Down A Rabbit Hole

There are good rabbit holes – the ones that take you to new places, experiences and people that you wouldn’t have encountered if you hadn’t taken that left turn at Albuquerque:


And there are bad rabbit holes – the ones where you spiral down an ever worsening pile up of confusing, discouraging and worst of all to the writer – distracting clickbait.


It’s hard to tell the difference.

Lately, one of the many rabbit holes that have been vying for my attention has been the D-R-A-M-A in the YA community (I know, it’s always there, but it’s been getting worse) over a book called AMERICAN HEART by Laura Moriarty.

You can read about it here and here if you haven’t already been watching it unfold in the last few days. But be warned, I’m sending you down rabbit holes and not necessarily the good kind.

I’m not here to give my opinon on this latest drama (at least not in this post!) but I do want to talk about the fine line between being informed about the industry and being distracted by it.

As an author, knowing the publishing industry is part of your job. As is reading, as is educating yourself about marketing, contracts, publicity and myriad other parts of the publishing world. It’s all on you – no matter how wonderful your agent, editor, crit partners and readers are. You have to know what the state of the industry is, what deals are being made and what kids are reading, what agents are asking for. It’s A. Lot.

But that’s all the extra stuff. The necessary but very tangential parts to the one vital thing you must, MUST do.

You need to write.

You need to write.

You need to write.

If you aren’t writing, it won’t matter how well-versed you are on the latest drama. If you aren’t writing, you’re not contributing to the work that the drama is all about. It may seem (and boy does it feel) satisfying to be up on all the latest gossip, but it may be doing you–and your writing– NO DAMN GOOD.

So think about it. When the next drama-rama comes around (and it will!) read up on it. Think about what it may or may not mean for you, for readers and writers. And then treat it like it’s an episode of your guiltiest reality TV pleasure. Because you have work to do. And ultimately, only the work matters.


That Gross Feeling in the Pit of Your Stomach

Does anyone else get that gross feeling in the pit of your stomach when getting feedback? I do and it’s terrible. It makes me want to binge eat a bag of chocolate (check) and wash it down with too much wine (check check!).

Feedback is SO HARD because so much of what we’re really looking for when we ask someone to read our stuff is just a feeling of not being alone, that I’m-in-this-car-with-you-no-matter-where-you-want-to-go feeling. And getting feedback can sometimes feel like your passenger is all like, “Stop! Don’t go there! Don’t take those turns that way! What are you doing? Can you even drive this thing?”

Hence the gross stomach thing.

But there is a difference between the kind of feedback we like to get (Don’t change a thing!) and the kind we need (WerkWerkWerkWerkWerk). And while it’s nice to have someone read and make us feel special, what we need is someone to read our work and make us be better.

So as someone who gives a lot of feedback (and gets a fair amount!), here are my top three strategies for getting feedback:

(1) HONE IN ON THE POSITIVE THINGS FIRST. Ask your CP or Betas which parts they liked and get them to expand on why they liked those aspects. Oftentimes as CPs, we are so interested in helping to improve the work, we forget to say why the piece is worth improving.

(2) LISTEN FOR THE SPIRIT BEHIND THEIR CRITIQUES. So many times, I get feedback like, “You should change that girl’s clothing.” And if I took the feedback at face value, I would interpret that as: MY CP doesn’t like my character’s dress. Well screw her, I like pink! But the more important question to ask is, What is behind that comment? Why doesn’t my CP like that dress? What, for example, is discordant about it and the character? By pushing your CPs and your Betas to get at the spirit behind their comments rather than the comments themselves, you can get the most out of your feedback.

(3) REMEMBER THAT THIS IS WHY YOU WRITE. Your book is not a diary. It is not sealed with a dime-store lock, meant for your eyes only. It is a thing that exists to be read and to be reacted to and to be engaged with. So take a second to remind yourself, that that is exactly what is happening. You are an author of your WIP and these are your first readers. You are writing for them just as much as you are writing for the nameless, faceless human beings who will pick your book up at a B&N someday. So enjoy it. As much as possible.

The Ears Have It

I scratched my cornea. Not on purpose. I was chasing a chicken (all my best stories start that way…) and as I lurched at Queen Eleanor under the forsythia bush, a branch insinuated itself into my right eye. It was more like a ‘stab’ than an insinuation, but you get the idea.

One trip to the ER (antibiotic, white-knuckle debris extraction, percocet, home) later I was in bed, unable to do any of the things I like to do when I’m laid up, namely read, crit, write, (read) watch movies. NOTHING OCULAR was on the menu.

Which is why I turned to my sometime-forgotten friends, my ears.

Audiobooks are at least 50% only as good as the narrator – and these narrators are amazing. And the story -it’s a love story and those who know me know that THAT is not my thing. It’s also hopeful, funny, awkward and sweet – all things that are not my things. But D&R are definitely my thing. I love listening to them fall in love.

Thank the good gods that Kelly and JJ are back from their hiatus with full episodes of their podcast on all things writerly. Listening to them is like sitting next to publishing people at the bar and eavesdropping on their conversation because you’re stuck with your day-job work friends, who are doing shots of limoncello and crying about not hooking up with Ross from accounting. What I’m saying is, it’s a balm for the writing soul and absolutely a must listen.

I started listening to WWPOF while reading Mindy McGinnis’ awesome book, THE FEMALE OF THE SPECIES. The handling of gender norms in that book is so intriguing, I wanted to know more about Mindy. There’s a lot to know. She’s a prolific writer, blogger and podcaster and has tons of resources on he website including book reviews and interviews with published authors – which are amazing because they really try to reveal something new about the publishing process. Every Monday morning I listen as Mindy asks unexpected questions and gets unusual answers from established and debut authors. Definitely add Writer Writer to your playlist.

And so, puffed up eyeball or no, I *worked* today. I soaked my brain in words and craft and ate lots of Utz potato chips. Which is probably due to the percocet.

What are your best kept audio secrets?

NJSCBWI Conference Or…

…a drink at 11:30AM is fine if you are learning!

pool hall girls

This past weekend I put my job and family life in a box, shoved it under the bed and went all the way to beautiful downtown New Brunswick to get my author game ON.

Maybe (like when Jenny and Lynda Gene and I tried to play pool in the 15 minutes between sessions and did so, badly) it wasn’t always pretty. But it was enlightening. Invigorating. Inspirational and damn. good. fun.

This is why writing conferences are so important. You can nerd out to your heart’s content about the things that usually bore your friends and family. Your conference family UNDERSTANDS that you want to talk about how hard it is to write that perfect query letter. Or how you are having legit heart palpitations because you’re about to do your first ever agent pitch. Or how it’s okay to have your mouth full of dessert at dinner because the agent sitting next to you does too. It feels awesome to ‘come home.’

Among an embarrassment of wonderful workshops, here are my favorites:

Let’s Talk Marketing with Doreen McGettigan
Doreen unleashed a metric ton of amazing information on us. My hand could not write fast enough to keep up with her – no fault of hers, there was just a lot to take in! I need a marketing plan for my book. I need to learn what goes into that marketing plan! Doreen had the answers and even better, questions that I need to ask myself about what I want and what I can do. It was an amazing start to the conference and got Jenny and I revved up! Check out Doreen’s site here.

Writing Marginalized Voices in Children’s Books w/ Emma Otheguy & Andrea Loney
Okay, first of all, look at this amazing:


Andrea Loney’s lovely BUNNYBEAR about a bear that is very different… and very sweet. Emma Otheguy’s MARTÍ’S SONG FOR FREEDOM is BILINGUAL which I love! It’s also wonderful. Both these books have gone on youngest’s bookshelf.

It was a joy hearing Andrea and Emma talk about marginalized voices and how writing books for  all kinds of children (and bears and bunnies too) gives those children a mirror to see themselves reflected in the world. It tells our kids, you have a place. Your stories are important.

It was a no judgement zone and an important discussion about how to write marginalized characters (representation) and how not to (appropriation) and lots of other good stuff in between. I heart these ladies. Find Andrea here and Emma here.

Developing a Gay or Questioning Character in Middle-Grade Fiction with
Mary E. Cronin
This was my favorite workshop. Mary Cronin has such a generous way of ‘teaching’ that it feels less like knowledge transfer and more like talking to a *really* smart person over cups of tea and pound cake.* I’ve been aware for a while (and have worked to be inclusive in my own work) of LGBTQ characters in YA, but there’s less representation in Middle Grade. I suspect that comes from a misunderstanding of what sexual identity means and when it develops (spoiler alert, doesn’t equate having sex) or a general ignorance on the part of readers. I’ve had the experience of hearing that my daughter’s friend’s mom didn’t allow her to read Raina Telgemeier’s DRAMA because there was a gay character in it and that ‘wasn’t appropriate for her age.’ Can you imagine being 11 and being told, implicitly or not, that your feelings are not appropriate? I am not on board with that. NOPE.

Mary had so many wonderful ideas on how, where and what kinds of experiences would make wonderful parts of a character’s discovery of self – and make a great story. Got me excited to try writing an MG! You can find Mary here.

Of course my brain is bursting with ideas from this conference. I’m practically drooling words over here. That’s the good work that going to a good conference does. So where are YOU going this summer?

*or gin and cheese straws. I’m up for either.

What’s Next?

You could say I spend most of my time in an alternate reality (as writers do) in order to escape reality, but actually, it’s to understand reality.

Reality is HARD. BAFFLING. Often it’s ridiculous enough to seem like fiction. Lately, reality has been pulling me away from my beautiful fiction. Yeah, I’m using the word ‘reality’ as a stand-in for ‘politics’. You guys are smart.

One of my cures for politics (other than being a pain-in-the-ass to elected officials) is to watch THE WEST WING. Martin Sheen is my TV dad. Watching him in anything is a joy. But watching him as the president. It soothes, it really does.

I love when he says, What’s Next? If you’ve seen the TV show at all you know that means “What’s next?” and ALSO means “I’m done talking about the other thing, we’re moving on.”

THIS IS HARD when you are a writer. Moving on to another book when you’ve spent months if not YEARS on that book is freaking HARD.

But there comes a point where your job is over. You need to pass your baby off to the next stage of it’s development. It could be to beta readers. It could be to agents you are querying. Whatever that pass off looks like, it will be painful. How do you know you are done? How do you know it’s ready? How do you know it’s the right time?

You don’t.

Or rather, you can’t know that, until you pass the word-baby along. And because people aren’t (yet) robots, it will take time for them to get back to you with any kind of feedback. You cannot wait for them. Time is a finite resource, friends. You need to ask yourself, “What’s Next?”

Even if it’s half-assed, even if you only have the vaguest notion of what you’ll write next, or if you LITERALLY have not even thought of it, Think Of It. You’ve been stuck in the alternate reality of your book for a very long time. It seems realer to you than any other story you can conceive of. You may even feel like any other ideas are flimsy in comparison (of course they are; they’re embryo-ideas). Regardless, you have to pull your head out of your fully gestated book and start noodling around for the next book.

Maybe your goal was to write ONE BOOK. If so and you did it, go ahead and knock off. Drink a beer or a Red Bull or a White Lady, you’ve earned it. But if you plan, as I do, to have a Sustainable Writing Life, you need to say, in your best Martin Sheen voice: