Sunday, August 28, 2011

When do Dreams Stop Being Dreams?

I have a vivid memory. A year or so ago, Gretchen McNeil, YA Rebel extraordinaire, tweeted something along the lines of "FINISHED MY FIRST DRAFT OF BANISH! SO EXCITED!" (I searched but couldn't find the exact wording, though I'm confident it involved something about celebratory champagne!) Being a Rebel fan and aspiring writer who had written absolutely nothing, I was filled with a sense of hope and awe. That would be me one day. I watched my twitter stream erupt with congratulations, surely throwing in one myself. Banish, now retitled POSSESS, came out a few days ago. Surely there's great poeticism (or romanticism) that this novel was published in the same week that I finished the first draft of my first novel. 

It started with an outline last summer. Brain crack. It blossomed into the month of terrific terror known as NaNoWriMo. On December 1st, 50,000 words in, my novel was far from done. The next few months consisted of hardcore reading and procrastinating. When June rolled around, I swore to myself that I would finish that freakin' book. And I wrote, and I plotted, then I kept writing. My daily word counts were low, nowhere near the November days of 1,667. When August rolled around, I forced myself to kick it into high gear. It was like falling in love with writing all over again. 

It was the magical combination of writing the LONG-awaited climax of the story and the rush of throwing myself so deeply into a world that I had built in a dreamscape. In the most phenomenal way, I got lost in the fantasy. I would be at work, or in my friends basement, or getting ice cream and all the while be having conversations with fictional people in my mind. It was freakin' incredible. The story bubbled inside of me, dying to spill out onto the page. 

And then I finished. Late at night, curled up in my bed, I wrote the final words of the novel. As I read the last sentence over and over again, I waited for the immense jubilation. I awaited the high-pitch squeeing and totally embarrassing happy dancing that occurred at the end of NaNoWriMo. I tried, but it didn't come. I was excited only because I knew that I should be excited. In fact, I was terrified, completely in shock. I'm still not sure why I felt the way I did, but there was no tweeting in all caps. Why was I not responding like Gretchen? Why was I not running to get champagne...I mean...err...sparkling apple juice?!

It was only the next morning that I realized the question gnawing at me. What next? My dream of writing a novel was complete. Or was it? I knew I wanted to make lots of edits. There were parts I wanted to add or stretch out. I knew that there would be more. But what is it all for? Should I start querying agents? Even now the thought makes my stomach flip. 

This morning I gave the bulky 80,000 word manuscript to a very close friend who offered to beta-read and "edit the hell out of it." I can't wait for her notes, but I'd be lying if I said I wasn't terrified. I didn't realizer how much this "book" was a part of me. It felt like I handed her a bit of my soul in the form of a shitty first draft. I had never expected this feeling, and, to be honest, it's pretty exhilarating. 

Of course I'm excited. In fact, at this point, I'm beyond thrilled. I'm obviously overjoyed at the fact that I have a finished first draft. But what really blows my mind, what I'm really ecstatic about, is the realization that I don't want it to be over. I don't want it to end! Just as I wrote the last sentence, I had a craving to write more. I can't wait to throw myself back into the story! My dream isn't over, and I don't think it ever will be. Will this story ever be published? Where will this story be a year from today? Where will I be a year from today? I have no idea.

What I do know is that I'm addicted to writing. I am completely in love with it. I'm also eternally grateful to all of those who inspired me along the way: Gretchen McNeil, Leah Clifford, all of the Rebels (past, present, and future), Robyn Schneider, every author on my book shelf. And, of course, my wonderful friends (especially Emily, who has just informed me that she's already half-way through the manuscript) and family for being supportive. Thank you to the writing community for always supporting a delusional kid with a dream. Cheers to hoping that we never stop dreaming *clinks imaginary champagne glass...I mean sparkling apple juice...right...sparkling apple juice glass*

Sunday, January 23, 2011

The Cork Board of Awesome: A Look Back on 2010

As humans, change is the only thing we can truly rely on. We couldn't stop it if we tried. Well, okay, that's not true, but I'm not planning on cryogenically freezing anyone in the near future. So if change is so reliable, why are we so intimidated by it? I'll admit it, I'm terrified of change. But I can't help wonder why. Change is good. Granted there can be "bad" changes, like the death of someone you love or a traumatic parting of ways. But in the end, I believe everything happens for a reason. If that old girlfriend of yours that you were just SO in love with didn't break up with you, you may have never met your wife. And if your beloved grandfather hadn't died, you wouldn't have learned how to cherish life. My point is that change isn't spontaneous. Change happens because there is a need for it. And yet, even though we understand this, we're still so often frightened by it. 

To help prove my point in an unorthodox way, I share with you the small cork board that hangs above my desk. To the uninformed eye, it looks quite random. Actually, it looks quite random to me sometimes as well. In truth, there are some random things on here. There's a black ninja bumper sticker that my dad gave me. The ticket stub from the midnight release of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows part 1 (the first Harry Potter where I gave into the craze and actually dressed up.) There's another ticket from when I saw Promises, Promises with Kristen Chenoweth and Sean Hayes on Broadway last summer. But there are a few more substantial things; things that truly mean a lot to me, no matter how silly the are. 

I know I've mentioned this before, but a year ago I was a completely different person. 2010 (and the last six months of 2009) was a rough year for me. I had a lot of personal issues. The only change that I wanted was a complete escape. And though I never ran away or became a hobo, I did change. I discovered something; something that's been there for me since I was a child. Yes, I became a writer. You see, writing gave me confidence; something I thought I would never have again. Writing gave me life; something that I was convinced I didn't want. Writing gave me hope; something that I thought didn't exist. And over the months that I outlined and wrote, re-outlined and rewrote, then re-outlined and rewrote again, I acquired some souvenirs. These artifacts are a symbol of a rebirth, which was just as awkward and glorious as my actual birth. I'll share a few of these wonderful mementos with you. 

Up in the top left corner is a pen, held up by two tacks. To an outsider, it's a seemingly normal pen. However, that is the pen James Dashner, author of the 13th Reality series and The Maze Runner trilogy, signed with at one of his book signings. I was there. I met James, he's an incredible author and one of the most genuinely nice people I've ever met. Since there weren't many people at the first St. Louis book signing he went to, I had the opportunity to talk with him quite a lot. I learned so much about the struggles and rewards of writing from him. 

Similar to the pen hanging on the wall, there's multiple Beautiful Creatures and Beautiful Darkness merchandise on the board. These are also the products of a book signing. It was a release party for Beautiful Darkness that was hosted by the authors themselves, Kami Garcia and Margaret Stohl. Accompanying them were Heather Brewer and Kaleb Nation. I listened to the inspiring talks they all gave and was thrilled to hear them speak about the new book. As they were talking, I realized that the writing community, although difficult to get into, was quite rewarding. These authors truly enjoyed what they were doing. They had a career that they loved, and I was envious. You shouldn't write for imaginary fame or fortune, you should do it because you love it. Margy described writing as a drug. It's addictive and gives you a sort of high while you're doing it. Although not the best analogy for the younger audience, she's completely right. 

Finally, my favorite. I'm staring at it right now and can't help but smile. In the top right corner is a note. A note scribbled on inconsequential post-it. This note is from author Leah Clifford, who's debut novel A Touch Mortal comes out next month. The note reads, "Matt, congrats on winning and happy writing! Best, Leah." It's something so simple, yet means so much. You see, a few months back I won a contest on the amazing youtube channel the YA Rebels ( The contest was for a Barnes and Noble gift card, and was hosted by Leah. I emailed her my address and such and we got to casually talking over email. I won't exaggerate, she wasn't taking me under as her apprentice or anything drastic like that. She simply spoke inspiring things about writing and all that comes from it. Her emails, although simple, filled me with so much hope. And when the gift card came, this note was enclosed. When I saw it, I was beaming. Leah gave me the hope that I could be whoever I wanted to be. If I wanted to be a writer, I could be a writer. Even though dreams sometimes seem unreachable, it is possible to catch them. And with a lot of hard work and failure, I could make something out of myself. I'm sure Leah didn't know that such a simple little note would inspire me so much, but it did. Years ago I believed that hope was simply a distraction and that it only brought disappointment and pain. But I've learned differently. I've learned to accept change, and not run away from it. I've learned to seek dreams, because I know that I have a chance. And thanks to people like Leah, I've learned to be happy. 

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

A NaNoWriMo Reflection

I wrote this last night, after my post-NaNoWriMo happy dance:

I never want to forget this feeling. I am exuberant, brimming with unbridled happiness! I feel such accomplishment and pride! 50,000 words in one month may be an easy task for some. For me, it was a struggle. There were days when I hated every word that I typed. Then there were the wonderful days where I swore I was writing pure gold. I wouldn’t trade those insane, contradicting feelings for anything. The reason this was so incredible was because of the challenge. NaNoWriMo pushed me in a way that I could never do for myself. It forced me to write when I didn’t want to and cheered me on when I was feeling particularly creative. NaNoWriMo made a writer out of me. And for that, I am eternally grateful.

Now that the day of incredible, fantastic, bordering-on-insanity joy has passed, I feel more able to genuinely reflect on the entire month. My feelings on the matter haven’t drastically changed, but they have been shed a in new light. In fact, I have even developed a mental list. I probably should have been paying attention in class, but this seems substantially more important!

1.      I am no longer ashamed to admit to people that I’m writing a novel. I use to be very secretive about my plans. Careful to reveal it to only a few select people that I knew would respect and appreciate the journey. Writing has helped me to embrace the inner nerd and admit to people that yes, I am working on a novel.
2.      Before NaNoWriMo, I talked about writing A LOT more than I actually wrote. In fact, before November, all I had done was create an overly extensive outline and suffer through a horrendous false start. To be a writer, you have to actually write. I understand that now.
3.      I learned much more about myself than I thought I would. I had always heard people say that in every character we write, we place a bit of ourselves. I did not believe this at all. Sure, I supposed that we may have a few things in common with our main characters, but that was it! That notion could not have been more wrong. Every character is a little part of me. I suppose this makes sense, after all they were born in my imagination. Whether it is an irrational fear of gaudy jewelry or a never ending hope to travel the world, I am able to see things that I never thought I would. Writing is a very introspective process, almost on a therapeutic level.
4.      I like to write in the dark. I’m not entirely sure why. Whenever I was having a particularly hard day with my words, I crawled into my basement and turned out all of the lights. With only a single candle illuminating the room, I was able to find inspiration. I’m not sure why, but there’s something soothing about darkness. Perhaps it’s the strange, invigorating fear that something could simply be standing, staring, waiting in the darkness and you would have no inclination of it.
5.      NaNoWriMo taught me discipline. Without this learned skill, I know there would be no way that I would ever finish this novel. I guess that’s why most of the other things I’ve written have been left unfinished.
6.      A few months ago I went to the book signing of Beautiful Darkness by Kami Garcia and Margaret Stohl. The two discussed their book and writing with all of us for a good hour or so. One of the things that Margi told us was that writing was like a natural high. I now know exactly what she means. When I’m writing, I find myself sinking deeper and deeper into the story. It was difficult to pull myself out. It’s completely true, the act of writing is a drug.
7.      I need grammar lessons desperately.
8.      My characters never fail to surprise me. At first I tried to follow the outline as strictly as I could. However, it was just too difficult. I have to let my characters lead me to where they need to go. It’s them that tell me when to move on, not a dry outline.  
9.      Finally, my last thought on the matter. NaNoWriMo taught me how to be a writer. When I first started, I thought that it would be simple. It’s only 1667 words a day. For me, that was easier said than done. However, along the way I fell in love with characters and got lost in the world that I created. As incredible as that is, writing 50,000 words in one month was excruciatingly difficult. I can’t possibly say it as well as George Orwell did: “Writing a book is a horrible, exhausting struggle, like a long bout of some painful illness. One would never undertake such a thing if one were not driven on by some demon whom one can neither resist nor understand.

So that was my first NaNoWriMo experience. November 2010 will go down as one of the best months of my life. Now it’s time to keep writing and carry on the drive that NaNoWriMo has given me! Thanks to all of those who supported me through the process and congrats to those who won as well!  

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

NaNoWriMo and Leah Clifford

NaNoWrimo has been slowly killing me. I'm now at the halfway point, but still a day behind. Why did I think this would be fun? Although I'm sure I'll have a different opinion in a few weeks, but right now I'm struggling through the trenches of my first novel. I'll share more horror stories when I have time.

Feel free to follow me through the NaNo journey here:

However, I would like to mention a contest that Leah Clifford is currently holding. She's giving away an advanced copy of her debut novel, A Touch Mortal. How cool is that?! The contest allows for us to suggest names for a character to be used in book 2 as well as a personal mention in the comments section! That's just unreal. If I win, I will be on cloud nine! My friends will get random phone calls that consist of me screaming exuberantly. Leah, I think you should choose me just to put my friends through this traumatic experience! Anyway, go check it out! It's definitely the best contest I've seen!

Monday, October 4, 2010

Lack of Time and Contests

This blog is subject to the cruel punishment of time. With only 24 hours in a day, my life has been a bit hectic. Ultimately, I'm often forced to choose blogging, reading, and writing my WIP. My blogging has naturally been receiving less attention. Although I don't have much to report now, I know I soon will. Between my shitty first drafts, how I'm juggling life and writing, and my overwhelming thoughts on the current nuances in YA lit, I have a lot planned. So, until then. I give you a plethora of contests: 

  • The Undercover Book Lover blog is having an epic contest full of multiple prize packs. You can win everything from an arc of Angelfire by Courtney Allison Moulton to Vesper by Jeff Sampson. Good luck to everyone!
  • Courtney Allison Moulton, the author of Angelfire, is hosting a halloween-themed contest on her blog. She's giving away signed arcs, official bookmarks, vampire nutcrackers, gargoyle statuettes, and even glow-in-the-dark bats. Who knew Halloween was the biggest month for paranormal fantasy writers?
  • Becca Fitzpatrick, the author the Hush, Hush series, is celebrating the debut of the new trailer for Crescendo by hosting a contest to win a copy of Crescendo! To enter, all you have to do is post the trailer on your blog, facebook page, whatever. So, here is my entry!

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Censorship: In Defense of Twenty Boy Summer

The YA Literature community has recently been abuzz about a very touchy subject. Censorship. In case you don't know what it censorship is, let me briefly explain it to you. Censorship occurs when a book gets banned. It is often take out of libraries, school districts, etcetera. When a large group of people feel the book is "without worth" they can choose to extract it from curriculum or library circulation.

The case that most recently occurred has taken place in my own state of Missouri. Two school districts in the Ozarks have banned or have begun to ban books. The three books being banned are Speak by Laurie Halse Anderson, Slaughterhouse-five by Kurt Vonnegut, and Twenty Boy Summer by Sarah Ockler.  The claimed issue with said books is that they, "glorify pre-marital sex" and "could be classified as soft pornography." The instigators of the book banning claim Speak is inappropriate because of a graphic rape scene. They contest Twenty Boy Summer due to its teenage party scenes and mention of condoms and safe-sex. The banning of Twenty Boy Summer, a fairly recent YA novel, especially infuriates me. In case you haven't noticed, school districts seldom incorporate contemporary YA into their curriculum. I believe if my school had me reading The Hunger Games alongside a novel such as Animal Farm, I would have a different, deeper understanding of the point that both books share. I'm not criticizing classic literature, however there is only so much of it that teens can take. When a book such as Twenty Boy Summer makes it's way onto a school recommended reading list, the curriculum is headed in the right direction. The fact that it is being banned is a sad step backwards. The absurd reason for it's proposed banning is truly disgusting. Whether Twenty Boy Summer does or does not glorify pre-marital/teenage sex is ones opinion. However, this is not a new theme. I'm curious if the ones that proposed this ban would be okay with Romeo and Juliet in the curriculum.  What about The Odyssey and A Midsummer's Night Dream? All of those books, books I've read for my high school classes, have a decent amount of pre-marital sex in them. If your still not convinced, why don't you turn on a television right now. With a few clicks, I'm sure you could find something that glorifies pre-marital sex rather quickly. And, chances are, your teen is watching it. One way or another, wouldn't you rather have your child reading a book instead of staring at a screen?

The bottom line of all of this is that censorship is wrong. Yes, it is that simplistic. Someone should never have the ability to take away your voice; and that is what censorship does. It snatches away an individuals opinions and replaces them with a path of safe conformity. I'm having trouble seeing how censorship is any different than setting the book on fire. Granted, I'd never actually want to see that happen, but you get my point.I encourage everyone to speak loudly against censorship. Please share your thoughts, and don't ever let anyone stop you. 

Friday, September 17, 2010

Plotting (Your Life and Your Story)

Today I’d like to talk to you on the subject of plans. Actually, in my case, the lack of plans. Anyone who truly knows me would be able to tell you in a heartbeat that I’m hyper-organized, controlling, paranoid, and many more things that are less than flattering. However, I have to admit, they are all true. My work in progress is obsessively outlined, each day is rigorously scheduled, and I often consider my life to be completely planned out. Recently I have been rethinking my insane choices. But today, I make an oath out of reverence for the present.

Just as rules are made to be broken, plans are made to be changed. I often forget that I’ve only walked this earth for a mere 16 years. Every teenager thinks they know it all. We are a unique breed in that we are stuck in an awkward combination of childlike innocence and adult like arrogance. Maybe that’s why Contemporary YA is so fun to write. No teenager handles things exactly the same way. Teenagers as a culture are constantly changing. But, one thing remains true, instead planning for our future, we need to plan to be surprised. I’m not saying to ignore college, grow a beard, buy a van, and go sell tee-shirts down by the beach. However, in this high pressure society we need to be open to all possibilities. This goes for everyone, not just teenagers. There’s no need to force yourself down a certain road.

This can be applied in so many different ways. For a literary example, I left the ending of my WIP unplanned. I know where I’m going, but I’m not entirely sure what’s going to happen when I get there. Deviate from the outline. I recently wrote in two characters that I had no idea were going to exist in my novel. They are now intertwined with the plot and better the story. They were entirely unexpected and fit perfectly. I respect those that don’t outline their novel at all. Following ones intuition is essential for all writers; although the degree can vary. Novels are constantly re-written. No one ever gets it on the first try. So explore your options. I know I need to explore mine. A lot. 

So this may not have been the most coherent thing in the world, but it’s been on my mind the past few weeks. Let me know your thoughts!