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  • I read a lot, and I have a lot of opinions, so I can't believe I haven't made a list like this before. If you are even a little bit like me or you want to get a peek into my psyche (you probs don't), these are the books to read.
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Archive for May, 2008

Feeling it

Posted on May 28th, 2008 by Anna Jarzab

This post over at Through the Tollbooth pretty much cracked me up; well, not the whole thing, and not in a bad way, just the part where Liz Gallagher said, “As I write, I naturally tend to try to feel what my character’s body would be doing given what they’re going through emotionally.” This was so funny to me because last night I had a very similar experience, and it sort of surprised me. I was writing a part of MB where the two main characters are approaching a house, and inside the house is a person who may or may not be able to tell them something incredibly important about a friend who is missing and I WAS NERVOUS. Why?! I knew what was going to happen. And THEN someone was telling the protags a very sad, sordid story and when I was finished writing it I actually had to get up and go outside and breathe some fresh air because I was so worked up–heart pounding, palms sweating, stomach dropping, etc. It’s so funny when you get so involved in the story that the lines between you and your characters become really blurred.

Speaking of weird things writers do while writing, like Liz I sometimes close my eyes and type when I’m trying to come up with a word or phrase or just concentrate on what I’m writing and shut everything out. I also sometimes turn my head to the side and type for…a change in perspective? I have no idea why I do that, I just sometimes feel compelled to do it. I also like to give my characters’ dialogue a test run, so whenever I have the apartment to myself I act out the parts aloud–my neighbors must think I’m schizophrenic or something, because our walls our THIN.

Anyone have a weird writing tick/interesting quirk they’d like to share?

New to me

Posted on May 27th, 2008 by Anna Jarzab

Briefly: another good thing about having written the MB summary like nine months ago and having a terrible memory is that, because I’m only tapping into it as I need it, I’m sort of finding out what happens like a reader would, one step at a time. I could skip ahead and ruin it (although I do remember whodunnit and how, and also I’ve changed some stuff in my head that isn’t in the summary), but it’s kind of fun not knowing exactly what twist is next. I feel like it makes the writing more suspenseful, although I could be wrong.

Writinertia

Posted on May 26th, 2008 by Anna Jarzab

I was talking to my roommate about my recent deluge of writing progress this morning and I told her something I’d just realized (or maybe realized again–my memory, it is not so good): I am the law of inertia personified. You know that old saw: an object at rest will stay at rest, whilst an object in motion (divorced from any outside forces like gravity and wind resistance, etc.) will stay in motion? Or, as Newton would have it, Corpus omne perseverare in statu suo quiescendi vel movendi uniformiter in directum, nisi quatenus a viribus impressis cogitur statum illum mutare? Yeah, that. I’m that, in writing form.

I say this because I think I’ve finished the last of my AUT revisions for Joanna, meaning that very soon, possibly now, the fate of it is no longer in my hands. First comes the submissions, then comes the inevitable rejections (I’m not even saying this negatively; I know that rejection is a part of this business and I think–although I’m probably wrong–that I’m amply prepared for it), and then hopefully comes the offer (or maybe more! Probs not, though) of acquisition. I’m jazzed for all this new exciting stuff, but I also know that I have to put my nose to the grindstone and work on my next novel, if for no other reason than I need something to occupy my thoughts as the publishing industry ticks along at its at-times-frustratingly slow pace.

Tentatively intialed MB, the next novel is another YA mystery that I actually started last summer (I think; at any rate, a while ago) when I had put AUT aside for many months to give it some time to percolate. I wrote a detailed Dramatis Personae list and summary, six chapters and a prologue, and then left it at that while I worked on revising AUT and concentrated on querying agents. That rather solid foundation has been sitting on my computer for almost a year now and as of Wednesday, when I sent J my most recent revisions, I started working on them again.

GOD, it is nice to have a summary. Writing a mystery is hard work, I don’t know how I did it the first time without one (I figured most of AUT out during the two years before I wrote it for my thesis, but a lot of the twists and turns didn’t come to me until I actually wrote it, which is simultaneously exciting and nerve-wracking). I really do like to work everything out beforehand, to live with the story for months–ride the subway with it, listen to music related to it, talk to the characters and figure out who they are and what they want–before even putting a word on the page, and now writing MB is super easy because I have all the facts of the mystery figured out and every time I get to the end of a chapter or a scene or whatever and I’m all, “What comes next?” I can just refer to the summary and write that. It’s sort of like Wordsworth’s nun in her cloistered cell–the summary’s restrictions (a mystery is sort of like a choreographed dance–one misstep and everything changes, perhaps for the better, but still, it’s a rhythm breaker) allow me to be more creative with my dialogue (my favorite thing to write, especially with these two characters who I LOVE) and character development and introspective moments. Honestly, the summary takes a lot of the pressure off–instead of having to think up events (since I’ve already thought those up) I get to write jokes and fun emotional stuff.

(Side note: I wrote the funniest joke (well, I think it’s pretty amazing) on the subway yesterday on my way to the Village for dinner with my friends and we were going out afterwards (BTW, Sway is a very weird bar) so I only had a small purse for the essentials and no pen and no paper and I was like, “If I lose this, it will be a tragedy.” So I text messaged the joke to myself, and even though I got home at 3 AM I stayed up just to write the joke in my MS. If MB ever hits the shelves, I promise to reveal which joke this was, mostly because I’m a narcissist and I am SO DAMN PROUD OF IT.)

Anyway, I think I’ve strayed from my essential point, which is that I always have to keep writing because if I stop, it’s SO hard to get going again. Which is why I finished the majority of AUT the way it is now in one five-month spurt last year (also, I had a deadline, because it was my MA thesis and I wanted to, you know, graduate) because I just kept going and going and going. Getting back to work on MB was so difficult because I hadn’t worked on it for so long, but once I jump-started my creative impulse it’s been incredibly smooth sailing–I’ve written about thirty pages in the last few days, which is a nice steady pace and good output. But, living in New York means a flood of forces that can slow my progress, so it’s become important to me to squirrel away time enough to write a decent amount of stuff before venturing out into the real world full of friends and work and people trying to grope me on the subway (real story, happened yesterday, freaked me out, don’t really want to talk about it; yesterday was a super-weird-stranger day). Cross your fingers that I can keep it up long enough to bang out a first draft of MB by the end of August. I think I can do it!

Internet karma

Posted on May 22nd, 2008 by Anna Jarzab

I keep getting emails about The Weepies. The Weepies are in Sex and the City, playing their [truly lovely] song “All This Beauty”! (Which, like, yeah–The Weepies are going to get people to go see Sex and the City. I’m so sure. If anything, being in Sex will boost Weepies ticket sales. Maybe that was the plan…oh.) The Weepies Give Away Their $10,000 Video Budget! Like, I get it. I posted about The Weepies, so I’m doomed to receive generic press release emails about them from whatever PR company they hired all the way into eternity. That’s what I get for A.) having a blog upon which I posted my email address and B.) working in Internet marketing myself. HOWEVER, I would like to give a little bit of advice: those email blasts? Don’t really work very well. Because they’re annoying as hell. Also, if you’re not giving me something for free, I don’t want to hear from you, unless there’s some sort of opt-out link at the bottom of your email, which I will click. Sorry. I read blogs. I know what’s up. And I already love The Weepies, so you don’t need to be cluing me into everything they’re doing–if I want to know, I’ll go to their MySpace, which I know how to find because I’ve been there before and even linked to it on the post I wrote about The Weepies. So you can STOP. I’m ALL SET.

But, to The Weepies: I still love you, and if I have to be bugged by emails it’s a small price to pay for your awesome. But fire your PR guys. They’re not doing you any favors by annoying the shit out of your fans. I realize by creating this post and writing the words “The Weepies” like 10 times that I’m going to get 10 more times the spam, but whatever. I’ll just delete it.

Reading to learn what people like to read

Posted on May 21st, 2008 by Anna Jarzab

Agent Kristin Nelson has been blogging about publishing for a while now, and she is probably one of the best agent bloggers out there because she posts almost every weekday and she always has really interesting stuff to say about the business that is both informative and entertaining. Today her post was a continuation of yesterday’s, about how lots of aspiring writers like to trash popular books simply because they’re popular, and it was pretty much the most succinct argument for why you should NEVER DO THAT. Observe:

If you are smug in the excuse that the writing is average or the storyline didn’t work for you then you are missing the point. There is something about these novels that are capturing millions of readers (and the dollars in their wallets). Ultimately I refuse to believe that a million people are so “uncultured”, “stupid,” “non-discerning,” or “insert your phrase here” that they don’t get it. That’s condescending and underestimating the reading audience.

Now, I’ve been known to express all kinds of opinions on all kinds of books for all kinds of reasons. I once had an entire blog devoted to that enterprise, and I still claim that all my opinions on the books I read were honest and forthright, those being some of my best (or worst, depends on who you are) qualities. I don’t write that blog anymore, or do book reviews, because as somebody who now is pursuing publication I don’t really think it’s in anyone’s best interest to take books down just because I didn’t like them–at this point, all I want is for people to READ, for God’s sake, no matter what it is or whether I liked it. That said, if you cornered me at a party and were like, “So what did you think of The Da Vinci Code?” I’m going to tell you the truth.

Anyway, my point is, I have a lot of standards when it comes to the books I read–prose, characterization, dialogue, plot, pacing, message, etc.–that determine whether or not I think a book is well-written, but that’s not necessarily the same thing as saying I did or did not like a book. For instance, I thought Chris Adrian’s The Children’s Hospital had some flaws (length being the primary, which is not so much of a flaw as a lack of a strength), but I LOVED IT and would laud it to anybody who is fool enough to ask me for a book recommendation. Did I think The Da Vinci Code (par example) was a major feat of literature? No. Is it wildly entertaining and provocative and worth reading? Certainly. And I’m not the only person who thinks so, obvs.

I have to admit, being a writer has ruined me as a reader to an extent. Too often now, I think, my appreciation of all those things (prose, pacing, etc.) that, when done well, make up the best novels, have turned me from someone who reads for pleasure to someone who reads to edit. NOT GOOD. Because reading has always been my greatest pleasure. I’m trying to train myself out of that, but then will my writing suffer? I’m afraid to see.

Bu the thing is, Kristin is right–millions of readers can’t be wrong. My MA thesis adviser used to pwn the Harry Potter series, his catchphrase being, “It’s about fucking MAGIC!” But people LOVE IT. That is not insignificant in any way. I actually try to read as many big ticket books as possible just to get a feel for what books are touching a wide audience, because when books sell millions of copies they’re not just preaching to the choir–they’re preaching to the world, and the world is all: “WORD.” Obviously, The Da Vinci Code is not just selling to people who enjoy thrillers, Twilight is not just selling to teens, Eragon is not just selling to fantasy fans…whether I like them or not, those books are speaking to people in some ways–indeed, in many ways, since they’re speaking to so many people. And that’s what I (or you) as a writer want to do. Touch as many people as humanly possible. If you consider yourself “literary” and you’re all, “If people don’t have a Ph.D. in 18th-century Russian literature they will SO NOT GET THIS” then guess what? Only people with a Ph.D. in 18th-century Russian literature are going to want to buy that sucker, and there are not a lot of them around, I would wager. Writing for a niche market–and yes, so-called “upscale”, “literary” writing is a niche market, to which the sales of almost any short story collection (apart from, like, Alice Munro and Jhumpa Lahiri, obvs) can surely attest–is never a solid business strategy. And book publishing is a business, of which we have daily proof.

So! This is all to say that I think people read and love books for all sorts of reasons, the same way that some people like Jasper Johns or Transformers or whatever. Art and “what is art?” are so subjective and, therefore, completely meaningless as anything other than abstract concepts disagreed upon by most people. So what? Go with the numbers–Dan Brown sells upwards of 7 million copies of his book, you may want to check it out and instead of combing for reasons why it’s not up to your standards, comb for reasons why one book can appeal to so many different kinds of people. The answers may surprise you.

An overabundance of shit to do

Posted on May 17th, 2008 by Anna Jarzab

For the past several weeks now, I keep looking forward to each weekend and telling myself, “THIS weekend you’ll do laundry and go grocery shopping and maybe buy a new summer skirt and catch up on your sleep and your Netflix and read and WRITE, for God’s sake.” And, each week, foiled! This is actually a very good thing, because it means I have a ton of awesome people in my life who invite me to things and want to hang out with me, and I always end up having a blast, but, on the other hand, getting nothing done. This weekend I was psyched to go see the Pole-rific Piotr Ulanski exhibit at the Gagosian Gallery in Chelsea, because today is its last day–I still might go to that actually–and to Book Culture, because I wanted to buy one of their snazzy new totes. And, you know, launder–and I don’t mean money, I am seriously low on clothes. But! Last night I went out to a Tumblr meet-up (yes, they exist, and yes, they are fun) and met a handful of really interesting, funny Tumblrs and it took me FOREVS to get home because the stupid F train was running on the V line and I ended up in Queens and then I had to take the E train back to Seventh Ave/53rd street and then get out of the station and walk to Columbus Circle, at least that was the plan until I COULD NOT GET OUT OF THE SEVENTH AVE STATION, but then I finally did get out of it and then I was so tired and it was SO late that I eventually took a cab. So, in other words, I slept in! And now I’m lazing around in my pajamas and trying to motivate myself to take a shower which probs won’t happen anytime soon and I might not actually get down to Chelsea in time to see the Ulanski exhibit, which closes at six. My life is hard! Also, Cambria is throwing a house party tonight in Brooklyn, so I’m going to have to schlep there, which will take forevs, and then of course I’ll have to stay the night because, well, who the fuck wants to be on a train at three in the morning two nights in a row? Not me!

This is all to say that in the midst of all this bejiggity, I have finished my revisions! I even sent them off to my agent today with my “Hollywood pitch” assignment (I settled on “Speak meets Special Topics in Calamity Physics” because…well, you’ll know when you read it, even though it’s not the ideal comparison, especially since Special Topics isn’t considered YA even though it’s pretty much got all teenagers in it, but they’re not real teenagers, they’re Ph.D. candidates in the guise of teenagers, which is one of that novel’s big flaws but whatevs, she went to Brown, it’s to be expected) because as much as I’ve grown to re-love AUT over the past two weeks (I did go through a period where I was like, “This is shit!”, which I know is natural and normal but it’s still not very good for the ego) I’m sick of looking at it for the moment. I’m just…really looking forward to moving on to the next thing, which is another YA mystery (WHY DO I DO THIS TO MYSELF?!) that I’m calling “MB” for now.

Anyway, there’s my brain dump. Do with it what you will.

A little perspective

Posted on May 15th, 2008 by Anna Jarzab

I’m so sure y’all have seen this on, like, a hundred million other writing/book/publishing blogs and websites already, but just in case you haven’t, please watch this video:

[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yxschLOAr-s&hl=en]

Oh my God, is that not the funniest thing ever? It’s all so true. My favorite quote? “YouTube. Of course. ‘Cause you know that’s the dream, right? 20 years ago when I wanted to become a writer, a big part of the dream was being able to put little videos on the Internet. That’s it. That’s why we do this.”

Sneak peekery

Posted on May 14th, 2008 by Anna Jarzab

Okay, so I might get in a lot of trouble for this and I might have to take it down someday (hey, I don’t know the rules about revealing stuff before your agent goes to publishers or whatnot!), but some other writers are doing this meme with their unpubbed works and since Diana Peterfreund tagged the entire Internet, AND even though most of them are published and I’m not (yet! I’m in a pos. thinking mood), I’m going to do the same. I figure this is kind of okay since, you know, it’s so random and out of context.

1. Pick up the nearest book.

2. Open to page 123.

3. Find the fifth sentence.

4. Post the next three sentences.

So here it is: the first time anybody outside myself, my agent, and a few friends and family are reading a bit of the (quasi) finished version of AUT.

She shook her head and hopped off the bed. “Nothing. Ready to go?”

So was it good for you? 🙂

Bad timing

Posted on May 13th, 2008 by Anna Jarzab

You know when the worst time to get your ARC of John Green’s new YA novel, Paper Towns, is? When you’re doing revisions on your own novel, and you’re only halfway done. Lesson learned! Also, loving Twilight this time around.

Drive-by post: Proof that she knows me better than almost anyone else

Posted on May 13th, 2008 by Anna Jarzab

A letter I got from my friend Kim in the mail yesterday:

I know this card is super random, but I liked them and it was either Adventureland or Tomorrowland and I thought since Adventureland is right near New Orleans Square, which has Pirates (Orlando Bloom!) and has Indiana Jones (Shia LaBoeuf!) that it would better suit you! 🙂

Heck yes fake boyfriends! I put it right up on my cork board.