My Positivity Project

I’ve been thinking a lot about Internet rage culture lately. It seems like every time I log onto my Twitter or Facebook, there’s somebody (and not infrequently, a lot of somebodies) being angry about something.

The Internet can be an incredibly useful tool for discussing important topics and widening our perspective on various issues. I fully believe that reading thoughtful responses to big issues has made me a better person.

But I also have noticed that a constant stream of negativity can be toxic. Some days I just have to log out of social media before it drags me into a storm cloud of negative thinking. Because somedays I get so caught up in the rage that I can’t be productive because I’m too busy being angry.

In life, there’s always something to be upset about. That’s just the way it is. The Internet sometimes magnifies this, though. Now I’m not saying we should stop trying to tackle tough issues. I’m not saying we should be all rainbows and sunshine all the time.

But maybe we do need some rainbows and sunshine.

With that in mind, I’ve decided to try a little experience. Everyday for the month of September, I’m going to make a point of complimenting or appreciating 5 people a day. Not all of these people will be online or public. But that is my goal.

I’d love it if you decided to participate with me (even if it’s a scaled back version, like just one person a day).

Let’s spread a little positivity.

Monty

Also a picture of my dog, Monty (or Montie, we never could agree on a spelling) because it just seemed like a fitting way to kick off a positivity challenge.

YA Recs: A Girl Named Faithful Plum

a girl named faithful plum

Summary:

This nonfiction account follows Zhongmei Lei, a girl from the country who defies all odds to become a student at the prestigious Beijing Dance Academy.

Why I loved it:

I’m just in absolute awe at all the things Zhongmei overcame. Reading her story made her an absolute inspiration to me. I also appreciated the author’s ability to give readers some insight into the historical and political setting in which Zhongmei’s story takes place. This is the kind of book that makes you want to push your own limits.

Misadventures in Co-authoring

Once upon a time my friend Meghan and I decided to write a book together. Things have kind of gotten out of hand, but we’re having the time of our lives. We’ve been documenting part of our process on Twitter. Feel free to enjoy the following recreation of our shenanigans.

 

On the bright side, I think the book might end up being pretty good!

YA Recs: Irises

Irises by Francisco X. Stork

Irises

Summary:

After the unexpected death of their father, sisters Kate and Mary must figure out how to care for themselves and their mother, who is in a permanent vegetative state.

Why I loved it:

First, I enjoyed this book because the writing was beautiful, which drew me in instantly. I love stories that focus on family relationships, and Stork does a fantastic job depicting the different personalities of the two sisters. They both feel realistic to me, and I enjoyed watching their relationship progress. I also appreciated the book’s approach to the character’s religion. The portrayal was powerful without feeling preachy.

YA Recs: American Born Chinese

American Born Chinese by Gene Luen Yang

american born chinese

Summary:

Chinese American student Jin Wang struggles to fit in at school.  The Monkey King goes on a journey to become a human. Danny struggles with humiliation caused by his Chinese cousin. Yang brilliantly ties these three tales together in his graphic novel.

Why I loved it: 

Gene Yang is one of those authors where I want to read everything he writes. He always seems to achieve this perfect balance of humor and emotion. Seriously, though, the guy is hilarious and I very much appreciate humor.

Initially I couldn’t see how the three story lines would tie together. I can’t say too much without spoilers, but it’s so beautifully done. Yang is a real master of craft.

Most importantly, though, is how I related to the characters. The book focuses on a Chinese American boy accepting his identity. I think everyone has aspects of their identity they’d rather hide, and this is a book about embracing who you really are. Seeing the connection between myself and Jin also helped me build empathy through shared experience. A wonderful narrative about self acceptance.

This is the kind of book I could go back to over and over again.

Subjectivity

You’ve already heard that writing is subjective. Everyone’s tastes are different. That doesn’t mean a rejection doesn’t sting.

Furthermore, how do you know when something is really just subjectivity as opposed to a real problem in your manuscript? This can be a tricky distinction to make. CPs can help give a second opinion. But at the end of the day, you need to decide whether certain advice really will help you maintain your vision of the book or not.

I got the following feedback on my full from an agent I deeply admire:

I prefer a slightly more formal/historic feeling voice for fantasies (to align with the times there were princes and battle fields) and this feels a bit contemporary for my tastes.

I thought about this a lot. I could go through and change the language in the book. But I liked the more casual, contemporary tone of my book. I found I didn’t want to change it, even if I did have a lot of respect for the agent giving the feedback.

Agents are well aware of the subjectivity involved as well, as indicated in emails from several of my rejections.

As you know, these opinions are largely subjective and another agent or editor may have an opinion completely different from mine.

I’ve decided to step aside, but I’m sure another agent will feel differently.

Subjectivity can be brutal, but it’s also what makes reading and writing fun. If everyone liked the same things and there was some formula for writing a book everyone liked, it wouldn’t be nearly as fun.

Making your character proactive

About a year ago I was querying my novel Until Death. Although I sent out a very limited number of queries, I was seeing some good success with a couple requests for fulls. Those eventually turned into rejections, but with some incredibly helpful advice. There’s one piece of advice in particular that I’d like to talk about today.

Even with Liva’s plucky personality, I didn’t quite understand all of her motivations and at times I think she reacts to situations rather than having agency of her own. I’d like to see her become a more proactive character throughout and I want to see her desire more than just her love interests.

Proactivity. It was an issue I hadn’t even considered, but as I began thinking about it, I realized that Livia (my main character) just sort of got swept up into a conflict and kinda stumbled through the story from there.

joy:saddness

Basically, my main character was Sadness and my plot was Joy.

The revisions that resulted from this advice were not easy. For a few days I was so overwhelmed (by this but also by the rest of the advice in the email and also advice from another rejection I’d received two days prior) that I couldn’t even think about it. Once the initial shock wore off, I sat down and spent a long time pondering Livia’s motivations as well as the motivations of everyone around her.

A new subplot emerged. Which might have been disastrous for some people, but was kind of a boon for me given that my word count was barely high enough for YA speculative fiction. On the other hand, the new subplot meant a lot of new words as well as a lot of changes to old words due to ripple effect. It was exhausting and took a long time.

But has it ever been worth it. Giving Livia her own agenda certainly made her a much more layered and interesting character. It also made the whole plot more intricate, though. Suddenly I had more strings to pull, more emotions to evoke, and more opportunity for characters to clash with each other.

Revisions: painful, but worth it.

And I’ve learned my lesson. Now I pay more attention to my characters’ motivations and agency during the drafting process. It saves time and energy later on.

What do you do to make your character proactive.