Midterms are starting up at U of M, which means campus has basically turned into the set of a zombie B-movie. On the upside, I got to escape the madness for a few days by spending the weekend scouting venues for Ch1Con in Chicago with some awesome people.
Other than that, I’ve spent the past week just doing my best not to drown under homework. Oh, and my family saw The Martian Sunday night! I liked the book better, but it’s a solid movie. Definitely go see it, if you haven’t already.
This week’s Wordy Wednesday is a poem.
Climbing the stairs
to the eighth floor of the
university bell tower for
seemed like a good idea
on the first floor
But one floor up and
the air was gone and
three floors up and
the blood was rushing too fast
and five floors up and
our legs burned with acid and
seven floors up and our legs were numb
And the stairs spiraled on and on,
an endless loop of labored breathing,
gripping the banister too tight,
afraid of both looking up and
But eight floors up and
there was a door
and laughter from the group:
“We made it!”
And more than anything else
there was a window,
just a little thing high on the wall,
overlooking the sweeping, endless
green and orange quilt of trees that
gave this city its name
And look what we did,
look what we did;
together we climbed a mountain
Hey there! So, I am exhausted after Ch1Con this weekend, and my internet’s out (once again) so I can’t write from my laptop, and overall I am realizing there is just no way I’m going to be able to get a real post up today. Sorry!
Here’s a picture of my uncle’s dog passed out after breakfast on Friday to help make up for it.
Tomorrow I leave for Chicago for Ch1Con. I’ll be both going to the airport and flying by myself for the first time ever, and I’ve never been to either the airport I’m flying from nor the one I’m flying to. (Basically, I’m feeling very adult-y right now. Also, based on how many times I managed to get lost today going to places I’ve been to a billion times, like there’s a good chance I’m going to find a way to mess this up.)
Before then though, we’ve got a Wordy Wednesday. This week’s post is a song I wrote a few years ago.
[Capo 5 – G, C, Em, C]
I remember the way you’d look at me
The way you inspired silence,
that rang of eternity
I remember snowball fights
and the rain that fell, endlessly
and you always danced
You were wild and you were calm
You were safe, your hugs were warm
You were everything I wanted to be
I craved that smile that said, you were proud of me
If you’ve ever seen that episode of Gilmore Girls where Lorelai leaves a billion messages for herself at the inn, because they’re getting ready to open and she’s super stressed out, and she drives everyone crazy–Yeah. That’s me right now, with the conference this weekend.
I’ve found that no matter how much legwork you put into an event, things will ALWAYS come up in the last few days leading to it. So I’m currently juggling a thousand last minute questions and mini emergencies, between speakers and volunteers and, oh yeah, attendees. And while so far my team and I have been able to handle everything (THANK GOD for the Ch1Con team), I keep panicking that something’s going to slip and the entire conference will come crashing down because of it. And I so, so don’t want that to happen, because all of these awesome people are coming and I want them to have the best experience possible. And yeah.
At the same time though, we’re doing the best we can. I am SO EXCITED to finally see this thing we’ve been planning for over a year now come to fruition. And more than anything, I’m blown away by how much support we’ve received this year, how many attendees have decided to give us a chance, and how many great new memories people will hopefully make this weekend.
I trust my team. I trust the work we’ve put into this and the love we have for it. So here goes.
Chapter One Young Writers Conference, 2015: We’re coming for you.
For anyone who doesn’t know, Ch1Con is a writing conference both for and by teens and young adults. Our 2015 event will take place Saturday, August 8th in Arlington Heights, IL, a northern suburb of Chicago. 2015 registration is currently open on the Ch1Con website for writers from a middle school to undergraduate level and at an early bird discount price of $39.99. Our speakers will include YA author Kat Zhang (The Hybrid Chronicles, HarperCollins), renowned freelance editor Taryn Albright of The Girl with the Green Pen, and YA/NA author Ava Jae (Beyond the Red, Sky Pony Press).
Instead of me spending my tour stop rambling endlessly about the conference (because let’s face it, I do that enough anyway), I figured you might appreciate learning about one of our speakers instead. So, say hello to the one and only Ava Jae!
Ava Jae is a YA and NA writer, an Assistant Editor at Entangled Publishing, and is represented by Louise Fury of The Bent Agency. Her YA Sci-Fi debut, BEYOND THE RED, is releasing March 2016 from Sky Pony Press. When she’s not writing about kissing, superpowers, explosions, and aliens, you can find her with her nose buried in a book, nerding out over the latest X-Men news, or hanging out on her blog, Twitter, Facebook, tumblr, Goodreads, Instagram, or YouTube channel.
Your debut novel, BEYOND THE RED, comes out with Sky Pony Press in spring, 2016. What was the process like for getting your publishing deal?
Oh boy. I’ll give you the super abbreviated version: I wrote nine books, queried four of them (one of them twice, several years apart), put them away, wrote a tenth book which ended up being BEYOND THE RED, swapped with critique partners, revised, revised, revised, started querying again, entered a randomly-chosen blog contest, won runner-up in said blog contest which led to a request from my awesome agent, signed with her, revised tons more (and more, and more), went on submission…and finally announced the publishing deal October 2014. 🙂
When did you start writing? Was it with the goal of someday publishing a novel, or just for fun?
I kind of started twice? The first time I was eleven and wrote I think maybe fifty pages before I lost interest and forgot about it. Second time I was thirteen, and it evolved from “I’m going to write this story that popped in my head” to “I’m going to write this book” to “I’m going to get this published.” By the time I’d finished that book, I knew without a doubt I wanted to be an author. And so began many years of writing and querying…
Besides being an up-and-coming author, you’re also currently a college student, assistant editor for Entangled Publishing, and prolific blogger and vlogger. How do you balance all of that? What does your average day look like?
I mean, my day kind of varies depending on my school schedule. Some consistent things: I get up between 5:00-5:30 AM every day, get as much writing/blogging/homework/editing things done as I can before class, go to class, and try to relax after class if I can (because usually I’m too tired to do anything else).
The only way to do it, really, is to have a set schedule. On days I have not as much class, I focus on getting as much homework and writing/blogging stuff as I can. I write posts every Monday, Wednesday and Saturday, edit and schedule posts every Tuesday, Thursday and Sunday, film vlogs every Saturday or Sunday, edit vlogs every Friday-Monday, and catch up on whatever I need to over the weekend on Wednesdays. When I get an editing deadline for work, I make sure to be honest with my boss about when I can realistically get things done (so important!). I schedule things out way ahead of time, divide work up throughout the week, and keep a to-do list that I check off every day.
Over the summer it’s much easier without classes to worry about. *sigh*
What are some of your interests outside of the publishing world?
Movies! I love movies. Fun fact: I actually have an Associates in Film/Digital Media and went to a fancy art school for a year to pursue a degree in Visual Effects (like, all that CGI stuff). I also really love drawing and digital art—I used to do a ton of digital paintings on Photoshop, and while I haven’t had time lately, I’m hoping to pick that up again over the summer. I’m pretty artsy I guess. 🙂
If you could change or improve one thing about the publishing industry, what would it be?
I mean, I guess I wish it was easier to make a living with your writing? Because it’s super super super difficult. But it’s pretty well known that you don’t go into the publishing industry to make tons of money—it’s a labor of love. And ramen.
Your writing is represented by Louise Fury of The Bent Agency. What’s your favorite part of working with your literary agent?
Revisions! (I’m probably going to regret saying this—hi, Louise!) But seriously, I really do love revising even when I’m banging my head against the keyboard trying to figure out how to fix a plot hole. And Team Fury is ridiculously awesome when it comes to getting great revision suggestions. Also, Louise’s enthusiasm for every book is pretty awesome. It’s kind of impossible for me to have a conversation with her that doesn’t make me really excited and happy, which is pretty much the best thing. 🙂
If you could give one piece of advice to young writers, what would it be?
Don’t set a deadline for yourself. For years I was determined to get published before Christopher Paolini (I’m competitive, okay?), and that didn’t happen, and it was pretty hard to come to terms with the fact that I wasn’t going to be a published (or agented) teenager.
Don’t do that to yourself. Take time to hone your craft, to write the most amazing books possible, to learn how to become a better writer, and develop a thick skin, and get to really know the publishing industry. You already have the advantage of starting early in life—now use the extra time you have to become the best possible and don’t worry about getting published before you turn twenty. I promise you’ll be just as happy at twenty-five or thirty or whenever it happens for you.
If you’re a writer from middle school to undergraduate age (approximately twelve to twenty-two) and are interested in attending and/or learning more about the conference, you can check us out at the links below. Early bird registration ends May 31st!
Okay, so this post is going to be a little bit of a garbled mess, because there are like a billion things that I need to tell you. Bear with me.
First off: A new teen book blog chain is starting!
The chain’s founder, Kate Gold, emailed me about it a while back and it sounds really cool. She’s going to have an info meeting on what exactly the chain will be and how to get involved on May 17th at 2:30 PM eastern. You can find more details here.
Second: We are currently 101 days away from Ch1Con 2015!
Aaand we might do some fun stuff to count down those last one hundred days. Stay tuned. (Also, want more info on the conference and/or to register to attend? Check out our website: www.chapteroneconference.com.)
Still on Ch1Con for a moment: Our 2015 blog tour is in full swing!
You can check out the schedule here. We’re sharing lots of giveaways and awesome behind-the-scenes info, so make sure to peruse the posts that have already gone up as well as our remaining tour stops.
Next: I finally know what I’m going to do this summer!
So I finished winter semester on Thursday, which means it’s technically been summer vacation for me for almost a week now. (Additionally, I’ve been technically a senior in college for almost a week now. Which is, you know, the weirdest thing ever.) Despite this, I’ve had absolutely no idea what I was doing or where I was living for the next four months, so it’s felt less like summer and more like a twenty-four/seven panic attack.
HOWEVER, as of this afternoon I have plans for my summer. So, drum roll please.
I’m going to be interning at a literary agency in New York City!!!
I am so, so excited for this opportunity. I’ll be spending May and June at U of M, taking a screenwriting class during spring term and interning remotely for the agency. Then at the beginning of July, I move out to NYC to intern in person for two months!
I AM MOVING TO NEW YORK CITY. (Yes, it’s only for two months. But I’ve never had more than a few days at a time there before, and New York is one of my favorite places on the planet, and I am SO EXCITED to call it home for a little while.)
And one last thing (although really the internship was my biggest news): I’m in the midst of a crazy period of interviews and guests posts going up on other sites, sooo in case you’re interested in keeping up with everything at all, below is a schedule of my content going up elsewhere from April through the end of May! (Sorry a few of these already were published a while ago.)
It’s the second to last week of the semester and I’m exhausted.
It’s a good kind of exhausted, though. I was up until two last night because I had a screening for a film class that ran kind of late, followed by pitching a huge project I’m really excited for to a student org on campus (and they’ve agreed to move forward on it, so I will probably be gushing about that come next school year) (!!!), followed by writing a guest post for the 2015 Ch1Con Blog Tour, followed by just trying to figure out what exactly my blogging schedule is for the foreseeable future (over twenty posts on seven different websites over the course of six weeks; I’ll share a schedule once stuff starts going up), followed by editing a blog post for another TCWT author, followed by lying in bed unable to sleep. Endlessly.
I’m not (too) worried about getting everything done on time though, and it’s been really gorgeous out lately, so that’s helping keep all of us here sane during this last stretch of the semester. (Plus Hannah and I spur-of-the-moment went swimming Monday night and next week a group of us are going kayaking, so thank God for people who like to do random physical activity with me.)
One last thing before we get to this week’s Wordy Wednesday: my friend Hannah (not Roommate Hannah, one of the other many amazing Hannahs in my life) is signed up to do a two-week liberal arts study abroad program in London this August and it sounds amaaazing. Like I would be all over this opportunity, if Ch1Con weren’t during it. But they don’t have quite enough students right now, and if they don’t get six more kids registered by May 1st, the program’s off. IF YOU’RE A COLLEGE STUDENT AND LOOKING FOR SOMETHING TO DO THIS AUGUST, YOU SHOULD GO ON THIS PROGRAM. And make me jealous. Because liberal arts and London. You can find more information on it here and here.
This week’s Wordy Wednesday is another of my creative writing class’s short story rejects. (Sorry I only ever post the worst ones, these days; the less terrible stories go in submissions to contests and lit mags. Still, I think these guys are fun and deserve a little love.)
Shovel the popcorn. Squirt the butter. Shove it at the customer.
Shovel the popcorn. Squirt the butter. Shove it at the customer.
Shovel the popcorn. Squirt the butter. Shove it at the—
“You don’t have to be so robotic about it.” Tommy leans against the back counter, broad shoulders propped between the hotdog warmer and grumbling slushy maker. He crosses his arms and curly, golden brown hair falls across his eyes in that way that gets him at least three girls’ numbers a shift. Occasionally a guy’s.
I wrinkle my nose. “It’s not like they care, as long as they get their food before the previews are over.”
“You’d be surprised how many more Thank Yous you’d get if you tried smiling once in a while.”
“Tommy.” I laugh. “You’re not getting Thank Yous because you smiled. You’re getting Thank Yous because you look more like a movie star than half the guys they’re going to ogle on screen for the next two hours.”
I’ve learned a lot from working at the local AMC the past year and a half. For one: You can totally eat all the popcorn on the job you want and the manager never notices. Also: Nobody cares if you make an effort to be nice while preparing their food. I’ve actually gotten scowls in return for my smiles, and one particularly pleasant woman told me, “Yeah, right,” when I said to enjoy the Pixar flick her six year old triplets were dragging her to.
When people are nice to Tommy, it’s not because he’s being nice to them. It’s because he’s made everyone from my best friend to my grandmother swoon. While squirting three-day-old artificial cheese on their nachos.
Still, he dramatically brushes the ringlet of hair from his eyes and turns his dark gaze to the ceiling. “Well, if you insist it’s because I’m just that attractive.”
I roll my eyes, but can’t help a grin. “Did you just start this whole thing for the pure sake of getting me to compliment you?”
“No.” He smiles with half his mouth, which is his way of saying yes. “Never.”
“Well, let’s test your theory, then.” I nod towards a group of pre-teen girls, exhausted mother in tow, who are currently prancing squealing across the lobby. I’d wager a week’s earnings that they’re on their way to see the latest John Green movie. “I smile, you just be yourself, and we see who gets the business.”
Tommy’s smile extends to the other half of his mouth. “You’re on, Sammy.”
“Ugh. For the last time. It’s Samantha. Only my friends can call me Sammy.” I twirl a lock of straight black hair around a finger in a perfect impression of our coworker Debby (sorry, “Deborah”) and he bursts out laughing, flashing teeth that are even as white and straight as a movie star’s. It would be easy to hate Tommy if he weren’t such a goof.
He pushes off the counter and joins me at the cash registers.
“Hey there!” I call with all the cheer of Barbie in the second Toy Story movie. “Interested in some refreshments for the film? Let me guess: you’re about to go cry your eyes out at a John Green adaptation.”
The girls barely even glance at me and my toothy grin before making a beeline for Tommy’s register.
I throw my hands up in the universal gesture for Raise the Roof. “Boom. I win.” He doesn’t seem to hear me over the squeals of the tweens attempting to flirt while ordering soft pretzels and blue raspberry slushies, though.
While Tommy is distracted—and distracting ever customer in a twenty foot radius—I slip into the back room and let myself fall back into one of the old theater chairs that have been stored back here, “waiting for repairs,” since I interviewed for this position. And likely before.
I yank my laptop from the crush of text books and notebooks in my backpack and pull open the document I’ve been working on every spare moment since I started here.
I told my doctor mom and lawyer dad senior year of high school that I wanted to go to film school and write screenplays for a living. They told me I could—if I paid for college myself.
So that night I borrowed my best friend’s car and drove the two hours to what would become my university, picked up applications from every movie theater close enough to walk to from campus, and now here I am: a sophomore, paying my way through college with the smell of hotdog grease permanently clinging to my hair and customers spoiling every decent movie before I have a chance to see it, but I’m doing it. I’m majoring in film.
And I’m writing my first screenplay.
I don’t care about what the customers think of me. I don’t care if I smile at them and they scowl in return, or they fall all over themselves trying to get Tommy to fall for them (by the way: he’s in a committed relationship—he and his boyfriend have been going strong for a year now), or I only get time to write in stolen moments between classes and popcorn rushes.
The point is I’m doing it. I’m actually doing it.
I get almost a whole page written before Tommy shouts from the counter, “The people coming in for the eight o’clock showings are going to start arriving any minute now. Want to put some more hotdogs in the warmer?”
“Only if you admit I was right and you were wrong.”
Tommy pokes his head into the back room, rolling his eyes. “Fine. You may have won the smiling-at-customers battle,” he raises an eyebrow, “but I, dear friend, will win the war.”
I shove my laptop back in my backpack and hop up from the creaky old chair. I pat his cheek as I pass, heading back to the counter. “Just keep telling yourself that.”
“Oh.” His tone darkens. “I most definitely will.”
“Keep pretending to be a super villain and I might add you to my screenplay.”
“It would be an honor to be written by you.”
“You say that now. Wait ’til I kill you off.”
“Not what it sounds like,” Tommy tells the horrified-looking older couple lumbering up to the counter. “Sammy here is writing a movie. Just wait. It’s going to be a huge blockbuster and someday we’ll sell out of popcorn from all the people coming to see it.”
“Shut up.” I bat his arm, but this time I can’t help but smile. The couple chooses to have me scoop their popcorn.
Before anything else: the Chapter One Young Writers Conference announced our 2015 blog tour today! It’s going to be so awesome, with lots of interviews, giveaways, and insider conference information. Check out the schedule on the Ch1Con site here.
Anyway: I’ve been sitting here (“here” being a lounge in my sophomore year dorm) for over an hour now, trying to figure out what to write about this week. (Also avoiding walking home from class, because my right shoe kind of attacked my foot on the way over here, which means I’m now semi-stranded a mile from my apartment.)
This is one of the worst parts of writing, for me. Finding something to say.
It’s stupid, because when I don’t have time to write, or am already writing something, I suddenly have a thousand ideas. But as soon as I need to write? Nada.
I always do end up coming up with something, though. And that’s something to talk about. So, this week’s Wordy Wednesday writing process post is on how to come up with ideas to write about.
Write Down Your Ideas
This should be the most obvious one on the list: When you have ideas, write them down. Save them for when you don’t have ideas. Even if you don’t end up using exactly what you’ve put down, if an old idea can help inspire a new one, you’re gold.
Write Down Fragments
I have random lines and phrases written ALL OVER THE PLACE. Mostly in my planner and on the notepad app on my phone. Whenever I’m struggling to come up with something, I glance through those. I try to build a story around one or combine a couple to create a character of scenario. More than writing down ideas, I write down fragments, and build from these.
Another great place to go to for story ideas: your classes/work. I take a lot of literature classes, which obviously help with writing, but I’ve actually found it’s my other classes that inspire me the most. Especially my science courses. There are just so many good story ideas lurking in preexisting facts and ideas. (Bonus: I’ve found that thinking of class as research towards writing something later helps me pay attention.)
Easiest way to come up with ideas: live your life. Don’t sit at home all day, staring at a blank Word document, hoping for something to hit you. Go out and do things. Go to the coffee shop. Go on an adventure.
Chances are, an idea will hit you at precisely the moment you stop thinking about needing to come up with an idea.
What are some of your tips for coming up with ideas?
So, as mentioned in last week’s Wordy Wednesday, I spent my spring break in the Chicago area putting up flyers for Ch1Con 2015 and doing research for a novel.
It wasn’t exactly the most relaxing spring break ever, but it was awesome getting to meet so many librarians and bookshop owners, and Chicago’s always gorgeous.
We put up flyers for the conference in over fifty locations over the course of three days. Which was basically insane.
One of the days, I spotted Oscar Mayer’s Wiener Mobile in a mall parking lot and made my mom drive over so I could get pictures. It was completely surrounded by people taking selfies.
Thursday we took a break from flyering for a few hours to visit the John Hancock Observatory, which is currently under renovations to become 360 Chicago. The John Hancock Center’s my favorite building in Chicago and I know a weird amount of stuff about it, so it was cool to get to go in and see the updates they’re making to the observation deck.
Here’s the shadow of the John Hancock Center over North Avenue Beach and Lake Michigan.
Sears Tower on the horizon.
The updated observatory includes mirrors coating the ceiling, which leads to fun optical illusions.
The biggest update to the observation deck is the new attraction “Tilt,” in which participants lean against the windows in the picture below and they slowly tilt outward until the participants are facing the street below, ninety-four stories up.
And of course I had to take an awkward observation deck selfie as documentation of my visit.
Friday we had the special treat of Ch1Con team member Emma going around with us to put up flyers. I don’t get to see the rest of the team in person very often and I absolutely freaking adore Emma, so getting to spend the afternoon with her wasn’t just a highlight of the trip, but the year.
Also: while my mom was awesome and drove us around to all of our various drop points, Emma and I wrote a joint post for the March Teens Can Write, Too! blog chain and posted it on the Chapter One Young Writers Conference Tumblr, which you can check out here. The prompt for the month asks about your thoughts on reading and writing in non-novel formats, so since we’re both huge theatre nerds we wrote about how theatre has affected our writing.
And finally, after a few long, long days away, there’s nothing like coming home to the worst best selfie partner in the world.
Have you had your spring break? Did you do anything fun? Let me know in the comments!
(Especially if you went somewhere warm, because dude, please let me live vicariously through your not-freezing adventures.)
(On the upside: It hit forty degrees today, which means at least for now* we’re past coat weather! Yay!)
*It’s totally going to snow again tomorrow, just because I said that.
I was really nervous about getting my latest short story back from my creative writing instructor.
Not because I adored it and hoped he’d like it too, which is usually why I’m nervous. But because this short story dealt with a serious topic I didn’t think I’d handled well, it felt like it was somehow both bloated and too short, and I honestly would have rewritten the entire thing from scratch if I’d had the time. If I’d kept working on it at all. To be honest, I’d spent so many hours on the thing, getting it to work felt like a losing proposition.
So there I went, stomach twisting and palms sweating, to see my instructor today.
And he loved it.
He spent the entire critique raving about how much he loved it: how it was the best thing I’d written in a year, how while reading he kept thinking, “Now this is Julia writing”–and sure enough, at the end of the last page was the holy grail of grades, an “Excellent.” Something I’ve only ever seen twice before in my four semesters of creative writing courses.
So, how is it that this short story that I hated, that I thought was a lost cause, turned out to be the best one I’ve written in a year? The only explanation I can come up with is subjectivity. Or, more precisely: the fact that as writers, it’s basically impossible to see our writing for what it is.
This is one of the reasons it’s so incredibly important to have other people read our stuff. Whether we’re preparing a short story collection for competition or prepping a novel to send to agents (both things I’m doing right now, whoo), we need others’ help in order to see our work clearly.
Sometimes it’ll be that we have a phrase or paragraph we’re in love with, but that ultimately weakens the story because it slows it down or hits the reader over the head with information or, like, honestly just doesn’t make any sense whatsoever. (It happens.) (Okay, it happens to me.) (A lot.) (Shhh.)
Sometimes a plot twist is too obvious or too out of nowhere. Sometimes a character’s motivation isn’t laid out well enough for the reader.
And, sometimes, what we’ve written is–objectively–actually kind of not terrible.
A story we love might, in its current state, suck. A story we’ve grown to hate might be wonderful.
This is why we need our critique partners and betas (and, if you’re lucky, a great creative writing instructor like mine). They let us know both when something isn’t working and when it is.
It’s difficult to take a step back from your writing, but it’s easier when you’ve got someone there to grab your hand and pull you away and say, “Look at this thing you have done. You might not realize it yourself, but it is excellent.”
Thanks for reading!
PS. Big Ch1Con news coming soon. Biiig news. I AM SO EXCITED.