Sunday, March 30, 2014

The care and feeding of new ideas

Starting a new project is a strange thing, a thing like dreaming. You don't know where the idea is going to come from—it might be something you see, or hear, or read, or is said. It may even start as a joke, but it sticks around. And you have to feed it, because it's so hungry and it needs to grow. It wants attention, it wants inspiration—before it starves.

I don't get a lot of ideas. Well, that's not true. I do, but they're often force-directed at other things. Things that aren't stories. Sometimes I get ideas that people think are great, but to me they're only jokes on Twitter. I can't spend the amount of time it takes to write a draft with something that's a punchline.

I have ideas that I only manage to do something with years later—they're slow cooking. It's not that I can't churn out quick-serve commercial ideas, it's that I don't find them interesting.

I start with a playlist for audio atmosphere and a pinboard for images/places, because I can't write it if I don't know who is in it and what it feels like. That comes before the plot. Even when it's something that starts with the concept/action. It's still about the people in it and the world/circumstances that made them that way. 

I've been playing with something over the past week, week and a half. Yesterday, I sat to try and put it on paper—capture it in a pitch or a synopsis or something before it escapes and then realized I couldn't. Not yet. I don't have a plot, because that's always what comes last and it's always what I struggle with the most.

But that's ok. It's still hungry, and I'm still feeding it, and I can't get frustrated that it doesn't want to talk to me with its mouth full.

Here is the song that it first devoured:


Sunday, March 16, 2014

Hello, world. I feel obligated to blog because I haven't done so in the past month.

What have you been doing, Chandra?

Working. Traveling. Revising the Magpie Book. Having an existential crisis. Working. Going on a writing retreat. Revising Something That Isn't The Magpie Book. Working. Trying not to be that person. Revising some more. Working. Having another existential crisis. Reading my new favourite book. Wondering if I'm any good at writing at all and having another existential crisis. Realizing I'm just exhausted from working and revising. Listening to a lot of music. Going for brunch. Failing to not be that person. Feeling bad for being that person. Promising to go for more brunch. Enjoying the sun. Fighting off a migraine. Wondering why everyone is incapable of using common sense. Tea. Coffee. Sugar. More music. Getting enough sleep. Not getting enough sleep. Feeling itchy and impatient for spring like there's something pacing in my head and my heart. Making jokes on Twitter. Launching an Indigo Teen Tumblr. Making a lot of jokes about wolves eating the sun. Because there is sometimes a wolf pacing in my head and my heart. Not talking to people. Talking to people. Promising to get more sleep.

Not necessarily in that order.

That seems like a lot.

Yes, world. When I have not been busy feeling the magnetic pull of depression that goes double-strength in winter, I have been fighting it with standing dates with friends on Saturdays and using up my vacation days.

It is cold again today, but at least it doesn't look like it and there's sun streaming in through the windows at long last and I have music to keep me company.

I told a friend that I expect nothing less than excellence with my words. Well, I implied we both did which might've been overstepping but I was making a clever-serious-joke-observation reply. Because that is the person I get in the winter, sharp and defensive against the grey overhead; restless against the cold. Unable to shrug things off, because when presented with the choice to care or not care I gotta care whenever I can manage it because it's that much harder to do so.

So missteps between someone else's joke and my inability to find it funny at the time happen. When I moved to Toronto, I came from living with people who knew how to tell when something was wrong and so I never had to ask for help. They offered comfort—sometimes intrusively—when they saw I needed it.

I got a text from my mother about a week and a half ago, to let me know that they'd taken Nero, the family dog, into the vet. Nero had been listless when I was home in February compared to when I'd been there in December. The one day he'd snapped at me—not seem to know who I was—and I was told that it happened to other family members, too.

He was 15 and all but blind, he could barely hear and his sense of smell was going, too. He was spry most days, and loved, and seemed to have a good life. But he hadn't been feeling well, and when my mom took him into the vet, they told her he had Kidney disease. The tests showed it was pretty serious and the vets recommended putting him down.

So that happened and I don't know if I've really processed it yet. I probably won't until the next time I go home and he's not there.

The thing about pets is they never let you feel lonely. It's harder to be lonely in the winter.

And excellence is damn hard to maintain. There's a lot of work left before the Magpie book will be ready for others to look at, because my process is to write a rough draft and then completely rewrite the manuscript at least once before anyone else sees it.

But the teeth-bearing snarl is creeping into my undertone and I feel the prickly under the skin need to create warning—is that inspiration's manifestation—and so back into the forest we go.

I am on Twitter if you need me.



Sunday, February 02, 2014

The wars we fight, the battles we win


I finished a draft on last Friday of something I'd been writing for over a year. That's a victory in itself, but it doesn't express the entirety of the hard-won battle it represents. I hadn't—previous to this draft—completed a work of fiction in over two years. Actually, it was headed to a count of three. I'm not supposed to tell you that, because it isn't sexy or marketable.

There is a prevalence of a toxic belief that if you do what you love, then the doing of it isn't work and therefore somehow easier. Your reward should be the enjoyment of it and the ease of obtaining this enjoyment, as so many others struggle day to day to find it amid the challenges and demands of their own lives. If you aren't enjoying this thing you profess to love or if it's difficult... well, maybe you just don't love it enough.

Writing is words on a page. Anyone can put words on a page. Most of us do it on a day to day basis. But good, coherent, purposeful story-telling? That takes time and commitment and a lot of energy.

I used to believe that my unquestioning love would mean the transmogrification of writing into a career. It would just happen if I did the work and trusted in it. Well, it hasn't. Certainly not in any way that I could've foreseen or with any kind of permanency.

We don't talk about failure. We are so superstitious about giving it an invitation into our lives. But failure gives perspective on things, clarification about the turning of gears our own and otherwise, that prepares us to continue the complex operations of accomplishment. Sometimes the gears turn so slow we might think they've stopped. Sometimes they do stop. But that doesn't mean they won't turn again.

I almost threw this draft out at 78,000 words. That's about 12,000 from where I finally put it to rest. On the surface, I was tired of its seeming endlessness. But in truth, I was tired of feeling like I couldn't love it enough to make the writing of it easy. If I didn't love it, then how could anyone else?

It is incredibly ironic to seek wish-fulfilment over drafting a manuscript with a subplot theme about the necessity of Doing The Work; perhaps subconsciously that irony is what got me to the end. Or maybe it was being able to look around and see other people living through the struggle. Reaching the other side. And not responding with "oh, you just need to love it more." It was more comforting to have people say "yeah, it's fucking hard, but keep at it."

Love is part of what we do, but not giving up is an act of discipline. Enjoyment alone doesn't keep you committed when things aren't fun. I want to know other people have doubts and struggle, because that gives me motivation to keep fighting.

If things were easy, I would have very little interest in doing them. But there's the struggle that leaves you feeling invigorated and the struggle that beats you down. For me writing is both—sometimes at once. We have a complex relationship, we always have, and to be fair... I'm not sure it was always a healthy one. But I remain hopeful that I'm rebuilding it into one that is.

Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Love to the past, hello from the future

Oh, 2014, you've got that new year smell. I know because I peeked, took one of the corners off the cellophane, as I scheduled tweets for tomorrow at work. (Spoiler: I am paid to be a time-traveller who sends messages to the future from the past that you will see in the present.) 2014 is pristine white, undisturbed snow and the stillness of a morning with just the right pink to the sky and sharpness to the air. It is hope, and I love hope because it encourages me to be kind.

I have come to offer a caution: Do not invoke the be magnificent resolution lightly, dear ones. It is the resolution that asks you to become magnificent in ways you weren't before, to struggle and grow and change or get pushed into doing so. My not so public theme for this year was to be lightened, to have the burdens of things removed, and as a result from about April through to December, it felt like the rug was constantly being pulled out from under me. That the things I would not let go, would not walk away from, were removed by force.

Because that's what I asked, and we get what we go looking for.

But I think back on this year, and I realize it's not all bad. It's all perspective, as any year—any thing—is. I did not finish a manuscript and start another, because that's not what this year was really about. That phrase, that utterance, came from when I was 26 and someone asked me what my plan for life was. I was going to finish a book, and then I was going to write another one.

Somewhere along the way, I realized that alone isn't a plan. It won't pay the rent. It will leave me fulfilled and healthy and better able to deal with the day to days that get the rent paid. I said this year that I wanted to become serious about seeing Social Media as a career and not just something I did while waiting for publishing to happen. In July, I got thrown head first into it. There was over two months this summer, nearly ten weeks, when it was just me. Thankfully, it's not just me anymore. As I think about where I started at the beginning of this year and where I am now, I was—am—will continue to be—magnificent. Not without sacrifice and compromise, not without a ridiculous amount of stress, and not without the love and support of my family and friends.

But we did it. I realized while I was home for Christmas that this year was about staying. About creating the space and the foundation and not giving up, when it would've have been much easier to do so. Last year was the year to surrender; this year was the year to fight.

And this year was about learning where writing fits in my life, why I do it, and to believe again that being good at something does carry the responsibility to do good things with it. I have not finished a manuscript, but I have 72,000 words and they're serviceable. Some of them are good. A few are stupendous. I will have a finished manuscript next year, when I am ready to have one.

Remember this in the waning light of 2014: That this was the moment consciously imbued with the significance of decision. This was the recognition of the accomplishments of 2013. The wow that mists out into that new year, breaks its silence, and starts the clock ticking.

Hello, 2014. Let's be magnificent.

Monday, December 30, 2013

My Top 10 Books of 2013

According to my 50 Book Pledge, I read 58 books this year. I also read 3 manuscripts from friends. These are all books that I finished/didn't get bored and start skimming halfway through to see what happened at the end.

I was putting off doing this list as I had hoped to get a couple more books read while I was on vacation, but I spent that time combing old manuscripts I found for viable bits that could be salvaged for other things. (There are also about twelve books I wanted to read this year I've not gotten to, and I'm not going to finish The Luminaries before 2014 because it's 400 pages of description longer than it needs to be.)

Drumroll...

My Top 10 Books Published in 2013

The Ocean at the End of the Lane by Neil Gaiman. This has been my favourite book of the year since February, and I didn't read anything that was nearly as perfect in its ability to reach through flesh and bone to hold onto my heart. It is the most perfect thing that Gaiman has written.

The Dream Thieves by Maggie Stiefvater. I love this book for what it accomplishes as its own story, and what it accomplishes as a second book in a series. I haven't stopped thinking about it.

The Lost Sun by Tessa Gratton. I love this book for the same reasons I fell in love with The Raven Boys last year. At the core of The Lost Sun are three wonderful, flawed people whom I care deeply about. It has my new favourite BROTP (Soren and Baldur.) The world is thoughtful and seamless and it's the most inventive use of Norse mythology I've read in quite some time. This was my favourite new series, and I think it's highly underrated and more people need to read it. (Thanks, Kate.)

Two Boys Kissing by David Levithan. This book broke me in public and reduce me to tears on a train. I have no regrets. It is a monumentally important story. Brave, honest, and so full of hope.

Fangirl by Rainbow Rowell. While I enjoyed Eleanor & Park, I had a stronger connection to Fangirl. I remember being Cath, and I cared about her—and everyone in this book—plus Rowell created her own fantasy world to fanfic for this book. That's dedication. This is a compassionate, honest look at the relationship between fandom and story.

Firecracker by David Iserson. This was a joyful discovery of a quirky, odd contemporary story that made me laugh out loud and then kicked me in the kidneys when I wasn't expecting it. It broke the standard YA formula, and I appreciated that.

Paper Valentine by Brenna Yovanoff. I don't know if Paper Valentine is a perfect book, but it is so magnificently complex. There is so much going on in it, and it was the first book I read this year that reminded me what a well-written book can do. It's haunting.

Doll Bones by Holly Black. This is a lovely, creepy, thoughtful book about growing up and friendship and toys and stories. It reminded me a lot of Coraline in the sense that you can read it no matter what your age and get something out of the story.

Untold by Sarah Rees Brennan. I enjoyed the second installment in the Lynburn Legacy, especially in the way it handled feminism and discussions about sexuality. I did not enjoy it's ending. You are a bad person, Sarah Rees Brennan. I had plans for those feelings.

An Astronaut's Guide to Life on Earth by Chris Hadfield. As a kid who grew up fascinated with space, getting to read a memoir of someone who has been to space is fascinating. But what I took from Hadfield's story was a reminder that while pursuing the impossible, you need to enjoy each step of the journey and not get caught up in trying to progress to the end goal.


Two Books I wish I'd read sooner

Black Swan Green by David Mitchell. I have read all the David Mitchell books, and while this was the one I read the last... I think it's the one I like the most as a whole. Structurally it works the best for me, and it feels the most complete.

The Scorpio Races by Maggie Stiefvater. There is a world in this book, and if you pay attention it will tell you how to create one of your own. Plus, it has horses that eat people in it. And George Holly is the Chrestomanci.


Five books for 2014 (That aren't the next in a series)

The Story of Owen by E. K. Johnston. (March) I read an ARC of this from Net Galley, and it is an accomplished, wonderful account of life in rural Canada. It is feminist; it has things to say, and it says them with clean, readable prose. Also, it has dragons. And jokes. It did the same thing that The Lost Sun did, in that about 100 pages in I realized I was going to be very upset if anything bad happened to any of the characters.

Half Bad by Sally Green. (April) I've read an ARC of this one, and I can't stop thinking about its world and wondering what will happen next. It's about a world where witches are real and they are either White or Black, but Nathan is the son of a white witch and a black witch. It's a gruesome, dark book and I like it.

Sinner by Maggie Stiefvater. (July) STOP TAUNTING ME WITH YOUR PLAYLIST AND GIVE ME THIS BOOK ABOUT LOS ANGELES, MAGGIE, OR I WILL TELL EVERYONE IT'S ACTUALLY ABOUT TIME TRAVELING WEREWOLVES I am greatly anticipating this standalone companion to The Shiver Trilogy that features Los Angeles.

Landline by Rainbow Rowell. (July) Rainbow Rowell's next adult novel. I think it's about a time-travel telephone, but it really doesn't matter because I'll read everything she writes.

Mary: The Summoning by Hilary Monahan. (Fall 2014) I read this one in manuscript format, and I am always pleased by the clean, readable prose my friend Hillary writes. Her books appear straight-forward, but they are smart, smart stories. And she's creepy. I mean, her book is.

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Five Albums from 2013 you should probably own

You can just skip to the bold bits if you want the music. Or you can read my charming preamble because I know you all secretly want me to blog more.

Last Friday, our office featured an employee craft sale. As I stood in the room looking at what had been created by people that had nothing to do with their dayjobs, I resolved that I should also get a hobby. But a hobby that I wasn't going to turn into a job. My superpower is turning hobbies into jobs. (Well, it's really more like a curse.)

A couple months ago, some of my friends started listening to me about music and I was like well, maybe music is my hobby. This is probably incorrect, because I got most of my music this year from Maggie Stiefvater. (Unless I was at a concert or the band followed me on Twitter.) You can also go to Maggie's tumblr and impress your friends with your musics. I won't tell them you, if you don't.

Listening to music isn't exactly the kind of thing you can set up a table at a craft show to share. But I want to show some intent here; something a little more accessible than the playlists I put together for manuscripts on soundcloud.

I thought I could show off my new hobby by making a list of the Top 10 albums of 2013. Only I couldn't come up with 10 albums that I had in heavy rotation that came out in 2013. (Apparently, hobbies are more challenging than I thought.) For example, I bought Of Monsters And Men's My Head is An Animal this year, but it came out much earlier. Same with the Foxes tracks that aren't Youth and Shaking Heads. Also, I'm just getting to know of Verona's The White Apple (Deluxe Edition).

But I've got five albums that came out in 2013 you should own. That's a valiant effort, right? Right. I'll do better next year.


1. Bad Blood by Bastille

The might be the first album I've played in heavy-rotation that eight months later I can hit play and smile like I'm listening to it for the first time. (It's basically the soundtrack to my year.) Bad Blood is an expertly arranged set list from a band with a big, complex sound touching on the familiar but immediately identifiable as... well, Bastille. No one else could've made this album composed of lyrics that appear on the surface to be simple, but contain allusions and metaphors. All of songs do more than tell stories; they invite the listener to tell her own stories with them.

I could be soulmates with this album. We might need to get married and have awkwardly dancing children.



2. Tunnel Vision by Little Daylight
Speaking of Perfection: Little Daylight. This opening act on the Bastille tour immediately caught the attention of everyone listening at the Toronto show. Little Daylight played five songs and it felt like a full set. Do you want to experience music-love at first listen? Tunnel Vision is an EP of five glorious tracks that will bring about world peace. Just put it on repeat. Their forthcoming debut album and the Foxes debut album are the reasons I'd like to skip ahead to 2014.




3. Pure Heroine by Lorde
Lorde doesn't need my help. In fact, everyone already knew who she was long before I did because I spent months convinced Royals was sung by Natasha Bedingfield. (I enjoy the occasional Natasha Bedingfield song, but I rarely enjoy her albums.) Then I found out that no, Lorde was someone else. Pure Heroine is a mix of hip-hop and synth-pop, with songs about being a young woman today who was very exposed to the class divide and now exists on the opposite side of it. (And maybe isn't always comfortable there, but I could be reading more into it than is actually on the page.) I appreciate the stories in her songs, and the stories I can tell with her songs.




4. Hemiplegia by Haerts
Bastille, if they were fronted by Stevie Nicks. (Yes, I know who she is and not because of that Glee episode.) Haerts will get into your blood; you'll find your foot tapping as if you were listening to Little Daylight. It's an orchestral, grand kind of sound and the four songs tease out that an album would be a treat for the ears. Listening to this EP is like hunting lost dreams through the streets of Los Angeles during a summer evening.




5. Volume 3 by She & Him
True story: I wrote an entire manuscript almost exclusively listening to Vol 2 from She & Him. I like their old California Beach AM radio sound, but this album is fuller somehow. More stereo and less mono maybe. There's definitely that sound of when rock and country weren't that different, but not in the same way as Taylor Swift where country became rock again. The tracks are a mix of original songs and a few covers, like usual, and again the same upbeat tempo with melancholic lyrics.



Friday, December 13, 2013

Travel in Time

In August of 2010, I was offered a place as the Teen category blogger in a pilot program Indigo wanted to roll out. The Indigo Teen Blog, and associated Twitter account, was one of the first "insider" blogs in the YA market. Before Epic Reads, Random Buzzers, HCC Frenzy, and even before the infamous Scholastic This Is Teen campaign. It began as a learn as I went, personal opinion, mixed-bag kind of thing with two posts a week.

The first interview that appeared on it was a nine author interview conducted at the Pasadena stop of the first Smart Chicks Kick It tour. The next year, Indigo Teen Blog went to the RT conference in Los Angeles for the inaugural  RT Teen Day. In 2011, I spoke on a panel at World Fantasy 2011 about Dystopian YA Fiction. I've livetweeted and blog-covered events, interviewed wonderful authors, and created a trusted place for book recommendations.

Three years of messy, glorious love is soon being laid to rest. (The whole blog program has been in transition since early October over to a new platform.) A couple months ago when I put The Dream Thieves completed interview into our blogging tool and wrote the introduction, I thought this is the last thing I'll do for the Indigo Teen Blog.

I was right. And I was happy that it was an interview about a book I loved with someone who holds the title for the Most Interviewed Author. The blog hasn't always been easy or enjoyable, but I'm grateful for every opportunity presented and every one I created.

That's the lesson that remains the most important: Something may take you to a door, but it's you who walks through it and is responsible for what happens on the other side. When you've done all that you can do, you ask what next and get ready.

They offered to let me choose 5 to 10 posts that are my favourites to transfer to the new blog. I wonder how do I transfer the feeling of the receiving the very first ARC I'd requested to review, an author quoting from one of my reviews on their website, or building the trust and connection between authors, readers, and publishers that develops over three years?

Ultimately, how do I transfer growing—very publicly—into an aware reader and a better writer?

I can't.

Those are all intangible; the Indigo Teen Blog acted as a trail through a forest of books and experiences—digital breadcrumbs of where I had been and how far I'd gone. As I review the posts tonight, picking favourites, I travel in time. Memory-walk. Reach out to touch past lives while hearing echoes of what was happening behind the scenes and between those posts.

I know things you don't about the blog. Things best put to rest with a stake in their hearts and garlic in their mouths. Things determined to suck the love right out of something that I spent years hand-in-hand with, public-facing, integrity-bound to do as well as I could.

So it's a careful journey on paths that get lost and crumble. But it's mine. This is where I cut my marketing teeth. This is what led to the role I have now, all these provinces and worlds away from where I started.

I should make a Doctor Who joke here; @IndigoTeenBlog loves Doctor Who jokes. But I've only got sentimentality left. I thought I was ready; I knew it was coming. But I had a moment today, right after I was asked about my favourite posts, where my only thought was "I don't want to go."

All things end. Let this passing be marked by three paragraphs written on a post in late December 2010 that won't be transferred over.

"Anyway, 2010 has been a year of changes and challenges and adventures and adversities. The kind of year where you’re always halfway out of the dark, and it leaves a girl needing a resolution or five. A battle plan for the next twelve months, if you will, or at least the foundations of a peace treaty.

I’m resolved to approach 2011 with patience and understanding for others and for myself. To put kindness into the world. To laugh at my mistakes then learn from them. To write more and talk about writing less.

In fact, I generally resolve to do more things that make me happy and less things that don’t, because the world’s a better place when it’s filled with what you love. I hope to find more new authors who make me want to read everything they’ll ever write and some established ones who I didn’t realize I’d love. Of course, I plan to tell you all about them."

A love letter from the past to the future; a reminder of what was, what is, what can still be.