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Archive for June, 2008

Run, don’t walk

Posted on June 28th, 2008 by Anna Jarzab

I would never know as much about publishing or the business of being a writer (both the writing side and the business side) if it weren’t for two amazing blogs, those of Diana Peterfreund and Ally Carter. First of all, Diana’s new book in the super-fun Secret Society Girl series, Rites of Spring (Break), came out on Tuesday but I cheated and went to the bookstore on Monday hoping they’d already put it out, which they had. I finished it in a two-day gulp, and let me tell you I am so glad (whited out to prevent spoilage) that Amy finally realized how awesome Poe is, because I’ve been rooting for him since he started taking on a bigger role in Under the Rose, and also, that shower scene, HELLO. So definitely check out the series.

Moving on! Ally Carter, who is amazing, just posted 101 Tips for Writers on her blog, and they’re all both amazingly common-sensical and also completely necessary and helpful, especially for writers just starting out. Even though I know most of the tips already, I definitely need reminding, especially on the craft and writer’s block ones, so I’ll probably be revisiting the list often. Run don’t walk!

ETA: Sorry, apparently the link to Ally’s blog wasn’t working, but thanks to Katie’s eagle eye, it is now! I think. Oh, and on the subject of Diana, check out her snazzy new website. Update your RSS feed!

Watching my life explode (in a good way)

Posted on June 26th, 2008 by Anna Jarzab

Wow, this is going to be a very, very busy weekend for me. One of the things I love about living in New York (the thing that cancels out all of the worries about rent and bills, the frustration with tourists, the cold winters and humid summers, the way you hemorrhage money just walking down the sidewalk, etc.) is that there’s always something to do. When I was living in California (I feel like a broken record saying this, but it’s so true) I made less money but I also spent less, because I was living rent-free with my parents and I didn’t have to pay for car insurance so my only expense was gas and it was cheaper then although of course I drove approx. 100 miles a day back and forth to work and also food was pretty much free. But I was so lonely, especially after Aaron, one of my best friends, totally dropped me like a hot potato (long story, I’ll tell it someday when it’s more to the point). And I was SO, SO BORED. I was bored at my job, I was bored at home, I was bored in the car on the way to work, I was bored at the gym (unless Jeopardy was on). The only redeeming things I ever did that year were have late-night coffee with my friend Scott, watch Netflix DVDs, read, and write AUT. Thank God, because otherwise AUT probably would never have gotten written.

But now it’s only two years later and I am in a completely, wonderfully different place. I recognize all the things I have and am grateful for them, and I also know that I worked pretty hard to get them, so I don’t necessarily feel guilty about it, but still. I’m lucky. HOWEVER. Sometimes, it’s a little much. I don’t know what it is about this weekend, but hoards of people I know are flooding New York, independently of each other, and I don’t know how I’m going to handle the influx! For instance, my friend Cambria’s dad and teenage sister are here this weekend, which doesn’t much affect me except that we’re having dinner today. That’s good, I can handle that, it’ll be fun and relaxing. But also my friend Abby is moving to New York today, and I want to be around to help her with anything she might need or just keep her company if she gets a little overwhelmed/lonely. Also, my friend Mike from college (and possibly his girlfriend, Lauren, who I also know and am friends with from college? This is something I’m unsure about) is in town and I’d like to see him because I haven’t in like two years, but I don’t know his plans and it’s hard to get a hold of him, so who knows? Also, my friend Paul is in town for the Columbia Publishing Institute, but he’s super busy because he’s in class during the day and working for his job at night, so while he wants to do hang out this weekend he isn’t quite sure when he can fit it in. Also, I promised my roommate that I’d go with her to scope out the Fordham area in the Bronx and see some apartments for one of her best friends, a guy we both know from grad school who is moving here, on Saturday. I also have brunch plans with Katie, Nikki and Kyle, and dinner plans at Nikki’s place on Saturday. I also have two friends coming into town Saturday night–Carmen, one of my best friends from college and former roommate, and her fiance Tim, who is also a friend from college. I feel like I definitely need to spend Sunday and Monday with them, which I’m really excited to do. NOT TO MENTION the fact that on Tuesday the San Diego half of the 4S (don’t ask, long story, that is what me and my three best friends from high school call ourselves), Kim and Jenny, is coming into town on Tuesday night, and Carmen and Tim don’t leave until Wednesday! How did this weekend blow up into such a huge tangled mess of people to see and places to go and things to do?

I know this wasn’t about writing, but it was on my mind. In book news…there isn’t any! Oh, wait, maybe I didn’t say this but J asked for my bio on Friday for the pitch letter, so I sent her a serious one and a funny one (the funny one just has an extra line in it), and I have no idea which she’s decided to use (I hope the funny one). Also, I sent her the cleanest copy of the AUT MS I have, complete with something I’ve never shown her before–the epigraphs! Yes, epigraphs. I KNOW. Sometime I will post about my love/hate relationship with epigraphs, but that’s not for this discussion. But maybe you could tell me what you think of them? Pretentious or tone setting? Is one enough, or the more the merrier (within reason)? Lemme know!

(Also, this is sort of apropos of nothing, but what happened to the tag function? I just noticed it has disappeared.)

(ETA: Um, maybe because I wrote this as a page instead of a post. Whoops. Hope I can fix it!)

The hard part

Posted on June 25th, 2008 by Anna Jarzab

Wow, where the hell have I been? Tumbling, for the most part. You can always catch up with me over there, although what you read might be disproportionately about James McAvoy, but you don’t mind that, do you? Great! The other answer to the above question is: writing. Yes. I am writing. Joyfully. Ecstatically. Quickly. Painfully. Why painfully? Oh, no reason. I’m just at the HARDEST PART of the first draft–the big reveal. Why oh why do I write mysteries? The way that the climax and resolution come about is key, because you want to make sure the reader doesn’t figure out what happened before the characters do (unless, as a reader, you’re into that sort of thing, which I am but I cannot do because I am terrible at solving mysteries), so it can’t be head-bangingly obviously, but then again you don’t want the readers to be like, “Huh. I never in a million years would’ve seen that coming and find no evidence in the preceding chapters to back it up. Great. Fifteen dollars well spent. NOT.” Blurgh. I can’t say much more about it here, obviously, but I just wanted to voice my frustration. It’s been going so smoothly, but now it’s time to pull out all the stops and just write it, which is advice I give to anyone working on a first draft (first drafts are ugly and inconsistent! don’t worry! you can fix it all later, just write it down!), but it’s always a little hard to give yourself permission to write the not-good stuff. Not that I think this is not good, it’s just complicated and will need a lot of smoothing over.

The good thing about writing MB is that I have been able to recognize as I was writing it exactly what big ticket items need to be fixed in post-rough-draft edits. I feel like I can step back from the process and go, “Hm, that character shifts gender between chapters, so gotta resolve that,” or even bigger stuff, like more emotional exploration of main characters. I know that so many people write bloated first drafts and then cull, but I actually write skeletal first drafts and then add. Maybe this is because my books are plot-driven (I hate saying that because then it sounds like there’s a lack of characterization, but it’s true: the mystery carries the story along, and characters grow and change because of and around it)–I just bust my butt trying to get the plot on the page, then I work on getting it right, then I work on character, which is the actual hardest part, the most amorphous when it comes to getting the “It’s done” feeling, but is also the most rewarding so I don’t mind that.

Anyway. The hard work is in front of me, in so many ways, but the first hurdle is just finishing, just throwing my shoulder up against the door and breaking down that wall that’s keeping me away from my ending. Rough drafts are the hardest, as they always, always say, and I’m not quite sure they get easier with experience, although you’d have to ask a far more seasoned writer than myself to get that answer.

Boys v. Girls–who’s the hero?

Posted on June 17th, 2008 by Anna Jarzab

This is really interesting: right on the heels of my post a couple of days ago about the female YA writer’s responsibility to write strong young women comes this post from Guys Lit Wire (an excellent blog that shows boys do read!) about whether or not young men need weak women in the fiction they read (via Finding Wonderland). The discussion begins with Glenn Beck’s interview with Ted Bell, a YA writer whose newest book, Nick of Time, just came out. Basically, Beck and Bell bemoan the state of YA and children’s literature today, where the girls get all the glory and the men are emasculated by the fact that girls and young women can “save themselves” or, horror of horrors, save boys.

Ooooookay…to their credit, the men over at Guys Lit Wire are not impressed with this argument at all. They find the idea that to be a hero the boy has to save a girl pretty antiquated (which it is), and point out that lots of times, in real life, there are no boys around to save the day (they give an example of a recent honor killing, but there are infinite numbers of less tragic examples in all of our day-to-day lives). But the thing is, this is pretty stupid. All YA is not emasculating to boys, and anyway their idea of “emasculating” is pretty narrow. They think that if the boy isn’t swashbuckling and rescuing damsels, then they’re not “learning to be a man”. Well, guess what? That sort of “adventure”, in our current times, has nothing to do with “being a man”. If they were bemoaning the lack of books that teach boys about respect or dignity or self-understanding or human connection, if they were saying that all books are like The Rachel Papers, filled with cheap sex and narcissism, that’d be one argument. But if it’s just that girls do all the rescuin’ in today’s YA market, well, that’s the dumbest thing I’ve ever heard.

Both of the YA books I’ve written/am writing (AUT and MB, respectively) are narrated by boys. Well, AUT is half narrated by an eighteen-year-old boy and half narrated by an eighteen-year-old girl, but I can’t help thinking of him as the primary narrator. I’m a woman (obvs). And I felt no need to let A, the girl, do all the cool hero stuff–I split it up, fifty-fifty. I thought that was pretty fair–they’re both strong, smart, decent people, they are each capable of seeing connections, making discoveries, and saving the day. Same thing with MB–while it only has one narrator, and that narrator is an eighteen-year-old boy, he has a female companion in the book and, like I’ve said in the past, she’s pretty awesome. So, again, half and half. But W, the male narrator in MB, has stuff to learn from JC, the female character in MB. So he’s going to screw up and make mistakes and do all that stuff that teaches you how to be an adult, male or female. That’s the kind of stuff we all need to be reading. And that’s the kind of stuff I aim to write.

Writing young women

Posted on June 12th, 2008 by Anna Jarzab

For the past few days I’ve been struggling with this (long, and growing ever longer) post about the term “voice” and what it means in all these different contexts and situations. I eventually plan on posting it, but not until I can get a very firm grasp on what I’m trying to say, so in the meantime here’s something else I’ve been thinking about. Oh, and also, for those nice people who were slightly worried about me because of my last post, rest assured that I am feeling much, MUCH better. Thank you for your concerns.

So, did you guys hear about Katherine Heigl taking her name out of contention for the Emmy’s because:

I did not feel that I was given the material this season to warrant an Emmy nomination and in an effort to maintain the integrity of the academy organization…In addition, I did not want to potentially take away an opportunity from an actress who was given such materials.

And, I mean, we could sit here and talk about whether or not Heigl is kind of crapping all over the Grey’s writers by saying that they just didn’t give her meaty enough stuff to play this season (although, Gizzie? After that fiasco, I’m not sure quite how much respect I think they deserve), or if, as Jezebel is suggesting, she’s underhandedly protesting the way that women are portrayed on television: namely, as total victims. Jezebel has a regular feature called “Hookers, Victims, and Doormats” (from which I cribbed the title of this post), which they took from a Shirley MacLaine quote about the best parts for actresses being one of those three things, in which they take the latest female casting news and see how many of the roles fall into these categories. It’s fascinating how the film and television industry (with a few righteous exceptions–Veronica Mars, much?) still shies away from creating strong women.

This got me thinking about the women I write. I just do not know. A couple of weeks ago I detailed for you the early days of my writing “career”, including all the novels I’d written. When I first thought about it, I was like, “Yes, definitely, I write a lot of victims,” but actually, now that I think about it, I don’t. Kate in The House on Gilmore Lake, despite having a totally ridiculous storyline, was actually quite strong; she thought her sister’s martyr act was pretty stupid and irresponsible and selfish, so she rolled into town to talk some sense into her, even though she knew she was walking into an emotional minefield w/r/t her true love/now brother-in-law and memories of her mother’s similar heartbreaking behavior. Plus, she repaired everything as best she could without destroying her integrity. Gelsey from that second novel was a little bit victim-y, but instead of letting self-absorbtion and sadness take over her life she tried to turn it around, volunteering with battered women and dumping her disinterested dolt of a husband. In the first draft of AUT, C was SO victim-y, as was N (a male character), but in this new version C is basically a Byronic hero and A (who wasn’t in the first draft) is a rock star who refuses to get beaten down by the warped conventions and idle gossip of a wealthy, corrupt town. I’m actually really proud of A, because I think she’s just the right blend of vulnerability and strength that makes for an interesting character arc.

Which brings me to MB. I never really start out a story going, “Okay, I’m going write a strong female character,” but all the “heros” of my work tend to be pretty strong, male and female. I don’t write protagonists that I cannot respect, and I have a hard time respecting weak, cowardly people, so I don’t end up writing them most of the time. That’s just me. And also, I always hesitate to say that writers “have a responsibility” to write strong, non-victim, non-doormat female characters because part of me has always thought that the only “responsibility” a writer has is to tell the truth, whatever that means in the context of their story–to get to the root of things, to explore human nature in as honest a way as possible. So, like, if your heroine is a doormat, well, sucks for her but if that’s the truth then write it, right? And I mostly still think that, although I get little satisfaction out of reading about such characters, and no satisfaction out of writing them.

But the thing is–the truth is–that there are all kinds of women out there, including hookers, victims, and doormats, but also including manipulative bitches, kick-ass superheros, amazing mothers, unexploited wives, truth-seekers, vengeance-seekers, and just plain old good women. So, hopefully, we get an array of different kinds of women, especially in YA, where lots of young girls can experiment with identity. Although, I’m sort of less concerned about this in YA, as it’s very en vogue to write “plucky” heroines, outcasts who find themselves and take control of their destinies, etc.

OMG, I was going to talk about MB and I got distracted. The female protagonist of MB (we’ll call her “JC”) is pretty much my favorite character I’ve ever written ever. A little bit trashy, a little bit misunderstood, guarded yet hugely loving, unselfish yet not desperate, warm but not needy, smart but not ostentatiously so (and capable of making quite ridiculous errors), naturally funny but not perform-y, bold but not pushy, she’s able to simultaneously see people’s flaws and love them in spite of those flaws. She’s take-no-bullshit, but she’s not insensitive to the comfort other people find in their illusions. She’s not perfect, either, but I love writing a character who’s so sure of herself. She’s an inspiration to me, certainly. And I’m glad I’m not contributing another hooker/doormat/victim to the world of literature (it’s full of them, too)–assuming MB ever actually reaches the world of literature. But none of that pessimism now–what really matters is that I think I’m creating characters who I can respect and admire, and if film and television writers would do that a little more, maybe Jezebel would have less examples for their column–to the betterment of all.

Oh, and I got an email from J today saying that she’s done compiling her editor list and she’s working on the pitch and D, the president of the agency, is reading it this week; barring some big problem J, L and I (not to mention Bri, Nickie, Emma and Alicia, who have all read it) failed to catch, we should be able to start submitting soon. This, I’m sure, will usher in a whole summer’s worth of anxiety, but I have work and MB to concentrate on, a busy social schedule to keep me occupied, plenty of friends coming in and out of the city, and some much-needed California R&R in August to look forward to. But still–yay! I’m excited for what comes next. And terrified, natch. Whateva.

Fear and loathing

Posted on June 9th, 2008 by Anna Jarzab

I’m not very secretive about the fact that up until quite recently–say, five months ago, about–I wasn’t very happy. I wasn’t your typical “I’m a tortured artist” student writer, but living at home the year after college, working in textbook publishing and commuting two plus hours a day and realizing every Monday that the group of tenth graders you’re trying to teach about faith and God are never going to respect you, caused a certain amount of metaphysical angst–ennui, if you will. That’s one of the reasons I went to graduate school–to escape California and the rather worthless life I was creating (or not creating) for myself there, to meet some new people and learn some new things, and to get one step closer to my goal of living in New York.

But even in Chicago I wasn’t really that happy. I met a couple of good people that I ended up loving–Brigitte and Nickie, I could not have done that year without you–but most of the people in my program were vague and uninteresting, and none of them thought I was worth getting to know or befriend (other than the aforementioned, natch). I saw my family a lot, which was wonderful (the Molzab Experience is pretty lifesaving, actually), but that year was rife with disappointment. Not coincidentally, I wrote the final draft (well, not the final final draft, but you know what I mean) of AUT over those two years, and I’m incredibly, incredibly proud of it. It’s the best completed thing I’ve ever written, in the sense that I think the writing and characters are very good, but also it is a definite expression of myself. It takes all the pathos of my life at that time, amps it up several thousand degrees, combines my restlessness with my struggle to be optimistic in the face of the gradual realization I was having that maybe people are not all essentially good. I dragged my characters across hot coals for three hundred pages to see–and to show–what they were made out of, like Kurt Vonnegut rightly suggests, but I ended on a vaguely hopeful note, which is the exact place I was at the end of my year of grad school, when I turned AUT in for a grade. I poured myself into that book, filled it up to the brim with my ruminations on faith and people and crime and absolution and possibility and courage. I hope that someday people get to read it, because you can only talk to yourself about such heady things for so long.

The next book I planned was to be different. Still a mystery, but a little lighter (Saturday I said to Cambria, “Isn’t it sad that I think of MB as my ‘light, happy book’?” Knowing much about the plot and characters, she concurred), more romantic, funnier. It seemed like the right project–after all, I was finally happy, really happy, the kind of happy I’d never been before–the sort of happy that you feel when you make it yourself. I felt like everything in my life was falling into place spectacularly, which should’ve been my first clue that something was amiss, because things never happen to me in that way. But I let my desire to stop overthinking for once override my superstitious inclinations, that little nagging voice in my head that said “Look, this is really unlikely–OPEN YOUR EYES.”

I don’t want to go into it, but suffice it to say that I no longer feel this way. On Friday, before everything changed, I was actually on the train thinking, “God, if I really end up with the life I’ve always wanted, what am I going to write about? Sure, I’ll finish MB, but then what? How can I write GR (the project I have planned after MB, which is much darker than MB, sort of on par with AUT but maybe darker still? I don’t know, I have a hard time measuring the levels of darkness in my own work) if I don’t have any angst left?” This was sort of a silly conversation I was having with myself–of course my life wasn’t really perfect and I certainly didn’t ever expect it to be–but on the ride home on Saturday morning, devastated as I was, low and behold the first line and scene of GR came to me and I love them. I expected to have a burst of creativity after typing out about a paragraph and a half (just to remind myself for later) but I wasn’t really focused enough for that this weekend. But then, suddenly the fear set in: Can I write MB now, feeling the way I do? Is my ability to write so tied to my own emotions that I cannot divorce myself from how I’m feeling (embarrassed and worthless and generally low) and continue on with the story the way I meant to tell it? Will I be torturing myself by writing a splendidly happy moment for my characters when I’m feeling like this?

If you’re worried, don’t be: I can do it. I pushed myself last night and told myself, “This is the world you live in now; forget the other one; adjust and create accordingly.” And I did. I didn’t finish that splendidly happy moment, but I continued it, and eventually I will write past it and then I will get over how I’m feeling and I will go back for the second draft and either be proud of myself for writing outside of myself or if it feels insincere I will fix it. But I can’t help wondering how this will change MB–will the darker elements of the mystery come into play more than I had originally planned them to? Probably. But that’s a good thing, I think. And I’m pretty sure GR won’t suffer from my life finally being in order–thank God for small favors.

Theraquery

Posted on June 5th, 2008 by Anna Jarzab

God, puns/portmanteaus with the word “query” in them are hard. Lesson learned! Anyway, you know how querying is the first step to getting an agent? Well, sometimes, despite how hard your project rocks or how good a writer you are, your query sucks. Don’t feel bad, so did mine, I’m pretty sure. But the very kind Joelle Anthony, a bonafide query master, has offered to take a look at your query and see if she can use her vast knowledge to supe it up a little. There are rules for this endeavor, so visit her blog for more details. I will not be offering this same sort of advice, mostly because I don’t think you want my help writing a query–mine was never very good to begin with.

It’s a hit

Posted on June 3rd, 2008 by Anna Jarzab

So last night I went to the Rilo Kiley show at Terminal 5, which is, as it turns out, like, right next to the West Side Highway. Walking to the venue was sort of like walking to the end of the world? I felt sort of like we might fall off Manhattan, but we didn’t! Anyway, Terminal 5 is this weird old warehouse with many floors and chandeliers and freakishly clean bathrooms that have lollipops and peppermints as parting gifts. I don’t know.

Anyways! I made a new friend, Katie’s ex-coworker Jamie, who is pretty much one of the most hilarious people I’ve ever met, funnier than me, and I don’t usually think a lot of people are funnier than me because I’m an unrepentant narcissist. She has this very sweet apartment in Midtown, where she’s lived with her family for a lot of years but now she has the apartment to herself. In a town full of transplants, I don’t often meet people who grew up here–and by “here” I do not mean New Jersey. Jamie went to a posh private school on the Upper West Side and then to Brown and is pretty much the epitome of what I believe a real New Yorker my age to be except that she is totally awesome and I have honestly suspected that such people might not be awesome, but I gathered from the way she talked about her compatriots that maybe I was right and that she is a righteous exception.

We got to Terminal 5 around 8:30, and the opening band, Thao with the Get Down Stay Down, was in the middle of their set. Katie (or Jamie? Somebody) said, quite rightly, that Thao was a bit like Björk, or “an unintelligible Cat Power”. Hee. Marisa gave me some of her songs, and I have to say, apropos of almost nothing, what is with so many people covering “You Really Got a Hold On Me” these days? And by “so many people” I mean Hanson and this Thao girl. I mean, I like the song, but it seems to me like sort of a weird choice? Or, maybe a little obscure for several people to choose to cover it? I don’t know. That really was an observation with no teeth. Unlike vagina dentata! Which we ended up discussing kind of a lot after the show. That was sort of my fault. Whatevskies! They made it into a movie, so it’s an appropriate post-show chat topic.

Um…so, Rilo Kiley went on at about 9:45 and played a pretty amazing set. It was a nice mix of old and new stuff. I might be the only person I know who actually likes most of Under the Blacklight; I’ve had several people tell me they do not know WHAT is going on with the album after, say, “Dreamworld” in some instances, “Smoke Detector” in others. I’m not the biggest fan of “Dejalo”, but I like almost everything else, although “Give a Little Love” seems out of place, and I guess “Smoke Detector” does too. “Dreamworld” isn’t my fave, but live it’s okay. Songs they played from Blacklight: “Silver Lining”, “Close Call”, “Moneymaker”, “Breakin’ Up”, “Dreamworld”, “15”. I was sort of surprised/disappointed they didn’t play the title track.

They also played some really great old stuff, like “Capturing Moods”, “A Better Son/Daughter”, and “With Arms Outstretched” from The Execution of All Things, and “It’s a Hit” (hence the post title; I love that song), “Does He Love You?” (another of my true faves), and “Ripchord” from More Adventurous. They finished it up with an encore that consisted of “I Never” from Adventurous and Marisa’s favorite double-header, “Portions for Foxes”/”Spectacular Views”, which apparently have the same chords or something music-y that I don’t understand but which made it REALLY COOL. I might have missed some songs, I haven’t seen the set list yet (if anybody knows where that is on the interwebs, shoot me an email at anna [ DOT ] jarzab [ AT ] gmail [ DOT ] com)*, but Brooklyn Vegan has some amazing pictures.

I have no energy to rant about New York concert-goers here, so just read my Tumblr. Because I’m cool like that, I’ve made a Muxtape especially for my favorite Rilo Kiley songs (except the ones I don’t have in mp3, sorry, maybe I’ll add them later). Feel the love.

*ETA: There’s a set list in the Brooklyn Vegan post comments, but for those who are curious enough to read this post but not curious enough to click another link, the set list was as follows:

Close Call
The Moneymaker
Dreamworld
Capturing Moods
Breakin’ Up
Does He Love You?
Ripchord
The Absence of God
With Arms Outstretched
Hail to Whatever
It’s A Hit
15
Silver Lining
I Never

A Better Son/Daughter
Portions for Foxes
Spectacular Views