Thursday, June 23, 2016

The Writer's Voice: Where Is Ashley Turcotte Now?

Writing is a process. I think we're all aware of this, but what we don't always acknowledge is that this process can change over time and that what worked for one project may not work for another. Cue Ashley Turcotte's courageous piece on writing and rewriting in which she discusses LUMINARY, the project that was on my TWV 2013 team.

I first met Krista during “The Writer’s Voice” in 2013, when she picked my YA fantasy LUMINARY for her team. It was a wonderful experience, though it didn’t lead to an agent offer. Neither did any of my queries, as it turns out. In the end, I had to admit that the book was extremely flawed and undercooked. But my general motto back then was Keep Moving Forward. Even if I did a major rewrite of LUMINARY, I wouldn’t be able to query any of the same agents with it. So despite the fact that I was pretty sure it was the best idea I’d ever had, I moved on. Wrote a new book. And that’s the one that got me my agent.

Suddenly, I didn’t have to worry about having something fresh and new and shiny to send to agents. I could go back to LUMINARY! In fact, I had my agent’s blessing to do so, as she also loved the idea (though she agreed that my execution was, alas, rather lacking). We talked over a new plan and, while my other book went out on submission, I dove into a total rewrite.

I was inspired! I was full of ideas! I hadn’t gotten to hit the restart button on my earlier projects, and the whole process was terribly exciting to me. When I had a shiny new draft, I sent it off to my agent, sure that she would absolutely love it.

Only she didn’t. It was better than the last draft, yes. But there were a number of fatal flaws and, after much discussion with my very brilliant agent, I ultimately decided it needed another full rewrite.

Remember my whole Keep Moving Forward thing? I’d never written a book twice, let alone three times. Revisions, yes. Dozens and dozens of those. But total, start from scratch, rebuild from the ground up rewrites?

It was daunting. Exhausting. Terrifying. Because what if I got it wrong again? It’s not like I could let the idea go—not when it’s the best idea I’ve ever had. Would I spend the rest of my life rewriting the same exact book, because I just couldn’t seem to get it right?

I know this is crazy. I know it now, looking back from the other side. I even knew it then, though the crazy voice telling me I was doomed to some sort of Groundhog Day version of writing told the quieter, more rational voice to shut up. All that inspiration and excitement and joy dried up in a flash.

There’s a line I’ve heard several times over the years that goes something like this: “Inspiration is for amateurs.”

And I agree, to an extent. I want to make a career out of being a writer. With book deals come deadlines, and I can’t spend too much time staring into space waiting for inspiration to come when that happens. Especially since inspiration can be an elusive little thing.

However. (And this is a big however.) I firmly believe that if I have no heart while I’m writing the book, it will come across in the writing. There’s an author I used to adore and love and revere who now so clearly only writes for the paycheck. None of the recent books have any heart. They’re just half-developed stories full of soulless characters, and reading them left me so unsatisfied and heartbroken that I had to stop. And I will never let that happen to my own books.

So what’s the solution here? How do you flush inspiration out when it’s gone into hiding? Below, please find my simple, step-by-step process for finding inspiration again.

1. Butt in chair, fingers on keyboard. Tell myself over and over again that I can do this.
2. Finding that I’ve forgotten the entire English language, stare into space instead of actually writing anything.
3. Cry. A lot.
4. Then cry some more.
5. Send my agent a crazy email talking about groundhogs that makes no sense whatsoever.
6. Give myself permission to take a break before I completely break. Because, at the end of the day, taking care of myself will lead to way more awesome books than writing myself into complete and total depression.
7. Write something new. Because it turns out I didn’t forget the entire English language. I just forgot how to write LUMINARY. And guess what? I was so excited to be writing again that I pounded out a draft in only 22 days. Writers are meant to write. It’s as simple as that. We just have to find the right project.
8. Ride the wave of that inspiration and dive back into LUMINARY.

It’s like my creativity needed a jumpstart, but now that it’s running again, I can drive it wherever I want. In fact, I just finished the third version of LUMINARY this weekend. It was the hardest work of anything I’ve ever written. Times five. But you know what? I’m pretty sure it’s also the best thing I’ve ever written. Hearts flash in my eyes whenever I think about it. And I’d get so lost in the writing that I’d forget to eat, or drink, or move. Sometimes for ten or fifteen hours at a time. If that’s not inspiration, I don’t know what is.

And yes, a tiny part of me is still afraid that I’m doomed to write this book for the rest of time. But if I can fall this head over heels in love with the book every time I write it, I suppose that’s not the worst possible fate. Especially when I get to write scores of other projects in between drafts, to keep my inspiration overflowing.

Thank you so much, Ashley, for sharing these insights with us. Fingers crossed for LUMINARY!

Wednesday, June 22, 2016

Spotted in a Smith's Parking Lot

I have nothing against stick-figure-family decals--in fact, I kind of like them--but this one made me LOL.
(And if you don't know what a stick-figure-family decal is, you've clearly never been to Utah.)

Friday, June 10, 2016

The Writer's Voice: Where Are Kati Bartkowski and Heidi Lang Now?

In all my years of doing "The Writer's Voice," I only worked with one pair of coauthors, Kati Bartkowski and Heidi Lang. I'll admit that I wasn't sure what to expect, but if there was any conflict on their end, they kept it well hidden from me:) Their entry garnered multiple votes, and their manuscript, now titled LAILU LOGANBERRY'S MYSTIC COOKING, went on to land an agent and sell to Aladdin. I asked them back today to talk about that process and what it's like to work with a coauthor (especially a coauthor you're related to). Enjoy!

KV: Congratulations on the sale of LAILU LOGANBERRY'S MYSTIC COOKING! What inspired you to write it?

KB: I had the idea of a chef who opens her own restaurant and serves fantastical things, like kraken calamari and gourmet gryphon linguini, and then I was planning on writing a different book about a fantasy world slowly being taken over by science, where the elves are actually gangsters fighting to keep control of the city as the scientists gain more and more power.

HL: Kati and I often discussed our writing ideas with each other long before we ever tried co-writing. So when she told me these ideas, I started coming up with suggestions for her. I proposed the idea of combining both stories, so the chef would be working in that fantasy versus science world. I also suggested that the scientists be steampunk scientists, because I thought that would be the most awesome. And then I kept thinking of things she could do with that story--I was really excited about it, until finally she asked me if I wanted to just write it with her.

KV: What was it like to work together, and what tips do you have for other coauthors?

HL: It was (and still is) really fun to work together. Our first draft flew by so quickly because we were just having fun with it, passing it back and forth. As far as tips go, I’d say cowriting can be really tricky because you have to trust the other writer, and you also have to be willing to be completely honest about anything you don’t think is working. For us, it’s worked out because Kati and I have a lot of complementary skill sets. For instance, she likes to plot everything out, and I’m a total pantster.

KB: Chiming in here to say that was one of the hardest things to work with. I’d have this whole story planned out, and then Heidi would add in something…unexpected.

HL: But usually awesome!

KB: …usually. ;)

HL: I think it also helps that we’re sisters, so we’ve had many, many years of being forced to work together one way or another. But for other coauthors, I’d say it’s important to find someone who you trust, who you have fun working with, and who you can be honest with without worrying about it destroying your relationship. Having similar goals for the story and similar tastes in books is also important. For instance, both Kati and I love stories with kick-butt female protagonists who are not afraid to chase their dreams. We also both like a little bit of romance, lots of unique magic, and characters who are not exactly evil, but not exactly good, either.

KV: Tell us about the submission process. Did it move fairly quickly, or did it take some time? And if it took some time, what did you do to stay sane? :)

KB: I know a lot of authors really hate the submission process, but I didn’t mind it. After the stress of querying agents, it was kind of nice to kick back and know someone else was taking over for a bit. And both Heidi and I felt really confident in our agent--she was so excited about our book and did a fantastic job of putting it out there. We figured it would either sell, or it wouldn’t, but at least it was in good hands now.

HL: It did take kind of a long time, with some really close passes. I wasn’t as zen about it as Kati, but mostly I tried not to think about our book out there, circling, potentially never selling. Instead, Kati and I started working on a completely new story in order to pass the time.

KB: We managed to finish the first draft, too. So we’ll have that to go back to after we’re done with revisions on MYSTIC COOKING.

KV: Now tell us about getting the good news. Were you aware of Aladdin's interest beforehand, or did the offer come out of the blue? And how did you find out?

HL: We were not aware of their interest, but Kati had told me when we were first on submission that she felt like Aladdin would be the perfect place for our story.

KB: I still feel that way. :)

HL: Me, too! Anyhow, as you can tell we’re both still really excited about it! We found out when Jennifer, our agent, sent us an email basically asking if we were free to talk that afternoon because she had “news.” Kati was at a play-date with her toddler, so she didn’t see the email right away and I had to call her about twenty times--

KB: Or a hundred times.

HL: It might have been closer to a hundred. ;) Eventually she answered the phone, we set up a call with Jennifer, and the rest is history. I remember there was a lot of dancing around the house and squealing after we hung up.

KV: Once you officially accepted the offer, what were the next steps? And are you working on edits now?

HL: Once we accepted the offer, we didn’t hear anything from Aladdin for a couple of months. I hear this is really typical, but part of me worried they bought our book by mistake and were trying to think of a nice way to tell us.

KB: Luckily it didn’t come to that, and eventually we received our first edit letter and our first deadline. Most of their edits were more bigger picture questions about the world and the roles of some of the side characters, so before making any changes we had to spend a lot of time thinking about it and outlining it, much to Heidi's pleasure. ;)

HL: We actually just received our second edit letter a few weeks ago, so we’re going through that whole process again. There aren’t as many things to change this time, though, so we’re getting closer. And then we need to really get moving on the sequel, which we’ve been slowly, slowly plotting and writing on the side.

KV: Any last words of advice or encouragement you'd like to share with us?

HL: Don’t give up! We finished our first “final” draft of MYSTIC COOKING back in 2012. It was originally YA and was over 100,000 words long…when we signed with Jennifer we had it down under 60,000, and it’s MG now, which is definitely a much better fit. But it took a while to get to that point.

KB: Which leads to our second big advice: learn how to take and apply criticism. We had a lot of people take a look at our story and offer suggestions for improvement. We made it into Pitch Wars back when our story was YA, and then the Writer’s Voice contest after we revised it to MG, and through those we found a lot of wonderful critique partners who all helped make our story much better.

HL: That’s about it. Writing is sometimes so frustrating, and the whole process can feel like it’s taking forever, but it’s so worth it. We love creating these worlds and these characters, and we’re so excited that other people are going to get to read the stories we created.

KB: Exactly. Write on, everyone! And thanks so much for inviting us to chat with you, Krista!

It was my pleasure, ladies. If the book is half as charming as this interview was, it will be charming indeed:)