September 29, 2011

I'm in a Decorating Mood

Lately, I've been spending far too much time on design blogs and staring at Etsy. I'm in such a decorating mood! Ever get that way?

Maybe just me? 

It all started earlier this week when I had the sudden urge to make a terrarium. I know, I know. Isn't that so random? But I think I've been craving some greenery inside my house. Like this: 


Isn't she a beaut? I'd love to have this perched on my coffee table or sitting on my nightstand. Trouble is, this adorable terrarium is only sold in San Francisco. Alas! 

Well, maybe I won't have any greenery in my house soon but I can settle for some paper flowers instead. Like these:


The best part is... I can make these myself! Since Justin will be out-of-town on Saturday, I"m thinking about heading to Michael's or Paper Source, stocking up on supplies, and snipping flowers all afternoon. Who wants to join me?

And finally, I've been staring at nurseries as of late. Nope, not pregnant! But I'm getting to the point in my life where I think it'd be pretty awesome to decorate a nursery and fill it with adorable things, like tiny socks and little hats and books like Goodnight, Moon. And, you know, a baby. :)



I'm really loving these unexpected colors for a baby girl's room, sea-foam green and dove gray. Actually, I'm really digging gray as a paint color for our living area---neutral yet pretty. Plus, you can add all sorts of splashes for color.

What are you craving today?

September 27, 2011

Teaser Tuesday?

I really should blog today. And, since it's Tuesday, I thought it'd be fun to share a little snippet from my YA alternate history. Thus, the whole "Teaser Tuesday" thing. (I love alliteration almost as much as J.K. Rowling!)

But...

I'm seriously terrified of people reading my work. Seriously. Terrified. It usually takes me a few weeks to gather the courage to show anything to Justin, and he's my husband! I mean, come on. He has seen me throw-up! He has heard me fart! (No, that's not true. I've never farted. Ever.) And yet, I still get the jitters when he reads my work.

Granted, I should give myself a little credit. I've managed to conquer my anxieties somewhat. I have a great critique group, for instance, and I've lined up some fantastic beta readers for this manuscript.

But...

It still scares me silly. I often have to re-read my excerpts 3 or 4 times before I dare press the "Send" button. And that's just with the excerpts. I have yet to have anyone outside of my immediate family (and Agent Jim) read an entire book of mine.

Which makes no sense to me. I'm too scared to share my manuscript with my writing friends — people who are so nice and helpful! — and yet I was perfectly fine querying my first novel without anyone reading it?

Friends = Too scary
Agents = Press send now!

I don't understand my logic. Maybe I need to send my brain to the Brain Repair Factory? If so, I'd like to exchange it with Laini Taylor's please. ('Cause who wouldn't want to write like Laini?)

Whatever. I'm tired of you, Anxious Caroline.

Here's a freaking snippet from my WIP: 

(In which my protagonist, Zara, walks to school in Nazi-occupied America)
       She walked past a slew of shops — the grocer, the butcher, the chocolatier selling truffles only the Nazis could afford — but her pace dropped as she approached the bakery. The scent of hot buttery bread proved too tempting, beckoning her with the promise of a plump-full stomach.
       Peering inside, Zara’s tongue watered at the sight of the golden loaves and at a tray of sticky buns still steaming on the counter. Sticky buns. She adored their cinnamon-y layers, and these had just been plucked out of the oven. Her fingers searched through her bag, hoping to rustle a few spare coins, but then the baker caught her staring and shooed her through the window.
      "Geh! Geh!" he yelled, waving her off with his floured hands. "Nur zalende kunden!"
      Paying customers only.
      Zara’s appetite dried like a prune.
Hey now! That wasn't so bad, right? 

*Chews fingernails*

September 22, 2011

After The Call: The "My First Book Didn't Sell" Club

Ah, writing. So full of highs and lows!

When you first finish your book, you dance a little jig. Then you get that puppy ready for querying, so you break into a moonwalk. And then—and then!—you get an offer of representation, which calls for something like this:


But once your manuscript goes on submission, your dancing might be put on hold. If your book sells, you can keep on rocking out a la Jeff Bridges. On the other hand, there's always a chance that your book may not sell, at which point you might do this:


Crying + Eating = Medicine for the Heart

In all seriousness, it's okay to cry (or cry and eat) if your book doesn't sell. We pour our hearts and sweat into our novels—so why wouldn't we tear up a little? If you do find yourself in this situation though, here are a few thoughts I've cobbled together that may (hopefully) dig you out of the Pit of Despair:

1. You are not alone.

Kiersten White? Natalie Whipple? Brodi Ashton? Pretty big names in the YA blogging community. Perhaps you frequent their blogs, like I do.

Yep, all three of them had to shelve their first books on submission—but went on to sell their second novels on sub. So yeah. You're in pretty darn good company! And like them, you have to keep your chin up and work on your next book. 'Cause the next one might sell and it might sell really big!

Just ask my friend, Jessica Spotswood, who wrote about her first-book-not-selling over on this blog post. Don't you love her honesty? Fortunately, her story comes with an oh-so-happy ending: this past February, Jess sold her second book on sub, BORN WICKED, in a major deal to Penguin!

And so, if your first book doesn't sell, it's okay to cry and eat cheeseburgers and sit on a swing. Just don't feel like a failure, okay? Because you're not. 


2. This is an unfortunate part of the business. 

An editor at a Big 6 publisher may receive hundreds of agented submissions a year...but can only acquire 5 to 10 novels, depending on the size and budget of her house. Basically, this translates into a lot of books not selling. There's simply not enough room for them, even if you have a stellar agent.

I'm not saying this to make you depressed—because a lot of first books on submission do happen to sell!—but to underscore a reality of the publishing world. You won't be able to sell every book you write. Your agent won't be able to sell every book he signs. This is a very, very competitive business and we won't always get the outcome we hope for. Which sucks. Majorly. And yet, it's something we have to (grudgingly, frustratingly, mournfully) accept.

Sometimes, it's a matter of trends and tastes:
"Sci-fi isn't doing well right now so we're going to have to pass."
"We just acquired a book like this one, which means we unfortunately have to decline."
"To be frank, the market is a tad too saturated with dystopians."

And, sometimes, maybe your book needs some more work. Characterization. Plot. Pacing. Maybe there's something missing. Which leads to...


3. You can do better.
Right now, you're probably staring at your manuscript, thinking about the hours and months and maybe years you poured into it. And what do I have to show for all of that? you think to yourself.

Well, a lot actually. This is the book that landed you an agent. It might have gotten you multiple offers of rep. This is the book that taught you how to plot and how to make your characters not just characters but real people. This is the book that taught you how to revise—really revise—and how to keep going when you got rejections left and right.

So don't sell yourself short. Don't sell your book short. Tangibly, you may not see how far you've come as a writer but, believe me, you have. Now, you have to take everything you learned from this book and pour it into the next one. I know, I know. It's such cliche advice. "Keep writing! Work on that next project!" But it's important. If you want to see your book at Barnes & Noble, to feel it in your hands, then you gotta keep writing. Give your book a funeral, mourn for it properly, and then move on. 'Cause you have a lot of stories to tell and you have to start cranking them out.

- - - - - - - -

Wow, I didn't meant to go all inspirational speaker on you guys! But I hope that this post may help some of you experiencing the pain of not selling your first book on submission. It sucks. And worse, you feel like you can't say anything about it because you should feel grateful that you have an agent in the first place.

Still, you should know that you aren't alone. A lot of writers have gone through what you're going through. You're not a failure. You're a writer facing a setback. *Major hugs* Drink some tea and draw the shades and, when you're ready, start on the next book.

September 20, 2011

The 500th Post!

Today is a milestone for my little blog. This is my 500th post!

Whoa! I'm not sure if I should pat myself on the back: What ho, fine chap! 500 posts is rather smashing!

Or to shake my head: So much time wasted! You should have been writing or exercising or saving the ocean or breeding Persian cats to make extra cash! 

Anyway, I'm in a reflective mood today. I can't help but think about what I was doing when I wrote my very first post. Where I was living. What was I feeling. What was I doing. Back in January 2006 (when I started this blog) I was quite a different creature!

So here we are, a blog retrospective:

In January 2006...


Bridesmaid at my friend Alexis' wedding
  • I was 23 and a recent college graduate. I was terrified of the Real World.
  • I'd just started working at the National Air and Space Museum in Washington, D.C. It was the first Real Job I'd ever had, complete with my own cubicle!
  • Sometimes I got bored at work so I started a blog. I titled it, "Adventures In Space."
  • I was nursing a broken heart. I had been dating a guy who was all sorts of wrong for me. I cried a lot.
  • I thought about my career a lot too. For awhile, I thought I wanted to become a museum curator or a college professor. So I applied to graduate programs in London. 'Cause this Real World thing? Nah, I'd rather live in London!
  • But, secretly, I wanted to become writer. It was what I had dreamed about since I was a little girl.
  • At night, I wrote personal essays. I even sent a few of them off to places like Newsweek and the Washington Post. I aimed high. 
  • I got rejected. 

Fast forward five and a half years. In September 2011...

Bridesmaid at my friend Amanda's wedding. 
  • I'm 28. I shall stay this age forever. I will never turn thirty. 
  • I work as a writer. It's difficult and draining and sometimes it feels like someone has scooped out my brains and filled my skull with flesh-eating lemurs. But I love it. Lemurs and all.
  • I've been lucky enough to have my articles published in newspapers and magazines. But still no Newsweek or the Washington Post.
  • One day though! *Raises fist* 
  • Remember that guy I bawled over back in 2006? Well, a few months after that, I met a certain boy named Justin. We've been together now for five years, and I couldn't ask for a more supportive, loving, hilarity-making husband. If writing is the calling of my mind, then he is the calling of my heart.
  • I think that should be a Hallmark card. Maybe tweaked. "Dear Husband: I love you. If knitting little hats for cats is the calling of my mind, then marrying you is the calling of my feline-obsessed heart." 
So whoa. Five years has blown by so quickly! I kind of wish I could take Caroline circa 2006 and give her a few words of advice. Like, stop crying over that stupid boy! And, hone your writing before you submit to the freaking WaPo! But, I figure I had to figure things out on my own, huh?

Either way, happy 500 posts, Little Blog! Thanks for letting me share lots of random thoughts and pictures with you.

September 16, 2011

Apologies!

Sorry about being MIA this week! Between basement floodings and husband homecomings and all around crazy-makings, I've been running around like a French revolutionary.

(I don't even know what that means. But it sounds kind of cool, eh? Oui!)

(Oui = My limited French vocabulary. Also, bonjour! Patisserie! Coco Chanel!)

But, I hope to post more next week, including an After The Call post that has been bouncing around in my head.

So how are you doing? What are your plans for the weekend? Justin came home today (mega yay!) but he left this evening to attend a bachelor party in Charleston (come back!). So I'll just be moving furniture---our basement has been fixed from the flood!---and working on my book. And having high tea with some friends!

Yum! Tea!

Until next week, enjoy this picture that I found on the vast interwebs. I love it!


September 12, 2011

I had such high hopes for this week...

Justin comes home on Friday from Kabul (yay! squee! yipee!) and I had high hopes for the days leading up to his arrival.

  • Finish my revision
  • Read the scrumptious books I got from the library
  • Have dinner with some writerly friends
  • Maybe splurge a little and buy a sweater (on sale!) from Anthro

Alas. Our basement flooded. Between Hurricane Irene and the massive rainstorms in DC, our carpet became a big soggy mess. I tried to use beach towels and a wet/dry vacuum but it was a lost cause. I realized I'd have to move all of the furniture and buy new flooring.

Which, all in all, isn't such a bad thing. There were people who lost their homes in the hurricane and even their lives. A flooded basement? That's nothing!

But my stress level inevitably rose between Justin's homecoming and my neverending revision and doing all of the little things that pile up like dust bunnies and make you sneeze. Yep! I plopped down on my staircase, tucked my chin onto my knee, and let myself have a little pity party.

(Feel bad for me? Please donate to my Paypal cupcake account!)

The pity party lasted well into this evening, while I grunted and shoved and pushed my furniture this way and that. (Oh dear. Remind me to check under the sofa more often. The things you find under there!) Then, I had to clear off my bookshelves so I could move them too. So I grabbed armfuls of books and trucked them into the bedroom and...

I stopped. I looked down.
My books.
Matilda. From the Mixed-Up Files. Maniac Magee. I'd had them since I was a little girl, back when I had pigtails and wobbly teeth and dreams of becoming a writer.

They were all dry. Perfectly so. The storm hadn't touched them.

When I went back to collect more books, I let my fingers run over their bone-dry covers. Persepolis. The Things They Carried. Plain Kate. And then I found the most prized books of all, the ones I bought during my study abroad in London. Despite their weight, I had hauled them in my suitcase and flew them over the Atlantic because I knew they would be a forever memento of my trip.


They were dry too. They were safe.

So, um, yeah. Perspective! It's still a nuisance to have soggy carpets and a house smelling of mildew, but I'm lucky. For my books. For my house. For a husband coming home from Afghanistan. For all that and so many more wonderful things in my very blessed, sometimes crazy life.

You know, maybe this week won't be so bad, after all.

September 9, 2011

Friday Five

One
I'm getting so excited about the Read for Relief auction! We've gotten such an awesome response from the authors, agents, and editors we've approached. Frankly, I'm a bit verklempt at how willing people want to help! Hugs to all!

Two
The auction opens on Monday and we have some really neat items that I'm tempted to bid on! You can win stuff like:
  • A signed galley of LOLA AND THE BOY NEXT DOOR by Stephanie Perkins
  • A group critique from the lovely gals at YA Highway
  • A critique from HarperTeen editor Erica Sussman 
  • And tons more stuff from authors like Suzanne Young and Saundra Mitchell, as well as agents like Joanna Volpe and Sara Crowe! 
Be sure to check out our website come Monday!

Three
On the editing front, I'm almost finished with my revision! Huzzah! And after this revision...I get to tackle another revision before sending it to my readers! Joy!

After slogging through the dreaded middle of my manuscript, I'm finally feeling excited about my book again. With this revision, I've been trying to think Big Picture things, and one idea I really want to focus on is the logistics of war. Specifically, are there rules when you instigate a revolution? Or will you do anything to see that your revolution succeeds? Even if it means killing women and children?

As you can tell, I like to write about very light and funny topics!

Four
On the reading front, I hope to tackle these books that I got from the library. (Aliens on Vacation on the left, and The Sky is Everywhere on the right.) I haven't read any middle grade novels for awhile so I'm pretty psyched to delve into Aliens on Vacation!



Five
On the traveling front, I am unfortunately not traveling anywhere but my little sister Kristy is! She's in Nanjing, China right now for her study abroad and I. Am. Jealous. Here are a couple pictures she sent me that make me tingle with the travel bug.

The countryside!

The crazy mountains!

Huh?
But I must say that Kristy's description of Nanjing is not exactly endearing me to the city:
Getting settled in China. It smells like trash most of the time. My friend and I watched a child poop on the ground outside of the restaurant we were eating at. Then his dad came and scooped up the poop with playing cards. Still finished my fried rice. It's been cool here. 
Mmmm, lovely!

So what are your big plans for the weekend? I'm just hoping this rain lets up a bit so I can finally see the sun again!

September 7, 2011

Want to Win Books, ARCs, and Critiques? Please Read!

Last week, I received an email from my friend Erin Bowman about what we could do to help with Hurricane Irene relief. See, Erin lives in New England where the storm had hit hard, causing flash floods and landslides. Although Erin is safe and doing well (thank goodness!) many other Americans weren't so lucky. Hurricane Irene may have been a Category 1 storm but she wrecked havoc across the U.S. East Coast.

A woman walks on the remains of Highway 12, the route that connected Cape Hatteras National Seashore to the North Carolina mainland. (Image courtesy of Buzzfeed.com)

A week after the hurricane, homes still sat submerged in Bloomingdale, New Jersey. (Image courtesy of AP Photo/Mel Evans)

A before and after of Bartsonville, Vermont's historic covered bridge, which was lost to raging waters (Image courtesy of Buzzfeed.com)

And so, Erin and I, along with Tracey Neithercott and Sarah Enni, have created an online auction, called Read for Relief, that will raise funds for the Red Cross. The auction items will include:
  
  • Query critiques, including a critique from my agent, Jim McCarthy!
  • Manuscript critiques, including partial critiques from Elana Johnson and Natalie Whipple!
  • Books, including ARCs of SHATTER ME and BORN WICKED!
  • Book-related swag, including cool stuff, yo!


For more information, check out our website and our Twitter account as well. The auction will start on Monday, September 12th, and we'd love for you guys to spread the word--you can grab a badge from the Read for Relief homepage--and please feel free to participate in the bidding if you see anything you fancy. Also, we're still accepting donations for the auction so you're more than welcome to fill out our form if you'd like to contribute something!

For updates, be sure to follow us on Twitter, which is the best way to find out what items are up for bidding and when an auction opens and closes. 

Thanks so much for reading and I hope to see you over on the Read for Relief site! Let's raise some funds for a good cause!

September 6, 2011

Books to Drool For

I rarely pre-order books---I love the feeling of going into the bookstore and staking my claim on a new release---but I've been drooling over a few novels that come out in a few weeks and I had an Amazon gift card to burn. So I ended up buying...


 

I couldn't resist! See, I fell in love with Laini Taylor's prose when I read her short story collection, Lips Touch Three Times, and now I simply can't wait to get my hands on Daughter of Smoke and Bone. It has been getting all sorts of glowing reviews (including hard-to-please Kirkus Book Reviews) and so I think this may be a rare novel that will meet, and perhaps exceed, its hype. 

Oh, and Lola! I had to buy that too. I adored Anna and French Kiss (Paris! British boys! Kisses!) and I've heard Lola and the Boy Next Door is even better. Now, I must resist the urge to wait in for the mailman by my door each day, chanting "Gimme gimme gimme!" 

To make my TBR pile even bigger, I'm also drooling over a few books I've noticed on Publishers Marketplace lately. I probably won't get my hands on these books until 2012 or 2013, which means I must be very, very patient. 

*Scowls*

I hate being patient. 

Anyway, here are three that have caught my eye: 

#1
August 31, 2011
 Children's:
Young Adult 
Jaclyn Dolamore's DARK METROPOLIS, about a city in which corruption and vice are rampant and disappearances warrant a shrug from the authorities: when a girl vanishes, her best friend must search the city's underground, only to find that here, people who die don't necessarily stay dead, to Catherine Onder atDisney-Hyperion, at auction, in a six-figure deal, in a two-book deal, by Jennifer Laughran at Andrea Brown Literary Agency (World English).
Translation Rights: Taryn Fagerness Agency

#2

August 26, 2011
 Children's:
Young Adult 
THE LAKE OF DEAD LANGUAGES author Carol Goodman's trilogy, set between 1912-1920 in a world that blends history and fantasy, about a girl at a boarding school that trains young women with unique abilities to defend the world from dark forces, to Kendra Levin at Viking Children's, in a good deal, by Robin Rue atWriters House (World).

#3

June 3, 2011
 Children's:
Young Adult 
Gen Albin's CREWEL, the first in a trilogy that is equal parts science fiction, adventure, and romance, this debut novel takes place in a world where women known as "spinsters" are able to "weave" the very fabric of existence, to Janine O'Malley at Farrar, Straus Children's, in a major deal, in a three-book deal, byMollie Glick at Foundry Literary + Media (North America).



So how about you? What books have you been drooling over lately? 

September 2, 2011

Giving Up the Dream

Three years ago, when I started my first book, I had a dream.

At night, lying in bed, I'd stare at the ceiling unable to sleep because my brain wouldn't stop humming, like a little engine going and going and going. I'd plot out my novel. I'd create new characters. I'd drum up ways to make my little book more exciting, more action-filled, more everything.

I daydreamed in those wee hours of the morning. About agent offers and publishing deals. About print runs and book tours. Even though my little book was far, far from perfect, I dreamt and I wished and I really, really hoped. In the morning, after I brushed my teeth, I'd stare at books like Percy Jackson and Gregor the Overlander and I'd tell myself:

One day. One day my book will be in stores and kids will love them and I'll meet them because I'll go on book tours and other nice author-y things. Maybe, probably, I'll be a bestseller. Maybe, probably, I'll  live off of my writing. And I'll be happy, happy, happy because this dream of mine will have come true.

Ah, the naivete! I wish I coud pinch my cheeks.

There were no bumps in the road when it came to my dreaming. No hiccups. I'd get an agent, easy peasy, and a handsome book deal. Then, perhaps a year later, my novel would come out in bookstores and it would sell well. Kids would love the novel, and I'd write sequels that they would love too.

It was a lovely, lovely dream.
It still hovers in my mind actually, humming its familiar sound.
But the humming has grown fainter as of late. Its wings don't beat as fast as they used to.

And I'm okay with that.

In the past year, as I've experienced the roller coaster of submissions, I've had to let go of my dream a bit. Bestsellers list? Book tours? Yeah, those are hard to get! Hell, it's tough enough just to break into traditional publishing, much less land on the NYT Bestsellers' list. I've come to learn that becoming one of those authors---with book tours and those other author-y things---requires a bit of luck. It's not only about writing a good book, it's about selling the book to the right publisher at the right time. It's about marketing too. And being fresh in a crowded market. It takes, well, it takes a lot.

And in this past year, as I've gotten to know other writers, I've also come to see that publishing isn't always the smoothly paved road I once hoped it to be. Sometimes a book series gets canceled. Or it doesn't get picked up by Barnes & Noble. Sometimes a publishing offer doesn't go through. Or an established author can't get another deal. This road gets bumpy and it makes sharp turns and, sometimes, it breaks hearts.

It's a business, after all.
So we have to put on our business faces.
It's an odd road to walk---with our dreams on one side and the realities of business on the other. And there we are, bouncing between the two.

This is why my post is called "Giving Up the Dream." I"m not giving up on writing---nope, my brain won't let me---but I'm letting go of the part of me that thinks about book tours and bestsellers' lists and big advances. Sure, all of those things would be awesomely nice, but I can't really control any of it. All I can do is write and edit and edit some more. So I'll work on that. Maybe those nice author-y things will come my way, but maybe they won't. It's okay either way. As long as...

#1 I'm happy with my writing.
#2 I get to hold my books in my hands.
#3 Somewhere out there, I can make a kid smile 'cause of my stories.

And #4 I can buy a yacht with my book earnings.
(Kidding, kidding!)

But yeah, #3. That makes my heart squeeze.

That's why I started writing in the first place, and it's a dream I'll always have.

It's a dream I'll never give up on.