Tuesday, February 26, 2013

March Event in Shelton, WA!

I'm going to be on a writing retreat in Washington in March, and while I'm there I'll be at an event in Shelton, WA with some wonderful women from YA Highway, the group blog I'm a part of: Kristin Halbrook, Kirsten Hubbard, Kody Keplinger, and Phoebe North! We will be talking books and writing and life, answering questions, and then signing. If you live in the area, we would love to meet you!

The deets:

For easy transcription purposes:

Who: Me, Kristin Halbrook (Nobody But Us), Kirsten Hubbard (Wanderlove and Like Mandarin), Kody Keplinger (The DUFF, A Midsummer's Nightmare, Shut Out), and Phoebe North (Starglass, out in July)
What: A discussion and signing (for those who have books out)
Where: Timberland Library, 710 W Adler, Shelton WA
When: March 12, 4-5:30pm
Why: Because it's going to be fun and awesome. Also: books are good! Yes!

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Excerpt from "Hearken," from the Shards and Ashes anthology!

Today is the release day of Shards and Ashes, an anthology of dystopian/post-apocalyptic stories that I was fortunate enough to participate in. It was edited by the fabulous Melissa Marr and Kelley Armstrong, and the contributing authors are amazing. It's like a YA author explosion of awesome.

To celebrate the fact that the anthology is finally here, I'm putting up this excerpt from my short story, which is called "Hearken." My story is about a girl, Darya, who gets a brain implant to hear the music of the dying in the midst of an apocalypse. In this scene, she's riding a bus with her father.


"You know, when I was young, people didn't like Hearkeners much," her father said.

Darya watched the man across from her. His eyes remained steady on the floor. She could hear his breaths through the slats in the mask--not loud, but louder than unfiltered breaths.

"Why not?" she asked.

"Because they were seen as an unnecessary expenditure," he said, "Not worth the cost, I mean. But the people over at the Bureau for the Promotion of Arts were very insistent that music would help a troubled world. And then when people started dying..." He shrugged. "Everyone started to understand why Hearkeners were so important."

"Why are they so important?"

"Because what they hear...it's like hearing something beyond us. Something bigger than us." He smiled down at her. "It reminds us that there's so much more going on in this world than we can see with our eyes and touch with our hands."

Darya didn't quite understand what her father meant, but she knew there was something beautiful in it all the same.

Then she heard something--quickening breaths from the man across from them. She saw a bead of sweat roll down the side of his forehead. He looked so harmless--he was short, with salt-and-pepper hair and a white, collared shirt. His slacks were pressed, creased. He was not a killer. But the peculiar blend of fear and determination in his eyes was enough to make Darya's breaths stop completely.

As the man in the mask moved to get off the bus, he took a canister from his bag and dropped it on the ground. It was an object she had only seen in pictures--dull metal, about six inches long, as thick as her wrist, with an opening at one end to let out the gas.

Someone screamed.

("Hearken," from Shards and Ashes, 19 February 2013)

Monday, February 11, 2013

Book 3 News

For awhile there it was way too early to reveal anything about book 3, sometimes because certain bits of information weren't even decided yet. But now it's getting to be that time when information about book 3 starts trickling out, piece by piece. And I'm really happy about that, because holding all this stuff inside? Is kind of making me feel like a balloon. I want you guys to know ALL THE THINGS.

For now, though, just ONE OF THE THINGS:

The Divergent facebook page has put up some book 3 news today!

Check it out here. (Or here, if you have trouble finding it.)

Friday, February 8, 2013

Beginner's Mind and Revision

[Before I get into it: this has been widely reported already, but just in case you haven't seen it, there's a Divergent extras casting call for Illinois residents over 16 tomorrow in Chicago. More information here (after the bold heading "casting call").]

A few years ago I went through a series of huge changes in my life. They were good changes, for the most part, but they left me strangely...blank. I was no longer sure what sort of person I was, or what I wanted, or what I enjoyed. It was nerve-wracking, but it was also an opportunity.

Not long after this, I started dating my current husband. When we were getting to know each other, he would ask me questions like, "Do you like this?" or "Do you like that?", about food or clothes or movies, etc., and my answer was always: "No. Well, maybe. Let's try it and see if I like it."

As I said, it was an opportunity-- an opportunity to get to know the world again, like I was an alien who had just landed on earth and needed to be introduced to everything for the first time. I discovered that I liked high heels and short hair and fashion and sausage pizza and Flannery O'Connor, and that I didn't really like watching television, or Mark Twain, or "that's what she said" jokes, or arguing for sport. I discovered a lot more important things than that, too, about the baggage I carried and the person I wanted to be and the way I wanted to look at other people. I'm different, now, because of those explosive, terrifying, jarring months.

Over a year later, during a therapy session, I learned about a concept in mindfulness-based cognitive therapy called "Beginner's Mind." Very simply put, beginner's mind is the practice of approaching things--even things with which we are very familiar-- without preconceived notions about them, with the openness and eagerness of a child. I had a beginner's mind in those months I was just describing. Periodically I have to remind myself to try to get it back.

When I read Emerson's essay "Self-Reliance" in high school, this quote stood out to me and has stayed with me ever since: "A foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds." I may be misinterpreting it, of course, but to me it means, you don't have to like the things you've always liked just because you've always liked them. You don't have to think the things you've always thought just because you've always thought them. Let yourself change, because it's better to be accused of inconsistency than to be closed to most experiences or ideas.

As with most of my life lessons, this is also a writing lesson. As I revise the third book, it seems more important than ever. When I received my editor's feedback about Book 3's manuscript-- and this happens to me every time I receive feedback-- part of me recoiled from it, frustrated and afraid of seeing my book in a new and different way.

Good feedback forces writers to re-envision certain parts of our work. To the stubborn, defensive writer, this new vision is hostile; it threatens us and our writing, and we try to come up with excuses or defenses for what exists in our work so that we don't have to change it. To the writer with a beginner's mind, though, this new vision is an opportunity to experience our work in a new, different way-- like a Choose Your Own Adventure book, offering a different path that may actually be more enjoyable than the first.

Example: when I first wrote Divergent, the scenes that showcase the positive aspects of Dauntless life (ziplining off the Hancock building! Capture the Flag!) were not there. My editor pointed out that without some evidence for the good parts of the Dauntless, it doesn't make sense for someone as determined and brave as Tris to stay there instead of just defecting to the factionless when it's clear that the Dauntless way of life is deeply flawed. She also pointed out that the manuscript as it was was sort of a grim slog through a truly horrible initiation experience-- without high points, the reader would never actually feel the contrast of the low points, would not mourn with Tris when bad things happened to her.

My initial reaction to this was that my editor had not understood my vision, not just of the Dauntless, but of Tris's story and what it meant. Still, I decided to give it a try, so I wrote the Ferris wheel scene, and I wrote the ziplining scene, and my vision of Dauntless life and Tris's story expanded rapidly. To this day, those scenes are two of my favorites in the book, because they took away the simplistic view I had had of the story and the world and replaced it with a more interesting, more nuanced one.

I dragged my feet finding my way back to a beginner's mind then; it wasn't so difficult the next time. The next time, I discovered that even though revising is difficult, it can also be fun-- fun, to see the story in a different way or to try out new things, to show different aspects of characters or places, to explore the world you've created as if you're a beginner.

And really, I'm not an expert at anything, particularly at my age-- not writing, not food, not relationships, not even my own brain. So why do I try to have an Expert's Mind instead of a Beginner's one?

The take away from this, I guess, is that when someone critiques your story, or asks you if you like something you haven't tried in awhile, or tries to get you to see something from a new point of view, it's okay (and maybe even good) to say, no. Well, maybe. Let's try it and see.


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