Friday, August 1, 2014

Pitch Wars!

I'm thrilled to be participating as a 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: 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

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.

Tuesday, September 24, 2013

On banning books

I remember very clearly the books that killed my innocence.

The first one: Let The Circle Be Unbroken by Mildred Taylor.  In it, a young black boy is sentenced to death for a crime he didn't commit, and I remember so clearly reading along expecting everything to be fine, expecting justice to prevail, and being shaken to my core when it didn't play out that way.  (Because if that could happen in a book--couldn't it maybe happen in the real world, too?)  I was eight.

After that there was My Brother Sam Is Dead, by James Collier, a story about the American Revolution whose the last lines deal with the narrator's brother being executed with a burlap sack over his head.  I was ten.

And after that was Slam Book, by Ann M. Martin of The Babysitters Club fame, which because of its author made me think I was entering into a world when things didn't go all that wrong.  I was reading it at night after I was supposed to be in bed, sneaking in pages by the light from my closet, and late at night when I was the only one awake in the house I read a scene in which a girl who was being bullied at school drew a warm tub of water and went and got razor blades and told her dead mother she was coming.  And because I was young, I didn't understand until the next chapter started with the line (seared into my memory) "Cheryl Sutphin was dead."  I was eleven.

(Before that, of course, there was the Easter story, with all its attendant dramatizations that left me traumatized and sick.)

To be totally honest, I kind of wish I'd never read them.  Words and images and scenarios stay with me--it's why I can't watch a certain kind of violent movies; it's why I avoid Easter services and sometimes news stories after I've glimpsed headlines that make me ill--and those traumatized me for a long time.  Enough so, apparently, that decades later I remember them clearly.

But I also believe that reading them, and learning stark terrible facts about humanity, was an important thing to do.  I think it made me a better person: more aware, more stunned by evil, more cognizant of what it meant to be a human in the world.

My daughter's favorite book right now is a collection of high-contrast black and white shapes with a total of maybe twenty words in the entire book, and maybe I'll feel differently when she's old enough to understand things.  I'm sure I'll want to protect her from knowing about ugly and awful things in the world.  I'm sure I'll want to preserve her sense of innocence and safety.  I'm sure when she comes across ideas that might marginalize others, ideas that might be parading themselves as legitimate to mask some deep moral wrong, I'll panic that somehow she might think those are right or okay.  Because words matter, and language matters, and the things that you're exposed to burrow into you and take a certain hold on your consciousness, sometimes in ways you don't even realize at the time.

But I don't ever want her to think that her experiences are everyone's experiences--that if she's been lucky, which I hope she will be, that everyone else is equally lucky and that there's no need for her to consider otherwise.  I don't want her to blind herself to reality, even when that's painful.  I don't want her to go to the library or to school and to be presented with a whitewashed, false, privileged world in which unpleasant or unsavory aspects--or, worse still, aspects that people deem unpleasant or inappropriate just because they're different--are simply censored out.

On the flip side, If there's something in her life she's struggling with, I want her to read about it.  I want her to see the experience lived out on the page.  I want her to know she's not alone, and I want her to know that perhaps there's a way to give voice to her experience.

I don't ever want her believing that she can't talk about who she is or about something that's happened to her or something that's happened to someone she cares about.  I don't ever want her feeling like anything she might be going through is so shameful it must be scrubbed from existence.

No kid should feel that way.  And we're so much worse off when we let that happen.

Happy Banned Books Week!  Here's to reading honestly, to reading dangerously, and to reading the hell out of whatever you want.

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?