Writing Tuesday: Meeting a Writing Hero

Listen, it's fine if you don't know who Leigh Bardugo is... Processed with VSCO with c1 preset

Wait, wait, I can't do this. I can't start out this post with a lie! It is not fine if you don't know who Leigh Bardugo is, so I'm here to tell you some things about her: first, she's an incredible writer of young adult literature. She has penned several novels in the Grishaverse, a fantasy world entirely of her own making; plus, she was one of four YA authors tapped by DC to write coming-of-age stories of some DC Heroes (hers? None but WONDER WOMAN Y'ALL). So she's kind of a big deal. Like, the amount of talent she has for storytelling and world building is just, like...I want it.

Another thing to know about Leigh is that she's committed to writing diverse books. She's a white Jewish woman, but she incorporates characters of varying colors, religions and sexualities in order to create a world that similarly parallels our own. She also writes characters with disabilities; as someone who has dealt with chronic pain and psychical disability herself, Leigh hasn't shied away from showing that in her fiction. And that's incredible.

All of this is stuff you could find with a quick Google search of her name. But today I want to share a personal story, about how much of an incredible person Leigh Bardugo is. And it all started with her book, WONDER WOMAN: WARBRINGER, which was released earlier in September.

It all started then because, of course, Leigh was going on tour for that book; and, fortunately for me, that tour included a stop in New York City. In case you've missed it, THAT'S WHERE I LIVE!

Now, the last event I went to at a New York Barnes & Noble was the Jojo Moyes/Emilia Clarke signing last year, so I got my butt out of the house seven hours before the event was to begin and trekked to Union Square for a wristband. Fortunately, they were still in stock.

As the seconds ticked ever closer to 7 p.m., my heart began to race a little more. I was excited because this event included a conversation between Leigh and Daniel Jose Older, another incredible writer; book signing with personalization, yo; and a chance to take a picture (seen above)! Because I'm a dolt, I showed up just a few minutes before 7, and grabbed a seat towards the back of the auditorium. Sitting in the back of the class was a winning strategy all through college, so I didn't figure it would hurt.

Except of course, they let you line up to meet Leigh by row.

Now, thanks to my job as a barista, I go to bed around, oh, 9 p.m....if I'm staying up late. Usually, I'm in bed by 8:30 p.m. Last Wednesday, I didn't even line up to meet Leigh until 9:15. This is how committed I was to meeting her.

I was nervous, though. What do you say when you meet someone you adore, who's writing has meant the world to you? I had submitted interview questions to Leigh a few weeks earlier through her publicist; should I mention that? Should I go with my gut and say, "Hey, how are ya?" and when she responded with, "Good, and you?" say, "Starstruck"?

Cause I was. I was completely struck by her dazzling stardom. I mean, she was so great on stage. Funny, self-possessed yet modest, full of wisdom. And then there's me, small and terrified and without a book deal to my name.

Turns out I didn't have to worry about it, because as soon as she saw the little Post-It that said "Karis" attached to my book, Leigh smiled and said, "Oh, are you the same Karis...?"

SHE RECOGNIZED MY NAME Y'ALL!!

And then — then!

She held out her arms and, when I hesitated, said, "Are you a hugger?"

HECK YEAH I'M A HUGGER LEIGH BARDUGO, I'LL GIVE YOU A HUG!

Wow. I was amazed. While she signed my book, I took a deep breath and told her what I'd mentioned in the interview questions: that I read the Six of Crows duology during a desperately miserable depressive episode, and they helped me survive. I teared up a little. I told her "thank you."

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She wrote a little note in my book, we took a picture, and I went on my way.

I didn't sleep all night. I was still too riled up, too excited.

And now, to get to the point of this story: Leigh is not only an incredibly talented writer, one who cares about diversity — she's a real human. One who cares. She recognized my name and remembered it, knew who I was...and I'm not the only one. I saw her greet so many other fans with recognition, like she'd met them before and was excited to see them. And I believe she was — excited to see them, to remember them.

I think it's that she just cares, y'all. On a human level, she gives a crap about the people who read her books and the people she meets. And she remembers them.

And that's my writing lesson for the week. No matter how good you are, how successful, how amazing...never stop caring about people. About readers and non-readers and everyone in-between. Because if we don't care about people...what the heck are we even writing for?

The best writers, it turns out, don't do it for the glory or the recognition. They do it because the care about people; stories can honestly change lives, and to be a part of that, to do something like that...you have to care about the people reading your words.

I'm so grateful for writers like Leigh who care. And when I grow up...I want to be just like her.

Writing Tuesday: A state of being

I've decided to revive the original purpose of this blog, which was to write about writing. Because I'm a writing nerd, and that's what writing nerds do: we nerd out about writing. OK, now that I've gotten that terrible sentence out of the way, on to the blog! I'll probably still use this site for random political thoughts or God-Thoughts or even, sometimes, a few depression-thoughts, but those won't be super easy to count on.

What you can, however, count on is Writing Tuesdays and Fab Book Fridays.

Basically, every Tuesday I'll post some ruminations on writing; these could be either profiles like I've done in the past (although I'm also publishing those elsewhere), or thoughts about good writing I've read recently, or thoughts about how hard writing is. So come here on Tuesdays if you're looking for my thoughts on writing!

And on Fridays I'm going to choose one book I've read in the past week or month, and I'm literally just going to rave about it. Why? Because I believe all people should read books, and because I believe in supporting and fan-girling like a cheerleader which I always aspired to be but never was.

Today's Writing Tuesday is going to be fairly short, on account of I've already written 200 words about how I'm going to write about things.

Also the fact that I still don't know what I'm going to write about.

Ahhh...

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I dunno. I just want to say that writing is...writing is something that has saved my life. And not just my writing: others' writing as well. The consumption of excellent stories has often-times pulled me out of the mire. These stories include the SIX OF CROWS duology by Leigh Bardugo and the two books that have so far been published in the Ember quartet by Sabaa Tahir.

I was so depressed around this time last year that I stopped feeling things. And yet I was able to read. I have this memory of bursting into tears or laughter while reading these books, and it just...it reminded me that I was alive.

And then, when I started writing again...it was like I was alive. It was like I finally remembered that I had a beating heart and emotions, and the ability to translate those emotions into reality.

Writing is not just something that I do; it's almost something that I am. And if that resonates with you, on any level, I want to encourage you to keep doing it.

Even if you never get published, even if you only write in a journal. There's a world of benefit and worth to that. If writing at any level, for any amount of time, in any capacity, helps you as a person...then do it.

Write.

Express.

Emote.

Be.

How this #broodybff met her Broody, Heroic YA Leading Man

Y'all, this blog is about to get EVEN MORE wild and varied, because I'm gonna start posting Broody BFF posts! What is that, you ask? I'm so glad you did, because I would LOVE to explain!
Let's take it back to the beginning, shall we?
During one of my random Twitter scrolling phases, I stumbled across a retweet of an absolutely hilarious Tweet by this account, @BroodingYAHero.
Now, no one knows this because I've never had a chance to tell anyone, but I ADORE parody Twitter accounts. Like @GuyInYourMFA, one of the first I came across, which killed me because it's just SO GOOD.
Anyway, back to my broody leading man, Broody McHottiePants. His Twitter is just total🔥. As someone who's a self-described YA obsessee (I read it, I write it, I blog it, I sometimes even dream it), there was so much to love about this Twitter.

I mean, let's start with how on point and sassy it is!

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If you know me, you know there's little I love more than a good dose of sassiness. Whether I'm doling it out or reeling from a well-placed barb, I have a well-developed appreciation for some fine sass.

And Brooding YA Hero is nothing if not sassy.

There's something refreshing and necessary about seeing someone point out tropes, stereotypes and potential pitfalls in a genre you're trying to write, and that's why I first fell for Broody: because of the Twitter account.

So imagine my surprise and utter delight when I discovered there's a book! Coming! Out! This! Year! based on the account! Check out the description here. No, seriously, go read it and add it to your Goodreads page. Don't have one? That's OK, it's already on Amazon, so you can preorder! I'll wait while you do so.

OK, moving on. So I discovered the Twitter...I discovered the book...imagine my utter delight when I discovered that a street team was being put together to promote it before its release! Comprised of a bunch of super cool, bookish and awesome people (I'm currently meeting them all via Facebook, so I'm being utterly honest when I say these people are SO COOL. I applied to be a Broody BFF, cause duh, and IMAGINE MY TOTAL DELIGHT WHEN I GOT IN!!!

So there you have it. The true story of a friendship for the ages (cause we all know I'm totes the best friend and not the love interest in the YA of my own life) between me and @BroodingYAHero. I'm honestly so excited for this book. It's gonna be a total delight to read, and I'm gonna spend the months leading up to its release posting here, on Twitter or on Instagram about the book. So do yourselves a favor and follow not just me but also my main man, and let's do this!

"My Mom's a Killer," a.k.a the title of my new book

My actual mother is not a killer. She has never killed anyone, and in fact, I'm certain even if she ever tried it wouldn't work: she has back problems, you see. Keira Mendez's mom, on the other hand, is a totally different story. And what happens when she gets let out of jail and moves back home with her daughter, well...that's a whole book. And you'll have to read it if you want to know what happens ;)

The inspiration came from this article that I read, compounded with the fact I took a Creative Writing for Young Readers class this semester and needed material for a workshop. It begins,

"My mom tried to kill me when I was a baby."

We talked about great openings, and while you'll never catch me saying that something I've done is "great," at the very least it's arresting and will, hopefully, get people to read even further to see where the story is going to go.

Frankly, I'm excited to see how the story ends. I've worked on several different outcomes, and as much as I've plotted, I've reached the conclusion that I'm just going to have to write until the story unfolds itself. There are two potential endings and one of them is very me and the other is very...Carrie...

Creepy, I know.

So I'm still trying to decide whether I'm going to dip my toes into the lake of crazy or stay in my own, safe, happy little world :P (If you've never read a book I've written, which of course all except for like three of you haven't, that's a joke. For...reasons).

Whichever way it goes, though, I'm sure the writing will be a blast and I can't wait to keep going on it. The plan is to finish writing it over the summer (when I'm not writing articles and doing other things for the paper) and then for the fun part: revise!

In the meantime, I'm still trying to get an agent for "Red Rain Boots," the first novel I completed. It hasn't been going too successfully, but you know what? I'm just gonna keep trying. Because someday I want you to read my books. It'll be fun, you know? Like seeing a glimpse into my soul. So exciting ;)

In other random news, I graduate one week from today. It's time to put the books and the blog aside and buckle down for three days of finals. Hurrah!

Getting rejected by "the one"...

...agent. "The one" agent. Which in itself is a no-no, I hear, because you aren't supposed to have one particular agent on whom you place all of your literary hopes and dreams. Which I'm all about, and I actually don't have one. I have several agents I have queried, and of course I love them all. But every once in a while, I've stumbled across an agent that I've felt particularly attached to. An agent I've felt a connection with, one whose bio I've read and about whom I've thought to myself, "Holy cow, she is perfect."

For me. She's perfect for me. There are agents that I think I might mesh better with, agents whose profiles and wish lists seem to say nothing other than, "'Red Rain Boots.' Send us 'Red Rain Boots.'"

So I did. And two of them have rejected me. Cold, hard, form rejection letters that say, as kindly as possible, that they don't think they can represent my novel.

And it hurts. It's soul-crushingly painful. Because it's not just that they're rejected you, which is painful enough in itself. They're rejecting your product, your baby, that thing you've worked on for months and poured literal pieces of your soul into. They're rejecting you without even reading that piece of your soul...

I'm not complaining about the way they do rejections. I understand that agents receive hundreds of queries every week, and goodness, if they had to read partials of every unsolicited manuscript, well...they would probably all quit and then where would aspiring authors be? I'm insanely grateful for agents with open inboxes and a willingness to scan hundreds of query letters, many of which are for projects they have  no interest in. So if any agents happen to be reading this, thank you. You rock.

Of course, it still hurts to get rejected. Especially from someone you thought would be a great match. So what do you do when that happens? How do you pick up and move on to the next? I'm definitely not an expert (although I'm on my way), but here are some small tips you might use to help yourself go onward--whether the rejection is from an agent, a school or a beloved.

  1. Take a moment to grieve This is super important. Any time you receive a disappointment, you have to give yourself time to be sad about it. Let yourself grieve. Take maybe 30 to 45 minutes and revel in your sadness, allowing yourself to experience the emotions battling inside of you.
  2. Turn off the grief Another really important thing is to make sure you don't let your grief run all over you. At some point, you have to turn it off. You have to straighten your shoulders, shake your head, and say, "Okay."
  3. Don't beat yourself up Remind yourself that this is just one person. In the agent world, most of the rejections come with an encouragement to keep trying. And as much as it can seem like that is a condescending pat on the back, it's a reminder that no, not everyone will love your book; but that doesn't mean no one will.
  4. Look for someone (or thing) new The best thing you can do is literally propel yourself forward. Find something else to look forward to, whether that's a new agent you can be excited about, a new future or a new haircut.
  5. Move on Yep, my advice about moving is to just do it. Don't let yourself dwell on it. Don't spend your nights twirling a pen, staring longingly off into the distance, thinking, "Oh, dream agent, if only you had accepted me. We could have gone so far..." Just forget about it. If they offered advice, consider accepting it, but otherwise, take one step forward, then another one, and keep going until you're past it.

Rejection is hard. But it doesn't have to kill you. As our dear Kelly Clarkson once crooned, "What doesn't kill you makes you stronger." You got this, friend.

TV: escapism or storytelling?

I've been wondering this pretty much since freshman year when one of my professors first brought that word into my vocabulary. Is my semi-addiction to television shows justifiable even on some small level, or is it a complete sign of laziness and escapism? I'm a writer. Stories, and the art of telling them, are some of the things I think about most. One night, as I was falling asleep, I was contemplating the idea that conflict is at the heart of all stories and it is impossible to tell a story without conflict; it would just be a list of events. I routinely dream additions to my novels, and I don't think an hour has passed lately in which I haven't thought about my novel and how to make it better. Stories, and their execution, are the things I think about when I have a spare second.

I also think a lot about TV, probably because I watch so much of it, and naturally I've started thinking about how these two loves might relate. There are those whose perceptions of me might change if they knew that I watch a lot of TV, thinking it makes me lazy or something worse. How dare I spend hours watching TV instead of doing homework, hanging out with people, or, as every good writer should spend hours doing, reading?

My perspective on that has actually changed recently. I used to feel ashamed every time I opened my computer, put my headphones in, and went to watch "Arrow" or "Castle." Well, for a few seconds, anyway. Almost as soon as the first scene started rolling I forgot about all those other concerns and got all caught up in, "Oh my gosh, where is Beckett!?" or "Come on Oliver and Felicity, just kiss already!"

Then I realized...TV shows are really nothing more than visual stories. They, like movies, are the visual representation of words on a page, brought to life through actors, sets and dialogue. A good TV show will tell you a story, take you for a wild, spinning ride, and deliver you safely home, in one piece. For 20-40 minutes, it'll take you somewhere you've never stepped foot, but somewhere you've traveled to in your mind time and time again.

And isn't that just what books do? Without the visuals and sounds and everything else that makes TV shows unique? Books also take us on journeys, send us roiling through space or time and introduce us to new characters and places. From Westeros to Narnia to the little house on the prairie, books are simply stories that capture our imaginations and take us by the hand, leading us somewhere else.

The only* difference between a TV show and a book is that one leaves little to your imagination and the other allows you to do all the hard work of creating on your own. Granted, that is a big difference, and I completely understand people who prefer to do their own work. The reason I still prefer books to TV shows is that in TV you don't get the beautiful descriptions; all you get is dialogue.

But don't judge me for liking TV shows. Don't call me an escapist, or lazy. My life, my entire future career will hopefully revolve around stories. So I write and I read, but I also watch TV. It's just a different storytelling experience, and it's equally as valid as reading a book.

(This doesn't mean you shouldn't read books. There are things authors can do in books that screenwriters can only dream of. There is something incredibly gorgeous about reading a well-written book and allowing the author to take you with them. All I'm saying is, give TV a chance as well.)

* I'm being hyperbolic. There are a ton of differences between TV and books, this is just the only one I'm going to focus on today.