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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.


I should probably blog here again someday

Posted on December 20th, 2013 by annakjarzab

But that day is not today! Suffice it to say, busy 2013, lots of words written, lots of backstage shenanigans, lots to look forward to in 2014. Keep a weather eye. Happy holidays!

TANDEM synopsis!

Posted on October 22nd, 2012 by annakjarzab

I’m not a very patient person, which is annoying, because half of being a published writer is just sort of waiting around for things to happen or people to get back to you or whatever. But I’ve been trying to be better about this as part of a whole self-improvement-before-30 thing. It’s going okay I guess? Anyway, I was trying not to spend the few months leading up to the publication of The Opposite of Hallelujah by talking incessantly about Tandem, which comes out October 9, 2013. I’m so out of control excited about Tandem, but it seemed gauche to ignore Hallelujah (which I also do love, don’t get me wrong!) and keep jabbering about Tandem. Now that The Opposite of Hallelujah is out, though, I feel no such compunctions and therefore I’m going to share the synopsis with you today–because I can! If my self-improvement-before-30 thing was working better, I’d wait until I got the go-ahead to show you the Tandem cover/full jacket, which are SO COOL and YOU WILL DIE and then you will have to order Tandem from Amazon.ghost to read it, but it would be WORTH IT because OMG.

But it’s not working and I’m still impatient and I want to tell you what Tandem is officially about so here it goes:

Sixteen-year-old Sasha Lawson has only ever known one small, ordinary life. When she was young, she loved her grandfather’s stories of parallel worlds inhabited by girls who looked like her but led totally different lives. Sasha never believed such worlds were real–until now, when she finds herself thrust into one against her will.

To prevent imminent war, Sasha must slip into the life of an alternate version of herself, a princess who has vanished on the eve of her arranged marriage. If Sasha succeeds in fooling everyone, she will be returned home; if she fails, she’ll be trapped in another girl’s life forever. As time runs out, Sasha finds herself torn between two worlds, two lives, and two young men vying for her love–one who knows her secret, and one who thinks she’s someone she’s not.

The first book in the Many-Worlds Trilogy, Tandem is a riveting saga of love and betrayal set in parallel universes in which nothing–and no one–is what it seems.

As Ryan Lochte would say, “Jeah!” More soon!


Hats off to Rube

Posted on August 30th, 2012 by annakjarzab

Pawel (pronounced PAH-vel–it’s Polish, as is Pawel*), one of the secondary characters in The Opposite of Hallelujah and the love interested/boyfriend (that is not a spoiler) of the protagonist, Caro, is really into Rube Goldberg machines. His bedroom–as Caro eventually discovers–is full of these odd devices, which he builds out of K’nex (“Just so we’re clear, they’re not toys,” he says before he allows Caro into his room. “WHAT aren’t toys?” she asks in trepidation. Well, it made me laugh.).

Rube Goldberg machines, for those who aren’t familiar, are complicated machines that do very simple things. The best example I can think of that anybody’s ever seen is the board game, Mousetrap. You know how you build this whole contraption and at the end all it does is land on the mouse? Another great example is the music video for OK Go’s song, “This Too Shall Pass”, which really should be on the Opposite of Hallelujah soundtrack but weirdly isn’t. Rube Goldberg was a cartoonist who did all these illustrations depicting complex devices that, like, wipe someone’s chin with a napkin or whatever (real example). Inventing these machines is something real nerds like to do; Purdue University and UC Berkeley have national competitions every year. I like to imagine that Pawel will someday enter and win one of these competitions, when he’s in college.

I first learned of Rube Goldberg machines (I tried to get away with calling them simply “Goldberg machines” in The Opposite of Hallelujah, but my copy editor insisted I use his full name every time; I don’t like it, but I DO like accuracy, so…) from, of all things, an episode of The X-Files. Who am I kidding, that’s where I’ve learned roughly 57% of the things I know. The episode in question (“The Goldberg Variation”**) is from the seventh season and guest stars both Shia LaBoeuf (one of my fake boyfriends, ye ken) and Willie Garson, who played the lovable Stanford Blatch on Sex and the City. In that episode, Willie Garson’s character is an amateur inventor of Goldberg machines (ain’t nobody copy editing me in this blog post!) who accidentally stumbles into a lucky streak. There are many scenes in which Willie’s character narrowly escapes certain death at the hands of people whom he owes money by a series of improbable events reminiscent of a real live Goldberg machine.

The idea of having one of the characters be obsessed with Goldberg machines was something that came up in the process of writing the book, one of those magical epiphanies you yearn for as a writer and don’t often get. It’s something that, as a mere character quirk, would have gotten smothered by the various other, heavier goings-on in the book, so I’m glad I didn’t think of it before I started writing, or else it probably would’ve come off as silly. And in the hands of another character instead of Pawel–like, if Caro had suddenly developed an interest in them–it would’ve been one detail too many, kind of besides the point.

Instead, the Goldberg machines did a couple of things for me. First, they gave me a metaphor that worked on a few different levels (the machines, as Hannah points out, are a great way to think about the intricate causality of the universe–you could basically think of your life, and the lives of everyone around you, as one huge Goldberg machine, events causing other events causing other events and so on; they’re also an external manifestation of the overwrought goings-on in Caro’s head and heart regarding her feelings for her sister, and the machinations Hannah has undertaking to hide her personal tragedy from those who love her most). Second, they gave me a really organic way to show Caro’s character development and capacity for empathy (I cannot explain this further without spoiling). Not to mention that it shows both Caro and the reader a different facet of Pawel, in a series of scenes that provide both insight into his character and a counterpoint to Caro’s own life. Caro, God love her, starts off the book as pretty self-involved, not in a malicious way, but in a myopic, childlike way. It takes a while–and a lot of different mistakes and emotional confrontations–for her to really see the people around her. And once she sees them, she has to earn them. To do right by them, in whatever way she can. The Goldberg machines help her do right by Pawel.

*It’s the Polish version of Paul, which I knew, of course, but until this moment I hadn’t realized that it’s my second book with a character named Paul (Carly’s father in All Unquiet Things is also named Paul). Not intentional!

**I guess this is sort of a pun? The Goldberg Variations is a musical work for the harpsichord written by Bach and, I guess, first played by some dude named Goldberg (not related to our buddy Rube).

Make It or Break It: “Life or Death”

Posted on April 20th, 2011 by annakjarzab


That’s kind of a heavy episode title, isn’t it?

Previously on Make It or Break It: Max is into Payson, and vice versa. Emily can’t have a boyfriend and breaks up with Damon after sleeping with him. Kaylie was in rehab, but she’s in denial about her problem, although it’s possible that she’s on her way to understanding because her friend Maeve from the clinic died of a heart attack brought on by her own eating disorder.

Kaylie reads an article about Maeve and is obviously disturbed. Emily’s still being stank to her mom since finding out that she works as a bartender at a strip club, which is uncalled for. She’s doing her best, Emily! Ugh. Max is taking some “action shots” of people at the gym, “people” meaning Payson. Oh, yeah, I forgot he was a photographer. Lauren, having dodged the bullet of her dad going to Summer about the fact that his evil daughter is the one who leaked the Sasha/Payson tape to Ellen Beales by crying a lot, is back to her old self; she strolls over to the beam to give Emily a hard time about Damon, implying that he’ll probably hook up with other girls while he’s “waiting” for Emily. True!

Speaking of Damon, he’s sitting in front of a computer screen looking at pictures of Emily while singing, I kid you not, the lyrics, “I see your face on my computer screen.” ARE YOU KIDDING ME WITH THIS? At least he agrees, because he crosses those lines out in his notebook. Kaylie walks in, listening to him sing (remember how he’s recording his album in Kaylie’s parents’ house?). Kaylie helps Damon with his song (don’t ask).

So the Dallas club is coming to the Rock. Wait, no they’re not–they canceled. Some corn-fed gymnasts from Iowa are coming instead. Darby’s pretending to be psyched, but she’s pretty transparent and the girls aren’t buying it. Darby tries to make friends with Payson, who’s being polite (barely) but distant, and it’s freaking Darby out. It’s obvious Payson doesn’t think this chickadee is cut out to be a real coach, and she’s not wrong. Darby needs to worry about getting the girls’ respect, not their friendship. She makes a deal with Payson: help her get everyone excited about the Pinewood meet and she’ll help Payson with her gymnastics. Wait, isn’t she Payson’s coach? Isn’t it her job to help Payson with her gymnastics? Where’s Sasha?

Summer and Kim have a convo that twists my gut. Kim asks her if she’s thinking about moving in with the Tanners (I’m assuming this means getting married to Steve, since Summer’s not that kinda girl, if you know what I mean) and Summer says, basically, that Steve and Lauren need her, so maybe. Kim asks what she needs and Summer says “I like being needed.” Oh, Summer, girl, get with the program. Meanwhile, Summer’s new faux daughter, aka Lucifer, is coming on so strong to Max. Yick. Lauren, have a little self respect.

Damon and Kaylie are working on the song and bonding. Maeve’s mother calls. I think she identifies herself as “Musak Benson”, which cannot possibly be right, but anyway she invites Kaylie to speak at Maeve’s funeral. The catch is that she has to talk about how Maeve was recovering from her anorexia, which is not true. Kaylie has a slight mental breakdown because everybody wants her to say what she feels but she doesn’t know how she feels. He advises her to write it down and…sing it?

Max and Payson talk; Payson never called him back after she told him to call her and he did. Also, he wants to take her new headshot for the Rock’s lobby, which is something Lauren asked him to do for her and I assumed she made it up. Apparently it’s real. I guess he, also being a Rock gymnast, would know if she was lying about that. But anyway, he decides to spend time with Payson instead. She’s not super great at posing, but she is “funny”–both haha and dorky. I don’t believe that a pro like Payson can’t take a freaking headshot. Kim invites him for dinner, but he has to take off–I’m assuming to take Lauren’s picture. Kim and Payson have another great mother-daughter moment.

Damon IMs Emily. He tells her he’s got a gig and wishes she would come, but obvs she can’t. She and Chloe have another barbed wire conversation about Damon. Meanwhile, Kaylie writes bad song lyrics and Damon interrupts her. He offers to go to Maeve’s funeral. Interesting. I thought that was Austin at the funeral in the previews. Maybe it is. She refuses his offer.

Lauren is dressed like Britney Spears circa “Hit Me Baby One More Time” while Max is taking her pictures. Payson returns his call. Max asks her out for coffee; she suggests they go for a run, because the whole date thing makes her uncomfortable (she doesn’t tell him that). You know what else is uncomfortable? Lauren has changed into a bra and underwear. She is really the least subtle person on the planet. AND MAX TAKES PICTURES OF HER. YOU DO NOT DESERVE PAYSON YOU PERV! Summer walks in and gets piiiiiiiissssed. She reams Lauren out and Lauren cries in order to get Summer to keep the peep show a secret. AND IT WORKS! SUMMER! I THOUGHT I COULD COUNT ON YOU! Ugh.

Emily’s moonlighting as Damon’s PR girl by putting up posters advertising his gig instead of, you know, practicing. Payson calls her on it, saying she’s not sticking any of her landings, and DO YOU KNOW WHAT EMILY SAYS? “Pinewood sucks, I don’t need to stick my landings to beat them.” Ladies and gentlemen, is that or is that not the attitude of a champion? Spoiler: it’s not. Emily, just quit and go back to Damon. You don’t deserve to go to the Olympics.

Lauren asks Max to go to Damon’s gig. When he asks if Payson’s going, she’s all, why, and he’s like, “She’s a nice girl, don’t you think?” LOADED QUESTION. “Sure,” Lauren says. “I also think she’s a lesbian, so you’re wasting your time shaking that tree.” Someone needs to smack her, pronto. Steve said that you can’t spank a teenager, but I’m not so sure about that.

Kim gives Darby a Kim-talk about setting boundaries for Payson because the girl thinks she’s the bionic woman. Because she’s a coward (not that Kim’s wrong, but Darby’s a marshmallow), she tells Payson she can’t do the high start value vault she’s been practicing. Does Emily do anything but sit on the mats and pine over Damon? Darby calls a sleepover at the Rock. Lauren tells Payson she has a date with Max. Not exactly, but all right.

Kaylie and Damon attend Maeve’s funeral. Yikes, Damon, what are you doing? Oh, Maeve’s mom’s name is Musette. That’s not a name, but okay. Musak (I’m still calling her that) is in such denial about Maeve’s death, it’s actually really heartbreaking. Kaylie can’t handle saying a eulogy about how happy and healthy Maeve was. She confesses to Damon outside the church about Maeve, and how she, Kaylie, isn’t getting better, and how she doesn’t want to die. Damon comforts her, and they go to the gig, where Damon reads her lyrics back to her. They helped him finish the song, and he wants to sing it tonight, with her, on stage. I wonder if Emily is going to show up?

More trust circles. Darby wants to psych them up by releasing their gripes and grievances to the universe with popcorn. That is not a metaphor. Lauren uses this opportunity to strongarm Darby into letting them go to Damon’s gig. Payson is so not into it. At the gig, Lauren drops the bomb on Payson about the half-naked photos Max took of her, then Damon drags Kaylie on stage, not noticing that Emily is there. When the song is over they hug, and Emily is bummed.

Back at the Rock, Summer sees that the girls are gone. Of course, Marcus from the NGO comes to check up on Emily. He sees the flyers and realizes that Emily and the rest of the team are at Damon’s gig, which is just wrapping up. He sees Emily and asks her if she’s going to get in trouble. “I don’t care, it was worth it,” she says. Erm…That’s committment, folks! Kaylie tells Emily Damons’ a great guy, she can see why Emily’s in love with him. Why not just stab her in the heart and get it over with? Oh, and Max is there. He bounds up to Lauren like a golden retriever puppy, but Summer swoops in to whisk her away. “Fool me once, shame on you, fool me twice, I’M AN IDIOT,” Summer says. Word. Payson breaks her date with Max after seeing the photos. Marcus arrives; Emily escapes, but Darby gets caught with a beer. Marcus isn’t pleased.

The Pinewood girls arrive. They’re kicking some Rock ass, and Darby tells Payson to do the high starting value vault she’s been working on, even though Payson’s never done it without the practice trampoline, in order to win the meet. Kim is not happy, and Payson of course misses the vault, landing on her back which, as you may remember, she BROKE last year. Darby is the wuuuuuuurst. Payson gives Darby a lecture about what a “real coach” does and doesn’t do, and Darby runs off crying. Even Lauren thinks she’s lame now.

In her room, Kaylie rips a page out of her notebook, the page with all her calorie and weight counts. “My name is Kaylie Cruz and I am anorexic,” she writes.

Next week: Damon and Emily argue, I’m assuming about Kaylie, and Emily throws some stuff, although I’m pretty sure that half of these scenes are from last season. Also, Emily’s pregnant.

Make It or Break It: “The Buddy System”

Posted on April 20th, 2011 by annakjarzab


I’ve been very bad about doing these recaps. When the season started (uh, four weeks ago), I was so excited to recap! And then, as things tend to do when you commit yourself to them, it started to feel like work and I was like, meh. I didn’t even watch “The Buddy System”, the third episode this season, until tonight, and there’s ANOTHER EP still left to watch. Not that I don’t love this show–obviously, I love it way more than is really appropriate given my age. Right? But who cares! On with the show!

Previously on Make It or Break It: The Rock girls got a new coach, Darby, who is basically a cartoon so she shouldn’t last long. Payson and Lauren became co-captains of the Rock, inexplicably, because who would ever want Lauren as their captain? Lauren confessed to her father that she leaked the footage of Payson kissing Sasha to Ellen Beales, because she’s a moron. Damon discovered that Chloe works at a strip club (as a bartender, gosh!) and Emily and Damon slept together for the first (and last, because Emily’s not allowed to have a boyfriend or any sort of life outside the Rock per that contract she just signed with the National Gymnastics Organization) time and it was sweet and lovely despite the fact that Emily was involved.

OK, let’s get started! Darby’s gathered the ladiez of the Rock in a “nonheirarchical circle to affirm and support one another”, but Payson’s not buying it. She and Lauren share snarky barbs as they both check out new guy Max’s hot bod. Lauren takes her place in the circle and Darby calls on Emily to give her a warm fuzzy. To her credit, Emily gives it an honest go, but that’s probably because she’s so distracted thinking about how she doesn’t get to be with Damon anymore. Wah wah–tell it to your parole officer, Emily! Payson calls Lauren a slut, sorta. Having struck out with the respect circle, Darby decides that everybody’s going to have a partner (the “buddy” of the episode title) whose routine they have to learn, and vice versa. Lauren and Payson are obviously teamed up for maximum drams.

Emily wants to know who her buddy is. Darby: “Who’s got two thumbs and and choreography that one the Pacific Coast Classic in 2002? This gal!” She points to herself. You are no Liz Lemon, Darby! Stop it, MIOBI writers. You’re not pulling it off.

Elsewhere, in another trust circle, Kaylie is in group therapy, not even trying to act like she’s listening to a girl named Suzanne talk about how she struggles with the pressures to be perfect. After the session, Suzanne approaches Kaylie and tries to bond with her, but Kaylie’s not into it. Maeve, the bad influence from the treatment center, pulls up in a red striped convertible and woos Kaylie into her clutches by speaking those immortal words: “Baby, it’s time to shed some of that rehab fat.” Ugh. If I didn’t have a SNEAKING SUSPICION about what’s about to happen to her, I’d be like, go away. Also, she actually spoke the words, “I die.” Subtle.

Payson’s still bitching about the buddy exercise, and Lauren takes this opportunity to snake her in front of Max. “Are you always in heat?” Payson asks her, and Lauren calls dibs on Max. LOL to both things!

Back at Casa de Monster Child, Steve is watching Payson kiss Sasha on a computer. “Lauren, what did you do?” he says aloud when he realizes that Sasha was innocent. The question is, Steve, what are YOU going to do about it? And the answer, knowing Steve, is cover it up to protect his devil spawn YET AGAIN, I’m sure.

Maeve and Kaylie are blissing out in a sauna as they bond over their shared experience in high pressure careers. Maeve offers Kaylie some “over the counter asthma medication” that “keeps her energized, not munchy”, but Kaylie demures, fearing the random drug testing that comes with being an elite gymnast. They talk about Austin, and Kaylie regrets admitting she had a problem, because while it got her out of rehab, her parents are on her 24/7 and actually believe that if she returns to training she might die. So Maeve, Queen of the Brilliant (Awful) Ideas, tells her to turn her parents against the therapist. THIS SHOULD TURN OUT REALLY, REALLY WELL.

Darby is teaching Emily some sort of twist and shout type floor routine that won her a medal once upon a time. It doesn’t appear to have any real gymnastics in it, but okay. Oh, wait, there’s a tumbling pass. Instead of learning anything, Emily asks Darby if she regrets missing out on being a teenager. Darby gives her some tough love about how she has to get her shit together because she’s “running out of second chances.” Couch Darby: master of understatement.

Lauren is doing what basically amounts to a stripper routine on the beam as Payson tries not to get her eyes stuck from rolling them too far in the back of her head. Payson gives it a shot, but it ain’t good. “I’ve got more sass in my little finger,” Lauren tells her. “You know, they’ve got penecillin for that,” Payson shoots back. Gold, Payson. Everything you touch is GOLD.

Except Max, because he’s too busy ogling Lauren’s crotch. “Enjoying the view?” Austin smarms. “She’s like a Vegas show,” Max drools. “All she needs is a headdress and a G-string.” Lauren vamps for them, basking in the attention. I wish Austin and Max didn’t look so much alike. Again I ask: where’s Carter? I miss that curly-headed douche. Speaking of Carter, Austin warns Max against Lauren, who “mangled” Carter–um, not true? Because…what? Basically, Payson’s a lot of work and Lauren’s easy. Boys are gross.

Payson’s attempts to “be sexy” make her look like Frankenstein’s monster. I know she’s more power, less priss, but come on! It’s like she doesn’t know how her joints work! Austin gives her a pep talk and offers to help her. Payson says no at first, but Austin points out that, yes, the fact that sex sells is the patriarchy at work, but, well, you want to win gold medals? Payson wants nothing more.

Chloe gets all over Emily for looking at Damon’s web page. Are they seriously not talking on the phone? Or email? Dumb. Also: unbelievable. Chloe reminds Emily that she’d never been with anyone before Damon and “you went on, what, like five dates?” Oooh burn. Emily takes it personally, of course, and they fight, but Chloe assures Emily she’s just looking out for her and trying to be a responsible mother like Emily wanted her to be.

Kaylie turns her parents against her therapist by suggesting her parents made her feel less than perfect, thus bringing on her eating disorder. It works pretty well since her parents are overbearing hotheads who want her to be perfect! Well, her dad is. Ronnie just seems exhausted by the whole thing.

Steve lectures Lauren about the video, and she has a good point when she says, “Since when do you care about right and wrong?” Since now, I guess. Steve’s having some pangs of guilt about keeping this from Summer after promising her he wouldn’t lie to her anymore, but it’s not like he actually tells her.

“Do you ever get tired of being the ‘mom jeans mom’?” Payson asks her mother. Kim’s eyes bug out and then she parents her daughter with such grace and good-humor I fall in love with her all over again. There are many different types of sexy, she points out, and you don’t have to be good at everything. Payson listens, but also she hates Lauren, so she takes Austin up on his offer to help her. Austin helps her get in touch with her sesssssuality by waving some perfume in front of her nose and telling her to focus on her second shakra. Lol! Then they “walk like Lauren”, which what makes them both look like idiots. If this works, I’m going to die from laughing. He’s making her crawl across the floor like a cat! He calls her “pure of heart”! OMG!

Cruz family dinner with Maeve as a guest. Because the Cruzes are totally self-absorbed, they don’t notice that neither girl is eating. Maeve does some Jedi mind tricks on Kaylie’s parents. Another family dinner, at the Tanners this time: “It’s never too late to teach your children the right values,” Summer says vaguely, not knowing what it is that’s really bothering Steve. She suggests he make her accountable for her actions and it’s like his mind is blown. You are the worst parent ever, Steve!

Lauren nails Payson’s routine and Max compliments her teaching. Lauren clowns Payson in front of him, and Austin tries again to help. They briefly talk about Kaylie, but Austin insists that while he liked her, she has to focus on getting better. On cue, Kaylie strolls into the Rock with Maeve. Darby’s pumped, Austin’s not. I hate the way Maeve talks. “He’s the real deal, lemon peel,” she says of Austin. Man, I’ve got to give this show credit, though. That actress is convincing as an anorexic model.

Emily takes off to confront her mother for working at a strip club. I’m pretty sure Emily would never be able to get into a strip club because she’s a freaking teenager, but whatever. I’m not going to let that be the thing I take issue with here, because Emily is being the worst. “I’m paying the bills and I’m funding your dream,” Chloe rightly says, but Emily is embarrassed. Okay, well, don’t go to the Olympics, then, I don’t know, Emily! GOD.

Payson decides to tackle the Lauren problem the way she tackles all gymnastics problems: with military precision. She does a good job! Too much eye makeup, though. But Max asks her out! Yeeeeeah Payson, get yours.

Steve makes a valiant attempt at holding Lauren responsible, but she cries and he caves. OF COURSE. God, Steve. She didn’t learn anything! Speaking of not learning anything, we’re back at the Cruzes, and they’re arguing, but they decide not to let Kaylie go back to the gym and she flips. They see her total desperation and it looks like it really scares them.

Emily gets a visit from Payson, who channels her own mother when she tells Emily that she has to stop whining, stop thinking about what sucks and focus on her dream. I feel for Emily here, because the actress is really selling this, her confliction over giving up Damon for something that might never happen–going to the Olympics. But Payson tells her she can’t focus on the “what ifs”, only what she wants most. I’ve said this before, but Payson Keeler is my spirit animal. I love her so much.

Oh, and Maeve died. But that’s for next week’s episode!

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.


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:


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.

It sucked and I cried*

Posted on July 23rd, 2010 by annakjarzab

I often wonder what they teach you in MFA programs. I’ve said before that I don’t really believe in them, and I stand by that for my various reasons, although there are lots of people who got a ton out of their MFA programs and heartily recommend them, which sounds like just as defensible position as any. But sometimes I wonder what they teach you. I’ve taken a few creative writing classes in my day, and most of them went like this: we would all write something, and take turns allowing our peers to read it, and then they would weigh in with criticism of one kind or another.

I don’t remember ever honestly talking about what it means to be a writer, what the day-to-day life of a writer is like. All of my professors were also writers, some highly lauded, but I don’t think they ever lectured–and we never asked–what it means to be a real writer. And by “real” I don’t mean published; I just mean someone who is dedicated to writing, for whom it is not just a hobby, but a real life choice, a professional career of whatever degree. Do people talk about that in MFA programs? Because I’m starting to think that there should be support groups for writers–not critique groups or writing groups, but like group therapy sessions where a psychologist comes in and counsels us all, a safe space where we can make the baldest of confessions and bawl our eyes out if we have to.

Last week I decided to abandon a manuscript I’ve spent several years writing. You’ve heard me talk about it here, calling it alternately MB (for Murder Burger) and Book 2. In my contract with Random House, it’s named as my second book, but it won’t be. It can’t be. It’s broken, and I can’t fix it. I hate having to say that, but it’s so true. I spent five months earlier this year trying to fix it, blindly searching for some magic formula to make it something people would want to read, and I just couldn’t do it. Then I sent it to my agents, and waited impatiently for their feedback, knowing, of course, that it would probably need to be ripped apart.

When I got Joanna’s email that she and Danielle wanted to talk to me on the phone, I knew what was coming. People kept trying to convince me I was just doing my usual worst case scenario thing, but I knew. Over the course of that conversation, during which I can honestly say, with chagrin, that I cried ceaselessly, it became clear that it wasn’t the right manuscript–not for now, and maybe not for ever, although you never know, one day I could wake up and have the key to making it all work. I didn’t want to write it anymore–I hadn’t wanted to write it for months and months and months–and it would have required the world’s greatest overhaul. And even if J and D had handed me a litany of things to fix, and I had fixed them all, the book had become a hated object to me. I resented it. I treated it in my mind like a horrible, deformed thing, something I wanted to get rid of. You don’t want to put your name on something like that.

Still, letting go of the book was hard to do. I started it while living in my grandmother’s basement; I finished it a year later, during a time when I was really happy. I care about the characters, and I miss them. I’m sad to let it go. It’s like putting your dog to sleep, you know? Necessary, but painful. And terribly undignified, at least in my case. I really tried to hold it in, the tears and the gulping near-panic, but I couldn’t. Apparently, I’m still not mature enough to compartmentalize this sort of disappointment; maybe I never will be. Maybe it’s too personal for me, I just don’t think I’ll ever be able to see it as JUST a job. Abandoning a book that I’ve worked on for years, that people have seen, that I’ve talked about a lot in public, that I thought was going to be published, is always going to feel like a breakup, or a death. Hopefully it won’t have to happen very often (or ever again), but if it does, it’s going to hurt.

And if there is a next time, I’m going to try not to be such a big baby about it, but no promises. I struggled for a while about how to talk about this on the blog, because I’m definitely not proud of the way I dealt with it (i.e. with tears), but there’s no shame in having to let this book go and start on something new. I really wanted to say that to all the writers out there, because I feel like, when I read author blogs, there doesn’t seem to be a ton of real honesty about the things that scare us or hurt us or annoy us. Everybody’s too concerned with not upsetting anybody or betraying any sort of self-doubt, career mistakes, jealousy or hard decisions, although I’m sure–I KNOW–we all go through it, even the biggest bestsellers and the most petted debut authors. I respect everybody’s personal choice to talk about what they want to talk about, but I personally, as someone who’s pretty new to this whole thing, wish other authors talked about the hard stuff more. It’s easier when you go through whatever rough times, creatively or professionally, to know you’re not alone and that where you are going, many have also gone, and come back. We all have those moments where things just aren’t going our way, and we don’t know how we got there, and we don’t know how to stop it or get back to the safe, happy place. It’s part of the dillio (sorry, but we’ve got to lighten this thing up somehow–with outdated early 2000s slang!).

So anyway, that’s my story. What it basically boils down to–I had to give up on a manuscript because it wasn’t working–doesn’t sound so bad, but it wasn’t fun and it wasn’t easy. But neither was continuing to write the book, so…you pick your battles. You try to do what’s best for yourself, and for your career. You try to be kind to yourself, because you’re the one who has to live it. I probably deserve to be writing something I want to write, instead of something I feel like I have to write, when I have the option of one or the other (I know that sometimes you don’t, if you’re locked in for a specific book or whatever, but this is not one of those cases). I feel guilty for abandoning these characters I’ve lived with in my head for years, and in one case just really started to get to know, but I wasn’t capable of doing them justice this time around anyway. Maybe next time. But I also feel profoundly relieved.

Luckily for me, I wrote a another book last fall, just for fun. Because I wrote it just for fun, though, without any idea when or if it would ever be published, it needs some editing and rewriting. But the difference in working on this book versus the other one is that even the challenges are exciting to tackle. It’s sort of like writing AUT again! Which is an experience I’ve been searching for longer than I even realized until very recently.

*I blatantly stole this title from Heather Armstrong of Dooce. It’s an homage.

Comments are the worst

Posted on June 19th, 2010 by annakjarzab

Hey guys, as I learned when Shannel emailed me yesterday, the comment tool is still wonky and trapping real comments in the spam filter. Sorry! Eric and I will work on fixing this. In the meantime, I promise to be better about checking the spam filter. I like getting comments! I wish people would comment more! Although I realize being treated like spam probably prohibits that somewhat. Anyway, I’m working on what I think is a cool post but may not be, so stay tuned for that! (I really sold it to you hard, huh?)

Hot child in the city

Posted on June 5th, 2010 by annakjarzab

DUDES. It is SO HOT IN MY APARTMENT. Because I’m poor and I live in New York, my roommate and I have an apartment that has no cross breezes (because all the windows are on one side) and no air conditioning. So as soon as the temps started climbing into the eighties, we broke out the fans and I’m now sitting in front of my computer with two trained right on me so that I don’t melt while I’m typing this.

I look ridiculous, too. I’m wearing a white camisole and this pair of giant man sweatpants I picked up at Target last weekend because I’d forgotten pajamas when I went to Long Island. They are the most comfortable things I’ve ever warn, and I have to be told that no, Anna, you cannot wear them out to dinner or to the movies or to work. I did wear them to the grocery store, but I checked with my roommate first before I left the house, just to make sure. “It’s hot, people get it, right?” I asked. She just laughed and laughed and laughed at me.

Otherwise I will default to never taking them off, ever. But they’re really too warm for this weather. So I now have them rolled up to above my knees. I’ve been walking around cleaning my room because I’m expecting an impromptu visitor, which also requires laundry, which requires me to walk through the living room where my roommate has been reclining on the couch for several hours watching Step Up and fanning herself. She took one look at me and died laughing. She’s dead now. The funeral is on Monday. Psych! She didn’t die, but she did laugh, for a long time. These pants are making me a joke in my own home! Although, they’re still comfy.

What else am I doing besides laundry and getting mocked by my roommate? Watching BSG (OF COURSE), and writing! With Untitled Book 2 off my plate for at least the next couple of days, I have turned to Book 3. I spent yesterday rereading what I’ve already written, and I kept thinking, “This is so good!” It’s nice to have that feeling after, um, not having it for five months (almost six!). Today I started writing more of it. I’m not rushing it, I’m just writing what I want as much as I want to. I’m loving this book so far–whether others will love it, well, that’s for me to find out later.