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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 November, 2010

The world’s greatest thing (and I mean it)

Posted on November 30th, 2010 by annakjarzab

This Harry Potter fan vid. It’s seriously amazing:

I’ve been watching it over and over and over again. It’s pretty much perfect, and very impressive–it amazes me sometimes what people are capable of, and what they’ll do just because, not for money or fame or whatever else people do things for these days (iPads!).

Relatedly, I read this book last night called Ignore Everybody by Hugh MacLeod, the man behind Gaping Void, and while everything in it is common sense, it was also a really great reminder of all the things we neurotic writers tell our neurotic writer friends but cannot for some reason believe or remember when we need them ourselves. Not that I’m in the business of recommending books for people to buy other people as gifts (minefield!), but if there’s anybody in your life who’s struggling with creativity (and I don’t mean just writers; as I was reading Ignore Everybody–it’s pretty short–I could think of several people to lend it to off the top of my head, and among that number was a friend who’s an engineer, a friend who’s a stand up comedian, a friend who works in advertising, and a friend who works in fashion, my sister who’s a film student, and my cousin who sells fire hydrants and stuff, so…) this might be a good purchase. Also MacLeod is really funny and there are a bunch of his signature cartoons scattered throughout.

If you’re asking yourself, “Gee, did Anna go to the Charmin Bathrooms this year?” I’m here to tell you that I did, but that will be a separate blog post. Suspense!

Friday Night Lookalikes revisited

Posted on November 19th, 2010 by annakjarzab

Remember back in the day (July 28th, 2008 to be exact) when I pointed out that Leighton Meester (Gossip Girl) and Minka Kelly (Friday Night Lights) look so alike it’s almost ridiculous? Well, they’re starring in a movie together.

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So obviously Hollywood has been reading my blog.

The pursuit of Nancy Mitford

Posted on November 18th, 2010 by annakjarzab

This book changed my life.

I’m serious. I have a really cool job, the result of which is that I get to meet awesome authors of fabulous books like Stephanie Perkins, who wrote Anna and the French Kiss, which comes out on December 2 (just two and a half weeks from now!) and which you should totally go buy and read immediately because it is awesome. Anyway, Steph and I got to spend some time together last Thursday afternoon, and we were talking about our influences and I mentioned Nancy Mitford. First of all, Steph gets so many bonus points for knowing who I was even talking about, because you say “Nancy Mitford” these days and you get a blank stare from most people. Anyway, I told her that if I could write a book that was anywhere near as good as Love in a Cold Climate, I could retire and die a happy woman.

This is not an exaggeration. I discovered Nancy Mitford in college, I think, although I feel as though I’ve been reading her my whole life. The thing about Nancy Mitfords novels is that they are so incredibly hilarious that you can miss how incredibly sad they are. I just started to realize that a year or two ago, after five or so readings of The Pursuit of Love and Love in a Cold Climate. Nobody creates characters like Nancy does, and you could make the argument that she cheated because she based all the amazing people in her books on the amazing (for better or for worse) people in her life–her friends and family. But the thing about Nancy (do you like how I’m writing about her like we’re friends? So familiar!) is that she’s also a pitch perfect writer, with amazing comedic timing, a flair for the ridiculous, and the ability to control her ridiculous, which is very important if your work is going to veer in the direction of the absurd. There is so much to learn from writers like Nancy Mitford.

Anyway, The Pursuit of Love and Love in a Cold Climate have been available in that bind up linked above for a long time, but Random House’s Vintage imprint is now putting some of her other back list into print as well! Look at these pretty new covers:

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Thanks to Alexa for the heads up on these! So I’ve read The Pursuit of Love and Love in a Cold Climate like six times each, and I’ve read Don’t Tell Alfred once. All the books have the same narrator, a girl named Fanny who’s super normal and almost boring, but is related to a fantastic group of crazy people who are crazy. Don’t Tell Alfred, though, is told from Fanny’s perspective when she’s in her fifties; it was published in 1960, and by then Nancy Mitford, much like her bff Evelyn Waugh, had soured a bit. Her work was way more cynical, and Don’t Tell Alfred suffers from that. I’ve never read Wigs on the Green or The Blessing, though. None of them feature Fanny or the Radletts (that I know of), but I don’t care–I’m excited to read them anyway.

AND I found out that Chris Adrian has a new book coming out in April 2011; it sounds batshit insane, so that’s wonderful. Things are looking up. Now, if only I knew someone at FSG who could get me an ARC…

Overkill

Posted on November 17th, 2010 by annakjarzab

You guys, I think you might be able to download Beatles music on iTunes now. I just have a feeling…

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Yeesh, iTunes, give it a rest. We get it, you’re very excited.

In other news, the book I’m writing might actually be killing me. Every day I decide to shut it down at some point, and then either later that day or the next day I decide I’m going to give it a shot even though it’s currently in a particular state of awful I can’t even adequately describe to you, and then twelve hours later I’m like, “WHY DID I EVER THINK THIS COULD WORK? I AM THE WORST EVER.” Ask Alex. She gets to experience it live and in person on G-chat every damn day! Lucky girl.

(Note: This is not OoH, or “Hallelujah” as I’ve decided to call it for short because…well, obviously “Ooh!” is a weird shorthand for a book title. I’m waiting for a Hallelujah editorial letter from my agents, which I’ll hopefully have before Thanksgiving. This is a completely different disasterscript.)

I seriously think this book is rotting my brain. It feels utterly unoriginal, yet too weird and different, at the same time. 90 percent of the time, when I even think about working on it I get this feeling in my shoulders like I’m being squeezed to death by a professional wrestler. The characters are all underdeveloped, the plot is ridiculous and full of holes so big you could drive a semi through them, and I still don’t have any faith in my ability to pull of the mechanics of the story. The mechanics. THE STUFF THAT MAKES THE STORY GO VROOM! And even though the quality of the actual writing should be, at this point, the least of my problems, I’m stressing out about that, too.

Basically, I’m a whole ball of anxiety about everything having to do with writing and publishing and being myself in the world these days. I’m afraid I’ve run out of ideas. I’m afraid I can’t put together a decent sentence anymore, let alone an entire novel that doesn’t totally suck. I’m afraid I don’t have the right body armor to be on the writing side of this business. I’m afraid of the mere idea of doing anything else. It’s really quite the idiotic predicament, because honestly, sack up, Jarzab! These are first world problems! And yet they bear down on me all the same. Awesome.

So I have come to this conclusion: I need a vacation. New York is getting to me, and so is this book. I’m looking forward to working on Hallelujah again because, as spooked as I am after the Great Book 2 Debacle of this summer, and as low as my confidence level is, I think I can handle Hallelujah. It’s not a wild, sprawling octopus of a book that I need to wrestle into submission; it’s more of an overgrown garden in need of weeding and pruning and maybe a little bit of Miracle Grow. And thus it has become my anchor, something I’m looking forward to working on, which I need because damn. And I get to go home for Christmas for twelve straight days, which is another anchor. I can’t wait to be out of this crowded, stinking city. Maybe this time I’ll remember to bring a coat.

(Funny story: Two years ago I spent Christmas in California–as I’m doing this year–and because I live in New York, where the winters are very cold, and I’m a moron, I was all, “It’s California! I don’t need a coat!” Guess what? You need a coat in December practically everywhere. Okay, that’s not true, but you need one in Northern California. Not, like, a sleeping bag snow parka, but something to take the edge off the wind. Anyway, I didn’t bring a coat to California for Christmas two years ago and I had to wear my high school letterman’s jacket, the only coat I had at my parents house, around town for two weeks. I looked pretty cool. Just kidding, I looked hella dumb. Lesson learned!)

So…yeah. That’s me! The upside is that my friend Mary, she of the fabulous AUT blurbs you can find somewhere on this blog (sorry, too lazy right now to link), is coming to visit on Thursday, and on Friday I get to see Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows after some chicken and a giant margarita at Dallas BBQ. And then next week is Thanksgiving! I’m making the pies.

And, one last piece of news if you made it this far–I got my first royalty statement! From the looks of it, AUT sales are much healthier than I expected (erm…I think, as I do not actually understand the statement at all). A little birdie has been feeding me BookScan numbers since pub and it looks like the real sales were about twice as much as BookScan shows, which is kind of insane. BookScan only covers about 70% point of sale, but the channels it doesn’t cover (box stores, Walmart, etc.) are ones AUT wasn’t even distributed in. But I’m not knocking it; it was a nice piece of news to dull the pain of my realizing today was only Tuesday. Somehow, it felt like Thursday.

Sometimes writing is weird

Posted on November 14th, 2010 by annakjarzab

I wish I kept a running list of the things I look up when I’m writing a novel. For instance, today I:

  • Called my mom for help in figuring out where rich people would live in Chicago in the late 1800s (she suggested somewhere on Prairie Ave)
  • Googled, in essence, “that bigger pole on the end of a staircase railing”. The Internet reminded me that a railing is actually called a banister (or, you know, a railing, whatevs), the thing I was actually looking for a word for is the “newel” (which, when you read it in this novel, if I ever publish it, will stand out as something I probably Googled because no real person knows what that thing is called), and the carved wooden embellishments on the tops of the newels are called “finials”. The more you know!

Writing is an excercise in me realizing how much I don’t know about what things are called or what places are like. What did people do before the Internet? Probably called their moms.

NaNo Write No More

Posted on November 5th, 2010 by annakjarzab

Eh, dumb blog title, I know.

I’ve never successfully done NaNo. By that I don’t mean that I tried, and failed; I mean that I signed up, then gave up like a day or two in (which is what happened this year!). I just don’t find the whole thing very motivating, and that’s not a criticism of NaNo–it’s a criticism of myself. The whole point of NaNo is to turn off your inner critic and just force yourself to write a certain number of words every day for thirty days, which I cannot possibly do (turn off the inner critic, that is). The hope is, I imagine, that you (the writer) will experience a sense of release from the normal fears and insecurities that plague you on the regular–not that you will be able to write, magically, a whole book publishable as-is in 30 days. No sane person is sitting around thinking that’s the point of NaNo.

Which is why this Salon article bothers me, not to mention a lot of other people who are more articulate about their arguments against Laura Miller’s argument, like the folks of NaNoWriMo themselves. The takeaway from Miller’s article is that people shouldn’t be participating in NaNo because there are more than enough crappy writers out there as it is–why should we be encouraging MORE of them? Which, fair enough. She makes some interesting comments about how there are more aspiring writers out there than there are people who read books, which is a.) not untrue and b.) a real problem. If more people who wanted to write books read books–and, more importantly, bought books–it would be easier to get published because the publishing industry would be more solvent and willing to purchase more and take a chance on unknown authors. So, lesson #1: if you want to write a book, read a lot of books, and BUY as many books as you can afford to buy. It’ll help you write better, and it’ll help the publishing industry stay afloat in these difficult times.

Miller also seems to get, at least fundamentally, the reason behind NaNo:

[I]t fosters the habit of writing every single day, the closest thing to a universally prescribed strategy for eventually producing a book. NaNoWriMo spurs aspiring authors to conquer their inner critics and blow past blocks. Only by producing really, really bad first drafts can many writers move on to the practice that results in decent work: revision.

I think that’s pretty great–sure, you don’t need a huge non-profit organization “with staff, sponsors, a fundraising gala and, last year, nearly 120,000 contestants” in order to do something that is fundamentally personal–like writing 50,000 words in 30 days–but it’s nice that people who need the support have it. Miller points out that NaNo not coincidentally takes place during marathon season, and quite honestly, people don’t need an organized marathon to run 26 miles in one go, but people seem to like it and get a lot out of it, so you’re not going to see me saying that marathons shouldn’t exist because there are already too many people who run in the world.

But Miller errs first when she says that “I am not the first person to point out that “writing a lot of crap” doesn’t sound like a particularly fruitful way to spend an entire month, even if it is November.” Actually, most professional novelists will acknowledge that “writing a lot of crap” can be a very fruitful way to spend a certain amount of time because writing crap teaches you how to write good stuff. And also, crap can be turned into good stuff with revision. If people don’t revise, that’s their funeral; they will not be published, for the most part, so the assault of those “bad books” Miller, an avid novel reader, fears will probably never come to pass. I mean, plenty of bad stuff gets published, obviously, but NaNo is not making that happen more. It’s just increasing the pool from which the bad novels can be plucked; the amount being published will stay the same, or go down due to falling book sales! Phew.

Miller, despite the fact that she herself is a writer, although not of novels, has a very low opinion of writers, which I understand–to a point. She’s incredibly vicious about it, saying:

I’m not worried about all the books that won’t get written if a hundred thousand people with a nagging but unfulfilled ambition to Be a Writer lack the necessary motivation to get the job done. I see no reason to cheer them on. Writers are, in fact, hellishly persistent; they will go on writing despite overwhelming evidence of public indifference and (in many cases) of their own lack of ability or anything especially interesting to say.

The trouble here is that it’s such a utilitarian approach to what makes things important. I don’t think that trying to push yourself to do something you’ve always want to do is pointless, even if it doesn’t lead to bestsellerdom. I mean, come on! If the only point of creativity was to make money or to be appreciated, NO ONE would ever create ANYTHING. It’s way too much of a gamble if that’s your only yardstick. And actually, a lot of people feel like they need encouragement when they’re floundering; I certainly do. It’s one thing to not let lack of encouragement stop you (because you’re a raging narcissist–duh, aren’t all writers?–and nothing will stop you from shoving your boring, crappy novel down everyone’s throat!), it’s another thing to have lack of encouragement sour the experience of doing the work in some ways. Sometimes, you need to have someone say, out of the blue and with no coaching from you, “You can do this.” Sometimes you want to feel like you’re not alone. Because at the end of the day, that’s what writing is about–that’s what reading is about, too. I was a pretty lonely kid and I loved books because in them I was never alone. As a somewhat less lonely adult, I write to reach out. There’s value in that, even if it’s not monetary, and so write on, NaNo-ers.

Miller’s biggest rhetorical problem in this article is that she conflates writers getting together and encouraging each other to be creative in a boundary pushing way with people not reading. She continues:

Rather than squandering our applause on writers — who, let’s face it, will keep on pounding the keyboards whether we support them or not — why not direct more attention, more pep talks, more nonprofit booster groups, more benefit galas and more huzzahs to readers? Why not celebrate them more heartily? They are the bedrock on which any literary culture must be built. After all, there’s not much glory in finally writing that novel if it turns out there’s no one left to read it.

Okay, well those are two separate issues. I wish a reading challenge would get as big as NaNo is–I’m on board with what she’s saying here! I don’t think NaNo needs to not exist for something like Miller imagines for reading to exist. So…what?

Also, how narcissistic is it of Miller to write an entire article about how much NaNo annoys her as if anybody cares what she thinks about NaNoWriMo? That’s the ultimate irony here. She would’ve been better off writing 800 words about whether it’s NaNoREEMo or NaNoWRYMo (it’s NaNoWRYMo, obviously–NaNoREEMo assumes the word “writing” is pronounced “WREEting”, which it isn’t, clowns, so stop saying that!). That’s a potboiler in the making.

Also, there’s this infuriating Millions article about how the art of the rejection letter is lost that I can’t even talk about without going into a rage blackout.

Typical

Posted on November 4th, 2010 by annakjarzab

As I knew it would, as soon as I blogged about that little idea I had for a NaNo book I totally lost interest in writing it. Actually, I’ve totally lost interest in writing everything, so I’ve decided to take a little break from it altogether. I don’t know if anyone else does this, but I put so much pressure on myself to be perfect (okay, I’m sure EVERYBODY does this), and recently I’ve been incapable of enjoying the act of writing because I can’t turn off my critical brain even though, hello, it’s a draft and it’s supposed to be messy. It makes me feel better that Sarah Dessen has been blogging about this same thing lately, reminding me that I’m not the only person in the world who turns in disappointing drafts. It’s quite possible I’ll never turn in something that people like on the first try, no matter how long my career lasts. I’m not going to say that “I’m okay with that” because obviously I’d rather that not be the case, but it is what it is.

So I’m going to take a break and just read a lot and also get excited for HARRY POTTER!! I seriously am dying waiting for this thing to come out. DYING. I love this poster below so much I want to, like, own it and put it up in my office or something:

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Harry Potter + X-Files tagline? Dream come true.

I’ve also got to gear up for the third annual Calexas Ex-Pats Thanksgiving Extravaganza, which is a name I just made up for the Thanksgiving dinner my friends and I have every year to make up for the fact that it is so damn expensive to fly home for Thanksgiving AND Christmas, thus assuring that we have to spend the Giving of the Thanks in New York City. The group has grown a little bit since last year, so this should be interesting. I wonder if it’ll snow.

Back to basics

Posted on November 1st, 2010 by annakjarzab

Oh man. I swear to God, I really mean to update this thing like twice a week, and then here we are, weeks after my last post, and I’m just now getting around to it. Yikes. The thing is, I’m super busy and stressed out right now. This is one of the totally insane things about living in New York and having so many friends here and having a job and writing and all that. It’s always something. I never get a weekend to relax; it’s always, like, I’m traveling or so-and-so is in town, or it’s Halloween, or it’s someone’s birthday. All of those things are great and important and fun (Halloween this year was especially fun, given that I’m known to despise Halloween and try not to go out if I can help it), and I love my friends and everything, but MAN, it is EXHAUSTING. And my job is great, but stressful, and writing is important but difficult, and everything just doesn’t seem to be flowing the way I would like it to. And so, this blog suffers.

On the writing front, I’m trying to go back to basics. I finished a manuscript at the beginning of October and now it’s with my agent. I’m not working on revisions right now, and don’t know when I will be, so now is the perfect time to not write and just rest. Except I don’t really work like that. Already I feel like I’m behind working on my next thing, but my next thing is giving me some problems. Maybe it’s just that I’m thinking about it in too big of a way. I’m planning it out as a three book trilogy (yeah, yeah, I know, who isn’t writing a trilogy these days?), and maybe I’m just getting way ahead of myself with the plotting. I basically have the whole second book plotted out and have not finished writing the first one! Which seems dumb. Then again, I have no idea how anyone else does trilogies–maybe there are other people just as OCD as I am about this stuff?

The other thing I’ve been doing with my new book is, um, starting over like eight bazillion times. Right now I have about five documents open for the same project on my computer–and that’s just in Word! It doesn’t count the document I have open in Scrivener, which I finally downloaded the full version of last week. Speaking of Scrivener, I know it gets rave reviews from a lot of authors, but I feel myself being so resistant to it. Which isn’t really surprising, since the only reason I downloaded it is because I know it’s not for the kind of writer that I myself am. I like to write my books in a linear fashion–beginning to end, just as they’re read. The idea of writing things out of order and then stitching it all back together gives me hives, and I’m not joking. That’s really the kind of writer who will get the most out of Scrivener, though–the out-of-order writer, which, again, is emphatically not me. But my way isn’t really working for this book, for whatever reason, at least not right now. So I’m going to force myself to try writing out of order and see if that loosens me up a little. I feel so locked in to my ideas, even though I know they’re not all fitting together properly (though I’m getting there).

For instance, this book had, like, a huge cast of characters. 13 to be precise, and that’s just the human characters! Alex and I had a come-to-Jesus moment about it where she was like, “You need to cut some of these people.” And she’s totally right–a lot of them were serving only one superficial function, and I was able to pare down the human cast of characters to seven. Which is still a ton! But I do need them all. Seven is the compromise I made with myself.

I also had my own come-to-Jesus moment with myself. I often say that simple is always better. No need to have a complicated plot or event or explanation when a simple one will do just fine. The reason things sometimes feel contrived in novels is because they’re too complicated. I’m paraphrasing John Green when I joke that writing is just lying, except that’s not a joke. Lies are always better when they’re simple, and they need only one or two key details to be convincing. Lots of times, writers say things in three paragraphs that could have been said in three sentences, and they create elaborate plots that end up looking like Swiss cheese when you actually think about them, and that’s not because they’re bad writers! It’s just that they actually think too hard about things, create doubts and problems for themselves, and then overcompensate with disastrous results.

And to be honest, that’s kind of what my current project is suffering from right now. I’m so afraid of being criticized for being unrealistic and silly that I’m being unrealistic and silly. So, I’ve got to simplify. Those are my two goals for now; break the mold, and simplify. I need to diversify the ways in which I approach my work in order to jump start my creativity, and I need to start paring the story down to its essential elements or risk losing the whole point of the thing in the pursuit of the right flourishes.

To that end, I’m experimenting with writing tools, and I also think I’m going to do NaNo, but not with the project I’ve just been talking about. I wrote OoH last fall just for myself, and that’s why I think it was so fun and easy to write, relatively speaking. I’d like to have that experience again. I love my current project, and I’m really dedicated to it, and I’m not going to stop working on it right now, but I think I need to loosen up and just play around with words and characters and plot again, without all of my insane pressures, both internal and external.

So my NaNo project is going to be this little YA romance. The main character’s name is Collins, and she’s this brainy overachiever, kind of snarky and sharp. She lives in this small Midwestern town that’s only famous because five years ago a Hanson-esque band of three teenaged brothers shot to the top of the pop charts with their first album, but now after the failure of their second album they’re moving home. The youngest boy, Logan, who has previously only been home schooled, enrolls at the town high school for his senior year. Of course, Collins and Logan collide in some rather unfortunate ways at first, but then it’s just a romance between them. I like the idea of taking two different sorts of overachievers, one who is on the rise (in her own head at least) and one who is at a career low and forcing them to learn things from each other. Also, it gives me a chance to talk about creativity and pressure and saying what you need to say in the way you need to say it, all of which I LOVE to do. But who knows, I might literally write only twenty pages all November. Part of this is about not putting pressure on myself, so the deadlines fall into that category as well. My username is annakjarzab if you’d like to follow me or friend me or whatever it’s called on NaNo.

More soon! Also, remember that the comment tool requires me to approve all comments, so if yours doesn’t show up don’t worry, I got it.