Thursday, December 22, 2011

A Balancing Act

So I haven't blogged since August. Wow. But in the meantime I finished the draft of my two-years-in-the-works YA fantasy! I'm realizing, once again, how I DO NOT have the talent of doing more than one thing at a time. Somehow all my crit partners managed to complete NaNoWriMo AND blog AND make thoughtful comments on other people's blogs. How do you do it, my friends? What is your secret?

Even though I technically didn't qualify to win Nano in the first place (you have to start a new novel, and mine was already half-written), I set a goal to write 50k with my friends in November. I actually accomplished 60k that month...and that was pretty much the ONLY thing I did. Everything else fell by the wayside. Even simple things like changing out of my pajamas or fixing dinner for my family just didn't happen. I was caught up in an all-consuming bubble (can bubbles consume? of course they can!) of Guinevere's adventures in Shalott.

I've had this ability/curse to hyper-focus since I was a little girl. For hours, and in one sitting, I would work on elaborate crafts. A favorite pastime was making paperdolls and paper houses, complete with paper fridges (that had working doors, drawers, and miniature paper food), washers, dryers, closets (with paper hangers for all the paper clothes), stairs, bedrooms for all the paper family, etc.

I've always been this detail oriented and had such overly ambitious creative ideas. But I have to be careful because sometimes I let the most important priorities in my life (family and friends) suffer because of my artistic tunnel vision. My parents tried to teach me again and again how to keep things in balance. It's hard, and now at 34 years-old, I still haven't figured it out.

My goal for 2012 is to blog regularly AND work consistently on revising The Rowaness of Shalott (and what I'm most excited for, writing the sequel!).

In the meantime, feel free to kick me in the booty when I slack, because knowing me, the mesmerizing world of creativity will grasp me in its clutches once again.

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

I've Been Liebstered!

Many thanks to Noveltee(n), who awarded Purdie Writing the Liebster Award. This award is meant for blogs with less than 200 followers. If you haven't had a chance to check out Noveltee(n), I highly suggest you do so. Noveltee(n) is a blog by EXTRAORDINARY teenage authors. I know Taryn and Kate, two of the five authors who run the site, and they are fantastic. Madly brilliant, funny, beautiful. The list goes on and on. Go visit Noveltee(n) today!

In the Liebster tradition, here's my list of five bloggers to whom I present the Liebster Award:

Robin (Robin Writes)
Emily (The Yellow Wallpaper)
Ilima (Ka'ao: Tell a Fanciful Tale)
Ryan (The Radeblogs)

I am stumped for a 5th blogger. Sorry, Liebster! All my other picks had either been Liebstered or had too many followers. Apparently, I need to read more blogs! But please check out the four wonderful bloggers I did choose. They are so awesome, they make up for my non-existent fifth blogger. :-) 

Liebster Award Rules:

1. Thank the giver and link back to the blogger who gave it to you.
2. Reveal your top 5 and let them know by leaving a comment on their blog.
3. Copy and paste the award on your blog.
4. Have faith that your followers will spread the love to other bloggers.
5. And most of all - have bloggity-blog fun!

Monday, August 22, 2011

WIFYR, I Love You

This picture pretty much sums up the craziness and the fun that WIFYR was this year. On an impulse, my good friend Robin and I decided to register for WIFYR (our first writing conference) back in March of this year. And I'm so happy we did! We couldn't have picked a better teacher (Louise Plummer) or a better class. Louise kept my sides aching from laughter. She is a goddess. Funny, sassy, sharp as a tack. I worship you, Louise. Thanks for being a true inspiration!

Our days at WIFYR were spent intensely critiquing the first thirty pages of each other's manuscripts. My turn fell on the last day, which made me both relieved and anxious. Relieved, because I didn't have to face the group criticism yet. Anxious, because I hadn't faced the group criticism yet. :-) I spent many nights that week literally on the verge of throwing up because I was so nervous about my looming critique.

On the flip side, I don't think I've ever been so rowdy and outspoken in a classroom setting. But I wasn't the only one. That was the beauty of it. Our class was collectively brilliant, obnoxious, and hilarious. (And our fabulous teacher only goaded us on!) When it came time to critique Robin's manuscript, I couldn't keep my mouth shut in defense of her writing (which I was overly familiar with). Louise eventually had to send me to the bathroom so I'd shut up. I laughed my way out the door. It was a needed potty break anyway. (I pee VERY FREQUENTLY when I'm stressed. There's nothing for it.)

When it was finally my turn to be critiqued, I thought I would die, but can happily report that I survived! People actually audibly gushed when Louise finished her reading of my pages. (It sounded like several gushing people, but maybe it was just Taryn gushing very loudly.) I was so surprised! Emily, I know you're out there thinking I'm ridiculous for being so nervous in the first place, and I realize it sounds like I'm bragging now with the gushing and all, but I seriously spent the week of WIFYR nauseous and peeing twenty times a day from the anticipation, so you can imagine how shocked and pleased I was with the class's response. Most loved my manuscript, and the suggestions they did offer were stomachable (see? no vomiting, after all!). I left WIFYR feeling rejuvenated to keep plunging forward with my book, knowing that it's something others really want to read, and knowing the passion I have for my Rowaness is ringing true on the page. In the meantime, I'll try to keep my adverbs in check (don't count how many I used in this blog post), and I'll try to keep Nimue from screaming as much as possible. Now that I have one WIFYR conference under my belt, I know what to expect and can look forward to only peeing ten times a day at next year's conference.

The best part about WIFYR were the new friends I made. Shortly after the conference, and in a random sort of way, a few of us in the class formed a critique group. Now it's my turn to gush...

Taryn, you are the embodiment of free-spirited youth, along with the brilliance of a mature writer. I ogled over your book, and was so happy to meet the authoress behind the masterful writing (and I am so happy you loved my book too!). Emily, you are the queen of taking things in stride, of seeing the glass half-full, and of finding humor in any situation. You write rich characters and have a knack for seeing the big picture in writing. Ilima, you and I both love to write romantic and fantastical stories. Thanks for letting me fall under the spell of your lush world and love story. Jenilyn, you were my off-and-on-next-seat neighbor at WIFYR (when you weren't out running errands for the conference as the assistant for our class). Your critiquing skills are spot-on; you notice important details that others overlook in their critiques. And at least you and I remembered that Artemis is the Goddess of the Hunt! Robin, you have been with me on this writing journey from the beginning. We have been tough on each other with our critiques, but our strong friendship has carried us through it all. You have 10,000 gifts and strengths, and I am completely in awe of you. We started this journey together, and I hope we'll always continue on the road side by side.

To read Louise's blog entry about our WIFYR class, click here.

In the photo above, you'll find Louise Plummer at the center of all the face-touching. Ha! I am behind her (to the right). Robin is to my right, Ilima is to my left, and Taryn is to the left of Ilima. Jenilyn is at the far right of the photo, and Emily's in the back left (wearing glasses). I'm feeling dizzy now. Are you? (You can click on the photo to view larger.)

Friday, June 3, 2011

Daughter of a Writer

Sixteen-year-old me and my dad
Growing up, I was not the kind of girl who wanted to write a merely passing paper in English class. True to the perfectionist that I am, I always strove for an "A." But the grade that mattered most didn't come from my English teacher. It came from my dad.

My father is a writer. His middle grade novels, historical fiction, non-fiction, and self-help books have been published by regional and national publishers. No matter the genre, my dad's books are insightful, compelling and beautiful--upheld by strong and moral themes. I grew up wanting to please my dad with my own writing as well. Easier said than done.

None of my English papers were submitted without a thorough critiquing by my father. I sat next to him during these editing sessions in the storage room of our basement--his makeshift office. My dad would review every word choice, redundancy and pronoun with me, making sure my sentences read in a clear, concise and creative manner. When I brought him new drafts, I was sure that this time I had finally mastered the craft of writing...and was amazed that he could still find countless flaws.

When I was in college, I showed a new piece of writing to my dad. The assignment I'd been given in English class was to take a chapter from a published book and retell it from a different character's point of view. When my dad read my version of the story, he misunderstood, believing he was reading the original chapter. When I clarified it was my writing, he said, "You wrote this?"

My father, the writer
Oh, happy day!

Over the years our roles reversed a bit, and when my dad wrote new manuscripts, he would send them to me for my criticism. I know my dad never believed I was the better writer, but I always felt pleased that he trusted my opinion enough to ask for it--even tweaking his writing in places where I suggested improvement.

The other day I was talking to my dad about the progress I had made in writing my first novel. He shook his head and said, "I never thought to encourage any of my kids to become a writer."

"Why?" I asked, a little shocked. Hadn't he been encouraging me for all of my life to write well?

My dad explained that he thought we kids would have learned through his example just how hard a writer's life is; that it's slow, painstaking work--unpredictable in its possibility to provide any income.

 "But I love to write, Dad," was my reply.

He gave a little shrug as if to say, "That's what I was afraid of." But then he smiled.

I have been no stranger to criticism in the process of writing my first novel. From the earliest drafts, I have worked closely with my critiquing partner, Robin, who is a seasoned and excellent editor. But the idea of having my dad see this new work terrified me. The last time he had read anything of mine was back in my college days--thirteen years ago.

I let my mom read the first chapter of my novel last year, with specific instructions not to show it to my dad. But he found my chapter on my mom's laptop and took it upon himself to edit my work. Stopping one-and-a-half pages into my story, he wrote a lengthy essay on everything I was doing wrong. The most gut-wrenching part was that he didn't even finish reading the chapter!

I called him that night, basically begging him to tell me anything good about my story. He was able to list several things but was still adamant about what needed fixing.

"Can't you be a little easier on me?" I sighed in frustration.

A younger dad making a "kid sandwich." I'm the bread at the bottom.
"No!" he answered. "You'd never learn anything!" His manuscripts bled in red ink from all his editor's suggestions, he told me. The message was clear: I had to toughen up; there was always room from improvement.

By my upbringing you'd think I would have been better prepared for my dad's criticism of my novel. But my college days--the last time my dad had read anything of mine--were over thirteen years ago. I'd forgotten what a wonderful--and ruthless--editor he was.

As hard as it was to hear, my dad's insights proved invaluable. "Show, don't tell," "Make me need to read this," and "Don't ever let your character walk offstage" are just a sampling of what will forever be branded into my memory.

A few days after I talked with my dad, I threw out my manuscript and decided to begin anew. Up to that point I'd completed a quarter of my novel and written a sixty-page outline--all of which represented six months of my life. But I now determined to develop a new storyline, while still keeping the main characters and rules of the fantasy world I'd created.

For giving me honest feedback, I will forever be grateful to my father. I have faith that my words will blossom into a beautiful and gripping novel one day, but in the meantime I've learned how to stomach tough criticism, realizing that nothing in my story can be too sacred to undergo major surgery. More importantly, I've learned that this is my story. The genre and subject matter are not what my dad would be inclined to write or even read (though I know he'll happily read my finished novel one day). So before I run my manuscript through another editing gauntlet, I have to first be happy with an audience of one. No matter how my apprenticeship under my father has shaped my writing, the story itself comes from my own soul. I need to be pleased with myself before I try to please anyone else.

After the long and painful discussion we had about my chapter, my dad and I made a pact: the next time he'd read my story would be after it was published. "I'd rather be your father, Katie, than your editor."

I wish I was still strong enough for him to be both. But for now I'd like him most of all to be my dad.

Thursday, May 26, 2011

Sersiona the Woodland Nymph

A few months ago I was digging through my old journals and writings, and I came across a long forgotten story I had written for my own pleasure during my early teenage years. Looking at the picture I drew of the character in this story, I'm guessing I was thirteen or fourteen at the time. I didn't read the story when I unearthed it months ago; I brought it in from the garage and put it in a pile of "things to read." Today I remembered the story and dug through a stack of papers on my desk to find it.

When I read it I was shocked.

This story--one I dreamt up twenty years ago--is amazingly similar to the story I am writing now. I seriously couldn't believe it. The Rowaness in my current story and her yearnings are very close to Sersiona's. It's mind-boggling to me that this story has lain dormant in my mind all these years, and that I've recovered it without even realizing what I was doing. This makes me realize how special my story is to me; that it's one I've been waiting most of my life to fully tell.

While there are many things my Rowaness and Sersiona have in common, there's one thing I'm grateful they don't: that crazy name. What was I thinking?!!

So without further ado, here is my short story, Sersiona. The corniness and melodramatic romance make me laugh, but all in all, I'm pretty pleased with what my younger self was able to write. (Click on each page to view larger.)

Sunday, April 17, 2011

How My Book Was Born

With my brother, Matt, before the transplant
On April 17, 2009 I donated a kidney to my older brother, Matt. It was a decision I felt fiercely right about, but that did not mean the actual donation and the recovery process were easy. The pain was unimaginable, but my emotional recovery was the most difficult. I think I'll spend the rest of my life recovering, and I would have it no other way. I cry easier, laugh harder, give more, rest less. Life is harder now, but more beautiful.

I tried to write about my experience donating the kidney--tried to write the chronology and my feelings--but it was too emotionally painful. But then one-and-a-half years ago I was given a gift: an idea for a fictional story popped into my mind--the story of a nameless, beautiful tree nymph who cannot tangibly feel anything. In a twist of fate, her senses awaken, and she discovers what it means to be mortal and fall in love. Somehow the true story I cannot write has found a voice with my "Rowaness" tree nymph. The plot line of her story and my own don't align in any manner, but the yearning for a meaningful existence and for the beauty of life--no matter the suffering--is the same.

Part of my soul I gifted to my brother two years ago. Another part is in this story.

Saturday, February 26, 2011

Let's Hear it for the Boys

Little me
For a Christmas present to our distant relatives one year, my parents made an audio recording of our family talking and singing carols. My siblings and I took turns answering questions about our interests and what we'd been up to lately. When it  was my turn, my parents asked me, "Katie, what would you like to say to everybody?" I replied in a mischievous voice, "I like boys." I was all of two years old. I have no memory of this, but the old cassette tape I still have is tangible proof.

In the sixth grade, I started writing in a journal and was an avid journal-writer by high school. What did 99% of my journal entries have in common? You guessed it. Boys.

Some things never change.

Now as a happily-married thirty-four-year old, I am still boy crazy, but the boys I am crushing on (besides my husband!) are the ones I find in well-written novels. And I should take a moment to broaden my definition here: it's the romance, really, that compels me in a book--whether the narrator be a boy or a girl. I rarely read a book without romance that captivates me. Does that make me shallow? I don't think so. I think wanting to love and be loved is a fundamental and universal desire--one I want to share in as I take a journey with a character in a novel.

My favorite book genre is YA. Why, you ask? Boys. Ha! Well, more or less anyway. YA books often deal with first love and first heartbreaks...and when I read them I find that little girl within me still obsessing over boys.

Here are some YA novels that contain my favorite romances:

  • Fire, by Kristin Cashore
  • The Dead, Tossed Waves, by Carrie Ryan
  • Matched, by Ally Condie
  • Poison Study, by Maria V. Snyder
  • Impossible, by Nancy Werlin
  • The Hunger Games, by Suzanne Collins
  • City of Bones, by Cassandra Clare
  • Unearthly, by Cynthia Hand
  • Paranormalcy, by Kiersten White

You may have also noticed that these YA books are also fantastical in nature, but that is the subject of another blog entry!