A New Direction for My Blog

It’s been a minute since I’ve written a blog post. I’ve been so focused on getting my novel published. Well, I’m back to talk about my new passion project that’s given me a real sense of direction.

Let’s be clear: I’m still determined to get my novel published. That hasn’t changed. I now have a literary agent so that dream is just that much closer to being realised. But I honestly want a career in writing. Like now. It would take ages to make that happen as a published author. My first novel would need to be a huge hit, but, even then, I’d need a series of hit novels before I could quit my day job.

Why can’t writing be my day job?

Enter a screenwriter’s fellowship I recently applied to. I poured my heart and soul into my application and think I’ve got a good shot.  I learned about the fellowship from a friend months ago. The more I looked into it, the more it fueled the fire inside of me. I studied Screenwriting in college and had always wanted to submit scripts to studios one day. My hope was to gain a platform as a novelist and then have the opportunity to submit that way. But, it could work the other way around too.

 

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Opportunity.

 

A career as TV and film screenwriter, which the fellowship would provide an avenue for, could just as easily build a platform for my novels. The idea invigorates me to the point that I’ve never wanted something so much in my life. It feels like this fellowship came at the right time. It makes sense as my next career move as if it were pre-planned.

I can’t wait to share more details on my show. I’m passionate about the topic it explores and I believe there’s an audience for it. I’d put money on that. We’ll be shooting the pilot in April. After that, I’ll go all out to promote it. It’s hard work getting actors, confirming locations, working with a director, etc, but I’m confident it’ll pay off.

My ultimate dream is to have my own show, like Lena Dunham, with Girls, and Issa Rae, with Insecure. That way, I can create a platform for myself and make opportunities for black and Latino actors. Because, like my novels, my show will feature black and Latino characters. If I were to have a show as successful as Girls, then when the series wraps up, I would have the resources to continue to create shows and write novels that would be just as successful, if not more so.

I think about how Lena Dunham signed a $3.5 million deal to write her memoir, Not That Kind of Girl. This was after the second season of Girls. Imagine if she’d been just any white girl peddling to get her memoir published. She likely would have been rejected by every publishing house in the business.

 

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Probably wouldn’t be a thing if it weren’t for Girls.

 

The idea of working in a similar context as Dunham energises me to push towards it every single day. A successful TV series leads to a success novel series. Naturally, creating a TV series would not be a means to an end. Not at all. I’m actually more passionate about creating black and Latino characters for the screen than I am for the page. More people watch TV than read. A sad fact but that means a wider audience for a TV writer. Audiences are hungry for content about people of color. And that’s where I come in. I’m working every single day to get my Lena / Issa on.

I feel alive again. I needed this.

When Is A Novel Truly Finished?

The End. Hard words to write. As much as writers talk about how difficult it is to start a novel, we fail to mention how hard it is to end one. Though I’m technically finished with my first novel and am now submitting it to agents, it’s hard to feel like I’m truly done.

My roommate thinks I should celebrate the accomplishment because not many people can commit to sitting down and writing a novel from start to finish. I just can’t help thinking about all the things that need to happen before my novel is finally out into readers’ hands. (I live for that moment.)

What if none of the agents like my novel? What if they all say it’s trash? I’ve already received a fair share of rejection letters, with more surely on the way. In fact, I bet one of the agents is drafting a curt rejection for me as I type this. In these moments, I constantly remind myself that rejection is a part of the process. After all, we’re always told about how JK Rowling herself got rejected by at least 12 different publishing houses. Well, I’m not too far behind her and might quickly surpass her in that regard.

I’m starting to detest the word “unfortunately.” It usually appears in the second sentence of a rejection letter after the agent graciously thanks me for sending my query. So, this is why, my dearest roomie, I’ll hold off on celebrating. If I receive an overwhelming number of rejections that may mean my novel needs significant revision. Which means it isn’t done.

There was a moment when I honestly considered giving up. The constant rejection is hard. Makes me question my skill as a writer. But I quickly get over it because I can’t imagine not being a published author. If it’s a question of skill, then I’ll just keep practising until I get it right.

At any rate, once the novel is finally published (be it in one year or 10), I don’t think I could ever bring myself to read it. A novel is a series of choices the author decided on. I can easily see myself reading my novel and questioning some of the decisions I made. Then I’ll wonder how readers would have reacted if I had done things differently. I don’t want to go down that road. It’s not helpful.

I find it interesting that Neil Gaiman revised his novel, American Gods, for its 10th anniversary. He changed a few things here and there that he didn’t like about the original. I can imagine myself doing that, even updating the Kindle and other e-reader versions with my revisions. No shade to Gaiman, but, ultimately, I have to accept that a novel is finished when I have a hardcover copy of it in my hands. (No, seriously, I can’t wait.) Until then, there will be revisions and changes. Even when I get an agent, there will be things he or she would like me to change. Even when I sign a book deal, the editor will ask for changes. I’ll keep on revising until it’s sent to press. Then, and only then, will I celebrate. I’ll be sure to invite you to a book signing. Don’t mind the huge grin on my face.

Description & Setting Are The Reader’s Work Too

I suck at writing description. The first step to improvement is always acknowledging the problem. I’m just not a detailed-oriented person. Good thing I decided against law school all those years ago.

Action and dialogue are my thing. I want to get characters to where they need to be as soon as possible and make things happen. Feedback I get from readers is often that it’s hard to picture where the characters are. What’s the weather like? What time of day is it? What are memorable features of that building they just entered? All these questions make me want to turn my novel into a picture book. That way I can insert photos and write “See Picture Below” to give readers an idea of what I’m going for. Can I just do that?

At any rate, I felt a glimmer of hope as I started reading the Illustrated Harry Potter this week. Thinking about how striking the images are in the films, I paid special attention to how J.K. Rowling describes characters and locations when Harry sees them for the first time. I was surprised at how light the details were. For instance, she initially describes Hogwarts as a tall castle with pointy towers. Naturally, she provides more details over the course of the seven novels as Harry and friends interact with different parts of it, but, many of things we see in the films were imagined by the film-makers.

You mean to tell me I don’t have to give readers the exact dimensions of my settings, along with what materials were used during construction? That’s encouraging. I’m learning that a few key details go a long way, more so than a paragraph filled with superfluous specifics. The reader must put their imagination to work to fill in the missing details. That’s why fans often complain that a film adaptation came out differently than how they pictured it in their mind. That’s because the filmmaker imagined it a different way.

With this in mind, writing description and setting doesn’t seem as daunting. I still need to put much effort into it, but I’m glad to know I don’t have to write an essay on what a school looks like. I’d love to say it’s just a school, but to bring it to life, I need to provide at least a few key details about the student body and the building itself. Do kids wear uniforms? Is it a historic building or one of those cool renovated ones? Readers want to know.

So, as I do one last comb through of my novel before sending it off to agents, I’ll keep this in mind and put it into practice. I need to strike the right balance between action and exposition. Sometimes I overcompensate (not like that!) and write way too many details. The feedback I get then is that readers wonder why the protagonist would pay attention to all these minute details. It makes me want to shout, “what do you want from me?” and throw my manuscript out the window, but it’s good to know I’m on the right track.

 

 

 

Kids That Kill

Hey, it’s me, back from the dead.

To kill or not to kill, apparently, that is the question. A while back, I wrote a blog on whether or not a YA writer can kill the protagonist at the end of the novel. Well, now, I want to really think about how readers feel about a protagonist killing others. I bring this question up because I’m having a disagreement with someone in the literary world about whether a character can kill an enemy in self-defense. Is that okay in YA?

That’s something I’m currently struggling with as I revise the novel I’m working on. I looked back on novels I’ve read for some guidance. Hunger Games quickly came to mind. Katniss has to kill in order to survive. That’s the whole point of the competition. It’s “kill or be killed.” We, as the readers, fundamentally understand and accept this. So, we don’t bat an eye when Katniss kills another kid to protect herself. I think of Divergent also. It’s a similar situation for Tris.

So, why do we accept that these characters kill? Harry Potter didn’t. Someone else always did the dirty work for him all the way until the end. Katniss and Tris have to kill because of the situation they’re in. It’s the same for Elias in Sabaa Tahir’s An Ember In The Ashes, a fantasy novel I highly recommend. Elias is a skilled assassin and must use his skills to face an evil empire. I know that sounds cliché as hell, but I’m purposefully being value to avoid any spoilers. I wrote a review last year.

The more I think about it the more characters come to mind. There’s Celaena from Throne of Glass, another assassin. I’m sure they’re plenty I haven’t read yet. But, all the examples I’ve come up with are fantasy or sci-fi. Readers can mentally separate fantasy from realism. So, if a character kills in that world, we’re okay with it because we know that it’s a different world with different rules.

What happens if a character kills, in self-defense, in a realistic novel that takes place in New Jersey, for instance? How do we feel about that? I’ve never read a YA novel in which the protagonist kills someone in the real world. Can it be pulled off with readers throwing down their books in terror or rage? That’s a good question.

I’m curious how people would respond if they read about a kid who killed someone else, either by accident or in self-defense, in the real world. I wish there were an example out there but I can’t think of any. Please if you know of any, do tell. Is there such a thing as teen horror? That could be a new genre.

At any rate, that’s something I wrestle with as I think about who I want my protagonist to be and how he will evolve. I believe you can have a character who kills one person in self-defense, as long as he’s an endearing person. But you never know. Readers could end up hating him, which could be intriguing also. Think of how successful Deadpool is. He’s not exactly a good guy. If they published a novel about him, I’d certainly read it.

 

YA Ruined Reading For Me

Okay, perhaps “ruined” is too strong of a word. What I mean is since I enjoy reading YA so much, it makes it difficult to read other types of literature. This became apparent recently when I had to critique a colleague’s writing sample. I was bored from page 1. Where was the witty dialogue? Why didn’t the story start in the middle of the action? To be honest, I ended up skimming it. The writer went into detail about his thought process for just about every action he took. It was bland. Unoriginal. Nothing like a good YA novel.

Naturally, YA novels are fast-paced and sharp because of teens’ short attention spans. If you don’t catch their interest by page 5, your book will be put back on the shelf. As we get older we have to develop an endurance for reading longer texts in college and in our careers. As much as I want to skip those drawn-out work e-mails, there’s probably something important in there. Somewhere. But I turn to YA when reading for pleasure. I feel like reading so much YA has shortened my own attention span. When I read, I’ve come expect a faster pace and funny dialogue. I have a hard time continuing to read something if it lacks either of those.

Take Everything, Everything, by Nicola Yoon, for example. A solid literary YA novel. Our school librarian turned me onto it and gave me a free copy. What holds my attention in literary YA is the dialogue, especially if the plot is mundane and covers day-to-day life. Everything, Everything had me hooked from the first chapter, pushing me to read it over a weekend. There were no explosions and no one died (spoilers, I guess), but the dialogue was so on-point that it made me care about the characters. I wanted to know what was going to happen to them. How can a book about a girl trapped in her bedroom and e-mailed her neighbour be so fascinated? That’s the power of dialogue.

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Go read this now!

 

When I have others critique my work they usually compliment my dialogue. Because I work in a high school, I hear teenagers chatting all the time. This works to my advantage as a YA writer. The outlandish and hilarious stuff they say sometimes fit perfectly in a novel. So, I’m good with dialogue; I just have to get my pacing right. That’s why I’m excited to take James Patterson’s Master Class soon in hopes that it will give me some guidance and direction.

I’m constantly reminded of the power of YA and that’s what keeps me going. Sometimes I want to give up. There are days I don’t think I’m good enough to publish a novel. But when I read about how a teen read a YA novel that prevented her from committing suicide or another who read a novel that kept him overcome depression and loneliness, I feel charged with telling my story in order to encourage kids who are going through what I went through. I have to become a published YA author. This is too important to me not to. Wait for it.

My Favourite Moment in All of Literature & Why I Write

I’ve been out of the country for 10 days on an educational trip with my students. I tried to make time to write my blog as well as work on my novel but it just wasn’t happening. But I’m back and want to be more consistent with my posts.

This week I’d like to talk about my all-time favourite moment in literature. First of all, I’m sure you’re wondering why I spell “favorite” like the British “favourite.” It’s simple. I’ve been an anglophile since college and just prefer to spell the British way. It stands out. Speaking of the British, my favourite (there it goes again) novel in the Harry Potter series is The Prisoner of Azkaban. To describe the moment I like the most I’m gonna have to spoil the book for you. If you haven’t read it but plan to, I’d say skip this post and I’ll see you next week.

Still here? Ok, good. So, near the end of the novel, Harry gets ambushed by a gang of dementors, the Grim Reaper-like creatures, and they almost kill him. Out of nowhere a figure who resembles Harry saves him with a magic spell, warding off the abominations. Harry goes back into the past to see who it was that saved him. He quickly realises that he actually saved himself. This is a big moment for Harry, who’s used to Hermione or Professor Dumbledore saving him from trouble. Here, he’s on his own. This is important because eventually he must face Voldemort alone. I believe he owes much of the courage and strength from this particular encounter with the dementors.

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Harry learns to depend on himself

Now, out of all the wonderful novels in the world, why do I consider this my favourite moment? Now, I didn’t say Prisoner of Azkaban was my favourite book of all time. I love too many books to choose just one. This is simply a moment that’s very important to me, personally. All my life I’ve struggled with low self-esteem and depression. For years, I didn’t believe I was worth anything or that I was strong enough to face life’s challenges. I was even suicidal for a long period of time. In high school, reading this Harry Potter moment inspired me to change. It, along with a series of life events, made me realise that I was in charge of my own destiny. If something was gonna happen, it’d have to be me to make it happen. Of course, I won’t be fending off any ghastly fiends with a magic wand (though that’d be quite rad) but I will face my own demons in real life. I can depend on no one buy myself.

And that, ladies and gents, is why I write YA. Reading a fictional, fantastical moment inspired me to make a major life change. I love to write and hope I can similarly inspire my readers one day. Like Harry Potter, I can’t wait for anyone else to do it for me. It’ll be the death of me. I have to pick up my literary wand (my pen) and write that stellar story that teens will relate to. I truly hope I can succeed.

What’s your favourite moment? What’s your favourite novel? Drop me a line in the comments section below.

I’m Not A Fan of World-Building

Happy New Year! This is my first blog of 2016. I had a nice long teacher break and, now that I’m well-rested, school is back in the swing of things. Since I submitted my manuscript to an agent back in December, I’ve started working on my next novel, which I’m quite excited about.

While writing my first novel, I learned something about myself and my writing style. World-building isn’t for me. It’s funny because I thought that since I’m such a fan of fantasy, I’d also enjoy writing it. I love watching fantasy films and TV shows, reading fantasy novels and playing video games set in a fantastic world. Right now I’m playing The Witcher 3, which won tons of Game of the Year awards last year. It takes place in a richly detailed world with lots of history. The author of the novels, off of which the game is based, must have taken years to develop that.

I imagine fantasy and sci-fi authors find enjoyment in creating a whole new world from scratch. I figured if I enjoyed exploring those worlds I’d also enjoy creating them. Nope. Unfortunately, I learned that was not the case. As I wrote my first novel, which partly takes place in a magical world, I began to get frustrated having to come up with details I didn’t care about. A writer friend and beta reader would constantly ask me questions about how the world I created worked. I didn’t care. I just wanted to get to the story. But because I was already deep into the novel, I pushed through my frustrations and worked out those details. Not fun.

I realized that a writer doesn’t always enjoy writing what he likes to read. 

But I still felt conflicted about it. I’d be bored writing literary novels like John Green. That’s just not what I want to write right now. So what was I going to do? Thankfully, as I continued to read other novels, I quickly found the solution. Magical Realism was the answer. Urban fantasy. Fantasy set in the real world. Brilliant! I didn’t have to create my own world. It was already there. That also helped grounded my characters in realism. I want my characters do deal with real teen issues. Naturally, that’s much easier when the characters are here in the real world. That makes them more relatable.

Harry Potter is an excellent example of magical realism, though it doesn’t seem that way. Think about it, Hogwarts is in the UK, not in some made-up magical world. Harry’s aunt and uncle live somewhere in England. This is the real world with a magical bent to it. So, J.K. Rowling didn’t create an entirely different world; she made a secret magical society and history that existed in our own world. Clearly, a lot of people, including myself, loved it.

My next novel takes place in Los Angeles. I’m really really thrilled to start writing it. Now that I’m not bogged down by world-building details I can hone in on a solid story. I hope my readers embrace it and love it as much as I do.