Confessions of a Burned Out Writer
Dull, fish-eye stare.
Grunted, incoherent moaning.
Stiff-legged walk marked by stumbling.
Sound like one of those old-school zombies from Night of the Living Dead?
Nope, just describing my demeanor the last few weeks.
I hereby confess that...I can't do it all.
Whew, that felt good!
Many of you know I participated in the 100 for 100 exercise earlier this year (March-May).
Not familiar with it?100 for 100 is when you commit to write a minimum of 100 words every single day - minus one for rest - for 100 days.
During that session, I finished the third book in my series. It was a great experience. But coupled with a jam packed book promo schedule, both personal and book travel, and a slew of obligations for the FTJ, it pretty much pushed me to the edge of my limits.
Who am I kidding? It pushed me over, thus the zombie-like state I've felt I've lived since summer kicked off 30+ days ago.
By the time my fam's annual beach vacation arrived the last week of June, I was more than ready to call it a summer!
Well, 100 for 100 Round Deux started July 16th. Being the good little writer that I am, and having a fourth book to deliver in the series by March, I thought I'd hop onboard and get it done well ahead of schedule. After only a week I realized that it's too early for me to get back into such an intense writing mode.
So, I've withdrawn myself from the exercise.
That's right, I'm taking the rest of the summer off **from writing.**This excludes any edits that may be required for book 3 (in case my editor is reading.) Hey S!
What 100 for 100 taught me was:
1) I am more than capable of writing every single day.
2) Once you sit your buns down to write 100 words, the writing bug bites and you end up on a hot streak.
3) Writing every day really helps to keep you inside the story, even when you step away from the PC for the day.
4) Being in the story is great for creative dexterity.
If I were able to write every day and shun book promo, resign from coaching and pack my family off to a home across town which I would visit on the one day I chose not to write, life would be perfect!
Well, life's only perfect on those creepy Walgreen commercials. So, the other things I learned from 100 for 100 were:
1) Writing every single day wears you out!!
2) Getting up at the crack of dawn to write in a quiet house eventually leads to an overwhelming sense of fatigue.
3) Writing, prepping for book promo, implementing book promo and researching opportunities to promote the book equals about three full-time jobs.
4) OMG, I actually have four full-time jobs!
5) Writing professionally is not for the faint of heart.
While a hiatus from writing isn't lying on the beach sipping Mojitos, I'm hoping it's the break I need to come back fresh in September.
Pretty much, super woman has left the building...at least until after Labor Day.
Oh Laurie Ann what ever possessed you to cross the Diddster?
It's not secret that I like a lot of trashy, reality TV. I'm rarely ashamed to admit to liking anything. But Diddy annoys me so bad, watching Making The Band
is about the closest I'll ever come to a dirty little viewing secret.
This season has been more interesting than his first three attempts at this band-making game. I think because...well, he's not onscreen as much. And because he's brought in my boy, Biv, to handle artist development. Michael Bivens (from New Edition if you don't know) adds a touch of humanity to the selection process and is one of the most grounded artists/music exec-types around.
Diddy is a mess. He creates artists and then leaves them hanging so he can produce his own album.
And Jay-Z is pissing me off because he's guested on nearly every Def Jam release since taking over as Prez.
Either be an artist or an executive. And if you're going to do both, don't screw the other artists who are trying to make a living the same way you did.
Whew...end of rant.
As I was saying, Michael Bivens seems to have genuine affection and sympathy for what the MTB4 participants are going through. So the show has been more than watchable, this season.
But the most delicious part of the season has been the tension between Diddy and Laurie Ann Gibson, the choreographer. Laurie Ann is the only cast member left over from the Danity Kane season of MTB
. And she's the only female. She and Diddy have been banging heads since the early auditions of season 4.
Personally, I think Diddy doesn't hold women with opinions in much regard. But I refuse to throw myself on that sword for Laurie Ann because she did have some ways that bugged the crap out of me.
Their seething conflict imploded during Monday's episode and resulted in Laurie Ann getting the boot. So, in honor of the dance diva:
Seven Reasons I'll (sort of) Miss Laurie Ann Gibson * She was the only female cast member who repped strong women
Season 1 had two (I think) women who managed the PR of the forming group. But they were merely Diddy minions. From day one, Laurie Ann has been vocal and commanding, Debbie Allen style. "You want fame? Well right here is where you start paying...in sweat."* She brought levity to the audition process
Okay, this is also kind of why I won't miss her. Laurie Ann's cackling, woo'ing, and bright smiles at mediocre to poor singing was annoying and ultimately her downfall. Diddy warned her to stop cheering on barely talented individuals. Well, it wasn't exactly a warning. I think his exact words were, "Man, shut the F### up!" But I guess the nurturer in her felt like she had to give the poor souls on the hot seat some encouragement.* She showed no mercy when teaching, practically going all Master Class on their asses her last night
Choreographers have to be a little cocky and part drill sergeant anyway. She may not have been in charge anywhere else, but once they stepped into that dance studio their behinds were hers.* Boom-Cat-Boom-Cat Cat
Laurie Ann, take solace in the fact that you've put a new random, senseless phrase into the pop culture lexicon. Expect it to show up as an answer on the next edition of World Series of Pop
.* She was the only one who had balls enough to step to Diddy
Isn't it ironic that the only person with enough cojones to tell Diddy off was the person without them? I get so sick of everyone tip toeing and kowtowing to Diddy as if he were the living savior. I know Diddy has a rightful place in music and pop history. But geez, can anyone grow a set around the man? It's ridiculous!* Her hilarious attempts at being sexy
Lord, please forgive her for the blue leotard, fish net stockings and stilettos. It was like 1980 had blown up, right there in the studio. Do you know how hard it is to get bad 80's stench off the walls?* She's made two seasons of Making The Band hopefuls respect the art of dance
Apparently, being in a band means it's okay that everyone can sing just "aight" as long as the total package can be pulled off. In four seasons, I haven't seen one MTB contestant that blew my socks off with their vocals. Not one! The last two seasons contestants are required to be a double threat (singing and dancing). With her quick fire routines and "boom cats" in place of 8-counts, she's made macho men quake in their boots at the thought of having to showcase real choreography. Hip Hop ship schop. I'm still loving the image of the guys doing Alvin Aileyesque moves.
Fan mail ROCKS!
If there ever comes a day where I don't feel this way, somebody slap me.
Slap me and then throw me on a pile full of other ungrateful, too busy to sign autographs, forgot how they became famous in the first place snots, for a bonfire and light it up. Because, hearing people say they enjoy So Not The Drama
and getting fan mail are easily my favorite parts about writing.
I will not go into my least favorite part. This is a happy post!
Today, I received my second piece of official fan mail from a young reader. And it just never gets old getting proof that the story you had in your heart has touched someone else's heart so much that they've got to write and tell you.
I hang out in forums with other writers sometimes (okay, all day. Geez!) and sometimes when one of them has read the book or is reading it, they'll send some love my way, letting me know they're enjoying it. Those moments, receiving accolades from my peers are wonderful.
Writers can be pretty tough on one another because, as students of the craft we won't allow one another to get away with loose plots, red herrings and other short cuts. So having another writer compliment your work is a high compliment indeed.
But having a young person, the person you wrote the book for in the first place, say they like it - well it's just a priceless moment that's best held on to and remembered when you run up against the inevitable writing days from hell.
I heart young readers.
And, Happy Birthday Amina S.!
Ten Questions That Rock: GCC Style - Julie Kenner
I wish it would rain already!
It's been threatening to for a few days and the trees we planted in the spring really need this.
Now, I could pretend that I've been slacking on blogging because I've been out gardening. But that would so be a lie. So I'll plead the fifth and treat you to a little Q&A with Julie Kenner, author of Demons Are Forever
Oh, great, now that Kanye West song is stuck in my head, only I've inserted the words Demon in place of Diamonds. Grr!!
Thanks a lot Julie!TCL: Shoes say a lot about a person, what type of shoe are you?
JK: Birks for home, high-priced heel for out-and-aboutTCL: What type of writer are you: plot-driven or character-driven?
JK: Both, actually. Some books come more with the plot, some more with the character. That being said, though, I can’t write a book that doesn’t have a very linear plotline. So in that regard, I’m plot driven.TCL: Word association time. What do you think when I say:
Chick-lit - book
Best seller – please!!
Best Band Ever - uh?
Most rockin’ author – Stephen KingTCL says: Ahhh, a fellow King worshipper...err, fan.TCL: Name the Top 3 books on your To Be Read (TBR) List
JK: HP & the Deathly Hallows, Running with Scissors, Climbing ParnassusTCL: If you had anything to do with it, what would the next hot lit trend be?
JK: Demon hunting soccer moms, of course!TCL: What celeb would you love to see play your MC on the big or small screen and why?
JK: Nope, nope! My lips are sealed! I’m superstitious!!!!TCL: Whether it’s because you admire their work or adore them, who’s your author crush?
JK: Stephen King ... man I wanna write as evocatively as that guy!TCL: What TV show do you watch that you’re ashamed to admit liking?
JK: The Gastineaux Girls, but I think it’s off the air :(SSP: Tell the cliquesters why your book should be in their TBR list.
JK: It’s not technically a YA book, but I have tons of teen fans of the demon series, and you should so read it b/c, hey, how many soccer moms do you know who kick demon butt? It’s Buffy grown up with humor ... and a 14 year old in a supporting role. Check it out!Alright, cliquesters, since it's hot as he...Hades right now, seems to me a perfect time to read a book about demons. So get thee to ye old bookstore and cop that joint.
A Step Ahead
There are two constants in life...
Change and the fact that there's always going to be someone better than you at whatever you do.
I've always marveled at how difficult it can be for some entertainers to stay up with a trend they began.
Perfect example, in 1989 Bell Biv Devoe (BBD) jumpstarted the blending of hip-hop and R&B music. From the style of music to the graffiti-laden overalls they wore, they were pioneers in the fashion and movement of producing R&B dance tracks with a hip hop edge. They had two dance hits and a popular smooth groove. By their second CD, the trend they'd started had left them behind.
BBD was never able to best their own popularity, much less keep up with the groups their sound spawned.
How frustrating it must have been, for them, to watch group after group surpass them, building on the trend, making it their own.
This syndrome, the student surpassing the teacher, happens all the time in music. Bummer for music because it's rare for the copy cat TV show to be more successful than the original. The dreadful pirate show conceived by Survivor
creator, Mark Burnett comes to mind.
What was he thinking? You know life is rough when your copy cat of your own show goes horribly wrong.
And while a popular movie can result in a million other movies like it - few reach, much less exceed the popularity of the master film.
Most likely because fiction writing moves much slower than music making, and because books don't have the visual or audio elements of videos and radio to help promote, new lit waves take longer to truly explode.
So it's not unheard of that writers toil, unknown or known only by a small segment of readers, for a few years until someone breaks out, bringing attention to the entire genre. Usually, the break out is seen as "unique" and "new," when in fact they're a product of right time, right place.
A rising tide floats all boats. So as long as those in the same genre can catch the wave, reminding the media and readers that they too write this same sort of fiction ::ahem, and always have:: it's all good.
Still, a recurring thought-mare that I have is that the world will finally discover that contemporary books with multi-culti characters exist and my books will be left out of the renaissance.
So, I've been thinking of ways to stay one step ahead. Here's what I've come up with so far:
* During media interviews, at conferences and booksignings take on the persona of my main character Mina, only answering by her name. Think of it as method writing. Being known as that "crazy" YA writer is better than not being known at all.
* Tattoo the name of my series and each book cover on to my face...with the release date. Documenting that you're not a copy cat is important in lit circles.
*Make up spine stickers with my book titles on them and place them over all Gossip Girl
books in the store. It's not vandalism if I need the sales more than they do, right?
*In the vein of "if you can't beat 'em, join 'em," see if the Little Brown (GG publisher) will adopt my series. Basically take DRB Clique on as a little sister to their series. Hmm...ya' know this could be a new publishing trend. I'll let Kensington and LB hash out the minor details about money and distribution. This is about marketing!
*Start a rumor that I'm the love child of Judy Blume and Walter Dean Meyers. It'll set the kiddie lit world aflame. Who's not gonna read my books if I'm the progeny of those two?!
* Do a bill board in Times Square, Diddy-style - only I'll be nude, with only my books to cover key spots. If you haven't seen Diddy's larger than life-size ad you've either never been to NYC or never seen his show, Making The Band
. The ad gets as much face time as the Diddster.
*Re-create a live version of said ad at next year's BEA. The only way to truly be noticed at this huge event is to be nude...and even that may not work.
Okay, I know, I know. I have little control over the fate of how my book will be highlighted in the history of YA. Though, I may if I did any of the above.
Still, I love to ponder such things because the blogosphere is much like a reality show testimonial.
Rising Above Your Station
One of the reasons I respect self-pubbed authors is their grind.
The way they'll find good spots to sell their wares, helping them get their story out there.
Don't get it twisted, I do not mean the author who's in your face constantly yammering about how great their book is. I hate that!
I'm talking about authors who put in work (writing, editing and polishing) and then hit the road to book festivals, cultural fairs and any other place where vending their book is possible. Even if vending means walking the aisles of the event vs. renting a booth (gotta save money where you can).
These authors take it upon themselves to rise above their "station" in the publishing hierarchy. The ones who did it right went on to get a contract from traditional publishing houses and/or established their own small print to publish other authors like themselves.
You don't find many YA authors in this position, because it's just plain easier to reach children through the traditional routes. But it has been done.
Two of my fellow Kensington authors, L. Divine
and Stephanie Perry Moore
, for example. And one to keep an eye on, Carla Sarratt
For the last four months I've worked my tail feathers off to get So Not The Drama
attention. Attention from teachers, librarians, booksellers and readers.
It ain't easy.
The level of fatigue I've felt since late May is something akin to scuba diving without gear or walking the moon without a space suit. It's a heavy feeling that pulls back some, but never truly dissipates.
But, as the old saying goes - you do what you gotta do.
In order to rise above my station - and that's just wherever I am. If I'm a mid-lister now, then front list is what I'm gunning for and so on and so on...
To do that, you've got to put in work.
Today, I salute the authors who hustle, grind and never let the obstacles of the publishing industry weigh them down (for long).
To those who uplift other authors because they know word of mouth is part of success.
To those who aren't threatened by anyone, but instead focuses on competing against themselves to get where they're going.
Success is a lot of things. One of them is recognizing where you are and where you want to be.
Will Write For Food
There’s been a noticeable increase in the number of people on my local intersections, holding signs with varying degrees of detail to encourage drivers passing by to spare some change. This isn’t a post about how disturbing it is that, in a year’s time, it’s gone from the same guy on one local corner to nearly half a dozen different people dispersed between three local roadways.
The land of opportunity?
Not so sure.
Nonetheless, these people standing there for hours on end, begging for any change someone will throw their way reminds me of what it’s like to have a book signing.
Please, don’t ride my back about how someone going hungry is nothing like me not getting any takers for my book. Because I don’t mean it literally, of course.
What I mean is - it amazes me that someone stands on a street corner for hours at a time in any kind of weather for change. Is the money they get worth it? Does it afford them a daily rate at some rundown motel? A hot meal? A hot dog from the Sev (11 that is)?
It can't be much.
Begging may not be a real "job," but I damn sure wouldn’t want to do it.
Then I realized, I sort of already do.
Sitting at a table with a smile frozen on my face, with my books beside me as my cardboard sign waiting on someone to consider a purchase feels like begging. More dignified than standing on a street corner, sure. But silently begging nonetheless.
For every person whose curiosity draws them to the table to skim the book, there are several others whose eyes skitter away quickly after making unintended contact with me, as they silently get their excuse together in case I actively wave them over.
Rest easy, fair customers, I'm not a "waver."
I'll smile at you, say "hello" if you're close enough. But I'll never flag you down.
I respect that you've come to the store with a specific purchase in mind and are weary of being haraunged. I won't chase you down quoting Publisher's Weekly, "Genuine dialogue! Contemporary friendship story!"
However, all bets are off if you approach the table!
Book signings are a testament to a writer's grace under pressure. It's about...
How cool as a cucumber you can look as people walk by you as if you aren't there.
How long you can resist the urge to read a book or magazine or start your newest novel, instead of staying in the moment of the traffic going by.
How not to feel stripped and naked, even though it feels like a spotlight is on your little, lonely table.
Not nitpicking how the store could have done "so much more" to publicize the book instead of realizing that without the initials JK you're just one of the many books that day's customers can purchase on a whim.
Taking triumph in the fact that one, two or six more people who you were unknown to just minutes before, will give your book a good home.
Over the last four months, I've done a broad-base of book events. I've had two events where I sold dozens of books and at least one event where I sold over a dozen. But on average, I've sold about six books per event.
That's about one book every ten minutes...which is exactly how it's gone for me.
I don't scoff at selling six books.
Exposure is exposure.
Six is better than none.
And I bet that's exactly what someone on the street corner thinks.
Gone Signin' copies of So Not The Drama at Karibu Books - Bowie Town Center
2 p.m. - Until...my hand gets tired.
Come join me, the water's fine!
The other night, I was up watching Hoop Dreams
, for like the tenth time.
It's not so amazing that I've seen the basketball doc that many times. It is, that every time I watch it I forget how it ends!
I'm not sure if it's bad memory or that I'm simply mesmerized by the stories of Arthur Agee and William Gates, two young black dudes from Chicago's Cabrini Green projects.
If you've never seen or heard of Hoop Dreams
, you need to. It's one of the most sensitive and thorough documentary's I've ever seen. And if you care about this sort of thing - it also was the highest grossing doc until Michael Moore's Farenheit 9/11
filmmakers tagged along in the lives of Agee and Gates for four years, documenting their basketball aspirations. This was the late 80's-early 90's, the era of Jordan and Georgetown U was man-handling college ball.
I'll assume that the doc was inspired by the many young black men in the ghetto doe-eyed about "making it" to the NBA, despite the odds. And with Agee and Gates enamored of the sport like any other inner city kid this could have been that story.
Instead, what Hoops showed was (Spoiler alert
...if you can call them that for a 13-year-old film):
* How the educational system feeds into the kids' professional Hoop Dreams. I didn't count how many times Gates' coach compared him to Isiah Thomas - a former player of the coach - but if I had, I have no doubt it would have numbered near the hundreds.
* How quickly the system will then discard one player over the other. While Gates received a full scholarship to an elite private Catholic school, Agee only a partial. When his family could not come up with the money he was kicked out (to be fair, his grades also began to fall). Worse, the school wouldn't release his transcript to the public school until the debt was paid, making it a challenge to determine what he needed to graduate until nearly the last minute.
* How the system may sour the love an individual has for something that was once their passion. Gates becomes disillusioned with basketball over the four years. Even when his mouth invokes the love of the sport, his demeanor and the look in his eyes during practices and the coaches' speeches say otherwise.
* How a kid can rise above being left behind. In the end, Agee does not let getting kicked out of St. Joe's "end" his career - academic or basketball. And not only does he go on to college, but while in high school gets his team to the coveted state championships, while Gates -fully expected to do the same - does not.
* How a friendship can thrive within a silent rivalry. The two boys are friends, despite gunning for the same dream - even when Agee is obviously given less "love" from St. Joe's than Gates. They still remain friends to this day.
What really struck me, this, my tenth plus time viewing this story - was how the publishing experience can be very similiar.
We see it all the time where one author is hyped above the rest, is seen as that publisher's "great literay hope" or great commercial hope - whichever - while another should practically be grateful just to be published.
It's biz as usual in publishing when a front list author gets mega promotion (book tour, meet and greets with gatekeepers etc...) while a mid-lister must put sweat equity into each and every promo tool, simply to sell a few books.
It's not unusual at all that within this awkward and odd paradigm, authors will become friends - bonding beyond their respective places in the publishing food chain.
And it's certainly not unheard of that a mid-lister will drag themselves out of the middle of the pack through hard work, a little luck and the right "moment," in the sun unlike Agee ended up doing.Hoop Dreams
could have been based on any sport or profession.
The filmmakers didn't focus on the obvious angle "how insane it is to dream of making it to the NBA against the odds." They concentrated on the essence of pursuing a dream: how that kernel is reaped and sowed, challenges faced during the pursuit, how the dream adjusts as you step in the middle of the pursuit, how the system (gatekeepers)can work for or against you.
More importantly, it showed that "making it" can be more than one final End Story.
While Gates and Agee did not make it to the NBA - they were two kids from the ghetto who went on to college, challenged with making a better life for their own future families.
Writers may initially believe that getting published is the End Story, when in fact it's somewhere in the middle of the story.
Wherever you are in the journey, Hoops can be very inspiring. It's worth the three-hour ride.
I've always wondered what happened beyond college to the bright-eyed optimists featured. Thanks to the internet, now we all can know
Ten Questions That Rock - GCC Style: Tanya Lee Stone
Here's the thing, if you haven't yet read Tanya Lee Stone's
book, A Bad Boy Can Be Good For a Girl
, now's the chance to gobble it up as a summer read. The book's out as a paperback and you know what that means, right?
Yes, now you can buy the book and a Starbuck's Frappe and still have some change after paying with a $20 bill.
What? Like no one else gets all giddy about breaking a $20 and being able to throw the change at the bottom of their purse, only to discover it like gold later when you're totally busted.
So, that's just me?
Hmmm...well, Tanya hangs out with me in the Clique Lounge anyway, despite my quirks.
Tanya? Ready?TCL: If you could enter your MC into a MTV-style Celebrity Deathmatch, what protagonist would you challenge and why?
TLS: Nicolette would kick butt against practically anyone. Bring it on!!TCL says: Ooh feisty. Me likes!TCL: Shoes say a lot about a person, what type of shoe are you?
TLS: I live in my Dansko clogs in the winter; Merrell slides in the summer. Comfort with style all the way, baby.TCL: What type of writer are you: plot-driven or character-driven?
TLS: Totally character-driven. They tell me what to do!TCL: Word association time. What do you think when I say: Chick-lit
—I think of the anthology wars! This is Not Chick-Lit, etc..Best seller
—Libba Bray’s A Great and Terrible BeautyBest Band Ever
—BeatlesMost rockin’ author
—Judy BlumeTCL: Name the Top 3 books on your To Be Read (TBR) List
TLS: Sarah Aronson’s debut YA novel, Head Case
by Catherine MurdockGifts
by Ursula LeGuinTCL: If you had anything to do with it, what would the next hot lit trend be?
TLS: I hate trends and what they do to writers. I vote that the next hot lit trend is nonexistent.TCL: What celeb would you love to see play your MC on the big or small screen and why?
TLS: I'd like to see Vanessa Ann Hudgens bring out her bad side and play Nicolette.
Miley Cyrus, minus the accent, could do a great Aviva. And Dakota Fanning, in a couple of years, would be perfect as Josie. Let's face it, movies take awhile to be made, so the timing could be just perfect!TCL: Whether it’s because you admire their work or adore them, who’s your author crush?
TLS: Once again, that would have to be Judy Blume. Her work is honest and brave.TCL: What TV show do you watch that you’re ashamed to admit liking?
TLS: General Hospital. Religiously. For years now.SSP: Tell the cliquesters why your book should be in their TBR list.
TLS: Do you date? Do you think you are immune to being played, taken advantage of, or hurt? Have you ever been treated badly by a boy? Do you want to head into your next relationship with both your arms and your eyes open? Read this book! You won’t regret it. Then—pass it around to every girl you want to be as wise as you. ;-)Well, P has a thing for bad boys (so the hubster says), so guess who's gonna be reading Tanya's book? Me. And you too, go cop that joint.
Last week, I ran away from home - just packed a bag and high tailed it out of town.
I had no email access and by the end of the week my phone had gotten wet (darn Atlantic ocean) and was no longer working. It was bliss!
I'm sorry to report that I'm back.
But the week away was just what I needed.
And while running away is a fantasy of mine, this was actually a planned vacation to the beach with the fam.
I honestly did not want to return. Nothing reflects just how hectic my life is like being away from its normal pace for seven days.
There's been talk of people taking time off from cell phones and emails, to take charge of their lives from the gadgets that consume us. In theory, it's a great idea. But I'm not sure how realistic it is.
Maybe I've just been drinking the technology Kool-Aid too long. But long term absence from those things equals piled up work, in my mind.
Still, my week without them was very liberating. There was no withdrawal or anxiety.
It's because I knew once I returned it would be back to the grind:
Sometime between now and August 1st I've got to get back to work on Who You Wit'?, book four in the DRB Clique series.
Cheerleading season officially begins August 1st, but now is the planning period - ordering new unis, gear for camp, identifying potential competitions.
One of the new programs I implemented at the FTJ is see-sawing between success and needing repairs.
Believe it or not, I already have boundaries when it comes to working too hard (much). The week off makes me think I should review them, maybe implement tougher boundaries. But the first thing I saw on my step when we pulled up yesterday was a big ol' box of ARCs for Don't Get It Twisted.
Know what that means?
It's time to do the promo thing for book 2.
What are those?