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Last week, I emailed Brian White from Fireside Magazine and told him I wanted to help with the Kickstarter.  I offered to match pledges, up to $1000, for an hour.   Truth be told, I’d kind of been kicking myself for not trying to get on board with Fireside earlier.  I backed the first three Kickstarters, but that was the extent of my support.  When it looked like the third one wasn’t going to fund, I shrugged and was a bit sad but figured that was what came of trying to use crowdfunding on an issue by issue basis.

In the year since Brian started Fireside, though, I’ve been doing a lot of writing, and even more thinking.  For better or worse, the traditional publishing market is dying.  Within the next five years, there’s a good chance that people will be able to trade and sell used e-books the same way they trade and sell (and give away and leave in motel rooms and bus stations) paper books.  There are so many, many books being published each year that the chances of any one standing out from the crowd are even slimmer than that of finding the proverbial needle.  And this market, where people no longer believe that a new book is worth $25, where people will be able to sell books for pennies, where each book is competing with millions of others, is the market I’ll be publishing in.

So how does Kickstarter fit into publishing fit into trying to make a living off my writing?

Connections.  I think, more and more, we’re moving back to a place where the artist needs to come down from the ivory tower and be accessible.  This means connecting with people.  Yes, connecting with fans and readers is important, but it goes beyond that.  It’s connecting with the people who read and/or write the same kinds of things you do and with the people who’ve never read a word you write but follow you on Twitter and the people who pass by the blog and leave the occasional comment.  Because over time, the connections start to matter.

It also means supporting other artists.  It’s no good to go out, hat in hand, if you’re not willing to chip in a bit when someone else comes asking.  Because Fireside funding another year means more than having another literary mag that pays above market.

It means there’s a community of people out there who think that stories are worth supporting.  And that’s a community I want to be part of.

The Month That Very Nearly Wasn’t

February is starting to feel like a lost month.

It started off with such promise.  February is letter month, of course, and it was going to be the month that I finished my application to a writing workshop that’s taking place this summer.  I had thoughts that I might try and write a story to submit to Glitter and Mayhem.  Not to mention getting a renter in upstairs and starting work on the basement.

Thus far, the only thing I’ve managed to do is log a ridiculous number of hours at work.  I’m going to get the application finished.  Partly because it has a hard deadline of March 1.  Mostly because dreams take a certain amount of chasing before they can come true.

As for the rest of it, I’m pretty much operating in triage mode.  So if you don’t see me blogging or on Twitter, if you’re waiting for a letter that hasn’t arrived yet…  That’s where I am.  Hunkered down, waiting for the storm to blow over and the sun to come out.

 

“I know it when I see it”

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One of the questions I’ve seen floating around blogs and #askagent sessions is how you know when it’s time to put a manuscript on hold.  The answer, it turns out, is rather like Justice Stewart’s definition of pornography:  you’ll know it when you see it.

After 3 contests, several requests for fulls, and a little bit over a year of querying, with no offers of representation, I’ve decided to put Pomegranate House on hold.  The fact that this doesn’t seem like a tough decision at all is part of what’s convinced me it’s time to do so.

The feedback I’ve gotten has been remarkably uniform, almost always along the lines of “I love your writing, but I’m not connecting with this piece.”  Several agents have mentioned they’d like to see my next novel, once it’s ready.  My takeaway  is that I could keep trying working on this one, keep trying to coax it into something the market finds palatable – or I can work on the next thing.

I’m choosing the next thing.

I’ve got a novel in progress that I’m super excited about.  It’s set in the near future.  Bronwyn, the heroine, used to be the First Lady, but now operates a stop on the Railroad, an underground network that smuggles dissidents and members of the Resistance out of the former U.S.  Then there’s the coming-of-age story I want to write, the one that chronicles three generations – son, mother, and grandmother – as each one leaves home and sets off across the country.   I also have a story tickling the back of my mind about a teenager who goes to visit an uncle on a dig in northern Iraq and gets pulled into the Persian empire.  (That one’s going to take some serious research.)  And if I ever get time, there’s a summer camp novel I’ve been wanting to write…

And who knows.  Maybe, after I’ve written a few more books, I’ll take Stephanie out again and find her a home.

“enclosed are three wishes”

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The thing I love about February – more than the fact that days are growing a little longer, and the air seems a little warmer, and Spring seems to be just around the corner – is that it’s Letter Month.*

I had a splendid time with this last year, reconnecting with all sorts of people I’d fallen out of touch with (or wasn’t as in touch with as I wanted to be).  Including the friend I’d written all those magical letters to one summer.

So, even though I’ve got work and writing and life things pulling me in about five different directions right now, I’m going to do this.  I bought really cute note cards (you’re going to love them) and fairly cute stamps (I was bummed the Poets set was sold out).  

Here’s the interactive part.  If you want a letter, email me, or connect with me on Twitter @bekkiwrites, or, if you want to be really mysterious and anonymous, put your address into my Postable address book.

And if you want to drop me a line or two, that would be most delightful.

 

* Yes, that link is a year old.  Rest assured, though, #lettermo is alive and well on the Twitter.

“Teenage Dream”

I met up with one of my CP’s yesterday (see Dahlia’s excellent post for more on CP’s).  We had a lovely time, discussing all sorts of topics, including what I think of as the elephant in the publishing room:  YA.

YA is hot.  It’s where publishers are buying, and where authors are selling.  It also seems to be where the writing community on the internet is hanging out.  Most of the writerly people I follow on Twitter write YA.  Contests, even if open to adult authors, tend to heavily skew toward kid lit.  Most of the agents I follow rep it, if not exclusively.  A “YA ______” seems to be the top of most agent wishlists.  And quite frankly, this isn’t anything new.  YA has been a trend in publishing for so long I’m starting to wonder if it’s now the norm.

What I’ve been noticing about YA lately, and what makes me a little frustrated with all the hype, is that very few of the YA books I’ve read have been good.  Good like Gone Girl good.  Good like it hits you between the eyes and doesn’t let you off the floor for several days good.  And I like to read good stories.  It doesn’t bother me if what I’m reading is hard core SF aimed at astro-physics nerds, or romance novels aimed at bored housewives, or YA contempts aimed at teenage girls.  What I look for is a book that stays with me after I read it.  That gives me something to think about after I’ve turned the final page.  That worms its way into my consciousness, coming up at odd moments.

Very few of the YA books I’ve read recently have done this.  I remember reading Madeline L’Engle’s Arm of the Starfish and House Like a Lotus as a teenager.  I went back to those books again and again, each time finding another layer of meaning.  I bought Susan Cooper’s The Dark is Rising (although arguably more MG than YA) a few years ago, and was delightfully surprised to find that it held up.  By contrast, what’s being published today seems more like candy.  It’s deliciously sweet, easily consumed, and has very little substance.*  Even the dystopian novels all seem to have (relatively) happy endings.

This worries me.  What does it say that the books written for the “me” generation are, for the most part, easily digestible bits of fancy that avoid the hard questions?  Is it that kids these days aren’t willing to put any work into reading?  Or is it that the industry has decided to keep throwing softballs on the grounds that any reading is better than no reading?

I write adult fiction.  I write about hard questions, and choices where there is no right answer, and the intersections between love and selfishness.  I write flawed characters who make poor choices and don’t always learn from their mistakes.  It’s going to cause difficulties for me down the line, once I get past the writing into the selling.  And I’m okay with that.  But a part of me has to wonder whether, in writing about the dark and the gritty and the adult, I’ve closed myself off from the audiences who’ve grown up reading today’s YA.

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* I’m not saying that this is true of all YA books, not by a long shot.  And I’d welcome suggestions for YA books left you sitting on the couch, stunned, when you finished them.  For that matter, I’m open to suggestions for good books, period.

“Money for Nothing”

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Starting Monday, I’m off from work for two weeks.  So it’s understandable that when I complained about how much I have to get done before my husband and I leave for vacation on Thursday, his response was, “Relax, you’re on vacation.”

To which I replied, “Are you kidding?”

Because while I might be off from Job #1, the job that pays the bills and the health insurance and the mortgage, there’s still Job #2 to think about.  That’s the job that doesn’t earn me any money – yet.  It’s the job I wake up at 6 am every morning for.  The one I do at nights, and on weekends.  The one I am hoping to make into a full-time, paid position.

No, I don’t intern.  I’m a writer.

Writing doesn’t mean I sit down at the computer and type for a few hours and have something magical to share with the rest of the world.  It’s not something I do in my spare time, like knitting or baking.  It is emphatically not a “jobby.”  It is a profession.  A career.  A job.

It hasn’t always been.  For years I fiddled.  Dabbled.  Wrote a few lines here and there.  Did NaNo for a year, then didn’t write anything else for the next twelve months.  It’s different now.  For me, the key is this:

I sit down and write even when I don’t want to.  I sit down and write when I’ve been up late the night before and want to sleep in an extra hour.  I sit down and write when I’ve worked an 80 hour week and want to do nothing more than veg on the couch and watch Gossip Girl.

I’ll leave you with this.

“Precious Things”

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Yesterday, Amanda Palmer posted an amazing blog on internet hatred and bullying.  You should go read it.  Spend some time in the comments.  It will probably break your heart.  It broke mine.

When I was a kid, I was drawn to the kids who were different.  The ones who were fragile and fantastical and generally quite fucked up.  I didn’t hang out with the cool kids, partly because there was never money for whatever the latest craze in toys was – slap bracelets, troll dolls, sticker collecting – but mostly because the cool kids were boring.  My friends were never boring, but the flipside was that they would turn on me in an instant.  I had frenemies long before the term was popular.  Girls who loved me one day and said vicious things about me the next.  Or kicked me as we went down the stairs to recess, so that one year my shins were black and blue from September to June.  Or poured chocolate milk all over me during lunch.  Or took the confidences I had whispered during sleepovers and spread them among all the other girls to get a leg up the popularity ladder.

Seventh grade was the worst.  It was the year of the bar mitzvah’s.  I grew up in a mostly Jewish town, went to a mostly Jewish school.  There was a bar mitzvah almost every weekend, sometimes two.  The rich kids had their parties at the country club, where there would be a magician or face-painter or a DJ, or sometimes all three.  The popular girls collected photo albums of invitations.  Even the unpopular girls like me got invited to their share – someone who invited all of their homeroom, or all of their Hebrew school class, or whose parents made them invite the kids who’d been in carpool.

I don’t remember which one of them thought up the game.  I don’t even know why it was so funny to them, or so hurtful to me.  It went like this.  I would be sitting alone, staring at all the kids out on the dance floor and wishing someone would come over to talk to me.  A group of the popular boys would be hanging out at the other end of the table, whispering with each other.  Suddenly, one of them would run over to me, get down on one knee, and ask, “Will you marry me?”  I would sit there in shock and confusion, without a clue as to how to send him away so that I came off as the cool one.  Then, laughing hysterically, he would run back to his friends and they would all exchange high-fives.  I was convinced, utterly and absolutely, that what they were really telling me was that I was hideous, and ugly, and that nobody would ever, ever want to marry me.

By the time we hit high school, it was mostly over.  I hung out with the freaks, took the honors and AP classes, played lacrosse, dated a guy who thought I was gorgeous, and pretty much tried to ignore everyone who had caused me so much misery a few years back.  It worked so well that by the time senior year came around, I was a certain kind of cool.  At senior prom, one of the hottest guys in my class told my boyfriend he’d never realized how hot I was.  The popular boys wanted to pose for pictures with me on the last day of school.  I told them all to fuck off.

Which should be the end of it, except for one last thing.

About five years ago, one of the boys who’d played the marriage game found me on Facebook and sent a friend request.  I’ll admit, my response was not as graceful as it could have been.

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I never wrote back, because I didn’t know what to say.  In truth, he wasn’t even the worst of them.  In high school, he was actually pretty friendly to me.  I still hated him, even more than I hated the ones who had bullied me for so long.  The way I saw it, they were idiots.  They couldn’t help themselves.  He was smarter, more popular, better than all of that.  He could have stopped them, if he’d wanted to.  He never did.

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So.  To all those kids who made my life a living hell.  To the kids who lived through it from the other end.  To the ones who bullied, and were bullied, and watched the bullies and did nothing.  If you want to talk, I’m here.  I’m listening.  Hit me up in the comments.

And to all those kids who are going home after school and crying, and cutting, and wishing they could die:

IT.

GETS.

BETTER.

“Shine on You Crazy Diamond”

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Good morning kittens, and welcome to 2013. Here is my New Year’s wish for you:

Hold on to the people that you love, and love the people you can’t hold onto.  So often the things we take for granted are the ones we will miss the most when they’re gone.  Take time to cry if you need it, and time to laugh as well.  Do something kind for a complete stranger.  Do something kind for yourself.  Cherish the small things –  the first shoots of green in the spring, an unexpected smile, a sentence that leave you awestruck and trembling.

 

And above all, shine.

“Plans”

It’s been a hell of a year.   I found two critique partners, both of whom I’m incredibly luck to have.  I’ve found a writing mentor whose life seems to be on a track strangely similar to my own.  And while I finished the first draft of a new novel, the one I thought was finished for sure is back in revision-land.  Oh, and did I mention that my husband and I moved four times in four months?

I’m finally starting to feel like a working writer rather than a dabbler.  In that vein, here’s what I’d like to get done over the next year:

  • Revise Pomegranate Seeds by Jan 25, in time for PitchWars.  I’m still not convinced that this is possible, but Suzanne has assured me that it is.  Since she had the wisdom to pick my novel out of the slush, I’m going to go ahead and believe her on this one.
  • Apply to Clarion West.  Because Neil Gaiman is teaching this year.  And because, Clarion.  Plus, it will force me to put together a pitch and synopsis for Railroad.
  • Speaking of which, revise Railroad and start submitting it to agents.  I figure it’s got one major revision and one round of line edits before it’s ready.  Realistically, that means it probably won’t go out until fall of next year, or perhaps as a Baker’s Dozen debut.
  • I’d also like to write and submit a few short pieces.  I’m not entirely sure where the time for this is going to come from, but one of the things I really like about short fiction is the ability to try out something different.  Of course, submitting short fiction will mean needing to read short fiction will mean even more short story magazines on my Kindle that I keep meaning to read when I have a few minutes…

And that’s it.  I’m not going to worry about getting an agent, or selling a novel, or getting published.  Instead I’m going to write, and keep writing, and talk to writers, and critique other people’s work, and listen to what other people have to say about my work, and write, and keep writing.