Monday, September 15, 2014

Legs and Ego: Last Chance to Win Glory O'Brien ARC!

It's a month until launch day and I still have two (TWO) advanced reader copies of GLORY O'BRIEN'S HISTORY OF THE FUTURE left to give away. Twitter friends asked if I was going to have another contest and I said yes. And that's why we're gathered here today.

You can win one of these lovely ARCs no matter where you live and you have until Friday, September 19th, 2014 at 11:59 PM EDT to enter. You may enter as many times as you like, but please remember that quality matters. A lot.

  1. You have to write a story.
  2. You will enter by leaving your story in the comment section of this blog. NOTE: Comments are moderated. If you don't see your story immediately, that's fine. When my moderator wakes up she will post the story. 
  3. Your story has to be under 100 words. Preference: It should be longer than 50. 
  4. It has to start with the word "Legs"
  5. It has to end with the word "ego"
  6. Entries will be judged by a panel of small rodents with bushy tails and legs and egos. 

Rules are rules. 
If you choose to stray, that's fine except you can't win.

Bouns Points.
If you tweet, retweet or spread the news in other ways you get bonus points added to your entry. You can let me know how you spread the word in your comment.

Bonus Bonus Points.
The paperback of Reality Boy comes out next Tuesday. If your entry is amazing beyond words and/or makes my judges pee themselves laughing, you will also win a signed copy of Reality Boy in paperback.

Added Bonus Prize.
If your teacher uses this prompt as a classroom writing exercise and you (or your teacher) win, I'll throw in a free set of A.S. King books (one copy of each book) for your teacher's classroom library. Seriously. I will. I'm not kidding.

Added Bonus Advice.
While I know that legs seem to be seen in a suggestive way by some, my squirrel judges aren't huge fans of the sexualization of body parts, so your chances are low if you go that route.

Go forth!
Tell people.
It's fun.
I promise.

Friday, September 12, 2014

We make paper boats; we cannot control the wind.

First: A deal announcement. A new book from A.S. King is coming in 2015.

It was late February, 2013 when I quit writing. I didn't write an entry into my writing journal about it. I didn't announce it. I didn't tell my friends. I told my husband. He seemed to either take it well or know more about me than I do.

February for me means a deadline. February is the month when I have to get a finished draft of a novel to my editor. I'd delivered in February 2013. I sent in GLORY O'BRIEN'S HISTORY OF THE FUTURE and I breathed my small sigh of relief that it was gone from my desk and I probably had a drink that night in celebration.

If we're keeping count, that was novel #18. If you don't know much about me or my work, then you should know that 8 of those 18 novels live in my attic in a box. Three of them live in a strange limbo where they are written, not published, but there's something about them that keeps me from dooming them to the attic.

If you know me, then you know I'm not a particularly dramatic person. I'm human though I claim I'm Vulcan, but still, I approach things with logic more regularly than I panic or cry about things. I don't usually quit things or make grand statements. I consider myself very lucky to be a published author--very lucky--and though I've won awards and stuff like that, I still struggle to make ends meet. I see this as normal. I know a lot of writers. Most of us can't afford a nanny or a chef and that's okay. I know a lot of other lucky people in other professions and they can't afford nannies or chefs, either.

So what drove me to quit writing in late February 2013?
I have no idea, but I did.
I said, "I'm done. I quit. I don't want to do this anymore."
I decided I'd go work in a library and maybe go back to school at night.
I decided I'd do anything but write another novel.
Eighteen was enough.

I lasted two days.

Two days after I'd quit, I started writing another novel. #19. No title. No form. Just this chunky bare prose on the page that came slowly--not at all in tune with my deadline schedules. I didn't care if it ever turned into anything. I didn't care if it was delivered on time the following February. I didn't care about the business--if it would sell, what people might think of it. I just wrote it when it came. This is probably why my husband didn't falter when I'd told him I'd quit, I guess. He's known me a long time. Maybe he knows better than I do that I'm a writer and it's not just something you quit doing.

Back on the farm in the mid-1990's when I wrote for no one and had no deadlines except for planting and harvesting the year's food, I hit the same wall. The quitting wall. Whatever you want to call it. I stopped writing novels. But since I was a writer, I kept writing. In this case, I wrote poetry. For two years, I wrote poems whenever they came to me. I read a lot. I took more walks. I painted more. I didn't "quit" because there wasn't anything to quit. Writing wasn't my job. It wasn't a hobby either. It was my--I don't know. I don't know what it was. All the words that go here seem too dramatic a fit for me. Passion, vocation, calling all seem like the wrong words. Writing was what I did. Period. I'd written about 5 novels by then. But I wanted to write poetry, so I wrote poetry.

This was a good thing because eventually, my first published work was poetry. I wrote some good poems. I think they suck now and they're in that box in the attic. But some great university journals here in the States thought they were good enough to publish, and that was nice.

The point of me boring you with the poetry story was more to show the way of life for me when I was an unpublished writer. I could paint a still life one day in acrylics or take a whole fortnight and paint it in oils instead. I could go out back on the farm and smash things with sledgehammer. I did that sometimes. I could do farm chores. I could build a birdhouse. I could build a guest cottage. I could do whatever I wanted because no one was waiting on me to produce. Not poems, not novels, not anything. The only person demanding anything from me was me. I had to grow food. That was it. I had to grow food. So when I didn't feel like writing, I didn't. If I felt like writing poetry, I wrote poetry. Ta-da. If I was mad at the world, I'd write what I called fuck-the-world poems. I wrote them for myself. I thought fuck-the-world poems were best kept to one's self. Funny, because of my published poems, all were fuck-the-world poems.

In late February 2013, things were different. Very different. Not only did I now buy my food from a grocery store, but I was a lucky published novelist. I was also the person in charge of making money in my house. I traveled a lot and had kids and a husband in college. So when I didn't have it in me anymore, I didn't think about writing poetry or painting. I just thought about a kind friend's offer of an entry-level job at her library. But I never pursued the job.

Of course, I already told you that this....thing...only lasted two days.

Call it a crisis and I'll disagree. I was tired, yes. I may have been cranky. Sure. But I was dead serious. I quit. I was done. I'd never been so done before in my writing life. In those 48 hours, I was free. And then the world opened up and the words started flowing again with no warning or thought on my part at all.

The book that came out of me after those two days was a fuck-the-world book. No holding back. No censoring (though this book has less cursing than all of my books, so I don't mean censoring in the profanity way--I mean it in the brainwave way.) I didn't care about fitting into a box or onto a shelf. I just wrote in the same way I wrote that poetry back on the farm. I painted it like I painted those old canvases (which also live in my attic, but that's because I don't have any other place to put them.)

#19 sold nine months later. My agent and editor loved it. I delivered the finished manuscript in February 2014. This week, it was announced to the world and I'm busy writing novel #20, which started late after many months beating novel #supposed-to-be-20 which was really a dead book. Nothing like beating a dead book to remind one of one's place.

Last weekend, I painted a still life. This week, I wrote a poem. This weekend, I cleared out my garden and harvested peppers. For six years, I felt like a book machine. Now I feel more human. Human before writer. One must be human to write. One must know what ripe peppers look like and know the rule of fat over lean in oil painting.

Quitting writing was human. That's all.
Now I get to push another paper boat out onto the water and see if it sails.
The wind isn't under my control. Nothing, really, is under my control. I'm just a lady who makes paper boats. This one has I CRAWL THROUGH IT painted on the bow.
A fitting title, I think.

It will be in your local bookstore in fall 2015. There is an invisible helicopter and a walking digestive system in it. There is a man in it named Kenneth who Bill Murray would play if it were a movie. Kenneth is free, just like me. But he can't quit either.

Disclaimer: I was joking about the nannies and the chefs. I don't want either. I just want a future where I don't eat soup once a week for dinner. 

Tuesday, September 9, 2014

2014 GLORY O'BRIEN Tour Dates!

Finally, I have GLORY O'BRIEN'S HISTORY OF THE FUTURE tour dates for you. Am I coming to your city? Come see me. I like people. 

NAIBA Sunday Breakfast 
Arlington, VA
September 21, 2014

PALA Annual Conference
Andrew Smith/A.S. King present Boxing With Friends
Lancaster, PA
September 28-29, 2014

Glory O'Brien's History of the Future Launch Party
Aaron's Books
Lititz, PA
October 14, 2014
RSVP Here! Space is limited. RSVP Now. 

Book Shop Santa Cruz
Santa Cruz, CA
October 15

Books Inc. / Litquake Event
San Francisco, CA
October 16
Sports Basement on Byant

Texas Teen Book Festival
Austin, TX
October 18, 2014

Children's Book World
Haverford, PA
October 23, 2014

Boston Book Festival
Boston, MA
October 25, 2014

Lititz Lit Festival
Lititz, PA
November 1, 2014

Clinton Book Shop
Clinton, NJ
November 7, 2014

Changing Hands Bookstore
Tempe, AZ
November 21, 2014

Barnes & Noble 
Reading/Wyomissing, PA
December 20, 2014

Hope to see you there! 

Sunday, September 7, 2014

Twitter Giveaway!

Win a yet-to-be-released paperback of REALITY BOY and an ARC of GLORY O'BRIEN'S HISTORY OF THE FUTURE by writing me a haiku about what pisses you off. Ends Tuesday at 11:59pm EDT. Enter all you want. All countries welcome. Just tweet it to me. If you don't have a Twitter, then the comment section of the blog will do. Go nuts.

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

It's Raining Tacos, Dudes.

Okay. So four is the magic number. I reserve the right to change what the magic number is whenever I want.

First, I want to thank all of you who followed the reposting of The Writer's Middle Finger posts. I enjoyed reading them again. I look forward to writing the next one. (Or more accurately, I look forward to rewriting the five I have here but aren't even close to coherent.) But to those of you who retweeted, shared on Facebook, or shared in other places, thank you. I disappear from this blog (and Facebook especially) for stretches of time. Then I come back with all this launch related stuff and I'm glad you understand that I have to write books sometimes.

Second, I want to share the starred School Library Journal review. This review made me howl with joy. Joy is good. Howling is good. So this was a double win. Short version: "This beautifully strange, entirely memorable book will stay with readers."--SLJ

Long version:
✭ Glory O’Brien’s History of the Future
By A.S. King  October  Ages 15 & Up  $18.00  ISBN: 978-0-316-22272-3
King returns with another wholly original work of magical realism. This eerie, provocative title centers on Glory O’Brien, on the verge of graduating high school. Though talented and whip-smart, Glory is an outsider whose social interactions are largely limited to her only friend, Ellie, who lives across the street in a commune, and her father, a one-time painter who’s been floundering since the suicide of Glory’s mother 12 years earlier. Both girls realize they have the power to see the past—and future—of strangers around them, and Glory slowly understands that an incredibly disturbing, Handmaid’s Tale–esque future lies in store, with the rights of women and girls being eroded and a second civil war breaking out. The teen is confronted not only by her future but by the past: she fears that she’ll go down the same path as her psychologically unstable mother and begins to learn about a falling-out that took place between her parents and Ellie’s years ago. As with works such as Ask the Passengers (2012) and Everybody Sees the Ants (2011, both Little, Brown), King has developed an unusual protagonist, yet one with a distinct and authentic voice. Elevating herself above the pack and imbuing her novel with incredible nuance, King artfully laces themes of disintegrating friendship, feminism, and sexuality into the narrative, as well as some provocative yet subtle commentary on the male gaze and the portrayal of women in our culture. This beautifully strange, entirely memorable book will stay with readers.

If this sounds like a book you want to pre-order, then do pre-order from my local independent bookstore, Aaron's Books for a 15% discount. If you are an Amazon user, then I'm afraid you're out of luck on both the pre-order and the discount as they are presently very busy arguing about ebook prices (though mine are already below their goal price) and refuse to offer either of these perks to consumers.

Third, I want to give you solid tour dates for the San Francisco Bay Area in October.
  • Book Shop Santa Cruz--10/15/14 at 7pm 
  • Books Inc. Litquake event is 10/16/14 at 6pm. See details below.

I'll also be traveling with Paolo to the Texas Teen Book Festival in Austin which is on 10/17/14. I hope you've read Paolo's books. They are amazing. I still haven't read his new title, The Doubt Factory, but I know I'm going to love it solely based on how much I love his writing and the premise. And him. 
  • Also, I have a date for Children's Book World in Haverford, PA: 10/23/14 at 7pm.
I'll add these to my tour dates and when I have all of the local events sorted, and I'll post them here and update my website and send that once-a-year newsletter that you can sign up for on my website.

Last, some random pictures.

You know how I feel about dinosaurs in flight. 

Seven years ago at about 7:30pm, I had just asked Mr. King to go get me a bacon cheeseburger.
I was pacing around a room and about to have a baby.
But I was hungry and there was a Wendy's a short walk away from the birth center.

Today I climbed this 35 foot wall with my newly minted 7-year-old.
I can honestly say I was more scared of that wall than of having a baby.
It took us a half hour to get used to climbing, but she took to it quickly.
She climbed up and hit the button at the top first.
I was inspired by this and I did it five minutes after she did it.
Why I write literature for children & teens?
Because they inspire the hell out of me.

I still plan on posting Ana's epic drawings here soon. And I have a giveaway contest coming soon.
Get your haiku brains ready.

Thursday, August 21, 2014

The Writer's Middle Finger Part Seven: The critical and the humanist brain & breaking bullshit rules.

This is the final WMF post for now. I'm writing #8 in the next month. 
I post this with no comment. 
_ _ _ _ _ _ _ _

First posted: Jan 5, 2013

This one's about those other rules you need to ignore. The rules out there that tell us what we should be writing about. Oh writer. Please don't listen to these rules.

It starts like this.

Author sits at desk. Brain tells author to write a story...maybe about a kid. Once the writing starts, it turns out the kid has a specific hurdle to clear. Maybe his parent left and never came back. Maybe his parent is dead. Maybe he's doing drugs. Maybe his girlfriend fell in love with his best friend. Maybe he's gay. Or maybe his friend died. Or maybe he has cancer. Or he eats to make himself feel better. Or maybe the kid is a football captain and he falls in love with a cheerleader.

Are you rolling your eyes at any of those?

Which brain are you using? Your humanist brain or your critical one? Oh I know these aren't mutually exclusive. But sometimes one can overtake the other.

The critical brain is there, as writers and reviewers or critiquers, to define certain story elements or plot lines and then look for flaws or well-executed characterizations or any number of story elements. The critical brain is allegedly objective but rarely is. How could it be? Never has a book existed that isn't both panned and raved. But the critical brain is important when we write and read and especially when we review or critique. It has criteria. It has rules...which vary from person to person. It can sometimes be very cynical about life events because they are shown through fiction which it is reviewing. 

The humanist brain, on the other hand, is the brain that translates characters in a novel into real people and is concerned about the characters' welfare. The humanist brain feels the emotions of the characters and relates. It is why we often love a book. It is also why we may hate a book. The humanist brain is allowed to be subjective. It doesn't care. It knows it's spewing opinion. The humanist brain has emotional rules. I know people who cannot read anything about child abuse. Or dog abuse, for example. Those people usually say "I'm sorry, but it's just not my taste."

Here's the truth: Sometimes football captains fall in love with cheerleaders. That doesn't make the book or the idea bad. It's all in what you do with it.

I went to art school. I took classes on critique. It is true that there are elements by which any work of art must be judged when critiquing. And the best critiques stick to those rules. For example: "The image is well framed and uses the rule of thirds expertly." If one mightn't like the actual subject matter, one may add the very fair humanist-brained opinion, "However, I'm not a fan of photographs of infants cradled in cabbage leaves, so I can't say I love the actual image." It doesn't help anyone to be too humanist: This baby grew and is a natural part of our world! Isn't it beautiful? Same as it isn't very helpful to be over-critical: How many freaking baby-in-cabbage leaf pictures can there BE? I am so sick of images like this!

Fact: Anything--ANYTHING--can work if it's done well.
Fact: But you will never please everyone.

No subject matter is a guarantee of...anything.

Sometimes there are lists of what you shouldn't be writing about. Sometimes there are lists of what will  give you a better shot at getting published. Trends. Coming trends. Comments like Why haven't I seen any books about a woman who is a circus clown and cocktail waitress while juggling a meth habit? True. The writer of this statement may want to see a book like this. However, if it's not something you naturally want to write about, then you writing it is probably not going to work out all that well.

Readers are finicky. So your job is to write about something you care about. And even if you do that, some people will criticize it. And that's fine.

I tend to read with my humanist brain. I want to like the book I'm reading. I want to find the human connection that is inbuilt. I want my time spent to be time well spent--enjoying, feeling and wondering Why did the author tell this story in this way? It's a naive tack, I'm sure, to some reading this. I'm okay with that. But know this: I have very little time to read. I am able to find pleasure in most books I pick up.

And I'm just not the kind of person who would read the flap copy, slot the entire book into a tidy labeled box, roll my eyes and say "Oh God. Not another dead mother book." Or "Ugh! Another gay book!" Or "Here we go again! A teen dealing with the death of a friend. Sheesh!"
"If you go into a book thinking you know what it's about, then that's all you'll usually get from it." --Me, earlier this year
(Same goes for writing a book...but you probably already know that.)

The humanist brain is more curious, regardless of whether a subject matter is something it's seen before.  It's allowed to be either interested or disinterested in the story, and if the subject matter is just not their thing, they put the book down. No eye-rolling. No imperious knowledge of what's supposed to be in books.

That's what bullshit rules are. Bullshit rules are what other people believe should be in our books.
You have no idea how many times I've heard that my character should have thought or done or been. You have no idea how many times I've had people assume what I was thinking when I wrote a book. I can tell you this: these guesses are incorrect. Whether stated in a positive or negative fashion, the jury is in: You have no idea what goes on in my brain.

I can't imagine many authors ever woke up in the morning and declared, "Darn it! Today I'm going to write a cancer book/gay book/drug book/dead parent book/ dead friend book/love triangle book/cheerleader and football captain fall in love book!" I'm pretty sure that most of the time these things just happen. And not from lack of ideas or creative power, either. Sorry. Anyone who thinks this is underestimating writers. And to me, that's disrespectful. And hell yes, if you say this, I will call you on it and tell you that you are living by a set of literary bullshit rules.

Why I'm thinking about this today.

I wrote something on my blog back in June. I'm going to link to it here so you know where this post is coming from. You should really go read it, but in case you don't, it was about the flippant comments I see periodically that might say something like, "If I read one more [dead parent] book this year I'll jump off a cliff!" It was about how I know some kids who lost their father this year and how those flippant comments are...too flippant. This internet. It gives us so much power. Oh how I wish we could be more human when we use it.

Last weekend, another teenager I know lost his father. We just buried him yesterday. We are heartbroken. I physically feel a hole in the world because of his loss. I feel a hole in my world because I know the pain this is causing his family. But my hole isn't nearly as big as theirs. My friend's wife, his son, his parents, his siblings, his friends. This hole--it is real. It is nothing to be scoffed. Nothing to be tsked. Nothing to be cynical about.

Only an overly-critical brain could be cynical about that hole.

In real life when we lose people, it is rare we act with our critical brain. We are human-thinking through and through. But when someone dies in a book, and we are reviewing a book, we have to run this death through a set of criteria. Was it believable enough? (Whatever that is.) Did the characters react the way they should have? (Whatever that is.) In believable ways? (Whatever that is.) Did the after-effects of the death seem realistic and cause the right amount of tension? (Whatever that is.)

As the writer of that book, you wrote it because you cared deeply about the subject matter and were thinking with your humanist brain, so yes, it's hard when that work is dissected by someone who just didn't get what you were trying to say. But please remember, that's their problem, not yours.

Those flippant commenters can claim Dead parent as gimmick. Dead parent as plot device to give teen main character more experience and savvy. Or my favorite: Dead parent as a very convenient trick to get rid of parents in books.

Convenient my ass. A dead parent is not fucking convenient. Ask anyone who has one. And as for teens having them? Happens all the time. All. The. Time.

Bullshit rules, man. They make us scared to write about what comes naturally as we sit at our desks. They make us wonder if maybe, just maybe, this time we can hit a home run and please everyone.

But then I look for my magic finger. You know the one. (Hint: it's the one who knows I will never please everyone.)

Writers: life is short. You're here to write what you want to write. I told you in my first post not to listen to rules. Dirk and Sally. No confusing tenses. No big words. And whatever other rules out there promising you easier publication if only you'd write what they want to see. 

Today, I want to remind you that those deeper reasons we write--those are more important than bullshit rules that somebody's brain made up in order to tell us how trite it is to write about what has come naturally for us to write about.

Write it.
Fucking write it.
There will always be critics who will roll their eyes at the pain your characters experience. They are not thinking about what it would really be like to, in this case, lose a parent as a child. Their job is to find flaws in your reasoning. In your characters. In your ideas. And ultimately, in your own brain.

And they don't mean a damn thing.

Write the books. Be defiantly creative. When you shy away from writing a story about abuse, don't think of the people who will roll their eyes. Think about the 1 in 4 kids who have been abused. When you shy away from writing a story about rape, don't think about those who will say teenagers shouldn't be reading about rape. Think about the 1 in 4 who have already experienced it. When you dare to write about death, do not think of the "Disney trope" someone's going to wheel out in their wagon full of critique words. Think about those kids you know who have a hole in their life so big, they can't breathe some days.

And do it for them.

It took me a week to write this blog. I see-sawed on posting it. Then I thought about my friend Scott and what he would have done. And he would have posted it. So this one's for you, Scott. Hope they're playing punk rock wherever you landed on this journey.

(There are other Writer's Middle Finger Posts. Six of them. Type "Writer's Middle Finger" into the search box up there on the left. It's like a treasure hunt, right?)

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Writer’s Middle Finger Part Six: (Communication is a writer's best friend.)

So wow. I skipped a year--2011--between Writer's Middle Finger posts. It was probably because I was traveling a lot. I did so many school visits and festivals in 2011 and 2012 that I barely knew my own name. (One of those events was ALA in New Orleans where VERA DIETZ--the book that "could still fail" in WMF #1 was awarded a Printz Honor.) And all of that travel was the most rewarding thing ever. I can't even tell you where I was in the career process at this point. I don't think it matters. This post deals with the editor-author relationship. Also, with arthritis (which has pretty much cleared up, so yay for that.) I guess if I go by my calendar, I was about to release ASK THE PASSENGERS, and was writing REALITY BOY. If I remember correctly, this miscommunication was about ANTS and I was a dumbass about it. But you'll find out why when you read this. 
WMF #7 is to come. 
And WMF #8 will be written one day soon. Fact: I have about 5 WMF #8s written already and in my downtime between VCFA work and my own writing I will find one to finish. If there is such a thing as downtime. It could be a fantasy. 

_ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ 

First published 10/19/12

Writer’s Middle Finger Part Six: (Communication Is a Writer's Best Friend.)

This is you. You are part of a machine. 
My middle finger is sore. I am pretty sure I am developing arthritis and that’s the first place it hit. My middle finger. On my right hand. It’s sore every single morning when I wake up.

What a timely metaphor for this post! What better way to start off the Writer’s Middle Finger Part Six. Because this post is about the long haul—the reality of an author’s career. The juggling, the ups and downs and the changes we go through as we grow into older-but-wiser writers.  

This is the sport.

Last year, my editor sent me an email after we’d discussed a recent editorial letter. In the email, she wrote, “Thanks for being such a great sport about revisions.” To which I replied, “I’m not a great sport. THIS IS THE SPORT.” I stand by that. Writing is a job. It’s not an easy job. It requires a skill set that grows as the job continues. Revision is a huge part of that skill set. It is the sport. And like athletes, we have to do our part to train, to compete with ourselves, and to learn every technique we can to improve. Revision, then, is the vehicle that many writers both adore and dread. It’s part mind-blowing learning experience/part soul-sucking responsibility.  

Stet: how we keep our middle finger in shape.

Because those around me are getting to know what a writer’s life is like through my experiences, they hear me talk about revision a lot. The #1 thing that civilians ask me these days is: So, do you have to do everything your editor tells you to do?

If you are a writer, you know the answer is no. If you are a writer, you know that there is a glorious word that looks like this: STET. But sometimes as writers, even if we’ve developed our skill set to a place where we think we have the job nailed, we forget this. Here’s a recent scenario:

I sent the finished first draft of a book to my (kind, intelligent and awesome) editor in February. Pretty nice first draft. I was happy with it, beginning to end. Editorial letter #1 arrived in April. No problem. It was long, but my editor is all about long letters—mostly because she is incredibly thorough in her explanations, which I find helpful.

Interrupting myself to say: Please, please do not equate long editorial letters to a lack of quality in your own work. Editors are all different. I have seen lamenting tweets and blog posts that go something like this: OMG! My ed letter is X pages long! That’s a page longer than last time! I must be getting worse. No no no no no. No. No. Okay? No.

Anyway. I returned the revised manuscript about 1.5 months later. Important fact that will bite me in the ass later in this story: I returned the manuscript with no detailed letter to outline why I did or didn’t take certain suggestions. I do not know why I did this. I think I was just confident with the revision and didn’t think anything needed to be said.

I knew I then had a month or more to work on the first draft of the next project. June was great. July was gearing up to be even greater. I was writing 4k words a day. But as July arrived, I saw the shadow creeping up behind me. I knew the second editorial letter was coming, so I wrote faster. I was like a human cup of espresso. Until it arrived.

Oh God.
Oh no.

Something was wrong with the second editorial letter. My editor didn’t seem to understand my book as much as I thought (assumed) she did. She had some great points about pacing, yes. She had some great points about secondary characters and all sorts of other stuff, but she seemed to be suggesting insane things for my beloved main character.

Here’s where my skill set exploded. Kaboom. Reduced to brain shrapnel. It’s like that moment when your husband of 20 years asks you if you want relish on your hot dog when you have never in 20 years eaten relish on your hot dogs. (Okay, we don’t eat hot dogs, but you get it.) It’s that moment when you feel severely misunderstood. Lost. Alone. Think boats without paddles. With rapids.

I tried to continue writing the first draft of the new book for two days, but I really only thought about the letter and came to this conclusion: I didn’t think I could make the book my editor seemed to want.

My editor is probably the smartest, savviest, coolest person I know. We work well together. She gets me. She gets my books. I didn’t want to disappoint her. I didn’t want to write STET that much. I didn’t want her to think I was ungrateful for all of her thoughts and ideas. I didn’t want her to think I was somehow becoming “difficult.” Maybe she’s right. Maybe she wants me to be more commercial or more normal and less weird. Maybe she doesn’t like my middle-finger Dirk-and-Sally-free writing anymore. Shit. Shit shit shit.

Why did I think this would get easier?
Photo cred: My kid.

I lost motivation. On the new book. On the revision book. On pretty much everything. I didn’t even want to swim. I drank more than usual. (Don’t worry. It wasn’t that much.) I read and re-read the letter. I tried to figure out how to say yes to all of her suggestions and still keep the story I'd written. I tried to figure out what I would say to her when we finally talked about the whole thing. I had to postpone our first conversation because I didn’t have anything to say. I was blank. Completely frozen. I am really good at finding solutions. It’s my thing. It is the sport. I enjoy it. But I couldn’t find solutions this time. I didn’t know what to do.

My agent suggested that I write a letter detailing why many of the suggestions weren’t working for me. (Oh look. What a smart idea. My agent is a genius. I am a writer. He asked me to write something about what I was feeling.)

That letter cleared everything up. My editor understood my main character better. She understood why I couldn’t do many of the things she suggested. She told me to go ahead and ignore huge parts of the editorial letter, which I have to admit was hard for me because I don’t like ignoring things—especially another person’s hard work. In the end, we laughed about the misunderstanding. I lamented that the whole thing could have been avoided had I not caused the problem in the first place.

By now, if you’re reading carefully, you know what the problem was. Remember that very important fact up there? The fact that I hadn’t sent a detailed letter to my editor with the first revision? Yeah. All this brain shrapnel and freaking out and frozenness was because I didn’t communicate. Me. The master communicator. Did. Not. Communicate. And communication, especially during revision, is a very important part of the writer’s skill set.

Hindsight: It’s like candy corn for breakfast. (Really awesome, but seasonal.)

As I write this, I am involved with many different types of publishing professionals. I can tell you this for nothing: The ones who communicate honestly and effectively are my favorites. 

Why my middle finger is sore

In real life, my middle finger is probably sore from using my computer away from my roller ball mouse more often these days. Or maybe I’m just hitting that age where body parts get sore.

Metaphorically, I am happy to report that my middle-finger books—soon to number four published—have been increasingly well-received, with reviewers often noting that they are different or original. No, I am not driving a swanky car yet, but I didn’t get into this to drive a swanky car. I got into this to make snowflakes, and I am making them and they are beautiful and I love my job, even though sometimes I forget how to do it properly. I wouldn’t love my job if I wasn’t able to write what I want to write.

My middle finger is not an angry middle finger. I don’t want yours to be either. Not when you point it at made-up writing rules, or when you point it at yourself, or when you point it at the internet, or when you point it at an editorial letter. This middle finger business isn’t about being pissed off. It’s about knowing what you want as a writer. It’s about blocking out all the noise. It’s about being true to yourself.

My middle finger is very very sore today. When one of my kids has a sore finger, they want a Band-Aid or ice or something to make it stop hurting. Me? I’ve never been so happy about a minor discomfort. It’s a constant reminder that it’s working.

If you didn't get the snowflake reference or the Dirk and Sally sentence, you can find links to Writer's Middle Finger posts 1-5 by clicking on this link.

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

We interrupt this Writer's Middle Finger bonanza for some good news...THREE!

Three is a magic number.
In all sorts of ways.

But this week, three is a magic number because of starred reviews for GLORY O'BRIEN'S HISTORY OF THE FUTURE.

First, there was Kirkus last Tuesday. You already know about this.

Then, there was Booklist on Friday: "Powerful, moving, and compellingly complex."

Glory and her best friend, Ellie, drink a bat. They mix its desiccated remains with some warm beer on an impulsive night, and now they see visions of the past and future for everyone they encounter. But Glory’s not sure she has a future. She graduated high school with no plans for college, and she’s worried that she’s doomed to be just like her mom, a talented photographer who killed herself when Glory was only four. The future she sees for others, however, is plagued by misogynistic violence, and when she doesn’t see herself or her descendants in any of the visions, she starts rooting around in her mother’s darkroom and journals for clues that will help her free herself from a futureless fate. King performs an impressive balancing act here, juggling the magic realism of Glory’s visions with her starkly realistic struggle to face her grief, feel engaged with her own life, and learn anything that she can about her mother. Imbuing Glory’s narrative with a graceful, sometimes dissonant combination of anger, ambivalence, and hopefulness that resists tidy resolution, award-winning King presents another powerful, moving, and compellingly complex coming-of-age story.

Then, today as I was waiting in line for the flume ride at an amusement park (which eventually soaked my Birkenstocks) and simultaneously trying to make my youngest kid chill about the fear-factor, there was number three, from Publishers Weekly. "Full of provocative ideas and sharply observed thoughts."
✭ High school graduation has already prompted Glory O'Brien to confront the chronic malaise she's felt since her mother's suicide 13 years earlier. Then she and Ellie, a friend who lives in a hippie commune across the street, swirl the ashes of a mummified bat (you read that right) into their beers, and both girls begin receiving "transmissions" from everyone they encounter: "We could see the future. We could see the past. We could see everything." From these visions, Glory learns of a second Civil War, set in motion by misogynistic legislation aimed at preventing women from receiving equal pay for equal work. Writing an account of the events she's learning about from the transmissions helps Glory see a future for yourself and understand the ways in which her mother's legacy and her father's love have shaped her into the thoughtful, mature young woman she is. The bizarre bat-swilling episode recedes, revealing a novel full of provocative ideas and sharply observed thoughts about the pressures society places on teenagers, especially girls.

This brings me great joy. I mean, as much joy as a Vulcan can have, really. (The Vulcan wants to say: It's dust, not ashes. Nobody burned the bat, captain.) Three is a magic number. There is something about three that makes me say: Hey, maybe this book doesn't suck. Maybe people will get it. Maybe I did something right. Thank you Booklist! Thank you Publishers Weekly!

So, tomorrow I will repost Writer's Middle Finger Part Six.

But for now, here is my family. No one wanted to be the little Amish boy holding a puppy, so I said I'd do it.

I don't think Amish boys wear prescription sunnies, but whatever. 

And for fun: What is a multi-purpose spoon?
It's a spoon.
Just a spoon.

Tomorrow, WMF #6.
But for now, let us all eat tacos. Or whatever you do to celebrate with me.
It's a lovely day here, while shit rages on all over the world.
I'm glad Glory O'Brien sees that shit. I'm glad she sees it in our own culture.
I'm glad she drank the bat because she can see that past is present is future.
There is so much work to do.
So much work to do.

Monday, August 18, 2014

The Writer’s Middle Finger: Part Five (Middle Finger Deathmatch: Maintaining Control vs. Going Completely Insane)

History: VERA DIETZ was just about to come out. My agent had sold EVERYBODY SEES THE ANTS to my present publisher, Little, Brown where I started working with Andrea Spooner who is a genius and my perfect editorial match. There were several interested houses, and let me tell you, when I had to make the decision, it was hard because I'd done a lot of losing hope during that process (see yesterday's post.) Ultimately, I made the right decision. By October when I wrote this, I was already working on my 2011 book, ASK THE PASSENGERS, and was ready to submit a partial to my editor at LB. I was now juggling--the new book, the edits for ANTS, and the promo for VERA. 

And yes, those are my middle fingers dressed up in little puppets. 

First published: October 12, 2010

The Writer’s Middle Finger: Part Five 
(Middle Finger Deathmatch: Maintaining Control vs. Going Completely Insane)

I used to think: When I finally become a published writer, I will be mellow. I didn’t want to freak out or be stressed. I took my trusty writer’s middle finger and flipped off the idea of being pressured. “Up yours pressure! You can’t catch me! I am too mellow!” I did this because I lived the life of a very very very mellow person for a very very very long time. I wrote on my own terms. I grew that writer’s middle finger. And I vowed to never let publishing change me.
That said, I am an admitted workaholic. I work my ass off. Usually past midnight. Every night. I didn’t come here to fail. It didn’t work seventeen years to shrug and leave it up to the gods of publishing. I raise the finger. “Up yours gods of publishing! You can’t decide my fate! I’m gonna do whatever it takes to beat your insane odds!”
So, yeah. 2010 was the year of the Middle Finger Deathmatch. Who would win? Control or Insanity?
Ah, the Illusion of Control
I used to have a schedule. Not for life. I can’t schedule life. I have little kids who vomit whenever they want to and need to have up-to-date immunizations. But my writing life? Was scheduled. It was scheduled so I was always one book ahead. Even though I can’t write full-time, I stayed the course. On track. Always. One. Book. Ahead.
It worked out great for a while. I sold The Dust of 100 Dogs and then the minute it was sold, I started writing Please Ignore Vera Dietz. And right after I sold that, I started the next project, Everybody Sees the Ants. I was on schedule. Things were in control. I was mellow. But then the last year of my life happened. And at the end of it, I had a new agent, a new publisher and I was no longer on schedule. Fact is, for a few months there, I didn’t even know my own name. My career was wonderful and my life was wonderful, but GASP! I was now completely out of control. I was off course. Not mellow.
The Beauty of Insanity
Once you go completely insane, you can act really weird and no one seems to think that’s out of place. And you don’t have to brush your hair or wear “appropriate” clothing. You can ramble. I’m still learning how to do this job. I’m juggling way too much and I can barely keep track of what the hell I’m doing without verbally reminding myself all the time. Sadly, others have to live through this, too.
OTHERS: So, what are you working on?
ME: (eyes dart around room, eye contact at 5% maximum) Well, I’m about 30k into my next book (#4) that I want done before the new year (that should have been done last May as far as I’m concerned) and I’m working on edits for my next book for Fall 2011…they’re due in 31 hours and 8 minutes and I’m about to release the next book in 11 days and I have two other ideas I’m working on for the books after #4 as well as two secret projects that are not YA. And I’m still toying with two of my adult novels. Oh. And there are 77 unanswered emails in my inbox and I have to write about 12 interviews and essays in the next fortnight for promoting the new book and I have to go on a mini-tour in about three weeks that I can’t afford but I’m doing it anyway. Oh shit. And I forgot to wash my good jeans. Dammit. (Rummages through purse to find neon pink post-it note. Writes WASH GOOD JEANS on it and sticks it to her chest.)
It’s pretty clear who won the Middle Finger Deathmatch. And frankly, I can’t figure why I ever put my money on maintaining control. Maybe it’s because I’m type A. (After 40 years of denying this, I am admitting it here. Applaud please. It will save me thousands in therapy costs.) Maybe I really believed that I could always stay one book ahead. Maybe there really are people out there who can do that. But for me, Middle Finger Deathmatch has proved I am not one of them.
The Best Part
Being completely insane is fun. It helps me exercise that middle finger even more than I did in the beginning. Being insane helps me flip off the parts of this business that are a major drag. Now I don’t have time to reason with bad advice or those silly people who complain about how I write books with the word fuck in them. Yes. I do. Now go away. I have things to do, vomit to clean up, and apparently, I have to relearn geometry because since when did they move it to third grade math? And then I have to…

_ _ _ _ _ _ _

Stay tuned. Tomorrow is part six.