Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Reality or Dream?

You know those dreams that are vivid and beautiful. The ones you start to awaken from and you feel this terrible wrenching pain as reality returns. It's not that reality is somehow less, but you feel this longing and loss. You want to know how the story went, how the ending played out. Like a perfect movie where you feel along with every emotion, but the disk is scratched and you'll never see the ending.

So you keep your eyes closed, shutting them tight and trying to picture the story again. Maybe you can fall asleep. Maybe you can go back there and see how it ends. Maybe you don't have to leave, not yet. But it never works. You can never know the ending and never feel that moment again.

These dreams don't happen often. Maybe every few years. And you never get to hold onto them long enough.

What if it wasn't like that?

What if you had one of those dreams every night? Every moment you slept was like a perfect wonderful movie. Only better, because you could feel it all.

What if you could go back to sleep and be right there again? What if you could live in that dream for as long as it played?

Would you have the courage to wake up? Would you have the strength to let that moment go and accept one less vibrant, less perfect, less beautiful?

If life was a dream, could you wake up to reality?

This is what it's like to be a writer.

There's the dream, the idea. It comes unexpectedly and it plays before you like a shiny lure. That one scene with those characters that draw you in. You need to know them and the only way is to let yourself slip away from reality into their world.

But the thing is, that's too easy. The story is too bright. The feelings are too strong. You want to go back. You don't want to leave them. You let them play in your head, when no one knows. You escape your world and linger in theirs. You spend more and more time there until it becomes harder to wake up from the dream than it is to fall back into it.

Reality pulls you back, but it's in the dream where you want to live.

You thought this was a blessing. To be shown this other world, allowed to travel there at will. But the blessing starts to become a curse. You can't turn the story off. You can't break away. Reality slips farther from your mind and you become lost somewhere. Do you live, only witnessing these other lives? Or do you live in your reality, where things don't always shine with that light?

What if life was the dream?

What if waking was losing it all?

Until the story ends, I find myself torn between two worlds.

What can I say?

I’m a writer.

Author2Author: Query Clinic Submission #3 (or Good Things Come in...

Author2Author: Query Clinic Submission #3 (or Good Things Come in...: Tip of the Day, Librarian Edition: Please don't get mad at the library if every copy of their children's biographies on Harriet Tubman are c...

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Monday, March 19, 2012

Sex, Young Adult Novels, and What I learned from Jessica Simpson

I write primarily YA novels.

I have a certain set of personal moral beliefs.

I feel responsible for potentially influencing people who read my books.

I cannot write in a way that would be contradictory to my beliefs.

That said, my characters don’t always hold my beliefs. They don’t make choices I might make or live in worlds I’ve experienced (except through them.) They are different. They are varied. Their story is their own.

So what is my obligation as a writer to uphold the values I cling to, while at the same time exploring the lives of characters very different from myself?

As a general guide I ask, would I be embarrassed if my own children read this one day? I think it’s a good gauge. It lets me know if I’m writing for the truth of the story or the overly sensational grab. My characters will make mistakes. My kids will make mistakes. The point of life is not living it perfectly, but learning and changing. Sensational adds no value to the story, but without mistakes there would be no story.

So if my characters are flawed. If they make mistakes that I cannot condone nor glorify, how do I maintain my integrity as a writer and allow their mistakes to be visible?

I think my own personal convictions show through in my stories. Sometimes they’re subtle, sometimes less so. It depends on the characters and how their views differ from mine. One thing I tend to find is that cause and effect are a way to show conviction without preaching beliefs. If my characters make a choice, that choice will launch a series of events. Are those events proving their choice to be beneficial or harmful to them? By showing cause and effect I’m able to convey good or bad choices in a realistic light. I can say - maybe this character did this particular thing, but did it turn out well? Without telling the reader what to think.

The one area this comes into question more than anywhere else is sex. I have my beliefs. My characters don’t always share them. So if I’m writing real characters, they’re not going to make the choice I would make. Being YA, this becomes an even touchier point. There are only so many methods and times that characters can abstain before the story begins to look contrived. In real life would they just keep pushing it away or claiming to be ‘old fashioned?’ Ask 8 out of 10 teenagers and the answer is no.

But I don’t want my characters hopping into bed. I don’t want my readers to think that’s ok by my standards. I have a moral duty to influence people toward my values, not away from them. I have a duty as a writer of mainstream novels to write true characters and not preachy stories.

So where do I find that place that can satisfy all my requirements?

I turn to Jessica Simpson for the answer.

You see, before she ever married Nick, she was portrayed as this deeply religious girl, devoted to her faith, protecting her virginity, guarding her heart and wearing a ring to signify her purity. Then she got married. Suddenly she became all about the sex. Sexy outfits, sexy talking, and basically running around shouting how wonderful sex was and let’s all have more.

Ok, there’s a problem here. Yes, as a married person I think it’s great that she loved having sex with her husband. But she went from prude to fiend overnight. Just because she did it by the book she felt that all restrictions were off and it didn’t matter whom she influenced or how. I disagree.

How will I stop my writing from becoming like Jessica Simpson’s love life?

First off, I believe in making my readers feel the story, without showing them the gruesome details. I’ve got to keep it clean. For me, and for them. Whether my characters do it my way, or some other way, I write it with respect. If I’d close my door, then maybe they need to as well.

Second, they have to have reason behind what they do. If they choose to wait, or not, to stray, or not, it must be clear to the reader why they made the choice they made. Going along with that is the whole cause and effect thing as well. I must convey consequences.

Last, I have to consider my audience. When I was a teenager, I read Anne Rice. If you’ve read her then you know that she doesn’t shy away from details and her characters have considerable moral flaws. I loved her characters and their struggles. They were so unlike my own. I would read and then be launched into arguments in my head about why they thought what they did or chose what they did. I could read the gratuitous parts and not be influenced in any way to go out and emulate their actions. Their morals did not alter mine. In fact, their struggles gave me a reason to consider more deeply why I held the convictions I do.
I believe that a well posed question is worth more than a thousand answers given. The questions her characters posed and never clearly answered made me find the answers and strengths in my beliefs.

Because of my experience I tend to view young people as a lot stronger and a lot less persuadable than most people treat them. I think by the time you’re reading YA, you have opinions and you’re more apt to fight for them than push them aside for someone else’s.  I also have to consider that this is not always the case. Maybe I was unusual. Maybe things in my life had given me a different kind of conviction than some young people have.

I have to realize that once a book is written, I am responsible for how it changes people. I have to be true to myself while telling a story that might be very different from my own.

Dang, this gets tricky.

So, now you might ask me if I’ve ever written a book I wouldn’t publish.

Yes, I have. I love the story. I think the characters are very true to themselves. The consequences to their actions are clear. Yet I would not publish the story. Why? Their voices are too different from my own. They speak more openly than I’m comfortable with, although it’s right for their voices. If I altered the story and took away the parts I’m uncomfortable with, then it wouldn’t be true to them. So I can’t.

What I’ve written is tame compared to most adult novels, and most that I’ve read myself. In fact I’m completely fine with a lot of people reading it. But I can’t put it on a shelf, place my name on it, and allow just anyone to pick it up. There are too many moments that I don’t agree with the characters. There are too many places where what they do could be seen in the wrong light. Some might consider it crazy to limit yourself like that. But I wouldn’t feel right doing anything less.

I write mainstream books, because to me that's the most effective way to tell my stories.

I write YA, because it’s where my passion and my comfort lie.

I answer to an editor that doesn’t work at a publishing house. I have to listen to the feedback I’m getting, so the standards of my editor are maintained.

While there are many constraints placed on novels within the YA publishing world, I have a few of my own too. For the most part it’s easy however. I write the stories that play in my mind and capture my heart. If I’m moved or thrilled or fall in love, then perhaps my readers will feel the same. If I capture a question and convey an answer, perhaps my readers will be challenged.

Because really, the most important thing I need to do is write a good story.

The rest will fall into place.

Friday, March 16, 2012

Welcome To My Worlds.

I was going to write about a different topic. One that my latest polished manuscript made me think about yesterday. However my concentration is shot because I have a polished manuscript and am entering that phase of writing that is the most stressful. Not the most painful, but the most stressful.



The painful part will come next. After the immense amount of work spent researching, preparing, and hitting send. There will follow the waiting and then the rejections. They’re bound to happen. To some degree or another, they must be expected.

That’s when I began thinking…

How many projects do I query before I chuck it all and move to a cabin in the woods to live a hermit life of writing? That’s right. Just go and write manuscript after manuscript, leaving them piled in a room somewhere for years and years.

I’ll go into town from time to time and the children will watch me from behind buildings, snickering, gasping and running away when I look. The shopkeepers will talk pleasantly to me, then discuss the terrible things they believe I’m doing all alone in the woods. They’ll have me burying bodies and hoarding animals and being completely insane because I stay up all night with the blue glow of a computer screen flooding from my windows.

I’ll keep writing though. I’ll write and write until I die. Because I know that when I do die, someone will come into my cabin and say, “Well, what are these?”

They’ll pick up a manuscript and not be able to put it down. They’ll read through one, then ten, then twenty, until they’ve read all 500. Then they’ll say, “These must be published! I cannot keep these from the world. The world needs these well crafted stories that are filled with thought provoking ideas.”

Then all the work will be worth it. All the years of toil and snickers, of rejection and pain, all to finally be published after my death.

Usually they don’t like to publish modern dead people, because they can’t produce more works at that point. But I need not worry about that fate, because I wrote 500 while I could. (Plus the 20 extra hidden under the floorboards that they won’t find until ten years later. I’m planning ahead, see.)

No, I won’t be your average dead writer. I will be extra delusional! I will be unsurpassed in my unrealistic hopes. I will be… ok, maybe a little insane, but no burying bodies and hoarding animals. Promise.

It takes a writer, doesn’t it? To keep on doing your craft. To keep on believing in your craft. Working through the pain of rejection, torment and snickers from everyone who’s waiting for you to “Just give it up.”

There’s a feeling that you can’t possibly win in this business. It courses through me all the time. There’s another feeling too though. There’s the thrill of the story. Getting lost in that place and time. Having all your thoughts be the voices of those characters. You feel their struggle and their triumph. When you reach the end, it’s never the end, it always feels like it’s just the beginning. You look back at their stories and you are in love. You want to show them off to the world. You want the world to feel what you felt, and breathe in the lives on the page. You believe in them, because they didn’t pour out of you, but through you.

I witnessed an amazing thing. I chronicled it for the world to see. Maybe everyone won’t take the time to look, but, oh, if you do, you’ll love it too. So, call me delusional. I don’t mind. Call me a little insane, it goes along with having voices in your head. If I wasn’t a little off kilter then I couldn’t handle the subjective world I’m trying to become a part of. If I didn’t believe in the stories I’ve told, then neither would you.

You see, sometimes I’m a little lost in this world and I really want to get back to my other one. The one in my head. The one where something amazing is just about to happen.

Welcome to my worlds.

Won’t you come on in?

Thursday, March 8, 2012


It’s a subject that’s been everywhere I’ve turned lately.

What is beautiful?

Is beauty subjective or is it objective?

When I was younger my view of beauty was different. I see that same view when I look at my kids and their friends. They’re still young enough to have a un-jaded view of what is beautiful. That will change though. The world will teach them to look for beauty in a way that acclaims the unworthy object and overlooks the most precious of gifts. I know it will. I could try to stop it, but it wouldn’t work. But that’s ok, because I realize something else. That is a passing phase.

They will age and they will begin to see beauty in a new way. Not in the perfect form or most useful function, which can change over time and become obsolete. They’ll learn to see it a little like they do now. The enduring, the good, the noble, the hope amidst despair. Because there is beauty in pain, and beauty in sorrow. When that sorrow finds solace and that pain teaches endurance. There is beauty in the gnarled and weathered. If it is gnarled by age and weathered in triumph. I don’t have to stop them from seeing beauty the wrong way. They need to. If they never see it for what it isn’t then they won’t recognize the difference when they see what it is.

Would finding love feel like quite as precious of a gift to a heart that had never been broken? Maybe to some hearts. But I don’t think mine would have recognized it without the pain that taught it how.

As I watch my children, I can see what beauty is. Beauty is in the soul that gives itself freely and joyfully. Beauty is love that is shared. It is in the faces of all shapes, sizes and colors that shine with hope and kindness from the inside out. They see the differences. They’re not blind to them. Yet the differences are not a source of judgment. If anything they are there to expand the definition of beauty.

Beauty can be a scar, a limp, a breast that is gone. Beauty can be the sign which is left behind when the soul has been forever changed. Beauty can be found in a mind that thinks in pictures, not words. In a tongue that is large or a heart with a hole. Beauty is everywhere. It’s in a prison cell, with that spirit who finally understands and faces that understanding with fortitude. It’s in the first breath, as well as the last one.

As I get older I’m beginning to see beauty again. I mean real beauty. When I look at faces and see how they’re all different, I see something miraculous. Something beautiful. I see the smiles that come from spirits who have faced turmoil, temptation, sorrow, pain. I see a light inside many of them and I know it comes from another place, another strength. It shines through them, and it’s beautiful. I see ones without that light too. I see ones struggling to find it. Looking in themselves or others and hoping it’s there. I see their need and it is beautiful, because it is the manifestation of hope.

I just finished writing a manuscript that deals with a world where differences have been taken away. People have been perfected, and in perfecting humanity they somehow threw away themselves. Yet in that place, there comes a hope. Beauty is discovered, not in the things which are pleasing to the eyes, but in the things which give light to the soul. It’s not an easy change. It’s not always a change that feels good. Yet as I go back and edit the words that somehow fell into my laptop I’m surprised. There’s beauty there that I didn’t see the first time around. That beauty makes me look at my world a little differently. The faces, the struggles, the hope. The grace that holds us all, equally, in the midst of something wonderfully beautiful.

What unexpectedly beautiful things have you seen in your world today?

Thursday, March 1, 2012

My Characters have a Theme Song...

I don't know why it took me this long to make the connection, but I was listening to Mumford and Sons today and when I heard The Cave it just clicked. That is their song!

I love little moments like that, where it all comes together and you're actually in their shoes, looking out through their eyes for that one brief moment.

I'm loving these characters. He's deeper than I expected and she's stronger than I intended. Somewhere around 25k works they took hold of their own lives and they didn't belong to me anymore. I set them free and I'm so proud of where they've gone since then.

I had a small vision for this story, a purpose and a direction, but it has gotten so much bigger than my plans. This story. It's blowing my mind. When I realized it wasn't going to end the way I intended it to from the start it both hurt and felt completely right. It's not a happy ending, but it's a hopeful ending. There is promise in it. Potential.

So now I begin to write my way to that end. With painful typing they will conclude this portion of their time. With new hope a new book will open for them, and I hope I can write it soon.