20170826_124929

Books, Paintings, Horses, and Dogs – An update about my life right now

Horses

Both of my sisters competitively ride horses. One of them is competing in a national competition in NY this week, which my parents are attending. That leaves me with the duty of babysitting my youngest sister, the three family dogs, additional cat, and one cockatiel, all at my house and mixing with my own dog and cat.

My youngest sister is homeschooled after a bad experience with the county schools (yay rural Alabama), so she’ll be at my house all day, and I took off work so we can do fun sister-things when her homework’s done. Our plans include pedicures, scary movies, walks at the dog park, and abstract painting.

Painting

On that note, I’m excited to show off a painting I finally finished, that was started two years ago as a replica of these beautiful fake covers:

Mathilda’s watercolor is infinitely more beautiful than my acrylic copy, but this one is big enough to hang in my office, and gives me a happy glow every time I look at it. Thank you again, Mathilda, for the compliment of choosing my story for your school project <3

Continue reading “Books, Paintings, Horses, and Dogs – An update about my life right now”

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Celebrating 9 Years of Novel-Writing

Today is the 9-year anniversary of the first time I finished a novel. I wish I had something more profound to say today, but the truth is my life has kicked into High-Gear Overwhelmingness.

My day job company has been moving buildings, and as the coordinator for this effort my life has been consumed by the move. The month-long process should theoretically be over this weekend, but even once all the physical items are moved there’s still the myriad issues to deal with that come with a new building and figuring out new processes.

Boring stuff aside, I have gotten to do some really fun things lately, like going up to Nashville two weeks ago for an all-day writing session with my friend Kat Zhang. I wrote 5.5k on Nameless that day, and the momentum has been carrying me forward ever since.

Or going up again last week to see Toni Morrison, my favorite author and writing idol, give a speech to Vanderbilt University (trip made possible due to the generosity of Kat). Though I was running late for yet another work event, I managed to slip into her book signing and stand two feet away from her as she signed my book. Even if we didn’t technically get to meet (the woman has more handlers and security than I thought possible), I was there, I saw her speak, and at the end of her speech she blessed the audience, so I’ve been carrying that gem around with me.

Sleeping Beauty just got back from its last critique partner so along with the conclusion of my company’s move I feel like I’m getting back to my regular groove. I’ve been Corporate!Savannah these past few weeks, and I’m excited to feel like Writer!Savannah again.

The rewrite of Nameless is going swimmingly, and I’m stunned and thrilled to learn that even after all these years the characters still have some surprises for me. I think going back to the adult category was definitely the right choice. I’ve also decided to let go of nearly a decade of ‘canon’ and just let the characters tell me what they truly want and who they truly are. I realized that when you start to write a book, your first book, at 15, and you don’t really know much about writing and character development, and so maybe you shouldn’t hold on to those long-ago established ‘facts’ if they are blocking the true story’s development.

With all the rewrites of Nameless before, I sometimes felt… icky is the best word for it, I guess. Like this was just the same old crap I’d always done, and rewording it was like putting fresh lipstick on a pig. An amazing pig, mind you ;) But outdated. No heartbeat underneath. A zombie Nameless, if you will.

This draft has life.

Over the past 9 years I’ve written 7 individual novels, and completed countless revisions and rewrites. The funny part is, when I think of myself as a writer it feels I’ve been that way for eons, but I’ve only been a novelist for approximately 9.5 years. I look at other writers I admire, Toni Morrison included, and look at how many decades they’ve spent perfecting their craft. I know I have a long way to go, and I’m actually grateful.

In the YA community especially I feel like there’s always the sense of ‘now is the only time you have’. And aside from the existential truth of that, I try to remind myself that today, this year, is not the only chance I have to be the best I can be.

All those writers I admire, who make me bemoan my own writing… they have been writing so much longer. I am so grateful for the progress I’ve made, and so excited for the hopefully many, many years to come when I can improve myself and get to the point where I feel like I’m doing my best.

Or maybe that point never comes. But doing better, definitely. Writing at a level equal with those I admire? That’s my goal.

For however long you’ve made the noveling journey with me, thank you <3

 

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On Criticism and Growing Out of Being Hurt by it

I have entered the next stage of writer-maturity. To be honest it’s a little weird; I can’t tell if this growth is a fluke or the true mark of internal change. It may also, I admit, be a sign of giving up. Let me explain:

Recently I received notes from my agent back on A Curse of Rose and Snow (the sleeping beauty story). You will remember that a revision of the story bumped it up to 100k words. I knew that was too many words, and I expressed that I needed help for where to cut. My agent got back to me with notes about a few small issues in the story (essentially I over-explain stuff), and said she felt we could cut around 15k easily just through working out these issues.

And I felt nothing.

Then we started digging into the ending, and if this big thing that happens contributes to a satisfying ending, or if the changes I’ve made have developed the story in such a way that this big thing is more heart-breaking than the last draft. If we move to the truly satisfying ending it completely eliminates the second book.

And I felt nothing.

Except maybe beaver-like. You know, eager-beaver? As in, I was ready to get to work.

I took my plans to Twitter, where the responses I received were usually cringes at the amount of words I’d have to cut. Writers offered sympathy, imagining how they’d feel if they had to cut that much from their stories.

But seriously, you guys… I felt no pain.

There have been times I cried at receiving notes. I am not the type of person who cries at the drop of a hat (or a plot line, heyo!). But sometimes trying over and over and getting it wrong or hearing it’s just not going to work absolutely takes it out of you. To be fair, the crying thing was with Nameless, and we all know what a saga that’s been. But even the first time I got notes back on ACORAS–even though it was very well-received!–I had to cringe through 15 minutes of feeling embarrassed or just plain bad at some of the stuff it was recommended I fix.

But, 15 minutes later I was over it and eager to make the story the best I could be. This time… it’s like I totally skipped over that 15-minute lag.

Here are my thoughts on why:

This was the year several acquaintances and friends debuted their first books. I have seen the novels of people I know at my local bookstore. I have read negative reviews–hundreds of them, and not just for my friends, but for all the books I’ve read.

I have considered how I will feel and react when my own books come out. If I’ll hide negative reviews from myself, or if I’ll spend days wallowing in misery. I have picked apart my manuscripts looking for things that might annoy reviewers. Not in an obsessive way, but more from a desire to anticipate the future, and prepare against it.

And somewhere along the way I internalized that no book is perfect. I’ve seen the reality of the publishing process, and I know that each book will go through multiple stages of editing, where changes will be made. And sometimes you have to make changes for the good of the book as a product.

Sometimes you have to consent to a cover you don’t like, because the marketing team feels, in their expert opinion, that it will help you sell better. Sometimes your summary on the back doesn’t hit on that point you felt was integral to the plot, but that same marketing team felt their version would get people interested more.

Sometimes you have to change endings, drop characters and plot lines, or even change beloved names. To sell better.

I want a career. I want to be true to myself and my stories, and write the best damn book I can, but I want a career, too. That means accepting that sometimes the things I prefer (Death to ALL the characters! Defiance of genre norms!) aren’t going to excel in the marketplace.

At least, not yet. I look at the careers of authors I admire, and in some cases see where they had to play it safe in order to write dangerously. That’s a future I want for myself.

Sometimes I worry about selling out, especially when I read a terrible book and wonder how on earth it got published (Answer: because there was a market for it, and that’s the simple truth). But I know that I could never do that to myself, my stories, or whatever magical force it is that compels me to write. I can’t not write the absolute best book that is in me.

But compromises do have to be made. And I guess this year I finally accepted that my manuscripts are not just deeply personal works of art, but products. I am proud of them, and they come from me, but I am also willing to modify them in order to get them out in the world, where I believe they belong. So criticism against them, especially from people I trust and rely on, isn’t criticism against me personally. My agent, my friends, my critique partners, and I are all in this together.

I was also deeply affected by this image of President Obama’s marked-up speech draft going around the internet, the caption of which is: You are never too important to be edited.

Even in my deepest thoughts, when I hope that this will be the time everyone comes back and says I’ve written the perfect manuscript with not a word to be changed, it is comforting to know there’s not a human on the planet that doesn’t need to be edited.

We are too close to our work. We have to be guided in the right direction, and told when our desires are too wacky. We must be challenged and pushed in order to make the best stories we can.

Maybe I’m in a good place right now, or it’s hormones, or I spent enough time away from the story, or I’ve read my rejections so many times they don’t hurt anymore. But I feel like I’ve finally accepted this.

And the edits? Painless.

~

I’ll be on Twitter each night giving updates on how many words I cut, if you want to see what losing 15k in a week looks like. Yes, a week. I’m trying to do it in a week. :-)

Tell me about the criticism you’ve received, or a time when even the most kindly-meant notes hurt your feelings. What did you learn from it? How do you handle rejection?

<3, Savannah

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Stop the Holidays, I Want to Get Off (With GIFs!)

I love the holidays. I love decorating and singing holiday songs and eating caloric food and visiting family.

But the day after the actual event I am done. DONE, do you hear me?

This December was a flurry of activity, with my writing, work, and personal life all swirling together. In case you weren’t aware, I’m in a leadership role in my day job, and act as the coordinator for a lot of our company events. Let’s break this down:

December Week 1

Turned in ACORAS to my agent! Celebrate! Indulge in guilt-free television-watching sessions and internet surfing!

Begin to think guiltily about ACORAS 2, which I officially started for NaNoWriMo and stopped working on in order to not over-stimulate the story.

Week 2

Even though I’d been planning for it all year, scrambled this week to fill the final details on the annual company Christmas party! Have first stress migraine.

At party receive recognition reward in front of all staff. Ride in limo.

Week 3

I was in NYC again! This time Chris went with me! It was a structured event so we had no free time to see friends or family (though I did sneak in half an hour with Sammy Bina while I was supposed to be touring the World Trade Center Memorial Center).

If you’ll recall, I was in NYC basically the same weekend last year, so it was a lot of dejavu. I still didn’t have time to see the NYC Public Library (it’s on my bucket list), but Chris and I had a wonderful time at the stuff we did get to do, which included eating at fabulous restaurants, giggling so hard we cried at WICKED on Broadway, eating the best pizza and cannolis I have ever had from some hole in the wall place, and buying way too many scarves in Chinatown.

Week 3

Our family Christmas party! We had a Godfather theme this year, so we served home-made meatballs and spaghetti sauce, home-made bruschetta, and made our own meat trays and caprese! We bought way too much food and have agreed to tone it down for next year, which is a total relief because preparing all that was exhausting.

Week 4

Christmas!! We spent every spare minute with family. Chris gifted me with all of our much-wished-for camping gear, so we will finally be able to go camping together as soon as the weather warms! Speaking of weather, it managed to sleet/snow here the day after Christmas, which is sort of a Christmas miracle. I’ll take it.

We went fox hunting with my family, but it was miserable cold, and we weren’t allowed to keep the car on or talk at all because we had to listen to the radio and for the hounds. It was awful.

This Week!

I’m sick, but finally back at work and on a regular schedule. It is such a relief to be ‘back to normal’ after a month of deviation. We are dieting and running again, I will be able to write more in the evenings, and we will take more steps towards finishing the updates on the house.

Goals for 2013

  • Sign a book deal. This one isn’t really up to me at this point, but it would be nice to do :-)
  • Finish the second sleeping beauty story. I loved having a month off in December because it showed me how much I can’t help developing stories. The second book is coming alive in ways it totally didn’t when under the deadline of NaNoWriMo. I’m very excited to turn it into another work I’m incredibly proud of.
  • Run in a 5K. Chris and I didn’t run in December at all, but we’re back on it starting tonight!
  • Hit my goal weight. We really have this diet and exercise thing down pat, it’s just a matter of sticking to the process. I’m excited for the progress I know will come.
  • Update my crafting blog twice a month.

Oh, what’s that? Crafting blog? Yes, I craft. I am a crafter. I just love making stuff with my hands, but I feel weird about sharing that stuff on here since you guys aren’t here for that. So, I’ve decided to separate out the projects, and if you’re interested you can follow along at Paper & Teal. It’s something I’m just getting started, but I should have some of my past projects up there soon, and I’m doing a new one with Chris this weekend.

2013 here we come!

~~~

What about you? What are you up to/what are your goals for 2013? Leave a link to your blog if you’ve already blogged about it!

<3, Savannah

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Finished the Sleeping Beauty Rewrite

Thought you’d all want to know :-)

Last Wednesday I took the day off work and pretended I was a full-time writer for the day, and by the end of it I had finished the sleeping beauty retelling.

YES!!!!

Quick recap of the timeline here:

  1. Inspiration for idea in September 2010
  2. First draft finished in June 2011
  3. On Submissions August 2011
  4. Decided not to pursue a second round of Submissions in December 2011 in order to revise based on editorial feedback.
  5. October 2012 finished rewrite

Now, some of you may be thinking, ‘Submissions?? Whaaa?’ That’s because I was being all sneaky and not telling you about it. Because that’s what you’re supposed to do. Or something.

(Actually there are real and understandable reasons why writers don’t talk about being on submissions to editors. You don’t want to hype everyone up for no payoff, you don’t want editors to know how long you’ve been on subs or what round, etc. I just don’t really hold with all this secrecy anymore.)

Going on submissions was actually really great. I got to tell my friends at the LTWF Writer’s retreat in Florida, which was super special. There was screaming. When I was on submissions with Nameless I didn’t understand the significance of what was happening, but now I did. Oh boy, did I.

I’ll be honest, readers: We came close. There was some in-house conflict at a few places, and some other people had concerns about the middle bit. I decided I wanted to poke at the story a bit more before doing round 2, because I had an idea to make it better.

This turned into a full-fledged rewrite as I realized the editors were right and the middle did need a huge overhaul, which revealed a subplot that affected the whole book from beginning to end and gave a lot of the characters tons more depth. So that happened.

It was a really humbling, eye-opening experience, actually. It taught me a lot about brainstorming and how I will definitely not do another project until I have the whole plot set up. It really showed me how pale the first draft was in comparison to this rewritten draft. The story is deeper now; more fleshed out.

I’m very, very proud.

Or I was, until I actually sent the story to critique partners. I’m working with people I haven’t worked with before, because my standard CPs all have their own book deals and are very busy :-) And readers, I’m scared.

What is it about sending a book off to be read that immediately makes you realize every single flaw with it, and every single thought you had a few months ago to improve something but forgot until right now?

You start to get debilitating thoughts like, ‘I know I’m not a bad writer, but what if this is just mediocre? What if I’m a mediocre writer?! What if they hate it? What if no one likes my main character? What if I’ve put all my readers and friends through years of anticipation and it’s just a sprawling mess?’

Then one CP starts getting back to you with notes and you think ‘WHYYYY didn’t I wait and send this to one CP at a time?!!!?!’. Answer: Because your impatience made you forget the lesson you learned last time.

And then you realize that your CP has made wonderful notes and you are filled with SO many ideas for things to tweak and expand upon that will eliminate all those doubts you had, because the story is pretty good, and your MC is pretty likeable even if at times she over-analyzes, because you can fix that, too!

And you keep repeating to yourself another lesson you’ve learned, that criticism hurts at first, but soon the excitement replaces that because anything that makes your manuscript better makes you happier.

So here’s the plan:

Once I get all my feedback, I will implement changes as I see fit. Then the manuscript will go to my agent, and there will probably be more changes at her behest. Then we will go on submissions again. Then the book will sell (I know it will), and then you can read it.

In the meantime, I wish I could tell you about the stuff I overhauled, but I’m afraid it wouldn’t make sense since I only shared scenes from the beginning of the story before the main plot was established. But I will confess that the original ms was 70k and this one is, err, *cough*, 100k.

Let me also just say I think it’s the best book I’ve ever written, better than Nameless. I’m taking a breather but when I turn in the project I’m excited to get to work on Book 2.

I’ll update you as we go :-)

<3, Savannah

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Moonlight & Magnolias and Southern Festival of Books

Last weekend I went to my first writer’s conference, where not only did I hang out with three new writer friends, but I test-drove my Halloween costume and did all sorts of other fun things.

The conference attended was Moonlight & Magnolias, which is put on by the Georgia chapter of Romance Writers of America. RWA, you ask? But you’re not a romance writer!

Correct, reader, I am not. But my agency sister Madeline Martin is, along with her two friends which became my friends, Hillary Raymer and Ava Milone. Since leaving Pub Crawl I’ve been sadly lacking in writer friends or companionship, and Madeline and I quickly bonded over… well… actually I’m not sure what we bonded over in the beginning. The mutual knowledge that we would definitely be friends? Plus Madeline writes an AWESOME blog about historical tidbits, including ancient dental hygine, what condoms used to be made of (you know you’re curious), and the history of merkins. Yes, her blog is as awesome and funny as it sounds.

Here’s Madeline, me, and Hillary at Fancy Dinner. Ava was gracious enough to take the picture:

Quick brag: that outfit I’m wearing? It’s one of my ‘writer’ outfits, and with my healthy eating and exercising I’m so proud of how I look in it. Okay, moving on.

The conference itself was focused on the Romance genre, but the classes were generalized so that I did get a lot out of them. There was one class about layering and subplots, and halfway through — even though I knew it was rude — I had to pull open my notebook and start scribbling furiously because I had so many awesome ideas. It’s okay, Madeline told me later half of the class was doing it, too. That 2-hour class should have been an hour of lecture and an hour of freewrite, seriously.

There were social events at night, but mostly we visited each other’s hotel rooms and did Plotting, where everyone would focus on one person’s story and help them work through their plot points, for the whole thing! Some of the girls brought ideas and left with entire plotlines. It was so amazing to see and participate in the creativity, and so fun!

Explaining the sleeping beauty story to 3 virgin readers was an interesting experience, though. I was hoping for plot help with my outline of Book 2, but it turns out there’s not really such a thing as a ‘quick recap’ of Book 1. I thought I did pretty good with my MC, the journey, and the resolution, but as we waded into Book 2 I had to go back and explain all the subplots and secondary characters.

It made me realize how detailed this project has gotten. When I first started writing it, I didn’t know the rules or the world. The first draft was as intense as I could make it, but it didn’t have the depth of this draft. I have a full world here. A history, universal laws, an economy, people, social evolution, etc. I’m proud of myself, yet also humbled in the face of all the work it took, and the process that led me here. I have wondered before how I will possibly replicate detail like this, but then I participated in the Plotting sessions and realized I didn’t have to go it alone.

Now the girls are planning a writer’s retreat devoted exclusively to Plotting, and though it won’t happen until next year I am. so. excited. 4 creative minds working together, figuring out Black Moments and Subplots and Relationship Black Moments and Fatal Flaws… guys, I’m so impressed with my friends and how willing/able they are to help each other out.

Anyway, speaking of sleeping beauty… I only have 3.5 scenes left. The half will be super fun to rewrite, one will be super difficult, and the other two are just filling in details.

I’m excited, yet intimidated (again). I used to receive reviews all the time, but now it’s been about a year since I’ve gotten criticism. Passing off this baby to someone is kind of scaring me a bit. I’m so proud and excited, yet at the same time what if all this work has been for nought? I try to console myself by remembering that this is a /rewrite/, not a first draft. I’m just building on what existed, so it can’t have gone terribly wrong :-)

And yes, on Saturday we dressed and attended the Costume Ball. We went in Greek theme, and I specifically was Persephone, Bride of the Underworld:

I think Hillary (in pink!) took some better pics of me but I don’t have them yet. Remember how I said I photograph oddly? Well I was rocking this beast, veil included.

Of course later dancing got too hot so I changed:

This weekend I’m going to be at the Southern Festival of Books in Nashville, to once again hang out with Kat Zhang and eat at the best sushi restaurant ever, whose owner is best described as The Sushi Nazi.

BUT!

I also get to meet SHARON CREECH AND RL STINE!!!! Sharon is the author of a ton of great books, including Bloomability, which created the foundation of one of my two life goals, which is to live in Italy. The other goal is to be a published author, so, you know, halfway to life fulfillment!

I’m incredibly excited. If you’re going to be in the area let me know and maybe I’ll tell you where this awesome sushi restaurant is. Maybe ;-)

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Things I’m Up To and Into

First, I want you to know I’m working on subsequent articles about social issues related to beauty, makeup, weight, etc., but I’m trying to move slow with them so I’m certain of my position and how I want to talk about this stuff. Glad to know you guys are as interested in it as I am :-)

Here are some things I’m doing now:

Writing. It’s been a bad few weeks, writing-wise. I’ve been stuck and unsatisfied, but it worked out, like it always does. I took a few steps back and just let my characters play around, and broke through my obstacles. Just asking myself, ‘how are they feeling in this scene? What do they want right now?’ really, really helps. I’m considering making posters of writer’s-block-breaking questions like this.

So ACORAS is moving forward, and I’m tinkering in my mind with a few side projects.

Running. Chris and I ran THREE MILES on Saturday! Whaaaat! Full disclosure: I only made it 2.25 before I had to stop and walk, but I finished strong!

Planning for Halloween. I’m attending a conference in early October in Atlanta, GA, and there’s going to be a costume ball! This year I’m going as Persephone when she’s Queen of the Underworld. My vision was big, black, and gauzy. Here are some of the inspiration photos:

   

I’ve also ordered a black wedding veil, and my sewing-talented mother is getting involved, so I can’t wait to show you all the final product. What are you going as for Halloween?

Last year I felt pretty lackluster about Halloween and autumn in general, so this year I avoided thinking about it so I’d feel ready to do it big!

I’m really loving this Martha Stewart Halloween Handbook. Picked it up at the magazine rack at the grocery store.

You can see my other Halloween plans here on my Pinterest board.

Preparing for Christmas. Every year Chris and I throw a party at our house for our two families. This year we went with a Godfather theme. Here’s the party invitation:

The menu includes  Chris’s Nana’s meatball recipe, home-made baguettes for custom crustinis, and home-made cannolis. Chris tested out the cannoli recipe at my parent’s house this weekend and they were so good. We made them with Kahlua filling ;-)

My color theme for Christmas this year is light green and silver. You can see my decorating ideas here on my Pinterest Christmas board.

…Have I mentioned that I love holidays?

Take special note of this pin. I’m currently making it in white and green.

DIY. Speaking of Pinterest, it led me to discover tons of DIY projects that rip off Anthropologie decorations. If you’re like me, you love Anthro but don’t want to pay the high price. Now you don’t have to. Special thanks to this blog, my new favorite.

Music. I’m adding music all the time to the ACORAS playlist, if you were interested. The latest piece is this absolutely beautiful instrumental piece from one of my favorite calming music artists, Liquid Mind. It literally made me cry. Do you know how rare that is?

I’m also loving Little Talks from Of Monsters and Men. I designed an animated music video for it in my head that is about ACORAS. What? You do it, too.

I’ll leave you with a picture of Chris and my dog Bella wrestling on the floor:

What are you doing for Halloween? What are you into lately? Got any Christmas plans yet?

<3, Savannah

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A Fluffdate: Playlists, Incest, and Help Me Remember a Fairytale?

What is a fluffdate, you ask? It’s an update with fluff in it. A fluffy update. A fluffdate. You’re smart; you get it.

Playlists

I’ve been steadily adding songs to the ACORAS playlist, which you can find on the ACORAS page. I’ve bolded ones that were major influences to the story, but the rest are pretty good, too, I guess. If you like awesome.

(The first part of The Funeral is my dream track for the ACORAS movie/book trailer.)

In particular, the lyrics of Little Talks had me nearly in tears yesterday. Nearly. Which is sobbing for normal people.

Incest

I talked about this a little on Twitter recently. Basically I realized that in two books I have strange, pseudo-incest romances. I’m pretty sure this has to do with my ideas about family, love, blood, water, etc., but let’s dissect it for fun:

In ACORAS, for Rose there’s the opportunity for romance with one of the descendants of her brother. He’s technically her grand-nephew. Sounds totally incesty, but does it make it better that Rose and her brother weren’t blood relatives? One of them was adopted, so she has no blood relation to this grand-nephew. Their ages are very close, and they never knew each other until Rose woke up, so it’s not like they grew up together.

Is that incest?

Second scenario: In a new book I’m fleshing out, the MC and her love interest are second-half cousins. They have the same great-grandfather, but their grandfathers were born to different women, so they were half-brothers. Legally you can marry your second-cousin but personally I still find that a bit weird. So I made them half-second-cousins.

So is it incest?

Look, I’m not a huge incest advocate over here. I am troubled that readers might find these relationships disturbing. I feel somewhat squicky about it myself. But here’s my feeling on why I think this stuff keeps cropping up:

I like family drama. When you are blood related there’s a strange biological compulsion there to help each other out. Yet at the same time, family is permanent; you can’t divorce or break up with family. Even if you hate each other you’re still part of the same blood. For these reasons I think a lot of people take their family relationships for granted, because no matter how thoughtless or careless or mean you are, you can never lose them. This causes people to be less kind than they could be.

And it also results in great drama sometimes: doing what you feel is best for someone even when they disagree, the obligation to care for and protect them, the dedication to face hell for them, the loyalty to choose them over everyone else. There’s so much potential for awesome moments and choices and conflicts.

But I also really love exploring relationships where deep love turns someone into your family even though there’s no blood relation. When you fall in love and marry someone you become family. But we don’t consider those relationships incesty. Family doesn’t automatically equal incest; blood does.

And I do truly believe that family is made of more than blood. Sometimes your blood turns on you. Sometimes your blood is really shitty. There are people out there disowning and being disowned, and deciding never to speak to their blood relatives again. Loyalty and dedication can be just as powerful when you are related by love and not blood.

There’s a country song that goes “Blood is thicker than water, but love is thicker than blood.” And I guess I believe that.

So going back to Rose – we have these two characters who are family, by love if not by blood. They are friends, and they are close, and they work together. If something sparks from that is it okay?

I think so.

And as for my half-second-cousin scenario… A huge part of the plot has to do with lines of succession. I needed the MCs to be of the same social standing, good friends as children, and for one’s disappearance/appearance to affect the succession of the other. Therefore they had to be somewhat related. Yet I’m feeling this thing between them that is stronger than blood. One sacrifices a heck of a lot to save the other, and I feel like there should be this deep, abiding love there. Love deeper than platonicness would allow. Hence, second-half-cousins.

What do you think? Would you be squicked out by this relationship? What about relationships that might be incesty except adoption takes away the blood relation?

Can you remember this fairytale?

I’m looking for fairytales or stories where someone is pulled into another world/underworld/shadow land, etc., and the other person has to go and save them, perhaps having to pass tests or sacrifice in order to get them back.

I feel as if there are some great stories like this out there, but I can’t remember them and I’ve misplaced my big book of fairytales. All suggestions are welcome, but here’s what I have so far:

  • A Troll in Central Park
  • The 7 Tasks of Hercules
  • Spirited Away
  • East of the Sun, West of the Moon
  • Hercules the movie

Can you come up with anything else? I feel like I’m missing something big here, and I cannot place it.

Personal News

I have always wanted to be a runner. For years I believed I just didn’t have a body that could take it. Whenever we ran in gym class I felt like my lungs couldn’t keep up with my body’s demand for oxygen. I have a big body, and I figured when you got to a certain point the proportions are all wrong and I just wouldn’t be able to keep up.

*cough* I was wrong. And now Chris and I are running! On Saturday I did a 2 mile run, 1.5 of it without stopping, which is a personal lifetime best. We’re about to do another 2 mile run tonight. What changed for me? I have no idea. Sorry. Somehow now I’m able to a) not get bored, and b) go for long periods of time without my lungs feeling overwhelmed. Yeah, I dunno either. I’m like 30 pounds overweight so this shouldn’t be possible.

The ACORAS rewrite continues to go well, and as you might have gathered, I also have a shiny new idea I’m working on. Hopefully I’ll get to tell you a little more about that later, but for now I’m trying to keep it on the back-burner while I finish ACORAS. Then we’ll talk.

<3, Savannah

 

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Good News about NAMELESS and ACORAS

When I wrote this post about Nameless and my burnt-out-ness, you guys were very gracious and understanding about the continuing trek that is my struggle to revise that book into something publishable. Which is why today I’m breaking that unwritten rule that writers shouldn’t talk about their projects until they’re complete, because I have good news for you!

I think… I think I figured out how to fix it.

My friend Kat Zhang (whose amazing debut WHAT’S LEFT OF ME is coming out this fall!) has been a soundboard for various Nameless ideas for a few years now. A few months ago when I was complaining about voice and tone in YA, she made a brilliant suggestion that immediately became part of the Nameless cannon: what if the book didn’t start with the MC already being the Poetess?

Always before we’ve met the Poetess when she’s already established in her role. She has already joined the adults and triumphed over one of her biggest personal challenges (the Poetess selections). But what if she was never meant to become the Poetess? What if she was too young, too inexperienced, and unfortunate circumstances prompted by the Rebellion left the government with no choice but choose this teenage girl for a demanding and isolating public role?

The reason I shied away from this idea is my unwillingness to change the first chapter that has gotten so many people’s attention. When you hear about the story you want to see the slaves. You want to go through the selections and see the beautiful boys and pick one to be yours. It’s a harem and a nesting fantasy, and you don’t have to wait through several establishing chapters to get it. It’s right there, first chapter.

And I love all the subtleties of the world building and the pressure on the Poetess, stuff that would be absent if she wasn’t the Poetess when we first meet her. So I was left with this conundrum and facing those horrible, needling rules of slaying your darlings and ripping apart your favorite bits for the sake of the story.

I am an acolyte of this writing religion, and I know the dogma. I just balk at it sometimes.

So then we had my post about being worn out and not knowing how to fix it, and life moved on with my ACORAS rewrites, which are going swimmingly, by the way, but I’ll talk about that further down. Then Saturday night as Chris and I went to bed very late, I told him about my progress with ACORAS and how excited I was, and how in as little as a month I could be sending it to my agent again. Casually he asked me what I would work on next.

Umm.

Uh…

I… don’t know?

The sequel to ACORAS, probably. I thought it would be a trilogy but now I think it will just have a sequel. Or I could work on the adult fantasy I’ve been quietly tinkering with, about a female sociopath and the warrior who accidentally becomes her companion. Or maybe return to the Sirens story, with a complete do-over.

Or Nameless.

Chris drifted off to sleep but I, over-caffeinated, stayed awake with Kat’s suggestion and my resistance to change tumbling about in my mind. I knew even when discouraged that given enough time my subconscious would dredge up a solution, but still I kept worrying away at the idea. How could I make her the Poetess and not-the-Poetess?

And then it hit me. So hard I had to get up out of bed and tiptoe down the dark hallway and turn on only the lamp in my office so I could scribble down the words jumping seamlessly from my mind:

I was not meant to be the Poetess.

Not yet anyway. But when the smoke cleared and the body of the true Poetess lay crumpled on the floor, I was the one who spoke into the receiver, who turned my face to the still-transmitting cameras and told the nation not to fear the Rebellion.

I don’t know why I didn’t think of it before. We didn’t need chapters of introduction. We didn’t need to see her working as a lowly scribe and aspiring one day, after decades of study and obedience, to be chosen as the next Poetess. We just needed a summary of how she found herself 17 and in charge of the nation’s mental well-being.

So there you have it. I’m a dork, but the obstruction has been cleared, and though we’re far from out of the woods (I’ve accepted I’ll probably have to dump 10 years worth of the plot of the last 3/4 of the book), I’m at least back on path again. Just thought you might want to know :-)

I also wanted to share a few tidbits of information that I just today recalled about the origin of Nameless. After so long with these characters it’s easy to forget the alarmingly haphazard way they came about. For example:

  • Number 23 was originally based off my girlhood crush on Tobias from the Animorphs series.
  • The real reason he’s mute? Because when it came time for them to interact 15-year-old me had not a CLUE what Shae would realistically say.

Blind luck, subconscious soup, and an unhealthy Animorphs obsession. These are my writing origins. Let’s move on to more professional news so I can pretend I’m a real writer:

ACORAS Update

I’m rewriting ACORAS again.

It’s not that the first version was bad. It just wasn’t as amazing and heart-stopping as the new version I began to envision. Beginning with the flashback I mentioned in the weird tenses post and blooming from there, the story slowly grew into a far more nuanced version of the tale I’d first told. Motivations cleared, plot threads thickened, characters enhumanized, and the resulting layers of truth and lies were much closer to the original pitch.

But for a time there everything was growing somewhat out of control, as I filled page after page of notebook paper with ideas and snippets of conversations or thoughts. I had to make a story bible, a document for cut bits so I could refer to them later, a document for bits that hadn’t happened yet, and of course the ever-expandingly detailed Plot Notes bullet list. Computer programmers call what was happening to me ‘feature creep’.

It was very overwhelming. But after a lot of doubt and despair everything settled down, like it usually does, and I started taking those slow steps towards untangling this mess and figuring out what had to go where. As of this weekend my first 110 pages are solid and there’s only about 20k missing to connect the beginning with the last third. 20k for which I have detailed, consecutive notes.

I’m so pleased and relieved I could burst. I wish you guys knew ACORAS like you know Nameless, because you should totally look forward to how this one’s gonna rip your heart out. I even put it on my About Me page: If you come away feeling like I’ve kicked you in the heart, then I consider my mission accomplished. ;-)

<3, Savannah

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Several Horrifying Truths about Classic Fairytales

As I go through rewrites on my sleeping beauty retelling, I’ve started to have one of those quiet writer-debates with myself on whether or not to put in the bramble forest.

You know, this one:

I had the magical means to do it, and it was certainly in keeping with the traditional legend, but it just didn’t make sense for my story. In the legend, the forest serves as a proving grounds, and only the princess’s true love can fight through the forest to reach her. I didn’t need that sort of thing, and in fact for several dramatic moments I needed there to be easy access to the castle.

But I had this nagging feeling about it. Why did the original legend include an impenetrable forest of thorns? Why did it detail so many men struggling to pass through it, their bones entwining with the vines?

At the same time, I was struggling to establish a dynamic between my heroine and the village of men around her. Yes, that’s right… she’s the only female around for hundreds of miles, and she’s living fear-free among strangers and self-admitted criminals. It’s very important to me not to have fear of men in this story, and to never have rape or sexual assault, even the threat of it, be any sort of plot point.

But I do think about it. And that led to my first horrifying realization that sparked off a chain reaction of others. Here are my thoughts:

Sleeping Beauty: You really want to know why they needed that forest of thorns? Think about it for a second… beautiful girl laying on a bed, all alone in a remote place, and she can’t wake up no matter what? Look, the evil fairy might be vindictive, but she’s not that cruel!

It gets worse as you read several versions of the legend and in some of them the princess’s true love DOES take advantage of her situation, and she only wakes up when she gives birth and the baby sucks the splinter from the spindle wheel out of her finger! What??

Snow White: This one’s too easy. She’s ‘dead’, right? Been ‘dead’ for a while. But this prince still kisses her. Totally gross. I think Neil Gaiman already came to that same realization. If you haven’t read his short story SNOW, GLASS, APPLES, you definitely should. It’s beautiful and disturbing.

Cinderella: It’s the shoe. The prince says, ‘go and find the woman I was dancing with, but don’t identify her by her face, only by her feet! Make sure her feet fit this shoe she was wearing!’ And then Cinderella is the only one whose feet fit.

Umm… what?

Are you telling me she’s the only person in the entire kingdom with feet small enough to fit in that shoe? Is she a little person? Or is she a child? And even if she is a child, there would be thousands of other kids who could also fit that shoe. It just doesn’t make any sense.

So we’ll just call the prince a pedophile and go with that.

(I know it’s just a fairytale, but seriously).

Beauty and the Beast: On the whole, awesome concept. But I always wondered why the prince answers his own door when someone knocks? That’s not my complaint though.

My complaint is that this story is about bestiality. I know she fell in love with him on the inside or whatever, but come on.

Runner up for disturbingness is East of the Sun, West of the Moon. I loved the story, and even the movie, as a child, but in hindsight… she married a polar bear. And then had sex with a man she never saw.

I’m going to go ahead and call Sleeping Beauty the worst of the bunch. And yes, I did finally give in and put that forest of thorns in the story. And allude as to why. But my MC never thinks about it so she has no direct fears of being raped in her sleep.

And everyone lived happily ever after, THE END.