follow me on Twitter
  • 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.
on Amazon.com
 
 
 

writing

Updates and extras

Posted on January 14th, 2014 by annakjarzab

Happy 2014 everybody! Just dropping by to give a few updates on what’s been up with me, since I realize I have not posted here in a while. Let’s get started!

Thing 1: Books

tandem cvr quote

Last year, Tandem came out! Which is very exciting! Also, The Opposite of Hallelujah is in paperback now, if you like that sort of thing (by which I mean books that are cheaper than they were previously). I also managed to completely rewrite Tether (Many-Worlds Trilogy Book 2) and it just came back from copy editing, which means it’s like 95% done (she says, having not looked at the copy edits yet). It’s currently scheduled for the very vague Spring 2015, which for a Random House book can mean anywhere from January to June (here’s hoping it does not in fact mean June); as soon as I have a firm date, I will make sure to post it everywhere.

2013 was a hard year for me in many ways, but not in the sense of writing productivity. Not counting the two very different versions of Tether I wrote last year, I wrote two other full-length novels. One is adult contemporary fantasy (I don’t know why but I like that term better than “urban fantasy” even though this book, which we shall give the code name FM, is in fact set in New York, and partly in New Orleans) along the lines of, like, The Magicians. The other is contemporary YA in the vein of If I Stay, and I am OBSESSED with it. We shall call that book BYSA. I got the idea for it in very early November. I’m a weird half-insomniac; I usually wake up four hours after I’ve gone to bed and toss and turn for the next four or so hours, which is obviously very annoying since I have a day job to get up for.

Anyway, I was tossing and turning per usual that morning, and then I just got hit with this idea. I got up and went to my computer, jotted down a paragraph of notes, titled it “Might be something”, and went back to bed. First thing in the AM I started reading books for research, taking copious notes, and writing. I finished in early December. I don’t usually write that fast, but this was one of those situations (it happened with The Opposite of Hallelujah, too) where there was no writing friction to slow me down. I’ve revised it once since then, and am letting it sit and settle for a while before going back to it (plus I still have more research to do). But I’m really pumped about it!

Other than FM and BYSA (and Tether), I wrote a Many-Worlds Trilogy short story last year and half of another one (which I’m throwing out and rewriting because…reasons? Even I don’t actually know why), and about 200 pages of a novel called Red Dirt. Which leads me to Thing 2…

Thing 2: Wattpad

In my professional life, I am the digital and social media manager for Penguin Young Readers Group. So if you’ve ever interacted with Penguin Teen on Facebook, Twitter, Tumblr, etc., it was probably me. I don’t talk about this a lot in these parts because it feels like a weird conflict of interest of sorts? But actually lots of publishing professionals are secretly or not-so-secretly aspiring or published authors, so it’s not that big of a deal. Anyway, I was on a Digital Book World panel yesterday talking about teens and social media and I met a woman from Wattpad, Ashleigh, which reminded me I’ve been meaning to get on Wattpad for some time now. So I went home and started playing around with it. For some reason (insanity), I decided that I was going to post the first three chapters of an original, work in progress novel called Red DirtRed Dirt is unpublished and uncontracted and unfinished. I got the idea the first time I went to Oklahoma for Memorial Day, and started writing it when I got back from Oklahoma the second time I went there. So I assume that after I come back from Oklahoma this year, I will finish it. The WIP document on my computer is 200 pages, with probably about 50 or 100 pages left to go, and while I doubt I’ll be sharing all of it on Wattpad, I decided to put up the first three chapters for fun. This is sort of what it’s about (this is not great marketing copy, but it’s what I came up with yesterday):

Sammy Lester’s had about enough of her life in back of beyond Oklahoma, but family loyalties and uncertainty about the future are holding her hostage. She’s got her ex-con, ex-addict father take care of, and her five-year-old sister, Decca, to think about. And then there’s Brayton Foster, a rich boy just arrived for the summer; for some reason, Sammy can’t resist his charms, no matter how hard she tries.

Then the unthinkable happens–Sammy’s father disappears. She believes he’s been murdered; the police and her older brother, Denver, aren’t so sure. As the summer marches on, and there’s no sign of Billy Ray Lester, Sammy is forced to question everything she thinks she knows about the people she loves, and to wonder whether it’s even possible to get justice in a place where the very ground is red as blood.

You can read the prologue and the first three chapters of Red Dirt on Wattpad. If people like it (and I’m comfortable) I might post more! But I did make sure to post enough so that you meet the boy. Otherwise, what’s the point?

Speaking of Wattpad! I also posted the prologue and first three chapters of Tandem up there, plus a little bonus essay called “A Brief History of the United Commonwealth of Columbia”, which is probably only of interest if you’ve read Tandem. I have a bunch of extra stuff like this for the series, I just need to find it and make sure it still makes sense since these books have changed a lot over the years. But I will post more when I can.

I also have a The Opposite of Hallelujah short story about Hannah that takes place before the events of The Opposite of Hallelujah called “The Girl in the Well” that I’m going to post, but I need to re-read it for continuity. TBD on that!

I think that’s it. Oh:

Thing 3: I turned 30 yesterday.

I think that’s self-explanatory.

Thinking about 2012

Posted on December 29th, 2012 by annakjarzab

My old roommate, Eesha, and I used to do this thing at the end of every year where we’d tell each other, “Next year, banner year!” Meaning that next year would be better than the one we just finished, that we were going to look back on the upcoming year with fondness in our old age and think, “Now,2011, that was a great year!”

2012 was not a banner year for me. Like most years (all years?), it was kind of a mixed bag. At the end of 2011, my boss went on maternity leave, and two other people in our very small department quit, leaving my work twin, Emilie, and I to carry the entire burden of the work that was previously being done by 4.5 people (we shared an assistant with another department). I had some enormous projects delegated to me at the end of 2011 and ended up working 8 hour days throughout the Christmas holiday, which was, frankly, exhausting. I learned a lot, and accomplished some really cool stuff, and earned, I hope, some respect for making the best out of a tough situation (I also got promoted, which is no small thing). But I never quite got back on track after my boss returned and we got a new person on our team (our intern-turned-temp during the Bad Months, now our indispensable assistant–do internships in college, kids!); my work load didn’t really diminish, and I spend most of the year tossing and turning at night wondering just how I was going to get everything done. I think I did a pretty good job, but as someone who is always striving to do the most and do it the best, I do wonder sometimes.

As far as my personal life, my roommate (and one of my best friends) moved away from New York in May, which meant I had to break our lease and find a new apartment in, like, three weeks. I did it, though! And now I have a nice little studio to call my own, which I returned to last night after a week in California with a surprising amount of relief and happiness. I realized this Christmas that while I love California, love seeing my family, and have the pretty good fortune to have my best friends from high school live in New York (which means that we see each other all the time in NY and in CA), this little apartment in Harlem is my home now. It belongs to me, it’s all mine, it’s got all of my things in it…California is where my parents live. New York, for all its flaws and my reticence about it, is my home. It only took five years, but we got there.

Other than that, I took the best vacation of my adult life in 2012, spending five days on Oklahoma’s Lake Tenkiller with my best friend Cambria, our very good friend Nikki, Cambria’s parents, and Cambria’s parents friends, Karen and Wayne, who are the best hosts EVER. I’ve never been so relaxed and happy on vacation as I was in OK and can’t wait to go back this year. My friends Eric and Jenny, who I introduced back in 2008, got married in San Diego in September and I performed the ceremony! I met and surpassed my 100-book reading goal for 2012, including Outlander and its six sequels, which are LONG but highly recommended. I spent two separate weeks at a vacation house on Fire Island that I rented with my friends. Lots of great stuff.

When I think about where I am, writing-wise, at the end of 2012, I’m not as thrilled as I would like, but there are some good things that came out of this year. First, obviously, I had a book come out–The Opposite of Hallelujah–which has been quiet but did earn me my first starred review, from Booklist, and another really great review from Kirkus. The Opposite of Hallelujah was also one of Booklist‘s Top 10 Religion & Spirituality Books for Youth, which is a lovely and appreciated honor. In terms of actual writing, I finally, after a long, arduous fight throughout 2011, wrestled Tandem, the first book in my Many-Worlds Trilogy, which comes out October 8, 2013, into the shape I wanted it to be. I also wrote a solid first draft of Many-Worlds 2 (the sequel to Tandem), which I very much love and am proud of. Since the Tandem I turned in to my editor was a complete rewrite, this means I wrote two full-length novels this year (and they’re long, 115,000-120,000 words each), which is not bad! I also wrote about 150 pages of an adult novel this year while working on another, messily incomplete YA; this was probably one of my most productive years, if I look at it in terms of words on paper.

But, of course, I don’t look at it that way very often. For me, it’s always about how I feel about my writing, regardless of word count or pages written or novels completed. The question, “Was it a good year or a bad year?” always comes down to whether or not the juice was worth the squeeze*, despite how proud I am to have finished something or made progress on projects. And on that level, I just don’t know yet how I feel about 2012. 2010 was a bad year. 2011 was a so-so year–on one hand, a full 12 months of toil on draft after draft of Tandem, but on the other hand the magnificent triumph of finishing and turning in The Opposite of Hallelujah, which I felt sort of redeemed the epic awfulness of 2010.

I’m hoping it was worth it. I worked very hard in 2012 to balance my vision for Tandem with other people’s feedback and expectations, but at the end of the year I find myself wondering if I’m still on a different planet than everyone else. I’ve never felt more alone in my writing than I did this year (and that includes awful, no good, very bad 2010), than I still do today. This year above all others–and this book (Tandem) in particular–reminded me just what a solitary pursuit this writing business is. No one else can be there inside your head, and, inevitably, no one else will care even a tenth as much as you do about your work. Or maybe that’s just my experience.

I think my 2012 takeaway is that I have to stop caring what other people think, what they say and don’t say, entirely and unequivocally. This doesn’t mean that when people give me feedback I won’t respond or take it into account or do what is asked of me, but I do have to stop thinking, “Well, this person or that person doesn’t seem excited/doesn’t seem to get it/isn’t convinced/doesn’t think it’s worth very much, so therefore they must be right, I must have failed, I’m worthless” (which is the shame spiral I’ve been caught in for the last two and a half years). I have to believe, without faltering in that belief, to the point of ridiculousness if necessary, that what I’m doing is the right thing, that what I’m creating has value, and to behave that way going forward. I can’t dismiss my own faith in myself, or allow myself to be talked out of it or ridiculed into a more modest view of my talent/achievements, because fortune favors the bold, and if I don’t believe in myself, nobody else is going to, either.

There’s an old piece of writing advice: Protect the work. Do that which you need to do to make sure your work (and the part of yourself that is a writer) doesn’t suffer. For some, this might mean having a part-time job instead of trying to build a career outside of writing (really, I should be doing this, but I’m far too practical and vain). For others, it might mean, I don’t know, not reading within the genre you’re writing in so as not to be influenced with other people’s ideas. For me, it’s probably going to mean a couple of things, none of which I feel are necessary to detail here, as they are specific to me and the people in my life and are probably not, at this stage, universally applicable as advice. But “protect the work” is pretty solid, so I offer it to you as a belated holiday gift. If you’ve already heard it, well, I forgot to get a gift receipt so you can’t return it, but it’s one of those things where it doesn’t hurt to have two.

I think I’ve blathered on long enough. 2013: banner year!

*I was really hoping to find the clip where Kelly says this to Matthew, but it wasn’t on YouTube. Anyway, you should watch The Girl Next Door, it’s a really great movie.

What’s up with you? Nothin’. What’s up with you?

Posted on February 28th, 2012 by annakjarzab

Does anyone love The Sweetest Thing as much as I do? Apparently not, because I tried to YouTube the “Nothin’. What’s up with you?” scene and I couldn’t find it. Which, honestly, makes me sad. Such an under-appreciated gem of a film. But I digress. (Can you digress if you haven’t started making your real point yet? I digress again.)

Anyway, hello there, faithful blog readers! I.e., Shannel, my darling college friend who dropped a comment on my last post just this morning saying that she missed my long, ridiculous ramblings on this here blog thing. What’s a blog, you say? It’s like Tumblr, but with less Hunger Games fan art. Well, you knew that, or you wouldn’t be here, I guess. THE POINT IS, some stuff has happened in these last few months, and I’d like to tell you about it. In great detail. With pictures to illustrate. Aren’t you excited?!?!

I guess the first piece of big news (which shows you how little I write in this blog nowadays, because this has been up on my Tumblr for months) is that The Opposite of Hallelujah has, in the order in which I received them:

  • A cover
  • A synopsis
  • A pub date/pre-order link(s)

The Cover:

So, without further ado, here it is!


I don’t have a lot to say about this cover except that I think it’s really beautiful. I’ve heard a lot about authors struggling with their publishers to get covers they feel represent their work, but I’ve honestly never had that experience with Delacorte. They sent me the All Unquiet Things cover and I loved it, had no changes. They sent me this cover, and I loved it to. There were two versions, one with my name in lower case and the title in upper, which I also saw, but my editor and I both preferred the version above. (And, actually, they sent me a THIRD cover that was completely different, although my editor explained it was only for my reference, since she didn’t like it and didn’t want to use it. It was pretty, but I didn’t feel strongly about it. Maybe someday I’ll get to show it to you!) So, my cover experience has been pretty boring; I write the books, they make the covers, I love the covers, they use them, we’re done! Sorry it wasn’t a more exciting story, but it’s a lovely cover, so we all win.

The Synopsis (jacket flap copy):

Caro Mitchell considers herself an only child–and she likes it that way. After all, her much older sister, Hannah, left home eight years ago, and Caro barely remembers her. So when Caro’s parents drop the bombshell news that Hannah is returning to live with them, Caro feels as if an interloper is crashing her family. To her, Hannah’s a total stranger, someone who haunts their home with her meek and withdrawn presence, and who refuses to talk about her life and why she went away. Caro can’t understand why her parents cut Hannah so much slack, and why they’re not pushing for answers.

Unable to understand Hannah, Caro resorts to telling lies about her mysterious reappearance. But when those lies alienate her new boyfriend, friends, and put her on the outs with her parents, Caro seeks solace from an unexpected source. And as she unearths a clue from Hannah’s past–one that could save Hannah from the dark secret that possesses her–Caro begins to see her sister in a whole new light.

Pub date/Pre-order link:

Yay! Wasn’t that synopsis intriguing? So The Opposite of Hallelujah comes out on October 9, 2012, according to Amazon. You can pre-order the book at Amazon, or Barnes and Noble, or from your local bookseller via Indiebound.org.

I don’t have galleys* yet, but I’ll probably be getting them soon, although I’ll most likely get, you know, two of them. If I happen to get more, I’ll do a giveaway, promise! I’ll also let you know if the title ends up on NetGalley, if you’re of the sort who frequents NetGalley.

Other than that, I’ve just been working like a maniac at my day job and writing like a maniac at night and on weekends. I’m hoping to finish a new draft of my work in progress (Tandem, which I sold in a two-book deal to Delacorte last May or June or something) by late April. This will be the fifth draft. It is, by turns, incredibly fun and incredibly difficult to write, and it’s really teaching me the value of discipline, hard work, and perseverance. Ah, novels; making authors cray since the 15th century.

*Advanced copies of a book that are available in limited quantities for booksellers, media types, etc. about 6-8 months before on-sale.

I was here

Posted on November 14th, 2011 by annakjarzab

I’ve been terrible about writing this blog–it’s just that Tumblr is so much easier! There’s not all that agonizing about what to write, you just hit reblog, type up a pithy little comment on whatever LOL cat you happen to be posting, and then go. So simple! (P.S. If you’re looking for me on Tumblr, this is where you should go. I post there, like, five to ten times a day. Also sometimes Twitter. Very rarely Facebook, but Tumblr syndicates there…or it used to, I should probably look into that, or just create an author fan page and abandon the AUT one. There. Done. Sorry it’s lame, I just set it up five seconds ago.)

ANYWAY. What have I been doing in my extended absence from this space? Well, first of all, my best friends got cats:

These two sweethearts are Barney and Marshall, and they belong to Cambria and Nikki. They are j’adorable and I love them, even though Barney’s kind of a jerk and Marshall has crippling social anxiety that makes him hard to snuggle (well, actually, it makes him hard to catch; once you’ve got him, he’s as snuggly as any kitty). It can be sort of hard to tell them apart because, as you can probably see in this picture, they’re practically identical; Marshall is just a little bit bigger, and also if one of them comes up to you, it’s Barney.

This little lady is Lily, and she belongs to Kim. She’s so tiny! Only a few months old. Actually, I think this picture was taken a few weeks ago, so she’s bigger now, but I just met her this weekend for the first time and I can attest that she is still very wee. I could pick her up and toss her around with one hand (The Boys are much bigger, as they’re older). Yes, this means that my best friends have three cats between them that are named for How I Met Your Mother characters. Well, Kim insists Lily was named after Lily Potter, but I like it better my way, except now I guess this means I have to get a cat and name it Ted. Teddy is sort of a sweet name for a cat, don’t you think? I’m not getting a cat, though (don’t worry Mom!). My roommate is allergic and I’m irresponsible.

Hm, what else? Well, I went to London for work and Paris for fun in October, so that was pretty awesome. Other than that, I’ve just been working working working like a maniac, and also trying to get through another draft of Tandem. It’s going okay. I’ve got to rip out a huge chunk of the manuscript to pick up the pace of the first half a little, and while I’m starting to get that, yes, that is the right move, I’m still sort of stressing about where all the material from that section is going to go, because I can’t just delete it wholesale–there’s a lot of important info in there! Sigh. I’m aiming for a January 3 deadline to turn the manuscript back in to Joanna, but we’ll see.

And that brings us up to now. Work is crazy, the holidays are creeping up faster than I would like to acknowledge them (I should really buy a plane ticket to CA), and The Opposite of Hallelujah copy edits loom. Speaking of OoH, I’ve seen a potential cover! Two, actually, but I don’t think the second one is really an option, and I preferred the first one, anyway. I wish I could show it to you, but I have no idea if it’s final yet; suffice it to say that I liked it A LOT and I hope it stays, but I’m also not getting too attached because you never know.

Also, I got new glasses:

 

 

 

Hallelujah edits

Posted on August 18th, 2011 by annakjarzab

Man, I haven’t checked in here in a while, huh? Is anyone still reading this? Bueller? Well, you know how it goes. LIFE, etc. Although I have been (and will continue to be) very active on my Tumblr, so if you like Harry Potter GIFs and pictures of other people’s bookshelves (design inspiration for the house I’ll probably never own, natch), go there.

(Side note: Wow, WordPress got fancy in my absence!)

So I mentioned editing my new book on Twitter last night and people started @ replying me, “Hey, you have a new book coming?” Which was weird to me because I felt like I announced that a while ago, but who cares about my announcements, right? I probably haven’t been talking about The Opposite of Hallelujah as much as I should. A lot of that is because we don’t have a cover yet, or jacket copy, or a set-in-stone pub date (lol, like pub dates are ever set in stone), or a pre-order link, or anything, really, that will convince you that it’s a real book that will be coming out eventually.

So here are some things that I know about the book:

  • It will be called The Opposite of Hallelujah. This is not a title I’m 100% married to, but everybody else seems to like it, so it’s what we’re going with. I lifted it from a Jens Lekman song (also called “The Opposite of Hallelujah”), which is a very good song but also, if you were to read the book and then listen to the song, very appropriate thematically. Other titles for this book have included (but not been limited to!): Do Geese See God*, And So It Goes**, and Impossible Objects***.
  • It will come out in Fall 2012. Probably October, but maybe not.
  • It will be longer than All Unquiet Things, but FEEL shorter when you read it. At least, that’s been my experience.

And that’s it! Right now, if you’re curious, I’m in the middle of revising the book for my editor. This is almost entirely line edits, and mainly cutting. I mean it–I have erased entire scenes. I’ve been posting some cut passages on Tumblr, mostly Caro’s Tote Bags****. The book is just, at this point, too long (not unlike this blog post). It was 404 manuscript pages when I turned it in to my editor. All Unquiet Things, for comparison, was 313 manuscript pages; that ended up being 352 printed book pages (about 11% growth if my math is correct, which it probably isn’t). Books get longer when the paper isn’t 8.5×11 with very tiny margins. So a 404 pg manuscript would probably be about 450 pages typeset and bound. And that just feels too long. The book can be tightened, so I’m tightening it. I told my editor I could probably squeeze about 40 pages out of it, but right now I’m less than 100 pages from the end and I’ve only managed to cut around 20 pages. Obviously I’m going to have to go back and see what else I can chop.

Just to prove to you that I am indeed working on it, here is a blurry iPhone photo of my “workspace”:

Yup. That’s my bed.

*This is what I called this book all the way up until, like, 2009. I’ve been “working on it” intermittently since 2004, when I first got the idea for a book about a girl whose much older sister comes back home after being a nun for a while. “Do geese see God” is my third-favorite palindrome (after “A man, a plan, a canal–Panama” and, obviously, my own name), and I liked having the title of the book be a palindrome and the name of the main character’s sister (the nun)–Hannah–be a palindrome. So you can imagine how I laughed when I saw that #15 on Joelle Anthony’s list of 25 overused things in MG and YA fiction was “Main characters named Hannah and making a note of it being a palindrome.” Hannah is still the main character’s sister’s name (although I do not make a note of it being a palindrome–I don’t think), but Do Geese See God had to go for two reasons. First, it’s fine to call a WIP that, but once I decided I was going to publish it I knew that people probably weren’t going to be in to it. How is a sales rep supposed to sell in a book called Do Geese See God? They’re not. And secondly, it’s already the title of a Denzel Washington movie, so whatever.

**There was a time when the Kurt Vonnegut novel Slaughterhouse Five was going to be a call back throughout the book, for lots of thematic reasons, and “so it goes” is sort of a catchphrase that emerged from that book. Also, the Ingrid Michaelson song, “Soldier”, which I listened to a lot when I was writing this book, has the words “and so it goes” in the lyrics. However, I cut the Slaughterhouse Five references in favor of the much more relevant Escher motif that runs through the book, and thus the title made no sense. I wasn’t too attached to it, honestly.

***This would-be title emerges from the Escher motif, but my agent thought it sounded a little too much like Sharp Objects, the title of a Gillian Flynn novel. It also doesn’t tell you anything about the book; I mean, The Opposite of Hallelujah doesn’t necessarily tell you anything, either, but it’s more lovely and lyrical.

****”Caro’s Tote Bag” is a term I have coined to describe a passage that explains something incredibly minor in absurdly minute detail and in no way enriches the story. The original Caro’s Tote Bag was a paragraph in The Opposite of Hallelujah in which, I kid you not, my main character/narrator Caro spent an entire LONG paragraph explaining the fact that she carried her books to school in a tote bag that her mother, who works in marketing at a university press, brought back from a conference, but that Caro always carries it with the logo facing herself so nobody sees how lame the bag is. Alex, understandably, was like, “Maybe you could cut this?” I did cut it, but there are lots and lots of Caro’s Tote Bags in The Opposite of Hallelujah. There was a whole paragraph where she compares her relationship with her parents to American Gladiators. Now, I like an American Gladiators simile as much as the next person, but my editor, rightly, drew a big old slash through the whole paragraph. But I’ve immortalized it on Tumblr so that you can enjoy it. You’re welcome.

Hey there stranger

Posted on June 7th, 2011 by annakjarzab

I’ve been avoiding this blog. Every time I come over here and open up WordPress, I feel like I should be recapping the final episode of Make It or Break It! But I haven’t watched it yet, if you can believe that. There were a few weeks there where it’s like I completely forgot TV existed (except for Parks & Rec, which, get ready, you guys, I’m sure I’m going to talk about that soon), and I’m still not all caught up on my stories. I wrote a post last week about that Dear Sugar column re: authorly jealousy, which sort of got under my skin, and maybe I’ll publish it later this week, although I’m always wary that things I say online can be taken out of context. But anyway, if you’re curious as to what I’m doing, I’m just chugging along in the background. I’m waiting on notes for my new manuscript from my agents and notes on The Opposite of Hallelujah from my editor, so basically I’m bored, writing-wise. So, of course, I started a new manuscript. It’s contemporary again (the one that’s with my agents right now is a soft sci-fi series), and the characters have the best names. Actually, the book was inspired by the names, which is why it, um, doesn’t have a plot, really. But I’m not worried about that because I’m just playing around with it for now. It’s written in the third person, which I’ve only tried once or twice in the past, and I”m enjoying that. It also gives me the opportunity to think up some really awesome, off-the-wall band names.

That’s all! I wish I had more news, and will probably in the near future, but for now I’m just waiting on notes (how much do you want to bet they come at the same time–when it rains it pours) and fooling around with this new manuscript and catching up on TV and researching for the continuation of the sci-fi series and generally bopping about New York doing weird things like speed dating (you don’t want to know).

The dead girl on the cover

Posted on May 13th, 2011 by annakjarzab

Recently, I was talking to an editor (not my editor), and she was telling me that she was using the cover of All Unquiet Things as a comp title for the art form for one of her upcoming books. She was saying that the cover of AUT is the perfect direction for this title also, and, not having read it yet but knowing a little bit about it, that makes sense to me. But she was also saying that now, a year post-AUT and post-Before I Fall, you can’t really do the “dead girl laying sideways on the grass” thing anymore. It’s just too common, probably because the “dead girl” trope in YA lit is also common. It’s something I hear people complaining about a lot on blogs, actually, sometimes in reviews of AUT. “Oh, another dead girl book, how original.” Setting aside the fact that nothing is really original anymore, and hasn’t been since the ancient Greeks, and we’re all telling the same five stories over and over again anyway, it’s true. You do see a lot of dead girl (and, I would argue, dead boy) books in YA lit. (You see them a lot in adult lit, too, but let’s focus.) And there’s a reason for that.

People die in high school.

All of the time.

Recently I was having dinner with three of my friends, and one of them (my roommate) mentioned that a friend of a friend had recently died. My roommate’s birthday was several months ago, and she’d bought a pretty, blank notebook and brought it with her to the party for her friends to write notes in, since it was her 30th and she wanted a tangible reminder of that night. This friend of a friend had come to the party and wrote in the notebook and a few days ago she’d been going through the notebook looking for a gift card she remembered leaving in there and came across the friend of a friend’s note. This reminded me of going through my junior high school yearbook in which there is a note from my friend Rebecca, who died about a week after she wrote it, right before finals week. I was moving to California, and she wrote, “Don’t forget me!” I haven’t looked at the yearbook in a long time.

The conversation segued on to the (slightly morbid) topic of people we knew who died in high school, and everyone had a story to tell. Some had several. I couldn’t help thinking of my aunt, whose best friend died from illness when she was fifteen, or my brother, whose baseball teammate had died in a car accident when he was fifteen. One of my friends knew several girls in high school who lost their lives to violence. As common a trope as it is in YA, it’s actually more common in life. If you’ve listened to the exclusive interview on the All Unquiet Things audio book, I think (I recorded that a loooong time ago) I mentioned that about a year before AUT was published (way after I’d written the thing) I was doing some Googling around and found out that a murder not unlike Carly’s had happened in one of the very towns I mention in the novel. It was, of course, entirely coincidental and completely heartbreaking. But this stuff happens, every day in fact, which is why we write about it. That was very clearly driven home to me at dinner with my friends.

And the thing about teenage death is that, while it is never, ever easy to lose someone who is close to you, or even to tangentially experience the death of someone in your peer group, everything is heightened in high school. It all seems more immediate and intense and of-the-moment, because you’re so young and you’re so promising and you’re so alive. Not to quote myself, but allow me to quote myself:

“Murdered.” It was a ludicrous word; it didn’t make any sense when used to describe Carly. How could Carly be dead? She was so alive.

Poetry, I know. But anyway. That stuff sticks with you long after you’ve graduated, when your life is nothing like what it was in high school, when your life is not anything like you even imagined it might be in high school. When other memories have faded, or you feel like all those events happened to someone else whose memories were implanted in your head (this is how I feel all the time about my high school years, for no particular reason), you still remember your deepest losses and brushes with death. And they still come up, years later, over glasses of chilled wine on the patio of a tiny bar in Hell’s Kitchen.

I guess I don’t have a very clear point to close out this post, which is probably pretty frustrating to everyone who managed to read through to the end (but! if you did! you can use the comment tool now! so you can comment! if you want! no pressure!!!), but I’m just saying…death is not a cliche. Or maybe it is, maybe it’s the biggest cliche there is, but that doesn’t make it less scary or less mysterious and it certainly doesn’t make people less inclined to talk about it.

I think people who follow the publishing industry find “dead girl/boy books” exhausting because they (the people, not the books) are jaded; there are so many books, and they all get lumped into categories because that’s the easiest way to process them. And I’m not saying I’m not jaded. I’m totally, 100% jaded! But I also know that All Unquiet Things and, say, Thirteen Reasons Why and Before I Fall and If I Stay (to use some random examples that I can speak to because I’ve read them) are completely different books. They all happen to have a dead girl in them (or, in the case of If I Stay and Before I Fall, girls who are neither dead or alive but in some sort of ‘tween state which eventually resolves itself), but other than that they’re not at all alike. The writing styles are totally different–my voice and Jay Asher’s voice and Gayle Forman’s voice and Lauren Oliver’s voice are all distinct–the characters are different, the plots are different, etc. I think saying, oh, just another dead girl book, is a disservice to all of those stories, because they’re so much bigger than that. And furthermore, I think teens like them (no joke: Thirteen Reasons Why, Before I Fall, If I Stay–all HUGE bestsellers) because their themes are so relevant to the lives they’re living.

I, for one, am looking forward to more “dead girl” books, because I actually haven’t figured out how I feel about my own approaching death, or that of my loved ones (because obvs we all die eventually). Reading books and engaging with the ideas they contain is how I process my own fears and dreams and feelings. The work is not yet done. By anyone! I’m not just talking about YA fiction here. I just finished A Visit from the Goon Squad by Jennifer Egan (Pulitzer prize winner, current ladyfic lightning rod) which was ALL ABOUT death! (At least, I think it was. I’m not sure I totally plugged into Goon Squad and therefore may have slid over some of its Very Important I’m Sure themes.) There was even a dead girl (actually, he was a boy, but same diff in this context). Now I’m reading One Day and I’m pretty sure that one’s going to be all about death, too. All books are about death (talk about a cliche). Now I’m just spiraling away from my central point. End of post.

Writing the wave

Posted on April 21st, 2011 by annakjarzab

(Sidenote before I even begin: My computer is doing this weird thing where everything is bold right now? I don’t understand. Why is the Internet so wonky?)

This past weekend, I had the best writing experience of my life. I’ve been working on my next book, which is a soft sci-fi that will (hopefully) expand into some sort of a multi-book series (duet? trilogy? WHO KNOWS THE POSSIBILITIES ARE INFINITE LOL INSIDE JOKE), for a little over three months now. I talked a little bit about it back when I first started it, when I was racing through it at a breakneck pace, but then I sort of hit a wall around page 200 because…I didn’t know how the rest would go. I was having some momentary trouble with a character who gets introduced about halfway in, but then I figured him out, and the rest of the plot, and the juices really started flowing. Still, there’s a limit to what I can get done on the weekdays, because of my steady employment and whatnot, so it wasn’t until last Friday that I really dropped into the zone and started pounding out the pages.

The only thing I did for two days was write. Oh, and have one dinner with my friend Cambria, and G-chatted with Alex. Basically our conversation went like this:

12:00 PM
Me: I’m at [this spot in the manuscript].
Her: Awesome

1:45 PM
Me: [Such and such] is happening!
Her: Seriously?

5:00 PM
Me: [So and so] is doing [such and such]!
Her: OMG HOW ARE YOU WRITING SO FAST YOU CRAZY PERSON?

And so on until 1:15 AM on Monday morning, when I typed the last words (“So we did.”). I was buzzing, high on adrenaline, desperate to tell someone–so I woke up my roommate (who in my defense had only gone to bed a little while before) to tell her. She was like, “That’s nice, let’s talk about it in the zzzzzzzzzz.” Then I had a dance party in my room to “Coming Home” by P. Diddy, as you do (headphones in, of course, I’m not the worst roommate ever). Then I couldn’t sleep until 4:00 AM. Then I went to work four hours later.

And now it’s several days later, Joanna has the full MS and Danielle is reading the partial I sent a few weeks ago, and I’m…working on the sequel. Because I’m still so excited about the story and I can’t wait to keep going! Now I just have to figure out what to call it on this blog while I’m talking about it, because I’m superstitious about titles. Hm. I guess I’ll just call it Book 3 for now. Who knows? Maybe by the time I have an update it’ll be sold and announced and I can just call it by its real title!

The Opposite of Hallelujah

Posted on March 11th, 2011 by annakjarzab

Regular readers of this blog will know that the course of book two never did run smooth…at least for this writer (me). But today came some good news–my editor called and told me that she really liked the book we turned in a few weeks ago and she’s going to publish it! INSERT HUGE SIGH OF RELIEF HERE. It has a tentative pub season of Fall 2012, which might seem really far away, but luckily for me I already live on a publishing schedule (since I work in the industry), so to me Fall 2012 is like right around the corner–we’re launching our Spring 2012 titles next week!

So now I feel a little more comfortable talking about what, exactly, The Opposite of Hallelujah is all about. Caveat: the description below was written by me specifically for this blog post, so it shouldn’t be considered official in any sense whatsoever. But I don’t think the plot is going to change, so I’m going to go ahead and give you an idea of what you can expect from Anna Jarzab Book 2: Tokyo Drift.

Caro Mitchell has a sister, but she hasn’t seen her in several years and rarely thinks about her. Hannah, who is eleven years older, has been a nun in the cloistered order of the Sisters of Grace since Caro was eight-years-old, and per the rules of her order has almost no contact with her family. In the years since Hannah left, Caro has become a teenager and is just starting to carve out a life for herself: she has a boyfriend, great friends, and a real passion and talent for science. Though she was raised Catholic, Caro has no interest in the religion that defines and consumes her sister’s life.

But things start to unravel right as Caro’s junior year in high school begins. Her boyfriend, Derek, comes back from summer camp and summarily dumps her, and her parents drop a huge bomb on her: Hannah is leaving the Sisters of Grace and, after nearly a decade spent locked behind convent walls, coming home to live with her family. Though her parents are overjoyed at their older daughter’s return, Caro struggles to accept and connect with Hannah, with whom things are obviously not at all well, and Caro makes a rash choice that puts all of her relationships in peril–including a budding romance with new boy Pawel.

What follows is a journey towards redemption and understanding, as Caro seeks to regain the trust she has broken with the help of the art of M.C. Escher, single-bubble sonoluminescence, and a scientist priest who challenges her to pursue the answers to the questions that torment her: How do we repair what has been destroyed? How do we make lasting and meaningful connections with the people we love? Can science and religion peacefully coexist?

And, most pressing: What happened to Hannah? Why did she go into the convent eight years ago, and why has she returned now? And can anything be done to save her?

So yeah. That’s it. There’s a lot going on in this book, but in a good way, I hope–complex instead of complicated was the goal. It’s a little long and my editor implied that revisions would mainly involve trimming the manuscript, which makes sense to me. What is important to me about this book is that it serve as an exploration of–well, an exploration of a lot of things, like family (sisterhood in particular), human connection, memory, how we deal with remorse and what guilt and grief do to us (a common theme with me, as that’s a biggie in All Unquiet Things, too), growing up, creation, truth, etc. But I wanted to deal with religion, not preach at anybody. I never want people to write this book off as “religious” or “Christian.” The way Caro (a non-believer, a firm scientific empiricist) grapples with issues of faith is as realistic and open as I could possibly make it, because I didn’t want to write a book about someone who doesn’t believe in God and is then magically converted. That’s one story, but it’s not this story.

Nor did I ever intend it to be a villification of religious people of any denomination, or people who choose a religious vocation. I did a LOT of research on nuns and convents while I was working on this novel, and what I learned is that the women who choose to enter the convent are more widely varied than you can possibly imagine–they do what they do for so many different, good reasons, and it’s a life choice that I really respect for a lot of reasons.

Even though it won’t happen for a while, I’m excited for people to eventually read this. I have a supersoft spot in my heart for The Opposite of Hallelujah (fun fact: its original title, back when I conceived of it back WHEN I WAS IN COLLEGE OMG, was Do Geese See God?, which is still the name of the folder it lives in on my computer, and also apparently the name of a movie starring Blair Underwood that I’ve never seen, and a recent Jeopardy! question; it’s also my third favorite palindrome after (of course) my name, and “A man, a plan, a canal–Panama”) and I hope people love it as much as I do.

But that’s later! Right now I’m just rocking out to Avril Lavigne and watching the pilot of Fringe (WTF IS GOING ON?!?! ZOMBIES ON A PLANE!), reading manuscripts for launch and Ken Jennings’ book Braniac* and working on my new manuscript, which is crazy and sloppy and fun to write. Check you later!

*Ken Jennings might be the world’s best human. Just a hunch. I’m really resisting the urge to turn this into a Ken Jennings appreciation blog, but you should read his blog and Twitter feed (HOW DOES HE NOT HAVE MORE FOLLOWERS?) and his AMA on Reddit. Oh, and Braniac. Which is great.

Potpourri

Posted on February 23rd, 2011 by annakjarzab

So as regular readers may know, my comments tool is trashed for some reason and every comment that’s left here needs to be approved, but I don’t get approval notices, it just pretends that it’s spam. So I often don’t see comments until way after the fact, but anyway Shannel said on my final Watson post:

I love that Jeopardy follows up Watson with Teen Jeopardy… I’m sure this was intentional to make us all feel a little more accomplished… GLEE category for example!

Which, first off: yes. I really think that’s why they did it, or at least that’s how I feel watching Teen Jeopardy! after the smackdown that was the MAN VS. MACHINE!!! tournament–can you call it a tournament when it’s only two games? Anyway. But here’s a question for all you Jeopardy! lovers out there: why does Teen Jeopardy! look like it was shot in the late nineties?

tumblr_lgxrayrswp1qcnwa6o1_500

Alex Bracken suggests that it’s because part of the test for getting on Teen Jeopardy! is having to build a time machine to take you back to the nineties in order to compete. Which is as good an explanation as any, I guess. Also: teens love lower case sans serif bubble fonts in pink and green, I guess?!

I’m actually behind on Jeopardy! so those are my only current thoughts. The Teen tournament is probably over or almost over by now, and I need to catch up. Although, no, I actually have another thought, re: the first episode of Teen Jeopardy! In the Double Jeopardy round there was a category called What Kids Are Reading These Days or something, and while it was illuminating as to what the Jeopardy! writers think kids are reading these days, it also was weird how the contestants completely avoided that category until ALL the other questions were gone and they didn’t have a choice. Why is that? First of all, the questions were softballs, and second of all, do these kids not read? They’re on Jeopardy! They MUST read, at least the girl contestant (sorry to stereotype, but women buy like 80% of books or something, so it’s really just facts). I thought that was weird.

Anyway, some other things happening in my life: Hallelujah is going to my editor, I think, so that’s good. I’m super, super nervous about it because we all know what happened the last time I turned in a book to my editor, but whatever! Can’t think about that!

Also, I started a new book. On January 31, 2011. I know this because I date all of my drafts from the first day I create the document. I currently have 200 pages. That is RIDICULOUSLY fast for me. I’ve never written so much so fast, probably ever in my life. I’m having the best time writing this book, for a few reasons. First of all, it’s not promised to anyone, nor do I need it to fill a slot in an already signed contract, so I can just write it. For myself. It’s really bad right now, too, so I wouldn’t show it to anyone. There’s this piece of advice writers give each other that goes something like “Give yourself permission to be bad.” I don’t ever say that to people nor do I like it as a piece of advice, although I don’t have a coherent answer for why that is, but in this case I’m just chugging along with the ms no matter how bad I know it is. And it is bad in places. It’s riddled with inconsistencies and logical errors, the world is underdeveloped and contradictory, and one character is foiling me entirely, but I’m continuing to write him even though I know it’s not right (I’m close, and I understand him, but it’s not finding its way to the page), and I’m going forward in the ms even though I know about the inconsistencies and the logical errors and the underdeveloped world. I’m just too excited to stop and fix anything. I want to find out what happens and put it away. Maybe I’ll never pull it out again, or maybe it’ll be my third book. I like the fact that I can just enjoy the process of discovering it without all the pressure of what it’s going to become or who’s going to like it. It’s so far outside my normal ken it’s possible I’ll never show it to anyone at all. It’s pretty cool to just enjoy writing again.

Here are a few random bits of potpourri about this current book, again just for fun:

  • It sparked a long and ongoing conversation with my Ho-fficial Historian, Alex Bracken, about the Revolutionary War, George Washington, Alexander Hamilton, and geography of the United States
  • I spent a lot of time last night brushing up on my chess using this Wikipedia article
  • I’m writing the book using the Normal View in Microsoft Word. I don’t know why–I’m normally a strict adherent of Page View–but Page View, to me, represents restrictions and boundaries and pressure, where as Normal View, because it’s ugly and weird and everything is so bizarrely left-justified even though there’s SO! MUCH! ROOM! on the other side of the page, makes me feel like I’m just goofing off and having fun
  • The Man in the Iron Mask

And that’s what’s happening over here.