Romance is Hard

I love reading love stories. There’s something captivating about watching two people fall for each other and fight to be together, even if it means battling their own insecurities in the meantime. A good love story can improve my opinion of a mediocre book if it’s handled the right way, and a great love story can make me a lifelong fan of an author or their work. (Here’s looking at you, Rainbow Rowell.)

That said, I have to confess that I’ve avoided writing love stories for years. Not because I hate them, or because my novels haven’t needed them. In fact, I’d planned to include major romantic subplots in both the series I’d begun with The Recruited and my first stab at a new adult novel. But neither of those subplots were ever fully developed, or integrated effectively into the over-arching plot, which is why I ended up scrapping them. The subplots and the stories, that is.

I know there are plenty of writers out there who excel at writing romance, but I am not one of them. It’s HARD for me, in a way that writing fight scenes and angst and good narration never has been. And I think the reason it’s hard is because of how well you have to know both halves of your character couples before you can accurately portray them falling in love with each other. You have to go deep–not just into the bright, beautiful parts of their personalities, but their ugly, jealous, resentful sides as well.

I recognize that you can make this exact same argument about writing long-term friendships, or close sibling relationships, or relationships between kids and their parents, but there’s something about romance that’s different. Maybe it’s that love stories are still so incredibly idealized, or that romance outsells every other major genre in book publishing. Maybe it’s that most of us are desperate to believe in the notion of happily-ever-after, and we all want to get invested in characters seeking their own fairy tale endings. I have no real way to know, and I could write another three blog posts theorizing if I had more time.

Instead, I’ll be sitting back down at my computer, trying to strengthen my drafting muscles on a new WIP that is–you guessed it–a love story. Wish me luck!

Advertisements

Starting Over

I always get a fresh burst of motivation at the start of the New Year. It’s like the minute that date on my calendar changes, my brain decides that I’m capable of changing other things about my life as well. I buy a new planner and set new goals, make resolutions and become more mindful. Some of my grand plans stick and some of them don’t, but the one thing that never sticks is my readiness to make changes.

I wouldn’t describe myself as change-resistant, per se. I accept, on a rational level, that one of the only constants in life is that nothing stays the same for long. At the same time, I still prefer the comfort of my routines to any kind of upheaval, even when that upheaval is positive. When it isn’t the start of a new year, I generally hate starting over.

And throughout 2016, for whatever reason, I found myself starting over a lot.

I started a new job back in January, and then I started another new job at the end of October. I threw out the entire draft of the mystery MS that I’d written during National Novel Writing Month in 2015, and re-wrote it from scratch over the course of the following spring and summer. I started drafting another new MS, not long after I’d finally finished my mystery, and I remembered how scary it is to begin something new.

Ever since I graduated college, I’ve lived more or less in the same city where I went to school. I’ve been in the same relationship for a long time, and lived in the same apartment for the last three years. I had the same job for two and a half years before I found something else, and I’ve done the same administrative work at both of the jobs I’ve had since.

None of these things are negative, and I definitely don’t want to sound like I’m complaining. I like where I live and I like what I do–for the most part, anyway. I’m incredibly happy with the relationship I have, and with the life that I’ve built for myself. At the same time, I feel as though I’ve grown complacent in the last year or two, more content to accept how things are than attempt to improve them.

Part of that complacency stems from the time it has taken me to get back on my feet, in my professional life and my personal life and my writing life. For the first time in years, I feel like myself again–or like a better, wiser, tougher version of the self I was before the 2013 crapshoot occurred. I’ve been too busy trying to rebuild to break ground on anything terribly new.

But, if 2016 has taught me anything, it’s that I can tackle change year round with the same determination and ability that is usually reserved for the new year. I can start fresh without succumbing to stress or insecurity, and be a lot better for it.

In my last post, I talked at length about my New Year’s Resolutions, but my one big resolution for 2017 is this: I will not be afraid to take risks, if I think there’s a chance that those risks might lead to something good. When the time is right, I won’t be afraid to start over.

2016 Wrap-Up and Resolutions for 2017

I like talking about my New Years Resolutions almost as much as I like making them. In fact, it’s often a struggle for me to avoid getting over-enthusiastic and making a bunch of super ambitious plans for the year ahead that I know I won’t be able to keep.

In 2016, I managed to keep my list of resolutions simple and short, which is probably why I had so much success with them. Here’s a quick rundown of my 2016 resolutions, as well as a list of new resolutions for 2017:

Once again, I failed to reach my goal of querying Facing the Music by year’s end. However, I am 2/3 of the way through my final revision pass prior to querying, which is almost enough to make up for the fact that I didn’t actually send out any queries. I know I’ve been saying this for a while now, but next year is my year. I’m sure of it.

That said, I did complete a (very) rough first draft of my mystery WIP, which has been one of my biggest creative hurdles to date. I also prepped, outlined, and started drafting another WIP that I’m eager to dive back into once I’ve gotten my revisions out of the way.

I had some success cutting unnecessary negativity out of my life and reducing my stress levels, but this particular resolution is one I will always have to work to stay on top of. Whether it’s my own over-achiever tendencies or my anxiety disorder, or something else entirely, I tend to invite stress and stressful situations into my life without even realizing it. I have begun learning to say no to extra work or extra responsibilities if I’m not 100% committed to them, which feels like major progress.

Last but not least, I crossed another state off my list when my boyfriend and I took a vacation to Colorado this summer. I’ve never been to the American Rockies before, and I absolutely fell in love with the mountains and the huge, blue sky. Also with Boulder, where I will be making a return trip at some point. Here’s to more travel in 2017!

My 2017 Resolutions are:

1. Begin querying Facing the Music. No really. It’s happening.

2. Finish drafting a new WIP.

3. Complete one round of revisions on my mystery and get CP feedback on it.

4. Practice being a good ally and learn to be a better one. Stay politically informed and politically active.

5. Donate to at least one charity every month.

6. Focus on being more present and spending less time with technology.

If you’re making resolutions for 2017, I’d love to hear them! Send me a link or drop me a comment and let me know what new challenges you’re planning to take on next year.

2016 End of Year Book Survey

Here it is again! In honor of one of my favorite bookish end-of-year traditions, I bring you my version of Jamie at the Perpetual Page Turner’s year end book survey. I’ve had such fun doing this the last couple years, and this is the first year that I’m actually going to complete (well, attempt to complete) the blogging and book life section.

If you decide to complete this survey on your own blog, leave me a note or a link in the comments and let me know. I’m always on the hunt for reading recommendations or awesome books that I might’ve missed.

2016 Reading Stats

Number of Books You Read: 97 currently, although that number might be slightly higher by year’s end.
Number of Re-reads:
Too many to count, as per usual
Genre You Read the Most From:
YA contemporary

1. Best Book You Read in 2016?
Once again, I’m going to have to do a genre breakdown. Because reasons.
YA Contemporary: Far From You by Tess Sharpe
YA Fantasy: Six of Crows by Leigh Bardugo
YA Sci-Fi: Their Fractured Light by Amie Kaufman and Meagan Spooner
YA Dystopian: The Summer Prince by Alaya Dawn Johnson
YA Magical Realism: The Strange and Beautiful Sorrows of Ava Lavender by Leslye Walton
NA: Him by Sarina Bowen and Elle Kennedy
Adult: The Paris Key by Juliet Blackwell
2. Book You Were Excited About & Thought You Were Going to Love More But Didn’t?
Tell the Wind and Fire by Sarah Rees Brennan
3. Most Surprising (in a good or bad way) Book You Read?
The Start of Me and You by Emery Lord. I expected to like it. I didn’t expect to feel all the feelings all at once.
4. Book You “Pushed” the Most People to Read (and They Did)?
Attachments by Rainbow Rowell
5. Best Series You Started in 2016? Best sequel of 2016? Best Series Ending of 2016?
Best Series: Six of Crows by Leigh Bardugo
Best Sequel: Either Empire of Storms or A Court of Mist and Fury by Sarah J. Maas
Best Series Ending: Their Fractured Light by Amie Kaufman and Meagan Spooner
6. Favorite New Author You Discovered in 2016?
Either Becky Albertalli or Tess Sharpe
7. Best Book from a Genre You Don’t Typically Read/Was Out of Your Comfort Zone?
Come As You Are by Emily Nagoski. I don’t read much nonfiction and I read even fewer self-help books, but I will forever be grateful to a friend of mine for recommending this one.
8. Most Action-Packed/Thrilling/Unputdownable Book of the Year?
It’s a tie between Six of Crows by Leigh Bardugo and Illuminae by Amie Kaufman and Jay Kristoff.
9. Book You Read in 2016 that You Are Most Likely to Re-Read Next Year?
Him by Sarina Bowen and Elle Kennedy, because I’ve already re-read it at least half a dozen times to date.
10. Favorite Cover of a Book You Read in 2016?
The Summer Prince by Alaya Dawn Johnson, in terms of both texture and appearance.
11. Most Memorable Character of 2016?
Kaz Brekker from Six of Crows.
12. Most Beautifully Written Book Read in 2016?
The Strange and Beautiful Sorrows of Ava Lavender by Leslye Walton. Her prose took fewer than two pages to blow my mind.
13. Most Thought-Provoking/Life-Changing Book of 2016?
Exit, Pursued by a Bear by E.K. Johnston, for its supportive, nonjudgmental portrayal of a teenage girl’s life post-sexual assault. The kind of book that makes you wonder why we don’t rally around survivors in reality the way these characters do on the page.
14. Book You Can’t Believe You Waited Until 2016 to Finally Read?
Far From You by Tess Sharpe and Open Road Summer by Emery Lord, which are both two freaking years old and WONDERFUL.
15. Favorite Passage/Quote From a Book You Read in 2016?
“I will have you without armor, Kaz Brekker. Or I will not have you at all.” —Six of Crows
16. Shortest & Longest Books You Read in 2016?
Shortest: We Should All Be Feminists by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie
Longest: Empire of Storms by Sarah J. Maas
17. Book That Shocked You the Most?
All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr. Not for good reasons, either.
18. OTP of the Year (you will go down with this ship!)
Every canonical ship in Six of Crows. Sensing a trend, here?
19. Favorite Non-Romantic Relationship of the Year?
Hermione and Polly in Exit, Pursued by a Bear or Reagan and Lilah in Open Road Summer.
20. Favorite Book You Read in 2016 from an Author You’ve Read Previously?
Cam Girl by Leah Raeder. I love every single one of that author’s books.
21. Best Book You Read in 2016 that You Read Based SOLELY on a Recommendation from Somebody Else/Peer Pressure
Come As You Are by Emily Nagoski. Thanks, G!
22. Newest Fictional Crush from a Book You Read in 2016?
Grant, from Summer of Supernovas by Darcy Woods. He was incredibly swoony.
23. Best 2016 Debut You Read?

Summer of Supernovas by Darcy Woods or Firsts by Laurie Elizabeth Flynn
24. Best World-building/Most Vivid Setting You Read This Year?
Once again, I’m going to have to go with Six of Crows and Crooked Kingdom by Leigh Bardugo.
25. Book that Put a Smile On Your Face/Was the Most FUN to Read?
Simon and the Homo Sapiens Agenda by Becky Albertalli. No questions asked.
26.  Book that Made You Cry or Nearly Cry in 2016
All the Bright Places by Jennifer Niven, Illuminae by Amie Kaufman and Jay Kristoff, and Exit, Pursued by a Bear by E.K. Johnston all came pretty darn close.
27.  Hidden Gem of the Year?
Girl Against the Universe by Paula Stokes
28. Book that Crushed Your Soul?
Hostage Three by Nick Lake
29. Most Unique Book You Read in 2016?
Illuminae, for updating the epistolary novel format, and then turning that format on its head.
30. Book that Made You the Most Mad (doesn’t necessarily mean you didn’t like it)?
Firsts by Laurie Elizabeth Flynn, for its infuriatingly honest take on rape culture and the way society both sexualizes teenage girls and condemns them for their sexuality.

1. New Favorite Book Blog You Discovered in 2016?
I discovered a bunch of good blogs, but none that were book specific.
2. Favorite Review that You Wrote in 2016?
Either this review or this one that I did for Disability in Kidlit.
3. Best discussion/non-review post you had on your blog?
Nobody really discussed these–not to my knowledge, anyway–but I was especially proud of the posts I wrote where I examined my creative routine or my views on creativity. You Can’t Rush Enjoyment and The Importance of Taking Breaks come immediately to mind.
4. Best event that you participated in (author signings, festivals, virtual events, memes, etc)?
I’ve done the YA Buccaneers Fall Bootcamp a couple years in a row now, but this was the first year where I took full advantage of all the awesomeness that they have to offer. My life was in turmoil this fall, and the YAB crew were one of the only things keeping me on task.
5. Best moment of bookish/blogging life in 2016?
Going to the Wordsmith retreat in Virginia back in the spring. 10/10 would recommend and go again.
6. Most challenging thing about blogging or your reading life this year?
Taking the time and turning off the tech so that I could fully fall into the books I was reading. Also, shutting off the writer/editor part of my brain long enough to enjoy what I was reading.
7. Most Popular Post this Year on Your Blog (whether by comments or views)?
Uh . . .
8. Post You Wished Got a Little More Love?
Any of them?
9. Best bookish discovery (book-related sites, bookstores, etc)?
Either of the bookstores I visited while on vacation this summer. (Shout out to the Tattered Cover in Denver and the Boulder Book Store in Boulder.) Also the Iowa Writers House, which may not be strictly bookish, but has been an absolute blessing nonetheless. One of those brilliant non-for-profits that makes me love where I live.
10. Did you complete any reading challenges or goals that you had set for yourself at the beginning of this year?
I chose to abstain from the Goodreads Reading Challenge this year, and I still feel great about that choice. Personally, I was able to blog once a month every month with the exception of July, and I feel great about that too.

1. One Book You Didn’t Get to in 2016 that will be Your #1 Priority in 2017?
Big Magic by Elizabeth Gilbert, The Wrath and the Dawn by Renee Ahdieh, and Truthwitch by Susan Dennard have all been on my priority list FOREVER.
2. Book You Are Most Anticipating for 2017 (non-debut)?
Gemina by Amie Kaufman and Jay Kristoff shot to the top of the list as soon as I finished Illuminae.
3. 2017 Debut You are Most Anticipating?
Wintersong by S. Jae-Jones and The Girl with the Red Balloon by Katherine Locke. Also You’ll Miss Me When I’m Gone by Rachel Lynn Solomon.
4. Series Ending/A Sequel You are Most Anticipating in 2017?
I’ll take ‘the last book in the Throne of Glass series’ for $500, Alex.
5. One Thing You Hope to Accomplish or Do in Your Reading/Blogging Life in 2017
Blog once a month at least all next year, and finally break the 100 books a year mark. Not that I’m going back to the Goodreads challenge, or anything . . .
6. A 2017 Release You’ve Already Read & Recommend to Everyone:
Once again, I am not cool enough or on top of things enough to have read anything that releases in 2017 quite yet. What should I start with?

What books did you enjoy reading this year? Let me know in the comments, or link me to your own survey!

What I Didn’t Say

I’m not sure when I first began abstaining from political or politicized discussions. It might’ve been when I first came home from work, furious with my coworkers for tossing pro-Trump rhetoric around while disparaging the ideals and experience of Bernie Sanders and Hilary Clinton. It might’ve been the first, or the fifth, or the twentieth time this year that a member of the children’s lit community failed to grasp the importance of inclusion and acceptance in their fiction, and lashed out after being called out for it. It might’ve been when I realized that I was spending so much of my time being angry over all of the ignorance and injustice in this world that my happiness was suffering as a result.

I don’t regret the decisions I sometimes made to close my computer and put down my phone. I don’t regret choosing to focus on things that made me happy, and putting everything else out of my mind. What I do regret is not speaking up more when I had the chance.

In the wake of Tuesday’s election results, I’ve read many brilliant, heartfelt, fierce, encouraging blog posts. The vast majority of them were written by women, and the vast majority of those women are far more marginalized than I am.  If the man we’ve elected to lead our country decides to capitalize on a fraction of the promises he’s made during the last two years, those women stand to lose so much more than I ever could.

I am all for self care, and doing what you need to do to maintain your own mental health and happiness. I don’t blame or judge my friends and family who have stayed offline and away from protests because they’re still assessing their own feelings, or unsure about what to say. And yet, I am more aware than ever that being able to turn your focus from injustice or intolerance simply by stepping away from the internet is a mark of incredible privilege. So is being able to walk down the street without fearing for your own safety, or not worrying about which of your civil rights might be infringed upon if Donald Trump is sworn in as president.

As a woman and a person who benefits from the Affordable Care Act, I am definitely afraid for myself. I am not nearly as afraid as my friends who are people of color or religious minorities, whose gender identities and sexualities don’t match society’s norms. Who had to watch on Tuesday night as a significant portion of our country told them with their votes that they aren’t worthy of being protected or valued.

For a long, long time, I’ve felt like a fraud or a white savior every time I stepped into a discussion centered around social justice or minority rights. Not because those issues don’t matter to me, or because those issues aren’t important. Because most of those issues are not going to impact me in the same way that they’re going to impact the people who fight the hardest for them. I thought that I was doing marginalized individuals a favor, by giving them the floor and keeping my own mouth closed. I thought I was being supportive by trying not to step on anyone’s toes.

I was wrong, and I’m ashamed it took me so long to realize it. In choosing to stay silent during some of those discussions online, or biting my tongue when my former coworkers tossed inflammatory language around, I gave up my chance to enact change. Instead of being viewed as supportive, I’m sure I seemed complicit. Unconcerned, the way so many Americans were when they cast their votes on election night.

No more. I doubt that shutting down hate speech in the office, or correcting ignorant people on Twitter would’ve changed the election results, but keeping quiet changed nothing. A disgusting majority of white Americans voted for Trump. It’s time for those of us who didn’t to take action, work toward positive, long-lasting change, and speak up even when it’s hard. Even when we’re tired, or angry, or heartsick.

I’m sure there will still be nights when I’ll choose mental stability over involvement, or short-term happiness over slow-burning anger. But in this new and frightening America, I am certain of one thing. I won’t waste any more time regretting the things that I didn’t say, when I can speak up and speak out instead.

Problematic Tropes that I Don’t (Always) Hate

I’ve had a harder time than usual merely reading for the sake of reading these last few months. My brain keeps chewing up the stories I’m trying to enjoy and spitting them back out, getting stuck on the character cliches and unsurprising plot twists and sometimes ungainly clumps of words.

This isn’t to say that I haven’t read any good books this year, or that I don’t make these exact same mistakes in my own work. I have, and I do. But it’s also easier than ever for me to see through the magical veil that used to come down over me whenever I’d crack open a brand new book, because of the time I’ve spent on my own stories.

That said, I’ve also noticed that there are plenty of problematic elements I’m willing to overlook if a story is done well, and that a lot of those elements are genre specific.

When I’m reading fantasy or sci-fi, I almost always stumble across a point where I don’t understand the science or the magic, the technology or the weapons or the purpose behind some military or political strategy. Maybe this is because I don’t write these genres, or because I HATE world-building and think it’s a necessary evil at best. As long as the bulk of the story doesn’t leave me feeling lost, I have no problems reading through the confusing bit, accepting that it’s going to go over my head, and moving on.

I’m also not a fan of dubious power dynamics within a couple or potential romantic pairing in contemporary fiction, but if one half of a fantasy couple is human and the other half is super-powered, it bothers me a lot less. That’s not to say that I don’t appreciate when both halves of a couple can hold their own in-universe, or when traditionally “male” or “female” skills are subverted. It just isn’t as much of a sticking point for me as it would be if the story was set in our world.

On the other hand, cliched romantic pairings such as the “good” girl and the “bad” boy bother me so much less in contemporary fiction than they should. If the plot of a book is otherwise good and the stakes are high, I won’t get stuck on whether the characters are a little two-dimensional. Similarly, if the characterization throughout a contemporary story is good right up until one of the characters does something unforgivably stupid or out-of-character, I’m a lot more forgiving than if the same thing were to happen in a fantasy or sci-fi setting.

I’m guessing that some of you monitor your reactions to books or other media in much the same way that I do, and I’d be interested to know what some of your peculiar hang-ups are. Leave me a comment and let me know!

Progress and Bootcamp

I’m guessing that some of you probably saw this already, since I was pretty ecstatic about it on Twitter, but after YEARS of stressing and planning, writing and re-writing, I finally have a completed first draft of my mystery WIP. This story has seen a couple different working titles come and go, and more incarnations than I can count, but once I found the right story and the right way to tell it, the drafting process flew. It’s a mess right now, as all of my first drafts are, but it’s a mess I can work with.

I’ve spent most of this summer trying not to talk about what I’ve been working on or how it’s been going for fear of jinxing myself, so I thought I’d take a couple minutes to let you guys know what I’ve been up to.

Back in July, I received the first batch of critical feedback for Facing the Music, and I’m expecting two more batches sometime in the next couple weeks. I’ve had a nice long break from that story, which hopefully means I’ll be able to jump back in and push through this last round of revisions without driving myself insane. Regardless of what critique I have yet to receive, this will be the last time I revise Facing the Music on my own. It has been on my computer or in my brain, kept under lock and key for so long, that I feel it deserves the chance to go out into the (publishing) world and sink or swim on its own merit.

Of course, this means that I’m going to have to revise my query letter and write a synopsis, which I’m trying really hard not to think about right now.

I’m currently participating in the YA Buccaneers Fall Writing Bootcamp, which I’ve done before and very much enjoyed. This time around, I’m trying to be more involved in the online community of participants as a way of holding myself accountable, and I feel like that’s going pretty well.

It also doesn’t hurt that the only thing I’m working on at the moment is brainstorming/planning two different stories that I have in the works. Both stories have the same general premise (friends to lovers romances, weirdly enough), but approach said premise in very different ways. One of them is far more developed than the other, and I already feel like I know the cast of characters pretty well. One of them is much less developed, but I’m a little more excited about it, even though it promises to be a more complicated story.

Last September I would’ve been climbing the walls, desperate to complete a revision or a draft, something tangible enough for me to feel good about crossing it off my to-do list before the clock ran out on the year. This year, I’m honestly enjoying the calm before the heavy storm of more creation. I’m soaking up the perfect Midwestern fall weather, going apple picking, and preparing myself for the chaos of harvest season. I’m excited about the leaves changing, and National Novel Writing Month, and my birthday.  Best of all, I’m excited about the work and writing ahead.