Monday, December 15, 2014
I've said this several different times, and in a few different ways, but here it is: it's really, really hard to be a writer. It's hard in ways you won't think of and hard in ways you can't even imagine. It doesn't get easier. And even if you still want to do it after reading that, and I know you do, you have to ask yourself a question: can you always come last? Because when you are a writer, you probably will.
From Hero to Zero
Even if you don't use an entirely different pen name, like I do, you have to create an entire new persona when you're in author mode. You can't put all your opinions out there on social media, you have to stay polite and professional even when someone is coming at you with criticism, and above all you've got to keep writing. You have to write, and you have to research. You have to edit. And of course, you've got to promote. Then you've got to make the cover, and the trailer, and write a blurb...
In other words, you -- the real you -- is going to come last. And you're going to come last all the time.
Sunday, December 14, 2014
Now available for pre-order!!
“All set for your school project?” As always, my mom was standing at the stove when I entered the kitchen the next morning. Dad was long gone on the boat, out fishing. He would finish up about the same time I finished school, leaving him free to greet me when I came home. For as long as I could remember, my mom sent me off to school in the mornings and my dad was there to make sure I got home in the afternoons. By that time, mom was usually standing out on the deck—or by the bay window, in bad weather—looking out at the ocean.
“I think so.” I slipped into my usual chair at the kitchen table, still trying to hold onto the dream I had during the night. I could only vaguely remember bits and pieces of it, but I was sure it involved Luke, and I was pretty sure we kissed in the dream. If only I could remember what it was like, maybe I wouldn’t make a fool of myself if he ever kissed me for real. After the two false starts, and the embarrassment at dinner, Luke was quick to leave at the end of the night. He mumbled “good night,” and practically ran out to his father’s truck after we finished eating. He didn’t even hold my hand again. How would he act at school today?
I suddenly became aware my mom had been talking to me when I felt the roll of paper towels hit me in the side of the head. I looked over at her. “Sorry, what?”
She laughed. “You must be thinking about that cute boy who was over here last night. I was asking you what you found to use for your school project. With all the excitement, I forgot to ask.”
I nodded. Dad had monopolized the discussion last night after my mom’s flub. As it turned out, Dad was a huge fan of Luke’s father’s artwork. Come to think of it, no wonder Luke didn’t want to kiss me after he spent most of dinner talking to my dad. “I found this old seal skin up in a trunk. Maybe it belonged to Grandpa, you think? Didn’t Dad say that he…what?” I stopped when I noticed the strange look that had come over my mom’s face.
“Can I see it?” Her voice was hoarse when she asked the question, but I barely noticed it at the time. I was busy thinking about Luke, and school, and catching the ferry on time. I’ve often wondered what might have happened if I’d acted differently, if I’d stopped long enough to ask my mom some questions. If I’d done anything but what I did do.
What I did was shrug, reach into my book bag, and unwrap the old animal skin I’d found and placed in a plastic bag to take to school. As I shook it out, I might have heard my mom make a strange sound, but I wasn’t sure. “This thing.” I held it up.
My mom reached her hand out, then quickly pulled it back. “It’s lovely. May I…may I have it?”
“I’ve got to take it to school.” I folded it and shoved it back into the plastic.
“Be careful with that,” my mom snapped. I looked up at her, surprised. “I think maybe it did belong to your grandpa. You know how Dad gets about Grandpa’s things,” she explained. “May I have it after school, then?”
“Sure. I don’t care.” I was barley paying attention. I wanted to eat my cereal quickly, get on the ferry and maybe find Luke. Maybe he would sit next to me on the ferry. Maybe we would walk into school together.
Maybe he would even hold my hand again.
“Today?” My mom pressed.
“Yeah, today. I gotta go, Mom. I don’t want to be late for school.” I grabbed half a piece of toast, scooped up my bag and kissed her on the cheek before I went out the door.
It was one of the last times I ever saw my mother again.
“You never called me back last night!” Stacey wore a wounded expression on her freckled face.
“That’s because I didn’t want to re-live it. My mom embarrassed him, and then my dad spent the whole night asking Luke about his dad,” I sighed and slid into my usual seat beside Stacey, glancing around to see if Luke was already on the boat. He wasn’t. I pulled out my phone to check the time—ten more minutes before the ferry pulled out of port.
“Oh no,” Stacey groaned. “How did your mom embarrass him?”
“Well,” I smiled. “Actually, that part wasn’t so bad. I mean, for me.”
I grinned and leaned forward, ready to relate the whole story, when I felt the air around me change. I knew instantly that Luke was on the ferry, knew that when I looked up he would be looking back at me. “He’s here,” I breathed, my eyes lifting to find him.
“I think he’s coming over here,” Stacey hissed.
He was. With a determined stride, Luke walked right up to us and jerked his head toward the bench seat opposite ours. “Morning. Mind if I sit here?”
I shook my head quickly.
“Why don’t you sit here?” Stacey jumped up like she was sitting on a pile of springs, she got to her feet so quickly. In one motion, she pulled her book bag and her purse over her shoulder. “I’ll go up front and grab Paul when he gets on, so he knows where we’re sitting,” she offered. Stacey moved around Luke a little too closely, forcing him to move nearer to the seat she wanted him to take.
“Good morning,” I smiled at Luke as he slid into the bench next to me. “Sorry about Stacey. She can be a little pushy.”
“That’s okay.” Luke’s smile never failed to take my breath away. “I’d rather sit next to you than Paul anyway.”
“Yeah, me too,” I answered.
“I never thanked you for dinner last night. So, thank you.”
Luke’s face was so close to mine, I could see the gold flecks in his brown eyes. “That’s okay,” I whispered. “I don’t think I really thanked you for helping me with our English project. So, thank you.” My mouth felt dry. Luke was giving me that look again. What if he kissed me right here, on the ferry, in front of everyone?
“Listen, Brenna. I was wondering if maybe you’d like to do something this weekend. Like maybe go to the mainland and see a movie or something?”
“Yeah,” I smiled. “I would like that. A lot.”
He smiled back at me. “So would I.”
We were sitting there, grinning at each other, when Stacey and Paul walked up.
“Well, I found him,” Stacey announced breezily as she sat down. The boat whistle sounded just after her words, halting conversation for a few moments.
Paul Smithson was a tall, skinny boy with longish black hair he wore parted down the middle. He always wore boating shoes. I’d gone to school with him since kindergarten, and Luke was the only friend I’d ever known him to have.
“Morning, Paul,” I offered.
“Morning,” he muttered, shooting a questioning look at Luke, who shrugged back.
“Did you finish your English project?” I asked him.
Paul shot me a strangely guarded look, face expressionless. “Yes.”
“Well,” Stacey quickly filled the awkward silence. “I finally finished mine at the last minute, as usual. Talk about epic. I was digging around in our attic for three hours.” She leaned back against the bench and quickly launched into her narrative, entertaining us all the way to school.
Midway through the ride, Luke smiled at me and casually wrapped his hand around mine, which I’d left sitting next to him on the bench just in case. I couldn’t concentrate on anything Stacey said for the rest of the trip.
Luke and Paul joined Stacey and I in the hallways between classes most of the day. We walked together to first period Math, from there to Art and then to Biology, where Stacey and I whispered excitedly about the development for the entire hour. I looked for them all through lunch, but didn’t see a sign of them. I didn’t see Luke again until English, which we had fifth period.
He sat near the front, of course, while Stacey and I had two seats next to each other near the back of the class. I had to walk right past him as I made my way toward the front of the room carrying my project. I felt him brush my arm as I passed, and shivered with a little spark of delight.
My voice started out a little shaky as I shook out the skin, addressing the very back of the room where Stacey maintained an encouraging smile. “I found this in a bunch of my dad’s boating stuff. It’s a seal skin that belonged to my grandfather, Sean Douglas.”
“It looks really thin for a seal skin.” The heckler was Charles Goode, who always had an opinion on everything.
“Well, that’s what it is,” I shot back. “It represents my family’s history on the water, which goes back four generations,” I quickly launched into my presentation. “My great-great-grandfather came to Maine from New York about a hundred and fifty years ago, during the Potato Famine in Ireland. He loved the sea, so he came to live on the islands. And my family’s been here, fishing, ever since. I think my grandfather got this skin when he went up to the Arctic Circle.”
“Thank you, Miss Douglas,” Mrs. Arnold sounded bored, but she always sounded that way. “You’ve written your report?”
“Yes, ma’am.” I walked toward the corner of the room where her desk was located. Mrs. Arnold spent a few moments examining the skin before she nodded. I dropped the report on her desk, folded the skin, and went back to my desk. I carelessly shoved the skin back into my book bag. I didn’t think about it again that day.
The first thing I did, most afternoons, was run up to my room to drop off my book bag. I usually had a snack with my dad in the kitchen before I worked on homework or called Stacey to dissect the day. But today, all I could think about was Luke. He sat next to me again on the ferry ride home, and just before we docked he asked if I wanted to come over for dinner. It only took me a second to say yes.
It would take much longer to figure out what I was going to wear.
“Hi, Dad! No snack today—I’m going to the Allens’ for dinner and I have to get ready!” I didn’t pause to wave as I ran through the kitchen.
“Slow down!” He laughed at me as I buzzed by.
When I got up to my room, I threw my backpack on the bed and ran for the closet. I forgot all about the conversation I’d had with my mom that morning. If only I hadn’t. If only I had remembered that she wanted the skin. If only I had asked her why she wanted it.
Thursday, December 11, 2014
It's not enough to have a great idea that's really interesting. It's not enough to plan carefully, and work out a perfectly precise outline. It's not even enough to create highly engaging characters. You've got to really sink into the story, until it comes so naturally you're practically speaking in an accent to your family members.
Drowning In It
Here's an example of what I mean: my newest book is about a girl who's always lived her life by the ocean. I have not. But in the book, I used quite a few different metaphors and phrases that are ocean-related. But I didn't have to think about using them or struggle to put them in. That's what being in the zone means, I think. When you're really deep into the story, things that fit into it just start coming to you naturally.
Wednesday, December 10, 2014
The word unless is a tricky one, but sounds so nice writers like to use it anyway. I was writing something the other day with unless, and had to stop. I stared at the screen. And I realized that I didn't know if you're always supposed to use a comma with unless or not. I had to find out. Now, I'm going to tell you.
Unless You Want to be Wrong
Tuesday, December 9, 2014
Some of my Twitter followers may know that I have only recently emerged from a battle, me against my newest book cover. And in addition to getting a few (invisible) scars, I learned an important lesson about doing it yourself. Even when you have to step outside of your own skill set, sometimes -- most of the time -- you have to do it yourself first. It's a lot easier to move forward from there.
The Starting Point
It all started when I had to hire someone to do my book cover. I don't have a standard person that I use, mostly because I want every cover to look really different (because they're different books). So I used the site that I like to hire an artist. And I hated the cover. Things got a whole lot worse from there.
Monday, December 8, 2014
The phrase in to and the word into are not interchangeable. In fact, they have totally different meanings and you're supposed to use them different ways. Honestly, if you use them the wrong way most people aren't going to notice. But if you are on a quest for grammar perfection, you're in the right place. Because I know what the differences between them are.
Not That Into You
Grammatically, saying he's just not that into you is not correct. It should always be in to you. But how do you know the difference?
To get technical about it, into is a preposition. When used in a sentence, it indicates movement. Something is happening when into comes into play. In and to, by contrast, are used to indicate position. It's not quite as confusing as it sounds right now.
Thursday, December 4, 2014
Have you ever read a Sherlock Holmes story? I ask because of a specific technique that the author, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, often used. As you probably know, Sherlock Holmes always rather miraculously solved very complex mysteries. What you may not know is that Holmes generally solved these mysteries at the very beginning of the book. It's not until the end that he reveals how he noticed mud on the pant leg, or scratches on the back of so-and-so's hand, or some other incredibly important clue that you, the reader, was never made aware of in the first place.
It never failed to piss me off, and I hope you'll pardon the language. The point is, maybe I could have solved the mystery as well. But nobody ever told me about the mud on the pant leg. The author chose to be ambiguous. And I don't think I'm the only reader out there who prefers that writers be straightforward instead.
Wednesday, December 3, 2014
In life, you should never go around kicking innocent little kittens (or even mean and nasty kittens). You shouldn't throw a rock to break the window, or step on that person who fell down, or stomp on a plant just because you think it shouldn't be growing there. Never do those things in your daily life. But when you're writing your books, you should be doing them all the time. You're an author. And I hereby give you permission to give in to your cruel streak.
Being cruel to the characters in your books goes way beyond simply killing them. Killing a character is difficult, yes, but it can all be done with a few paragraphs, really. But making a character suffer? That takes a certain level of sadism, a particular brand of cruelty. It takes meanness. And you've got it in you.
The question is: can you bring it to the surface and put it down on the page for the entire world to see?