Monday, November 30, 2009


Right now I'm waiting to get notes back from my editor at HarperCollins. It's nerve-wracking business, this waiting. I've decided I'm not very good at just chilling while someone else reads my manuscript. I'm sizzling with nervous energy, checking my email every little bit, anxious to get on with the next part, the next step of this process. I am so eager to revise my book under my editor's care, just to see it become better and stronger and worthy of what I feel is the incredible honor that's been bestowed on me. I want to work!

Next week I'm teaching revision strategies to my creative writing students at Pepperdine. That's where I try to show them how much fun the revision process can be, how cool it is to tinker and play with a story, to tear down and rebuild and reenvision everything. I show them a really early draft of a story I wrote a long time ago, and then the published version that was printed years later, and together we marvel at how far a story can come. And when I read that old story, I am always filled with a sense of awe and mystery of how the story shaped itself into something wonderful. I get excited with the sheer possibility of writing.

Here's what I hope from this process with Unearthly: I hope that I understand clearly what to do, and have the ability to do it, be it big changes or little ones. I hope that I will be able to fix it quickly, but thoroughly. Most of all I hope that what emerges is a rock-solid book, of course, something I will look back on with a sense of delight and amazement that such a thing could come from me. And that I'll be able to survive all the stretches of waiting that are before me in the next few years.

Monday, November 23, 2009

And the title is. . . .

That's right folks, I now officially have a title for my book!

I seriously didn't work even half this hard to name my son. I've been up late nights staring up at the ceiling, pondering, rolling different words and phrases around in my mouth like hard candy, seeing how they taste. I've received so many great ideas from my friends, family, and students (thanks, everybody, for your awesome possibilities!) and scoured the pages of my book looking for it to be hiding in there somewhere. And guess what? It was! This title jumped off the page at us from a list of words and phrases I found in the book during my last pass at revision. And the amazing people at HarperCollins agreed (unanimously, even!) that this is the one.

So the title is. . .


What I love is the sense of mystery and possibility in this simple word, and how it operates on so many levels that speak to not only the arc of Clara's story, but the world she comes to know.

Yay! So glad that it's settled! So excited thinking about this word on the cover of MY book. (And now, we do the dance of joy!)

Ahem. Now, back to work.

Saturday, November 21, 2009

Stephanie Meyer and Pudding on the Brain

Tis the season for Twilight. I realized this in Nordstrom's, where I was perusing the makeup counters and came across the new Twilight lip gloss: Venom. It's this strange mix like those science experiments in grade school where you put oil and water in a 2 liter soda bottle with a little food coloring and spend hours shaking it up and watching it separate. With Venom, it's a clear substance and a dark red stuff churning around in a tiny $16 container. The clear stuff is a gloss with a plumper in it, which tastes like cinnamon and is supposed to irritate your lips enough to swell. The red stuff is meant to stain your mouth the color of blood. And in the five minutes I was standing there, the clerk sold three vials.

Twilight lip gloss, people. A sign of the apocalypse? :) I can't help but wonder if Stephanie Meyer thinks it's absolutely bonkers too. I've been thinking a lot about Stephanie Meyer lately. I remember her in those earlier interviews, where she was just aglow with the excitement of it all. She was having dinner with her characters, in costume! She was sitting on a movie set while they shot the meadow scene! Could a writer's life get better than that?! And last week I saw her on Oprah and she looked. . . strained. And I wondered, have we crossed the threshold where everything's gone from really super cool for her to where it's just totally insane?

Lately I've seen a lot of attacks on Stephanie Meyer and the Twilight saga. I can't cruise around Facebook without seeing some comment about how lame Twilight is and how stumped people are (especially other writers) by its success. Some of this I rack up to the anti-mob mentality. In order to feel like they are true individuals with good taste, many people will staunchly oppose the "it" thing. Titanic. Harry Potter. Twilight. And there's something to that, I suppose. I cried like a baby at Titanic, but even I was ready to chuck my radio out the window when "My Heart Will Go On" came on for the umpteenth time every hour. There's such a thing as death by overexposure.

Like most "it" things, I came to Twilight late. I'd heard of it. But I was busy. I only started to pay better attention when the movie came out. I love movies. And I love vampires. I am a Buffy fan to the core, and a big fan of Sookie Stackhouse to boot. So I rented Twilight the weekend it came to DVD. The first thing I remember thinking about it was that I would have LOVED it when I was sixteen. I would have been writing fan-fic about Bella and Edward for sure. And at age 30, I still found it mysteriously compelling.

So I went off to Barnes and Noble and bought the book. Then went back that afternoon to get Book 2. And the next day to get 3 and 4, which I read in less than 48 hours. After I finished the series, I sat down, stared at the mound of books on my desk and thought, I could do better. Now I have to laugh at the outright arrogance of this assumption, but my novel hadn't come to me yet. I wasn't thinking in specific terms. I was just thinking that I was a writer, a practiced, educated writer, and I could write something better. I could immediately see Meyer's flaws. The books seemed to me full of rookie mistakes, which makes total sense as Meyer never wrote so much as a short story before she came up with Twilight. I joked that if I had to read that Edward's voice was like velvet one more time I might have to choke somebody. I would have, in those days, completely agreed with Stephen King in his infamous interview last February (Meyer is a good storyteller, he claims, with something unique and compelling to offer her readers, but "can't write worth a darn.")

But that was BEFORE I wrote my novel. When my novel did come to me, not much later, Stephanie Meyer was constantly lingering in the back of my mind, and not simply because of her success, not because she supposedly sold Twilight for a $750,000 advance or made 52 million dollars last year or all the other things that make her the epitome of what it is to be a triumph as a YA writer. But because I knew more about her by then. She was a mother with small children. And one day she just started writing, not to become a gazillionaire or a world-famous author, but because she wanted to know how a story ended. And she wrote to find not only the story, but herself again.

I could relate.

And I was finding that being a good storyteller is a heck of a lot harder, in many, many ways, than being a good writer. I've always had a good ear for the language. But the story, the complexities of the characters, the way you have to keep all their threads untangled in your head, the way you must set them in tense, powerful moments that resonate with the reader and follow through with them, that, is really freaking hard. And with that kind of thing, the proof is in the pudding. And Stephanie Meyer is all pudding, no matter what you think of the writing itself. Her story speaks to people. That's undeniable.

When I find myself tempted to come to Stephanie Meyer's defense these days, I remind myself: pudding. The girl can take care of herself. So I'm content to simply cheer for her, to show solidarity for a fellow writer. And I try not to envy her for her incredible success. And I try to allow myself to dream of big things, because sometimes big things happen to unsuspecting people, and sometimes the little things can change absolutely everything. Sometimes the universe gives you a gift. A story. And it's worth it.

I know that even if my book doesn't make a dime, that's the case for me.