Sunday, December 22, 2013

The Non-Exclusive Relationship

Taking a break from holiday madness to address every writer's dirty little secret.


It happens a lot. Or does it? I can't decide. You know when you're super pumped about an idea and spend forever working only to one day wake up, turn on your laptop and go 'meh'? That sort of situation typically gets lumped in with traditional writer's block, brushed off as a phase we're bound to grow out of if we work at it hard enough or give it time to breathe.

That doesn't always solve the problem. Sometimes it takes months to get back the same drive you once had for a project, sometimes it doesn't come back at all. If you find yourself hating your work and hating yourself for not being able to work though what you're convince is just a rough patch, drop everything and try something new.

When we fall out of love it's because something is wrong with the relationship; the same can be said for a novel. It's missing something, something you crave but might not be able to pinpoint or give name to quite yet. And what do we do when we fall out of love? We wallow in self-loathing for a while only to shake it off, get dressed up and set out on a mission to find something better.

You don't need to worry about what went wrong with your project (or relationship), just leave it on the back burner and try something new. Maybe it'll come back to you, maybe you'll find something better, maybe you'll go through seven more 'meh' projects before you settle on one which really, really keeps your interest.

I've said it before: writers have unlimited options. Being able to create anything, anyone, anytime is awesome. With that kind of potential though, it can be hard to settle down. 70K+ words surrounding the same little universe is a big commitment that doesn't have to be exclusive. Enjoy indecision. Enjoy 'meh' moments along the way, your novel doesn't mind.

Wednesday, October 9, 2013

"I'm not gay. Nope. Not a man either. Good observation."

I can't tell you how many time I've had to say those words over the years. There was a time I kept my lips sealed tight about my writing, back when I was afraid people would ask me the now infamous "What do you write about?" question. I even skirted around the truth the first couple of times I pitched to agents because I worried the truth would scare them off.

Over the last three years, though, I've stopped giving a flying flip. I flip my hair, smile and say "Oh, I write about tyrannical post-apocalyptic societies where the world's frozen over and desensitized teenage boys come to terms with their homosexuality." I say it clearly and proudly (or slur it out loudly in a martini glass depending on the day). There's always that blank processing stare at first. It's one heavy mouthful of a description so I give them a second to roll it around in their heads. Finally they process the word 'boys' half an instant before 'homosexuality'.

From there the conversation can go either way. Sometimes it's given a "Wow, that sounds pretty epic," with a small, genuine laugh. Sometimes, though, it's given raised eyebrows and a "You write about gay guys?" It happens. People get so hung up on that they don't even acknowledge the rest of what I've told them. It doesn't matter that I built an underground world, wired it with life and unleashed chaos into the streets--not when there's a controversial main character we can talk about instead.

I know it's unusual what I do, but sometimes I feel like people would be less surprised if I were to tell them that I wrote a book from the perspective of water cooler. My friend Quinne once suggested using a male pen name for my work. She's lucky I love her. I'm too proud of my work to not put my name on it. Still, though, the redundant line of questions gets a little frustrating.

The gay YA genre is a small, but growing. If you go into the Young Adult section at Barnes & Noble it's virtually impossible to find books featuring a homosexual main character. If you go into the Gay & Lesbian section it's virtually impossible to find anything that isn't porn. My genre is lost somewhere between the porn and the sparkly vampires. Well, maybe not lost. Just really good at hide-and-seek.

Self-portrait on back of an envelope. "#gayYAproblems".

I'm incredibly proud to be a part of that in-between genre. It has so much untapped potential just waiting for open minds and eager readers. It doesn't matter if I'm gay, straight or water cooler. I have a story to tell and it's a damn good one.

Sunday, September 22, 2013

Don't Just Get Mad, Get Writing

Why bother turning that frown upside down when you can turn it into dark, twisted writing instead? I've been in a bit of a foul mood over the last couple of days because of this and that and I finally decided to do something other that brood.

You know those characters or scenes which are tricky to write? The ones which are just such a stretch that writing them feels something like laying down in a pit and having molten metal poured over top of you? The ones you have to get so far out of your own comfort-zone to really nail down that it doesn't even feel like you wrote it anymore? Well, as it turns out, emotional extremes tap into something innate which draws us out of our heads temporarily. We become someone slightly different yet slightly the same. There's Amanda A and Amanda B. Amanda A can't zone in on mental disorders and fact checking because Amanda B is screaming about how this character is psychotic and desperate to have a raw, gritty breakdown. Run with what your B-side tells you to do.

We all have a little crazy in us and when we're emotional it's much easier to tap into that crazy. While writing doesn't help resolve my problems, it's certainly one of the healthier outlets out there and keeps me sane until I decide I'm ready to deal with them. Next time you're in a bad mood, why not give writing a try? You might surprise yourself.

Sunday, September 15, 2013

Outlines. Why I Hate Them & Why I Made One.

Ladies and gentlemen, I have just realized something extraordinarily life-changing. Pokemon are not getting uglier. Those of us born to generations Red and Blue have simply grown older. We're jaded. We're like the angry old man who sits on the porch and shakes his fist at kids who get too close to his lawn of 150 original, perfect blades of grass. While I pity the seven-year-old who excitedly begins his first Pokemon adventure with X and Y, who am I to tell him that he's doing it wrong? A sentimental old fool who begins every battle with "Back in the day we played our Pokemon in black and white, two-dimensional peace. I think that's what heaven will be like some...TURN DOWN THAT DUBSTEP NONSENSE!"

So that's my nerd rant. I should probably talk about writing now to redeem myself a bit.

I wrote an outline! Resentfully and with some help from my Absolut friend, I wrote it! This might not sound like some grand achievement to most of you, but let me explain. I haven't written an start-to-finish outline for anything other than school papers. Even back then I only wrote them if they were being collected for a grade. I do not outline. Plain and simple. I prefer to write things as they come to me, living in the moment just like my character does. Yes, it's a bit reckless and has gotten me into a fair share of (long) writer's blocks, but I hate laying out the entire story before it happens. I enjoy sharing that 'what now' moment with my character and I feel that it lends to the believability of the story.

So what was different about this time, you ask? Well, put simply, it's complicated. There are too many elements that I have to juggle and I'm not familiar enough with any of said elements to neglect a single one. As I've mentioned before, I looooove research because a story's integrity and believability are very high on my priority list. I'm learning some hardcore hacking and coding, digging into subdivisions of the CIA with limited public access, crosschecking facts with professional and basically setting myself up for a fun conversations with the NSA. It's a lot. So the other night as I sat there surveying the mess in front me I realized how easily something could get lost in the pages to come--something including me.

Thus, the outline was born.

It took four hours and sixteen pages (I don't mess around with my bullet points) AND IT IS MAGNIFICENT. That said, however, I will strive to never write another outline as long as I live. It will be helpful to me as the story progresses, yes, and it's not set in stone or anything, yes, but my God I cried at least twice! Spoilers! Spoilers everywhere! I feel like I've completely ruined the story for myself. It's not a journey anymore, it's a game of connect the dots.

Do I regret outlining? A bit, yeah, but at the same time I feel like I can focus more on writing the story now and less about getting my facts in place. I guess it's a double-edge sword. Outlines make stories easier in the long run and help keep writers out of ruts, but if you're weird like me it isn't always worth it. I'm sure things will change as I write and the story may even end up going in completely different directions. For now, though, I'm off to play a game of connect the dots.

Wednesday, September 4, 2013

The Lonely Writer

This is mostly just a rambling entry about how writing got me through the worst years of my life. If you're looking for advice or great words-of-wisdom entry, please hit the page down button twice and you'll be redirected.

I started writing when I was young because I didn't have any friends. Thanks to my dad, we moved around a lot and it was difficult to maintain friendships. After a while I didn't see the point in trying to make friends at all because I was just going to move away from them in a few months anyway. By the time middle school came along I was socially inept. As a result, I was bullied mercilessly to the point where I seriously and frequently considered killing myself. Life was hard and I didn't understand why everyone else had it so much easier than me.

My teachers seemed to know that something was going on and advised me to meet with a counselor. Per her suggestion, I very resentfully started keeping a journal.  I wrote about boys who would never like me the way I liked them and girls who I wanted so badly to be. After a while, though, I realized how incredibly pathetic my existence was and started a journal as someone else.

The character I created started out perfect. Happy, popular, attractive and rich. I relished in the fictional existence for maybe three entries before growing bored. Perfection, I discovered, was boring. I started weaving in problems for my character, only little things at first to make their lives more interesting.

Life became more bearable. It was a downhill slope from there.

I carried the journal with me everywhere, writing in it during class, lunch and recess. It was my only outlet for a long time. I created more characters and with those characters came more problems and more possibilities and so, so much more than my own world could offer. I finished my first full length novel (which I now realize was excessively/embarrassingly longer than a standard novel) at 14.

All at once, the downhill slope dropped out from underneath me. The free-fall began.

I don't know when exactly the transformation started, but suddenly that creative, witty and damn confident person I became when I was writing was strutting around campus. I was still far from being the HBIC, but I finally was able to be me and not give a flying flip about what anyone else thought. I said what I wanted, did what I wanted and wore what I wanted. The best part of all? I loved who I was. The less I cared, the more friends I made.

Sure, you could blame puberty for the changes that happened during that time, but I know it was all thanks to writing. It worked me out of my shell. It was a safe haven where nobody could judge me. It was what I could always rely on no matter where my family moved or what sort of hell I went through there. Without it I wouldn't have made it through what so many call "the best years of our lives"--the years which almost killed me.

There you go. Rambling complete.

Moral of the story #1: Don't pick on that girl just because she's different. One day she's going to be a fierce, fine, femme fatale rocking the world off it's axis and hell bent on revenge.

Moral of the story #2: If you are that girl, hang in there. It gets better and the revenge you get on them down the line will be oh so sweet.

Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Rejuvenating Rejections

I don't understand California. Perhaps it's the weather or perhaps it's the people, but for whatever reason I simply can't seem to get my footing in this place. The fiance (formerly the boyfriend), the polar bears and I have officially settled into our new home in Marina del Rey. It's nothing like our 20th floor corner unit in Seattle. Apparently those don't exist in this area because of the danger and frequency of earthquakes. Aside from the city being vertically challenged, it's also full of smokers and people who drive like complete assholes. Not a fan.

Forgive my negativity. I'm just homesick.

In other news, I received the kindest and most encouraging rejection letter today. My agent, Kimberley Cameron, forwards me the feedback she receives from publishing houses reviewing my manuscript. It's startling how similar their response formats are to the sort I myself received when querying agents. I thought there might be some sort of secret publishing world code between agents and editors, but no, it's almost identical!

Now I know that nobody likes rejection letters, but in my experience there's something to be gained out of each one. For example, the one I received today was actually delightful. I've pasted a segment below.
I want to thank you so much for sending me ZHUKOV’S DOGS. I definitely agree that Amanda is a talented writer, and I was impressed with the ease of her world-building in this novel. I may just be a doomsday survivalist at heart, but her decimated cityscapes and underground communities read a little too believably. In any case, if I start hoarding canned food, you can tell her it’s her doing.
It went on like that for a while and I was spinning in my chair long after I finished reading. Sadly it was a pass in the end due to genre classification, but I wasn't discouraged by that at all. This is the kind of rejection I enjoy getting. It pointed out exactly where my strengths were and highlighted the editor's favorite moments.

While we all want to send publishing houses into bidding wars, it's more important to find people who get your vision. People who don't just love the book as much as you do, but people who are willing to put as much effort into the book as you have. Rejections like the one above assure me that there are people who migrate towards what my manuscript embodies and that it's only a matter of time until Kimberley and I find the perfect home for it.

That being said, not all rejections are as fun to get. In my experience there are three distinctly different types of rejection letters and it's important to distinguish the weight each one carries with it. I've listed them below with my own take on said rejections written in italics.
  1. The Form.

    You know it the second you open it.

    Thank you for your recent submission. We receive hundreds of submissions every month and consider each one of them carefully. Unfortunately we do not feel that your manuscript is a good fit for our agency. We wish you luck in finding a home for your manuscript elsewhere.

    That's about the jist of the one permanently engraved in my memory. They vary slightly from house to house, but I'm sure you get the idea. A bland, two-line rejection which leaves most writers feeling dismissed and belittled.

    It is soooo very important that writers don't take form rejections personally. Yes, they sting quite a bit, but writers need to understand that houses aren't exaggerating when they say they receive hundreds of submissions a month. During the PNWA Conference last year I recall a panel in which agents were asked how many clients they take on every year. Their response varied from two to ten. If they go through hundreds of submissions a month and take on less than a dozen clients a year, it's understandable why they can't personalize each and every rejection they send. Agents and editors are human, after all, just like us.
  2. The False Hope.

    It feels so good at first and then...BAM. And, just because I experienced this one so often while I was querying back in the day, I'm going to include the inner dialogue all writers experience when encountering The False Hope (in parenthesis like this).

    Dear (omg they actually included my name!),

    Thank you for sharing your TITLE OF MANUSCRIPT (omg they included the title too!) with me. I thoroughly enjoyed reading it and your writing style is very impressive. My favorite part was how you did THIS and THAT (omg that was my favorite part too!). At the end, when X did SOMETHING to Y in the Z after THAT ONE THING, I was in tears (omg I cried when I wrote it! this person understands!). MORE AND MORE PRAISE WITH PLENTY OF WONDERFUL SPECIFICS WHICH MAKE YOU FEEL LIKE A BOSS. THEN... Unfortunately (wait...), while I loved the concept, I do not (no! don't say it!) feel confident enough in it's execution (execute me instead) to take it on. I wish you the best of luck and am sure that you will find a home for your manuscript elsewhere.

    Wow. Just reliving it hurts. Praise, praise, praise, plop. It's so very heartbreaking when you first read it that you don't even see the pounds of constructive criticism piled on before the drop of the axe. These rejections are invaluable to a writer because it tells them what worked and what didn't. If an agent or editor ever takes the time to point out specific sections it's because those sections really stood out in their mind. As mentioned before, houses get hundreds of submissions a month. If they took the time to hammer out a personalized reply like The False Hope, it wasn't because they wanted to make you cry. It's because your writing impressed them and they wanted you to know that they saw your potential. So, once you blink the tears from your eyes, go back and take another look.
  3. The Once More With Feeling.

    The most elusive rejection out there. If you ever see it, rejoice. Rejoice and then prepare. It goes in the same fashion as The False Hope with a slightly different conclusion.

    While I loved the concept, I feel as though the story's overall execution needs work. Would you consider a revision and resubmit of your manuscript?
    You were close, but not close enough. Fortunately, they saw a spark in your work and are willing to give you a second chance. Revisions and resubmits are long, excruciating processes in my experience. During my year of querying I garnered two different Once More With Feelings. One took less than a month while the other took four months. The most important thing to remember when doing revisions is to not lose your vision in the process. It's okay to consider any suggestions an agent or editor makes, but remember: it's your story. Tell it the way you think it should be told.
There's also the classic "no reply" rejection. That one is pretty self-explanatory, though, and I've been on my soapbox long enough tonight. The cardboard's starting to cave under my weight, so I'll step down and leave you with this...

How many science fiction writers does it take to screw in a light bulb?

Two, but it's actually the same person doing it. He went back in time and met himself in the doorway and then the first one sat on the other one's shoulder so that they were able to reach it. Then a major time paradox occurred and the entire room, light bulb, changer and all was blown out of existence. They co-existed in a parallel universe, though.

Wednesday, May 8, 2013

Packing Tape. It's What Holds My Characters Together.

Well it's official. I'm California bound. The boyfriend was offered a super awesome job with Boeing down in El Segundo and (after lots of wine and discussion) we decided to make the move. Now me, I've moved plenty. Thirty-two times to be exact. The boyfriend, however, is one of those weirdos who was born and raised in one place. I've always had trouble wrapping my mind around that sort of stable upbringing; it's part of the reason nearly every one of the characters I create have nomadic tenancies, commitment issues and distant relationships with their families. "Write what you know" as the saying goes.

Let's talk about that saying for a bit. I've been listening to the Pippin soundtrack since I started packing and it's making me feel insightful/nostalgic/polemic. "Write what you know" is one of those ambiguous sayings which can be interpreted literally and figuratively in my opinion. One of my old English professors insisted that 'know'ing was all about emotions and personal experience.

At the time I didn't argue with her. The woman really didn't like me all that much and was always looking for a reason to bump my grade down. Now that my grade isn't in danger I feel like it's safe to suggest that personal experience is important in 'know'ing, but text book knowledge is every bit as important. Factual information or even lesser-known speculative information which has been studied and documented is something I eat up and incorporate as much as possible. This is the part of the post where all of my friends start laughing because they know that, if given the option, I would choose the fanciful over the factual any day of the week.

Writing is different though! Writers build worlds out of nothing and you can't build worlds on emotions alone! It's like making a house out of playdough.

Man...I really want playdough now....

Sure it looks pretty, and hey, if you try hard enough it might actually be functional for a bit. Playdough dries out pretty quick though and before you know it your house starts cracking and falling apart! Now me, I like to lay down some sturdy foundation before covering the walls with playdough. When I get an idea for a character or a story I dig and dig with my Google-shovel to learn as much as I can about a culture, a time period and the technology available, myths and superstitions, and basically everything I can in order to make a more sound/believable story.

Take the main character from Zhukov's Dogs (My novel which Kimberley Cameron is still working hard to sell! Thank you Kimberley!). Nik is a seventeen-year-old boy, the only son to a first-generation immigrant, and a military legacy just to name a few traits. Seventeen-year-old boys I know well enough. Seventeen-year-old boys who are raised to be soldiers are a little more tricky. For that I prodded a few Young Marine friends whose fathers or mothers were in the military as well. I was also lucky enough to have worked with two girls whose parents immigrated to the states either before or shortly after they were born. That turned out to be a really interesting study and I learned TONS which I'm itching to include in book two (*fingers crossed for a multi-book deal*).

It's quite a bit of extra work, but that's how I prefer to do things. I love the research process, exhausting as it might be. For me personally, finding and utilizing all that I can 'know' in terms of related, factual knowledge is every bit as important as all that I already 'know' in terms of emotion and personal experience. The story itself becomes more believable and I feel much more confident throughout the writing process...Plus, blending fact and fiction makes me giddy.

Monday, March 25, 2013

Sometimes I Embarrass Myself...

...But first an announcement. Ladies and gentlemen, it was a whopping sixty-five degrees in Seattle today. There was a time when sixty-five was an unheard of temperature, a myth told to scare a child of the south as she grew up never needing more than a light jacket. Then that child moved to the wonderful land of omg-what-do-you-mean-forty-is-warm, Seattle, Washington. Been living it up in the Emerald City for over three years now (the longest I've ever lived in one place) and I think I've finally acclimated to this godforsaken weather because when I saw sun today I busted out the shorts. It was wonderful. My obscenely pale legs might have startled the swarms of tourists making their way into the city as that time of year approaches again, but that's okay because I wore my YOLO shirt. Speaking of YOLO, have you heard this yet???

And now for my embarrassing story of the day...or I guess of my month since it's been an ongoing fiasco. A month ago today I accepted Kimberley Cameron's offer of representation. About a week or so later I received the paperwork. I read through it, grabbed an envelope and sent it back the next day. Another week passed and I get the same envelope in my mailbox with a stamp reading: invalid address. I checked the address on the top of the contract. It matched the one on the envelope exactly.

Thinking it was just a mistake by the post office I tried again. Another week. Another returned contract. Unfortunately finals week was in full swing and I was in no mood to march to the post office to sort the matter out (plus who has time to dismember a post-man during finals week?) so I set it aside to deal with when I wasn't insanely busy. After all, Kimberley was already my agent through a verbal contract and she's been busy ever since trying to sell my book.

Finally I sat down yesterday and studied the address on the contract. I was zero-two in the war with the USPS. I could not suffer a third loss. There was nothing different between my address on the envelopes and the one on the contract though! My boyfriend leans over to see what I'm doing then swivels his chair back toward his computer.

"You know that's a T, right?"

Face. Desk. Repeat.

I write in cursive. I have always written in cursive. Up until yesterday I thought I could read cursive too. Apparently not. I Googled the agency and saw that I was in fact misreading their very VERY cursive letterhead. I must be broken or something because I still see an L instead of a T.

Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Turning 98,000 Words Into One...Maybe Two.

So one of the things Kimberley and I discussed yesterday was the need to find a new title for my novel. I'm completely fine with that and thought it would be a fun little adventure. There's just one problem...coming up with a new title is proving to be a greater challenge than writing the novel itself. I have a few ideas I'm tossing around, but nothing is really jumping out at me yet.

When I first started writing the novel formerly known as Zhukov I had no clue what to call it. I think when I was drafting up an outiline, not even really committed to the idea yet, I saved it as something like Seattle Underground Thingum. Later it was renamed Zhukov, after the protagonist.

Every once in a while I'd stop and tell myself I needed to come up with a better title. Part of me really liked calling it Zhukov though! I mean it sounds strong and gritty. I guess that can be said for a lot of Russian names. Say it a few times. No, no. Say it out loud. There. See what I mean? But alas, I have always known it was a working title and I am so glad that my agent agrees! Onward to a new title!

Monday, February 25, 2013


It's official! As of today, I am represented by Kimberley Cameron of the Kimberley Cameron & Associates Literary Agency!

Sunday, February 24, 2013

OBJECTIVE: Keep From Having Anxiety Attack

I am an incredibly superstitious person; that's no secret. Between you and me though, dear blogosphere, it wasn't until today I realized just how innate and positively CONSUMING said superstitions are! I have news. Wonderful, exciting and amazing news I want to tell the world about. I want to sing it from the rooftops, fighting to keep my nerves in control and stomach contents down all the while... BUT I CAN'T EVEN POST A CHEERY FACEBOOK UPDATE BECAUSE I'M SOOO HORRIBLY AFRAID THAT I'M GOING TO JINX MYSELF IF I UTTER A WORD JUST YET!

3 p.m. tomorrow. I will make it until 3 p.m. tomorrow.

Deep breath. Swallow nerves. Reapply deodorant and carry on, grinning giddily....Pray to the literary gods for me, blogosphere.

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

Oh Goodness..

So there I am just watching the latest episode of The Walking Dead when my phone lights up. The little icon says I've got a voicemail. I groan (partially because of Norman Reedus and partially because of my phone's lack of coverage in my own apartment) and tell myself I'll check it later since it's probably just mum anyways. The episode ends. I call my voicemail. At first it sounds like this old friend I've lost contact with, especially when the first thing she says "Well that's an interesting voicemessage." I'm combing the archives of my mind for that one friend's name when all of a sudden I realize... it's an agent.


Guys. An agent called me. An agent called me and heard my ridiculous voicemail greeting. I like to think it sounds something like "MandaMandaIN'DA'MORNIN" like the "Troy and Abed in the morning" jingle. It probably doesn't.

Oh, and by 'an agent' I don't just mean 'an agent.' I'm talking about one of my top five dream agents, Kimberly Cameron. It took almost ten minutes for me to calm down enough to call her back. I kicked my boyfriend out and distracted the polar bears with bones, but I was still so addled that I tripped over my own name when she answered...I can't even feel embarrassed about my voicemail because of how awesome I feel about that call.

Sunday, February 10, 2013

One Of These Days I'll Get To Write For Fun Again!

When I signed up for two English courses and one course on International Affairs (which has an essay due every other week) I thought "No big deal. I love writing and I'm good at it." It is now week five, maybe six, and I am so utterly 'blurrrrrrghugggghghhhh' it isn't even funny. Fortunately, I did manage to get my revisions all sent out before the metaphorical poo hit the metaphorical fan. Unfortunately, I have spent every moment since then bent over a keyboard writing papers and praying to the literary gods for some kind of miracle. Something like an Ewok in a Delorean....

This is what I need to happen right now.