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Aug 23, 2012

Introducing Ana Szaky

We finished shooting our movie on a Tuesday night in the darkroom of a photo lab in Berkeley. We had to get out of there so the store could close and in the moment, it didn't feel like the end. Nor did it back at my apartment later, when we were all toasting each other and telling stories and no one was asking about the next day's call time because there was not going be another call time. It was only the next morning, when I woke up and Kristyn was already working from the living room, and I ran to the store because I was going to cook something in my apartment for the first time in several weeks that it felt like the end. Ana had spent the night in Caitlin's bedroom, which used to be my office. I was going to make her breakfast. 
There are around 115 scenes in the movie version of Hold Still. Caitlin is in 113 of them. One would imagine that we'd have held auditions for this role. But the truth is that Amanda and Kristyn and I had all fallen for Ana three years ago when we made the book trailer for Hold Stilland we had trouble imagining anyone else in the role, even though Ana had never acted before and wasn't pursing it. I sent her pages from the screenplay and we called her via Skype. We had a terrible connection. We could barely see or hear her. 
We offered her the part anyway. 
It was impulsive and risky and could have been stupid, but it ended up being the best decision we made. You'll understand why when you see the movie and watch how fully present she is, how subtle and emotional her performance is, how lovely and open she is in every scene. I can't wait for the credits to say, "Introducing Ana Szaky." Until then, it's my pleasure to introduce her here.

NL: As you know, I sent you an email during our casting process telling you that we wanted you as Caitlin but that I wanted you to think about it because it would be really demanding work. I don't know if you could tell, but I was panicking a little. I didn't know you well yet and I didn't know if you would be able to carry an entire movie when you had never acted before. It turns out that I had nothing to worry about--you were the easiest person to work with and you managed to stay composed and funny and just all around lovely to be around even on the longest, most grueling days. I keep telling people about how on the second day of shooting you offered to change my tire during your brief dinner break. So now I want to know what the experience was like for you. How was it different than what you expected? What was going on in your head for those sixteen days of shooting? 

AS: When you first told me that you were making Hold Still into a movie and you wanted me to read for Caitlin, I was definitely both surprised and very flattered. I have to admit that when things really seemed to be coming together and this became more of a reality, I started to freak out a bit too. I really admired how much effort you, Amanda and Kristyn were putting into making the film and I thought how awesome it would be to be a part of it. I was definitely nervous to come and read for you all. I have never acted before and I never liked public speaking, so I was a little apprehensive that I would be able to pull this off.

I remember that when I told my mom that I was going to make a film, the first thing she asked me was if I have to take my clothes off. I told her only partially and it was about time she read the book. After making the Kickstarter video, I re-read the book and while it made me really excited to start filming, I also realized all the things I would have to do.

The process of making this movie was so different from the process of writing the book. After I wrote the screenplay I found myself letting the book go a little bit. I knew that with our limited budget I wouldn't be able to recreate Caitlin's world as it is in the novel. But I loved how in between shooting scenes I would find you reading the book. You referenced things from it that I had forgotten about. We joked about how you now know the book better than I do. So I want to hear about how that shift worked for you, from reading about a moment to conveying it. 

It was a very interesting experience to read the book as if I was Caitlin. I felt even more captivated by the book this time because I was trying to feel everything you described as if it were happening to me. For example, during the scenes where I had to cry or be upset, it helped to picture the words in the book of what should be going through my mind. Like during the scene where Taylor confronts Caitlin in her room about how she told him about Ingrid, I kept thinking about how it was described in the book, “It feels like he just reached out and grabbed me by the throat.” I would just repeat those words in my head and during the scene, I really did feel like I was Caitlin. For the crying scenes as well, reading Ingrid’s suicide note to Caitlin always made me tear up because it felt so real. It was a great day though when we discovered that putting Burt’s Bees chap stick under your eyes helps you cry. 

Now that all of this is over, what moments stand out for you? Are there stories that you've been telling people? What will you remember most from behind the scenes?

Even though most of the days we spent filming where long, and sometimes very hot, I truly enjoyed every minute of being on set. There are so many memorable moments it’s hard to choose which ones to talk about. Some of my favorite memories include covering all the windows in Caitlin’s room with trash bags so we could begin to shoot night scenes. The room was so small, so stuffy and everyone just looked like they had emerged from a sauna after every scene. Another great scene I loved doing was Caitlin thrashing in her car. I am not really an angry person, but I have to admit it was kind of fun having a little tantrum. The furry seat covers was so perfect but there was so much fluff everywhere that I was still picking fur out of my mouth a couple hours after we finished shooting. Another car scene I loved was driving across the Bay Bridge. Not going to lie, it was definitely a little scary though. The first time we filmed it, Kristyn was hopping back and forth from the front seat to the back trying to get every and I remember thinking that, one, I hope we don’t get in an accident and two, I wonder what everyone else on the bridge thinks we’re doing. And then there was the first make out scene which was great because it started the whiskey cocktail nights. I thought it was really great that we were able to incorporate the tree house into the movie, but I did feel like such an artistic poser. Charlotte [Drury, our production designer] would be in the room creating this beautiful mural and then I would step in occasionally and paint a leaf and cry. It was pretty funny. 

There are many things that I will take away from this experience, but the best part for me was meeting so many unique and talented people. Everyone on set was so nice and supportive that it made all the long hours and stress worth it. Not to mention, the food was pretty great too. For me, I didn’t really like to watch the footage after we shot it, but I loved how you, Kristyn and Amanda would gather around the tiny screen to watch each take. It was really great because it showed how much you all cared about this and the amount of effort you all put in was so incredible that it made me want to put my all into it as well.

(Portrait by Kristyn Stroble, Mural by Charlotte Drury)

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Jul 24, 2012

What We've Been Up To

Dear Friends,

In case you haven't heard, I have been busy turning Hold Still into a movie. We emerged on Monday morning from a shoot that consumed four days and nights (and all the rooms of our apartment). On Thursday we dive back into shooting. 

We raised money on Kickstarter for a small production budget, and we are using the rooms and houses of friends and family members for the sets. Caitlin's bedroom in the film is my office in real life. There was this crazy moment between scenes when I looked around and realized just how much of my life is in this film. Caitlin's desk is the desk at which I wrote Hold Still and The Disenchantments. Ana Szaky (who is playing Caitlin) wears my clothes through much of the movie. Her bedspread belongs on my bed. But all of it is transformed, mixed with other people's things. It's like teetering on one edge of my life and one edge of my fiction and one edge of something altogether new. 

Here is a little glimpse at what's happening on set. Thank you to Tina Curiel, Lindsey Moore, and Kristyn Stroble for the photos!

Until next week,

Nina

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Jun 26, 2012

HOLD STILL, THE MOVIE

With a heading like this, you might expect the announcement that Hold Still has been optioned by a producer, or, better yet, that it's been picked up by a studio with a famous director attached and a few young stars ready to play the parts. 

But that isn't what this is about. Instead, I'm writing to announce an art project, one that I hope will grow and flourish the way Hold Still did when it was only an idea I had, and then became a few scenes, and then dozens of pages, and then a whole story. The difference between a movie and a novel, though, is that a movie requires tremendous resources and many people, while a novel only requires an idea, something to write with, and the tenacity to see the project through.

Let me back up a little bit. Actually, I'll back all the way up to middle school when I went through a The Man in the Moon phase. This was right before my Reality Bites phase, which was only briefly interrupted by a mad crush on Empire Records. I watched The Man in the Moon with such focus. Not only was it showing me what I was on the brink of learning for myself--what first love would feel like, what loss would feel like--but it made art out of yearning and hope and grief. Then when I was in high school and Reality Bites became my new cinematic love, I realized that I didn't only connect with the movie because it was about the lives recent college grads whose questions echoed adolescent questions, but also because it was about making movies. Making art out of uncertainty and, again, love and loss and yearning and hope and grief.

I didn't become a filmmaker. I became a writer. And yet I never surrendered the dream of making movies, and now I'm hoping that I can do both. I adpated Hold Still into a screenplay. Now I'm hoping to bring it to life.

Which brings me to this:

Amanda said she had a nightmare last night that our time ran out and we didn't make it. Kristyn is optimistic. She thinks that enough people love the book and that they'll hear about the project, band together, help us make it happen. I vacillate between confidence and doubt. I mean, we raised over $1,000 in only one day. But then, we need to raise at least $17,000 and as I write this we still have $15,160 to go. At first I thought that with enough time and energy and volunteers, we could make this movie without raising money, but now I understand why films are rarely made for under a million dollars. Everything adds up. 

I never thought that I would turn to the world and ask them to help me make art by sending me money through a website donation, but here I am. It's pretty exciting. And I wouldn't be doing it if I wasn't convinced that the result will be worth it. I have dreams of teenagers watching the movie over and over in their bedrooms late on school nights and getting that feeling.  Paloma, our wonderful AD, said the other day that film is the most powerful form of art. I don't usually think in absolutes like that, but I think I might agree. It's so immersive. All the time I was writing Hold Still I was thinking of what it would look like. I wanted to capture moments without language. I still want to.

So, thank you to our day one donors. Their names kept trickling in and each time I was so moved. Look closely. Some of my YA colleages are in there, which is part of why I love being in this community as much as I do. You see Lewis Peterson? That's Margaret Stohl, masquerading as her husband. A friend from the neighborhood, Dan Merritt, who is a screenwriter himself helped us out. We got help from generous and big-hearted college students, from a young woman who I taught in her freshman and senior years of high school, from a woman I was so happy to know in grad school but now only see on Facebook, from a librarian who served on the Morris committee and gave me an honor, from friends we see often and those we rarely see, from people we've never met, from the brother of one of our actors and the father of another. 

It's two hours until midnight here in California. Tomorrow we'll post a new list of all the people who contributed today. Thank you for being so wonderful.

Love,

Nina

To view our Kickstarter page, click here.

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Apr 16, 2012

YA or Bust Tour!

The YA or Bust tour begins tomorrow! I'm so excited to hit the road with Gayle Forman and Stephanie Perkins. The lovely Jess Rothenberg will be at all three Northern California stops. We hope to see you along the way!


Tuesday, April 17th: Oakland, CA 7 PM

A Great Good Place for Books
6120 LaSalle Avenue
Oakland, CA 94611

Wednesday, April 18th: Menlo Park, CA 7PM

Kepler’s
1010 El Camino Real
Menlo Park, CA 94025

Thursday, April 19th: Petaluma, CA 7PM

Copperfield’s Books PIZZA PARTY!
140 Kentucky St
Petaluma, CA 94952

Friday, April 20th: Santa Barbara, CA 7 PM

Chaucer’s Books
3321 State Street
Santa Barbara, CA 93105

Saturday, April 21st: Los Angeles, CA  12 PM

Los Angeles Times Book Festival/ Booth Signing

University of Southern California
Mrs. Nelson’s Bookstore Booth #747

Monday, April 23nd: Los Angeles, CA 6:30 PM

Children’s Book World
10580 ½ West Pico Blvd
Los Angeles, CA 90064


Tuesday, April 24rd: Huntington Beach, CA 7 PM

Barnes & Noble
7881 Edinger Avenue
Huntington Beach, CA 92647

Wednesday, April 25th: San Diego, CA 7 PM

Mysterious Galaxy
7051 Clairemont Mesa Blvd
#302
San Diego, CA 92111

Friday, April 27th: Seattle, WA, 7 PM

Roosevelt High School
1410 NE 66th St
Seattle, WA 98115


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Feb 14, 2012

The Disenchantments Posters!

You guys. Check these out.

My wonderful, talented, generous friend Eli Harris made these tour posters for The Disenchantments. Aren't they awesome? Penguin Teen is giving away a couple of them on Facebook, and if you don't win and want one (or all) of them for yourself, Eli will be selling them soon.

For now, you can check out the rest of his work here: http://eliwharris.com/

And isn't that eye photograph amazing? My wife took it.

xo,

Nina

UPDATE: The posters are now for sale on Etsy! http://www.etsy.com/shop/BanalObsession

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Jan 29, 2012

Events for The Disenchantments!

Hello, everyone!

2/16/12 7PM @ Diesel, A Bookstore in Oakland, CA: Launch Party!

The Disenchantments comes out on February 16th, and we're celebrating that night with a party/reading at Diesel, A Bookstore in Oakland at 7PM (5433 College Ave.). I used to work at this bookstore and it's owned and staffed by wonderful people. There will be live music and snacks, a brief reading and a Q&A. I hope to see you there!

For more details, click here

3/14/12 7PM @ Books Inc., Berkeley: Panel with Lissa Price and Caitlin Kittredge

Not Your Mother's Book Club presents "Music and Murder and Changelings Oh, My!," a panel with Lissa Price, Caitlin Kittredge, and me! This event is open to the public. I know that I, for one, will be inviting my mother. 

For more details, click here.

Future events . . .

I'll be going on a California-focused tour with two of my favorite YA authors, so check back for details regarding mid-April events. 

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Nov 9, 2011

Minnesota and Missouri

Last month, I had the most meaningful experience of my life as a writer. It’s what I want to talk about now, several hours after learning that my first novel, Hold Still, has been taken out of classrooms and off the library shelves of a Kansas City area school.

At the beginning of their summer break, 3,000 students at Champlin Park High School were given a copy of Hold Still as their summer reading book. A group of dedicated, passionate teachers, led by a courageous and tireless librarian named Terri Evans made this possible. Hold Still is the story of a girl who has lost her best friend to suicide, a loss that was familiar to many CPHS students: eight teenagers in their school district have died by suicide in just two years.

I started receiving emails from the students of CHPS early in June, and they continued to trickle in as the summer wore on and the fall began, so that by the time of my visit to Minnesota, I already knew a lot about some of the students I was about to meet. I knew about their struggles at home, their worries about friends, the day-to-day challenges in their lives. I also heard from students who had not yet suffered from a great loss, but found that the book spoke to them anyway. One girl told me that my book helped her realize that when she does lose someone, she will eventually be okay.

After my morning presentations on the first day of my visit, I met with the members of the Gay Straight Alliance.[1] The students, their two advisors, a group of librarians and I spent a little over an hour talking about life and art and friendship, love and discrimination and the challenges and joys of coming out. We told stories and asked questions and laughed a lot. And then our conversation became more serious. One after the next, young men and women talked about their own suicide attempts, about fears of being rejected by their family members, about months and years spent suffering under the weight of depression. And over and over, I was given the most amazing compliment an author could receive: that reading Hold Still saved their lives.

Though I appreciate what they told me, and will never forget it, and trust wholeheartedly that they believe what they said, I do not feel capable of accepting those statements at face value. I don’t think that my book saved their lives. I do think, however, that a combination of factors did. Talking to one another and hearing that they weren’t alone did. Sharing the novel with their parents and using it as an entry point to bigger conversations did. Terri Evans and her team of beautiful, driven educators who were willing to assign my book and invite me to Michele “Gays-Are-Part-of-Satan” Bachmann’s district to speak to 3,000 teenagers did.

Which brings me to the events of this morning. When my dad first sent me the article, I was stunned. After I watched this video from a Kansas City news station, I was trembling. Then I showed the footage to my class of high school juniors and seniors and they gasped and laughed and shook their heads in disbelief and put everything back into perspective.

This is how I’m feeling right now: the more time I get to spend in this glorious and frustrating pursuit of writing novels, the more I appreciate the librarians and teachers who care enough for their students to seek out and provide books that will speak to them. Perhaps there is a book or two out there that does that without acknowledging any controversial subject, that imagines a teen experience with no exposure to profanity or alcohol or drugs or sex. But, most often, that isn’t the case. Like Terri Evans and her fearless crew, librarians and teachers in Missouri selected my book to be an optional part of their curriculum. I’m sure they did so because they thought it was valuable. I’m sure they actually read the whole thing before making that decision. And though a part of me is honored to now share a place in the challenged book club with Salinger and Baldwin and Faulkner and Plath, the bigger part of me just wants the teenagers in Blue Springs to read books that could start conversations. Champlin Park High School taught me how vital those conversations can be.



[1] Though the character in my novel that commits suicide is not gay, suicide rates among LGBT kids are painfully high. Queer youth are four times more likely than their straight peers to take their own lives, and 1/3 of them report to have made suicide attempts.

 

 

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Oct 20, 2011

A True Ghost Story

I'm always on the lookout for stories, so when I took a road trip before finishing The Disenchantments, I collected as many as I could. Many of them ended up in my novel, including a ghost story which was told to me over dinner by Blake Driver, a friend of my close friend Mia Nolting. (Most of you know and love Mia already, but for my new readers, Mia illustrated Hold Still and also did some beautiful lettering for The Disenchantments. She is also one of the most talented artists I know. And she makes me laugh and she plays the piano. And when we were teenagers we knew each other through our respective jobs but were too shy to actually talk to each other. Okay, I'll get back to the point.) 

The ghost story itself isn't a big part of the novel, so don't worry about spoilers in this post. Reading this won't ruin anything. In the novel, the story is only mentioned briefly and this is a story that should be told in its entirety, from start to finish. But before I give you Blake's story, I had a couple questions for him and Mia . . .

Nina: Hey, Blake! Hey, Mia! How did you guys meet?

Blake: That's a great question, Nina. During the summer of 2004, Mia and I were volunteers with the Student Conservation Association working as backcountry patrol rangers in the Mount Baker-Snoqualmie National Forest in Washington. I had to teach Mia to drive our little stick-shift Chevy in the parking lot at the ranger's station. She pretty much got it down, but on tricky turn-arounds on really steep precipices up in the mountains she always got out of the driver's seat and made me do it. It was a great summer with about six weeks of solid sunshine, and our daily hikes were spent talking to forest visitors about pack-in/pack-out procedures and leave-no-trace ethics,  giving them directions or suggestions for other hikes, updating them on trail and weather conditions, and our favorite part by far: picking up trash along the way! We still laugh about some of the most disturbing episodes of trash pick-up, which invariably included the many "TP pits" we had to dispose of. I still work in a National Forest, and it's still absolutely astounding how many people think it's okay to leave toilet paper and feces above ground, exposed to everything. And not just that, but most of these TP pits are intense concentrations of the stuff, indicating that multiple people use the same area as big natural toilets. They're also evidence that where one person makes a path or way trail off into the woods, others will surely follow. Humans are incredibly, almost stupidly, socialized like that. Some of these pits were mere feet away from the nearest box toilet, the maintenance of which was also included in our duties. If there's no box toilet around, people in nature should always pack out their TP and trash in plastic Ziplock bags, and all fecal matter should be buried underground. But that wasn't happening a lot, so Mia and I quickly got down the "punch-in" method, which consists of placing the tip of a shovel on the TP in question, applying pressure on the shovel with your foot, and shoving it down into the duff. When you pull the shovel out again, the TP stays underground, the shovel comes out clean, and because only a thin incision was made in the duff layer, you can't see any evidence of disturbance. It's much more effective than digging a cat hole, which invariably leaves the area disturbed. We always felt good about leaving a scene clean like that, because it's so disgusting to walk through the National Forest and pass big TP dumps like that, and it still baffles me that people in the Cascades want their forests to look like that, and are okay with it. Also, we knew that, with the scene clean, those numb-minded, idiotically socialized followers more than likely wouldn't be tempted to use the same place again. So, Mia and I became fast friends, solidly bonded through trial and adversity. When it seemed like, no matter how many TP pits we disposed of, there would always be more, and we were trapped in some sort of modern Sisyphus myth about a neverending uphill TP battle, we were there to push each other onwards and upwards. 

MiaCheck out this amazing google ad list that came up from your response.
Also of note is that aside from the many TP pits, rural Washington is also full of trash pits and gun pits (trash shot into pieces) and former-meth-lab pits (toxic trash shot into pieces).

Nina: Wow. These weren't the answers I was expecting! So, how did you end up at the fire lookout, Blake? And Mia, did you visit him there?


Blake: Gotta love the amazing search engines behind Google! 
Well, after our internship ended, a dispatch came through our ranger's office that the Sand Mountain Society, an awesome volunteer organization, was looking for a replacement staffer to finish out the season on its flagship lookout in the Willamette National Forest down in Oregon. I had no idea what a lookout was, but I didn't quite have enough money at the moment to return to New England, where I'd been living at that time in my post-college years, and so I contacted Don Allen, who runs the organization, and within the week he was taking me up to Sand Mountain and showing me around. When I turned the bend in the trail at the summit and saw the lookout for the first time, I thought, Wow! This is where I'm gonna live? It was like coming home in so many ways, because before coming out to the Northwest to work in the woods, whenever I'd thought about how phenomenal it would be to work in a National Forest, I'd always pictured myself in a little hut on a remote mountaintop, never actually believing I would be lucky enough to find a post like that, and suddenly here I was, moving into the exact place I'd always dreamed about finding. I spent my first night up there barely able to sleep, knowing I was living the adventure of a lifetime and relishing the feeling that I'd taken an enormous and important step on the romantic, unique path I'd set out on when I decided to follow my dreams of working in nature in the first place. Some part of me knew that finding the lookout was a key moment in my pursuit of my Personal Legend, which is the treasure that Paulo Coelho in The Alchemist says each of us was put on Earth to find. I knew there were secrets to my destiny buried on the summit of that volcano, locked away in that lookout tower, much like Santiago knew there were secrets to his buried in the sacristy of that old church in Spain, and sure enough, over the past seven summer seasons that I've been up there, so many dreams have been revealed to me, so many old treasures unearthed, and as you know, so many spirits from the past come to show me how my destiny and Sand Mountain's are intricately entwined.
Mia: I love visiting the lookout! It's the most beautiful place in the world. It's a tiny little house on the rim of a volcano crater. The inside is painted light sea foam green (the inside used to be dark "forest service" green but the lookout men (they were always men) were getting neurological problems because of the contrast between the dark green and light sky. So they switched to a green that's close in value to the color of the sky. So there's less contrast for people who stare out windows at the sky all day. Here's a drawing I did of the lookout, and from the lookout:
Also note attached screen shot. What?
Nina: Google seems confused, though these are very poetic links. Okay, one final question before we get to Blake's story: do you believe in ghosts?


MiaHell no! I mean, maybe a little. I love the mystery and possibility. Blake's story is pretty convincing!

Did you know I started a blog about google? It's like keeping a diary but I don't have to record anything. Advertising is the new documentation, after all. abouttheselinks.tumblr.com.
Also of note: Blake doesn't have internet in the lookout. POETIC.
Blake: Even though I've been trying to convince my employers to get me an air card up there! It's a little difficult being a freelance journalist these days without internet. No internet connection does not compute with editors.
I do believe in ghosts, but here's my theory, which kinda ties into the story I wrote about the one on the lookout: Old places, especially those made mostly of wood, have the ability to trap sound waves and vibrations from the people inhabiting them over time, as well as from the wind and sun and external environment. In many ways, wood as a substance is like nature's original sound-recording device. My aunt lives in a turn-of-the century plantation house in deep East Texas, and there are nights when, as a thunderstorm is rolling in, and the rising air pressure outside squeezes those old beams and the increasing moisture swells those door jambs, I swear I hear snipits of an old ragtime song playing on a phonograph. Perhaps the former owners of the house used to play an old ragtime record over and over again (the Maple Leaf Rag!) and as the wood structure around them swelled and contracted with changes in the weather, like a giant beast breathing contentedly on a stormy night, the wood fibers were changed on a molecular level by the sound vibrations passing through them, and after repeated vibrations from this particular song, the fibers became grooved, much like grooves in a vinyl record take the shape of sound patterns and reproduce them when the record needle swipes past them. In this way, I believe organic material can "record" sound waves, and possibly even images, if exposed to them for enough time. There is a story about early Indonesian potters, who were some of the first people to discover and master the potter's wheel, whose skill was so precise that their fingers passing over the clay at such a metered speed actually engraved the sounds of the village and jungle around them into the clay. Some of these vessels have survived intact, and when they're spun at the same speed in which they were formed, touching them with a bamboo needle (like the original bamboo needles of phonographs) can actually reproduce those sounds from 10,000 years ago! We can hear, by "playing" an earthen vessel, the sounds of Indonesian villagers and birds in the trees from a hundred centuries ago! (Is my math right about that?). Okay, I haven't taken the time to corroborate this story, but I think it's interesting even if it's not true. Because this is what I think ghosts are: sounds and images recorded by our environment and played back for us when conditions are just right. Much of Sand Mountain Lookout is made from material salvaged from the historic structure that sat atop Whisky Peak in the Rogue River-Siskiyou National Forest for 60 years before it was finally refurbished and given a new home on Sand Mountain in 1989. Some nights in the fall, when I'm socked-in by clouds and the rain is blowing sideways, I hear bootsteps on the catwalk outside, and voices are common on full-moon nights. Like I said, there are secrets buried in that structure, and perhaps voices and images from the past as well, like I'm living in a little music box that sometimes gets wound up and played. Now, if you ask my friends, I'm a horror-movie fan, so sometimes my imagination does run away with me.
Nina: I love the idea of ghosts, and, Blake, I love the way you think about them. I also remember that night when you told this story over dinner and how utterly convicing it was. You told it in a matter-of-fact way. It was something amazing, but also accepted, and that's how it comes across in my book, too. So, dear readers, before you encounter it in The Disenchantments, let's hear about it from Blake. This story was first published on NewWest.net.


First, a bio:

Blake Driver, who staffs a fire lookout in the Willamette National Forest during the summers, is also a freelance journalist whose first story for TIME Magazine hits newsstands on Friday, October 21. He's also currently looking for a publisher for a historical fiction novel he wrote in his spare time on the lookout.

Letters From The Lookout: “Phantastic Season” 

By Blake Driver, 10-12-07 

This is a ghost story. Of sorts. 

It’s proof that sometimes the most exciting things that can happen to a lookout alone on a 

mountaintop for a summer have absolutely nothing to do with fire. And oftentimes, the 

excitement only gets started when the clouds roll in from the ocean with their cold-season 

blusters of rain, snow and a whole host of other phantoms, long after the threat of fires 

has died down. Perhaps it’s true what they’ve always said, that ghosts are accompanied 

by a drop in the temperature. In the case of this friendly Casper that showed up in my 

window one evening, his materialization was certainly made possible by the freshly cool 

air of Fall outside, but I also realized with some heaviness in my heart that his startling 

visage could be viewed as a sort of haphazard record — a log book of chaos manifested 

— of all of my activities in that old building this summer and that, as surely as his 

features are complete, so my third season up here has come fully to a head. 

It happened on one of the first truly cold evenings after the fall equinox. I had made an 

early dinner of noodles, and the steam from the pot had condensed on the inside of my 

windows since the temperature outside had fallen considerably after sunset. After dinner, 

I sat down to play the guitar in the last remaining hours of dusk, and that’s when I looked 

over and noticed him, in the window pane closest to the brass handle of the door; a face, 

incredibly detailed, conspicuously peering into the middle of the cabin, right in the 

direction of the Osborne firefinder in the center of the room. 

My heart skipped a little. You could say I’d been fearing something like this for three 

years now, reading all that Stephen King alone in the dark. But I wasn’t scared. I was 

rather delighted. I had never seen the steam from my spaghetti settle on a window pane in 

such a fascinating way. I immediately recognized it as one of those moments in life that 

I’ll never have again, when a combination of physics, timing and perception come 

together at just the right moment for something like this to happen, the true definition of a 

phantasm, a moment when you don’t have to believe or disbelieve in anything to see 

what’s right in front of you. Make of it what I would (and I have a wild imagination), it 

was still going to be there until I wiped it away (though I was a little afraid to touch it). 

I remembered the last time I had washed the windows; I could see the Glass Plus streaks 

defining the majority of his face. And then I thought about all the objects I had carried in 

and out of that door in the course of the season: backpacks, binoculars, radios, cell 

phones, firewood, groceries, water canisters, doormats, books, coffee cups and the list 

never ends. How many times (I’m ashamed to ask) did I bump or nudge the window pane 

in an effort to open the door with full hands, leaving a tiny spot of grease or smudge of 

dust? Whatever the number, all of my comings-and-goings left an impression there, and it 

all fell into place in such a way as to create this stunning portrait. On the night when he 

appeared, I had made dinner earlier than usual, the light was just enough to backlight 

him, and the temperature outside was just so. To my estimation, this is what is known as 

a divine moment in time. It could have been an impression of an elephant and I still 

would have thought it was special.  When the prevention guard from the district came to 

give me some paperwork one afternoon, I showed him the photographs. He made me 

swear I’d done the portrait intentionally. I only had one thing to say to him: I’m not that 

good. He seemed to have no trouble believing this, so then he said, “I wouldn’t stay here 

anymore if I were you.” 

Now all the nights and most days are cold enough up on the mountain to keep steam 

condensed on the windows just from the simple act of my breathing, so I look for the man 

in the window each chance I get. Mysteriously, he’s gone. I pay careful attention not to 

bump the glass or wash that pane, just to keep him there as long as possible, but to no 

avail. In so many ways he was the creation of a summer, a summer as ephemeral and 

magical as an apparition, and now all of it a memory. 

As I close the door to the lookout one last time this year, it squeaks and groans just as 

loudly as it always did. It always annoyed me, but now I only hope to get to come back 

and hear it squeak again for another year. 


Mia, as usual, your drawings and paintings are beautiful! And Blake, thank you so much for sharing your story with us! Everyone, go check out Blake's story in TIME! It's in stores right now.

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Oct 17, 2011

Chapter Four in the Transformation Literary Relay!

Here is something fun! I’m part of a literary blog relay started by my friend Christine Lee Zilka with whom I attended Mills College for grad school. (The rules are posted below.)

I have to admit that I've slowed down the relay a little as I was tagged during what may have been the most exhausting (but amazing--more on that later) week of my life. Also, I should point out that I subconsciously ripped off my friend Nova, who wrote the second chapter of this relay. (Once I finished mine I read back over the first three chapters to find that one of her opening images became an important part of my chapter. Nova, forgive me!)

First, click here to read Wah-Ming Chang's awesome chapter. And in a few days, you'll be able to find Stephanie Brown's chapter here. (I can't wait, Stephanie!)

In the meantime, here is Chapter Four, by me:

This, too, is life: waking up at 7 a.m. to the sound of the telephone ringing downstairs. 

Last night, I thought that I was really living. Solange had looked at me with her squinty eyes, black eyeliner.

“Do it,” she told me.

“Why?”

“You know why.” 

She wanted me to shatter Justin’s bedroom window. She handed me a rock. Unprepared for its weight, I almost dropped it when she let go, which would have been what everyone expected. Because I am a girl who keeps my mouth shut and hands folded. I am a girl who never breaks anything.

But the kids around me all said Yes, yes, do it. And Solange’s eyes stayed on me, so focused, and I tightened my grip on the rock until the weight felt familiar, like it was an extension of me. Like maybe I was not the girl I had been pretending to be my whole life.

Alone, I crossed the dark lawn to Justin’s window. I pictured him sleeping on the other side of the glass, behind the purple curtain. Two months ago I had climbed into that bed with him. I remembered it was warm and I wanted to stay there longer, but I was not the kind of girl who would stay.

I threw it as hard as I could, and everyone ran, and I ran, too, but not before he pulled the curtain back and looked at me. 

Now, the phone rings. Please listen: I am not this girl.


THE FULL LINEUP, IN ORDER (completed posts in bold)

  1. Christine Lee Zilka czilka.wordpress.com
  2. Nova Ren Suma novaren.wordpress.com
  3. Wah-Ming Chang wmcisnowhere.wordpress.com
  4. Nina LaCour ninalacour.com/blog
  5. Stephanie Brown scififanatic.livejournal.com
  6. Jamey Hatley jameyhatley.wordpress.com
  7. Matthew Salesses matthewsalesses.com
  8. Krystn Lee blog.kryslee.com
  9. Bryan Bliss bryanbliss.blogspot.com

THE RULES:

  • Start with the last line of the previous entry.
  • Poetry, fiction, creative nonfiction all up for grabs.
  • 250 words (you can fudge if artistic license requires)
  • Thematically linked
  • Link to the next person on the list, as well as those who posted before you.
  • Post something within 4 or 5 days of the most recent piece.
  • Posts should start with an explanation, with links to the previous posts as well as the next.

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Sep 1, 2011

Announcement & Thanks

Announcement & Thanks

Hey, everyone!

Today I am happy to share some good news: I'll be writing two new novels for Dutton. Yeah!

I'm in the midst of writing the novel described in the PM blurb and I'm excited about it for so many reasons. It's my first Southern California book. (Though I am a Northern California girl through and through, I also love L.A.) It's my first mystery (although I do have a theory that all stories are mysteries, so maybe that isn't 100% true). And, perhaps most exciting for me, it's my first girl-girl love story (though I'm not guarenteeing a happy ending--you'll have to read it and see). 

In other news, I hear that ARCs of THE DISENCHANTMENTS will be out soon and I can't wait to start sharing it, and my artistic and generous friends and family members are making all sorts of videos and swag to go along with the book's release.

Even though I am a little behind in my work and I've had a kind of tumultuous couple of days and have so many chores to do, I'm feeling pretty lucky. Thank you to you guys, my readers, for making this happen for me. If it weren't for you I wouldn't have this news to share. So thank you, thank you.

Love,

Nina

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Jul 28, 2011

Something I forgot about, and then remembered

A while ago my brother's close friend sent me this link: 

http://fyeahtattoos.com/post/3875858780/this-was-my-first-tattoo-the-quote-ill-go

 

She happened to subscribe to a tattoo tumblr and just stumbled upon it. When I first saw what the tattoo was and read what the woman had written about it, I got chills. And then I got giddy. Somehow, I forgot about it for a little while. Today, I remembered it and thought I'd post it here.

 

 

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Jun 27, 2011

Introducing . . .

Introducing . . .

I am so, so excited to introduce the cover of The Disenchantments

What do you think?

And here is a little bit about the book straight from the Penguin catalog . . .

Colby and Bev have a long-standing pact: graduate, hit the road with Bev’s band, and then spend the year wandering around Europe. But moments after the tour kicks off, Bev makes a shocking announcement: she’s abandoning their plans—and Colby—to go her own way in the fall.

But the show must go on and The Disenchantments weave through the Pacific Northwest, playing in small towns and dingy venues, while roadie-Colby struggles to deal with Bev’s already-growing distance and the most important question of all: what’s next? 

Morris Award–finalist Nina LaCour draws together the beauty and influences of music and art to brilliantly capture a group of friends on the brink of the rest of their lives.

 

I'm so excited to share this book with all of you! It comes out in spring 2012, but I'm sure I'll have some ARCs to give away before then. Stay tuned for lots of fun updates.

Happy summer, everyone!

xo,

Nina

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Mar 28, 2011

YA Writing Classes

As many of you know, in addition to being a writer, I am also a teacher. One is a solitary pursuit, the other a social one. I can’t imagine my life without both of them.

The other day at work I was talking to two of the school’s administrators, and one of them mentioned that she and her friends have study dates every weekend. My other friend said that she misses studying, which allowed me to come to a realization that dawns on me pretty frequently: being a teacher is super fun. I, too, love to study, and in order to do well as a teacher, I need to be always learning new things and revisiting old ones.

So, with this in mind, I want to tell you about my newest endeavor as a teacher: a series of classes on crafting and publishing young adult novels co-taught with my friend Kristen Tracy (author of LOST IT, CAMILLE MCPHEE FELL UNDER THE BUS, THE REINVENTION OF BESSICA LEFTER, CRIMES OF THE SARAHS, A FIELD GUIDE FOR HEARTBREAKERS . . . I know—Kristen is prolific! And she has a PhD.). Our classes range from investigations of craft to the practical, nuts-and-bolts information about approaching the publishing industry that we wish we’d had when we were trying to find our places in the publishing world. Soon, we will add workshops to our class offerings. Our hope is to build a community of emerging YA writers, to offer them tools and practice in crafting their own novels, and to tell them everything we know about how to get those novels published.

We have also assembled an advisory board of amazing agents and editors to keep us up-to-date with developments in the industry, including Julie Strauss-Gabel (Vice President and Publisher, Dutton Children’s Books); Catherine Onder (Senior Editor, Disney-Hyperion); Sara Crowe (Agent, Harvey Klinger Agency); Jennifer Laughran (Agent, Andrea Brown Literary Agency); Julie Romeis (Editor, Chronicle Books); and Alan Rinzler (Consulting Editor, former Executive Editor at Jossey-Bass, Director of Trade Publishing at Bantam Books, and Vice President and Associate Publisher of Rolling Stone Magazine). We are so honored and excited to be working with all of them.

If you live in the San Francisco Bay Area, or feel like visiting us here, Kristen and I hope to see you! You can find all of the information at www.writeteen.com. And in case you're feeling spontaneous, we're offering a really good one this Wednesday night at the San Francisco Writers' Grotto from 6-9 PM. The class is on beginnings, which is a perfect place to start.

Hope everyone is well!

 

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Mar 1, 2011

I took my money/And bought a TV/TV brings me closer/To the world

Last night I finished a revision of my second novel, THE DISENCHANTMENTS, which will be coming out next spring. To celebrate getting one step closer to releasing the book into the world, I'm sharing this video. I chose it for a few reasons. One is that, to celebrate the minor accomplishment of meeting a deadline, Kristyn and I had a farmers market pot pie for dinner and watched TV. Another reason is that I love this song, especially the version of it in the video which is different than the album version. There's something about it that gets me every time. And, finally, because people don't know very much about THE DISENCHANTMENTS yet, and this song relates to many elements of the book, and it's mentioned in several chapters. So, happy Tuesday! Let's watch this over and over.

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Feb 23, 2011

Lisa

I just read that Lisa Wolfson, known as L.K. Madigan, passed away today. I am not a frequent blog reader, and my come-and-go Twitter presence is most frequently go, so I didn't learn that she had cancer until a friend told me about her courageous blog post. I couldn't bring myself to read the post when I got home, but, a few days later, I did. Like so many other people, I was in awe of the frankness and humor with which she told the world of her illness. In the days that followed, I planned what I would write to her. And then today came. And I hadn't written it yet. 

So, briefly, what I was going to say to Lisa was that I remember the first correspondance we ever had so clearly. She wrote an email to me and the other Morris award nominees. These were her opening lines:

I just wanted to take a minute to say, "Hi! Can you believe this?"

Maybe you all have settled down by now ... I'm still kind of in shock. Congratulations on your nominations! (There. Did that make the little zing happen again?) 

 

I liked her immediately. When she won the award, (admittedly, after I got over the brief disappointment of not winning myself) I was happy that the woman who had reached out to all of us, who had sent those congratulatory wishes and been so warm from so many miles away, had taken the prize. And we wrote more, and we read one another's books and found so many similarities between them, and we met at ALA and ate dinner and celebrated. I felt honored and fortuate to begin my writing career with her and the other writers around the table. We were all just starting out. It felt amazing.

I want to thank Lisa for being there with me in the beginning, for being such a kind and generous person with whom to begin this journey.

And, though it isn't anything I would have hoped for, I also want to thank her for her blog post, in which she wrote, "I’m not angry about the diagnosis. How can I feel angry when I had this gift of time? I’m not even afraid of dying. We all die, and I made my peace with that a long time ago." I'm not even close to being at peace with dying, so along with learning from Lisa the importance of reaching out, of building community, of extending congratulations to fellow writers, I have taken away a lesson about death, too.

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Feb 21, 2011

Did this happen to you?

Almost everyone who has read my first novel, Hold Still, or has heard what it’s about asks me a version of the same question: “Did this happen to you?”

The easiest answer, and the one I give most often, is, “No.”

But every story starts somewhere, and for me, most of what I write has an underlying question, something that I have grappled with for a long time, and probably will grapple with forever. So while the easy answer is no — my high school best friend is, thankfully, alive and well and only a bridge away from me — the most accurate answer would not be so definitive. It should be more like, “Not exactly.”

Here’s why:

It was 1996; I was in 9th grade. In the middle of my morning bus ride to school, another student told me that one of our classmates, a boy named Scott, had killed himself. The kid told me in a gossipy tone, so I told myself that that’s all it was: gossip. All my life, I’ve been a gullible person, and I knew Scott pretty well. He was in my drawing class and my theater class. We drew next to one another on easels everyday. We had a routine. He would compliment my drawing; I would compliment his. In drama, he was funny. This kid on the bus didn’t know what he was talking about.

But then I got to school and found that it was true.

I remember that the teachers seemed unequipped to handle our questions and our grief. A couple made brief statements before class that counselors were on call; some didn’t mention anything at all.

My math teacher was the football coach. He was a very kind and well-meaning guy, but he was not comfortable in a classroom, and he didn’t know what to do with us that morning. He tried to carry on as usual, but by the middle of the period half the class was crying, and he finally found a box of tissues and sent us outside to talk.

This is one of my most vivid memories in high school: sitting outside on the steps with a group of girls and a couple of the more demonstratively sensitive boys, passing a box of Kleenex around and talking about Scott. How could someone so sad seem so happy? Why did he do this? How did he do it? What would be so terrible that it would seem impossible to overcome?

Now that I’m fourteen years older, I am left with the same questions. I don’t know what was going on in Scott’s life that would lead him to make that irreversible decision. I don’t even know how he did it. (I heard a variety of theories, and I suspect that I know which was true, but I think I still prefer not knowing. This way, I don’t have to picture his specific actions, can instead see him forever drawing next to me under the fluorescent lights of a classroom.) I do know, thought, that Scott’s death marked a shift in the way I perceived life. Before that morning, I was resolutely optimistic. Things could get bad, but they could always get better. People might suffer, but then they would heal. Scott’s death revealed a more difficult truth.

Still, I remain an optimistic person. I do believe that for most people, with the right kind of help, with enough support, despair is surmountable. I’ve heard this from readers who have told me their stories of suicidal thoughts and even attempts, and their subsequent overwhelming relief and gratitude that they are still alive.I think ultimately, the most important thing to do is to talk, to listen, to record videos, to host an awareness project, to reach out, and to accept help when it’s needed.

When I think of that morning in 9th grade, and all the days that followed, I remember a hush. I remember that adults didn’t want to talk about it, and that as a result we thought we weren’t supposed to talk about it either. But there can be healing in conversation and togetherness. I’m glad that’s a lesson we’re learning.

 

Originally published as a guest post on the wonderful blog, YABookshelf.com.

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Jan 20, 2011

Paperback Release Day Q&A

(Originally published on October 5th, 2010 on my old blog)

Today is awesome for two reasons: 1) It’s my BFF’s birthday (Happy birthday, Amanda! I hope you’re having fun in Montreal!), and 2) It’s the day Hold Still, with its pretty, blue, paperback cover hits bookstore shelves. (Eek!)

In honor of the release, I’m answering some questions that you guys asked me. First, though, so that I don’t keep you in suspense for much longer, the winner of the final giveaway is Tara! (Tara, congrats!, and please email me with your mailing address at nina@ninalacour.com.)

OK. Here we go.

Kirsten asks, Who was your favorite character to write in Hold Still??

That’s such a tough question, because it varied a lot scene by scene, but I’m going to go with Taylor. Dylan’s a close second. But while many of the scenes with Dylan were difficult to write because of the ways in which Caitlin wanted to connect with her but wouldn’t allow herself to, the scenes with Taylor usually had an element of fun and excitement. While Dylan makes Caitlin confront her grief and work through it, Taylor (usually) offers some relief, and I felt relieved, too, when writing those scenes.

Melissa Nataly asks, Was it hard writing the grief part?

Yes, Melissa, it was really hard. On one hand, it was difficult because I wanted Caitlin’s emotional state to be believable–I wanted her to be appropriately stunned and confused and sad–but I also had to keep in mind that people would (hopefully) be reading this, and that most readers (myself included) can only take so much angst. Angst is a good thing, but it can only take you so far. Another reason it was difficult relates to Jillian’s question . . .

Jillian asks, Did you find yourself grieving and experiencing the feelings your characters felt throughout your daily life as you wrote this novel?

Yes. Writing the parts about grief was emotionally difficult. There’s a certain amount of channeling of feelings I have to do in order to write believably, so I kept having to enter that grieving state with Caitlin, and that took a toll on me sometimes. Some days I would just feel sad, because I was so immersed in the story. But, at the same time, writing can be an exhilarating process, so that gave me the energy to overcome the feelings that spilled over from the characters. Also, I always knew that the story would go in a positive direction, that it was as much about hope and beginnings as it was grief and losses.

Llehn asks, What is your writing mantra in 15 words or less?

Hmmm . . . maybe something like, “Get to that place. Write it down.” That makes sense to me. Does it make sense to anyone else?

Christi asks, Did you know from the beginning what direction the story was going to take, or did it evolve as you wrote?

I was in graduate school when I started writing Hold Still, and I had a professor, the great horror/mystery writer Kathryn Reiss, who had the class make outlines for our novels. I resisted making an outline for all of the reasons one would resist such a thing. Because it would limit my creativity. Because I wanted my characters to live on their own. Because I needed an element of surprise in order to stay engaged during the writing process. On and on. But I was a good student, so I did it. I ended up loving the process of making an outline. Perhaps most importantly, it made real the idea that I would actually complete a novel, that my story was really going somewhere. I ended up disregarding the outline after the first few chapters, because, as I had hoped they would, my characters started doing things that I hadn’t known they would do. And I began to have better ideas than my initial ones. So, to answer your question, Christi, I thought I knew the story’s direction, but it ended up evolving into something pretty different.

Tara asks, Did you research suicide and depression before you wrote Hold Still or did you just let the characters’ emotions be as you think they would be?

My answer to this one is a lot like my answer to Christi above. Initially, I did some research. Research is sometimes necessary, and, for me, can also be a great method of procrastination. But, yes. I read up on signs of depression; I read articles about teen suicide; I read about the grieving process. Some of what I found made it into my book. A lot of it solidified what I already thought, which was that there are no easy or clear answers about depression and suicide, which was helpful because I wasn’t interested in writing a book that would attempt to reveal or explain why someone like Ingrid would take her life. It turned out, in the end, that my own memories of how it felt to be in high school were vastly more helpful than the research I did, because the story is about the day-to-day things that happen after a terrible event, and I can remember feeling lonely, feeling excited, feeling out-of-place and taken care of and inspired–all of the things that my characters feel.

Laura Miranda asks, Who was the character that was hard/tough to write?

Quite a few of the characters were difficult to write at certain times, but I’ll go with Ms. Delani. She’s pretty interesting to me. When I started writing, I wasn’t a high school teacher yet, but during my final revision I was, and the Ms. Delani plot line became more prominent near the end of the process. I don’t want to give too much away, but I think readers might judge her more harshly than I do. It was difficult to write a character who was so badly needed and yet so neglectful, who had reasons for acting the way she did that my narrator couldn’t even fathom. She was a good challenge for me.

Yan asks, How many edits did you do for Hold Still?

I write in a really weird way. I jump around from scene to scene, from the beginning to the end to the middle and back, and I revise a lot as I go. So while I probably only did three big comprehensive revisions, I was constantly revising on a smaller scale. I wish I had a clear answer to that question!

Carolyn asks, Did you have any expectations before or during the writing of Hold Still? Did they constrain your writing? If so, how did you overcome them to allow you novel to grow in new directions?

I’ve been thinking about this a lot lately, Carolyn. I didn’t really have expectations when I was writing Hold Still because I started it in school and initially saw it as just something I was writing, not something I was writing that was going to be published. Making that transition, from being an unpublished writer to a published one, is trickier than I had imagined. I don’t know if I’ll ever have that feeling again of writing without the pressures that publication bring. (Let me just say here that I’m not complaining. Being an author is such an honor, and I wouldn’t go back for anything.) I have always been at war with my inner critic, but now I have thousands of other critics in my head as I work on new projects, and I’m trying hard to exorcise them so that the novel I am currently writing can blossom in the way that it should. I think I’m getting better at it.

DeAnn Campbell asks, How did you know when you were done with Hold Still? How did you know you were ready to send it off into the world?

When I had taken it as far as I could on my own. You know the three major revisions I mentioned earlier? The first of those I did by myself, after I had finished writing it. I took a little time off from the book, and then I dove back in and filled scenes out, cut scenes, worked on the plot, refined characters, etc. I knew when I sent it out to agents that I would want to work with an editor who would help guide me through revisions, but I also knew that it was at the point where I didn’t know what to do to make it better. I knew it could be better, but I didn’t know how I could make that happen. I think that this is the right feeling to have when sending a manuscript out into the world: a sense that you’ve done all that you can at the point at which you are.

Matt Sbar asks, Is there anything about writing that other people write that really just annoys you?

I like it when people write genuinely. I don’t like it when I feel like the writer is trying hard to impress the readers. But as a reader and especially as a teacher who discusses literature with classrooms full of people all day, I know that what people like is totally subjective. I don’t really let writing annoy me, because if I don’t like something I’ll put it down.

And, Matt also asks an awesome question to end on: What do you think is the most significant impact Hold Still has had on anyone’s life as far as you’re aware?

I’ve received many very personal emails from readers that have really touched me. I had no idea that people would feel so close to the book, and it humbles me every time I get a message like that from a reader. But, since most of what I receive is so personal, I’m going to let one of my readers speak for himself: http://tiny.cc/ec231

Thanks so much for all of your questions! Wow, this turned out to be pretty long. If you read to the end, send me an email with your mailing address by midnight tonight (Pacific time) to nina@ninalacour.com and I’ll send you a tiny present!

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On Getting Out of the House

Before I published my first novel, Hold Still, in October of last year, I used to look at novels on bookstore shelves and think that it must be easier for published writers to write than it was for me. I thought that writing might be like making my mother’s (delicious!) buttermilk pancakes. The first try would be disastrous (somehow both burnt and undercooked); the second try, a little better (but too lumpy, with little clumps of baking soda); the next few attempts, just okay. But then, after a while: success! And then, each time that followed: more success!

If I hadn’t gotten the delicious novel recipe down by my first book, I certainly should have it down by the second.

So with inevitable ease and success in mind, last summer I wrote the beginning of my second novel and an outline for the rest of it. It’s a road trip story, and I determined where my characters would be on each day and what they would do and, of course, what would be done to them. My first draft deadline was in the winter, so over the fall, I followed the outline I made, checking off scenes as I wrote them. My outline became a giant to-do list.

Which was a problem.

Where did the inspiration go? The creativity? You know that feeling, when you sit down to write a scene and then, suddenly, it becomes almost a living thing, starts moving in unanticipated directions, surprises you in the best way possible? Well, I didn’t get that feeling. All of it felt like work.

But worse than the work itself was the pressure. The pancake theory burned up, was replaced with the realization that writing is, at least for me, going to be an eternal struggle—and even more frightening than that, for the first time, people will be watching. So instead of only worrying about the book itself and whether it’s any good, I’m now also worried about how it will compare to my first novel. Of course, I want it to be better. I want to keep growing.

This summer, as though rebelling against my former stick-to-the-outline self, I began my revision and expansion work as haphazardly as possible, dipping into scenes at random, adding a few lines of dialogue here and there, letting my narrator think more freely. Upon re-acquainting myself with the novel, something good started to happen. In many scenes, moments that seemed unimportant became seeds of larger moments. I thought of a whole side trip that wasn’t there before, with new characters and new events solidifying the older themes that didn’t quite come to the surface in the first draft.

But I kept questioning myself: what if these new ideas weren’t actually that great? Maybe they were just new. So I decided to get on the road.

I brought music, a camera, and a few changes of clothes. I brought my wife, who is, among millions of wonderful things, a swift driver and a gifted exchanger of ideas. We drove where my characters drive, we saw friends, and we met new people, and through it all, I was open to everything. Just as my narrator is. Almost everywhere we went, I discovered something new to add to the novel. The restaurant in Medford with cinnamon buns the size of my face and impossible riddles as reading material. The farm on Vashon Island, where our close friends are living. The friend of a friend in Portland, who told stories about working jobs I never knew existed. Everything we saw out the window as we whizzed past it.

The trip revealed gaps in the story I hadn’t recognized, and then showed me how to fill them. I’m excited, now, about where the book is going and the ways in which it continues to grow. And, though certainly no replacement for the recipe I thought I would master, I learned something that I’ll be able to apply to the next book: in order to breath life into my work, I need to get outside and live a little.

Note: This was originally published on my agent Sara Crowe's blog.

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