Monday, January 31, 2011

Goals For The Week - 1/31/10

My friend Melissa does a weekly post on Monday where she goes over her goals for the week and reviews her progress for the past week's goals. Since Monday is my writing day anyway (I have my weekly writing chat with my awesome writing group on Mondays and then I head over to my CP's house and do a little critiquing), I figured I would shamelessly steal this idea from her and do a weekly check-in post on Mondays. (I hope that's okay, Melissa!)

Honestly, I really need some more accountability. I've had some issues staying on task with my writing lately, and I don't have anyone to answer to when I don't get anything done. I set a goal to have my WIP finished awhile back, and that date has now come and gone. I need to get myself in gear, friends! And I need you to help me!

Goals for the week of 1/31

* Send in my application for the SCBWI OC/IE Spring Retreat
* Finish re-writing the scene in Ch 11 that has been giving me a hard time
* Work Julie's comments into Ch 2
* Get some eyeballs on the revised Ch 1-11
* Read at least one book
* Pay parking ticket that has my community college transcript on hold so I can finish MFA program application

I think those are good goals to start off with. We'll see how my week goes. Aside from my grades being due tomorrow, I don't have too much on the calendar. I should be able to get this stuff done.

Do you have any big goals for yourself this week? And how do you hold yourself accountable? I need ideas.

Thursday, January 27, 2011

Sleepy Time

I get pretty jealous when I read blogs and tweets and hear about all of these writers who stay up until all hours of the night getting stuff done.

I just can't do it. I CAN'T. I NEED to be in bed by 11pm or I can't function.

I'm really wishing I was one of those people who could be perky and productive with only 5 hours of sleep, but, seriously, if I don't get a full eight hours I am completely useless to the world.*

I'm thinking of all of the things I could get done with those extra hours at night. I'm making molasses-like progress on my WIP. I could go three times faster if I didn't need to fall asleep so early! Oh, the blogs I could write! Oh, the books I could read!

And the most irritating thing is that every night this week I have fallen asleep on the couch at around 7 or 8pm.

Don't get me wrong, I LOVE taking naps. But I have precious little time at night after work as it is. And did I mention that these naps have been in the TWO HOUR range? And then I still go to sleep at 11!

I'm blaming it on the fact that it is finals week at school, which is making all of the students INSANE. And insane students turn me into this emotionally exhausted shell of the person I once was. I almost had a nervous breakdown today when they walked in the class and cried, "WHAT? WE HAVE A FINAL TODAY?", when, for the love of Pete, I've been telling them about it every day for the past three weeks.

So I'm thinking that's why I can barely keep my eyes open when I get home these days.**

It's made me sad, though, because I've had so much I wanted to do. I got some great comments on a chapter from a CP that I wanted to implement. I have an online crit group that has been sorely neglected and has tons of stuff that needs my comments. There is the MFA ap essay that I keep writing the really killer first sentence of. And then there is this blog. Man, do I feel bad that all of these people came over from the Mr. Linky's on Tahereh's blog and found that whiny post waiting for them.***

Anyway, today after the kids left my room and I was done crying, I went and got a massage. And I kinda, sorta fell asleep there for a little bit. And now I feel like a new person, and I'm going to try to be productive this evening and NOT fall asleep on the couch at 7pm like the rest of this week.

I'll still have to be in bed by 11, though. There's nothing we can do about that.

*Please spare me the "wait until you have kids!" Why do you think I DON'T have kids?

**Well, maybe Tuesday was because of these tacos we got for dinner. I don't know WHAT was in the tacos, but my husband and I both fell asleep after eating them. He even slept through the Lakers game, so you know there was some serious sedative in those tacos.

***Sorry, new people! Please stick around!

Sunday, January 23, 2011

Identity Crisis

I haven't posted in awhile, which is sort of unlike me. I love blogging, and I really like keeping my blog updated with the latest and greatest in my life. I think I'm having a major identity crisis with this blog, though, and that's keeping me from posting as often as I'd like to.

I have no idea what I want this blog to be.

I started it as a writing blog. But as I read other writing blogs, I find that writers use their writing blogs as a place to dispense writing advice, give tips, stuff like that. Well, let's be clear about something right now...I'm in no place in my writing life to give advice or tips to anyone. I'm soaking up all of the advice I can get, but I'm certainly not dishing it out. And, honestly, I don't feel like I have anything new to say when it comes to writing tips. It's all been done, and if that's what you're here for, I can point you in the direction of a hundred people who can do it a thousand times better than I can.

So, do I want it to be a blog where I keep you posted on my writing life? I don't know, that seems boring.
Today I revised a chapter. I cut out a scene I liked, and it was hard.

Well, my writing progress doesn't even go like that, if we're being honest. My writing group knows well that it goes more like this
ZOMG I HAVE NO PLOT. Please help me, my WIP is nearing 90k words and NOTHING HAPPENS EVER. Please please please help me make it not suck so hard!*
Yeah, I don't really want to subject blog readers to my inner writing neurosis. My writing group can't get away from my e-mails, but you could easily unfollow, and I don't want that.

So, what do I do then? Make it a life blog? I used to have an awesome life blog, but now that I'm a teacher I'm a lot more guarded with my private life online. And while I sometimes do really awesome things, most of the time I am just chilling on the couch with my dog playing around on the internet.

Do I do a mix of everything? Writing, progress, life? Does that give everyone whiplash? Is it better to have one consistent theme? Does anyone even care? Or am I over-thinking this like I over-think everything?

I'm even more confused because I have this book review blog that I have no idea what to do with. Really what I do best is pimping out books that I love, but I already do that somewhere else. Blogs, blogs, everywhere, all stressing me out.

WDYT? What should I do around here? Is it ok to be all over the place?

*FYI, I am currently fixing this problem. Never fear. 

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Tuesday Tunes (5)

It's been awhile since I've done a Tuesday Tunes, so I thought I would share with you what I'm listening to RIGHT THIS MINUTE.

I stumbled upon Matthew Mayfield pretty randomly. I use my hotmail account as my spam and junk mail account, and I generally delete everything in it without reading it at all. But last year a subject line about free music caught my eye, and I opened the e-mail to find a free download to a non-holiday holiday album. I love me some free music, so I clicked, downloaded, and listened. One of the artists on the album was Matthew Mayfield with this song.

(There are only live versions of this song on YouTube, but you really should check out the studio version if you can.)

OMG, I fell in love.

This song spoke to me in a way I can't really explain. The angst! Oh, the angst! I love it. The lyrics to this song are so simple, but some of the lines just gut me. And there is something about that buttery voice of his, I swear, it's like my crack.

I immediately ran to iTunes and downloaded all the Matthew Mayfield I could get my hands on. That's when I found this little gem.

I have listened to this song on repeat SO MANY TIMES. This song is sort of the opposite of Maybe Next Christmas for me. Instead of angst it's all hope and love and those emotions that come along with the promise of a new relationship. With every new person in our lives we are always convinced that this is the one and we won't change our mind about it. But then, of course, life and reality happen and the cracks show. But I love that this song captures all the feelings before the inevitable disappointment and hardship, which, to me, is captured in Maybe Next Christmas.

Matthew Mayfield is excellent writing music. I put on his whole collection and just zone out while I'm writing. I love his lyrics! And his voice! (And he's hot! Bonus!)

Maybe Next Christmas - Matthew Mayfield

Maybe next Christmas,' she used to say
'We'll find a new life and we'll both run away
Maybe next Christmas I won't be with him
Maybe next Christmas we can start fresh again'

Maybe next Christmas we'll have reaped what we've sown
Maybe next Christmas we'll have payed what we owe
Maybe next Christmas we won't be afraid
Maybe next Christmas we'll both be ok

You can't pull the truth out of thin air..
You can't manufacture what ain't there
Maybe next Christmas we'll be by a fire
Maybe next Christmas you won't be liar

Maybe next Christmas I'll be in your arms
the scent of the evergreen keeping us strong
Maybe next Christmas I'll finally get to see
you wearing that dress that you bought just for me

Maybe next Christmas you'll be by my side
& relentlessly prove to me that I'm worth the fight   <-- this line kills me
Maybe next Christmas I'll have more to say
than 'I gave you everything and you gave me away'

You can't pull the truth out of thin air...
You can't manufacture what ain't there
Maybe next Christmas you won't be thinking
that I'm just a criminal and you're still a queen
Maybe next Christmas I'll have more to say
than 'I gave you everything and you gave me away...I gave you everything and you gave me
gave you everything and you gave me away...'

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Not Quite ALA

As most of you know, this past weekend was the ALA Midwinter conference in San Diego. I was so excited to hear that ALA was going to be so close to me, and I immediately started planning when I was going to go, who I was going to meet up with, and which ARCs I was going to try to snag.
What I didn't pay attention to in my meticulous planning was the fact that ALA happened to fall on the same weekend as my trip to the east coast to visit my best friend.* Yeah, this is my life. What are the odds that a major publishing event would be going on in Southern California the same weekend I'm in NYC?! I swear.

So, sadly, I missed ALA. I tried not to combust with jealousy as I read people's updates on Twitter as I was freezing in ways I had never imagined. (I am SO not built for the cold/snow. Like...not at ALL.)

I did get to do some fun bookish things while I was on the east coast, though!

While in CT, home of my bff, I paid a visit to the Mark Twain house. I'm a huge Mark Twain fangirl**, so I was excited to visit his home and learn more about him. I love historical homes anyway, and just picturing Twain hanging out in the places I was walking through was a pretty cool experience.


In NYC I paid a visit to The Strand bookstore. I was in awe of this place. The YA section blew my mind...there, on the shevles, were so many books I have been wanting to get my hands on, but they never have at my local Borders/B&N! Every single YA book I had ever heard of, and many many I had never heard of. They also have a section where they sell ARCs***, so I picked up a couple and pretended I was at ALA, even though I was paying for them, and the books are actually already out now. Close enough, right?

Exploding with happiness in the YA section

I recently read Dash and Lily's Book of Dares by David Levithan and Rachel Cohn, so I had to pay a visit to the Salinger section. I didn't find a red moleskine waiting for me, but I did find a copy of Franny & Zooey. I already have that book, so I bought a copy of Raise High The Roofbeam, Carpenters instead.

I had to climb a ladder, that's why this angle is so weird

Another highlight of my NYC trip was meeting up with two members of my writing group, Shana Silver and Melissa Remshard. I met Shana for the first time a few months ago when she came out to CA for a wedding, so I was so excited to hang out with her again. And this was my first time meeting Melissa. We had a blast talking about everything was just like one of our weekly chats, but in real life, and with margaritas. I'm so happy to be surrounded with such smart, encouraging, and FUN ladies. I feel so lucky, I just wiish I could be surrounded with them IRL instead of just online. Hopefully we can meet up again soon!

(The pictures from this dinner are stuck on my phone and won't come off. It's probably for the best.)

I got home from the east coast late Sunday night, and I went back to work on Monday morning after a three week break. I was tired and disorganized, so Monday night wasn't exactly the ideal time to drive through traffic to LA for a book signing. However, there is a very short list of authors I will move heaven and earth to see if they are in town, and David Levithan is one of them. So even though I still had to unpack, I braved rush hour and made my way up to LA for his his The Lover's Dictionary signing at Book Soup, another amazing bookstore.

They set up his reading in the erotica section. I couldn't stop laughing because right behind his left shoulder is something called The Big Breasts Calendar. 

David Levithan was awesome, as usual, and I loved hanging out with my buddy Tameka and seeing the awesome Khy, who even more of a DL lover than I am. Not that I doubted that it would be, but the reading/signing was well worth the drive and the exhaustion. And I'm SO pumped to read The Lover's Dictionary

So now I'm home and settled, all cuddled on the couch with my little dog and my new books. I'm still seething with jealousy**** over all of the ALA updates I'm reading about on blogs, but I'm happy knowing I had my own fun little book weekend. 

*Does this ever happen to anyone else? You plan one thing for Saturday and another thing for the 5th and then you realize after plans have been made for both that Saturday and the 5th are the same darn day? Even my Google calendar can't outsmart my brain on those ones.

** Here is a drawing one of my former students made for me of me marrying Mark Twain. 

My husband and Nick Carraway from The Great Gatsby are crying in the corner, and there is a bird coming out of Twain's hair. This student always made the best drawings for me. You may recall the drawing of me getting sorted into Ravenclaw...same girl.

*** do they do this? Whatever.

**** I have some jealousy issues. I'm not proud of this. But when I have to miss out on fun things and other people get to do them, I seriously get a little testy. This is why I have a hard time signing off of Twitter. I'm convinced all types of awesome conversations are going to happen the second I X out of it, and it drives me batty.

Sunday, January 2, 2011

A Long Big Sur Recap

It's been about a month since I went to the Big Sur Children's Writing Workshop, so I figured it was about time to post about a recap.

Big Sur is about a five hour drive north of me, but my family members were all freaking out about me making the drive on my own. Now, I don't really like to drive, and I'll be the first to admit that I'm not the best driver on the road, but the way my parents and my husband freaked out at the thought of me driving by myself for that long really had me feeling self-conscious about my driving abilities. What did they think I was going to do? (And did they all forget that I'm a grown woman? I'm thirty*something*, for goodness sake.) I was honestly looking forward to popping in a Harry Potter audio book and enjoying the drive, but the way my mom was getting the vapors, I figured I would have to figure out a compromise. So I ended up flying into San Jose and driving two hours down to Big Sur in a rental car.

The drive was beautiful, and I pulled over several times to take some photos of the coastline. My phone cut out a good while before I pulled up to the Big Sur Lodge...I didn't really realize that I was going to be in the wilderness like this! No wi-fi, no phone service, NO TWITTER. Oh man, I am never this disconnected, so I knew it was going to be an interesting weekend. I mean, we stayed in little cabins! With fireplaces! And we had to do a little hike down to the dining room! It was all very rustic and awesome.

The theme for the weekend was WRITING, obviously, but I loved that the focus here was on actually working. Not just talking about writing, but getting in there and critiquing and revising and getting ish done with your WIP. The ratio of attendees to faculty (authors, editors, and Andrea Brown agents) was 5 to 1, so it was an intimate group of REALLY talented people. I was floored by the people I came into contact with. More than any other writing event I've been to, this one was filled with people who knew their stuff, and I was so impressed by the talent I came into contact with.

My first critique group was awesome. There were five of us and one agent. There was me with my YA contemporary, a YA time travel romance, a YA murder mystery, a MG mystery, and a YA contemporary. We each read from our pages, and then everyone went around with comments. A setup like this is not for the weak of heart when it comes to getting feedback on your writing. Luckily I LOVE IT. I love getting my stuff written all over, and I love when people have comments and suggestions and any kind of reactions to my work. (I have to admit that the best part was hearing them laugh at the funny bits when I was reading aloud. I have been working on this so long that I have started to wonder if the humor is actually funny anymore. It looks like it is. YAY.) Anyway, I got so many suggestions on how to improve my opening, and, like I said, I was blown away at how talented everyone else was.

My second crit group was awesome, too! This was the same setup, five of us and an agent, but new people and a new agent. In this group we had one MG contemporary, a YA dystopian, a YA paranormal, and a YA verse novel. I brought different pages to this group, but I could have brought the same stuff if I wanted to. The coolest part about these crit groups for me was hearing the perspective of the agents on my pages. I have heard from a lot of writers about my opening, but hearing what an agent's reaction as she read it was pretty invaluable feedback to have, and I paid special attention to what both of them told me about my first chapter.

We had lots of free time to write, so I ended up taking everyone's feedback and revising the pages I submitted to both groups. Some people brought new pages to the second meetings, but I really wanted the group feedback on the changes I made. It was great to hear how everyone changed their stuff based on feedback and everyone really improved their work. It was pretty exciting to read around and hear how much better everyone's writing was after our sessions.

We also got a 15-minute one-on-one session with one faculty member where we could discuss our query, our synopsis, or whatever else we wanted to discuss. My meeting was with one of the authors, and she gave me lots of great feedback on my query. (I still haven't touched that, though. I need to finish my ms first, really.)

Like a lot of writers, I'm a bit more on the introverted side. I have learned to hide it well, and even though it seems like I'm a total social butterfly, I really have a difficult time functioning in new and intimidating situations. I was super nervous about not knowing anyone at this thing and making it through all of the meeting people and small talk that the weekend was going to entail, but I'm glad to report that I made it, and I wasn't a total disaster. This is a huge win for Team Jess. I realized that a couple of people I knew from Twitter were there, which was a really rad surprise. Then I had a totally kick-ass roommate and a nice neighbor, so I usually had someone to eat with or walk up and down the hill with. Then all of the agents and faculty were all so approachable and friendly; I ended up eating with or talking to almost all of the agents by the end of the weekend, which was pretty surprising for me. I may have lurked around like a creeper during some of those meals, but at least I wasn't a total weirdo (I hope). This is a big deal!

It ended up being just the weekend I needed to keep me pumped about my WIP. I got awesome feedback, I made some great revisions, people liked my stuff, I met great people, and I didn't spend the whole weekend being a wallflower.

On the drive back to the airport I had some time to kill, so I ended up taking the 17 Mile Drive through Pebble Beach, which is where a lot of these pictures are from. There was some storming going on, so it made for a very dramatic coastline. I took all of these pictures with my camera (HTC EVO) and I am so surprised at how nice they came out. These are better pictures than my old point and shoot.

Anyway, if anyone is thinking about attending Big Sur in the future (they have another one coming up in March), I can't recommend it enough. You will learn so much and be surrounded by an amazing faculty, talented writers, and beautiful scenery. I wish I could spend every weekend like this!