Friday, August 1, 2014

Pitch Wars!

I'm thrilled to be participating as a YA mentor in my first Pitch Wars this year!

Also, I've never … used? Blogged? Giffed? a gif in my life, which makes me feel a little unprepared to write an awesome bio about myself, since I'm diving headfirst into a pool of beautifully-giffed bios here with all the other fantastic mentors.  But fear not; I'm ready to gif-lessly whip your manuscript into top shape!

About me: I'm the author of CONVICTION, coming May 19th from Disney-Hyperion, and NOTHING GOLD CAN STAY (coming 2016).  I'm a member of the NaNoWriMo Associate Board and lead creative writing workshops for teens, and am represented by Adriann Ranta of Wolf Literary.  I have an MFA from San Francisco State, where I loved nothing more than sitting in fiction workshops.  I tweet here.

What I’m looking for (YA only): I love character-driven fiction.  I love anything literary.  I love moral complexity, gray areas, family dramas, difficult choices, and complicated, nuanced people.  I love stories about faith, stories with a strong sense of place, and stories that ask difficult questions.  I love diverse books.  Some of my favorite YA titles are SPLIT by Swati Avasthi, WHERE THINGS COME BACK by John Corey Whaley, anything by Chris Crutcher, and the FACE ON THE MILK CARTON series by Caroline B. Cooney.

What I’m not looking for: I don't love violence or pure romances (or violent romances).  I don't like casual racism or sexism.  I admire fantasy and sci-fi (the worldbuilding!) but don't read enough of them to offer solid feedback on those categories (although I love magical realism and magic-y elements in stories otherwise grounded in the real world).

Why you should pick me: I believe the best critiques are those that faithfully reflect the story back to the author, so the author herself can do her best work of making sure the story in her heart matches what's on the page. 

What to expect if you get picked by me: editorial notes with lots of probing and questions about your manuscript to help you push it deeper.  Also, lots of midnight tweets.  I'm a night person.


Looking forward to reading all the great entries, and good luck!  For more information, or to enter, visit brenda-drake.com.

Sunday, May 11, 2014

The lovely Erin Schneider, who writes beautiful, humorous, emotional contemporary fiction, tagged me in a writing process tour.  Erin's the co-captain of the YA Buccaneers, and an incredibly talented up-and-coming writer (and an absolutely beautiful person, to boot!), and you can find her here.

What am I working on?

Final revisions for CONVICTION, and three other projects I'm juggling!  About Asian-Americans, quantum entanglement, the 1970s, a kidnapping, a cult--my mind is all over the place!

How does my work differ from others of its genre?

I write literary contemporary realistic fiction, with conflicts grounded in the real world, and generally focusing on complicated, gray-area relational dynamics and moral crises.  The thing that gets me into a story and drives it from then on is the voice; I have to fully inhabit a character in order to get anywhere.  I like nuance and difficult choices and characters who aren't either good or bad, but somewhere in between.  And I am fascinated by characters' (often skewed) moral codes.

Why do I write what I do?

When I was younger I used to see the world in very black and white terms, mostly because of how I'd been raised.  But there was always something in me that wanted to understand where people were coming from even if they did terrible things, and especially if they felt inaccessible to me, or lived some kind of different life.  I guess I write what I do as part of a lifelong quest to try to understand other people, to imagine into lives and minds and hearts much different from my own, and to present these complex, complicated people--who can't be understood in black and white terms--fully to other readers.

How does my writing process work?

I don't think I've ever written two projects the same way.  Mostly, lots and lots of stress-eating.  Also, Twitter support groups.  I write awful first drafts and then read through and try to find the heart of the real story for the characters, and then I do whatever I can to bring that story out.  I write a lot of backstory for the characters that never makes it into my drafts.  I try with each draft to have ratcheted up what's at stake for everyone.  I write hunched over on my bed (staring at the window--at, not out, since I have no curtains and we put up this alpaca blanket my bff brought back from his trip to Machu Picchu and I'm too lazy to ever take it down even when I wish I could see the outside world and anyway I like the way it looks when the light comes through it), which I'm sure I'll pay for someday.

Up next!  I'm tagging:

-Anna-Marie McLemore (who'll be posting at the Fearless Fifteeners blog), an almost-local writer friend who's thoughtful and funny and incredibly talented and whose debut THE WEIGHT OF FEATHERS is one of the most beautiful stories I've ever read.  I wish I were exaggerating, because then maybe the book wouldn't have totally wrecked me and rendered me completely unable to write the way it did, and-

-Sabaa Tahir, a local writer friend (hurray!) who's one of my new favorite parts of living in the Bay Area, and whose debut AN EMBER IN THE ASHES is promising to take the publishing world and Hollywood by storm next year; if the beginning is any indication of the rest of the book, this is one amazing novel.

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

I know I'm in California, but it still feels springier than spring should for still being March.  We supposedly have this 'rainstorm' going on right now, but so far it's rained maybe twice, in short spurts, and through my window it's all blue skies and puffy gray-white clouds.  This was officially the warmest winter on record in California, and I feel cheated.  (But also relieved, because when we moved in we took out the wall heating so we could put up bookshelves.  Books > not freezing.)  Anyway, it's spring!  There's green garlic at the farmer's market (which I bought for the first time) and the hills here are turning green and there are mustard flowers and daffodils starting to crop up along the freeway, and the days have settled more into a routine again, this time with my little buddy.  (Who is nearly nine months old!!!  How/why.)

I don't usually do anything for Lent--it was never really a thing when I was growing up--but I've been feeling really heavy this year with so much horrible news everywhere.  From people I love, and also just in the news in general; it feels like the world is at a particularly depressing point in its history.  So for Lent I gave up a bunch of websites I usually read, which has had the effect of making me wallow less in depressing things I can't change, but has also had the effect of making me a more compulsive Facebook/Twitter/email checker than ever before.  Also I've gotten really good at loopholes.  (It doesn't count if I follow the link from elsewhere, right?  What if I just google the author's name?)  When's Easter?  Lent is super long.

In other news, I finally have a title and a release date for my book!  Conviction, to publish on May 5, 2015.  I swear it's easier to write a 300-page book than a one-line title, by the way.  I turned in my first round of revisions recently, and after this there will be some more revisions from my editor, line edits where everything's worked over on a sentence-by-sentence level, copy edits, and then cover design, a galley, etc.  Last week I saw three writer friends' cover designs, and they were spectacular and made me all weepy and filled with happy thoughts about how books are magic, writing is magic, publishing is amazing, etc.  Then last night on Twitter I saw someone ask "How stable a career is being an author?" and, lol.  I had a good laughcry over that one.

Meanwhile, I'm in the middle of drafting two new books.  By 'in the middle of,' I actually mean in the first maybe one percent of.  It's so weird going from a project where you know the whole world and all the characters really intimately, and everything's structured and holds together, and then all of a sudden there's ... nothing.  If I were a more exciting kind of person it would probably feel freeing and exciting, but mostly it just makes me want to go on Gawker binges (which won't happen until Easter; see: Lent).  

Also, baseball season is going to start soon.  Best news ever.  I can't wait.  


Saturday, November 23, 2013

November gratitude list



This time of year always makes me remember all the things I'm thankful for, and I feel like I'm living in a particularly good time of life right now, so it comes easy this year.


- My baby is in the sweetest, funniest, quirkiest stage right now at four months.  Her growly dragon noises and cackles (she misunderstands the purpose of laughter, we think--sometimes when she's just sitting there she'll erupt in this harsh, staccato, kind of maniacal cackle out of nowhere and then go instantly stone-faced again) when she's awake and her little sighs when she's asleep blast my heart into a thousand tiny pieces.  She likes being held while you're standing up only, and she's a terrible sleeper, but she's so much fun and so cute and in general just the best.  Every now and then she rediscovers her hands or sometimes her feet and will just sit there and stare at them like she's trying to figure them out, and I read somewhere that at this age babies haven't learned to separate themselves from their primary caregivers, which is to say that when she looks at her hands she thinks they belong to me.  HAHA.  I don't know why this amuses me so much, but it does.  I try to read to her every day and whenever I do she arches her back and stares around the room and sometimes tries to close the book, and I also learned that that--closing books--is a standard developmental stage.  Weird.

- I'm revising my manuscript for Disney, which is an up and down process, and actually if you asked my husband and friends I've been nonstop pestering with existential writing angst they'd probably say it sounds like it's all down, but my editor is terrific and her notes are fantastic, and I believe in her vision for the story (which is a life raft on the days I'm drowning in the self-doubt and the suspicion that I should just send her a blank document marked "improvements").  I'm also working on my next project, which I'm really excited about.

- I'm still figuring out the whole work/parenting balance thing (definitely a first-world problem), but my parents and aunt have been really generous about helping take care of my little girl and giving me a few extra hours to write.  I'm also happy she gets to see them more.


- Audrey's in that sweet spot where she's old enough to go places but still young enough to be immobile and portable, so we've gotten out enough to see friends and in general re-enter the world.  We even went to San Diego last month for a wedding, and to a gathering of friends in Twain Harte the month before that, and it was really really good to get to see friends and family we don't usually get to see.


 

- It had been for some reason a while since I'd met any new people and I was feeling my--admittedly incredible and fulfilling--circles shrinking a little as good friends were moving away for various reasons, but lately a smattering of really amazing new people have come into my life and I feel that happy excitement of new friendships.  Some are people I know from church, which is starting to feel like a real and vital community to me, and I also for the first time ever took the plunge and met a friend I'd met online (and it was really fun and I was so glad we clicked in person, and plus we ate cronuts, which, win--although frankly, overhyped).

- This.


- Thanks to Lee Kelly I became a member of The Freshmen Fifteen, a group of fifteen YA authors whose books are debuting in 2015, and not only has the community been incredible and not only have I been totally blown away by the talent and inventiveness of the other women and their work, I also got to meet up with authors Stacey Lee and Virginia Boecker and it was the best night ever.  I realized, as I was gushing about them afterwards to J, that it was the first time I've ever met anyone in person who's in the YA publishing community, and it was like coming home to my people.

- Also, I've found my critique partner soulmate in Lee.


- I had my ten-year high school reunion last month and it was so great to see everyone and catch up and in general just be in a room full of people just genuinely really, truly happy to see one another.  (It was also really fun to Google + hangout with my besties afterward so we could recap our night.)  I'm really kind of embarrassingly proud of where I come from, and everyone's just turned into such impressive, decent, overall great people.  Eleven-year reunion!  I hope.




- I became a member of the NaNoWriMo Associate Board, and last weekend I attended the Annual Night Of Writing Dangerously (and got to see an old friend from college whom I haven't seen since then!).  Driving home through Chinatown, pushing my rapidly-aging car up the steep hills where my grandmother saw my grandfather skating backwards and told a friend "that's the boy I'm going to marry," I felt really happy to be a part of a city and a community that can come around its writers and readers.  (Then I came home to a baby who had been screaming in such anguish for the past hour I almost took her to the hospital because I was scared something was really wrong, so it was fun being out for the night for the last time ever.)



- We live in a one-bedroom and moving somewhere bigger with a second bedroom seemed like the appropriate thing to do, and we looked all over the place and it turned out I have this irrational but EXTREMELY DEEPLY-ROOTED desire to live near trees and hills, probably thanks to having grown up where both were abundant and now feeling weirdly ungrounded when I can't see either one from where I live, and J had more normal desires for more living space and storage closets.  Also, have I complained yet about how a two-bedroom in the area goes for like 2800 right now?  Anyway, this weekend J rearranged the table in our living area and suddenly we have like six extra square feet and now it feels like we can live here forever.  So we stopped the obsessive Craigslist hunting and I'm really glad because I was heartbroken in advance to leave where we live now, my favorite place I've lived in my adult life.

- J's in thesis mode before he starts a new job very soon, and at the moment his schedule is relatively flexible, which I've been trying to take advantage of.  Last week we got holiday drinks and went for a walk, because our baby has a weird and all-consuming love of being outside, and it was autumn-y and just really nice.  Boo to real jobs.

- And next week's Thanksgiving!  Yay for family and friends!  I think this is my favorite time of year.

Wednesday, September 18, 2013

A few quick takes

- My baby turned two months old last week!  She's also started smiling and cooing, and the gummy little smiles turn my heart into a quivering pile of mush.  She's so funny.  Her little expressions and emerging opinions are unreal, like she's a little practice human.

- Ten years late, I'm finally watching West Wing, and it's so good and well-written and well-acted and makes me feel all hopeful excited about America and about democracy.  Did you watch it?  Can we discuss it together forever?  Why is C. J. the absolute best?

- My friend and I have been playing the best text game ever this week where one of us names a category and then we both send a picture of our respective little besties that fits the category.  I was convulsing laughing at Category: Possessed:

That's a dog, by the way, not a demon-cat.  (And the lower one is a baby who's usually cuter and not frothing quite so enthusiastically at the mouth.)


- The new Twitter with its threading-replies-system-thing is THE LIVING WORST.  I hate it so hard.


- Fun fact: September 19th is apparently International Talk Like A Pirate Day, according to ... whomever designates these days.  (There's a day for everything.  My favorite is the one for doughnuts, which actually is every day, if you have the right attitude about it.)  And, for my writer friends, if you or writers you know tweet with the hashtag #YABpiratetalk, you have a fantastic shot at winning some piratey goodies plus a manuscript critique!  In fact one of the manuscript critiques will be from me, and I am, actually, an excellent reader, and would love to see what you're working on.

Happy International Talk Like A Pirate Day, all!  Here's to devoting days to the little days.


Wednesday, August 28, 2013

On point of view

Sunset on a recent trip to Twain Harte, CA.  I'm pretty sure Andi took this one!

I'm working on a new manuscript, and a few weeks ago I met with my favorite former teacher for a consultation.  I tend to write in a billion documents scattered throughout my hard drive all at once, and I was startled to discover, when I knitted them all together, that they made up about the length of a book. I'd been writing in fits and starts and not feeling like things were really coming together yet, and one thing I hadn't resolved yet was the point of view.  When I sent off the manuscript the first two-thirds were in the first person, and the last part was in the omniscient third.

I always write in the first person.  I can remember exactly one exception in the past decade or so of writing, and it's a short story I've been toying with on and off and halfheartedly trying to publish somewhere, so far without success.  But when I was writing my last book there were some mechanical issues that would have been so easy to resolve if the story wasn't told only by a narrator who wasn't around for everything I wanted to include in the story, and last summer I also read a book in the omniscient third that I loved so much that I thought, I need to try that.

So for this story, I pushed myself outside of my comfort zone, and took what felt like a risk, or at least would be considered one in a workshop: I wrote in the omniscient third.  I entered the consciousness of even peripheral characters and I made declarations about them; the narrator knew everything.  I played with that, and I wrote it, and I sent it off.

The first thing my teacher said to me when we met was that she wanted just to focus on the first part of the story--the first-person section--because the other wasn't working; there was, as she put it, no portal to welcome the reader into the story.  It wasn't a surprise, and if anything, it was something of a relief, and to be honest my instincts had been telling me the same thing already.  Because what was missing was the most important part of a story for me: the act of the narrator retelling it. Everything I've ever written has been so much about a narrator piecing together his or her story after the fact, sorting through the details and the meaning and the implications of it.  Without that, I was missing the fuel that drove the whole story.

Do you notice point of view when you're reading?  Does it make a big difference for you or do you have a strong preference for what you read?




Sunday, August 11, 2013

Apartment life (plus some gratuitous baby pictures)

This month we got notice that our rent is jumping up about 20 percent; J's going to be graduating in the next few months; we're in a one-bedroom with a baby.  In other words, we'll probably be moving sometime in the foreseeable future, which feels like a huge deal to me because moving = the worst, and also because the place we live now is probably my favorite place we've lived since we got married.

Right now we live in a rented condo, and even the small tweak in our normal pattern of apartment living feels like it makes the situation different.  Usually in an apartment complex everyone is moving in and out regularly enough that no one knows their neighbors, but in our building everyone else owns their own condos and has lived here for like twenty years, so we've gotten to know our neighbors and I really love that.  I'll miss it.   Anyway, I'm not that interested in buying a house (ball and chain amirite) anytime soon, and my bank account/career path is REALLY not interested in it, so.  I've been starting to half-heartedly peruse Craiglist in search of The Next Place To Schlep My Billions Of Books I Regret Each Time We Move.  And also thinking about apartment life in general.
Apropos of that, here are the things I love about living in an apartment:

1.  Maintenance.  I really, REALLY love being able to just call someone to fix whatever breaks.
2.  Not being tied down to a location (or, at least, a micro-location, since though we might move intra-Bay-Area, I doubt we'll leave this area anytime soon).  Commuting = the worst.
3.  Crowdedness.  I actually really like having people around all the time and neighbors in very close proximity.  I also love being able to live close to downtown streets and businesses (particularly ones that are open twenty-four hours a day; see item 6).
4.  Minimal decision-making.  The thought of picking, like, paint colors or roof tiles or whatever stresses me out.  Actually, the thought of any home-related decision stresses me out.
5. Ease of finances.  I still couldn't hazard a guess as to what "escrow" means, but I can handle dropping a check in the mail once a month.
6.  Smallness of your living area.  I can't really picture what I'd do with three or four times as much square footage; sometimes when I go to my parents' house it feels confusingly enormous to me, even though half the time when I was living there it felt too small/like I could go nowhere to have some quiet.  Also, the over-paranoid part of me that goes into overdrive when jolted awake likes being able to get up at night and check that there's nothing terrifying going on in any of the rooms; having only two real rooms facilitates that happening much more quickly.  Also, something creeps me out about doors to the outside that are really far away.  Did I mention I like having neighbors in close proximity at all hours?
7.  Not having a yard to like weed and rake and mow and generally think about, although this one's a mixed bag, because it would be a a fun place for a slightly older child (NEVER GROW UP AUDREY I CAN'T TAKE IT) to play.  But parks are nice too, although they require more supervision.
Things common to apartments that I either don't love/would love to find a way around in the next place we live:

1.  Lack of community.
2.  Worrying my baby's crying is irritating neighbors (although luckily so far Audrey is super mellow and never really just screams for hours on end; she's generally extremely consolable, and I'm really grateful for that.  I hear this is how you get tricked into having a second baby who might turn out to be a demon-child, though).
3.  No space for visitors to stay with us, although that obviously could be remedied by getting a bigger apartment
4.  The rental prices in the Bay Area are seriously insane (market rate is like $1800/month for a one-bedroom right now in my town; on the plus side, buying a home isn't actually a wiser decision financially, so no pressure there).  Plus the constant nagging fear that your rent's going to go up.
5.  Parking situations.
6.  Lack of in-unit washer and dryers (we do have one now and it's the greatest thing ever/I think probably four or five times a week how much I love that).  It's rare around here.
7.  Noisy maintenance-type activities (nails pounding, demolition, jackhammering, etc.) that make too much noise during my delicate writer-schedule.  
8.  Impermanence.  I would put up with kind of a lot to never have to move again.

What's your living situation like?  Would you recommend it?