Well, we’re in the final week before my book debuts, which just means it’s gonna be all Enter Title Here all the time for at least a few weeks. Actually, that’s not true. Even I can’t maintain focus for that long. But it’s going to be at least 30% my-book related.
If you can’t make that one, I’m also doing another event. I’ll be reading briefly at InsideStorytime, which is a reading series in San Francisco. They’re having a science-fiction themed night, which is awkward since my book is not science fiction, but I’ll be reading with Effie Seiberg, Na’amen Tilahun, Vylar Kaftan, and S.G. Browne. It’s gonna be great. I’ll read briefly. There’ll be books for sale. It’s from 6:30-8:30 PM on August 4th and it’s at Martuni’s, which is a piano bar, with a mostly gay clientele, in the mid-Market area of SF (4 Valencia Street).
Finally, you actually don’t need to come to any of my events! In fact it’s totally fine if you can’t! But if you want to, you can also preorder my book right now on Amazon, Barnes and Noble, and, if you want to for some reason pay way more money, on Indiebound!
People often ask me, “What is the best way to buy your book?”
The answer is that it’s all the same. I think I actually get slightly more in royalties on Kindle sales, but either way it doesn’t matter. Amazon is fine. Within bookstores is fine. Just do it whichever way is most convenient for you. And if you don’t want to buy it, you could also request that your library buy it. I’ve had really good luck asking libraries to buy ebooks for me on their Overdrive libraries. They quite often go ahead and do it!
Also, you should tell other people about this giveaway in order to create the impression that everybody in the world is excited about my book =]
Oh, and finally, you’re all invited to my launch party! It’s at 6:30 PM on August 6th at the Berkeley Library. I’ll read (I’m a pretty good reader), and there are books for sale, aaaand, I hope to see you.
I just got the page proofs of my book. They’re absolutely gorgeous. I’ve never seen anything like them. Huge kudos to the book designer on this one! The handling of text messages is like nothing else I’ve ever seen: they actually look like text conversations (with little bubbles that are on either the left or right) and reading them is very intuitive. I’ve seen what will, most likely, be the final cover, too, and it’s also wonderful. And did I mention the flap copy and dust jacket copy are also extremely compelling? I’m obviously biased, since it’s my book, but, actually, you know what? I’m not biased: authors are often very dissatisfied with what their cover designers and book designers and copy writers are up to–I think there’s an inherent dissatisfaction that often comes with handling over control of the look and feel of the book to people for whom this is just one of many projects. I, on the other hand, could not be happier.
I’m feeling a distinct torpor, but I’m trying to shake it off. Not sure what’s happening. Maybe just that my novel’s text got finalized, but it still has another year to come out. It really feels like right now, at this moment, no one wants anything from me. I definitely have the space to just sort of dilly-dally. Unfortunately, when you dilly-dally at these moments, it shows up years later as a gap in your output. That’s no good! I’m trying to move forward in life, make a career of this.
Sometimes I still can’t believe I sold a book. It feels completely unreal. When did this happen? How? What did I do? It definitely doesn’t feel like I did anything. I mean, I don’t feel any different. I still get plenty of rejections. When I write something, I still assume it’ll never get published. Even in terms of my daily schedule, I’m writing full-time now (sort of), but when I was in graduate school I had plenty of free time too, so that feels very similar.
The book is sold, though, and it’s coming out. And it’s sooo good. My publisher just forwarded me the jacket copy they’re including with the book, and it’s amazing. That’s one thing where genre fiction has literary fiction completely beat. The jacket copy on literary novels is always incredibly dull (genre writers would say that this is because literary fiction is inherently dull, but I disagree with that). I think it’s because literary jacket copy always tries to convey the experience of reading a book, even though that’s an inherently unexplainable thing. Whereas genre jacket copy just tries to convince you to read the damn thing. The jacket copy on a literary novel is like your college professor telling you why the book is important, whereas the jacket copy on a genre novel is like your best friend telling you why the book is fucking awesome.
Anyway, after reading my book’s jacket copy, i was like, whoah. That sounds like a good book. I’d read that book.
I haven’t exactly been unproductive for the last nine months, but, well, no…since finishing my MG novel last summer, I’ve only completed six short stories, and I’ve done two revisions of Enter Title Here (soon to have a name change, according to what my publisher is telling me) and one revision on my MG novel (as well as assorted other revisions).
When you’re writing all alone, it’s easy to know when something is finished, because it’s finished when you say it’s finished. But once you get an agent and an editor (or, in my case, four editors) involved, then things become different. Everything goes through multiple rounds of revision. You spend a month revising, then you send it off and it’s gone for a month, and now you have a month or two to work on other things. It’s pretty choppy.
I draft things pretty fast (when they’re working), and I have no trouble switching focus, but even for me it’s gotten hard to get used to the idea that I’m always going to have several things going on at once. For instance, right now I’ve got:
Enter Title Here (YA) — My debut novel. I’m currently working on line edits that’re due May 6th
On My Knees 4 U (YA) — My popstar novel. Currently it’s wending its way through Disney, and they’re going to give me word on whether or not it can be my second book. Even if they want it, though, it’s going to require a fairly significant revision.
Everyone Hates You (MG) — I’m expecting notes on this from my agent any day now, and, knowing him, it might need to go through multiple rounds of revision before it can be put on submission.
Hugs and Kisses (Literary) — My sociopathic mom novel. I sent this out to a number of friends for their comments, and my plan is to revise this sometime during the next year?
Sequential Events (Literary) — The novel I’m currently working on. I’m about halfway through at the moment, and I’m not sure when I’m going to be able to write the other half. Hopefully it’ll be after I finish line edits on ETH.
” June”(short story) — This is a short story I wrote. I think it’ll only be a day or so of work to revise, and then I’ll send it out.
Three other stories — I’ve mostly either revised or abandoned my MFA stories, but I still have three that I think are worth sending out
And aside from all these books, I also need to do something about my debut. The self-promotion thing, you know? I’m on all the social networks, but there are other things to do. Mysterious mystical magical other things, whatever those might be. And I also have my consulting work.
Finally, too, I think it’s important to make time to just write. I’m not like all of these people with a huge backlog of ideas that they’re planning on writing. I have no backlog. If Disney turns down the pop star novel, I have zero idea what my next YA novel will be. The way I come up with stuff is by sitting down in front of the keyboard and writing things until finally something coalesces. And I think it’s important to make time to do that. In my opinion, given the way I’m working now, about one third to one half of my writing time needs to be exactly that sort of less-structured writing.
None of this, truth be told, adds up to a full-time job, so please don’t think I’m complaining. What I’m saying, though, is that I feel like I’ve once again approached one of those breakpoints in my life where my ambitions have started to exceed my ability to carry them out. Given the way that I’m currently working, I’m not organized enough to do all of this stuff. For instance, my MG novel was completed last July. I only sent it to my agent at the beginning of March. Between that time and now, what work did I do on it? Very little. I went through it once and cleaned up some stuff. Then I sent it out to two friends for their comments. I made the comments. And that was it: 20 hours of work on 6 days. But the lack of that work led to a six month delay!
There’s a concept in manufacturing of limiting the amount of inventory you keep on hand. Inventory is money that’s just lying around, in the form of spare parts and not-yet-sold products. The quicker you can sell those products and use those spare parts, the quicker the money can come back to you and be reinvested in the business. In my case, inventory is everything I’ve written that’s waiting for revision. And when it sits around, it’s not doing anything for me–it’s not making me money–but it’s still draining time and attention. Furthermore, it means that I’ve become the bottleneck in terms of my career’s progress. In publishing there are so many potential bottlenecks where your career can slow down–agents, editors, the economy–and it doesn’t make sense for me to add to that w/ my own dilly-dallying.
I don’t know what the solution is. I don’t know how to structure my time so as to work on everything at the moment when I need to work on it. Fundamentally, my problem is that I feel like I need to produce new material, not just because it’s important, but because I enjoy it more. However, I feel like if I’m quick to revise something, then I’ll wing it to an agent or an editor, and it’ll come back to me needing more revision. Thus, if I focus too much on revision, then all I’ll end up doing is revising.
What I need, probably, is a two-track system. Either to spend a portion of each day on revision. Or to spend a few days in the week on revision. That way, my writing has less pressure. I can take my time in writing new things, because writing new things doesn’t hold up the revision process. And my revision will still get done.
I don’t know if that will work. Maybe I’ll find it too difficult to switch projects in that way.
However, that’s my process. Whenever I start to face constraints of this sort, I just try more and more things until something finally works.
When I was writing this book, I knew it had to have a love story in it, because I knew that its main character, Reshma, was obsessed with being the best, and part of being the best in high school is being able to elicit romantic interest from the opposite sex. But I, like my protagonist, don’t have that much romantic experience. And, furthermore, I’m not exactly interested in love-as-love. I’m interested in love-as-status-symbol and love-as-an-entangling-relationship and love as a whole bunch of other things, but the actuality of it–love as a connection between two individuals–is not and was not something that I was hugely interested in writing about.
As such, it’s no surprise that each level of comments on this book (so far, two rounds from my agent and two from my editors at Disney) has included a number of notes on the love interests in this book. And, over time, the love interests have gotten way better! Especially the initial love interest, Aakash, who’s kind of a nerdy Indian kid that Reshma starts dating just because she can. In my initial drafts, he was a little blah. But over time he’s gotten to be much more interesting. He understands her. And, in many ways, he’s similar to her. But he also has a core of integrity. I don’t know, especially in this latest draft, I’m really fascinated by him as a character. Part of me almost wonders if, in the end, he might not be a better match for her.
And I think that’s a relationship which never would’ve come alive if this hadn’t been a YA novel. Because YA is a genre that treats love seriously–just as seriously as teens themselves treat it. It’s kind of a paradox, that our most passionate and intense feelings–our deepest loneliness and most intense longing–come at a time in our life that comes, after the space of years, to feel a little bit trivial. Obviously your teen years aren’t meaningless, but it’s just…you have so little agency when you’re a teen, and it’s hard to feel like anything you do during that time can really matter to you as an adult. I think that my tendency, oftentimes, is to think of the teenage years as a time that can scar you, but not help you, and that the purpose of high school is to emerge with as little damage as possible.
But that’s not what the YA genre is about. Which is, I think, really valuable. If there’s a problem in this world, it doesn’t come from people taking themselves too seriously. In fact, it’s strange how you lose your teenage seriousness as you grow older. When you’re a teen, love is real and alive. And you feel yourself to be so capable of doing so many things. But as you get older, a feeling of impotence sets in. And that impotence manifests itself, in adult writing, as cynicism.
And, to bring it full circle, I think the main benefit of the editing process has been to cleanse a little of the cynicism from my book. Not all of it. Not even most of it. But enough of it that I think it’s more possible, now, to fall in love with these characters.
Now that I’m getting close(r) to the end, it’s interesting to ponder this whole novel-revision experience. In many ways, it’s been emotionally similar to writing the novel in the first place. At the beginning, it felt very overwhelming. I had to make so many fine little changes and untangle so many little things. I’d spend hours thinking about how to alter one tiny scene. But as the days passed, the changes accumulated and the number of possible options decreased, and now I’m at the point where only a few things can happen. Also, just like when initially writing the novel, it’s possible to just press forward without exactly knowing what’s going to happen. As I sit here, I still don’t exactly know what’s going to happen at the climactic moment of the novel. Will she press forward with her plans for destruction? Or will she pull back? I don’t know. Both seem equally probable. Hmm…now that I’m writing this, that sounds kind of bad? Shouldn’t I have figured that out by now? But I don’t know. That’s the point. I did have it figured out, but as the revision progressed, everything became more ambiguous.
I am in my final two weeks of revisions on Enter Title Here. And even though I knew that I was going to be making some fairly in-depth (maybe moderate depth) changes to the book, I hadn’t imagined what it would feel like to write those changes. Like, there are new scenes and new chapters. Major scenes and major plot elements are being yanked out. Characters and relationships are very different from what they were.
And it would be comforting to say “The core of the book is the same” but I’m not even sure that’s happening. The truth is that there’s a very real change happening in terms of the character’s background, motivations, and emotional journey, and that the book is not the same anymore as the one that I wrote two years ago. Maybe I’m writing the book that I should’ve written two years ago–the one I wanted to write. But I’m not even sure that’s the case. This is something different. And parts of it are thrilling, especially when I see the book opening up and becoming warmer and more comprehensible: when I see characters getting their due and receiving the kind of understanding that I wasn’t capable of giving them back when I first wrote the book.
But it’s also scary, because what if I’m fucking it up? What if the voice doesn’t match? What if it’s become an incoherent patchwork mess? Those would not be good things.
Still, though, I have a lot of hope for this book. People liked it even in its prior form. They liked it enough to want to buy it and publish it. And I’d like to think that they’ll like this new form even more. I mean, really, the level of change and improvement is, to my eyes, pretty astonishing. But who can say? Nothing to do except to keep working!
(You can tell, from reading my posts about revising the book, that I am not a very revision-heavy writer. Other writers do not write blog posts like this, since I assume they’re very used to the book changing significantly after they write it. That’s not really my thing, though, so I’m always shocked when it happens.)
Ooof, revising is some kind of process, I’ll tell you what. Today, I sat down and made a list of the scenes that I thought I’d need to insert into the novel between where I am (the halfway point) and the 2/3rds point. Adding scenes to a mostly-complete novel is an amazing feeling. On the one hand, I have complete freedom to do literally anything I can imagine. But, on the other hand, I don’t really want to disrupt the overall structure. Thus, I’m left looking at the shape of the manuscript and thinking very deeply about what I need to happen, and I’ve actually come up with some very elegant solutions that I’m very happy with.
Adding new words to the manuscript is also weird, because you worry about losing the voice. For awhile, I was really worried because the new scenes I was adding didn’t sound quite right. They were more searching and vulnerable. The character was coming off less sure of what to do and who she was, and I kept trying to compensate and bring a little bit of that other stuff back. But then I was like, “Wait a second. There’s a reason for this. What I’m trying to do with this revision is to add those shadings to her character.” If I’m successful, the character will always be recognizably herself, but there’ll be different shades to her character depending on who she’s interacting with. I think there’s a reason that the two storylines I’ve been spending the most time on are the two most complex and unsettling relationships that she has.
In the end, who can say how good this revision is. I’m caught up in the middle of it, so I think it’s going great. For this novel, I wrote a very complete and very readable first draft, but it’s really astonishing how much has changed since that draft. It’s not that anyone has been cut out or anything. It’s that the weights shifted. One love interest turned into an extremely minor character. The other two became much more complex people. The main antagonist was turned into a mere foil. And the sidekick became a plotline in her own write. There’s a lot of moving pieces, and it’s interesting to see how they’ve shifted around and interacted with each other. I can’t believe that this book is actually going to come out and be on shelves for you to read. I’m very excited for that.
Doing major revisions on this book for the first time in about a year. It’s a little weird, because the voice in the book is, to me, so distinct. But, to a large extent, it was written about two years ago, in January of 2013. Which means that the voice and most of the language are something that bubbled up out of me ages ago. And my later revisions were mostly reductive, not additive, whereas now I’m considering adding at least one whole new plotline and making major changes to a bunch of scenes. So I’ll need to conjure up that voice again. It’s scary.
I think that if it’s going to happen, then it won’t be because I’m imitating the voice. I think that if it’s going to happen, then it’ll be because I tapped into the same place that I originally drew that voice from. And I’m confident that I can do that, because books are held together by an internal logic. And when I’m working on this one, I think I’ll start to get the sense of that internal logic again. But right now, staring into it from the outside, messing with that voice is a very anxiety-making proposition.