front Line Assembly
Sin - Nine Inch Nails


All I need to know about my book, I learned from TV

Okay, that's not really true, but I did learn something fun about it--in particular the process of writing it--from watching Criminal Minds.  I LOVE Criminal Minds; it's practically the only show I watch with any kind of regularity.  I'd love it even if it didn't have Dr. Spencer Reid.*  Most of what you see on TV isn't true, sure, but I'm giving the benefit of the doubt in this case because it was Reid who said it and, as a character notable for his brilliance, he's more believable if the scriptwriters give him facts to work with.

Anyway, I won't spoil this week's episode for anyone who hasn't seen it, but at one point Reid, JJ, and Morgan are discussing music and Reid tells them that, neurologically speaking, we solidify our appreciation of music at age fourteen.  Our tastes might grow, change, expand, but no music will ever have the same effect on our brains as what we listened to at that specific time in our lives.

*light bulb moment*

A LOT of music has come out since I was fourteen.  It was...a while ago.  (BRB, going to eat a cookie and cry into my wrinkles.  ...  ...  OK, I'm back.)  When I was writing CODA, though, a significant percentage of the music I listened to and that made it onto the book's soundtrack were songs I learned and loved, yes, the year I was fourteen.  My first mental images of my protagonist in a club had him dancing to that music.  Some of the songs--hell, maybe all of them--might not be the most shining examples of their kind, but I have such powerful associations with them that they were automatic go-tos when I needed to evoke a specific feeling in myself and pour it onto the page.

So, that's really interesting to me, and made me wonder if I would've written the book differently if I'd known about the age thing.  I think it's actually possible there's one small aspect I would have changed.

All through the writing process the book surprised me, marching off in the opposite direction to what I intended, changing and growing and presenting themes and ideas I hadn't considered.

It's sort of cool to know that eight months later, it still can.

Em

*Admittedly, not nearly as much.  He's delicious.


Smashing glass

Oh, how I wish I could remember where I read this, because it's maybe the best practical, really specific writing advice I've ever read.  If anyone out there knows where this came from, PLEASE tell me.  If by some miracle of the interwebz the person who wrote it sees this, please let me know.  I want to credit you, and possibly kiss you if you're into that kind of thing.

Maybe a year ago I was mooching around online, link hopping through various blogs and writing sites.  I came across a thing on backstory that has stuck with me since and which I'm conscious of every time I sit down with my beloved Scrivener.

I'm haunted by the dreaded infodump, where you cram a whole book's worth of worldbuilding into a few clumsy pages of narrative, but it's hard to think of how to avoid it.  This thing I read (WILD paraphrasing to follow) said to picture my backstory as a sheet of glass.  It's the window into the world I'm creating.  Now, take that sheet of glass and smash it over my manuscript.  Let shards litter the pages from beginning to end.  Break up any big chunks that remain.

I became so enamored with this way of looking at it while writing CODA that on many occasions, a close friend would gchat me to ask how things were going and I'd say, "Oh, you know, just smashing the glass."  Code for, "Please, writing gods, do not let me shove the CODA-verse down readers' throats in undigestible lumps."

I hope I haven't.  I hope I never do, in any world I create.

To add my own thoughts to this, sometimes the glass will be stained, a prism of color.  Sometimes it'll have ripples, or bubbles, or be thicker at the bottom than the top.  (A phenomenon that occurs in very, very old windows, from back when glassmaking techniques were different.  This may be getting too technical.  I'm nothing if not skilled at stretching a metaphor far beyond reasonable limits.)  Anyway, it's my world.  Its backstory will be uniquely my own, with idiosyncrasies only I could come up with.

Just smash it up.  And if I can't, if there's a place where it's truly necessary to have a big, unbroken sheet, Windex the hell out of it.




Books I'm reading...or not.

I'm sure I'm not the only one out there who needs to steer clear of certain kinds of book while writing.  During the CODA process, I had to give up sci-fi completely, and even a lot of other kinds of fiction written by people whose style stuck in my head too easily.  I wound up reading a lot of non-fiction, especially biographies and travel memoirs, and re-reading a lot of Terry Pratchett.  (I love the Discworld books, but the style was never going to infect me.  I'm totally incapable of bringing that level of funny.)  I celebrated finishing CODA by reading John M. Cusick's excellent GIRL PARTS.*

Now, I'm writing two books at the same time.  One is a kind of companion novel to CODA, so all of the above still applies.  The other one means that I can't re-read any of the fantasy series I love so much.  Including Narnia and Harry Potter.  My soul is crying.  If that's not incentive to finish the book, I don't know what is.

What I am/have been reading recently:  A lot of contemporary YA, in particular John Green's amazing THE FAULT IN OUR STARS. (I don't really need to link that, do I?  You all have a copy?  Good.)  Also, all the Bill Bryson travel memoirs I haven't read yet (there aren't many on that list), THE MASTER AND MARGARITA again to see if I understand more of what the hell is going on the second time around, and a few reference books on plot and style I dip in and out of.

It's important to know and ready widely in your genre, but equally important to let yourself fall behind on that reading while you write.  You know, YOUR book.  The one that's nothing like anyone else's.  You can always catch up.

Mostly, though, I'm writing another book I want to read.

*And with a bottle of Bombay Sapphire.  The author made up a drinking game for me based on the book.  HA!

Today feels a little surreal

Yesterday was such an exciting day in so many ways because I got to share my news and countless lovely people - both friends and people I hope will become friends - joined in as I celebrated on Twitter, on here, and even in the chat box of a Words with Friends game.  It took me forever to calm down enough to sleep.

It was weird waking up today to the knowledge that people know now, and I'm officially on the debut author track.  I keep getting little reminders of this, like the notice Mer sent me of my book in Publisher's Marketplace, or the "coda by emma trevayne" search terms that popped up in my blog stats.  No one's ever googled that before.

I've been saying for about six weeks that there were certain milestones that would make this start feeling real to me.  Human nature, I think, dictates that we're always a little unwilling to believe when a dream comes true.  I hit about six of those markers yesterday, so I guess now I have to take a deep breath and accept this is actually happening.

As I mentioned in my announcement post, there are so many things I'm looking forward to in the coming year.  Cover art is a big one.  Finally sharing the all-important CODA playlist is another.  There'll be the day my MS is accepted as final, when I read through the copyedits, hopefully some foreign rights sales...the list goes on.

The two at the top of the list are related, though they'll be separated by many months.  I can't wait to dive into edits, because I really want this to be the best book it can be come launch day.

Basically, this entire post is one big excuse to use this:


Bring it, 2012.  I'm so excited.  

And in the meantime, I'm going shopping.  I'm a huge advocate of marking my writing successes with rewards (some of you know about the incredible shoes I bought when I signed with Mer) and there's a pair of headphones I've been promising myself for this moment since last summer.  As I said to Lisa the Excellent Editor yesterday, I can't figure out whether that's fitting or ironic, but that's a joke the rest of you will get when you read CODA. 

BOOK DEAL NEWS

It's been an age since I last blogged, I know, and there's actually kind of a good reason for that.  Adventure!  Intrigue!  I had to have surgery!*  By the time I was back into the swing of things and feeling up to blogging again, everything I could've posted about paled in comparison to the information I've been sitting on since just before Christmas.

I HAVE A BOOK DEAL!  MY LITTLE BABY BOOK IS GOING TO BE A GROWNUP!  I HAVE TO RESIST THE URGE TO WRITE THE REST OF THIS POST IN CAPS, BUT CAPSLOCK IS HOW I FEEL INSIDE, YOU GUYS!

Offers, it seems, can sometimes be a little like buses.  You wait and you wait and then a couple come along at the same time.  After a crazy week in mid-December, SuperAgent Meredith** and I agreed to a deal with Running Press Kids, a division of Perseus Books, and my new editor, Lisa Cheng.  ('My editor' is going to take as much getting used to as 'my agent' - in other words, I might never get used to it.)  I can't tell you how excited I am to be working with her, or that this book I've loved, slaved over, occasionally hated, stayed up all night for, gnashed my teeth at, and was finally so proud of is going to see the light of day.  Every character I've ever written or will write is close to my heart, but the ones in this book live inside it, drinking coffee, playing their music too loud (<---whatever this means), putting their feet up on the furniture and refusing to clean their rooms.

From the little I've shared here, you might know it's science fiction, or that it's about music.  It has a male protagonist whose appearance in my head (and subsequent hostile takeover of same) is really what started the whole thing off.  There's a love story, but it's not a romance.  There's valid science and extrapolations of current science and things I invented at three a.m., high on caffeine and sleep deprivations.  There are parts I struggled to write and ones where I didn't stop writing except to rub my hands together in evil glee.***

At least as things stand now, it's called CODA and will be released in spring 2013.  Between now and then there will be all kinds of fun.  Editing!  Cover art!  The first time I hold it in my hands, when I will probably bawl and scream and dance around to Animal Collective****  like I did the day I first typed The End.


So many people helped me get here; you know who you are and I hope you know how much I love you.  All my thanks and embarrassing squealing noises and every cupcake I can ever lay my hands on to Mer, who believed in this book from the day she read my query, and to Lisa for loving it, buying it, and turning me into a REAL LIVE AUTHOR WITH A BOOK.

I can't wait for everything ahead.  AHHHHHHHHHH!!!!!! :D :D :D

Stick around, this is going to be a good year.

xoxo

Em

*One of these things is true.  I'm totally fine now.

**Now complete with gold lame cape!

***For which at least one of my friends still hasn't forgiven me.  B, I'M SORRY, OKAY? <3

****Summertime Clothes, dude.  Oh, yes.