Tuesday, November 30, 2010

NCTE and ALAN recap plus a huge thanks!

I'm home! The Halloween decorations are down (okay, I admit, they're not put away yet, just piled out of sight).  Christmas lights are up outside (another admission: they stayed up all year but NOW I get to turn them on!).  I have a whole month stretching ahead of me of nothing but writing (and perhaps one more trip).

I've learned over the past season that traveling throws me off schedule and if I'm anything, it's a creature of habit.  I have to get into a groove and any disruption takes several days to shake itself out.  It's the same thing with writing -- if I take a day or more off from the book I forget what I've been doing... threads get dropped, storylines forgotten, little ideas lost.  I had HUGE plans to keep writing through all the traveling but if there's anything else I know about myself, it's hard to hole up in a room and write when there's fun to be had (and for the record, I did write most days I was gone!).

Most recently (well, before Thanksgiving rather), I had the chance to attend NCTE and ALAN.  First of all, I owe a massive thanks to C. Lee McKenzie, who was the point person for putting together a panel for NCTE that I got to participate in (you can read more about it here).  Also on the panel were Cheryl Herbsman, Erin Dionne, Cynthea Liu and Kurtis Scaletta.  We talked about the use of language, specifically dialect and misspellings and accents, in writing and it was fascinating.  Everyone had such fantastic points -- I loved Cheryl talking about how readers assume her character is dumb because she speaks (as written) with a Southern accent and Kurtis discussed how he made his Liberian characters sound Liberian.  The entire panel was just fascinating and eye opening.

As I mentioned in my speech, I was one of those students who always scoffed at the idea that authors paid attention or put that much thought into such tiny details.  Being walked through the thought processes of these authors and the decisions they made with language and why just proves that a HUGE amount of thought goes into those choices!

I discussed how I came up with the words for zombies in my books which essentially meant creating a slang passed down over more than a century past an imagined event.  I'm actually going to blog about it soon!

A few times I got to walk the floor at NCTE (basically stroll through the booths all the publishers set up) and naturally I was too busy oogling all the books to take pictures.  I love books.  LOVE books!  So it was with a massive amount of strength that I was able to walk out of the conference rooms with armfulls of them (I had to carry my luggage home and I refuse to add significantly to my book collection until I buy more bookcases!).  Sigh... I could have spent HOURS in that room with all those books...

This year was also my first time at ALAN and I fell in love.  Essentially, the set up of the ALAN conference was two days of authors speaking... basically a new author every 10 minutes.  I looked at the list of attendees and about died -- so many amazing authors!  I couldn't believe when I saw my name next to theirs!

And the attendees for both NCTE and ALAN -- all booklovers!  It's almost impossible to describe the energy that comes from being surrounded by so many people who not only love books, but live books and share books and spread the book love.

Of course, another big highlight was being able to see friends again and meet new ones.  It's always sort of mindboggling to me to meet an author and know that I have every one of their books sitting on my shelves and I've looked up to them for years.  I've been asked before why I wanted to be a writer and part of my answer is that growing up, authors were my rock stars and movie stars.  Finding myself talking to them, grabbing lunch or sliding down the Jaguar Slide or sitting at the bar with them, is a massively surreal experience.  Seriously, I've actually pinched myself several times.
view from lunch

Also, there were giraffes.  And zebras.  Not at my hotel but Ally Carter's.  I couldn't get enough.

I flew home from Orlando incredibly pumped up.  There are so many smart and engaged and enthusiastic librarians and teachers and professors out there and I'm thrilled for the students who get to interact with them on a daily basis.  I also got reminded, once again, how lucky I am.

Sometimes I just entrench into my daily life of habits: writing, despairing over my to-do list, etc., and then there are the moments when I raise my head and realize: I can't believe this is my life.  I can't believe how lucky I am.  I get to live my dream and it's because of the amazing people I met at NCTE/ALAN and because of such wonderful readers like y'all.

So thank you.  Thank you, thank you, thank you!

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Darren Shan in Charlotte Thurs and NCTE/ALAN schedule!

in Charlotte Thurs!
I'm so bummed I'm leaving town on Thursday and won't be around to go see Darren Shan at Park Road Books (even details here)!  Most of y'all probably know him for the Cirque du Freak books and I think he'll be signing those in addition to his latest project, a sequel to Cirque du Freak, The Saga of Larten Crepsley: Birth of a Killer.

Where will I be on Thursday?  On my way to Orlando for NCTE and ALAN which I'm super crazy excited about!  It's my first time at either event and I'm trying not to be nervous as I go over my presentation.  I think one of the things I'm most excited about is geeking out with fellow book lovers -- there's really nothing more fun than that!

If you're also headed to NCTE or ALAN, come say hi!  Here's my schedule:

Friday @ 2:30 in the Coronado/Durango Room 2: Why "Ain't" and "Gotta" Gotta be in Todays' Books for Kids and Teens with Erin Dionne, Cheryl Herbsman, Cynthea Liu, Kurtis Scaletta and C. Lee McKenzie who just posted a fabulous blog about what the panel is about here.  I'll be talking about how I created the language I use in my world and what considerations went into formulating the words my characters would use (Unconsecrated, Mudo, Breaker, etc) and how I hope that influences the reader experience.

Friday @ 5:00 I'll be autographing at the Random House Children's Booth in Coronado Veracruz Exhibit Hall, Booth #733.

Tuesday @ 1:55 in Coronado Ballroom H: ALAN Workshop: Finding Mystery in Strange Company with panelists Holly Black and Marlene Perez.

Thursday, November 04, 2010

on NaNoWriMo

Yep, it's that time of the year again: National Novel Writing Month!  The thirty days in which people all over the world pledge to write a novel (defined as 50,000 words).  Some of y'all may know that I started writing The Forest of Hands and Teeth for NaNo in 2006.  At the time I was in the middle of writing a chick lit that had already been rejected once and had just started a new YA for a writing class a few weeks before but one of the "rules" of NaNo is that your NaNo book must be word 1-50,000 and not 20,000-70,000.

I was a stickler for the rules and so I started casting about for a new idea -- something to stretch my writing voice and take me in a new direction -- and that's when JP (my husband) suggested I write what I love which was zombies and that was that.  A year later I sold The Forest of Hands and Teeth.

Did I "win" NaNo (i.e. write 50,000 words during November)?  No.  I only wrote 20-30k.  I became unerringly stuck and ran out of time, etc etc, but I kept writing and finished the first draft in April, 2007.  Did it stress me out that I "lost" NaNo?  Nope.

To be honest, my goal wasn't really to write 50k words in a month, it was to WRITE.  See, I've found that it's crazy easy to *want* to write, to *think* about writing, to *plan* to write but not always easy to actually sit down and write.  It's too easy to find excuses in life -- to have other priorities (cleaning, exercising, watching TV, sleeping) and to put off writing until tomorrow and tomorrow and tomorrow.

Furthermore, while motivation ultimately has to come from the inside, sometimes it's nice to have external cheerleaders and having someone expecting you to write words is the motivation you need to sit down and pound out some words.  And once you develop that habit, it gets easier and easier to keep sitting down to write.

To me, that's the beauty of NaNo.  Some people don't need the added incentive to sit down and write, some don't need the insta-community of like-minded folks because they already have a support system.  But others need to have that opportunity to, for one month, put writing first and have a community of folks doing the same -- reinforcing the decision.

Here's my takeaway message for NaNo: why not?  Why not challenge yourself and push?  Why not delve into the task along with hundreds of thousands of other writers and take this one month to put writing above all else.  If you find that it's destroying your writing, if it's making things worse... then walk away.  There's no guilt for failing to write 50,000 words in 30 days.  Writing is hard enough with pressuring yourself unreasonably.

To me the guilt comes from not writing at all.  If you want to be a writer then there is one thing you must do without fail: write.  If you want to sell a book, you have to write a book.  And if NaNo is what it takes to motivate you, then jump in with both feet.  If you fail, the key is not to give up -- the key is to keep writing.

So good luck to all you NaNoWriMos out there!  Yay for putting writing first and regardless of the outcome, I hope all of you keep writing!!