Packing for Press Publish

So, not much more than a month later, I’m off to another conference. I figured this would be good for me, I’ve felt kind of in a rut ever since I moved back to Washington, and since I got a discounted rate it definitely seemed worthwhile to sign up for Press Publish and head to a blogging conference. Not nearly as exciting as the San Francisco Writer’s Conference last month, but hopefully it’ll be worth my time and give me an excuse to hang out in Portland, spend some time with my Oregon friends, and decompress after all this editing. It’ll be a smart move to take a few days to sleep on everything I’ve done to my manuscript before sending it off again.

As usual, I’ll be jamming my professional clothes in my little red backpack, hopping a bus, and hoping for the best. Praise be to irons and friends with couches to crash on! I haven’t spent enough time in Portland, but just about everyone I do know in that city has given me an open invitation to stay with them whenever I’m in town, so I can’t imagine why I don’t head down more often. I feel sort of silly working out of a backpack and riding cheap Bolt Buses down to the event…it seems so strange that I could be mentally and professionally ready to use conferences like this to build my career when I can’t even reasonably afford a hotel room while I’m in town.

I’m really grateful to the friends who give me a place to crash and let me sleep on their couches so that I do have a chance to get up in the morning, iron my clothes, and project an image of utter professionalism and young success. I wonder if people stop and think about where I’m staying and what I do when I’m not pitching my projects and handing out business cards. I wonder if they’d care. So far, it seems like people either think I don’t have talent and don’t care, or they think I do have talent and they do care. It’s nice to know that some pockets of this world still value competency and a willingness to work for better things. If you watched the trending topics on Facebook all day, it’d be easy to lose sight of that.

I’m also not entirely sure how helpful this will be for me. I’m betting that the vast majority of individuals in attendance will be non-fiction writers. Who knows though? Even if there’s no one in my particular industry, it never hurts to have friends all over the board. So, even though I’ve got a few of those seasoned butterflies dancing in my stomach, I’m pretty confident and just generally excited to take off for another nice weekend and reaffirm, yes, this is what I do, this is who I am, this is what I’m good at.

I’ve always said the best function of these sorts of events is renewing my enthusiasm and boosting my confidence in myself. Everything feels so much more real when you’re surrounded by some physical manifestation of your desire to write and reach people.

Perfectionism vs. Practicality

I’m beginninig to wonder if I will EVER find the perfect balance of perfectionism and practicality. Although, to be fair, I’d probably settle for a practical balance of the two if I weren’t caught up in being such a perfectionist.

It’s really hard to know when the right time to show off your manuscript. As I do the requested revisions to my first three chapters, I can’t help but feel that I should just scrap everything and write them completely new. I feel compelled to change everything about every passage and make sure I leave no rock left unturned. There’s a desire to say, “See, I took your advice very seriously and I’m not afraid to kill my darlings, and I just cut up everything for you!” But obviously there’s some good existing stuff in the writing that made people want to see revisions to it in the first place. They did tell me to work on it and come back, not just get it off their desk and out of their sight.

It’s hard even knowing how to tweak it enough that I feel good showing it to others to get their feedback on it first. Zaq is a fantastic developmental editor. He always knows what’s cheesy and over the top, and he can always detect what I’m not stressing enough. He’s read through The Neverland Wars and given me ideas in a word or two that I instantly saw how I could turn into full-fledged plot-thickening chapters. His ideas are the cornstarch of my writing. No mater how good a cook you are, sometimes the stew just needs thickening. It’s really neat to have someone who I can spitball with. Most of my writer friends get too interested in the story and almost want to write it myself (I do the same thing when they come to me with story problems, to be fair, it’s the nature of the craft…) and all my non-writer friends are usually straight-up, flat-out no good at coming up with story ideas. Zaq is a unique case because he’s got that left-brain/right-brain analytical computer guy and creative poet thing going for him.

He got back to me with his feedback yesterday, and I spent all my free-time/work-time (every minute I wasn’t at my best friend’s half-birthday party, basically) working on integrating solutions to the problems he identified. I had to kill a lot of darlings and cut back scenes I liked, but cest la √©scrit. I am, after all, trying to get it perfect…or perfect enough, anyways. I feel like I could spend the rest of my life trying to get this manuscript in absolute tip-top shape, so I always have to force myself to just fling myself back into the arena, head into unknown and just trust that with the time I’ve had and the talent I’ve developed, I’ve managed to do something worthwhile. It’s hard to trust yourself like that, especially when you err on the side of being a perfectionist, but it’s the only reason I’ve gotten as far as I have with every other aspect of my writing. I guess it is just the nature of the game. You have to do things before you’re ready, or you’ll never have the experience you need to be ready for them next time.

Gwen Hoffman: Protagonist

After my last post about YA characters and their ability to be related to, I did a lot of thinking about Gwen, as I went back through my work and edited yesterday. As I try to cut the unnecessary and expand on the drama/tension within the first few chapters of the book, I find myself often staring at passages feeling conflicted and awful about having to cut. I poured a lot of effort into character and situational development in the early chapters, too much in fact. As I go through, it can be hard to know which details are key and which are just bogging the reader down.

The Neverland Wars is a modern-day continuation of the Peter Pan story, and it was a delightful challenge to take Barrie’s story and envision it as a young adult novel…in some ways, I feel like that’s the most radical thing I could do to the story, is make it about people who are, in fact, growing up. I enjoyed the challenge of twisting it this way, while still trying to preserve the themes of the original story through a protagonist who felt a more nuanced version of the confliction Wendy Darling originally faced.

Gwendolyn Hoffman is sixteen-years-old and a junior at Polk High School. She’s joining the speech and debate team, and in a senior math class with her best friend and gossipy counterpart, Claire. She has a massive crush on the charcoal-drawing, football-playing, gamer-geek, jack-of-all-trades senior, Jay, and spends a lot of time worrying about who he’s going to ask to homecoming. In a lot of ways, her teenage years have enforced a normalcy on her that any high school girl would recognize, and maybe even relate to. Adolescence is a double-edged sword, however, and Gwen hates the idea that it’s hurling her towards adulthood. She still feels like she has infinitely more in common with her eight-year-old sister, Rosemary than her home-making mother or the financial adviser that is her father. While she struggles to stay afloat academically and socially at school, Gwen comes home to room full of stuffed animals and favorite children’s books. She still gets to tell her little sister stories and make up games with her, and that whimsy is keeping her acutely aware of how much more fun childhood is than anything that comes after it. Of course, that conclusion puts her at risk of being recruited by the logic of one very whimsical, very magical young boy who shows up at the Hoffman sisters’ windows one night.

Why I Hated YA and How I Converted

I feel like there’s this specific challenge in Young Adult literature when it comes to designing characters. There’s a sort of expectation that they be very strong, everymen teenagers. In adult literature, I encounter protagonists who are radically different than me when it comes to their emotional make-up and philosophical grounding, but in YA I consistently find characters that are (or at least striving to be) facing and struggling with some very unifying issues and thoughts that are common to that age group. While people and characters remain unique individuals, there really is something about the adolescent mindset that puts everyone growing through it in a distinct mental place.

The number one reason I put down YA books is because I can’t relate to the protagonists. I’m infinitely more forgiving in other genres, and am willing to suspend my disbelief because characters are often leading a radically different life than I am. When I was a teenager though, I didn’t like young adult books. I would sit down and start reading about someone’s crush, high school, friend troubles, or so forth and I would just toss the book, thinking, “No, this isn’t what it feels like. I’m here, I’m living it, and this isn’t what it’s like at all.”

I didn’t articulate that sentiment for a long time. I just thought I didn’t like YA. It was only after I graduated high school that someone thrust a John Green book into my hands and changed my mind. I slowly began to consider the idea that I might not unilaterally hate YA, that there just might be a lot of bad books written for teenagers out there, but adults whose memories of high school were foggy and their writing style mediocre. Which makes sense, it’s a booming industry and very little of it suited an English nerd who was mostly reading more Shakespeare than Harry Potter in high school.

I went from swearing I would never write YA to producing (and publishing) exclusively that. I had an added layer of motivation with the genre that hadn’t existed when I was writing straight science-fiction and fantasy. I wanted to write the book I’d wanted to read in high school. When I was a teenager, I never found the YA book that clicked with me and showed me the world through the same lens that I saw it through. There’s a passion in The Neverland Wars because it is written with the impossible goal of giving my younger self a gift. While I have an audience in mind, I really wrote this story for myself, and put my heart and soul into it. Five years ago, I never would have believed I’d be as entrenched in YA (reading and writing it) as I am now.

The More I Write, The Harder It Gets

Editing is going slow, I’m not going to lie. It’s hard to move, it’s hard to end relationships, and none of what I’ve gone through in the past few weeks is conducive to a peaceful, imaginative, motivated, creative headspace.

I feel like editing wouldn’t be so hard if I were editing to CUT things out of my manuscript. I’m in a mood where I could just kill anything and everything most of the time. Unfortunately, the feedback I’ve been getting on The Neverland Wars is that it doesn’t have ENOUGH action, there’s too little tension, and the drama just isn’t there. While folks seem to like my energy, it sounds like the story’s energy is lacking. I always thought editing meant throwing away what didn’t work…the idea that I have to go through and put my writing-hat on again to invent new material and sew in the bits and pieces that are missing from the manuscript seems strange and daunting.

Fortunately, my personal life has left me feeling pretty numb, so I’m not all that upset about having to kill my darlings and rewrite chunks of the story to make it a more action-driven plot. I didn’t realize this when I wrote it, but there’s a contemporary YA novel inside of this Twisted Fairytale YA that is struggling to get out. If the writing were better, I’d say I tried to tuck a literary coming of age story into my Peter Pan novel.

The big issue is really with the opening, which is kind of the worst place to have a big issue since it’s hard enough to keep people focused and reading when they first open a book and have no attachment to it. In retrospect, starting my novel in the middle of a boring math lecture was probably second only to starting it when Gwen woke up that morning or something. At the time, I thought there would be no better place to establish tone and YA viewpoint. What’s more universal than being stuck in class? My number one pet peeve with YA books is that they so, so rarely seem to capture what it’s like to be a teenager. I almost never read YA while I was in high school, because the books always struck me as being written by someone who hadn’t been 16 in at least a hundred and fifty years.

I guess that’s not what the average agent/editor/reader is looking for though, so it’s back to the drawing board. You’d think I’d be better at this by now.

Press Publish in Portland: I’m Going!

So I have to do a quick blog to figure out if any of my followers/readers are also going to be at this event on Saturday the 28th. I’ll probably book a Bolt Bus and find a couch to crash on with a friend for the weekend…as is my M.O. with professional conferences at the moment. I think there’s a lot of value to be had from attending these events, even if I do still travel in a backpack and on a dime because I’m twenty-two and trying to be a starving artist (Protip: starving artist pays as well as they told you it would.)

Now that I’m back in Seattle and getting settled, I’ll be heading back to tutoring in the next week or two, depending on how quickly I can rebuild my client list in a new city. However, writing is my first and foremost priority, so I have no qualms about taking a weekend off to go gallivant in Portland, network, learn something, and generally re-inspire myself. I’ve found that the best benefit I get out of professional events is usually, simply, the way I feel about my work and career afterwards. Everything seems so much more doable when you talk to people who have done it, and people who want to give you the information you need to succeed.

I probably wouldn’t bother with (seeing as though I am trying to stash money away for another trip to California once schools let out and then head to Europe in the fall) but web hosting is an unavoidable expense at this point, and the fact that WordPress is offering a year of free hosting to conference attendees makes it just a little too attractive to turn down. I need a better website anyways, one that integrates my blog into my actual website. GoDaddy definitely got me going, but I’m pretty sure is where it is at! I could stand to learn how to be a better blogger anyway.

So, is anyone else heading to this event or the one in Phoenix? Or is anybody going to other exciting events we should be aware of? It’s so neat to watch where everyone is going and what we’re all doing. It’s just inspiring to see so many people working at making their voices heard in this crazy world.

The Neverland Wars

So I’ve been talking a lot about my novel “The Neverland Wars,” but it’s been a while since I straight up explained it, and I woke up excited about my project so lemme tell you…

The Neverland Wars is a modern-day continuation of the Peter Pan story, it holds to J.M. Barrie’s story as tightly as possible but looks about two hundred years into the future and follows sixteen-year-old Gwen Hoffman. Gwen might still be enamoured of sun-dresses, storytelling, stuffed animals, and the carefree whimsy of childhood, but there’s no denying that she’s managed to grow up into a young woman who is also very enamoured of the senior boy she sits next to in math class. Gwen is definitely growing up, albeit reluctantly.

However, her little sister, Rosemary, is definitely still a child, and when Peter Pan visits the Hoffman household one night, it’s Rosemary he takes away to Neverland. Gwen is forced to realize that she is living in a very different world than she imagined when her kid sister vanishes…and that growing up might actually be a choice for her after all.

Now aware of this conflict, Gwen is pressured to choose sides when Peter Pan and his lost children are fighting hard to grow their numbers and defend the hidden paradise of Neverland from adults. A faction of adults who are aware of Neverland’s existence and the magical resources that fuel its many fantastic landmarks and inhabitants have big plans for how that magic could be repurposed to serve the needs of the real world…after all, wouldn’t it be more practical to use magic to expand cell reception and solve the national debt? Gwen finds out that there is nothing short of a war happening between these adults and Peter’s small army of lost children, something which calls into question whether or not going to homecoming with a senior boy is really a priority to her.