Monday, February 22, 2010

Look Ma, we're on TV!!! (+ lots of rambling about writing)

Last month Jim and I drove down to Corvallis, Oregon (with Clementine and my mom) to film a segment for "Back Page," a book program that airs on Oregon Public Broadcasting. We'd never done TV before, or anything even remotely close, so we were nervous! I mean, I get blotchy even doing a phone interview (nervous-blotchy, does that happen to anyone else?) Well, the host Jody Seay was just a joy to talk to and the whole thing was so easy and went so fast. The half hour felt like about ten minutes at the most, and look, no blotches!

Without further ado, here we are:

Neato! Big thanks to Jody Seay and director Eric Gleske for the great experience!

Other exciting news: Lips Touch is a contender in the School Library Journal 2010 Battle of the Kids Books! Here's the fabulous Betsy Bird making the announcement:
Again, it's super-crazy-wow-awesome to see Lips Touch in the company of the year's most buzzed-about books, including Newbery winner When You Reach Me and the book that beat Lips to the CYBIL for YA Fantasy, Fire. And the judges! M.T. Anderson, holy smokes, and Shannon Hale and Meghan Whalen Turner and Nancy Farmer (!) and the final deciding vote: Katherine Patterson. Yipes!

And there's some "undead" round at the end too, where readers get to bring a previously eliminated title back to life -- and hey, those zombie sock puppets that make an appearance in Betsy's video? I happen to know she made those here in Portland at the Kidlit Bloggers' Conference two years ago, with mad genius Jaime Temairik. That last evening in the hotel lounge, everyone suddenly had zombie socks on their hands. I have one right here, in fact. It says hello. Actually it says: *Get in my mouth, I has the hungries.* But nevermind.

So come on, Lips Touch! I'm imagining this like a boxing match. Beat up those other books! You can do it!

Ahem, aherm hem. Sorry. I got carried away. (HERE is Betsy's post with the rules, full list of titles and judges, etc.)

So. About writing. Yesterday I finished a chapter that concludes a "chunk" of the current book. That's my technical term: chunk. When I'm writing a novel, I might have a glimmering sense of the overall story arc, but as far as the actual nitty-gritty unfolding of the story, usually there is a goal much nearer at hand that I can see clearly and am writing toward. To further mix writing metaphors, I've compared it to swimming from buoy to buoy. You strike out swimming for that next buoy, you can see it bobbing orangely (I love to invent words) over the tops of the waves, and when you finally reach it, you cling to it, kiss it, vow to never let it go, WHEW!!! But of course you have to let go. You have to swim to the next buoy and the next, all the way to the far shore. You must continually leave the comfort of the completed chapters behind you and strike out into the unknown. For me at least, every time is a huge effort. I love clinging to my buoy. Even more than that, I love polishing my buoy, making it all shiny and pretty.

(Who polishes buoys? That's madness! I know.)

So, I reached a buoy yesterday and I am hanging onto it for dear life with one hand, swigging champagne with the other (not really, come on. It's 9 am). I reached a story goal. Yay!!!!!!!!

Recently, in an email from Stephanie Perkins (whose wonderful-wonderful-wonderful book Anna and the French Kiss is up on Amazon!!! You can officially pre-order it now!!!! And how cool is this: in the "Customers Who Also Bought" history is one other book. Can you guess? Lips Touch!), she called the major events of the story its "beats". This, I think, was a term gleaned from her fabulous editor Julie Strauss-Gabel, aka John Green's editor, who knows what of she speaks. And I like it. Beats. It fits nicely with an unarticulated sense I have about my own storytelling process, which is a way of moving from one noteworthy event to the next, ratcheting up tension as I go (hopefully), building suspense, working toward the climax. I can now call these story moments "beats". So, besides having swum to a buoy, I have hit another beat. Which sounds kind of cooler and less perilous (though I have to admit I'm fond of making writing sound perilous, and have been known to make writing metaphors like bushwhacking through jungles (quicksand! vipers!) and writing with a knife strapped to your thigh).

I just read a book this weekend that is a great example of beats: Our Only May Amelia by Jennifer Holm. It's a historical (and a Newbery Honor book). The story, told in a deceptively simple first-person voice, ticks along fast, beat by beat. So many things, large and small, happen to May Amelia -- funny things, tragic things. Life in the Finnish immigrant community of the Nasel River in Washington is filled with danger and excitement and sadness. I'd have to go back and look to see if it's a beat per chapter, or more, but in any case, there's never a dull moment. It's great storytelling.

(And Jim and Clementine and I are having dinner with Jenni Holm tonight! Her brother Matt Holm is a local friend of ours -- you may know Jenni and Matt as the creative team behind Babymouse which is a hilarious graphic novel series for younger kids. I'm really excited to meet Jenni!)

But back to my writing. So here I am, clinging to this buoy. What to do next? This big raging part of my perfectionist brain wants nothing so much as to print out the manuscript so far and painstakingly edit it.


I will, instead . . . KEEP WRITING!!!

No really. Shut up. Yes I will too. I will.

*I will try.*

Because the way my brain works is it wants to TIDY. It wants to rest upon a tidy pile of polished manuscript and gloat. It does not love danger. It does not delight in forging forth into the unknown. It loves its little feather duster and word-arranger. (Whoa. I'm having a weird word moment, in which "arrange" looks impossibly bizarre. No, wait, it's back to normal again. Huh. Did I just half-shift into a parallel dimension that's exactly the same as this one with the one single exception that the word "arrange" does not exist in that one? It's possible.) (No it's not.) (Is too.) (Whatever.)

So I think what I'm trying to say is that I'm going to keep going and not give into my brain's feebleness desire. I'll let you know how that goes. Of course, I'll have wasted much of the morning on this blog post, and then probably another chunk of it straightening up my writing room which good god really needs it. So I'll let you know at some later date. I actually have ideas (and fears. big shadowy fears) about the next chunk of the story and I'm excited. But scared! But excited too.

I will, however, put footnotes at the bottom of that last chapter that makes it clear, in case an alien invasion or zombie apocalypse should cause this manuscript to be abandoned before I can revise it fully, that it is still rough. In Bird by Bird Anne Lamott said something like how, while writing her "shi**y first drafts," she is plagued by the anxiety that she'll die in a freak accident and that when her loved ones are going over her things they'll discover the manuscript and think, with deep sadness, that she must actually have killed herself because she'd lost all talent she once possessed. I get that. There's terror to letting the imperfect exist unchecked.

Okay, one last thing about writing that I read yesterday that made me nod enthusiastically: Awesome epic fantasy writer Pat Rothfuss's advice for aspiring writers. It is something I whole-heartedly agree with, perhaps the first and most important thing.

Are you ready?










Yes!!! Before anything else, you must have the time to write. Every minute you work to pay rent or mortgage is a minute stolen from your dream of becoming a writer. If Jim and I had not vacated the Bay Area in a U-Haul truck full of books and dogs and action figures, we would probably still be waiting tables and bartending and cursing the skies for our plight.

Have you ever heard this quote?

"Time is the coin of your life. It is the only coin you have, and only you can determine how it will be spent. Be careful lest you let other people spend it for you." - Carl Sandburg

Love that. Moving to Portland enabled us to buy a small cottage (a foreclosure in need of some lovin, I might add) for less than it cost us to rent the Last Affordable Apartment in the Bay Area, from which we were shortly to be evicted so they could double the rent. Lower rent/mortgage = more writing time! Simplest equation ever. Pat Rothfuss, who is always funny, talks more about his own history of cheap living.

So that's all for today's ramble-fest! Have a lovely week :-)


Cuppa Jolie said...

And a nice ramble-fest it was! :)

The DM said...

Hi Laini,
I just picked up Lips Touch yesterday, and I wanted to let you know how lovely I think it is! The art was a gorgeous surprise--loved, loved how the images tell their own tale. Just finished Goblin Fruit, and adored the setting and atmosphere. Will keep up with your blog--thanks for the Sandburg quotation!

Ariadne said...

I loved how you described writing - I could picture those buoys. If I might ask, what are you working on right now?


Anonymous said...

Uhgg, I know what you mean, it is soooo much easier to write the fun scenes where I know exactly what happens, and to edit the already completed/nearly completed bits than to write/brainstorm the unknown parts... I usually go 'ohno, a gaping hole! Lets write around it!' and then of course I'm stuck with it later.


storyqueen said...

Great post, Laini. And it always feels good to get from one bouy to the next.

And congrats to Lips Touch!


Faith Pray said...

Thanks for the rich post. It should be saved for your "How To Be A Great Writer" book because it definitely inspired and encouraged. I like the Anne Lamott quote. Will try to remember not to get hit by a truck until I get my work whipped into shape!

Beverley BevenFlorez said...

I just finished watching your tv interview. Great stuff! Thank you for sharing your writing process and problems with perfectionism. I, too, suffer from that, but have found ways to work through it.

Amber said...

HOW fun to see you two speaking! And you both seemed very relaxed, indeed. Very cool.

Man, I do what you said-- I go back and shine it up. I edit and edit. At least I am happy I have ADDED story to the book, little by little. But I need to knock that off!!! MAN! Per-fect-ion-eeest fever. *sigh*

You were very funny in this post, btw.


tone almhjell said...

Yay for buoy! Yay for going on! I always need to sit on my behind and struggle with myself to go on after a swim. And for me, it's so often after every chapter.

I'm going to watch the tv clip now. I bet that you're great. Your blog voice is so sincere and easy and personal, I'm pretty sure your interview voice is just as good. (If I still worked as a reporter, I would have loved to interview someone like you).

tone almhjell said...

Ooh, and I was right! You both came across eloquent, natural and fun. It's not easy taking turns to speak like that when the interviewer doesn't specify a recipient for the question. Excellent job!

Emilie said...

Laini, I loved your point about living somewhere that is easy on the budget. We've done that--we have a house that was fixed to death by people who don't know how to fix houses and it's in one of the cheapest Seattle suburbs out there. We take the bus so we only need one car, and since we got married right out of college when we had less than nothing, we got the blessing to build our budget from the ground up instead of downsizing later. We've enabled me to work part-time so that I can build my writing career and even though there are things I want that we can't afford, I am amazed at how we can make due quite comfortably on one-and-a-half incomes.

Now I should probably actually write on my day off instead of commenting on blogs:) But I just had to say, kudos to you for making the hard choice and realizing that coming out ahead is different strokes for different folks.

Can't wait to hear more pearls of wisdom when you teach at the Western Washington conference in a few weeks!

Unknown said...

I love your blog. :) Been following for a longggg time even though I don't comment much. Congratulations on your Cybil!!!

Wish I could live somewhere cheaper but we are where we are because of work and great schools. Someday we'll retire somewhere less crazy!

BTW - I'm giving away a copy of your GORGEOUS Lips Touch on my blog! I would totally want to win! :D

Lindsey :)

Bets said...

I read Patrick Rothfuss' blog also, so it was fun to see him mentioned here. Except unfortunately we are living in the Bay Area!

Carrie Harris said...

I get all blotchy when I get nervous too. But you were fabulous, non-blotchy, and have adorable boots. :) I didn't mean to sit here for a half hour and watch that whole thing, but I did.

jaecy bells said...

Oh my gracious!!! I TOTALLY get that when one word strangely looks foreign on the page. It freaks me out! But it always turns back to normal.

I love Anne Lamott's book. It's brilliant.

I wish I had your picky mind of editing drafts. I have a lazy mind: I slogged through my first draft, dumped it, and reluctantly turned back to it. My mind is more like a "turn over a new leaf" frame of mind, so I rewrote the beginning. I don't know how to edit. I'm impossible.

Rambling is fun.

ann foxlee said...

Great ramble-fest! And may I just say, yes, I totally get nervous-blotchy too! starts in my cheeks, then spreads straight down my neck onto my chest until I look like I've just finished exercising or something. Wish I knew how to stop it!