Wow. The gap between this post and the last one-pager goes to show how easy it is to look at my red story prompt notebook each night, week, month and say, “I’ll write later.” Today I walked myself to a Starbucks and am trying to set a good tone for the rest of this new year.
I didn’t realize it until I was about a third of the way down the page, but I was inspired by two Netflix finds I’ve consumed. One is a short two-season (god please let there be more) series called “can’t cope won’t cope,” about two Irish twentysomethings in a codependent friendship that is falling apart fast. At first, it seems like it’s the fault of Aisling, a girl who won’t admit to her alcoholism and almost complete lack of direction in life, leading her to lean precariously on her friend Danielle, who’s trying to get somewhere in life with her art. But then it becomes clear that despite her frustration, Danielle can’t let Aisling go either.
The second find was a short (for a feature at least) film called Six Years, executive produced by the Duplass brothers. The title comes from the length of the relationship that Mel and Dan, two young Austin-ites, have been in. About to join the workforce post college, they’re on the cusp of deciding whether to stay or go their separate ways, literally too. Their love is young despite the length of time they’ve devoted to each other, and therefore rash and impulsive, leading to a night in jail, stepping on broken glass, and a bloody crash into a dresser drawer. It’s a movie with seemingly low stakes and an everyday problem people might face, but it’s because of that and because it’s done so well that I didn’t check the time until I was twenty minutes from the inevitable ending.
So you can see where my inspirations for Harold’s motivations came from. 🙂 Here goes.
Someone wrote that insanity is doing the same thing over and over expecting a different result each time. By that definition, Harold was surely insane. Once again, he was…
…sitting in his car in the guest parking spot outside Hannah’s block of apartments. Or townhouses. She was the stickler for describing things accurately. She did it with her feelings, too, and the last conversation they’d had—or spiel she gave—had made it clear there was no reason to believe she’d answer her phone now and come out and take him back in with her. At least, relieve him of the awkward wave and smile he directed at one of her neighbors, who’d always, and also now, flared at him for parking (taking up) a spot meant for guests. Goddamn. He was an interloper now. That’s what her neighbor’s look had said no matter how much he wanted to rebel against it. An intruder. Harold raised his free palm and drove it into his steering wheel, narrowly missing the horn. Thankfully Hannah’s neighbor was out of earshot, unable to hear the growl that escaped Harold. Harold and Hannah had been together for five years. Her slap to his face last week was not the end-all to them. They had been through worse—bruises, cold shoulders, doors slammed so loud his ears rang for hours afterward—and didn’t react like this: pretending the other didn’t exist. His existence depended on hers, and she would come out. He always made the first move.
I’ve been doing more daydreaming than putting pen to paper, but finally got myself to write in my story prompt journal yesterday while waiting for a movie.
When the panic attacks came, she always found it helpful to imagine herself as a fish breathing through water. If a fish could find enough oxygen underwater, so could she. She identified with fish for other reasons, too—the way they…
My story response: …took their time as they guided through their habitat, without any specific place to go, it seemed, not unlike her. Six months ago her mother couldn’t hold on any longer, leaving her only daughter to keep on living somehow, with both parents gone, their once nuclear family extinguished forever. So she’d taken a leave from her job, requesting a month at first, to have enough time to hold the funeral and wake, fall apart or explode or withdraw whenever any small task of organizing the legal and medical affairs of her mother, or any small task for her own living, sent her into a half-day long sobbing spell. Then, another month, and it became lethargy that dragged her to the couch, the floor, the earth. Being somewhere less rushing with life, closer to the earth, had been a friend’s idea, out of concern, but also likely out of fear that if they didn’t intervene, more tragedy would follow.
And now, even though she never swam in the lake herself—she didn’t like being in water that was opaque—the man playing a piano, a stand-up one (but still)—beckoned her to step closer to the lakeshore. He played the keys—how did this instrument get here? Over these rocks and sand?—with a fervor of a composer trying to catch up to a melody only he knew, or as if to keep the lapping water from washing him and his piano away…
Partly inspired by: a post by @everchanginghorizon on Instagram, of a man playing a piano by a shore. Screenshot below.
A dear friend gifted me a journal featuring story prompts on each page. Today I’ll begin posting my entries as I endeavor to fill the journal…
You know when even the things you dislike about a person make you love her even more? Well, that was Mary. On the one hand, she…
My story response: …was obstinate beyond the point of it being attractive for a woman. I only say that last part because I’d experienced the opposite in the previous few women I’ve dated or spent the night with. When we went out to eat, too lazy and languid to expend the effort to cook for ourselves, spent from our bedroom exertions, they’d loll their heads against my arm, telling me to pick. It put me on edge again, aware that I had to “perform” once more and rack my brains to choose correctly, or risk losing even more favor, first because I hadn’t been able to satisfy them in bed. Mary was something to get used to. When we debated current events, it would take me a second because I’d be astounded by how much conviction she had in her position, and how hard it would be for me to deliver a convincing, let alone logical, comeback. We’re on the train now, sitting knees to knees in the seats on the second level that I used to glare at when I was by myself, on the way to confront the management of a concert venue we were at a week ago. I don’t do confrontation, but Mary, oh Mary. She wasn’t going to let them get away with their snarky email response to our respectfully worded complaint. Our knees touch. Her eyes glint. She’s not changing her mind, despite my clammy hands. Mary…
I wasn’t sure whether to tack on 2017 or 2018 after NaNo in the title of this post, since I thought I might confuse people (or myself, reading this later on :P). Technically I won back in November, but my novel process has continued until now. The NaNoWriMo organization formally calls January and February after NaNo the “Now What?” months and encourages people to pull out their first drafts and revise them. Therefore, 2017 won out, and also I realized, duh, NaNo 2018 would mean this November. Silly me.
After a long January, I ended up with just shy of 81k for my manuscript! I wish I could say writing the last word came with an elated sigh, fist-pumping, and other celebratory gestures, but really, I kind of just sat there thinking to myself, “I’m done?” While my story ended where I plotted it to, I felt unsatisfied somehow. My friends tell me it’s me being a perfectionist, and they’re right. Because now what? Well, once I’d done what I could for my manuscript, it was finally time to find an editor!
Finding an Editor
I’ve learned so much through this novel writing and creation process, and one of those things has been just how many types of editors are involved with a book. Again, I’m self-publishing, so I don’t have the support of a publishing house and editors on their payroll. Before I waded into Google search results, I figured out what types of editing I needed at this stage. Below is a quick-quick summary; italic text represents the kind of work I just contracted an editor for (!):
Developmental/content editing: Called by differing names, this stage deals with “big picture” items like plot, characterization, style, structure, and other aspects of storytelling. It goes without saying that this stage of editing is incredibly important, and while I’ve pored over my plot outline, character bios, and even visual mood-board thousands of times, I (and any other human writer) need a second pair of eyes. I found a lovely editor who specializes in YA fiction, and I am so anxious to see what she has to say. Frankly I’m also bracing myself for the worst, but I need the detailed notes, not any ego-stroking!
Copy-editing: Here the editor is looking for any overly repetitive sentence structures, appropriateness of word choice, and clarity of meaning. (Yes, that last bucket was a bit of a cop-out on my part.) While we say that we shouldn’t judge a book by its cover, said covers are well-made to get a potential reader to pick up the book and peruse its pages. The copy editor’s goal is to help make the words on those pages shine and serve the story.
Proofreading: This work is done on the manuscript just before sending it off to be published. Here the proofreader is making sure all the i’s are dotted, t’s are crossed, and–you get the idea–no other grammar and spelling errors remain. (I’m definitely not ready for this yet!)
Now, how did I find my editor? To be honest, I was firstly constrained by the spring/summer publication date I’m aiming for, so immediate availability to start on my manuscript was my first filter. Then, or maybe ranking equally as important, was expertise and experience in my genre of YA contemporary. Beyond that, I evaluated based on email exchanges, information available on the editor’s website (prior books they’ve worked on), and also price. Good editing is invaluable, but girl is definitely on a budget. Instead of going on freelancer aggregation sites, I searched in Google via keywords: YA, contemporary, romance, editor, content, developmental, etc. I was able to find an editor who could do passes for both content and copy editing at the same time; I can’t tell you how thrilled I was by that!
After I get comments and notes back from my editor, so begins the trials of squaring my impressions after reading my manuscript with her suggestions, then of course, revising (cue tears).
This may seem bold, but I’ve also learned (from many helpful “author-tube” YouTube channels) that you do not in fact have to agree with everything someone giving you feedback says! Of course, I hope you, like me, show your work to people who are invested in its success, your happiness, etc. However, at the end of the day, I know it is my story that I want to tell. Hopefully, I’ll be able to post soon about how to balance the protective author brain with outside feedback! Stay tuned…
Besides YA literature, which is the target genre for my WIP manuscript, I read from others as well. I’ve read a few other books by MFA degree holders, aiming to absorb elements of their writing styles, which I expect to be more artistic and land with a sort of “oomph.” What We Lose by Zinzi Clemmons was a challenging read because of the untraditional narrative structure, as you’ll see in my review, but I learned about a race different from my own, as well as experienced an emotional impact. That is extremely valuable.
I’m not going to lie, I was definitely intrigued by the beautiful cover of this book (as well as its title). The premise then reeled in the rest of me. As someone who’s also lost a parent, I wanted to see how Clemmons describes and weaves a story tinged with grief. The elements in the narrative itself, about how the semi-autobiographical protagonist observes her mother dying and then spirals after her death, aren’t entirely outlandish, but the style this book was written in has off-put some readers. It’s split into three parts, interspersed with long quotes, single-sentence pages, and even graphs (nothing too crazy, don’t worry). At times it does feel disjointed, so that I had to ask myself, “where is this taking me?” Altogether though, it makes this book a truly artistic work, a statement. I can’t say I’ll want to read too many books in this style, but it worked for me here. Besides grief, this book delves into topics of race (very piercing observations), relationships, and sexuality, just at a breakneck pace sometimes.
However, as Clemmons is an MFA grad, you can expect top-notch, piercing writing throughout. I’ll end my review with a non-spoiler-y quote from near the end of the story that hit me in the gut: “Some things have to go away, I tell myself. That is just the way it is.”
Hey y’all, this short review attempts to crystallize the major things I loved about Sarah Dessen’s The Truth About Forever. For those not as into YA lit, she is better known as Queen Dessen for the breadth of her work (at least 20 books) over her career. And of course, each one sells like hotcakes! See below for why this should be your first Dessen book if you haven’t read her before. As before, this review can also be found on my Goodreads page.
*No spoilers here!*
This was not my first Sarah Dessen book, but it’s probably my favorite. I’ll be honest. I tend to view long books, especially in YA, with apprehension because I’m afraid there will be too much filler. Some other reviewers did feel this way with TTAF, but I’m of the opposite camp. What attracts me to Dessen’s writing is her ability to weave a vibrant, realistic story with characters that could’ve been pulled from your life, though of course maybe dramatized in some way. That’s what she’s done here (again) with Macy, her mom, sister Caroline, love interest Wes, new friends from her summer Kristy, Monica, and Burt. You get the picture. I felt the length here was justified to give enough color to Macy’s backstory (recounting when her father was alive, the recurring “gifts” that keep showing up on her doorstep) and set her up for her character’s growth throughout the book. Most of the detail is necessary for understand her or other major figures in her life, like her mom, so please bear with it if it feels like it’s dragging.
As for the ending? Wow, so much emotional payoff! While there are lots of readers who wanted to see more of Macy’s now-happier life, I appreciate how the ending just leaves us with her turning a corner. Personally, it’s more satisfying for me to imagine what’ll happen than to have all the resolution of angst explained to me. Hope that makes sense!
Hi all, as you know by now, I’m writing a YA contemporary novel, and part of the process (or procrastinating) includes reading other books for reference points! I picked up Words in Deep Blue by Cath Crowley after much browsing late last year, and here are my quick thoughts on it. Verdict? Give this a read for sure! You’ll also find this review on my Goodreads profile. 🙂
*No spoilers here!*
I’ve been reading a lot of YA contemporary titles to get inspired for working on my own. I don’t know how many others do this, but I browsed for a long time on Amazon (I’m talking almost twenty tabs open, people) before coming across WiDB, my next read. I was immediately drawn to the bookshop setting and the romance, especially since I loved both of these elements in Gabrielle Zevin’s The Storied Life of A.J. Fikry (beautiful tearjerker by the way!).
Overall I’m so very glad I took a chance on WiDB. The voices are very clear in the switching POVs between Rachel and Henry. The narrative and plot points themselves are very believable, but without being too predictable. I especially praise how Crowley wrote the interactions within Rachel and Henry’s families; multiple character scenes are so challenging to write, as I’ve learned! Finally, the ending is satisfying in the right ways, not just for the main characters but the well-developed side characters. Again, another feat!
I do have some of the same issues as other reviewers, most notably with the Amy character. I can understand that Crowley didn’t make her out to be appealing, but at some points I got so incredibly frustrated with Henry for continuing to be so infatuated with her! So much that I almost stopped rooting for him and Rachel to make up. Then I reminded myself that he’s a teenage boy, and I’ve also been susceptible to the same weaknesses before. Second, I also found it a little bit of a stretch for Rachel to hold her brother’s death the way she did in the book. I won’t spoil this but has been discussed in other reviews. It’s not a huge, huge issue, just required me to suspend disbelief for something besides a fantasy.
Give this a read if you love bookshops, a romance to root for, and a story on the quiet side but without any less emotional impact!
Happy New Year, all! This NaNoWriMo recap post should’ve come right after I completed the grueling month of churning out a first draft of a novel (holy moly, right?), but I couldn’t bring myself to write about my experiences. The post would’ve been a lot of complaining about the back pain I’d acquired pumping out about 1,700 words per day, and nobody should have to sit through that. 😛 To learn more about NaNo however, please follow the link to the official page!
So why the delay? Come December, I launched right into reading my draft. Okay, technically I took a break for two days, but that’s as long as I lasted. Generally, a longer break is recommended. It wasn’t that I was super excited to read my draft, if anything I was apprehensive because I knew it wouldn’t be exactly what I wanted, but more because I’m on a self-imposed deadline to self-publish my first novel this year. I can do a separate post on my decision to self-publish and not find an agent and publisher. (Long story short, my story isn’t necessarily something that will rake in big bucks by getting a movie adaptation, and that’s not my primary goal.) Let me know if that’s something you’re interested in reading!
I attempted NaNoWriMo in years past, like many people, but this was the first year I “won,” or finished 50,000 words over a November. For me, the target length of my book is 70,000 words, so I actually started writing in October. Before I say anything else about the lessons learned over this month, I truly marvel at people who win while working full-time jobs. They are the ones who deserve big super-writer capes!
Every person has their reasons for dedicating themselves to their stories during NaNo. Like many, I have always wanted to write a novel, having treasured books by other authors for so long. My actual writing journey started well before this year’s NaNo, but it was accelerated then. Without launching into my life story (no need for that eh), I took a break from full-time work halfway last year in order to embark on my writing dream, to bring a story fueled in equal parts by personal experience and imagination to a reader like my younger self somewhere out there. Of course, I carefully considered my circumstances and had prepared financially and mentally for the leap, so I am in no way recommending that people carbon-copy me. It is not at all necessary, and like I said above, there are people who win the month while working. For me, this decision coincided with an inflection point in my life, and I figured that now was the time to dedicate myself completely to this novel endeavor. I knew I had to do this because the weight of wondering whether I could write a novel would weigh on and distract me for the rest of my life otherwise. Dramatic, I know, but hey, I am trying to create a work that evokes emotion in people, right? 🙂
From reading all the blogs about previous winners and attempters (no losers here!) and what they learned about themselves and their writing during NaNo, I knew the month would force me to do the difficult work of creating a first draft. I can’t understate the importance of being willing to cringe at your screen (or page) and just start putting words down. The desire for perfection often stops or slows people (myself included) down from their personal path to greatness. Even if you do not hit the 50,000 words, the official goal for the month, any number of words is more than zero. During my slow days when I felt like I couldn’t write more than a sentence, my kind friends reminded me of this simple fact (a true mathematical statement) over and over. Two months later, I’m a more resilient writer, instead of telling myself that I’m a failure on any given day I don’t get as far in my story, which I’m now rewriting, as I wanted to.
What’s Next? (Or What Now?)
As I mentioned above, I took a first read of my novel and am rewriting it now. (Cue tears, many tears. Some happy tears, I swear!) My word count goal for today, after finishing this blog post, is about 2,000 words. At first, I thought I could embark on a NaNoReviMo (a month of revising), soon to polish and release my work, but at the end of the day, I realized my story had a lot of weak points. Coming to terms with this and barreling on with the work of improving it has been humbling, but I wouldn’t trade the discipline I’ve honed so far for anything in the world. Like going through any other monumental challenge, once you come out the other side, you grow and appreciate your past self for putting you through the discomfort and pain to become a better version of yourself. I remind myself of this daily as I mold and mold my new draft.
Hopefully, by the end of this January, I will be able to hire an editor to help me with the next step of preparing my work for self-publishing. I try not to think too far ahead about getting a cover designer and book formatter, as exciting as these steps are, but I do let the thought of them motivate me.
Another reason for my rewrite, besides my desire for a quality narrative, is the simple fear of being negatively judged. Having really thrown myself into the process of creating a whole darn book, I find it hard to truly criticize any work I know someone has put their heart into. However, I know that my story will not work for everyone who reads the genre I’m targeting, so there will be people who point out things they didn’t like about the book. I won’t lie, I’m still preparing for the first bad review I get, but I try not to let this limit me in my day-to-day work. All I can do is write my tail off and hope the story resonates with someone else. I’m confident it will, and I hope it could inspire that someone else to tell their own story because one book can’t be everything for one person. This I know, since it’s what drove me to create my story.
Is NaNoWriMo The Only Way to Write a Book?
The answer is, of course, absolutely not. You can begin writing anytime. I think aspiring writers, myself included, often forget this, as simplistic as it sounds. Remember that you can file away (never throw away) those first few sentences or pages if you don’t like them, but if you have a story to tell, begin now. There is no way to be completely ready, and as with many things in life, you learn as you go. Your story can change as you go, but once you settle on an idea and find yourself needing a period of time to turbo-charge it into fruition, remember that NaNo and a community of like-minded, supportive storytellers is waiting to welcome you, including me.
“Music is about sound.” This was enough for him. His gaze returned to his laptop. He squinted as he zeroed in on a phrase and erased it. It wasn’t worthy of his next record in academia. She waited for his fingers to complete his thought.
“And words. Lyrics.” Lori added. She chewed on a salad leaf quietly. It was tasteless and cold, but she’d spent too many of her per diems on pasta and chowders in the past few weeks.
“Even then, it’s the quality of the voice singing them.”
“But the words themselves are important. They give meaning to the music.” She thought of a tangible example. “It’s like how we build our decks. We can’t just present walls of numbers.”
Nate shook his head. She could see a fleck of dandruff in his dark coffee hair. “I still think they’re distracting.”
“How do you explain four years in a capella?” She asked.
“It was fun, but we sang the same pop stuff that everyone else did.”
“Right, there was the whole thing about wanting people to come see our shows.”
He rolled his eyes, and she could see thin red veins spidering out around his irises. He needed sleep. She shifted away to let him work while pretending to check her work phone. No theorems for her, just bullets to rewrite. She leaned lightly against his shoulder and speared another clump of leaves.
“That was amazing.” She sighed and watched her breath take and lose shape in the cold air.
A co-worker who ended up having to take a redeye to a client site in Fresno gave her the orchestra tickets. “For you and Nate.” They were all in the same boat. Anything that could extend the life of a relationship a little while longer was not to be wasted.
Nate nodded in agreement. “Not bad, not bad. Some of the middle started to lag, but you couldn’t really tell.”
She didn’t have as sensitive an ear as he did, but for once she just wanted him to not temper his enjoyment. Their enjoyment.
“Well, I thought it was magnificent.” Lori ambled over to the symphony entrance. “Come on, let’s take a picture here.”
“It’s too dark. It’s probably going to come out grainy.”
“It’s okay. Just so we can remember coming here.”
He shrugged and put his arm around her shoulders. She snapped a few shots and ended up deleting four.
They hurried down into the subway station when the wind started picking up again. She paused on the steps, surprising him.
“You want a picture of that?” Nate pointed to the station’s name in tile on the walls. “You see it every day.”
“Tonight’s different. We got lucky with these tickets, and we listened to beautiful music in a grand concert hall.”
There was a time when she wouldn’t feel silly about explaining this or had to do it at all.
The client site was five stops from her hotel and just one from their old apartment.
She did not miss the intense squeaking of the old subway, but being able to read while in transit was a welcome break. The PA made the announcement for this station. She looked up.
Discarded newspapers still floated along the floor, and although the man was a different one, he also sold cheap beaded jewelry on one of the waiting benches.
As he’d said, she used to see this every day. They hadn’t spoken since she accepted her new job on the west coast. The sunshine better suited her mood, and last she’d heard he had moved somewhere a little further south to pursue tenure.
It wasn’t worth commemorating. Or was it?
To hell with what he would’ve thought. She shuffled the contents of her bag around and searched for her phone. The camera loaded. She looked out the window, searching for the station’s name on the walls. Waiting for the couples in black and white, satin and tulle, accent jewelry to part ways. Her thumb hovered over the shutter button. Then, the train lurched and lunged forward, re-energized but resisting. The wheels groaned and whined against the tracks. No one would wait for her sentimentality.
The glow between her fingers faded to black. She withdrew her hands into her pockets and out of the cold.
My mother, like many excellent Chinese mothers, brings me some sort of health supplement each time she visits me in my new home. Last time, I got a bag of red goji berries to steep in hot water or tea.
Her explanation is never scientific, and frankly it doesn’t have to be if your mother says it’s “good for you.” However, I did have to draw the line once at sea cucumbers. I take this at face value and while I don’t know what the exact effects are, if any, I make my tea and feel grateful that I will forever be her growing child. Never mind my fancy pants corporate business card.
So it upsets me that despite never enduring the trauma of non-(East) Asian peers wrinkling their noses at my lunch food, I experience a dampened version in my adult life. (Granted, I am a rare case and went to a public school with faces from across the melanin spectrum.) Of all things, someone wrinkled their nose at my goji berries. They don’t smell, they’re not furry with fruit fuzz, and their color is a bright, happy red-orange.
You might say that it was a simple, one-off question. “Ew, what are those things?”
But it also could’ve been even simpler, less shrill sounding. “What’s in your tea?”
Call me sensitive, call me a snowflake, but I was a touch annoyed and called it out. Of course, I did so in a light-hearted way that’s safe for consumption in a work environment. It’s a skill I’ve honed having been a first-generation college student and now a first-generation member of corporate America. I’ll continue sippin’…