Anna’s Rules for Writing Friday, Feb 26 2010 

In honor of this Guardian UK piece in which writers riff off of Elmore Leonard’s (don’t feel bad for not knowing who that guy is, I had to look him up, too) rules for writing fiction, I’m going to present my own rules for writing fiction. I previously discussed this article over at my own blog, but I now realize that the article is longer than I thought and in two parts, the second one of which I didn’t know existed until right now. So read all of it! I’m sure I will at some point.

Anyway, here goes nothing:

1. Like many of those other authors in the Guardian piece said, you should read your book aloud, preferrably from beginning to end eventually, although probably not all at once unless you want to lose your voice. I do this constantly, mostly because I’m vain about my own dialogue (I think I’m funnier and cleverer than I am) and like to hear it spoken the way I hear it in my head. It really does help, especially when you find that you read the sentence a bit differently than it’s written on the page, because it comes more naturally that way. When that happens, I almost always make that change, and it’s not always inconsequential.

2. Don’t let anyone tell you (and don’t tell anyone else, GUARDIAN UK) that you shouldn’t write prologues. I sold my second book based on its prologue. A good prologue, as long as it’s short, can be an awesome way to draw a reader in. Sorry to bring this up, but think of the Twilight saga prologues. I mean, they’re not all interesting, but the one in Twilight gives you a sneak peak of the end, so you know there’s going to be some action in that lumbering tome! I don’t know, I think they can work. Haters to the left.

3. Read. A lot. Obvi.

4. If it helps, talk about your writing. My friends might think I talk about my writing ALL THE TIME, but I don’t that much, really, to anyone. If I do, I talk about it in the vaguest sense, even avoiding titles–I still call All Unquiet Things “my first book” to most people. It makes me uncomfortable to get into specifics, because I’m afraid people will think what I’m working on sounds stupid, and also I’m superstitious and maybe I believe it will all go away if I let it out even a little, I don’t know. BUT, the one time I did talk in depth about what I’m working on recently, to Joanna a week or so ago, I did have a really great brainstorm that I know I would not have had on my own. It was the act of talking the problem through with Joanna that made me see a new path. So maybe you could try that, if you’re a close-to-the-vest-type writer.

5. Don’t confine yourself to one room. Believe me, I write mostly in my tiny New York City bedroom, and five hours of intense work in that space can make me feel cramped and achy, both intellectually and physically, and I don’t really want to do it again the next day. I’ve recently moved to the couch in my living room, and it has been way easier to get things accomplished.

6. Always carry a notebook and a pen. I once had a brainstorm on the subway without paper or pen and had to write a text message and save it to draft so I wouldn’t forget. That’s way less romantic than scribbling a note that can someday be mounted in a museum as a testament to your spontaneous brilliance or whatever. Also, cell phones die.

7. If you work hard, you should be proud. I think a lot of the time we writers tend to focus on the things that are outside of our control–sales, reviews, deals, bestseller lists, awards, other people’s success. But at the end of the day, if you’re working your ass off to write the best book you possibly can, give yourself some credit!

8. On the other hand, if you’re not working hard, don’t whine. You’re not doing your part.

9. Keep an open mind when it comes to criticism. Over the years, if you keep working and keep revising and keep taking feedback from people (friends, crit partners, agents, editors, random readers that email you with writing advice, etc.), you’ll begin to get a fine tuned sense of what criticism is useful to you and what isn’t. Until you have that sense, don’t ever assume you’re right–you’re probably not, especially if you trust the reader. I do my revisions on an informal points system in which I start out with a certain number of points and every time my agent or editor says something like, “Cut this,” or “This doesn’t make sense, change it,” or “Repetition” or whatever, I have a choice: change it, or spend a certain amount of points to keep it. A small deletion is worth less points; a big change is worth much more. I personally choose to make almost 100% of my editor’s small changes in order to save up points for something I really, really want to keep that is bigger and more important to me. Now, I very rarely have to dig my heels in about something, but it gives me a feeling of security, like I’m doing my part for the book by improving it in every way I feel comfortable with, which is leverage for the times I want to make an unpopular choice because I think it’s best for the book.

Of course, this is all in my head; I invented this system for myself and until this very moment have never mentioned it to anyone. And you should have your own system for revising. But I guess my point is that you should be open to everything and be willing to change a lot to save up for those times you adamantly don’t want to change something that’s important to you. Also, being flexible is how you prove to people (yourself at first, then your agent and editor) that you’re not a nightmare to work with and that you have good intuition.

10. Write. A lot. Think about writing all the time. It’s the only way to get good at it.

So, for what it’s worth, that’s my advice.


All Unquiet Things Trailer Wednesday, Jan 6 2010 

Less than a week to go before All Unquiet Things hits bookstores!  Here is the trailer for your viewing pleasure:

AUT PW Review Thursday, Dec 17 2009 

The reviews just keep coming! Here’s the fantastic review from Publisher’s Weekly:

The following title has been reviewed in the
December 14, 2009 issue of Publishers Weekly:
All Unquiet Things Anna Jarzab. Delacorte, $17.99 (352p) ISBN 978-0-385-73835-4
Jarzab’s strong debut tracks teenage Neily and Audrey’s investigation of the murder of 16-year-old Carly—Audrey’s cousin and Neily’s ex—in an affluent San Francisco suburb one year after Audrey’s father is convicted of the crime. Neily is a bright, cynical senior at Brighton Day School; bitter after being dumped by Carly, he didn’t return her calls on the night of her death and still blames himself. Audrey, who has returned to Brighton after “a self-imposed exile,” badgers Neily into helping clear her father’s name (“I can tell that behind that weak Holden Caulfield affectation is a spongy, leaking heart desperate for some sort of closure”). The story shifts between Neily and Audrey’s points of view, but only a few times, letting readers sink into each character’s mindset—painful, unhealed wounds are evident underneath both Neily’s clinical, sarcastic exterior and Audrey’s more open, confident manner. It’s a slow-building, slow-burning mystery—Jarzab is as interested in probing Neily and Audrey’s emotional states and the ramifications of Carly’s murder as she is in solving it—but the author’s confident, literary prose makes for a tense and immersive thriller. Ages 14–up. (Jan.)

Reviews Friday, Dec 11 2009 

On Saturday, we will officially be one month away from the release of All Unquiet Things. Honestly, and I know people say this a lot but that’s because it’s true, time flies. I really feel like we just started this journey a couple of months ago, but actually it was over a year ago. I just can’t believe that, except I have to because that’s what my calendar says. Yikes!

Being so close to the release means a lot of things. It means that marketing and publicity efforts are gearing up, it means finished copies are almost here, and it means that the reviews are starting to trickle in. A few weeks ago, Random House released copies of All Unquiet Things via the Amazon Vine program. ARCs of AUT have always been scarce, so this was the first time, with a few exceptions, anyone managed to get their hands on a copy of it. Terrifying! In mostly a good way, thankfully.

So far, the reviews have been positive. Actually, I’d really considered not looking at reviews at all. I know that can be a dark spiral, whether reviews are positive or negative. I didn’t want to use positive reviews to inflate my ego, or negative reviews to pointlessly flog myself. But Tirzah from The Compulsive Reader (which is an excellent book blog everyone should read) emailed to let me know that she’d reviewed AUT on her site. I knew Tirzah was reading the book because I saw it on Twitter, and I knew she’d have a lot of interesting things to say, and I wasn’t disappointed–her commentary is thoughtful and lovely. But it gave me the fever. Suddenly, I had to read every available review. See? Dark spiral.

There aren’t that many reviews of AUT online, but there are some, and of course I eventually came across a negative one, as you do. I was shocked at how not upset I was. The reviewer really did not like my book, and yet I was fine with it. I question some of the comparisons the reviewer made, and I think there were some errors of understanding in his (the gender of the reviewer is an assumption) reading of the book, but I was mostly unbothered by his strong negative reaction to it. He doesn’t seem very easily impressed. Neither am I, so I can relate to that. I think I wrote a damn fine book, but so do a lot of people, and I often disagree with them on that point. I also know that not everyone is going to fall in love with my characters. I respect and encourage varying opinions and reactions to them, and to the story. It makes the dialogue so much more robust and fantastic.

AUT has already been reviewed by Booklist, but just yesterday my editor passed along another trade review–this time from Kirkus. I don’t know how closely readers of this blog follow the trades, but we found out today–a scant twenty-four hours after I got my Kirkus review–that the company that owns Kirkus is folding it, as well as Editor and Publisher, which is a journalism trade publication. This is upsetting for a lot of reasons–lost jobs for one–but as newspaper and magazine coverage of books continues to shrink, it’s terrible to see a publication completely devoted to books succumb. Goodbye, Kirkus. We will all miss you. And thank you for giving my little book space in one of your last issues. I really appreciate it.

Here’s the full text of the Kirkus review, if you’re interested.

“Neily Monroe is struggling to adjust to life following the murder of his ex-girlfriend Carly and the guilt he feels for not responding to her final attempts to reach him. Their breakup had been especially painful and embarrassing for Neily. When Carly’s cousin Audrey suggests the real killer is still at large, he thinks she is just trying to clear her father, who is serving time for the crime. Gradually, the two find clues in Carly’s diary that make someone else a plausible suspect. What had appeared to be a family tragedy triggered by a dispute over money now threatens to expose the darker side of an upscale and privileged clique. This is a sophisticated teen mystery, more introspective than action-oriented. Told as it is through the voices of both Neily and Audrey, readers get to know as much about the troubled girl they both loved as they do the principals. The adults are well drawn, and the impact of their unresolved issues intriguing. Less successful as a mystery than as a subtle look at family tensions and entitlement, at which it excels. (Mystery. 14 & up)”

Book Trailers Thursday, Dec 10 2009 

We’re about a month away from the official release date for All Unquiet Things (that’s January 12, if you’ve forgotten. Check out Anna’s website to preorder a copy!) which means that marketing efforts have stepped up quite a bit – and we’re all starting to feel overwhelmed (yes, that is my sort-of excuse for being absent from this blog for such a long time). Anna’s been doing interviews, events are being scheduled and now there’s talk of a book trailer. 

Anna and I have been going back and forth on the merit of book trailers as well as what makes a good one.  In a way, a trailer for a book seems like an oxymoron, doesn’t it?  I mean, yeah, sure, great writing evokes powerful images and all that, but personally I’ve always found it a bit annoying when the images that are attributed to pieces of writing feel off. Like when film adaptation of a novel stars someone who does not match your idea of what the hero/heroine really looks like, or when the third book in a series is packaged with a photo of the female lead on the cover after you’ve spent the last two books imagining her to look drastically different.  But the weird marriage of books and movie trailers presents another concern for me: I have to say that rarely do I find a trailer that manages to make me want to read the book in question.  Typically, I feel that book trailers are comprised of the back jacket copy set to music, or dramatic readings of jacket-copy-esque text, such as this trailer for The Associate by John Grisham .  It’s not horrible, but it does read more like a bad film trailer than an ad for a book.  Sometimes, however, what you get is completely incoherent copy set to music, like this trailer for the best-selling YA novel by Gayle Forman, If I Stay ().  I can’t help but feel that a novel that tackles such an interesting topic deserves a little more.  But sometimes it’s right on the money like these two vastly different trailers one for Hold Still by Nina LaCour  made by the author and friends with a super 8 camera.  This trailer not only hints at what the book is about, it also evokes an atmosphere that’s intriguing and sad and touching. And then there’s the more expensively produced trailer for the mainstream thriller Blood and Ice by Robert Masello, which says so much without saying anything!

 We’ll post Anna’s trailer as sooon as it’s ready.  Meantime, if there are any trailers that worked for you, please share!

Blurbs Friday, Nov 6 2009 

For the last few months Anna’s editor has been trying to get successfully published authors to blurb All Unquiet Things.  A blurb is an endorsement quote that goes on the cover of a book (either front or back, but if it’s a great quote from a well-known author, then definitely on the front) and is supposed to be that little something extra that will sway potential readers.  The idea is that if you are a fan of said already published author and said already published author is telling you that they thought All Unquiet Things was the best book they’d ever read, you will take their word for it and pick up a copy.   In other ways endorsement quotes also provide some leverage with the marketing team (“This already published author loved All Unquiet Things, maybe we should give it a little extra attention.”) as well as with buyers for bookstores (“This book looks interesting and this already published author loved it? We’ll take an extra 500 copies.”)  and they’re always a nice addition to any author’s website.

But it looks like All Unquiet Things will not be hitting shelves with an endorsement quote on its cover. Why?  Because it turns out that all the YA authors we approached have no blurbing policies.  One the one hand, I get it. When your name becomes recognizable (and yes, I’m admitting that our potential quotee list was pretty much made up of recognizable names. It’s the way the of the game) there is no doubt that you are swamped with requests by first time authors and their agents and editors for endorsement quotes. I’m sure this gets annoying and can be a total time suck, but on the other hand I can’t help but wonder since you (you = well-known, successfully published author) were once a first time, unknown novelist, why not give back?   Anna and I discussed this over email recently. I was astounded by just how many authors flat-out state that they will not blurb (and a little irked when I did see endorsement quotes by some of them on the covers of recent releases)  whereas Anna maintained that endorsement quotes don’t really sway her when she’s browsing in a book store.  So, I’m curious, dear readers: do they work for you?  Have you every purchased something because a favorite authors of yours was quoted on the cover?  Or do you disregard any and all endorsement quotes?

On the record Friday, Oct 30 2009 

So tonight I had a completely surreal authorly experience: I recorded an interview to go on the end of the All Unquiet Things audio book. It was my first in-person interview–I’ve done blog interviews, but nothing that didn’t involve writing down the answers to my questions and editing them until they sounded just as interesting and funny as I imagine that I am.

This was totally different. I had the questions in advance, and I made the somewhat off-the-cuff decision to write down answers, just in case I forgot to say anything. There’s this thing that happens to me when people ask me questions I’m not ready for: I panic, and then blank. This happens to me LITERALLY every time someone asks me, “So what good books have you read lately?” “Er…[Think, brain, think! You read all the time, how can you not know the answer to this very simple question, you moron?!] the new Dan Brown book was good?” Brilliant. Five stars, Jarzab. Way to go.

Let me just tell you: IT WAS A REALLY GOOD THING THAT I DID THIS. Otherwise, I would have been “um”-ing and “uh”-ing and giggling nervously throughout the entire thing, which I sort of did anyway.

My apologies in advance for not taking pictures. I meant to snap a few of the studio with my iPhone, but, shock of all shocks, I completely blanked and forgot. So you’ll have to use your imaginations.

So I left work right at five (first time ever, what what!) and hopped on an uptown train to the studio where we’d be recording the interview. I was late, of course, because I always forget how long it takes to walk two avenues.

(Side bar: I’ve had two experiences in the last week when I’ve been walking between two avenues (both times between 7th and 8th Aves), bopping along to my iPod, not paying attention, and then I’ll look up and go, “Did I pass 8th Ave? It feels like I’ve been walking forever!” and I’ll be, like, 3/4 of the way between 7th and 8th Aves. IT TAKES THAT LONG. So long that I zone out walking what is technically one block. Outrageous, New York. Simply outrageous.)

Anyway, I got there at 5:35 PM and went upstairs to meet my lovely audio editor, Rebecca. She is so lovely. Always friendly and sweet to me. I was in her office on Tuesday when we decided to do the interview today and I asked her, sort of casually, if she’d be there when we recorded, hoping she’d say yes, because I knew I’d be a nervous wreck and that seeing a familiar face would make me calmer. Not CALM, mind you–calmer. Because I’m always a nervous wreck.

Okay, so anyway, I get there and see Rebecca, and she introduced me to Dan, the producer, who was also incredibly nice and warm! I’ve gotten really lucky with all the people at Random House–they’re such a delight to work with, so charming and smart and easy to talk to. I immediately announced, “I’M SO NERVOUS!” because I’m a spaz like that, and they were both like, “It’s fine, you’ll be fine, this is going to be great!” I didn’t believe them, but, okay, it’s going to be great.

So they sit me down in a soundproof booth, which is so weird because you can see the people outside the booth through a plexiglass window and they’re obviously talking to each other but you’re in a cocoon of silence, and have me talk about my day so that they can get the sound levels correct. Then Dan started asking me the questions. It actually didn’t take very long–maybe twenty minutes? I don’t know, I’m not great with time, and I didn’t look at a clock. They told me I did really well, which is funny, because I felt like I sounded scripted and awkward, but they assured me it was not so and I trust them because they do this all the time. If I did sound scripted and awkward, they would’ve had me rerecord, right? Let’s go with that.

Afterward, Rebecca, Dan and I sat around jawing about books for a long time. I felt bad for taking up so much of their evenings, since business hours were definitely over, and also we were hogging a studio so that the people who run the studio couldn’t get out of there, but it was so nice to chat about books with people who know books. And, I know, my life is full of people who know books with whom I talk about books, but it’s exciting to meet new, very interesting people who know books. I, of course, was full of Jarzab Opinionz, which I know I should curb a little, but I can’t seem to. Still, they seemed fairly amused by me.

Overall, it was a great experience. I hope you guys like the interview, because I think the things I talk about are interesting to readers (or, at least, they would be interesting to me if it was some other author talking about the same things). Thanks Rebecca and Dan!

All Unquiet Things First Review Wednesday, Oct 21 2009 

We just heard that All Unquiet Things was reviewed in Booklist. Here’s what they had to say:

“With smooth assurance, Jarzab transforms what could have been a formulaic story of boarding-school students behaving badly into a fresh, compelling tale. Part mystery, part character study, the story hooks readers immediately, propelling them through a serpentine path of secrets and lies. Seventeen-year-old Neily found the body of his ex-girlfriend, Carly, on the Empire Creek bridge. A year later, Carly’s uncle is imprisoned for the crime, but neither Neily nor the victim’s cousin, Audrey, is convinced that he is the murderer. Forming an often-acrimonious partnership, the two teens narrate the chapters in alternating voices as they follow the clues to a nail-biting conclusion and discover the truth not only about the murder but also about themselves. The characters are distinct and memorable, but it is Neily who stands out with a pitch-perfect, sarcastic voice and a personality that surges from the pages of this promising debut.” – Booklist

A failure of imagination Friday, Oct 16 2009 

I don’t believe in writer’s block. There, I said it! Phew. What a load off. I said that once to a writer friend and he responded, “Oh, this I can’t WAIT to hear.”

Let me explain. I’m not saying there aren’t times when writing is a struggle–for me, or for anyone else. Actually, I’m in a period of relative writing inertia right now–I like to refer to it as peaks and valleys. I’ve never been the type of writer to force anything out of myself, conceding that, at least for me, forced writing ends up reading like it was, well, forced. I work on my novel(s) every day, but a lot of that work takes place in my head and my word/page count can stay static for days, weeks, months at a time while I puzzle out the intricacies of my story and try to figure out just who my characters are. It’s a different sort of work–you can’t measure it in hours spent in front of a computer or pages coming out of the printer, but it matters in the end, maybe more than some of the words you type and then discard.

But that’s not a block. It’s a slow period, or a hibernation, or sometimes just a difficult stretch of road that takes time and determination to cover. I doubt any writer would call that a block. What people mean by writer’s block is the complete cessation of all creative output and the panic it brings–“What if I’m just a one trick pony? What if I’m a talentless hack who never should’ve been published in the first place? What if I never write again, or, WORSE, never get published again?”

I’m not saying I’ve never been there, because I have. Some people blame it on their “muse” (if there’s a writerly self-indulgence I hate more than the muse concept, I’ve never come across it), but of course that’s not it at all–this isn’t ancient Greece, or Andy Warhol’s Factory. There isn’t any such thing as a muse. It’s just you and your pen and your mind. Sometimes, that doesn’t seem like enough. It’s as if a great stone wall has been built up in your head overnight, and it separates you from your work. It looks insuperable; it certainly doesn’t yield when you throw yourself against it or try to scramble up its smooth facade. The situation feels hopeless, like swimming against a strong current in a vast ocean.

So what’s the problem? To illustrate, I’m going to use a scene from one of my favorite shows from a little while back.

In the first season of Joan of Arcadia, average everyday bratty teenager Joan Girardi begins seeing God and receiving “suggestions” from Him. When Joan acts on those suggestions, good things happen. But a third of the season in, God asks Joan to do something that tests her faith. Joan’s friend Adam is a budding sculptor, and he’s entered his best piece in the school art show. God tells Joan to make sure the piece is removed from the art show. Joan makes a half-hearted effort at doing what she’s been told–she tries convincing Adam to take it out of the show, and when that doesn’t work she tries to buy it, and when that doesn’t work she tries to steal it, all the while entertaining doubts about her task and the true nature of the being who gave it to her.

Finally, the day of the art show arrives and Adam’s piece goes on display, despite Joan’s mediocre attempt at preventing this from happening. And something great happens–some old lady pays Adam $500 for it! Now, setting aside for a second the fact that random old women don’t normally go trolling high school art shows for new avant garde purchases (although maybe they should), this is not as good as it sounds, because Adam (because he is a teenage boy and also ridiculous) decides to drop out of school to become a full-time artist. Finally, Joan realizes why God didn’t want Adam’s piece in the art show–he wanted Adam to stay in school! (It’s much less stupid than it sounds.)

So Joan, overcome with the consequences of her own mistake and desperate to undo what has already been done, ties back her hair and goes charging into the gymnasium. She picks up a chair and starts swinging, smashing Adam’s precious sculpture to bits.

Now, backing up a bit. When Joan originally ran out of ideas, she confronted God about the shadiness of Her mission and a litany of things Joan already did to make it happen. “What else is there?” she whines. “I mean…you want me to smash it?” God shakes Her head and smiles. “Don’t blame me for your failure of imagination,” She says. “What you have to ask yourself is: What are you going to do now?

So when the school administrators and her parents confront Joan about the “solution” she came up with, she mutters, “I had a failure of imagination.”

Okay, so Joan makes a couple of mistakes here. The first one is that she tries to guess where God is going with this whole Adam thing, which God initially praises her for (“I like the way way you’re beginning to consider the results and ramifications of our work together,” He tells her), but it becomes clear that when Joan tries too hard to predict the future that will emerge from her actions, she becomes blind to her own part in the process and decides that she knows best, throwing up her hands and abandoning her task.

This is one cause of so-called writer’s block. As writers, we try too hard to catch a glimpse of the future–typing “The End” on a beautiful manuscript, our agent calling with a significant deal, holding the finished copy in our hands. It’s much too big of a burden for us to carry, and nobody can possibly know what the end of the process is going to look like. If you tell yourself, “I have to write a bestseller,” or anything similar, you might not be able to write anything at all.

Joan also puts too much stock in her past experience. Because she has been able to see the positive outcomes of following God’s directives before, she expects to always have that luxury. God’s former suggestions were puzzling, but in a morally neutral way–get a job at this bookstore, play chess, try out for cheerleading. But “make sure this nice thing that Adam wants doesn’t happen” is morally ambiguous and for the first time, Joan’s choice is predicated not on her own personal motivations and desires, but on her interpretation of right and wrong as it applies to the effect she can have on the lives of people besides herself. She can’t imagine a good thing coming of her mission, so she doubts it and doesn’t try very hard.

The burden of expectations puts an altogether different sort of pressure on a writer. If you’ve been published before–or even if you’ve finished a novel before, and are in any stage of the publication process–it’s easy to get caught in a whirlpool of “It wasn’t this way with my last book” or “My last book was easier to write” or whatever. You feel as though, since you’ve been through it once, twice, forty times before, you should know how to do it by now. It should be a breeze. But of course it isn’t–it can’t be, if you’re going to grow and learn. Each book presents new challenges and problems, and when we psych ourselves out about what we should be as writers and think that we already know the depths of our own creativity, we stymie ourselves.

Joan’s final problem is her crisis of faith. But it isn’t God she questions, although that’s how she thinks of it–it’s herself. She doubts her ability to handle the situation she’s found herself in, and rather than work until she finds the correct answer, she throws up her hands and admits defeat, falling short of her objective, then taking drastic measures that only make the whole thing worse. The episode ends without Joan reconvening with God to talk about her mistake, because you know what He/She would have said, because She said it earlier, when Joan wasn’t listening: “What you have to ask yourself is: What are you going to do now?

A crisis of faith is the worst sort of obstacle for a writer, because it comes from a deeply discouraging place inside of you, one that’s incredibly difficult to shake. In Joan of Arcadia parlance, it’s the dwelling place of the Adversary, the bit of you that says, “I can’t do this. Last time was a fluke. This is who I really am–a complete failure.” I was in this place about a month ago, when I reached a point in one of my current works in progress where I felt the wall spring up. I almost did a very Joan-like thing–I nearly abandoned the nearly one hundred and fifty pages I had written–thinking they were terrible, the sloppiest writing I’d ever done, I almost destroyed them. I believed they–and I–were completely worthless. Thankfully, I put them aside for a little while, even opened up a brand new Word document and began rewriting the book from page 1, but after going back to the original partial manuscript and I found my path again and continued on, salvaging all but a few pages of what I had previously written. It’s a first draft, it’s bare-bones because that’s the way I work, and it’s not publishable–yet. But I know I can get there.

There’s no such thing as writer’s block. If you find yourself unable to write, it’s not because some unseen force that previously guided your work is gone, it’s because you have had a failure of imagination. The wall we throw our shoulders against is a manifestation of doubt and disillusion, not a something that has risen up on its own.

The creative process is always an inner struggle for clarity and purpose; that doesn’t change after you’re published, or after you’ve finished a few books. I won’t presume to say why it happens for other people, but it happens for me when the compulsion to speak is overcome by the fear of having nothing to say. I find I can become discouraged by the problems my books pose, believing that because I haven’t found the solution yet it means I never will. I don’t know if it’s nostalgia or selective memory or what, but I expect the next book to be just as easy to write as All Unquiet Things was–forgetting, of course, that AUT took me seven long years and countless revisions to get somewhere in the neighborhood of just right, and that the reason I avoid reading it now is that I know it will never be perfect.

I’m not going to pretend that this is an easy situation to overcome. Of course it isn’t. It takes a lot of faith and stubborness to figure out a way to turn a failure of imagination into a triumph of imagination. To paraphrase another favorite show of mine: the solution is there–you just haven’t found it yet.

YA Or Not YA Thursday, Oct 15 2009 

What makes a YA book?  The National Book Award nominations were announced yesterday and already there is controversy brewing in the young people’s category.  Apparently there is much buzz about the fact that one of the nominees, David Small’s graphic memoir Stiches, was published as an adult title.  The controversy is multi-fold: can an “adult book” be nominated in a young adult category?  Is such a nomination taking away an opportunity from a “certifiable” young adult book? And, what makes a young adult book anyway – protagonists’ age? Teen themes? High School setting?

When we were selling Browne & Miller title Rooftops of Tehran  by Mahbod Seraji a few years ago we were in a bit of a quandary,  the story was told from the point of view of a 17-year-old narrator, but the story itself was a timeless coming of age romance.  We pitched to YA editors and were told it was too adult, but when we pitched to adult editors we were told it was too YA.  Ultimately, we sold it to an editor at a mainstream adult imprint, who fell in love with the story and who we felt was going to be the book’s champion in the marketplace.  Rooftopshas been read by adults and young adults alike, it’s been picked by adult book clubs, but also picked by as a top summer reading choice for high schoolers. Does that make it an adult book that appeals to young adults or a young adult books that appeals to adults?  I say it’s a great story that should be read by all – read it and decide for yourself.

Meantime, check out these posts by the editors at Booklist and YA author John Green regarding the NBA nomination question.

Here are the NBA nominees:


Deborah Heiligman, Charles and Emma: The Darwins’ Leap of Faith
(Henry Holt)
Phillip Hoose, Claudette Colvin: Twice Toward Justice
(Farrar, Straus and Giroux)
David Small, Stitches (W. W. Norton & Co.)
Laini Taylor, Lips Touch: Three Times (Arthur A. Levine Books/Scholastic)
Rita Williams-Garcia, Jumped(HarperTeen/HarperCollins)

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