Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Meet Poppy!

As promised, today I will be introducing to you Poppy Williams, an aspiring author who I am proud to call my critique partner! Yesterday I told you my first impressions of Poppy and how we met. Today I'd like to share some more, and in her own words no less!

And don't forget, you can read her interview of me (and see the first picture of me with blonde hair) over on her blog!

What is your current WIP about?
My current WIP is about a sixteen year old girl named Charlie Wilde. Every eleven years the town she was born and raised in plays host to an epic battle between good and evil. And this time, she had a role to play.
 Are there are any quotes that inspired your WIP?
There’s this great Marianne Williamson quote that really sums up my main character’s journey - “Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure… We ask ourselves, “Who am I” to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented, fabulous? Actually, who are you not to be?” I love the idea that we as people have the capability to be extraordinary. But so often we dim our brilliance because we think we’re not worthy enough to be great. This is an issue that my MC struggles with and overcomes.
What came first in terms of inspiration: plot, characters, setting, or themes?
I was at work one day about four years ago when this name came to me. I thought to myself “That would be a great name for a character in a book.” By the end of the day I had the basic idea for my book come to me in a rush of ideas and images. So for me it all started with a name.
What’s something you admire about the main character in your manuscript?
Charlie is an artist, and I love that creative side of her. She’s also someone who is loyal, and would really do anything for the people she loves. I admire the journey that Charlie takes. When this huge responsibility is thrust upon her, she struggles with it, but she doesn’t back down. I love that!
When did you begin your WIP?
Technically I started working on this idea last November during NaNoWriMo. I wrote a good amount of words that month, but I was nowhere near finished. After doing some outlining and seeing my story take on some different aspects, I decided to start my first draft over. I officially started again on Friday August 31st. Which is the same say that my CP Danielle started (which I think Is kinda cool!)
How would you define the term critique partner?
Initially I was looking for someone who would read my manuscript after it was done to help me get it into shape to submit to agents. But then as I was writing, I realized I’d love to be in the trenches with someone! When I met Danielle, I realized that it was possible to find someone who was on the same page as me, AND as committed to this process as I was. For me a CP has been someone that I write alongside, toss ideas around with, and eventually someone who I’ll trust with my baby!
How has having a CP helped your writing?
I don’t think I realized how helpful having a CP would be. Even something as simple as going through the process of explaining my manuscript to another writer, really helped me a ton. Danielle had so many questions, some that I had answers for, and some that I’d never even thought of! And she also had lots of suggestions. We have similar tastes, so I think we built a really good rapport early on. And as we both progress with our books, I think the list of advantages will only grow!
What are you looking for most in a literary agent?
To me the most important thing is finding someone who’s passionate about my book. I want an agent who’s ready to fight for Charlie as much as I am! I think there needs to be a certain level of trust between a writer and an agent, so I’ll be looking for that as well. Handing my book over to an agent is almost like letting someone watch your baby (I’m assuming since I don’t technically have my own babies!). I want someone who I can trust with my book baby!
If you get published, what part of the publishing process do you think you'll enjoy most?
Doing book tours is a total dream of mine. I love meeting people, especially people who love books like I do! I also love the idea of people getting to know my characters and wanting to engage in deep conversations about them. I know that's the sexy side of being a published author, but it sure sounds fun...
If you could choose anyone to blurb your book, who would you pick?
Joss Whedon. Because he's awesome (no further explanation needed).

It always seems to me that Poppy is everywhere on the internet at once. If you're looking for her, check the following places before you report a missing person:

Monday, September 17, 2012

The Joys of Working with a Critique Partner

A few weeks ago, something awesome and unexpected happened. A writer named Poppy left a comment on my blog. I replied, then she found me on Twitter, and all of a sudden, I seemed to be bumping into her all over the internet! She followed the same blogs as me, she has a Pinterest board for her WIP, and when I read her description of herself on Twitter, I thought I might be looking in a mirror:
Bookworm, Vegetarian, Sci-Fi Geek, YA Writer, God Seeker, Browncoat, Tofu Lover, Kung-Fu Movie Watcher, and so much more! Forgive me if I ramble...
Am I a bookworm? Check! Sci-fi geek? Check! YA writer? Check! Browncoat (Firefly lover)? Check! I recited this description to Derek and he asked if I'd cloned myself. I said no, but the list of things I had in common with Poppy was indeed extraordinary.

That's when I decided to learn some more about her. I found her blog (the adorably named Poppy Writes a Book) and read everything she'd written. I was so impressed with how dedicated she was to her writing, how hard she works, and how well she keeps herself accountable. (She has a Word Count Calendar on her blog!) I also really liked the sound of her WIP, Season of the Defender.

Poppy had a tab on her blog called Crit-Harmony in which she expressed a desire to find a critique partner (CP). When I read this, I had just shelved my second novel and was gearing up to write the third. With this new book, I was determined to do things differently from my previous books. Finding a CP was just up my alley. So I summoned my courage and sent Poppy an email.

I won't lie. I was super anxious while I waited for a response. I was afraid she'd email back and say that I wasn't what she was looking for or that she'd already found someone else. But to my delight, her response came quickly, and it was full of enthusiasm. She complimented my blog (my blog?!?) and over the next few days, we emailed back and forth constantly. We were interviewing each other  to see if we were a good match. Derek was surprised by how seriously I was taking the whole thing, but I explained that finding a critique partner was serious business. Poppy was spot-on when she titled her search for a CP Crit-Harmony. The process is very similar to dating. We had to make sure we were compatible in all kinds of ways - how quickly we worked, how far along we were with our WIPs, our goals in terms of finishing said WIPs, etc. Eventually we exhausted our supplies of questions and basically shook hands. We agreed to be in it for the long haul, helping each other along until both of our WIPs were finished and query-ready.

Finding a critique partner is the best thing I've done for myself in a long time. Knowing that Poppy is always working (and she is always working!) keeps me motivated to work, too. We help each other iron out wrinkly plot points, cheer for each other's characters, and sometimes just discuss our feelings about the publishing industry and this career we're trying to get ourselves into.

I've been thinking for a while about how to introduce Poppy on this blog. Ultimately I decided to interview her. Tomorrow you'll get to learn more about Poppy when I post her responses to my questions. You'll get to read about her WIP, her writing process, and more. Plus, she'll be posting an interview of me over on her blog. (Bonus: Her interview of me will feature a picture of me with newly blonde hair!)

P.S. There's a post over at Poppy's blog about how we met from her perspective. She's going to keep my identity secret from her readers until tomorrow, but it's still a fun read!

Monday, September 10, 2012

Qualifying Women in Fiction and in Life

I saw something disturbing on facebook yesterday. Here is it:

In case you don't immediately see the problem, here it is: This series of images creates a single standard for how women should look, allowing for no diversity. It promotes the idea that if you don't look like the girls in the pictures, you are ugly. But not only that - this collage says that if you're "ugly" (i.e., you don't look like these girls) it's your fault. It's because you make the wrong choices. Because you're weak. This collage is a pernicious weapon designed to make girls hate themselves. And the sickest thing is, it was probably created by a girl.

I wonder if I would realize how dangerous such messages are if I hadn't been a self-hating teenager myself. I didn't hate myself personality-wise, but I hated my body like crazy. I measured my weight and compared it to arbitrary numbers I'd heard, like, "a skinny girl shouldn't weigh over 120 pounds." I went hungry, got stomach-aches in school, was crankier than all hell at home, and I craved sugar constantly. I created an evil cycle in which I already hated my body, but I kept looking for more reasons to hate it, like I was afraid that if I didn't hate myself, I would become fat. (But wasn't I already "fat"?)

All of this ended one day during my junior year of high school when, during a routine check-up, my doctor asked my mother if she wanted to commit me to an eating disorder clinic. Luckily, she said no, but the fear of losing my free will jolted me out of my insanity. Ten years later, I have a very different attitude towards food, exercise, weight, and my perception of how I look. I eat when I'm hungry. I exercise as much for mental health as for physical health. I gauge my weight based on how I feel in my clothes, and I choose clothing that is flattering to my body type. A-line dresses look great on a pear shape like mine, but you won't catch me near that rack of skinny jeans. Finally, I have not weighed myself in . . . well, it's been so long that I've lost track. At least five years. I have a tattoo on my back that reads, "The only good is knowledge and the only evil is ignorance." But in the the case of the number on the scale, keeping myself ignorant is one of the best choices I've ever made.

The book I'm working on right now is about women, only it's about women living in an environment where they aren't subject to the advertising and criticism that women get in our world. They aren't defined primarily (and above all other qualities) by how they look. I would love to live in such a world. Only I don't, and writing about a place that's free of a misogynistic paradigm while I'm living in one myself is tricky. How do women compliment each other in this fictional world? Do they praise themselves for strength or kindness or intelligence? Do they still recognize and appreciate physical beauty? If so, how is their definition of "beautiful" different from ours?

As I write my characters, I catch myself wanting to describe most of them as physically beautiful in one way or another. In doing so, I would conform to 98% of young adult books on the market. Every heroine is beautiful, usually in some unique way, often in ways she doesn't realize until a boy tells her so, and even then she struggles to believe it because a pretty girl who doesn't know she's pretty is a safe bet for a guy. Despite my clear disdain for this cycle, I worry that readers won't like my characters if my writing deviates too much from the norm.

Romance is an even bigger problem in my fictional world. The way I understand evolution, men value physical beauty in a woman because beauty used to equal health, and guys needed a healthy woman to bear their babies. For women, physical attractiveness wasn't as important. If they were going to be pregnant all the time (we're talking about a pre-birth control world here), they needed a guy who was strong and skillful enough to bring them food and protect them from danger. While I think we've moved beyond this paradigm in some ways, it still exists in the idea of classical romance.

The main character in my book is going to fall in love with a boy. I want them to love each other. I want there to be romance, the kind that makes readers shiver and sigh. But is it possible to do that without resorting to the boy telling the girl anything other than that she looks lovely? Likewise, is it possible without the girl complimenting the boy on his physical strength? These are such primitive mechanisms. I want my characters to transcend them. But is that possible? Would I have to invent a new kind of romance? And if I did, would readers be able to enjoy it?

This is why my brain often feels like an elephant on ice skates. While I contemplate writing about a world that's so fundamentally different from ours that readers may not be able to appreciate it, I'm going to go make dinner. And I'm making chocolate cake for dessert just to spite that awful collage.

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

Obey the Brain!

I began writing my third novel last Friday. I'm about 10,000 words in, and I even have a title! Now that I'm drafting again, I've had to make adjustments to how I use my brain power. The part of my brain that's responsible for making stuff up seems to act like a vacuum, stealing energy from the rest of my brain and leaving me kind of...vegetably. Every weekday morning, I've been writing. I always start out fresh and excited, but by the end of the session, although I'd like to keep going, I'm forced to stop because I lose focus, like I'm running out of juice. Even this post is surprisingly difficult to write.

This creativity exhaustion is also responsible for retarding (literally) my communication skills. I was on the phone with my mom today and I had to stop half a dozen times just to ask her what we were talking about. My mind wasn't wandering. I wasn't thinking about anything else. Just drawing blanks. So that's probably what can be expected from this blog for a little while: blank pages. It sucks because I'm making tons of progress with the new novel and I want to talk about it, but it'll have to wait until later. Maybe my brain just needs exercise. I'd like to be to write 2,000 words and still have enough brain power left over to write a blog post or have a phone conversation.

So what have I been doing with all this brain-dead time in the afternoons? A lot of the time has been spent planning an epic birthday party for my husband. I'm also trying to cook healthier for us, and that takes more time than it took me to cook meals that weren't as healthy. And I've discovered Eureka! I'm still mad at Netflix about the price hike, so I won't actually thank them, but I have enjoyed watching the first three seasons of this show. It's super geeky, full of awesome characters and surprisingly plausible science. (That's according to Derek. Most of the time when they talk about science I kind of zone out and look at the scenery.)

That's all I can muster for now. Here's hoping that anyone who reads this is getting along better with their brain than I am with mine!