Sarah's Scribbles

The Year of Months

April's Year of Months

Hello, Dear Readers! I just realized it is approximately five hours until April and I still haven't decided what Year Of Months theme it will be.... so I was wondering if y'all would help me out. (Yeah, I know. I'm awfully needy this month)

Please take the poll in the side bar -------->

I've removed one of the remaining options (Conversation month) because it's not really viable at this time.

Misconceptions About Writers

"No one would talk much in society if they knew how often they misunderstood others."
~Johann Wolfgang von Goethe 

Some of the conversations I've had over the past few days have helped me realized just how misunderstood writers are by anyone not familiar with the process or the industry. Here are some of the common misconceptions:

1) Writers are crazy.
OK, as Miranda would say, there is some truth in every myth - but most of us are pretty normal with just a touch of crazy (to be honest, I OFTEN have conversations with people I've made up). We may see the world a little differently, but we don't all write novels while standing naked at a desk or marry our 13 year-old cousins. We are not all recluses or alcoholics or  (possible) pedophiles. You hear these stories because they are the exception, not the rule. In fact, agents and editors these days often "screen for crazy" before offering a contract. The days of pulling your just-completed masterpiece from a pile of empty whiskey bottles and sending it to your editor without ever leaving the house are over. No agent is going to put up with that. (OK, well maybe Dan Brown's agent would if he acted like that - who wouldn't for 15% of the gazillion dollars his next book will make?) Also, see this wonderful post by Veronica Roth.

2) Any well-known writer is rich.
No. No. No. I can't even begin to tell you how many NYT bestselling authors must work real jobs to make ends meet. And if they don't make NYT? ... They may be breaking even after paying for marketing and author events. Most of us write because we love it - not to make money. The ones who are in it for the money usually quit pretty soon when they realize how hard it is to make a living as a writer. Stephanie Meyer, JK Rowling, Dan Brown, James Patterson and Rick Castle (yeah, I know he's not real. so what?) are, again, the exception to the rule. Most of them, including the amazing Laurie Halse Anderson (whose books, by the way, are common in school curricula!), are just barely getting by. I've talked about this before, so I'll move on.

3) Writers don't do much actual work.
Many of us write in solitary (not me! I prefer coffee shops and restaurants with wi-fi), so you may not ever actually see a writer in action, but believe me: A LOT of effort goes into writing a book. Most serious writers will take 6 months to a year to write a book - but that's not because we're goofing off. It just takes that much time. It's HARD WORK. For most of us, we're having to do this on top of working full time, being a mother, running errands, having a social life, etc. And when you see us browsing websites about strange sea creatures or staring off into space for thirty minutes or commenting on agent blogs? We're working.

4) We read kids' books because we're regressed (this is for YA writers only).
No, we read them because any writer worth their weight reads profusely in their genre. Oh yeah, and YA books are awesome. I know writers in other specific genres (like horror and romance) have similar issues.

5) Writers are all geniuses.
HAHA! We'd like to think so, but really we're not. Most of us are average - but we DO work really hard and do ridiculous amounts of research so that we at least look smart.

6) If you haven't published a book, you're not any good.
I get this all of the time: ME: I write YA fantasy novels. THEM: Oh yeah? What's your name? I'll look for you at Borders. ME: I'm not published yet. THEM: Oh, so you're not really a writer.
AHEM! I personally know a dozen great writers who prove this one wrong. We're just at an earlier point in our careers. We can't just poop out a sell-able book and all of a sudden it's on bookshelves. It takes LOTS and LOTS of time. Publishing is like the Ent of the entertainment world. Oh, and self-publishing is much quicker - but it definitely doesn't automatically mean you're a great writer.


Another thing you might not know? Most writers (well, most of the good ones anyway) think we suck. So unless you have something encouraging to say, back off - it's hard enough as it is.

Unwind

 
I finished Unwind by Neal Shusterman about a week ago and it's taken me this long to formulate my opinion of it. This book made me sick to my stomach, but not for the reasons you would think. It was both awe-inspiring and deeply disturbing. Shusterman isn't exactly known for pulling punches, but my jaw dropped so many times while reading Unwind that it was sore afterward. 

The book deserves more than my typical one-sentence summary: In an undetermined future (the MC mentions his grandfather's use of iPods seen in an antique shop), the Second Civil War - fought between pro-life and pro-choice armies results in a haunting compromise: "a human life may not be touched from" conception. "However, between the ages of thirteen and eighteen, a parent may choose to retroactively 'abort' a child" through a process called "unwinding." Unwinding means the child is taken apart and used for parts. According to the law, as long as every part of the child goes on living, he/she's not dead. (Hey, I told you it was disturbing.) The MC, Connor, is a 16 year-old whose parents choose to unwind him due to the trouble (fights) he gets in to. He finds out and runs away, inadvertently taking two other Unwinds with him. 


As unsettling as this world is, I really think (if you can stomach it) you should read this book! If you don't have a visceral - or maybe even a physical - reaction to it, you must have no pulse. It doesn't matter if you are pro-choice or pro-life, it will force you to look at the subject from a new angle. I saw some chatter arguing about which side of the debate Shusterman intended this book to support, but I think the fact that both sides can claim it proves he only intended to start the conversation. For me, he succeeded royally. My mind is still reeling a week later.


At first, I thought it unbelievable Americans would allow this to become "a common, and accepted practice in society." Well into the book, you find out that the idea of unwinding was initially meant as a joke - to shock both sides into seeing reason. It's like that story in the Bible where King Solomon offers two women fighting over a baby the compromise of cutting the baby in half. Only if Shusterman had written it, the women would have agreed to the compromise. One of the most telling lines in this conversation is "people let it happen." Watch the evening news for an hour and you'll see it's not that big a jump. So many debates about a certain issue devolve into a situation where each side's hate for the other becomes stronger than their devotion to the original idea.


The one thing I did have a hard time believing was how easily parents like Connor's signed the unwind orders. Throughout the book, he reflects on memories from his childhood and you discover that his parents are not terrible. In fact, they're pretty normal and loving parents. I don't care how "acceptable" unwinding has become, I can't see parents like these sending their kid off to die (you know these people don't actually believe that BS about the kid still being alive in pieces) for doing something like getting into a few fights at school.


The story is gripping and the circumstances are high enough that you will be biting your fingernails at several points. My one criticism is the lack of advanced technology. It seems the only advances that have been made are medical - and those are astound. I have to give any book that entrances me and disturbs me this much 5 stars.

I NEED Uplifting Stories

Hello Dear Readers. For the second time this year, I'm going to ask a favor of you.

As many of you know, I was rather down in the dumps yesterday. I'm not quite as depressed today, but the feeling still lingers. There wasn't any one particular thing that happened, but a barrage of little things - not the least of which was witnessing and noticing several acts of human cruelty and selfishness.

So to counteract this, I'm asking nothing more from you than to restore my faith in humanity. (No pressure, right?) In the comments, please leave a personal story about someone acting in a selfless, kind, thoughtful, etc way. I will even tell you a story to start you off:

While in college, I met someone who would quickly become a very good friend of mine, David N. Due to the outrageous amount of homework Mechanical Engineering majors suffer through, we spent a ridiculous amount of time together. Very early in our friendship, I found out that David was also an avid reader in the fantasy and sci-fi genres.

I told him about a book I had read as a kid. All I remembered was there was a girl who rode around in space on the back of a huge butterfly powered by a substance in a butterfly ring. It was the first book that made me realize a writer could create a world of their own. Sure, we all see fantastical movies as children, but there's a certain point when you realize it's not real. At that point, many people sort of move away from fantasy, but - thanks to this book - I didn't.

I had been searching for this book for a while and began to doubt whether I had ever actually read it or not. I was hoping David would recognize it and solve my life-long doubt. However, he said he had never heard of it and we never spoke of it again.

Fast forward to eight months later. It's Christmas time. David gives me a present. I open it to find Heartlight by TA Barron. I quickly realized this is the book from my childhood I had decided was nothing but a dream. It took me a little bit longer to realize how incredibly thoughtful this gift was. David, somehow, tracked down this book based on the sparest of fuzzy details from a two-minute conversation months earlier.

It's a gift I'll never forget.



NOW, it's your turn, Dear Readers! Don't let me down :-)

My Happy List

Hello Dear Readers! I haven't written much here that isn't book reviews, so after seeing this post on my friend Angela's blog, I started thinking about my own happy list. She asked her blog readers what kind of simple things make them happy. Here are my answers:
  • When Jasper (my 45 lb chihuahua) lays on my freezing feet in bed - or really any kind of puppy cuddling
  • A really good hug
  • A book that makes you want to live in its world
  • A beautiful day - like today (I'm waiting for K to finish eating so we can go for a walk!) when I don't have to work
  • The first bite of a molten-esque brownie sundae
  • A seamless Firefly reference in regular conversation
  • Great conversation with friends over wine
  • The smell of lavender on my freshly-washed sheets
  • Hearing a sincere "I can't wait to read the next chapter" in crit group
  • Laughing so hard it makes my cheeks sore
I'm sure there are more things that should be on this list, but that's all I can think of right now. What's on your list??

Quick Post for My Fellow Writers!

First of all, my Twitter friend ChristaCarol has a good round-up of some contests/giveaways going on in the blogosphere (does anyone actually like that word??).

Here is a FANTASTIC contest where you could receive a 40 page (yep, you read that correctly, FORTY pages) critique from 7-figure-book-deal garnering agent Suzie Townsend (among other prizes).

Author Elana Johnson is running a contest in conjunction with the one above where you could win one of SEVEN signed books!

Over at Guide to Literary Agents, Chuck Sambuchino has a contest for all of you Urban Fantasy and Paranormal Romance writers! You could win a 20 page critique by the contest judge, Joanna Stampfel-Volpe

If you know of any other contests/giveaways going on, please share them in the comments!

In other, unrelated news: A woman named Sarah Fisk has self-published a fantasy post-apocalyptic novel. It's not me. Now I wonder if I should write under a pen name when I become published. ;-) 

In related news to the unrelated news, fabulous agent Rachelle Gardner has a pretty great post for those who are thinking about self-publishing.

Bike Month!

Wow. I wrote this post a few days ago, but then things kinda went crazy on the blog. I just want to say thanks to EVERYONE who commented, spread the story and sent messages of support. Frankly, I'm excited mainly because of the discussions everyone was and is having on the subject. It's a sensitive issue and I believe the solutions to everyone's concerns require a balance and the Orlando Public Library has gone just a little too far on the conservative side. When I walked into that library I never thought I'd start a national conversation that involved at least two NYT Bestselling Authors. Of course, I never thought I wouldn't be allowed to look at certain books without a chaperone either.


Now, for a far less controversial and probably more boring (to you. it's exciting to me) subject:

In honor of the last day of Walk Month, Jasper and I went on a particularly long walk near my apartment. Then I went to the farmer's market and walked around downtown Orlando for the rest of the morning. I really enjoyed February's challenge and I think the habit will subsist now that the month is over. I can't say that I took a walk every day, but I did on most. And I tried to take longer walks when I had missed one.

So, assuming I averaged 30 minutes a day, I walked for 14 hours this month just for the sake of walking. That's approximately 49 miles (remember, these were leisurely walks) and 3800 calories burned. When you look at it that way, it's pretty awesome.

While walking around on Sunday, I decided - more than likely the FANTASTIC weather greatly affected my decision - that March will be Bike Month. This means I will ride my bike (or walk) to everywhere within 7 miles of my house. I had plenty of time to think about it Sunday morning and I came up with some rules:
  • 7 miles means the distance I would have to bike as opposed to drive. Since you can't ride a bike on the highway, these distances often differ.
  • I will not bike if it is unsafe and I have to go somewhere at that time. This includes rain, bad neighborhoods and questionable neighborhoods at night.
  • If someone else is going to the same place I am, I can ride with them but I can't ask someone to take me somewhere.
  • I can drive if I am going to have to carry something that is so big/heavy as to make bike travel unsafe
  • And finally, I can drive if it's to an interview. (Let's hope I get to use this caveat soon!)

On the way home from work the other day, I took a slight detour to check out some of my favorite local places and many of them don't have bike racks! Publix and Barnes & Noble do, but Bento and Firehouse Subs don't. This should be interesting...

I'm a little scared of this month, but I'm also very excited! For those of you doing your own YOM, what is your MARCH CHALLENGE?