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Monthly Archives: March 2016

The Awkwardness, the Agony, the Awesomeness: Writing YA and What It’s Like to Be 14

The Awkwardness, the Agony, the Awesomeness:  Writing YA and What It’s Like to Be 14

Recently I have been plodding through the self-imposed task of typing up all of my old diary entries (from age 10 to 27) so that I have an electronic copy.

I decided to start with 9th grade, in part because I felt like reading about my high school years would help me write Young Adult novels, and in part because I just felt like it. I figure I’ll go back and do 5th through 8th grade later. (I guess it’s painful to revisit middle school, even in diary form.)

So far it’s been a very time-consuming task. I used to write in my diary a lot. There’s one entry in which I listed every single outfit I owned. Not just every article of clothing, mind you, but every single combination, including what earrings and shoes I wore with each. I also listed my friends’ outfits, although I wasn’t quite as thorough with that, thank god.

Although it’s time-consuming, I don’t feel like it’s a waste of time. It’s really amazing to see the world through my 14-year-old eyes. It’s amazing how much I’d forgotten about being that age and how much the feelings come flooding back when I read my own angsty words. I feel lucky that I have this resource, and I feel like anybody trying to write for younger audiences should read their own diary entries (or someone else’s, I suppose) in order to get back into the teenage mindset.

Eva Dev

Christmas 1995, when I was 14.  (With my brother, Deven.)

 

So far I’ve only typed up August through December of my 9th grade year, but some of this stuff is, in my opinion, solid YA gold, and I can’t help but share.  Here are a few tidbits from my diary and a few things I’ve learned/remembered about being fourteen. (Note: I changed all names except my own for privacy and whatnot.)

What it was like to be 14:

I thought everything was awesome.

Friday was awesome! We went for a walk in gym. In World G we did a map. After school, I went to v-ball, which was great, then I met Dana. She was talking to this guy who was standing outside the library smoking. His name was Jeremy, and he had graduated. He thought I looked older than 14!!!

Then, me and Dana walked to the Grandin and saw The Baby-Sitter’s Club movie, which was good. Then we walked home. On the way I saw Ray and Tony Granada. They actually said hi to me, after Ray screamed, “It’s Eva!” out the car window. Then I saw Lia, Shay, and Liza outside Lia’s house and talked to Liza for a long time. I felt at one with the world.  So far, high school is just about awesome.

 

I was very concerned about boys and getting a boyfriend.

We are trying to get this shy golfer guy to ask Nina to Homecoming and hopefully he will. He’s just shy. I know he wants to. What guy wouldn’t? She is, hands down, the prettiest girl in the 9th grade, and I’m not just saying that because she’s a sweetie and my friend. It’s true…

I think I’m fairly pretty; I don’t see why nobody’s asked me to Homecoming. I know why nobody’s asked Nina. It’s ‘cause she’s so gorgeous and sophisticated, all the guys are like, “she’d never go out with me.” So no one ever asks her out, and she gets low self-confidence. I’m pretty much positive that’s not the case with me because I’m not drop-dead gorgeous like Nina is. So somebody should ask me out.

 

I was very aware of other people and what they thought of me.

Me and Dana tutored after school. My mom was supposed to come pick me up but she forgot, so I ended up outside the library with Ella, this girl Jami, and Sharon. Sharon had cigarettes, so Ella and Jami bummed off her, and Sharon offered me one.

If I told anybody (except Dana, ’cause she knows) that I have never tried a cigarette in my life, they would never believe me. Not that it’s something every kid tries, although it kinda is, but I guess people see me as the type of person who would smoke, or at least have tried it.

P.S. I hope Dana isn’t the only reason people like me. I don’t think it is, though. Sometimes Dana can be too much. I think I’m nice and funny. I hope other people think so, too.

 

Ninth grade is awkward! So much awkwardness!

There was a lot of drama about who would ask me to the Homecoming Dance.  My friends forced the boy I liked –- we’ll call him Matt — to ask me, and then he did, but then he backed out a few days later and asked someone else and I was devastated. I ended up going without a date, in a big group of friends. Despite being date-less, I ended up dancing my first-ever slow dance, which is described in painful detail below:

I was having a lot of fun ‘cause I love to dance. Then, Trip Kensington asked me to dance, so I did. I danced a couple songs with him, but then I didn’t want to dance with him anymore. I just wanted to dance in a circle with my friends. He kept cornering me, though, and holding out his hand. I didn’t want to be mean, but I didn’t want to string him along either ‘cause I don’t like him in that way, and after a while he was really starting to freak me out.

He’s not bad looking, but he’s really not my type. He’s got long, curly, light brown hair, and he’s really tall. After a while I was getting tired of dancing with him. I did dance my first two slow dances ever with him, though. I put my arm around his neck and he put his arms around my waist. He kept sweating and having these spazzes, and I could feel him breathing on my head.

During the second song he kept trying to pull me closer and closer until my head was on his chest. Then the song was over and I ran away. He kept following me, and I kept telling everybody, “if you see me dancing with Trip, come rescue me. I want a Trip-free environment.”

I spent the second half of the dance avoiding him like the plague. He’d ask me to dance (or hold out his hand or say “let’s go, Eva.”) and I’d ignore him. He’d tap me on the shoulder and I’d walk away. I’d start dancing with him, and after a few seconds I’d say, “I’ll be right back,” and run away. It was getting really old, and he was scaring the shit out of me.

I really wanted to dance with Matt. That’s one of the reasons why I didn’t want to dance with Trip. I didn’t want anybody, especially Matt, to think I was going with him. I fast-danced for a few seconds with Matt. It was a thousand times better than any of my dances with Trip.

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Two years later I went to Homecoming with a date, as seen here.  But it was probably no less awkward.

 

So do you guys remember now? Didn’t this help you remember what it’s like to be fourteen?  The awkwardness, the agony, the awesomeness.

Now I shall harness these memories and emotions and go write some YA!

The Sound of Your Own Words, or, A Mystery Day Trip

The Sound of Your Own Words, or, A Mystery Day Trip

Over the weekend, my husband took me on a mystery day trip. He had come up with the idea on Friday evening, and by Saturday morning and he still hadn’t told me where we were going,  which is a pretty amazing feat for him – he’s terrible at keeping secrets.

“Should I just tell you?” he asked as we got in the car.

“No. Surprise me!”

In order to distract him from the temptation of spilling the beans, I read to him from one of my novels. I’d been revising and editing it for the past few months, and just recently I had spent a full day giving the entire manuscript a final read-through. I had pronounced it completely finished and ready to send out to agents. Paul had read an early draft two years ago, but he’d expressed interest in reading it again, now, in it’s final form. This was the perfect opportunity.  He drove, and I read.

And as I read, I noticed little things that needed to be changed. I was amazed, and slightly annoyed. I had literally just read the entire book and thought it was Finished with a capital “F,” but now I noticed missing periods, sentences that didn’t sound quite right, and even a few darlings that still needed to be killed.

We had been driving for nearly an hour, and we’d just driven over the Chesapeake Bay Bridge onto the eastern shore of Maryland. “Do you want me to keep reading?” I asked.

“Yeah,” Paul said.  So I did.

*  *  *

I know that I’m supposed to read my manuscripts out loud before I submit them anywhere. I know that. And yet, I never do it. It’s time consuming to read an entire novel out loud, and it makes my mouth dry. Besides, I feel silly reading out loud to myself. I always figure a close, silent read is good enough.

But apparently it’s not.

When we read silently, especially our own words, we are likely to see what we expect to be there. Reading out loud forces us to slow down and see what is actually on the page. Not to mention, it helps us realize if dialogue is stilted or if sentences don’t quite sound right. Really, there’s nothing quite like reading your manuscript out loud when it comes to fine-tune editing.  It’s time I stopped taking the short cut and started reading my work out loud.

As I was reading, I got distracted by a large hawk soaring alongside the highway. “Ooh, look at that raptor,” I said.

“You like that bird, babe?” Paul asked. “Well, guess where we’re going!” And then he could hold in the secret no longer.

Safari

Paul and I like birds.  Here we are a few years ago with some parakeets.

 

Turns out, we were going to the Prime Hook National Wildlife Refuge on the Delaware Bay. Talk about birds. Not only is Prime Hook home to cool birds like blue herons, snowy egrets, eagles, and hawks, it is also the premier rest stop for pretty much all of the migratory birds in the western hemisphere. In fact, according to a poster I read in the Visitor Center, on any given day in the month of April, eighty percent of the migratory birds in the Americas can be found hanging out at Prime Hook.

Even though we weren’t there in prime season, and even though it was close to freezing temperatures outside, there were still a dang lot of birds. Paul and I hiked the trails and gawked at the enormous numbers of darting swallows and chattering blackbirds and flocks of water fowl. After a while we turned away from the beach and onto a trail through the forest. Suddenly, we heard a faint pattering sound.

“What’s that noise?” I asked. We stopped to listen.

“I think it’s the sound of the trees growing,” Paul said.

“No,” I scoffed. “Maybe it’s the sound of inchworm poop.”  (See my post about that here.)

The noise grew louder. It sounded like something was hitting the trees. Just then something bounced off of Pauls’ jacket. It was a pellet of ice.  Then one hit me in the face. “Oh, it’s hailing,” I said. “I guess that’s what we were hearing.” We felt a little silly.

The hail turned to icy snow, and we hurried back to the car and started our drive home. “I can’t believe you thought the hail was the sound of trees growing,” I teased Paul.

“I can’t believe you thought it was inchworm poop.”

“Should I read more of my novel?” I asked. “It’s actually really helpful – I’m finding all sorts of little things I want to change.”

“Yeah, keep reading,” he said. “I’m enjoying it.”

So I did. I’m realizing how important it is to listen to the sound of my own words. And reading out loud to Paul is much more fun then reading out loud to myself. It really helped to have a willing pair of ears to listen. And it helped to have a three-hour drive back home, with nothing else better to do.

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A blue heron at the Prime Hook National Wildlife Refuge.

A Novel Equation, or, The Mathematics of Writing

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A Novel Equation, or, The Mathematics of Writing

Any teacher who claims she doesn’t have favorites is lying. Obviously we have favorites. I’m not a math teacher anymore, but I still tutor part-time. One of my favorite students right now is this tiny sixth grader with a bowl cut who I’ll call Kay. She is so spunky and will often spontaneously sing her answers instead of saying them. “It equals fiiiiive!” she’ll sing, with a flourish of her hands and sometimes spirit fingers.

When I’m tutoring Kay, I often find myself singing, too: “Find a common denominator, please! A little comm denom is allllll we need!”  Pretty dorky, I know.  That’s what happens when you teach middle school.

Anyway, the other day I was working with Kay, and she was getting stressed out about her math test the following day. I told her she should be proud of herself no matter what happened on the test. Back in the fall, she hadn’t even been sure what a fraction was, and now she could add, subtract, multiply, and divide them.

 

Kay’s concern was with the last few problems on the review sheet. As if fractions weren’t hard enough, her teacher had decided to throw in some algebra. The first problem was:

3/10 + N = 2 2/5

Normally I would go through my whole spiel about how fractions are numbers, too, and we shouldn’t discriminate against them. How would we solve this equation if they were whole numbers? By using inverse operations, of course!

Unfortunately, Kay is in sixth grade and hasn’t taken Algebra yet. She doesn’t know about inverse operations.

“I don’t know what to do!” she wailed. “I’ve never seen a problem like this before!” In her overall agitation she kicked off her boots and threw them across the classroom.

“Deep breath,” I told her. (I also do a lot of yogic breathing with my middle schoolers.) “OK, let’s play it cool.   Let’s find common denominators first and see if that helps us.”

“I don’t know how!” she moaned. She threw herself into a chair and then promptly slunk out of it into a puddle on the floor.

“Sure you know how,” I said. “How can we rewrite those two fractions with a common denominator?”

“I don’t know how to do it for this problem!” She was writhing on the floor, one step away from a total meltdown, so I told her we were going to take a two minute break from math. I asked her about her dog and about what she was going to do for Spring Break. I also pointed to her boots. “Put those back on, please.”

“Oh,” she said, blinking with confusion. “When did I take them off?”

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Teacher face!

 

I don’t normally have meltdowns about math, but I do have meltdowns sometimes about writing. This week I’ve been working on revising a novel. It took me two months to write, and I’ve been revising it off and on for the past two and a half years. (That’s the mathematics of writing for you – not always very logical.)

The thing that has continued to frustrate me about this novel is that I know how it begins, and I know how it ends, but I’m unclear about what exactly should come in the middle.

Now, that I think about it, it’s an awful lot like this problem:

3/10 + N = 2 2/5

What do I need to add?  I just can’t seem to figure out the right N to make the novel work out in the end. The other day, before my tutoring session with Kay, I was sitting at home, staring out the window and muttering to myself like a crazy person. “What if… No, that won’t work. Well, maybe…. No, that won’t work.”

“I don’t know!” I moaned. Then I did some deep breathing.

 

Cross Country Trip 027

Writing a novel can sometimes feel like a trip to the torture museum.  

 

I bet you’re all dying to know whether Kay solved her fraction problem, aren’t you?  Well, after our two-minute break, she begrudgingly rewrote the problem with common denominators:

3/10 + N = 2  4/10

 

“Oh,” she said.

“Yeah. It’s kind of obvious now what N has to be, right?”

“The answer is two and one-tennnnnth!” Kay sang.

“Exactly.

*     *    *

 

It makes me wonder if there’s a similarly obvious answer to my novel problem. Do I need to find a common denominator somehow? Maybe I need to do some rewriting — look at things a different way — and then the solution will suddenly present itself.

So that’s what I’m trying now. I’m rewriting sections in omniscient voice to see if that makes a difference. I’m also adding scenes and deleting scenes and keeping an open mind. Writing is not quite as straight-forward as fractions, but I think eventually I’ll find the right answer.

Be the Press You Want to See: An Interview with Jeni Wallace of Burlesque Press

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Be the Press You Want to See:  An Interview with Jeni Wallace of Burlesque Press

It’s like one day Jeni Wallace said to herself, hey I’d like to publish books. Then, instead of tossing the thought away as an impossible dream, she enlisted the help of her husband, Daniel Wallace, to be the editor and technology guru.  She did research, attended conferences, and organized a literary festival. She decided to call her company Burlesque Press, based on the literary definition of the word: A work that ridicules a topic by treating something exalted as if it were trivial or vice-versa.

That was a little more than three years ago.  Since then, Burlesque Press has hosted three writing festivals in New Orleans and produced a handful of beautiful books.  I still can’t get over it.  Jeni is amazing, and below she talks about Burlesque Press — how it came to be and where it’s heading.

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Me and Jeni at the Burlesque Press booth at the Southern Independent Booksellers Association conference in 2015.

 

Why did you decide to start Burlesque Press?

If you’re an author, people always tell you to write the book that you would love to read: I wanted to create the press that I most wanted to see in the world. I have always been about promoting community in the writing world, and after I left my former job as a low-residency study abroad program coordinator, I was feeling isolated. The writing world can be harsh, and it can be competitive. I have always sought to redirect that energy towards a more supportive, convivial, supportive atmosphere. And I needed a medium in which I could do that on a larger scale.

I saw that the world of publishing was changing, and I felt there was room for an enterprise that could work closely with talented authors to get their work out into the world, offering hands-on, careful editing and advice. As authors, that’s what we really want. Of course, writers still dream of that six-figure advance, but those advances are so, so rare these days. I would never encourage someone not to try for one: by all means — go forth and bowl the New York publishing world over! But I wanted to create an enterprise that could be nurturing, creative and be something more than just an old-fashioned publisher, for those that were ready, willing, and able to try something different.

 

You talk about the importance of a writing community…  is that why you created an annual writers’ festival in New Orleans?

Yes — The Hands On Literary Festival and Masquerade Ball. In my experience, writers are always looking for ways to connect. And what better way than a few days in New Orleans, over New Year’s, talking about books, writing, and publishing? People are happiest, I think, when they are talking about the things they love – and eating and drinking and getting decked out in masks and finery. That’s why we have a laid back but fun masked ball on New Year’s Eve. I’ve been so impressed with how people connect at the festival and then maintain those connections. Our festival goers have formed lasting bonds; they frequently meet up at different times throughout the year. And they have become loyal to the festival: over the last few years, we’ve built up a great community in New Orleans and throughout the wider US writing world. We are small, but we are strong.

 

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Jeni Wallace at the Hands On Festival’s Masquerade Ball

 

What did you know about the indie book publishing industry before you started this venture?  Where did you go for help and information when you decided, “yes, I’m going to do this”?

Honestly, I jumped in with both feet. I didn’t know how to go about it (sometimes I think I still don’t). The New Orleans Arts Council provided invaluable advice. In less than a day, they helped me incorporate as an LLC, and from there, it was off to the races. As far as the technicalities of publishing – I knew some. I know more now, but still not enough. For instance, I don’t know how to use InDesign, and it’s basically impossible to design a book without it. Luckily, I made the wise decision of marrying someone who knows how to do book design, and knows how to do it well. 🙂 The rest came through trial and error. It took much longer to get our first book out that I anticipated. But each one after has been smoother.

 

What have you learned about indie publishing? 

I’ve learned all about the ins and outs of how to get a book into print. Which printers and distributors you can work with. How unbelievable complicated it is to do an ebook version of the books you want to print. How inexpensive it can actually be to bring a book out, and (at the same time) how crazily expensive it can actually be to bring a book out.

 

Is there anything you would have done differently? Anything you plan to do differently in the future?

I would get more help. It’s hard when you have little to no budget. I can’t hire employees. We are discussing taking on some unpaid interns: I would like to pass on some of the knowledge to aspiring writers. I think if I’d had this opportunity before, when I was an MFA student, the whole process would have been much smoother. We are also looking to incorporate a piece of our enterprise as a non-profit, so that we can bring in some grant money. Right now, we aren’t limited by ideas, interest, or quality submissions. We are limited by a lack of capital.

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Jeni and Eva at AWP.

 

So far Burlesque Press has published four books (and two of them just came out this week!)  Tell me about them!

The Melting Season by Ira Sukrungruang: funny, tragic, and magical tales that explore the gap between Asian Americans and the other American cultures that try to understand them.  (Short Stories)

Postcards from the Dead Letter Office by Dawn Manning: using the ancient Japanese “tanka” poetic form to create a new look at international travel.  (Poetry )  (See my interview with Dawn.)

A House Made of Stars by Tawnysha Greene: a young girl, struggling with poverty and disability, has to escape from her violent father.  (Novel)  (See my review  and interview with Tawnysha.)

Siren Song by Tawni Waters: visionary poems about modern day goddesses.  (Poetry)  (See my interview with Tawni.)

You can buy BP books and merch (like a snazzy t-shirt) here.

 

Do you make any money from publishing books? How many books do you expect to sell?

As of right now, none of our books have reached profitable status, at least in the sense that they repay the work-hours we put into creating them. This is what we expected when we started: today, even the big presses make most of their money from a relatively small number of heavily-promoted, semi-famous books. But we’re getting closer with each release, and we’ve enjoyed expanding our reputation and our ability to interact with authors and booksellers. We have begun reaching out to bookstores and other mediums so that we may increase our sales reach; we’ve also been amazed by how good our authors are at selling copies and promoting their work. We’ve been so lucky to work with such powerfully entrepreneurial artists! You can’t be shy if you publish with a small press – you’ve got to be willing to do readings, spread the word, build a following. Our authors are the best.

Hanging out with BP authors: Eva, Tawni, & Jeni on left and Eva, Jeni. & Dawn on right.

 

All of your books are so beautiful! How do you take a word document and turn it into a pretty book?

It is vital to us that our books have strong, attractive, elegant covers. We frequently go through many designs and design permutations until we get the right one. This is often a tricky spot with writers. Many writers have an image in their head of what their cover should be. Sometimes they can articulate it, sometimes they can’t. We work with our authors more than most publishers do, and are willing to spend time and money on getting the right cover, something that will captivate would-be readers. And we also spend a lot of time researching cover design, and matching the book’s aesthetic with something that fits our brand AND does justice to the work.

Until recently, we did all of the design for our books ourselves. As we get more titles in print (and get busier with all the things) we are outsourcing some aspects of the design, particularly the illustration. We are friends, for instance, with a great artist in Borneo, Andrea Tan, and we asked her to create the cover of Dawn Manning’s poetry collection.

 

How might publishing with Burlesque Press be different from publishing with other presses (indie or otherwise)?

The difference in publishing with us is that we approach things as a kind of artistic partnership. And not just between us and the author: BP authors are very supportive of one another. This is where our love of community comes in. We work with our authors to help them network, organize events, and reach out. Plus, we have our literary festival where we present authors to the New Orleans writing scene.

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The Burlesque Press crew at Boston AWP 2013. (Eva, Daniel, Jeni, Merridith.)

 

How do you decide what to publish? What are you looking for in submissions?

We believed, when we started the press, that if we made high-quality books, with great design and attention to detail, talented writers would notice. And this has been true. We’ve already worked with some remarkably skilled, established authors.

My husband and I both have broad tastes. We like fiction with strong plots and lyrical prose. We publish a bit of poetry, but are focusing, for the near future, on prose. We are open to a variety of different subject matter: for instance, we have a literary sci-fi book planned for 2017. I love reading YA, and would consider a strong YA title. Honestly, if it’s well written and keeps you turning pages, then we’re going to be interested. But we can’t publish everything we receive. Additionally, the author also has to like us! We’re a very small team, so personal interaction is a priority for us. It’s possible we’d love a book, but maybe pass because the author isn’t looking for that kind of close working relationship — which is completely fine: there are other publishers out there that would be a better fit.

We have a full schedule through 2017 at the moment, and we have some great books in the pipeline: I can’t wait to share them with the world.

 

In my opinion, it’s incredibly brave and industrious to start your own press. Have you always been so enterprising? Where do you get your energy and confidence?

This is flattering, but I am terrified on a daily basis. I want to do so much, much more than I have the energy or resources for. It’s actually been learning process for me in managing my own expectations and the reality of what I can do. I do have a full time job after all, and it demands a lot. We’re always looking for ways to do more with a fixed amount of time, energy, and money.

If someone can send me more of any one of those things, I would be very grateful.

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Jeni Wallace and Burlesque Press are both amazing.  Visit the website, or follow her on Twitter.