All The Way YA

It’s My Time and I’m Keeping It

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“How do you find time to write?”

I get asked this question all the time by other writers who also happen to be Moms or Dads with young kids. They’re hoping I’ve got a magic spell that will open a portal they can escape into. Preferably, one with excellent child care. Part of them also wants me to validate their need to write. To tell them wanting to write is okay.

I’m not a therapist. I’m just a writer. One with two kids, ages 9 and 5. Someone who wrote her debut novel while her first son was one, her father was dying slowly of prostate, lung, and brain cancer, all while working well over the forty-hour mark per week, and traveling around the country. Since 2012, I’ve had 8 titles published. 9 if you count a boxed set. Two of those novels were written in 12-week spans. I also have 4 novels, 1 novella, and 1 short story that aren’t published–because I followed Creativity’s call and am now editing like an insane person.

I’m not telling you all this to brag. I’m telling you this so you’ll get it. I’ve been there. When I get asked this question, I smile. I listen to the story that invariable follows, because someone listened to me once–many someones. And then I share my story.

The Big Collaboration

When my husband and I decided to have another child, I entered into this agreement with a disclaimer. I will have another baby, only if I get my writing time. Sound like a business proposal? Maybe, but I wasn’t going to have another child if it meant I had to hate my life to do it. Everyone would suffer.

He agreed. I’m extremely lucky. I have a husband who’s always supported my writing.  Then came baby number two.

When the baby slept, I had to sleep. But what about the “writing” time? I remember rocking little Bam-Bam in his car seat while editing my first book, The Star Child, hoping my foot wouldn’t cramp up and he’d start screaming.

A New Kind Of Schedule

When Bam-Bam turned my plans upside down. Hubs and I carved out a plan that, although painful at first, would end up being the best thing I’ve done for my writing career.

  • 5:00am Get up, make copious amounts of coffee, commence writing time. Hubby has the kids with a promise of no interruptions.
  • 8:00am Shift change. I take over. Breakfast for the little dudes. Off to school or wherever.

Now, you might think I’m crazy. That’s okay. But 5-8am is a 3-hour window. I started going to bed at 10pm and getting up at 5am. I had three, guaranteed hours (solid hours) of writing time per day. That’s twenty-four hours a week. I would still sleep (7 hours), have time with the kids, and time for Hubs.

 I remember rocking little Bam-Bam in his car seat while editing my first book, The Star Child, hoping my foot wouldn’t cramp up and he’d start screaming.

I Set Weekly Goals

Once I had my schedule, I determined how many words I could write each day. I multiplied that by how many days I could write a week. I put it on a calendar and set a completion date for my WIP, editing dates  and so on.

Here’s a shot of my weekly schedule.

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My writing plan for each day is on the left. I include planned word counts here. On the right, I include my writing goals for the week, but also write down any to-dos that pop up while writing to avoid distractions.

Like it? You can download your own copy here.

I Don’t Cave On My Writing Time

Shortly after, I came up with some basic rules for my own writing time:

  • Writing time is sacred. I do not use the time for chores, errands, calls to Mom, etc.
  • If any kid-free time becomes available, write. Even if you don’t feel like it at first. It’s still a break.
  • Spend at least forty-five minutes working (with the kids around) per week. Boundaries matter–Mom has a job, too.
  • If there are chores to be done, I do them with the kids and teach them to help.

Even now, as this blog post is being written, I am hiding out in my office, guarding my writing time.

How Has This Helped Me?

By holding on to my window of hours in the day, I’m keeping my passion for the craft alive. I’m also showing my kids that Mom has a life that matters to. In short, I’m keeping my identity or at least a large part of it, anyway.

Even now, as this blog post is being written, I am hiding out in my office, guarding my writing time.

Let’s go back to that writer from the beginning–the one asking the questions. “I could never do that. I’m so tired.” That writer will say. “It’s so hard.”

“Yeah,” I say. “It’s pretty damn hard. But badly do you want to write?”

Live Pitching – It’s not for the faint of heart!

“You’ll be great at it!” one writer friend said.
“Oh, that sounds horrible, but I’m sure you’ll do fine,” said another.
“I couldn’t do it, but you’ll be fantastic!” another said.

Have you figured it out yet? What is this amazing thing that none of my writer friends wanted to do but all seemed so sure I’d enjoy? (Possibly the title of this post gave it away?) It’s live pitching!

Haven’t heard of it? It’s a staple at writers’ conferences in which you and your manuscript get to speed date agents and editors, frequently at little tables in big rooms. And just like writing a query letter is a completely different skill set than writing a novel, live pitching is it’s own beast, and I do mean beast!

By mid-August 2016 I had been trying to find an agent in hopes of getting my first novel published for a year. In that time I had swapped with critique partners, revised more than once, queried more than I care to think about, entered contests with varying levels of success, paid for professional feedback and webinars, and applied to conferences. It seemed that live pitching was the final frontier but I don’t have a ton of resources (money or time) to travel to conferences. Enter Hippocamp!

Hippocamp is a conference (based in my city!) for creative non-fiction writers, a genre which I enjoy writing and reading, but which is not currently my focus. While I couldn’t spare the time or the cash to attend the whole conference, the live pitch session was a post-conference add on that I could do ala carte. For $40 bucks I booked a five-minute “date” with one of my dream agents (who I had been twitter-stalking for several months). I’m not sure who should feel cheaper about this situation, him or me, but regardless, this is how it’s done.

I started researching as soon as I booked my “date.” It involved a ton of googling and desperate messages to friends via text, twitter and email (see below for helpful links)!

When the day came, it was sort of a mixed bag. The organizers had offered the opportunity to pitch to a second agent a few days earlier, so I ended up feverishly researching another agent and pitching to two people during my first ever live pitch session. One of them liked what I had to say, but already had a similar title on his list. He offered to take a look and share with his colleagues. The other stopped me mid pitch to assign me a craft book to read and a revision exercise to do.

Clearly what my friends meant when they said I’d be great at live pitching is that I’m an extrovert who loves to talk about my book. That’s true, but the problem is, throw nerves into the mix and all bets are off. And here’s the thing about preparing for a live pitch: unless you speak to someone who has live pitched the exact agent you’re pitching, there’s no way to fully prepare. Some agents like rehearsed elevator pitches, some like to talk casually as if you’re old friends; some want to talk plot, others want to talk theme. And then there are the questions:

“Who is your work in conversation with?”
“What do you want someone to get out of this book?”
“Why did you write this book?”
“What else are you working on?”
“Tell me about your platform?”

You can prepare for all of these inevitabilities, but frankly, sitting that close to someone who could completely change your life is pretty unnerving.

After the event a writer friend asked how it went. “O.K.” I said, “With the emphasis on O.K.” He said that whenever he thinks he has nailed something it always turns out he’s wrong, so “OK” was probably the best I could hope for. That’s certainly the way it felt. I’m still waiting to hear from the agent who requested 50 pages, and I’m still working on the revision assignment for the second agent. In the meantime, I’m grateful that I’ll never be a live pitch virgin again. Back to the dating pool…

Are you thinking about live pitching?
Here’s a great post on how to prepare for a live pitch.
And here’s a great post on why live pitches are “the spawn of Satan.”
And most importantly, GOOD LUCK!

 

 

Back on the Horse

“The greatest accomplishment is not in never falling, but in rising again after you fall.” ~ Vince Lombardi

Almost a month ago, I included this quote in the post that announced the termination of my work with my publisher.

I never thought I’d have to announce that. As a matter of fact, I thought I would be pitching them series after series of work. I thought I’d found a writing home.

There were differences, creative and otherwise, and after a while, I said the words that I knew would allow me to walk away. This isn’t a post about what went wrong. It’s about how to keep going when your dream was almost accomplished, and then slipped through your fingers.

My first thought, when I accepted reality, was ‘why does it always have to be another battle?’. I’ve battled a lot in my life. Battling with the mental illnesses of myself and others. Battling with abuse. Battling with people who refuse to believe they’ve done anything wrong. Battling with people who refuse to accept my truth as a version of their reality. Battling to protect my son. Battling through physical illnesses. Battling, battling, battling.

Nobody said it would be easy, did they?

My second thought was an effort to stop the endless parade of self-pity. My second thought was, ‘what now?’

What now, indeed.

I turned to my manuscript and started reading. For the most part, after an unending amount of rewrites, I liked what I had in front of me. There were some things I would change. Some things I wished to return to their previous state. But my manuscript was better for the experience, so I took a deep breath and tried to look at the bright side. Maybe I could make headway now, where it was once impossible.

The truth is, I love my characters. I need to tell their story, and I want to live in their world. I’m connected to this. They feel like old friends. So, maybe I was too attached? Maybe I couldn’t see my work clearly?

I sent a few chapters off to some writing contacts who could help me adequately judge where the story was going, to make sure I wasn’t seeing my own work through rose-colored glasses. I wasn’t. They were enjoying it, asking me for more chapters. I felt better.

When you’ve looked at the story as many times as I have looked at this one, when you’ve been given as many opinions about it as I have, you start to question your sanity. You think you’ve nailed something time and time again, but you’re then told that you haven’t, and eventually, you lose the ability to tell the difference between what is well written and what is a mess.

I’m learning to trust myself again. Learning to look at my work and go with my gut. But I can’t just stop. It’s not who am I. Because all of that battling I mentioned earlier? I complained about all of it. But I battled. And I won. I’m still here. The universe has been trying to buck me for awhile but it has failed. And as long as I’m here, I’m going to keep doing what I love.

I’m going to keep writing.

So, I’m reading through the book again, just to make sure it’s the vision I want to portray. And then I’ve got someone I trust who is going to edit it. And then I will throw my book back out into the pool and try, Try, TRY to get another set of eyes that loves it like I do, that shares my vision. Because, that’s where I struck out before.

I don’t expect much. I’m fully accepting of the idea that I may end up choosing to self-publish it, in order to keep my vision alive. Or maybe my book will wind up in a better place than I ever imagined.

One thing is for sure. I have never given up on anything, and I won’t give up on this.


Justine Manzano PicJustine Manzano is a multi-genre writer living in Bronx, NY with her husband, son, and a cacophony of cats. She maintains a semi-monthly blog at JustineManzano.com and a twitter account@justine_manzano, where she discusses her adventures in juggling motherhood, writing, and the very serious businesses of fangirling and multiple forms of geekery. Her first novel, a YA Fantasy titled The Order of the Key, is currently searching for a caring home.

Back To School! Yay, I can write again! Yikes, what was I working on?

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The last days of summer are are winding down. The beach toys are being put away, the late bedtimes being re-adjusted, the new school supplies being labelled…

And as a writer you’re counting down the days to when you can have your mornings back, to when you can make a cup of coffee and dig in to your work-in-progress (WIP) that has been collecting dust all summer, right? I know I am!

Summers are great, but when you have a family, it’s nearly impossible to find the time to write. But sometimes, those first days back in a quiet house, it can be hard to pick things up where you left off.

Really hard.

And that’s frustrating. My head is filled with playtimes and BBQs and sunsets and that new book I want to read, but not which character was doing what in my WIP. And certainly not why they were doing what… And that’s true after every break, even if I never stop thinking about writing, even if I’ve tried to work on the rare morning I was up early or I read a book on writing craft while at the beach.

But over the years, I’ve found a few things that help me get back into my writing rhythm.

1. Don’t worry.

Okay, this can be valid all year round – but here I’m trying to tell myself, ‘don’t worry, you will be able to write again even if if right now it doesn’t feel that way’.

Sometimes September feels daunting. Writing feels daunting. Getting back into the rhythm feels daunting. And that’s when I need to slow down and remind myself I was writing in June, so there’s no reason I can’t do it again on the other side of summer in September.

2. Don’t feel guilty.

It’s so easy to feel bad, especially when other writing friends are saying ‘oh, yeah, we had a great time at our beach house and I wrote almost 50k of a new MG novel!’. But it doesn’t help. Just as with last week’s post on jealousy by Joshua, you have to let it go. Remind yourself of all the fun times you had teaching your goddaughter to ride, or hanging out with friends, or travelling to the other side of the world. You had a full summer, it was great!

3. Read your WIP.

Sit down and breath deeply. Preferably in front of your computer.

With your WIP open.

And read.

Nothing else. No pen in hand, no critical hat on. Just reading. Get re-acquainted with your characters, your ideas, your story world.

4. Make a writing date.

Meet a writer-friend at a cafe. After a quick chat over coffee or tea or a smoothie, and you have both pulled out your laptops or notebooks or whatever you use to write/brainstorm, you’ll find the ideas begin to flow. And if they don’t, you still have to stay there looking at your blank page or your WIP because you can’t get up and do the laundry and your buddy is writing and you don’t want to bother them by talking. And eventually, ideas come back. Maybe it’s tweaking a scene here, or a whole new world to explore there, but somehow, after being forced to do nothing else, I will usually slow down enough that I can be creative again.

It doesn’t always have to be a session where I produce a lot. Sometimes even just the beginning of an idea is all it takes, and then ideas and creativity flow again and spill over into the next day.

And if you don’t have a writer buddy who can join you that week? Pick a cafe that isn’t too busy and go on your own. Sometimes just getting out of the house can help get you to focus again. Or maybe it’s not wanting to feel like an idiot sitting alone doing nothing. Either way, I’ve often found a morning at a cafe will kickstart me back up again.

And sometimes, I go back the next day. Because I write well there. Not because I like the special-flavored latte they happen to be serving.

Wishing you all a happy, creative, Back-to-School season!

The Green-Eyed Writer

In Shakespeare’s Othello, the villain Iago speaks the following famous lines:

O, beware, my lord, of jealousy;
It is the green-ey’d monster, which doth mock
The meat it feeds on.

Nice phrase for jealousy, “the green-eyed monster.” I’m jealous I didn’t come up with it myself.

And that’s what I want to talk about today: jealousy. It affects all writers (or at least, it affects all the writers I’m personally acquainted with, including me). We know it’s not a good thing; we know we should simply celebrate other writers’ successes, without wishing they were our own.

But writers are human. And humans get jealous. And this blog is about open and frank discussion of the writing life, so I think it’s important to acknowledge the role jealousy plays in that life.

I was stunned when I was told recently that several writers whom I know personally were jealous of me. The source of their jealousy was apparently that I have a new book out right now, as well as another book coming out next year. According to my source, these writers wondered why I was the one getting the book deals and they weren’t.

But you know, I didn’t have long to feel superior to my benighted peers. Because a few weeks later, I attended a talk with several writers I consider friends, and two of them announced that they’re currently on the New York Times bestseller list.

And man, was I ever jealous.

Why couldn’t I be the one on the list? Weren’t my books good enough? For that matter, why wasn’t I the one invited to give the talk instead of them? While I was genuinely happy for my friends, I found at the same time that I wanted what they had.

If I ever do make the list, I’ll probably feel jealous of those who’ve been on it longer.

Jealousy isn’t all bad. It’s one of the things that makes us strive to succeed. But it also has the capacity to destroy friendships, to twist our perception of ourselves and others, to stifle creativity and foment mimicry, and ultimately, as Shakespeare recognized, to swallow joy. It might be natural—organisms are hard-wired to compete with others of their own kind—but it can’t be allowed to take over.

So here’s my advice for controlling the green-eyed monster.

First, acknowledge that feelings of jealousy are normal. Don’t add to the negativity by telling yourself you’re the worst moral degenerate who’s ever lived. Allow yourself to be imperfect, like the rest of us.

Second, celebrate what you have achieved. Maybe you’ve finished a manuscript. Or gotten a nibble from an agent. Or been asked to sit on a panel. Whatever it might be, it’s worth celebrating. Your achievements are not less than anyone else’s; they’re just different than.

Third, when your writer-friends achieve successes of their own, go out of your way to congratulate them. Spread the word about their accomplishments. Enthusiastically review their books. Offer heartfelt toasts at their launch parties. They deserve it, just as you do.

None of these strategies is foolproof. Deep down, you might not be able to avoid the pangs of jealousy. But you can avoid letting those feelings eat you up inside.

Which reminds me: I’m off to tweet about my friends who’ve made the bestseller list. The last time I checked my eyes in the mirror, they were still mostly brown.

#DearLaura

#DearLaura

#DearLaura

I’ve written a fantasy novel where the protagonist and supporting characters are in their teens. Some people have told me it’s adult and some have told me it’s YA. I’ve looked for a solid definition online, but haven’t really found one. What makes a book YA?

FantasyWriter82

Dear FantasyWriter82,

This is a hotly debated topic among people in the biz and in particular, writers, who tend to rebel against the need to box their work into a neatly branded package. I’ve read the commentary out there about what makes a book YA, and rather than give you a concrete definition, I’ll offer my viewpoint on what I believe are the conventions most YA books have in common:

  • Stories written for and marketed at teenagers;
  • Tight narrative that spans a shortish time period (1 day to 1 year);
  • Teen protagonist who determines their own destiny through the choices they make (the teen is active rather than passive);
  • Character arc where some growth is involved, whether it’s “coming of age” or otherwise;
  • Limited sex and swearing (there are books who break this rule, but in YA there are several gatekeepers—teachers, librarians, parents—which often dictate what content is permissible.)

I feel compelled, also, to list some things that make YA awesome, if not uniquely YA:

  • Any and all genres welcome (romance, horror, dystopia, etc.);
  • Fast pacing with real conflict and stakes;
  • Narrative styles that take risks;
  • Stories that feel immediate and authentic;
  • Books that push boundaries—societal, thematic, literary and otherwise.

With regard to your own novel, the main question to ask yourself is, did you write it with a YA reader in mind? That might help you determine whether or not your book is indeed, YA.

Good luck!

Laura

(Readers, do you have your own conventions or rules you live by when writing YA? Share them in your comments below!)

#DearLaura

I’ve written my first book and I’m looking for an agent to represent me. Do you have any advice on how I go about it?

Agentless

Dear Agentless,

In a word, RESEARCH. Nowadays, most agencies have a website with their staff listed online. In most lit agent bio’s there is a section on what types of projects they are looking for and whether or not they are “open” to queries.

Most agencies/agents also have a standard query procedure explained on their website for what to include in your query, including details like subject line so that your query doesn’t go to spam. Some agents want a query letter only, some want your letter plus pages, and some want the whole manuscript. It’s IMPERATIVE that you read these guidelines and follow them to the letter.

Additionally, just as when embarking on a relationship in real life, it helps to research the agent you are querying to find out what deals they’ve brokered in the past and who they represent. PublishersMarketplace.com is an excellent resource for that.

Finally, and perhaps I should have started with this, make sure you have a standout query letter, which includes:

  • Title of your project
  • Word count and genre
  • Your name
  • A short and compelling pitch/synopsis of what your story is about
  • Similar works, if applicable
  • If relevant, professional background that qualifies you as the writer–keep it brief!

Have a few writer friends look over your query letter and give you feedback before sending. Make sure there are no typos or grammatical errors and DOUBLE CHECK that you’ve addressed the literary agent by the correct name.

Once your responses start coming in, log them in a spreadsheet so you can keep track of whom you’ve queried and what their response was. There are also a variety of online tools available, including QueryTracker.net, that can help with this process. Most replies fall into one of four categories:

  • Flat-out rejections (usually by form email)
  • Rejections with feedback
  • Requests for more pages
  • Request for a call to talk about representation

For those agents who reject your project but give constructive feedback, take careful notes and if the overall tone of their email is positive, ask them if they’d be open to you querying them again after you’ve revised.

Above all else, always be polite and professional because the publishing world is a very small world indeed. Remember, it is not you as a person or even you as a writer being rejected, it is a very specific project that does not appeal to a very specific agent, many times for reasons that are out of your control.

Rejections are a sign that you’re putting yourself out there, which is half the battle.

Good luck!

Laura

Laura LascarsoHeadshotWebFinal is the author of two YA novels, COUNTING BACKWARDS (2012) and RACING HEARTS (2015). If you have a burning YA question you’d like answered, tweet it to @lauralascarso with #DearLaura or include it in the comments below.

Taking A Vacation!

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Hello, loyal readers!

With June at an end and July kicking in, we’ve decided to do something that most of you are doing right now. Take a vacation.

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Don’t worry! We’ll be back again in Autumn with new content.

If you are a YA writer and would like to become a contributor to this site, send us your ideas using the form below.

In the meantime, stay cool–and happy writing!

Hannah, Kacey, Steph

All The Way YA

Of Tatas and Tats/ @LaurelHouck

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As a young teen, I spent countless forevers bemoaning my bra size, feeling like a total boob…or lack thereof. I resorted to drawing in cleavage with an eyebrow pencil. I ordered (in a plain brown wrapper) a pink device to squeeze while I muttered, “I must, I must, I must increase my bust.”

I soon discovered boys didn’t really care. There were other parts that interested them even more. But I digress.

As spring has morphed into summer, that restless stirring for something different has resurfaced. I researched—as only a writer can—tattoos and tattoo artists. When the guy of my dreams, in an ink sort of way, texted me, I set up an appointment. A few hours later I arrived home with a tattoo on my right wrist.

Laurel's Badass Tatoo

Laurel’s Badass Tattoo

I’m geeked. I have a wicked cool anchor bracelet that will never come off. My kids proclaimed it bad ass. I repeated this to myself several times. Oh yeah. And when I get another tattoo, even I’ll be even badder.

As a follow-up, I headed to the local salon and had my long, long hair sheared to short-short. And tinted chocolate-brown with highlights. Who doesn’t love chocolate? My big earrings are now visible, and I’m told I look ten years younger.

I may be a late bloomer, but I’ve finally the achieved that elusive cool factor. My new cool, bad ass self sat down to write. And discovered nothing meaningful changed.

So what is it about change that writers love and hate at the same time? How can we embrace unique and exceptional ideas while clinging to the genre we’ve always written? Why do we retain agents who are doing nada to sell our work just because we can say we have an agent? And finally, what’s the reason we cave to everyone else’s opinion of when our stuff is good and when it sucks? Or when we’re cool…or not?

It’s almost enough to make me run out and get a sleeve tattoo. Or visit Victoria’s Secret. Instead, I’m doing some literary musing on what I need to change. And what I need to keep the same.

Right now I’m comfortable with YA novels. The concepts, language, and complexity fit my brain. Yet in the past I’ve written picture books and MG novels as well. It’s okay to write cross genre, whether in age groups or subject matter. If it works at any given time, why not? Nothing should harness the capricious lure of creative energy.

Even the current diversity debate, for example can a middle-aged white woman write a black teen male protagonist in an authentic way—doesn’t have to be a bitter dispute. Each story does have to resonate, be true to setting, character, dialogue, and all the things that keep it real. But if it’s my story to tell, and I do the necessary work, I should tell it. Without fear.

The agent thing is a bit tougher. It’s not easy to find representation. Everyone wants a sure-fire winner. It makes business sense—unless one doesn’t happen to be a famous author, actor, or activist already. Which is where most of us in the great unwashed segment of kid lit find ourselves. Excellent writing and imagination are no competition for being a reality show drop out.

And yet landing an agent who doesn’t bust his/her butt for us is worse than no agent at all. Because with no agent we submit to editors independently, whereas with representation, no matter how lame, we must sit and do nothing. So when that niggling discomfort says there’s a serious disconnect between agent and author, it’s more than fine to take the plunge and move on. Scary and intimidating, but advisable.

I feel the need to embrace change when a perceived expert (anyone other than me) doesn’t love my work. Lose the first two sections of a book in three voices, cut to one voice and the final section, maybe ditch the project because the subject is too depressing? Sure, absolutely, let me get right on that. But wait. Rather than hitting delete all night, some reframing may be in order.

After scanning a few sample pages, my concept wasn’t grasped. Step one should be a thorough edit that explores the options presented. If it works and remains true to the story I want to tell, great. If not, use the advice that makes improvements without editing it all into oblivion. This is common knowledge—that bears repeating. We need to be imaginative explorers of our own brains.

As I sit in the sun, ponder all these things, and type, my wrist tattoo hovers over the keyboard. I like it. It has meaning to me. My neck feels free and cool. There’s no mass of hair clinging to it. And my sports bra is comfortable. Last year or even last month, I wouldn’t have been ready for these changes. Now I am.

Change is more about timing than anything else. There was a time I longed for big tatas. Now I’m glad that gravity hasn’t aimed me toward the floor. There was a time when I couldn’t understand why anyone would want a tattoo. Now I get it. Change is who we are as human beings, whether in fashion, taste, or circumstance. So why not let writing evolve as well?

Today, I will give my old padded bras to Goodwill. Today, I will forego a meaningless tattoo. Today, I will let my imagination take me where it wants to go. And tomorrow? We shall see.

As David Bowie once wrote, “Ch-ch-ch-changes…”

Find me at the following locations:

www.laurelhouckpages.com

https://www.facebook.com/laurel.houck.5

https://twitter.com/LaurelHouck

http://laurelhouck.tumblr.com

 

Writing is a solitary undertaking. True or False?

Book Bound Retreat 2016

photo credit: Book Bound Retreat 2016

When I first started writing a certain number of years ago, I didn’t know any other writers. I was just eager to sit down and write, happy to finally be finding the time to be creative again after a hiatus due to jobs, marriage, kids – you know, life stuff.

I was excited, alone, but not realizing it could be any different. Don’t get me wrong, I would have liked to have met other writers at that point, but the fact that I didn’t know any didn’t bother me. I was writing, I was happy. I delved into my world, my characters, my 4-book story (I like series, so of course I was going to write a series not just one book!).

I wrote, and wrote, and wrote some more. Loving all my characters and exploring all kinds of situations. They were all fully developed characters, very much alive to me. They each had their own storyline. And filled up a first book that was about 230k words long.

Yup.

I was thrilled. And – needless to say – very unaware of the market.

As you can imagine, that manuscript didn’t find a home. And I started to realize that maybe I needed to learn about craft and do some market research. I bought some books on writing and the market, revised the manuscript, signed up for an online class… and met some other writers.

For the first time, I had someone I could share with. For the first time, I wasn’t alone as a writer.

That first class, where I signed up to learn more about craft and the market, actually gave me something much more valuable: contact with fellow writers.

Through that first contact, that first experience getting and giving feedback, also came the suggestion to join a local crit group. When I admitted to having no idea how to find one, a fellow writer-now-friend suggested I join my local chapter of SCBWI (Society for Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators).

I did. And discovered a whole new world: the writing community.

Not only were there crit groups but also workshops, conferences, opportunities to meet industry professionals and get their feedback – and most importantly, fellow creatives.

Joining SCBWI was probably the best thing I could ever have done for my writing. It gave me a network of fellow creatives to learn with, to share with. Here, I found other people with the same passion for children’s literature, all at different stages of their path to (and after) publication. We understood each other, the ups and downs, the various stages of excitement, frustration, hope and fear that we all feel – even after getting a contract.

And although it’s true that when you sit down and write you are alone, it doesn’t mean you have to be a recluse. In fact, one of the things I have come to cherish as a writer is the writing community.

This past weekend, for example, I went to the Book Bound Retreat in Kent, UK (pictured above). It was heaven. A beautiful manor house, amazing professionals sharing their experience and knowledge, committed and dedicated fellow writers – most of whom I had never met before – and time to discuss our work and dig in deeper.

The Book Bound Retreat was amazing, for many reasons, but the one that sticks out the most for me was the way everyone came together and shared. We went from being strangers to a warm, supportive group in less than an afternoon. And although a large part of that was due to the humor and warmth of the people running the event (hats off to Sara Grant, Sara O’Connor and Karen Ball!), it also came from each of the participants. Every single person there was working on getting their story to its best and was supportive of everyone else. And that’s what makes the writing community so special. The support, the understanding, the willingness to share and be there for the ups and the downs.

Ultimately, we write our books alone – but we don’t have to go down the writer path alone.

In fact, now that I know what it’s like to have a supportive network, writer friends who understand the journey and the excitement of writing ‘the end’ dozens of times for each manuscript, I can’t imagine not having all my fellow creatives on the path with me!

For those wondering how to meet fellow creatives, here are a few that have worked for me:

  • joining a writers group like SCBWI (for everything from picture books to young adult)
  • attending a retreat like Book Bound or one run by your local chapter of SCBWI/other writers group
  • attending workshops and conferences (they can be local, national or international – each will have a different flavor, but all bring something special)
  • taking online classes
  • joining an online writers community like Savvy Authors (they have classes, writing groups, forums etc.)
  • attending local author events at a library, a bookstore, a community center
  • if you are living overseas (as I am) you can often find something through your country’s national group like FAWCO (Federation of American Women’s Clubs Overseas) or the British Women’s Club.

And what about you? How have you found fellow creatives? What has your experience been like?

Happy writing to all!

Born in the US, Dina von Lowenkraft has lived on 4 continents, worked as a graphic artist for television and as a consultant in the fashion industry. Somewhere between New York and Paris she picked up an MBA and a black belt. Dina is currently the Regional Advisor for SCBWI Belgium, where she lives with her husband, two children, three horses and a cat. Dina loves to create intricate worlds filled with conflict and passion. She builds her own myths while exploring issues of belonging, racism and the search for truth… after all, how can you find true love if you don’t know who you are and what you believe in? Dina’s key to developing characters is to figure out what they would be willing to die for. And then pushing them to that limit. Dina’s debut YA Fantasy, Dragon Fire, was a finalist in ForeWord Reviews’ 2013 Book of the Year Award, in the 2014 Eric Hoffer Award and in the 2014 Readers’ Favorite Award.

#LoveWins

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Like many of you, I woke up Sunday morning to hear the devastating news about the massacre at Pulse nightclub in Orlando. An hour later, the number of victims being reported as dead, more than doubled. As I write this, 49 lives were torn from this earth in the midst of celebrating freedom, love and acceptance—people who were dancing, rejoicing, and embracing. Several remain in the hospital, some in critical condition.

The fact that the gunman’s target was a gay nightclub during Pride Week on Latinx night cannot be ignored or swept under the rug.

I imagined the families waiting to hear if their loved ones were one of the fallen. I thought about the people inside that nightclub who lost friends and family members, who experienced this terrible hate crime, their terror and their sadness. I think about Ramon Guerrero and Christopher “Drew” Leinonen, a young couple in love, who might have one day planned a wedding together, but whose families instead are planning their funerals.

In the midst of tragedy, there are stories of hope and bravery as well. The law enforcement officers and first responders who saved lives, the doctors, nurses and hospital staff currently working around the clock to save lives, the hundreds of people who stood in line to donate blood, the thousands of people who came out for Monday night’s vigil in Orlando to honor and mourn the lives of those who were lost, the activists who organize these events and speak out for the LGBTQX community on a daily basis because they know how important it is for all communities to have equality and justice, and to stand united in the face of fear, violence and hate.

When I look at the beautiful, young, vibrant faces of those who were murdered, my rage at this injustice is immediate and visceral. I ask, who is to blame? But we are all part of a society that puts profit over human lives. We allow bigotry to prevail in our schools, in our legislatures, in our houses of worship and in our communities. We are all responsible.

As writers, editors, agents, librarians, publishers, parents and educators, it’s so important that we use our talent, time, and energy to promote the virtues we want reflected in our society—compassion, love, respect and kindness. Our stories should reflect our world in all its beautiful complexities. Young people should see themselves represented in our pages—their ethnicity, their sexuality, their religion, their passions and their fears. Our message to them: You are not alone. We are with you. We understand you and we love you just as you are.

As individuals, we must lead by example and stand up for each other. As communities, we must make sure that our laws are inclusive and promote the individual liberties of all its members. As citizens, we have to educate ourselves on the issues and the leaders who represent us. We must do more than hope and pray, we must vote and elect leaders who reflect our values and priorities and work to ensure our demands are being heard.

We must be vigilant and we must be brave. We must stand together with our brothers and sisters in Orlando, the LGBTQX community, the #BlackLivesMatter movement and beyond, open our hearts, our minds and our arms to each other and show unity, solidarity, and power. I believe we as a nation can do this because I believe #LoveWins

LGBTQX READING LIST

ASH by Malinda Lo

ARISTOTLE AND DANTE DISCOVER THE SECRETS OF THE UNIVERSE by Benjamin Alire Saenz

BEAUTIFUL MUSIC FOR UGLY CHILDREN by Kirstin Cronn-Mills

BETTER NATE THAN EVER by Tim Federle

BEYOND MAGENTA: TRANSGENDER TEENS SPEAK OUT by Susan Kuklin

EVERY DAY by David Levithan

EVERYTHING LEADS TO YOU by Nina LaCour

FINGERSMITH by Sarah Waters

GEORGE by Alex Gino

IF I WAS YOUR GIRL by Meredith Russo

MORE HAPPY THAN NOT by Adam Silvera

MORE THAN THIS by Patrick Ness

M OR F by Lisa Papademetriou and Chris Tebbetts

NONE OF THE ABOVE by I. W. Gregorio

SIMON VS. THE HOMO SAPIENS AGENDA by Becky Albertalli

Do you have LGBTQ titles to add? Add them to the comments section and we will update our list!

Laura Lascarso was born and raised in Largo, Florida, graduated from the University of Florida and currently resides in Tallahassee, Florida. She stands with the Orlando community in this time of suffering and healing. She is the author of COUNTING BACKWARDS (Atheneum) and RACING HEARTS (Leap Books). Her forthcoming novella, ANDRE IN FLIGHT, will be published with Dreamspinner Press later this summer. Follow her on Twitter @lauralascarso