She Had Everything (Except Relatability)

There’s a great line of Tweets going on right now started by agent Sara Megibow (@SaraMegibow) with this Tweet:

In response, people are submitting better ‘she had everything’s, some of which are hilarious, but all of which are more interesting and, I think, relevant.

I was actually surprised to see that there are apparently tons of people submitting queries for books that begin with that premise. Unless you’re trying to sell the next Disney princess novel (and even those gals typically start out with nothing in at least the wealth department), I can’t understand why you think the average teenage girl wants to read about a beautiful rich girl’s problems.

Okay, say I start reading about this lovely, rolling-around-in-her-dollar-bills-rich-Uncle-Scrooge-McDuck-style broad. I don’t relate to her to start with because

#1 I am about as dainty as a rhinocerous and

#2 I clip coupons for the grocery store so I can afford to buy more wine.

What, then, shall draw me into this story?

I’m guessing it’s that she’s searching for true love. I’m guessing that I’m supposed to relate to her because, even though she can pull off jeggings and I can’t, and even though she doesn’t have to plan ahead to afford a trip to see an out-of-state Dave Matthews Band concert, she’s moping around in coffeeshops listening to the Cure and hoping to meet a really cute, thoughtful, artsy boy (who may or may not be a vampire/shapeshifter/warlock/etc.)

Because hey, okay, I’ve been there. (Pro-tip: it is pretty unlikely that the cute, thoughtful, artsy boy is also a vampire. Just sayin’.)

But maybe it’s just me (and it’s possible that it is), but if you set your story up by telling me that your heroine is hot and never had to spend a summer working in an office for a weird old man named Marvin, I’m going to kind of resent her. I’m going to shout things at the pages like, “LISTEN HERE, DON’T YOU TELL ME HOW HARD YOUR SEARCH FOR LOVE IS UNTIL YOU’VE TRIED BALANCING IT WITH WORKING RETAIL DURING THE HOLIDAY SEASON YOU WUSS.” (I will not go into the long rant that I have stored inside of me reserved for girls whose main problem in finding love is that ‘everyone loves me and I just can’t choose one!’)

I don’t know about the average reader, but I want my heroines to be messy. I want someone who comes from hard knocks, someone who just flat out sucks at pairing accessories, someone who knows just what it’s like when a customer throws something at you (it’s really, really shitty, just in case you were wondering). I know I talk about Carrie Bradshaw all the damn time, but she’s an excellent example: she starts out broke and awkward, and she does things that make you yell at your TV (don’t do it Carrie!), but also all the while make you say, “Oh no, that’s SO me!” Like most of us have probably never thrown chicken wings off of our boyfriend’s rich parents’ balcony, but most of us can say, “If I was in that position, that very well may have embarrassingly happened to me.”

So I’m surprised that there are so many people out there trying to market the ‘she had everything’ lead-in as ‘she was gorgeous and rich.’ To me, it’s not giving your heroine the fighting chance for fullness of character that a girl who comes from struggle has (Katniss Everdeen and Puck Connolly, I’m looking at you, you fabulous broads!).

This is not to say that there aren’t exceptions to this rule: I recently read the book Mystic City, which starred a rich, hot gal with seemingly everything going for her, and I loved the book. More on that one later (I’m planning to do a full review), but it was a good example of someone whose wealth and place in a corrupt wealthy society are the things that limit her and have to be overcome. It also had a good mystery going on that kept things interesting, too, but it was one of those times when I felt actual sympathy for the poor little rich girl and not annoyance.

But I think those books are the rarity for me. Give me a Carrie Bradshaw who drinks too much sometimes and drops a hymnal off a balcony while spying on her boyfriend at church. Give me a Katniss Everdeen who shines as the underdog and actually gets more awkward when money falls her way. Give me the girl who has everything: a barely-running pickup truck, the entire Cure discography on vinyl, and a kind-of-deadly family curse.

(Oh. By the way. I’m back! Long time no see, readers!)

Christmas Came Early!

Oh yes, that’s right, days before my favorite holiday of the year, Christmas arrived on my doorstep.

A few weeks ago, I randomly stumbled onto a Tweet mentioning a blog doing a YA book giveaway. Since I’m always looking for new YA books to read, and especially since that little train-time pledge to be more dilligent about posting here and reviewing books I read, I checked out the blog and entered the giveaway.

And I won!!!!

(I am totally the type of girl who NEVER wins anything, so this was extra exciting.)

The giveaway was from the lovely ladies at Short and Sweet Reviews, a review blog that specializes in concise-but-informative book reviews (which I find great in my time-strapped life).

I got five books in my first shipment, four that I had picked out of a list that Coranne emailed to me, and a fifth that was a surprise, based on what my other selections were.

Even Lucy was excited for this special delivery (she’s more interested in how books smell than what they’re about, but I appreciate her enthusiasm anyway).

A day or two later, a sixth book arrived, and I am now fully set with reading material for quite a few weeks! I’ve already read one book out of this package (Various Positions by Martha Schabas), which I loved and will be reviewing here shortly.

In the meantime, I invite you to check out Short and Sweet Reviews – they’re doing all sorts of giveaways right now, so you could be the next one to receive a stack of books in the mail! Thanks again, ladies!!

A Little Inspiration

This is me, holding myself accountable to the goal that I set of updating this weekly.

It’s tough, because right now is the moment when I want to drop off the face of the earth and hibernate from everything that takes even the tiniest bit of effort. And I think the point is, that’s when I should be pushing myself to do something.

After the end of NaNoWriMo, I’m feeling rather uninspired. I haven’t felt like dragging my notebook out to the bar or the coffeeshop. I tried blogging at 101 Achievements, and I felt like I almost forgot how. I haven’t sent a query, haven’t really done anything creative besides work on a Christmas present I’m making my husband (which, incidentally, is making me an anxious, uninspired mess) and read some YA books that leave me feeling, ‘Why can’t I have that?’

(The answer to ‘why can’t I have that’ is kind of simple, at least so far: because I’m not doing anything to really go anywhere. If I wind up failing after trying and trying, that’ll be something different. But now, I’m not even going the distance of making attempts, so NO WHINING, FOX.)

Oddly enough: December is generally my favorite month. But this year, I just can’t even get excited about it. Yes, I blame Pennsylvania weather mostly (we have been having torrential downpours and NO SNOW), but I have just been feeling like I’ve come down with an acute case of the severe blahs, and I need some inspiration.

Back when I was in undergrad, the creativity just flowed out of me like this December rain has been flowing over our clogged gutters (true story: I, the girl who can’t keep a cactus alive, has managed to allow a small tree to grow in my gutter, which is too high for us to reach ourselves). I was writing daily, sometimes a couple of times a day. I never left for the library without bringing my journal and my writing notebook to pull out during study breaks. And my beat-up writing notebook (which I still have) was full of lists, which I would write in these fantastic multi-colored pens.

My favorite list: “Things I Like.” My second favorite list: “Things that Inspire Me.”

“Things I Like” was a long list to which I was constantly adding. Some highlights: horses in full gallop. the way shiny pages feel. the sound of walking on gravel. running and then diving into bed. strangers that remind me of people i love. calling bartenders ‘darlin’.

The notebook is also full of half-sentences and unfinished thoughts and ideas that struck me on the way to class. There are writing prompts, a detailed list of funny events that happened on an overnight drive to Boston, and this group writing project from 2003 that features zombies, lactose-intolerant llamas, and Roddy Piper.

The last time I wrote in the notebook was 2009, shortly after I finished my first draft of Death & Biology and was starting to really get into the mythology of the supernatural side of the story. And then… that’s it. D&B has its very own notebook, and the fact is, outside of blogging and NaNoWriMo, I don’t write much besides it. And then, of course, is the fact that I feel so uninspired at present anyway.

The things that inspired me and made me feel alive in 2003 are very concrete, very accessible, and even now, a decade later, I can feel the magic of those things when I read the words written in five different colors. But what about what inspires me now?

~ writing in hotels
~ overnight train trips
~ scrawling in a notbeook at a dive bar
~ my Zen-space at Phipps Conservatory
~ under covers with a good book on a cold night
~ being in the woods
~ every significant snowfall ever
~ listening to Disintegration over and over and over
~ leaving it all on the floor at 80’s Night

How do I let these things slip away from me so easily? How did I go from the girl who was always scribbling something in a notebook to the girl who is so wrapped up in Matters of Consequence that she uses laundry as an excuse to put off working on her book?

As ‘grown-ups’ (and I use the term loosely, as last night I found myself getting jealous of our friends’ babies who will be receiving stuffed bears from us this Christmas – I probably like stuffed bears even more than those babies!), it’s so easy to get caught up in the shuffle and forget what really keeps us solid, keeps us grounded. And for some of us, what keeps us grounded is having our heads in the clouds. Sometimes, going after what we want means going wherever our heart manages to launch us.

And sometimes, making it in this world full of Matters of Consequence means holding onto a little black beat-up notebook that’s home to some really important words.

December Resolution time is upon us (which I’ll be talking about in a later entry – ‘New Year’s Resolutions’ aren’t really my thing), and I’m going to make one now: bringing the little black beat-up notebook back to life. Bringing back a list of inspirations back to life. Bringing that side of me who’s never too exhausted to wake up and write down that dream detail that might be important in a story ten years from now.

(I think I still even have those pens.)

The Strange Stillness of Midnight, December 1

Why, hello, December. I didn’t see you sneaking up there. It’s not very polite, you know, sneaking up on unsuspecting girls like that.

There’s always something strange about the way that midnight on December 1 feels. I know it’s not the impending holiday season magic, because for me, that starts the week before Thanksgiving at Pittsburgh’s annual Light Up Night. And I know it’s not the impending drama of trying to finish everything we haven’t finished on 101 Achievements (although ‘strange’ could definitely describe it).

No, the strangeness that hits at midnight on December 1 is definitely the stillness of the end of NaNoWriMo. At midnight, all typing ceases (except the excited posts on social media about being done), the weekly Write-Ins are a thing of the past, and you get that feeling that after the TGIO Party, you might not see some of your favorite people for the next 11 months.

But mostly, there’s the feeling of what now?? that hits. This was my 11th season of National Novel Writing Month, and I still feel the same as I did way back on December 1, 2002: what am I going to do with myself?

Of course, the answers to the question, ‘what am I going to do with myself now that I’m not trying to write a 50,000 word novel over the course of 30 days’ are plentiful:

~ Catch up on housework
~ Go out dancing
~ Get back to the gym
~ Stay up all night working on Rock Band drum technique
~ Update my blogs
~ Review things on Yelp
~ Sleep in
~ Stop dragging my laptop to karaoke and actually socialize with my friends there
~ Start working on Christmas crafts for my family

(Oh, and perhaps most importantly: GO BACK TO WORKING ON THE BOOK I’M TRYING TO PUBLISH.)

But it still feels weird. I feel a little strange not obsessively updating my Excel Spreadsheet that tracks my daily word counts. (Yes, I am the nerd who keeps that spreadsheet.) I miss refreshing Twitter to see when the next NaNo Word Sprint is starting. I woke up on a Sunday morning and didn’t have to cut and paste a massive list of Write-Ins and events for the week to send out to my WriMos before rushing off to work. And I don’t have any reason to not do laundry!

This year’s NaNoWriMo, in writing-terms, was made of fail. Yes, I hit 50,000 words (and I hit it a full day early this time, finishing just before midnight on 11/29), but it was a struggle to get there. What started out as a really promising idea became a lot of filler scenes while I tried to get the characters’ voices and personalities just right. But even that is an important lesson learned: world-building fantasy stories, for me, are not for the pressure of ‘get it written!’ time in November. While I think I may someday go back and revisit this novel for editing and polishing, I think it’ll be near the bottom of my list, when I have a LOT of free time (it’s still above my 2005 NaNoWriMo novel, although by how much, I can’t be sure).

But the month itself was a success. We had a bigger turnout for our Kick-Off and TGIO parties than EVER before in the 5 years I’ve been ML’ing (holy cow, has it been that long?) and certainly in the 11 seasons I’ve participated. We had a really awesome ‘writing under the influence’ night out at a bar/restaurant in Monroeville. I have gained more new Twitter pals than I would have thought possible over a 30-day period, and we’ve actually made Facebook groups in the hope of *not* having to wait 11 months to see each other again.

And so, when midnight hit on December 1, there was a little twinge of sadness in my heart. Yes, I was excited to have hit 50k and finished, and yes, I was excited to get back to doing all those *other* things I do in my life (except the laundry), but as much as I want November to be done while it’s going on, I also want it to never end. NaNoWrimo has been an important part of my life for over a decade now, and while it might just lose its magic if it was more than once a year, I still wish I could grab every minute of November 30th and stick it there in time so it didn’t end.

For now though, I’ve got to make the most of my non-NaNo time and keep polishing and querying and blogging here. I’ve got to leave behind Daniel and Jani’s world (sorry guys, your world was kind of lame, although I admit that one was mostly my fault), and dive back into Bridget and Alex and Simon’s world. And I’m happy about that, but I’m also sad. Because, you know, you can be both.

But right now, there’s one more thing on my NaNoWriMo plate, and that’s sending the month off as we started it: at midnight, with some of my favorite people. TGIO Party 2012 Round 2 starts in an hour, because sometimes, you just aren’t ready to fully say goodbye at midnight on December 1.

What It Will Be Like

A few weeks ago, on a west-bound train, I decided to do a bit of soul-searching, and in the course of it, I decided it was time to Get Serious about my blogging life. I blog in a few locations, my decade-old LiveJournal (that one’s friends-only, so I can be as emo and dramatic as I want), my dog’s blog, and my main blog, 101 Achievements, which is the local-interest blog I do with my husband.

And of course, there’s this blog, that I’m supposed to write in regularly, so that someday, when I’m famous, you can all go back and read about how little ol’ me got my start. (Well, that’s not the ONLY reason I’m supposed to be writing in this blog regularly, but I like to think of that as motivation).

So, I made a vow to myself to update this weekly, on Sundays. As this is the third Sunday that has passed since I made the train-time decision, and the first time that I’m actually posting, you can see how well this is going.

The problem, in part, is that I worry that no one will care what I’ve got to say. With my 101 Achievements blog, I don’t worry: we do fun things, review restaurants, drink fancy booze, and attend all the fun free events this city has to offer. That blog is designed to be about excitement. We started it to help us get out of a ‘go to work, go home, watch sports, go to the bar’ rut that we had gotten into, so there’s never anything boring going on there.

But in my writing life? I’m not a JK Rowling or a Sophie Kinsella. I’m just Fox, whose anxiety prevents her from sending query letters, who prefers to sit in coffeeshops and listen to sad music when she needs inspiration. Fox, who is participating in her eleventh NaNoWriMo, even though not one of them has thus far been published, and only going a little crazier for it.

And who is that interesting to? Me. My mom (hi Mum!). My dog Lucy, although she’s excited when I say anything to her, whether or not it’s related to my so-called writer life.

And that’s why, when writing on a train, somewhere outside of Harrisburg, I decided I need to be more regular about this. Because I know there are other people out there like me, people who have written something, something that they sometimes believe in enough to want the rest of the world to have a chance to believe in it too. And those people, probably also like me, like to read almost as much as they like to write. And they probably like to do the crazy-sounding inspiration-seeking things that I do, like sit in gardens waiting for faeries to show up, or go on long walks while listening to dramatic songs and pretending they’re starring in the music video (at least I hope that last part is true, or I’m going to feel rather silly).

When I’m published, this is what I think it will be like:

Travel to obscure independent book stores to meet fans and sign their books.
Hours spent in front of a notebook in Cambridge bars.
Cross-country train trips my publisher will send me on so I can finish the Next Book.
Late nights spent responding to fan mail.
Having Maks (or Louis or Tristan) for a partner on Dancing with the Stars. (Sorry, a girl can dream!)
Lots and lots and lots of tax-deductible brooding in coffeeshops with sad music as an important part of the craft.

But now, what’s it’s like is just this: Fox, in front of a computer, obsessing over Twitter, snatching up travel arrangements whenever she can get her hands on them, scribbling things in notebooks in the middle of the night (only some of which are readable in the morning), and struggling through poorly-executed-but-initially-promising stories every November. Oh, and lots and lots of brooding in coffeeshops with sad music as an important part of the craft, but without the tax-deductible part.

And since I know that I’m not the only crazy broad out there going through this, I’m going to commit to keeping you all informed on how this part of the story goes. Twice a week. Every Sunday, and every Wednesday. And maybe some Fridays, if I’m feeling inspired. Because every famous writer started out a little like this, and if I’m going to make it, I’ve got to enjoy every step of the journey. Starting now. Feel free to come along for the ride.

Oh. Mah. Gawd.

Today, I had a glass of wine at one of my favorite afternoon-glass-of-wine spots, and I took out this ridiculous calendar (I’m talking ridiculous, as in, I mightaswell have written ‘wake up’ and ‘take some deep breaths’ in the details), and I made a list of WRITING GOALS ON SPECIFIC DAYS.

Tonight’s writing goal? “Query letter revamp.”

And… I DID IT!

Okay, okay, before I get out of control here, I should add that I did a *first draft* of the new query. Because, well, it’s almost midnight, and I have a fourteen-hour shift to put in tomorrow bright and early. So like… Saturday night, query-revamp will be complete. (Besides, all us rl srs writers know you have to let something sit for a minute before you edit it!)

One of the biggest faults of the old query was that the voice wasn’t present. My book is about death (and Death, the man himself). And there are serious subjects. But what makes it not a Debbie Downer of a teen romance is that it’s funny. (I mean, I think it’s funny, which, depsite what you may think, is not like your mum saying you’re pretty.) And you couldn’t tell that whatsoever from the old query.

It was like the polyester pants of query letters, that old one. This is a light, breathable fabric that won’t rip in the crotch if you pull out some Prince-style splits to celebrate.

Anyway. I’m pumped. I’ve breathed new life into my query, which makes me actually feel like I kind of sort of might want to query again. (Gosh, isn’t it wonderful when a word can be a noun and a verb and an adjective? I mean, probably, if the word isn’t ‘query’, which, well, I’m still emotionally scarred from this whole process.)

I feel like I was looking at that old query, going, “Oh hell no, no one is going to want to read this thing!” Because I think the key to this book is the humor. I think the humor holds it together when it would otherwise smother you with the Tough Stuff. And it’s a fine line, in YA stuff that deals with death and sexy grim reapers and hockey.

(I really hope the hockey bits aren’t a deal breaker. I guess I should start by querying Canadian agents.)

I need to get to bed, but I wanted to share. (Full disclosure: what I really want to do is do an end-zone dance and throw Gatorade on my husband. But I don’t have any Gatorade, because I’ve been trying so hard not to get hangovers.)

You’ll hear from me again once I press that shiny ‘send’ button on some agent emails!

Adverbily Yours (She Signed Saucily)

If you’re the type of broad who’s trying to make a go of it as a serious writer, I’d venture to guess that there’s a chance you’re terrified of adverbs. If you ever took a course on short fiction (or worse, short-short fiction), I have a feeling it’s quite possible that adverbs feel like curse words to you – and not the kind of curse words that make you feel great and badass to say; the kind of curse words that just sort of pop out of your mouth at inappropriate moments in front of the wrong people. Like, you know, saying ‘balls’ in front of your sweet old grandmother, on accident.

Or, you know, accidentally saying ‘balls’ in front of your sweet old grandmother.

I live in fear of adverb slippage. Letting an adverb out in a piece of short ficiton has come to feel like the writer’s equivalent of being an actress and having your boobs pop out on a red carpet event (stay with me here, I know I’m just a few paragraphs in and have already said ‘boobs’ and ‘balls,’ but I’m going somewhere with this). This fear of adverbs goes back to an introductory fiction course I took in undergrad where, prior to the lesson on, ‘hey guys, don’t use adverbs,’ we turned in pieces to our professor, and she circled every adverb on the page before returning them to us. And then wrote the number. And circled the number. Ouch. (To her defense, I think she had mixed our class up with another class in which she *had* covered the adverb faux-pas a week prior, but that critique still stings to this day.)

And I get it, I truly do. Why say ‘he whispered quietly,’ when we all know that the word ‘whispered’ implies the ‘quietly’ bit? It’s drilled into our brains that adverb-use is a lazy writer’s coverup. “Oh, sorry editor, I didn’t have time to find the word ‘shouted,’ so ‘said loudly’ was just going to have to work.”

But I know that adverbs have their place. They must, or they wouldn’t be something we dedicate lessons to in school. (Although, I admit it made me a little bitter to have learned how to use adverbs only to be later told that I *shouldn’t* be using them. Confusing!) The problem is, how on earth do you know when you’re doing it right?

Okay. I know. Writing is subjective. What one person enjoys, makes another person cringe. Somewhere out there is a dude who just waits for adverbs to slip themselves into sentences. Somewhere, there’s a dude who’s mad at our writing professors for shaming us into a lack of adverb-age, and I’m sure he views each and every ‘happily’ and ‘excitedly’ like an old friend returning from the war.

But for those of us who are just average people without boners for adverbs (I am so, SO sorry about the lack of naughty-language-filter I’m employing tonight, by the way), there’s a fine line of adverb use. And where do we draw the line?

Personally (haha!), I think genre and point of view have a lot to do with this. I primarily write YA, and I always write in first person. This leads my narrators to use more adverbs than I immediately feel comfortable with – they’re teenage girls, and everything is ‘totally’ and ‘really’ and ‘seriously’. Were my characters lawyers or introspective astrophysicists, they wouldn’t talk that way. But they’re not. They’re teenage girls who get a little overdramatic a lot of the time. They also shrug and sigh and make lists about ‘must-have’ qualities in boys they want to date. Seriously.

How do I know too many ‘totallys’ are too many? I don’t. I try to go with what feels natural. (Just for my own curiosity’s sake, I totaled these up in my present WIP: we’ve got 42 ‘totally’s, 18 ‘seriously’s, and 34 ‘absolutely’s across a 76,000 word novel. So yeah, maybe some of those could go, but they make up a percentage of a percentage of the words in the book.) Should my book fall into the hands of an editor, and should she ask me to cut out some of my girls’ Valley-speak (I mean, they’re totally not that Valley… err… nevermind), I wouldn’t fight her. Or, I wouldn’t fight her too much. But they don’t feel like they’re cluttering up the text, just giving a little piece of style to the voice of the girls, who are absolutely the coolest gals I’ve ever written.

I’m curious as to what other writers think about this. Since I don’t read by e-book, it’s hard for me to look at other comparable books and see where they stand (I’m not so curious about this question that I’m going to go through all the Beautiful Creatures books and highlight adverbs), but I do wonder. What rules do you have about adverbs? Do you try to avoid them at all costs, or do you embrace them when the moment strikes? Do you find yourself using them more when writing certain genres than when writing others? Are you also an almost-30-year-old who just realized, while writing a blog post, that she might still speak like a 19-year old? And if so, do they have support groups for broads like us?

Graciously, Curiously, Absolutely Totally Sincerely Yours,

Where Are You Going

Oh, why hello! Fancy that – I’ve got a blog out here in the… err… blogosphere. Who knew?!?

Okay, okay. I knew. I knew all this time (almost 2 months!) that I had this blog sitting here, and that I was abandoning it. But it was all for some really good reasons – I swears it! Here’s what I’ve been up to:

~ I went to a blogger conference in NYC. It was really not the right conference for me, the writing/food/wine/local interest blogger. It felt like it was more for business owners who wanted to learn how to do blogging and social media for their companies (interestingly enough, the conference actually announced a name-change at the end of the week which removed the word ‘blog’ from the title entirely, which I think makes sense).

~ More importantly, I spent a lot of time cutting classes at this blogger conference to do things like run along the Hudson River, ride the Central Park carousel (tipsy!), and hang around in bars drinking Cosmopolitans and working on my book. Oh, and I also crashed a Tuesday night karaoke and totally won over a crowd of New Yorkers with my rendition of “Edge of Glory”!

~ I tried (and failed!) to read 50 Shades of Grey. Couldn’t do it! Each sentence I read was like a reinforcement of the ‘Fox is actually a 12-year-old boy trapped in an almost-30-year-old woman’s body’ theory. I couldn’t stop giggling! She said words like ‘shaft’ all the time! (I’m giggling now, sitting in this crowded coffeeshop, just thinking about the word ‘shaft’ haha!)

~ I worked on Back Yardageddon, the multi-year yard project my husband and I have been tackling. We dug a driveway (well, he did most of the driveway bits, but I did help!) and leveled out an uneven patch of our back yard, and this weekend will hopefully have the right weather to be able to plant grass seed and make my backyard a little more-finished.

~ I watched my Los Angeles Kings finally win the Stanley Cup (from the comfort of my own couch, in the presence of my tiny Luc Robitaille shrine, since, you know, we don’t live in Burbank anymore)!! I’ve been a Kings fan since the ’90s, and it was so exciting to see them actually be good. May have developed a mini-crush on Jonathan Quick. That dude is a beast between the pipes! (Ha! That sounds dirty! 12-year-old Fox is cracking up!)

Oh, and then the past two weekends… It’s been a total Dave-fest.

In the event that you aren’t Dave-sessed (see what I did there?) like me, what I’m talking about is the fantastic and always inspiring Dave Matthews Band. I know I talk about the Red Hot Chili Peppers quite a bit in here, and how inspiring they are to me, but there are three other bands that have that same life-preserving effect on me, and one of them is DMB (the other two are the Cure and the Slip, since I’m sure you’re wondering ;)). I’ve been going to see Dave live since the year 2000, and this past weekend marked my 25th show!

While I like listening to their studio stuff from time to time, there is nothing quite like the experience of a live DMB show. Each member of the band is insanely talented, and their songs have a way of sweeping you from the earth and into some mystical jam-land where life is wonderful and everything makes perfect sense all of the time. For me, going to a Dave show is like going to church: I come out feeling spiritually, creatively, and emotionally refreshed. When I get home from a show, I just want to bust open notebooks and run all of my pens dry scribbling down stories. (And make hush puppies, apparently. True story, we drove all the way to Wisconsin to see two shows at Alpine Valley Music Theater, and I toted my little deep fryer the whole way there so I could make hush puppies after the concerts. Dang were they good.)

And so now, here I am, post-summer-tour (got our four shows of the summer crammed into two back-to-back weekends by random chance this year), with all of this positive energy swirling around in me, and… nowhere? to let it out.

But it can’t be ‘nowhere.’ I have to use this energy, use this drive, to get back on the writing wagon.

You see, although I’ve been busy in the past two months, and I have done a bit of writing here and there, I haven’t… ::very quiet inside voice:: really been doing enough.

Hello everyone, my name is Fox, and I’ve accidentally let my characters fall into a state of disrepair, much like the poor NeoPet I adopted in 1997 and haven’t really fed since. (Okay guys, don’t judge me, I just spent the last 15 minutes remembering first my username and password so I could log in, and then what foods Kacheeks like to eat, because poor RutherfordTheBrave was ‘dying’ from lack of food! And now he’s unhappy, so I’m going to have to spend another 15 minutes playing ball with him!)

Ummm…. right. Where were we? Oh, that’s right, talking about how I’ve abandoned Bridget, Simon, and Alex the way I’d abandoned poor little Rutherford up there!

But look – I just invested all those minutes and NeoPoints to bring my baby Kacheek back to fighting form, so isn’t that a good sign? Aren’t I now going to feed and nourish and play with my characters? (You know, it would really help if your novel’s characters could appear with a sad, cute graphic and stats like ‘unhappy’ and ‘famished’ to motivate you!)

All joking aside, the answer is yes. Yes, I am going to recommit myself to taking care of my kids. Because in the end, isn’t that what our characters are, our kids? A very wise woman (my therapist) said to me, “You’re like Bridget’s older sister. If you don’t go out there and tell her story, no one’s going to get a chance to know it.” And that makes sense. We writers are the spokespeople for our characters, the creators of their biographies. And if I’m not there to tell the world about Bridget and Simon and Alex and their adventures, then no one is going to know.

And I know I’m biased, since, well, I made them up, but I think it would be a real shame if no one got to know them!

So to answer the (DMB-inspired) title to this blog entry, where I’m going is back into the world of my novel. I’m going to rededicate myself to making this story known. I’m going to write little notes on a calendar that say ‘writing date!’ and then I’m going to take myself out for them (even if they occur in a bar at noon). I’m going to delve back into my list of agents and send that query letter out like I’m a hippy outside a concert venue with a stack of show flyers (except that the agents will hopefully *want* my book more than most people want those show flyers). And I’m going to keep this thing updated with my progress on all ends.

Where am I going? Tomorrow, I am going to my calendar, my planning notebook, and a coffeeshop. And, most importantly, I’m going to Bridget’s house, and we’re going to have a nice long chat (over some good Dave tunes).

Writing on Running

Ever finish a book and just feel… electrified by it? Like you couldn’t stop reading, but were torn by the knowledge that if you kept reading it, it would eventually end, and then… then what?

Totally going through that right now. I know that I write fiction (and blogs, which are, I suppose, an odd form of ‘creative nonfiction,’ a term that still weirds me out), and I know I said I was going to write about what I was reading in that field, but I just finished an incredible nonfiction book (creative nonfiction, since we’ve already gone there) that has made my mind race a hundred miles an hour and my nerves ache for something crazy and primal and insane.

Let’s start this from the long, convulted route:

Last year, I watched a video from Runner’s World in which they interviewed Flea, who was running the Los Angeles marathon for the first time, and wearing these crazy shoes that looked like the toe-socks I used to wear all the time during ballet barre (true story, not to break anyone’s heart, but we dancers don’t always wear our proper shoes in rehearsal). Flea, in his late-40s, randomly decided to run the marathon after training for only a handful of months, in part to raise money for the Silverlake Conservatory (a non-profit music school for kids that Flea co-runs in LA).

What motivated him to start running? He read a book that inspired him and made him think about running in a different way. The book? Born to Run by Christopher McDougall.

While I wasn’t sure if I’d be interested in this book, I was definitely interested in Flea’s story. I’d just done my first half-marathon (walked it), and I was feeling ready to start running. Flea’s interview and his infectious enthusiasm were the things that pushed me over the edge into Runner-Land.

And finally, a full year later, I decided to check out this book at last. As I mentioned, it’s not the type of book I typically read (I tear through books similar to what I write: lots of YA paranormal stories, for the most part), but I decided to give it a try, since I’ve started to seriously get back into running (that’s another long, convoluted story for another day, the injury that kept me off the road for the better part of 6 months).

By the end of the first chapter, I was hooked. The book, while packed with factual information and statistics about running, runners, and even evolution, is also fascinating. It tells the story of Caballo Blanco, an American who embedded himself in the world of the Tarahumara, a native people living in the Copper Canyons of Mexico, who also happen to be the most insanely good runners of all time. It’s not only skill that makes them so amazing at their art: it’s endurance, perseverence, and also just pure joy.

The book does more than just tell the story of some wicked good marathoners though. McDougall weaves in facts about the science of running, and why the American approach to running (i.e. our obsession with gear and artificial improvement) clashes in so many ways with that science. It tells the story of ultramarathoners, native people who live to run (and live because they run), and opens up an entire world of questions about running.

What got me in the end (spoiler alert!) was the unifying reality of why we run. Sure, there’s competition in a marathon, with prize money and corporate sponsorship and fame to the winners, but there’s also that incredible feeling of running in a pack of other runners, of being shoulder-to-shoulder with people you haven’t ever even spoken to, yet who are tied to you forever, even if just because of those hours you’re racing together. It’s the surge of pure energy that comes from running that unifies us, that breathes life into us (even when we feel like we’re going to run out of breath).

For me, writing is not just the act of sitting down at my computer or notebook and making words happen in an order that forms a story. To write, I need a soundtrack. I need music that moves me, propels me forward. I need snacks to munch on (seriously, writing makes me so hungry, I can’t explain it). I need the right location for the moment, whether it’s my office or a coffeeshop or a restaurant who doesn’t matter if I’ve got my notebook open while I’m sipping a glass of wine.

But I also need mental clarity. I need a mind that is open, and less anxious. Sure, writing helps clear out anxiety, but the writing that’s going to be readable, that generally has to come from a clear and open space. Running, even with my busted-up back and my pathetic excuse for lung capacity, gives me that clarity.

Just like I sometimes need to slip away into the woods, or off to the beach, or to a really quiet library with really dense carpeting, just to clear my head so I can focus on writing, I’m beginning to feel like I need running in that way. It’s time with me, the road, my Fire-Island-dance-club running mix, and my characters, running along beside me, and whispering me their secrets between intervals.

I ate up every single bite of this book, and as I finished the final page, I felt this rush of energy, like I couldn’t tell if I wanted to immediately lace up my running shoes and hit the pavement, or if I wanted to drive off to Cook Forest with my notebook for the night, or if I could get all of my thoughts to settle down into a straight line long enough to write this blog entry. (I guess it’s clear which of those I finally decided on ;))

One of the most fascinating things to me about writing is the different process we all go through. Every writer has his or her own method – this comes up regularly at our NaNoWriMo Write-Ins, as we compare and contrast methods to make the writing work. For me, it’s become more and more clear how much I need to tie into both my physical and mental well-being in order to make the word-magic happen. I am incredibly grateful to have found this out, and grateful to have found a book that’s helped me get even closer to putting all the pieces together.

Even if you don’t presently run, check this book out. It’s inspiring any way you look at it, and who knows, one of these foggy mornings, I might see you out there with your characters, chasing their stories across the pavement too.

Writer’s Retreat Update

I can’t lie: this trip is pretty great. I haven’t written anything truly monumental (yet – the night is still young!), but I have made quite a lot of progress thought-wise. Also, being out and about at Presque Isle has just been good for my soul. I grew up in the woods (my earliest writing escape location, before I was old enough to go to coffeeshops on my own, was this random hunters’ treestand in the woods behind my parents’ house), and I just need to return there every month or so to plug myself back in to… myself.

So far on this trip, I:

~ Was waved at by an Amish family standing on an overpass above the highway.
~ Got lost in a TallyHo parking lot.
~ Finished the first draft of my synopsis (which weighs in at 6 pages… hence the ‘first draft’ part).
~ Went running along Lake Erie.
~ Took Miss Lucy to the beach for the first time, where she was confused and perplexed by how to walk in sand.
~ Went to a supercute coffeeshop called Brick House Coffee, where I rewrote that pesky first paragraph.
~ Had a delicious Caesar salad, even though it was at a chain restaurant (O’Charley’s).
~ Also had the best portabella sandwich of my life at Pufferbelly’s, a restaurant that used to be a fire station.
~ Sat on a park bench on the beach and watched the sun set while making notes about my novel in my notebook.
~ Failed to pull up close enough to a drive-thru ATM, and accidentally only reached as high as the ‘Spanish’ button instead of ‘English’ and had to try to translate ATM directions on the fly.

Now it’s time to start the paring-down process of the synopsis, and then maybe put in a little extra time on the first chapter before bed. Lucy and I are off to home around 10 tomorrow morning, but I think we’re going to sneak in one last little romp around Presque Isle before we get on the road.

I sense a weekend of query-sending ahead of me… :)