My entire style of writing changed from the second draft of TeaNovel to the third, I used to be a plot-driven, fast-paced writer. Characters were just on the page to provide reactions. The world just existed for me to, like a finger painter, to swipe a background behind a set. That’s how I wrote my first, and my second, and the first two drafts of my third novel. When I first wrote TeaNovel, I wrote it just to write the twists and turns of a plot. I hurriedly wrote about an opera and a palace, but never brought them alive.

The Scorpio Races, by Maggie Stiefvater, changed everything.

In that book, I came for the plot and stayed for the world of Thisby. Yes, there were deadly horses that rose from the sea, but beyond that, there was the island. There was that rocky crag of civilization with the roots of a pagan culture. There was an untamed rawness to the cliffs and the November sea. And there was a fierce pride from the characters that you only feel when one’s culture is deep in his bones, a pride that I only can admire.

Oh, man. I’m failing so hard at describing this right now. But Maggie created a world and a home. A tangible home. She described things in a way that made Thisby very, very real to me. At times, the characters became the setting, and Thisby became a person.

And when I went back and reread that novel countless times, each time Thisby entranced me all over again. There was this soul, this essence to that place and the only way I can describe it is with that moment in The Night Circus, when you open a scent bottle and the entire essence of a place comes through. Like, when you get a whiff of sunscreen, and all your childhood summer camp memories flood you? That was it.

I always wondered how she did that. I went to TeaNovel, and I thought myself of how to do that. I knew I couldn’t just paint descriptions. I had to do something more. Maggie wrote this wonderful Printz speech, a passage of which I’d like to share with you:

“…the answer is this: 42 Century Butter-Pies. That’s right. Those imaginary pies that tormented me as a ten year old are also the solution to making a world. Because instead of baldly presenting a culture to me, Diana Wynne Jones showed me the symptoms of the culture. It wasn’t just the sights and the sounds. It was the taste in my mouth and the feeling on my skin and the sense that no matter where I turned my head in this book, I’d experience something new about the world. It was, as they say, the little things. So that’s what I did. I filled The Scorpio Races with as many of the little things as I could remember from my trips, and when I thought I was missing a little thing, I went looking for it. in the end, I feel like Thisby is a big place made of tiny, true sensations.”

-Maggie Stiefvater, YALSA Printz Honor Speech

That was it for me. Although I didn’t come across this speech until many many more drafts of TeaNovel, but I had also essentially focused on the little things. I had a lovely Opera and a magnificent, cutthroat Palace. What did I love about the Opera? What could I do to make the characters feel the same way? How do I make it so the characters don’t necessarily have worlds to save, but rather homes to fight for? The answer, for me, was in the little things. They add up. Believe me, they do.

There’s been a lot of radio silence on my end! A bit of time has passed, enough to make me think I’ve forgotten how to blog (that thought’s silly, but still.)
 “Shake it Off” by Florence + the Machine has been on replay all week. I go through phases where I periodically come back to Florence and the Machine (her new album is GORGEOUS). I love the intro to “Shake it Off”, and I feel like it really syncs with my own writing cycle.  I spent much of March and April finishing up a lot of things I’d been previously hanging on to, assignments not finished, and so as I came to May I feel as if there’s a new start of sorts. I’ve also been obsessed with the Woodkid remix of Lana del Rey’s Born to Die (Woodkid + Lana del Rey = HELL YES). I always seem to have some sort of Lana song on replay. I’m not sure why I love her so much, but I think it’s about how she creates her art and her image. Based purely on the lyrics of her songs, I could never imagine myself in a Lana-type world, but I absolutely admire how deftly she creates a distinct type of music for herself and for the music world, whether intentional or not. It’s kind of like that Maggie Stiefvater quote, like how she admires this one artist because you could look across a room and see one of his paintings, and know he created it.  I’ll link that remix and another song below as my inspirations for this week.
I’ve been drafting up new ideas and perusing Tumblr and Pinterest for visual tidbits of inspiration. I hope I can get to drafting them soon, but I have a pretty solid feeling that it’ll either take a ton of outlining or a madcap noveling dash like NaNoWriMo to get me started. Both ideas first came to me around two years ago, and they’re been ruminating in my head ever since. I’ll see where I go with those!

Happy spring! The weather’s cranked up to the 80s this week, and if I’m not sneezing my head off from my spring allergies, I’ll be outside in the gorgeous weather and daydreaming. 🙂

A while ago, I found a TED talk by one of my literary idols, Elizabeth Gilbert. She spoke of her success with her mega-hit memoir Eat, Pray, Love and how she had to deal with success of such magnitude. Of course, I’m paraphrasing, but the point was; she was lost, she was successful, and she didn’t know how to find her way back to writing again. 
 She wasn’t very successful when she was young—in the talk, Gilbert recounted the experiences when she “failed” over and over again, when she received nothing but years of confidence-crushing rejection letters. But the funny thing was, this newfound success, she said, had felt very similar to that sense of failure, that isolation and uncertainty that came with it. So what did she do, in the aftershock of her Eat, Pray, Love experience? She did exactly what she had done when she was faced with the same uncertainty and turmoil, many years ago; she wrote, and she went home.
Home is what I’d like to talk about here. Elizabeth Gilbert’s definition of “going home”, in this context, meant that she returned to the thing that defined her, and she let go of the expectations that her success brought. She had managed to overcome failure when she was younger because she kept writing despite the rejections, and now she overcame her blinding success because she realized that writing, in spite of everything, was her home. She’d return to it no matter what because she loved it more than she valued her expectations, her fear of failure, her ego. Writing was home for her because she loved it more than she loved herself. 
That’s what I’ve been thinking about for this while. What is it that makes me love stories so much? The older I get, I can’t help but think that it’s something more than a childhood full of books and library visits. I sense people like an author would sense a character. When my plane lands down in another city, I crystallize the place in details of the sky, the ground, and the buildings that rise. More than anything, I love stories. I try to catch them the way a raven would try to catch rings and coins.
Writing takes a sort of fierce tenacity to accomplish, especially if you have 10,000 other things going on.  I’ve tried to forget writing, many times over. I’ve tried to push it out of my life, but I’ve always felt unmoored as a result.  Whether I choose to put words down on paper or not, it will be a part of me. Writing pushes me, irks me, and tires me, but ultimately, it balances me, and it will always be the thing that I inadvertently will return to at the end of the day.  I try and fail at it, over and over, but I’ve come to realize that writing is my home. 

There are books that I could sit down with and read in an evening. And then there are the books that I will read through in three hours and wish I could turn back time and unread it so I could have the experience of reading it again. Those are the books that captivate me, and books that will haunt me.

The Kingdom of Little Wounds was that book.

Where do I start? Do you ever wish there was a book on a shelf that you didn’t believe existed? I loved fairytales. I was given a book of Hans Christian Andersen’s stories as a child, and that copy stands in the bookshelf above my bed.

The Kingdom was described by its author Susann Cokal as “a fairy tale about syphilis.” It is a fairy tale, albeit a brutal, explicit one,. The four sections of the book are labeled Light, Fear, Darkness, and Death, and I was convinced halfway through the book that there was going to be no happy ending. I was wrong, but the novel still is a dark, dark tale. Cokal spares no details as the disease, with all its lurid details (I warn you, highly graphic), slowly took over a royal family, first with its betrothed princess, and eventually plunged the kingdom into disarray.

What else is in the book? Power. When I was around seven or eight, my grandfather, an amateur Chinese historian, told me stories of court intrigue and murder that fascinated me.  Oh, how beautifully orchestrated the court intrigue of this book was, with all its twists and turns. There was a charming advisor in the novel (who is one of the most grotesque villains I have ever come across in a “YA” book) with a frightening, wolflike ambition–and he sets in motion a plot that nearly brings an entire kingdom to its knees.

Lastly: women. I love deep, complex female characters. Not just the ones with brassy attitudes and the ability to roundhouse kick a man in the face, but the historical type figures who struggled, with their own loud and quiet rebellions, to come into their own power. This novel features three women, trapped in a brutal Renaissance patriarchy: Ava Bingen, a common seamstress, Midi Sorte, a slave girl whose tongue was sliced in half, and Queen Isabel, who was regarded as nothing more than a royal babymaker. The story brought them together, in the unlikeliest of circumstances, and I saw each struggle to rise above their own fate. They were not always likeable, but in the end, they felt real to me.

This book was just so beautifully written and executed. The ending was one of the most satisfying I’d read in a long, long time. I think I’ll go swoon over it some more.

I don’t know how I feel about resolutions. I feel like when I make resolutions, I’m binding myself to some sort of contract that gets broken two weeks into the new year and completely forgotten by April.

Let’s just have hopes, shall we?

I hope to find balance. 2014 was the year I barreled into, completely confident, and got completely spun around and smacked upside the head. It wasn’t just in writing. A lot of things I had believed got challenged, and at multiple points during the year I had things stacked up against me and responsibilities nipping at my heels and I slightly fell apart. I didn’t read as many books as I wanted to–I barely read any. My queries came back with rejections.  I got led off writing for a while, led on again, and found myself lost. But it was all necessary–and I learned what it meant to deal with unexpected outcomes, get my bearings, and learn to start again and persist and get shit done.

I hope to do meaningful things. At the beginning of 2014, I had a very different vision of what it meant to do meaningful things, and I found myself working not for myself, but for others. I aligned my expectations to others, and in the process of that I lost my way. I hope that in 2015 I begin to learn what it means to do things for myself, and become my own person. I want to look back in pride by 2016.

I hope to grow. 2013 was the year of sky-high expectations and dreams, wishes I now understand as unrealistic, and 2014 was a year of proving myself wrong.  I’ve learned what it means to work for a dream, and what it means to be a writer and a person. I’ve learned to deal with mistakes and consequences. And I hope to grow.

2014 was by no means a setback–amazing things happened to. I connected to people and found a network I was a stranger to in 2013. I met my favorite authors and remained connected to them. I’ve made huge leaps in my writing. I find my voice is stronger, louder, more resilient. I find myself wiser. Every year, I become more myself every day. And it took a year like 2014 to get exactly where I am.

When I was younger, I would wrap myself in a blanket and open a book and not move for the next three hours. I could get utterly lost in the confines of a small bookstore and engage myself in the drama of fictional characters in a heartbeat. Stories were, ultimately, what made up my childhood.

When I grew older, I started to lose the long days of the summer, and the 8-10 PM blocks that had become my reading hours. I stole in snippets before school and after, forged on late nights with the latest installments of my favorite series, and wrote furiously when I had time. I wrote terrible stories, short stories, atrocious poems. 
A little bit later on, it was not only the time that matter but the resolve to read and write stories. My friends bragged about how they hadn’t touched a novel since junior high, and with the accumulating schoolwork, teachers weakly pushed out book recommendations. I would rarely discuss books with others because there was so much more to discuss that seemed more “productive”, “relevant”, and “important”. I began to slowly slink away from my favorite fantasy novels, the turn-of-the-century books I’d so loved as a kid.
It’s sad, how I grew up with such a cultural impression that reading fiction was frivolous, nerdy, and irrelevant, something done by absentminded daydreamers. Novels aren’t just vocabulary clogs or forms of an old school pastime. Reading makes you feel for others and express empathy. If you love stories, it means you give a damn about people you’ve never met and situations you’ve never been in before. Reading and writing means you’re willing experience the lifetimes you create and encounter, instead of just living the one you’re given. 

I want to do NaNo this year.

I love the event. I love it so much. Somehow, in the middle of November every year, I find myself half-crying near the computer, staring at what seems like a big shitty blob of words and wondering all over again why I was doing this in the first place. But then I look back on it, and I laugh at my mountain of questionable prose and remember the electric word sprints and caffeine-induced epiphanies.

It was my favorite part of the year, to be honest. Like a crazy little tradition of mine, where, for a month, my wild stories and rambling prose got top priority.

Can I do it this year?

I don’t know. This past year has led me all over the place in terms of writing, and I’m still at this place where I’m not quite sure what path I’m on and what my goals are. I’ve been elated, exhausted, hopeful. I’m not sure I have the high-powered threads of ideas, or perhaps the time to do the 30 day sprint. (But in the past years, the trend seems to be me deciding on a last-minute, hurried basis, so…)

To be honest, I feel a little lost, and uncentered. After going through an extremely tight-scheduled summer with a constant sense of panic. It drained me a little, mentally and creatively. , I feel like I haven’t had a proper rest in a while. And this blog has been receiving a little, just a little bit of neglect.

Through everything, writing’s still absolutely been my home. It’s where I know I can safely store my thoughts and laugh at my mistakes. Writing stories and prose still feels like the most natural thing in the world. For that, I’m thankful.

I’ve gotten a ton of experience in the past year, and that’s incredible. But I still want to stay as centered as before, and I’m still trying to find my way.

When I began seriously writing (aka not scribbling out a novel and immediately trashing it), I knew what was next; revisions. I think there’s a quote out there that says, “writing is rewriting” and I agree with that 1000%. 

I wanted to be a Good Writer. I wanted to print out the hard copy of my MS, crack open a box of highlighters, assemble stacks of index cards and tab stickies, and get to work. But I couldn’t. I was not wired to be that systematic, meticulous reviser with a perfectly organized system. 
Oh, how I wished to be one. How I wished to read through my manuscripts with a perfect eye for mistakes. How I wished for those structured, rigid rubrics like the ones they gave out in English class. I didn’t want to be the one who stared at my writing and numbed my fears with ice cream. 
I love books about the writing craft. I take those in and savor every gold nugget of wisdom. They make it seem so straightforward. Compelling characters, with secret desires and fears. Pacing that’s tight like a fishing line. A plot with a proper structure. And fearless, breathless prose. 
It’s never that easy for me. 
I can scribble notes and fill up worksheets and write out all analysis. I can pretend to be a therapist, a master planner–and be someone who actually *knows* what she’s doing. It’s not enough for me to take in concepts, to follow a system. 
For me, I have to feel. I’m really, really not trying to sound abstract here. But it’s true–I have to reach a point of wordless understanding before I can revise a single work on the page. I might have a half-paged outline for a book, but before I draft, I have to play things out in my head. My way of revising is feeling things intuitively–which is a blessing and a curse. 
I think I’ve written a post about this before. I’ve come to terms with accepting my own process of writing–but on days like these, it’s hard. It’s hard to stare at a blank document and not be able to think of a *single* way to write the plot down on paper. Plotter’s block, we’ll call it. 
In the end, I want to tell the best story I can. But some days, it’s pretty hard to think of getting there. 

In Chicago, there comes a time, in the precious two weeks from the middle of May to the beginning of June–that tiny window of true spring, where it isn’t bitterly cold or humid, sweaty, and hot.

I love this time of year.

Where am I?


Cartoon Network just gets me.

I’ll be on and off this blog for a while. Final exams are coming. I’m getting reading to map out one of the most challenging revisions I will have done. I’ve already announced a Twitter hiatus because, well, it was destroying any shred of productivity I had, and with all the RT convention and BEA buzz going on…well, I decided to just step back a little.

I just read this beautiful, heartbreaking book yesterday, called Code Name Verity. I know it’s been out for a long time, and I *just* got around to reading it, but it was every bit as gutting as everyone said it would be. And I fell in love. It was a story of a girl held captive by the Gestapo, as she scrawls out her written confession that is about her and her best friend–the one she left the night the plane with both of them crashed in enemy territory. It is a story of torture and war and friendship and love–not just the family or romantic love, but the love you feel for your best friend.

And I reread Princess Academy, one of my favorite childhood books. It was every bit as lovely as I remembered it. The books were both beautiful. And inspirational.

Now…How about a song for the week? I’ve been listening to this nonstop–got it from the 2013 Romeo and Juliet trailer (which, by the way, we’re reading in class 🙂 )