Friday, June 28, 2013

Panel Discussion: HuffPost Live

I was on a panel discussion on HuffPost Live this morning:

This half-hour news feature was hosted by Ricky Camilerri, and it included sex researcher Lori Brotto, journalist Dominique Mosbergen, and asexual activists David Jay, Micah R., and me. We discussed our personal experiences as asexual people, how intimacy works for asexual people, and how we fit under the queer umbrella.

It ended up really cool and it brought in a lot of attention, and it might be good for upping my publishing prospects for the nonfiction book, So You Think You're Asexual. Stay tuned for good news!

Tuesday, June 25, 2013

Fun with avatar generators

Why be productive when you can make avatars of your book characters on

This utility is of course limited because you can't change the height or body type of the characters and the skin tones are limited, and obviously you can't always find what you want, but it's still a lot of fun for anybody who likes imagining what their characters look like. :)

Avatars from my fantasy/fairy tale retelling Bad Fairy

First, we have my protagonist and her allies:


Delia's holding a mirror 'cause she has a scrying glass in the book, but it's not the right style for her. And none of the wings are what I was looking for but they were the closest I could get. :) Gena is Delia's mommy, though there's not much resemblance as you can see, and Fiona and Drake are her study partners (and they're dating each other).

And here are Delia's antagonists, the triplets:

Their sisterhood has a rivalry with Delia's group throughout the book. Chloe has a flower because she's into herbalism and Livia has a puppy because she likes animal communication. Beatrice just has her wand. Isn't she special. ::eyeroll::

Avatars from my New Adult fantastical romance novel Finding Mulligan:

Cassie is the protagonist, a smart but jaded college student who would rather live in another world. And Dia is her other self in that other world--her other personality. Dia is in love with Mulligan, the shirtless chap you see there being cute. Jamie is a painter. He painted a picture of Mulligan based on his friend Terrell. (So now you know why they're freaking identical but not twins.) And Gabi is Cassie's best friend since they were kids. I was kinda peeved I couldn't find anything that looked quite like I imagine Dia's hair, and the same with Mulligan . . . the cornrows thing works for Terrell but Mulligan is supposed to have short dreadlocks and I could only find really long big ones that don't look right. (For the record, some people aren't wearing shoes and that is on purpose.)

Avatars from my science fiction romance novel Stupid Questions

Nick is my first-person protagonist and he spends most of the book trying to become Summer's boyfriend without getting scared off by her superpowers. Bart is his work buddy and longtime friend--they're both camera guys--and Brian's a guy he meets on the Internet during the book who has relationship issues of his own. Brian's supposed to be shorter than Nick so I gave him rolled up pants, so there. (Summer's supposed to be shorter too.) I NEVER seem to be able to get Nick's hair right, whether it's in avatar form or drawing. Oh well.

Avatars from my Middle Grade contemporary novel Joint Custody

Bay is the protagonist (his real name is Bainbridge) and Marz is a girl from his neighborhood (her real name is Marcella). They both have cameras because guess what, yeah. Also that tiger is supposed to be Bay's stuffed tiger Fritz. He usually lives in Bay's backpack. Marz's hair isn't actually that long but I couldn't find shorter pigtails. They're both eleven years old.

Avatars from my fantasy webcomic Negative One:

If I tried to make all of them I'd be here all night, and if I tried to make all the characters from the novel series this comic is based on--The House That Ivy Built--I'd be here all week. This was the toughest set because more of the characters are from other dimensions and stuff so they aren't human and that was annoying on the avatar maker. I could only get sort of close in some cases.

The narrators:

I find it pretty super hilarious to see them all the same size since Weaver is actually supposed to be about two feet tall and Dax is close to seven feet. I am also super annoyed that I can't find a white goatee for Dax. He's supposed to have a cool curly goatee. (And his and Weaver's horns are not supposed to be black. They're more like a beige color.) Weaver is supposed to be furrier, too. He's kind of a cute teddy bear type. And Ivy is a baby in the comic. She's only about three and a half right now, which is why I gave her overalls so you wouldn't be able to see the boobs the avatar maker always puts on the female body type. Also Dax's hair is too long and he doesn't have any ears. (I couldn't find any ears for Adele either.) Weaver's ears are pretty close but still wrong. Rawr. Oh well, at least Meri Lin looks right. She was easy, she's human.

Now a few significant secondary characters:

Fred is Meri Lin's partner and he's super adorable but I couldn't find him a light-colored mustache so I gave him a black one. Tabitha is Adele's teacher. Aw, I miss her. Lissa Lee is Meri Lin's younger sister. Melanie is a loudmouth kid from New York who helps take care of the baby. Theresa is a good-hearted woman who also helps take care of the baby. Alix isn't a bad guy or anything, he's just kind of a jerk so that's why he's making that face. He likes the water and owns a wetsuit so I put him wearing it. Neptune is from another dimension and I bet you totally can't tell. I could have just pretended I made her and didn't show it because sometimes she is invisible. (Ha ha.) Sadly I could not find appropriate hair for Theresa. Her hair's not that long and she usually wears her bandana tied under, not on top. They need to work on finding better hairstyles for black people, because it's super limited.

And just for kicks, I did some from short stories. Here they are.

From 1999 and before:

Elizabeth is from "Moonlight." Elizabeth isn't her real name but she doesn't really have one. She's only wearing a shirt because seriously she wasn't wearing anything else. And she has a flower, isn't that sweet. The mom and the baby are from "Baby Talk." The baby has a phone. Neither of them have names, and there wasn't a phone with a cord that I could show the baby playing with, but still, you get the idea. Megan and Brady are from "Brady." They both like drawing even though they're pretty different people. Hard to see but Megan's got a lot of piercings (including a nose ring) and she's supposed to have pretty much nothing but stubble on her head. Oddly enough she is not much of a punk. She just wants people to stay away from her. (Brady won't.) Kamber and her grandmother are from "Bloom." Kamber has butterflies because well it's obvious if you read the story. And then Hendrix and Joplin are from "Mother's Day." They are clones from another planet and they were named after musicians, and now they want to go back in time to go to Woodstock and give their mom Mother's Day cards. Hooray.

From 2000 and beyond:

Zarry is from "The Curse" and his real name is Balthazar but he doesn't like it. He's wearing his super specs and carrying a walking stick, sort of. George is from "Just Like Stephen." He's an inventory specialist and he looks pissed off and unshaven for a reason.  Thomas and Windy are from "Wind." She's a Christmas fairy and Thomas basically doesn't believe in her which is kind of annoying because she won't go away. (He'll still eat her cookies, though.) Lihill, Mymei, and Cyani are from "On the Inside." Lihill is the protagonist and she is a transgender girl in a world that doesn't know what that is. Their society is very gender-segregated and they study elemental magic that's partially based on assigning Air and Fire to guys and Earth and Water to girls. Lihill would really like to study Earth like her sister Cyani or Water like her best friend Mymei, but her society has kind of pushed her into studying Air. So she's all about trying to get her society to let her do what comes naturally to her and see her as a girl.

And that's all I've got. As if that wasn't enough. ^___^

Monday, June 24, 2013

The plot got in the way

I was a bookworm kid, and I distinctly remember a certain phenomenon occurring with a subset of the books I devoured as a child.

I would start to lose interest in the book around the halfway point. Because that was when "the plot" started to pick up. And even though that was supposedly what we were reading the book to enjoy . . . it always seemed to be when I started to tune out.

So why was that? Was the plot boring? Probably not. Was I just not the right audience? I doubt it. Did I have a terrible attention span? Definitely not.

The reason I'd start to feel disinterested right when the momentum kicked it up a notch was that this was when the author switched from drawing us into the "who" of the story and started focusing on the "what." And for me to care about what was happening, I needed to stay connected to the characters throughout the action. You can't just get me attached to the people at the beginning and then abandon that sensitive, personal narration in favor of plot points. I stop caring about what happens in your book as soon as the focus shifts from "PEOPLE (doing things, with things happening)" to "THINGS HAPPENING (to people)."

Now as an adult, it surprises me how often books do this. Maybe it's because stories typically start with characters minding their own business introducing us to their regular life, before The Plot begins and turns everything on its ear. We see the character in their natural environment, and when the author's good at this, we feel more comfortable with who we're reading about as we learn what's important to them, what their relationships are, and what their motivation is. There's a little leisure there; we patiently soak up the character's present situation, looking forward to seeing how this person will deal with whatever's in store for them.

But then it seems like the pressures of "telling a fast-paced story" pull us out of the moment and wrench us out of the characters' minds in the interest of keeping the hearts pounding and the pages turning. I think that even in a plot-oriented story we still need to see characters with agency letting us understand why they're doing things, what they're feeling when things happen to them, and how they're staying mentally present as they build toward the climax of the book. The author sets a scene at the beginning, but then takes it for granted that we, the readers, will maintain it. I don't like when I get that familiar sinking feeling when "the plot" starts and I realize this author is one of THOSE storytellers whose characters become a weird collective chess game instead of maintaining their individuality as the pieces.

Authors, do me a huge favor and don't let your plot get in the way. Stay in your characters' heads and keep the forward motion connected to their decisions and reactions. Don't let us start seeing the scenes as filled-in points on your outline. This isn't high school math class where I want to see your work.

Authors I've known to remain bravely character-oriented in the face of Plot:

K.A. Applegate, Ann Brashares, Charlotte Brontë, Octavia E. Butler, Stephen Chbosky, Suzanne Collins, Diane Duane, Katherine Dunn, Jeffrey Eugenides, Shannon Hale, Stephen King, Wally Lamb, Eloise McGraw, Jaclyn Moriarty, Julie Anne Peters, Spider Robinson, Louis Sachar, Jerry Spinelli, and Joan D. Vinge.

Sunday, June 23, 2013

A strawberry

I'm all talked out after yesterday's long post (and catching up on blogs), so . . . today you get me with a strawberry.

My exciting day today consisted of beating the thunderstorm to the grocery store while wearing sweatpants, editing a very long book for a client, and avoiding laundry.

Saturday, June 22, 2013

Comment wars

They always say the biggest mistake you can make when reading news articles is to read the comments.

And usually that's because they're full of the worst side of humanity. People, semi-anonymously, feel justified in sharing unpopular viewpoints that might get them shunned or slapped in person, and they use article comments to ramble about how this completely non-political thing is a sign that Obama is a Socialist Muslim from Kenya or whatever. If you want to be thoroughly depressed, read the comments.

However, that's not why I read them. I read them precisely because people ARE saying things they often won't say to your face, and they represent the underlying thoughts of real (though ignorant) people all over the world. I like knowing what those thoughts are. It helps me learn to be a better activist.

So, that said, part of the reason I've been so absent from the blogging world this week (not creating my own entries OR commenting on anyone else's) is that I've been engaging with commenters on The Huffington Post. This is not a common activity of mine, nor is it something I plan to continue, but I figured it'd be pretty relevant to my life, considering I was interviewed for this article series on asexuality and was personally quoted in two of the articles (as well as pictured in one of them as well as the splash page).

The front page:  Asexuality: The 'X' In A Sexual World

The individual articles in the series:
The comments I found were largely of four types:
  1. Other asexual people delighted and surprised at the unusual depth, accuracy, and sensitive handling of the material.
  2. People who had heard nothing or little about asexuality before and were excited by the material or appreciated learning about it.
  3. Ignorant people who primarily asked questions the articles had answered, said offensive things unknowingly (and defended them when corrected), or made dismissive jokes about asexual people.
  4. Very scary people who targeted individuals (including me) and trolled aggressively (though it was unclear if they were actually disgustingly hateful or whether they were just trying to get a reaction).
Wrangling these commenters plus dealing with an unusually busy work week and some fires I had to put out in my personal life ate up my blogging time. Waaaah.

(Slight content warning: About to discuss sexual assault.)

Me when I was in college
Anyway, I think the worst commenter was from Part Four--the one where I was featured prominently. You can read the article if you want the whole story, but it discussed how asexual people are sometimes targeted for "corrective" rape because people believe we can be "helped" or "fixed" by being goaded, harassed, or actually forced into sex. (I mean, sex is so great--how can anyone not want it? I'll just have to SHOW her! She'll thank me later!) This has never actually happened to me, but I was in a situation once in which it could have, and I could see which way the wind was blowing. In the article, I describe the time a man with whom I'd discussed my asexual orientation nevertheless asked to kiss me. When I said no, he responded by leaning over and licking all up on the side of my face. I got out of the car very quickly and ran back to my apartment, hearing him yelling behind me, "I JUST WANT TO HELP YOU!"

(This guy later kept contacting me, told me he'd thought we were going to have sex that night, told me he could tell I wanted it and that was why he made the move, and explained that I was "in denial," which he could tell because he had taken psychology classes in high school. My words did not matter, he patiently explained; sexual attraction is a VIBE he could SENSE coming from me, and he knew I had never had anyone in my life who could really show me what it was all about . . . until him. Yeah, I laughed a lot and blocked him from contacting me. No thank you, extremely rapey guy.)

So. Point being? My worst commenter decided to reframe what I'd said as if I'm trying to suggest that kissing is sexual assault now.

Ignoring, of course, the part where I SAID NO and the man still felt it was okay to put his tongue and mouth on my face.

Our conversation (so I don't have to paraphrase for you):


Kissing is now sexual assault. Consider the bar officially lowered. Hell, let charge every nervous high school kid trying to get his or her first kiss to jail for sexual assault. Awesome.


Excuse me? Someone leaning over and licking my face after I said no is assault. Pretty disgusting that you're trying to act like the real problem here is me overreacting, not him putting his tongue on a girl after she emphatically, verbally expressed that she did not want to kiss.
Someone jumped in and defended me to this guy, explaining what the article said and demanding to know how the hell he sees consensual relations described, and he came back with this:

I think she's exhajerating and borderline lieing in order to make her point.  How would you feel if your rejected kiss was labled as "sexually assault" by someone?

I guess I'm guilty of sexual assault.  I guess my previous girlfriends and boyfriend are guilty of sexual assault.  I guess my mom is guilty of sexual assault.

And I bet you are guilty of sexual assault.


Oh, okay, I'm lying and exaggerating. You are AGAIN misrepresenting what happened to me as "just a rejected kiss." Do you not understand that this is what happened (and this is what is described in the article as happening)?

1. I had a conversation with the guy during the night about my asexuality, so he knew.
2. He still tried to kiss me. I said no.
3. After I said no to the kiss, he deliberately ignored my "no" and put his mouth on my face and began licking.
4. When I left immediately, he called after me "I just want to help you!"

Does that sound like "a rejected kiss" to you? Does that sound like he is the victim and I am the aggressor? Does that sound like I'm trying to get sympathy for something that wasn't bad at all?

Especially considering that this man followed up this encounter by sending me messages about how he knew I wanted it, I think it's pretty clear I'm not making things up. But here you're sympathizing with a dude who licks people after they said "no, I don't want to kiss you." That's nasty.


"Does that sound like I'm trying to get sympathy for something that wasn't bad at all?"
Yes, it does. You are a drama queen.  Get over yourself. 


Better a drama queen than a rape apologist.


Why didn't you lean away?
Sounds like you are making this whole thing up.  What's his name? Let's get him on the record. 


REALLY? It's "why didn't you avoid unwanted touching" rather than "he shouldn't have touched you when you didn't want him to"?

REALLY? It's "you have to prove that it happened before I even consider that it might have (and disrespect you in the meantime regardless)" rather than "whether a particular incident happened is irrelevant because we live in a culture that condones this?" (While you're condoning this?)

REALLY? It's "let's badger the person who experienced unwanted LICKING ON HER FACE after she verbally asked not to be touched and try to make her feel like it was her fault" rather than "let's acknowledge that people shouldn't touch each other without permission and ESPECIALLY not touch each other when the other person already said no"?

His name was Ken Mayor and the incident happened in Gainesville Florida in the late 1990s. It's been public for years. I recorded the IM conversation we had after the fact and it is posted on my website. I also read it in a YouTube video. But you'll continue to not accept that any of this helps my case because you have already said you believe I'm a liar, so what's to stop me from making up a name and creating the entire conversation out of a desperate need for attention and a desire to be special and seem coveted?

You're nothing new to me. You're just another rape culture apologist dismissing evidence as lies.
He didn't respond to that. He just started a new thread specifically mentioning me by name and claiming that I am not attracted to men or women but only to GETTING ATTENTION. (The same person who'd defended me above said "If anyone's looking for attention here, it's you, my friend.") He continued to post on the articles about how asexuality is made up and is nothing but a disorder.

I must say it was very peculiar seeing those comments amidst other commenters saying "I don't understand why you need awareness over this. No one is persecuting you. No one is hurting you. No one CARES if you want sex. It just isn't anyone's business. Why are you wasting everyone's time and attention talking about something soooooo useless?"

With people like that guy in the world--along with others who kept saying we need doctors to check our hormones, need to accept that we're gay, just need to find "the right person," need to stop being so afraid of sex, must be psychologically damaged or abused as children, are all actually autistic, don't deserve to be in relationships because being in a relationship means you owe your partner sex, and any number of invalidating statements claiming we "can't" be asexual if blah blah blah--yes, we need awareness over this.

Especially since anonymous comments on news articles is far from the only place I have encountered these attitudes. (Start with the guy who tried to fix me by licking me, right?) People demonstrate these attitudes to my face, and they're not significantly less hostile when they do it in person. When the semi-anonymous opinions are nearly identical to things people are willing to say to me while looking into my eyes, there's a problem. That problem is that they don't even feel they NEED to hide behind anonymous comment sections to say these things. They're completely unashamed of informing me with no qualms that I am not qualified to describe my experience and that they are now going to explain what's wrong with me.

Let's hope my book gets picked up good and soon. I'm definitely on board trying to help get to the point where these ignorant and violent attitudes will be so unpopular that people who want to hurt us usually won't risk it.

Monday, June 17, 2013

New interview on asexuality in The Huffington Post

I talk to the media rather a lot about my asexual orientation, and today an article for which I was one of the interviewees has hit the Internet.

The article is called "Asexuality: The 'X' In A Sexual World." It is in the Gay Voices section of The Huffington Post and is lined up to be a six-part series, with a new installment going live every day from today through Saturday. I will be quoted liberally and my materials will be linked and embedded for educational tools. (I am not yet quoted in the part of the article that's up so far, but my face is the thumbnail for Thursday's article.)

Pretty exciting. Though as usual some of the comments are disappointing. Funny how these people can read an article on asexuality and immediately run to the comments to tell us we're sick and need doctors or that they don't see why we need a name for our experience because it's not really relevant to THEM.

Maybe with more exposure, stuff like that will happen less because it will be considered ignorant to say such inaccurate and insulting crap to asexual people.

But it's going to be a long road.

Sunday, June 16, 2013

Page 119

I read something on an agent’s blog about how at some convention they did a workshop where they read page 119 of a bunch of novels, and tried to decide if the novel might be good based on page 119.

Why page 119? No idea. Maybe because you've theoretically gotten past all the voice awkwardness that often plagues the beginning of novels, and this should be where everything's in full swing? I dunno.

I have three books I consider "publishable," so here are their Page 119s for you to enjoy (or be annoyed by). The following novels' page 119s are below the jump:
  • Finding Mulligan, New Adult/Magical Realism
  • Stupid Questions, Science Fiction/Romance
  • Bad Fairy, Fantasy/Fairy Tale Retelling

Friday, June 14, 2013

Perspectives from my agents

I've rambled here and there to tell you guys about my opinions and perspectives as an author pursuing publication, but I thought maybe you'd like to see some perspectives from publishing industry professionals: Namely, my agents.

First, my agent Michelle Johnson has generally given several interviews discussing what she likes and what she looks for. Upon starting her new agency, Inklings Literary, earlier this year, Michelle was interviewed in Writer's Digest, and has the following perspectives available for writers:

And now, some info about perspectives offered by my other literary agent (for nonfiction), Andrea Somberg.
I love agent interviews! It's really nifty to see what they say about their line of work and what you have to do to end up partnering with them. I feel very fortunate to have these ladies in my corner. Anyone who'd like to can feel free to ask me if you have a question about my experience as a client!


Monday, June 10, 2013

New Adult--a ramble

So I've been thinking about my next book and the publishing opportunities available for me. Oh I know, I hear you--"JULIE, WHAT ARE YOU DOING? You already have two books on submission! Why on Earth are you thinking about this now? DON'T YOU HAVE ENOUGH GOING ON?" Well, you know. I mean, you know. Anyway, I'll discuss that in a minute.

I've just been to a chat event on Figment in which the topic was the emerging New Adult genre. The event featured New Adult authors Lisa Desrochers and Molly McAdams, as well as editors Tessa Woodward and Amanda Bergeron (who bought their books). I'd like to discuss my thoughts on New Adult and what we talked about in the chat!

I am super interested in New Adult as a genre. It always puzzled me that Young Adult seemed to cut off right after high school and then stuff aimed at adults kicked in, starting up when they'd already made a name for themselves in the adult world. Where was college? Getting the first job? Interning for no pay? Student debt? RAGING insecurity? Starting a family? Finding your niche as an adult? So when I saw Figment was hosting this chat, I signed up. (I don't post my work on Figment, but I like jumping around in the forums engaging with other writers and giving them querying advice, and this is the second writer/editor chat I've been to. It's pretty excellent.)

Anyway, once upon a time, a few years back, I was querying a lovely little "problem child" manuscript called Finding Mulligan. I hit agent after agent with my sort-of-fantasy story about a fractured college student whose two personalities are in love with different guys in different worlds. (Is that cheating? I'm still not sure.) And you know what these agents kept saying?

"No. Nobody's buying YA set in college. No way, no how. (Okay there are exceptions but you're probably not it.)"

And the thing is, my story was very much a young-adult-flavor story. The main character is seventeen, and her story is much more about her quest for self than it is about her romance. Coming-of-age type stories always seemed to be primarily the realm of YA, but I didn't think the only way you could write a coming-of-age story would be to deal directly with high school and puberty. This story is about finding yourself. Clawing your way into the adult world and figuring out who you are. Establishing the tone of your personality for the rest of your life, and exploring what that means. (You know, along with a few hot guys to make it interesting.)

Yeah, these two are pretty cute.
And yet, one agent who turned it down even told me I should rewrite the whole thing in a boarding school to avoid that college stigma. You'll have to trust me when I say that would not have made any sense for these characters, considering the things they get away with and the expectations they're saddled with and the lack of supervision that enables my protagonist to get herself into the pickle she does. The advice was to uproot the characters from the organic environment they were grown in--the one that makes the most sense--and stick them in boarding school so a couple sentences in the pitch would squeak better in a publisher's ear.

Enter New Adult. 

In the chat, I sat and watched line after line go by affirming the appropriateness of the tone and message I've written in my story. New Adult is about those first experiences on your own. New Adult is about transition from child to adult. New Adult is that scary time when you're trying to figure out where you fit--where you're thrown into a sink-or-swim environment that can make or break your future. The only thing I didn't nod along with is when the authors and editors involved seemed to agree that New Adult should have a focus on romance, justified by the fact that forming adult relationships is assumed to be part of every adult person's journey toward maturity. As an aromantic asexual woman who does not experience romantic attraction, I kiiiiiinda disagree with that, and I don't like the common assumption that everyone's maturing process features romantic relationships. That said, it absolutely is true that coming of age requires an examination of how we pursue intimacy, what relationships we want, and how we establish those relationships in our lives. It just doesn't always have to be sexual or romantic to be mature.

And I guess since my book does feature romance front and center it's moot in my case anyway. Feh.

I was unable to sell a literary agent on my YA-in-college book and I ended up pursuing representation for something more traditional. My fantasy trilogy is now agented and on submission to publishers, but my fiction agent did ask me what else I've got. We had a conversation about Finding Mulligan. I explained my difficulties to my agent and told her the college setting was apparently a problem. She told me she'd be willing to look at it, and said "I'll be honest with you if I think I wouldn't be able to sell it." I have yet to show it to her because I'd like to focus on getting my fantasy trilogy sold, but in the meantime I am of course looking forward to what's next. I plan to be doing this whole writing books thing for life, yo. (There's a science fiction romance from a male perspective sitting on my back burner too. Alas.) And I'm thinking New Adult may just be my salvation here.

New Adult will let my protagonist struggle out on her own, free for the first time of her parents' restrictions . . . and pinwheeling a bit without their support. New Adult will let her flounder around trying to grasp where she'll be in four years, and it'll let her be alone with an older guy in her room, make some terrible decisions, and sneak into a club with no shoes on. It'll let her do the "who am I?" thing as the two different versions of her try to figure out who they love and who is doing the loving, and it'll let her pretend to disapprove as her best friend makes it with her TA. It'll let her dig up all kinds of really frightening aspects of her childhood that are influencing who she becomes as a grown-up, and it'll let her finally take possession of the talents she's buried for years and make them her own in a constructive way. She'll discover love, discover ambition, discover self. And she'll do all these things without being repainted as a high school kid just because the publishing industry thought it'd be a safer bet.

Let's go, you crazy kids. There's a genre for y'all after all.

New Adult, here I come.

Thank you to the authors and editors who weighed in on the chat. Check out Molly McAdams's books Stealing Harper, Taking Chances, and From Ashes, and look for Lisa Desrochers's upcoming New Adult title A Little Too Far as well as the already-available Personal Demons series.

Editing sprint

I spent the weekend editing my nonfiction book. Hence the little mini-hiatus on my blog. (I'm trying to write a little something pretty regularly, though not necessarily every day.)

Usually with nonfiction, it's pitched and sold based on the proposal. My proposal was buffed and sent to publishers last week, but it turned out someone actually wanted to see the book itself, and--being an Insecure Writer™--I wanted one more whack at proofing it before sending it off. My agent informed me of the request on Thursday and I was already at work, and she was going to be out Friday, so I couldn't send it to her for delivery earlier than Monday anyway. Might as well use the time wisely and make sure it looks good.

But it's kind of like auditioning for a play and thinking you have months to learn your lines and then finding out you open next week.

I recently decided--based on feedback from various people--that I wanted to incorporate some words from other asexual bloggers in the community, to help humanize the asexual experience and make the book both a little less dry and a little more visually interesting. People connect to personal stories, but the down side of incorporating others' stories would be an increase in the length of the book. I didn't want it to be perceived as a journal book. So I decided to feature short quotes in little boxes throughout, and finding the quotes and securing permission takes time.

I was in the process of collecting those, just kinda humming along taking my time doing it, when I was told to send in a complete manuscript. Buh.

So the version my agent is showing the publisher is not complete and not all of the quotes I want to use have been approved by their authors. I guess we'll cross that bridge when we come to it. Anyway, I spent the weekend trying to smooth the whole thing out since, you know, it's never been anything but a prickly little draft on my computer, picked over by my huge test audience. This isn't like fiction where I don't even try to submit it for any professional opinions until it's buffed and polished.

I'm an extremely patient person. I can stare at a screen trying to complete a task for days, weeks, months. I have what I think might be the polar opposite of ADD: a pretty much infinite attention span. But this weekend, boy did I get sick of my book.

I didn't stop, though. ;)

So now it's reasonably polished and the quote-collecting thing is still in progress, but I'm sure it won't hold me up at this point. I'm just glad I had a complete draft when we started submissions.

Waiting for good news.


Thursday, June 6, 2013

On Submission: Nonfiction Book

Just thought I'd let anyone who cares know that my nonfiction book on asexuality went on submission to publishers today. And the interest was immediate and looooookin' good! But I'm not gonna post details. Except to say they're exciting.

I'm jazzed to see what might happen next. Everyone I've talked to about this thinks publishers are going to be all over this thing and just snatch it right up, because it's so obviously a book that needs to exist.

Well, we'll see, won't we?

Details as it becomes prudent to post them. ;)

Wednesday, June 5, 2013

Books I Love: Shannon Hale

I don't have anything special to ramble about from my own life today, so I figured I'd pop in with another installment of Books I Love.

Shannon Hale is by FAR one of my favorite authors. Definitely in the top five. She has an easy style that is so eloquent without seeming like it's trying to be, and I'm surprised at how well she gets into people's heads considering she usually writes in third person. And like me, she draws inspiration from folk tales and natural magic that's braided into the core of her people; the way she expresses it is wholly different from the way I've chosen to do it, but I can't help but feel a sense of kinship when I read her work. This, I always think, is someone who gets it.

I don't know her personally (and what I wouldn't give to change that!), but I love everything she puts out in social media, and I feel like she's done enough blogging and tweeting for me to get a sense of her personality. I like her attitude toward fan mail and requests in her "Open letter to everyone I've ever ignored." I love her wonderful messages about female characters (see "Male character function: be a character; Girl character function: love interest") and her commentary on consent/rape culture. And one time I saw her tweeting a poop joke and giggling over who might get grossed out and unfollow her.

She just seems like a lot of fun--a very real and awesome lady, who's a mom and a silly person and just happens to also be a fantastic storyteller. Her website features really cool "on writing" bits and peeks at her writing process and sometimes even "deleted scenes." It's rare to see an author who's so accessible and real, and I love it. I'm not a hero-worship kind of person, but if I could ever be on an author panel with her at a conference or something, it would be like a dream come true.

Shannon is responsible for The Books of Bayern series, the Princess Academy books, and Book of a Thousand Days (among others; her adult work is on my to-read list). She usually chooses female main characters and does a wonderful job showing them as multifaceted and exquisitely layered. And one of her extraordinary talents is to portray a full-scale, high-stakes plot and make it entirely, believably, tenderly personal, without skimping on the self-doubt, the fierceness, the fear, the love, or the character growth that makes a reader get attached to a book and become a fan for life.

A little about each of these books/series and why I like them:

The Books of Bayern begins with The Goose Girl; it's loosely based on the original folk tale, and involves Isi, who has to live in hiding as a goose girl to avoid a fate her original kingdom had in store for her. The most interesting aspect of these books is that a small but significant portion of the population has elemental abilities of various sorts, but these are mysterious and those who possess them sometimes either don't know it or don't know how to control them. Isi is a wind-speaker, and she's able to use her ability to protect herself. Isi's tale of hiding her identity as she learns about her inner strengths and forges bonds with the other commoners at her station is very engaging.

The second book, Enna Burning, switches the protagonist to Enna, a friend of Isi's, who finds herself to have an ability to fire-speak. Not wanting to meet the same fate as her brother, she struggles to control her burning ability before it consumes her, but her relationship with Princess Isi is going to be the most important thing in saving her. River Secrets, the book about Razo, was endearing and interesting--Razo doesn't have any of the cool abilities the previous books discussed, but he still has his important part to play in the Bayern army . . . because even though his talents are less than magical, the ability to pay attention and notice details can be very useful. And the fourth book, Forest Born, delves into the mental anguish and soul-searching of Forest girl Rinna, younger sister of Razo and holder of confusing and powerful abilities. I love the characters and the reality of their world, and Hale's ability to portray people realistically while telling a personal story in an epic plot is nothing short of astounding.

Princess Academy was a Newbery Honor book. It seems like a simple idea--the prince has to choose a bride from amongst a group of appropriately aged but rough mountain girls, and they must become educated to be proper princesses--but I was impressed at how this book ended up being a lot more than just the answer to "which girl will be chosen?" Miri and her classmates' culture on Mount Eskel is well-thought-out and realistic; the "quarry-speech" is a neat idea that is uncovered for the reader's discovery through the main character's realistic lack of experience with it; the predictable nature of a few of the events is easily overshadowed by the enjoyability of watching it all play out. It was great to see a girl who thinks she's weak and useless transform herself through education and courage into a strong and helpful person without making it seem like it'd all be a waste if she didn't get chosen as the princess. Miri's relationships with her classmates, her teacher, and her family were all very realistic and interesting . . . especially the in-fighting between the girls, the alliances and feuds carried between them, and the transformations that occurred on all fronts. I loved that Miri often became conflicted about what she wanted; it's so rare in children's literature that authors respect their audience and their characters enough to give them layers and personality facets as if they are real people. This book has a sequel featuring Miri growing even more as a character, with even more delightful history uncovered and even more roots revealed for these fascinating daughters of the stone.

And in Book of a Thousand Days, a teenage noble girl, Saren, is shut in a tower because she refuses to wed the bad guy, and her maid, Dashti, goes with her into the prison. Dashti tells the story of their imprisonment--and the time after--by way of a cheery diary in which she chronicles the events and draws little pictures (the illustrations are included). Dashti refers to herself as a "mucker"--part of a group of low-status people who carry various folk traditions given life through song--and she is just pleased as punch to be locked in a tower with Saren because hey, she's fed and clothed and has a roof over her head. Of course, the plot thickens when Dashti is drawn into the noble girl's predicament. She's been locked away because she refuses to marry a rather mean nobleman, and she supposedly loves a khan who wishes to save her. (The two are only acquainted through letter-writing.) Dashti ends up fronting for Saren in a Cyrano-like situation, but doesn't acknowledge her own feelings for the khan.

Difficulties arise when their kingdom is attacked and no one remembers the poor girls in the tower. Dashti manages to drag Saren along to their escape, and soon they have to make a living in the next city over. One by one the different kingdoms are falling to the cruel Khasar, who presumably is coming for Saren, and Dashti tries as best she can to continue to be a good lady's maid even though she's being pushed into the spotlight. Overall, because it is based on a fairy tale and those are often predictable, it does have that one down side that the reader sees what's going to happen long before Dashti does, but I think the fact that she's so naïve is part of what helps her seem so real. She rolls with the punches and finds a way out; she gives of herself until it hurts (and threatens her life); she sacrifices and sweats and sings people to health without even knowing how special she is, and yet she's not an annoying heroine because we know her innermost thoughts through the diary. She does occasionally admit to having selfish thoughts and despising people she's supposed to serve. You'll like this book for its unforgettable main character, but other treats await you too; Hale is a master at realistic-but-magic-touched fantasy settings with many layers, and since this is a diary you get to experience her first person narration for once. What a treat! Recommended for fairy tale fans especially.

I would love to have my own fairy tale retelling books on shelves to entertain the same group of people who love Shannon Hale's work, and I think part of the reason her books appeal to me so much is that we strive for the same things in our writing: Character-driven fiction that never loses touch with who it's about, in worlds that are intimately connected to the people who populate them. I'd say you should read Shannon Hale's books if you like YA, if you like retellings, if you like realistic female characters, and if you like character-driven fiction. . . .

But honestly, I think I'll just put the period after "You should read Shannon Hale."

Tuesday, June 4, 2013

Wrapped up and ready to go

So the nonfiction book proposal is wrapped up and ready to go!

My nonfiction agent, Andrea, and I have finalized our proposal edits, compiled a list of publishers to start with, and we're setting sail for the seas of submission tomorrow or Thursday.

I love this part!

I think it's going to feel a little different doing it with the nonfiction project--well, I know it will, because it already does--but still, that first day of a new round of submissions is really a fun little buzz because you know any minute you might get a message from your agent alerting you that HEY, you have another nibble!

All of my fiction nibbles are getting pretty crusty by now--hopefully the (I won't say how many, but several) editors considering my fiction book are actually chewing by now and not just leaving it on the counter getting stale. My oldest nibble that's still in play was at the beginning of January. My newest was over a month ago. The longest up until now that it's taken for anyone to pass on my book was a little over three months. I like thinking this is a good sign because rejecting a book doesn't take as long, while deciding to make an offer to an author can involve multiple editor reads and marketing meetings.

I miss that "could be good news any minute!" feeling and it's going to be fun going into it with another project. It'll be a good distraction from wondering and torturing myself over whether this radio silence from the fiction imprints is a good sign or not.

Monday, June 3, 2013

On Speech Tags

Use “said.”

Did your English teacher ever pass out a handy worksheet of alternatives for the word “said” and encourage you to “jazz up” your stories with them?

Please, tell me no English teacher did this to you.

Sadly, I have heard from more than one person that English teachers actually did deliberately train them to “make their writing varied and interesting” by switching out boring old “said” for these clearly more interesting words like “jeered,” “growled,” or “expectorated.”

No.  Use “said.”

If the reader cannot tell how characters are saying something based on what they are saying, it is likely that the dialogue has been written sloppily.  And that goes double for adding unnecessary adverbs to your speech tags.

“You’re not thinking,” admonished Bumpo Generic.

Yes, that is an admonishment without you telling us so. Leave it out.

 “Get on with the story,” he said impatiently.

Well, if one person is urging another to get on with it, it stands to reason that it’s being said impatiently.

I do not need the speech tag “apologized Bumpo” if his dialogue is “I’m sorry.”  Use the simplest words when they’re not the focus words of the sentence.  Get out of the way.

You can deviate from “said” if for some reason how the sentence is said is not obvious, such as volume (“he whispered”) or intent (“he said sarcastically,” if it isn’t obvious that that’s a sarcastic comment anyway). Leave out the decorations.  They’re tacky.

The speech tags are not the part of the writing that is supposed to be interesting, so don’t distract us.  Believe me when I say that if you do it, nearly any editor will consider it an early warning sign that you are an amateur.

When you do this, the parts of your sentences that you’re making “colorful” with zesty little words like “proclaimed” and “apologized” and “expectorated” are not the parts of the story that NEED to be colorful. They are middle school English attempts to make writing varied. What needs to be colorful is the storytelling, the descriptions, the dialogue. Not the permutations of “said.”

It’s misplaced.

That’s why editors and publishers look at that as the hallmark of the amateur writer.

Because it indicates a basic misunderstanding of the whole point of language.

And keep in mind that sometimes when you really do need a character to growl, murmur, or sigh sleepily, it will be that much more powerful an image if you don’t desensitize your readers through overuse of “jazzy” permutations.

The speech tags are the stage directions.  You should “hear” them as little as possible.  If you think consistent “creative” speech tags make for elegant storytelling, you’ve forgotten that their job is to be so elegant they become invisible.

Sunday, June 2, 2013

Deadly Sins and Heavenly Virtues

Some of my agency siblings at Inklings Literary and I have a discussion group on Facebook, and today Lexa started a conversation about outlining. Nola, James, and I jumped in with rambles about character-driven fiction vs. plot-driven fiction, and Nola mentioned that our agent Michelle once suggested guiding character growth and bringing out a theme by assigning major characters one deadly sin and one heavenly virtue.

(This perspective doesn't really surprise me considering they run a "Biblical fanfiction" blog. Heee!)

It's an intriguing idea, first off--especially if your character doesn't have much of a center and seems to be walking around either getting pulled to their destinations by plot-based puppet strings or wandering aimlessly. And those old sins and virtues are compelling for readers because they're embedded in our culture's collective consciousness; we recognize something ancient and important about these themes when we see them pop up in literature, and we find ourselves drawn to them.

This tendency for readers to be attracted to the familiar is part of why I chose to tackle a fairy tale retelling; readers would come in with a connection to my story, and then I could make them love the old tale in a whole new way. I adore archetypal symbols and incorporating them into my work; for instance, in my novel Bad Fairy, there's a huge emphasis on the four elements as an influence in the characters' life and work. (On my main website, I even have a What's Your Element? Quiz that ties into the book. Take it and find your element, it's fun!)

However, I think I find the idea of virtues vs. sins a little limiting in practice. People are usually very complex and layered, and I worry that authors who depend too heavily on "categorizing" a character through the use of virtues and sins might end up creating caricatures, not characters. Over-reliance on this idea could end up less like a subtle exploration of seven deadly sins and more like a blatant march of seven cardboard dwarfs, defined entirely by their predetermined personality trait. Who wants a character whose uncomplicated central trait is sloth? You have to find a way to mellow it, layer it, mix it up with other personality aspects and make it come out with complexity, or you'll just end up with Sleepy the Dwarf whose only function is to nod off for laughs.

So I think if an author decides to use these sins and virtues to give some focus to their characters, they really need to plant that seed in the center and then feed in a variety of plant food so that this sin and this virtue will get distributed throughout the flower's roots, stem, leaves, and petals . . . mixed up with everything else that goes into making that thing bloom. And don't ignore the rest of the garden. Those other plants--all with their own center seeds, all with their own unique root systems the viewer can't see on the surface, all with their own ways of enduring their natural circumstances--they will all have an effect on your garden's centerpiece, and as long as you recognize this, growing a character from such a powerful kernel could be a fantastic idea.

Regardless of whether you pick defining sins and virtues for your characters, you might enjoy--just as an exercise--going through them and thinking about your most important characters' relationship with each one. In Bad Fairy, my protagonist's greatest "virtue" (of those considered "heavenly") would definitely be her diligence, and I think her greatest "sin" would be her pride. I say diligence because she's driven by an obsessive perfectionist streak to achieve and triumph, and there is a secondary "virtue" of charity filtering in there because she ultimately wants to use her accomplishments to help others, as well as a wisp of kindness because she genuinely cares enough about her friends to put herself out and make sure they don't get left behind. But the pride ends up being her downfall--she reaches so fiercely for superiority and recognition that she is scorned for not knowing her place, and this leads to wrath against the people who roadblocked her progress and envy toward those who got what she believes she deserved.

None of those virtues or vices define her, though. I don't think I would have developed her as such complicated person if I had started by focusing on how many different ways I could express just the most obvious pair (diligence and pride). I'd recommend that people who want to use this technique should feel free to celebrate a character's core traits, but should be careful about using them to limit that character's expression. For all their inspiration, sins and virtues are concepts . . . and they shouldn't be mistaken for people.

Saturday, June 1, 2013

You can't be everywhere

I've been doing a lot of blog reading in the past couple days and it's so much fun touching base with all these fantastic writers. But you know what? Sometimes it seems pretty overwhelming.

I read this yesterday. It's an article on marketing your novel, with ideas of what to do and how/where to interact if you want to promote your book without being Spammy McSpampants. And one of the points it makes is that yes, you should start laying the groundwork way before you even get a book deal.

That kinda stresses me out.

I'm already doing a lot of those things because I love to. I love reading about and meeting other authors through blogging, Twitter, and Facebook. And though I'm nowhere near the kind of network size I probably ought to be if I expect to get "attention" when I have books to advertise, I have a decent number of people paying attention to what I'm doing. So, what's the problem then?

Well, I'm not everywhere. I'm on Goodreads under a different name, because I love posting in-depth book reviews, but I'm not there "as an author." I'd like to be, but authors kind of aren't supposed to speak poorly of their "competition" (and even though I don't see other authors as competition, I do tend to be pretty hard on books, and when I give a one-star review, I bet they run away with their bottoms red). The link above suggests I should be on Goodreads, participating in groups and whatnot, but I'd kind of feel like a jerk if I signed up with a second account just so my public presence wouldn't be misinterpreted as me attacking my competition. I thought maybe I should just dip my toes in so I'll have been there a while when I do have something to promote, but . . . I just can't be everywhere. I don't know.

I'm already blogging in like five different places (two of which are attached to my public writing stuff). I'm tweeting and I'm Facebooking and I'm leaving comments whenever I'm inspired (which is, jeez, all the time). I make YouTube videos on writing, and have a separate channel that covers my primary nonfiction topic. I'm at Absolute Write and Figment and Poets&Writers and Query Tracker forum and SCWBI and WritersNet and YALITCHAT. I've participated in a bloghop for the first time and I want to do it again. I want to be in a position to host one someday and to do giveaways or cover reveals or guest posts when it's my turn. But I know I absolutely cannot do it all, even though I do seem to be able to, uh, smear my personality across the Internet more than most people do.

Maybe I need a schedule or something. Maybe I'd feel less stressed out by everything I want to create and consume and interact with if I set aside certain times for stuff and then say "Okay, that's all for now, more tomorrow." Or maybe scheduling is the opposite of what I should do. I'm not sure yet. I guess maybe I'm just trying to be in too many places at once--and considering I also have, oh, a job, a social life, and an absolute metric ton of creative projects ALWAYS on my plate, it's bound to get overwhelming sometimes.

I guess this weekend I should just focus on editing my book proposal to send back to my agent on Monday, and take little breaks to read blogs in between. One day at a time. Trying to stack up too much at once will cause an avalanche somewhere and bury me.

And I can't write if I'm dead.